Rivers Edge (1986)

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River’s Edge begins with Samson (Daniel Roebuck) sitting next to the lifeless body of his girlfriend, Jamie (Danyi Deats). He strangled her. Betraying no emotion, Samson later tells his friends, and brings them out to the edge of the river to show her corpse. Most of them are not moved. Hey, shit happens. But some of them, Matt (Keanu Reeves), Maggie (Roxana Zal) and Clarissa (Ione Skye) are hugely bothered by seeing their dead friend. They think the police should be notified.

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But others want to cover it up. Yea, it sucks that Jamie is dead, but John is their buddy, and they should protect him. This definitely comes into play when the group’s de facto leader, wild-eyed speed freak Layne (Crispin Glover) compels the group to keep the murder a secret, and thinks they should smuggle Samson out of the state before the cops figure out who did the horrible crime.

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Matt, Maggie and Clarissa go along for a while. But tensions begin to escalate, and these three are confused on what they should do. Should they go along with Layne and the gang? Or should they tell the police what Samson did? And if they do, what will be the repercussions? Soon they find out that Matt’s younger brother Tim (Joshua John Miller) not only knows about the crime, but also knows one of the friends has gone behind everyone’s backs to report Samson to the police.

Meanwhile, Layne and Samson become more and more at loose ends, and they take refuge at the home of Feck (the late Dennis Hopper), a one-legged, dope dealing biker. Incidentally, Feck killed his own girlfriend years ago. Now he lives with an inflatable sex doll . Oddly enough, Feck acts as a mentor and counsel to Layne and Samson.

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River’s Edge does not end things tidily. Black and white morals have become hazy grays of ambivalence, nihilism and detachment. One teacher admonishes a student on how the values of his youth have been destroyed. Ah, yes. the old boomer telling the X-ers about the good old days. Even Feck thinks killing his girlfriend was okay because, hey, it was the ‘60s maaan.

Most chilling about River’s Edge, is it was based on a true story. Also chilling is how these kids assume they have no future so they numb their feelings with drugs and alcohol. The teens in River’s Edge are 180 degrees away from the lovable, wacky suburban cherubs of John Hughes films. In those films, a kid’s biggest problem is a Saturday detention or having your family forgeting your 16th birthday. In River’s Edge, life is a detention, and parents pretty much forget they have kids unless it’s to accuse one of them of stealing her marijuana.

Written by Neil Jiminez and directed by Tim Hunter, River’s Edge boasts of some incredibly honest and brutal performances. It’s unflinching in its portrayal of a generation that when it wasn’t ignored was maligned. As one character states, “You know it’s gonna be like this all day, man. Teachers lecturing us about what kind of monsters we are.” These kids know they are considered losers, so why not act accordingly? River’s Edge is not a comfortable movie to watch, especially if you’re a Generation X-er. “Hey, I was never like that,” you might want to shout at the screen. Yet, if you’re honest you might think, “But of course, some people were like that.” And that’s what makes River’s Edge such a potent of a film.

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Last Days of Disco (1998)

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Written and directed by Whit Stillman, The Last Days of Disco takes place in the early 1980s during the waning days of disco’s glittery glory days.

The Last Days of Disco focuses on two recent college grads, Alice Kinnon (Chloe Sevigny) and Charlotte Pingress (Kate Beckinsale). They now live in Manhattan and work at a publishing house. Classmates at a prestigious east coast college, Alice and Charlotte seem to be friends more out of convenience, not actual affection. If Sex and the City had been around at the time you would call Alice and Charlotte “frenemies.”

After work, Alice and Charlotte spend their nights at Manhattan nightclubs socializing with the upper-crust elite and looking for fun and romance. Alice is quiet, soft spoken and intelligent. Charlotte is outgoing and spirited, but quite conceited. And she never fails to give Alice advice on men and dating. Desperate, Alice takes this advice even though it screws her up.

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Alice and Charlotte strike up a friendship with Des (Chris Eigeman) an employee of one of their favorite clubs. Des is quite the ladies’ man but claims to be gay once a relationship sours. Alice and Charlotte also find romance at the club, often with men who turn out to not be Mr. Right. Charlotte dates a man named Josh (Matt Keeslar) even though he really wants to be with Alice. And Alice has a one night stand with a lawyer named Tom (Robert Sean Leonard), who leaves her with a venereal disease.

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Despite their “frenemy” relationship, Alice and Charlotte decide to move in together. Realizing their parents’ generosity can only go so far, they take in another roommate, Holly (Tara Subkoff). Holly may be Alice and Charlotte’s roommate, but she never quite becomes their friend. Alice and Charlotte often question Holly’s intelligence and choices in men.

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All this closeness proves to be too much for Alice and Charlotte, and they soon part ways after a bitter conflict. Charlotte commiserates with Des, claiming her personality is just too much for mousy girls like Alice. But things look up for Alice once she starts dating Josh.

The Last Days of Disco isn’t so much about action and plot as it is about relationships, feelings and catching a singular moment of time. Remember it was the early 1980s. The glamorous and glittery debauchery of the 1970s was starting to look cheap, tawdry and despondent. Soon AIDS would haunt our sexual consciousness, and before long school children everywhere would claim, “Just say no” when it came to drugs.

Like many other coming of age films and TV shows like Girls, The Last Days of Disco examines the idea of young people “finding themselves.” Characters, who at turns seem so sure of themselves, question their choices in love, careers and friendship. And the social dynamic between Alice and Charlotte is quite familiar to anyone who found themselves hanging out with people they didn’t really like but felt they needed them as some kind of life raft during uncertain times.

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The Last Days of Disco is considered the final chapter of Whit Stillman’s self-proclaimed “Doomed-Bourgeois-in-Love-Series,” which also included Metropolitan and Barcelona. All the performances ring true, and Chloe Sevigny is especially affective as the self-effacing Alice.

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Some people might be put off by a movie focusing well-to-do elites, but these are no Kardashians or younger versions of the Real Housewives. Alice and Charlotte’s difficulty in navigating a confusing world ring true whether you grew up with a silver spoon or on a steady diet of cheap mac n’ cheese.

4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (2007)

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It is communist Romania, 1987. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days opens in university dorm room. At first, it just seems to be an ordinary day for any group of college students. They try on make-up, buy illicit cigarettes and talk about mundane topics. But you soon realize something is going on beyond idle chit-chat and daily college activities.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days takes very realistic and gritty look a at two roommates, Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) and Otilia (Anamaria Marinca). Gabita is pregnant and is relying on Otilia to help her procure an abortion. At the time, not only was abortion illegal in Romania, so was birth control. And though the rather dim Gabita is the one in need of an abortion, it is the more pragmatic Otilia who goes through the channels to make sure she gets one.

After leaving the dorm, Otilia starts a bleak journey going from hotel to hotel trying to find a room for Gabita to have an abortion. This can’t be done at the dorms, and obviously, they can’t go to a clinic. After she finally gets a room, she meets with a back-alley abortionist ironically known as Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov). Otilia takes Mr. Bebe to the hotel room where Gabita waits. Chillingly, Mr. Bebe describes the procedure, and shames both Gabita and Otilia for being dirty sluts. While Gabita spends time in the bathroom, Mr. Bebe apparently rapes Otilia. We never see an actual rape scene, but Otilia coming into the bathroom, sans pants and scrubbing herself between her legs gives you a terrifying idea of what happened between her and Mr. Bebe.

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Mr. Bebe discovers Gabita is further along in her pregnancy and demands more money, which the young girls somehow come up with. They will trade both their bodies and their money to go through this procedure. As Mr. Bebe begins the abortion, he becomes very matter of fact on what will happen. During a long shot, we see him insert a probe into Gabita and inject a liquid. There is no idea how long this will take. It could take a few hours or a few days, and Gabita could get sick and die during the procedure. Mr. Bebe does not wait to find out the outcome.

Otilia also has to leave to join her boyfriend’s family for his mother’s birthday party. Otilia doesn’t say much during the dinner, but the look on her face says volumes. As her boyfriend’s family and friends chat about everything from food to schooling, Otilia’s emotions bubble very close to the service. She has no idea what is happening to her friend, and it is driving her mad.

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Otilia soon escapes the party and goes back to the hotel to find out what has happened to Gabita. These two women have gone through a very harrowing experience, but Otilia tells Gabita that they will never talk about ever again. It is as if it has never happened.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days is not a pro-life or pro-choice movie. It is a look at two young women living in a world of very few options. Though young, they are world weary and defeated. The scripted dialogue doesn’t hit one false note, and neither do the performances. Ms. Marinca as Otilia is exceptionally good in her role. Without melodramatics, she conveys her character’s struggles in silence using subtle facial expressions. Written and directed by Cristian Mungiu, this movie’s aesthetic choices of no accompanying music and tight, almost claustrophobic camera shots convey the dreariness of moment in time.

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4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days is not an easy movie to watch, but never does it ring false. This movie proves not all unexpected pregnancies turn out to be puppies and rainbows. This movie is the anti-Knocked Up and will inspire a great deal of difficult conversations.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days is not rated and is in Romanian with English subtitles.

Sing Street (2015)

sing_street_posterIt’s 1985 in Dublin, Ireland and life isn’t going well for young Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). His parents’ marriage is falling apart. His stoner older brother, Brendan, (Jack Raynor) has moved back home after dropping out of university, and his younger siblings are a pain the ass. Conor is also attending a repressive public school (private schools are called public schools in Ireland) where he is bullied by his classmates and one of his teachers seems to revile him.

However, there is one bright spot in Conor’s life, the beautiful and mysterious Raphina (Lucy Boynton), Raphina lives in group home and has dreams of becoming a model. Conor is smitten and decides to impress Raphina by telling her he’s in a band, and he needs a model to perform in his band’s videos.

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There is one glitch, though. Conor isn’t in a band, but if he wants to capture Raphina’s heart he better form one right away. And he gets onto this monumental task by recruiting several talented lads at his school to form a band, write some songs and make some videos inspired by the top pop talents of the mid-eighties. In true rock and roll fashion, Conor changes his name to more rock-friendly Cosmo and hones a more stylish look, which often entails whatever certain musicians and singers are wearing in his favorite videos (and looks most pop and rock fans who remember the 1980s all too well, sported themselves).

Top of the Pops hits, videos on MTV and winning Raphina’s heart are Conor’s main goals in life, as is escaping his dreary home and school life. It isn’t long before Conor’s parents announce their separation. And to make matters worse, Conor also has someone else vying for Raphina’s heart, an older man with a bitchin’ ride. How can Conor compete with that?

Well, with his band, of course. Conor is proving to be quite compelling behind the microphone, and is writing songs with witty lyrics and catchy hooks. His bandmates are going from strength to strength as musicians. Helping him along the way, is Conor’s older brother, Brendon, who mentors his baby brother through the power of music and his extensive vinyl LP collection.hqdefault

And then there is Raphina, the lovely Raphina, who adds just the right amount of female beauty and star quality to the band’s music. And though Raphina has a boyfriend with a bitchin’ car, she can’t help but warm up to Conor. Her cool girl veneer tapers off, and soon she feels comfortable to reveal more and more about herself and her less than ideal life at the group home, her parental history, and her fears of making it as a model, especially considering it hinges on leaving Dublin to London, more of a fashion mecca back in the day.

But despite all of these challenges, Conor and his band keep on reaching for rock and roll glory, which includes a talent show at his school, which thrills some people and leaves others, most notably Conor’s least favorite teacher, less than impressed.

Sing Street is a charmer of a film, one that rarely casts a false note in the expert film making hands of John Carney who directed 2007’s Once. The acting is exceptional, and everything from the mid-80s fashions to the look of 1985 Ireland rings true. Sure, at times, I questioned Conor’s almost genius way of crafting a proper pop lyric without breaking out in a sweat or facing any writer’s block, but at the same time I couldn’t help but tap my toes and bop in my seat every time these infectiously catchy songs were performed by the band or conveyed in the videos. And I must give a shout out to Jack Reynor who is a scene stealer as Conor’s older brother Brendon.

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In the end, Sing Street fills you with hope, happy rock and roll memories, and singing a happy tune. It is a movie elixir that brings you joy, which is much needed in our troubling times. I can’t recommend it enough.