Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (John Hughes, 1986). It’s odd to watch a movie for the first time, 25 years after it became a pop culture touchstone. Yes, it’s true, I had never seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Now I have, and I guess I’m glad, but I can’t say I thought it was a great movie. I could see why it is beloved, but for me, it was a more amiable version of Risky Business, where upper-middle-class white kids are supposed to stand in for all adolescents. I did not believe that Ferris really cared about his depressed friend, and felt the line near the end, when Sloane says Ferris had planned from the start to save his friend, was just a cover up for the basic selfishness of the character. Ferris does what he wants, and he forces his friends to play with him, then tarts it up with psychoanalysis. And what do they do? Eat at a fancy restaurant, “borrow” a Ferrari, visit a fancy art museum … even when they go to a Cubs’ game, they don’t sit with the Bleacher Bums. There is nothing anarchic about Ferris or the movie … it’s no Rock and Roll High School. The only time the film lives up to its reputation is the justly-famous scene where Ferris lip-syncs “Twist and Shout” atop a float. Finally, his actions include everyone, and we get a feeling for the community of Chicagoans. It is Ferris’ most generous moment. #476 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 movies of all time.
Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins (Malcolm D. Lee, 2008). This passable time-waster combines slapstick comedy with maudlin family values, kind of like a Jerry Lewis movie with PG-13 sex and language. Maudlin perhaps goes too far … it only gets that way at the end … but the plot is excruciatingly predictable, and the slapstick set pieces aren’t much. But there are good performances across the board, especially from Mo’Nique and Mike Epps, and I’m always up for close-ups of Nicole Ari Parker’s green eyes.
The Magician (Ingmar Bergman, 1958). This may be the only time anyone mentions these two films together, but this late-50s Ingmar Bergman movie has something in common with Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins. In both cases, a serious theme is combined with comedy that isn’t “comic relief” but is, in fact, just as integral to the overall film as the stuff that’s “good for you.” Imagine Smiles of a Summer Night, if Bergman was in one of those Meaning of Life and Death moods. It doesn’t really work … my guess is the fans of Summer Night will find the Big Meaning segments overblown, while fans of Seventh Seal will wonder why everyone keeps popping into the sack for some playful lovemaking. But it’s an interesting movie, well worth seeing once you’ve gotten through the director’s classics.
From Russia With Love (Terence Young, 1963). What does it mean, to say this is the best James Bond movie? Obviously, not everyone agrees … Goldfinger is more the archetype, and the Daniel Craig Casino Royale impressed a lot of people. From Russia With Love comes before the gimmicks took over, which also means it’s not quite a “James Bond Movie” the way Goldfinger and most subsequent releases are. The fight scene on the train is a memorable use of a small space to make a big impact. Lotte Lenya adds an element of camp with her juicy portrayal of Rosa Kleb. And Sean Connery is still the best of the Bonds. Goldfinger is probably more fun in its goofy way, and I don’t know that it’s fair to blame that film for everything that came afterwards. But finally, what I mean when I say this is the best Bond movie is that it’s the last one before the formula kicked in.