Jennifer Grey and Jason Reitman Revisit ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ at New Beverly Cinema

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On Friday, February 19, 2010, Jason Reitman began his program of movies at New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles. The first double feature of his program was “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Election,” great movies dealing with high school and teenagers in an intelligent way and which star Matthew Broderick. “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” was one of John Hughes classic films from the 1980’s which everyone has seen at least nine times. Reitman remembered wanting to see it with his dad when it first came out, but his father, Ivan Reitman of “Ghostbusters” fame, was busy shooting “Legal Eagles” and couldn’t get away from the set. They ended up going to the movies later, but instead they watched “Big Trouble in Little China,” John Carpenter’s ode to martial arts movies which was not as successful, but later become a beloved cult film.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off poster

Reitman said he considers “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” to be Hughes’ love letter to Chicago. Indeed, Chicago does look very beautiful as shown here. These days, it’s rare to see it without snow covering it. Richard Belzer has a brilliant quote when he played John Munch on “Homicide: Life on the Street,” “Chicago has two seasons, winter and St. Patrick’s Day.”

Reitman saw Ferris Bueller as the guy who knows everyone is dying from a terminal disease. Knowing this, he lived every day as if it were his last. He then went on to say “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is a movie about people dying, and the last moment of joy anyone has comes at the end of the parade when Broderick is out shaking his bod to The Beatles’ version of “Twist and Shout.” The acclaimed director was serious about this and even said, “If you came out of this movie happy, THEN YOU MISSED THE ENTIRE POINT!”

Before the movie began, Reitman brought out a special guest, Jennifer Grey. She played Jeanie Bueller, Ferris’ largely unpleasant and infinitely resentful little sister. Grey would go on to become a big star when she starred in “Dirty Dancing” opposite the late Patrick Swayze. Reitman said he asked Grey to come just this morning, and she was very gracious to appear at such short notice.

Grey warned Reitman upfront she smoked a lot of pot during the movie’s making, so she doesn’t remember a lot of it. However, during her brief time with Reitman, she did remember quite a bit, so maybe all the smoking helped.

One of the big revelations was that Grey admitted was never really a big fan of Hughes before she got cast. She had just seen “Pretty in Pink” which he wrote the screenplay for but didn’t direct, and she declared she didn’t get it. As a result, Grey went into the audition not really caring if she got the part or not. She didn’t even try to hide her attitude towards Hughes when talking to him about how she didn’t really care for his films. It was this attitude which got her cast as the bitchy little sister of Broderick’s iconic character.

Another big revelation we learned was Hughes and Broderick were always at odds with one another, and the tension between them was always high. Broderick found it very hard acting to the camera, one of the signature devices of this movie. Grey also said Broderick was “very slow” in putting a performance together, and this was certainly the case when he played Ferris. It got to where Hughes was constantly waiting for Broderick to start giving him what he wanted, and there were points where Grey said Hughes leaned over to her and said, “Is he ready now? Is he warmed up? Is he gonna give us ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs?!’”

Still, Grey recalled her experience of making “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” as being “heaven on earth,” and she felt very safe with Hughes as a director to where she never felt self-conscious about anything she did. She admitted she loved every single experience she had making this classic, and she even developed a big crush on Hughes, describing him as being a “Baby Huey.”

Reitman asked how Charlie Sheen got cast as the drug addict who befriends Jeanie Bueller while waiting at the police station. Grey explained she was the one who got Sheen involved as she had just done “Red Dawn” with him. There was actually a lot of improvisation during the police station scene, and Grey said the moment where Jeanie says some people call her Shawna was born out of that.

One of the questions really burning on Reitman’s mind was what it was like for Grey when she worked with “her brother.” Broderick and Grey were actually dating for a time during this movie’s making, and she replied the only time you see her character and Ferris together in the same room is at the very beginning and right near the end.

Before the movie started, Grey finished by saying Hughes did such a great job in capturing the voice of the time and of teenagers in general. She pointed out what we all came to see, that Hughes very much understood the gravitas of being a teenager and of how difficult and frustrating those years can be.

It was great to see Grey come out for this special screening of one of the best and most entertaining movies of the 1980’s. Reitman went on to say we all must be wondering what became of Ferris Bueller after he graduated from high school. There was always talk of a sequel which would show Ferris as a burned-out executive of some corporation, and a day off from this kind of job is always welcome no matter what day of the week it is. What did Reitman think? For that, he said to check out Alexander Payne’s “Election.”

 

 

Recount

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Memories of hanging chads and confusing ballots permeate our consciousness years after the heavily contested 2000 presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush. We saw this played out on the networks with all their furious coverage, but with “Recount” we get a look at what went on in the campaign offices while this election fight went on to get a picture of what they each felt was fair and just.

How you view “Recount” may depend on what side of the political spectrum you have placed yourself on. I’m not sure how accurate this movie is to the real events, but I imagine it is pretty close. Coming out of it, you may feel it values one candidate over the other. But in the end, “Recount” is not so much a movie about the fight to get candidates elected as it is about the fight for democracy. It is a fight for all the voters to be heard, and also a scary tale of how the fate of the Presidency can end up in the hands of a powerful few instead of America as a whole. Hopefully, this is something that we all collectively hope we never have to live through again.

“Recount” was directed by Jay Roach, best known as the director of the “Austin Powers” movies. Here, he directs a large cast of superlative actors who take the roles of many people we know well from the 2000 election and gives us a strong case of why many still thank Al Gore was robbed of the Presidency. Both Gore and Bush are basically supporting players here, and we only see them from the backs of their heads or in news footage of them during the campaign. The movie is more interested in what went on behind the scenes of the election and of the different fights made to get to the truth of who won the Florida electoral votes.

Even though we all know how this ended up and who got elected, the movie is still riveting in the same way “Apollo 13” was. The filmmakers are not so much interested in the general way things happened as they are in the specifics of the election. We see brilliantly shot examples of how chads in ballots could not be broken off as they were designed to. The opening shot of the movie shows how easily confused some Florida residents are when they are trying to vote, and yet it is not altogether clear how to vote for Gore so that you don’t accidentally vote for Pat Buchannan. The moment where one of Gore’s campaign workers rushes up to him before he is about to make his concession speech on the night of the election is scary as we all feel like we are running alongside him. Even after all these years, we have a strong emotional reaction to the thought of Gore conceding the election.

At the head of this star-studded cast is Kevin Spacey who gives one of his best performances as Ron Klain, Gore’s legal advisor on the campaign trail. The day before the election, it is presumed Gore is going to win, and Klain is offered a job in Gore’s new administration. Klain ends up turning it down as he feels it is not the way he wants to spend the next eight years of his life. But when it becomes clear there are clear inconsistencies in the voting in certain Florida counties, Klain goes right into action to make sure all the votes are recounted, as the margin of victory is only off by just over a thousand votes. Klain is aided by a large team of political strategists from Michael Whouley (Denis Leary) to Warren Christopher (John Hurt).

Spacey makes it clear from the start that Klain is an idealist more than anything else about the way the political system works. What he does throughout the movie is not motivated by his desire to see Gore become President, as he even admits he is not even sure he likes Gore, as it is by the desire to see all the votes counted and to not have any of them thrown out for different reasons like those rejected ones which contain the similar names of convicted felons. Because the election was so close, we can see in Spacey’s eyes how this election is much too important for anyone’s vote to be cast aside.

We also get great performances from actors like Ed Begley Jr. who plays David Boes who passionately fought for the recount to continue when testifying at the Supreme Court. Another great one comes from the always reliable Tom Wilkinson (“Michael Clayton”) who plays James Baker who fights on behalf of George W. Bush to turn the election his way. Wilkinson plays Baker as being idealistic in his own way, and he is almost as idealistic as Klain is for the democrats. Bruce McGill is also great here as Republican lobbyist Mac Stipanovich who is brought in to persuade Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris to stop the recount.

Speaking of Katherine Harris, who by the way wanted nothing to do with “Recount,” she is played here in a brilliant performance by Laura Dern. With makeup, which brings up harsh memories of Faye Dunaway in “Mommie Dearest,” Dern gives us a Katherine Harris who is not dumb, but who is oblivious to what is going on around her. Harris says she is following the law, but never really questions those around her as to what their true motives are. Dern is one of the best actresses working today, and this movie is a good reminder of this fact.

The other thing to note about “Recount” is how the actors do a great job of inhabiting their roles as opposed to impersonating people we have become all too familiar with. The trap of playing real life people is many actors end up playing them from the outside in instead of the inside out. It takes a group of well-trained actors to play these roles, and who are not mere impressionists or mimics. Mimicry is a cool art, but it doesn’t work in a movie like this one.

Roach does a great job of putting us back in the year 2000, and he makes you a witness to all the events to where even though you know how this race ended, you still hope and pray for a different outcome. He also shows how each candidate has to be grateful for the dozens of people and hundreds of supporters who helped them get to where they ended up. The truth is we haven’t had many movies recently which have looked at the people who work so hard for the politicians they support, and these people need to be thanked for all they do. They can’t stay behind the scenes forever. They need to be seen for who they are.

In the end, “Recount” is not so much a movie about how Gore got screwed out of an election he won the popular vote on. It’s not even about if Gore lost the election. It is about how democracy was lost in the 2000 election, and of how many voices were rendered irrelevant for reasons which were not altogether justified. The final scene of the warehouse where all those uncounted votes is haunting, and it  feels like an outtake of the scene from “Raiders of The Lost Ark” where the Ark of the Covenant got stored in a factory holding hundreds of boxes which all look alike. The real victim of this election was all the voters were not heard, and this left a shadow over George W. Bush’s presidency which will never be erased.

It also serves as an important document of this moment in history which we can never forget. We need to remember what happened so it never happens again.

* * * * out of * * * *

The Ides of March

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This movie’s title refers to the day Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group of senators who feared his role as a dictator would forever destroy their constitutional government. Some of these senators were close friends of his which make their actions all the more shocking. In the political arena, then and now, you would think those running for office would have their friends and loyal advisors to instill their trust in. But as history shows, the quest for power can tear friendships apart and corrupt the seemingly incorruptible. In William Shakespeare’s play of “Julius Caesar,” a soothsayer warns him before he is stabbed to death:

“Beware the Ides of March.”

George Clooney’s film is based on the play “Farragut North” by Beau Willimon, and it looks at how dangerous a political campaign can be for all those involved. They may not get stabbed in the back literally, but there is a lot of backstabbing to go around figuratively speaking. It all makes for an intense political thriller which never lets up.

Ryan Gosling stars as Stephen Meyers, a Junior Campaign Manager for Governor Mike Norris (Clooney) who is seeking the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. As the movie opens, Norris is campaigning in Ohio where a win there will all but guarantee him the nomination. Meyers is a strong believer in Norris and what he stands for, but his belief in him and the world of politics is in for a rude awakening. After a secret meeting with rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), trust becomes a precious commodity in very short supply. Meyers also stumbles on an even bigger situation which could destroy the campaign to where it can never recover.

This is Clooney’s fourth movie as a director, and the abilities he shows behind the camera are never in doubt. “The Ides of March” doesn’t necessarily break any new ground in the political movie genre, but Clooney does great work in generating tension throughout as characters suddenly find themselves on a precipice which threatens to fall out beneath them with little warning. He also gets great performances from the entire cast as they face off against each other as if they are playing a game of chess. Everyone is holding their cards close to their chest, and only the eyes can give them away in showing where they are most vulnerable.

Gosling had a heck of a year in 2011 with this, “Crazy Stupid Love,” and “Drive.” As with the latter, he brings a smoldering intensity to his performance as he takes Meyers from a political idealist to one who sells out his values when things get rough. With one look, he can let us inside his thoughts without saying a single word.

Two of my favorite performances in “The Ides of March” come from two of the best character actors ever: Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti. Playing campaign managers for their individual candidates, they brilliantly bring out the moral complexities of each person as their agendas become clear as the story continues to unfold. Both of them also make what could have been seen as convoluted actions or maneuvers completely believable as they try to get the upper hand in a fragile political environment. They essentially represent the cynical side of politics where idealism vanished a long time ago and the path Meyers may be forced to go down if he wants to continue working in this realm.

The fabulous Evan Rachel Wood is great as always as Molly Stearns, a campaign intern whose confidence collapses when her secret is realized. Seeing her go from a sexy seducer to the campaign’s most vulnerable employee is handled by her like a pro, and she makes us see Molly as a person while others view as a crippling concern which needed to be quickly and quietly removed. The cruelty of politics comes to hit her character the hardest.

And then there’s the equally fabulous Marisa Tomei who portrays New York Times reporter Ida Horowicz. She enjoys a friendly banter with Gosling from the start which draws us in on a more personal level. It’s there where Tomei traps not just Gosling, but the audience as well. She provides us with a friendly face, but she is later revealed to be a manipulative journalist who wields more power than you might expect a journalist to have. I have yet to see Tomei give a bad performance in anything she does.

What I really like about the screenplay of “The Ides of March” is it’s not about good guys and bad guys. It’s all about shades of gray and how the hope in politics can be easily and quickly worn down to a cinder of what it once was. Some of the actions in the movie almost feel like something out of the “Saw” movies as they almost seem illogical and impossible to put together, but it makes sense in regards to the political realm it takes place in. This would make a great double feature with Mike Nichols’ “Primary Colors” as both movies deal with the moral compromises made in getting your candidate elected. But while “Primary Colors” sees a light at the end of the tunnel, “The Ides of March” doesn’t let the viewer off as easy.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

 

Jason Reitman talks with Chris Klein about ‘Election’

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Jason Reitman, director of “Juno” and “Up in The Air,” started the first night of his movie program at New Beverly Cinema with a double feature of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Election.” “Election” was released in 1999 and directed by Alexander Payne who would later go on to give us “About Schmidt” and “Sideways.” Reitman said he considers this film to be the unofficial sequel to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” as it answers the question; what ever happened to Ferris after high school? Reflecting on what Edward R. Rooney, Dean of Students, said of how Bueller’s life would be in a ruinous state 20 years from now, “Election” shows this wasn’t far from the truth. Here we see Matthew Broderick, still stuck in high school, as Civics teacher Jim McAllister. There is no escaping the hell that is high school for him this time, and he is confronted with a go-getter named Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) who is running for Student Body President.

Reitman started off talking about how Volkswagen was willing to pay a lot of money for Broderick to drive a VW Bug in “Election,” but Payne was adamantly against it. This was proof, Reitman said, of how this was a director who stuck to his guns and never strayed from his cinematic vision.

Whereas “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” was John Hughes’ love letter to Chicago, “Election” was Payne’s love letter to Omaha. This city in Nebraska has been the setting for just about every movie Payne has made, and Payne told Jason he loves to shoot in the Midwest of America because of “the wind.”

Before “Election” started, Reitman brought out a special guest to talk about the making of Payne’s movie: Chris Klein. Klein played the well-meaning but hopelessly dim high school football star Paul Metzler. After “Election,” Chris went on to star in “American Pie” and later went against type in John McTiernan’s remake of “Rollerball.” That movie was never mentioned during the Q&A, and probably for a good reason.

“This may sound hokey, but this is what dreams are made of.”

That’s how Klein described being cast in this film, and he ended up being plucked from obscurity as a result. At the time, he was living in Omaha and going to high school. People would never take him seriously when he said his dream was to be a professional actor. You have to wonder what those same people must think of him today.

During pre-production for “Election,” Klein said Payne was scouting out high schools and other locations in Omaha when his high school principal, who was essentially acting as his agent at that point, brought Klein to the director’s attention. While Paul Metzler was a football star, Klein had become the star of the plays and musicals at his school. One day, his teacher was instructed to tell Klein to get some papers which he forgot to bring with him. As he was walking down the hallway, Payne passed by him as he headed in the opposite direction. The next day, Payne called Klein up and asked him to audition and do a cold reading for him. Klein said he actually didn’t know what he was reading for and had he known it was for “Election,” he’s sure he would have blown the entire thing.

Klein said he had not seen any of Payne’s previous films, so the director gave him a copy of “Citizen Ruth” which he ended up watching with his mother. For those not familiar with this particular film, it starred Laura Dern as a glue-sniffing drug addict who ends up becoming pregnant, and she spends the movie deciding whether or not to get an abortion. Keep in mind that Omaha, Nebraska is a very conservative area, so neither Klein nor his mother were adequately prepared for this motion picture. His mother ended up saying, “WHAT IS THIS MOVIE??!! IS THIS REALLY THE GUY YOU ARE ABOUT TO WORK WITH???!!”

“Election” marked the first time Klein had ever been on a film set, and he remarked how he never realized they played music during a scene. Also, when he read the screenplay, he told Payne he didn’t know it was supposed to be funny. Payne responded by saying this was exactly what he wanted. He told Klein his character Paul Metzler was nervous and never comfortable in front of people, and this characterization worked out perfectly for this movie.

For Reitman, Klein’s experience making “Election” reminded him of various panels he has been on with actors from his own movies. Many of them said they had no idea what Reitman was doing until the whole thing was over. Klein described what Reitman pointed out as being very similar to his experience making “Election.” It never occurred to him what kind of film they had made until he went to the premiere and saw it with an audience. Afterward, he exclaimed, “HEY! WE ACTUALLY DID SOMETHING FUNNY!”

Admittedly, having grown up in conservative Omaha for most of his life, Klein said there were several scenes which concerned him. But none concerned him more than when Paul gets a blow job. Reitman, however, pointed out how the blow job is a huge moment for Paul in that it is the first one he has ever gotten. But this is the way Klein saw the whole scene:

“Believe me; I have gotten A LOT of blow jobs! The thing though is none of them were ever put up on the big screen before!”

Reitman remarked how directing an actor, not an actress mind you, to do an orgasm in a film is “really hard.” This was a challenge Reitman faced when he directed Michael Cera in “Juno” in a scene where he was very intimate with the title character. Reitman said Cera is a wonderful guy and a great actor, but getting that expression on his face of the thing we want to experience multiple times throughout our lives proved impossible, so the scene ended up on the cutting room floor. All this talk about blow jobs led Reitman to remark, “This has turned into an amazing Q&A!”

Klein learned many lessons about being on a movie set when making “Election.” Throughout it all, he spent just about every hour on location to where Payne ended up telling him, “Don’t worry, you can go home. We’ll call you when we’re ready for you.”

Another thing which really altered his perception of moviemaking was when the actress originally cast Paul’s sister, Thora Birch, got replaced. As Klein saw it, she was basically fired, and he became very fearful he would be next to go. Payne may have been watching a young actor growing right before his eyes, but Klein described the whole process as him taking it all so seriously so he wouldn’t get fired.

Klein finished by saying working on “Election” was an amazing experience as well as a lucky one, and watching professionals like Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon, both of whom he described as being “very generous” to him and others, made this one of the very best experiences he has ever had. To all this, Reitman remarked, “I’m so glad you two (Klein and Payne) ran into each other at your high school!”

Before the Q&A concluded, Reitman he has since become friendly with Payne as they constantly meet up at film festivals. Payne has been very complimentary on Reitman’s work, and Reitman said this has meant so much to him. Now they text each other on a regular basis, so he had asked Payne if there was one shot in “Election” which best describes the whole movie. Jason read the entire text he received from Payne to the audience:

“The entire movie rests on the one shot of the protagonist washing his genitalia in the shower of that motel room.”

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