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.”

 

 

Godzilla (1998)

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I originally wrote this review on May 20, 1998, not long after I watched this “summer blockbuster.”

The momentous day has finally arrived! Roland Emmerich’s “Godzilla” has finally hit the big screen in all of its reptilian glory. Trailers for this movie have been up and running for over a year now, and the past few weeks have had us bombarded with television commercials from Taco Bell with the Chihuahua, hoping to cash in on this film’s predicted box office success. But now the wait is over and the film has finally hit the big screen. Everyone is waiting to see if the movie will suck in the biggest opening in box office history and outdo “Titanic” as the highest-grossing movie of all time…

What can I tell you? “Godzilla” sucks! I even wrote it up on the dry erase board in the main hall of my college dorm for everyone to see:

GODZILLA SUCKS!!!

People need to be warned because, unlike “Titanic,” this was not worth the wait. For me, this was a very depressing cinematic experience and one of those movies where the trailers for coming attractions, in this case “X-Files – Fight the Future,” “Lethal Weapon 4” and “The Mask of Zorro,” were far more entering than the main event. I read a review somewhere which quoted one patron as saying it made “Jurassic Park: The Lost World” look like “Citizen Kane.” I couldn’t agree more, and I liked “Jurassic Park: The Lost World,” a movie many consider to be one of the worst Steven Spielberg has ever directed.

Where do I start? The characters were all clichés, barely registering as humans. Kevin Dunn plays the military commander who is always in a bad mood and barking out orders, Michael Lerner is your typically clueless mayor, and Matthew Broderick portrays the nerdy scientist who is the polar opposite of Ferris Bueller. Maria Pitillo, who looks a lot like Heather Graham, was cute, but her television reporter character really belongs in a sitcom instead of a movie like this.

I blame this all on the direction of Roland Emmerich, a director who never seems to understand just how cheesy his movies are. “Independence Day” tried to be the next “Star Wars,” but it ended up being an overproduced B-movie. Still, it’s a classic of American cinema when you compare it to this overhyped mess.

There’s a scene in the beginning of the movie where three fishing boats are pulled backward underwater into the water – a direct rip off of “Jaws.” Now on one hand, I liked how Emmerich was never quick to show the giant mutated lizard, but on the other the “Jaws” reference came to illustrate all the things that “Godzilla” unforgivably lacks: great actors, strong characters, and a good storyline. Special effects by themselves can’t save a movie, especially one as crappy as this one.

Furthermore, the music score by David Arnold was way too much, and less could have been a lot more. In fact, everything about this movie was overblown, robbing it of whatever suspense it could ever have hoped to generate. There were moments where things did quiet down, and that was a relief and also showed some promise this movie might actually become exciting to watch. But then the screen became overwhelmed with countless explosions and massive destruction which we have seen in far too many movies to keep track of. Heck, the special effects in those movies are infinitely better than any in “Godzilla.” Trust me; the money is not up there on the screen.

Producer Dean Devlin and Emmerich appear to be big New York haters as they again lay waste to the city’s most famous monuments just like they did in “Independence Day.” But then again, New York seems to be the target of destruction this summer judging from the trailers I have seen for “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon.”

Now for Godzilla himself (or herself if you are not sure). When we do finally get to see the big lizard, it really proves to be nothing more than a big special effect. The more you are aware of this, the less threatening Godzilla becomes, and the action sequences end up lacking a lot of friction. I really loathe digital imaging and effects because they are too obvious on the big screen. In retrospect, I would have preferred seeing a guy in a suit instead.

There’s one moment where Godzilla jumps into the ocean, and it looks like it was lifted directly from a scene in “Alien Resurrection.” Originality is not in existence in films these days, but what else is new? I did not go in expecting a great movie, but I was at least hoping it would be exciting and intense. It was neither.

Furthermore, the look of Godzilla was nothing particularly impressive or horrifying. It looked like a cross between a Tyrannosaurus Rex that had an amazing growth spurt and the kind of lizard I saw crawling all over the place in Ibiza. Once again, originality is nonexistent and we have “Jurassic Park” all over again.

The only part that really scared me some was when the main characters discovered all the eggs Godzilla had lain in Madison Square Garden. What could we expect to see when they hatched? But hatched they did, and they all came out looking like Velociraptors or Velociraptor wannabes.

You’d think after a film like “Independence Day,” which was a huge hit worldwide but not exactly a critical success, that the filmmakers would learn from their mistakes and make a better movie. But no! We get one which is even worse and yet is still bound to make tons of money. But having seen “Godzilla,” I am more than confident that it will not dethrone “Titanic” as the all-time box office champ. Hey Tri-Star Pictures! Don’t count your chickens before they hatch!

A lot of people say that James Cameron is a big egomaniac and a jerk to his cast and crew on each movie he has directed. Maybe he is, claiming he can make these kinds of movies better than everyone else. But after “Godzilla” ended, I think Cameron can brag all he wants until he makes a tremendously crappy movie like this one. I don’t care how bad you thought the dialogue was in “Titanic;” “Godzilla” is the bottom of the barrel in the screenplay department. How many writers did it take to come up with this script anyway?

And, of course, we have the obligatory ending where Madison Square Garden is destroyed, but for some bizarre and unexplained reason there’s an egg which was somehow undamaged (go figure). The baby burst out of the egg just as the movie faded to black, and I imagined a lot of audience members probably thought the following when they saw it:

“Oh no! It’s a baby!!!”

But I just stared at the screen and thought to myself:

“Oh no! It’s a set up for a sequel!! SAVE US NOW!!!”

Just how many times can you destroy New York in the movies anyway?

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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