Buena Vista Pictures via Everett Collection
It's that time of year again when young men and women sit in cap and gown waiting for the speeches to be over so that they can get their diploma and move on with their lives. Everyone at some point in time has sat and listened to a speaker try to impart words of wisdom on high school or college graduates — many celebrities have taken a turn delivering such an address — and movies have frequently used a commencement speech as a plot device.
There is a lot more life lessons to be gained from high school and college movies, however, than just when a character stands up at a podium and speaks to the gathered masses. What if you could build an inspirational speech from those movies to serve as a killer send off to graduates? Let's give it a shot.
You Don't Have to Know Everything Now
Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack), the hero of Say Anything…, took a unique tact in trying to figure out what to do with his life. Instead of focusing on what he wanted to do, he first eliminated all of the things that he didn't want to do. There's nothing wrong with that. Not everyone comes up with a workable life plan in high school or college… some people need more time to find their niche. That's perfectly fine, just as long as you're out of your parents' basement by 28.
Take a Stand
Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) delivered a whole bunch of lessons to Daniel-san (Ralph Macchio) in The Karate Kid… but "Wax on, Wax off" doesn’t translate that well to a speech. So, we're going with his example of what happens when someone tries to go at things half-heartedly. As Miyagi so eloquently put it, "Squashed like grape."
Don't Make Excuses
Jaime Escalante, the teacher portrayed by Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver, was a real-life inspirational figure, devoting his entire life to teaching impoverished youths. When Escalante first meets his class in the movie, he tells them that he doesn't want to hear excuses because their future bosses aren't going to want to hear them. True that.
Seize the Day
Robin Williams's professor in Dead Poets Society was basically a walking speech. Hell he was a bona fide encyclopedia of lessons. But when he reminds his young charges that the pictures on the wall were once in the same position with their entire lives in front of them, audiences everywhere heard what they were whispering. Carpe diem indeed.
Don't Let the Moment Be Too Big
When the Hickory High basketball team arrives for the state finals in Hoosiers, Gene Hackman gives a demonstration to show that the court in the bigger building isn't really any larger than the one in their home gym… that just because it seems bigger doesn't mean that it is. Keeping things in perspective is always a good idea.
We Really Are All the Same
When Anna Kendrick cries at the end of a viewing of The Breakfast Club in Pitch Perfect it's a seminal moment for her character and we understand why. The realization that we are all a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal is still mighty darn powerful.
Always Remember to Have Passion
We'll let Williams' John Keating have the last word, especially since he really did do a lot of speechifying during Dead Poets Society. Life without passion is an empty vessel. Whether or not you believe, like Keating, that poetry is a necessary part of that passion is irrelevant. Having passion about something is what makes life worth living.
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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Labor Day has come and gone and most students have just started the new school year. If you don't feel like hitting those books yet, check out these movies perfect for a little back-to-school procrastination.
Mean GirlsRemember when Lindsay Lohan was known more for her acting than her off-screen antics? Lohan starred in this high school comedy starring and written by Tina Fey that analyzes the queen-bee hierarchy of the teenage social system like a anthropological project. Also featuring young versions of Rachel McAdams and Amanda Seyfried, Mean Girls is an incredibly smart, quick-witted, and hilarious take on the genre.
Pitch PerfectAca-cuse me? Last year's surprise hit Pitch Perfect took a look at the competitive acapella scene and belted out a perfectly tuned comedic movie. Anna Kendrick plays the rebellious freshman who joins her new college's traditional all-female acapella group, The Bellas, and brings to it a much needed edge. You'll find yourself singing along all the catchy mash-ups of pop songs, as well as Kendrick's unexpected hit single "Cups."
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's StoneAlmost every Harry Potter movie begins with a trip back to the Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft, but there was nothing quite like seeing the J.K. Rowling's vision of the wizarding world come to life for the first time in Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone (watching the Great Hall fill up with snowflakes is still mesmerizing). But we've all gone through that shaky first time of going into a new school and meeting new friends and teachers, something Harry knows all too well when he boards the train on Track 9-3/4.
Dead Poets Society"O Captain, My Captain" isn't just a Walt Whitman poem; it's what you'll be saying after watching Dead Poets Society. More serious than the other movies on this list, the film is an inspirational story about how one teacher can make a difference in the lives of his students. You wish Robin William's John Keating was your poetry teacher to teach you such cool Latin phrases like "Carpe Diem."
Fast Times at Ridgemont HighIf there's one movie that tells how wild a school year can get, it's Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The movie follows the lives of several students throughout the entire academic year, which involves car crashes, teenage pregnancy, job loss and getting high. Sean Penn's Spicoli has since become a pop culture icon and decades later, Phoebe Cates is still every teenage boy's fantasy.
HeathersSchool isn't always fun and games. For those who dread the socializing that marks the beginning of every school year, Heathers is the movie just for you. Winona Ryder and Christian Slater play the school outcasts who wreak havoc on the social order by killing off the most popular kids and making it look like suicide. It's actually funnier than it sounds, but the satire and escapist fantasy of the bullied are spot on.
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Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.