My Criticism of Critics: 90’s Cult Classics

A lesser known fact about me is that I love to watch movies, anything from absolute classics to things people have never heard about. A well known fact about me is that I procrastinate. By combining these two qualities, I choose to watch movies that are a bit trashy and use half my brain while watching. I start to watch a movie that I feel like doesn’t require effort then get massively involved. In the past few days I have seen my fair share of early 2000 bad bad teen movies. However, sprinkled in these I saw two cult classics which stood out.

The first being Empire records, which got called the Breakfast Club of the 90’s therefore after hearing that I couldn’t not watch it. The reviews of it were not as encouraging, it bombed in its initial release in 95 and had accumulated negative reviews. The one thing I learnt and will emphasise is to never trust critic reviews (after watching the disaster which is the Heathers and not being able to get past the first half of La La Land). Despite these flaws I sat ready to watch a mind numbing cheap knockoff of one of my favourite movies. The movie revolves around a bunch of teens working for minimum wage in a record store, they are wide range of different personalities colliding in this one spot. This job and the store is essentially a haven for them. The cast are very interesting, and you may notice a few familiar faces, the most recognisable being Renee Zellweger.

The first character we see is someone who clearly loves the store, this is Lucas who finds out that the store is being sold to a huge chain and tries to gain money to ensure this doesn’t happen. However, the way he attempts to save the store is by taking the stores earnings of $9000 that he was meant to the bank, instead he goes to Atlantic City and doubles his earnings (yay!) but then bets all of the $18000 and obviously loses it.

Suffice to say Joe, the store manager is pissed as he was going to use this money to be a partner in the new chain when it gets brought. Joe takes the news surprisingly well, and simply grounds Lucas to sit on the couch and think of a plan to get this money back. We meet more of the staff of empire records, one being AJ, a super cute aspiring artist who is infatuated with another store employee Corey (played by Steven Tyler’s daughter). Another employee and Corey’s best friend is Gina, her opposite being a loose girl with no aspirations. Another more minor but fun character is Mark, who we see occasionally rocking out.

One of my favourite character introductions was Deb, she comes in through the door and gives her two other female employees the finger as they greet her. I found her hostility unexpected considering how the rest of the group acts like family and it did make me chuckle. She walks into the bathroom and begins to cut her hair and while watching just thought after the first few cuts, “she can salvage this” or “her hair could look cute”. Then out comes the razor and her hair was completely shaved off. The other employees express concern in her state of mind.

Image result for empire records debra

The film spans in the course of a day and on this particular day they are preparing for the arrival of a washed up singer to attend the store who the teenagers are less than excited to see. Prior to Rex Manning’s entrance the store encounters and detains a shoplifter in a hilarious and ridiculous way.

Image result for empire records rex manning day

I will not go on to sum up the whole plot as I encourage you to watch it (or if it doesn’t seem like your cup of tea then elsewhere will summarise the film better than me). I went into the movie with neither sky high or low expectations, I simply wanted something reminiscent of Breakfast Club and wanted to be entertained. It definitely fulfilled Breakfast Club feels as there were some parallels in the certain characters, Deb being Allison. Corey being Molly Ringwald-ish and Lucas being vaguely like Bender. It was very funny and it could easily relate to your high school job, the time just before university. Some scenarios were out there and exaggerated but it adds to the quirkiness of Empire Records. I just want to reiterate that this is no Shawshank Redemption or Forrest Gump, with it’s random dance scenes and moments when you just say “oh come on” to the characters however I could easily re-watch it and it is an extremely fun movie. It may not be entirely realistic but some parts were unexpected and it certainly was enjoyable.

In it’s time it never did well, never found the audience or the footing much like underappreciated works such as Freaks and Geeks, My So-Called Life and Pushing Daisies. However decades later I am glad to say that it has finally found it’s fan base and developed a cult following. I feel like it was before it’s time, and teens throughout the years can watch it feeling an affinity toward the characters and the store, making it easy to relate to the range of characters. An added bonus to empire records is obviously the soundtrack, the songs are banging, except well the Rex Manning songs which are, of course, laughable.

The comparative movie, Dazed and Confused, also taking place in the space of a day and featuring an ensemble cast, most notable being Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey. Also the guy who plays Lucas in Empire Records plays some stoner guy and also in it is Renee Zellweger. I don’t know the names of any character because of how bland they were which made them all seem like minor characters. I will try to talk about the plot but can honestly say that there wasn’t a plot. A bunch of high school guys which includes Ben Affleck and Football Dude who are enjoying their last day of school, these events include getting high in the halls, parking lot and class, which apparently the teachers just allow. They leave their busy class schedules to go to a middle school and threaten the students there, as a part of “hazing”. One student is singled out as his sister asked them to take it easy on him which obviously means they will hurt him even more. They go back to school, smoke more weed and then are asked to sign a pledge to not take drugs while they’re on the football team. The rest of the team do it knowing it’s an empty promise, however Football Dude decides not to sign it because it means giving away his individuality(?) and beliefs because clearly his morals are so strong (drugs, cheating and beating kids shows very strong morals) that he can’t lie. Then they paddle the middle school boys and the girls are berated, by being called sluts and bitches, getting food thrown at them and then cleaned in a car wash. The biggest question mark is that it seems voluntary for the girls, as one girl is asked if she wants to join which she agrees to. While the boys are hazed for proximity. The boy they threaten earlier escapes from Ben Affleck’s sociopathic character however they later spank him after tracking down his baseball game.

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(Me watching this movie)

The middle schooler is then invited by Football Dude to come to another character’s party. The parents decide to stay home after they see kegs being delivered so party cancelled. They loiter around, buy beer, knock peoples mail boxes down and then get high and drink. This includes the middle schooler, getting high and drinking for the first time. What is even more baffling is that the parents do not care that their kids drink or smoke marijuana in the house or come back at sunrise, not even if he is fifteen.

Dazed and Confused got positive reviews from critics in 1993 during it’s release and still to this day. I have no idea why, the plot is non existent, the characters bland and forgettable, despite the fact I watched it a few hours ago I can barely remember them. Empire records was panned by critics for its silliness and supposed “predictability” which are the traits that Dazed and Confused is loved for. They are making jerky characters with no inhibitions for the sake of them being like high schoolers who are more like burnouts, every character is pretty much the same and there is no character development, it is very see is what you get. None of the characters seem particularly familiar or likeable to me. There was no change from the start of the film to the end. it seemed very typical like every american sitcom ever but crammed into a space of an hour and a half. it even seemed like a bunch of dissaciated scenes on end. Everything spanning in a day seems too forced and the humour falls flat. I didn’t laugh once in this movie. However there must be a disclaimer, Dazed and Confused is said to reflect the American culture which I know from other movies but I am not american so maybe I can not relate to it as I never attended an American high school. However I have watched plenty of American movies and never found the culture an obstacle for me to relate or like a movie. Maybe if you are American you are the inclusive group who understand the charm but if not automatically you will not be able to understand it. Or perhaps it is even more niche and you have to have attended an American school in the 70’s to get it?

While Dazed and Confused was very lacklustre with zero charm and memorability (the songs were good, I guess), it met nothing but positive reviews. Everything that Dazed and Confused is praised for is what Empire Records is scrutinised for, where Empire Records was a fun watch. Both spanned a day but with more developed characters and day which marked some kind of importance in Empire Records whereas Dazed is much like it’s title with no redeemable traits.

 

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Mindy

There are those shows you watch, that you wait weekly for. The characters that you root for. The shows which you can’t explain why you love it so much. The ones that make you laugh. Make you cry. Then by the end when you have spent all that time with these fictional characters and just as you bid them that final farewell, the writers fuck it up.

The Mindy Project is rom-com kind of show starring Mindy Lahiri as a colourful hilarious OB/GYN. Mindy is awesome, she is confident, she pulls guys and has a good time, along with all that she is also accomplished. In the beginning shes a hot mess, actually shes a little bit of a mess the whole way through but who isn’t? Also I know I said that it was a romantic comedy-esque kind of show but I’m using that lightly. She has had her fair share of romantic encounters but they don’t feel forced. No super cheesy grand romantic gestures, not all the guys were the princes they once seemed to be and that is what makes it different to any other show.

Throughout the first few seasons she has had extremely hot guys fall for her, I love the eye candy and they were easily shippable. Some guys were real slimeballs, some didn’t last long and others came with an important message, however behind all these escapades there was Daniel Castellano, a colleague to Mindy and one half of the couple who had the “will they/won’t they” relationship. They had chemistry with the witty banter, they had friendship sprinkled with some healthy rivalry. After a few season of that sexual tension, everyone was pleased when they finally got together.

But no, that wasn’t when the curtains closed and read happily ever after, that is the beauty of The Mindy Project. They had problems, a lot, a lot of problems. In about 1 season the whole build up of the romantic connection was destroyed. Danny became the character we loved to hate, he refused to marry Mindy after he knocked her up, left her alone for ages (he was caring for his dad so we can accept it but he dealt with the situation horribly) and he wanted her to give up her career. Eventually I was rooting for her to leave his sorry ass.

It,s better to be alone than to be with someone who holds you back, that’s the message. It’s a message that isn’t often addressed especially with the growing pressure to be in a relationship, being single doesn’t seem like an option. This show did that, Mindy had her own business, thrived in her career and was a single mother. Sure, she wasn’t perfect but she was doing it.

Then came dependable Ben, I’m not going to bullshit you- I loved him. He was exactly what Mindy wanted, he was committed, he liked her and they both were divorced parents. But she fucked this one up. Constantly thinking she was better than him because he was a nurse and just in general, she didn’t treat him right. Just like how I applauded Mindy when dumped Danny, I was practically cheering when Ben found his self worth and declared “I’m too good for you”.

However the creators really had to make sure that bridge was burnt with this couple as they got together, got hitched and got divorced. Ben said “we should get divorced” atfer a series of events proved Mindy liked being apart from her husband constantly. Mindy simply agreed. He desperately hoped she would fight a little for their marriage but was heartbroken when she didn’t and that was the end for them. I liked this story line, I would have preferred it to be a bit longer but it showed how there was no spark in it for Mindy. It mirrored her relationship to Danny but in this case, she was Danny, oh sweet irony.

The whole way through we get a strong Mindy, who has grown up and wants passion but at the same time understands being single. Then again its fucked up, conveniently Danny is getting a divorce, after being portrayed as a dick for the past few seasons, and still doesn’t become remotely likeable, he is reintroduced as the love interest. While watching I couldn’t believe they were going to get back together and thought of it as a plot device to show why they would never work. However after watching the season finale not long ago, I was disappointed. All those lessons she learnt, all the reasons a relationship won’t work, all the battles won and lost, only to revert back to your old ways.

This was a step back in both plot and character development, to simply get back together with Danny just because she thought he changed by one gesture. Give me at least a half decent reason they should be together, not this bullshit.

The main thing was it didn’t fit into the tone of the show. I wanted an ending that was full of possibilities for Mindy not a not-so-grand empty gesture. Why make us spend so much time despising Danny for him to come back and try to make him seem like a half decent guy who deserves the lead character?

I always loved this show. An accomplished strong minority woman as the lead, it kind if reminded me of Ugly Betty, which i absolutely love. Mindy was super relatable, the episode which showed her rewatching the princess bride over and over, that is basically me. She was witty and likeable, loved to eat, was overall unapologetic about who she was which all felt so honest. It brought many characters and plot lines which were entertaining and Kahling did a great job as Mindy.

The other characters were disregarded by the end of it, a quick fix for a few of them which again were completely out of character. Then ignoring the rest (I really wanted on last hurrah for Peter). The running theme in The Mindy Project is that the guys are meh and the women settle, some character development or any context would have been great.

The ending honestly just killed it a bit, there were moments along the way which were great to watch. The end was cheap and clearly forced, a desperate attempt to end on a high. HOWEVER, saying that, as much as the quality decreased,  I will happily rewatch the show and I look forward to see what Kahling has up her sleeve next.