FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and DAZED AND CONFUSED Blu-ray Reviews

     September 24, 2011

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Universal has been releasing Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Dazed and Confused together for a while now. I guess it makes sense. They’re both “party” films in that it’s hard to imagine Fast Times having the impact it did without Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli character, and Dazed and Confused second half is virtually one long party. Universal has embraced that, often selling both with pot jokes. Fast Times follows a group of teens (including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, Penn, Judge Reinhold and more) as they look for love and deal with sex in high school, while Confused follows a set of juniors (including Jason London, Ben Affleck, Parker Posey and Adam Goldberg) as they are about to become seniors and become rulers of the school. Our reviews of both Fast Times and Dazed and Confused on Blu-ray follow after the jump.

fast-times-at-ridgemont-high-movie-imageFirst, it should be said that Criterion will be releasing Dazed and Confused on Blu-ray later in the year. Just FYI.

Fast Times came from a novel by Cameron Crowe, who (as a someone who always looked younger than he was) was able to sneak into a high school and report on what he saw as a former Rolling Stone magazine contributor. What the film became – under the direction of Amy Heckerling, with a script by Crowe – was a portrait of the aims and sex lives of her protagonists. Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is the main character, a young girl who wants to get sex out of the way. And so she first goes about it on a date with an older man, but he never calls her back. Mark Ratner (Brian Backer) develops a crush on her, but he’s not gifted with the ladies, and even when they go on a date, he screws it up. His friend Mike Damone (Richard Romanus) sees his weakness, and when Ratner fails he comes in, but he’s more talk than knowledge and ends up getting Stacy pregnant.

fast-times-at-ridgemont-high-movie-image-2Stacy’s best friend is Linda Barrett (Phoebe Cates), and though she may have the most famous moment in the movie, she’s more of a side character who mostly dates older men. But she’s definitely fantasy material for Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold), Stacy’s brother. He was running a fast food restaurant, and when he gets fired feels like he’s lost some of his manhood as he looks for other jobs. And then there’s Jeff Spicolli (Sean Penn), the stoner guy who makes class hell for Mr. Hand (Ray Walston) by showing up late, and generally not paying enough attention.

One of the most impressive things about Fast Times is how it manages to do so much in its compact 90 minute running time. The film is filled with memorable scenes and sequences, and yet there’s no fat on the bone. Considering what is made now, and how, the film benefits from the end of the 1970’s era sensibilities applied to a high school drama, and the film (as Heckerling notes) works well as it contrasts the innocence of the characters with what they’re getting into. But – and why the film is still a wonder – it’s not judging them, it’s about their struggles and all the characters create empathy. They are just kids. It’s a shame that when people do high school movies now they are more influenced by John Hughes than this film.

fast-times-at-ridgemont-high-blu-ray-coverBut like Dazed and Confused, one of the most fascinating things about the movie is how many of its supporting players became leads. Forrest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, and Nicolas Cage are some of the minor characters in the film. Much as Dazed offered Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Parker Posey and Milla Jovovich. And another thing both have in common is how much it makes of their universes. With such great talents in support, these social worlds and these characters feel lived in, which is probably why the films have lasted as long as they have. That and they’re just fun and sexy.

Universal’s Blu-ray of Fast Times presents the film in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Surround. The film is nearly 30 years old, and the transfer is appropriate. That means it’s a little bit harder on the grain than a modern film (but thankfully little DNR), so it looks like a great print. Awesome. There’s a making of called “Reliving our Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (39 min.) that gets Heckerling, producer Art Linson, Reinhold, Scott Thompson, Sean Penn, Ray Walston, Eric Stoltz, Brian Backer, and others to comment on the film, but doesn’t get Cameron Crowe, Jennifer Jason Leigh or Phoebe Cates. Crowe, however is on the commentary track with Heckerling, and it’s a great track. The film’s theatrical trailer is also included, as are two U-Controls, one a Scene companion – offering mostly footage from the documentary – and a “The Music of” which lists the artist and songs being played in the film. There’s little new from the DVD, but the upgrade in picture is worth it.

dazed-and-confused-movie-imageDazed and Confused has a set “one day” narrative. It starts with the last day of school, and ends the next morning. Randal “Pink” Floyd (Jason London) is going to be the quarterback next year, and he and his teammates (Sasha Jenson, Cole Hauser, Jason O. Smith) are about to participate in the senior tradition, which is chasing after and paddling the incoming freshman. The male freshmen are personified by Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins), who is also the star pitcher in his baseball team. Kevin Pickford (Shawn Andrews) is supposed to have the big kegger, but his parents find out and cancel that party.

dazed-and-confused-movie-image-2Then there are the girls. Jodi Kramer (Michelle Burke) is the laid back semi-lead of the group, but there’s also her friends (Deena Martin, Christine Harnos). The girls also have a senior tradition, which means humiliating the incoming Freshmen, and no one takes more joy in that than Darla (Parker Posey) and Simone (Joey Lauren Adams) – Pink’s girlfriend. Jodi brings freshman Sabrina (Cristin Hinojosa) into the fold. Then there’s the nerds – with Mike (Adam Goldberg) and Tony (Anthony Rapp), with their female friend Cynthia (Marisa Ribisi) – and the stoners Slater (Rory Cochran), Pickford’s girlfriend Michelle (Milla Jovovich) and old timer Wooderson (Mathew McConaughey), who opines that he loves high school girls because “I get older, they stay the same age.”

Dazed and Confused works partly because it’s about a social microcosm, and that world is lived in and real. Though set in 1976, and obviously influenced by George Lucas’s American Graffiti, it’s about a different time, and a different set of goals. Only the letter that Pink gets asking him to sign something saying he’ll stay clean while on the team hinges in the balance. Everyone on the team knows they won’t follow those rules, so it’s about pride, but also about the BS. The film works because you buy every character, and it doesn’t traffic in stereotypes that are neat. The nerds and the jocks can be friends, and each group has its overlaps. For the most part it’s about a community that mostly tolerates each other. Partly because everyone wants to have a good time.

dazed-and-confused-blu-ray-coverBut – I’ve always found – the central theme of the film is about ascendancy as portrayed by Wiley Wiggins’s Mitch Kramer and Cristin Hinojosa’s Sabrina. All of the seniors are on the lookout to abuse Mitch, partly because his big sister said to take it easy on him. He gets his paddling, but he also goes out that night with the gang. And in that, in every decision he makes, he’s becoming part of that group, and Kramer’s character would – obviously – come to be the next king when his time comes. He ends the film getting away with it, and also making out with an older girl. As nervous as he is, he does everything right to assure him a role in that world. For Cristin, she is brought into the fold, but doesn’t understand it. She makes a move for Rapp’s Tony, and alienates Darla. Without knowing the social world she’s entering into, she’s already made her way out of it, and it looks like in one night, she’s going to permanently branded uncool (if Darla remembers, that is).

And in that way, patterns and indoctrination are the subtext of the film. But on the surface it’s about teenagers drinking, smoking, and hanging out, and there’s not a bum sequence in the movie. It’s a top to bottom effort, there’s no wasted moments or downtime, and the soundtrack is killer. It’s one of the best films of its sort, and in that it belongs with Fast Times.

Universal’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 surround. Reference quality picture, the 1080p on this one is excellent, though likely doesn’t have the “hands on” approach of the upcoming Criterion edition. Extras include a Ucontrol that lists the songs and artists in the film, then there are nine deleted scenes (14 min.) “The Blunt Truth” (4 min.) – a fake documentary on marijuana – and two public service commercials on VD and littering (2 min.). If you’ve ever seen a joke about the Native American crying a single tear, you can see where that joke came from here.

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