Total Recall

Total Recall: RT's Schoolhouse Favorites

It's higher education through the flicks this week.

by | September 3, 2008 | Comments

It’s time for pencils. It’s time for books. And it most
certainly is time for teachers’ dirty looks. If you’re headed back to school
this week, RT’s here to ease the crippling anxiety and dread of the new year.
We’ve compiled a list of some of our editors’ favorite movies about book-learnin’,
so read on and school yourself.




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Back to
School
(1986)



Tomatometer: 87%
Chosen by Matt Atchity, Editor-in-Chief

Who knew a Rodney Dangerfield movie could be this sweet? Dangerfield had
appeared in a couple of movies already, Caddyshack and Easy Money, both of
which capitalized on the raunchier side of Dangerfield’s long-running act.
But Back to School is a bit different; where his previous movie characters
didn’t really deserve respect, Dangerfield’s Thornton Melon is a self-made
millionaire, and the only respect he really wants (or even cares about) is his
son’s. Which means that Thornton is finally going to go to college. It’s
probably Dangerfield’s best performance next to Natural Born Killers.
Granted, he’s basically playing himself here, but he’s having so much fun that
it’s infectious. Yes, we get all the standard clichés — the crazy parties,
the tough classes, the cramming for exams, and the final sports-based
showdown, but the twist here is that Rodney’s involved, and he’s consistently
hilarious in almost every scene.






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Summer School

(1987)



Tomatometer: 58%
Chosen by Sara Schieron, RT Staff

Cast wholly by actors with sturdy futures on the B-list,
Carl Reiner’s Summer School is hard to call a “success,” but then, the
film’s an opus to underachieving — how big could it get? Mark Harmon (at his
pre-Chicago Hope apex) and Kirstie Alley (during her run on Cheers)
play Freddy Shoop and Robin Bishop; a gym teacher stuck teaching remedial
English at summer school and an honors English instructor. Lacking the skill
to inspire his students with either literacy or competence, Freddy Shoop
bribes them to study. All of Summer School‘s graduates moved forward to
consistent employment: Courtney Thorne-Smith is on According to Jim, Shawnee
Smith is the vicious nurse in the Saw films and Richard Steven
Horvitz is “Invader Zim” So unlike Girls Just Wanna Have Fun or
Fast Times at Ridgemont High, this class may not boast any
future-glitterati, but not one Summer School classmate flunked out.
Maybe it’s proof that studying (even the bribery-inspired kind) does count for
something.





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Fast
Times at Ridgemont High


(1982)



Tomatometer: 89%
Chosen by Jeff Giles, RT Staff

Objectively speaking, there are certainly better movies
about high school — heck, I almost wrote about Say Anything… or The
Breakfast Club
here — but I don’t think I’ve gone back to any of them as
many times as I have Fast Times at Ridgemont High. There are the film’s
well-documented charms (two words: Phoebe Cates), as well as one of the best
soundtracks of the ’80s, but even taking that stuff into consideration, Fast
Times
is probably better than you remember — mostly thanks to a wonderful
cast that’s anchored by stellar performances from Jennifer Jason Leigh and
Judge Reinhold (yes, seriously). Of course, that’s what makes Fast Times
a good movie — I’d be lying if I said Sean Penn’s side-splitting turn
as the blissfully ignorant Jeff Spicoli wasn’t what makes it my favorite.
Aloha, Mr. Hand!






more info…

Half Nelson


(2006)



Tomatometer: 91%
Chosen by Tim Ryan, Editor

Half Nelson upends the “liberal idealist saves the hood” subgenre of
educational dramas like Dangerous Minds and Take the Lead. This
time, it’s young, unconventional history teacher Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) who
could use some salvation; he’s addicted to crack, and he pines for an old flame
who’s subsequently gotten clean. One of his students, a precocious latch-key kid
named Dray (remarkably played by Shareeka Epps), discovers him smoking crack one
night in a locker room, and does everything she can to help despite having
plenty of troubles of her own. Half Nelson is a wonderful character study
filled with rich performances, but one of its greatest assets is the fact that
it shows a teacher actually teaching something. Gosling’s passion for his
subject, and the fact that he’s utterly committed to not teaching by the book,
seems wholly authentic, and it’s refreshing to see a film in which inner city
students are treated as individuals, not as a teeming mob of malcontents waiting
for a passionate teacher to tap their inner potential.




more info…

Au Revoir Les
Enfants


(1987)



Tomatometer: 100%
Chosen by Alex Vo, Editor

Rushmore is my favorite movie and it happens to be primarily set at school,
but since I already wrote all I wanted to about that in a recent feature,
here’s my alternate: Louis Malle’s Au Revoir Les Enfants, a 1987 French drama
set at a boarding school during World War II. The main character, Julien,
befriends a new kid named Jean Bonnet, blissfully unaware of the obvious fact:
Jean Bonnet is a Jew. I saw this in sixth or seventh grade and was my first
movie in which school wasn’t depicted as a prison, the children and adults
weren’t engaged in slapstick battles, and all the small details of kid’s daily
life was captured free of condescension or cynicism. This is a fine, sweet
movie on the impending terror of war and adulthood.





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Lean on Me
(1989)



Tomatometer: 64%
Chosen by Ryan Fujitani, Community Manager

As a young lad, my two favorite movies were Glory and
Lean On Me, and a big part of the reason for this was the presence of Morgan
Freeman in both. There was something in his face that felt paternal and
comforting to me, almost as if he was destined to play the sagacious father
figure in cinema, and this was nowhere more evident than in Lean On Me. As
maverick principal Joe Clark, Freeman admittedly revels in a wee bit of scene
chewing, and the movie isn’t without its “wise teacher earns the trust of his
rebellious students” clichés, but I don’t care. I found it absolutely
charming, it’s endlessly quotable (“I’m the HNIC!”, “I don’t have to do nothin’
but stay black and die!”), it has a killer soundtrack that features Guns ‘N’
Roses and Big Daddy Kane, and it’s pure fun watching Morgan Freeman stomping
down hallways doling out tough love and ordering everything to be done
“Expeditiously!”





more info…
Terrifying
Girls High School

(1973)
Tomatometer: N/A
Chosen by Jen Yamato, Editor

There’s a special, perverse place in my heart for the “pinky violence”
films of 1970s Japan, and they don’t come much more twisted than Norifumi
Suzuki’s reform school tale Terrifying Girls High School: Lynch Law Classroom.
Cult star Miki Sugimoto, famous for playing tough delinquent girl bosses,
embodies cool as a rebellious teenager who rallies her classmates into a sex and
violence-filled coup against The Man; Reiko Ike turns in a quick cameo as the
leather-clad leader of a rival gang. Yeah, it’s exploitation cinema to the core,
replete with cat fights, a funky soundtrack, lots of nudity, and crazy plot
turns, but you’ve gotta love a movie where the popular girls in school turn out
to be glorified fascist hall monitors, heroines are handy with a switchblade,
and the happy ending comes with the anarchic, window-smashing, literal
destruction of a corrupt institution called “The School of Hope.”

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