Friday, July 30, 2010



So I’ve been thinking about going back to school at the ripe old age of twenty-ni—uh, thirty-sev—um … let’s just say I’m older than the average “traditional” student. Since I started tossing the idea around, I’ve had flashbacks of retirement-age Rodney Dangerfield in “Back to School,” a movie I hated when I first saw it in 1986, but have since upgraded to “doesn’t TOTALLY suck, but Rodney still gets no respect for this one.”

Then I got to thinking about the many films revolving around institutions of higher learning and came up with more than you can shake a yardstick at. I divided my mental list, reduced it to its lowest terms and I now present the remainder: 10 of my favorite films about lessons learned both in and out of the classroom.

To Sir With Love” (1967) – The quintessential parable of the dedicated teacher winning over a class of rebellious malcontents. Standouts include Sidney Poitier as Mark Thackeray (“Sir” to his pupils), Judy Geeson as Pamela Dare, and Lulu’s hit song sharing the film’s title.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982) – With a cast of future stars including a young Sean Penn as stoner surf-rat Jeff Spicoli, “Fast Times” taught us words like “wuss,” and “gnarly,” plus that the settlers “left this England place 'cause it was bogus.”

The Breakfast Club” (1985) – Most of us identified with at least one of these five student caricatures (“a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal”) who meet in Saturday detention and find they have more in common than they thought. (As a freshman, I was a less-nerdy version of Anthony Michael Hall’s “brain”; by graduation, I’d morphed into Ally Sheedy’s not-so-insane “basket case.”)

School Daze” (1988) – Spike Lee trains his gimlet eye on intra-racial color discrimination and Greek vs. non-Greek conflict among students at a historically black college. With musical numbers!

Stand and Deliver” (1988) – This is the movie “Dangerous Minds” wanted to be. Though both are based on true stories, Edward James Olmos is infinitely more credible than Michelle Pfeiffer as a teacher who transforms underachievers into honor roll students.

Lean on Me” (1989) – Morgan Freeman as tyrannical-but-dedicated principal Joe Clark saves this from being just another fact-based tale of an inner-city miracle worker.

Dazed and Confused” (1993) – Imagine what “The Breakfast Club” got up to after detention and it might look something like this peek into the lives of nerds, jocks, stoners, cheerleaders and that creepy guy who graduated five years ago but still hangs around the high school.

Rushmore” (1999) – Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman make extracurricular activities more hilarious than giving wedgies to Chess Club geeks.

Mean Girls” (2004) – One of the many reasons I love Tina Fey, who turned a nonfiction book about cliques into one of the smartest, funniest teen movies of the decade (starring Lindsay Lohan, pre-downward spiral). You go, Glen Coco!

Napoleon Dynamite” (2004) – Gawky Napoleon has one goal during his senior year: To ask his secret crush to the prom. Lessons learned: Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills and D-Qwon has the dopest dance grooves.

Friday, July 16, 2010



A bunch of folks are having a conniption over a certain oft-photographed celebrity’s unconventional fashion choices. “Appalling!” they crow. “Why can’t she dress like a NORMAL girl?” they caw.

Who could “she” be? Lady Gaga? Kristen Stewart? Serena Williams? No, no, no and no.

Despite having her face plastered all over websites, magazines, tabloids and newspapers around the world, this star hasn’t had a hit song, starred in any blockbuster movies, or won an international sports championship. In fact, this blonde beauty is probably just beginning to master the fine art of coloring inside the lines. (No, it’s not Paris or Britney, either.)

Meet Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, gender-bending, tomboy-chic fashionista … and thumb-sucking 4-year-old. Spawned from the two-headed entity known as Brangelina, little Shiloh is making headlines with her short-cropped locks and preference for britches over ball gowns. According to Mama Jolie, the tot “dresses like a little dude … she likes track suits, she likes regular suits. She likes to dress like a boy.”

So what’s the big deal about a little girl who likes pants and button-down shirts? No doubt it’s Jolie’s follow-up comment that “she wants to be a boy. So we had to cut her hair. She thinks she's one of the brothers."

I repeat, “What’s the big deal?”

Maybe it’s that the idea that a child so young adamantly refuses to conform to traditional gender roles. Perhaps it’s the notion that her parents are comfortable with and accepting of her choices. Or maybe the thought that Shiloh’s male-identified persona might not change as she grows up brings out people’s fears about their own children.

When I was Shiloh’s age, I, too, wanted to be a boy. Like her, I grew up with two older brothers whom I idolized and imitated. Had I been dolled up in some frilly nonsense, there’s no way I could have executed an effective knee-drop while playing “Big-Time Wrestling.” Plus, I envied my brothers’ never having to run home from the playground to answer a call of nature. (My attempts to imitate them in that respect were less successful.)

Yeah, I wanted to be a boy. I also wanted to be a Muppet and one of the Supremes. Four-year-olds are barely beginning to identify as humans, much less grapple with gender identity.

We have no idea who this preschooler will be as she matures – a diehard tomboy or a hearts-and-flowers girly-girl. And if she DOES turn out to be transgender, like Cher’s daughter, Chastity, who’s now her son named Chaz, I say better an alive, well-adjusted man with loving, accepting parents than a self-hating woman who, worst-case scenario, finds life not worth living.

Shiloh’s apparel won’t change the fact that her parents see her as “one of the goofiest, most playful people you’ll ever meet” instead of just a haircut and boy’s clothing. If anything, she’ll grow up to be charismatic and independent-minded, instead of just another brick in the wall, so hey, people … leave the kid alone.

Friday, July 02, 2010



It’s that time again, when we prepare to celebrate our independence from the nation that ultimately would give us The Beatles, “Absolutely Fabulous,” and Cadbury chocolate (well done!), along with The Spice Girls and “Jerry Springer: The Opera” (try again), and Russell Brand (jury’s still out).

That’s right, it’s almost Independence Day, when we thank our lucky stars (and stripes) that we’re eating hot dogs and apple pie instead of bangers and mash. And of course, this holiday isn’t complete without the requisite Fourth of July fireworks.

Actually, “Fourth of July fireworks” is a misnomer, since packaged pyrotechnics start cropping up in pretty much any store where it’s legal (with the word “legal” being left to the proprietor’s interpretation) long before the actual holiday.

“Welcome to Bargain Bonanza! Would you like to try our new super-duper-sized Combustible Carnival of Calamity?”

“No, thanks … I’m just buying a pack of gum and these ceramic bobbleheads.”

“How about our mega-giganto-normous Barrel of Burnable Bombshells?”

“No, just the gum and the bobbleheads. Ooh! And this half-price, tie-dyed toaster cozy! That’s all.”

“Ah, c’mon … it’s the Fourth of July!”

“Actually, sir, it’s June 12.”

You get the picture.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against feting America’s freedom and lionizing our liberty. I do, however, bristle at being besieged by bombs bursting in air for weeks before and after the Fourth of July. And on the actual holiday, I prefer to watch the colorful aerial exhibits from a safe, non-flammable distance, not packed with dozens of other spectators in some cul-de-sac in an unfamiliar neighborhood. (“Cul-de-sac,” by the way, is French for “no escape route.

But seriously, folks, safety is of the utmost importance when dealing with fireworks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 10,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms every year for fireworks-related injuries, and most of these incidents involve children. (According to me, it’s mighty strange that this statistic comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

So if you’re going to be firing off gunpowder-propelled projectiles this Fourth of July, remember to be safe, sane and sensible, so you don’t end up with scars and stripes forever. And be glad you’ll never see these bad-idea fireworks and aerial displays at a store near you:

Red, White and Blew a Finger Off

Ba-Rocket Obama

Aimlessly Roamin' Candles

REALLY Hot Pockets


I Can't Believe It's Not Napalm!

The Wailin' Palin

The Star-Spangled Band-Aid®

Apocalypse POW!

Skanky Doodle

Five Charred Dud

Pop! Goes the Diesel

Rock, Paper, Blisters

Six Degrees of Amputation

As the World Burns

Botulism Rockets

Ring Around the Rosie O’Donnell

Sweet Landmine of Liberty


The Emergency Roominator