Skool Daze. Movies reviewed: Boychoir, It Follows, The Riot Club

Posted in Class, Cultural Mining, Drama, Horror, Kids, Movies, UK, US by CulturalMining.com on March 27, 2015

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Are school days the best days of our lives? Or a journey through the nine stages of hell? This week I’m looking at three movies: a drama about a choir school for boys, a horror movie about high school students, and a dark tale set at Oxford University.

Photography By Myles AronowitzBoychoir
Dir: Francois Girard (The Red Violin)

Stet (Garret Wareing) is a dirt-poor kid in Odessa, Texas. His mom’s an addict and the boy runs rampant at school, picking fights and acting out his frustrations. Mom ODs, Stet’s an orphan, so he’s taken under the wing of his school principal (Debra Winger). She recognizes his musical talent and angelic voice, and convinces his biological father to send him to American Boy Choir an elite music school on the east coast.

He may be talented, but he has no training – he’s musically 896a532c-bd1d-4e4d-870d-38b382f5e407 Dustin Hoffman in Boychoirilliterate. Other kids bully him, and he retreats farther and farther into himself. The teachers at the school react differently. Drake (Eddie Izzard) is a priggish snot – he thinks Stet’s challenging his own protégé, the prize soloist Devon,  so he offers no help; Master Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman) is a egotistical tyrant, but he sees himself in young Stet. He gets more sympathy from Wooly, a young teacher (Kevin McHale) and the pragmatic schoolmistress (Kathy Bates). Stet’s father (Josh Lucas) supports him financially, but keeps his existence a secret – is he ashamed of his own son?

Photography By Myles AronowitzIt’s up to Stet himself to study and practice if he ever wants to sing solo in the travelling choir and reveal his amazing talent. He can reach and hold a high “D” – the holy grail for young singers. But time is ticking. He’s twelve years old, and his voice may change at any moment.

Boychoir is heavy-duty weeper, but I liked it. My eyes teared up at least 5 times over the course of the movie. I realize it’s intentionally pulling all the sentimental strings but it still works. Aside from a few acting missteps and bungled scenes, Stet and the rest of the kids play their roles naturally and sing very well. Boychoir shows how young kids can be both innocent and cruel.

629a894c-6ed1-4f8c-bbf4-e4664ebfb9a7It Follows
Dir: David Robert Mitchell

Jay (Maika Monroe) is a teenager who lives a quiet and dull suburban life with her sister and her friends. She’s dating Hugh (Jake Weary) an older guy. He’s pretty nice, if a bit weird. One night they drive out to a deserted area and have sweet sex in the back seat of his car.

Next thing you know she’s tied to a chair in an abandoned 8ca0fd9e-e409-4f69-a7f2-d902e94d077aparking lot! It gets worse: Hugh says he infected her with an incurable STI. And not just that: this “infection” means someone or something will always be following her, and if it catches her she’s dead. And only she can see it but it’s real, and can change its appearance at will. An old lady in a hospital gown. A naked, middle-aged guy on a roof. A feral kid. You can outrun it, but it never stops coming.

deb8edab-19f9-43c4-bf02-b904ebdcb584Your only cure is to pass it on to the next person by having sex. As long as they’re still alive, you’re safe. When they’re gone, you’re next in line again.

So Jay and her friends (basically there are no adults in this movie) – her sister, a shy boy with a crush, a smart girl, the dude across the street – together they try to keep her, and themselves, safe from this thing.762937db-6c02-48be-85c4-1e0ce9523704

This movie is oddly calm, but terrifying. It’s filled with white suburban fear and angst… and lots of casual sex. This is not your regular Hollywood teen horror movie; it feels more like an indie pic with its unconventional characters and normcore aesthetic. But it’s the plainness, the ordinariness of the creature that will scare your pants off.

10154919_1001948323154626_384318691203502678_nThe Riot Club
Dir: Lalo Schiffrin

When Miles (Max Irons) starts at Oxford, he’s a hellofa nice guy. He’s smart, personable and good-looking. He’s also filthy rich, complete with stately mansion and Westminster education. He’s paired up with Alistair (Sam Claflin) for their two-person tutorials, and it’s a study in contrasts. Alistair is an insufferable snob, a stuck-up, disagreeable prick. The two of them are chosen to join a secret fraternal organization of ten young men; notably no women, since this club thinks of females as comodities, not 1926768_951500188199440_3355565866358656126_npeople. It’s known as the Riot Club. More than two centuries old, it’s devoted to the best eating, drinking and debauchery money can buy. Its members are all handsome, witty, self-confident and well connected. The ten of them will go on to rule the finances and government of the UK and the world.

While not a rebel, Miles doesn’t think much about class and status and is dating a pretty girl, Lauren (Holliday Grainger), from a decidedly non-posh background. But things take a sinister 10662061_944410158908443_3913457697926683186_oturn at a dinner initiation. Anything is permitted at the country pub, and any damages are paid off in cash. The ten of them arrive in white ties and tails, but their behavior is anything but formal. In this movie, the upper class is less Downton Abbey, more Clockwork Orange (with ordinary people as their victims). Will both Miles and Alistair take part these excesses? Or will Miles stay true to his girlfriend Lauren?

I can’t say I loved this movie – it’s quite disturbing. It’s the opposite of a feel-good movie. It’s a feel bad movie. Sadly, the story is modelled on an actual group, the Bullingdon Club. They say its cynical, aristocratic members still rule Britannia, including London’s Mayor Boris Johnson, the Chancellor of the article-2407406-1B8A4305000005DC-25_634x489Exchequer and even UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

Excellent acting, great script (based on the play POSH) The Riot Club is a well-made, powerful film… but not a nice one.

Boychoir, It Follows and The Riot Club all open today in Toronto: check your local listings. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website culturalmining.com

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