Film

Art School Confidential (2006)

Cynthia Fuchs

As much as Jerome's harsh appraisals of his peers and teachers appear to be warranted, Art School Confidential doesn't exactly endorse his aspirations.


Art School Confidential

Director: Terry Zwigoff
Cast: Max Minghella, Sophia Myles, Ethan Suplee, Matt Keeslar, Joel David Moore, Jim Broadbent, Anjelica Huston, John Malkovich
Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 1969-12-31 (Limited release)
Trailer

When Jerome Platz (Zachary Maurer) is in middle school, he and his classmates are assigned to dress up as their favorite historical figures, then describe themselves to a room full of blank, made-up and bearded faces. He chooses Picasso, wearing iconic striped shirt and beret. "Even though I am super-short and bald," says the boy solemnly, "I can have sex with any woman I want, just because I am so great."

For young Jerome, art is like that, a means to an end. Tortured by schoolyard bullies, he dreams of being "so great" that he can get what he wants, be it sex, money, or some modicum of respect. This makes him much like other artists, according to Art School Confidential, whose art is not very good and whose ambitions are shaped by the marketplace that loves them. When he's of age (and played by Max Minghella), and despite his parents' objections, he leaves the burbs for a New York City art school, Strathmore Academy. Here he finds the types of students director Terry Zwigoff and writer Daniel Clowes already zapped in Ghost World: the kiss-ass, the vegetarian hippie, the skater, the angry lesbian, the art school chick, and Jerome's roommates, gay fashion major and Matthew (Nick Swardson) and horror aficionado/film student Vince (Ethan Suplee).

Art School Confidential goes on to name these caricatures, via Jerome's drawing class buddy, Bardo (Joel David Moore), who admits he is also a "living cliché," the "guy who keeps dropping out and changing his majors because he's afraid he sucks at everything." Clever as he is -- something like the boy version of Enid -- Bardo disappears for much of the film after making a few choice snarks, for instance, correctly diagnosing Jerome as the guy "who never got laid in high school," but lucky for him, art school is a "pussy buffet." Sadly, the film focuses on Jerome's less acute perspective: his date-montage shows his utter inability to make a decision, until he meets and fixates on their languid life-drawing model, Audrey (Sophia Myles), whose father happens to be a famous Strathmore grad and whose cynicism toward the business of art doesn't staunch Jerome's tedious enthusiasm.

This even when he meets Jimmy (Jim Broadbent), a Strathmore graduate of the completely furious, resentful, and depleted variety. Locked away in his grubby apartment, Jimmy paints a little, drinks a lot, and rails incessantly at the wholesale corruption of art. "Are you exceptionally skilled as a cocksucker?" Jimmy asks Jerome on their first encounter, announcing that this is his most assured route to greatness. Jerome is duly horrified, Jimmy turns back to his tv show (The Facts of Life), and the youngster goes forth into the dark night, where he might ponder his options.

Jerome's role models at Strathmore are hardly more encouraging. Drawing instructor Sandiford (John Malkovich) spends class time on the phone trying to set up a show for his own remarkably dull paintings; art history teacher Sophie (Anjelica Huston), asks the right question ("What makes art timeless?"), then listens wearily as the students spout PC rage at the dead white males who made such "implementations of masculinity." And when a successful grad (Adam Scott) returns for a lecture, he advises the wannabes to follow their "true natures," even if, as in his case, such pursuit makes him "an asshole." After all, he asks, "What could be more beautiful than truth and freedom?"

When his own, very earnest work is dismissed in class, Jerome suspects that talent and quality of work are not, in fact, the means to the end he wants so badly. Worse, pretty boy Jonah (Matt Keeslar) wins praise in drawing class, his childlike images of tanks and cars set against splashes of yellow and orange making classmates scramble for language: "It's as if he's unlearned everything," they gush. "Where have you been all my life?" asks Sandiford, whose performance may or may not be "authentic." Later, during a one-on-one meeting at his home Sandiford explains that Jonah's work has a "nowness, it's exciting." Jerome's has something else. The teacher encourages his pupil to "experiment with al the arts" and, not incidentally, "all the lifestyles." Placing his hand encouragingly on Jerome's thigh, Sandiford promises, "I am here to facilitate that experiment in whatever way I can, in or outside the classroom."

As much as Jerome's harsh appraisals of his peers and his teachers appear to be warranted, Art School Confidential doesn't exactly endorse his aspirations. Depressed when Audrey -- that girl of his arty dreams who's so bland you're likely to forget about her when she's not on screen -- also falls for the conventionally handsome, seemingly unserious Jonah, Jerome only tries harder to win her. Copying Jonah's style (one of his "experiments"), he interprets their coupling as a choice: he can pursue his own ambition to be the "greatest artist of the 21st century" or he (sell out to) win the girl, whom he stubbornly sees as the emblem of his own artistic greatness.

This circular reasoning is what the art world is all about. As the movie has it, all roads lead to corruption. The greatness Jerome seeks so fervently is what precisely what he cannot see and embodies perfectly, an other-bludgeoning, relentlessly self-involved assessment of "art." While he dismisses his blissfully plunging-ahead classmates as tasteless Neanderthals, he is reminded repeatedly that they appreciate one another's work. The historical trick is that such eyes of beholders do tend to determine "greatness," at least in the sense of sales and legends.

The more literal version of Jerome's judgmental attitude comes in the form of a not-so-compelling subplot about a local serial killer. While befuddled detectives and sensational media coverage inspire Vince to structure his "authentic" film project so that it more or less follows the case -- and to assert that the killer in his film is making an "artistic statement" -- Art School Confidential finds less to say about this clichéd subplot. And that's a point in itself: for all the seeming celebration of originality and rebellion, repetition remains a most effective form of art.

5

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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