Retro Movie Review: Real Genius

This is another piece of mine I wrote for a now defunct website called Retro Guava. It was an Australian site that sold retro themed shirts. I did a series of retro movie reviews for the site that focused on films coming out between 1980 and 1995. Real Genius was released in August of 1985. This review has been extensively edited for style and substance from the original review. – WCB

First an explanation of the 1985 Science Trilogy:

The trials and temptations of teenagers in High School and College are widely documented. The details of school life during the era of Reagan are no secret. The battles between Jocks versus Nerds ranged far and wide with casualties too numerous to count. Before the advent of computers, Jocks more often than not won these battles, for the Nerds just did not have the muscle and man-power. Ultimately, the Nerds won this titanic struggle for School dominance in the 1980′s. Unlike the previous decades, the 1980′s brought forth a true era of technological superiority which only the Nerds had the upper hand. Many movies prove this point but three movies in 1985 show the truth of this idea. I dub them the 1985 Science Trilogy, three movies made by different studios that show how science helps stereotypical nerds overcome their life situations. All three were released within two weeks of each other, between August 2 and August 9 in 1985. Two of them are well-known while the third is less so. Real Genius is the second movie in this Trilogy and released on August 7, 1985.

Documentation of brutality of college life exists in many forms from the 1980′s. Often it is the stereotypical sports obsessed and muscle bound dumb “Jock” against the scrawny and intelligent, yet wise, “Nerd.” Occasionally this dichotomy is changed. What happens when a group of intelligent college students is forced to recognize the superior intellect of one younger but much more skilled than themselves?  Real Genius poses this question and sets the cameras rolling to film a group of intelligent teens from the mid ‘80′s in their natural habitat.

The film begins with an insidious scheme by several mysterious government types. They are laughing at footage of a new prototype space based weapon that can destroy any single point on the face of the planet. It is a project that is missing one key component that only Professor Jerry Hathaway can provide: A giant freakin’ laser. Professor Hathaway is set to head hunting the most intelligent young minds in the country to help him construct this laser. He does this with all the charm of a carnival huckster and doesn’t reveal to his students the truth behind the project.

Professor Hathaway’s newest protégé is a 15-year-old genius named Mitch Taylor, a young man who is more than a bit naïve. His trust in other people soon leads him to becoming the butt of many a joke that are propagated other members on his team. They hate how quickly he picks up ideas and his laser focused intellect. Luckily, other students have Mitch’s best interests at heart and help fight the vile and cowardly students wanting to do him harm. This includes the hyperactive but lovely Jordan and the former child genius Chris Knight. These two, along with others in a rag-tag group of super science, help Mitch regain his confidence and continue to stay in school. After finding out the true plan of Professor Hathaway, this super intelligent groups the nefarious plot of the military industrial complex and gives Professor Hathaway the punishment for which he is due.

Real Genius is a combination of great acting, a funny script, and good directing. Val Kilmer is at his best in this movie and does a great job of being an overly intelligent yet pompous college student with a heart of gold. Michelle Meyrink is the hyperactive genius Jordan that is cute and often oblivious to what is going on around her. I also think that her portrayal has helped to kickstart interest in quirky woman in a variety of males of a certain age. Gabriel Jarret is Mitch, the main protagonist. He does the 15-year-old fish out of water character well. This could be because he was actually 14 or 15 when he made this movie. I am especially excited to see that John Gries, who plays Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite, is in this movie as the reclusive genius that lives in Mitch’s closet. All the characters are well cast and helped to create one of the better acted Teen

Real Genius isn’t a terribly complex movie by any means; the audience won’t be scratching their heads wondering what just happened. Yet, the movie has a fun plot that actually makes me laugh every time I see the film. It is very quotable as are all the great comedy films from the 1980′s. The music is typically great throughout, underlining each scene and dramatic or comedic moment. This lasts from the first strums of the opening to the melodic 80 era synth that overlays the closing section of the film.

Intelligent people in this movie are not shown as inferior. They aren’t exactly normal but aren’t portrayed as stranger the ‘regular’ folk. It is a movie that supports those with quirky or off kilter dispositions and not one that shows such people as weird.Everyone is unique but not strange and the movie tends to laugh with the characters and not at them. I think this is one reason Real Genius has always held up so well with me. I also think if I took a look at many of my favorite comedies from the 1980′s, the same type of attitude would be on display.

For anyone that loves comedies from the 1980′s but hasn’t watched this film, you should download it or rent it today. You might even buy it on physical media. I also think that up and coming comedy scriptwriters should give this movie a few viewings. It shows that a person can write to a teen audience without being overly vulgar or sexual. Granted, there is a little of that in this film but it doesn’t overtake the plot and center around it like so many modern teen comedies.

Real Genius is a classic movie that should be watched and enjoyed by those that need a good laugh. It provides a good template for a teen comedy, but also shows how a hand picked cast can elevate a film beyond the source material. If you are in a mood for a goofy comedy that doesn’t use those with intelligence and quirky habits as pure comedy cannon fodder, check out this film today. It is worth the time spent watching it.


Tales of a Writer at his Brother’s House: The Constant of Change

Yesterday’s (April 20, 2014) Easter celebrations was a bit bittersweet for me. As a Christian, Easter is generally one of my favorite holidays of the year. It is easy to ignore the commercial aspects of the holiday and focus on the core message: Christ has Risen. However, yesterday I also attended the final service at a church I’ve been going to for the last year. It was a small church but very friendly, the first church I’ve regularly attended after a self-imposed sabbatical in 2007. Because of various reasons I won’t mention the Pastor of the church along with the Foursquare organization decided to close the doors after serving the community for eight years My brother and his wife have been going to the church for three of those years and I, of course, attended the final year of service.

Elmira FourSquare-August-2013

I knew about the closing of the Church about a week before others in the church body. The pastor took my brother and I aside and let us know what would be happening. Still, I didn’t expect yesterday to be the last service. I expected there to be a few more services lasting through the end of April. I can understand why this wasn’t the case. I often like to get bad news out of the way fast. This didn’t really soften the impact but it did give me enough time to make peace with the decision.

Going to this church didn’t just help me spiritually, it helped put me back on the path back to playing music. I’ve played guitar since around the age of nineteen or twenty. (Earlier if you count the brief flirtation with it in high school.) When I quit going to church in 2007, I also stopped playing the guitar. I’d fiddle with it every now and again, but I didn’t really pick up the instrument and play like in the past. When I left Arizona in 2012, I didn’t even bring a guitar with me. This might seem odd to those who knew me as a younger man since I always had a guitar with me when I traveled. In retrospect, this was as much of a symptom of where my head was at the time as anything. At the Foursquare Church of Elmira, I started remembering the joys of playing music again. My brother suggested I start playing and I slowly started to remember the joy that I had lost. In this I am thankful. I don’t want to ever go through a period of not playing an instrument again.

The idea that the only constant in life is change is as true today as when Heraclitus said it in ancient Greece. It’s easy to look at an event like this and become depressed. I could view it as losing a great church and a good group of people, leaving a void in my life. This isn’t necessarily a dark time, although it might seem like it on the outside. There always seems to be reasons for events like this which go beyond what I understand at the moment. I can easily tie the closing of the church in with the story of Easter itself. Without the crucifixion of Christ on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins, He would’ve never been resurrected. Good things can come from bad even if it might not seem so at the time. I also know the church isn’t a building but the full body of believers. No church closed yesterday really, I just lost a building in which to meet.

I know that I’ll continue to grow the friendships I developed through the church in to the future. I’ll take the lessons learned from the last year throughout the rest of my life. The closing of this church also frees me to continue on my own personal journey. I’ve always felt that Elmira was just a temporary stop on that path and that feeling is amplified right now. I do know myself as a person and I often stop doing what I want to help others. Doing the same with this church body was a very real possibility in my life. I’ve already contemplated the idea in my head, thinking “How do I continue moving on and still help the church in Elmira at the same time?” I feel released to continue planning my future without worrying about having to stop in a place maybe I shouldn’t permanently live.

This constant of change is a reality we all live with on a daily basis. Even when this change seems to hurt like nothing else ever experienced, good can come of these events. Change is the process of altering life in such a way that the person that is changed can’t continue on the same as before. This could be through death, marriage, birth of a child, a decision to move, becoming rich, becoming poor or a host of other events. We can’t let change stop us from living no matter how much our life is helped or hurt because of the change. We, as human beings, need to take a moment to celebrate a success or to mourn a defeat before continuing on this journey of life. This change is just another in a long list that has happened to me in the last couple of years. I will always be saddened that Elmira Foursquare closed, but who is to say another church won’t rise from the ashes of the first? I know that I feel a release to go about my life as do others that attended this church. Maybe this closing was just God’s way of helping us continue on the path He has planned for us. I’m just glad I had the chance to attend this church in the last year. I will always look back on my time here with great joy and many good memories.

Sunday Morning Wake UP: Old Rugged Cross – Alan Jackson

Merry Easter everyone, or as I like to say “Happy Resurrection Day!”  When I think of Easter, the song that immediately comes to mind is The Old Rugged Cross.  It really boils down the reason why Christ died and rose again well.  I also think, unlike many modern worship tunes, you can feel pain and loss along with redemption written in to the words.  it is a tune that is obviously written from a lifetime of experience and not just to please the ear.  It is one of my favorites and it hits me in the gut every time I hear it.

Random Thoughts for a Friday: April 18, 2014

  • This week has been a bit of a struggle.  Had my sleeping issues come back in full force.
  • I’m doing better now and should get a good nights sleep tonight.
  • Have you seen Frozen yet? Really good CGI movie.
  • However, i’m getting a bit tired of hearing the songs from it over.
  • This is my favorite scene:
  • This movie and the series Lillyhammer make me want to visit Norway. No Lie.
  • I know I just said i’m tired of hearing Frozen movie covers, I just heard one that I really liked.
  • Man, that girl in that has a big voice. Very cool.
  • On the video game front, I’ve been playing through Dark Souls.
  • It’s a fun game but it is one that the player has to learn how the world works.
  • It isn’t a game most will just pick up and be able to play.
  • I like games that make a person think.
  • From Software made the game. They started out with Demon Souls, but then had to come up with a different name when they switched publishers.  Now Dark Souls  1 and 2 are out on the market.
  • I’m playing Dark Souls 1.
  • Anyway… Going to try to get sleep tonight.  More than a few hours in a row.
  • God bless and I hope your Good Friday was good :)