Archive for October, 2012

Emma Watson Shines in The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Posted in Cinema with tags , , , , , , , on October 10, 2012 by davehurwitz
Is there anything more beautiful than Emma Watson?  I gotta say no.

Wallflowers: Logan Lerman & Emma Watson as Charlie & Sam

Kensington Cinema, midnight, sometime in the early nineties.  I’m sitting in lopsided theater seat near the front row, watching my first live-cast performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  A slice of Wonder Bread sits in my lap along with other equally inexplicable items.  I have no idea what it’s for, but I’ve been assured I’ll need it later.  Up on the screen, Brad and Janet abandon their stranded car to seek shelter for the night.  Meanwhile, on the concrete apron between the screen and the front row, a couple I met just a few minutes earlier reenacts the scene, word for word, with perfect timing.

Fast forward twenty years.  A different theater, a very different me.  My seat is more comfortable.  There’s nothing funky in my lap.  Up on the screen, Emma Watson, wearing nothing but her skivvies, lip-syncs “Touch Me” to an equally under-dressed Logan Lerman.  His face is a portrait of dumb-struck, terrified happiness.  And I’m taken back decades, to a night when my face probably looked much the same.

It’s a testament to Watson’s performance that at no point do I stop, like a swimmer bursting suddenly out of the water, and think “Holy crap.  Hermione’s in her underwear.”  For the duration of this film she is simply Sam, the generous, damaged love object of Stephen Chbosky’s novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Although Perks is technically a high school movie, I’m not sure what the smart-phone generation would make of this film, which is set firmly in the technology-lite world their parents came of age in.  This is very much the time of my late adolescence.  A world I’d just about forgotten, but suddenly found myself missing.  A time when a manual typewriter was merely quaint, not absurd.  An era in which, if you heard a cool song on the radio, it might take you weeks to figure out who sang it.  A time when, if you really loved someone, you made them a mix-tape.

But it wasn’t merely the era or the familiar soundtrack tunes that had me waxing nostalgic.  Mostly, it was the characters, all of whom felt just as familiar.  Perks is the story of Charlie, a depressive high school freshman with memory issues, who is befriended by Patrick and Sam, eccentric step-sibling seniors, and the rest of their clique.  Each of these characters could have slid easily into familiar types–punker, klepto, recovering party girl, gay outcast–but the depth of the performances and the undeniable realism of the situations they are thrust into make them into complete human beings.  More than that.  They reminded me of people I liked and even loved when I was in high school.

No, school walls were never this shade of green.  Sorry.

Ezra Miller as Patrick with Watson and Lerman

Add to that a recurring sense of dejá vu, the feeling that I’d actually lived through some of these scenes myself, way back when.  Whether it was Charlie’s fist encounter with an out-of-the-closet homosexual (and his immediate, no-big-thing acceptance of it), his pop-eyed introduction to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a kiss with exactly the wrong person, or that perfect song on the car stereo, I knew just what he had to be feeling because I’d been there myself.

The events of my youth were neither as epic nor as sad as the things that happen to Charlie and company in this story.  But at the time, my smaller problems felt big as mountains, and all-consuming.  That teen self-seriousness is another thing this movie captures very well.  But most of all it conveys what it feels like to be taken in, to be accepted without questions or conditions, to be given a second family’s worth of friends at a time when you yourself aren’t sure you have anything to offer.

To conclude, if you grew up weird in the early nineties, this is a film you simply must see, because this is your life, or at least your youth.  I think you’ll find it’s worth reliving.

Finally, I should point out that some critics have chastised Chbosky, a man with no prior experience, for directing this adaptation himself.  Film Comment’s Violet Lucca went so far as to say that he “seems more skilled as a novelist than a visual storyteller.”  I beg to differ.  Perks is as well-made a film as any I’ve seen recently, and one of my favorites of this year.

Dave Hurwitz

Federal Student Aid is Driving Tuition Prices Higher

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , on October 2, 2012 by davehurwitz
They can look a little smug.  They're winning.

Barry & Bill: Presidents, Jazzmen, and Big Time Lenders of Your Tax Dollars to High School Graduates.

During his speech at the Democratic National Convention, former President Bill Clinton made a point of reminding voters of a 2010 law pushed through congress by the Obama administration which, among other things, relaxed the repayment requirements for federally guaranteed student loans.  Despite the fact this law allowed a lot of indebted Americans to breathe a little easier–and despite my admiration for these two men who have done their best to clean up after the Bush family–I was and am against this law.  In fact, I am against the whole idea of the federal government lending money to students so they can buy their college education on credit.

Hold on a minute, I can hear you thinking.  Aren’t you a college professor?  Don’t you have kids who will be university age soon?  Yes and yes.  But I’d hate to see my boys, or any other young person, rack up thousands of dollars of debt just so they can attend school.  Not when there are other solutions.

Federal student aid is driving a price explosion at America’s colleges and universities.  Tuition prices have risen more than 400% since I received my BA in 1992.  It’s gotten so bad that the money I paid to attend the University of California would not be enough to buy my sons an AA at the college where I teach.  This is a community college, mind you, where classes used to be free.

What does the precipitous climb of education prices  have to do with federal grants and loans?  To answer that question, let’s try a little thought experiment.

The way this car looks makes me want to throw a fit.

Beautiful Brand New Car!

Imagine for a minute that you are buying a new car.  Imagine further that the demand for new cars is enormous.  Everybody you know seems to want one.  Because demand is high, the price of new cars has risen steadily, so much so that even though you’ve been setting money aside for this purchase, you can’t afford to buy one outright.  What do you do?

You get a loan, of course.  Nothing easier.  With a normal auto loan, you would pay some of your saved money down, then pay so much every month until the cost of the car and the interest on the loan have been paid in full.  Assuming, that is, that your credit score qualifies you for loan in the first place.

But what if someone offered you a crazy loan?  A loan so insanely good that you’d be a fool to refuse it?  These are the terms you’re being offered:  You pay no money down, none at all, but you get to drive the car off the lot today.  You make no payments for four full years, with the option to add a couple of years should it prove necessary.  Once that time is up, you will never be asked to pay more than ten percent of your yearly income to the loan holder, and you can pretty much take as long as you need to pay the loan off.  Oh, and did I mention that the interest rate on your loan is less than the Prime Rate?

Would you take this loan?  A lot of people would.  But let me ask an outside-the-box question at this point:  With demand so high, and loans like this available, what happens to the price of cars?  That’s right.  The price will go up and up and up until lenders stop making these crazy loans and people are forced to buy with real money, straight from their savings accounts.

This isn’t a hypothetical situation.  Loans like this are being offered and accepted right now.  I’ve only changed one detail.  The commodity in question isn’t a new car.  It’s a college education.

The price of higher education isn’t going to go down until people are unable to pay it.  Federal student aid allows people to pay these inflated prices.  While that may seem to be a good thing, who is really better off?  Is it the debt free high school grads, who can afford to work their way up from the bottom?  Or is it the newly minted college graduates, tens of thousands of dollars in debt in their early twenties, praying for a salary that will cover their loan payments?  Persistent student loan debt isn’t just a problem for people with relatively useless degrees like English Literature.  I know a doctor–a doctor–who is still paying off her student loan well into her forties and cannot afford to send her own children to college.

If President Obama really wants to help students, he needs to stop luring them into debt.  Instead of students loans, the administration should offer cash incentives to public colleges and universities to cut down administrative expenses and offer more classes at a cheaper price.  After all, no one needed a student loan when college classes were free.

Dave Hurwitz