Book Review: ‘Spike, Mike, Slackers, & Dykes: A Guided Tour Across a Decade of American Independent Cinema’ by John Pierson

I came to know John Pierson through his show from the late 1990s Split Screen. While I had heard about it back then, through message boards and chat rooms (when they were still a thing), I never really had access to it until it was available on FilmStruck’s streaming service through their extra Criterion Channel add-on.

Having watched some of the earlier episodes, some of which featured Spike Lee, Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith, I got to know Pierson’s story and understand his influence and importance on 80s and 90s indie film. Because of that, I wanted to know more of the details, so when I discovered that he had written this book, I got a copy.

While the book tells these stories from Pierson’s point of view, they aren’t as exciting as one would hope. That’s not a knock against Pierson but he is sort of a bland guy and it comes through. This could also be my mistake for reading this after I just finished a string of Joe Bob Briggs and Hunter S. Thompson books, which put me on a colorful and charismatic high.

The best parts of this book are the sections where Pierson has conversations with Kevin Smith. Had the book featured more of this or just this, as Pierson tells the stories by conversing with those involved, it would have been a much more entertaining read. In fact, those sections feel more like an episode of Split Screen, which unfortunately could only fit in so much with its half hour running time and magazine style format.

Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes is still worthwhile, if you care about the filmmakers involved and how they got their start. It is just very straightforward and dry.

Film Review: Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

Release Date: March 11th, 2016 (SXSW)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater
Cast: Blake Jenner, Zoey Deutch, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Glen Powell, Wyatt Russell, Austin Amelio

Annapurna Pictures, Detour Filmproduction, Paramount Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“Have you noticed whenever we’re around baseball all we talk about is pussy. Now, we’re actually around a few potentially interesting young women, all you talk about is baseball. It’s a little fucked up!” – Finnegan

I really anticipated Everybody Wants Some!! when it was coming out. It was Richard Linklater’s spiritual successor to his coming of age classic Dazed and Confused. Also, Linklater seems to really nail it on the head when it comes to coming of age films.

While I enjoyed the experience of Everybody Wants Some!!, it wasn’t on the level of Dazed and Confused. That’s okay though because even if they share narrative and style similarities, they are very different movies.

This film picks up in the summer of 1980 as it follows a college freshman as he moves in with the baseball team to prepare for the upcoming year. The story then captures their lives and their camaraderie while becoming a team and chasing girls. The film ends the moment the first class starts, so it really just focuses on the main character’s introduction to his four year college journey.

The cast is pretty fantastic and Linklater has a way of steering ensembles into great territory. This film is no different in that regard. All the main actors hold their own and feel like authentic teens and twenty-somethings.

I do have to say that Austin Amelio really steals the scenes he’s in but maybe that is because it is hard to envision Dwight from The Walking Dead as some collegiate baseball star. But his comedic timing and presence are great and it was really cool seeing him do something that is such a departure from his more famous character.

I really liked Zoey Deutch in this but she didn’t have a lot of screen time compared to the guys. Speaking of which, Jenner, Powell and Hoechlin had a great chemistry. The other scene stealer though was Wyatt Russell, who just commands attention without really trying but when you are the son of the legendary Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, that shit’s in your blood.

Everybody Wants Some!! is pretty enjoyable but it doesn’t have the lasting impact of Linklater’s Dazed and ConfusedSubUrbia or Slacker. It is a nice companion piece to those films however and sort of adds a fourth chapter to those pictures that I always thought of as a loose trilogy.

Film Review: SubUrbia (1996)

Release Date: October 11th, 1996 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Eric Bogosian
Based on: the SubUrbia play by Eric Bogosian
Music by: Sonic Youth
Cast: Giovanni Ribisi, Steve Zahn, Amie Carey, Nicky Katt, Ajay Naidu, Parker Posey, Dina Spybey, Samia Shoaib, William Martin

Castle Rock Entertainment, Detour Filmproduction, Sony Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“At least I admit that I don’t know. I know that things are fucked up, beyond belief, and I have nothing original to say about it…” – Jeff

SubUrbia was the fourth picture by Richard Linklater and it is a sort of spiritual successor to his films Slacker and Dazed and Confused. It features many of the same stylistic elements and narrative tropes. It is also set in suburban Texas (and filmed in Austin) like those previous films.

While being a comedy, initially, the humor is very dark and the serious tones push this more towards being a drama, as the film rolls on. It follows the lives of a handful of twenty-something friends, stuck and complacent in their lives, talking about their big plans and their next move but ultimately wasting their time on the planet: drinking and moping around a convenience store parking lot. When one of their high school buddies, who became a pop star, returns home to visit his friends, relationships are tested and the group begins to implode.

SubUrbia feels both like Slacker and Dazed and Confused. It has the visual tone and style of Slacker but is more cohesive and follows a group of young people trying to figure out their futures like Dazed and Confused.

It is also the most serious and darkest of Linklater’s early pictures. While the harshness of the film makes it feel more realistic and authentic, compared to his lighthearted earlier pictures, it also doesn’t resonate as well. SubUrbia feels like kids I knew when I was that age but mostly kids I didn’t want to hang out with. Sure, I had some shitty and annoying friends but none of these characters are all that likable, except for the girl with major substance abuse issues. Steve Zahn, who I’ve always liked, was a guy I just wanted to punch.

Granted, the acting is damn superb. Each of these shitty kids was believable and they owned their parts. Besides, it isn’t a movie where you’re supposed to like anyone, it’s just a reflection of what lower middle class suburban youth were like in the mid-90s, stuck in a time between grunge music and boy bands. A time when the Internet was still in its infancy and wasn’t yet a mainstream social tool. Being close to this age, around the same time, makes it a film I can relate to.

Giovanni Ribisi showed that he was one of the best actors of his generation and the fact that he never became the star many people thought he would be, is pretty baffling. Nicky Katt, who plays the aggressive asshole of the group (and an aggressive asshole in Dazed and Confused) was dynamite. While he is barely in Dazed, he showed something real in that film and it is cool seeing him sort of expand on that role for SubUrbia. Amie Carey played and interesting character and she was one of the ones I nearly liked. Surprisingly, she hasn’t done much acting outside of this. Also, Parker Posey is in this and I enjoy her in just about everything.

The big standout for me though, was Ajay Naidu, most widely known as Samir from Office Space. His frustration with these shitty kids connects with the audience. The violence brought against him by the characters was sad. The fact that he genuinely wanted to see a few of them do something with their lives just added a lot of emotional weight to the tragedy of this story. As much as I enjoy Naidu in Office Space, this is really his greatest role that I have come across.

SubUrbia gets so real that it becomes uncomfortable. Fans of Dazed and Confused that want to check this out will probably be caught off guard by it, I was. It is a very different movie, even if it does cover some of the same territory. But where Dazed and Confused left you feeling really optimistic, SubUrbia is the stark contrast to that.

I liked SubUrbia, quite a lot, but it isn’t the sort of film you will want to re-watch on a rainy day like its endearing predecessor.