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September 29, 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 39
 
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The Real Spin
Class in Session: Sexy and funny movies to start the school year off
Try as we may to cling to the waning days of summer, the calendar says that fall is upon us - and with that, the autumn rituals that bring us closer to year's end. As we put away our summer duds and dust off our long pants, let's take a look at the film world's take on student days - and get ready to go back to school.

This year's phenomenon is High School Musical, the little-movie-that-could from the Disney Channel, which has morphed into a mega-franchise blockbuster. It is a kinder, gentler response to the cutthroat age of American Idol. Already topping the DVD, CD and paperback charts, it will no doubt evolve into a live stage show, along with Disney's The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, still packing them in on Broadway and on tour. Helmed by Kenny Ortega, who has choreographed many a Gay icon (Madonna, Cher, Elton John) and led innumerable dance numbers to screen glory (Dirty Dancing and Ferris Bueller's Day Off), it follows the time-honored tradition of backstage musicals: beautiful brainiac (played by gorgeous Vanessa Anne Hudgens) and dorky jock (earnest Zac Efron) fall for each other, have a bumpy stretch, then save the day onstage. They are almost foiled by jealous Ashley Tisdale, a very funny Paris Hilton clone. This is essentially a musical after-school special - chaste, cheerful, politically correct and squeaky clean. But hey, why complain about a follow-your-dream story that encourages jocks to perform in a musical? Besides, if you look very hard, you may see a few veiled references to Gay characters, including an athlete that bakes a mean crème brulee. High School Musical: Encore Edition includes a sing-along version, for those who insist on performing with the stars. If you can't get enough of this spirited look at what high school should really be like, have no fear: the sequel will arrive next summer.

On a much more sensual note, Grande Ecole is a French film whose ambitions far outweigh its merits, but is nevertheless worth a look for its erotic punch and existential aspirations. It centers on Paul, a student who finds himself attracted to Louis-Arnault, his roommate. When Paul's girlfriend discovers this, she decides to turn their situation into a Dangerous Liaisons-type duel of the minds, gambling on who will seduce Louis-Arnault first. Meanwhile, Paul complicates things by having an affair with a young working class Arab man whose genuineness provides a refreshing presence in this portrait of self-involvement. One element that the film fully captures is sexual tension, which is palpable throughout. There are some steamy sex scenes and plenty of glimpses into the boys' locker room, the camera lingering on glistening, beautiful bodies. Grande Ecole is an examination of race, class, intellect and sexuality. Although his characters' mind-games become tiresome, one commends writer Jean-Marie Besset for setting the bar so high and director Robert Salis for getting strong performances from his cast.

Get Real is a beautifully acted film that takes the simple theme of coming out and examines it with grace and tenderness. A British prep school is the setting for the story of Steve, a Gay student struggling to come out who gets involved with John, the campus hunk who cannot accept being Gay. This premise has been explored in many films (most similarly in Britain's Beautiful Thing), but Get Real's balance of realism and romance ring true. It gives us Steve's struggle in all arenas of his life - with his peers, his parents, his school and himself. Ben Silverstone brings a sweet, shy comic charm to his portrayal of Steve, underscoring his need to live an authentic life, while bumping up against the growing pains of adolescence and the need for acceptance. Though its tone is optimistic, the film gives no easy answers about Steve's journey.

Going from the sublime to the ridiculous, we come to everyone's favorite pretty-in-hot-pink student, Elle Woods, immortalized by Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde. Its sequel, Legally Blonde 2: Red White and Blonde finds our heroine (now a Harvard graduate) bound for the nation's capital, waging a political fight for animal rights. Her inspiration is her chihuahua Bruiser, whose mother is the chemical-testing victim of an evil cosmetic empire. Elle is up against a somewhat conscience-challenged senator (played by a spot-on Sally Field), but resolutely (and always cheerfully) does the right thing. In the process, Bruiser comes out of the closet as filmdom's most famous (and flaming) Gay dog. Not much new territory is covered in this second Blonde installment, but Witherspoon's perky politico is so endearing that you just gotta love her.

If you still have a need for blonde ambition after a few hours with Elle Woods, the two gals in Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion should do the trick. Played to bubble-brained perfection by Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino, Romy and Michele are a valley girl tag team intent on impressing their high school reunion members with their accomplishments. They run into a small problem: there are no accomplishments on their resumes. Janeane Garofalo is a splendidly grouchy foil for the two gals. Does the film have a happy ending? Like, would the girls have it any other way?

These films will make your back-to-school journey a little more fun, so make a stop at your local video store on the way back from class. You will have a great time with these movies - but only after you've finished your homework.

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