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Sunday, December 03, 2023

Just how bad a movie can be: a review of 'New Port South'

\New Port South"" is only playing on weekday afternoons on one screen in Madison, and it probably won't be playing much longer. That's good, though, because otherwise you might see it. 




Wow, this is a bad movie. It's the kind of bad movie that studio script readers are paid to protect us from. Maybe it's not ""Doom Generation"" bad, but there is no reason for its existence other than that it was written by James Hughes, son of producer John Hughes. (And, by the way, John Hughes III provides additional music.)  




Why talk about ""New Port South?"" It's not like ""Scary Movie,"" the kind of bad movie that inspires more bad movies'in that case a sequel and an upcoming piece of crap called ""Not Another Teen Movie."" No, I'd like to talk about ""New Port South"" as representative of a larger failure'letting the high school art students loose. 




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In the movie, Chris is a talented drawer, Clip is a talented sound sampler and Maddox is a talented photographer. When Maddox becomes obsessed with the story of an escaped mental patient, he convinces his friends to help plaster their school with anti-establishment posters. It turns out that Maddox is also a talented collage artist and screen printer. How can Clip help? Why, he provides the music for the guerrilla multimedia show in the cafeteria, of course. 




Now, the movie has some vague ideas of a message'high school as totalitarian, anarchy and free-speech stuff. But, I'll tell you what the movie's really about. At the beginning, Maddox asks his history teacher if he can take photos instead of writing an essay. Amanda (Chris's love-interest and talented sculptor) supports Maddox's interest in an alternative medium, but the staunch teacher won't allow it. How dare he stifle creativity and insist that Maddox learn the basics of essay writing? I'm sure no one ever held James Hughes back this way; he has no understanding of the basics. 




There is no story structure in ""New Port South,"" no character goals or depth. It is simply unrealized, vague flitterings of whatevers. Director Kyle Cooper fills in the blanks with the artwork the students create. Obviously, more time went into the making of the posters than making the story understandable. They are the kind of screen-printed collage and clip art that local bands live for. And, the multimedia presentation looks as polished as if a class ring company made it. But, in a movie that tries to come off as a deep psychological investigation of Maddox's obsession, a pretty yearbook cover drawing shouldn't take center stage. (I'm not kidding; that's part of the movie.) 




I once went to a high school art teacher's conference because there were going to be professional animators lecturing. When they opened the floor for questions, the teachers all wanted to know what computer programs their students should be taught. The animator replied none, because students need to spend their time learning the fundamentals, and taking other classes that would help them form a worthwhile message. That shut the teachers up quick. 




This all comes down to what movies are about today. Art is supposed to be made by someone who has something to say. Surface is just surface, and anyone who practices can become a skilled drawer printmaker, or screenwriter. But, they would just be skilled technicians, and like ""New Port South"" their projects would be hollow and meaningless. 




If you want to see a better movie about high school rebellion, rent ""Pump Up the Volume,"" ""Tin Soldiers,"" ""Ferris Bueller's Day Off"" or ""Porky's 2."" Or, if you want to see another high school movie made by the child of a famous director, rent ""The Virgin Suicides.\

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