Take Me Home Tonight (2011)
★★ / ★★★★
Matt (Topher Grace) graduated from MIT but he recently moved back home because he didn’t know what to do with his life. While working in a video store at the mall, Matt’s high school crush, Tori (Teresa Palmer), walked in. Embarrassed to be seen as a clerk, Matt pretended to be another shopper and she almost immediately recognized him. Hoping to catch up, Tori invited Matt to attend a party. “Take Me Home Tonight,” written by Jackie Filgo and Jeff Filgo, was a trip back to the 80s where shoulder pads and big hair reigned supreme. I was instantly drawn to it because of the wild fashion, catchy soundtrack, and the story about a young man whose life was at a standstill was relatable. However, the writers’ decision to focus on the party and the crazy happenings took away some precious time for us to really understand the pain and frustration that Matt was going through. There was no doubt that the party had its share of laughs. I chuckled watching Barry (Dan Fogler), Matt’s best friend, deliberately put himself into embarrassing situations. The dance-off didn’t propel the story forward but it added to the nostalgia. When I can tell that the actors are having fun, I can’t help but have fun, too. There was also a very funny bit involving an older woman, Barry, and a German guy who had a fetish for watching people have sex. What the picture needed was more introspective moments. There were two scenes that moved me: when Matt tried to convince Wendy (Anna Faris), his twin, not to marry her slug of a boyfriend (Chris Patt) and when Matt’s father (Michael Biehn) had to perform some tough love to motivate his son to get out of the rut he had grown accustomed to. The two scenes stood out because I learned about Matt through other people. Learning about him from another perspective was important because Matt didn’t really know himself. There was only one thing he wanted for sure: Tori. I wished there were less scenes between she and Matt. I understood that our protagonist was so fixated at the fantasy of being together with his high school crush and he needed to get her out of his system. She was a nice character, sure, but that was the problem: she was so nice, she was almost dull. I was more interested in Wendy and the unopened letter she had received from a prestigious graduate school in England. She was interesting because, unlike Matt, she took action to pursue her passion as a writer. She knew her career path but was weighed down by the responsibility of a romantic relationship. She had to choose. The film would have been stronger if the screenplay and direction had taken the twins and allowed them to serve as character foils for one another. Grace and Faris had wonderful chemistry. They didn’t need to do physical comedy to be funny. A friendly banter and rolling of the eyes were enough to make me want to keep listening to whatever they had to say because I felt like they shared a history. The rest were filler.
Breakfast Club, The (1985)
★★★ / ★★★★
Five high school students who personify a geek (Anthony Michael Hall), a princess (Molly Ringwald), a jock (Emilio Estevez), a basket case (Ally Sheedy) and a criminal (Judd Nelson) spent a Saturday in detention under the eyes of a begrudged principal (Paul Gleason). The picture’s argument was the fact that although we label ourselves (or others label us) to be in a specific category in the high school social strata, we can relate with each of the five characters because we share one commonality: in high school, all of us are just hoping to get by and waiting for our lives to actually begin. The film was astute in observing the teenagers while they interacted with each other and when they were on their own. Even if the characters were not saying anything or if they were just on the background, I was able to read them and I thought of things that they might have been thinking at the time. Having been released in era where typical teen flicks were abound, “The Breakfast Club” almost immediately gained a cult following because of its honesty, right amount of cheesiness, and cathartic quality. My favorite scene was toward the end when the five were in a circle and decided to share why they were sent to detention. I liked the fact that it wasn’t a typical “sharing time” where everybody was solemn and serious all the time. They were actually able to make jokes toward and around each other in between discussing their issues. It made me think of me and my friends when would do the same thing. Out of the five, I could relate to Hall’s character the most (and a bit of Ringwald’s because of her slight conceitedness). It made me think of the way I was in high school concerning my penchant (or perhaps even obsession) for getting straight A’s. It got to the point where getting straight A’s was something that I expected of myself instead of something that I had to strive for. I remember being so hard on myself for making small mistakes when, looking back on it, I didn’t really need to. Now that I’m older, I just think of grades as letters on a piece of paper and nothing more. They don’t define us and they certainly don’t dictate what we can offer the world. The difference between me and Hall’s character was my parents did not pressure me into getting the perfect grade point average. However, I can just imagine how it must have been like for other students who were not so lucky–those that jumped off buildings in college because they felt a need to have the “perfect academic record” to have a “secure future.” Written and directed by the legendary John Hughes, I thought he did a wonderful job capturing the essence of teenagers despite their place in the high school hierarchy.
St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)
★ / ★★★★
A group of friends (Mare Winningham, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez) who recently graduated from Georgetown University believed they would be forces to be reckoned with out in the real world but they quickly found out that life was hard and they were not going to be friends forever. I cannot begin to describe how much I disliked this film but I will surely try my best. The characters in this movie has got to be one of the whiniest, most self-absorbed, and most idiotic people I had the displeasure spending time with. It’s not the fact that they constantly made mistakes after graduation. I love it when characters go through trials and their respective cores are challenged. It’s just the way the script made each character an annoying caricature with no sense of direction. The most irksome was perhaps Estevez’ character as a stalker who we were supposed to believe was in love with somoene four years older than him. Like the others, he had a one-track mind and there was no substance to him other than what we saw on screen. On the other side of the spectrum, the character that was somewhat likable (played by Winningham) craved for independence from her rich family. I wished the picture focused more on her because at least I had an idea about what she wanted to accomplish in life and the many elements that were against her. It was not difficult to root for her because of her inherent goodness and her proactiveness to change things around when she was not happy with a particular situation. Written and directed by Joel Schumacher, it’s a shame because “St. Elmo’s Fire” could have really made a statement about post-college life in the 1980s. Instead of looking inwards and moving outwards, it was stuck in the character’s inner demons and it did not give them room to grow or learn something meaningful. When it tried to move forward, it fell flat because the scenes were very disorganized and just did not make sense why characters chose certain paths. When I look at the movie as a whole, it felt like it was just a giant party where I met a lot of people but I could not remember any of their names by the end of the night because all of them failed to strike a chord. In the end, I wondered why the characters would be friends with each other in the first place. And then it occured to me: they probably enjoyed watching each other crash and burn in order to feel better about themselves. But I had serious doubts whether the film was astute enough to arrive at such realization.
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
★★ / ★★★★
“Some Kind of Wonderful” was about two best friends named Keith and Watts (Eric Stoltz and Mary Stuart Masterson, respectively) who initially failed to see that they were perfect for each other. Watts being a hardcore tomboy certainly did not help their situation. But after popular girl Amanda (Lea Thompson) and popular rich boy Hardy (Craig Sheffer) broke up, Keith wanted to take Amanda on a date and Watts started to feel uncomfortably jealous. I did enjoy the movie as a whole but I think it came up short on delivering something unique. I love the whole 80’s thing going on with Keith’s eccentric family, the divide between the rich and the poor students, the big hair, and the nostalgic soundtrack but by the end of the movie, I didn’t feel like I knew the main characters that well. Since the picture was written by John Hughes, compared to his other projects, his characters in this film felt one-dimensional and the way the story unfolded (like most 80s teen movies) felt painfully obvious. But what made this movie work less for me was the fact that it didn’t even try to surprise me in terms of delivering something I didn’t expect from the characters. I also thought it was weird that I didn’t get emotionally involved with the characters’ lives. All of the drama was on the outside so as much as I tried to like it on another deeper level, I just couldn’t. Although there was tension between Keith and his dad (John Ashton) because Keith did not want to go to college, it felt like a distraction because the movie was more about (or should be more about) the relationship between the two best friends. I didn’t feel much chemistry between Keith and Watts so I thought it was necessary for the film to prove to me that there’s a compelling reason for the two of them to be together. There were times when I thought Thompson’s character outshined Masterson’s because of the popular girl’s shame of desperately trying to hide where she came from to the point where she was willing to hang out with snobby rich girls who could care less about her. I was more interested in Thompson’s character because I could see the pain she was going through and the reasons why she decided to make certain decisions. Although Watts had her share of insecurities in the locker room, I needed to know more about her, especially if Keith was going to choose her in the end. Still, there were some funny scenes especially when Elias Koteas (as a bully who looks like a skinhead) was on screen. Directed by Howard Deutch, “Some Kind of Wonderful” needed more sensitive moments that weren’t necessarily expressed in a highlighted manner. Sometimes, subtelty can go a long way. Ultimately, it’s a nice movie but there’s a fine line between sensitive and cheesy. At times it stepped on the latter’s territory.
★★★ / ★★★★
Corey Haim stars as the title character who was a smart fourteen-year-old in high school who fell in love with the new girl in town (Kerri Green). Conflict ensued when the new girl started liking a football jock (Charlie Sheen) who had a soft heart for Lucas. Meanwhile, a fellow band member named Rina (Winona Ryder) obviously liked Lucas but he was too focused on winning over the new girl to feel Rina’s affections. Written and directed by David Seltzer, “Lucas” is a great simple film with a huge heart. It exuded intelligence because even though its subject was high school kids, the characters were multidimensional because the movie took its time to allow them to voice their thoughts about themselves and concerns for each other. There were some red flags that hinted at possibly taking the stereotypical path in teenage pictures because of the bullying. However, the film offered some surprising elements in terms of where the picture ultimately decided to go. Even though some characters were bullies, some were bullied and some were simply left on the sidelines, all of them were pretty much outsiders. All of them felt some sort of pain at that specific time in their lives. I thought that was an insightful look at high school life and it’s so refreshing to watch because most teen movies these days don’t come close to (or don’t even attempt to reach) the level of introspection that this film had to offer. While I did enjoy its critique on the social high school strata, I wish it had more scenes between Haim and Green. The first thirty minutes of the movie was very strong because it felt intimate and there was a certain sweetness to those scenes that the rest of the movie didn’t quite match. “Lucas” started off with a hatching of a locust. As the film went on, I started to realize its symbolism and I couldn’t help but feel moved. There was a really touching scene between Haim and Green in the end when Lucas wondered where they would be twenty years from now and if they would still know each other. That scene was a stand out because it captured the level of intimacy between Lucas and the new girl like in the beginning of the movie. It also managed to wrap everything up in so little words while highlighting the innocence youth and how quickly it could disappear. “Lucas” may not be as consistent as I would have liked (I thought it managed to reach some emotional highs comparable to “Stand by Me”) but it deserves an enthusiastic recommendation. It goes to show that it’s possible to have a simple story and letting the emotional gravity hook us and move us.
★★★★ / ★★★★
Based on a book by Nicholas Pileggi, “Casino” was about a casino owner (Robert De Niro) and his childhood friend who worked for the Mafia (Joe Pesci) whose bonds were tested on three fronts: their personal relationship, their businesses and a prostitute (Sharon Stone) with a penchant for money and power. But that’s only the surface of this deeply layered film expertly directed by Martin Scorsese. It was a strange feeling because although I found the film to be really complex in terms of how connected everyone was and how malleable their loyalties were, there were times when I thought it did not have a story. I felt like I was dropped into these characters’ lives and I was forced to watch their lives unfold from the 1970s until the 1980’s. The acting here was top-notch: De Niro had this suave swagger going on, Pesci was dangerous but there was something about him that I could not help but like and Stone was the kind of character who one could not help but hate. The way the three collided was very fun to watch because there were times when, like in Scorsese’s “Cape Fear,” everything was so exaggerated to the point where it was borderline amusing. I was absolutely in love with the script because, through narration, the characters were able to provide insight about their work and the decisions they made despite the fact that they knew they were going to regret it in the long run. I felt like the characters were actual people instead of just cardboard caricatures. Almost everything about this film was big: the ideas, the dark undertones, the dynamics of marriage and friendship. But I loved about it most was that it was able to analyze Las Vegas as one of the most glamorous places in the world but at the same time one of the ugliest places in the world. The way Scorsese played with that duality was fascinating to me because not only did he apply it as a metaphor for the characters, I think he pointed the finger at us–how out brilliant ideations do not always coincide with the grimy actualities. I also enjoyed how Scorsese viewed corruption as an almost necessary survival instinct for one to thrive in Las Vegas. Its three-hour running time was definitely a challenge (I took a break somewhere in the middle) but once I was hooked, I could not help but absorb it all. Some argue that picture was way too long and got bogged down by the marriage drama that pervaded the second half. I couldn’t disagree more because De Niro’s character deeply valued trust. I thought the second half made the movie that much richer because I understood him a bit more, given that we got to see him outside of the casino. That second half also gave us a chance to see De Niro and Pesci collide outside of the business world onto a more personal arena. Fans of Scorsese definitely should not miss this project because I think it’s one of his best. I only wish I had seen it sooner.
House of the Devil, The (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Set in the 1980’s, “The House of the Devil” was a horror film about a second year college student named Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) who took up a babysitting job from a husband and wife (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov) so she could pay the rent for her new apartment. Desperate for the money, she still took the job despite many weird signs that perhaps the people she was babysitting for had something up their sleeves. I was surprised by how good this movie was. Written and directed by Ti West, the film had a sense of authenticity; it looked and felt like it was made in the 1980s because of the music, the fashion and hairstyles and even minute details like the lighting, the lead character’s plucky and funny friend (Greta Gerwig), and the font used during the opening and closing credits. During the first fifteen minutes of the movie, I was very curious how West managed to get such various elements together to make such a convincing small horror film. I loved that this picture had such a great sense of timing and well as rising action. This is not the kind of movie for teenagers of today because it doesn’t have jump-out-of-your-seats moments like in more common slasher flicks. This is a patient movie that thrives on the details. Strangely enough, like Sam, I found myself becoming more and more paranoid the longer she stayed in the house, especially when she started hearing odd noises in the kitchen sink. Although built on the classic false alarms and increasing sense of dread without actually showing anything, I was also impressed with the fact that it could turn grizzly if it wanted to. Those moments pulled the rug from under my feet and I couldn’t help but voice out my thoughts. I really rooted for the character because she was a very nice girl who just really needed the money so she wouldn’t always rely on her parents. She wouldn’t even take a little harmless revenge earlier in the film when someone stood her up. The last twenty minutes of this film was pure terror. All the tension it built up finally burst and I found myself having no idea where it was leading up to. “The House of the Devil” is an effective exercise in giving its audiences small bits information and chilling us to the bone. I think people who have no idea what to expect will love this film the most because of its ability to surprise. With a little bit of patience, one will come to realize that this small picture is really one of the better horror flicks of 2009. I just hope that more people will seek this out on DVD. It’s not very often that horror movies assume that their audiences are smart. I’ve seen a plethora of horror movies from the 1980s and “The House of the Devil” was a really good homage.