Babysitter Wanted (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
Nice girl Angie (Sarah Thompson) had recently moved away from her devoutly religious mother to live in an apartment closer to college. While looking for offers of beds for sale on a bulletin board, she stumbled upon an ad regarding a babysitting job. Since she wasn’t doing anything on weekends, she figured a job wouldn’t hurt. But Angie felt that something was wrong. She had a feeling that someone had been following her. Cut to the night of Angie’s first day on the job, when the boy’s parents (Bruce Thomas, Kristen Dalton) left, the telephone started ringing. Angie answered but the person on the other line just relished her voice. Without a car, all she could do was express her concern via telephone to a friend (Matt Dallas) and a cop (Bill Moseley) she met earlier that day. “Babysitter Wanted,” directed by Jonas Barnes and Michael Manasseri, was quite a surprise because it wasn’t afraid to experiment within the horror genre. It started off uninspiring with typical phone calls and no one answering on the other line. All that was missing was some rain and thunderstorm. But when Angie’s stalker made it inside the house in the middle of the film, a fresh idea because those pesky serial killers usually enter the premises only during the final few acts, it was just the beginning of the bizarre and darkly comedic second half. I enjoyed that the movie took its time before Angie actually got to the house. We learned that her faith was important to her as well as being independent even in the smallest ways. She seemed weak at first glance but she was our heroine because she held back her complaints. I thought she was a saint when she didn’t say a word to Erica (Jillian Schmitz), her inconsiderate and druggie roommate, about the fact that their place looked like a pigsty. When we finally got to the meat, so to speak, of the film, Angie’s patience was tested. The first weird detail she noticed was the boy (Kai Caster) never seemed to get out of his cowboy costume. The second was he didn’t say much other than the word “hungry.” Even a shy person can manage to say an appropriate greeting. The third was his special diet of really raw meat. Angie claimed that the boy’s diet was “a heart attack waiting to happen.” It brought a smile on my face because it was she who was about to have a heart attack when the intruder found a way inside. My favorite scene was a slow burn. It was great suspense when the stalker just stood in the hallway (the background), completely unaware that Angie was only a couple of steps forward (the foreground). She had no weapon and we could almost hear her heart racing. I held my breath in anticipation. To divulge any more secrets of “Babysitters Wanted” would be a crime. I suspect Christians would enjoy this film for all of its wicked glory.
Scream 2 (1997)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Two years had passed since the Woodsboro murders. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) was now in college majoring in drama, Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) became a best-selling author, and a movie known as “Stab,” inspired by the aforementioned killing spree, had just been released. But when a couple (Jada Pinkett Smith, Omar Epps) was murdered during one of its screenings, Dewey (David Arquette) quickly, despite the limp, ran to Sidney’s protection and movie geek Randy (Jamie Kennedy) was present to explain the rules of horror sequels. Written by Kevin Williamson and directed by Wes Craven, “Scream 2” was able to defy the odds by pointing its fingers on bad scary movie follow-ups without being one itself. The film worked on multiple levels because it had more than one joke that worked. For instance, it acknowledged the idea that horror pictures seemed to be lacking in African-American characters and other minorities. Aside from the doomed couple in the memorable first scene, we knew the joke made a lasting impression when a minority was randomly placed next to one of the main characters and we couldn’t help but chuckle. However, it didn’t feel forced because the story took place in college. While the murder scenes were less creative–but more gory and elaborate as Randy stated–than its predecessor, they retained a level of cheekiness, especially when Sarah Michelle Gellar was given the chance to shine as the “sober sorority sister,” so it was fun to watch. We knew that her decision to go upstairs, as we learned in the first film, was a very bad idea but she did anyway. Downstairs, it seemed like she knew how to defend herself so maybe, despite being blonde and pretty, she would be lucky enough to escape. But it wasn’t just about murders on campus. Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), the man Sidney wrongly accused of killing her mother, had just been released from prison. The fact that he had motive to take bloody revenge and his thirst for fame warranted serious suspicion. It was a reminder that we couldn’t always trust Sidney’s judgment which was a small twist from typical slasher flicks where we take comfort in the virgin making all the right decisions to make it to the very end. The film spent more time on the characters and worked on the undeveloped strands from the first installment. What remained the same was everyone was a suspect. From Sidney’s pre-med boyfriend (Jerry O’Connell) and sassy friend (Elise Neal), Randy’s movie-loving classmates (Timothy Olyphant), to the reporter (Laurie Metcalf) desperate for the latest scoop. “Scream 2” was a vat of self-awareness; I relished every witty line and irony within an irony. Most impressive was sometimes the joke and horror came hand-in-hand.
The Social Network (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★
The first thing I did after watching David Fincher’s “The Social Network” was log on Facebook to check if I had any notifications. Whether one’s feeling toward Facebook and other social networking sites be love or hate, no one can deny the fact that such simple inventions changed how people communicate. Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) desperately wanted to fit in Harvard when he was an undergraduate. He wanted to get into a private club but he didn’t have the means. He was smart but he wasn’t likable. In fact, he was far from likable. When his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) broke up with him, he went up to his dorm room and posted insults about her body and her family on LiveJournal. His only real friend was Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) who also wanted to belong. Eduardo’s emotional intelligence was higher than his friend’s. Eventually, the two became partners in creating Facebook but when it was launched, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence) claimed that their idea was stolen. Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), founder of Napster, came into the picture in order to bring Facebook to an international level. The film benefited from very strong performances from Eisenberg, Garfield, and Timberlake. I was delighted with Eisenberg’s performance because even though I’ve seen him play nerd-chic multiple times prior (with relative ease), I felt like this was his most complete and challenging performance yet. I hated him, I rooted for him, I hated him some more, and I felt sorry for him. The final shot of him refreshing a certain someone’s Facebook page was pitch-perfect because it showed that despite all the money and the acclaim, he had nobody so his life felt empty. Garfield, who’s been doing fantastic independent work for a while, is finally given the spotlight past overdue. He had a lot on his plate because he was the heart of the picture. He was David who had to face multiple Goliaths equipped with brains. We all knew it would take more than a slingshot and some pebbles for him to, not necessarily succeed because we all knew what would ultimately happen, but to take what he deserved. I was invested in his character because he struggled to remain loyal to his friend even though his friend had no sense of loyalty to him. Lastly, Timberlake did a wonderful job playing Parker, a fierce and forward-thinking businessman who knew exactly he wanted and wasn’t afraid to grab whatever he desired even if it was on someone’s else plate. His ego was probably as big as his ambition to be relevant again. Fincher’s confident direction mixed with Aaron Sorkin’s intelligent script made a wonderful film that highlighted not just the story of college students lives’ being broadcasted over the internet or the drama of the creation of Facebook, but also the highly ambitious, although sometimes misguided, natures of young adults today.
Toy Story 3 (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Eleven years after the fantastic adventure that was “Toy Story 2,” Pixar returns with “Toy Story 3” in which Andy (voiced by John Morris) was about to head to college and had to decide what to do with his toys: put them in the attic, throw them in the trash, donate them or take them to college with him. After a series of misunderstandings, Woody (Tom Hanks) and the rest of the gang–Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris, respectively), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger) and Slinky Dog (Blake Clark)–arrived in a day care center in which the toys were led by a deceptively nice teddy bear who smelled like strawberries named Lotso (Ned Beatty). Andy’s toys had to then map out their escape from the day care center and back to Andy’s home.
Despite my highest expectations, “Toy Story 3” impressed me with its creativity, intelligence, heart and bona fide sense of humor. Even though our protagonists were inanimate objects, we couldn’t help but empathize with them because, like human beings, they feared being abandoned by someone who loved them and losing their purpose. That fear manifested in often hilarious ways reflected by the distinct personalities of Andy’s eccentric but lovable toys. The flashback scenes were effective because the first two “Toy Story” films were so embedded in pop culture and in our minds that it was very difficult to cut the bond between Andy and his toys. Although there were many scenes that moved me (especially toward the end when the gang accepted their fate and Andy’s final decision about what he was going to do with his toys), the one that almost moved me to tears was when Woody desperately tried to convince his friends that they should return to Andy’s home because them ending up in the day care center was all a big misunderstanding. That particular scene got it exactly right because the loyalty that Woody had for Andy was one of the main reasons why we fell in love with the franchise in the first place. Even though fifteen years had passed since the first installment, it was nice that Pixar and its writers did not lose track of the essence of friendship, its heart, despite having better means of animation due to recent advances technology at their disposal. Ultimately, the “Toy Story” franchise was consistent in comparison to other animated film series like the “Shrek” movies because the characters often had a clear and unified goal, the jokes were bound in its own universe, the script didn’t try too hard to be amusing and it proudly wore its heart on its sleeves.
For those who haven’t seen “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2,” I believe they can still enjoy the movie because there were enough new characters to keep everything fresh. I loved the “relationship” between Barbie (Jodi Benson) and Ken (Michael Keaton) and its implications about the latter character. Another character that stood out to me was Chatter Telephone (Teddy Newton) because he talked like those detectives in the 1940s noir pictures. Extra details like him appearing in the shadows and the timing in which he was introduced was icing on the cake for me. Lastly, with the way the story ended, there was a consensus between my friends that “Toy Story 3” was sad. I disagree; the events that transpired throughout the picture celebrated the idea of renewal, growth and unconditional acceptance. It was a poignant feeling–it made me think about my childhood when my biggest problem was my toys running out of batteries, my remaining days at home before leaving for college, and my friends who have been with me despite the challenges that tested our bonds (and our tempers). Just like the epic adventures of the first “Toy Story” films, “Toy Story 3” effortlessly delivered tension, laughter, tears and warmth. If Pixar decides to make “Toy Story 4,” I’m willing to wait another ten years as long as the quality remains strong, which I’m sure will be the case.
The Education of Charlie Banks (2007)
★ / ★★★★
Fred Durst directed this movie about a violent teenager (Jason Ritter) who believed that he could change after visiting the college of two of the people who fear him (Jesse Eisenberg and Chris Marquette) ever since childhood. Not only is he violent, he gets into fights for the most stupid reasons and his opponents either end up in critical condition or dead. My main problem with this picture was its tone. It never really got its right footing so the whole movie looked different than what I should be experiencing. Durst had a very contradictory style. Just when you think he’s trying to tell a story about a person who can achieve redemption despite his dark past, he completely switches gears and makes an argument that a broken man will always remain a broken man. By the end of the movie, I felt like I was watching a bad episode of “The O.C.” where all the rich kids get physically harmed in some way. I also didn’t appreciate the way Durst (despite his intentions) glorified violence. What struck me the most was the final scene when something extremely serious was happening on screen yet this peaceful melody was playing on the background. I was slightly disturbed and I felt rotten just watching it. As for the characters, I did not believe for one second that Eisenberg could stand up to Ritter. For me, Eisenberg’s character started off as a little mouse and he ended up like one. The absence of evolution in the characters left me asking what the point was of the whole experience. The only person I enjoyed watching was Sebastian Stan (“The Covenant,” “Gossip Girl”) because I completely believed that he was this rich kid who doesn’t care about his education and goes off buying things he doesn’t need for the hell of it. Most of the time, I wished the story was about him instead of the other so-called main characters. I say skip “The Education of Charlie Banks” because nothing quite holds up.
Set It Off (1996)
★★★ / ★★★★
This film was about four ladies (Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, Kimberly Elise) who decided to pull off several bank robberies to untangle themselves from each of their respective binds. Smith wanted to put her brother through college, Latifah wanted to customize her car, Elise needed the money to get her son out of the city’s protective custody because they suspected that she was a negligent parent, and Fox was fired from her bank teller job because she “didn’t follow procedure” when another group of criminals robbed the bank she was working in. I’m glad that this film did not fall into an all too common trap of featuring criminals who do “bad things” just because they were African-American. F. Gary Gray, the director, actually took the time to establish each of the four leads so the audiences could truly understand their motivations. I actually rooted for the leading ladies even though, indeed, they decided to rob banks and harmed people along the way. I felt the desperation of each character. I completely understood that their actions were not who they were on the inside. In fact, they really were good people who were pushed into a wall without any means of escape other than to attack the aggressor (in this case, the cops and the law). I also liked the fact that Latifah’s character being a lesbian was not a big deal. It was simply who she was and there was no need to comment on it. Still, this picture is far from perfect. The four characters have street-smarts so I expected them to get better at what they did (robbing banks) as the film went on. Instead, eventually all of them became too sloppy and risk-taking. Not one would them suggested that they slowed down or planned things more thoroughly especially when the banks that they decided to rob became increasingly more difficult to get through. Despite its shortcomings, I’m giving this movie a recommendation because it was nice to see Black actresses carry an entire film. Most pictures I’ve seen of this kind usually go to white men so “Set It Off” offers a nice change.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
This sequel is arguably just as good as the original mainly because of the exotic locations and earnest acting. Two and half out of the four storylines worked for me: Amber Tamblyn’s pregnancy scare and her fear of everyone leaving her someday, America Ferrera’s accidental acting gig and her fear of growing distant from her friends, and half of Alexis Bledel’s lost love (Michael Rady) in Greece. I usually love watching Blake Lively (and I did love her here) but the storyline involving archeology and her grandmother felt forced. Every time the film would focus on her so-called life challenges, the momentum of the picture slowed down tremendously. As for the part that didn’t work for me regarding Bledel, it mostly has something to do with her acting. This was also a problem in the first film but whenever she’s about to cry, it feels really forced to the point where it’s borderline laughable. I can read it in her eyes–her questioning about whether she’s exuding enough tears and emotion. Out of the four, acting-wise, I think she’s the most dispensable. However, there’s something about this movie’s energy that kept me interested. I believed that the four leads really were college students because of the way they talked to each other and the questions that they raised (and eventually answered) when no one was around. Even though I’m not the target age group, I could relate with some of the girls, especially Tamblyn’s serious and introspective persona (not to mention her love for movies), because I have gone through the fears of losing one’s high school friends when I moved on to college. Overall, I’m recommending “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2” because it has nice life lessons and the actresses are interesting to watch.
American Teen (2008)
★★★★ / ★★★★
The true rating I would give this film is three-and-a-half out of four stars (if I did half-stars), but I decided to round up because watching it made me feel like I was back in high school: the drama and the emptiness, the highs and the lows. I found bits of myself with all of the subjects (some more than others) and it made me reflect on who I was in high school and who I am now. The person I could identify with the most is Hannah Bailey (the rebel) not just because she’s into movies but also the fact that she considers herself to be an “in-between” pertaining to the high school spectrum that ranges from ubergeekdom to uberpopulardom. Whenever she’s on camera she truly shines because she offers something refreshing: while the rest of the subjects, more or less, are most concerned about getting into a specific college or feeling peer pressure of belonging in a group, Hannah wants to get out of Indiana as soon as possible and move to San Francisco because she’s so suffocated by both where she lives and who she’s surrounded by (and their ideals). Jake Tusing (the geek/loner) is interesting for me to watch because he’s so socially awkward (that table scene cracked me up so much!) and I feel bad whenever he puts himself down. It irks me whenever someone says a mean comment directed at him (joking or otherwise) but he just brushes it off by agreeing with them. He needs to learn that he can still be a great person while at the same time not letting certain people get away with certain things. As for Colin Clemens (the jock), even though I didn’t participate in competitive sports, I can relate with him because he wants to go to college but his family do not have enough income to pay off the tuition (not to mention I can get really competitive and I know how it’s like to lose once in a while). He needs a basketball scholarship to pursue an education or else he has no choice but to go to military school. I found it very easy to identify with him because I hate seeing people who want to spread their wings but unable to do so because of pecuniary matters. As for Megan Krizmanich (the queen bee), she has her uberbitch moments but she’s far from a monster. I consider her a textbook definition of a traumatized individual hiding behind a false strong front. She reminded me of myself back in high school when I would easily get angry over the silliest things, when in reality, it was more about my own self-esteem rather than people’s behavior that I don’t agree with. Last but not least, Mitch Reinholt (the heartthrob) is another basketball jock and best friends with Colin. He’s a genuinely good person but he succumbs so easily to peer pressure. I wanted to shake him so badly and tell him that in order for him to be truly happy, he should do whatever he feels is right and ignore what everyone else says. Ultimately, the five subjects are admirable and flawed in their own ways. Nanette Burstein, writer and director, paints her audiences a fairly accurate portrait of how it’s like to be a high schooler in America. If the middle portion of the film had been more daring and focused instead of simply exploring what’s on the outside, this would’ve been a stronger. (It did explore what’s underneath at some points but it didn’t do it enough.) Even though one may not agree with stereotypes, it’s undeniable that these people do exist and it’s important for one to look beyond what’s on the surface.