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.
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
Some people claimed that this was better than the original “Madagascar” flick but I found it to be on the same level–funny here and there but doesn’t add up to anything genuinely deep. Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith and David Schwimmer lend their voices once again as Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Gloria the Hippo and Melman the Giraffe, respectively. The animal pals wanted to return to New York’s Central Park Zoo but their plane crashed in the middle of an African animal reserve. In there, each of them find a niche, at least for a little while, until they eventually started questioning their identities and what was really important to them. I had the same problems with this film as I did with its predecessor. I thought it started out really great but then after the thirty-minute mark, I found myself not caring and questioned how far I was into the movie. The pacing began to feel a little too slow for my liking and I noticed more and more the film’s glaring flaws. While the picture provided a healthy amount of pop culture references, it did not have enough originality to be more than just another wannabe “Shrek.” Just when I thought it was going to start delving more into the characters’ motivations and inner fears, some random thing would appear on screen and it left me frustrated. What kept me from going off the deep end, however, was its interesting use of word play. Some of those things may go over kids’ heads but adults should get it. I just wished that the story was much stronger. At times I thought I was watching a really bad sequel of “The Lion King” instead of an animated film that has a life of its own. If there happens to be another sequel for the “Madagascar” franchise, I hope the filmmakers tone down the jokes that have nothing to do with its universe and focus more on the emotions rather than the obvious slapstick consisting of jokes related to bodily functions. I know that this is mostly aimed for kids and some of the kids I’ve asked who have seen it said they liked it. Ultimately, I’m giving it a mediocre rating because it really didn’t try to step outside of its comfort zone.
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 Women (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
I was really excited when I first saw the preview for this movie but that all excitement was taken away after I read a plethora of bad reviews upon its release. However, I still wanted to watch it because of the four lead actresses: Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Debra Messing and Jada Pinkett Smith. Reading those egregious reviews actually helped because if I had seen this film with high expectations, I think I would’ve been more disappointed. Even though this film offers nothing new to subgenre of women’s relationships and point of views, it had some good ideas but they were never fully explored. One of the things that I liked most about the film was Ryan’s relationship with her daughter (played by India Ennenga) and friends. However, I feel like Benning was on screen a lot more which is unfortunate because Messing and Smith’s storylines are much more light-hearted and comedic. Still, Benning’s storyline was essential to the story; a woman and her career is important to any feminist projects. Since this movie is about two hours, I felt like Diane English, the director, had more than enough time to focus on each friend. The fact that there was no men that could be found in this film may sound unbelievable but I actually didn’t mind it that much. I completely accepted the fact that this film wanted to focus on women’s issues. There are myriads of films that focus on men (despite women’s apperances in the background) so why shouldn’t there be a film that tries to turn that whole idea around? A lot of people make a big deal about this whole “not having men in the movie” idea but when women are invisible in moving pictures, it is often ignored or is considered as a norm. However, what I disliked most about this film was when it tried to be funny. I hated it when the soundtrack would be heard whenever something “funny” happens. To me, it suggests that filmmakers are afraid that the audiences may not understand that something amusing is going on so they constantly need to add that “This is funny!” cue. That lack of confidence is a big negative on my book, especially when this film took a long time to get made. Instead of being inspired to take risks, it ultimately succumbed to the genre’s conventions.