Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
A group of college students were driving up to the mountain to have some fun when they encountered two hillbillies, Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine), in a gas station. Having seen a lot of scary movies and heard of stories about grizzly murders in the woods, the college kids couldn’t help but translate Tucker and Dale’s every action as a possible chance to kidnap or kill them. In truth, the duo were only there because Tucker had recently bought a vacation home, a cabin, and they could use a bit of relaxation before heading back to work. “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil,” written by Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgenson, directed by the former, had a chance to really sink its teeth in horror movie clichés about hillbillies being nothing but churlish, incestuous, often cannibalistic, folks but it ultimately felt superficial because the one-liners and the physical stunts lacked range. The set-up was this: The young men and women were so stupid, they ended up killing themselves by accident. Cut to Tucker and Dale’s shocked and horrified reactions. The material was very funny during its initial gags, but the filmmakers failed to detach from the formula, ironically constructing its own clichés by making fun of clichés. The title promised the two friends fighting evil. After they rescued Allison (Katrina Bowden) from drowning, Allison’s friends thought that she was kidnapped because they observed from afar. This triggered Chad (Jesse Moss), innately irascible and shamelessly sporting an ugly popped collar, into a state of rage to the point where he ended up being as ruthless as the murderers his group of friends feared. The movie wasn’t specific in the “evil” that Tucker and Dale had to fight. Was it the negative stereotypes regarding hillbillies that became embedded in the genre’s bones over the history of cinema? Was it the apocryphal placidity in hateful individuals, who lived in the suburbs or cities all their lives, and their secret yearnings of violence just waiting to be unleashed? Furthermore, it failed to acknowledge that stereotyping can be a good thing; it helps our mind to process information faster than it normally would. For instance, they allow us to respond quickly to potential dangers. Relying on stereotypes and neglecting to put more thought into them, hence failing to sympathize with others who are different, is the real tragedy. If the screenplay had focused more on that message, tragedies even outside of horror movie conventions could have been effortlessly highlighted. The story really shouldn’t have been about the body count. Allison was in the process of getting her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, hoping to establish a career as a counselor. I expected her to be more self-aware. The subplot involving Dale and Allison falling for each other was a nuisance, almost worthy of a dozen eye-rollings. Wouldn’t it have been too much to ask if they didn’t pine for each other so profusely? With every bloody confrontation between the hillbillies and the college students, it was interrupted by Dale having to explain to Allison what had transpired. Given that we just saw what happened, the little summaries felt repetitive and I started to wonder if the filmmakers were simply biding their time to push the material to a typical ninety-minute mark because the script became indigent of fresh ideas that cut deeper than boning knives.
Bad Teacher (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) was a gold-digger who taught middle school Language Arts. When she was dumped by her most recent rich boyfriend because she had been spending too much money, she started a quest to find another man who would be able to provide for her lavish desires. Her short-term goal: to get breast implants. She was convinced a new pair would help her seduce Scott (Justin Timberlake), the substitute teacher who happened to be romantically interested with Amy (Lucy Punch), the teacher across Elizabeth’s classroom. Written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, “Bad Teacher” was great fun because it was able to take stereotypes, bad habits, and unethical practices into more digestible small scenes with comedic punchlines. Once the joke was delivered, it was immediately onto the next scene to set up the next hilarious bit. It was fast-paced and smart. In its own way, it worked as a critique of an increasingly ineffective educational system and the educators who just couldn’t be bothered. I think it had a point: Elizabeth had needs. Her needs were not always be reasonable but they were needs nonetheless. Its inherent argument was, why should teachers be more motivated to go beyond expectations if they weren’t getting paid enough? Some could argue that teachers love their job and they’re very passionate. That very may well be, but in a practical sense, teachers are not rewarded, pocket-wise, as much as they should be, especially when teaching is, supposedly, considered one of the most important jobs in any nation. The material was elevated by the actors’ charm, particularly by the effervescent Diaz. Even though Elizabeth did drugs at the school parking lot, often went to class with a mean hangover, and only showed movies–some of which had no educational value–in her classroom instead of actively teaching, I ended up rooting for her and loving her for who she was. She knew she was bad and did it with a smile. I liked her frankness. For instance, when Russell (Jason Segel), the gym teacher, asked her out on a date, instead of playing games and stringing him along, she had the courage to just shut him down right away because he wasn’t rich enough. However, I did find some glaring plot holes in Elizabeth’s situation. For example, she had her eyes set on the vulnerable and sensitive Scott because of his last name. What bothered me was she didn’t make sure that he was 1) who he really claimed to be and 2) he was the only beneficiary of the family fortune. She put her faith in the fact that Scott wore a very expensive wristwatch. Later, it was proven to us that she was very resourceful. If I was in her shoes, I would plan to have all of my facts straight before I put in the effort to seduce someone. “Bad Teacher,” directed by Jake Kasdan, was often compared to Terry Zwigoff’s “Bad Santa,” which I don’t think is fair. Although both are comedies about people doing bad (but hilarious) things, “Bad Teacher” is a more commercial breed. It needn’t be as edgy as the latter in order to be considered successful because it found a solid footing in terms of how it wished to deliver its jokes. And with so many trite comedies where “mean” characters eventually change for the better, I was more than happy Elizabeth didn’t lose her thorns.
Kids in America (2005)
★★★ / ★★★★
Principal Weller (Julie Bowen) oversaw Booker High School and wanted to run for superintendent of the school district. She cared more about politics than helping her students to become active learners. In her own words, she saw her job as simply about improving statistics. In order to show that she was in control, she started to adopt new rules such as banning students from distributing condoms to promote safe sex (ludicrous but a more realistic goal than abstinence especially in a high school setting) during National Safe Sex Day and going through students’ diaries without good reason. Teenagers from several cliques (Stephanie Sherrin, Caitlin Wachs, Alex Anfanger, Crystal Celeste Grant, Chris Morris, Emy Coligado) came together, with an appropriately named Holden (Gregory Smith) as their leader and one of their teachers (Malik Yoba) as their mentor, to fight for their rights via civil disobedience. Inspired by several true stories, what I enjoyed most about “Kids in America” was the way the characters embraced their stereotypes and concocted a way to make what made them different work for them, which ranged from serious issues (a daughter of a hippie fighting for the injustice of female genital mutilation) to hopelessly silly situations (an Asian pretending not to understand English in attempt to get out of jail). The type of comedy was nothing particularly groundbreaking compared to other teen movies but it had so much manic energy that its typical teen humor was easy to overlook. What I found to be more important was the fact that it wanted to discuss intelligent issues that matter. It had a good message about making an active change in the community if rights were being stripped away. My favorite scene was when Holden challenged the teenagers to find another persons of the same sex and kiss them on the lips as a response to Principal Weller’s homophobia. It was very amusing but it had to be done in order to prove a point: Medieval methods do not coincide with modern times. Admittedly, I wished it spent more time, from a serious angle, about the repercussions of taking disobedience a bit too far. It would have given the movie more edge and therefore would have been more memorable. Directed by Josh Stolberg, “Kids in America” can be inspiring given the right type of audience. Under a critical eye, it may be a bit too simplistic with its themes but I think it is focused and ironic enough to successfully get its points across to its intended audiences.
Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000)
★★★ / ★★★★
“Paradise Lost 2: Relevations,” directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, picked up four years later after three former teens were convicted to go to prison–two (Jessie Misskelly, Jason Baldwin) for life and one (Damien Echols) on death row. Most of the victims’ families declined to participate in the documentary except for the stepfather (John Byers) of one of the slain kids who, after the first movie, people began to suspect for killing the boys. There were a lot of changes that I thought were fascinating. First of all, the three guys who were sent to prison grew up so much and it really made me sad because it showed me that they were essentially just boys when they were convicted. Unlike in the first movie, they were much more willing to talk to the camera and they were much more eloquent. I liked the way the directors showed scenes from the first film such as asking a question to one of the boys and not getting an answer and the way it asked the same question but getting an answer this time around. What’s unfortunate was the fact that the lawyers from both the prosecution and the defense did not allow the filmmakers to record scenes inside courtroom because the first movie gained so much notoriety. It would have been much more compelling if we were actually there alongside scenes where Byers tried to prove his innocence using a lie detector test. I thought the project sometimes became too convoluted because it spent too much time focusing on Byers and his anger. I understood that there was a lot of suspicion surrounding the man and it was important to provide a psychological portrait of him, but I would rather have spent more time watching and hearing more about Misskelly and Baldwin. By showing Byers and his strange mannerisms and tendency to lie on camera, it painted him as a monster. I didn’t think it was a correct decision because what if the man did not have anything to do with the murders? It could possibly lead to another tarnished reputation all for naught. Instead, the movie had to rely on the result of the lie detector test (which had its own red flags) and the overlooked bite marks on the victims’ bodies. Were those really bite marks? How did the medical examiners miss such critical information that could have helped exonerate the three so-called satanists? Was there some kind of a conspiracy within the small town that they were willing to withhold important information for the sake of easy answers? I had a million questions and I genuinely worried about the results of the case (I tried not to read too much about it prior to seeing this film) because I believed that Misskelly, Baldwin and Echols did not receive a fair trial. In year 2010, the three guys are still in jail and the real killer–or killers–is still out there. They’ve spent practically half of their lives in jail not because of hard evidence but because of people’s stereotypes. That, too, is another tragedy.
The Breakfast Club (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.
★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Richard Day, “Straight-Jacket” was about a popular 1950s actor named Guy Stone (Matt Letscher) who must hide his homosexuality with the help of his agent (Veronica Cartwright) in order maintain his fans’ adoration. When a jealous fellow actor took a photo of Guy being arrested and was accused of being gay, his agent and the studio head (Victor Raider-Wexler) came up with a plan to keep his name clear by means of marrying an unaware fan/secretary named Sally (Carrie Preston). But things didn’t go quite as planned when Guy met a writer (Adam Greer), someone totally different from his type of “big, dumb and blonde.” I detested this picture’s exaggeration of pretty much everything: the slapstick, the wordplay, the acting, the set, among others. I felt as though it was looking down on me because it didn’t let me try to figure out what’s really going on in the characters’ heads because it was too busy hammering me with “this is funny!” moments. I also found this movie particularly difficult to watch because it had great trouble when it came to finding a consistent tone. With all the craziness that was going on screen, a little stability pertaining to the style of storytelling really would’ve done wonders. I like energy when it comes to the comedy but there’s a vast difference between energy and manic randomness. I found no redeeming factor in “Straight-Jacket” but I really have to mention one thing that deeply bothered me while I was watching it. The characters talked about having different kinds of homosexuals out there in the world, yet the film only focused one kind of a homosexual male: good-looking in the face, a built body, with snappy comebacks readily spit out. They’re in Hollywood, for goodness’ sake! Where are the lipstick lesbians, the drag queens, and stout effiminate directors? For a story that touches upon the glamour of Hollywood, this one simply lacked color and diversity. And I guess that’s why I hated this film: it’s unaware that it’s one-dimensional. There are a plethora of bad LGBT movies out there and this one, unfortunately, belongs in that category. What a waste of a hundred minutes.
Step Up 2 the Streets (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
Jon Chu directs the sequel for “Step Up” and I must say that although the dancing was much more incredible than the first, the story did not quite hold up. Briana Evigan decides to audition to attend Maryland School of the Arts with the help of Channing Tatum (a more than welcome return). In the school, she meets a geeky kid (Adam G. Sevani) who has a passion for dancing but decides not to pursue it because he doesn’t think he’s good enough and an all-star charming guy (Robert Hoffman) who’s sick of the school’s way of structuring/limiting certain styles of dancing. Evigan and Hoffman team up and gather outcasts who have a talent for dancing in order to compete in The Streets, an underground hip-hop battle of dance. Aside from the first scene when Tatum reprises his role to pass the torch (and for the audiences to find out what happened to him after the first film) and the final dance scene in the rain, the rest of it was pretty weak. The dialogue was laughable because even though it makes fun of pop culture such as “The Hills” and the “High School Musical” franchise, they resort to the same type of drama that defined such references. So, in a way, the sequel’s jokes worked against itself. Other than the two leads, we didn’t really get to know who the outcasts were outside of their stereotypes. Although they might have said one funny line or two, they were still one-dimensional. I almost wished that the picture could have focused more on the relationship between Evigan and the strict dance professor who wanted to mold her talents (Will Kemp). I felt like there could have been a two-way street connection between the two to highlight the fact that there are teachers out there who truly care for their students. That would have been a much better film because such an issue is concrete and universally relevant. The bit about the rivalry between groups felt too forced at times. Still, if one is in the mood to see impressive dancing, then by all means, see it. If one cares more about the story, I suggest to watch its predecessor instead.
Miracle at St. Anna (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
I heard that one of Spike Lee’s motivations for making this picture is to highlight the fact that African-Americans did participate in World War II–something that is not apparent in other World War II movies (notably Clint Eastwood’s). Although I did enjoy this 160-minute feature in parts, when I look at the bigger picture, I realize that it didn’t use its potential to be great. Las Alonso, Omar Benson Miller, Derek Luke and Michael Ealy star as four American solders who were forced to wait in a Tuscan village because they were surrounded by German soldiers. Along the way to Tuscan, Miller stumbles upon an enigmatic Italian boy (Matteo Sciabordi) who has an imaginary friend. Eventually, the two form a friendship that underlines the religious aspects of the film. I found it strange that Lee wanted to represent African-Americans yet he has characters that were drowning in stereotypes. I’m not black but I felt offended as I was watching the film because I know that some characters would’ve been the same if certain stereotypes were absent like that glaring gold tooth that one of the characters has. Story-wise, I felt as if it was all over the place. One minute the plot was about resistance fighters, the next minute it was about faith, the next it was about invaluable artifacts, and the next it’s about a love triangle. I would’ve preferred if Lee focused on just three issues and made a leaner film that offers a lot of insight about the psychology of a soldier who’s fighting for a country that treats him as a second-class citizen. Whenever “Miracle at St. Anna” related being in an actual war in another country and feeling like one is in a war in his own country, the movie becomes that much more alive and interesting. During those scenes, I was so engaged to the point where I caught myself thinking, “Oh, I never thought about it like that before.” Instead, it tried to tackle too much so it lost considerable amount of focus. The emotion is there and so is the entertainment value. However, what’s missing is the mark of great filmmaking. Therefore, “Miracle at St. Anna” is not as powerful as it should have been so it disappears in the sea of motion pictures about World War II.
Prom Night (1980)
★ / ★★★★
I decided to see this classic (but horrendous) slasher flick because I was curious about how different it was compared to the 2008 version. Although both are pretty bad, I can stand this one a bit more because I could sympathize with Jamie Lee Curtis’ character. Even though she’s not in it as much as I wanted her to (considering she’s the supposed star of the film), she made the best of her scenes, especially that dated dancing sequence during the prom. After six years of a little girl’s death, a masked serial killer decides to kill one by one those who are responsible. It’s a simple premise that could’ve been effective. Unfortunately, the stalker scenes lacked suspense, the kills weren’t creative and all of the characters are one-dimensional. That’s a common trap in the slasher film subgenre: the teenagers often are defined by their stereotypes: the nerdy one, the one who loses her virginity during prom, the nice girl, the jealous ex-girlfriend, the list goes on. Paul Lynch, the director, should’ve taken those stereotypes and turned them inside out. That way, it wouldn’t be as predictable. I also had a problem with its pacing. After its introduction, the camera merely follows the characters around prior to the prom. Nothing interesting happens: there’s no insightful dialogue, no genuinely funny or embarrassing moments, fashion disasters–things that do happen in real life. I also must point out the empty schoolgrounds and streets. When a particular character was walking around in the morning or in the middle of the afternoon, one would expect to see people walking their dogs, jogging, or even driving in their cars. In here, those things were noticeably absent so it got distracting. I do not recommend this picture to general audiences because it does get a bit slow. However, this is a must-see for horror film buffs because it does make references to better slasher movies like “Psycho” and “Halloween.”
★ / ★★★★
I decided to see this film because I was curious about what Filipino gay cinema has to offer. Unfortunately, this one is a big disappointment. It doesn’t really have a focus even though it had a lot of ideas that it tried to get across. It mostly likely has something to do with Crisaldo Pablo’s direction. The story started off with nerdy and naive Ray An Dulay falling for a much older Jet Alcantara. Eventually, Dulay’s innocence was shed and he became someone that he wish he was in the first place. Becoming someone that he wanted to become took a toll on his personality and his relationships with the people he loves most. Out of nowhere, the picture tried to inject new ideas such as loneliness, the hardships of finding the right person in a society where being a homosexual is looked down upon (most Filipinos are Catholic; though one can argue that most Filipinos do accept homosexuality because they’re always on television) and how gays tend to be disgusted with each other. Personally, I found the latter to be the most interesting because I think it’s the most honest. There’s already a plethora of gay love stories and the story here felt all too recycled. On the other hand, I do feel like gays do feel some sort of disgust with each other in real life. So, an exploration of that idea would make an interesting movie. The script didn’t help either because because it felt a bit too soap opera. I didn’t need the subtitles because I can understand Tagalog but even the first-hand experience of hearing the original script wasn’t enough to push through. I felt that whenever it is about to go into that vulnerable place, it hesitates and faces toward a less in-your-face subject. That’s the most frustrating aspect I found in “Bathhouse” and it happened again and again so I lost interest. The actor whose character I wanted to get to know more, however, was John Lapus. Even though he’s your stereotypical gay, there’s a certain anger and vulnerability in him that defies his mannerisms and outer appearance. I think if the movie focused on him instead of Dulay and Alcantara (and their lack of chemistry), this would’ve been a stronger movie. In the end, this is another one of those forgettable foreign gay movies.
Wassup Rockers (2005)
★★★ / ★★★★
Larry Clark makes interesting movies because most of them feel grimy and raw. People either love or hate them but everyone has an opinion by the end of each film–which I find to be a great thing. That’s what great filmmaking is all about: getting an emotional reaction from the viewers. In “Wassup Rockers,” even though I can’t relate to the kids’ lives on the surface (such as skating and living in the “ghetto”), there are scenes that really got to me: when the cop in Beverly Hills tried to get the kids’ names and addresses because they “can’t skate” in the area (which is really more about the cop’s bigotry and his stereotypes toward people who are not caucasian) and the one scene in the bedroom when one of the skaters really connected with one of the “white girls,” as they were so labeled. Even though a lot of skin is shown, especially in the beginning of the picture (which made me feel somewhat uncomfortable), this film is human at its core. My main problem with it, though, is that it tried to contradict some of the elements it is fighting against. I’m talking about the last few scenes with the kids visited different mansions in Beverly Hills. Each one they visit, the residents either get hurt or they end up dead. I’m not entirely sure what Clark is trying to tell his audiences but I ended up being confused because of the contradiction. Whether it’s supposed to be comedic, that’s an entirely different issue, but it did not work well with the rest of the film’s thesis. I was surprised when Jeremy Scott and Janice Dickinson, a former guest judge and a former regular judge in “America’s Next Top Model,” respectively. I thought it was hilarious when they made references to the fashion and modeling industry. But then again, as funny as those scenes were, they were so out of place to the point where the momentum is slowed down a bit. I can’t recommend this to casual audiences because they may think it’s pointless due to the lack of a climax (for me, each scene is as important as the next). But I do recommend this for the fans of Clark’s other film called “Kids.”
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.