Daydream Nation (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Caroline (Kat Dennings) and her father (Ted Whittall) moved from the city to the middle-of-nowhere suburbs and Caroline was far from happy about it. In order to feel some sort of excitement, she began to flirt with her English teacher, Barry (Josh Lucas), and the two began to share a sexual relationship. Thurston (Reece Thompson), a good kid with a nice family (led by Andie MacDowell as his mother) but stupid enough to hang around stoners, was hopelessly in love with Caroline. With a serial killer roaming the streets and dangerous chemicals began to take over the sleepy suburbs, Caroline had to choose which guy was right for her. Written and directed by Michael Goldbach, “Daydream Nation” tried to be edgy in tackling teenage angst but everything about it felt forced. For a supposedly smart character (she was in the gifted program), Caroline made decisions that no normal teenager would possibly make. Experimenting with sex and drugs was one thing but having an illicit affair with a teacher was a completely different breed of stupidity. She was the one who made the first move. The teacher, already a bit messed up in the head, obliged. Both of them were wrong. I understood Caroline wanted to feel some sort of excitement but couldn’t she have gone bungee jumping or skydiving instead? She was completely unlikable. Caroline reminded me of those girls in high school so desperate to be different that they were willing to hurt others for the sake of entertaining their delusions. She craved attention and she would go in whichever direction that offered her a bigger spotlight. The symbolisms were heavy-handed. For instance, a factory nearby expelled toxic smoke and the wind carried the chemicals to town. People were forced to use masks. The literal masks were supposed to show us that nobody really knew each other. That was probably the reason why the killer had been out and about for so long. I wish the picture had been more stripped down. I wanted to know more about Thurston and his friends. One of them had a seizure in class because his body could no longer deal with the drugs. They were so uninformed and addicted that they were stupid enough to take cleaning supplies from the kitchen and get high off them. That was far more realistic than some girl who wanted to have sex with her teacher just because she was bored. Lastly, the picture had some glaring inconsistencies. In the beginning, Caroline claimed that her father, in a span of a year, would eventually find out that he had cancer. A year had gone by and it was never mentioned again. “Daydream Nation” was cluttered, unfocused and depressing. There was not one teenager who was genuinely happy. Why is that? Its cynicism was bloated and pretentious.
The Craft (1996)
★★ / ★★★★
Sarah (Robin Tunney) and her family recently moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco. Sarah didn’t have many friends before and the prospect of her making many friends in her new school was low. It seemed as though everyone she encountered was either downright mean, mostly the catty girls (Christine Taylor) that scoured the hallways for their latest prey, or simply wanted to get her in bed, naturally, the hyper-masculine jocks (Skeet Ulrich). Sarah met Nancy (Fairuza Balk), Bonnie (Neve Campbell), and Rochelle (Rachel True), goths who practiced witchcraft. Sarah had dabbled in witchery, too. She didn’t really get along with them at first but she hung out with them anyway because being a pariah as a group was better than being alone. Directed by Andrew Fleming, “The Craft” was an exercise in the exaggeration of high school teen angst. Half of it was fun, but the other half was self-indulgent. It was enjoyable to watch because we got a chance to see mean kids in high school get the punishment they deserved. My favorite was the blonde girl whose hair began to fall off after she called Rochelle a “Negroid” and that she hated Rochelle’s kind and their “nappy hair.” As ugly as it was to hear such dialogue, I thought it had a certain honesty. In high school, I’ve heard all sorts of mean comments that would rarely, if ever, make it on television or movies. The film’s strongest scenes took place at school despite its improbable hyperboles such as Sarah not meeting anyone who seemed genuinely nice. As we got deeper into the story, I noticed the picture slowly beginning to rely on special and visual effects to generate suspense. I don’t think it needed to. It would have been more fascinating if we saw no thunderstorms striking one of the witches or if there were no butterflies flying around them to symbolize that the god they worshipped was listening to them. Teen witches casting a spell in one scene and strange events happening the next day at school would have been enough. By not giving us much, we were left to wonder if the spells they foolishly casted were having an effect or it was simply a matter of coincidences. I thought there were also some missteps in terms of character development or editing. In one of the scenes, Rochelle started to feel bad about the spell she casted on the racist blonde. It was apparent that she wanted out of the witches’ circle (a literal self-reflection because she stood next to a mirror) but she was afraid of Nancy’s wrath. Almost immediately after the audiences were made aware of her guilt, Rochelle continued to be friends with Nancy and her character’s evolution was completely abandoned. That strand could have been a turning point. Instead of the protagonist, it would have been refreshing to see a supporting character come out of nowhere and defy certain archetypes. In the end, “The Craft” was just another teen flick from the 90s but with black nail polish witchcraft.
Pump Up the Volume (1990)
★★★ / ★★★★
Mark Hunter (Christian Slater) moved to Arizona from the East Coast and started his own radio broadcast–under the pseudonym Hard Harry–because he didn’t fit in at his new school. The topics he talked about while on the air ranged from silly (sexual jokes) to serious (fellow classmates expressing they wanted to end their lives). Students from all social strata found a connection with Hard Harry even though they didn’t know his face; they all shared the unhappiness of being a teenager. As the students began to express their thoughts and feelings, school officials, led by the tyrannical principal (Annie Ross), expelled students who chose not to abide by the rules and those who did not maintain an excellent academic record. This film might have been an instant favorite if I had seen it back in high school. I had my “moody rebel” phase and I thought it managed to capture teenage angst perfectly. While it successfully balanced humor and real issues, I admired that it always respected its characters. The screenplay did not result to template clichés common to John Hughes’ movies. The majority of the picture was dedicated to Hard Harry ranting to his listeners how the system essentially limited the potential of young minds and the hypocrisy of the rules imposed on students. Such scenes became all the more magnetic because the camera would cut to different teenagers who felt like they had no voice. Via participation in the ritual of listening to the nightly 10 o’clock broadcast, they felt like they had a voice, like they belonged. Like the many colorful listeners, I did not always agree with the opinion being broadcasted but the voice had enough insight to challenge our own beliefs. Moreover, there were some truly moving scenes like the student who wanted to kill himself and the bullied homosexual who was comfortable with who he was but just needed someone to talk to. Unfortunately, the second half of the film spun out of control. The romance between Mark and Nora (Samantha Mathis) felt a bit forced–which resembled her bad poetry–and the silliness of students acting like wild monkeys at school did not feel at all believable. In some ways, the scenes that depicted too much rebellion took away some of the power from the real message Mark wanted to share with his fellow students. “Pump Up the Volume,” written and directed by Allan Moyle, is an inspiring film especially for the disaffected youth and those who feel alone. Specific scenes designed to inspire someone to live one’s life will most likely remind viewers of the current surge of tragic pre-teen and teen suicides. Perhaps they, too, felt like they didn’t have a voice.
The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
I cannot believe I saw this in theaters considering I wasn’t that impressed with the first “Twilight” film. However, since my expectations were low, I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed (but I wasn’t happy about it either). I expected a mediocre outcome and got just that. Chris Weitz directed the second installment of the highly popular franchise. He tried to balance Bella’s (Kirsten Stewart) depression when Edward (Robert Pattinson) decided to break up with her due to an incident during her eighteenth birthday and Bella’s attempt at recovery when she finally got the chance to get to know Jacob (Taylor Lautner) who saw her as a romantic interest. And that was pretty much what the whole movie was about because I felt like this was more of a transition than anything. With that said, I found that this movie had no reason to be over two hours long. There were far too many scenes when Edward and Bella would talk and circumvent the main point they wanted to get across. For me, the sexual tension that worked in the first film simply wasn’t there anymore. Simply saying, “I cannot live without you” over and over is simply not good enough. In fact, I hated it when Bella and Edward were alone together because I knew I would hear an extended conversation that lacked gravity. On the other hand, I was interested in Bella and Jacob’s blossoming friendship. There was a certain brother-sister connection there even though Jacob wanted Bella romantically (and not the other way around). I was also happy with the new characters that involved a vampire royalty called the Volturi (mainly Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning). I completely bought that they were menacing, powerful and very unstable group of vampires. One of the many ways this movie would’ve been more entertaining was having more action scenes. I loved the scenes that involved the diabolical Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre). Even though she barely said a word, her presence was mysterious and posed as a real threat. Granted, the film was based on Stephenie Meyer’s novel so it had plot limitations that were strictly designed for this sequel. However, there’s a certain way–an elegance, confidence, and ability to take risks–to make those limitations work for this project but I felt like it didn’t even try. With a much bigger budget than its predecessor, it should have been that much better, bigger in scope and more urgent. Regardless, I’m still curious with how the story would play out in the future installments especially with the way they ended this one. I cannot believe I said (more like yelled) “What?!” out loud when a certain line was said and it cut to the end credits. The fans of the novel probably looked at me and wondered why I watched the movie before I read the book.