High School Movies of 2012

April 19, 2013

High school is always a great setting for a film. It’s arguably the most painful four years in your entire life and as teenagers, you’re going through so many changes at neck-breaking speed. I always considered high school to be something like life in the fast lane. In those four years you’ll experience plenty of ups and downs: the excitement of meeting new people and the agony of heart-breaks, the ecstasy of firsts and the grim reality of lasts, being an impressionable mind and being a rebellious individual. No matter what kind of person you are and what cliques you stuck around with, high school changes you. Whether it’s for the better or for the worse, well you can pick that up when you simply ask someone what they thought about high school.

That being said, the year of 2012 had a handful of memorable films about high school, but not all of them display the same kind of experience. I’m going to break-down how the high school films of 2012 portray high school.

21 Jump Street

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Premise: Two undercover cops, Jenko and Schmidt, go back to high school to bust a drug ring.

Time Period: Modern Day

Old school vs. New School: Jenko was the cool kid in high school and Schmidt was the geek. Jenko advises Schmidt on how to be cool and fit in before they attend their first day undercover.

“One, don’t try hard at anything. Okay? Two, make fun of people who do try. Three, be handsome. Four, if anyone steps you on the first day of school, you punch them directly in the face. Five, drive a kick-ass car.”

Cool Kids: To Channing Tatum’s surprise, jocks and tough guys aren’t running the school like he did when he was in high school. Instead, smart and independent kids are the cool kids. Jenko (Tatum) blames Glee.

Parties: While Jenko and Schmidt are undercover, they live at Schmidt’s parent’s house. But with them away for the night, Jenko and Schmidt throw a huge party with dance music, kegs of beer, and a pound of marijuana. Also a fight breaks out.

Things to Learn: Hipsters didn’t exist in the 90’s.  Also, if you punch a person in the face and he turns out to be gay, it can be considered a hate crime.

The Bottom Line: Since I was in high school in the late ’90s I can relate to Jenko when he said that the jocks and toughs guys were the popular kids in school. I have no personal experience to determine if the “cool kids” have changed like 21 Jump Street is suggesting, but a few of my friends have said it has, to a degree.

Chronicle

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Premise: Three high-schoolers gain superpowers after making a discovery underground. Soon, their lives spin out of control and their bond is tested as they embrace their darker sides.

Time Period: Modern Day

Cool Kids: Jocks and anyone who gives an awesome talent show performance.

Parties: Kids over-crowd a huge house full of alcohol. Beer pong and empty bedrooms available.

Super-Teens: This is a nontraditional high school film since the main characters have superpowers that they describe as a muscle that can be strengthened from time and practice. But being the teens they are, they use their powers for pranks such as: moving a woman’s car in the parking lot and scaring a little girl by making a stuffed bear float.

Things to Learn: If you have super powers, don’t use it for bad. Also, even teenagers with super powers can’t fight back alcohol poisoning.

The Bottom Line: Chronicle does a great job at portraying the level of uneasiness teenagers have while trying to fit in with a crowd. The three main characters show three different cliques effectively: the popular jock who practically runs his class, the handsome boy who is in-between cool and geek, and the off-centered, loner whose difficulties at home result in his overall unhappiness.

Project X

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Premise: Three high school seniors throw a birthday party to try and make a name for themselves.

Time Period: Modern Day

Cool Kids: Jocks and tough guys, as well as slutty girls.

Parties: The whole film shows the most epic party of all time. A parent-free house with a huge backyard including a swimming pool. There is alcohol, drinking games, and drugs present as well as a DJ playing dance tunes all night long.

Let’s Get this Party Started: The birthday boy, Thomas, is influenced by his ridiculous friend Costa to throw an out-of-control rager at his parent’s house when they’re away. But what starts out as a small flame turns into an all-out wildfire when hundreds of kids show up at the party. The rate of bad decisions being made snowball once the alcohol gets flowing.

Things to Learn: Do not throw a party at your parent’s house and do not allow your friend (who is obviously using you) to tell a radio station your address to add more people to the party. But still, even though the house is destroyed and you have a criminal record, apparently all that matters is your reputation. Oh, and you’ll get the girl in the end.

The Bottom Line: The kids in this film are just as out of control as the film itself. But if there’s anything positive to take from Project X, it’s that there are kids like Thomas and Costa who aren’t specifically cool, but would do anything to gain that reputation. And everyone has had that dream of throwing a monstrous party and becoming popular. Of course, Project X takes it all to a ridiculous level, but if you search deep enough there is a strand of dignity here of being a high school film.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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Premise: A freshman with a traumatic past enters high school as fearful and shy, but discovers himself with the help from two seniors.

Time Period: ’90s

Cool Kids: Jocks, though these teenagers are all in one hybrid clique of kids who don’t really belong in any specific group.

Parties: Holiday gatherings with secret Santa exchanges, truth or dare, and a mild-mannered party with alcohol and drugs.

Things to Learn: A loner, a gay teenager, and a former slut can be best friends. Doesn’t that make life worthwhile? Also, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the biggest cult following ever.

Remember When: Believe it or not current generation, but there was a time when smart phones didn’t exist and people made mix tapes and mix CDs instead of file sharing playlists on Spotify or iTunes. I like to imagine how Charlie would be in this generation. Already lost and alone, would he be even more separated from everyone at school, or would he find comfort at not having to talk with people face-to-face through technology?

The Bottom Line: The Perks of Being a Wallflower takes your damaged goods of high school students and piles on more trauma than you can possibly imagine. But this group of misfits is an example of high school as being life in a nutshell. There is love, loss, firsts, conflicts, the real world, family, etc. In the end, the impact from high school is something everyone holds onto. For Charlie, it helped him become someone, which is something he never thought was possible. I’m sure everyone felt like that at one point of their high school life.

From the portrayal of high school in 2012 films, not much has really changed. While 21 Jump Street proposes the cool kids have shifted away from the jocks and tough guys, the other films suggest otherwise. But one thing’s for sure, high school teenagers have it tough and it’s not getting any easier for them. There will always be the pressure of fitting in and being “cool” during high school and everyone handles that issue differently. You can throw a party and hope that it’s a big hit, turning your high school reputation around. You can impress your classmates at a talent show and display a side of you that no one has ever seen before. Or you can just find other kids similar to you and join a group of misfits.

While everyone wants to be cool, that’s not what makes you a success later on. Maybe that’s why high school movies don’t usually focus on the popular kids. Instead, they concentrate on the typical teenager struggling with his identity and the fast-paced world of high school. It’s certainly a far more appealing story and that’s why this is a genre that will continue to thrive as every new generation begins and ends.

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Movie Review: Project X

March 14, 2013

Project X (2012)
88 minutes
Rated – R
Directed by Nima Nourizadeh
Starring: Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown

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Grade: C-

Movies about high school are full of cliches: nerds, jocks, partying, sex, college, alcohol, etc. Project X has them all and it doesn’t even try to hide it with any sort of moral or message that could benefit any teenager who watches. It’s an all out, rage fest of a film; unapologetic of its insulting and crude material and ignorant to its own stupidity.

But it’s kind of fun.

High school senior Thomas is persuaded by his friends to throw a party for his 17th birthday since his parents are going to be away. One thing leads to another and a thousand kids end up showing up to the party. Debauchery ensues and events during the party turn ridiculous such as a midget being thrown into an oven, a car being driven into the in-ground pool, and a lawn gnome containing dozens of ecstasy pills is broken.

This is your teenage fantasy film about a bunch of nobody’s fulfilling their ultimate dream of becoming popular after throwing the most epic party of the year. At first, you feel bad for Thomas because he really is a good kid, conflicted with peer pressure from his friends and craving to fit in at school. But all of these feelings soon diminish after he constantly makes bad decisions, snowballing the party into an absolute riot. Once again, this is a fantasy film for all those normal teenagers to get high off of.

Putting all the negative qualities of the movie aside, and there are a lot, what bugs me the most about Project X is how shallow the film actually is. At least attempt at any kind of positive message, or some characters that we can relate to or even have an emotional attachment to. But there’s none of that during Project X. It’s simply an enormous party and as the audience, we’re in the corner with our red solo cup just watching everything unfold without a care in the world.

Though I’m sure that this movie cares equally as little as we do.


Top Ten Films of 2012

January 21, 2013

How did 2012 treat you? For me there were really no big changes in my life, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing yet. I guess I’ll determine that a few years down the line, but as content as I am, 2012 was actually a very good year for films. It was a huge year for blockbusters with The Avengers and The Hunger Games and in addition, we saw some HUGE franchises come to an end with The Dark Knight Rises and Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2.

Also, it was a very good year for all genres across the board. While I’m not a horror fan, I have to admit that The Cabin in the Woods is probably my favorite horror since The Descent. As for comedies, while there wasn’t a film like Bridesmaids this year, there were still some good ones like Pitch Perfect, 21 Jump Street and even the darker Seven Psychopaths.

But now it’s time to get on with it. Here are my top movies of 2012:

10. Flight

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Denzel Washington gives a powerful performance as an alcoholic pilot who saves many lives by crash-landing a damaged plane. Zemeckis returns to live action with a drama about a man’s journey to admit he is an addict. The opening plane crash scene is truly terrifying to watch.

My full review here.

9. The Impossible

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Based on a true story of a family who is separated by the 2004 tsunami that hit south Asia, The Impossible packs a huge punch that will hit straight to your heart. A great family drama that gives you hope when you believe all hope is lost. Excellent performances by Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, and Thomas Holland.

My full review here.

8. Moonrise Kingdom

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A story about two kids finding friendship for the first time and mistaking it for love, and how their parents don’t know how to handle themselves when they run away. This Wes Anderson feature was his most mainstream film yet while still maintaining his quirky characters. This was a delightful, little movie.

7. Silver Linings Playbook

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Jennifer Lawrence cashes in on her big year with a stellar performance in this crowd-pleasing dramedy. Dealing with mental illness, relationships, and dysfunctional families, Silver Linings Playbook had everything you want from an adult comedy.

6. Beasts of the Southern Wild

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The most poetic film of the year, but still mainstream enough to keep the audience’s attention, this indie-gem proves that there is still room for imagination in cinema. You will fall in love with Quvenzhane Wallis and marvel at Dwight Henry’s performance, neither with any acting credits prior. What a magical film this is.

My full review here.

5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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The most memorable high school film in a very long time, Stephen Chbosky (novelist, screenwriter, and director) makes his characters come to life in this film that hits upon several serious issues that high-schoolers face, such as discovering yourself, peer pressure, and personal trauma, to name a few. Complete with a trio of young, talented actors (Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller), this film will make you laugh as much as it will make you cry.

My full review here.

4. Les Misérables

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A marvelous adaptation of the beloved musical and novel, Hooper’s direction brings you up close and personal with the characters in Les Misérables. Full of tragedy, action, and love, the movie rendition of this epic is one that will last for many years to come. Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman give natural, show-stopping performances.

My full review here.

3. Argo

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A true Hollywood movie, Ben Affleck constructs another hit with the “based on a true story” thriller of how a CIA agent rescued six Americans in Iran during the hostage crisis by developing a fake sci-fi film. Argo is funny, suspenseful, and very well-made from beginning to end.

2. Zero Dark Thirty

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Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to The Hurt Locker takes on a grand project about the story of how Osama Bin Laden was finally located and killed. Lead-woman Jessica Chastain gives a controlled and confident performance as Maya, the CIA analyst who took a decade to compile enough intelligence to track down Bin Laden. The procedure plays out like a classic mystery, but the final raid from the Navy SEALs provides for arguably the most tense moments of any film this year.

My full review here.

1. Life of Pi

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Truly my favorite and the most powerful movie experience in 2012, Life of Pi was able to transcend what you expect to receive from watching a film. The ideas that the film suggests remain embedded in my mind since my trip to the theaters. Ang Lee adapted a so-called “unfilmable story” with such success that should (if not already) cement him with legendary status as a director. Life of Pi simply makes you think about your faith and your life in a way that no other film has done before.

My full review here.

Honorable Mention (alphabetical order): Django Unchained, Looper, The Master, The Sessions, and Skyfall.


Movie Review: The Impossible

January 17, 2013

The Impossible (2012)
114 minutes
Rated PG-13
Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona
Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland

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Grade: A-

In 2004, a tsunami hit the coast of Southern Asia, devastating everything in its path and killing over 230,000 people. The Impossible is movie based on a true story about a family who overcame the disaster and miraculously was able to hold each other once again. Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage), the narrative is a straight-forward and personal one, which is certainly refreshing since there have been plenty of high-budget, CGI-driven disaster films in the past few years. Bayona wisely holds back on the disaster and concentrates on the family.

Even though CGI didn’t play a major role, the special effects and visuals were devastating. Using one of the largest water tanks in the world to create the powerful waves, you can’t help but cringe and inch to the edge of your seat as Maria (Watts) and Lucas (Holland) fight to grab each others’ hand while being swept away by the current. It’s great entertainment, but one that’s difficult to watch if you think of how many people were killed by these monstrous waves.

The Impossible is a story about a family who never gives up hope under the most catastrophic circumstances. Maria and Lucas are separated from Henry (McGregor) and the two youngest sons. While Maria was fighting to stay alive in one of the many crowded, makeshift hospitals, Henry never stopped looking for the rest of his family. While the climax of the film was done in a close-call, seen-it-before way, you can’t help but to be moved by the conclusion.

Naomi Watts gives a very strong performance as the wounded mother with a big heart, clinging to her life for just one more moment to be reunited with her family. Ewan McGregor also gives a great performance and had the most emotional scene as he borrows a stranger’s phone to call a family member. But the actor I was most impressed with was Tom Holland. He arguably has more screen-time than any of the main characters and really holds his own as the oldest son. Holland is no stranger to acting (starring in Billy Elliott the Musical in London), but the movie works so well because of his performance. We see the chaos through his eyes for a big part of the film and he has the unique perspective of being as strong as he can be for his family while still being too young to understand everything that surrounds him.

This is a very good film with great performances. Even though the film doesn’t touch upon all the lives lost directly, you understand the magnitude of the situation through several scenes of panic and the remains from the tsunami. But through the worst moments, it’s nice to know that there is always hope and The Impossible proves that is true.


Movie Review: Life of Pi

November 28, 2012

Life of Pi (2012)
127 minutes
Rated – PG
Directed by Ang Lee
Starring: Suraj Sharma

Grade:  A

The first thing you need to know about this movie is that it is incredibly gorgeous to watch. Everything that is shown on the screen is simply beautiful. From the spectacular use of 3-D to the CGI Bengal tiger, Life of Pi doesn’t have a wrong brushstroke with its visuals. It will take your breath away, specifically the night scene when Pi is surrounded by jellyfish. Ang Lee is one of the generation’s most innovative directors and Life of Pi adds to his greatness.

It’s important not to have this film spoiled for you, so if you plan on watching it then at all costs don’t find out what happens prior to seeing it. The beginning of the film plays out like a light-hearted family drama about an Indian family who owns a zoo. The adult version of Piscine is telling his story to a friend seeking inspiration for a novel. The scenes cut back and forth, making the first third of the film a little choppy, but essential in its narrative.

As a kid, Piscine was teased in school because his name sounded like “pissing” so he decided to have everyone call him “Pi.” There’s a brief romance between Pi and a lovely girl, but when the zoo goes broke the family decides to take a ship to Canada along with the animals to sell. In a devastating sequence of scenes, the ship gets caught in a terrible storm and sinks. Pi is able to escape on a survival boat along with a few animals: a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a tiger.

The rest of the film is about Pi’s will to stay alive through the roughest situations. Stranded at sea with wild animals, Pi understands that the most important aspect is not losing hope. With the help of a survival guide, Pi is able to ration his food and water and is even able to train the tiger. Take it from me, this is a grueling movie to get through, but Suraj Sharma does an excellent job keeping the attention of the audience. You know Pi survives because he’s telling the story, but there is still the unbelievable amount of danger that Pi experiences every day. Sharma’s performance is definitely noteworthy, but a level below Tom Hanks in Castaway and James Franco in 127 Hours, two other movies with a single character on screen for a lengthy time.

In Life of Pi, the story is said to enable you to find God. Early on, young Pi begins to practice a handful of religions, something that his father disagrees with, but that’s the point of the story. No matter what you believe, there are always signs from God, or a higher power, that presents us with miracles and helps us keep faith. Life is Pi is arguably the most powerful movie of the year with an ending that will question your faith and judgment. Will you continue to believe or will you lose hope? That’s the question that Life of Pi not only asks during the movie, but continues to ask long after its completion.


Review: Looper

October 12, 2012

Looper (2012)
118 minutes
Rated – R
Directed by Rian Johnson
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt

Grade:  B+

Rian Johnson is a name that has flown under the radar for quite some time now, but after his latest feature film, his name should be one to be recognized. With films like Brick and The Brothers Bloom already on his resume, you know that Johnson is a DIY type of person, penning the screenplays and directing the films to his liking. Now with Looper as his third film, he’s shown his versatility to the greatest extent.

The film is set in Kansas in the year 2044. Time travel hasn’t been invented yet but it will be invented soon and immediately be illegal. But in the future, there is a tracking technology that stops murders from happening, so the mob uses a method that can prevent the murders from being detected: send a victim back in time to be killed and disposed of. These assassins are called “loopers” and our protagonist, Joe (Gordon-Levitt), is one of them.

As a “looper” you’re paid very handsomely and understand you will eventually close your loop by executing your-future-self. After that’s done, you’re looping days are done and you can live off of your silver and gold for the next thirty years. But when Joe’s about to close his loop, Future-Joe (Willis) escapes. This is a no-no and a hunt-and-kill mission takes over the movie.

To avoid spoilers, I’ll have to end my synopsis there, but know that there are miles of story-telling after the simple premise. What I was so surprised about was how easy it was to follow a story about time traveling. Johnson does an impeccable job at keeping everything simple, even if he does cop out on some intriguing questions. The story unfolds while expecting the audience to accept what’s happening for what it is, and because of the fast pace you really have no choice but to go for the ride.

Looper is a plot-heavy, sci-fi thriller, which leaves the acting to a minimum. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is great, struggling with drugs and dealing with the dilemma of killing his future self. His chemistry with Emily Blunt is evident during their scenes, which dominates the second half of the film. Meanwhile, Bruce Willis didn’t have much weight in the film, aside from some kick-ass moments of channeling his action-hero self.

If there is a complaint, I’d say that things wrap up a bit too neatly at the end. With a film of this complexity and with plenty of ideas floating around, there wasn’t much for the audience to ponder about during nor after the film. That’s what really separates it from other sci-fi greats.


Review: Brave

July 11, 2012

Brave (2012)
100 minutes
Rated – PG
Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell

Grade: C+

In Brave, we get another strong female lead character trying to defy all odds when adversity stares her down. That’s been quite the theme this year with movies such as The Hunger Games and Snow White and the Huntsman, but here we’re presented with Pixar’s point of view of a princess story. This is monumental for the studio since all of its previous films starred male lead characters, but the end result gives off a strange vibe from Disney instead of Pixar’s consistency to keep pushing the envelope.

In traditional princess story-telling, Merida is a young girl who has expectations to act proper, marry a prince, etc. But the tomboy, bow and arrow wielding red head just wants to be heard from her strict mother. This is where the heart of the story lies, with Merida’s father and her three younger brothers serving as the comic relief throughout.

Brave uses the “be careful what you wish for” message and runs with it as Merida visits a witch, who in turn concocts a potion to “change” her mother. But when this changes her to a bear, Merida immediately regrets her decision and does everything she can to protect her mother from the hunters, including her own father. The real suspense comes in the second half of the film when Merida and her mother only have a limited amount of time to reverse the spell before she permanently becomes a bear.

While the film is visually incredible, everything else is uneven, from the plot down to the characters and their development. There are heart-felt moments, especially towards the end of the movie between Merida and her mother, but other than that there aren’t many emotional aspects during Brave. Also, I understand that the three brothers are supposed to serve up some laughs, but they were hardly funny. Even the King’s jokes were off-key and had me questioning if anyone actually laughed.

Following up the disappointment of Cars 2, Brave is a Pixar film that disappoints in another way. For years, Pixar has provided true family entertainment with animations that kids and adults could enjoy equally. Brave doesn’t contain material sufficient enough to keep the adults engaged, and oddly enough this film is arguably the scariest Pixar production to date (I did see the film in Dolby ATMOS, which gave a much louder and clearer sound, but the bears’ roar resulted in a theater of crying children).

Brave felt too much like a Disney film with its princess stories and its medieval setting. It’s a feel-good movie that rarely takes any risks, which directly contradicts its title. This is a Disney formula, not a Pixar one. Is it possible that Pixar’s bar is higher than other studios’, resulting in critics to be harsher than they should. I believe so, but that’s better than being surprised by a decent film when you expect nothing from it. But simply put, I hope their upcoming films resemble more WALL-E and Ratatouille and less Brave.


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