★★★ / ★★★★
Pledges for Sigma Zeta Chi were about to be tested. Frank (Jon Foster), the fraternity leader, took his pledges for a ride around town and given them a task: to go into various convenience stores, hold the clerk at gunpoint, and steal $19.10. The pledges weren’t aware that the gun they held had no bullet and the clerks were in on the not-so-practical joke. When Frank dropped off Kevin (Lou Taylor Pucci) to a wrong location, Kevin held a gun to the man in front of the register named Mike (Arlen Escarpeta), who happened to be a high school classmate of Adam (Trevor Morgan), one of the senior of members of the fraternity. When Kevin’s defenses were down, Mike shot him in the shoulder. Directed by Will Canon, “Brotherhood” had a critical eye on groupthink and what certain people were willing to sacrifice in order to feel like they belonged. Despite its thriller aspects, I thought the picture’s dramatic core was defined. The person we were supposed to sympathize with was Adam. I liked the way he started off as unlikable but something inside his mind clicked and tried to make the right decisions, not for the sake of the fraternity’s reputation but for the survival of a person who was bleeding to death. There was a power struggle between Adam and Frank. Frank, in a myriad circumstances, tried to correct a wrong with another wrong. We all know how those work out. He was a scary figure because he had a certain sense of self-entitlement that took precedence over genuinely caring a person. He saw leadership as avoiding punishment and not taking full responsibility for his actions. He had many chances to save Kevin, like calling an ambulance right away or taking him to a hospital, but he chose to keep the situation hidden. It was like watching someone using glue to patch up a dam that was about to break. He grew comfortable in the illusion that someone would “just get better” from a gunshot wound. I thought he was fascinating to watch because he was a leader detached from reality and he didn’t have a clear vision between what was right and what was wrong. I mentioned belongingness. I confess that wanting to be in a fraternity or sorority doesn’t make much sense to me. Maybe I was engaged in the film because I wanted to make sense of why so many young people do it. Providing proof that a bond between friends is strong, in my opinion, should come later in a relationship. It shouldn’t be forced. Otherwise, the so-called proof is superficial. Written by Canon and Doug Simon, “Brotherhood” was fast-paced, modern, and it made me think what I would have done given that I was in the same situation as its characters. I think it had a great message, too, especially for the youth. Sometimes it’s okay to accept that it’s not worth it, whatever it may be, and just walk away. It doesn’t mean you’re not brave. It doesn’t mean you don’t have a sense of camaraderie. It just means you’re in control of your life.
★★★ / ★★★★
We all know families that tend to overprotect their children. There are parents who purposely instill irrational fear in their children so their kids will behave or act proper in front of strangers. Some do it in order to discipline, a seemingly small price to pay for a bit silence at home. “Kynodontas,” daringly written by Efthymis Filippou and Giorgos Lanthimos, took the repercussions of parents who equate parenting as taking control and multipled it exponentially. The result was comedic and horrific, curious but effective. To say that “Dogtooth” was strange would be an understatement and simplistic. The patriarch (Christos Stergioglou) and matriarch (Michele Valley) of the family had connections to the real world. The mother acted as if she had never been outside of their property. She took comfort by hiding a telephone in the bedroom. Sometimes she would talk on the phone and her children would overhear. However, they believed that their mother had been talking to herself. The father, on the other hand, was free to go to work and shop for food. But he warned his children that the only way one could be safe outside of their property was to be inside a car. The three children in question (Hristos Passalis, Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni) were actually adults. Two were relatively content with their sheltered existence but one yearned to explore what was out there. She wanted objects not found in their home so when a stranger (Anna Kalaitzidou) came to visit, the daughter was willing to perform oral sex in exchange for such objects. The film immediately caught my attention because I hypothesized that the parents were some sort of really dedicated scientists involved in a behavior modification program. I surmised that the kids were genetically related to them but they saw the trio as nothing more than lab rats (they often wore white or some bland color). But as the picture unfolded, that wasn’t the case at all. I was mortified that they were actually serious about raising these kids because they thought it was the right thing to do. They purposely taught their children incorrect names for certain objects. I watched with a furrowed brow and the most perplexed expression. For instance, at the dinner table, one of the daughters asked her mother if she could pass the telephone. I thought, “Why would you need the telephone when you’re eating?” Out of nowhere, the mother grabbed the salt and handed it to her daughter. I was so puzzled with what was happening but I was undoubtedly entertained. What was even stranger was the fact that as the film went on, I was able to catch on with the incorrect labels and I actually understood what they meant to say. In a way, I became a part of the experiment which made me feel somewhat uneasy. Audiences who crave something unusual will be delighted by this oddity. Watson and Skinner would be proud.
Clash of the Titans (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Perseus (Sam Worthington), a demi-god who was unaware that Zeus (Liam Neeson) was his father, decided to take revenge on Hades (Ralph Fiennes) for killing the family that raised him. On a bigger scope, the gods were upset with man because they stopped praying (it’s the source of their power); man was upset with the gods because their quality of life was not as great as it used to be. Both sides could not seem to understand where the other was coming from so the two sides waged war. I think this remake generated a great load of negative reviews because a lot of fans of the 1981 version couldn’t (or wouldn’t) accept the changes that this updated version had to offer. It’s completely understandable because we all have our fond memories of certain older movies but those who choose to compare the 2010 to the 1981 version, half the time, are not completely objective. Furthermore, half of the objective reviews had a problem with this movie’s interpretation of the gods–who they were, their motivations, their powers. A lot of questions such as, “Why change this?” or, “Why change that?” quickly get tiresome so I ask, “Why not?” From my share of films involving Greek mythology, none of them 100% follow how the gods were like from the original source. Therefore, I think it was unfair that this specific movie received negative reviews for being inaccurate. For me, it was simple: I saw “Clash of the Titans” from an fantasy-action-adventure perspective and pretended I had no knowledge of who the gods were or how they were supposed to act. From that angle, I thought it worked because the action sequences were exciting (I loved the scene with the giant scorpions), the CGI was well-done even though there were times when it was obvious that the filmmakers used a green screen, and I had fun with how seriously it took itself because there were a handful of unintentionally funny moments. I also liked the fact that this did not follow the overrated film “300” in terms casting men with buldging muscles and constantly (and painfully) showcasing hypermasculinity. It was nice that I don’t have to look at fake abs and men constantly having to prove their manhood by yelling at each other. In other words, it was more focused on trying to tell a story despite the oversimplification of the politics between god and man. Directed by Louis Leterrier, “Clash of the Titans” was no doubt in need of more heart and complexity, especially Worthington’s character, but I do not believe it is as egregious as everyone claims it to be. If one leaves nostalgia out the door, one can see some potential here. Although I would have loved to have seen the Kraken for more than three minutes.
My Life in Ruins (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
I loved Nia Vardalos in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” so I was excited to watch this movie even though the critics disparaged it without remorse. There’s something about her that I love watching on screen–a certain look or attitude that never fails to make me smile. Unfortunately, I wasn’t at all impressed with this film because it offered nothing new. In fact, it relied upon the usual stereotypes regarding tourists: the rude Americans, the cute old people with idiosyncracies, the rich couple who was emotionally detached from their child and vice-versa and others I wouldn’t even go into. Vardalos played a travel guide who wanted to do something more with her life but she couldn’t quite leave Greece because she seemed to get nothing but rejection letters from the universities she applied to. She didn’t like being a travel guide but decided to stick with it anyway because of the money. Her dislike for her job was reflected in her very analytical way of interacting with the colorful tourists. Eventually, however, she learned to open up and let her hair down. I wish that this movie was edgier. I liked the fact that it had colorful tourists but they didn’t have to be so annoying, especially the Americans. Americans are annoying–we get it. There’s no need to keep hammering it into our heads. By getting rid of the clichés, the picture would’ve looked smarter and more self-aware and wouldn’t have felt so lazy in its writing. I liked the tender moments between Vardalos and Richard Dreyfuss, a man who was still grieving upon the death of his wife. The insight that he offered to her were believable enough for me to think that that, yes, Vardalos was able to take and process it all then evaluate what was going on with her life and eventually find a way to fix it. But those scenes lost their power because there were far too many scenes when the tourists were being shown as dumb; it was supposed to be funny–which it was once or twice–but I quickly got tired of it because I wanted to see something new. As for the romantic angle between Vardalos and Alexis Georgoulis, I didn’t buy it for one second because they lacked chemistry. Either that or the film wasn’t just developed enough for me to finally go along with it once it happened. I say skip this film if you have better things to do. Otherwise, it’s just another average movie with interesting sceneries but ultimately has an empty emotional core.
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.