Prodigal Sons (2008)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Kimberly Reed decided to document her return to her hometown in Montana because it was the first time her high school friends and neighbors would see her as a woman. When Paul (now Kim) was in high school, it seemed like he had it all: he was well-liked, he was quarterback of the football team, he had good grades. However, he kept secret of the fact that he felt like he was born in the wrong body. Her eventual transformation contributed to a strain in the relationship with her older adopted brother (Marc McKerrow) who got into an accident when he was in his early twenties and had a part of his brain removed. Ever since the surgery, he had problems with his mood and memory, which was problematic for Kim because she wanted to let go of her past yet her brother kept bringing up the fact that she used to be a man. This documentary moved me in ways that I did not expect. I thought it was just going to be a documentary about how people would react to Kimberly’s decision to finally be in a body where she was meant to be. I was surprised that it was actually more about family and finding closure to issues that do not have easy or comfortable answers. It was not always a good feeling to watch Kim and Marc interact because of the awkwardness of not seeing each other for many years. There was jealousy and anger from Marc’s side and Kim walked on egg shells around her brother but it was obvious that both of them were willing to put in the effort to make their relationship work. Some of the audiences’ reactions on message boards claimed that they hated Marc for being selfish, insensitive and mean-spirited. I did not hate Marc in the least. From the location of his scar, perhaps the doctors removed a part of his frontal lobe (the movie was not specific about which part of Marc’s brain was taken out). Having some basic background in Neurology, the frontal lobe controls personality, decision-making, and memory. So I did not hold him accountable for his fits of rage. Think of it as hitting your “funny bone” (the cause) and trying as hard as you can to not react (the rage). After his violent spells, when he said that his rage “wasn’t me,” I understood what he was trying to convey because he just could not help it. His fits were not dissimilar from clips I’ve seen of actual patients who had a part of their frontal lobe removed. The movie did not offer a scientific explanation (other than he was inconsistent of taking his medication–which is to imply that he was merely choosing to be irresponsible) so I feel the need to shed some light on the matter. “Prodigal Sons” is a deeply personal film and is really worth experiencing than reading about. There were some nice surprises involving bloodlines, people’s reactions to Kim being a transgender, and the history of who Paul was. If I can describe Kim in one word, it would have to be “brave.” By the end of the movie, I wanted to meet her and thank her for sharing not just her story but also the story of her imperfect family and the love they have for one another.
Ginger Snaps (2000)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle star as Brigitte and Ginger, two very close sisters who started off as extremely fascinated with death and the macabre. But when a werewolf attacked them in the playground one night and Ginger was turned into a werewolf, their strong bond was challenged not only by the slow and painful transformation but also because they were beginning to grow up. Desperate to bring her sister back to normalcy, Brigitte formed an alliance with a charming high school drug dealer (Kris Lemche) and tension began to accumulate until the very impressive final showdown. This film reminded me of two things: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Heathers.” I thought the film was particularly astute because it wasn’t just a regular horror film with a scary werewolf killing everyone in its path. It was able to use being a werewolf as a metaphor for adolescence and its physical, emotional and psychological hardships. That metaphor was always at the forefront and it was able to use (dark) humor to comment not only on the characters but the audiences who probably went through the same thing: feeling like an outcast, being overshadowed by siblings, feeling suffocated by family, and feeling like school doesn’t really foster or appreciate one’s talents. I also admired the fact that this picture was not afraid to kill off characters both to prove a point and to entertain. The dialogue was very hip but not too quirky to the point where it seemed like it was only trying to be the coolest thing of the moment. I have to admit that I did get sort of scared right from the very first scene when the kid found a little unpleasant thing while playing in the sandbox. But what really convinced me that this was a superior horror movie was the first werewolf attack. There was something very sinister about it: with the way the camera loomed behind the trees, rapidly budged when there was an attack and the fact that I just don’t see a lot of movies where main characters of their age were put in a situation and really tackle it in their own unique way. With movies about preadolescents, especially horror movies targeted to them, things are usually a bit lighter. So I was really surprised with how this one turned out; I’ll even go as far as saying that this probably one of the best werewolf movies I’ve seen. Lastly, I have to mention how the last few scenes reminded me of original “Halloween” classic because the final battle was set inside the house and as the minutes passed by, the frame got tighter and tighter until the heroine had no choice but to confront her biggest fear. I had a great time watching “Ginger Snaps” because it had so many exemplary ideas that were actually realized. This coming-of-age feminist gorefest definitely earns a place in my film collection.
The Wolfman (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
Set in a Victorian-era Great Britain, “The Wolfman” told Lawrence Talbot’s (Benicio Del Toro) horrific transformation and the bloody mayhem he caused after surviving a werewolf attack. Emily Blunt and Anthony Hopkins also star as Lawrence’s delicate sister-in-law and mysterious father. I think this movie would have benefited greatly if it had a shorter running time. Even though the middle portion had a number of exciting scenes with bucketloads of blood and body parts flying around, it lagged because the character development felt forced. It was almost as if the movie was following a pattern of one werewolf attack after fifteen to twenty minutes of dull conversations. The acting also could have used a bit more consistency: I felt like Blunt was stuck in a sappy romantic period piece, Hopkins doing another rendition of his character in “The Silence of the Lambs,” and Del Toro was left in the middle of it all and sometimes looking confused. As for the werewolf hunter played buy Hugo Weaving, I found it difficult to root for him (or were we even supposed to?) because he lacked charm and power. He was just desperate and angry throughout the entire film and I needed to see another dimension. Moreover, I found the flashback scenes to be completely unnecessary (and irksome). Instead of cutting those out and leaving the audiences to interpret what they think happened in the past (the character did a lot of talking so the pieces were certainly there), everything was spelled out so the picture lacked a much-needed subtlety. However, there were a few stand-out scenes that I thought had real sense of dread: when Del Toro rushed into the fog to rescue a gypsy kid from the werewolf and all we could see were rocks and fog, the scene in the asylum where doctors from all over gathered to witness a “cured” man who “thought’ he was a werewolf, and the scene where Del Toro first transformed into a monster. Like most horror movies, even though this picture delivered the gore and the violence, it lacked focus because the writing was not strong enough. There was a lack of a natural flow from one scene to the next so the film at times felt disjointed and I was left to evaluate where we were in the story instead of focusing on what was happening on screen at the time. “The Wolfman,” directed by Joe Johnston, was a nice attempt at a solid horror film about cursed humans who were slaves to the full moon but it ultimately came up short. It’s not a bad DVD rental but I wouldn’t rush to see it in theaters.