December 31, 2013.

This blog is now closed. After three years and 311 posts, I have decided to end this blog. I have enjoyed watching the films, reviewing them, and interacting with global readers.

If you are interested in contacting me, you can do so by commenting on any of the posts. The blog will remain live on the web.
Thank you to all the readers for your comments, ideas, and thoughts. They were helpful, stimulating, and enriching. This is Alene, signing off.

April 29, 2011

Fast Five (aka: Fast and the Furious 5 - 2011)

When its over, I just loved this film.  It's not because of the acting or the story or any of that "critically acclaimed" stuff.  I just loved it for the pure entertainment of having Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, and international actors - Joaquim de Almeida and Sung Kang - all in the same movie.  Watching the scenes with Diesel and Johnson and their over sized egos was reminiscent of Pacino and DeNiro (in Heat) or Stallone and Schwarzenegger (in The Expendables).  It's rare to see these two pumped up actors together and the great chemistry they had onscreen.  Director Justin Lin has done a top-notch job at revamping the series and returns to the driver's seat for the third time giving this fifth installment more adrenaline, more guns, and more over the top maniacal driving.  If you're not a fan of the series, this film is still worth a look.  It's got some great vehicular stunts and well-edited chase sequences.  If you are a fan of the series, you can't miss this one.  There is a feeling of closure for the two main characters - Dominic (Diesel) and Brian (Walker), of finally getting that freedom they so often talked about in previous films. There are a few surprises including a loss and an extension of "the family."  Han (Kang) returns, along with some new faces, to help Dominic even the score against a Brazilian drug lord named Reyes (Almeida), but things get messy when a relentless federal agent (Johnson) is assigned to hunt down Dominic and Brian.  Rounding out the main cast is Jordana Brewster, who returns as Brian's girlfriend and Dominic's sister, Mia.    

My rating: 4 out of 5

April 27, 2011

Buried (2010)

When it's over, I can understand the appeal this film had for some people and sheer disappointment for others.  I would give the vote of disappointment.  I think Ryan Reynolds' bold attempt to stray away from his more heroic roles pays off in Buried, because it truly is something different for him, and his performance in this "one-man" show proved he can act as well as look good.   However, the ending ruined my journey through claustrophobia-land.  The story about an American buried alive inside a coffin by Iraqis with only a cell phone, lighter, and flashlight was appealing, and it kept my interest until the very end - until the decision to end the movie the way it did (I don't want to reveal any spoilers).  I was hoping for more of a Hollywood ending, but got instead, an ending that seemed unfair and pointless.  Maybe that was the film's intention, but I don't have to like it.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

Takers (2010)

When it's over, Takers  took me by surprise.  It's the story about five bank robbers living the high life after a successful heist.  However, when a former member of the team gets released from prison, he convinces the team to rob an armoured car carrying $20 million.  Success seems imminent, until a police officer gets alittle too close in solving the case.  The film was more entertaining than I had expected and although it was predictable, it kept me guessing on who would die and who would live.  I was impressed that the film had a collaborative feel to it where the actors shared an equal amount of screen time.  I didn't sense any egos trying to consume the film and with a cast that included emerging talent as well as established talent (such as: Chris Brown, Hayden Christensen, Matt Dillion, Paul Walker, Michael Ealy, Idris Elba, T.I., Jay Hernandez, and Zoe Saldana), egos could have easily verve the story to varying directions.  Instead, emerging director, John Luessenhop managed to keep the storyline well-paced with each character getting a fair slice of the plot.  

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

April 22, 2011

Centurion (UK - 2010)

When it's over, director Neil Marshall (Descent, Dog Soldiers, Doomsday) proves again that he has a lot of vision and he can stretch that vision with little dollars.  His vision may not garner him box office gold, but it does establish him as an inventive independent film director.  In Centurion, Marshall tells a story set in Britain 117 AD.  The story follows Quintus Dias and his march with the Ninth Legion under orders to wipe out and destroy the Picts, a warrior tribe of painted people.  What the Romans thought would be their grandest victory, turns out to be a trap and Dias becomes the sole surviving centurion of the raid.  Soon, Dias becomes the hunted as he tries to make his way to the nearest Roman outpost.  There is a hint of a love story - small and sweet, and is a nice break from the fighting sequences.  This film is ultra violent with slashing swords and copious decapitations reminiscent of 300.  As much as I respect Marshall as a director, his films lack character depth and development.  He's great at creating setting and suspense, but fails at making the connection between character and viewer.

My rating: 2 out of 5

Knight and Day (2010)

When it’s over, the title has nothing to do with the plot, which is unfortunate, because titles really do sell the movie to some degree.  Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz reunite (their last film together was Vanilla Sky) to play Roy and June, two people on the run from the US government and international baddies who want to get their hands on a new invented battery that could power an entire city.  Roy's a secret agent thought to have gone rogue and June's a civilian who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Pit these characters together and you get a mix of tongue-and-cheek humor, damsel in distress scenarios, and full-throttle action. Cruise still does most of his own stunts and holds up the persona of "cool" quite well.   Diaz was a bit irritating as the constant complainer, but manages to redeem herself slowly throughout the film as a tough gal who can take a few punches.  The film held my attention only long enough for the credits to roll, and after that...it was quite forgettable.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

Hanna (2011)

When it's over, I wondered how in the world did the producers get big actors, such as Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett, to sign on to do this very poorly done film.  Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones) plays Hanna, a young girl raised and trained by her father (played by Bana) to become an elite assassin, who eventually discovers her true identity and origin.  This film felt like Clan of the Cave Bear meets Le Femme Nikita mixed in with some genetic engineering.  The soundtrack was horrible and made me feel like I was watching one of those old-fashioned dubbed Asian kung-fu movies, which had sudden gongs or drums to accentuate a dramatic scene.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy those kung-fu movies, and I've come to expect those sound effects, but for Hanna (replacing the gongs with techno beats) it just didn't work.  In fact, it was distracting and made the movie seem somewhat "cheap."  British director, Joe Wright has done some wonderful films in the past, and I'm truly disappointed that he failed to bring emotional depth to the flat, uncaring, and unresponsive characters.

My rating: 1.5 out of 5

Life As We Know It (2010)

When it’s over, “Life As We Know It” was predictable in a good way, and the journey to the end was surprisingly bittersweet.  Katherine Heigl plays Holly and Josh Duhamel plays Eric, who are both single adults that become the caregivers of an orphaned child named Sophie.  Going into the film, I thought it would be another comedic rendition of how adult lives get turned topsy-turvy with the introduction of a child, but as the story developed, I saw the honesty in the emotional tug-of-war between Holly and Eric and their constant battle within themselves as well as with each other over the issue of whether they are truly capable of caring for Sophie.  Heigl and Duhamel had great chemistry together as they mixed poison with passion and all the emotions in between. This film has been categorized as a romantic comedy and although there are some fuzzy moments, I feel it's really a drama about coping with grief, about the sacrifices we make, and the courage to accept responsibility.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

April 15, 2011

Monsters (UK - 2010)

When it's over, I thought long and hard to find one thing I found intriguing about this film, and nada - zilch - nothing.  "Monsters" was neither memorable nor pleasurable to watch.  I am generally a great supporter of low-budgeted independent films, but this film just kept missing the mark.  The film follows a journalist who has to escort his boss's daughter through an alien infected zone in Mexico.  Not a bad premise and the story had alot of potential, but the film's pacing was too slow, and I found myself constantly waiting for something big to happen to propel the story forward.  The characters were uninteresting and had no chemistry, and yet, the story kept focusing on these two characters.  When I finally got a look at the alien creatures, they were unimpressive and unoriginal, and I wondered how such a film garnered as many awards as it did in the UK.  Perhaps, it was the estimated $800,000 budget that put this film on the critics choice.  Regardless, I watched the movie till the end and hoped it would redeem itself, but instead, the ending made me cringe with frustration. 

My rating: 1.5 out of 5

Predators (2010)

When it’s over, “Predators” was a no brainer film to watch.  This is the 5th film to feature the ultra hunters from another world made famous originally by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Predator” back in 1987.  This time around, the Predators have a slightly more menacing look (just when I got use to how ugly they were, they got uglier).  Actor Adrian Brody beefed up for the role as Royce, the leader of a band of criminals who are dropped onto an alien planet and must find a way off before the Predators hunt them down.  One by one, the criminals are killed and ultimately it’s Royce that must go hand-to-hand combat with the last remaining Predator.  I think the producers and writers should have put more into the plot by developing the storyline of the alien species as well as the humans they were hunting.  After five films, I would like to know these alien species a bit better, plus, a hero really isn’t a hero unless we associate him as one, and Royce’s character just wasn’t fleshed out well enough, despite Brody’s efforts.  Still, with all its flaws, I still remain a fan of the franchise.

My rating: 2 out of 5

April 11, 2011

Letters to Juliet (2010)

When it's over, "Letters to Juliet" was a real "feel good" film shot in beautiful Italy, and the landscape plays an important role in the charm of this modern day fairy tale.  Amanda Seyfried plays Sophie, an American visiting Italy who ends up answering a lost letter from a woman seeking comfort for a past regret.  After receiving the response, the woman, Claire, played by Vanessa Redgrave, returns to Italy to seek out her lost love of 50 years past with the help of Claire and her grandson, Charlie, played by Christopher Egan.  What seems like an impossible journey at first, turns into a journey of friendship, hope, and love.  If you believe in fate, destiny, and the power of love, this film will make you cry, laugh, and embrace all the good things you have.  It might also entice you to visit Italy -  the rolling hills, green pastures, and romantic architecture...ahhh....that's amore!

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

April 7, 2011

Let Me In (2010)

When it's over, "Let Me In" plays on the words itself - the aspect of physically letting someone into our homes as well as letting them into our inner self.  This film is about loneliness, friendship, and love - and the things we do, however wrong and evil they may be, to nurture that love.  Chloe Moretz (last seen in "Kick-Ass") plays Abby, a 12 year old vampire, who befriends a bullied adolescent named Owen, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee (last seen in "The Road").  Their relationship is forged out of a need for companionship and slowly blossoms into young love.  I thought this film took the genre of vampires into a new direction where a vampire can be weak, can be dependant on another, and desires the same emotions a human does.  This wasn't an all-out bloodfest, nor was it gratuitously violent.  There is gore, and there is violence, but only where it served the story.  I think director Matt Reeves (last project was "Cloverfield") captured poignantly the emptiness and brutality of adolescence, and I think the young actors were well chosen to portray these two tragically doomed children who were physically different, but underneath, shared the same  basic needs. 

My rating: 4 out of 5

April 6, 2011

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Sweden 2009))

When it's over, this film was a satisfying end to a very exciting trilogy.  This 3rd installment focused mainly on Lisbeth - her haunting past, her recovery after taking a bullet to the head, and her trial.  Even though Lisbeth, played brillantly by Noomi Rapace, was still tough as nails in this film, I got to see a more sensitive side to her, a side that was willing to ask for help and accept help.  In the first two films, she managed to get out of trouble by resorting to her own methods either through violence or a click on her handy laptop.  In Hornet's Nest, she realizes she's no match all alone with corrupt politicians, and ultimately it's with the help of her loyal friend, Mikael Blomkvist and her lawyer, Blomkvist's sister, that saves her and helps her earn her freedom.  Having read the book prior to seeing the film, I thought the film version actually made the story better by simplifying the political storylines.  Also, I thought the producers did a faithful job in keeping the movie in line with the novel, and I hope Hollywood will do the same.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5