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.

November 28, 2011

Congo (1995)

When it's over, I'm amazed by how far special effects have come in the last 15 years.  Congo is based on the late Michael Crichton's novel of the same name about an expedition into the African jungle that takes a disastrous turn.  The film offers up some suspense and not much character development even though there's plenty of characters to explore and expand, including an CIA operative, a mercenary, a treasure hunter, and a researcher with a talking gorilla named Amy.  There's no Andy Serkis, the motion capture ace who brought Gollum to life from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, behind the character of Amy.  The use of puppetry is the main driving force with very little CGI used, if any.  The action sequences between man and gorillas isn't as elaborate or epic as the recent The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but the intent to generate horror and panic is still very much prevalent in the final scenes of Congo, which I can guess took twice as long to film without the convenience of CGI.  I think the age of CGI has definitely enhanced films visually and have allowed scenes of destruction to be more aptly achieved, but I still appreciate the craftsmanship, workmanship, and talent that goes into the lost art of puppetry. 

My rating: 3 out of 5

November 25, 2011

Real Steel (2011)

When it's over, I agree with most people, Real Steel is Rocky (1976) meets robots.  Set in the near future, the sport of boxing has been replaced with robot boxing, which makes the film feel like a toned down Transformers flick - all the bang, but not the large scale destruction.  I was pleased Real Steel managed to capture some of that Rocky spirit and follow through on a decent story.  There was a bit of rags to riches, a bit of love story, and the idea that the underdog triumphs in the end all make for good entertainment.  The cast included Huge Jackman as Charlie and Dakota Goyo as Charlie’s son, Max.  Both Charlie and Max are joined together after the passing of Max’s mother with each character striving to attain something from the other – Charlie needed the money and Max needed a Dad.  Their tug-of-war relationship teaches both of them about love, sacrifice, and responsibility.  I would have liked to see Charlie’s character evolve gradually, rather than abruptly, as the script hurriedly tried to tie up loose ends, but that’s forgiveable, since the main focus really fell on the robot, Atom, whose retro no-frill appearance added flare to the film and garnered the affection of an audience. 

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

November 23, 2011

Bad Teacher (2011)

When it's over, I have to laugh at the absurdity of this film.  Bad Teacher sends a bad message, but offers up a few good laughs.  If this film was produced and written based on research done on schools, then the whole education system is in a whole lot of trouble.  I'm sure some of the scenarios don't stray too far from the facts or even actual events, but some scenes are simply way over the top (example - car wash).  I got to a point in the film where I just had to shake my head and wonder who thinks up these stories.  Do the writers sit around and reminisce about their childhood school fantasies while getting high like the teachers they're writing about?  I thought Cameron Diaz was well casted and believable as Elizabeth Halsey, the foul mouth/bad teacher/gold digger who finds every opportunity to make enough cash to get a breast implant.  She breaks the law, she cheats the school system, she lies, she blackmails, and more importantly, she gets away with it.  Not the best message to be sending to kids who are goo-goo-gaaing over Diaz.  Justin Timberlake plays Scott, the new teacher at the middle school who comes from a family of old money.  Timberlake's character is useless in the film and offers nothing but sheer annoyance.  Sorry girls, I'd like to "X" Scott out with a bold Sharpie.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

November 15, 2011

The Conspirator (2010)

When it's over, this film had wonderful talent, but lacked emotional value.  Actors James McAvoy and Robin Wright lead a cast of familiar faces portraying Frederick Aiken and Mary Suratt, the lawyer from the north and the accused from the south.  Set against the back drop of post Civil War Washington, the film chronicles the trial of Suratt as the only woman to be accused as a co-conspirator to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.  Director Robert Redford keeps the story true to historical events, while suggesting the possibility that Surratt may have been innocent and wrongly executed.  Because the film is based on historical events, I can understand the challenge the film faced to "fill in the blanks" without compromising the facts, but facts alone wasn't enough to elevate the emotional struggles of the people and of a nation.  When I watched this film, I saw it as a docu-drama, but I also saw hints of Redford trying to get into the personal lives of it's main characters, especially Aiken, who goes from unbelieving to believing in his client's innocence and the social, emotional, and professional price tag that went along with his convictions to uphold the US Constitution's Fifth Amendment.  I think Redford should have pushed harder in this direction, because it would have made Aiken's character more dynamic, more complex as a man who was struggling through right and wrong, which I have no doubt, McAvoy would have been able to deliver had the script or director called for it.  If a film has no emotional value, it makes no connection with the viewer, and with The Conspirator, focusing on the thoughts and the hearts of the characters would have been just as important, if not more crucial, than the physical action of those characters.

My rating: 3 out of 5

November 11, 2011

Source Code (2011)

When it's over, I'm leaning more towards the "liking" of this film rather than dismissing it altogether, and it has a lot to do with Jake Gyllenhaal's performance as Colter Stevens, a US army helicopter pilot, who finds himself reliving, many times over, the last eights minutes of a commuter train prior to it being bombed.  I think Gyllenhaal does a great job carrying this mind-bender of a film, and without his believability, I wouldn’t have stayed on for the ride.  The film's got a smart script and consisted of some intriguing twists and surprises which in the hands of a less capable actor and director would have become boring and redundant.  Director Duncan Jones (Moon - 2009) manages to keep the story moving and interesting by feeding the audience information each time Stevens goes back into the source code.  The science behind Source Code fascinates me, however I don't feel the science is really explained.  My big question is if the source code is a worm hole which travels through parallel universes, how is it possible for Stevens to be in one universe and still be able to contact another if parallel universes never meet?  Any astrophysicists out there?

My rating: 3 out of 5

November 6, 2011

Jane Eyre (2011)

When it’s over, this updated version of Jane Eyre doesn’t live up to its predecessors, especially the 1997 version starring Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds, which captures best Charlotte Bronte’s haunting tale about a governess who falls in love with the brooding master of Thornfield Hall, who harbours a secret that may threaten their happiness together.  This time, Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender headline the cast.  Going into the film, I had expected  Director Cary Fukunaga to take the film in a new direction as most remakes do tend to aim to be unique while trying to stay true to the classic.  He started the film from the middle of the story, worked its way backward, then forward.  As much as I liked Fukunaga’s fresh approach to hook the viewer, I felt, overall, the film lacked the eeriness I’ve come to expect from “the secret” that lurked in the dark hallways of Thornfield Hall.  I didn’t get the gothic feel or mystery or horror that have become synonymous to the story of Jane Eyre.  Also, Mr. Rochester was too soft in nature.  I didn’t sense the man’s bitterness nor his pride or conceit, which were essential traits that made his character so likable and detestable at the same time.   Mrs. Fairfax, played by Judi Dench, was written into the script as more sympathetic than she should have been, thereby reducing her character’s importance in the film.  Lastly, as hard as Wasikowska tried, she just couldn’t capture the essence of Jane - the sadness, the tragedy, the strength of will and soul.

My rating: 2 out of 5