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.

December 21, 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (United Kingdom -2011)

When it's over, I am smitten by this film.  The story's a bit off the beaten path, but the themes are classic.  If you want a feel good film, this is it.  There are tears, laughs, and a few surprises. When Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan MacGregor) is approached by a consultant (Emily Blunt) for a wealthy Sheik (Amr Waked) to develop a way to bring fly fishing to the Middle East, Jones ventures on a personal journey of faith, love, and life changing decisions.  It is the cast that brings the story to life. They are fantastic, and thanks to Simon Beaufoy's excellent screen adaptation of Paul Torday's novel, each character has their very own distinctive voice.  MacGregor nails the homely fisheries expert perfectly; Blunt is courageous, yet vulnerable; and Kristin Scott Thomas is a comedic vixen as Patricia Maxwell, publicist to the Prime Minister.  Many people are turned off by this film, believing it to be a fishing story, and although there are scenes of fishing, this is not a fishing story.  It's a story about believing in the impossible and having faith in things that are out of our control.

My rating: 4 out of 5

Carnage (2011)

When it's over, the characters never leave the room.  Set in a New York apartment building, two pairs of parents (Jodie Foster & John C. Reilly and Kate Winslet & Christoph Waltz) are meeting to discuss the fight between their sons.  What starts out as a civilized meeting turns into a nasty battle of childish proportions.  Based on the play, God of Carnage, Roman Polanski's film version delivered great performances from its cast.  I would never have envisioned these actors playing these roles, but after watching them, I can't imagine another quartet of actors portraying the adults.  The dialogue was sharp and poignant, delivering every snicker, resentment, sarcasm, and insult with such clarity, I forgot I was watching actors, and admittedly, I saw a bit of myself in the characters.  After all, adults sometimes act like children, especially when we feel under attack. 

My rating: 4 out of 5

December 14, 2012

Argo (2012)

When it’s over, smart dialogue and suspense kept the film entertaining.  Argo is about the rescue of six American diplomats living as fugitives in 1980 Iran.  The joint CIA and Canadian operation has Agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) posing as a film producer, who attempts to smuggle the Americans out as his film crew.  Affleck’s tract record keeps getting better as he did a terrific job directing and dramatizing a story that many viewers may have forgotten.  I remember hearing about this incident in the 80’s, but knew very little about the facts.  Affleck offered enough of a history lesson to fill me in on the fine points, which kept me engaged through the film.  The camera work and editing are brilliant, mixing archive footage with new film.  Sometimes, I couldn't tell the difference between real images and recreated ones.  It was that seamless.  Alan Arkin and John Goodman are perfectly cast as Lester Siegel and John Chambers, the filmmakers who helped Mendez create a fake film production.  They offered lots of sarcastic humour as they poked fun and insulted Hollywood.  There is a good balance of humor and politics, lending just the right amount of lightness to an, otherwise, heavy topic.  The film was dramatic, but doesn’t drown itself in politics, which was one of the main reasons why the film appealed to me.  On an emotional scale, I didn’t feel any.  Although the plight to freedom was exciting to watch, I didn’t feel the emotional surge at the end, as the film intended.  The side story of Mendez and his son failed to move me.  However, it did give me a better understanding of who Mendez was outside of the political arena.   

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

Dawn Rider (2012)

When it’s over, where's the grit?  This is a poor remake of John Wayne’s 1935 film of the same title.  After his father is gunned down, John Mason (Christian Slater) is determined to find the killer, who is hiding among his most trusted friends.  The emotional aspect is completely non-existent.  Examples - when John’s father dies, he hardly shows any grief, and yet, he is determined to avenge his father’s death;  and when Alice’s (Jill Hennessy) brother is taken to prison, she doesn't shed a tear, even though they are close siblings.  The whole film is packaged wrong, beginning with the casting.  Slater does not look like a weathered man on the run from the law.  Hennessy does not look like a woman living through hard financial times.  Donald Sutherland hardly passes for a fast shooting Pinkerton detective. Sutherland is in only a handful of scenes, which immediately tells me that he is cast for promotional purposes.  Lousy story, flat acting, and lack of authenticity to the time period make Dawn Rider a major disappointment.  

My rating: 1.5 out of 5

December 8, 2012

Skyfall (2012)

When it’s over, James Bond looks the most beat up he has been to date.  All the physical and emotional flaws make him more real.  He is a man with weaknesses, after all.  Bond (Daniel Craig) returns to active duty when MI6 falls under attack by an enemy from M’s (Judi Dench) past.  There is little spy stuff, gadgets, and exotic characters.  However, less characters and a straightforward storyline makes for a tighter film.  My favourite scenes take place in Scotland, where Bond resorts to using old-fashioned survival tactics.  This is a huge departure from traditional Bond storylines, but it works.  It’s fresh, unexpected, and because it takes place at Skyfall, Bond’s ancestral home, it gives the audience a glimpse into Bond’s childhood.  Director Sam Mendes combines past, present, and future as he weaves old characters with new faces and introduces a new M, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes).  Although the late Desmond Llewelyn is no longer Q, the new Q, played by Ben Whishaw is geeky hip and rather cute with his messy, mop-like hair.  I love the action, the stunts, the choreography, and Bond’s fit-perfect wardrobe.  Actually, the only thing I didn’t like about Skyfall is that it didn’t have a signature Bond villain, but this does not mean Javier Bardem’s character, Silva, is a poorly developed villain.  In fact, there are many layers to Silva and Bardem brings them out perfectly, bringing “creepy” to a whole new dimension.  He is one of the few Bond villains that are evil, while still engaging.  Plus, not since Goldeneye’s Sean Bean has a villain been at par with Bond.  It’s exciting and thrilling to watch Bond and Silva, and I have to wonder why Mendes didn’t pit the two in physical combat.  Daniel Craig remains my favorite Bond, and Skyfall has knocked Casino Royale (2006) from the first place slot on my “best Bond films.”

My rating: 4.5 out of 5

Brave (2012)

When it's over, why did it have to be a bear?  I liked the idea of a bear being the antagonist, but thought Queen Elinor's (Emma Thompson) turn as a bear was annoying and boring.  Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is headstrong and determined to live an independent life.  When an arranged marriage is proposed, she defies tradition by making a deal with a witch that brings danger to her kingdom.  The animation was fabulous, but take that away, and the story is just blah.  I've seen enough strong female characters from Disney and would really like to see Disney come back with some strong male leads.  Brave had no stand-out male character, and for a princess story, where's the prince?  There were suitors, who were added to the film for comedic reasons, none of which were funny.  In fact, I don't remember laughing through any scenes.  What Merida needed was a male counterpart that would challenge her, make her a better person, make her become brave.  The love story between Merida and her mother, Queen Elinor, was played out weakly.  Only in the end, does Merida appreciate her mother and mends their broken bond.  The themes of bravery and love were not well defined.  I felt the film forced these two themes into the ending, just to make sure they got into the film.  Again, beautiful visuals, but a giant disappointment.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

November 24, 2012

Saw V (2008)

When it's over, death by pendulum sets the tone for this fifth instalment of the jigsaw murders.  Two stories overlap as five new victims fall prey to gruesome traps; and Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) is determined to prove Lt. Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) is Jigsaw's new apprentice.  I'm not a fan of excessive gore, but given the title and history of the series, it is to be expected.  There is no justice in the end, only the passing of the baton for future story lines.  Picture quality and consistency is a big distraction as I find myself wondering if I am watching a syndicated television show or a film.  I can't pinpoint the cause, but guess lighting may be the culprit. There are several jumps in the storyline going from past to present and vice versa, which leads to some confusion.  However, the momentum is good and the suspense is definitely building, so if you just want an adrenaline rush, this film delivers. On an endnote, I'm curious to know what exactly is in the box left to Jigsaw's widow?

My rating: 2.5 out of 5


Soul Surfer (2011)

When it’s over, you will need a box of tissue.  This is a small film with big emotional value.  Soul Surfer is based on the true story of Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSofia Robb), the teenage surfer who loses an arm in a shark attack and goes on to inspire millions.  Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, Carrie Underwood, Craig T. Nelson, and Kevin Sorbo, lend some star power to a cast of relatively young newcomers.  The acting is sometimes offbeat and forced, but the story’s messages come through clearly.  I particularly like Hawaii as the main setting, since the ocean is an important character in the film.  The allure of the water is inviting as it is dangerous, and ultimately, it is the water that heals Bethany’s emotional wounds.  The power of faith weaves through the core themes of bravery, family, and friendship, but this is not solely a religious film.  This film is foremost a film about attitude, about how we struggle to get up when we fall down.  Some great surfing sequences and a positive message make Soul Surfer an ideal family film.

My rating: 4 out of 5

November 9, 2012

The Accidental Husband (2008)

When it's over, good comedic timing and chemistry between the actors make this predictable rom-com a surprising treat. Emma (Uma Thurman) is engaged to Richard (Colin Firth), but wakes up one morning to discover she is already married to Patrick (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).  While Emma waits for an annulment from Patrick, she starts to realize Richard may not be her soul mate and her affections begin to gravitate towards Patrick.  It sounds dizzying, and at times, the pace is just that, but the fun really lies in Thurman's comedic talent, as she goes from a woman with all the answers to a woman who can't make up her mind.  Richard's charm and Patrick's boyishness add to the pot of confusing emotions making the pair a delight to watch as they vie for Emma's affections.  Too bad this film never made it to wide release.  I think it would have done will. It was released in the United Kingdom in 2008 and was scheduled to be released in North America in early 2009, but due to the bankruptcy of the production company's distributor, the film was shelved until its release direct-to-DVD in late 2009.  

My rating: 3.5 out of 5