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.

January 26, 2012

Maria Full of Grace (Colombia - 2004)

When it’s over, at what price are you willing to pay for a better life?  For Maria Alvarez, the price is to risk her life and the life of her unborn child.  Maria Full of Grace centers on the life of a 17 year old who finds herself pregnant, unemployed, and without hope of a future in rural Colombia.  In order to support her family, Maria becomes a drug mule by smuggling 62 pellets of cocaine in her stomach to the USA.  This award winning film touches on both human and social issues, and I think Writer/Director Joshua Marston does a fantastic job blending the two elements, but he never forgets that the story is first and foremost a human drama about a girl with dreams and hopes who makes some bad decisions along the way.  He doesn't stray from Maria's story and takes great care to tell her story with honesty and conviction.   The character of Maria feels very real and it was easy for me to empathize with her.  I thought Actress Catalina Sandino Moreno did a beautiful job bringing Maria to life and showing her coming of age amidst the dangerous world of drug trafficking.  Finally, Marston's choice of shooting the film in documentary style definitely added to the realism, tension, and suspense of the film.  Great film to watch.  No special effects.  No eye candy.  Just pure drama.

My rating: 4 out of 5


January 19, 2012

Johnny English Reborn (2011)

When it’s over, Johnny English Reborn offers good clean humour suitable for all ages.  I can’t remember the last time I sat through a comedy as funny and entertaining as this spoof on James Bond and the secret service.  Rowan Atkinson, aka Mr. Bean, returns as the bumbling secret agent, Johnny English, from MI5.  In this sequel, English must prevent the assassination of an international leader while exposing a mole from within the British Secret Service.  Atkinson’s silent slapstick humour truly is the gem of this film.  There’s plenty of visual gags, and the pacing is perfect, never dwelling too long on any scene and just long enough to make the comedy work.  If you like the comedy of Mr. Bean, then this film is definitely worth a viewing.   Some memorable scenes include English at the Tibet Monastery, the wheelchair chase, and the MI5 boardroom – all to guarantee some fun laughs. 

My rating: 4 out of 5

All Good Things (2010)

When it's over, the film has "creepy" written all over it.  The thing about watching a film based on a true life unsolved murder is that you are almost guaranteed to be unsatisfied, because there's no real ending, only possible conclusions, and that can be frustrating, as I was with the ending of All Good Things.  Ryan Gosling stars as David Marks, who is heavily scarred by witnessing his mother's suicide early in his childhood. When his marriage to Katie (Kirsten Dunst) starts to crumble, David transforms from a loving husband to a mentally disturbed individual.  He was suspected, but never tried for killing Katie after her disappearance in 1982.  Director Andrew Jarecki used pieces from trial records to help tell what might have happened and how the plan was executed, and I think he does a well-layered job of it; however, the ending seems unfinished, but not by fault of the director.  Gosling was very convincing at playing creepy, especially in disguise as a woman, and Dunst was believable as the carefree wife who was slowly tormented by her husband. 

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

January 15, 2012

The Flowers of War (China - 2011)

When it's over, Actor Christian Bale delivers another solid performance, and with renowned Chinese Director Yimou Zhang leading the way, The Flowers of War is so much more than just a historic war movie.  Certainly, the film features many themes that are associated with war, but Zhang has gone deeper into those themes to extract the essence of how those themes are played out through the characters.  Heroism is prevalent throughout the film, but is not defined by someone waving a gun or performing kung fu.  Zhang clearly shows that heroism comes from within;  it's internal; it's silent.  It's the sacrifices we make to protect others and the hope and humanity we offer others through our sacrifices.  In a time of war, despair and loss are inevitable, and hope can become the farthest thing within our reach.  The film shows that hope is something greater than ourselves and that it's worth fighting for and dying for.  Bale plays John, the mortician, who is sent to Nanking, China, during the early years of the Japanese occupation to bury a Catholic priest.  When caught in the crossfire of Japanese soldiers, John takes refuge in a church with a group of women consisting of convent school girls and prostitutes.  Posing as a priest, he plans to smuggle the girls out of the city.  I really liked how the film successfully blended cultures (the Chinese and the Japanese), social classes (the prostitutes and the students) and languages (English, Chinese, and Japanese).  Some films become lost with too much blending, but Zhang keeps a secure rein on the film and does a fantastic job at seamlessly fusing the English, Chinese, and Japanese dialogue.  I never felt confused, lost, or distracted by the subtitles as the dialogue jumped from one language to another.   Finally, this was one film that lacked character development, but didn't suffer because of it.  It would have been insightful to learn more about the main characters, but I didn't find the lack of development damaging to the overall film, because the film's mainly driven by the theme.

My rating: 4 out of 5

January 14, 2012

Colombiana (2011)

When it's over, Colombiana is entertainment trash, where you leave your brain at the door and don't take the film too seriously.  Zoe Saldana plays a young woman who's an assassin by profession, but moonlights as a vigilante.  Saldana holds her own as the lead character, Cataleya, and manages to show the tough and the vulnerable side of a young woman who's determined at all costs to avenge her family's death.  She plays her character well enough to make the film entertaining, but fails to look the part to make the film realistic.  For example, Cataleya has to fight hand to hand combat with one of the Colombian baddies, Marco, and of course, she wins, but that's because it's written in the script.  In real life, in the real world, no way would Cataleya (small and thin) have a fighting chance up against a tough drug dealer like Marco and walk away unscathed.  I think Saldana should have bulked up for the role to make her character more believable, especially since she's doing fight scenes and tugging around heavy artillery.  Plus, the ending didn't fit the "revenge" theme, which was clearly the driving engine of this action flick.  It was unsatisfying, and I thought it was cheesy when she told the dogs to "Eat."  Eat what?  You'll have to see the film to find out.  Again, mindless entertainment, but not worth discussing over coffee.

My rating: 1.5 out of 5

January 8, 2012

The Debt (2011)

 When it's over, the truth will set you free - the underlying theme for this thriller set in 1965 and 1997 about a trio of Mossad secret agents whose mission was to capture and bring to trial a Nazi war criminal responsible for the mass killing of Jews during WWII.  When the mission goes astray, the trio make a pact based on a lie in order to salvage their credibility and retain their nationalism, but as the years pass, the lie becomes a poison that plagues their lives.  This was a really well crafted film, not so much because of the story, but more because of the strong performances from the cast.  If this film were to have been casted differently, I don't think it would have had the same emotional impact or effect on me as a viewer.  Veteran actors Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, and Ciarian Hinds played the retired agents (Rachel, Stephan, & David) in 1997, and I thought they did a fabulous job at portraying characters who were trapped in a lie and how that lie ate away at their souls.  Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, and Sam Worthington played the young version of the trio in 1965 Germany.  I think the three actors had great chemistry and played off each other expertly in all the right scenes.  Chastain did such a superb job showing how vulnerable and strong Rachel was and how emotionally complicated it was to be caught between the hearts of two men, while trying to lure her target into her trap.  The conflict in the story was constantly escalating and the plot twists kept fueling the suspense.  I really couldn't predict the ending of this film, and when the ending did come, I was a bit unsettled and surprised. 

My rating: 4 out of 5

Breaking Dawn (2011)

When it's over, if you haven't seen the previous films, don't bother with this fourth installment of the Twilight series, which continues the courtship between a vampire named Edward (Robert Pattinson) and his human love, Bella (Kristen Stewart). I think breaking the book into two films was a way to drag the viewer through an endless series of slow moving scenes.  Director Bill Condon tries his best to bring to the screen a book that lacked any real substance while trying to maintain a PG rating.  The pivotal love scene and the bloody birth of half-vampire half-human baby, Renesmee, could have been better delivered, but with actors whose talents are just “so-so” in a film where the rating can't be compromised, the film looks “wishy-washy” and completely forgettable.  The battle between the Cullens and the Wolves was poorly shot, and even with the help of CGI, the whole scene was a disheveled mess comprised of various inter cuts and fast moving clips that are so fast, they seemed out of focus.  The characters weren't being developed, instead, they became fixtures in scenes rather than the actual motivators of the scenes.  For example, Bella asked Rosalie, who has always given Bella the cold shoulder, to help her, and the next thing we know, Rosalie becomes Bella's protector without any explanation to the sudden change in their relationship.  Another problem with the film was Edward and Bella's chemistry and the lack of it.  The love story between the young couple is suppose to be the driving force of the Twilight franchise, and yet, I found their chemistry dwindling in this fourth installment.

My rating: 2 out of 5

Shark Night (2011)

When it's over, my fascination for sharks continues to lure me to the screen even at the onset of knowing the film will be less than good.  I knew going into this film that it would have a shallow plot and even shallower characters. I find it less disappointing when I don't expect too much from a film and this was definitely the case with a B-movie like Shark Night where once again sharks are terrorizing humans, and the humans become the main feature in some nasty homemade snuff films.  I found the later plot angle a surprise and had not expected the film to take that turn, which kept the story interesting and kept me from nodding off.  Although I didn't love the film, I certainly didn't hate it.  Shot with a low budget and a cast of relatively unknowns, the film served to be decent entertainment.

My rating: 2 out of 5

Adventures of TinTin (2012)

When it's over, the film gets an “A” for animation, a “B” for story, and a “C” for character development.  There is no doubt that the animation was incredible, and it's definitely the most “true to life” form of animation I've seen so far.  Director Steven Spielberg has teamed up with Peter Jackson to bring to screen the popular French graphic novels created by Herge about a young renowned reporter named TinTin who is always on the lookout for the next big story, which in this film, is the mystery and secrets of The Unicorn, a schooner which sank in the 1700's.  Spielberg has stayed true to the comics.  However, although the story is well paced and there's plenty of extravagant action sequences, the character of TinTin suffered from being one dimensional.  He had numerous physical obstacles to face, but no personal dilemmas to overcome.  Even his trusted dog, Snowy, had more gumption and charm than his master.  Plus, Captain Haddock, TinTin's friend, was given a past in which he had to struggle through in order for him to overcome his personal conflicts by the end of film, which not only made him interesting, but memorable.  I think the film would have benefited if the writers had added a few “extras” such as (1) a female character to engage female viewers and arouse conflict among the main characters; (2) a personal struggle which TinTin must overcome in order to fulfill his quest, and (3) the inclusion of flaws or fears that would better define TinTin's personality.

My rating:  3 out of 5