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.

March 29, 2012

The Immortals (2011)

When it’s over, think 300 with a drizzle of mythology.  Do images of blood and gore come to mind?  There's plenty of it.  But, unlike 300, Immortals doesn't have a solid story or engaging characters.  There were too many "hows" and "whys," and for a film that refers heavily to Greek Mythology, it fails to be true to the Greek characters and places.  In the film, Zeus (Luke Evans) chooses Theseus (Henry Cavill), a mortal man, to lead the fight against King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), who is in search of the legendary Epirus Bow, which holds the power to unleash the Titans. The premise sounds interesting, but because the story's so lean, it relies heavily on elaborate eye candy (sets, costumes, camera work) to try and satiate the viewer's appetite.  On top of the loose script was also poor casting. The first casting mistake was Rourke.  A powerful ruthless king he was not.  More like a philosophical drunkard with a sword who slurred through most of the film.  Second casting mistake was Cavill, who looks strong, but has no presence or charisma.  Third casting mistake was Freida Pinto as Phaedra, the Priestess, who in Greek Mythology was actually a princess.  Although Pinto is beautiful, she doesn't look remotely close to being Greek, which kills the believability factor immediately, and believability is one of the main factors that will either make the audience embrace or dismiss.  Amongst all the faults of this film, I have to say that the visuals reign as the best asset to Immortals.  The re-invention of what the Gods looked like, in their shimmering gold attire, proved to be bold, different, and indeed, eye candy.

My rating:  2 out of 5

Straw Dogs (2011)

When it’s over, the major problem in this film was a lack of momentum.  If you were to look at this film on a graph, it would be a consistent straight line with a sudden peak at the last 20 minutes.  Straw Dogs is a remake of the very controversial 1971 film (due to content and year released) directed by Sam Peckingpah and starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George.  The 2011 version has James Marsden and Kate Bosworth playing the young couple, David and Amy, who relocates to the deep south and are met with bullies and conflict.  If the scenes are weak, and they definitely were throughout most of the film, the ending won’t save it from drowning into the abyss of wanna be thrillers, but a solid ending does help raise the bar for viewer satisfaction, which is exactly what this film did for me.  I think the ending was fitting and had it ended any other way, I would have felt cheated.  Straw Dogs is one of those films that builds on its violence and feeds on the violence.  An ending less extreme would have been forgettable.  The idea of the reluctant hero plays out well in this film.  David goes from a non-violent person to a person that resorts to violence to triumph in the end.  Aside from the momentum, I think the story is a good one, just executed poorly.  Alexander Skarsgard and James Woods also star.

My rating:  2.5 out of 5

In Time (2011)

When it's over, the popular saying "Time is money" becomes literal in this film.  Think Equilibrium meets Bonnie and Clyde meets Robin Hood.  Set in an unknown future, people stop aging at 25 and are engineered to live for one extra year unless they can buy more time to add to their lives.  Time is the currency and can be purchased or sold through the touch of arms.  The rich earn and buy time to live for decades, while the poor cheat, steal, and kill to live day to day, minute to minute.  Justin Timberlake is Will Salas, who decides to cripple the system when his mother runs out of time and dies. On the run from the Timekeeper (Cillian Murphy) and wrongly accused of murder, Salas teams up with a rich socialite, Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), to give more time to the poor by robbing from Sylvia's rich father.  I loved the concept of this film, which really caught my attention the first 30 minutes in, but once the premise was laid out, the story began to lag and eventually flatlined, never managing to revive itself.  To my disappointment, it never developed into the possibilities it had.  So many unanswered questions:  When did the human population become "engineered?"  Who controls the green neon time counter on the people's arms?  Why is the Timekeeper so obsessed with his job?  What is the relevance of Will's father?  What a pity, so much potential for this film down the drain.  Furthermore, Timberlake's not edgy enough to pull off a Robin Hood guise and Seyfried doesn't pass for a high society femme  fatale. The only worthy  performance  was Murphy's, who's always solid no matter how sloppy the script. 

My rating:  2 out of 5

Contagion (2011)

When it’s over, there’s an immediate feeling of wanting to be secluded and safe.  Contagion is about paranoia, fear, and the containment of an unknown virus which has travelled around the world sending death tolls skyrocketing.  Without a cure or enough knowledge of the virus, scientists race against time to develop a cure.  This film was jam packed, and perhaps a bit too packed to channel a direct emotional line between the viewer and the characters.  By using multiple story lines, Director Steven Soderbergh tries to tap in on the varying perspectives of people who have been affected directly or indirectly by the virus.  The storylines include: 1) third world countries and their lack of access to resources; 2) a father’s desperation to protect his daughter from becoming infected; 3) an entrepreneur’s selfish thirst to capitalize on the virus through the use of the internet; 5) Homeland Security’s paranoia that the virus is an act of terrorism.  I liked the idea of using multiple story lines and it generally works well when you have the time to develop the stories such as in a series, but within 106 minutes, it was too much too soon.  I felt pulled in various directions without really engaging in any particular storyline.  As a whole, Soderbergh makes his message very clear.  A virus is like cancer.  It doesn't discriminate. That is a scary thought.

My rating:  2.5 out of 5

March 24, 2012

Hugo (2011)

When it’s over, I regret not seeing this film in 3D.  Based on the impressive cinematography and production design, I think it would have been a great visual experience.  The film’s title is also the name of the main character, an orphaned boy (Asa Butterfield) who lives in the walls of a Paris train station in the 1930’s, after his father’s tragic death (Jude Law).  Hugo is determined to fix the broken automaton (mechanical man) he and his father had started, and to seek out the key that unlocks a compartment in the automaton that he believes holds great secrets.  The look of this film was amazing.  It had the elements of charm and enchantment that made me feel like I was watching an extravagant fractured fairy tale, the way only veteran Director Martin Scorsese can pull off – magical, dark, and innocent all in the same breath.  He has done a wonderful job adapting Brian Selznick’s book, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” and has captured the images of the bygone days of pioneer filmmaker, George Melies (Ben Kingsley), brilliantly.  Part fiction, part documentary, this film is very much a tribute to the silent era of filmmaking and film as an escapist medium.  The well-balanced mix of suspense, mystery, nostalgia, and awe keeps the story interesting for varying age groups.  Many people have asked me if I would recommend this film for children, and my answer is “yes.”  I think this film is appropriate for children, however, I think older and more mature children may find it easier to engage in the story and its characters, while younger children may find the look of the film fascinating, but lose interest in the drama and lengthy dialogue.  Rounding out the wonderful cast are: Chloe Grace Moretz, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Ray Winstone, and Sacha Baron Cohen.

My rating:  4 out of 5

John Carter - 3D (2012)

When it’s over, Taylor Kitsch is easy on the eyes, but I’m not convinced he’s a hero from Mars.  Kitsch plays John Carter, a civil war veteran from Virginia who is teleported to Mars when he stumbles upon a mysterious medallion belonging to the space travelers known as Therns (aka White Martians).  When Carter arrives on Mars, he inherits special powers due to his skeletal density and the planet’s lower gravitational pull.  At first, Carter is reluctant to take sides in an on-going civil war between varying species, but his fondness, friendship, and growing attraction towards the inhabitants give him cause and reason to take a stand.  The film was well paced and easy enough to follow, but too much of the story felt recycled.  I saw bits of Star Wars and Avatar in this film, which disappointed me since I was hoping for fresh images and stronger story lines.  However, I did like the shape shifting Therns.  Their extraordinary powers made them a worthy adversary to Carter and a true nemesis in the film.  I think if the filmmakers had developed them further, it would have made the film more dynamic and interesting.  Another thing that would have made the film better was Carter’s wardrobe.  It really is the details that sell the look of a character.  I didn’t think dressing Carter in strips of fabric worked to sell the hero image, which was an integral part in making this film believable.  I think the filmmakers tried to mimic the comics in order to please loyal fans, but what may have worked in the comics, doesn’t work onscreen.  It would have been more effective to have Carter go topless for the whole of the film rather than have straggly fabrics dangling from his body, which takes away rather than add to the character’s overall image.  I understand Disney's desire to remain conservative in their films, but if they can show a beheading in the film, then they can have Kitsch going topless.

My rating:  2.5 out of 5

March 16, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

When it’s over, the La Tomatina fight in Spain in the opening scene sets the tone for the entire film.  Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) is a mother who struggles to bond with her vicious and conniving son, Kevin (played by Rock Duer, Jasper Newell, and Ezra Miller at different stages in life). When Kevin becomes an adolescent, his actions shock the community and leaves Eva to face the shame, guilt, sorrow, and regret of her son’s sociopath tendencies.  This story raises much debate on what comes first, the bad mother who creates a bad child or the bad child who creates the bad mother.  Was Kevin born of a demon seed brought into the world to commit heinous acts and wreck emotional havoc on his mother? Or did he become bad due to his mother’s neglect and lack of love towards him as a child?  The film doesn’t try to answer these questions. Instead, it allows open interpretation by the viewer.  I don't think this film is for everyone, especially if you haven't read the award winning book by Lionel Shriver that the film is based on.  However, if you are curious and a bit daring, you may find the film strange and slightly off-kilter, but good in the “off the beaten path” sort of way.  There are a lot of time jumps since the story reverts back and forth from past to present, which may require extra patience when trying to follow the storyline.  The film definitely demands the viewer to see “outside of the box” as well as interpreting, through the images, the psychosis of the characters.  It’s a very stylish film, but not in the popular sense of stylish.  The director, Lynne Ramsay, uses unconventional photography and her images illicit a feeling, an emotion, which are not all positive.  Ramsay uses the color red very effectively to convey blood and the bloodstains that remain in Eva’s day-to-day life.  If you do get to see this film, see if you can count how many scenes the color red appears.  I guarantee you’ll lose count. 

My rating:  3 out of 5

The Grey (2012)

When it’s over, humans are no match for the power of mother nature.  Liam Neeson plays Ottway, a huntsman and one of seven survivors whose plane crashes into the Alaskan mountains.  The typical story of man vs. nature and survival of the fittest unfolds as the survivors are killed off one by one by vicious territorial wolves.  The film was quite good, up until the ending.  ** If you haven’t seen the film and don’t want me ruining it for you, stop reading now, because I am going to include some spoilers. **  This is one of those films that truly requires a visual ending.  What I mean by this, is that I need to see how the story ends.  I don’t want to assume or guess the outcome as I was forced to do in this film when the credits began to roll at what I considered the climax of the film.  The screen faded to black, and I was left feeling cut off.  I knew the path of the story would eventually lead to the final showdown between Ottway and the alpha wolf, and to not show the battle between hunter and prey made the whole journey of the film pointless.  After the film, I asked myself what are the chances of Ottway surviving the fight, then finding civilization?  Probably not great, but maybe.  After all, this was Neeson and this was Hollywood filmmaking, so there was that slight chance that Ottway’s endurance would pay off.  Or, the story could go the opposite way with Ottway going down fighting and taking out as many wolves as he could.  I think the later ending was more what Director Joe Carnahan had in mind.  Still, I think Carnahan should have shown it, not implied it.

My rating:  3 out of 5

Fright Night (2011)

When it’s over, this remake of the successful 1985 film starring Roddy McDowell and Chris Sarandan is a perfect example of good talents going to waste.  Colin Farrell plays Jerry Danridge, the vampire Sarandan made popular in the 80’s, and Anton Yelchin is Charley Brewster, the teen nerd who suspects his neighbour to be a vampire.  Rounding out the trio of men is Andy Tennent as Peter Vincent, the vampire killer.  The plot is simple and parallels the original:  Charley enlists the help of Peter to stop Jerry from continuing his blood feasting frenzy.  However, the film doesn't get better with age.  Farrell is poorly casted and doesn't sell the vampire personage, while Yelchin fares better with his bouts of paranoia and fear.  Toni Collette and Imogen Poots lend some female presence as the mother and girlfriend, but both get buried under this sloppy script.  I think the best scenes are with Tennant, who brings a bit of Rock n’ Roll to his character, which is amusing and fun.  However, Tennant’s performance isn’t enough to add bite to this film.

My rating:  1.5 out of 5