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 28, 2012

Trespass (2011)

When it’s over, I liked the plot twists and turns, but didn’t like the film as a whole.  It’s like eating a fancy meal.  You appreciate all that’s gone into the meal, but it doesn’t taste all that good, and that’s disappointing.  Nicholas Cage and Nicole Kidman play a wealthy married couple, Kyle and Sarah Miller, who seem to have it all until a home invasion reveals the lies and deception the two harbour.  Think Panic Room (2002).  Think Funny Games (2007).  Think Hostage (2005).  But, don’t think Trespass is better, because it’s not, but does share similarities.  The story moves fast, and the script was smart enough to keep the plot shifting, leaving enough guessing room as to which direction the film will turn as the body count escalates.  However, a good story isn’t enough if the performances can’t live up to the text.  This is the unfortunate case for Trespass.  Cage and Kidman, both talented actors, weren’t at their best in this film, leaving their characters bland and one dimensional.  The weak supporting cast including Cam Gigandet and Liana Liberato didn’t offer much lift either.  The level of concern for the family was nil, leaving me emotionally detached from the characters, and once you lose interest in the characters, you lose interest in the story.  Joel Schumacher has made some notable films in the past, and this isn’t one of them. 

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

Apollo 18 (2011)

When it’s over, this documentary style thriller leaves you wondering if the conspiracy is all true.  The production design is quite convincing using found-footage style photography, the genre made popular by films such as Cloverfield (2008), Paranormal Activity (2007), and Blair Witch Project (1999).   In other words, lots of narration and shaky camera work.  In 1974, Apollo 18 is the mission in which two American astronauts are secretly sent to the moon.  What should have been a routine sample collection expedition turns into a confrontation with an alien species.  I think the idea’s interesting, but overall, I didn’t like this film.  The creatures were not at all original.  In fact, they were rather boring.  I was expecting something more “out there” in terms of how they looked and behaved.  After all, the setting is the Moon, so the possibilities are endless.  I learned nothing about the species, such as what their weaknesses were, how they survived on such a barren landscape, and what they intended to gain by attacking the humans.  The action wasn’t scary, but the film does consist of some scary scenes and disturbing images.  With a budget of $5,000,000, I’d have to give the film some credit.  It moved along well enough, and I didn’t fall asleep. 

My rating:  2 out of 5

Last Night (2010)

When it’s over, this is a film about adults for adults, and I haven’t seen a film as engaging since Closer (2004).  The film asks the question, what is considered cheating and what is worse – the act of a sexual act with someone you have no feelings for or the spending of a night in someone’s arms who you do have feelings for.  Last Night is about a married couple who are separated for one night.  While the husband, Mike (Sam Worthington), is on a business trip with an attractive colleague (Eva Mendes), the wife, Joanna (Kiera Knightly) unexpectedly meets her old flame (Guillaume Canet).  Within 36 hours, the married couple must choose between fidelity or infidelity.  The constant dance between “should I” or “shouldn’t I” is prevalent through the whole of the film, and it’s truly gripping as we watch Mike struggle between fidelity and lust, while Joanna faces the constant pull of love and loyalty.  Writer and Director Massy Tadjedin has crafted a story that’s thought provoking, realistic, and intelligent.  She’s woven her characters expertly with solid dialogue that not only develops character and story, but also allows a glimpse into their inner psyches.  The film is non-judgmental, and I found myself sympathetic to each of the four characters.  When the film faded to black, I didn’t want it to end.  It left the story hanging, but in a good way.  As much as I wanted to see whether Mike and Joanna would confess their previous night’s encounters, I think it was clever of Tadjedin for ending the film the way she did.  It makes the audience wonder whether their marriage will survive with or without knowing the previous night’s events.  Great performances.  Very well put together.  I highly recommend this poignant independent film about relationships and all its complexities.

My rating:  4 out of 5

April 20, 2012

Puss in Boots (2011)

When it’s over, Puss in Boots offers up some good laughs. This film is a character spin off from the popular Shrek series and chronicles the life of Puss in Boots prior to meeting Shrek, when Puss was a wanted fugitive trying to clear his name.  Mixed with some fractured fairy tales, Puss’s adventure includes some magic beans, golden eggs, a meeting with Jack and Jill, and a love/hate relationship with Humpty Dumpty. Humpty’s inventive contraptions, including his “quick change of clothes” was by far the funniest scenes, giving his egg character a deserved moment in the spotlight.  Jack and Jill was a complete surprise.  My images of two sweet children going up the hill was no more after Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris took over the voices of this married couple.  Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek reunite to lend their voices as Puss and his female counterpart, Kitty Softpaws.  A good story, witty humour, and universal messages of friendship, forgiveness, and sacrifice make this a wonderful family film.

My rating:  4 out of 5

Tower Heist (2011)

When it’s over, the film’s title suggests more than it delivered.  Heist films work when they’re slick, smart, and stylish, neither of which can be said about this Brett Ratner film.  The film doesn’t have a genre, unless you consider “mish-mash” a genre, because that’s what Tower Heist is.  It’s neither a comedy, action, or drama.  It has elements of all three, but neither is strong enough to define the film.  Casting was the biggest problem.  It was all wrong, not because of a lack of talent, but rather a miss-casting of characters.  With a cast that included Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Judd Hirsch, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Tea Leoni, and Michael Pena, I thought the film would have more “Umph!”  But, sadly, it’s just another forgettable film.  Josh Kovacs (Stiller) is the manager of a residential apartment building who discovers that his boss, Arthur Shaw (Alda), a wealthy financier, has robbed him and his staff of their pension.  Upon learning that Shaw keeps a stash of millions in his penthouse suite, Kovacs bands together a group of amateur thieves to steal the money from Shaw.  If I was to recast the film with the existing cast, I’d cast Affleck as Shaw – a young, slick, and totally corrupt tycoon; Hirsch and Alda are retired thieves who want revenge on Shaw, but their older years require them to hire some younger help – in comes Stiller, Broderick, and Pena; Leoni can remain the FBI agent, but I would omit the alcohol and cast her as a tough as nails gal who’s always one step ahead of Shaw; and Murphy as Leoni’s fast talking partner – a grown up Axel Foley.  Lastly, Steve McQueen's Ferrari 250 GT Lusso (replicated in glossy red) will definitely stay in the film. 

My rating:  2 out of 5

Conan the Barbarian (2011)

When it’s over, this was a “cut & paste” film.  A little story here + some action there + lots of blood and gore + some nudity + more action + add some dialogue, and the film goes on and on in this manner.  This was a shoddy attempt to update the 1982 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Jason Momoa doesn’t look bad as Conan.  In fact, he looked in good form to play the Cimmerian barbarian who goes on a quest to avenge his father’s murder and the destruction of his village.  Without a story that offered much in character development, there was nowhere for Momoa to go with his character except to fill the screen time with action sequences.  There’s nothing engaging about Conan or any of the other characters.  Like Conan said in the film, “I live. I love. I slay.”  The characters are so one dimensional and meaningless, that they live, they fight, they die, without the slightest tug at one's heartstrings.  As the lead, Conan needed to stand out, not only in stature, but also in presence. The film needed scenes which would bring out the human qualities that emulated from within Conan, the qualities that separates the man from the barbarian.

My rating:  1.5 out of 5

April 13, 2012

Switch (2011)

When it’s over, there are some good laughs and touching moments in this film about mistaken sperm identities.  Best friends, Kassie and Wally (Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman), are in disagreement when Kassie decides to proceed with artificial insemination.  Seven years later, they are reunited along with Kassie’s son, Sebastian (Thomas Robinson) in tow.  Upon seeing the similarities he shares with Sebastian, Wally comes to the realization that he was the sperm donor for Sebastian.  Aniston may be the star of the film, but her character’s forgettable, and it’s Bateman and Robinson that bring emotional value to this comedy about a father and son finding each other.  Surprisingly, I really liked Bateman as the overnight father who realizes he needed Sebastian just as much as the boy needed him.  The scenes between the two were sweet, especially the scene when Sebastian described his imaginary family through pictures of strangers from store bought photo frames.  This scene captured Sebastian’s strong desire to understand where he came from and who his family are.  By using his imagination, he tried to fill the gaps his mother could not.  At first quirky, this film evolved into an endearing portrait of a man who finds his voice and a child who finds a way to belong.

My rating:  3.5 out of 5

The Thing (2011)

When it’s over, same story, just a different approach.  A group of scientists discover an alien spaceship buried deep within the ice of Antarctica.  Upon excavating the creature they believe to be the navigator of the ship, they unleash a deadly life form that can mimic any living tissue it touches, including humans.  This film marks the second remake based on John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella, “Who Goes There.”  The first was The Thing From Another World (1951), then 30 years later with The Thing (1982).  Three times a charm, making this third instalment a worthy companion to John Carpenter’s 1982 version.  The film is suppose to be technically a prequel to Carpenter’s film, but I felt it complimented the film more than it preceded it.  I liked the incorporation of multiple creatures as opposed to just one at a time, as was in the 1982 version.  This heightened the whole “guessing” factor as to who was infected and who was still human.  The spaceship scenes offered the audience a new level of understanding about the alien’s origin, helping to bridge the 1982 film with the 2011.  Originally, I wasn’t keen on seeing Carpenter’s vision redone or updated, but Dutch filmmaker, Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., surprised me with the introduction of new scenes that expanded the story and mystery behind this creature, this Thing.  Finally, after almost another 30 years later, a female lead, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, has been casted to outsmart the creature, filling the role Kurt Russell made memorable in 1982, when the film was strictly defined by a male cast. 

My rating 3.5 out of 5

April 5, 2012

Hunger Games (2012)

 When it’s over, “May the odds be ever in your favor.”  So goes the quote that pulsates through The Hunger Games.  The games is an annual event that pits 24 chosen males and females to fight to the death with one victor in the end.  Jennifer Lawrence is Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to enter the games on her sister's behalf after her young sister is chosen to fight in the games.  She leaves her family behind to face an unknown fate with much of the odds against her.  However, Katniss’s bravery and compassion helps to tip the scale in her favour by winning the support of the viewers.  Part reality show, part fashion show, and part media propaganda, Hunger Games uses all three aspects to create a society governed by the privileged and a nation on the verge of collapse.  Adapted from Suzanne Collins’s bestselling book, the film does a faithful job in bringing to life the characters and the world Collins envisioned, and this has much to do with the fact that Collins chose to be one of the film’s executive producers, giving her some control over how the film would play out on screen.  Smart lady.  Two reasons why I think The Hunger Games works - One, the filmmakers took the time to lay down the foundation – the setting, the characters, the circumstances.  The first 45 - 60  minutes were devoted to setting up the story, and after that, it was all about weaving those elements into the action.  The pacing was fantastic, never a dull moment; and Two, Lawrence truly carries the film.  Without Lawrence, the film would have gone in a very different direction.  I first saw Lawrence in A Winter's Bone.  She was amazing, unflinching and tough to the very end, and when I heard she would be casted as Katniss, I knew she would bring good things to the film, and she certainly does.  Lawrence is followed by a strong supporting cast including, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Lenny Kravitz, and Elizabeth Banks.  Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth would not have been my ideal choice for Peeta and Gale, but they fared decent enough.  Let’s see how they sum up in the second film, Catching Fire.

My rating:  4 out of 5


Minority Report (2002)

When it’s over, Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi thriller about seeing into the future brings up moral questions about crime and punishment. The film takes place in 2054, where a new law enforcement called “Precrime” has eliminated crime in Washington D.C. by predicting crimes before it happens. To do this, the organization uses three gifted humans,called PreCogs, who have the ability to see into the future.  John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is the head of operations, and believes Precrime to be flawless, until he is accused of a murder on an individual he doesn’t know.  Perspective is the key theme in this film and constantly shifts throughout.  Spielberg probes the idea that we can’t believe everything we see, because perception can be manipulated and how we see the same event can be different for each individual.  Ultimately, Anderton’s own perception is compromised and he must question the ethics behind Precrime.  Is the act of contemplation breaking the law?  Is justice being served when we punish someone for premeditating a crime?  What do you think? 

My rating:  3 out of 5