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.

May 25, 2012

Wrath of the Titans (2012)

When it’s over, too many holes leave this action packed story unfulfilling.  This follow up to 2010's remake of 1981's Clash of the Titans succeeds at making the action bigger, but fails at telling a story that feels complete.  The story takes place 10 years after demigod, Perseus (Sam Worthington), defeated the Kraken.  He has returned to a quiet life as a fisherman and father to 10 year old Helius (John Bell), but when news of his father, Zeus (Liam Neeson), who has been taken captive in the Underworld by Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and Ares (Edgar Ramirez), Perseus is forced to take up his sword once again.  Aided by the help of Queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) and another demigod, Agenor (Toby Kebbell), son of Poseidon, Perseus journeys into the Underworld to save his father and to save mankind from the powers of Kronos, leader of the Titans and father to Zeus, Hades, & Poseidon.   Having mentioned all the major players in this film, it's clear that the story is far from simple.  With the introduction of so many new characters as well as defining already existing ones, the story struggles to produce consistent emotional momentum as well as information to fill in the blanks.  Some examples are (1) If Andromeda is Perseus's new love interest, their scenes together are anything but romantic.  (2) The shift in Hades’s loyalty changes too abruptly to make his change credible or realistic.  (3) Where does Ares’s hatred for Zeus come from?  A few words of explanation doesn’t make the emotion believable, and thus, needs to be shown (maybe it could’ve been done through flashbacks).  (4) Perseus has never completely accepted Zeus as his father, so why the sudden change of heart?  Perhaps in 10 years, Perseus has grown to accept his demigod status.  Again, some quick flashbacks would have helped to give reason for his actions.  Aside from the plot setbacks, the film’s action sequences does have good entertainment value.  Also, I really liked the underlying theme of father and sons.  This aspect was well integrated into the story allowing the story to go full circle.  Too bad, it looks like a round slice of swiss cheese.

My rating:  3 out of 5

Blue Valentine (2010)

When it's over,  Blue Valentine is essentially a film about the birth and death of love between two people.  It's symbolic of the love that's no longer ripe, but dead and cold.  It's divided into two time lines - the birth and the death as the two interweave throughout the film.  The birth shows joy and spontaneity as new love often produces, while the death brings on the uncomfortable knowledge that people can also fall out of love without understanding why it's happening.  As such is the story of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cynthia (Michelle Williams), who are a young married couple who face the reality that their marriage is ending.  The film clearly shows that when a relationship dies, it's not always the things we say, but rather the internal storm that rages inside us that makes us lash out and hurt the ones we are close to.  In a film such as this where it's dependant on the facial expressions and body language of its actors, I think Gosling and Williams showed great maturity in their performances.  What I praise about this film is its honesty.  It's so honest, that it's unsettling.  It's heartbreaking to watch two people attack each other emotionally with words that cut, stab, and tear, but essentially necessary to show the death of the relationship.  When Cynthia asks for a divorce, I think that's the moment she becomes a woman.  Her decision showed she had the courage to take a hold of her life and the wisdom to recognize what was ultimately best for the future of herself and her daughter;  while on the flip side, I thought Dean represented the never ending optimist, the romantic, the type of person you can fall instantly in love with, but his detached sense of reality eventually blind sights him from the needs of his family.  Both characters are extremely flawed, and it's this sense of being damaged that makes the characters so real.  I think there's a little bit of Dean and Cynthia in all of us, making me wonder, what would I have done in Cynthia's place.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

May 18, 2012

This Means War (2012)

When it’s over, what do you get when you take two jealous male CIA operatives, a beautiful woman, and the power of surveillance?  A messy enterprise of who’s the better man as both men declare war on each other.  Best buddies, Tuck (Tom Brady) and Frank (Chris Pine) discover their friendship comes under fire when they are both dating the same woman, Lauren (Reese Witherspoon).   There's no end to the antics Tuck and Frank take as they sabotage each other’s dates and put Lauren's life under a microscope.  I liked the chemistry of all three actors.  They seemed to have good timing with each other as the jokes and action weaved  through each scene.  This film was a lot of fun and not meant to be taken seriously.  It's one of the better light-hearted romantic comedies I've seen of late where there’s action, comedy, romance, and even techie stuff that will appeal to both men and women.  Plus, there’s enough silliness and unrealistic scenarios to make your eyes roll and shake your head, but you’ll smile at the end, because it's all in good fun. 

My rating: 3.5 out of 5


Contraband (2012)

When it’s over, the tension and suspense set this film apart from other getaway films, but a lack of grit sells this film short.  Mark Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday, an ex-smuggler who is forced to go to Panama to retrieve millions of dollars in counterfeit bills in order to save his family from a ruthless mob boss (Giovanni Ribisi).  This film reminds me so much of The Italian Job (2003), even though the two films are unrelated.  Perhaps it's because Wahlberg's good at playing likable criminals that are ethically good, even though they break the law - an anti-hero that's also a softy.  His acting isn't oscar-worthy, but it's entertaining, and he carries most of the film. Ribisi's performance was too over the edge, too psychotic.  I think his character would have been better represented if he had more tact, more smarts, a boss with some control.  There has been a fair share of crazy mob bosses in past films, and the most memorable ones are the ones that are on the verge of crazy, but never stupid (characters like Tony Montana in Scarface and Francis Costello in The Departed).  Icelandic actor turned director, Baltasar Kormakur, starred in the original film called Reykjavik Rotterdam (2008), which Contraband is based on and chose to divide the North American version into two settings - in  Panama where Farraday encounters one bad incident after another and in New Orleans where good performances from Kate Beckinsale and Ben Foster up the stakes as the story unravels on the homefront.  By doing this, Kormakur has created a double graph with two escalating peaks converging in the climax, keeping the nail-biters biting. I felt the strong build up was somewhat wasted at the end of the film, since the ending felt too soft, too muted, like the bad guys didn't get what they deserved, except for a slap on the hand. Contraband would have been a better film if it had more guts, and why shouldn't it?  It already had a restricted rating. The world of smuggling and mob bosses are raw in nature and to show these aspects in a lesser form compromises the story and lowers the film's overall integrity.  

My rating: 3 out of 5

50/50 (2011)

When it’s over, watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes cancer more bearable.  Honestly, the main reason I saw this film was because of Gordon-Levitt.  Every time I watch this young actor, I’m amazed by his versatility and talent.  I don’t think there’s any role he can’t play.  In 50/50, Gordon-Levitt is Adam, a man who battles a rare form of cancer and is given a 50/50 chance of survival.  Early into the film, Adam is given this harrowing news and what follows is a procession of denial, shock, tears, and laughter.  Gordon-Levitt captures Adam beautifully with sensitivity and humour.  Some of the best scenes are when Adam is alone – how he looks, how he reacts to himself, and how he tries to look okay, when everything in his life isn’t.  The feelings of isolation and loneliness resonates in Adam’s facial expressions as he tries to act brave and independent, and it’s in these moments of courageous solitude that pulls at my heartstrings.  Aside from the drama, the film has its fair share of comedy.  I would have preferred the film to remain dramatic throughout, but I understand the need for it to have some humour, since, realistically, cancer would be unbearable without some form of humour.  In comes Seth Rogan as Adam’s best friend, Kyle, whose juvenile obnoxiousness serves as a vessel to take the edge off the daunting side of cancer, and in his own selfish way, helps Adam through the difficult journey.  The supporting cast was wonderful, including Anna Kendrick as Adam’s therapist and Angelica Houston as Adam’s mother. 

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

May 12, 2012

Love Begins (2011)

When it's over, I have one word to describe this film - wholesome.  This is the type of film I go to when I need a break from sex, guns, violence, and the four letter word.  Love Begins is one of countless films based on Jeanette Oke's award winning book series, Love Comes Softly, about frontier life in the United States.  The formulated plot is like a patented outline that only requires a filling in the blanks.  There’s no guesswork on the part of the viewer.  The predictability offers a sense of knowing that the story will end on a positive note, and sometimes, when I need that lift, predictable is good.  This film will most likely appeal to fans of Little House on the Prairie as the story shares similarities in female voice, Christian faith, and the discovery of the goodness in people.  There’s nothing extravagant about this made for TV film.  The acting is so-so, and the sets are decent.  I liked this film because, it was the right film at the right time, and being a fan of the series, I had no expectations and knew exactly what I was getting.

My rating:  3 out of 5

The Avengers (2012)

When it’s over, The Avengers was low on substance, but high on thrills.  It was everything I expected it to be.  It was insanely over the top, but I expected nothing less than an overdose of CGI and egos as large as Hulk’s massive body.  The film joins Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Widow and the team of Shield led by Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson) to battle against Loki and his army.  It merges the cast and storylines from four separate films without any hiccups.  Even if the film had been a complete disaster, the cast alone would be worth the viewing.  With all the big stars sharing the screen together, one of the pitfalls I feared for this film was too many characters vying for screen time, thereby suffering the fate of too much going on, sending the film in varying paths, like X-Men 3: The Last Stand did in 2006.  In the capable hands of Director/Writer Joss Whedon, the story stays on course and successfully develops each character equally, giving the film the balance it needed to make the film feel like a whole rather than broken up stories that lead nowhere.   The character developments are tid-bits, but are enough for the viewer to understand just a bit more about each character and their motivations, which is enough for a film like this, because the core of the film is essentially about a team fighting to protect earth, not individuals trying to define themselves.  The cast was great and seemed to blend well together, even in their “not-so-friendly” scenes.  Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., and Chris Hemsworth reprised their roles as Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor without any glitches as if they made this film back to back from their previous films.  Brit actor, Tom Hiddleston, returned as the power hungry Loki.  I had hoped Loki would be more menacing, but Whedon played it safe by keeping the character somewhat likable allowing a few jokes to slip by.  Originally, I wasn’t sure if Scarlett Johansson would pull off the Black Widow persona, but I think she did a terrific job.  She held her own in battle and served to be a neutral player amongst the explosive male egos that surrounded her.  Jeremy Renner was right on target as Hawkeye, and showed that a mortal man without super powers could still outwit evil with his archery skills.  Mark Ruffalo seemed an unlikely choice as The Hulk, but proved to be smashing as a man torn between two personalities.  And lastly, I was surprised and glad that Whedon developed Agent Phil’s character.  Actor Clark Gregg has portrayed Nick Fury’s right hand man for three of the previous films leading up to The Avengers, and it seemed only fitting for Agent Phil to have the biggest gun with the biggest blast. 

My rating: 4 out of 5


May 4, 2012

Haywire (2011)

When it's over, relative newcomer to the silver screen, Gina Carano, kicks butt as the hard as nails, and sometimes feminine, covert operative, Mallory Kane, who seeks retribution after she is double-crossed by her handler (Ewan McGregor).  Having a strong background in MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) specializing in Muay Thai (a combat sport similar to kickboxing),  Carano was well casted for this role, and serves to be the highlight of Haywire.  However, having the pleasure of watching the woman in action, doesn’t save the film from its shortcomings, mainly, a weak storyline with too many loose ends.  It suffers from too many players and not enough playtime.  We have all these violent fight scenes, but none of them serve to build up the story or the characters, except who’s a better fighter. Some questions that leave the viewer hanging are: Why the elaborate deception when the journalist could have easily been killed?  What’s the purpose of setting up Mallory?  What’s the deal with the guy in the car when Mallory makes her getaway at the diner?  And what’s up with the title?  It’s catchy, but hardly relates to the film.  Mallory wants revenge, but she’s hardly going haywire about it.  Clearly, the fight sequences were the driving force of the film, and because of this, a better selected cast of male action stars would have served the film better.  Don't get me wrong, I liked the cast, and the sequences were well choreographed, but the men (including Michael Fassbender and McGregor) Carano fights just aren’t in her league – physically or in skill.  Channing Tatum fits the age, but not the skill.  She didn’t have a chance to fight Antonio Banderas, and although I like Banderas, I don’t think the fight would have amounted to much.  The filmmakers should have included some form of fighting between the two, since Carano had already fought half the cast.  How about a gun fight or a sword fight?  Some names I would have really liked to see her go neck to neck with are Jason Statham, Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Daniel Craig, or Christian Bale.  Any of these actors, or all, would have given her some serious competition.  Interesting enough, Carano will have her chance to meet her match as she is reported to be starring opposite Diesel and Johnson in the upcoming The Fast and the Furious 6.  She’s attractive, she’s tough, and she isn’t afraid of the camera.  I think she’ll go far in Hollywood.  Rounding the cast of big names are Michael Douglas and Bill Paxton.

My rating:  2.5 out of 5


Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

When it’s over, do we really need another Pirates of the Caribbean?  I’m a fan of Johnny Depp, but I think it’s hide tide he hung up the Jack Sparrow hat.  In this fourth instalment, Jack and Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) team up to find the Fountain of Youth, but little do they know that Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his daughter (Penelope Cruz) are also after the same treasure.  On the journey, Jack encounters deadly mermaids, a woman from his past, and enough waves to shift his tide.  There are a few laughs and some good jokes, but overall, the whole series is getting redundant and stale.  If the producers were looking to re-invent the series, which was evident they were trying to do by introducing new cast mates, then, they should literally re-invent it.  Instead of having Jack do the same things using the same devices (ex: the compass), why not give Jack some new toys and a new mission.  Why not have Jack time travel?  Imagine the possibilities in that.  Searching for the fountain of youth has been the focus of so many films in the past, so why not put a new twist on it and raise the stakes by making the fountain precious and cursed at the same time by adding elements such as an eternal imprisonment for the one who drinks from the sacred water or immortal guardians who protect the fountain at all costs and must be destroyed before getting access to the fountain.  I especially liked the introduction of the mermaids, which added a new layer of intrigue, so at the end of the film, I found myself asking, what happened to the mermaid and her man?  All I saw were two mermaids swimming in the shadows.  Was I to assume that this was Philip (Sam Claflin), the clergyman, and the mermaid he befriends?  Their small love story served to be the only fresh thing about the film, but their conclusion left unanswered questions, adding to the overall disappointment factor.  

My rating:  2.5 out of 5


Retreat (2011)

When it’s over, where’s the tension?  After a recent tragedy, a young married couple (Cillian Murphy and Thandie Newton) retreat to a secluded island off the coast of Scotland to try and rekindle their relationship only to have it interrupted by an intruder (Jamie Bell) who claims a deadly virus has swept through Europe.  The film’s not about the results of a pandemic, but rather the struggle to avoid it.  With a cast of three characters, the film's main focus was to pit the characters against one another, building the conflict that would eventually explode in the end.  And the end was the best part of the film.  I didn’t see the ending coming nor guess the story would take the turn it did.  However, the last 15 minutes would have been more powerful had the suspense been better built up.  The film was slow to start and by mid-way, it was still struggling to meet the peak it needed to reach by Act 3.  The characters were not very well developed, and although I knew where each stood emotionally, I couldn’t get myself to sympathize with them.  I think this has to do more with the script than the acting.  Also, the audio was a notable problem and served to be annoying, and I’m sure I missed a lot of story development due to this.  I found myself struggling to hear the conversations since much of the dialogue was in whispers.  There's nothing more frustrating during a film when you can't hear the dialogue and you need to strain to hear the words only to ask the person next to you, "What did he say?" and they shrug their shoulders in reply.  

My rating:  2.5 out of 5