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.

July 27, 2012

Get the Gringo (2012)

When it’s over, despite all the negative press Mel Gibson has received in the past, he’s still a solid actor I enjoy watching.  His latest film has him speaking Spanish as an inmate in a Mexican prison, where he befriends a 10 year old boy (Kevin Hernandez), who is targeted to be killed for a liver transplant for a rich inmate.  The major thing that stands out for me in the film was the setting.  I think choosing to have the film set in a Mexican prison gave the story a grittier look, offering a new backdrop to a story that’s been told too many times – the story of revenge and justice.  The El Pueblito prison depicted in the film was a reconstruction of the famous shantytown prison of the same name, which was built in 1956 in Tijuana, Mexico, before it was dismantled in 2002.  Forty percent of the dialogue was in Spanish (mostly offensive slang), lending to the flavour and atmosphere of a cut-throat environment where money was your best friend and you’re universal weapon to survival.   In the communal prison, money could buy you just about anything and everything, including real estate (where you slept), bathroom usage, drugs, and a day trip outside the guarded walls.  Even visitors had to pay a fee.  The set design was great.  The designers held nothing back to capture the seedy alleyways, the rundown courtyards, the “lack of privacy” sleeping quarters, and the various kiosks where money was exchanged on a daily basis.  Corruption was depicted on every corner and on every wall.  Whether it was sewage stains or bullet holes, the designs and decoration really drew the viewer into the world of the characters.   It’s a shame this film didn’t get a North American release, because I think it would have done well.  Somehow, it bypassed theatres and went straight to on-demand and DVD.  Perhaps it was the title.  Maybe just “Gringo” would have sold the film better.  I would recommend this film for viewers who don’t mind the violence and dark humor.  There are some plot holes, but somehow it doesn’t really affect the film, since the film’s driven by action.  If you liked Payback (1999), you’ll most likely enjoy this film, since the main characters and themes in both films are very similar.  Gibson’s character is dark, angry, and nasty, kind of makes me think what Martin Riggs might have become if he hadn’t met Roger Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon (1987 ).  Try and picture that and fast forward a few decades. 

My rating: 4 out of 5

A Better Life (2011)

When it’s over, this is a sad story, but one that is not hopeless.  Carlos Galindo (Demian Bichir) is a gardener living in East Los Angeles, who struggles day to day to meet the bills while trying to keep his teenage son (Jose Julian) out of trouble.  A Better Life is the story of one man’s dream, representing the story of countless thousands who strive everyday to provide a better life for themselves and their families.  Like he did in About a Boy (2002), Director Chris Weitz brings out the most complex emotions in the most natural way.  The directing is subtle, but enormously effective as it pulls the viewer into Galindo’s life.  As I’m watching Galindo on screen, he doesn’t feel like a character in a film, but rather a person I know.  This is not only due to a keen sense of directing, but also to Bichir’s convincing performance, which carries the film from beginning to end.  I think this film will resonate greater with men, due to the themes about being a role model, being a provider, and the pressure of self worth in a world where people are defined by their possessions. 

My rating: 4 out of 5

Mission Impossible (1996)

When it’s over, in most films that spawn sequels, it’s usually the first film that resonates best in viewer’s memories, however, this was not the case for me in this first film in the Mission Impossible series based on the 60’s TV show.  Tom Cruise is Ethan Hunt, an American agent who is falsely accused when his team is murdered during a high stakes mission.  The film had some memorable stunts.  In fact, the stunts and the action are the film’s best assets.  Having Hunt suspended in mid-air during a heist at the CIA headquarters served up one of the most iconic scenes in a spy thriller to date.  Also, the final train sequence had the look and feel of being on a train, offering the realism of speed and danger.  If you take away these fillers, there’s not much left in story.  Also, there was no real edge to the characters, except for Hunt and Luther (Ving Rhames).  Cruise was perfect as Hunt.  He captured the charm, wit, and heroism of a secret agent who had nothing to lose and all to lose.  Rhames was a strong presence, lending humor and brawn to his techie character, which carried over to two sequels.  I thought Jon Voight was mis-casted as Jim Phelps, Hunt’s mentor and boss, and his mediocre performance solidified that belief.  In addition, a strong female lead was hugely lacking, immediately withholding the possible conflicts the plot desperately needed.  Bottom line, the action made the film watchable, but the poor storyline made the film forgettable. 

My rating: 3 out of 5

July 20, 2012

Cabin in the Woods (2012)

When it’s over, the cabin is the tip of the iceberg.  Filmmaker Joss Whedon’s paranormal slasher has a group of college students spending the weekend in a secluded cabin, where nothing is as it seems.  The film’s freaky, grotesque, and never has a dull moment.  This is one of the few films I’ve seen that’s been unpredictable throughout, which keeps the viewer expecting and guessing, and the viewer never really knows the whole story until the very end.  There is plenty of surprises, which makes talking about CITW difficult, since I don’t want to give anything away.  The twists and turns are what make the film work, so if you haven’t seen it and want to see it, don’t read too much about it or listen in on conversations about it.  You want to go into it knowing nothing, except that it takes place in a cabin in the woods.  You’ll be thankful for the surprises.  As much as I admire Whedon’s work, I think he failed to do one crucial thing in CITW, which was offer more backstory on the origins of the cabin and its mysterious inhabitants.  In the end, I had so many questions, and wished the film had tied up the loose ends.  There isn’t much to say in the acting department, since as long as the actors can scream and run, they’ll do fine.  However, Chris Hemsworth is the headliner for this film, since he has the most prominent face following his success in Thor (2011).  Hemsworth originally signed on several years back, before signing Thor, but due to production delays, CITW got pushed back and he ended up filming Thor before CITW

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

Blade (1998)

When it’s over, this first film in the series remains to be the best of the trilogy.  Wesley Snipes is well-casted as Blade, the half vampire “Daywalker,” who takes vengeance on all vampires after his mother is bitten and killed.  His lifelong search for the vampire responsible takes him on a collision course with Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), a vampire renegade searching for the blood god, La Magra, who will render him the most powerful vampire in the world if Frost can deliver Blade’s blood.  Based on the Marvel comics created in the 70’s, Blade is known as the Dhampir, a child offspring of a vampire and a human, having the strength but not the weaknesses of a vampire.  Of course, a comic hero wouldn’t be complete without some form of weakness, and Blade falls victim to the weakness of thirst, which becomes the side story to the main plot as he searches for a cure to cease it.  The film does a credible job in showing the internal conflict that Blade constantly battles as he struggles to maintain his humanity.  I think this was a standout vampire film due to the clever special effects, especially the cool way they made the vampires disintegrate upon death.  The weapons were slick and smart, and for its time, it was not only inventive, but stylish, offering a new take on the age old story of humans versus vampires. 

My rating: 4 out of 5

July 12, 2012

The Amazing Spiderman (2012)

When it’s over, WOW!  Great film.  Loved it!  Applause to Director Marc Webb, who spins a new twist to a character that’s been around for decades and have been re-invented multiple times.  Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) searches for the truth about his parents’ disappearance, and along the way becomes Spiderman, encounters his first crush, and learns the true meaning of responsibility as he tries to save New York City from The Lizard/Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans).  Please don’t compare this film to Tobey McGuire’s Spiderman.  The two films are very different and both are fantastic based on their individual merits.  This new re-boot takes the character of Peter Parker into a whole new direction, a direction I seldom see anymore in comic book to screen blockbusters, the direction of character development.  There is actually a solid story that doesn’t waver and the action never takes over the film.  I prefer a good story any time over senseless action, and this film delivers everything with a cherry on top - tight script, precision action, a terrific cast, and a love story that’s got all the sentiments of first crushes.  I didn’t think Garfield could pull off a Peter Parker persona, but I’m so glad to be proved wrong.  I think he captures Parker wonderfully – tall, skinny, gangly, slumped posture – how I remember Parker in the pages of Marvel comics to be.  Garfield’s portrayal of Parker was funny, intense, quirky, and sweet, all played out at the right time in the right scenes.  He makes Parker more three dimensional, a person viewers can relate to.  Emma Stone is well casted as Gwen Stacey, and the chemistry between the love birds is fresh and undeniable.  Even though the supporting cast had minor roles, their screen time definitely added to the embodiment of Parker as a whole, by motivating him, challenging him, and ultimately, saving him.  Sally Field, Martin Sheen, Denis Leary, and C. Thomas Howell fill the small shoes, but take big strides.  I don’t think The Lizard was as menacing a villain in this film, but he served to be just the right adversary to probe Parker in the right direction of a teen becoming a man.  Plus, I’m almost certain the story will continue between Dr. Connors and Parker in the sequel, already in the works.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5

Sahara (2005)

When it’s over, Dirk Pitt is a combination of three characters - Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Benjamin Franklin Gates.  Need I say more?  Big adventure, a bit of techiness, and treasure hunting puts Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) and best buddie, Al (Steve Zahn), in West Africa in search of a lost Civil War battleship.  Finding the lost battleship gets complicated when he meets a UN doctor (Penelope Cruz), who is targeted by a local dictator in cohorts with a corrupt businessman.  Based on the book by Clive Cussler, Sahara offers plenty of entertainment, even though much of it is unrealistic.  I mean, even with hundreds of bullets coming at them and explosions in all directions, the good guys come out unscathed, which I suppose is forgivable in this rollicking film.  Good afternoon flick alongside a big bowl of popcorn.  Crunch!

My rating: 3 out of 5

The Raven (2012)

When it’s over, The Raven wasn’t a film about one piece of work from Edgar Allan Poe,  but a collection of macabre tales, which a crazed serial killer decides to bring to life.  In the attempt to prevent fiction from becoming fact, a young detective (Luke Evans) enlists the help of Poe (John Cusack) to solve the murders and to save Poe’s fiancee (Alice Eve).  There was definitely a Jack the Ripper feel to this film that surprised and intrigued me.  I went into this film without knowing anything about the story except that Cusack was playing the role of Poe, which, in itself, was worth a sit through.  Cusack does a commendable job playing the sombre writer, capturing the eccentricities of a man fuelled by his passion, or at time, madness, to write and being paired with Evans, the two reminded me a bit of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.  The setting.  The costumes.  The time period. These elements all added to the film’s overall appeal.  Set in the 19th century, this Gothic tale wasn’t the horror film the title let on, since past films based on Poe’s work have fallen into the horror genre.  However, the gore and disturbing images can be considered horror to some viewers.  But, ultimately, the film is a mystery thriller.  I think there has been some confusion about this for potential viewers and viewers alike.  Some have indicated that it wasn’t scary enough, while others have expressed that the film may be too frightening.  This film is rated R, so if you want to bring older children, use your best judgment.  The best comparative advice I can give on this film would be the violence and mayhem of Johnny Depp’s From Hell (2001) or Tim Burton's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1999). If you've seen these films and liked them, then chances are, you'll like The Raven. Excessive gore or gratuitous violence doesn’t usually raise the bar for me in films, but I would have to make an exception for The Raven, because it was the disturbing nature of the visuals that kept the film interesting, the suspense building, and the guessing of whodunit brewing. 

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

July 7, 2012

Perfect Sense (United Kingdom - 2011)

When it's over, can love still be found in a world of devastation?  According to British filmmaker, David MacKenzie, the answer is "yes."  MacKenzie has crafted a unique film about the power of love in humanity's darkest days. Perfect Sense makes a lot of sense, where a small film has big meanings. Great performances from Ewan McGregor and Eva Green, who play Michael and Susan, two people falling in love in the midst of a world wide epidemic where humans begin to lose their sensory perceptions.  As the characters begin to lose each of their senses, they are forced to cope with their loss and to continue with life using their remaining senses.  It's hard to imagine a life without our senses, since we take them so much for granted, and I don't think this film is meant to scare, but rather serve as a reminder for us not to take the things we value for granted - our life, our health, the people we love.  Most important, to remind us that love has the power to make bearable the most unbearable.  The film shows humanity's tragedy with clarity and honesty and although the subject matter is depressing, the film doesn't completely feel like it's in despair.  The love story definitely gives the film the balance it needs to be both tragic and beautiful.  The most visually disturbing scene has to be the events leading up to the loss of taste, when humans become ravenous.  At first, the montage of scenes seem comical, but they slowly manifests into clips that make even the strongest stomachs squirm.  The most emotionally disturbing scene, hands down, has to be the ending.  Fade to black.  Where do humans go from there?  A daring question that begs for a hopeful answer.

My rating: 4 out of 5

Lockout (2012)

When it’s over, I regret being talked into watching this film. I expected a better script from Luc Besson, the writer/director behind stylish films such as, Nikita (1990), The Professional (1994), Fifth Element (1997), Kiss of the Dragon (2001), Transporter (2002), and Taken (2008). Lockout definitely wasn’t a knockout.  There was no story or character development. Only tons of action that kept me awake, but made me feel like a vegetable afterwards from lack of engagement with the plot or any of the characters.  If you want the numbness of action sequences, one after the other, then this is the film for you.  However, if you want action plus intelligence, then skip this film.  Guy Pierce plays Snow, a futuristic Mickey Spillane tough guy, who is wrongly convicted of conspiring against the US government.  He is offered his freedom if he can rescue the president’s daughter (Maggie Grace) held hostage on an outer space penitentiary overrun by convicts.  A simple story of search and rescue with some potential if the script had developed the espionage subplot involving a mysterious suitcase.  Snow was desperate to find the suitcase, that when it was found, the viewer still didn’t know what was in it or its relevance to the story.  Furthermore, if the story was bad, the dialogue was worse.  Snow had enough one-liners to secure him as the most underdeveloped character in recent films. 

My rating: 2 out of 5