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.

August 31, 2012

One for the Money (2012)

When it’s over, go see this film only if you’re a Stephanie Plum fan, and even if you enjoy reading the Janet Evanovich mystery series, be aware that the character may be much more different than from the book, so prepare to be disappointed.  Otherwise, save your time and skip this awful film.  Unemployed and divorced, Stephanie Plum (Katherine Heigl) takes on the job of bounty hunter for her cousin’s bail bond business.  Her first case is an old flame (Jason O’Mara) who claims he was wrongly accused, and as Plum starts to believe in his innocence, the body count rises.  Still more disappointing is Heigl as the smart-talking heroine, who doesn’t fit the role, like squeezing a square into a circle.  Her whole get up is wrong.  She’s not the saucy badass that’s in the book.  Instead, she comes off as trashy chic.  Is there such a thing?  The film is completely forgettable in every sense.  It was a mish-mash of bad dialogue, poor acting, and uninteresting characters.  A complete waste of time. 

My rating: 1.5 out of 5

The Lucky One (2012)

When it's over, High School Musical (2006) alumni, Zac Efron, has definitely grown up from teen heartthrob into a marine veteran named Logan. Logan stumbles upon a faded photograph of a woman while on tour in Iraq.  The photo ends up being his lucky charm as he escapes death on several missions.  Upon finishing his third tour of duty, Logan vows to find the woman in the picture, so he may thank her. Although many actors could have portrayed Logan, Efron carried the role well enough to make me think twice on his turn to becoming a dramatic actor.  I think this role was his coming out role, into bigger, more serious characters.  I'm not saying Efron was perfect in the film, because he wasn't, and he still has a lot of growing to do as an actor.  There were scenes in the film where a more experienced actor would have been more convincing, bringing the viewers one step closer to understanding the personal and emotional journey Logan was on. The Lucky Ones stayed close to Nicholas Sparks's book, and because of that, it was enjoyable.  The only noticeable change was having a younger Logan as opposed to an older one.  The film didn't try to expand on the original story nor exaggerate it.  Instead, it brought the book into living color.   Still, if I had to compare this film with The Notebook (2004) (also written by Sparks), The Lucky One still isn't lucky enough, but Efron certainly was.

My rating: 3 out of 5

August 26, 2012

ParaNorman (2012)

When it’s over, with the big trend in zombies on the big and small screens, it’s about time a film came out for children.  ParaNorman is that film.  From the producers of Coraline (2009), Laika's second feature film is about a boy named Norman Babcock, who can speak to the dead.  He uses his abilities to save his town from ghosts, zombies, and even adults from an old witch’s curse.  The story may be simple and predictable, but it has all the themes children can relate to on a daily basis - courage, self-esteem, friendship, and forgiveness. The most appealing thing about ParaNorman is the stop-motion animation.  There’s something very nostalgic about this medium, reminding me of the films by stop-motion masters, Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass, widely known for Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer (1964) and Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1970).  I like how the stop-motion allows for more texture in the characters - their clothing (fabrics), hairstyles, and physical shapes (pot bellies, curves, double chins, etc).  Even more interesting are the characters' eyes (blinking motion), which resemble old fashion dolls.  It's a bit creepy sometimes, and that certainly adds to the mood.  Generally, ParaNorman is a lot of fun and there are some good laughs for the adults.  It's a perfect matinee show with the kids.  I'd recommend this film for viewers 6 years and up and for anyone who can't get enough of all things zombies. 

My rating: 3.5 out of 5


Whistleblower (2010)

When it’s over, no justice can ever be found in a story about human trafficking, and as a viewer, there’s never any closure.  The film is based on the true story of Kathryn Bolkovac, an American cop who takes on the role of peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia.  Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) arrives in Bosnia with the excitement and hope of rebuilding a country, but soon discovers the corruption that surrounds her.  I’m not too sure how accurate the film was to Bolkovac’s actual experiences, but I’m almost certain the themes were all right on - truth, justice, trust, betrayal.  I’ve seen my fair share of sexual exploitation films, and somehow, I’m never satisfied as the film fades to black.  There’s never any real resolution to the problem, leaving the characters frustrated and angry, and the viewer, myself, wishing I could don the Charles Bronson persona from Death Wish (1974), and take matters into my own hands.  Of course that would be morally wrong, but it sure would feel satisfying.  I thought Weisz did a terrific job bringing to life a character that desperately wanted the law to work in the victims’ favour, but eventually had to accept the flaws in her organization and the power of diplomatic immunity.  Whistleblower, like many other films similar in story, mirror the real world, and until the world can solve the problem, the films serve as voices begging to be heard.  David Strathairn had a small role, but shined as one of the very few “good guys” in a pool of dirty men.   Newcomer, Roxana Condurache as Raya, managed to give a face and a voice to countless girls who are forced into prostitution every day.  She had several difficult scenes, and in each one, she was convincing and unflinching, bringing to the surface a realistic portrayal of damaged women at the mercy of corruption.

My rating: 4 out of 5

August 16, 2012

Total Recall (2012)

When it’s over, not as good as the original, but definitely entertaining with lots of wonderful visuals that shouldn’t be missed on the big screen.  It’s been more than a decade since viewers went to Mars with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall (1990), and with this remake, Director Len Wiseman is behind the camera and Colin Farrell takes on the role of Douglas Quaid – aka Hauser.  When Quaid begins to question his memories and his reoccurring dreams, he decides to visit Rekall, a virtual memory implant company.  But, when the procedure becomes compromised, Quaid discovers that he is actually a double agent on a secret mission.  There’s plenty of well choreographed action sequences overlapping fantastic visuals of an alternate future where cars fly and elevators criss-cross, zooming at high speeds.  Wiseman has definitely taken advantage of the full potential of CGI, resulting in bringing to life a believable society that’s seedy, corrupt, and extremely crowded.  Surprisingly, the cast was a good fit.  I think Farrell should have kept his Irish accent, and don’t know why he dropped it to play Quaid, but he still passes for a convincing secret agent and a man who’s struggling to decipher what is real and what is implanted memory.  Kate Beckinsale takes on the role of Lori, Quaid’s wife, and she’s good at playing bad, kicking some serious butt.  Jessica Biel is in top form as the resistance fighter and Hauser’s lover, Melina.  She holds her own with both Farrell and Beckinsale.  Having said all the things I like about the film, I can’t help but compare this film to the original.  This new version’s storyline is weaker, lacking the compelling human story in which Verhoeven’s version had – the idea of releasing oxygenated air into Mars’s atmosphere in order to save the lives of thousands of humans/mutants is far more engaging than a story of stopping an invasion of droid troops.  Plus, where’s Kuato?  I miss Kuato.  And gone are the memorable lines that made the original Recall so memorable, such as “Consider this a divorce,” when Arnie kills Lori (played by Sharon Stone in 1990) and “Baby, you make me wish I had three hands,” referring to the prostitute with three breasts. Even with limited special effects, Verhoeven’s Recall still managed to be creative, innovative, and eye-popping.  Wiseman’s version is certainly exciting, but if you stripped away all the CGI, the story wouldn’t hold, wouldn’t stand on its own. 

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

We Bought a Zoo (2011)

When it's over, second chances never felt this good.  Based on the autobiographic book, We Bought a Zoo, by Benjiman Mee, the story follows a widow (Matt Damon) who, after his wife’s death, decides to purchase a dilapidated zoo in the attempt to allow himself and his children to heal and start over.  After watching the film, I did some research on the book and discovered how incredible Mee’s story is.  If the film had not been based on a book, the story would be a harder sell to viewers, since it’s so “out there.”  I mean, buying a rundown zoo without really having the knowledge or money to run it, in order to gain a new beginning, isn’t the norm, but obviously, Mee's instinct pays off as the zoo becomes symbolic and a major focal point in the family's healing process.  This is truly an uplifting story about hope, about starting over, about healing, about life and death.  The only cast member out of place is Scarlett Johansson as head zookeeper and animal specialist, Kelly, serving as Mee's love interest.  Johansson is completely mis-casted, looking awfully prim for someone who's overworked, tired, and hasn't been paid in months.  Also starring are Thomas Haden Church and Elle Fanning.  A wonderful film to watch with children.

My rating: 4 out of 5

A Walk in the Clouds (1995)

When it’s over, it's the end of WWII and Paul (Keanu Reeves) returns home to find he doesn’t have much in common with the wife he left behind.  While on a business trip, contemplating over his feelings, he meets a young woman, Victoria (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon), who fears her domineering father will kill her when he finds out she is pregnant and alone.  Paul decides to pose as her husband for one day, which leads to unexpected results.  Reeves has not been known for his strong acting abilities, but I think he pulled off an honest portrayal of Paul, showing decency, kindness, and courage in the face of unfairness and ridicule.  Helping Reeves along was a strong supporting cast including Anthony Quinn, Debra Messing, and Giancarlo Giannini.  There definitely was a timeless feel to this film, which wasn’t surprising since this version was one of three remakes based on the classic Italian film, Quattro passi fra le nuvole (1942).  I felt like I was watching a piece of artwork unfold.  With Director Alfonso Arau (Like Water for Chocolate - 1992) at the canvas, this work of art completely drew me in with its passion and longing.  The palette of browns and greens brought to life a post-war vineyard that not only enticed the eyes, but also aroused the senses.  There was a sense of ease in Arau’s storytelling, like snuggling up to a good book, unfolding page per page, one stroke of the brush at a time.  Definitely a good addition to any collector of romantic films. 

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

August 10, 2012

Robin Hood (2010)

When it's over, the man in tights gets a new look, one in the form of Russell Crowe portraying the legendary outlaw who robs from the rich to give to the poor.  Director Ridley Scott's vision of Robin Hood is dramatically different.  The tights are gone (has been gone for decades), and the traditional story we have come to know has had some significant changes.  Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is an archer in the King's army fighting in the Crusasdes.  After King Richard is killed on the battlefield, Longstride assumes the name of Sir Robert Loxley, after promising the fallen knight that he would return the Loxley sword back to its owner. Upon returning to England, Longstride discovers a plot against England, the truth about his past, and his growing affection for Marion (Cate Blanchette).  The film has all the pertinent elements and players of the legend, just shuffled around.  I wasn't sold with Crowe playing the hero and felt another actor could have complimented the bow and arrow better.  Crowe appeared to be too stodgy, and he tended to mutter through his dialogue.  Blanchette was believable portraying a stronger, tougher Marion, truer to who she probably would have been in the days of war and corruption.  The talented, Mark Strong, as Godfrey, the traitor, always makes for a great villian.  Matthew Macfayden's skills were wasted as the Sheriff of Nottingham, since there were few scenes involving the notorious bad guy.  I liked Scott's re-telling, because it offered an alternative perpsective, which kept the legend interesting and fresh.  The production design completely brought 13th century into the 21st century.  I really appreciated the thought that went into the details of the sets, costumes, and weaponry.  All these elements made the film authentic to its time and exciting to watch.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 

The Vow (2012)

When it’s over, give me a pen and I’d like to re-write the ending to this disappointing film.  For the most part, romantic comedies are formulated and somewhat predictable.  Viewers know what they're getting, and on occasion, a few surprises can offer a bonus.  The Vow offers up a few surprises, but none of which strengthen the story nor draws the viewer in.  After a car accident causes Paige (Rachel McAdams) to suffer memory loss, her husband, Leo (Channing Tatum), must find a way to win her heart again.  Interesting premise.  Lots of potential for romantic wooing and “tug at your heartstring” scenes.  The key word is potential.  The film didn’t pull at any of my heartstrings.  I barely shed half a tear.  Most disappointing was the ending.  It was all wrong.  A traditional ending would have made the story come full circle and give it the emotional pull it needed to make the journey worthwhile for the viewer.  The ending sort of severed the emotional charge the film was struggling to build.  And struggling, this film was.  The pairing of McAdams and Tatum seemed like an exciting venture, but after watching them together, I wasn’t sold on their romance.  They looked good side by side, but the chemistry wasn’t there.  I didn’t see it, didn’t feel it.  Give Tatum a gun, he’s good (G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra - 2009) ; give him a strip number, he’s good (Magic Mike – 2012); give him some serious drama, he’s not so good, no intensity, no passion.  McAdams doesn’t seem to have that “spark” she had in The Notebook (2004).  Her smile certainly still lights up the screen, but dramatically, she’s not convincing as Paige, boring and one dimensional.  The film is inspired by a true story, so I understand the ending, but it's Hollywood, and alterations do happen when it serves to the film's advantage.  This was one of those times when some changes should have been made.  Perhaps, an ending that reflected their vows, a sweeping testament of their unending love for one another might have won some swooning points.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

Tyrannosaur (United Kingdom - 2011)

When it’s over, the acting was fantastic.  The performances by actors, Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman, and Eddie Marsan, will make you forget you are watching a film.  They will pull you into their character's lives and make you feel the grief and pain they endure on a daily basis. Writer/Director, Paddy Considine did a fine job on his feature film debut by capturing some of the most disturbing aspects of human behaviour as portrayed through his cast of damaged characters.  This film is the story about a man named Joseph (Mullan), who is on the verge of self-destruction, but gets a second chance at redemption when he meets Hannah (Colman), a Christian woman who takes notice of him.  Hannah isn't all she appears to be with her smiles and words of comfort, and as their friendship grows, Joseph realizes that Hannah has her own demons, mainly in the form of her husband (Marsan).  There was plenty of violence, but not in the usual way we see violence in films where one person beats another person or the use of guns and swords.  The violence in this film was more unexpected, the quiet violence.  The characters don't know when it's coming and when it comes, it comes hard and deliberate, raw and explosive.  There were two scenes that really lingered for me – the death of the first dog and the spousal rape scene.  These powerful scenes came out of nowhere, completely knocking me off-balance as a viewer, a rarity in films these days.  The film was depressing and bleak, and had enough “F” words to rival Pulp Fiction (1994), but even in its darkest despair, Considine offered a sliver of hope, and it's this hope that gave the positive ending this film rightly deserved. 

My rating: 4 out of 5