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.

October 29, 2012

Quinceanera (2006)

When it's over, don't let the title fool you into thinking this film is a lighthearted romantic comedy, because this Quinceanera was anything but.  By definition, a quinceaƱera is a Latin American celebration to honor the passage from childhood into adolescence of a girl on her fifteenth birthday and usually follows with a formal dinner and dance.  In this film, Magdalena's (Emily Rios) simple life and upcoming quinceanera becomes complicated when she discovers that she is pregnant.  Shunned by her parents and friends and abandoned by the baby's father, Magdalena finds a new family and life with her great-granduncle, Tio (Chalo Gonzalez), and gay cousin, Carlos (Jesse Garcia).  Using Echo Park, Los Angeles as the location backdrop, this small independent film captured a fresh perspective of Latino/American culture by offering close-ups into the lives of several families.  At times, the film felt very much like a documentary by the way the dialogue was delivered and the way the scenes were filmed, but the themes of betrayal, religious expectations, and racial stereotypes still came through with honesty and at times, with bitterness.  One thing I would change in the plot would be the "immaculate conception" storyline, which I wasn't sold on as a viewer and would have preferred that Magdalena lose her virginity making her character more real to audiences thereby intensifying the story as a whole.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

October 25, 2012

The Deep Blue Sea (United Kingdom - 2011)

When it's over, what I'll remember most  was the haunting violin music, which described the inner tragedy and pain felt by the main character, Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz). Set in post-war England, Hester is a passionate woman who wants to follow her heart rather than conventional norm, and in doing so, she has an affair with an air force pilot, Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), while destroying her marriage to a high ranking judge, Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale).  Weisz and Hiddleston looked great together, in a non-matching sort of way. Their contrasting physical traits mirrored their differing emotional needs, making the pull between desire and complacency an ongoing internal tug-of-war between the two characters.  Weisz and Beale also shared differences in mind and body, which set off warning signs that the couple was doomed as husband and wife.  It was a look, a pause, a non-verbal movement, which informed the viewer that something was off with their relationship. Subtlety worked in this film's favour, but the film was anything but subtle. Many scenes were played out in gestures, such as a move of a hand, the tilt of the head, or a stolen glance. It was poetry in motion, and these scenes accompanied by violin strings said more in its slow urgency than words could describe. I have no complaints about the performances, as all three were wonderful and meaningful. However, great performances cannot elicit a mood, and that was where the careful choice in production design became a crucial element in completing the story. There were no rich colours to be found in this film, except for Hester's red coat, which conveyed the emotions of passion, ripeness, even shame. The use of browns, grays, and dark blues helped to evoke a feeling of gloominess and torment, while wet alleyways and rain suggested sadness and despair. The use of these elements created a sombre tapestry of fragility and vulnerability, and the red reminded me of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlett Letter, where shame was felt, but without regret, and as the characters share the same name, they also share in the tragedy and the hope their sins bring forth.

My rating: 4 out of 5

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter (2012)

When it's over, what a disappointment. This was one film I was looking forward to seeing. Having Honest Abe and vampires together seemed like a good combination in book form (written by Seth Grahame-Smith), but on screen, it was a mess. The scenes felt abrupt, like it was unfolding too fast.  I felt like I was being pulled through the story rather than be led through the story. When Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) discovers that there are vampires threatening to take over the country, he is determined to find and destroy their leader (Rufus Sewell).  The story chronicles Lincoln's life from the age of nine onwards, through his training with Henry (Dominic Cooper) and into his presidency.  It's the younger years in Lincoln's life which I found most entertaining, the years in which he dedicated his time to hunting vampires.  The climatic scene has Lincoln fighting vampires at the ripe age of 50, which I found unrealistic, since the vampires have greater strength, agility, and can even render themselves invisible.  Mortal humans don't have a fighting chance, but alas, it's fiction, and to maintain historical accuracy, Lincoln lived to save the day and to see the end of slavery.  The unrealistic aspect of this film was forgiveable and I could see past that, but what I couldn't get past was the look of the vampires.  They were rather pathetic, lacking in charm or lethal-ness.  Like some old horror film, the vampires did nothing more than spring out their fangs into the camera and disappeared on occasion like old-fashioned magic tricks.  Poor design and poor execution made this film a perfect example of an entertaining book adapted gone south.

My rating: 2 out of 5

October 19, 2012

Prometheus (2012)

When it's over, Ridley Scott's prequel to Alien (1979) didn't feel like a prequel at all.  After a group of researchers discover a clue to the origins of man, an exploration team is assembled by the Weyland Corporation to travel to a distant planet, where the origins of man may actually be the death of mankind. The final scene had some elements of Alien, but a few seconds doesn't justify the term prequel.  I wanted to embrace this film, because I am such a huge fan of the Alien franchise, but after seeing it twice, I still can't be persuaded to like it. Devoid of suspense and build up, this film just wasn't memorable, and it didn't make a lasting impression. I think the look of the film was fantastic, and I especially thought the technological props used within the film was impressive.  In particular, the 3D mapping balls and the full body surgical bed.  I remember these two elements the most, which says a lot for the look of the film, but not much for the story or characters.  I thought Noomi Rapace was great in the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), but in Prometheus, she seemed out of place as Elizabeth Shaw, the head researcher.  Charlize Theron's portrayal of Captain Meredith Vickers was so rigid, it was hard to like the woman and impossible to care about what happens to her. Michael Fassbender made a decent android, but can't compete with Bishop's likability. Guy Pierce as Peter Weylan was old and downright boring.  These are all wonderful actors, and I don't think it was a lack of talent that made their characters less than engaging, but a lack of a good script.  I kept looking for clues to the origins of Alien, some tidbits of info that would connect the dots from what I already knew about the Alien universe.  To my dismay and disappointment, I got four hours and eight minutes (I've seen it twice) of wonderful cinematography, introductions to some cool devices, and a lot of unanswered questions, such as, how does a squid like creature become and create the iconic alien we know so well?

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

Expendables 2 (2012)

When it's over, don't expect much.  My advice would be to go into this film with low expectations. The marketing behind this film are the actors and nothing else.  Go see this film for the opportunity to see all the notable action stars of the 80's come together in one film. The old school action dudes may have inherited some wrinkles, but they're still in amazing shape, and they still know how to rock and roll with bigger guns, bigger knives, and bigger egos.  Too bad the storyline is small in comparison.  There are plenty of famous quips from the films that made the actors famous, particularly quotes from Arnold Schwarzenegger and even a couple from Die Hard (1988) exchanged between Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis.  Chuck Norris was a surprise, and the inclusion of Jean Claude Van Damme was a fitting villain up against Sylvester Stallone.  Liam Hemsworth was a pleasing new face, and even though Jason Statham wasn't an action hero in the 80's, he bonded perfectly with the boys.  Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Randy Couture, and Terry Crews all return for another round of badass destruction.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

October 12, 2012

Unthinkable (2010)

When it's over, all the unpleasantness is worth it.  Here is the storyline, one victim (Michael Sheen) accused of being a terrorist; one interrogator (Samuel L. Jackson) willing to use any means to get answers;  one FBI agent (Carrie-Anne Moss) who still believes in human rights; and three nuclear weapons ready to detonate.  Unthinkable examines the fine line between right and wrong, on the way the government interrogates terrorists. It's not only about the methods, but also the ethics involved.  In many ways, this film is a psychological thriller, in that torture is played out in the mind. The use of innocents to force an end result is both mentally violent as well as physically violent. The violence inflicted on the victim includes blood, but surprisingly, very little is shown, but less can be more, as some of the violence is implied.  Watching, I knew exactly what was being done, and not seeing it was just as effective, if not more effective, than having seen the actual act.  For example, there are scenes that involve removing body parts (and I won't say what parts). I know it was going to happen at any second, and when it does, the scene is edited so that you only see the reaction from the victim, which is very effective in prompting graphic images from my own imagination.  Some scenes of violence were unexpected, and that's a bonus for this film, because it offered a greater level of uncertainty as to just what is considered "unthinkable" when it comes to torture, when it comes to getting answers.  I found this film intriguing and stimulating, prompting me to question its contents long after the credits roll.  It's not the violence that makes this film work, but how the violence affects the characters.  Solid performances from Jackson and Moss, played out with intensity and realism.  Sheen was amazing.  His ability to make me care and despise him all in one breath makes him a force to be reckoned with. 

My rating: 4 out of 5


The Bourne Legacy (2012)

When it’s over, I liked Jeremy Renner; I like Rachel Weisz; I liked the subtle romantic relationship between the their two characters, but I didn't like the story. I don’t think The Bourne Legacy had the quality of writing as did the original Jason Bourne trilogy. It wasn't as smart, not as intelligent.  It lacked mystery, intrigue, and meaningful characters. The film's flaws were camouflaged within the action. There were definitely some eye gluing action sequences in Legacy, including the scene on the rooftops and the motorcycle chase scene at the end.  In mentioning the motorcycle scene, I have to point out my disappointment in the Asian assassin whose role seemed important enough, until he was suddenly written out, without any substantial physical contact with Renner's character, Aaron Cross, the rogue agent who is being hunted by the US government.  Surely, I thought the two would duke it out.  After all, it only made sense, since the assassin had been chasing Cross for most of the later part of the film. Despite negative opinions from Bourne fans of the original trilogy, I thought the producers managed to successfully create a spin-off with Renner at the forefront. Within the film, there were a lot of references to Jason Bourne and the government’s invasive attempts at finding Bourne. These mini scenes offered a smart transition from one series of stories (the Bourne trilogy) to a new offspring of story lines, including this one in which Cross discovers he no longer wants to be a lab rat for the government.  However, his dependency on the government's drugs make him seek out Dr. Marta Shearing (Weisz) for answers to his medical condition. The whole science fiction behind the green and blue pills were never fully developed, and frankly, I thought the pills were rather silly.  Why pills?  Why not injections?  

My rating: 3 out of 5


October 6, 2012

Savages (2012)

When it's over, it's everything I would expect from Oliver Stone - sex, violence, drugs, and peculiar characters.  The first thing that intrigued me about the film was the title.  As silly as that sounds, it made me look twice. The story was straightforward and included plenty of recycled cliches, but that didn't stop me from seeing the film. In fact, it only piqued my curiosity further.  After all, it's an Oliver Stone film, and I wanted to see how Stone would incorporate the title with the contents of his film.  For me, the title, Savages, was really a metaphor of how we see others, and ironically, there's a bit of savagery in all of us, in all the characters, coming out in varying ways. Despite all the bashing this film received, I liked it.  I liked the characterization of the male leads.  The men shared the same lifestyle, but held opposite views on life's philosophy.  Again, showing that opposites do attract, and the underlying conflict between the men played off well.  I liked the idea of having a woman as head of a Mexican cartel.  It can't be easy to pull off ruthlessness and motherly love in one breath and Salma Hayek did it so well.  After a break from the silver screen, Benicio Del Toro returned with a vengence.  His portrayal of a greasy Mexican cartel henchman showed that he still had the acting chops that made him so memorable in Traffic (2000).  Ben and Chon (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Taylor Kitsch) are best friends.  They share the same girlfriend, O (Blake Lively), and a successful business selling marijuana.  When the Mexican Cartel wants in, but the boys want out, the head of the cartel (Hayek) takes O hostage, forcing the boys to extreme measures in order to get their girl back.  The film felt like a Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino joint venture, but the only two things this film had in common with the two directors were the cast - John Travolta and Hayek - and the style. Instead of reserving an alternate ending for DVD release, Stone incorporated two endings back to back in the film.  I would have preferred the first ending before Stone did a Tarantino 360.  I thought the first ending was a justified ending and suited the characters and circumstances.  The second ending was too soft, too unsatisfying after the long rough ride.  I thought the characters were well casted, and the performances were all solid.  However, Lively was an exception.  She certainly looked the part, but didn't make a lasting impression.  Either her character was badly written or Lively couldn't deliver in the tough girl category .  O came off as a needy female character who relied on the men in her life for fulfillment.   Next to Hayek's tigress performance, Lively was a kitten.

My rating: 4 out of 5

October 5, 2012

Safe (2012)

When it's over, what do you get when you mix the Russian mob, the Chinese triad, and the NYPD?  A lot of flying bullets and execution style killings.  Jason Statham corners the action market once again as a rebel without a cause, who finds a cause in an 11 year old Chinese girl whose memory holds a numerical code to unlock a safe worth millions.  Luke (Statham) is an ex-cop on the verge of suicide when he meets Mei (Catherine Chan), who offers him a second chance at life.  Together, they take on the three factions, including some dirty cops from Luke's old precinct.  The storyline plays like an old record, predictable to the end.  I knew from the get go who was going to die and who would come out on top in the end.  After all, it's a Jason Statham film, patented to the specifications that made him so successful as an action hero.  I've come to expect him to kick some serious butt without breaking a sweat.  And style. He does everything with style – from his martial arts moves to pulling the trigger.  The choreography of the shoot-outs were impressive, reminding me of gritty cop films from the 80's, to the likes of To Live and Die in LA (1985). Safe didn't have any bells and whistles, no elaborate stunt scenes, but it did have focus, and for that, I thoroughly enjoyed this shoot 'em up flick. The film tightly converged four stories into one, with Mei as the centerpiece. Where the film lacked in character development, it made up in momentum as each story came together in layers, leaving no loose ends, building up to the climax.  However, don't expect a huge hand-to-hand combat scene in the end, because it doesn't happen. But, frown not, there's plenty of Statham action throughout the film. There's no confusion in the end, and all players get what they deserve (living or dead),  offering closure to the story along with great entertainment value.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5


Magic Mike (2012)

When it's over, there's no confusion to why female audiences flocked to see this film.  However, I don't think this film should be labelled as just for women as I think there's something for both genders. Women may be attracted to the film for its visuals, while men will find the stories happening off-stage relatable to their own lives - especially the ideas of what defines success.  The catchy music, the actors, the dance routines, and the costumes (or lack of) make Magic Mike a variety venue played out on the big screen as a long strip tease, giving viewers a substitute for the real deal.  The key word is substitute, and it's a good one at that.  Director Steven Sodenberg does a commendable job spotlighting the physical life of a male stripper, but falls short in telling the emotional side of the profession.  I mean, are all male strippers that shallow? That's the impression I got from the film.  Sodenberg tries to bring substance to Mike by showing the character's struggle with whether he should remain a stripper, while his personal dreams grow further away. The character's re-evaluation tells me that Sodenberg's on the right track and should have developed that aspect of the story with more care, instead of spending so much screen time on the stripping scenes.  Notable performances included onscreen siblings Alex Pettyfer and Cody Horn, who both really embodied the dramatic side of their characters - Pettyfer going from innocent to addict and Horn as the older sister that watches her brother get sucked into the life of easy money, women, and drugs.  Matthew McConaughey is simply a hoot to watch.  His charisma explodes on screen and steals the show.  Lastly, Channing Tatum is Magic Mike.  His sculpted physique and great dancing abilities are great to watch, but he still can't sell himself as a dramatic actor. I found myself wanting to care for his character, but without cause and reason to do so. Overall, entertaining film, but pointless.

My rating: 3 out of 5