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.

January 26, 2013

Hotel Transylvania (2012)

When it's over, fluff overpowers the story. I liked the animation, the visual details, and the comedy, but too many "filler" scenes proved to hinder story development. In present day, monsters fear humans. Dracula's (Adam Sandler) secret resort for monsters becomes compromised when a human (Andy Samberg) stumbles upon the hotel and falls for his daughter (Selena Gomez). This film lacked wit and emotional punch.  It doesn't compare to films like, How to Train Your Dragon, Despicable Me, Up, Toy Story, and Ice Age, just to name a few. Those films engaged viewers of all ages, where this film did not.  Hotel Transylvania was the type of animated film that you enjoy at the moment and quickly forget afterwards. There were no memorable scenes and no memorable characters. The kids will definitely enjoy the slapstick and music, but for adults, there wasn't much intelligence in it for adults to embrace. But then again, this film wasn't geared to please the big people. My advice - don't expect too much and go with the flow. 

My rating: 3 out of 5

Dredd (2012)

When it's over, who is Dredd?  I know he is a veteran Judge, a law enforcement authority who serves as judge, jury, and executioner.  I know he is the best at his job and unwavering when it comes to passing judgment.  I know he has a dark past (most comic heroes do, plus there is half a sentence in the film that suggests this).  I don't read the Judge Dredd comics, so I cannot comment on how true the film is to the comics, but I can say that the film should have kept people like me in mind.  In 95 minutes, give me some character backstory; give me something "human" about Dredd, something I can identify with - perhaps a weakness, a habit, a fear? Set in a futuristic dystopian world where police officers are called Judges. Dredd (Karl Urban) teams up with a rookie (Olivia Thirlby) to destroy a gang producing the killer drug, SLO-MO. There is plenty of gratuitous violence, drug use, and F-bombs to earn its R rating. The violence paints a clear picture of the society Dredd lives in, which justifies his hardened nature. I like the veteran/rookie story and feel the relationship has the potential to balance their personalities and offer growth, which the film only scratches the surface of. Urban's performance carries the film, and without him, I would have rated this film much lower. He keeps me interested throughout. Because the audience never sees Dredd's complete face, everything is dependent on Urban utilizing the lower half of his face to communicate various emotions, from menace to pity to understanding. The film is stylish and has some original aspects done on a low-budgeted scale.  It reminds me a bit of Fifth Element meets Robo Cop, and definitely a better film than its predecessor, Sylvester Stallone's 1995 film, Judge Dredd.  

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

January 23, 2013

Cleanskin (United Kingdom -2012)

When it’s over, this is a controversial film, because it offers likability in a character who represents atrocity. It’s not your average terrorist bombing film.  There are two stories being weaved. Story 1: Ewan (Sean Bean) is a MI6 agent, who is assigned to eliminate, by any means, a British-born suicide bomber, Ash (Abhin Galeya), and his assailants. Story 2: Ash’s powerful feelings towards justice lands him in law school, but his brewing anger gets him recruited into a terrorist cell. The film shifts between the two stories a few times in the film and is distracting.  I understand the reasoning behind the need to tell Ash’s story, and that is what makes this film different than other terrorist thrillers.  The story humanizes Ash, so the viewer does not just see him as a killer, but also a man who is torn between his emotions - love, loyalty, guilt. That adds an interesting twist to the story. I likehow the violence has purpose. Instead of senseless killing and destruction, each act of violence is choreographed to a specific character.  This is a break from the common “shoot ‘em up” flicks, which seem to be flooding theatres. Bean is a pleasure to watch. He brings great intensity to this role, and it is easy to believe his character to be unflinching as well as remorseful. The ending is fitting and no stones are left unturned. 

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

January 16, 2013

Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010)

When it’s over, strangeness works.  The film beams with creativity.  In order to date Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the girl of his dreams, Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends. There is a stylish blend of kung fu, arcade games, and comic absurdities, which gives the film its likability.  It is hard not to appreciate the talent that goes into writing a love story that defy traditional storytelling. I like the comedy, the oddities, the effective editing format, and visual style, but I could not bring myself to love the film. The main reason, because Scott Pilgrim does not appeal to me, nor do I want to root for him. Cera is right on as a geek, but unconvincing as a man who has a slew of ex-girlfriends and who comes to admit his mistakes. I like the look of Ramona as a character, but find her lacking in personality.  The filmmakers could have made her edgier.  Perhaps, a girl with some sass and a sharp tongue, but who is also a softy in the game of love.

My rating: 3 out of 5

Jack Reacher (2012)

When it's over, I actually enjoyed this film. I went into the film half-hearted after disliking the film's trailer. I had a difficult time picturing Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher, an ex-military detective turned vigilante, the iconic character created by author Lee Child.  I judged prematurely, and am glad to be proved wrong. While investigating a case involving a military sniper (Joseph Sikora) who has allegedly shot five random victims, Jack Reacher uncovers a set-up that stems to government corruption. I liked the unraveling of the mystery and how the story was more about wit than brawn. No fancy gadgets adorned the sets. No elaborate wardrobe was worn by the protagonist. The film reminded me of an old school crime drama. There was plenty of action involving revved up car chases, fist fights, and gun play. Cruise appeared in excellent shape and fared well in his fight sequences. Not bad for a man who has turned 50 years old.  There wasn't any big holes in the plot left unfilled and just enough character development to help me follow the story. Rosamund Pike played the love interest, but unfortunately, the relationship didn't go beyond a few "almost" kissing moments. Too bad. One kiss would have helped secure more female fans, since the film was targeted for male audiences.  

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5

January 11, 2013

Lawless (2012)

When it's over, Lawless is based on the true story of the three Bondurant brothers, who were bootleggers in Franklin County, Virginia, during the depression-era. Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy), and Howard (Jason Clarke) stake a local monopoly selling moonshine, but when competition elbows in, including a crooked deputy (Guy Pierce), the family business gets bloody messy. The problem with this film was chemistry between the brothers. There wasn't any. The brothers shared no physical similarities, not even their hair color. There were a lot of scenes with the brothers, but none of them conveyed the strength of brotherhood. Frankly, I didn't really care for either Jack or Howard. The filmmakers tried to achieve brotherly camaraderie in the final scene, but without a solid chemistry build-up, the scene doesn't work on an emotional level and served only to offer a conclusion to the story. Their personalities were extreme opposites. I liked that aspect, and felt the film should have exploited that aspect more aggressively.  LaBeouf didn't look the part of a southern boy, nor was his character the right voice to narrate the story. He was not convincing as the youngest brother who goes from timid to proving his worth.  I think I would be more interested in seeing the story unfold through Howard's view as he goes from reckless drunk to sober. I liked Hardy as the oldest brother.  He pulled off the demeanor, the swagger, and the unspoken authority people feared about Forrest. The love story between Forrest and Maggie (Jessica Chastain) was an effective inclusion as a side story. It showed a softer side to Forrest and offered a female perspective on the hardships of the era. Despite the film's shortcomings, I still enjoyed the film, thanks to Hardy's, Chastain's, and Pierce's performances.   
My rating: 3.5 out of 5

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

When it's over, the western genre is not dead.  Based on the original 1957 version, Christian Bale and Russell Crowe fill the boots of Van Heflin and Glenn Ford.  Bale and Crowe are well casted and make worthy  adversaries. The scenes between the two rivals are some of the film's best as they tease, taunt, and reveal their true colors.  Bale breathes life into Dan Evans, a crippled rancher desperate to keep his land from falling into the hands of wealthy railroad tycoons. When notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe) is caught, Evans is offered enough money to pay his debts if he helps deliver Wade to the town of Contention. What I like most about this film is how the main characters come full circle, how Evans regains his manhood and how Wade demonstrates some good in his complete evilness.  This is a road trip film, where a lot can happen between point A and point B, where the shift between good guy bad guy becomes clouded. The side story between father and son (Logan Lerman) helps to reinforce Evans's need to prove his self-worth, while providing a son's coming of age story. I have seen Lerman in various rolls through the years, and feel his portrayal as William, the son, to be his best to date. 

My rating: 4 out of 5

January 5, 2013

Woodlanders (1997 )

When it’s over, not one of the better film adaptations of Thomas Hardy’s tragic story of love and loss. Set in 19th centuryrural England, childhood sweethearts, Giles and Grace (Rufus Sewell and Emily Woof) vow to love each other and marry. Giles promises to wait for Grace when she goes abroad for schooling. Upon her return, Grace is persuaded by her father to marry a young doctor. This decision sets in motion the tragedy that befalls both characters.  This complex story cannot be told in just over 90 minutes, and that is the tragedy of this film. There simply is not enough time for me to get to know the characters and to be pulled in by their suffering. Many of Hardy’s book to film adaptations have run over three hours, so why didn’t Woodlanders get the same treatment? It’s like adapting a Charles Dickens’s book into a 90 minute film. Impossible – to capture the essence of the characters.

My rating: 2 out of 5

The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey (3D - 2012)

When it's over, Peter Jackson does not disappoint. The people of Middle Earth are in  capable hands.  Jackson is the perfect director, if not, only director who can truly bring the story of Bilbo Baggins and the origins of the ring to life. Running at almost three hours, each character was introduced with care and each setting was meticulously dressed to serve the scene and to develop the characters (ex: Bilbo's home, the Goblins' underworld, and the Dwarves' kingdom).  Jackson took great care in remaining faithful to J.R.R Tolkien's middle earth classic about a reluctant Hobbit (Martin Freeman) who goes on a journey to help the Dwarves reclaim their home. The great thing about Jackson was that he didn't try to re-invent Tolkien's story.  He gave imaginative visuals to the complex book narrative.  He tied this film expertly to the Lord of the Rings trilogy through the use of colors, music, cinematography, and set design.  I felt as if The Hobbit was filmed concurrently with LOTR.  It was that rich in details, especially in scenes of Rivendell and The Shire. There were many familiar faces including, Gollum, Galadriel, Elrond, Gandalf, Saruman, and Frodo; plus new faces, notably, Richard Armitage as Thorian, the Dwarf warrior.  I can't wait for the follow up film, due out Dec. 2013.  

My rating: 5 out of 5