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.

February 28, 2013

Modra (Canada - 2010)

When it's over, this was surprisingly good. Lina (Hallie Switzer) and Leco (Alexander Gammal) are two teenagers who travel to the small town of Modra, Slovakia, to visit Lina's extended family. On their week long journey, they discover feelings for each other and learn a few things about themselves. This film was very much a coming-of-age slash docu-drama that begins in Toronto, Canada and ends in Europe. It explored the emotional obstacles adolescents face as they encroach on adulthood. There was angst, resentment, and lots of hurt that was expressed with great honesty by Lina and Leco. I was surprised by the casting of Switzer and Gammal, because they deviate from the typical Hollywood teen stereotype. Then, I realized I was not watching a Hollywood film, but an indie flick produced, directed, and written by award-winning filmmaker, Ingrid Veninger. Gone was the skinny girl in designer name clothes; and gone was the buffed-up jock who drives a muscle car. Instead, the film offered actors who looked like real people, which immediately made me identify with them. Another aspect I liked about the film was the setting. I felt transported to the small town of Modra, without having left my seat. The film captured the people and customs with genuine humbleness without exploiting them. The cinematography was picturesque, but still captured the story's intimacy about a family and two classmates who find each other and themselves. 

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

Looper (2012)

When it's over, Looper doesn't completely loop me in. A Looper is a hired gunman who kills targets sent from the future (2074) by the mob into the present (2044). Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is such a killer and has made a profitable living killing these blindfolded time travelers. However, when he fails to pull the trigger on his future self (Bruce Willis), he becomes the hunted and must find the strength to pull the trigger on himself. Good make up. Good performances. Good story premise, because it had entertainment value, even though it was not plausible. However, a loose script and a less than satisfying ending made the film a somewhat disappointment. Spoiler alert. Joe's final decision at the end to "set things right" would be more believable if the script had allowed more build up to this decision. I am referring to emotional build up. There are a few scenes which show Joe's change in heart, but the scenes have no emotional value that hooked me in to make me care, and ultimately believe in his actions at the end. This is not to say Gordon-Levitt failed to convey emotion. In fact, he offered a solid performance. It was more that the script lacked emotional awareness. Also, I didn't think Joe needed to end things the way he did. He could have easily pulled the trigger on his older self to prevent the possible negative future. If you have not seen the film, this may sound ambiguous, but once you see the film, you will know what I am referring to. Also, I think the introduction of telekinetic powers was interesting and would have made for a good plot twist if the story had weaved the powers parallel to the time travel story, instead of creating its own path. For example, the script could have included people with such powers in 2074, especially show Cid (Pierce Gagnon) as an adult, who supposedly takes control over the mob causing the chain of events leading to Joe's older self returning to 2044. Finally, the gun play looked sloppy. One-on-one shoot outs were good, because it had that feeling of deliberateness. But, multiple shoot-outs were poorly choreographed, making the scenes look sloppy. Again, I think the story is clever and worth watching. I just wish the story was fused together better.

My rating: 3 out of 5

February 22, 2013

The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012)

When it’s over, this is a solid family film. It will certainly strike a strong cord with families who are looking to adopt children. It has meaningful  messages, which children and adults can relate to, such as honesty, friendship, family, and making mistakes. Jim (Joel Edgerton) and Cindy Green (Jennifer Garner) are desperately trying to start a family, but when they are told they biologically cannot, the couple dreams about what their child would be like. One stormy night brings 10 year old Timothy (CJ Adams) into the Green’s life. The magic of this film lies in Adams’s performance. Adams captures Timothy’s innocence and bravery with the utmost charm and sincerity. Also, I like how the film comments on competitive parenting, when parents strive to get their children to out shine other children, which happens so often in real life and seldom featured in films. The film has serious undertones about parenting and peer pressure, but they are delivered in a way that is lighthearted, which allows younger audiences to connect more easily with the story and its characters. Inspirational. Moving. A lot of fun.

My rating: 4 out of 5

Life of Pi (2012)

When it's over, I gave up on the book by Yann Martel, but the film is something entirely different. After surviving a disaster at sea, Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) finds reason to live in the form of a tiger named Richard Parker. Director Ang Lee is the main reason I saw this film. Having been a fan of his work since Sense and Sensibility (1995), I knew Lee would be able to bring to life what I fail to imagine from the book. The grand visuals capture Pi's imagination and the enormity of his dangerous surrounding. The animal CGI is believable, and there are many moments when fake and real become undetectable, thanks to some skilled editing. A film like this could have easily become consumed by the CGI and special effects, but it did not. Lee stays focused on the relationship between Pi and Richard Parker and how their relationship builds on their need to survive. The themes of faith, survival, and hope are strong undercurrents throughout the film with each scene building on these traits. I can understand why many Canadian high schools require students to read the book, since the story offers a great deal of "food for thought" and group discussion. The story is narrated by Pi many years after his ordeal as a castaway at sea. He tells two stories, and I find myself wondering about the ending and questioning which story is actually true. Also, there are many meanings to what the tiger represents at the end of the film. The film does not offer an answer, but rather, allows each viewer to find their own conclusions. For me, I believe the first story is the true story (even though it is the unbelievable) and the tiger at the end represents that Pi no longer needs Richard Parker to survive. Unfortunately, I did not see the film in 3D, but wish I did.  Based on the 2D version, I can only imagine the awesomeness of some of the scenes, including the night scenes and scenes at sea. 

My rating: 4.5 out of 5



February 14, 2013

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

When it’s over, this coming of age film about adolescence and first loves is a must-see for Wes Anderson fans.  From the director of such films as Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), The Darjeeling Limited (2007), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), and The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), comes another quirky, off-beat story that is focused on two young lovers, Sam and Suzy (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward), who run away from home to be together. This sets off a massive search party by the occupants of a New England town, including Sam's scout captain (Edward Norton), Suzy's parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), and the local police captain (Bruce Willis). It's definitely a star-studded line-up, with newcomers Gilman and Hayward, who hold their own amidst a veteran cast. The writing is very good as it pays close attention to the nuances of each character. The soundtrack is a bonus, adding a mixture of military beats and 60’s pop, which fits right into the scenes.  I like the film, but have trouble connecting with its young characters. Perhaps, I forget what it was like to be 12 years old, and especially, imagine being 12 years old and in love in the 60’s.  As much as I like the design of the film, I did not embrace the functionality of it.  It did not capture my heart as it was intended, but the journey was certainly a unique experience. I praise Anderson for his vision, voice, and style.  

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

Django (2012)

When it’s over, Jamie Foxx roxxs as Django, the slave turned bounty hunter in this pre-Civil War flick about revenge, justice, and bodies for sale.  After being freed from slavery by Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz), Django vows to find his wife (Kerry Washington) and rescue her from bondage from a ruthless plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). This film is quintessentially Quentin Tarantino. It has all the trademarks – memorable characters, dark humor, great casting, stand out graphics, a well-chosen soundtrack, and plenty of violence. There are plenty of faces from the past that will make you say, “Who is that? I know that face.”  Actors include Don Johnson, James Remar, James Russo, Franco Nero, Tom Wopat, and Lee Horsley, who portray odd characters that amplify Tarantino’s dark humor.  Foxx, Waltz, and DiCaprio offer solid performances, representing three distinct classes – slaves, sympathizers, and slave masters. Samuel L. Jackson’s portrayal of the black man’s hypocrisy is grippingly real and, at times, disturbing. It is definitely his best performance since Pulp Fiction. There are many odd-ball moments, one in particular is the KKK Clan masks, which Tarantino includes to poke fun at the organization. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this film, despite the controversy surrounding the “n” word.  At first, it’s uncomfortable to hear, but the word quickly becomes ingrained into the dialogue.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5

February 7, 2013

The Hunter (Australia - 2011)

When it’s over, Willem Dafoe is Martin, a mercenary who has lived a solo life. He poses as a scientist when he takes on a job in the Tasmanian wilderness in hunt for the elusive Tasmanian Tiger, the last of its kind.  Accustomed to his solitary lifestyle, Martin struggles with his feelings for Lucy (Frances O’Conner) and her two children, Sass (Morgana Davies) and Bike (Finn Woodlock), the family who offers him lodging. What starts out as a hunt for an animal's DNA that may offer possible bio-weaponry turns into a soul searching journey of right and wrong. Based on the book by Julia Leigh, The Hunter is beautifully shot on location, offering viewers a sense of splendor, while capturing the harshness of the landscape, and metaphorically, the harshness of people. Dafoe is fantastic. He is completely believable as a man who embodies loneliness, regret, and a deep longing for things he does not feel he deserves. There are many holes unfilled in the plot, which hurts the story, but because the story focuses mainly on Martin’s journey, the holes seem small. I think more information about Red Leaf is necessary. This is the bio-tech firm that hires Martin, who represents the greed and villainy in the story. Also, I need to understand why Martin chooses such a solitary life. Did something happen in his past?  A flip through Leigh’s book may help. The ending is a surprise, and I do not want to spoil it for anyone who may want to see the film.  It is not the ending I had expected, but fitful and haunting. There are no bells and whistles in this film. No fancy special effects. No elaborate fight choreography. It’s man vs man.  

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

Texas Killing Fields (2011)

When it’s over, what a waste of talent. Sam Worthington and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are detectives working together to investigate a series of unsolved murders in the Texas Bayous. Jessica Chastain and Chloe Grace Moretz have supporting roles, but even their talents can’t stop the ax from coming down on this film. The film is filled with one-dimensional characters who have no motive nor backstory. By the end, I care nothing for the characters, and I am completely lost in the loosy-goosy script that can’t make up its mind on what it’s about. 

My rating: 2 out of 5