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.

March 29, 2013

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)

When it's over, there's plenty of action, but not much story. All blood and guts, but no substance. In this fairy tale twist, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) have grown up to become bounty hunters. When they take on a job to rid a town of its witches and rescue the town's kidnapped children, they learn secrets about their past from an evil witch (Famke Janssen), who they must defeat. I like Renner and Arterton as actors, just not as Hansel and Gretel. With all the wannabe toughness from both its leading characters, the film simply feels fake. I was so looking forward to seeing this film, and afterwards, I felt deflated, disappointed by how hard it was trying to be tongue in cheek when all it really had to do was tell the story straight. The story allows for too much convenience. Everything happens in and around walking distance from the town the siblings are protecting. For example, Hansel and Gretel just happen to stumble upon their childhood home and the witch's house, the very candied house they were held captive as children. If the filmmakers are going to fracture the fairy tale, I think they should do it with some creativity, like diversifying the locations and authenticate the time and place with proper accents. Arterton is English, but completely lost her accent. I think her accent would have added more to her character. Renner is a solid actor, and he could easily have taken on a European accent. The role of the white witch, Mina (Pihla Viitala), is pointless, and could have easily been cut. And, the biggest fault to this film involves Gretel. (Spoiler alert) When Gretel finds out she is a white witch, the film should have shown how she harnesses her new found powers. This would have definitely taken the film to a new level. After all, if the filmmakers are going to tell us something as important as Gretel being a witch, they should allow the viewer to see her in action using witch powers. A battle between witches is something I would have liked to see. 

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

Jack the Giant Slayer - 3D (2013)

When it's over, Fee Fye Foe Fumm, the giants, here they come. The giants get a bad wrap. They're unmannerly, uncivilized, and ill-tempered, and the kids will love their grossly bad habits, including their booger-eating and flatulent ways. But despite their unruly persona, they are the main attraction in this fractured fairy tale about a farm boy named Jack (Nicholas Hoult), who accidentally opens the doorway between two worlds. The special effects on the giants are wonderful  and believable in a mythical sort of way. I like how each giant has their own distinct personality, making them relatable on a human level despite their size and barbarity. There is a princess, a king, knights, and a love story that inevitably ends happily every after. There isn't much character development, but that doesn't seem to hurt the overall entertainment value. The story offers enough info about each character, including the giants, for the viewer to know who represents what in the context of the story, such as the comic relief, the baddie who gets what he deserves, the king's loyal subject, the defiant one, the trader, the ambitious one,  etc. It is standard fairy tale fare, where the story is completely linear and requires no deep pondering. There is plenty of action to propel the story forward, while amassing a large body count, including humans being eaten, but all of it is shown without any graphic detail or blood. I would consider this a family adventure film, but do not recommend it for very young viewers.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5  

A Knight's Tale (2001)

When it's over, one of the most creative approaches to telling a story in the middle ages. It didn't have the grand display as big-budget period films, but it had originality, making this film timeless. A young peasant squire (Heath Ledger) impersonates a knight in order to fulfill his dream of jousting in tournaments. Told through a select roster of music and unique costumes, A Knight's Tale seemed strange at first, but quickly wins you over. The soundtrack played a huge role in the film's overall appeal. I mean, it was hard to dismiss such songs like David Bowie's "Golden Years," or Queen's "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions," and AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long." These songs, combined with jousting and plenty of anachronisms, made the film feel like a rock and roll fable. Ledger embodied all the characteristics his character demanded - innocence, courage, passion, and ambition.  I would consider this his breakout role, establishing his marketability in Hollywood. His early death was unfortunate, but he leaves behind a legacy of memorable performances, including Joker, Ennis Del Mar (Brokeback Mountain - 2005), Gabriel Martin (The Patriot - 2000), and Sonny Grotowski (Monster's Ball - 2001).

My rating: 4 out of 5

March 21, 2013

End of Watch (2012)

When it's over, Writer/Director David Ayer (Harsh Times, Training Day, Dark Blue) holds me spellbound, yet again. End of Watch lingers long after the credits roll. Brian (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike (Michael Pena) are two partners, who are like brothers, patrolling the mean streets of South Central, Los Angeles. When they accidentally disrupt the business of a Mexican cartel, they become targets. Gyllenhaal and Pena are amazingly believable, due more to talent than casting. Their chemistry is palpable. I completely believe they are the best of friends. The film is shot in documentary style, which adds to the effectiveness of the daily grind that the two men endure. The jerky camera movements and odd angles give the viewer a sense of being right there, in the moment, with the two men, whether it's in their patrol cars, in the locker room, or at a crime scene. Every scene just pulls me in, and I want to know more. Ayer's story is fantastic, tightly written and expertly told. I love the dialogue, because it captures the way people communicate - the street lingo, cop jargon, and F bombs - all contribute to the sculpting of a place, a time, and a certain attitude among the characters. No matter how frantic the scenes become, the story stays on target, always coming back to the two best friends.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5

Warm Bodies (2013)

When it's over, cute, sweet, warm and fuzzy. These are the words that best describe the feelings I got from watching Warm Bodies. When R (Nicholas Hoult), the zombie, meets Julie (Theresa Palmer), the human, during a feeding frenzy, R's need to protect Julie starts a chain of events, which offers humanity a second chance. The film had wit and charm, and much of that manifested through R's thoughts and Hoult's portrayal of a lonely corpse longing for companionship. The idea of a zombie love story seemed ridiculous, but weeks prior to the film's release, my feelings toward  it changed. I was actually wondering how the story would evolve. The concept became intriguing. I haven't read Issac Marion's book, which the film was based on, but I think Marion was quite smart when he used zombies as a metaphor for people with illnesses in our present day. The idea of a cure deriving from something as basic as friendship and understanding was a unique approach at curing the zombie plague as well as a direct commentary on our society's stigma on illnesses. Definitely, the intelligence of the story kept me interested as I kept finding parallels between the film and real life. There were essentially three groups of characters - the Bonies (in relation to the real world - the crazies who have completely lost their grounding in society), the Corpses (in relation to the real world - the people with illnesses who just want to be understood) and the Humans (in relation to the real world - the paranoid and closed minded people who fear what they don't understand). Overall, I found the film entertaining, fresh, and insightful. I wish there was more back story on the characters, especially the Bonies and what triggered them to become Bonies. The unexpected popularity of Warm Bodies has prompted Marion to start writing a prequel and a sequel, which will answer questions about the origins of the plague and the future of mankind. 

My rating: 3.5 our of 5

Seeking Justice (2011)

When it's over, Seeking Justice is Death Wish (1974) with a conscience. Nicholas Cage stars as Will Gerard, a man set on vengeance when his wife (January Jones) is assaulted.Will enlists the help of Simon (Guy Pierce), a member of a vigilante group, to kill the offender.In return, Will is required to perform certain favors.What begins as a decision made out of anger and pain turns into a fight for his life as one double-cross leads to another. There are two aspects going for this film - a good cast and a straightforward story that moves quickly without confusing the viewer. Cage surprises me with a solid performance, leading me to believe he still has what it takes to keep the audience engaged.  Jones is believable as the paranoid wife, and Pierce continues to earn an "A" in his choice of "baddie" roles. I like how the film tackles the issues of vigilante justice and the consequences of taking the law into one's own hands without getting philosophical. After all, the film is an action thriller, not an Oscar contender. The story flows nicely with just the right amount of drama and action.  It does not lag or stagnate, but pushes forward at an escalating pace. 

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

March 15, 2013

Batman: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

When it's over, this film was a fitting end to a very successful franchise. Director Christopher Nolan finishes the trilogy with Batman (Christian Bale) returning to the streets after an eight year absence to stop a terrorist (Tom Hardy) from destroying Gotham City. What I liked most about this film was Batman's vulnerability. I felt Batman was more "human" in this film than the others, because the two personalities - Bruce Wayne and Batman - became one, as a result of more characters knowing the man's "alter" identities. In comparison to the previous two films, this film showed the caped crusader's need for help in the most significant way. There were many scenes which reinforced Batman's knowledge that he was unable to defeat evil alone nor would he be able to save Gotham City single-handed. These scenes opened the door for him to trust others, and in return, garnered him allies and betrayals. Such scenes included ones with the Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), Detective Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and at the end, with Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the GCPD. Although Alfred (Michael Caine) had little screen time, his short scenes continued to serve as a torchlight for Bruce/Batman. Aside from the massive budget, solid cast, and cool Bat toys, this third installment was not as well put together as its predecessors. Too many cheesy lines, some bland acting from Marion Cotillard, and poorly choreographed fight sequences downgraded the quality of the overall film. I thought Bane was a worthy adversary for Batman, but muffled dialogue made it difficult for me to get into his character. Also, the story doesn't really explain (it only touches on) what happened to Bane and why the mask. To appreciate the villain, I really needed to understand Bane as an individual. Maybe lengthier flashback scenes with Bane in the prison would have helped to foster his back-story. TDKR may not be my favorite in the trilogy, but it was an important story, which closes the Nolan-Bale venture by connecting all the dots from the previous films. 

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

When it's over, this Disney film is a kid's dream come true, with a cherry on top. It is Toy Story meets Speed Racer in Candyland. Bad Guy Ralph (John C. Reilly) longs to be a Good Guy and be accepted among his peers, so he sets out to claim the Hero Metal from a nearby first person shooter game. But, not everything goes as planned, and Ralph ends up causing havoc in and among the games in the arcade he lives in. The film has a good mix of jokes, characters, and eye candy (literally) to satiate all ages and gaming skill levels. But, you don't have to be a gamer to enjoy this film.  There are enough inferences and visuals to popular games, past and present, to draw you into the story and its characters. Disney has done something incredibly smart by telling a simple story about the true meaning of being a Good Guy in a setting where adults and kids know so well. I really like the way modern day issues of bullying and self-worth are highlighted in the film with Venellope (Sarah Silverman), a glitch in the game Sugar Rush, representing the outcast, and the townspeople of the game representing the bullies. Kids may not get this right off the first lick of their lollipop, but I think, subconsciously, they do. In addition, self-worth/self-image is such a common theme in children's films, that it's fresh to see it approached in this manner, where Ralph believes his self-worth lies in a military metal, but learns that it really lies within himself and the decisions he makes. Intelligently written and a treat for every age.

My rating: 4 out of 5

March 7, 2013

I Am Legend (2007)

When it's over, this is my second favorite zombie/undead film to date, just behind 28 Days Later (2002). Robert Neville (Will Smith) is the sole survivor of a man-made plague that has killed almost all of humanity. He struggles to find a cure to reverse the monstrous effects it has on its victims, known as Dark Seekers, by using his immune blood. I have seen both the theatrical and extended endings. The extended version offers a more developed story about the Dark Seekers and their possible intelligence. The theatrical ending is heroic and makes for good ticket sales. Personally, I prefer the extended version. Both versions have the butterfly smeared in blood on the lab glass, and the extended version explains the meaning behind this symbol.  If you didn't notice the butterfly, watch it again. It shows up briefly at the end when the Dark Seekers try to break into the lab, where Neville, Anna, and Ethan are trapped. Most of the film is shot without words as the story follows Neville on his daily routine of scavenging, working on a cure, and trying to search for possible survivors. The silence, solitude, and lack of characters really work in the film's favor, and the viewer is pulled into the solitary life Neville leads and the regiment he follows to stay sane. Smith does a fantastic job carrying the film. I am completely drawn into his character. Also, I cannot forget Sam (short for Samantha). She is Neville's loyal German Shepard who delivers a heartfelt co-starring performance. For readers who have seen the film, you will most likely understand when I say, Sam was the final straw for Neville. I like Legend most for its deviation from the stereotypical zombie traits. The Dark Seekers are fast, smart, and strong, making them a worthy adversary for man. The 1954 horror book by Richard Matheson with the same title and for which the film is based on is on my list to read, as I am curious to see how accurate the film is to the book. 

My rating: 4.5 out of 5