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.

April 26, 2013

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

When it's over, a true classic. I have not seen this film since childhood, and when the opportunity came to catch the film on the big screen digitally remastered, I couldn't pass it up. When Dorothy (Judy Garland) is caught in a tornado, she is sent to the magical land of Oz where only a great wizard can return her home to Kansas. On her journey, she meets the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, witches, and an array of colorful characters. Color truly enhances the story, and I don't mean the transition from black and white to color as the story develops (that is effective, too). The use of color in the special effects, in particular red, green, and gold, add so much to the wonderment of the fanciful characters and settings in a place that existed in Dorothy's mind. The concept of friendship, courage, love, and a desire to belong is as timeless as the characters that envelope them. Watching this film again after so many years reminds me of how this simple story can still make a lasting impact, because the characters of 1939 resonates with characters of today. The hairstyles and clothes may have changed, but the inner workings of people haven't. Even though the backdrop may be in a fantastical world, the story still lies with human needs. Through its imaginative set design, costumes, and memorable songs, The Wizard of Oz remains great and powerful.

My rating: 5 out of 5

Oz The Great and Powerful (3D - 2013)

When it's over, the land of Oz looks great and powerful. When circus magician Oscar "Oz" Diggs (James Franco) gets caught in a tornado, he finds himself swept to an enchanted land where plants and animals talk.  He soon finds that the land of the whimsical is threatened by an evil witch, only he can destroy, according to an ancient prophecy. I liked this prequel to the classic 1939 Wizard of Oz, which has long been one of my childhood favorites. Disney has done an honorable job in capturing Oz before Dorothy's arrival. With added characters, plus intros to characters that will be prominent in Wizard, the film connected the dots creatively. The supporting cast of witches (Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis) served to be good support, but it really was Franco headlining the show. He was believable, likable, and carried a sense of mischief that made the film fun and entertaining. My only complaint about the film was the lack of a great and powerful story, where Oscar really grows into the great and powerful king of Oz. I did not think Oscar's story arc was that compelling. He learns to be selfless and responsible, but I was hoping for something greater. Perhaps overcoming a fear (ei: people, the dark) and maybe showing him fail as a result of his faults, so he can rise again to earn his place as king of Oz. Underneath all the fantastic visuals, there wasn't a human story I could completely relate to. The 3D visuals make for an entertaining journey to Oz, but the story falls short of classic.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

April 18, 2013

Rise of the Guardians (2012)

When it’s over, a fresh blend of fantasy/mythical characters and superhero power. The immortal guardians join forces to stop the evil spirit, Pitch Black (Jude Law), from taking over the earth by inflicting total fear in the hearts and minds of children. Children will delight in the surprising way their favorite heroes  are portrayed in a way they never expected. Jack Frost (Chris Pine) may be cold Old Man Winter in pint form, but he has a big warm heart. Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin) is big and round, but he also has a mean tattoo, a Russian accent, and swings a sword. The Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) isn’t all cuddles, but an Australian warrior with a boomerang. The Sandman isn’t just a deliverer of good dreams, but possesses great power. The Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) is portrayed as part hummingbird, and does not travel the world alone. She is aided by her fairies, who are all extensions of herself. There is so much creativity in this film, giving faces and personalities to characters we know so well, but seldom see onscreen. Santa Claus is the exception. Even though we have seen many versions of Santa Claus, this version is the boldest and most unexpected. The film offers plenty of gags, mostly from Santa’s little Elves and the mighty Yetis, who surprisingly, also work for Santa. Great fun for all ages!

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

April 12, 2013

I Melt With You (2011)

When it's over, downward spiral best described this film. I found it dark and disturbing, but pointless. The film was divided in two parts. The first part was about drugs and getting high. The second part was about suicide, to do or not to do. It was well photographed, and the performances were top-notch, but all of that was wasted on a story that doesn't really deliver a meaningful message. The message I got was that suicide is the answer if your life is spiraling downwards. Come on...really? I have nothing against films that depict reality in a gruesome manner, but to do it in a way that offers no sense of hope or self-realization just doesn't appeal to me. I don't feel I've missed the point of the film. In fact, digging deeper into the plot, I got the mid-life crisis thing; I got the "I've made mistakes" thing; I got the 'keep your promise' thing, but what I didn't get was the necessity to glamorize or glorify the characters' reckless actions. I spent two hours watching four 40-something best friends (Thomas Jane, Jeremy Piven, Rob Lowe, Christian McKay) on an annual reunion drown themselves into oblivion with drugs, alcohol, self-pity, and a promise they made decades earlier. I struggled with the first half as I patiently watched what felt like an endless punk music video. When the music subsided, the characters were still stoned, but the story finally began to take form. An hour into the film was simply too long to set up a first act. There was a good soundtrack, but over amplified. I think Director Mark Pellington intended for the music to represent the clutter and disillusionment in characters' minds, which was effective, but too much just became noise. Again, the performances were great, as I really believed the four men were being sucked into their own black holes. The character back stories were well presented, and I got a sense of who they were and why they felt as if they were crashing. The film made the characters  into martyrs, (when what they really were was cowards) and that sends a negative message, even though it may mirror real life. 

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

Identity Thief (2013)

When it's over, is Jason Bateman the new "it" guy in adult comedy? Based on his track record, I think so. I like Bateman, because he pulls off "the average guy" effortlessly. His characters are not totally hot, nor are they complete losers. They are regular guys who end up getting into irregular situations. In Identity Thief, Sandy Patterson (Bateman) travels from Denver to Miami to find the woman (Melissa McCarthy) who has stolen his identity, in hopes of protecting his family and saving his career. The premise sounds dramatic, but it's all comedy. McCarthy keeps the laughs coming with her sassy, no frills approach to poking fun at herself. The two Sandys have good comedic timing, plus a love/hate chemistry that works. The film is unrealistic and improbable, but it's a comedy, so I don't take it too seriously. To be completely honest, I went into this film blindly and walked away with some good laughs. Some films don't need to be analyzed, and this is one of them. 

My rating: 3 out of 5 

April 10, 2013

The Man From Nowhere (South Korea - 2010)

When it's over, foreign films are a nice getaway from Hollywood fare. They offer fresh faces, peculiar characters, interesting fashion, and alternative settings. The Man From Nowhere is the Korean version of Leon: The Professional (1994) and Man on Fire (2004) combined. Revenge and friendship are at the core of this brutally violent film about a quiet pawnshop keeper, Cha Tae-sik (Bin Won), who faces off with gangsters in order to save a child, Jeong So-mi (Sae-ron Kim), his only friend. I really like the subtle relationship and chemistry between Tae-sik and So-mi. They are together only in a handful of scenes, and most of them, Tae-sik utters a few words. Their relationship works, because most of their communication is done through gestures. Less said can sometimes mean more. These interactions are enough for me to believe Tae-sik's determination to save So-mi from organ traffickers. Also, as the story unravels, the viewer learns Tae-sik's true identity and his tragic past, which explains his need to save So-mi. Bin Won makes his character likable, even when he is completely brutal. He is the anti-hero that must resort to vigilante ways to bring justice to injustice acts. Kim is brilliant as So-mi. She brings out the innocence and maturity of a child that tries to find good in the bad around her. She allows her character to be smart and brave in the most unconventional way. Kim makes So-mi a character even viewers want to protect. The film is bloody and disturbing, but none of it is overdone. Each act of violence is shown to move the story forward. There is child labor, organ extractions, and execution style murders. Each scene showing these three elements are included to move the story forward, heightening the characters' motives and delivering what each villain deserves. The final close quarters knife fight is well choreographed, reminding me of the Bourne Identity films. The Man From Nowhere is nowhere revolutionary, but rather, a staple of its genre.

My rating: 4 out of 5

April 5, 2013

Red Dawn (2012)

When it's over, the non-stop action is a smoke screen to a poorly developed story. When the North Koreans invade a small town in the USA, a band of teenagers, known as the Wolverines, bear arms to protect their home. Chris Hemsworth takes the lead as Jed, the leader of the group, the role Patrick Swayze made popular in the original Red Dawn (1984). Gun enthusiasts will enjoy the different array of guns used in the film, including the PKM Machine Gun, M249 SAW Machine Gun, and the semi-automatic Intratec TEC-9, which are seldom seen in films. There are plenty of explosions and ricocheting bullets, but what about the people behind the guns? There is no dynamic in the story or of its characters. Even the love story between Jed and Toni (Adrianne Palicki) feels forced, as if it is simply thrown in to complete a checklist. There are many scenes which are unconvincing, because they lack continuity. One scene in particular is a bullet to the head of one of the Wolverines. Where did the bullet come from if they are in an enclosed space? If there is a window, it is not shown to give realism to the scene. Overall, the film is definitely brainless, and it's hard to fall asleep when the screen rings with the sounds of war. Decent action film if you have time to waste.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

Snitch (2013)

When it's over, where's the action? Dwayne Johnson is John Matthews, a father who makes a deal with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in order to free his son (Rafi Gavron) from prison. Snitch was completely opposite from what I was expecting. Here are some of the pros and cons.

Thumbs up -

(1) Johnson has been successful in action and comedy, and I could see this film was an attempt to try his hand at drama. But, unfortunately, the gamble doesn't pay off. I admired Johnson's desire to stretch his wings, and this film served to be a terrific stepping stone for just that. 
(2) The character of Daniel James (Jon Bernthal from The Walking Dead), a convict who wants a fresh start, was the most engaging character; Bernthal brings to the surface a mixture of greed and love, where the blending of the two can make for one very desperate man.
(3) I liked the storyline about fathers and sons, and the things we do to protect our family; this was something that most viewers can relate to.

Thumbs down - 

(1)  The film ran slow with little physical and dramatic action.  The last 20 minutes served to be the film's only real physical action. 
(2) The casting was all wrong; the son was the key to making me feel connected with all the characters, because it was his action that set the story into play; and Gavron failed to make me feel anything; plus, I didn't like Johnson as Matthews. He didn't look the part of a suburban father, nor was he believable getting beat up by some street punks. Have you looked at Johnson lately? He is a hulk, towering over his cast mates.
(3) Lastly, the idea of the DEA making such a deal with a civilian would be unlikely, making the film's premise quite unbelievable. 

What I think would have worked in this film would be giving Matthews a past (maybe an ex-con, or bodyguard) that connected him to the Mexican cartel, making his deal with the DEA more convincing and credible. His size and bulk would also work in the character's favor.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5