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.

May 24, 2013

Infernal Affairs (2002)

When it’s over, Hong Kong cinema at its best.  Andy Lau and Tony Leung come together to play opposing characters, and they are simply mesmerizing in a film about a mole in the police department and an undercover cop in a Chinese Triad.  Lau is Inspector Lau King Ming, the cold calculating lawman, and Leung is Chan Ying Wang, the tormented agent who is in way too deep. The film stays focused on these two men as they play cat and mouse and try to discover one another. A simple plot with deep ramifications. Not your run of the mill cop and robber film.  This is a police thriller that doesn’t use lavish gunplay, overblown explosions, intense car chases, or cheesy buddy cop dialogue to sell its worth. The film builds tension with each scene, not through action, but through emotionally charged leading characters. The script is tight, and the acting is right on. I can get into the minds of Lau and Chan. I can feel their inner struggle as they fight to survive in their surroundings. The violence is very specific and is only shown to make a statement. I can see Martin Scorseces’ interest in this film, as it is the basis for the USA remake, The Departed (2006).

My rating: 4 out of 5

Star Trek: Into Darkness (3D - 2013)

When it’s over, I’m a Trekkie at heart, or some may argue the term is “Trekker.” Either way, I’m fascinated with Star Trek, and Into Darkness is a fun ride into outer space and even better, in 3D. The USS Enterprise is sent to Kronos, the Klingon home world, to capture a fugitive responsible for killing innocent lives. The film introduces the viewers to Earth’s adversary, the Klingons, and a human villain named Khan (first seen in Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan -1982), played by British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who is well cast as the calculating, indestructible, and genetically altered man. The Enterprise crew returns for this sequel, and the performances are solid, picking up exactly where they left off in 2009, almost seamless. The film is bigger and more lavish in scope, but the story is somewhat lacking. Lots of physical action and CGI, but a displacement of human stories. The 2009 Star Trek took great care to introduce the crew and develop them parallel to the Romulan storyline. Into Darkness takes these characters, but doesn’t build on them. I don’t feel I know Kirk (Chris Pine) better, because he has not evolved. His selfless act in the end seems too sudden, and there’s no buildup to that behavior. Scotty (Simon Pegg) gets his share of screen time, but what about Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Sulu (John Cho), who get decent screen time, but none of which move the characters forward. McCoy (Karl Urban) remains unchanged, linear. His comments add humor and falls in line with his character, but become boring. There has to be more to McCoy, and I feel he is completely underused in the film. I don’t like what they have done to Uhura’s (Zoe Saldana) character, making her seem childish in her relationship with Spock (Zachary Quinto). However, I do like how the film takes Spock and Uhura’s relationship to the next level. And this brings me to Spock. I think Spock’s journey/story is the best executed, thanks to Quinto’s  spot on “logical” portrayal. In his relationship with Kirk and Uhura, I see him struggling with his human side, and how he eventually uses it to his advantage. That kind of character development is the stuff of Star Trek. Trekkies will enjoy the film, while non-Trekkers will not be easily sold on the franchise.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

May 18, 2013

Gangster Squad (2013)

When it’s over, big names, but no big bang. Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) is determined to put Los Angeles mob boss, Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), out of business with the help of a secret team of police officers. The film was inspired by true events and takes place in 1949. Even in color, it had a film noir feel to it, contributed in part by the set design and costumes, plus all the attributes that make noir so distinctive, including crime, justice, revenge, reluctant hero, and femme fatale. There are only two main female characters – Connie O’Mara (Mireilli Enos) and Grace Faraday (Emma Stone). Connie was my favorite character from the film. She was John's rock, and her support and spunk brought the best out of her husband. I wished the film had included more scenes with her. Grace was a weak character and could have been cut out. Without her, the story would still move forward, because there was no record of this woman being in Mickey's life. She was an added love interest, the female diversion to a male dominated film. I guess the filmmakers wanted to reproduce the chemistry success of Crazy Stupid Love between Stone and Ryan Gosling, but unfortunately, the relationship here was a fizz. I thought Gosling was wrongly cast as  Sgt. Jerry Wooters. I couldn’t get into his character. His soft spoken voice didn’t go with his macho persona. Also, he was completely overshadowed by Brolin's strong presence. The film moved fast, too fast for me to grow any attachment to the characters, and this was where the film suffered. Gangster films are generally about characters, about getting into the mind of the good guys and the bad guys. I needed to see how these characters form and evolve based on their circumstances. Gangster Squad doesn't have the right combination of scenes to draw me into the characters’ lives, thus making me indifferent to them. I would have liked to see some scenes that showed the men’s life outside of the squad, such as family, recreation, fears, mistakes, etc. The squad was handpicked for their skills, so some backstory to these men's lives would have made them more identifiable. The scenes don't have to be long. A few minutes each for supporting characters, added here and there would have sufficed. Remove Grace, and those extra minutes would become available. For example, during an intro of a character, there could be a quick cut to a scene that showed them in a scene in the past, then, cut back to the present. A lot of directors, including Quentin Tarantino, use this technique, and it's an effective way to offer viewers a glimpse of the character's past, which is so relevant in the present.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)

When it's over, the infected rise and fall in this good follow up to the video game turned film, Resident Evil. The T-Virus has found its way above ground in Raccoon City.  In order to escape the city, Alice (Milla Jovovich) and a group of survivors must find and save the child of the virus's creator. There is a good mix of new characters, including a tough girl cop (Sienna Gillory), a fast talking pimp (Mike Epps), and a soldier (Oded Fehr). This is a must see for RE fans, but not necessary for interested viewers, because the film quickly recaps the events of the first film. You can expect the usual zombie mayhem and individual elimination process amongst the uninfected. Most notable scene takes place at the end, when Alice must face-off with her old friend (from RE), who has mutated into an unstoppable killing machine/soldier with all the skills and strength of T-Virus enhancements. 

My rating: 3 out of 5

Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

When it’s over, this isn't a date movie. The film is based on the real life of Sam Childers (Gerard Butler), a criminal turned pastor, then turned protector to the children of Sudan, Africa. Violence is a prevalent character in this film, as it mirrors the horrors of civil war in Sudan, but the violence is never gratuitously used. The film’s title suggests a Rambo like vengeance rampage type of film, but do not be mistaken, because although it has the guns and flying bullets, it also has a meaningful story that leaves you feeling inspired, teary, and unsettled. This is one of Butler’s better performances of late. He may not resemble the real life Childers, but he captures the man’s spirit wonderfully, thanks to the skillful direction of Marc Foster. With a resume to include acclaimed films such as Kite Runner, Stranger Than Fiction, Quantum of Solace, Monster's Ball, and Finding Neverland, Foster is a director that commands respect. He is brilliant at bringing out the humanity in the most complex characters, and in this case, the multi-layered Childers whose personal struggles continue to test his faith in Jesus Christ. It is hard not to compare this film to Hotel Rwanda, since they are similar in how the main characters emotionally confront genocide, and how they offer safety to the oppressed. I think what separates the two is the execution of their beliefs. MGP has a bravado feel to it, whereas HR possesses silent strength and heroism. MGP is a good film, but not great. It's biggest flaw is its weak supporting cast - Childer's wife and daughter, Lynn (Michelle Monaghan) and Paige (Madeline Carroll), who play crucial roles in motivating Childer's actions. I think the film should have given more screen time to these two characters, or at least strengthen the scenes they are already in. Perhaps a scene that shows Lynn visiting Sudan in support of her husband when Childers is on the verge of giving up; or scenes that show Paige aiding in her father's dream, such as fundraising or writing letters or regular phone calls to express her love and support. These could have all been powerful scenes to strengthen character motivations and instill greater emotional pull.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

May 10, 2013

The Paperboy (2012)

When it’s over, creepy. Think backwoods. Think murder. Think dead animals. Are you getting the picture? A Miami reporter, Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey), returns to his hometown to investigate a controversial case involving Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), a man on death row who may be innocent. Ward’s younger brother, Jack (Zac Efron), becomes the chauffer for his brother’s entourage, including Van Wetter’s slutty fiancĂ©, Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), and an African American writer, Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo). These four characters make up the pillars that hold the film together. I like this film for the acting, but did not like if for its storytelling. Director Lee Daniels (Precious) directs the film well, but loses me on the editing table. I find the film confusing at times and some scenes are just unnecessary.  It’s not always clear from whose perspective the story is being told. Based on the opening scene, I gather the film is from the Jansen’s maid’s perspective, but as the film develops, I start to feel the story is from Jack’s perspective, then back to the maid's at the end. A clear point of view would have benefited this film. For me, endings are important, and The Paperboy ends in a less than fulfilling manner. I am not familiar with the book by Pete Dexter, which the film is based on, so I cannot compare the endings. But, I can add that the golden rule of "show, not tell" applies perfectly in this case, because seeing what happens to Van Wetter in the end would have been more satisfying for the viewer than being told what happens to him. The acting is top-notch and truly the main reason why I am recommending this film. Even though I did not particularly like the film, I couldn't take my eyes off it. The performances pull me in. McConaughey continues to prove that he is a serious versatile actor. Cusack departs from his usual roles to show us he can become a crazed enigma. Kidman transforms herself and sympathetically brings Charlotte’s vulnerability to the forefront. Efron surprises me with a bold transition from pretty boy to a complex young man in 1969.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

Ted (2012)

When it's over, crude language, juvenile antics, and silly behaviour make for a surprisingly original film. Ted (voice provided by the writer, Seth MacFarlane) is a foul mouthed teddy bear who comes to life and becomes his owner’s, John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), best friend. Their inseparable friendship is tested when Lori (Mila Kunis) enters John’s life. I thought this film was going to be another senseless, brainless, waste of time, but as the story developed with plenty of unexpected teddy bear mischief, I couldn’t help but find the nonsense rather fun. Ted really is the star of the show. His bad boy behaviour in pint size furry form was hilarious. If you’re an 80’s fan, then you’ll love the fixation this film has on the 80's, making plenty of references to films and music to support the period. There are lots of stereotypes, both with women and men, plus ethnic races, but doesn't insult the targeted group. Not often does a combination of absurd scenes, including a fist fight between man and teddy bear, mold together to produce something funny. I can’t recall having seen all these elements in one film, with an added car chase, some paranormal activity, and a psycho kid. Also boosting the film’s overall appeal are cameo roles from musician Norah Jones, Tom Skerritt, and Sam J. Jones (Flash Gordon TV series - US/British 1980's), with narration by Patrick Stewart. This film may not be for everyone, but if you can get through the vulgarity, it will be worth viewing. 

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

May 3, 2013

Oblivion (2013)

When it’s over, one viewing just wasn’t enough. I felt I needed a second viewing to help me fill in the blanks. I was left with questions unanswered, and at some parts, confused. Tom Cruise is Jack Harper, an individual assigned to remain on earth to secure its resources for the humans that have relocated to Titan, a colony on Saturn. With the help of his partner, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), Harper spends his days fixing drones, defending the water supply from the aliens, known as Scabs, and having dreams about a woman named Julia (Olga Kurylenko), who he does not know. All is not what it seems for Harper or for the audience. Since, this film was built on its surprises, I will not divulge any examples that may be spoilers. Contrary to some viewers, I did not feel the story was predictable. In fact, I had no preconception of how the film would end. I was surprised by some of the plot twists, and not completely satisfied with some of them, in particular, the ending and who Sally really was. The film felt a lot like a “part two” of a trilogy, because there were events leading up to Oblivion that I wished I knew more details about prior to going into the film, such as how the Scabs arrived, and are there more than 52 Jack Harpers, and the origin of Sally.  Running just over two hours seemed too short for a story that was comprised of multiple mini-stories, and too long for a sci-fi love story with more flashbacks/dreams than it really needed. The flashbacks were the culprit for disrupted pacing. A few flashbacks in the beginning were necessary, but as they continued to resurface, the scenes began to drag. The chemistry between Harper and Julia wasn’t there. They looked awkward together. They didn’t look like a couple in love, past or present.  I think if the female roles were flipped – Riseborough as Julia and Kurylenko as Victoria – it would have worked better. A few things I liked about Oblivion was its visual awesomeness, like an IMAX film. The cool tech stuff, the “I gotta have one” helicopter/plane/giant touch screen table, and the house in the clouds. The pool in the sky was sheer genius. The stunning visuals successfully put me in the film. Oblivion had an intriguing concept, leaving me wanting to know more, and because of this desire, I can’t wait to read the graphic novel by Director Joseph Kosinski, which the film was based on. Not a fantastic film, but worth a viewing, just for the visuals alone. 

My rating:  3.5 out of 5