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.

June 30, 2013

Beautiful Creatures (2013)

When it’s over, not beautiful.  I did not like the book (first in a series of four), nor the film. I tried to give this film a chance and the opportunity to stand on its own. With a cast led by veteran actors to include Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson, I had hoped the film would redeem the flaws in the book, but sadly, the film was sloppy and a big disappointment. Ethan and Lena (Alden Ehrenreich & Alice Englert) are forbidden lovers, who uncover dark family secrets that ultimately will change their lives. This was the premise of the story, but the film doesn't get from beginning to end smoothly. The film zips through the romance and events like bullets on an outline. Forbidden love stories work on chemistry, and Ehrenreich and Englert don’t have any. It was painful trying to believe these two characters were falling in love. The best performances came from Irons and Thompson - no surprise there – but they couldn't save the film. The ending was unsatisfying, unclear, and unfinished, hanging at the presumption that a sequel will follow. Even if the story was part of a series, it should still feel like an ending. Star Wars, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings are great examples of series that finish with solid endings, while leaving the door ajar for the next film.

My rating: 2 out of 5

Parental Guidance (2012)

When it’s over, old school meets new school. Artie and Diane Decker (Billy Crystal and Bette Midler) agree to babysit their three grandchildren, while the parents (Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott) are out of town. Things get out of control when old-fashioned childrearing collide with "no sugar, no gluten, and gadgetized" lifestyles. Veteran entertainers, Crystal and Midler have great chemistry and are wonderfully paired. This is their first film together after more than 30 years of friendship (a long overdue collaboration). My favourite scene is when the couple does their rendition of the Monotones' 1958 doo-wop classic, The Book of Love. The music dance number is a nice surprise, even though it is unrelated to the story, it adds to the likability of the characters. I did not find the story engaging, and I think it is mainly because I am not a grandparent. Crystal developed this story based on his experiences with his grandchild, and the grandparent’s voice rings true and clear. Unfortunately, I cannot relate to those feelings, not yet. (However, I may feel differently in 20 years) Crystal is still a multi-talented improv comedian, but I see him missing some beats in this film. Although he offers some good laughs, there is an unnecessary pause right after the jokes or punchline, like the end of a dance number on Broadway. The pause is distracting and breaks the flow of the scenes. Overall, Parental Guidance is a decent family film with enough silly scenarios to keep the viewer from nodding off. It has all the ingredients that make it watchable for all ages, plus a few extras, including issues on raising a “holistic” child, helicopter parenting, and bridging the generational gap.

My rating: 3 out of 5

June 21, 2013

Man of Steel (2013)

(Spoiler Alert)

When it's over, I have to go against popular opinion and say that Man of Steel is a disappointment. The story begins on the planet Krypton at the birth of Kal-El, the baby destined to become Superman. The next two hours follows the adult Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman (Henry Cavill), as he discovers his origins and attempts to defeat General Zod (Michael Shannon) from destroying Earth. Helping Superman is his long deceased father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe). Relationships and family are a big part of the film as Director Zack Snyder explores Kent’s devotion to his Earth parents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) and Lois Lane (Amy Adams). I like the time spent on developing the Kent’s story. Previous films only include it, but do not explore the impact Clark’s human family has on his development into Superman. The relationship between Clark and Lois did not feel romantic or believable. Their kissing at the end is awkward and out of place, because there is no leading up to it. I did not feel that emotional pull, that generally comes with superhero love stories. I did not care for Lois, whether she is in danger or if she dies. Actually, Adams is poorly cast as the iconic reporter. The pace is rushed and everything happens too quickly without proper emotional support to make the scenes believable. For example, Clark goes from Kansas boy to Superman within less than ten minutes, without the build-up of emotional shock and acceptance. All superhero stories have one thing in common - emotional conflict, where they have to accept their powers and their duty to exercise them for the benefit of humanity. Man of Steel lacks this core element. I would have liked to see Clark’s journey in finding his origins, finding his love for Lois, finding his purpose on Earth. Instead - Voila! Everything falls into place – the suit, the girl, the superhero status. I appreciate Snyder's reinvention of Superman, making him a darker, more conflicted being, a hero that must wrestle with his human counterpart, the emotions of anger, hate, and vengeance, as demonstrated in the end when Superman snaps the villain's neck. I think this act of violence, in particular, goes against the “Superman” code. I think this type of violence would work better if Man of Steel is an R rated film, giving Snyder the freedom to really explore the dark side of being a superhero and its ramifications. But, this is a PG or PG-13 rated film in North America, so some restraint is necessary, especially since one third of the audience is under 10 years old. 

My rating: 3 out of 5

42 (2013)

Jackie Robinson: You want a player who doesn't have the guts to fight back?
Branch Rickey: No. I want a player who's got the guts “not” to fight back.
Jackie Robinson: You give me a uniform, you give me a number on my back, I'll give you the guts.

When it’s over, this is not solely a baseball film or a biopic about Jackie Robinson. Expertly directed by veteran screenwriter turned director, Brian Helgeland, this is a film about prejudice, segregation, and the will to overcome great adversity. Set in 1946, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), president and general manager for the New York Brooklyn Dodgers, makes a history-making decision when he integrates major league baseball by signing an African American named Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) onto his team. The casting is right on with each actor portraying their characters with the up most credibility. This is the best work Ford has done in recent years. He is funny, serious, and captures the spirit of a tough no-frills businessman who sets aside color for the advancement of the sport. Boseman is incredibly honest in his portrayal of the sports hero. He captures the intensity of each scene with the use of action, rather than words. I can gage the anger and frustration Robinson is feeling by Boseman’s facial expressions and body language. A perfect example of this is in a scene when the opposing team’s manager throws racial slurs (to include the repeated “N” word) at Jackie while he is at bat. With great restraint, Jackie turns the other cheek, but when he returns to the dugout, he slams his bat against the concrete wall, splintering it. I think this is one of the best scenes in the film, because it is definitive of what Jackie feels and what he is up against and shows what he would like to do, but can’t.  Beautiful. Inspirational. Triumphant.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5

June 14, 2013

Safe Haven (2013)

When it’s over, I was craving for a romance, and Safe Haven delivers. Katie (Julianne Hough) is on the run from her husband, Tierney (David Lyons), and finds refuge in a small town, where she falls in love with Alex (Josh Duhamel) a widower, and his two children. There were many similarities in plot and structure between this film and Sleeping with the Enemy (1991) with Julia Roberts. But, I don’t plan to compare the two. The characters may share similar situations, but their development and resolutions were different. The biggest difference was the twist at the end. I read the book by Nicholas Sparks over two years ago, and had forgotten the twist at the end, so I was pleasantly surprised by the ease and flow the film moved at leading up to the unexpected. I liked the idea of a haven, and how the characters found safety with each other, and ultimately were able to save each other. The film sets up the love story quickly in order to meet the First Act margin, and goes on to develop the relationships and conflicts with good pacing. The location was also a bonus in the film. Set in seaside Southport, North Carolina, the film felt romantic and lazy in a charming sort of way, and it was hard not to be swept away by the characters' rippling emotions. My one main concern was the lack of character depth. Learning more about the characters' pasts would have made the love story more meaningful. I, especially, wanted to understand Tierney's story, because he is the story's trigger, the force that sets in motion Katie and Alex's actions. At first glance, Duhamel and Hough were not the lovers I imagined from the book, but slowly, they became Alex and Katie; and although their love story would be unlikely to happen in the real world, their relationship represented the beauty of second chances, which is something we can all relate to, either by desiring it or experiencing it first hand.

My rating: 4 out of 5

Fast and Furious 6 (2013)

When it’s over, what a rush. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian Conner (Paul Walker) regroup with the crew to stop a terrorist (Luke Evans) and to save Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who has resurfaced after being presumed dead.  In return for their services, Dom wants full pardons for his crew from CIA Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). Two words that make this sixth installment so exciting – Justin Lin. He is incredibly fast and furious in his direction as demonstrated in the last four installments - The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast and Furious, Fast Five, and now Fast and Furious 6. He knows the characters and the genre, and brings it full-throttle on the screen with all the action, sexiness, and style that has made the series so popular. There are some great stunts involving a tank, a cargo plane, and of course, cars (more than 30 different models and makes). The stunts defy gravity and are all over the top, but they work, and in an unbelievable way, they offer the illusion of realism. Lin directs these sequences with pure NOS. He holds nothing back. Well shot. Well executed. Well edited. Action does not only come in chases and explosions, but hand-to-hand combat, and there’s plenty of realistic choreography to make the fights believable, especially between Letty and Agent Riley (Gina Carano). There are some serious fighting between the two tough women, making the fight scenes between the men pale by comparison. Evans is terrific as the ruthless villain, Shaw, and holds his own up against Dominic, proving that a well-cast villain bumps up the value of the film. The returning cast pick up where leave off in Fast 5. Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris) play off each other, offering up some of the best one liners in the film. Mia (Jordana Brewster) is back playing mother to baby Jack Conner, and even though she has limited screen time, she represents the poker chip in Shaw’s pocket. Han (Sung Kang) and Gisele (Gal Gadot) are still together, and I am disappointed that their relationship takes a turn. I think the two deserve more, but who knows? Anything can happen in Fast and Furious 7. In this installment, Hobbs and Dominic work together instead of against each other. They are partners in an unconventional way, blurring the fine line between law and crime, and it looks like a beautiful friendship may be brewing. Lastly, Brian meets fatherhood, and a new set of responsibilities come with the job. Fast 6 feels like it comes full circle, ending where it started back in 2001.

My rating: 4 out of 5

June 6, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

When it’s over, Die Hard is dead. John McClane (Bruce Willis) goes to Russia to bail his son, Jack (Jai Courtney), out of jail, only to discover his son is an undercover CIA operative. If this film is a taste of films to come, then the franchise is defunct. If this film represents the passing of the baton to a younger McClane, then, the baton has fallen. Three things plague this film – the script, the acting, the location. The story simply disappoints, because it is without a true villain for John to go head to head with. The dialogue is dry, and all the Die Hard humor and sarcasm I remember from previous films have vanished. Even the famous line synonymous to Die Hard, “Yippee ki yay,” is misused, being inserted into the wrong scene at the wrong time. John is alone when he says this. He doesn’t even have a weapon when he says this. He says this while starting a truck. That line is written into the film just for the sake of it. Willis defines John McClane, and he is so good at playing this hard-edged cop, so why the poor portrayal in A Good Day? The acting is bad throughout, from all cast members, and this is not from a lack of money, since there’s plenty of destruction onscreen. I am guessing, the poor acting has more to do with the script and direction than the actors’ abilities. I am bewildered by the location the film takes place in. Why Russia? There are too many movies showing Russia as the baddie. The Middle East is becoming overused. So, why not North Korea? More important, why leave the USA? Why deviate from the location that made the Die Hard films famous? I am shaking my head, sad to see this once entertaining franchise go down the drain.

My rating: 1.5 out of 5

Pitch Perfect (2012)

When it’s over, a musical comedy that hits all the right notes. There is a Glee/High School Musical/Hairspray feel to it and plenty of great singing renditions of songs, past and present, accompanied by exciting musical numbers. Beca (Anna Kendrick) is an aspiring DJ who gets talked into joining a female a cappella (singing without instruments) group, The Bellas, at her first year of university. At first, uninterested and unmotivated, Beca soon realizes the group of quirky women are good for her soul. Rebel Wilson plays Fat Amy, but really should be named Rebel Amy, since Fat Amy steals the show, with her “I don’t care what my size is, because I can sing,” attitude. The dance numbers and competition routines bring out the rebel in Fat Amy, and I cannot help, but cheer her on. Anna Camp portrays Aubrey, who is the leader of The Bellas. She is the catalyst, bringing tension between characters, because of her headstrong ways and her refusal to deviate from the a cappella’s traditions. Brittany Snow stars as Chloe, who is stuck in the middle of tradition and change and possesses a singing handicap. Kendrick can sing, and who knew the Twilight alumni had such talent. She brings a hip-hop style to Beca that makes you want to get up and dance. The women come together, bringing their strengths and their flaws, to try and beat out their rivals, The Treblemakers, in a national competition, led by Jesse (Skylar Astin), who has eyes only for Beca. There’s swooning, there’s catty behavior, and lots of laughs. If you are a music lover and enjoy romantic comedies, this film is for you.

My rating: 4 out of 5

Robosapien: Rebooted (2013)

When it’s over, the film is like window shopping.  You see the merchandise, but you don't get to explore them, touch them.  You see elements of bullying, friendship, and family, but you don't get to embrace the themes, because the film moves so quickly, it completely misses the emotional depth of these elements. After finding a broken robot named Cody in a dumpster, Henry (Bobby Coleman) decides to put the metal parts together and make it his best friend. But, their friendship is tested when Cody regains his memory and seeks out his creator, who is on the run from a corrupt businessman. The film feels like a mixture of Spy Kids and ET, but doesn’t have the appeal or intelligence of either. The acting is noticeably forced, making the film plummet further. The only pro to this film is that you can leave the room and let the kids watch it on their own. It is completely child friendly. There is no deliberate violence (only comedic action) or bad language or inappropriate behaviour.  This is hard to find today, even in family films. Young children will like the idea of a robot being a child’s best friend and adults will like the idea of having a robot that can renovate their house in one day, plus detail a junkyard car. Quite unlikely in the real world. The lightheartedness is just that - light. So light, it evaporates from my mind.   

My rating: 2 out of 5