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.

September 27, 2013

The Croods (2013)

When it's over, there is plenty of slapstick humor and unintelligent caveman antics to make the film feel prehistoric, literally. It reminds me of The Flinstones, mainly because it takes place during the stone age, and what worked for The Flinstones in the past, does not work for The Croods in the present. It also reminds me of Brave, because the daughter, Eep (Emma Stone), is headstrong and reckless. When their cave is destroyed, a family of cavemen  must travel to new lands, meet new creatures, and accept change in order to survive. I believe the heart of the story is about change, about the difficulties in accepting them and the necessity to embrace them. This theme is universal and one of the main reasons why I watched the film. I think everyone (big and small, young and old) can relate to change, because it is inevitable in all our lives. But, although I can relate to the theme, I cannot connect with the characters. There is something completely annoying and uninteresting about them, in every way. Just because the characters are from the stone age, they do not need to be brainless. Male voice talents include Nicholas Cage as Grug, the father, and Ryan Reynolds as Guy, the young boy who helps the family find safety. Both voices do not fit their characters. Cage's voice is all wrong as the gruff stubborn caveman, and Reynolds's voice is too mature to pull off a young boy's persona. This is the first animated film I have seen, where the voices affected my viewing experience. There is good animation and a bold attempt to delve into a theme that is more mature than most animated films, but to enjoy this film, even slightly, you have to like slapstick humor. Otherwise, it will feel unfulfilling.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

Epic (2013)

When it’s over, Epic is delightful, a hidden gem. This is a film about the battle between good and evil taking place in our backyard, a battle between the creatures that protect the environment and the ones determined to kill the ecosystem. A teenage girl joins forces with the Leaf People to save the forest from being taken over by Boggans. The Leafmen reminds me of mythical Elves in a film which reminds me of Arthur and the Invisibles. There are plenty of archery, chases, swordplay, fairies, princesses, miniature creatures, and comedy. So, in a sense, there is something for everyone. The animation is enchanting and filled with characters that connect to a diverse audience. Audiences will laugh at the antics of Mub and Grub, the two wisecracking slugs. Pet lovers will enjoy the three legged dog, Ozzy, who is devoted and loyal to his master, the clumsy professor. Ronin and Nod will appeal to the boys, because of their warrior-like qualities. Girls will marvel at Queen Tara and the Flower People. Voice talent is perfectly cast, with Amanda Seyfried, Josh Hutcherson, Christoph Waltz, Colin Farrell, Aziz Ansari, Jason Sudekis and BeyoncĂ©. This film is smart, fun, and educational, and it is the latter aspect that makes me appreciate the film more so than other animated films. The film shows how the environment interacts and affects each other, and ultimately how it will affect humans. The concept of environmentalism is done on a smaller scale, in order to help younger audiences grasp the concept of co-existence, parasites, decay, and growth. Thoroughly entertaining. I highly recommend it.

My rating: 4 out of 5

September 21, 2013

Pacific Rim (2013)

When it’s over, forgettable the moment the credits rolled.  To avoid human extinction, mankind must battle Kaijus, giant sea creatures, with Jaegers, giant robots piloted by two humans connected by a neural bridge. Mega concept, with miniature results. I’m a huge fan of Director Guillermo Del Toro, but this film truly was disappointing. Perhaps, I’m missing something, because I did not find the film had substance (clear plot, climax, and resolution) nor was the acting particularly good. I felt no human link whatsoever – to the story or the characters. The story was as thin as a piece of rice paper. I would have liked to know where the Kaijus came from and how they created the underwater portal. Why did they want to wipe out mankind? What was their weakness? If humanity was already on the brink of an apocalypse, how did humans get the resources, materials, and money to make multiple Jaegers? This was completely unrealistic.  And the questions go on and on. The characters were flat and underdeveloped, leaving nothing to like or care about. There were plenty of deaths, and the teary scenes failed to produce a tear from me. The one good thing about this film was the visuals, especially on the Jaegers, but even that was compromised by dark settings, leaving much of the details hidden in shadows. Pacific Rim had a bit of Transformers and Godzilla, paying homage to classic Japanese science fiction films. Weirdly, this film reminded me of the Japanese television series Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot (1967-68), where a young boy had the power to control his giant robot. I’m not sure why I made this connection, because the only element both the series and the film shared was the giant robot. Nonetheless, I liked the series better. 

My rating: 2 out of 5

Warrior (2011)

When it’s over, one father, two brothers, and lots of skeletons in the closet. The Warrior is half about family and half about the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) boxing industry. Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy), an ex-marine with a tragic past, enlists his estranged father (Nick Nolte) to train him for the MMA championships, where the winner will take the highest winnings in MMA's history. Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton) is a former MMA fighter turned teacher, who returns to the ring in order to support his family. Torn apart by resentment and betrayal, the two brothers come together in the ring to battle their differences and for the huge payout. Partly feeling like Rocky (1979), Brothers (2009), and The Fighter (2010), I thought the film worked on many levels - the drama as well as the action. The drama was very good, and I was pulled immediately into the lives of this dysfunctional family through dialogue and direction. The acting was believable, with each lead completely transformed into their character. Hardy and Edgerton looked in top form as fighters. They brought to the film an enormous amount of sensitivity, gentleness, and rage. Nolte was perfect as the alcoholic father trying to make amends. The trio kept me fixated throughout. Jennifer Morrison played Brendan's wife, Tess, who I felt was underused. Serving as the only main female counterpart in the film, Tess could have been given more screen time, especially in the second half of the film, where she was almost non-existent. Still, a solid performance by Morrison. The second half of the film was mainly dedicated to the action - the physical fighting. The choreography, direction, and editing was believable. I felt I was right there in the action and fans of the sport will appreciate this attention to detail. My only gripe about the film was that the film spent most of the second half in the ring, and away from the family drama. The emotional drama was pushed to the side, while the physical drama took over, and at that point, it was about the mixed martial arts. But, once the two brothers entered the ring, Director Gavin O'Conner cleverly combined the two elements, making the last 20 minutes of the film all about “coming to terms,” physically and emotionally,and about the pent up anger and frustration that tore the family apart so many years back.

My rating: 4 out of 5 

September 16, 2013

Welcome to the Punch

When it's over, soft punch. Welcome to the Punch is a thriller in the tradition of Guy Ritchie films, but lacking the style, edge, and savvy. It is completely shot on location in London, England, with a British cast, about a copper named Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) and a criminal named Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong). Lewinsky has not been the same physically and emotionally since letting Sternwood get away after a bank heist. Five years later, the old wounds continue to plague Lewinsky's life. When Sternwood returns to London, Lewinsky is determined to bring the criminal to justice. The relationship between Lewinsky and Sternwood is one of cat and mouse and love and hate, where circumstances make them go from enemies to allies, where their trust is constantly being tested. The film's success and failure lies heavily on these two accomplished actors, who both deliver on the acting, but a story lacking in depth and structure make the film a soft punch for me. This is no fault on the actors and their presence onscreen is what keeps me interested. Within the story, there needs to be more on the two male leads in relation to their behaviors, and ultimately, how their pasts motivates their actions. For example, Lewinsky's wounded leg is a constant reminder that he is somehow “incapable” and this makes him vengeful, angry, and full of self-loathing. I understand this to a certain extent, but cannot understand the extremity of his behaviors. Is he handicapped in the heart, mind and soul, too? He is also a bit of a womanizer, which never gets explored. I would have liked to see that explored, because it makes him less rigid and more likeable as a damaged male protagonist. Another example, Sternwood is an intelligent criminal, who is a master at not being caught, but risks it all to come to his son's aid. I can see the fatherly love, but don't feel it. There needs to be more on him emotionally, so his actions have value. The film is relatively predictable from the start, so there is no guessing to be done. Even the sub-plot about police corruption is detectable early on, along with the culprit. There is no love story in the film, and the attempt for one is quickly eliminated half way through the film. Lacking in originality and suspense, the film's main draw is the actors. So, if you are a fan of either McAvoy or Strong, then this film is worth a viewing.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

What to Expect When You're Expecting (2012)

When it's over, not what I expected. I was expecting another crude comedy, but got something entirely different. This was a woman's film. Although men may watch this film, it will not connect with them the way it does with women. The film follows five couples as they experience the highs and lows of pregnancy and the road to parenthood. Each couple represented different aspects of becoming a parent. Topics of adoption and miscarriage were included, along with the myth of “the glow” and easy versus hard pregnancies. There were five sub-plots in the film, and with so many characters, I feared the story would lose its way, but surprisingly, the stories converged and transitioned without confusing the viewer. By no means was this film realistic or a model of what pregnancy is, but rather a commentary on the emotional and physical behaviors toward impending parenthood. Some of it was emotionally moving, and there was that occasional “reality check” where the characters had to accept that things don't always work out as they planned. Most of the film was funny and heartwarming, and as a viewer, you just feel good. And if you are a parent or was almost a parent, you will most likely relate to some of the scenarios in the film. I cried. I laughed. I connected. 

My rating: 4 out of 5

Wolverine (2013)

When it’s over, Hugh Jackman returned as Logan (aka: Wolverine) in the second film of the Wolverine series. Logan travels to Japan on the request of a dying friend, who seeks immortality. There was an interesting locale and some romance, but none of these aspects helped to make The Wolverine a memorable film. The film was plagued with loose ends, to include: a symbolic Japanese sword, which was given to Logan early in the film by a Japanese man he had saved (decades earlier), and Logan promised he will someday come and claim the sword (leading the viewer to believe the sword’s story would continue), but the sword's story never fully resurfaced. The sword proved to serve more as a prop than a character. A true shame. I had hoped the sword would be used by Logan for some symbolic purpose. There were plenty of ninjas, but hardly any swordplay between Logan and the ninjas. The romance was dull and uneventful. The growing love story between Logan and Mariko (Tao Akamoto) was laughable. Their short kiss lacked everything that the “one” kiss should have embodied – passion, tenderness, admiration. The kiss between Logan and the Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) was a kiss that never was fully explained. If the kiss was what injected Logan with the spider (the foreign object that depletes Wolverine's powers), how come we never see the spider enter his mouth? Instead, we only see green vapors, something reminiscent of Poison Ivy, the character from the Batman comics. Furthermore, who was Viper, and what was her motivation? These were just some of the many questions and plot holes that turned me off from this film. Two things I did like about this film was (1) the character of Yukio (Rila Fukushima), the tough sword swinging sidekick who befriends Logan; and (2) the story's attempt to search deeper into the emotional struggles of Wolverine. Less concern about being a summer blockbuster and more attention to drama may have been the better path for The Wolverine.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

September 7, 2013

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

When it’s over, similar and different than White House Down. With both titles released in theatres roughly the same time, it was hard not to compare the two films. Both films had almost identical plots and characters, but each held a different experience. WHD felt like an action film, and OHF felt like a thriller. Plus, both films are rated differently, aiming for different age categories. (You can read more about my thoughts on WHD independently in this blog.) The White House has been taken by an Asian paramilitary faction led by (Rick Yune), which is set on destroying the United States. Ex-Secret Serviceman, Mike Banning (Gerald Butler) must find a way to save the President (Aaron Eckhart), the President’s son, and the country. It sounds like a one man show, but it certainly did not feel like one, because the focus and screen time were evenly distributed throughout the leading cast. I liked Eckhart, Butler, and Yune. The acting was good, not superb by any means, but I don’t think it needed to be, because it was mainly the action propelling the story forward. OHF was more violent, more unforgiving, and definitely, more serious in its delivery. Thus, the R-restricted rating. There was no humor, none that I can remember, and no one-liners to make your eyes roll. Having seen both WHD and OHF, I would recommend viewers to choose the film with the actor(s) they most like watching, because that will determine their overall enjoyment. 

My rating: 3.5 out of 5