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.

October 25, 2013

Repo Men (2010)

When it's over, waiting for a human organ donation is a thing of the past. In the near future, Artiforgs, artificial organs, can be purchased on credit and life can be good, but only if you can keep up the payments. Should you fall behind on payments, an institution known as The Union will reclaim your organ(s) by sending Repo Men to extract them from your body, leaving no concern for your health or death. Remy (Jude Law) is one of the best Repo Men in the company, but when he suffers a cardiac failure on the job, he is fitted with the company's best artificial heart and a huge debt, which he cannot pay. Remy is the hunter that becomes the hunted, a plotline that is nothing new to moviegoers. What I like about Repo Men is that it re-invents this reversal of roles through fresh lenses, entertaining the viewer, while urging them to think outside of the picture frame. 

There are plenty of underlying messages amidst the blood and violence, but there are two that stand out: 

(1) The idea of second chances – does it exist or is it an illusion? Is a person simply buying time to prolong an inevitable end? The film shows that second chances do exist in the form of Artiforgs, and The Union pitches the line, “You owe it to your family. You owe it to yourself.” But, as the film evolves, the viewer sees what The Union truly offers. Even the ending is an illusion to a certain extent.
(2) The concept of desensitization, where Remy extinguishes his emotional response to the wicked ways of his job, even though he knows it is cruel and unethical. However, all that changes when his artificial heart can no longer desensitize his actions, and he ends up a victim like so many victims he has taken life from. How can one man right so many wrongs, and Remy struggles with this notion. In reality, Remy represents the countless thousands of employees who work for corrupt corporations everyday all over the world, making money off the less fortunate and the unable. One important line Remy says in the film is, “At the end, a job is not just a job, is who you are, and if you wanna change who you are, you have to change what you do.” To me, this is a direct statement to society. 

I enjoyed Repo Men for its approach, concept, and commentary, and would have rated it higher if I could get through three issues: 

(1) The motive that caused Remy's cardiac failure is weak and unbelievable.
(2) Dead bodies, murdered and mutilated, lay everywhere in multiple scenes, but where are the police? Does The Union control the police? Law enforcement is never fully developed or explained.
(3) The love story between Remy and Beth (Alice Braga) is sweet, but completely unrealistic without the necessary build up. 

If you can stomach the mutilations, then this film is worth a viewing. Then, ask yourself, how does it speak to you? 

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Family (2013)

When it’s over, this is a mobster film, but not really – in the vein of Goodfellas, but with humor and less drama. The Manzoni family is relocated to Normandy, France under the witness protection plan, but fitting in with the locals can be murder, especially when rival mob families want them dead. This is Director/Writer Luc Besson’s take on dark comedy starring Robert Di Niro as head of the Manzoni family, Michelle Pfeiffer as the matriarch, and Tommy Lee Jones as the CIA agent on detail to protect the family. Young talents, Dianna Agron and John D'Leo, are the children brought up within the dysfunctional mob family. They give new meaning to the term “teen angst,” which as a viewing parent, you will either wish your teen is more like them or glad they are not. All the major characters are well cast, and they share the screen as an ensemble. Another aspect I like about the film is the violence, not because of the acts themselves, but rather, the purpose of those acts. Violence plays a huge role in The Family. It is not splashed across the screen or included for the sake of it, but instead, serves to reveal and build character. I get to know the family - Fred, Maggie, Belle, and Warren Blake - quickly based on their thoughts and acts of violence. I will not go into specific scenes, since this will take the fun out of the film should you decide to see it. I will say, however, that you will not see most of the violence coming, as it is carefully orchestrated by Besson. Interesting plot and decent location make the film watchable, but it is definitely the off-beat characters that make the film stand out from your typical mobster film.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

October 18, 2013

Gravity (3D - 2013)

When it's over, Gravity is beautiful, tragic, and frightening. It is a film about the lack of it (gravity) and the search for it. It is a metaphor that describes the emotional journey of its main character. This is not a film about space exploration, but the exploration of oneself. Medical engineer, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and veteran astronaut, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), must find a way to survive when an accident during a routine spacewalk leaves them floating in space, tethered to each other. With only a cast of two, the story is simple – survival - where the goal is to get back home to Earth. The task is threatened by a string of unforeseen dangers, which becomes the film's driving action and conflict. I thoroughly enjoyed Gravity from beginning to end. It is suspenseful and realistic, putting me right inside the action as it unfolds. I think Bullock carries the film wonderfully. She brings to Stone a certain vulnerability and courageous spirit, and much of that is shown through body language. Without words, she conveys fear, uncertainty, and realization. As she drifts in space, I feel I am floating with her, thanks to the powerful 3D visuals and expert direction from filmmaker Alonso Cuaron. The film is well paced, lending action in between moments of silence and calm, only to have the music score erupt as the elements of danger heighten. Stripped away are the guns (even space ones), the car chases, and supernatural forces, leaving behind a story about the will to live in an environment that relies on self-control, intelligence, and courage.

My rating: 4 out of 5

Europa Report (2013)

When it's over, the visuals were the most memorable. Europa Report impressed me with its camera work, set design, and space photography. Six astronauts travel to one of Jupiter's moon, Europa, in search of life. What they find is both magical and frightening. The film used found footage photography, similar to films such as Apollo 18, Cloverfield, and Blair Witch Project. Adding further to the docu-drama was narration and interview style filming, which were all utilized to fool the viewers into believing they were watching a documentary. There was no linear storyline and sporadic scenes confused more than informed, but thankfully, the jumps in timeline flattened half way through the film. The acting was good, especially from Sharlto Copley and Michael Nyqvist, but not engaging, primarily due to character development in the script. The story evolved, but the characters did not. Part exploration film and part science fiction horror, it was crucial for me to like the characters in order for me to accept their fates as they were eliminated one at a time, following the classic horror formula. Unfortunately, I found myself routing for no one. I liked that the characters had diverse personalities, but disappointed the filmmakers failed to explore those differences, which would have made the story more compelling. Still, the film's attention to details held my interest to the very end, and served to be an intelligent science fiction film for science fiction lovers. 

My rating: 3 out of 5

October 12, 2013

This is the End (2013)

When it's over, and the end comes, make sure you're not in James Franco's house. I will admit, I laughed more than I thought I would. The stupidity and idiotic behaviors were simply over the top. I don't think writers, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, missed anything in their zany story about six celebrities (Rogen, Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson) who find refuge at Franco's house when the apocalypse happens. There were elements of the supernatural, Biblical references, gore, severed limbs, drugs, gratuitous violence, graphic sex, and plenty of foul language. Am I missing anything? Oh yes, plenty of penis jokes, which were not funny or seeing the devil with his privates dangling did little to enhance the story. The Rapture from 1 Thessalonian 4:17 was the only human element of the story, because it forced the characters to re-evaluate their behaviors towards each other and humanity, so they may be chosen into heaven. Without this plot line, I think the film would have been a senseless romp. This film was primarily a comedy before it was a horror film, so viewers should prepare themselves for the crude antics of these comedians. This is the End was not the best comedy I've seen nor was it particularly intelligent, but it was certainly unique, and it surprised me. It had a well picked cast to pull off director Rogen's vision of the end. Aside for it's shortcomings, I liked it a lot!

My rating: 4 out of 5

Lincoln (2012)

When it's over, Daniel Day-Lewis was brilliant. I completely bought his performance. The costumes and set designs whisked me into the world of southern belles, slavery, and northern industrialism. All these elements made Lincoln a film worth viewing, but viewed only once. I would not sit through another 150 minutes of drawn out scenes filled with political banter. Clearly, the film's title was misleading. This was not a film about Abraham Lincoln, but about a specific time during his presidency, notably The Emancipation Proclamation and the passing of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. The film chronicled the few months leading up to Lincoln's assassination, and his uphill struggle to get the amendment passed. I was disappointed that Director Steven Spielberg spent no time showing Lincoln's past (poverty, childhood, his difficulties in school), because who he was as a president stemmed greatly from his upbringing and his struggles prior to his presidency. I knew enough about Lincoln's life to understand his conviction to end slavery and his devotion to “the people,” but even my extended knowledge did little to draw me into the story. I can only imagine how indifferent a viewer may have felt having gone into this film without any prior knowledge of Lincoln's life. This was one film where back story was crucial and completely missing. Pity...a great director directing a great actor about one of the greatest men in history equaled a not-so-great film.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

October 7, 2013

Now You See Me (2013)

When it’s over, I did not see the end coming. An FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) and an Interpol Agent (Melanie Laurent) must find proof that the Four Horsemen (Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco) are robbers, but the road to proof and answers leads them down a path of dark secrets and illusions. The story is quite simple – revenge and justice. The backdrop is the hook, as the illusions are really, really cool. Even if the film had no story, I think the magic would be enough to sustain my attention. But, the film does have a clever story, thanks to veteran writers, Ed Solomon and Boaz Yakin, and new screenwriter, Edward Ricourt. I like the twists and turns, where characters and situations are not what they seem. In the tradition of “illusionist” films, such as The Prestige (2006) and The Illusionists (2006), the viewer is led down a path of what appears to be truth, only to be fooled in the end. The casting is great throughout, in particular Woody Harrelson and Mark Ruffalo, who are both so good at making their characters unique and memorable. Jesse Eisenberg is a huge surprise, and I like his turn towards more mature roles. Romance? There is just a tip of one, which never gets its full due. It does not blossom, but rather, just happens. Despite this disadvantage, the film tries to please and succeeds on many levels, by appealing to a wide audience. Part magic show, part heist film, Now You See Me surprises me at every turn, where "the closer you look, the less you see."

My rating: 4 out of 5

On the Road (2012)

When it's over, life is a road trip, and sometimes you run out of gas. The film's title is appropriate as it follows a would be writer (Sam Riley), a wanderer (Garrett Hedlund), and the woman (Kristin Stewart) that share their beds and affections with across 1960's USA. This is not a mainstream film and definitely, not for everyone. It is not linear, where the characters go from point A to point B. I mean, physically they do, but emotionally, they are all over the map. I think they are sex-crazed, weed loving youngsters in search of self discovery and their purpose in life in a time when America demanded people should be safe, normal, and unpredictable. The idea of conformity is what makes the characters act and react with their sense of free-spirit, which results in personal scarring. Based on the generation defining book by Jack Kerouac, the filmmakers attempt to examine the human psyche through the characters' reckless actions, taking them further from what they are seeking. There is emptiness and yearning in the characters, but I cannot tap into them. The casting does not work for me. The actors are awkward together, and in some scenes, such as the orgy scenes, the awkwardness works to develop the characters, but in general, the actors do not fit well together. Perhaps, this is the story's intent? Not sure, since I have not read Kerouac's book. I just know their presence does nothing to pull me into their lives. Dean Moriarty is a tragic figure, who wants to do good, but cannot fight the impulse to be bad. This is a role that needed charisma to work, and Hedlund did not have that spark to make me care. Marylou is searching for something tangible, but is too afraid to reach out and grab it. Stewart fails to communicate something unspoken. Sal Paradise is trying to find inspiration and direction, but gets derailed in the process. Riley has the innocence, but not the manliness to pull off the transition. I really like the concept of this story, its daring nature, and the cinematography, but do not agree with how it is packaged. Less focus on the explicit scenes of sex and drugs, and more details on the characters' lives would have given me greater insight to their motivations and inner longings.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5