Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Contagion (2011)

Directed: Steven Soderbergh  Rated: PG-13  Runtime: 1h 46m Studio: Warner Bros.  Screenwriter: Scott Z. Burns Cast: Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Ehle, Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow

Tell me if this sounds familiar; an animal, a virus, fear, global contagion, millions die, the military is involved, a run on goods at stores, and the entire world stops. So why isn’t this a review of Rise of Planet of the Apes? That’s what you were thinking, right? I understand your confusion. The plot of that film and Contagion is very similar, and Rise debuted in theaters a month before this one. 

Dystopian disasters and end-of-the-world films never seem to go out of style. In 2011, Contagion seemed like a dystopian reality that couldn’t actually happen. Then, a decade later, Covid-19 shut the world down. Life imitated art. To watch Contagion now, to sit and view an odd re-telling of a reality we’ve lived through, with its eerily similar accurateness in so many regards, is unsettling. 

A woman (Paltrow) travels home from a work trip in Hong Kong. She feels a bit off but chalks it up to jet lag. The C.D.C. and World Health Organization (W.H.O.) are involved within the next few days. 

Now, hindsight is a bitch. After living through COVID and watching a movie like this afterward, it would be difficult not to question how certain things are done in this film. However, some basic protocols and procedures, and policies have existed for a long time with groups like the C.D.C. and WHO, so how are they not used in this film? Like C.D.C. employees walking around sick people (especially before you figure out how the virus travels) with no masks on! It’s not like we will forget that actress is Kate Winslet or that actor is Matt Damon. 

Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, & Jennifer Ehle in Warner Bros. Pictures ‘Contagion’ Image:

This film also calls what’s going on an epidemic, when that’s not accurate either. It is, in fact, a pandemic. It’s like no one bothered to proofread medical terms. Dictionaries must have been so hard to come by for some reason in 2011. Digressing from that are the components of this film that resonate with real life (now) all too well. It has pure scientists, skeptics/conspiracy theorists/deniers, governments, angry crowds, looters, scavengers, and piles of dead people. With all that going on, there’s still a well-written script, acting, and set designs (such as they are). It also has a great, simple explanation for how a virus travels and how contagious (or not) it may be in a way I never heard someone say during the real-life pandemic. 

The overall atmosphere of Contagion is excellent, without taking itself too seriously despite the heavy subject matter. The cast is terrific, not just with the delivery of their lines but the emotional resonance behind them. Cotillard’s Dr. Leonora Orantes, Ehle’s Ally Hextall, Winslet’s Dr. Erin Mears, and Fishburne’s Dr. Ellis Cheever get the lion’s share of the screen time, and they are all wonderful with the material they are given. 

Marion Cotillard & Chin Han in ‘Contagion’ from Warner Bros. Pictures Image:

Winslet and Cotillard play epidemiologists, and they both deliver a performance that makes me feel for those that do this job in real life. I was more interested in those characters than in Matt Damon’s. His character represents the average person’s reaction to such an event. Perhaps I’m jaded after the last few years, but as a viewer, I liked the informational perspective, mainly because that wasn’t my reality. With a film like Contagion, people will take away something a little different from others, and that’s okay. Soderbergh packs a ton into this film.

Alan Krumwiede’s (Law) denier mentality is tame compared to real life, yet his tactics via his blog and interviews are spot on. Jude Law doesn’t get as much screen time as the other characters, but his character’s inclusion breaks up everything else to help with flow. One might think his character is the antagonist, but he’s not; the virus is. You can’t yell, shoot, or negotiate with a virus, and its ‘agenda’ (if you will) doesn’t discriminate against whom it goes after.

Jude Law in ‘Contagion’ from Warner Bros. Pictures Image: via

This isn’t an action disaster film. There are no mobs hoarding supplies protected by large groups like in The Walking Dead; it’s a slow unfolding of events in a manner not usual for this genre. Yet it works. I particularly like how the film hops from one location to another around the globe to show how the virus is perceived by other cultures and how they handle it. 

The trailer for this film is well done too. It gives you enough relevant information to tell you about what you’ll be watching but gives nothing important away. The tone-setting music is perfect as well. It may not be something everyone wants to watch after the past few years, but at some point, Contagion is worthy of a place on your watchlist. 

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Happy Anniversary!

It’s been a whole year since I started blogging here on WordPress! Yes, there were those few months of sabbatical in the middle, but let’s ignore that- I posted twice a week for the majority of the year; that’s still a lot to say about movies. 

I intended to post twice a week this past summer, and one of my posts each week would involve me working my way through the MCU film roster before ‘Black Widows’ release. That worked out well. I may finish what I started with that mini project but mainly, at this point, if I need something quick to review in a pinch. 

Part of my growing pains involved constant glitches with WordPress and their “happiness engineers” not providing much happiness. So my blog layout started one way and has changed a few times to work around some of those glitches. The problem I have is that I hate the way my blog looks. I can’t imagine others like it much if I can’t stand it myself, but we often are our own worst critics. However, I would like to take this opportunity to ask what you all think about it or what doesn’t work for you, especially on mobile devices. The comment section is at your disposal, or click on the “contact me” tab and send a message that way. If someone can’t read my posts without difficulty, then what’s the point? 

Writing reviews without spoilers is a challenge, but I like the idea of talking about films without spoiling them. After a year, I recognize that my posts are a little all over the place in terms of form. Sometimes I’m overly analytical, and occasionally I full-on rant. If I were paid to do this by someone, there would be guidelines for writing, why, and what. So I’m still trying to find my voice, if you will, how I’m most comfortable and proud to say what I say about any given film. 

I stay away from reviewing TV shows, but I watch a fair amount of them. So, in honor of my first year (and since Covid gave us all a limited amount of content in terms of films), I am listing fifteen TV shows I feel are worth watching or re-watching. In alphabetical order, they are: 

  1. After Life
  2. Bones
  3. Broadchurch
  4. Doctor Who
  5. Game of Thrones
  6. Justice Leauge/Unlimited
  7. Killing Eve 
  8. Lost in Space
  9. The Crown
  10. The Handmaid’s Tale
  11. The Marvoulus Mrs. Masiel
  12. True Blood
  13. True Detective
  14. Westworld
  15. Young Justice

Mini-series honorable mentions: Chernobyl and Wanda Vision 

Thank you all for joining me this first year and being as interested in movies as I am. Happy viewing!

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Dune (2021)

DUNE (2021)

Director: Denis Villeneuve  Runtime: 2 hr 35 min  Rated: PG-13

Studio: Legendary Pictures  Based on: Frank Herbert’s novel ‘Dune’

Screenwriter: Eric Roth, Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Timohée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgård, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista, Charlotte Rampling, Sharon Duncan-Brewster

Dune is a science fiction saga layered with all the typical trappings of humanity. Rife with greed and civil unrest as a set of noble houses control planets for resources, wealth, and power. Often to the detriment of the locals. 

Not too far into the film, and I’m having a flashback to 2015’s Jupiter Ascending, which was marginally more exciting than this film. 

In Dune, the house of Atreides is given stewardship of planet Arrakis by the overlord of all the houses-the Emperor. House Atreides, people of a water planet, go to Arrakis, a desert world, to mine spice. It’s the only thing of value to the houses because though spice is a drug; they also use it to navigate space. Okay. Spice is only on Arrakis, with two other things: the locals, known as the Freemen, and massive sandworms. 

The Freemen walk in a certain way to not cause unnatural vibrations in the sand that would otherwise attract the worms. They also wear special garb to help them endure the intense heat of the surface. Freemen characters are Chani (Zendaya), Stilgar (Bardem), and Dr. Kynes (Duncan-Brewster). Dr. Kynes has the most screen time out of these three, and the trailers for this movie imply the other two have more significant roles than they do. So if you see Dune just because they are in it, you’ll have to wait for most of the film and will be vastly disappointed. 

Javier Bardem’s Stilgar in ‘Dune’ Image: Legendary Pictures via

The previous stewards of Arrakis, House Harkonnen, mined the spice for 80 years and left abruptly. Houses Harkonnen and Atreides are sworn enemies but obey the Emperor’s decree of change. Still with me?

Paul Atreides (Chalamet) is the son of Duke Leto Atreides (Isaac), next in line to rule his homeworld. Paul follows his father and mother, Lady Jessica (Ferguson), to Arrakis to learn how to lead more. Dune is billed as a sci-fi hero’s journey of a young boy born for a destiny he can’t grasp. A journey to provide safety for his people and family, all while not giving into fear. 

Frank Herbert originally published Dune in 1965. 

‘Dune’ Spice harvester Image: Legendary Pictures via

To get to my following observation, let me highlight some key phrases and notions about Dune. 1. An Emperor (really) 2. Mine spice (Kessel) 3. Planet of sand (Tatooine) 4. Massive worms (Sarlacc pit, or Jabba) 5. Walking a certain way (Sand people) 6. Wear special garb (Sand people) 7. Hero’s journey (Luke) 8. A Young boy(Luke/Anakin) 9. Destiny (Luke/Anakin) 10. Not giving in to fear (Jedi) 11. High council (Jedi)12. Superpowers (the Force) 13. Imperium (Empire). I could go on. Before seeing this version of Dune, I knew nothing about it. I had never read the books or seen the previous movies, so I walked into the theater with no pre-knowledge or conceptions. However, after only a few minutes into the film, I was beyond irritated. 

This irritation was because I couldn’t stop thinking about how much George Lucas poached from Frank Herbert. Not drew on as inspiration, full-on stole. George Lucas released the first of his Star Wars films, A New Hope, twelve years after Dune was published. Yes, the troupes of a young hero’s journey, saving one’s family, and the notion of destiny are all well used throughout cinema and literary works; but this is something else. 

Sandworm of Arrakis in ‘Dune’ Image: Legendary Pictures via

My urge to slap George Lucas aside, Villeneuve’s Dune isn’t worth the hype. It’s dull, cold, and wastes its runtime with lackluster performances. This film should have had gravitas and more substance, considering the vast source material available. I saw the trailer like millions of others, but I was unimpressed. The movie, like the trailer, left me with no investment in the plot or the characters. Dune’s filmmaker expects the audience to care and follow along with this story, though there’s no satisfaction at the end. 

Why is there no satisfaction or excitement to find out what happens next? Imagine the following: you wake to strangers in your home, there’s shooting, fire, and death. Therefore you flee for your life through dangerous parts of town to seek shelter and help from people you barely know. All while not disturbing the gigantic sandworms and daydreaming about a girl. These people agree to help you- end film. Without actual spoilers, I just summed up Dune

Zendaya in ‘Dune.’ Image: Legendary Pictures via

Villeneuve cuts Dune off after two-and-a-half hours with no actual climax/resolution. Walking through worm-infested dunes isn’t a proper climax. It’s a bloody boring letdown. As an avid reader and fan of films, I know that movies rarely do their sourcebooks justice. Even though I haven’t read Dune, I don’t believe the first novel ended the way the film did. Please correct me if I’m wrong because Dune is one of the top 100 books of all time. 

How does such a popular novel make it to the silver screen with lackluster cast performance, pace, and lack of details? The most energy any character provides is Jason Momoa’s Duncan Idaho, discounting Brolin and Bautista’s roles as gruff, angry soldiers. That’s not a stretch for them, so I hardly call it acting. 

Stellan Skarsgård as Baron Harkonnen in ‘Dune.’ Image: Legendary Pictures via

Stellan Skarsgård’s depiction of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen was said to be terrifying. I’m a big fan of Mr. Skarsgård’s work, and terrifying isn’t the word I would use to describe him in this film. Authoritative, vengeful, physically imposing (he’s a tall man in real life) who flies, which I find to be a weird ability, but not terrifying. Again I haven’t read the books; maybe he’s amazingly terrific as his literary counterpart description. 

The Lady Jessica is credited as Atreides but is referred to as the Dukes’ concubine in the film. If she’s his concubine, she’s not his wife. Either way, she is the mother of the Dukes’ son, Paul. The Lady Jessica is part of the Bene Gesserit, a political shadow group of sorceress with a breeding program. Again, I have that Star Wars connection in my mind. Breeding, cloning. Female sorceress’s, the Nightsisters of Dathomir. By and large, Ferguson’s emotional range is that of a brick wall. 

Chalamet, Ferguson, and Isaac in ‘Dune’ Image: Legendary Pictures via

Ferguson is a brick wall, and Timothée Chalamet is a wet mop. Why is there hype around this kid? Harry Potter had more emotional responses about his dead parents, whom he’d never met than Paul does about any of the stuff happening around him. And Paul is a lot older than an eleven-year-old. For that matter, Harry’s dead parents in memory form or in moving magical photos conveyed more emotion for their son than Lady Jessica. 

It’s not fair that all I can think about is Star Wars when watching this; Frank Herbert really should have sued George Lucas at some point. Star Wars has plenty of other things that separate it from Dune. Still, so many of the broad strokes are not original, leaving me with a bitter taste in my mouth about the franchise. Herbert crafted a sci-fi series in novel form, and had George Lucas never come along with Star Wars, who knows how popular the Dune series cinematically could have been long term. All it needed was a studio, cast, and director, along with an excellent screenplay to bring it all to life- a few decades too late. Instead, now, Dune is left seeming like recycled content. 

Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho in ‘Dune.’ Image: Legendary Pictures via

The script and direction should be solid when watching a big-budget film with a solid cast based on a classic novel. The passage of too much time and George Lucas robbed Dune of its full potential. Try as Denis Villeneuve did to make a better version of the 1984 attempt of Dune; it still falls flat. The devil is in the details, and there were not enough of them for Dune to resonate as the larger-than-life story it’s branded to be. 

Hopefully, the next attempt at Dune on the big screen will better incorporate details about the Houses in general, the interpersonal connections, and the mystical components that were played up but meant nothing. The story isn’t compelling enough without energetic performances and more complete pictures of characters and story arcs. 

When plot mechanics are the backbone of a film with little emotional resonance (story), it shouldn’t be on anyone’s watchlist. That’s not a film worth anyone’s time.

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Eternals (2021)

Eternals (2021)

Director: Chloé Zhao   Runtime: 2 hr 36 mins  Rated: PG-13 

Studio: Marvel Studios  Screenwriter: Chloé Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo

Cast: Richard Madden, Gemma Chan, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Kumail Nanjiani, Ma Dong-seok, Kit Harington, Bill Skarsgård 

Eternals is everything a decade’s worth of MCU films couldn’t do; it tells a complete, complex, and compelling story, with a strong plot, from beginning to end. A story where you didn’t know how it or the characters would end up. When you spend a decade establishing characters, building up an ensemble to fight together, you expect them to win. You expect them to make it to the end of their respective standalone films, so there’s little mystery there. How you get from Iron Man to Endgame is largely spectacle. Flash over substance. 

Eternals is more substance over flash, and many movie-goers hate that. Over the years, the MCU model conditioned people to expect less story from Marvel films, which are padded with costumes, CGI, and action. Don’t despair. Eternals have plenty of CGI and action woven more intrinsically within this detailed, rich story. 

Perhaps this is part of what many disliked. Details. Being required to listen and pay attention; when it’s not a spectacle, that’s what films need. Perhaps it’s the openly gay couple with a kid? Get over yourselves. Maybe it’s the sex scene? Hm, that one is fair. Up to this point, you could take young kids to see their favorite superhero in what has been a G/PG rated aspect of this topic in the MCU thus far. Well, kids grow up. Comic characters are not just for kids, nor have they ever been. Eternals isn’t dark and deranged like Zack Snyder’s comic book character depictions. Eternals fall in the middle. I’ll grant you this tiny spoiler if you’re on the fence about this film based on this point. It’s tastefully done. Sure it’s clear at one point two of the characters are lying down and don’t have clothes on anymore, but it’s from the collarbones up. Take from that what you will. 

Image: Marvel Studios, composite by Kirsten Acuna/

Exploring this further, Eternals has a well-rounded, diverse cast. There are black people; one of whom is deaf, white people, an Indian character, Asian characters, a Spanish character, and a kid. This large cast ticks off a bunch of boxes with ease and not for the sake of ticking off boxes. I appreciate a well-rounded, talented cast that lets the film be about the story-not character-specific. In prior MCU films, one or two characters always managed to show up even when it wasn’t their standalone film like the film wouldn’t work without their inclusion. While Eternals have costumes, you should consider them more as uniforms, extensions of their powers, and ship. In this manner, this ensemble is without the brightly colored spandex costumes and accompanying ego trips. It’s all the better for it. 

Fans, however, may not feel better about the film’s opening sequence. They’ll need to read the screen. This isn’t a bad thing! It certainly sets the tone for the movie and the upfront departure from every other MCU project to date. It provides needed backstory in a format that consumes less screen time and budget. This format will not resonate with every viewer, but it’s an essential blip in the overall runtime of the film. It’s hardly the first film to use this tactic. So, read it without complaint. It’s also an important reason to remember to show up and find a seat before the film starts! 

Celestial image from the MCU Image: Marvel via

Eternals has gotten mixed reviews, and I’m going to point out why you should ignore the naysayers. 1. Marvel didn’t put nearly the marketing effort into hyping this movie as others. It’s like they didn’t know how because 2. They are obscure characters with no prior buildup 3. The teaser trailer did nothing for this movie. Please ignore it. 4. It’s not all Hulk-like smashing, gun-heavy violent 5. The box office sucked. On that last point, when American films come out usually, other countries see them first. China is an excellent example of this, and they opted not toallow Eternals into their theaters. When that happens, the studio will see fewer zeros from ticket sales. That’s just a fact. Couple that ban with still touchy post-Covid theater options, and it’s clear those previous metrics for evaluating a hit or flop need reassessment ASAP. With all that against it, tossing that all aside and Eternals should be considered a box office hit. 

Chloé Zhao did a bloody marvelous job bringing together a large ensemble that portrayed characters worth being invested in. A cast who have great chemistry and energy that are believable and meaningful. Full of details that make the plot move along at an incredible pace, with seamless cinematography. Zhao tells a consistent story whose themes are just right and impactful. The audience can understand their story, who they are, why they are on Earth, their purpose, and how it all fits together in the MCU, which is a fair point after Thanos. 

Kumail Nanjiani is Kingo in ‘Eternals’ Image: Marvel Studios via

Moving forward, I sincerely hope that the house of mouse doesn’t “Disney-fi” future work with the Eternals within the MCU because this fresh infusion of characters is a palate cleanser. The right amount of serious and grownup to intermix with the sassy, zany and quirky characters left doing projects with the MCU. 

Eternals is worth a spot on your watchlist and your time. Make sure to stick around for the two end credit scenes; one’s at the very end. Cheers!

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

I AM MOTHER (2019)

I AM MOTHER (2019)

Director: Grant Sputore  Rated: PG Runtime: 1 hr. 53 mins   

Studio: Rhea Films/Netflix   Screenwriter: Michael Lloyd-Green

Cast: Clara Rugaard, Rose Byrne, Hilary Swank

What is it with Netflix and robots? Is it just me? What is with the mass appeal of dystopian or apocalyptic premises in the last decade of screen media in general? Okay, if people didn’t like it or were sick of it, such projects wouldn’t get made. That doesn’t mean they all should. 

So here’s I AM MOTHER with robots and the end of the human race. Hardly an original concept. After some extinction-level event wipes man from the Earth, robots inherit it. “Mother” is a nanny bot, voiced by Rose Byrne. Mother’s function is to repopulate the human race from a secret bunker with over 60K human embryos. She grows one, a female, and calls her “daughter” (Rugaard). Why just one? Mother needs to practice being a good parent before going all out. Here’s my first question, how would she handle more than a few? She’s the only robot. Then again, I had Alien and Prometheus vibes (sans actual aliens), so what do I know. Over time Daughter grows into a teenager, fully educated by Mother and curious about the world beyond the bunker. Who wouldn’t be?

Hilary Swank in ‘I Am Mother’ Image: Netflix via

Daughter’s safety and sheltered existence are challenged one day upon “the wounded woman’s” (Swank) arrival. Seriously, Swank’s character isn’t even credited with a name, just a description. If you’re the last of your kind, do names matter? Unlike Daughter, who didn’t need one, Swank’s character is an adult and probably had one at some point, so it leans towards degrading. I digress on this point. 

Through a series of events, “the woman” ends up in the bunker (sorry, baby spoiler) and causes Daughter to question her life and Mother. The rest of the film is a letdown to the ideas planted of what viewers think is coming. Instead, it has strong echoes of the Alien franchise merged with Terminator and Star Trek’s Borg. As badass as that mashup implies, it culminates in nothing. It’s poached ideas that are left undercooked. 

Embryo from ‘I AM MOTHER’ Image: Netflix via

I AM MOTHER is a better-wrapped product than others whose packaging is recycled content. That’s all this film is. The script and performances were as flat as a sheet of paper. Watching this out of sheer boredom, I AM MOTHER has the appeal of lukewarm coffee, completely worth tossing aside. 

There are so many (better) original films out there to spend your time on, some I mentioned. This film, however, has no place on your watchlist- unless you like unoriginal crap.

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Cast Away (2000)

Cast Away (2000)

Director: Robert Zemeckis   Runtime: 2 hr 23 mins.   Rated: PG-13

Studio: 20th Century Fox/Dreamworks   Screenwriter: William Broyles Jr. 

Cast: Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, Wilson the Volleyball

FedEx executive Chuck Noland (Hanks) is an obsessively punctual, high-strung perfectionist of time. And an apparent workaholic. This film starts out days before Christmas 1995. Everyone who ships goods at that time of the year is probably temporarily high-strung. Except for Chuck, that’s his normal. Christmas night, Chuck sets out on a FedEx shipping plane bound for Malaysia when they get caught in a storm and knocked off course. 

The plane crashes, and Chuck is the sole survivor. He washes ashore on a small island. 

In Cast Away, Hanks gives an astonishing performance that displays a physical transformation and highlights the emotional and mental toll a person can suffer in isolation. 

We all hear background noises every day, noise pollution, and become almost accustomed to it. In Cast Away, the background noise is the ocean. The waves, coconuts dropping, or the storms during storm season- that’s it. That lack of noise is something Hank’s Noland has to learn to endure. A lack of sounds is just one form of Chuck’s isolation. In that way, the sound editing in this film is vital. 

At one point, Chuck makes it to the top of his island, and it is small. It highlights to Chuck, and the audience, how univocally screwed he is. How alone, and how little Chuck has in the way of resources. The shot emphasizes the ocean’s vastness and how utterly cut off he is. On top of the internal anguish, Chuck has to deal with, which is its own form of a co-star, he has the ocean and island. Both are his nemesis, along with time and the weather. That might be a bit deep for some, but it’s true. 

Tom Hanks in ‘Cast Away’ Image: 20th Century Fox via

Chuck isn’t the only thing that ends up washing ashore. Some of the FedEx packages do as well. This film is entirely fictional, so no real people lost goods to a guy named Chuck to utilize as he saw fit. That genius lies with the writer. Seriously if you were stuck on an island and could have one item, what would it be? I’d say the TARDIS. But screenwriter William Broyles Jr. was able to grant Chuck’s character multiple things that on their own are bizarre in a tropical island setting. That’s the beauty in it, how to be resourceful when you have little or nothing to work with from the start. 

In that resourcefulness, Chuck befriends Wilson. Wilson is the brand name of a volleyball he finds. If you end up talking to yourself and answering too, it’s less crazy if you feel like you are talking to someone/thing. And Wilson helps Chuck move along this incredible journey of being lost at sea, marooned on an island, and surviving; to deal with the isolation. The attention to detail to make the story believable is well thought out. The editing crafts the progression of time, creating a good pace. For a two-and-a-half-hour film, it moves along nicely. 

Tom Hanks and Wilson the volleyball in ‘Cast Away’ Image: 20th Century Fox via

Tom Hanks gives an energetic, compelling, emotional performance in that allotted time. Part of that time is on Chuck’s attempts to escape the island. So the purpose of his character isn’t just how to deal with isolation, but can he escape it? Does his character find resolution from his conflict? The answer also ties in with what makes this film different from others in its genre. 

What would you do if you were alone on an island? How would you endure? Cast Away makes the audience ponder these questions without directly asking. It’s a mark of a great film. Cast Away is an excellent film to add to your watchlist any time of the year. 

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

127 Hours (2010)

127 Hours (2010)

Director: Danny Boyle   Runtime: 1hr 34 mins   Rated: R

Studio: Pathé/Searchlight Pictures   Screenwriter: Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy 

Inspired by: Aron Ralston’s novel “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”

Cast: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Clémence Poésy

127 Hours is a short film that aims to draw in audiences based on the appeal of its leading man and that it’s based on real-life events. In 2003 real-life Aron Ralston set out on a day trip in Utah’s Blue John Canyon and suffered an accident that pins his arm in-between the rock face and a boulder. Ralston records what he believes to be his last days explaining how he ended up in the state he was, for whoever finds him one day. 

Since this film is based on Ralston’s book about the incident, he lives. That’s not a spoiler. It would be if someone else wrote a book about Ralston’s accident. 

It isn’t easy to create a film where you have, essentially, one character. This character has what amounts to an exterior monologue the entire time. This dialogue conundrum is layered with the setting. The majority of the film centers around Aron (Franco), who’s stuck in a highly isolated canyon crack. From a cinematography perspective, Danny Boyle did an excellent job showing the landscape and how it related to Aron during the day and while he was trapped. It helped to cement the seriousness of his predicament for the audience. The director also recreates the real Ralston’s actual camera log. In doing so, we have a performance by Franco that is a one-man show. He has to physically work in a minimal space, on a rope, where he mentally and emotionally swings like a pendulum as time progresses. 

James Franco as Aron Ralston in ‘127 Hours’ Image: Pathé via

While Franco brings much-needed energy to this story and its underlying messages and themes, it would have been better as a TV movie. Today this type of film is more likely to be picked up by a company like Netflix, which didn’t start original content till 2013. 127 Hours isn’t a terrible movie, but it’s the kind of film you only watch once, in school on substitute day, or as an airplane film. Sadly, the trailer for the film gives too much away, leaving little to be surprised by.

While the messages and lessons of the film to the audience are important, so no one has a Ralston-like “oops” moment, 127 Hours is forgettable as a movie. Forgettable isn’t worth a watchlist spot. 

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Snowpiercer (2013)

Snowpiercer (2013)

Director: Bong Joon-Ho   Runtime: 2 hr. 6 min   Rated:

Studio: Moho Films Screenwriter: Bong Joon-Ho, Kelly Masterson

Cast: Chris Evans, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Song Kang-ho, Ko Asung, Jamie Bell

Snowpiercer is a French comic brought to the big screen by South Korean director Bong Joon-ho. The year is 2031, and the entire world’s remaining population lives aboard a train that never stops moving, or everyone on it will freeze to death. Just like the rest of the world did almost two decades prior. Humanity is an endangered species, and the train is the Hotel California. You could check-in, but you’re never going to leave.

This train generates energy by constantly moving, and since the great freeze means it can never stop. It does one lap around the globe each year. The train, this snowpiercer, was created by a man called Wilford, who divided the train into three parts. The elite at the front, poorest at the end, and the workers in the middle who service the train. The inhabitants at the back endure much. They live off of gelatin-like “protein bars” and nothing else. They have their children taken, live in squalor, and are executed periodically to reduce the population. These individuals are never allowed beyond the train’s tail. So, surprise, they sometimes revolt. In Snowpiercer, they try again, with a new plan, to make it to the front and control the engine. After all, those that control the engine control the world, such as it is. 

I watched this film begrudgingly. I stopped it mid-film three times and took days in between to finish it. There needs to be more attention to detail for a plot like this to work on screen. Expand upon what’s not in the original material, or ignore it and make it better. He’d hardly be the first moviemaker to do so. This film has a trailer that holds up this movie to be far more exciting than it is. A film shouldn’t create so many questions and not answer them. 

‘Snowpiercer’ staring Chris Evans and Jamie Bell. Image: Moho Films via

The beginning of the film drops the audience into a story in progress. While it’s not difficult to catch on to the plight and goals of the characters, it is a little confusing. Utilizing this tactic is problematic because the viewer isn’t invested yet in the characters. Bong Joon-ho’s choice to cast Chris Evans as Curtis and Octavia Spencer as Tanya aren’t enough. Both are phenomenal actors, but their addition to this cast was to grab more Western viewers, not because actual acting was required. 

Initially, the director didn’t want to cast Chris Evans because he was too fit. Malnourished from living in poverty, it would be hard for anyone to believe he was from the tail car. All the people there are frail. So, instead, he’s covered in clothing to hide his bulk. On that logic, I’d like to point out that he cast Octavia Spencer! No disrespect to her, but she’s a heavy-set woman. It’s the reverse logic of not wanting a physically fit person cast. After almost two decades on a train in squalor-like conditions, she’d be thinner. She’s the only plus-sized person I saw in that section. So back to my point about more Western eyeballs. 

Child labor in ‘Snowpiercer’ Image: Moho Films via the

The logic of this film makes zero sense. The train isn’t that big when you think about it or see shots of it. How is livestock raised or food for so many people aboard a train? How do you maintain the train? Where do the spare parts go, how do you make more? At what point do you run out of clothes, supplies in general, on a ride you can’t stop? How many people have to die every year to sustain everyone else? 

Now, cultures other than mine find eating insects acceptable, okay. What’s not okay is how it’s depicted in this film. Besides being excessively disgusting, where did they all come from? The squalor from the tail and the production/growth of food alone isn’t enough to generate that many insects frequently enough to be used as they are in this film. Remember, they are all dead outside the train. 

Protein bars for every meal in ‘Snowpiercer’ Image: CJ Entertainment via

If I, or you, were boarding this life-saving train on day one, one of the many questions I would want to be answered is, what about the tracks? This train rides around on one gigantic loop around the Earth; what keeps the tracks from freezing so much the train doesn’t derail after months or years? Everyone dies if too much snow blocks a section and stops the train. These are no small questions, and someone could have dreamed up an answer and brought it up with relative ease, but no. Instead, the audience is dropped into a story where the plot is to take the engine car or die trying. In a gritty, difficult to watch (camera work), violent hail Mary to overthrow an authoritarian dictator and his lackeys. 

As dystopian, apocalyptic-like, fate of humanity films go, Snowpiercer is a dull, thinly plotted, implausible train wreck despite the otherwise talented ensemble. It’s not worth the hype many gave it nor a place on anyone’s watchlist. 

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Star Trek (2009)

Director: J.J. Abrams    Runtime: 2 hrs. 7 mins.    Rated: PG-13

Studio: Paramount Pictures    Screenwriter: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman

Based on: TV series Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Lenard Nimoy, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood

It’s always a pleasure when something classic is reimagined and doesn’t stink. It’s even more enjoyable when there’s a substantial time gap between the two. Today I’m talking about Star Trek. Yes, a few T.V. shows bear that name, but this film is rebooting the original T.V. series in a fashion. 

Paramount Pictures Trailer for ‘Star Trek’ via Classic Trailers on YouTube.

J.J. Abrams directed a star-studded cast that perfectly depicted and paid homage to the original characters and the actors that played them. If you’re familiar with the original T.V. show or films, you can appreciate it more than if you have not. Creator Gene Rodenberry crafted a reality that explores space, sure, but set the bar for how humanity should be. Peaceful, collaborative, intelligent, inclusive, and open-minded. He was decades ahead of his time. His amazingly radical notions don’t have quite the impact today as they did when Star Trek first aired, but that’s a good thing. It represents progress. 

“Space, the final frontier.” I think of these iconic words as I look out an airplane window at 40,000 feet writing this. The multiple shades of blue, nothing visible beneath me, sparse speckling of clouds smeared onto the sky like an artist at work. It’s nothing compared to seeing the entire planet from above and afar. To try and imagine that or other worlds is beyond the scope of my appreciation. So when J.J. Abrams and the production team gave birth to this remake in such a vivid, plausible, and fun manner, it just had to be good. Right?

Yelchin, Pine, Pegg, Urban, Cho, and Saldana in Paramount Pictures ‘Star Trek’ Photo via

Captain James T. Kirk (Pine), Spock (Quinto), Lt. Uhura (Saldana), Soo-Lu (Cho), Ensign Chekov (Yelchin), Doctor McCoy (Urban), and Scotty (Pegg) are all superb casting choices! Everyone has this well-blended chemistry that makes you fall for them as their respective characters. Though Zachary Quinto’s resemblance to the original Spock, Lenard Nimoy, is uncanny. It’s one thing for an actor to look like someone else, but accurately depicting them is vital, and Quinto makes an excellent Spock. R.I.P. Mr. Nimoy.

This film introduces the Star Trek universe and the cast’s journey together. However, how the story originates is brilliant. Using one of the original Trek members as the catalyst to the plot allows the story to honor the original and carve out its own path for newer generations. It’s a genuinely clever way to reset many things about the original without destroying its memory. 

Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto as Star Trek’s Spock. Credit:

The freshly minted crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the flagship of Star Fleet, work together to tackle the immense challenge of stopping a rogue Romulan captain named Nero (Bana) who is out to destroy the Federation, one planet at a time. Why? And how do you stop someone that can destroy planets? The answer to that and the reason for the plot working so well was the addition of “Spock Prime” (Nimoy) as he’s credited. The concept of the plot doesn’t work without his inclusion. 

It’s not just Mr. Nimoy but the entire cast who brings depth, energy, and believability to their roles. After all, that is what anyone wants from an actor, an outstanding performance. Star Trek gets that from everyone attached to the film; to me, that is a sign of great hiring. It’s also a sign of a great script. A project can have the best actors around, which can flop from a terrible script or a bad director. 

The Romulan ship, the Narada in ‘Star Trek.’ Image: Paramount Pictures

Another attribute that makes this iteration of Star Trek so appealing to watch is the production that created believable costumes for the various aliens, the sets and props, and the technology used to complete all the CGI. Every time Star Trek is taken on anew, it automatically benefits from the newest filmmaking tools of the time. This franchise has come a long way in visual appeal since 1966. It’s come a long way in general and paved the way for many first on T.V. 

This Star Trek does a spectacular job of character development in weaving the storylines together and representing how different species manage meeting new people in life and on the job. 

Bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise in Paramount Pictures ‘Star Trek’

Fantastic acting, set design, cinematography, directing, story, and humor make this film worth the effort into creating it. All these attributes created a movie worth seeing. J.J. Abrams boldly chose to go where many have gone before and comes out of warp speed with a refreshing winner of a reboot of a beloved sci-fi franchise. This Star Trek is worthy of a place on your watchlist!

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog

I’m Not Gone

Hello all. It’s been months since my last post. Months. I can’t believe how the time slipped past me like that. I meant to post much sooner and apologize for my lapse. I’m in the process of trying to moving, that was made more difficult with medical issues that have popped up. All of that is stressful and something needed to go. That something was my blog, temporarily. It’s important to have balance and manageable stress in ones life. Watching movies and writing is usually enjoyable for me and it wasn’t for a while. My goal is to start posting again within the next month. Thank you to everyone who follows Watch List Reviews or just comes across it and enjoys a post. Cheers!

– A Pen Lady