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Entries in halle berry (3)

Friday
Mar152013

The Call

The worst type of movie is the type that starts out so strong and has so much potential only to fall apart by the end, completely squandering it. “The Call” is one of those movies and contains one of the most monumental meltdowns I’ve ever seen a film take. One moment, it’s an edge-of-your-seat nail biter and the next, it’s a laughable thriller that takes enough absurd plot turns to completely derail it.

The film stars Halle Berry as Jordan Turner, a 911 operator who has had her fair share of difficult calls. She’s usually at the top of her game, but one night she makes a grave mistake. She receives a call from a young teenage girl reporting an intruder in her house and she advises her to do all the correct things, effectively tricking that intruder into thinking she has fled. However, the call disconnects and she immediately redials. When the phone stops ringing, due to the girl’s answering of it, the intruder realizes she’s still there and finds her. Shortly after, they find the poor girl dead.

It’s a terrific beginning to the film and humanizes Jordan in an unexpected way. When her decision causes that young girl to die, she immediately breaks down and blames herself. She is haunted by what she has done and by the voice on the other end of the phone that tells her “it’s already done” when she pleads him to stop. It’s an effective opening because her job calls for her to be emotionally distant, never minding the fact that she is often the only thing standing between life and death for her callers. Despite her experience on the floor, she finds the event difficult to cope with, as anybody would, creating layers in her personality that a lesser movie would have kept hidden.

Six months later, Jordan has stepped off the operator floor and is training others, still unable to muster up the courage to answer the phone. However, when a newer operator finds herself lost in a similar situation, she takes the reins. This time, the girl is named Casey Welson, played by Abigail Breslin, and she has woken up in the trunk of a car. Here is where the movie works best because it finds its focus. With Casey in that trunk and Jordan at the call center, each talking to the other, you’re able to connect with them and fear for their plight. Their personalities are built up, broken down and the relationship they make with each other is meaningful because Casey knows full well that Jordan could be the last person she ever speaks to. One incredible moment comes when Casey, swelling with tears, gives Jordan a message to pass onto her mother, just in case she doesn’t make it.

Even better is that the characters do everything you would expect them to. Casey is asked to look for an emergency release lever, kick out the taillights and wave her arm around and even look around the trunk for objects that may help her. When she finds a paint can, she wisely opens it up and pours it out that now broken taillight in an attempt to provide a trail for police to follow. The only issue with these moments are the idiot civilians that try to help after seeing her in the trunk, but instead do everything they can to make the situation worse. Although necessary to keep the story moving, the decisions made by Jordan and Casey are so wise that it makes these moments somewhat frustrating.

But then it all goes downhill. Once Casey and her abductor make it to his hideout and the cops lose the trail, Jordan pulls that old action/thriller cliché and “takes matters into her own hands.” Without giving anything away, she becomes a better crime scene investigator than the actual crime scene investigators (at a place where, frankly, cops should have been posted anyway) and makes the boneheaded decision to follow the trail and attempt to rescue Casey herself rather than call the cops. Although meant to empower the character, help her overcome her fears and attain redemption, these plot turns take the film from something frightening and unique to silly and typical of your standard thriller.

This last act is so bad, it threatens to destroy everything that came before it, but to deny those early sequences their due would be foolish. “The Call” is half of a great movie and is enhanced by above average performances from a terrific ensemble cast. The villain, played by Michael Eklund, is truly wretched and only the most jaded of viewers won’t send their hearts out to Casey and Jordan. Because of this, “The Call” remains recommendable, but what could have been an enthusiastic recommendation instead becomes a passionless “meh.”

The Call receives 2.5/5

Friday
Oct262012

Cloud Atlas

I can’t say I’ve read the book that Cloud Atlas is based on, but from what I’ve heard, it’s a thematically complex novel that most people think would be very difficult to adapt to the screen. After having seen the film, I understand why. There are six stories in this one movie that span across multiple time periods and locations involving characters who seem to have some type of connection to each other. It cuts back and forth between all six stories throughout its nearly three hour runtime and leaves it up to the viewer to connect the thematic dots. It’s an intriguing movie with narrative ambition akin to Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, and it suffers from the same problems. Its ideas don’t always fully come together, certain narrative threads aren’t entirely finished and it thinks it’s more spiritual than it really is. Indeed, the transition from book to movie must have been a tough one, but that in no way means it is bad. When those ideas do come together and meaning manages to sneak through its sometimes pretentious demeanor, Cloud Atlas is quite fascinating and thought provoking.

Cloud Atlas is at its best when it explores the meaning of life and death and the idea that we are all bound to each other, when it explores the idea that our actions, both good and bad, affect the world around us in ways we can’t even imagine. The film explores the idea of reincarnation and karma, that the choices we make now ripple throughout time. It’s about the spiritual connection we have to each other and the world, which dictate our behavior, our actions and who we ultimately fall in love with. It’s all that and more and when these ideas aren’t shrouded behind thick ambiguity or too obviously spelled out through sometimes unnecessary narration, the film is magical.

The problem is it rarely hits that middle ground and I sometimes felt like I was putting more effort into trying to make sense of the movie than it was itself. Keeping something intentionally vague does not make it profound, which is something that the directors, Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis, must not have realized. Too often, particularly in the first 45 minutes or so, the film doesn’t bring its themes together. It takes so long to figure out what the hell is actually happening (unless you’ve read the book, I assume), that much of the meaning is lost. While there’s nothing wrong with making the audience work to discover the depth of the film they’re watching, there must be something that leads them in that direction. Cloud Atlas is too opaque for that to happen and it’s guaranteed to bring about wildly different analyses. It’s the type of film that film snobs will claim to love and pretend to understand.

The film further confuses its already convoluted narrative with actors playing multiple roles (most of them play six, if you didn’t guess), but each actor’s prominence differs depending on what story they’re in. One can’t help but wonder, if these characters in these different time periods are somehow connected in some way and may actually be the same people reincarnate, wouldn’t their importance to the story remain the same? Switching up which actor plays the larger role from story to story only brings about unnecessary confusion. When we learn that one character from each timeline has a shooting star in the shape of a birthmark, thus connecting their spirits on their journey through multiple lives, things begin to make more sense, but by then it’s a case of too little, too late (and too long). We’ve stopped caring, so although the narrative connection is made, the emotional connection remains missing.

Not all of its problem stem from its occasionally incoherent plot and sporadically explored themes, though. Questionable decisions continue to appear and reappear throughout the film, most notably in the timeline that takes place in what appears to be a mixture of the distant future and a long forgotten past. In this time, there is an interstellar being called a prescient who visits a primitive group of scavengers in the hopes of finding her way home. They talk in some strange half broken English dialect where they repeat certain words and phrases for no real apparent reason. Because of its assumedly futuristic setting, this was no doubt done to differentiate it from the past and present, but it simply doesn’t work. I’m sure it played better on the page, where readers could create their own appropriate context, but here, it’s ridiculous.

I’ve mostly avoided describing the story in Cloud Atlas because to do so would be a fruitless endeavor. There’s far too much going on and far too little space to discuss it, which makes me fear that my review may come off as too negative. Make no mistake, I am recommending this movie. It doesn’t suffer so much from a lack of focus as it does simply an overload of ambition, which isn’t always a bad thing. Cloud Atlas has many flaws that are all too apparent, but when it works, it’s beautiful, meditative and unique.

Cloud Atlas receives 3/5

Friday
Dec092011

New Year's Eve

There are lots of different aspects of a movie that can make or break it. One of the most important is focus. When a movie meanders too much or introduces too many characters or tries to juggle multiple stories in its short runtime, it almost never works. The exception to that rule is 2003’s Love Actually, a delightful, though still certainly flawed romance that now ranks among many people’s must watch love stories. Last year’s Valentine’s Day attempted to recreate that movie’s charm and scraped by on the skin of its teeth. Now that film’s director is attempting to recreate his own recreation with New Year’s Eve, an unwise decision. The small amount of luck he had with Valentine’s Day is all but gone and most of the joy that comes from watching it is due to how bad it gets as it draws nearer to its conclusion. New Year’s Eve takes cheese to an entirely new level.

The film is told through a number of vignettes featuring characters on December 31st, 2011 as they prepare for what the new year will bring. There’s Claire (Hilary Swank), the person in charge of the New York City ball drop, Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer), an unhappy record company employee who has just quit her job, Paul (Zac Efron), the young delivery boy Ingrid buys for the day to help her meet a list of goals before midnight, Stan (Robert De Niro), an old man dying in the hospital, Aimee (Halle Berry), his nurse, Tess (Jessica Biel), who is close to giving birth but is trying to hold out with her husband Griffin (Seth Meyers) until midnight because the first family to give birth in the new year gets a large cash prize, and Grace (Sarah Paulson) and James Schwab (Til Schweiger), the competing pregnant couple across the hall.

Believe it or not, I haven’t even come close to naming off all the film’s characters. Not mentioned in the above synopsis are Cary Elwes, Alyssa Milano, Common, Carla Gugino, Katherine Heigl, Jon Bon Jovi, Sofia Vergara, Ashton Kutcher, Lea Michele, James Belushi, Sarah Jessica Parker, Abigail Breslin, Josh Duhamel, Ludacris and more. The film leaves no celebrity unturned, even going so far as to give Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson on The Simpsons, a supporting role. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy playing “spot the celebrity,” but it doesn’t make for the most structured movie. Rather than introducing them organically through the needs of the story, they are introduced just as they are, as celebrities. It becomes distracting.

But in a movie with so little going for it, that hardly matters. As expected with a film that crams so much in a small amount of time, none of the individual stories are given room to breathe. Most are sped through so as not to make the movie five hours long, which gives little time for characterization. The two or three interesting stories are either overshadowed by a dozen other lousy ones or undermined by poor writing, where conflicts are thrown in arbitrarily in a desperate attempt to build emotion by the end, like the scene where Paul stands alone in a room with Ingrid and talks to his pal on the phone about how pathetic she is, as if she can’t hear him while she’s standing a few yards away. Moments like these derail New Year’s Eve from what is already a pretty wobbly track.

But hating the film is not easy. It’s cheery and optimistic, even if that optimism borders on annoyance. It knows its audience and it panders to them. The simplicity of its story is exactly what the people who go to see this will want, so in a strange way, you could almost call it a success. Luckily, however, its simplicity doesn’t carry all the way to its end. There are a few legitimate surprises in store for its viewers, a twist or two that actually manage to create some intrigue as the clock strikes midnight for the characters, even though the film’s window for emotion is long gone by then. Still, getting to those clever twists is a chore. New Year’s Eve is only two hours long, but its gooey amounts of cheese and hilariously awful song numbers will make it feel like you’re watching the whole stupid day unfold.

New Year’s Eve receives 1.5/5