Movie Reviews

The Call Rings Busy



At the beginning of The Call Halle Berry is a confident, compassionate and cool 911 operator. She is someone you would want on the other end of the line in an emergency. However, she loses all that when one of her callers is viciously murderer by a home invader due to her blunder.

After this tragic mistake her confidence is shaken and six months later she is training new 911 operators. A newbie receives a frantic call from a kidnap victim and Berry’s character, Jordan, is forced to take over the call. She successfully calms down the victim and walks her through several maneuvers to try to attract attention to her plight and help the police track her. Because she is using a disposable phone she cannot be located by the built in GPS.

The tension continues to build during the cat and mouse chase and a couple of innocent people become victims of the ruthless killer. The tension builds at such a rapid speed I forgot to breath. Then, during the last few minutes of the call, they arrive at their destination, the kidnapper discovers her phone, destroys it and the connection is broken. At this point Jordan’s supervisor tells her to go home and get some rest.

This is when Jordan does some incredibly careless and stupid things, especially for someone knowledgeable of police procedures.

The Call is filled with tension, surprises, shockers, and gore. Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin (the victim) play two tough women and they play well off each other, even though throughout most of the movie they aren’t in the same room. It is too bad that the steady buildup of tension and believability is broken at the same time the phone connection is broken.

The Call is interesting in that it shows us what the life of a 911 operator is like and it gives us a front row seat of the hive which they call the room where the operators are located. It is named for the constant buzz and activity of the room. We see the enormous stress the operators are under and we also get some good tips on what to do if we are kidnapped.

For the most part the movie is entertaining and a wild ride but I give it a B- for the crazy turn it takes at the end.

Movie Review: Silver Linings Playbook

This Playbook Produces a Winner



What happens when two mental patients get together? Sounds like the beginning of an old joke but Silver Linings Playbook is no joke.

Silver Linings Playbook is a sometimes disturbing and sometimes comical look into bi-polar, OCD, and other mental illnesses. Bradley Cooper’s character, Pat Solatano, Jr., has lost his wife, job, and house and is now living with his parents after spending 8 months in a mental institution because of a bi-polar outbreak. He nearly beat a man to death after finding him in the shower with his wife having sex to their wedding song.

His parents want him to settle into their living pattern and participate in their obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles which is accompanied with many OCD rituals. His father, played by Robert DeNiro, has lost everything betting on the Eagles and puts pressure on Pat to carry on the traditions of the game. Pat Sr. then parlays his bet and bets all he has in order to open a restaurant.

In the mean time Pat Jr. is trying to establish a new life for himself. He is invited to a friend’s house for dinner where he meets Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence, who has her own problems. She is a young widow and a recovering sex addict. Both are a bit unconventional and lack the normal screening process most people have that prevents them from blurting out some inappropriate comments. And, speaking of inappropriate, Pat spends much of the movie dressed in a sweat suit and a trash bag.

The movie climaxes at a dance competition in which the novice couple, Pat and Tiffany, must win at least 5 out of 10 points in order to satisfy part of Pat Sr.’s bet.

This is a story of family and accepting one’s self and others no matter what life throws at us. It may not always go as planned but it usually has a silver lining.

The movie also has some powerfully emotional scenes played by Cooper, Lawrence, DeNiro, and Jacki Weaver as his mother. Silver Linings Playbook has been nominated for 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, and nominations for all four of the major actors—Bradley Cooper (leading male actor), Jennifer Lawrence (leading actress), Robert DeNiro (supporting actor), Jacki Weaver (supporting actress).

After seeing the movie I can understand why it has received so many nominations. The chemistry developed between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, and Cooper and DeNiro is amazing.

Silver Linings Playbook is a good look at mental illness done with a touching and sometimes humorous hand. I give it a B+

Movie Review: The Quartet Makes Sweet Music



If you think a retirement home is populated only with stodgy old biddy bodies just waiting to die, you haven’t seen the movie The Quartet.

The setting is Beecham House, a charity retirement home for musicians in England. It is a beautiful place and could easily be a neighbor of Downton Abbey. The mansion is alive with all kinds of music as the residents prepare for their annual fund raising event, the celebration of Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday.

We see enthusiastic rehearsals peppered with artistic differences, temperamental musicians, and the ever-present diva. Then the biggest diva of all arrives; the operatic soprano who never had less than 12 curtain calls, Jean Horton, played by the regal Maggie Smith. Smith has become an expert at displaying haughty disdain with a look and a few well-chosen words.

Ms. Horton’s arrival completes a long-time famous quartet who has been living contentedly at the home. Reginald or “Reg” is Ms. Horton’s ex-husband which automatically creates tension. Then we have “Cissy” who walks a fine line between reality and the other world and Wilfred or “Wilf” played by Scottish comedian Billy Connolly. Wilf is an aging playboy who says that, thankfully, he still has enough testosterone left to make life interesting.

Will the quartet get back together and reprise their roles? A lot more than the financial security of the home depends upon whether or not they will; they learn a lot about themselves along the way. You are never too old to live life and have a little fun.

This is actor Dustin Hoffman’s first directing effort and he nurtures his project into a flowering bouquet of colorful moments.

The Quartet is entertaining, beautiful, touching, poignant, and funny. It also has a few surprises at the end. I give it a B+


Movie Review on Video: Seven Psychopaths

You Do and You Die

Thumbs down

Seven Psychopaths is billed as a black comedy but the only thing comical about it is that it was ever made. The plot is confusing, complicated and convoluted and with more blood spilled and splattered than a butcher shop.

It is directed by Martin McDonagh and has its share of stardom in it including Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, and Christopher Walken. It is one of the bloodiest and most gory films I have seen. I can tolerate gore if it has a good story behind it; but, here, I found no story. It was so disgusting that it is one of the few films I have refused to sit through to the end. Usually I see some redeeming factors but I couldn’t find any in Seven Psychopaths.

Although some of the professional critics have given it good reviews, in my opinion don’t waste your time or money.

I give it an F.

Zero Dark Thirty illuminates the dark side of war

Zero Dark Thirty


Zero Dark Thirty is about the manhunt for the most dangerous man in the world, Osama bin Laden. Although it has been nominated for many awards it has also attracted attention for controversy and criticism for allegedly taking a pro-torture stance. But, war is a nasty business.

The title is a military term for 30 minutes after midnight but it also refers to the darkness and secrecy that cloaked the decade-long mission to find bin Laden.

Zero Dark Thirty is not for the squeamish and I admit I found it disturbing in places. The movie has been heavily criticized for its torture scenes and I, personally, wish they had not spent so much time on those particular scenes. However, the movie leaves it up to the viewer to make the moral judgment of whether or not the final goal, the elimination of bin Laden, justifies the means by which the information was attained.

Along the journey the movie also reminds us of the many lives lost during unsuspecting terrorist attacks which bin Laden was behind. In addition to 9/11 bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organization were responsible for the bombing of the Islamabad Marriott Hotel, Camp Chapman attack, and the London bus bombing.

Jessica Chastain plays a bad-ass CIA analyst who spends her whole career studying al-Qaeda and tracking the moves of bin Laden and his associates. Through 10 years of diligent work looking for the needle in the haystack she finally unravels the mystery of bin Laden’s currier system and by following these men the CIA team finally finds a compound where they suspect he is living.

When the team presents its findings to the head of the CIA, the team estimates there is a 60% chance that bin Laden is there. Only Maya, Chastain’s character, is 100% sure.

Everyone knows how the story ends but that doesn’t make the ending any less exciting. The fact that it is filmed with handheld cameras with dark green lighting to simulate night vision goggles makes it all the more realistic. We feel we are right there breaking down doors and running up stairs with the SEAL Team 6. We hold our breath as various obstacles are met and overcome.

A certain faction of the Republican Party loudly criticized this movie claiming it was merely publicity for Obama and that it revealed sensitive government secrets. Release of the movie was held until after the elections so it would not be a factor in the elections. This movie is not about the president and his image is on the screen for about two seconds. We see a TV playing in the background of one scene and the image of Obama tells us that the time sequence is now during the Obama administration rather than Bush. In no way is this a political PR tool for Obama.

Secondly, I don’t see that any information is given in the movie that we didn’t already know. It is no longer a dirty little secret that we use torture and almost any means necessary to gain the information we need. This is a black eye for the U.S. and it appears even uglier when we see it played out on the screen; but it happens. This is the nature of war and I’m sure it has been happening as far back as the Revolutionary War. We as a nation have preferred to sanitize it or overlook it altogether when we make our hero war movies.

Zero Dark Thirty has been nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture. It was also nominated for four Golden Globe Awards including Best Actress for Jessica Chastain which she won. I feel Zero Dark Thirty could win many awards and this could be the year for Chastain to win for Best Actress. She is excellent in portraying a young but very dedicated CIA agent who is so self-assured that she is willing to risk her reputation when going up against those at the very top of the ladder.

This movie is really about those behind the scenes. The dedicated CIA and undercover agents and the rigorous and sometimes tedious life they lead—a life that is also accompanied by danger which could occur at any moment. Chastain portrays an actual undercover agent who is still working in the field and is not allowed to talk with reporters. Those who know her, however, say the movie does an excellent job in portraying her dedication and determination.

I recommend this movie but I do it with caution. It is only for those who can handle some of the more disturbing scenes. I must admit I closed my eyes a few times.

I give Zero Dark Thirty an A.