Movie Review

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.

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.


Les Miserables Has Many Virtues



Les Miserables is a complicated movie to review because Victor Hugo wrote a very broad and far reaching book in 1862 upon which the movie and stage play are based. The book is populated with a multitude of characters from many different backgrounds. There are so many plots and subplots running throughout a long time span that it is difficult to keep everything straight. However, this is not entirely Victor Hugo’s fault as this was typical of novels during that time.

In addition to the complex plot the story is told almost entirely through song. So what is it that keeps readers and audiences captivated over the last 150 years? Perhaps it is because it touches on so many principles and emotions that affect us all. The story explores love, hate, redemption, passion, loss, sacrifice, patriotism, right versus wrong, and survival of the human spirit. All of these themes are expressed through moving lyrics and emotionally engulfing music. I dare anyone to sit through the movie and not experience a lump in the throat, a tear in the eye, or even a chuckle at times.

As I said, the plot is too complicated to go into depth here but I will break it down to its very simplest form.

Plot Summary

Les Miserable, or Les Mis as it is commonly called, translates from French to mean The Miserable, The Miserable Ones, The Poor or Poor Ones, The Wretched Ones, The Wretched Poor, or The Victims. The drama covers the time period of 1815 to the June Rebellion of 1832.

The main character is Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) who has been imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s family. Valjean vows to make a new life for himself after his parole and help from a compassionate priest. He becomes a factory owner and mayor of a town in France; however, he is constantly hunted and harassed by his nemesis and former prison guard, Javert (Russell Crow) for breaking parole.

Hugh Jackman and Russell Crow

I liked the movie but after having seen it as a stage play several times I can’t help but make comparisons. A couple of things stand out. First, I have to agree with many critics that the singing is not as good as it should be. The roles are demanding and the stage actors are mostly classically trained singers. Although Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean) is a good singer, I didn’t feel his voice is as strong as it should be for this rigorous role. Also, criticism has been directed toward Russell Crow’s (Javert) performance. Here, I disagree with the critics. True, Russell Crow is not a great singer (he is a rock singer) compared to those who have filled the role in the past, but I like the down-to-earth ruggedness he brings to the role. How many prison guards do you know who are classically trained singers?

Secondly, something I found annoying is the way some scenes were edited. Many of the songs are very emotionally charged and in a theatre you have an opportunity after a musical number to applaud and soak in the emotional atmosphere. In the movie it jumps from scene to scene without that break to reflect on what just happened. A simple fade to black after some of the production numbers would give the viewer time to digest the scene. I felt robbed of that emotional experience.

A new approach tried by the director and one which was successful was recording the singers live rather than dubbing it in afterwards. This allowed the actor/singer to put more emphasis and interpretation into the scene. By using this technique the singing is not perfect all the time but it adds more realism and emotion to the movie.

Mixed reviews and 8 Academy Award Nominations

Les Miserables has received mixed reviews by the critics but received eight Academy Award nominations including best picture, lead actor (Hugh Jackman), supporting actress (Anne Hathaway), production design, costumes, makeup and hairstyling, original song and sound mixing. Anne Hathaway is thought to be the front runner in her category and may very well win it. This role is a stretch for her and she is a wonderful Fantine.

Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne play Cosette and Marius the love interests of the story. They are great together and their voices blend beautifully. Redmayne is fairly new to the scene but I predict you will be seeing much more of him in the future.

I must also comment on my favorite couple of the show, the Thenardier’s. They provide the comic relief with their famous number, Master of the House. They are sleazy owners of an inn where they feed their guests less than edible food and even charge them “extra for the lice.” The Thenardier’s are played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonaham Carter. They are outrageously funny however I had a little difficulty understanding Carter’s lyrics. You could say Carter was typecast for the role as her hair and makeup could have come from her own closet.

Les Mis will stir your soul

If you haven’t seen the stage play of Les Mis then you must see the movie. It is a classic that will stir you down to your soul in spite of its few flaws. I know of no other play that captures such a wide range of the human condition from life and death struggles to the many kinds of love. There is a line that comes at the end of the play when Jean Valjean is dying that says so much in such few words and it hits me like a lightning strike every time I hear it. It is—to love a person is to know the face of God. This gives you an idea of the genius of the play.

Overall, I enjoyed Les Miserables and expect it to win many awards, however I don’t anticipate it winning best picture.

I give Les Miserables a B.

Denzel Washington flies into turbulence in Flight



If you are a fan of Denzel Washington movies where he flexes a little muscle and flashes that wide grin of perfect pearly whites to save the day and win the girl, then you won’t like Washington’s newest movie, Flight.

In Flight Washington is not a desirable character, even though he is dashing in his pilot’s uniform. Washington plays airline captain Whip Whitaker who, after a night of sex, alcohol and drugs, must pilot an out-of-control plane and then answer many questions after a crash landing. He wakes up in the hospital a hero learning that he saved 96 of 102 souls on board.

On a journey of self-discovery Whip Whitaker must face his past, his ex-wife and son, and his demons of alcohol and drugs before facing a NTSB hearing. By the end of the movie the viewer is thoroughly disgusted with Whip’s antics and, just when you are about to give up on him, the hearing takes a dramatic twist.

John Goodman is a hoot as Whip’s drug dealer, Harling Mays.  Harling still lives in the drug culture of the 70’s and Goodman steals every scene he is in.

Don Cheadle, as Whip’s attorney provided by the airline, is the true pilot of this craft and keeps the film moving toward its dramatic conclusion. He is a calm steady presence in the midst of Whip’s chaotic life.

Flight is a thought-provoking and entertaining film and I highly recommend it. Just don’t watch it before or during a plane trip.

I give Flight a B.


Lincoln is destined to be a classic


After seeing the movie Lincoln, I feel I just time traveled to the year 1865 and watched the passage of historic legislation abolishing slavery. Lincoln is authentic in every way from the sound of the ticking of the pocket watch that actually belonged to Lincoln to the chill of the dimly lit room Lincoln claimed as his office.

Lincoln is produced and directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln and Sally Field as his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. The movie also includes a cast of many other remarkable and accomplished actors and actresses.

The movie is based on the book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln and features the last four months of his life and presidency. More specifically, it focuses on the passage of the 13th Amendment which followed the Emancipation Proclamation and permanently banished slavery for all states.

Daniel Day-Lewis so closely captures Lincoln’s essence that those connected with the production of the movie claim a chill ran down their spines as it seemed Lincoln was actually among them. We see Lincoln’s exhaustion and war weariness in Day-Lewis’s shawl- draped stooped shoulders and the clomping of his boots in his awkward gait. Day-Lewis spent a year researching Lincoln and visiting the many places associated with him before filming began. He inquired about his voice and learned Lincoln had a high pitched voice and, although we don’t have any recordings of his voice, what we hear in the movie seems to be very compatible with the character.

When we think of Lincoln we usually picture a god-like figure sitting on a marble throne as in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Here we see Lincoln as a real human being able to feel happiness, love, and laughter as well as pain, passion and grief. He was the leader of our country during its most trying period and at the same time a husband and father trying to keep his family safe and happy.

We see that Lincoln wasn’t above a little arm twisting and hand holding in order to get his way. He even turned to a few lobbyists to insure passage of his legislation. James Spader (better known as Denny Crane’s cohort) adds some comic relief as William N. Bilbo (even his name sounds comical), head lobbyist. Their behind-the-scenes antics provide a glimpse into the lobbyist’s world and lets us know that this profession also is not new. (I don’t know for sure but it is probably the second oldest profession.)

Tommy Lee Jones, usually known for playing gritty, rough and tumble character,s is excellent as Radical Republican Congressional leader, Thaddeus Stevens. Stevens was a fervent abolitionist and feared Lincoln would abandon the emancipation. He is a force to be feared and reckoned with.

Another excellent performance is turned in by David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward, Lincoln’s closest friend and confidant.

We can’t forget Sally Field as Mrs. Lincoln or madam president as she preferred to be called. She is sweet, forceful and a bit insane all at once.

Other actors you will recognize are:

  • Hal Holbrook (who won an Emmy for portraying Lincoln in a 1976 mini-series) as Francis Preston Blair, an influential Republican politician, who tried to arrange a peace agreement between the Union and the Confederacy.
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt as oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, who has dropped out of Harvard Law School to serve as a personal attendant to Gen. Grant in the Union Army.
  • Gloria Reuben, (formerly of ER) as Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave, dressmaker, and confidant to Mary Todd Lincoln.
  • S. Epatha Merkerson (long-time actress on Law and Order) as Thaddeus Stevens’s housekeeper and “friend”.

Lincoln could easily have been a boring documentary about passage of legislation that would shape the future of our country; but in the skillful hands of Spielberg we see history in a fresh way. I particularly like the way he introduced us to the Gettysburg Address and portrayed the assassination scene. Spielberg gives the viewer credit for some intelligence and shows these in a new way. Why rehash something we have known since the third grade?

Lincoln is a movie I could see again and I don’t say that about many movies. Every student of American History and school child above the age of 10 should see this movie. Lincoln will be around for a long time and one that future historical dramas will be measured against. Expect to see many awards for this movie in the upcoming awards season including best movie, best director, best actor and supporting actors. It just may sweep up all the goodies.

I give Lincoln an A+.