The Call: tense and compelling with a lackluster ending

the call“911, what is your emergency?”

It’s a line you hear repeated time and time again within films in the thriller genre, typically for only the briefest of moments as our hero or heroine desperately tries to escape the sinister figure lurking in the shadows.

More often than not, these anonymous voices are unable to do anything more than provide a precious few lines of dialogue — immensely unhelpful ones at that — before danger catches up to our protagonist and he or she is forced to get themselves out of trouble.

Thanks for nothing, 911.

In most films, this valuable service is merely a quick nod to a character’s common sense before being promptly abandoned in favor of fanciful dose of heroism and courage. This tendency is precisely what makes The Call, despite its many flaws, work. Yes, it is predictable. No, it is not even remotely frightening. But its inversion of the leading role, along with a decent dose of tension and a pair of fine leading ladies, turns an otherwise forgettable and generic ride into an entertaining little thriller that is far more enjoyable than it should be.

Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) is a 911 operator who receives a panicked call from a girl whose house is being broken into. Alone and terrified, the teenager initially manages to hide from the intruder thanks to Jordan’s careful instruction, but a careless mistake allows the man (Michael Eklund) to discover and capture the young woman, who is found dead several days later. The incident shakes Jordan, she quits her job soon after. Six months pass, and she is now a trainer for new operators, but is abruptly thrust back into the fray when another teenage girl named Casey (Abigail Breslin) is captured by the same man. With the caller locked in the killer’s trunk and running out of time, Jordan works with the girl over a disposable phone to plot an escape plan, all the while desperate to prevent the past from repeating itself.

Shaky camerawork, straightforward plotting and a generic villain ensure that Brad Anderson’s low-budget efforts feel more like an episode of CSI than a big-screen thriller, but it’s all so inoffensive that such a fact is easily overlooked. It does have one major downfall, however – the ending. I won’t spoil it for you, but the ending is quite possibly one of the worst I’ve seen this year. Having said that, it’s only March, and I’m sure worse are to come.

Jordan’s position as an operator provides an interesting, albeit dramatized, look into a typically ignored workforce that is nonetheless vital to the safety of many. Berry gives a subtle but realistic performance, and is surprisingly easy to connect with despite her lack of characterization. Her chemistry with Breslin — heartbreakingly realistic in her role as the victim — provides the story with its best moments, where the pair acts as both conspirators and accomplices. The relationship is at once touching and exciting, raising the film above its mediocre plot and Eklund’s relatively spooky, but ultimately cliché, villain to make the product as a whole much more emotional than it has any real right to be.

It’s certainly forgettable, but The Call is saved from inherent blandness by its actors, who lend the affair an unexpected humanity. It’s not a call you’ll likely be making more than once, but the initial dial is one you can punch in confidently. As long as you aren’t expecting too much, you’ll hang up satisfied.

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Django Unchained: Big, crazy, and hugely entertaining

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Quentin Tarantino continues to justify his superstar status on the world’s cinema stage with latest film Django Unchained, his brilliant, bloody and thrillingly unpredictable revenge western about a freed slave unleashing hell on his plantation-owning enemies in the pre-Civil War American South of 1858.

Sort of an artistic companion piece to his audacious, history rewriting Second World War epic Inglourious Basterds, the film once again sees him taking a serious subject matter and moulding it into a deranged alternate universe, one in which the barbarity of a heinous system of oppression is exposed and cathartically avenged in ruthless and savage fashion.

Writer/Director Tarantino has paid his unique homage to plenty of genres before now; the gangster (Pulp Fiction), martial arts (Kill Bill: Vols 1 & 2), the grindhouse horror (Death Proof). Now he’s revived the spaghetti western with his usual fanboy enthusiasm.

In Django Unchained, German bounty hunter Dr Schultz (Christoph Waltz) buys and frees a slave called Django (Jamie Foxx). In exchange for Django’s help in identifying three men with big bounties on their heads, Schultz agrees to help him find and free his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from whom he’s been forcibly and maliciously separated. Shultz, a loquacious, progressive, cultivated fellow who abhors slavery is pretty much the closest thing the film has to a character with a modern perspective and he frequently threatens to steal the movie.

Unfortunately for Django, his wife is working on the notorious Candyland plantation in the Deep South of Mississippi, owned by one Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) who enjoys nothing more than sweets and blood sports in equal measure.

As per usual, Tarantino uses his specific brand of comic violence – almost as much as he uses uninterrupted, drawn-out monologues. There are gallons of blood, exploding body parts and unflinching cruelty.

As the garrulous Schultz, Christoph Waltz essentially plays a benevolent version of his wily-tongued Nazi from Inglourious Basterds. Schultz has a respect for procedural correctness as well as violence: when he reaches into his jacket, you never know if he will produce a gun or a warrant.

Jamie Foxx, however, has less to work with as Django, even once he begins searching for his enslaved wife. He gets jazzy comic notes to play, savouring his freedom by wearing a dandyish royal-blue suit as he rides through a cotton plantation, but the film grinds him down – in all honesty, he’s a bit of a bore.

His plantation-working wife isn’t much better – Broomhilda is severely underwritten and her character never really shines through the trauma she endures.

Lucky for us, then, that Di Capri and Jackson are on hand to distract us from this problem- Leo’s portrayal of the bubbling sadism beneath the plantation owner’s charming veneer is spine-chillingly good while Jackson’s turn as Candie’s doddering henchmen, complete with oldage make-up and a frosting of white hair, also adds to the edge of unpredictable menace.

Primarily, however, this is a Tarantino film. Yes, he’s stuck reverentially to genre stalwarts, but you only need to see that the soundtrack features a James Brown/2Pac amalgamation to know this is no traditional spaghetti western. Although it’s too long and arguably self-indulgent, it’s big, crazy, and hugely entertaining.

A fierce but fiercely intelligent testament to Tarantino’s frequently questioned filmmaking proclivities and certainly among the best films he’s ever made.

The Amazing Spider-man: Webb not strong enough

Hot on the heels of The Dark Knight Rises, the latest superhero flick to hit cinema screens is The Amazing Spider-man starring Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) and Emma Stone (Zombieland).

A mere ten years after the Toby Maguire/Kirsten Dunst/Sam Raimi Spider-man, director Marc Webb, disappointingly, opts to keep the plot simplistic and run-of-the-mill. While both Garfield and Stone are leaps and bounds ahead of the irritatingly dismal acting abilities of Maguire and Dunst, the plot simply isn’t interesting enough to make this movie anything other than mediocre.

Like most teenagers, Peter Parker (Garfield) is trying to figure out who he is. Peter is also finding his way with his first high school crush, Gwen Stacy (Stone), and together they struggle with love, commitment, and secrets. When Peter discovers a mysterious briefcase that belonged to his father, he begins a quest to understand his parents’ disappearance – leading him directly to Oscorp and the lab of Dr Curt Connors, his father’s former partner. The rest of the movie can be summed up in a few words: Spider bite, sense of duty, girlfriends bedroom, giant lizard.

While there was nothing particularly amazing about The Amazing Spider-man, it was an enjoyable film with good acting and great direction. It was both visually and artistically stunning, and got straight into the romance and action with no hanging about.

While Webb has successfully addressed the new demand for superhero movies to be deeper and more human, he is not a director adept at providing big-budget action to an audience in the same way as Joss Whedon or Christopher Nolan.

Most viewers will no doubt be satisfied by this the newest Spidey flick, but anyone expecting a remake as successful as The Dark Knight will be sorely disappointed.

The Lucky One: full of vapid, useless beings

The Lucky One, starring Zac Efron and Taylor Shilling, is due for release on DVD next month. My advice? Stay as far away from it as possible.

The movie begins well with Efron sporting a fetching army get up and braving guns and bombs in a war-torn Iraq. While the initial sequences are action packed, gritty, and realistic, it’s not long before things take a turn for the worse.

After finding a photo of a pretty blonde woman, Logan (Zac Efron) and his company are attacked. Calling the mystery woman his guardian angel, Logan credits her with his survival and makes it his mission to find her once he is discharged.

Thanks to a conveniently placed landmark, Logan is able to make his way to the place where the photo was taken. Once there, he starts questioning the locals and finds out that his mystery girls name is Beth (Taylor Shilling). Having found her, he accidentally secures a job working for her and her grandmother (Blythe Danner) and finds himself playing an important role in her life.

While The Lucky One does have its share of touching, gut-wrenching and tummy-flipping moments, it ultimately falls short of the benchmark, especially for an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel. The majority of the characters are vapid, useless beings, and while Zac Efron is an admittedly fine specimen of a man, I’m afraid he wouldn’t be able to act his way out of a paper bag if his life depended on it.

If you’re looking for a film where you can drool over Zac Efron, this is definitely the one to watch. If you’re just looking for an interesting chick-flick, however, I’d keep looking.

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