Friday, July 18, 2014

Cloud Atlas

Year 6, Day 199 - 7/18/14 - Movie #1,795

BEFORE: Getting back on track for Comic-Con - as John Lithgow from "Cliffhanger" was also in "New Year's Eve", and so was Halle Berry (last seen in "Perfect Stranger").  Yeah, I wish I could have put all the Halle Berry films together, but then I couldn't have had the three Bruce Willis films all in a row.  It's a constant trade-off process.

THE PLOT:  An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.

AFTER: OK, let's just get this comment out of the way right off.  WTF?  What the HELL did I just watch?  I mean, I knew it was going to be weird and outside of the box, but this is just... where the hell is the box?  What did you guys do with the box?  It's like this film tore up the box into tiny pieces and built a little abstract sculpture out of it...

OK, I've vented and I feel a little better now.  Let's treat this like what it is, which is a bold, innovative new approach to storytelling.  Once in a while, a film like "Memento" or "Sin City" or "Pulp Fiction" comes around and messes with the narrative form in some way.  (I'm also big on "Slaughterhouse Five" myself...)  There are 6 stories here, and the film has a running time of almost three hours - and they cut quite liberally between the different stories, which represent 6 different time periods - past, present and future.  Oh, and the same main actors appear in all of the stories, only they play different characters, representing different classes, races and genders.  If you're an actor and you get offered a set of roles like this, you'd probably take it just for the challenge alone, and the fact that it represents a unique experience.

The only other way I can describe this properly, if you haven't seen it - it's kind of like channel-surfing through 6 films at a time.  In this hyper-fast ADHD world, maybe this is just what today's audience wants.  Then again, maybe this would really piss you off, because you're made to watch just 5 minutes or so of each storyline before you're shunted away to one of the other 5 storylines.  There are some clever edits here, they may cut from one event in one storyline to a similar event or motif taking place in another year.  Which SHOULD piss me off, because it makes it seem like these 6 storylines are happening simultaneously, when by their very definition, such a thing is impossible.  All of the past events are past, and the fates of those characters have been determined, long before the story taking place decades or even centuries later even gets started.

This is NOT time-travel - but the events are all connected in a loose-fitting way.  If there's any time-travel involved, it's something akin to the omniscient camera being wherever and whenever it needs to be, in order to tell the story that the directors want, in a particular (or random?) order, to achieve the desired effect.  And what IS that effect?  In the end, this becomes like a giant filmic jigsaw puzzle, where you can only see the individual pieces at any given time, and you may not be able to see the whole picture until all of the pieces are in place.

Let's say you took 6 of your favorite movies - for argument's sake, lets choose "Amistad", "Amadeus", "The China Syndrome", "As Good As It Gets", "Blade Runner" and "Avatar" (this is a loose approximation of films and plotlines that nearly match the time periods represented here...) and imagine that you cut up all of those films into little clips, and strung them all together (while still maintaining the proper narrative order for each film).  Or maybe if youo put those films into a 6-disc changer and hit "shuffle play", and the DVD player was able to jump between all the different chapters in the films.  That's not entirely accurate, but it's close.

For a while, my BFF Andy was saying that he had an idea to cut together clips from three famous Hollywood Christmas films, creating the ultimate holiday movie, "It's a Wonderful Christmas Carol Miracle on 34th St."  I don't know if he was putting me on, or if it would even be possible to arrange scenes from those films into a semi-coherent narrative, or if that would only result in a confusing mess.  Either way,  I'd still like to see the plan for that.  That's sort of what's taking place here.

What's astonishing is that "Cloud Atlas" isn't more of a confusing mess.  To some degree it is exactly that, a huge confusing mess - but if you are able to turn off your mind, relax and float downstream with it, there MIGHT be a larger work of art here - and I'm thinking along the lines of a Picasso or a Jackson Pollock - that's visible or even intangible.  Is there a larger point being made here? 

If so, it's one of those things that you'll never see by looking directly at it.  It's very bright, like looking at the sun, so you have to look sort of in its direction, or shield your eyes somehow.  To paraphrase it, because I think that's the best that I can do, it's sort of about rising up, battling the powers that be, or the conventions that are somehow keeping people down, and that's a noble cause in any era.  This is why I don't think that the dates of the segments are an accident - in 1849 the issue is slavery, in 1936 it has to do with gay rights as well as taking credit for creating music, in 1973 it's fossil fuels vs. nuclear power, in 2012 it's people being abused in a nursing home, in 2144 we're back to slavery (only with Korean clones/replicants this time) and in the post-apocalyptic future, nomadic tribesmen are threatened by a group of crazy cannibals.

The question becomes, in each era, what's it going to take for an individual to rise up and revolt?  Even if that revolt is largely personal or theoretical, what's it going to take for you to fight the powers that be?  There's a very telling quote somewhere in here that says, "we see ourselves only through the eyes of others" - and isn't that the very nature of fiction?  We see the stories of other people, and we take them in, and we draw from them, and we use them to define ourselves.  And what do we see in those stories?  Well, they're probably not going to focus on the boring days, the days where nothing happened - they're going to be about revolt and revolution, or the days we decided to get up off our asses and DO something about our situation.

Plus there's another principle at play here, something as elusive as water running through your hands - it's the realization that our actions DO have consequences, sometimes ones that reach far beyond our own lifespans, and that's a very easy thing to forget on a daily basis.  Every moment is a chance to change the future - acts of kindness can have effects that we can't see, ones that could even impact future generations. Meanwhile, crimes or acts of savagery may seem more prevalent, to the point where they become part of the daily grind, essentially background noise, but eventually there comes a tipping point where right-thinking people have had just about enough of that, thanks.  And then we create these ripples through our actions that have the potential to resonate for years to come - if we're doing it right, that is.

The film falls just shy of defining this process, whether you call it karma or schadenfreude or whatever - maybe if you define it, you kill it.  Maybe there's no proper word for the way the universe works, because none of us can truly see it or be able to properly understand it, so how could we possibly define it?  Since none of us know what's outside the scope of our pathetic knowledge, why did we, as a society, let a small bunch of religious nutcases try to define concepts that they couldn't possibly understand?  How do we know that we all aren't just essentially bacteria living on a giant organism called Earth?  Or we're all just ants in an ant-farm, or exhibits in an alien zoo or just brains in a lab somewhere?

But I digress.  You may just want to watch this to see the same actors taking on different roles (a handy visual guide is provided during the end credits, so you can see who played who in each scenario...)  Some of this probably is very controversial, since a black woman played a white woman, and several Caucasian actors played Asian roles, with make-up altering their eyes.  If blackface is wrong, then whiteface (and "yellowface") should also be wrong - unless you consider this an exercise in challenging stereotypes.  (Nope, still wrong on some level.)  I remember years ago when the actor Jonathan Pryce got cast in the Broadway production of "Miss Saigon", and was going to wear make-up that altered his eyes.  Oh, the Asian Actors Union had a field day with that - why couldn't they hire an ASIAN actor to play a (half-)Asian character?  Well, they hired the guy for his singing and acting ability, not the shape of his eyes.  If you want racially-blind casting, it's got to go both ways.  If you want Asian actors up for non-Asian parts, what's wrong with going the other way?  Besides, the character was Half-Asian, so what else can you do?  (Nope, still wrong on some level.)

When it's all over and the jigsaw puzzle is completed (I'd stop reading here if you want to truly experience this for yourself, with no spoilers.  Seriously, stop now and I won't mind a bit.  This could be a very personal journey of understanding for some people and I don't want to influence it...) and you can see the big picture, some of the patterns are clear.  You might realize that each of the film's 6 feature actors is essentially the focal point of one of the segments, and the other actors are woven in and out of their stories.  An actor might be the star of one segment, and a background player in another.  What's curious is that each of the 6 central characters has a similarly shaped birthmark - so if there's any nod here toward rebirth or reincarnation, or history repeating itself, it's among those 6 souls.  You might think that the 6 characters who look like Tom Hanks are meant to be the same soul, but that's just one interpretation - it ain't necessarily so.

I did pick up on something of an agenda - it's no secret that Lana Wachowski, one of the directors, was born Larry Wachowski, so I think that does put something of a spin on this, especially when you see male characters played by women and vice-versa.  And if there's one letter I have trouble comprehending in the LGBT acronym, I freely admit that it's the "T".  (How do you KNOW you feel like a woman trapped in a man's body?  How do you KNOW you'll feel better if you get the surgery?  And if gender is arbitrary and just a social construct, then why do you feel the need to change it?)  But maybe that's something I'm reading into this, I fully understand that there are many ways to interpret this film, one of which might be to write it off as a big, confusing mess and then continue to ignore it.

And at the end of the day, I think that's what we've got here - a big, confusing mess, but when you take a step back from it and look at it when it's done, somehow it's got flashes of brilliance to it.  To really appreciate all of the connections between the stories, it definitely demands multiple viewings, even though it clocks in at nearly three hours.  Go figure.

I wonder if, at some point, it makes sense to watch the 6 stories one at a time, starting with the oldest and working forward in time.  Something akin to the "Godfather Saga" cut where the flashbacks were all put into proper linear order and you could really trace the rise of Don Corleone, without it being interspersed with Michael's story. I'd be curious to see if the 6 individual stories could each stand on their own, or if it's really the non-linear storytelling device here that elevates the entire project.

Also starring Tom Hanks (last seen in "The Ladykillers"), Jim Broadbent (last heard in "Arthur Christmas"), Jim Sturgess (last seen in "One Day"), Hugo Weaving (last seen in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"), Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw (last seen in "Skyfall"), Hugh Grant (last seen in "The Remains of the Day"), Susan Sarandon (last seen in "Cradle Will Rock"), Keith David (last seen in "Where the Heart Is"), James D'Arcy, David Gyasi, Xun Zhou.

RATING: 6 out of 10 journal entries

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Year 6, Day 198 - 7/17/14 - Movie #1,794

BEFORE:  Now it's Stallone's turn to carry over.  Let's keep the big, dumb action movies coming, because it is summer, after all.  What better time to watch a movie about climbing on snow-covered mountains?  If I just sit really close to the air conditioner while I watch this, it'll become an interactive experience, right?

 THE PLOT:  A botched mid-air heist results in suitcases full of cash being searched for by various groups throughout the Rocky Mountains.

AFTER: I didn't mind this one nearly as much as I thought I would.  I initially added this to the list just because I was looking for another movie to burn on the DVD with "Daylight", and now it ends up as part of a chain, and a link to tomorrow's film.  It's almost like my lizard scheduling brain knows what to do, even if it's by accident.

I wonder if the crashed plane in "Expendables 2" was a reference to this film - even though the prizes within the planes were different, both were accessible only by a constantly changing time-coded lock.  I've never seen that device before in a film, and now here it is, two nights in a row. 

A lot of expressive ham-acting tonight from one of my favorite actors, John Lithgow.  I guess someone felt they had to make up for Stallone's lack of expression by getting Lithgow to over-compensate.  Or maybe that's just the character, someone delusional enough to think that getting ahold of 100 million dollars would be tantamount to world domination.  Not in 1993 dollars, anyway.  His character here seems about as clueless and hyper-dramatic as Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers films, which is somewhat unfortunate.  Sometimes less is more, guys.

NITPICK POINT: Something's bugging me about the money.  3 cases containing $100 million, in thousand-dollar bills?  It would take 1,000 bills of that denomination to equal $1 million, and therefore 100 times that to equal $100 million.  So 100,000 bills.  I think that stack of money would be larger than you think, and wouldn't fit in three cases of that size.  Plus they state that the money is uncirculated, and couldn't be spent.  So then why is so much care taken in transporting it, and why does the villain want it?  They sort of explain this by saying he has the "resources" to properly spend the money - which would be what, exactly?  How come he can spend the money but nobody else can?

NITPICK POINT #2: They set this up by showing a failed rescue attempt, wherein a climber's girlfriend is stranded on a remote mountaintop, and they try to rescue her by helicopter.  She's expected to enter the helicopter by going hand-over-hand while hanging from a wire going straight across.  Since she was an inexperienced climber, why couldn't they just make the helicopter a little lower, turning the level line into a zip-line?

Then again, I don't know much about rescue operations, mountain climbing, or any survival skills for that matter.  Maybe that's for the best - an experienced person would probably find many more N.P.'s than I did.  (Besides, lowering the helicopter might have sent her sliding right into the copter blades, for all I know...)

Of particular note is the vast number of times that someone in this film, hero or villain, is trying to sneak around or do something quietly, and ends up either screaming or firing a weapon, or both.  No one seems to understand the concept of stealth, plus it is avalanche country - every loud noise you make could be a huge mistake.

Also starring John Lithgow (last seen in "Ricochet"), Michael Rooker (last seen in "Tombstone"), Janine Turner, Rex Linn (last seen in "Wyatt Earp"), Ralph Waite, Leon, Caroline Goodall, Paul Winfield (last seen in "Presumed Innocent"), Max Perlich.

RATING: 5 out of 10 tracking devices

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Expendables 2

Year 6, Day 197 - 7/16/14 - Movie #1,793

BEFORE:  One week until Comic-Con, which means today is my shipping day - I had to get three heavy boxes of merchandise over to the UPS Store, so they'll arrive in San Diego next Tuesday, in advance of the convention starting on Wednesday.  So I had my special breakfast sandwich, which I call "The Comic-Con", since I first saw it offered from a food truck there.  This is a great high-protein breakfast if you know you're going to be doing a lot of physical work that day (I guess some call it "exercise", but I try to avoid both that word and the activity...).  I get a PB&J on toast from the deli, and also an order of fried eggs and bacon, with a side of plain cream cheese.  Once I'm back at the office, I open the PB&J sandwich and add the bacon, close it and spread the cream cheese on the top of the toast, then place a fried egg (over easy, but you can go sunny-side up if you dare) on top of each half of the sandwich.  It sounds crazy, it shouldn't work, but it's delicious.  Eggs go with bacon, peanut butter goes with bacon, cream cheese goes with jelly, and so on.  Then you can skip lunch.

Bruce Willis carries over from "A Good Day to Die Hard" - I suppose I could have slotted in "Red 2" here, but I need that film later in the schedule (next year sometime) as a very particular bridge linking two other films, since it stars both Catherine Zeta-Jones and Helen Mirren.  Perhaps I'll regret it, because stylistically it seems to fit here, so I guess we'll see. 

THE PLOT:  Mr. Church recruits the Expendables for what should be an easy paycheck, but when one of their men is murdered on the job, their quest for revenge puts them deep in enemy territory and up against an unexpected threat.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Expendables" (Movie #1,581)

AFTER: It really hasn't been that long since I saw the first "Expendables" film - for some reason there was a big delay in getting that first film onto premium cable channels.  Maybe it was doing really well on PPV?  Or maybe they rushed the 2nd film into production as a follow-up?  I'm not sure.  I think the first film made a gazillion dollars, somehow the box office was bigger than the combined age of all of its stars, which is saying something. 

Here's where a big, dumb piece of action movie like this is really going to shine - it's got the good fortune of following the nonsensical "A Good Day to Die Hard" on my list.  So by comparison, this plot seems to make a lot more sense, it sure was easier to follow.  And that's despite the fact that I could barely understand a word that Stallone was saying.   The motto of the team seems to be "Shoot first and mumble questions later". 

I think mindless action films have their place in the world.  As long as action stars want to get together and create what is essentially a "jam session" film, hey, more power to them.  In some ways, this is like my big breakfast sandwich - Stallone's the toast and Statham's the peanut butter and Dolph Lundgren is the jelly, Bruce Willis is the good ol' fried egg on top, you get the idea.  And a big slice of bacon (or ham) for Schwarzenegger - There are little pairings within the group, where the actors play off of each other or reference other pairings from other films, so as long as everything's in harmony with everything else and everything's in balance, and no one actor gets too much screen time, this will fill you up.  I won't say it's the most nutritious thing you could eat, but at least you won't be hungry again for a while.  Don't watch a rom-com the next day, or you'll get the bends.

Does everything here make sense?  Of course not - sending 7 people to Albania in a plane on a "stealth"mission is pretty ridiculous, especially when they're 7 big, loud agressive types.  Do you think they won't see your plane landing on the river?  Plus, like the film "The Heat" they play that "I've got the drop on you"/"No wait, I've got the drop on YOU" game a bit too much.  Plus the usual, there are hundreds of bullets fired by the enemy and the heroes never get shot, but a hero can fire 5 rounds and take out 20 bad guys.   It's like a cartoon or something. 

NITPICK POINT: As with "A Good Day to Die Hard", the macguffin that they're sent to retrieve doesn't make a lot of sense.  It had something to do with finding the location of weaponized plutonium in a huge mine.  Can't you just do that with a geiger counter?  OK, I may not know much about radioactivity, but it still seems like there would be a simpler way.

Why fight it?  Making this sort of film is like having a license to print money.

Also starring Sylvester Stallone (last seen in "Get Carter"), Arnold Schwarzenegger (last seen in "Conan the Destroyer"), Jason Statham (last seen in "The Expendables"), Dolph Lundgren (ditto), Terry Crews (ditto), Randy Couture (and again), Jet Li (yep, ditto), Liam Hemsworth (last seen in "Knowing"), Jean-Claude Van Damme (last heard in "Kung Fu Panda 2"), Chuck Norris, Nan Yu, Scott Adkins, with cameo from Charisma Carpenter,

RATING: 5 out of 10 override codes

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Good Day to Die Hard

Year 6, Day 196 - 7/15/14 - Movie #1,792

BEFORE:  It must be tough when you're in charge of maintaining a franchise, because you probably want to do something fresh and original, but if you go too far off from what people expect, you can turn off long-time fans, and risk killing the franchise.  It's kind of like the TV show "Celebrity Wife Swap", which ran out of married celebrities willing to participate a few months back, so they've moved on to non-married celebrities and even single-parent celebrities, which sort of destroys the whole concept of the Show.  Swapping friends or personal assistants shouldn't count - if they don't have wives to swap, how can they qualify?

Bruce Willis carries over from "Perfect Stranger".

THE PLOT: John McClane travels to Russia to help out his son, Jack, only to discover that Jack is a CIA operative working undercover, causing the father and son to team up against underworld forces.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Live Free or Die Hard" (Movie #585)

AFTER: I re-read my review of the fourth film in the "Die Hard" franchise, and remembered that part of the plot involved McClane re-connecting with his estranged daughter.  Tonight they flip that plot and he tracks down his son, who he apparently hasn't heard from in years.  We the audience have to fill in a lot of blanks here, because the son is in prison, and we're not sure what for, or how McClaine found out about this situation.  Ostensibly he's on vacation, but that may have just been a cover story to get a visa.

This lack of detail sort of continued throughout the whole film, I thought.  It's long on action, but short on detail.  Who is the man who gets busted out of prison, and why is he important?  Who's the official putting him on trial?  Who are the people trying to kill him, and what is this file that they all seem to be after?

The best action sequence takes place on a Russian highway, with Jack in a van being pursued by a sort of tank/armored car, and papa John bringing up the rear in various stolen vehicles, trying to help out his son from afar.  Together they manage to shatter every windshield in sight, and damage nearly every car in Moscow in some way.  McClane travels around, over, and through whatever he needs to to keep up and take down the bad guys (at least we're meant to assume they're bad guys, again, not much detail has been supplied at this point).

Like last night's film, there's a twist, and it changes everything - to the point where what took place before this reveal now makes very little sense.  It's a plot sucker-punch when you're led to believe in something for nearly an entire film, and then it's revealed at the last minute that that thing was never even a thing.  Then why did everyone act like it was a thing?  It would be like me saying I wrote the greatest American novel, and walked around like I was the best writer, and expecting everyone to treat me as such, when there is no novel.  Eventually someone's going to want to see that novel, or else the jig would be up.  

It's a valiant effort with some exciting (but hard-to-believe) action sequences, but essentially I feel like the Emperor has no clothes here.  I'll probably be back for "Never Say Die Hard" or "Why Won't You Just Die Hard Already" or whatever they call it, but there are clearly diminishing returns.

Also starring Jai Courtney (last seen in "Jack Reacher"), Sebastian Koch, Yuliya Snigir, Cole Hauser (last seen in "Pitch Black"), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (last seen in "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter").

RATING: 4 out of 10 shattered windows

Monday, July 14, 2014

Perfect Stranger

Year 6, Day 195 - 7/14/14 - Movie #1,791

BEFORE: Halle Berry carries over from "The Call" - at one point I had this all set up to lead into the new "X-Men" movie, but then plans changed.  Actually, I think I may have counted wrong at one point, and I was off by a few movies, so after tonight will be some fill-ins that hopefully won't be too far off-topic, and those will get me close enough to Movie #1800. 

THE PLOT:  A journalist goes undercover to ferret out businessman Harrison Hill as her childhood friend's killer. Posing as one of his temps, she enters into a game of online cat-and-mouse.

AFTER:  This is a whodunit where a lot of the investigating and subterfuge takes place online, and this is a big problem, because it's hard to film this in an interesting way.  What's so exciting about words popping up on a computer screen?  Does anyone even use chatrooms any more?  Oh, wait, this film was released in 2007, so all of its technology is outdated - I suspect it was even outdated at the time of its release.  Text messages are still a thing, but just barely - everyone's using FaceTime and Skype now, right? 

It's also set in the world of advertising, and from what I know about that, it gets at least some of that right.  Art directors and copywriters do bounce around from agency to agency, so there's bound to be an opportunity for corporate secrets to go with them, though I doubt that in most instances that would cause a giant client like Reebok to break off a 20-year relationship with a respected agency, as long as their advertising was successful, that is.  Would the top executives at ad agencies act a bit like rock stars, sleeping around with employees and fashion models?  Sure, that I'd believe, there was a sexual harassment case against a Saatchi & Saatchi executive last year, and for extra fun, Google the case an executive brought against the Dentsu agency back in 2007.  (it involved company-funded visits to a Czech brothel and a Japanese bathhouse - now that's movie-worthy material...)

NITPICK POINT: At one point, the lead character goes undercover to work at the ad agency.  She's asked to fill out her I-9 form for human resources.  As any office manager can tell you, an I-9 form requires an employee to submit proper I.D. with it, such as a passport, or a driver's license AND social security card.  Since she's working there under an assumed name, how did she fill in her I-9 form?  There was no mention of her getting a phony passport or driver's license, so how did she get cleared by the H.R. department to work and get a paycheck?

NITPICK POINT #2: She is given the task of filling gift bags for a Victoria's Secret event, and walks into a room where all of the gift bags are laid out on every table and counter in the room.  Someone took the time to unpack and unfold all of the bags and spread them out on the table, but NOT fill them?  This is a very inefficient use of employee time.   It doesn't take much more time to unpack a bag, unfold it, put the gift items in it, and then place it on the table.  Either someone doesn't know how to deal with promotional items efficiently, or they're doing too many steps on purpose, perhaps trying to increase the man-hours it takes to do the job. 

Now, I have to take issue with the ending.  Many times, since I try to be spoiler-free, I hesitate to even mention that there's a twist ending, because sometimes even just knowing that it's coming would spoil it.  I can mention it tonight because the twist is not something that anyone would see coming, which means that it is not at all believable.  If you see this twist and laugh out loud at it, I would consider that a proper reaction.  There are twists that make you re-visit everything you've seen up until that point and view it in a new light, and then there are twists that just negate everything you've seen already, and cause the movie to stop making sense.  This one is more along those lines. 

Also starring Bruce Willis (last seen in "The Expendables"), Giovanni Ribisi (last seen in "Gangster Squad"), Richard Portnow (last seen in "Hitchcock"), Gary Dourdan, Paula Miranda, Patti D'Arbanville (last seen in "The Fan"), Clea Lewis, with a cameo from Heidi Klum.

RATING: 3 out of 10 Hemingway daiquiris

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Call

Year 6, Day 194 - 7/13/14 - Movie #1,790

BEFORE: It feels like July just started, and then all of a sudden it's the 12th or 13th, and that means the month is just about half over, and then I'll lose a week to Comic-Con and it will be nearly August.  Is it me, or does time feel like it's sped up somehow?  Then in just a couple of weeks it will be mid-August, and everyone will be thinking about September and the new fall TV season, then it will be time to buy Halloween candy and make Thanksgiving plans and get those Christmas cards out, then the year's over again.  It's not just me, right?

Linking from "Compliance", Matt Servitto was in a film called "Foreclosure" with his "Sopranos" co-star, Michael Imperioli, who appears tonight.

THE PLOT:  When a veteran 911 operator takes a life-altering call from a teenage girl who has just been abducted, she realizes that she must confront a killer from her past in order to save the girl's life.

AFTER: This was an OK, thriller, but like many Hollywood films, it relied on coincidence to make the story possible.  What are the chances, given the number of 911 operators in the city of Los Angeles, that one would encounter the same kidnapper/killer in two calls, months or years apart, and also be aware of that situation?  It makes me wonder if the film's writer even understands how the 911 system works.  Berry's character here seems to have "regular" callers, like a drunk guy that she can identify by his voice, and that's just not likely at all.

The point is even made that the operators are NOT supposed to get too emotionally involved in the calls - but isn't learning the callers' names, and their weekly drinking habits, a form of getting emotionally involved?  I guess all the rules are meant to be broken, since the operators are also told to NOT make promises to victims, like kidnapped girls, but that's the first thing our heroine here does in order to calm her down and get the necessary information from her.

There's some interesting stuff here, like a virtual instruction manual on what to do if a kidnapper locks you inside a car trunk - but that's overshadowed by monumental coincidences as well as what amounts to wild investigative guesswork.

It's also a little odd that the focus is put on the 911 operators - admittedly, they're an under-recognized branch of the police department, and I'm sure that the men and women who take 911 calls are a dedicated group of people - but it's still strange that when a girl gets killed, this film asks us to consider how tough that situation is on the operator.  Umm, yeah, but it was even tougher on the girl.  It's a little like when the judges on a reality show talk about how hard it is for them to send someone home and end their time in the competition.  Yeah, the judges get paid either way, plus it's probably a little harder on the average people getting sent home.

On top of all that, the reason that is given for WHY the killer here abducts girls (and honestly, there didn't need to be one, at least past the obvious ones) comes dangerously close to justifying his sick behavior.  That's a very dangerous road for a screenwriter to travel down.

I wonder if C-level actors who play serial killers have trouble in future casting sessions.  Like casting directors want to hire them, but then somewhere in the back of their minds, they get this rapey murdery vibe off of them, but they're not sure why.  Or maybe they get typecast, like if they do such a good job playing a killer, it gets easier to get those roles in the future, and then after a while, that's all the work they get offered.

Also starring Halle Berry (last seen in "New Year's Eve"), Abigail Breslin (last heard in "Rango"), Morris Chestnut (last seen in "Identity Thief"), Michael Eklund, Evie Thompson, Roma Maffia, Jose Zuniga,

RATING: 4 out of 10 paint cans