The Caller (2011)
★ / ★★★★
Mary (Rachelle Lefevre) moves into an apartment because she is in the process of getting a divorce and a restraining order from her physically abusive husband, Steven (Ed Quinn). A few days after she has settled in, Mary begins to receive phone calls from a woman, Rose (Lorna Raver), who is looking for her husband. Mary politely tells the old woman that she must have dialed the wrong number. They hang up. The woman calls again. Mary starts to get annoyed. After a series of questions, Rose informs Mary that she is calling from the ’70s. And both of them live in the very same apartment.
“The Caller,” written by Sergio Casci and directed by Matthew Parkhill, has the potential to be a jolt-inducing hybrid of thriller and science fiction but it is ultimately poorly conceived. The majority of the disappointment stems from the material being unable to detach itself from typicalities found in other movies and done much better there.
It goes for cheap scares like what is found in the pantry and the many ways Rose is able to make Mary miserable without much dramatic build-up. In addition, the picture feels disjointed. Each scene feels like a set-up: Mary does something trivial, like interacting with a gardener (Luis Guzmán) who knows a bit about the apartment’s dark history or preparing the dog’s dinner, then the phone, a landline, will ring. She answers every time but for no compelling reason. Due to the repetitive behavior on screen, we are forced to consider what we would have done if we were in a similar situation.
The most obvious questions should have been, in the least, considered so we can follow her through her struggle without thinking that she is inept or lacks common sense. Why doesn’t she just inform the phone company to disconnect that number and buy a cell phone? Is she expecting any important call from a potential job or family member that she feels like she must answer each time it rings? If she doesn’t have enough money for a cell phone, given that divorce is expensive, why not just change her landline’s number? When too many questions pop up, there is danger that we find ourselves disengaged from the picture. Such is the case here.
And then there is the unexplored connection between Mary and Rose. Both feel lonely and have had abusive men in their lives. What other similarities do they have? How are they different? Mary tries to reach out to a math professor, John (Stephen Moyer), who eventually becomes a romantic interest. Does Rose have anyone in her life to distract her from being angry and bitter? The story might have been more engaging if, at first, the two women are able to forge a friendship–despite the rift in time–that inevitably goes sour. If Rose is more knowledgeable about Mary’s personal life, since Rose has the power to change Mary’s life for better of worse, the eventual changes could have had more emotional impact and thrills.
“The Caller” requires more focus on two themes: the rules involving the communication between past and present and how the horrors that Mary goes through is a learning opportunity for her to stand up to her abusive husband and embrace a healthy romantic relationship. If the themes had been strongly established, the rest might have fallen into place–or at least in more comfortable positions.
Barney’s Version (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Based on Mordecai Richler’s novel, “Barney’s Version” tracked the journey of a man from his first marriage with a woman he got pregnant (Rachelle Lefevre) until the end of his highly eventful life. Barney (Paul Giamatti) was in a quest to find love. He thought he found it when he met a woman with a Master’s Degree. She was vulgar but rich, sometimes charming, but insensitive to his needs. She didn’t like being talked down to but she was unaware of the way she talked down to Barney. On the night of his wedding, Barney met Miriam (Rosamund Pike), an intelligent, eloquent, and humble woman. Barney was convinced his second marriage was a mistake so he searched for opportunities to get divorced. Miriam didn’t want to be involved with a married man. “Barney’s Version,” directed by Richard J. Lewis, captured my interest and challenged my opinion of its characters because of the way it paid attention to its many complicated, at times volatile, relationships. Take Barney and his father, Izzy (Dustin Hoffman). While two shared more than a handful of amusing moments which often involved drinking and discussions of making love with as many women as possible, the screenplay surprised me because it wasn’t afraid to experiment with the atmosphere between them. When Barney needed advice, Izzy was there for insightful fatherly advice. They weren’t just father and son. They were also great friends. I also loved watching Barney and Izzy’s marriage unfold. The picture was fearless in exploring the awkward feeling of one perhaps thinking that he or she was putting more into the relationship that his or her counterpart. We don’t have to be married to relate. Since their relationship was based on friendship first, we can relate that feeling to our own group of friends. The film also succeeded in framing the unsaid: the struggle in the ennui of the every day, the craving for a bit of space because certain charming habits evolved into minor annoyances, and the expected level of respect when something is important to someone. Barney and Miriam were smart people. They didn’t need to yell or scream at each other to express their frustrations and disappointments. After all, empty barrels make the most noise. They knew neither of them was perfect so, when they faced a hardship, they took comfort in their love for one another. I did wish, however, that we learned more about Barney’s relationship with his son and daughter. Parents love their kids as much as their partner in marriage (or even more so) and I thought it was strange that there weren’t many scenes of Barney interacting with his kids. In a way, despite the ups and downs in his life, Barney was very lucky. He was not necessarily gifted in terms of physical appearance but he had everything he needed to lead a wonderful life. We watch him and are reminded that life is worth living with a glass half full.
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
I can always rely on the “Twilight” series to be consistently mediocre despite the fact that each movie released was better than its predecessor. In “Eclipse,” based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer and directed by David Slade, the love triangle between Bella (Kristen Stewart), Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob (Taylor Lautner) reached its peak but the vampire and werewolf camps decided to join forces in order to protect Bella from newly-born vampires led by Riley (Xavier Samuel) and Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard taking over for Rachelle Lefevre). Like the first two movies, “Eclipse” suffered from far too many ways Edward and Bella expressed how much they loved each other. I understood that the whole thing might have worked on paper or else the novels wouldn’t have been as successful but it just did not work on film because it quickly became redundant. Even when the movie tried to explore the romantic relationship between Bella and Jacob, the picture lacked energy and, to be quite honest, I started noticing the make-up, editing and the lighting. In other words, it lost my interest despite my best intentions of sticking with the story. The movie would have benefited if it had more action sequences. Maybe it’s because I’m a guy but I did enjoy the climax when the werewolves and vampires came head-to-head with the vampire army while Edward and Bella faced Riley and Victoria. Victoria was probably my favorite character since the first movie because I thought she was menacing but enchanting at the same time. Unfortunately, even though I could tell she was trying her best, Howard’s interpretation of her character did not work for me because she lacked Lefevre’s subtleties (which the series desperately lacked). In this installment, Victoria felt like a pawn instead of a rogue vampire who was full of malice and thirst for vengeance. I also enjoyed the tent scene when Edward and Jacob finally connected not because it was touching on any level but because it was very amusing to the point where people were actually laughing out loud in the theater. There was something purposely homoerotic about the very intense glares the two sent each other. Even though that scene wasn’t very effective, I admired that the material was aware enough to make fun of itself. Furthermore, I can criticize the film for not being a good example for teenagers in promoting marriage considering the characters’ ages but I won’t because it simply tried to remain loyal to its source. I can only hope that the final installment (divided in two) will have more suspense and action than romance. It needed less cheese and more bloodshed.
The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
I cannot believe I saw this in theaters considering I wasn’t that impressed with the first “Twilight” film. However, since my expectations were low, I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed (but I wasn’t happy about it either). I expected a mediocre outcome and got just that. Chris Weitz directed the second installment of the highly popular franchise. He tried to balance Bella’s (Kirsten Stewart) depression when Edward (Robert Pattinson) decided to break up with her due to an incident during her eighteenth birthday and Bella’s attempt at recovery when she finally got the chance to get to know Jacob (Taylor Lautner) who saw her as a romantic interest. And that was pretty much what the whole movie was about because I felt like this was more of a transition than anything. With that said, I found that this movie had no reason to be over two hours long. There were far too many scenes when Edward and Bella would talk and circumvent the main point they wanted to get across. For me, the sexual tension that worked in the first film simply wasn’t there anymore. Simply saying, “I cannot live without you” over and over is simply not good enough. In fact, I hated it when Bella and Edward were alone together because I knew I would hear an extended conversation that lacked gravity. On the other hand, I was interested in Bella and Jacob’s blossoming friendship. There was a certain brother-sister connection there even though Jacob wanted Bella romantically (and not the other way around). I was also happy with the new characters that involved a vampire royalty called the Volturi (mainly Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning). I completely bought that they were menacing, powerful and very unstable group of vampires. One of the many ways this movie would’ve been more entertaining was having more action scenes. I loved the scenes that involved the diabolical Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre). Even though she barely said a word, her presence was mysterious and posed as a real threat. Granted, the film was based on Stephenie Meyer’s novel so it had plot limitations that were strictly designed for this sequel. However, there’s a certain way–an elegance, confidence, and ability to take risks–to make those limitations work for this project but I felt like it didn’t even try. With a much bigger budget than its predecessor, it should have been that much better, bigger in scope and more urgent. Regardless, I’m still curious with how the story would play out in the future installments especially with the way they ended this one. I cannot believe I said (more like yelled) “What?!” out loud when a certain line was said and it cut to the end credits. The fans of the novel probably looked at me and wondered why I watched the movie before I read the book.