5 Phenomenal Movie Phone Calls

I originally did this particular Phenomenal 5 over a year ago. Honestly, it was one of the most fun lists to put together, but hardly anyone saw it. Thankfully to you all, my blog has grown some since then and I’ve been waiting to share it again for those who have missed it. So why wait any longer? There have been so many great movie moments involving phone calls and almost every single genre has their share. Putting this list together was a lot tougher that I expected and there are some great scenes I had to leave off. But such is the nature with the Phenomenal 5, right? So as always, I wouldn’t call this the definitive list, but there’s no denying that these movie phone calls are absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – “TAKEN” – “a very particular set of skills”

I liked “Taken” even though it kind of flew off the rails closer to the end. But it also provided one of the most memorable movie phone conversations you’ll find. Liam Neeson’s daughter and her friend are abducted while on a trip to Paris. Neeson’s character is a CIA field agent who we quickly find out has “a particular set of skills”. In a brief but incredibly intense phone chat with the abductors, Neeson presents them an offer (if they let his daughter go free) and then a stern warning (if they don’t). It’s a scene that became the signature moment in the film and one that I can’t help but love.

#4 – “DIAL M FOR MURDER” – “Hello?…Hello?…Hello?”

I still struggle with why ANYONE with an ounce of sanity would want to kill the beautiful Grace Kelly, yet that was Ray Milland’s plan in this Hitchcock classic. As his accomplice hides behind the drapes, Milland lures Kelly out of bed with a phone call from the party he’s attending. He then listens on the phone as his hired hand strangles his wife. Foolproof plan right? Of course not, this is Hitchcock, remember? This key scene turns Milland’s devious plans upside down and launches one of cinema’s best thrillers.

#3 – “NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN” – “You know how this is going to turn out, don’t you?”

One of the very best scenes in the Coen brothers’ brilliant “No Country for Old Men” is the phone conversation between Anton Chigurh and Llewelyn Moss. It marks the first time the two have had any communication and the intensity is simmering. The scene’s slick dialogue and clever tone is vintage Coen brothers but it also works thanks to great deliveries from Bardem and Brolin. From the startling first ring of the phone to the slamming down of the receiver at the conversation’s end, this movie phone call nails it.

#2 – “DR. STRANGELOVE” – “I agree with you, it’s great to be fine”

How can you have a list of top movie phone calls without including the hilarious conversation between United States President Merkin Muffley and Soviet Premier Dimitri Kisov from “Dr. Strangelove”. In this classic Cold War spoof, a base commander goes “a little silly in head” and orders his planes to attack the U.S.S.R. President Muffley, wonderfully played by Peter Sellers, makes a courtesy call to Premier Kisov to let him know the base commander “went and did a silly thing”. The entire scene is just Sellers and he not only plays his character but also brilliantly sells us Dimitri, who we never hear. It’s a laugh out loud funny sequence and one of several great moments from the movie.

#1 – “SILENCE OF THE LAMBS” – “I’m having an old friend for dinner.”

Who can forget the phone call at the end of this Oscar-winning crime thriller? After finishing a gruesome and intense serial killer case, the film ends with Clarice enjoying herself at her FBI graduation party. While receiving several commendations and pats on the back, she’s told she has a phone call. At the other end of the line is Hannibal Lecter. He congratulates Clarice on her success then drops the classic yet still disturbing line “I’m having an old friend for dinner”. Anthony Hopkins, decked in a blonde wig and tilted hat, then walks off after Chilton. The film ends with Clarice simply repeating “Dr. Lecter….Dr. Lecter….Dr. Lecter…”. It’s one of those endings that leaves you uncomfortable but it’s also an ending you won’t forget.

What are your thoughts of my 5 Phenomenal Movie Phone Calls? See something I overlooked? Disagree with my choices. Please take time to share you picks or opinions.

THE 5 BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS OF 2012

BISAPPOINTMENTS

Monday is the day where I do The Phenomenal 5. But honestly, it’s kinda hard to fit the word “phenomenal” in with this list. Just as every movie year has its great films, every year also has its movies that fell short, disappointed, or simply missed its mark. 2012 was certainly no different. For this list I’ve picked five movies that just didn’t work for me. Now I’m not claiming that these are the worst films on 2012 (more on those later). Nor am I including movies like “The Master” which I feel is overrated but that has some undeniable strong points. These five films are movies loaded with potential and high expectations but ended up as real letdowns. (Click on the names of each movie for a link to my full review).

#5 – “BATTLESHIP”

battleship

I almost left “Battleship”off this list entirely. It wasn’t a movie that I had huge expectations for therefore it wasn’t a major disappointment. On the other hand, I bought into the flashy, action-packed trailers that showed off the cool technical side of the film. Unfortunately that’s about all this movie had to offer – lots of explosions, cool alien technology, and nothing more. Even more, I was really surprised at just how lame the script really was. It’s completely predictable, filled with clichés, and features an absolutely absurd rise in military rank for our protagonist. Look, I get that “Battleship” was a mindless, summer popcorn flick. But even those have to execute better than this movie does.

#4 – “TAKEN 2”

TAKEN2

I really like the first “Taken” film. It was one of the first films featuring the new tough guy Liam Neeson. I ignored all of the bad reviews and made my way to the theater to see “Taken 2”. Sigh! There were moments that I liked in the movie. But there weren’t many of them. “Taken 2” completely dropped the ball in the end. It’s a lazy, check cashing effort that seems to have worked judging by the box office numbers. But I found myself frustrated at the film due to its poor camerawork and absolutely absurd moments. Some of Neeson’s tough guy techniques are ridiculous and I’ve rarely seen a stupider bunch of the bad guys. And then there’s the climactic fights at the end where the camerawork is so bad you have no idea what has taken place. One thing I do know, “Taken 2” definitely qualifies as a disappointment.

#3 – “CLOUD ATLAS”

cloudatlas

I was completely unfamiliar with the source material for “Cloud Atlas”. But after hearing all of the excitement from many others, I became pretty enthusiastic about the movie adaptation. I came out really disappointed but I’ve also grown more disenchanted with it as time goes by. There’s a lot of ambition tied into this film. It also takes chances and I always like that. But this is a mishmash of incomprehensible nonsense, self-indulgent style, and heavy-handed sermonizing wrapped up as a groundbreaking, science-fiction epic. Now I can see where people may buy into it but I saw it as a lot smaller than it tries to be. A couple of the storylines are interesting but as a whole it just didn’t come together and I have no interest in seeing it again.

#2 – “TO ROME WITH LOVE”

ROME

I was never a big fan of Woody Allen, at least not until I saw “Midnight in Paris”. I remain mesmerized by that movie both due to its heart and it’s incredible witt. Allen’s European cinematic tour continued with “To Rome With Love” and how could it not be good, right? Sadly the movie flies off the rails at the halfway point and never captures any of the locational magic that made “Midnight” so great. Now I will say the movie starts off promising and I was starting to think Allen had struck gold again. But things take a ridiculous turn and the second half of the movie is about as sloppy as anything I saw all year. I was really hoping Woody Allen would do for Rome what he did for Paris. Instead he left it just short of a disaster area.

#1 – “TOTAL RECALL”

TOTAL RECALL

Many of us have questioned the barrage of remakes coming out of Hollywood these days. But “Total Recall” was one film that seemed primed for a modern day makeover. And while I did have questions, I back-burned any skepticism. Unfortunately there were a lot of reasons to be skeptical. I watched the original “Total Recall” tons of times after its release. This flashy remake not only fails to capture the fun, sci-fi action and adventure of the original, but it leaves out much of what made the first film so good. The glaring creative changes and omissions decimate the story so much so that the fantastic visuals and great special-effects can’t cover it. This is a really good looking movie. But it’s also a complete drag and it fails to capitalize on what should have been a surefire formula.

There are my five biggest disappointments of the 2012 movie year. Agree or disagree? Please let me know. Also take time to share some of your biggest disappointments of this past year.

“Battleship” – 2 STARS

Hollywood has made movies based on just about everything. They’ve made movies based on fairy tales, movies based on old TV shows, and even movies based on video games. So should it come as a surprise to anyone that they would make a movie based on an old Hasbro board game? I guess it would be more accurate to say that “Battleship” is loosely based on the popular board game that first appeared in 1967. Obviously the story has little to do with the back-and-forth game itself, but in some ways it’s just as boring as watching two people play. This movie is all about the visual eye candy with almost no attention given to storytelling or dialogue. But visuals only take you so far and at about 130 minutes long, the movie eventually becomes an almost tedious exercise in endurance.

The story is about as shallow and stripped down as they come. Taylor Kitsch plays Alex, a shaggy-haired loser who always finds a way to get into trouble. Fed up with Alex’s “do nothing” approach to life, his older brother comes up with a great idea – force Alex to join him in The United States Navy. Apparently there’s nothing to joining and advancing in the Navy because next we see Alex as a lieutenant aboard the USS John Paul Jones. He’s still getting into trouble and eventually finds himself on the verge of being tossed out. But that’s before a hostile alien force lands near Hawaii and Alex’s leadership may be the only thing that can save the planet. Sense some all too familiar storylines here? How about this one – he wants to marry his girlfriend (Brooklyn Decker) who happens to be his commander’s daughter. I’ll bet you can figure out how that plays out. Oh, and this one – Alex is forced to work alongside his chief rival (Tadanobu Asano) in order to survive and save mankind. It’s pretty obvious where that goes isn’t it?

Jon and Erich Hoeber’s script is riddled with cheesy dialogue and there’s not a single action movie cliché that isn’t used here. If you’ve seen any of these types of movies you will see where the amateurish plotting is going from a mile away. Director Peter Berg tries to give the film some credibility and weight with his heavy-handed use of patriotism and military camaraderie. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the message but the cut-rate execution makes it feel like a cheap knock-off of a number of other films. And it’s impossible to take any of these attempts seriously mainly due to some horribly written and sometimes unintentionally hilarious dialogue. I found myself completing a character’s sentence just because their lines were so familiar. I also caught myself laughing several times during dramatic moments that weren’t meant to be funny.

Now let’s be clear, “Battleship” doesn’t aim to be anything more than a simple, loud, CGI-heavy, summer popcorn picture that strictly adheres to the Michael Bay “Transformers” formula. It bombards you with large-scale special effects sequences, many of which are quite impressive yet undeniably repetitive. I can’t count how many times we see alien ships hopping up and down out of the water or arming their weapons over and over in what looks like the exact same scenes. But the film does at times look spectacular and it can be fun in occasional bursts. There is one particular sequence where the aliens send a metal rollie pollie that literally shreds a destroyer vessel from the inside out. Sure they rip off a couple of scenes from James Cameron’s “Titanic” as the ship sinks but it’s still a wildly impressive scene.

Maybe I’m just getting old but this film left a lot of potential on the table. I suppose “Battleship” would work for the passive movie fan or if you were 12 years old. But even those folks won’t rush to see it again. Yet I have to admit there are some amazing visuals here and I did find myself occasionally caught up in them. But underneath the bombastic veneer of grinding metal, explosions, and destruction lies a corny and often times ridiculous story that can’t be saved by the fancy coat of CGI paint. “Battleship” is a hard film to rate. Narratively speaking its a train wreck. But it’s a visually stunning wreck which makes the experience bearable. But I need more than that in my movies.

“Taken 2” – 2 STARS

It’s still a little hard to believe that the man who played Oscar Schindler has evolved into a bonafide action movie star. Such is the case with 60-year old Liam Neeson. Neeson’s 2008 action thriller “Taken” was a surprise hit that moved his career in a new direction. And while I enjoyed “Taken” and it was a huge success, it wasn’t a movie that I expected to have a sequel. Yet writer Luc Besson returns with a new story (well, kinda) and with Neeson, Famke Janssen, and Maggie Grace back onboard. Now when watching “Taken 2” you’ll undoubtedly question why it was made (other than the obvious cash in) and it will strike you as very similar to the first movie. But while critics have shelled it, overall I didn’t have the sharp negative reaction to the film that many have had. Still “Taken 2” is a movie that doesn’t do a lot to stand out and ultimately it’s a standard “watch it once and you’re done” kind of film.

This movie is pretty much a direct sequel to the first film. It’s been a year since Neeson’s Bryan Mills killed those evil Albanian mobsters who kidnapped his daughter. Now the head of the mob and father of one of those killed is out for revenge. He puts together a plan to kidnap Bryan, his ex-wife Lenore (Janssen), and daughter Kim (Grace) who are spending time together in Istanbul. After Lenore is taken and with Kim running for her life, it’s up Bryan to kill a bunch more evil Albanians in order to save his family. Luckily he still has that “particular set of skills”, right?

There’s nothing unwatchable about “Taken 2” and it does try to make itself an extension of the first film instead of a rehash. It begins by showing the lives of Bryan and his family since the events of “Taken”. These scenes are fine and I didn’t mind being reacquainted with these characters. But quite honestly they are irrelevant and do nothing to drive the narrative forward. Things do pick up when Bryan goes to Istanbul on some unspecified business. Both his family and the Albanian mob pay him surprise visits which sends the movie careening from action sequence to action sequence. That wouldn’t be a bad thing if “Taken 2” could shake the burdens of predictability and familiarity. It also embraces some pretty conventional action movie techniques that I couldn’t help but shake my head at. But there’s still a degree of fun to the movie and even though it’s not one that will stick with you, it always kept my attention.

But let me say a little bit more about the action. These are some of the most poorly edited action sequences I have ever seen. The fight scenes are made up of rapid-fire quick cuts that make it impossible to know what’s going on. The movie keeps the action toned down enough to get a PG-13 rating but in several instances it hurts the film. There’s almost no edge to the action and even some of the bigger payback scenes at the end are unsatisfying because of this. One more thing, “Taken 2’s” bad guys are some of the dopiest in movie history. Tell me if this sounds like a good idea: You capture your prime target and one of the most deadliest men in the world and you leave him tied up and unattended in a room while you go down the hall to eat and watch soccer on TV. Seriously?

No matter how much I wanted to love “Taken 2” I just can’t. It never had me checking my watch and at a compact 90 minutes it never overstays its welcome. But there are so many flaws with this movie. Sure I love a snarling Liam Neeson and I love watching him bust the heads of bad guys. Unfortunately this movie just gives us more of the same but at a much lower and lazier production level. Even Liam can’t fully overcome that.

REVIEW: “The Dark Knight Rises”

The superhero genre has been going strong for several years now and I’ve been wondering when was it going to run out of steam. At what point was the quality of the films going to suffer leading audiences to say enough is enough? In 2005 Christopher Nolan made a great contribution to the genre with “Batman Begins”. He followed it up with 2008′ s phenomenal “The Dark Knight”, a film that was not only one of the best sequels ever made but a demonstrative statement showing that superhero films can be legitimate and powerful forms of cinematic entertainment.

That brings us to “The Dark Knight Rises” the final film of Christopher Nolan’s Batman run and the end of what could easily go down as one of the best movie trilogies in motion picture history. “The Dark Knight Rises” is smart, layered, gritty, moving, and action-packed. Nolan not only wraps up his series in a competent and satisfying way, he gives us one of the most potent and energetic movie experiences you’ll find – a near perfect mix of comic book action, socially reflective drama, and expert storytelling. If these are the kinds of films we could get regularly from the superhero genre, I see no limit to their lifespans.

This film takes place 8 years after Batman rode off into the shadows at the end of “The Dark Knight”. Batman is a fugitive, unjustly but willingly, wanted for the murder of Harvey Dent. There have been no Batman sightings during this time and crime in Gotham City has declined due to an inspired city leadership and law enforcement armed with the Dent Act. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a hobbled recluse, spending all of his time in a closed off wing of Wayne Manor where long-time family friend and faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine) is his only contact with the outside world. Gotham has become lethargic in its approach to crime and peace time has made the city leaders careless. Everyone except commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Officer Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a devoted young patrolman. With their guard down, the city is hit head-on by a brutal but calculated terrorist named Bane (Tom Hardy). Bane’s destructive assault on Gotham cripples the city and as all-out anarchy takes hold, the need for Batman is greater than ever.

Morgan Freeman also returns as Lucius Fox, Bruce Wayne’s close friend and acting president of Wayne Enterprises. Fox is struggling to keep the company afloat following the poor position Bruce left him in. In addition to Hardy and Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway joins the series as Selina Kyle, a cat burglar who steals out of Robin Hood-like motivations but also with a single more direct purpose in mind. Also new to the cast is Marion Cotillard. She plays Miranda Tate, a Wayne Enterprises board member and philanthropist with a great interest in green energy technology and Wayne’s investments into it. Matthew Modine plays Deputy Peter Foley, a spineless officer who is more interested in making a name for himself by catching Batman than stopping the coming storm at the hands of Bane. We also get Ben Mendelsohn as a slimy self-serving Wayne board member with his hands in deeper in than they should be.

Nolan takes this amazing collection of acting talent and throws them all into his smorgasbord of plot lines and dramatic twists. But he never loses control of the film and everything comes together in an extremely satisfying way. Nolan incorporates several relevent and current issues into the story, none more prevalent than the entire class warfare theme. Selina has a very anti-rich people mindset seeing the wealthy as a key cause to society’s ills. Bane himself seeks to take the power out of the hands of the wealthy, the local government, and law enforcement and give it to the poor and downtrodden. But Nolan doesn’t sugarcoat or promote anything. In fact he shows where an extreme and unbridled class warfare position can lead. Some may say that his presentation is heavy-handed but I felt it worked perfectly in the greater context of the story.

Nolan and his brother Jonathan wrote the screenplay and even with the heavy exposition in the first 30 minutes – clearly intended to fill the audience in on what has transpired during the missing 8 years – the movie moves at a crisp and fluid pace. As with all of Nolan’s pictures, there are layers of story that unfold to reveal deeper meanings and cool dramatic twists that should please both comic book fanboys and lovers of good storytelling. He doesn’t dumb things down nor does he ever patronize the audience. The film sets the table for us then causes us to attentively hang on for dear life – a most pleasing challenge. Much like “The Dark Knight” there are no shortcuts here. The film isn’t just a loud summer studio comic book adaptation. It’s brilliant cinematic storytelling that takes a superhero concept, laces it with a true sense of reality, and presents it to us in a beautifully crafted package. Another example of why Christopher Nolan is one of our best directors and visual storytellers.

I’ve mentioned the cast but they deserve more than just a few words. Bale IS Batman and this is his strongest work of the entire series. We see him as a broken and vulnerable man as well as the growling caped crusader. Bale has no problems relaying either to the audience. Anne Hathaway is also very good as Catwoman (even though she’s never called Catwoman) and while I wasn’t certain she completely belonged in Nolan’s more realistic Batman universe, he never overdoes the character and Hathaway sells her well. Tom Hardy will undoubtedly face comparisons to Heath Ledger’s Joker from the last film but that’s terrible unfair. The two villains couldn’t be more different and Hardy’s Bane easily stands on his own. Hardy spends the entire film behind a mask but his body language and brute swagger makes him a most menacing villain. Gary Oldman is fantastic as always as was the lovely Marion Cotillard. Michael Caine is wonderful and has some of the best exchanges with Bale. Unfortunately he disappears in the second half of the film. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to prove he is a solid young actor. Perhaps the only weak spot was with Matthew Modine who I never really bought into. His character only adds one small thing to the story and Modine never makes him all that compelling or interesting.

Technically “The Dark Knight Rises” is the jaw-dropper I expected it to be. Nolan’s stylistic flare and incredible camera work do a great job of capturing the panic and dread of a city under siege. The special effects are stunning and the action sequences are big and boisterous. Nolan gives us some new Batman toys as well as some old favorites and they’re used in several cool crowd-pleasing ways. I also loved the fight choreography. You know by the trailer that there is going to be a Bane and Batman showdown and Nolan builds it up with undeniable intensity. Then when the payoff comes, we aren’t hampered by herky-jerky camera movements. Instead Nolan lets the fights take place without any fancy gimmicks. It was incredibly satisfying. I also loved Hans Zimmer’s score. Some have voiced dislike for his ever-present pounding music but it worked for me. I felt it contributed to the intensity that the film is going for just as Zimmer’s scores have done for the previous two Batman movies.

“The Dark Knight Rises” once again plunges the people of Gotham and us into the depths of fear and dread while examining evil and the darker side of society. Yet the film always allows us hope. This is certainly another dark story but the stakes are high and the ending is exceptional and rewarding and the perfect goodbye to a phenomenal trilogy. I wanted to stand and applaud. The film stretches the boundaries of the comic book genre. It’s large in scale, full of story, and absolutely engrossing throughout it’s almost 3 hour running time. “The Dark Knight Rises” is far more than simply great. It’s a modern classic featuring mesmerizing performances, fist-pumping action, and genuine intelligence. It’s a visual spectacle. It’s emotionally and intellectually stimulating. It’s a text book lesson on the melding of big budget flamboyance with smart and challenging storytelling. It’s hard to accept that this is Nolan’s final Batman film but he has given us a gift – a groundbreaking series of films capped by a truly glorious finale. What a ride it’s been and what a way to end it.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

4.5 STARS

“THE A-TEAM” – 1.5 STARS

I was a big fan of the original “A-Team” TV show so naturally I was interested in seeing this group of guys move to the big screen. The TV show was a pretty fun mix of over-the-top action and good-natured humor and it found a pretty strong following. Sadly the movie adaptation is a loud, obnoxious, and rather pointless modernization. There’s no doubting the cool factor in seeing Hannibal, Face, B.A., and Murdoch on the big screen for the first time. But the material is so bad and the novelty only carries the film so far before it quickly wears off.

One of the first things to turn me off was the pervasive profanity found in the film. How this movie was able to keep a PG-13 rating is stunning. You name the curse word and it’s there and many are used throughout the movie from start to finish. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a fun action movie you can take your kids to (much like the TV show). I suppose the filmmakers feel that a movie must be “modernized” in order to attract newer audiences. So they throw in things such as the profanity and changing Face from just a ladies man into someone who sleeps with every woman he encounters (including an adulterous relationship). “Losing it’s innocence” is probably a silly term to use here but I really hated the direction they chose for the film.

Another problem I have is with the way the movie was filmed. Normally I have no problem with jumpy cameras trying to add the feel of “chaos” to a film even though it’s something that’s been done over and over. But in “The A-Team” the film’s camera work and editing is horrible. There are some battle sequences where the shaky camera and hack-and-slash editing are so bad that you have no idea what is happening. Over time this becomes annoying and detracts from the action which is the film’s bread and butter.

The story is certainly nothing to brag about. In fact, there’s nothing that you’ll remember about it once the end credits roll. It’s utterly forgettable. It’s basically three small missions woven together by a few thin threads of plot. So that leaves it up to the action sequences (and there is alot of them) to hold up the film. There is some wild action and when it isn’t hindered by the editing it can be pretty entertaining. But while it’s full of slick explosions and tons of CGI, some of the scenes are so over-the-top that they come across as just silly. Fans of the TV show will remember that some of the team’s exploits were beyond belief. But it’s nothing like in this movie. You can’t help but to shake your head at some of the stuff you’re seeing.

“The A-Team” does have a decent cast and Neeson and Cooper are particularly good even when the writing lets them down. Perhaps the movie’s strongest points are the exchanges between these two. There is a lot of botched potential here. What could have been a fun, action popcorn escape turns out to be a mess. Some good acting and wild action is overshadowed by annoying profanity, pitiful editing and camera work, and a mediocre story. “The A-Team” is a disappointing film in almost every regard.