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"Monster's Ball"

Directed by Marc Forster.
Written by Milo Addica and Will Rokos. 
Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, Peter Boyle and Heath Ledger.
Release Year:  2001 
Review Date:  1/26/02 


Continuing the hunt for films that were released in 2001 but went wide in 2002, "Monster's Ball" was near the top of the list for me.  Finally, this film hit San Francisco on Friday and I was sure to check it out.

Billy Bob Thornton, who had three films in three months to end 2001, stars as a prison corrections officer named Hank who has got his share of problems with his family.  His son Sonny (Heath Ledger, "A Knight's Tale") is a loser, a fellow corrections officer that seems to be heading nowhere.  Hank's father Buck (Peter Boyle), a racist and former corrections officer, is doing poorly healthwise and needs constant supervision.  Hank and Sonny, who work at the same prison, are preparing to complete an execution of a cop-killer inmate (Sean "P-Diddy" Combs) who happens to be married to a hot diner waitress named Leticia (Halle Berry).  Much, much tragedy ensues...and, an unlikely romance develops between Hank and Leticia that drives much of the film's second half.

This movie's not going to make you feel all good inside, but it packs a wallop and Thornton and Berry are fantastic.  Through all of the gloom that make up these two people's lives, you can kind of see why they develop the relationship that they do.  The acting is very impressive, especially from Berry, who will feel robbed if she doesn't get nominated for this work—she does it all in this film, including a pretty intense couple of love scenes, lots of sobbing, faking a Southern accent and beating a child.  (After doing almost no nudity for her career, now Berry does "Swordfish" and this film?  Interesting.)  A couple of surprises and some humor sprinkled throughout make this one more interesting than it might look in its advertisements.

"Monster's Ball" is a great film, but it clearly is not for everyone.  It kind of reminds me of "Affliction" or "Leaving Las Vegas" in that is high on drama and a great vehicle for strong performances, but it will never win over the commercial masses.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09