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Marc Forster
Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, Peter Boyle, Heath Ledger, Sean Combs, Coronji Calhoun
Milo Addica & Will Rokos

A lifetime of change can happen in a single moment.
Box Office:
Budget $4 million.
Opening weekend $174,109 on 7 screens.
Domestic gross $31.252 million.
Rated R for strong sexual content, language and violence.

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Actress-Halle Berry.
Nominated for Best Screenplay.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround
English, Spanish

Runtime: 112 min.
Price: $24.99
Release Date: 6/11/2002

• Audio Commentary With Director Marc Forster and Director of Photography Roberto Schaefer
• Audio Commentary With Director Marc Forster and Actors Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton
• Deleted Scenes
• ďGetting Into CharacterĒ Featurette
• ďScoring the FilmĒ Featurette
• Trailer

Music soundtrack

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Monster's Ball (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

When Halle Berry won the Best Actress Oscar for Monsterís Ball, I felt pretty excited. This didnít occur because I think Berryís a terrific performer; I like her but never considered myself a fan. Instead, I responded more to the historic nature of her victory, as it marked a landmark occasion in the history of the Academy Awards.

I hadnít seen Ball prior to the March 2002 ceremony, so my thoughts related solely to the general nature of her victory. I didnít applaud Berryís prize because I believed she was the most deserving actress. Indeed, I didnít see any of the five nominated performances prior to the show, so I couldnít base my opinions on anything other than basic feelings.

Iíve still not viewed any of the other films in question, so I canít provide a real opinion on who deserved it. However, now that Iíve seen Monsterís Ball, I do know that I didnít think much of Berryís performance. For that matter, I failed to see the appeal of Ball itself, as the film provided an off-putting and uninvolving experience.

Monsterís Ball focuses on two different extremely dysfunctional families. The Grotowski clan includes home-bound disabled patriarch Buck (Peter Boyle), his son Hank (Billy Bob Thornton), and grandson Sonny (Heath Ledger). Hank and Sonny both work at the local correctional facility where they handle executions. No women reside in the home, as we quickly learn that the mothers of their children apparently burned both Buck and Hank. Perhaps because of those life lessons, handsome Sonny seems to avoid relationships; he prefers to do it with the townís hooker Vera (Amber Rules). All three men get along poorly, as a lot of tension exists between them.

The Musgrove family has even more substantial issues. Lawrence (Sean Combs) sits on death row, and he will soon be executed for an undiscussed crime. His wife Leticia (Berry) and obese son Tyrell (Coronji Calhoun) are left to pick up the pieces and go on with their lives, but Leticia seems unable to deal with matters. She takes out some of her anger on Tyrell when she discovers his continued consumption of candy despite Leticiaís attempts to control his caloric content.

Tragedy strikes both families above and beyond the execution of Lawrence. Sonny makes a minor error during the pre-execution process. After that, Hank beats Sonny and declares his hatred for him. Sonny briefly stands up to Hank but he soon kills himself.

Leticia has her own problems. She gets fired from her job as a waitress due to car problems that make her late, and she also may get evicted from her home soon. While she and Tyrell walk alongside the street, a car hits the boy, and he dies soon after that.

This event brings Hank and Leticia together. Hank picks up Leticia and the injured Tyrell and drives them to the hospital. She soon gets a job at his favorite diner, where he obsessively buys his favorite treat of coffee and chocolate ice cream.

From there, the two slowly develop an improbable relationship. Actually, the movie largely deals with Hankís journey. At the start of the film, we quickly learn that Buckís a vicious racist, and Hank displays similarly nasty characteristics. For example, when a couple of young African-American boys come on the Grotowski property at the invitation of Sonny, Hank threatens them with a rifle. He also tosses racial epithets at a black co-worker.

However, after Hank gets to know Leticia, he starts to lose his racist tendencies. In addition to his relationship with Leticia, we see a thaw between him and Ryrus (Mos Def), the father of the two boys Hank threatened early in the film. The second half of the movie largely follows the development of Hankís personality and his connection with Leticia.

Iím all for gritty, depressing films. I think flicks like Se7en and Sophieís Choice are veritable classics. However, Monsterís Ball strikes me as misery for the simply sake of misery. The level of dysfunctionality seen in these families seems elevated to the point of absurdity; Jerry Springer would reject these people as being unrealistic. Ball piles on the misery, all so it can present its forced ďconnectionĒ between Hank and Leticia.

This might seem more satisfactory if their relationship came across more vividly. However, I never really bought it, largely because Hankís growth came about too simplistically. Clearly Hank had his racism ingrained from birth, and his interactions with Buck over all those years made their mark. I find it extremely unlikely that he could so quickly shed his bigotry and make a close connection with Leticia.

Despite the unsophisticated development of Hank, Thornton brings surprising life to the role. As written, he seems bland and one-dimensional, but Thornton adds true depth and spark to the role. He makes Hank believable and even sympathetic, despite the inner nastiness he displays so much of the time.

I wish I could say the same for Berry, but she doesnít pull off the part terribly well. The main problem relates to the nature of Leticia. Sheís supposed to display an uneducated ďtrailer parkĒ personality, as demonstrated by her manner of speaking. However, Berry shows such a consistently elegant and almost regal presence that she appears poorly cast as Leticia. Thatís not to say that someone in Leticiaís circumstance canít display grace and class, but Leticia shouldnít. She should come across as earthier and more basic, and Berry canít do it. Instead, Berry often seems like someone in a Saturday Night Live sketch as she play-acts at being ghetto fabulous.

Marc Forsterís heavy-handed direction doesnít help matters. He piles on lame symbolism - usually via distorted reflections - and presents the story in a telegraphed manner. Forster pours on so much despair that we always wait for the inevitable next shoe to drop.

The filmís lack of depth also comes through via its many easy answers. Little gets resolved in a realistic manner. Instead, simple solutions appear, such as the way in which Hank eliminates the problem of his father.

Monsterís Ball mistakes wretchedness for realism. The film tries so hard to be gritty but instead just seems pointless and artificial. Ultimately, this leaves us with a dour and miserable experience that lacks much purpose.

The DVD Grades: Picture B- / Audio B / Bonus B

Monsterís Ball appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Much of the time, the picture seemed quite good, but it displayed a number of concerns that left it short of greatness.

Sharpness generally appeared solid. A little softness interfered with some wider shots, but those issues were modest. Overall, the movie came across as nicely defined and distinct. Jagged edges and moirť effects created no problems, but I did notice a slight amount of edge enhancement at times.

Ball featured a fairly stylized palette, especially during its first half. As the relationship between Hank and Leticia developed, the colors became more natural and realistic. During the earlier portions of the film, though, many of the tones appeared quite (intentionally) desaturated, and the jail scenes featured a distinct green cast. In any case, the DVD replicated the colors nicely; whether stylized or natural, the hues appeared clear and vivid at all times. Black levels also came across as deep and dense, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy without excessive thickness.

Where Monsterís Ball lost most of its points related to the area of print flaws. The movie displayed way too many defects. I saw some light grain at times, but the main concerns came from the frequent mix of grit and speckles. I also noticed occasional examples of spots, nicks, and streaks. None of these ever became overwhelming, but they definitely cropped up too frequently for a modern film. In the end, the rest of the image looked quite good, but the moderately heavy level of print flaws left Monsterís Ball with a ďB-ď.

While the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Monsterís Ball lacked any significant problems, I gave it a ďBĒ due to its general lack of sonic ambition. The soundfield largely resided in the forward channels. Music displayed good stereo presence, and effects created a modestly engaging level of ambience. The surrounds usually stayed with general atmosphere, and they only came to life moderately during a few scenes; the execution segment used the rear speakers effectively, as did a rainstorm and a couple of other bits. However, the score and dialogue dominated the film, so donít expect a lot of effects activity from the sides or surrounds.

Audio quality seemed positive. Dialogue appeared natural and warm, with no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Effects sounded accurate and distinct. They presented good depth and fidelity and displayed clear and realistic tones. Music worked best, as the score seemed vivid and lively. Dynamic range was positive, and bass response appeared deep and tight. Overall, the soundtrack worked fine for the movie.

The DVD release of Monsterís Ball packs a good roster of extras, starting with two audio commentaries. The first comes from director Marc Forster and director of photography Roberto Schaefer, both of whom were recorded together for this running, screen-specific track. On the positive side, the two provide a chatty track, and they cover a lot of technical issues, especially in regard to their attempts to tell the story cinematically. They discuss much of the meaning behind their choices.

And thatís also the major drawback of the commentary. The pair spend a lot of time on this interpretation, and they come across in a rather self-congratulatory manner. They seem to pat themselves on the back for their cinematic cleverness and frequently praise the film in various ways. Fans of the movie will like the information they hear, but I didnít much care for the track due to its tone.

The second audio commentary presents director Forster along with actors Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton. All three sat together for this running, screen-specific track; Thornton splits toward the end, though, and isnít there for the filmís last act. Actor commentaries are the foolís gold of DVD extras. They look so appealing from that outside due to their star wattage, but they often end up being boring and uninformative. Although it has some moments, this commentary lacks much real data.

Not that itís a total loss. Forster contributes some facts not heard in the prior track - plus some redundant ones as well - while the actors add some decent notes about their performances. Thornton offers the higher degree of useful information, as he covers his unusual style of working; he prefers to goof off between takes, even when he does something very heavy and dark. Thornton also tosses in some funny comments along the way. Berry provides a few statements about her side of things, such as a chat about one way she wanted to do the scene in which she gets fired as a waitress, but she doesnít give us as much material as Thornton does.

Not that any of the trio provides scads of details. For the most part, this is one of those commentaries in which everyone tells us how great everyone and everything is. We learn how much they love this scene or that shot or the score or the script or the camerawork, etc. The majority of the track consists of that form of puffery, and it gets old. Fans of the movie might want to screen this one, as it offers just enough material to keep them interested, but others should probably skip both it and the prior commentary.

Next we find some video supplements, including four deleted scenes. These run between 48 seconds and 70 seconds for a total of four minutes, five seconds of footage. The first of these sheds a little more light on sad little Tyrell and seems moderately interesting. Another depicts Hank as he chats with Lawrence and feels pointless. The other two deal with Hank and Buck, and they appear redundant.

We get two featurettes. Getting Into Character lasts four minutes, 20 seconds and isnít really a featurette at all. Instead, it offers a collection of outtakes, all of which show Billy Bob Thornton at his goofiest on the set. These arenít the standard ďflub a line and laughĒ chum. Instead, we see Thornton as he offers bizarre improvised lines and also plays one scene as his character from Sling Blade. Itís good stuff - we could have used more of it.

Scoring the Film takes eight minutes, 19 seconds and concentrates on the movieís music. We hear interview clips from composers Chris Beaty, Thad Spencer, and Richard Werbowenko as well as director Forster and editor Matt Chesse. We also watch the composers at work in the studio. The program offers a decent look at the musical efforts, as the participants discuss the tone they wanted to achieve. However, the show seems a little thin and doesnít provide a lot of depth about the subject.

Finally, the DVD provides a trailer for Monsterís Ball. However, this isnít the original theatrical clip. Instead, it advertises the video release. One nice touch about this DVD: with the exception of the trailer, all of the video extras provide both English and Spanish subtitles. Only Paramount does this consistently, so itís nice to see another studio do it as well; all should have them.

I wanted to like Monsterís Ball and honestly thought I would; I often find a lot of merit in this sort of dark tale. However, the movie revels in its misery and fails to deliver a realistic or involving experience. Instead, it suffers from heavy-handed storytelling and excessive simplicity. The DVDís picture seems good much of the time but it suffers from too many print defects. The audio sounds clear and accurate, though it lacks much dimensionality, and the disc includes a pretty nice roster of extras. If you liked Monsterís Ball, youíll probably be pleased with the DVD. Despite the moderately weak picture quality, it still seems generally satisfying. However, I canít recommend Monsterís Ball to others who havenít seen it, as I donít think itís a good film.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.6931 Stars Number of Votes: 88
3 3:
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