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Real and virtual existences entangled
This movie has three parallel stories, with one important thing in common: real lives unravel as their presence on the media, especially the social media, spirals out of control. Moreover, as it turns out, each story ends up intersecting with one or both of the others.
There is Ben, a lonely teen who is hideously deceived and then callously exposed on the Web by two mean-spirited schoolmates. This drives Ben to make a grave decision that will leave his future hanging by a thread and his parents and sister reeling.
Then there are Cindy and Derek, who are trying to grapple with the death of their baby. As if that weren't enough of an issue in their life, they discover their credit cards have been maxed out. The private eye they hire, Mike, backtracks Cindy's and Derek's every online move, with unexpected revelations. Moreover, the result of Mike's investigation turns out to compound the problem rather than solve it.
Finally, there is Nina, an up-and-coming TV news reporter who gets her hands on the life story of Kyle, an older teen engaging in a salacious line of work performed online in front of a camera. Nina's TV piece is at first widely applauded, but its broadcast unleashes an avalanche of trouble for both Nina and Kyle, as well as for other people in their career lives.
A ready interpretation of the title "Disconnect" is to associate it with the dangers of "disconnecting" with real people in the real world. And indeed: people in this movie do communicate a lot via text messaging, and in chat rooms. In these spheres, things are sometimes not what they seemand neither are people: two characters make up another, and communicate with someone else pretending to be that person, with potentially lethal consequences.
But the title "Disconnect" can also be taken as an imperative: "Disconnect!" Log off already! Otherwise, you will forget real existences cannot be edited, backed up, deleted, and restored like virtual ones. Actually, real life in this movie interferes with virtual plots in a way that even the latter take unintended twists and turns.
It turns out Mike not only changes Cindy and Derek's life (they set out to make a dramatic move as a result of Mike's investigations), he also is forcibly involved in the story around Ben. Ben's dad, in turn, is a legal counsel at the TV station where Nina works; that way, he is drawn on two fronts into the fallout from risky behavior of teens on the Internet.
While this is Nina's immediate connection to another story in this movie, the mere fact that she is a TV personality probably superimposes her story on the others: just as everybody is online these days, everybody still consumes sensational TV news. (Need it even be said: when you turn on your TV, you also "disconnect" from real life.)
The three stories progress at a similar pace and climax at the same time. After all the scheming, searching, plotting, and just plain misunderstanding emanating from cell phones and computer keyboards, the scenes suddenly stop in freeze-frame. Real-world existences clash in an ultimate, inevitable collision. The disconnect comes home to roost.
The Call (2013)
Even the few predictable turns of events are delivered with suspense
There is the main character who is good but not perfect, and there is the one mistake she makes that almost destroys her. And there is her nemesis, engaging her at a challenge greater than any she has had to confront before.
The Call models just about all the techniques of good storytelling. Character, plot, action, and suspenseall the ingredients of a good thriller are there, and blended well. Halle Berry gives a superb performance heading a cast that is capable overall. We can sense and feel the story as it happens.
The bad guy is always a step ahead. Except when he is two steps ahead. Except when the protagonist undertakes a bold new move and, if it works . A big "if," that is.
On a couple of occasions, this movie gives stinging reminders of human fallibility, specifically lapses of good judgment that can cause a situation to deteriorate. We want to beckon the characters in front of us to do certain things, and fast. But they are either too daring or too guileless to anticipate the curveballs that are about to hit them.
Frustrating as that may be, the ending holds a twist gratifying enough to compensate for those frustrations. That even glosses over a certain lack of dénouementperhaps the one part of storytelling this movie could have used more of. Or was it part of the plan to leave a few things to our imagination?
How to deal pragmatically with moral issues
Traditional storytelling begins with an exposition. The story told in this movie, however, is hardly traditional, so the exposition in this movie abruptly segues into the key event triggering all subsequent conflicts. Presumably, this reflects the way it would have happened in the true story this movie is based on: suddenly, unexpectedly, with no time to brace for impact.
And that impact has ripple effects. A college-bound teenage boy makes one mistake, gets into serious trouble with the law, but makes the idealistic moral choice not to drag anyone else down with him, even though he faces the dire consequence of serious hard time in prison.
His father (Dwayne Johnson), determined to keep that dire consequence from becoming reality, not only goes the direction opposite from his son's, but along the way double-crosses a man who works for him.
Though selfish in this regard, he is willing to subject himself to hazards far greater than those faced by his unwitting accomplice, all in order to save his son. For that, he even reaches out to the seedy, violent netherworld of international drug cartels.
Dwayne Johnson's character encounters various moral dilemmas caused by his actions on several fronts, and he doesn't think them all through. But then the times don't call for thinking; they call for action. And action this movie delivers galore.
Pragmatic and moral choices engage in a sort of oblique arm-wrestling, and the prospect of emerging victorious competes with that of utter devastation of innocent lives.
Side Effects (2013)
The "special FX" are in the mind of the beholder
There are a lot of close-up shots in this movie, zeroing in on people and objects and at the same time beckoning the viewer to pay attention to details that are just out of focus.
Things are not quite the way they seem, this recurring way of camera-shooting suggests. And if you do want to focus on what the scene subtly deemphasizes, it won't let you; as mentioned above, what oftentimes would appear to hold crucial meaning is just out of focus.
The human mind is intricate, the way it schemes its ploys can take convoluted avenues, and the way the plot progresses reflects that. To push the story along, this film doesn't use "special FX" in the sense of refined digital imagery; rather, it requires the viewer to look for meaning beyond the obvious of what is shown and what is said. After all, it is about "side effects," not "special FX," right?
The music does its fair share to underscore the reeling, even spooling, that by all appearances drives Emily's mind. Or is that the drug doing the driving? And where is each of the two psychiatrists really coming from?
There really are competing sources of "side effects" at work, trying to outdo and eliminate each other. We take away from this movie that even a very well-informed patient may be taking huge chances, and only so much of that is due to pharmaceuticals.