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Movie Review: Monster's Ball

Lobo Note: The Sunshine Cinema (now part of the Landmark art house chain) recently reopened. I had wanted to check out this new theater and luckily, Monster's Ball was playing there. It is on East Houston Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenues (the lower East Side). It is a renovated five theater art house. First built in 1898 it was the Houston Hippodrome, a vaudeville house that put on plays, operettas and variety acts for its largely Yiddish speaking audience. (I wonder if my grandparents went to that theater?) In 1917 the theater was converted to a nickelodeon called, the Sunshine Cinema. By the 1940s it had been reduced to a warehouse and stayed that way until 1994. It was briefly used for concerts but eventually was abandoned and shut down. The building has kept most of the old bricks exposed and it has a wonderful intimate quality to all of the theaters (I looked into all five).

It is located right next to Yonah Shimmel's Knish Bakery and that smells a whole lot better than popcorn. I met a man outside the theater who was happy to tell me that he frequented the theater when it showed silent films. He remembered seeing King of Kings right in that very building in 1938. He got tears in his eyes at the memory.

Story: I won't reveal much about the film because I don't want to spoil it for you. But, cut to the chase... I thought it was great. Be warned, this is not an easy film. Offbeat would be an apt description. It offers a lot to think about and if you can leave your own prejudices, politics and script at home I think you will like it as much as I did.

It is a Southern Gothic tale (our culture is so very rich in this venue). It is about multigenerational racism (it takes place in Georgia), capital punishment, death, love, repressed emotion and my favorite...redemption. It is an intimate, character driven, dark story brilliantly directed by Swiss born Marc Forster (Loungers, Everything Put Together) and written by rookies, Milo Addica and Will Rokos. I applaud their decision not to follow any of the expected story lines that this type of film could easily have had. It stays fresh, surprising and engaging.

Acting: I take back everything bad I have ever said about Billy Bob Thornton. He is simply terrific in this film and has had a great year all around. Halle Berry is sensational. She can really act and is pivotal in making this film work (particularly the ending). I would be surprised if she did not win an Oscar nomination for this role. An almost unrecognizable Heath Ledger (The Patriot) is powerful. Peter Boyle (Everyone Loves Raymond) practically reprises his role as Joe, the despicable bigot in the 1970 film. Sean Combs, Mos Def and young Coronji Calhoun were all fine in small, but important roles.

Critters: One horse.

Food: Chocolate ice cream (lots of it), coffee, and Candy Bars.

Visual Art: Lots of sketches.

Blatant Product Placement: Coca Cola and Jack Daniels.

Soundtrack: Just fine.

Opening Titles: A beautiful opening sequence. (I am a sucker for a good opening.)

Theater Audience: Three other guys and me. I chatted with one fellow for quite a while after the film was over about what we thought it all meant.

Quirky Meter: 4

Squirm Scale: Executions are not pleasant to watch

Predictability Level: I was surprised throughout most of the movie.

Tissue Usage: One

Oscar Worthy: Yes.

Nit Picking: I think the title is stupid. It refers to the prison guard's night out before an execution. I also was a little put off by Peter Boyle's accent.

Big Screen or Rental: Big Screen. But if you want to rent some other prison movies there are probably shelves and shelves of them at your local rental place. Some of my favorites are: Dead Man Walking, The Shawshank Redemption (which can be seen almost every night on the Turner Network) and Birdman of Alcatraz.

Length: 110 minutes.

LOBO HOWLS: a very generous 9