Breaking In (2018)
★★ / ★★★★
The problem with “Breaking In” is that it does not aspire to become more than a standard thriller. A scene involving our heroine having to scramble for the gun in order to save herself and her family can be anticipated not from a mile way but due to the inevitability of its premise involving an innocent family having to fight against lawless thieves. In this day and age, having ambition is required—a minimal element, really—in order to have the chance to tell a familiar story in an inspired way. Not one decision in this film surprised me. It is a tolerable but occasionally bland cable movie that was lucky enough to have received theatrical release.
Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of the picture is Gabrielle Union getting a chance to play a rough, physical role. In her previous parts, specifically in romantic comedies, she oozes charisma in a seemingly effortless way. All she has to do is stand in one place, usually saying nothing, yet her presence demands that she be seen, that we be interested in the woman who appears to have strong opinions and sharp intellect.
Here, she has the opportunity to set aside the softness and go hard. It is most frustrating then that the screenplay by Ryan Engle fails to inject substance to the character. Shaun is a mother of two (Ajiona Alexus, Seth Carr) whose millionaire father had been brutally murdered. Like most parents, she is highly protective of her kids. What we learn about her stops here.
One gets the impression that the writer does not understand what makes movies like “Die Hard” work as a genre piece as well as a successful mainstream entertainment. Yes, elaborate set pieces are expected but the magic lies in the small moments of character discovery—through humor or insight or creativity—that the audience learns to invest in the protagonist’s plight. In this film, focus is almost always on the action rather than the person undergoing through a challenge—when the action isn’t that impressive in the first place.
Director James McTeigue uses the environment in a manner that is accessible. The majority of the story takes place inside a sizable house, littered with security cameras, motion-activated lights, and bulletproof glass, that sits on an estate. Unlike intolerably bad films that squander the potential of a stylish setting, we get a pretty solid idea of the house’s geography. It is necessary that we do because there are times when tension is directly tethered to the heroes and villains just missing each other as one enters a hallway while the other makes a well-timed turn. Although few and far between, there are moments of levity and amusement.
Films that fall under the home invasion sub-genre almost always require memorable villains. Here is where the material drops the ball completely. Not once do we come to learn why this particular group of robbers (Billy Burke, Richard Cabral, Levi Meaden, Mark Furze) are especially formidable. While they need not have an interesting backstory, it is critical that the threat be real and almost unsurmountable. The four, together or apart, do not hold a candle against Union’s presence. And so we are not completely convinced that Shaun might fail to protect her children.
“Breaking In” is the kind of work that one begins to forget the moment the credits start rolling. While the in-the-moment experience is not excruciatingly painful in any way, it is never impressive. In the middle of it, I caught my mind wandering and wondering how provocateur Michael Haneke might have reshaped this second-rate thriller in look, tone, and content.
Drive Angry (2011)
★ / ★★★★
Milton (Nicolas Cage) breaks out of Hell to return to the land of the living in order to rescue his granddaughter, an infant, from being sacrificed by a religious cult leader, Jonah King (Billy Burke), the very same man who murdered Milton’s daughter because she wanted to resign from the cult. While sipping black coffee at a diner, Milton takes notice of a kind but tough waitress, Piper (Amber Heard). He asks her to give him a ride and she decides to help. Before she knew it, she is an integral part of Milton’s mission to hunt down the zealots. Meanwhile, The Accountant (William Fichtner), Satan’s right-hand man, is assigned to bring the escapee back to where he belongs.
Written by Todd Farmer and Patrick Lussier, “Drive Angry” is not without ambition but it is so sloppily put together, there is barely a glimpse of a story we can invest in. Its many attempts to exude excitement comes in a form as basic as shooting and blowing things up.
Milton is supposed to be a grandfather on a bloody rampage and will do absolutely anything to save the baby. His mission might not have been so unbelievable if he isn’t so easily distracted, especially by the opposite sex. For someone who has literally escaped Hell, his weakness is women? Really? When a blonde waitress at a bar makes passes at him, the very next scene shows them having sex. As Jonah’s henchmen come barging in like wild animals, Milton grabs his gun with one hand and uses the other to keep the woman attached to him until all the assailants are dead and bloody.
But it does not stop there. The whole thing is shown in painful slow motion. Since we can see where the attackers are located prior to raising their weapons, tension is sucked out of the scene. It looks pretty, I suppose, but only for about five seconds. It glorifies violence by making it look like an elegant dance. As many of us should know, violence is anything but.
It leaves a confusing message. The woman releases moans of pleasure during the shootout yet she is left traumatized after the fact. If the writers had managed to put the same amount of thought in the implications as much as the visuals, they might have had a film worth cooking and it might not have been insulting. Other scenes run similar to this, only increasingly less interesting due to diminishing returns.
And then there is the question involving Milton’s state of being human. Yes, he is unable to die, but what is so special about him that he is one of the very few to have escaped from the land of the dead? Not enough backstory is given to us and Cage’s somewhat relaxed–some might say narcotic–performance does not help. Following Milton on his journey is like watching a robot doing the same tricks over and over again. For someone who has broken out of Hell, he sure does get boring fast.
“Drive Angry,” directed by Patrick Lussier,” tries to be cheeky in order to have variations in tone between action sequences, but it fails to work because every event feels contrived. Instead, it comes off so desperate, it forces some characters to actually wink at the audiences before doing something naughty, like they need our approval.
Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, The (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
Three days after Edward (Robert Pattinson) turned Bella (Kristen Stewart) into a vampire in order to save her life moments after giving birth, it appears that it is literally happily ever after for the couple and their half-human, half-vampire child named Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy). But when Irina (Maggie Grace), sees the little girl from afar, she is convinced that the Cullens have committed a most egregious crime. In the vampire community, it is illegal to create an Immortal Child because they cannot be controlled. She proceeds to report what she had witnessed to the head of the Volturi, Aro (Michael Sheen), vampire royalty who maintains the secrecy of vampires’ existence from humans. Treating the matter with utmost urgency, it is decided that the Cullens are to be forced to meet true deaths.
There is no point in hiding the fact that a part of me groans a little every time I watch a trailer of an upcoming “Twilight” picture ever since the first installment disappointed my already low expectations. And yet I continued to watch the series because although it is most often a letdown (it does have some good moments), for me, it always had potential to become an above average action-fantasy and “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2,” based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer and screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg, proves that my suspicion is right.
The first part drags as if we have forever to spare. There is a contrivance involving the Cullens, now including Bella, attempting to keep a secret from Bella’s father (Billy Burke). That is, he cannot know that his own daughter has been turned into a vampire. As usual, the screenplay provides very little depth to the circumstances so the Cullens end up very unlikeable. The most effective fantasies come hand-in-hand with being well-written. It is paramount that it establishes a world that we can immerse ourselves into so when an outrageous thing like preventing a father from knowing that his child has died (essentially), we understand and sympathize with the moral and ethical conundrums.
There is a little bit of everything from the past films, from Jacob (Taylor Lautner) taking off his clothes before he transforms into a werewolf to Bella and Edward looking longingly at each other (key word: long) before they start to grab each other’s bodies and the filmmakers bathe whatever is going on in warm colors. Small dosages go a long way because it gives more time to explore new territories. The film begins to pick up momentum when the Cullens recruit vampires from all over the globe to support them just in case a battle erupts between them and the Volturi.
The action scenes toward the end are thrilling. A few characters we have grown to like (and hate) meet the most gruesome deaths, limbs are chopped off, and bodies are burnt. I liked that the war is not between army of thousands but only a couple of handful. And since the good guys are outnumbered around three to one, there is enough threat to wonder how many of the good guys will survive. In the middle of the pandemonium, I could not help but wonder how much I would have enjoyed the series more if the writer and filmmakers’ creative license had been exercised more often. I admit that the twist at the end had me going. It should not work but it does here.
“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2,” directed by Bill Condon, may disappoint fans of the novels but, as a movie, it ends on a right note. I enjoyed the action. Also, I found that the thicker a vampire’s accent, the more I am inclined to want to know more about him or her. For instance, I wished Vladimir (Noel Fisher) and Stefan (Guri Weinberg) were in it more. However, I am reluctant to give the film an enthusiastic recommendation for sheer action. A lot of questions are unanswered, many motivations are unexplored, and the first third is lifeless. Having said that, it is the most fun of the bunch.
Red Riding Hood (2011)
★ / ★★★★
By making appropriate sacrifices, a small village located deep in the woods was able to co-exist with a werewolf. But just when Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) accepted Peter’s (Shiloh Fernandez) proposal to run away together, her sister was found dead. The villagers claimed she had been killed by a werewolf. Written by David Johnson and directed by Catherine Hardwicke, “Red Riding Hood” was a poor, hormone-driven re-imagining of the classic tale. The main character was an embarrassingly typical damsel-in-distress. Given that the film was targeted toward young girls, I was disturbed and irked by the fact that Valerie defined her happiness in being with a man. Her main problem, despite her friends and neighbors dropping like flies, was choosing between Peter, her childhood friend, and Henry (Max Irons), the man she was arranged to marry. When she found out her sister had passed away, I was aghast when she seemed to be more worried in the idea that her sister kept secrets from her. She lacked common sense and I wanted to shake her. Seyfried, a wonderful actress, was not given anything to work with other than to look cute, sad, and scared. The same applied to Gary Oldman as the priest, Father Solomon, who was hired to kill the werewolf. The picture often relied on telling rather than showing. Father Solomon was discussed to have had first-hand experience in dealing with a werewolf and the confrontation, which led to the death of his wife, made him vengeful. Why not give us the images instead of simply listening to his words? He had extreme, almost totalitarian-like, ways of extracting information just so he could get his hands on the creature. Where did he learn what he knew about werewolves? Was he successful in catching other werewolves from other lands? We didn’t know much about him other than he was a very angry man. Because he was angry, he was bad. Despite being framed as the villain, he was the most interesting character because he had what other characters didn’t have: edge. We were given a list of suspects: Valerie’s lovers, grandmother (Julie Christie), parents (Virginia Madsen, Billy Burke), and the boy with a so-called twisted speech (Cole Heppell). We were given one clue: the werewolf had dark brown eyes. The problem: every person Valerie suspected had dark brown eyes. How were we supposed to narrow down the suspects if we weren’t given more information? The picture didn’t even work from a simple detective angle. After the reveal, I felt incredibly underwhelmed and angry because I felt like I was cheated off my time. “Red Riding Hood” was plagued with destitute writing and monotonous direction. It lost the essence of “Little Red Riding Hood.” That is, the dangers in conversing with strangers. Instead, its core was really about having a boyfriend.