Don’t Breathe (Full Review)

Execution is very important in filmmaking, and for a movie with a simple concept, it is everything. Good vision and execution by the right director can make an average movie good and a good movie great. Fede Alvarez’s 2013 remake of Evil Dead fell a bit flat for my taste (then again I find most supernatural horror films to be bland). This time around, Alvarez has a fresh story and a chance to make his mark in the genre.

Don't_Breathe_(2016_film)Don’t Breathe follows the lives of a group of young thieves living in a poverty stricken area of Detroit. Jane Levy stars as Rocky, a single mother living in a trailer park where she dreams of taking her young daughter away from her own emotionally abusive mother. Along with Alex (Dylen Minnette), the son of a security company owner, and her sleazy boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto), the group spends their time breaking into homes and stealing valuables. When Money gets a tip about a reclusive blind war veteran (Stephen Lang) housing $300,000, the group conspires to rob him. The only problem is the old man is anything but a helpless old man and his house is no ordinary home.

The concept isn’t mind blowing, but Don’t Breathe manages to click as fine entertainment because of its subtlety and focus on tone. We don’t have to wait long for things to get going and the movie isn’t cluttered with annoying characters that don’t serve a purpose.  Focusing more on its eerie, threatening situations and not so much on gore or random jump scares, allows the movie to feel less like a generic horror and more like a thriller. Being trapped in an old, rickety house with a murderous blind man with relatively acute senses is a terrifying scenario, so even if you don’t care about any of the pieces involved, you can certainly feel their fear.

The way Alvarez shoots the film really helps it feel more suspenseful. Shots are kept in relatively close quarters, making the film feel dark and claustrophobic. It allows us to focus on characters without actually knowing what might be lurking just around the corner. One particular scene, involving the intruders attempting to escape the old man in a pitch black basement, utilizes grayed night vision and silence for a voyeuristic style that effectively accentuates the nervous tension.

It isn’t all grand. The movie certainly succumbs to the common pitfalls of the genre, mainly dumb decision making. At one point, Rocky stops, turns and gives a quip at the old man when she thinks she’s gotten free instead of just hauling ass to safety. This, of course, backfires like it would in every horror movie. Stupid, lack of common sense, events happen throughout, but the amount of unexpected twists and the sheer claustrophobic nature of the movie are enough to make it a solid 90 minutes of entertainment.

FINAL GRADE: B

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Sausage Party (Full Review)

Remember when South Park first premiered in the 90’s? Remember how it was one of the most outrageous, disturbing, offensive shows ever to hit television? By the time I was old enough to actually watch an episode without procuring the wrath of my parents, I couldn’t stop laughing. And as I got older, I came to realize that within the outlandish brand of humor Trey Parker and Matt Stone had actually infused their controversial cartoon with healthy doses of brilliant societal commentary. Well… If you thought South Park was as wild as it could get, prepare yourself for Sausage Party.

Sausage_PartyCo-creator Seth Rogen stars as Frank, a sausage living with his fellow package mates (Michael Cera, Jonah Hill) in a grocery store where all of the products live with the dream of being chosen by the Gods (humans) and being carried away to “the great beyond”. But after a bottle of returned honey mustard (Danny McBride) threatens the status quo with creepy tales of what really happens when humans take home food, Frank and his hot dog bun girlfriend, Brenda (Kristen Wiig) find themselves out of their packages and lost in their massive world. While Frank searches for the truth to their existence with the help of some druggie non-perishables (Bill Hader, Craig Robinson, Scott Underwood), Brenda teams with a Jewish bagel (Edward Norton), a muslim lavash (David Krumholtz), and a lesbian taco shell (Salma Hayek) on a quest to find their way back into their aisles in hopes of being chosen. All while an angry douche… yes, an actual douche (Nick Kroll)… seeks revenge for being denied his opportunity to be chosen.

Like South Park, the humor in Sausage Party is meant for a very specific audience. Only the most immature of baby boomers won’t find this movie appalling. From the harsh language that uses almost every means of profanity fathomable to more sexual innuendo than a hardcore porno, Sausage Party tips the scales of anything I’ve ever seen in a movie, let alone an animated one. But me, 28 year old fan of cartoons aimed at adults, I couldn’t stop laughing. Sausage Party doesn’t try to hide the fact that it’s aimed at audiences who enjoy crude humor, so don’t expect it to.

The funny thing is, like the aforementioned controversial TV show, it actually has a relatively insightful backbone to it. Crammed within the food puns, foul language, and sexual innuendo is a pretty endearing message about how society can get bogged down by beliefs and petty differences. Sure, it takes shots at religion, but the overall concept that we as a species are all in this together, is a correct one. And Rogen and the rest of his writing team deserve a ton of credit for even having a message. Sausage Party would be hilarious if it were just a gross out, adult comedy, but it’s undertones give it an extra ounce of heart that makes it memorable.

At certain points the puns fall flat. And sometimes the movie gets eye poppingly outrageous. The end sequence is a doozy no matter how mentally prepared you think you are. But after several days of recovery from the sheer absurdity of it all, I found myself laughing again. And a movie that can make you laugh hysterically, that also has a point, is something that anyone can appreciate even if it’s too much for some to handle.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Jason Bourne (Full Review)

I’ve never really gotten into the Bourne movies. I’ve always found the series to be bland, with each movie in the franchise essentially working off the same plot. But I keep watching them, because I enjoy a good spy thriller. So even if Jason Bourne doesn’t quite feel as consistently intriguing as a James Bond flick or Mission: Impossible, I’ll sit through it just to see Matt Damon break a few faces.

Jason_Bourne_(film)Jason Bourne is the fifth film in the franchise and reunites lead actor, Matt Damon, with Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum). Damon again portrays the titular character, a former super soldier/assassin for the CIA who revolted against the ruthless program that created him. This time, he is roped back in when former CIA operative turned ally, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), threatens to expose another shady program under the direction of CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones). Academy Award Winner Alicia Vikander also stars as Heather Lee, a CIA expert on cyber threats who is caught in between her duty and her desire to recruit Bourne back into the agency.

If you loved all of the Bourne movies leading up to Jason Bourne then there is no reason not to like this one. The action sequences are swift and exhilarating and seeing Matt Damon return to the role feels right. Vincent Cassel also provides a worthy threat as a villainous, vengeful version of Bourne known only as The Asset. But, if you’re like me, and you’ve found this series generic and uninspiring… then guess what?

The story feels identical to each and every other movie in the franchise, even the one that didn’t even have Matt Damon in it. And yet, newcomers will undoubtedly be confused with the meager attempt to get audiences up to speed. Other annoying issues like the nauseating shaky camera are also only things purists to the series can enjoy.

I’d hoped that bringing Matt Damon back would signal a sense of revitalization. But it’s the same game with slightly different players. At this point, either come up with a different storyline other than “Bourne vs. the stiff, mustache twirling CIA”, or let the franchise die off. I’m not saying Jason Bourne isn’t entertaining, but it’s certainly isn’t worth the full price of admission when you can just watch something equally generic on Netflix or Redbox.

FINAL GRADE: C

Suicide Squad (Full Review)

Batman v Superman left many of us with a bad taste in our mouths. Not because it was glaringly awful, but because it was wildly disappointing considering how good it could’ve been and considering how good we wanted it to be. But because we love superhero movies (more than the films critics who wish the most profitable film genre would die off), we are able to get excited about the next one as if we were never scorned. Suicide Squad is the latest attempt by DC Comics and Warner Bros. at getting audiences fully on board with their cinematic universe.

Suicide_Squad_(film)_PosterForget Batman v Superman, although it takes place in the same world, Suicide Squad delivers a drastically different tone and feel. The film tells the story of Task Force X, a group of criminals assembled together by ruthless government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), to carry out a deadly mission to stop an out of control sorceress (Cara Delevingne).  If they succeed, they’ll get time off of their prison sentences; if they don’t, they’ll be blamed for everything… or die. Included in the squad are Deadshot (Will Smith) an assassin who never misses; Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), right hand woman to Batman (Ben Affleck)’s arch nemesis, The Joker (Jared Leto); El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) a fire spouting former gang banger; Boomerang (Jai Courtney), an Australian thief; and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje) a reptilian, man eater. Wrangling the team of degenerates is U.S. Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman).

DC’s last film failed partially because it was far too dreary, and it seems here as if they tried to make this one as much like a 90’s music video as possible. Sometimes this works, adding flare and humor. Other times, it just feels disorienting. But it isn’t a big issue. The horrendous narrative structure, however, that’s a completely different story.

Suicide Squad ends up being a fun mess, but a mess nonetheless. First, let’s address the messy elements. There are plenty of colorful characters with fun backgrounds and personalities here, but it appears as if Director David Ayer has shiny toys he doesn’t quite know how to play with. Some characters, like Smith’s Deadshot and Robbie’s Harley Quinn, are given plenty of moments to shine and breathe life into the sloppy story. But the majority of the Squad just seem like random pawns that are barely necessary. Characters like Katana (Karen Fukuhara), an assassin bodyguard to Rick Flag, are both irrelevant and useless. And the entire objective of the movie feels out of place and uninspired, like something out of a video game, which leads to a relatively hokey final act.

Then there’s Jared Leto’s underdeveloped and hardly pertinent Joker who’s really only here to give origin to Harley Quinn. Leto misses the mark partially because the character is poorly designed. He doesn’t need to be Heath Ledger, Jack Nickloson, Mark Hamill, or even Caesar Romero… but the Joker HAS to be charismatic and menacing to not feel annoying. This version is neither and just comes off weird for the sake of being weird. But it isn’t necessarily the actor’s fault, because The Joker should never be used as a sideshow.

But beyond the poorly placed flashbacks and inefficient juggling of characters, there is a ton of potential where something great could’ve and should’ve formed. Viola Davis is deliciously wicked as Amanda Waller. From snappy dialogue to just being a bad ass, Will Smith is phenomenal every time he’s on screen as Deadshot. Margot Robbie is perfect as Harley Quinn, and even Jai Courtney and Jay Hernandez’s characters are great when given their seldom chances. Suicide Squad isn’t a disaster, unless you expected it to be something groundbreaking. But it is a missed opportunity to create something that could’ve been DC and Warner Bros’ most exhilarating moment. Instead it’s a chaotic two hours of weak plot and a few poor attempts at endearment, saved only by a collection of talented actors.

FINAL GRADE: C+

10 Must-Watch Batman Films

In honor of the release of Batman: The Killing Joke, and also in honor of my excitement for Suicide Squad and love for Batman in general, I’ve compiled a list of ten exceptional animated Batman films to check out if you haven’t seen them already. No hero has been put on the big screen as often as Batman and yet, some of the hero’s greatest adventures on film are ones that aren’t live action. So here is a list of movies to indulge in if you are a new or casual fan of the Dark Knight.

 

10. Batman: Gotham Knight (2008)

Set in the same universe as Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy, this movie is actually a set of short films created by the minds behind the Animatrix. While every story isn’t great, each one is done in a beautifully unique style of Japanese animation.gotham knight

Best Moment: It’s hard to choose which short film is the best, but the opening act is a fun story involving a set of teenagers who encounter the Batman and each have a very wrong, but very interesting take on what the hero is like.

9. Justice League Doom (2012)

The plot centers around immortal villain Vandal Savage, who with the help of some of the Justice League’s arch nemeses, breaks into the Batcave and steals Batman’s secret files on how to defeat each member of the League should they ever go rogue. While it isn’t a Batman movie per se, Justice League Doom highlights Batman’s relatively tumultuous relationship with the rest of the Justice League (Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, The Flash, and Cyborg).Justice_League_Doom_BD_1_1330426979

Best Moments: At the film’s conclusion, the Justice League meets to vote whether Batman deserves to stay a member. Before anyone can even cast a vote, the unapologetic Dark Knight voluntarily resigns.

8. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)

I was a quasi fan of the animated series Batman Beyond. The show was weighed down by new Batman Terry McGinnes’ mediocre turn as the Dark Knight. But this film finally highlights the unique character while also bringing back Mark Hamill’s iconic Joker from the 1990’s animated series. With a bit of a mystery that also features flashbacks to the old animated series, this dark story is captivating even if you were never a fan of Batman Beyond.

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Best Moment: New Gotham commissioner and former Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, reluctantly tells Terry about the dark night (no pun intended) when Tim Drake/Robin was kidnapped and tortured by the Joker and Harley Quinn.

7. Batman: Assault on Arkahm (2014)

Not so much a Batman film as it is an animated Suicide Squad movie, this film features the team of villains (including soon to be household names Deadshot, Harley Quinn, and Captain Boomerang) as they break into Arkham Asylum, under the direction of shady government agent Amanda Waller, to recover an item stolen by The Riddler. Meanwhile Batman searches for a bomb placed somewhere in Gotham by the Joker. If you want a taste of the Suicide Squad, and are a fan of the Arkham Asylum video games, then this movie is perfect for you.

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Best Moment: Brief Suicide Squad member KG Beast tests Amanda Waller’s patience after she tells them that she’ll kill them if they disobey. There are so many to choose from, but this one is certainly the funniest.

6. Son of Batman (2014)

The first film to introduce Damien Wayne, the son of Batman and grandson to villain Ra’s Al Guhl. Batman takes his vengeful and violent estranged son under his wing as Robin and attempts to track down the assassin Deathstroke. Damien is a great character and the element of Bruce Wayne having a dangerous offspring to mold into a hero drives this fantastic story.

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Best Moment: Damien goes on his vengeful quest to kill Deathstroke despite his father’s wishes, only to be interrupted by Nightwing, Batman’s first sidekick.

5. Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero (1998)

An offshoot of Batman: The Animated Series, this movie is what Joel Schumacher’s panned Batman & Robin movie should’ve been. Telling the tragic story of Victor Fries, this well animated film features Batman and Robin’s emotional mission to rescue Batgirl as Mr. Freeze prepares to kill her in hopes of reviving his terminally ill wife.

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Best Moment: Dick Grayson/Robin pursues Mr. Freeze on a high speed chase after he kidnaps his girlfriend Barbara Gordon/Batgirl.

4. Batman vs. Robin (2015)

The movie introduces the Court of Owls, a deadly ancient society of rich Gotham elites (and the best thing to come from DC Comics’ New 52), as their lead assassin Talon, attempts to sway Damien to leave Batman and join them.  A direct sequel to Son of Batman, this movie continues the development of the captivating, morally ambiguous Damien Wayne character.

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Best Moment: Refusing to condemn Talon, young Damien Wayne goes toe to toe with his father. The exceptional fight scene highlights both Damien’s superior raw talent and Batman’s incredible intelligence and experience. It’s a young Lebron James vs. a 38 year old Michael Jordan if the two were animated vigilantes.

3. The Dark Knight Returns (2013)

This one is a little lengthy and is actually split into two DVD’s, but it brings Frank Miller’s iconic graphic novel to life like no other. An old, rusty Batman comes out of retirement to battle the Joker and a new gang that is taking over Gotham. When his antics get out of hand, the President of the United States sends Superman to shut him down. If you’re wondering where Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice got the inspiration to pit the two iconic heroes against each other, it’s right here. The movie also features Carrie Kelly, the first female Robin.

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Best Moment: With an armored suit, a carefully crafted dose of Kryptonite, and a little help from Green Arrow and Robin, Batman goes up against The Man of Steel in a much better skirmish than what we got earlier this year.

2. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

The first theatrical animated film featuring the minds behind Batman: The Animated Series is a beauty. Form it’s animation to its writing, it features everything there is to love about the character and his world. When the mysterious Phantasm begins killing off mobsters, the Joker is hired to kill off this new masked vigilante. Batman must stop both of them, while also coming to terms with the return of his ex-fiancé, a woman he actually intended on giving up crime fighting to marry.

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Best Moment: The day after proposing to Andrea Bouemont, Bruce Wayne receives a letter from her, breaking off their engagement. Heartbroken and with nothing else to keep him happy, Bruce Wayne officially becomes the Batman.

1. Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)

The movie tells the story of Jason Todd, the second Robin, who is kidnapped and murdered by The Joker. After mysteriously returning from the grave, Todd returns as the vigilante Red Hood and goes on a murderous path that brings him to blows with his old mentor. Mask of the Phantasm could easily be #1, but after careful contemplation, no animated Batman film is filled with as much action and emotion as this one. John Dimaggio channels his inner Heath Ledger as The Joker, and the film features a fun dynamic between Batman and his first partner, Nightwing, voiced perfectly by Neil Patrick Harris.

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Best Moment: The climactic fight between Batman and his old partner that culminates in Jason Todd finally breaking down about why he resents, but still loves his old mentor.

 

Honorable Mention: Batman/Superman: World’s Finest (1997), Batman: Mystery of The Batwoman (2003), Batman: Bad Blood (2016), Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)