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‘Breaking In’ Never Really Breaks Out

Jeremiah

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Few moments are as depressing as the realization that the movie you’re watching hasn’t got the guts or the spine it believes it has. James McTeigue’s Breaking In is a toothless PG-13 exploitation thriller that is afraid of its own shadow. Which is a shame, because I quite liked parts of it.

Breaking In starts out promising, but quickly we begin to suspect the opening scene was a ruse. The movie starts out with an old man meditating in what looks to be a very expensive walk-in closet. We see him grab a watch and then leave his luxury apartment building for a morning run. We follow him as he crosses the street only to be hit by a truck at a four-way stop.

As the man lies in the road the driver gets out. We never see anything but his black cowboy boots. He walks over to the prone man, who is still alive. The stranger raises his foot and brings it down to the old man’s head—cut to the title card. All of what I described has been in slow motion with an underlying hypnotic beat to it. It’s a gruesome setup, but it never goes anywhere near that level of gruesomeness for the duration of the movie.

Which, on one hand, is fine. Except Breaking In wants to be an exploitation thriller. We know this by the way it asks us to stare luridly at our heroes as they are put in constant danger. But they are not in danger. Time and time again Breaking In pulls its punches.

As the credits roll we meet Shaun (Gabrielle Union) along with her two children Glover (Seth Carr) and Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus). We learn the man in the opening scene was Shaun’s father. The three are going to his lake house to sell it. Shaun hasn’t spoken to her father in years and what’s more hasn’t been to his house in even longer.

It’s alluded to throughout the movie that Shaun’s father was a criminal—what kind is never revealed. Upon arriving at the house, the three discover her father had the house retrofitted with a new security system. The new system locks down the house and turns it into a veritable fortress.

It’s not long before Shaun and her two kids start noticing weird things around the house, almost as if they are not alone. Of course, they are not; three men have broken into the house to get at Shaun’s father’s safe that contains four million dollars. The three men consist of the same stock villains that all gangs of this sort normally have.

We have the squeamish and nervous pretty boy with dyed blonde hair, Sam (Levi Meaden). He’s the one who slept with the old man’s assistant and got her to spill the beans about the safe and the money. If this movie had come out in the nineties his role would have been played by Ethan Embry. In fairness to Meaden, Embry probably wouldn’t have played this part any better.

Then, of course, we have the resident unhinged psychopath Duncan (Richard Cabral). A wild-eyed man who wields a knife and whose body is covered in tattoos. Finn enough, the laziest drawn archetype, is the one character who seems to realize what movie he’s in. The leader Eddie (Billy Burke) is the brains of the operations. I use that term reluctantly because for all his talk, Eddie is no smarter than anyone else. After all, anyone can tell after only a few seconds that someone like Duncan is not the person you want if you want a smooth bloodless operation.

The three men lock Shaun out of the house when she goes outside to order pizza. A fourth man is sent out to kill her. She outruns him and in one of the few clever moments of the movie utilizes her surroundings to defend herself. Still, she never kills him.

The premise of the movie is Shaun is a Mother who is pushed to her limits to defend her children. But much like the bad men holding her children hostage, she’s all bark and no bite. At least the bad guys kill a couple of people. Shaun does not, except by accident.

Some of you might be screaming at me that I need to lighten up. Turn off my brain as it were. I hear you. But it’s hard to suspend your disbelief when you have trouble believing the movie even knows what it’s doing. The script by Ryan Engle is a shameful waste of Gabrielle Union’s abilities. It never tells us enough about Shaun. Throughout the film, Eddie taunts Shaun with lines like, “I get it. All your life people have underestimated you.” Which, by itself, is an odd thing for a man holding her children hostage to say. But we don’t know anything about Shaun’s past so we can’t say for sure.

Early on in the film, Shaun calls a man to let him know she is at the house. We know the man’s name is Justin (Jason George). We assume he is either a friend, an ex, or a boyfriend. When he shows up at the beginning of the third act and the kids call him Daddy, it’s a twist I’m not sure the movie meant to have. At no point in time during all their conversations do either Shaun or the kids mention a father.

It’s things like this that make it hard for us, the audience, to get behind the heroine. Breaking In has the audacity to give us a scene in which Shaun goes into a garage and lightly caresses a circular saw. Dear reader, nothing happens involving that saw. The curse of the PG-13 rating.

For instance, take the moment when Eddie screams at Duncan for killing the real estate agent Maggie (Christa Miller). “What the frick is your problem?” Now, I’m not for a moment suggesting profanity is needed to make someone scary. What I am saying is that of the thousands of words and millions of ways in which the English language can phrase things, the word “frick” is the least threatening among them.

Breaking In a dumb movie filled with characters that are not much smarter than the movie itself. The leader of the gang, Eddie, continually attempts to psychoanalyze Shaun. He knows less about her than we do. Shaun repeatedly finds, takes, or is given a weapon, only to toss it aside a few seconds later. The kids are actually pretty smart. At one point the daughter sneaks out of the room they’re being held in to go back to her room to use the cellphone to call for help. Of course, she doesn’t find it and goes back to being held captive.

Breaking In repeatedly puts Glover and Jasmine in harm’s way and has the bad guys constantly threaten to harm them, but nothing happens. Most movies will flirt with the notion once or twice but Breaking In can’t shut up about it. It gets to the point that whenever Eddie threatens the kids, we the audience roll our eyes. Sure Eddie, whatever you say.

Union has enough charisma that we are on her side almost automatically. But Engle’s script causes our loyalty to waver throughout the movie. It’s a shame, as Union salvages what she can from the lazy script and presents us with what could be a terrific badass Mother.

Last year’s Kidnap, starred Halle Berry as a mom who relentlessly chased down the people who kidnapped her child. She too made stupid decisions. But the director, Luis Prieto, infused Kidnap with a kinetic energy. We howled as Berry’s character made one bad decision only to make a good one a few scenes later. Prieto never alluded to any other part of the mother’s past outside of a custody dispute with her ex-husband.

I’m not advocating heroines should make the right decision all the time, but they should make some smart decisions. McTeigue and Engle never manage to get us on Shaun’s side. McTeigue sets up a nice slow methodical pace but it never builds toward anything. The big showdown between Eddie and Shaun is tiresome because we know both of them don’t have the temerity to back up their words. Worse yet, characters we believe to be dead come back like something out of a slasher movie.

In another movie, we might have cared. Here, we are only annoyed because the only thing standing between us and the end credits is this man who refuses to stay dead.

Breaking In is a hodgepodge of different, and quite frankly better, movies. From Die Hard to the other Bruce Willis movie Hostage. Union is a fine replacement for Willis and had either Engle or McTeigue given her something to play with, this movie would have been breathtaking.

There are a couple of moments that had me cheering and whooping with glee. Sadly, they came towards the end. By then I was just desperate for someone to do something, anything, resembling a definitive action. Luckily besides Union, Cabral, the actor who plays Duncan, is wonderful in his over-the-top performance. I wouldn’t call him menacing, because the movie utterly fails at making anything or anyone menacing. But I will say he was, next to Union, the best thing about Breaking In. What little unpredictability there was came from Cabral’s performance.

Movies like Breaking In are sort of depressing. Likable stars in an idea that would be perfect for them. Few things are sadder than seeing a movie waste a star’s talent or never realize it’s potential. I wasn’t utterly bored and the camera work by Toby Oliver is pretty to look at times. But it’s never as fun as it could or should be.


Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Jeremiah lives in Los Angeles and divides his time between living in a movie theatre and writing mysteries. There might also be some ghostbusting being performed in his spare time.

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‘Deadpool 2’ Plays With Us and Itself

Jeremiah

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Deadpool 2 is a thoroughly violent, raucous, hilarious meta heartfelt meditation on trauma and family. A giddy middle finger to the self-serious offerings from the Warner Brothers/DC movies. It’s also a glorious raspberry to the convoluted and lazy scriptwriting of Marvel’s latest Avengers movie. More importantly, it shows both studios how it’s done.

For all it’s irreverence and wacky fourth wall breaking, Deadpool 2 has a structure it stringently adheres to. By ‘structure’ I mean that it takes its time setting up and exploring characters and situations while still maintaining a sort of breathless nihilistic glee. It has time travel, but there are rules and consequences. Deadpool may have regenerative powers, but that doesn’t mean he is indestructible.

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) as Deadpool is meant to be a sort of satiric caricature. He’s a comic book character who knows he’s a comic book character. The madman who knows more than anyone just how mad he is. The first Deadpool got a lot of mileage out of playing with this notion. At times Deadpool felt like a looney tunes cartoon on acid with Barry Manilow as the soundtrack.

Deadpool 2  leans into this sensibility while also showing the character is actually quite fertile for growth. Unlike his counterparts, Deadpool spends his time not helping people so much as murdering bad people who have hired him to murder other bad people. Any heroics that happen to be achieved are purely accidental and probably in the vein of Wade’s self-interest.

At least until Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), Wades vulgar cynical soul mate is gunned down in their apartment. Vengeance bound, Wade quickly runs her killer down and doles out his own particular brand of justice. Distraught and morose Wade attempts suicide in a way that feels utterly cartoonish but wholly organic to Deadpool.

Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) arrives to put Wade back together again, literally. Deadpool 2 zigzags through genres and tropes, but it never feels as if it just merely checking off boxes. With each zig and zag, we find our expectations thwarted.

Reynolds is so perfect as Wade Wilson that it’s less acting and more laconic conjuring. The Deadpool mask covers his face entirely yet somehow we can feel the manic toothy grin all but strain against the red blood soaked fabric. The comedic timing is pristine, but it never comes at the expense of the pathos of Wade Wilson.

What is sometimes forgotten is that without his powers Wade Wilson is just a man dying of cancer. David Leitch brutally reminds us when Wade is forced to wear a collar that inhibits his regenerative capabilities. Stripped of his suit and his ability to heal he is instead just a man constantly on the edge of death. Remarkably though, Wade never ceases to be Wade. Though riddled with cancer and self-pity the humor and allergy to authority are never gone.

Colossus and his protege, the epically named, Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) drag Wade kicking and screaming to Xavier’s Home for the Gifted. Deadpool is an anarchic cyclone of murder and chaos. Predictably he bristles at Colossus rules and orders of how things are done.

A petulant Wade stomps around the mansion, his only source of joy is Yukio (Shiori Kutsuna), Negasonic’s girlfriend. Yukio and Negasonic are rarely, if ever, not in the same frame holding hands. A couple so cute and perfect even Wade is forced to smile and cheerlead the two.

Part of Wade’s X-Men training has him showing up to help a young boy Russell (Julian Dennison). It’s here Deadpool 2 begins to hint at something deeper. A young mutant with the ability to shoot fire from his fists seems hell-bent on destroying everything in his path. As a trainee, Wade is thrown into the situation to try and talk the kid down. Because all Wade does is talk he’s able to discover the boy is being abused. His anger is valid and the destruction merely a cry for help.

Deadpool 2 has stakes. The stakes aren’t the end of the world or galaxy threatening, thank God. Rhett Reese, Ryan Reynolds, and Paul Wernick’s script instead focus on something the superhero movies with a couple of notable exceptions have ignored or forgotten. What does it mean to be a hero?

By design, Deadpool is not meant to be part of a team. Yet Wade desperately wants a family. He and Vanessa were working to have a child before she was brutally gunned down. Much of Wade’s anguish is the loss of the dream of having a family. All corny and melodramatic which is why it’s so brilliant that Deadpool 2 pulls it off not just well but brilliantly.

Cable (Josh Brolin) a bounty hunter of sorts from the future arrives to hunt down Russell. Wade may be crazy, but even he’s baffled as to why anyone would want to kill a  kid. Yet, Wade also can’t keep his mouth shut and alienates Russell when he needed Wade the most.

Brolin does quiet, wordless brooding in his sleep. Likewise, Cable is a part that fits Brolin like a glove. He struts across the screen with a swagger capped by a smoldering grimace. Charismatic as all hell, Brolin somehow manages to get us to root for him and against him, often within the same scene.

Unlike Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2 slams rules and exceptions on time travel. Its a plot device but not one without consequences. Not only does this raise the stakes but it also draws boundaries around what, when, and where the characters must go to further the plot. The writers are forced to deal with issues both narrative and emotionally as opposed to leaving them dangling or hand wave them away.

What’s more Deadpool 2 has the audacity to switch bad guys in midstream. The evolution of the character arcs of Russell and Cable and how they relate to Wade borderlines on a sort of loony sad poetry. Death surrounds Wade, even as he tries to assemble a team of experts and mutants.

Along the way, Wade meets Domino (Zazie Beetz), whose power is luck, and the plot begins to fall neatly into place. Beetz is a ray of effortless sunshine. She gives Domino a flower child, easy going demeanor who’s not afraid to get her hands bloody.

The culmination of all this time traveling, random death, and wisecracking monologues is Wade’s realization that his actions and words have consequences. Bad guys are sometimes good people, and monsters often look like everyone else.

Leitch paces Deadpool 2 as if it were a manic breeze. He packs the frames with action in the foreground and background. Much like his other movies John Wick and Atomic Blonde he allows us to see the punch and the kicks land. The fights are a ballet of haphazardness. Most superhero fights are like a dance. But when your character is the Tasmanian Devil personified you’re forced to dance the Macera to a Mahler composition played on a flaming tuba with kazoo accompaniments.

Leitch’s biggest accomplishment is following the simple creed of “Let Deadpool be Deadpool,” and all that may entail. Deadpool 2 is a deeply felt violently hilarious melodrama about loss and loneliness. The heavy stuff works not just because the filmmakers know how to balance the tones, though they do.  

It works because the script has slyly laid the groundwork. But it also works because it allows us to not just spend time with Domino, Wade, Cable, Russell, Negasonic, Yukio, and Colossus. But because it allows us to understand why they are the way they are.


Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

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The Happytime Murders Looks to Murder Your Childhood

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Following the deaths of the stars of former show The Happytime Gang, two detectives (one human and one puppet) try to solve the murders. Have you ever imagined what Who Framed Roger Rabbit? would be like if it tried to be as crude and immature as humanly possible? Well, that’s what The Happytime Murders looks like. I sure hope the actual movie isn’t as bad as this trailer was.

I suppose the concept could work. Take the idea of humans and Muppets living side by side, make it visually gritty, don’t take yourself too seriously, and really sell the idea of this world’s existence. This trailer seems to do literally the exact opposite of that. I couldn’t watch this without feeling like Happytime Murders just wants to use Muppets to be as shocking as possible in hopes of cheap laughs. Nothing about this trailer made me feel like they tried to make a real world out of this movie at all. I really hope I’m wrong. Hopefully, I am.

If I am wrong, then this trailer was a huge failure. All it did was make me hate the very idea of this movie. I’m not sure I’ve ever rolled my eyes as much as I did during the ejaculation joke at the end. And then they doubled down and did it again. I guess some people will take this less seriously than I do, and that’s fine. No judgment here. After all, humor can be very subjective.

The Happytime Murders hits theaters on August 17. If it’s as bad as it looks here, and Melissa McCarthy somehow makes it work, then maybe consider her for some awards. And if I’m wrong about how bad the movie looks here, then I will happily eat crow about it.


Images Courtesy of STX Films

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The Top 5 Best Portrayals of Sherlock Holmes in Film or Television

Jeremiah

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Due to scheduling conflicts, Thad and I were unable to record our episode of Beneath the Screen of the Ultra-Critics. We will return in two weeks with an episode about the Hays Code. This time both our voices will be audible, so it doesn’t sound like one long Andy Kauffman style prank.

This week though Thad and I decided, in light of Elementary being renewed for another season, to rank our favorite Sherlock Holmes in film and television. We had one caveat; the character has to actually be Sherlock Holmes. What this means is characters like Dr. Gregory Hous (Hugh Laurie) who are clearly inspired by Holmes are not eligible. Nor is Justin Playfair (George C. Scott) on the list because he only believes he is Sherlock Holmes and that doesn’t count either. Sadly, this means Basil of Baker Street (Barrie Ingham) is nowhere to be found but rest assured he is, in fact, one of the great fictional detectives.

Once again, we blithely court controversy by daring to rank the portrayals of a fictional detective over a hundred and thirty years old.  We fully acknowledge that this is list is the only one of its kind in existence. Which makes our decisions all the more final and inarguable.

5. Basil Rathbone

Sherlock Holmes’s iconic deerstalker hat came not from Doyle, so much as from the illustrations that accompanied the Holmes stories in The Strand. Likewise, the image of Holmes we conjure up in our brain when we think of the Baker Street occupant is more than likely Basil Rathbone’s. Remarkable since, even though Rathbone played Holmes for seven years, few people today have seen or heard of him.

Yet, all prior depictions have been more or less been modeled after his gaunt granite thin-lipped demeanor. The sly sardonic smile and steepled fingers practically thrive in the public conscious when we think about the great detective. Rathbone’s performance is lodged in our collective psyche. Holmes is an archetype, and early actors played him as such.

Rathbone’s performance lacks any real complexity, but then again the scripts weren’t calling for it. They called for a simmering and brooding Holmes with acidic quips and sharp denunciations and that’s what Rathbone gave us. More than any physical attribute, it’s how he walked at the clipped pace and held himself on the edges of the frames. When Rathbone played Holmes, it was less a character and more a calm and collected wraith.

4. Robert Downey, Jr.

Far from the first American to play Sherlock Holmes, Downey brought his singular energy and presence to the role. Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes pay little heed to Doyle’s original source material. But through it, all Downey gives us delightfully fun and impish Holmes.

Arguably Downey’s Holmes is the least mature on the list. Ritchie’s characters tend to be the types found on the floors of local bars near closing time. The contrast between Doyle’s staunch upper-class tendencies and Ritchie’s deeply embedded working-class humor leads to a weird adventure yarn more suited for a Doc Savage book than a Sherlock Holmes story.

Downey pulls it off. His Watson (Jude Law) hews much more to the stuffy tweed wearing visage of his origins. Mixed with Downey’s street brawler Holmes though the two make the whole thing feel like an idea Shane Black had but never got around to working out. Downey’s performance seems to hint at the Holmes imagined by Doyle more than any other before or since. Less a faithful hew to the performances before him, Downey’s Holmes was a punk rock rebel.

3. Sir Ian McKellen

Of all the movies about Sherlock Holmes, I find none of them as haunting and beautiful as Bill Condon Mr. Holmes. Less a faithful adaptation of the source material and more of a meditation on Holmes himself. Mr. Holmes none the less is a moving story about the great detective nearing the end of his life.

Sir Ian McKellen plays Holmes stripped of his pretenses. His determined gait and calculated movements now replaced with shaky hands and a walking stick less for show and more for necessity. Filled with regret and longing for the choices he’s made McKellen’s Holmes is a tragic melodramatic figure. Old age and dementia are raving the once great mind.

Condon plays with us as he intertwines the memory of Holmes and our expectations of Holmes laced with Holmes disapproval of the public’s perception of him. Staying with a widow and a young boy he finds himself enjoying their company. When the boy lashes out at his mother, Holmes demands he apologizes.

“Go after her. You must apologize for saying things that were meant to hurt. You were cruel. If you don’t apologize, you will regret it.” The boys scoff at the old man. “People always say that.” “Because it’s true.” Holmes snaps.  When the boy asks if Holmes regrets anything, “So. Much.” McKellen’s Holmes is a man who realizes his loneliness is of his own doing.

2. Jonny Lee Miller

Elementary is far and away the most complex and adult modern adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. The picture of Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) with Watson (Lucy Liu) is apt. Unlike almost every other adaptation Watson is viewed as an equal part of the Holmes narrative. What we get is not just a Holmes story but a Holmes story about his relationship with another person who challenges and supports him at the same time.

He’s a fully functional adult who’s struggling with addiction. Holmes forthright struggle with addiction humanizes him in a way most other portrayals fail. Earlier Holmes either downplay Holmes drug abuse, such as Steven Moffat’s Sherlock. Or flat out ignore it.  By addressing it and understanding that addiction is a lifelong progress, Elementary forces Sherlock to evolve not just as a character but as a human being.

Miller brings a wounded and confused anxiety to his Holmes. People are more than puzzles to him—they represent possibilities. He trains Watson because she shows an intellectual aptitude and a moral fortitude to what Holmes believes to be a higher calling, a private detective. His Holmes understands intelligence is something that is both inherent and taught. Miller’s Holmes is often the smartest person in the room but rarely is he the only smart person present.

 

1. Jeremy Brett

Of all the Holmes on this list, none of them capture the mercurial enigma that is Jeremy Brett’s, Sherlock Holmes. His Holmes bubbles with glee and excitement underneath his quivering jaw. Cool and calm under fire but un-hesitant to leap to the floor crawling at the floorboards to reveal a hiding spot. Brett fumes with a manic energy that brings an entirely fresh and singular vision of Holmes.

Far from the stiff upper lit Londoner, Brett’s Holmes has a twinkle in his eye. A hunger for the rages within his breast as he shares with Watson how he had figured all out. Yet, much like Miller’s Sherlock, Brett also has a great humanity within him. The Case of the Blue Carbuncle, in particular, shows him scouring the London streets on Christmas Eve to help out a local policeman who’s come to him for help.

The Case of the Six Napoleons reveals to us the complex sensitive and egotistical side of the great man. Inspector Lestrade compliments Holmes on his deductive work. “We’re not jealous of you, you know? No sir, we’re proud of you.” Brett’s cool demeanor cracks as he receives validation from a source he respects very much. Brett’s Sherlock is quite simply a marvel of restraint with sudden outbursts of great emotion. Rarely has the great man ever been portrayed with such passion, glee, and deep sympathetic humanity.


Images courtesy of CBS, Miramax, and Warner Bros.

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