Movie Review ~ Breaking In


The Facts
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Synopsis: A woman fights to protect her family during a home invasion.

Stars: Gabrielle Union, Billy Burke, Seth Carr, Ajiona Alexus, Richard Cabral, Levi Meaden, Christa Miller

Director: James McTeigue

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 88 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: There was a time in the early ‘90s when a movie like Breaking In would have gotten a pass as a mediocre mid-level film that might not be fully filling but was a harmless way to spend 88 minutes. Times have changed. Though it arrives with a striking marketing campaign promising “Payback is a Mother” and wants to position itself as a worthy alternative to blockbuster fare like Avengers: Infinity War, Breaking In is a bewildering exercise in all-around clueless filmmaking.

Things start rough as the filmmakers resort to one of the oldest gotcha moments in moviemaking for a brief prologue that introduces and dispatches of a character we never learn much about. Flash forward to Shaun (Gabrielle Union) and her two children Jazz (Ajiona Alexus) and Glover (Seth Carr) traveling to Shaun’s childhood estate to prepare it for sale. With the recent passing of her father, it’s hinted early on there were unresolved issues Shaun is attempting to put to bed once and for all. Arriving at a house equipped with a state of the art security system, the family isn’t there long before the kids are locked inside with a trio of burglars hunting for a money-stocked safe and Shaun has to, you guessed it, break in. What follows is an absurd game of cat-and-mouse that finds Shaun alternately trying to get into the house and then (spoiler alert) trying to get back out.

Working from a flimsy story idea from Jamie Primak Sullivan, screenwriter Ryan Engle (Rampage, The Commuter, Non-Stop) doesn’t have many creative places to go and the result is an exceedingly dull thriller. Though some rules about the security system are established early on, they seem to fly out the door as fast as the toy drone Glover brought along which figures into a few key jump scares. It’s also never clear what the thugs (including Richard Cabral and Levi Meaden, led by the charmless Billy Burke, Lights Out) are doing there in the first place or how much they were involved with the death of Shaun’s father. Attentive listeners might catch a hackneyed roundabout explanation that hints Shaun’s father was a criminal but without any more material to fill these gaps the whole plot stands on incredibly shaky ground.

Director James McTeigue (The Raven) first came to Hollywood with the stylish V for Vendetta but this is grab the money and run filmmaking at its worst. Dimly lit scenes, indistinguishable action sequences, and a general feeling of not knowing where anyone is speaks to the quality of the work with the whole thing feeling like a made-for-Netflix film that lucked out with a theatrical release. Clearly edited down to a PG-13 from an R (how many hardened criminals routinely use ‘frickin’ in their vocabulary?) even the dénouement of some characters are hard to decipher because the camera doesn’t provide any establishing shots or connectivity.

I was honestly looking forward to this mainly because I’m a fan of Union, very much finding her an underrated talent that has yet to latch on to a golden opportunity. While Union tries her best, she’s fighting against a movie that doesn’t have any stamina or guts – so her performance often comes off as out of tune with the rest of the actors and situations. Alexus has an uncanny resemblance to Union and a similar commitment to this dreck, their mother-daughter relationship was the only thing believable in the whole film.

Intentional or not, Cabral (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) and Meaden drew major laughs from the audience with their overly earnest performances as polar opposites on the threat scale. With his intense stare and crooked nose, Cabral is intimidating without even speaking while Meaden’s platinum blonde burnout has a doofus quality that humanized him more than Engle’s eye-rolling dialogue ever could. Burke never seems to decide on how to play his big baddie role – one moment he’s the epitome of calm cool sophistication and then next he’s a low-rent gun for hire.

Maybe the worst thing about the movie is how out of touch it feels in this era of #MeToo and similar social causes. There’s two seriously off-color homophobic jokes and a gross misogyny toward Union, Alexus, and poor Christa Miller who turns up halfway through the movie for a sorrowful (and totally unnecessary) cameo. Even more, Union’s character never truly feels like she’s granted the opportunity to take control of the situation. She’s easily caught whenever she tries to run away and always manages to take several hits to the face before escaping again. As a producer of the movie, I can’t help but wonder what Union was thinking letting some of these events play out like they did.

A poor answer to the call for more female empowerment in movies, Breaking In is one you’ll want to get out of as fast as possible.

Movie Review ~ Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

paranormal_activity_the_marked_ones
The Facts
:

Synopsis: After being “marked,” Jesse begins to be pursued by mysterious forces while his family and friends try to save him.

Stars: Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Gabrielle Walsh, Renee Victor, Noemi Gonzalez, Richard Cabral, Carlos Pratts, Eddie J. Fernandez, David Fernandez Jr., Kimberly Ables Jindra, Tonja Kahlens, Frank Salinas, Molly Ephraim

Director: Christopher Landon

Rated: R

Running Length: 84 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: By the time you get to the fifth entry in any series a routine fatigue sets in.  One need only look at Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, Saw V, or the fifth James Bond film You Only Live Twice to see that if the keeper of the keys to an established franchise isn’t on top of things, you’ll be lucky if you’ll see the green light of #6.

Though it didn’t quite make the 2013 cutoff to keep up with the established release schedule of one per year like the previous three Paranormal Activity installments, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones earns an ever-so-slight passing grade due to it being an improvement over Paranormal Activity 4 and for confidently taking the series into new territory.

Never fear, however, because the series formula remains intact with a bunch of unknown actors going up against dark forces – all captured on handheld cameras that seem to always be looking at the right  place at the right time.  The previous movies have mostly been shot with stationary cameras that pick up the ghostly hauntings of various California families that all seem to be part of a larger story of evil demons, crafty cults, and sneaky witches.

The first three Paranormal Activity films did a nice job of weaving their overlapping characters together and moving the mythology forward in admirable ways and if 4 didn’t do much in the way of advancement of character or overall plot it still had its moments.  So hearing that the series was shifting things out of the suburban valley and into an urban community in Oxnard, CA where the cameras would move with the actors I was curious to see what writer/director Christopher Landon (who wrote the last three entries) had up his sleeve.

Turns out that what Landon had prepped was a needed shot in the arm for the series, providing several interesting turns that shows there could be several chapters left in this formulaic novel.  Found footage movies can be rough to watch but Landon and cinematographer Gonzalo Amat (The Devil Inside) keep the action framed well without a lot of shaky shots and skewed angles that can cross your eyes and turn your stomach.

The problem I consistently have with movies shot in this way (like Chronicle) is that you have to suspend more than a little disbelief that during some of the more terrifying moments the person filming wouldn’t have dropped their camcorder and ran for the hills.  After all, if you’re trying to escape a coven of witches, wouldn’t you want both hands free to claw your way out of a boarded up room?

Another aspect of the film I took issue with was an increased level of violence, profanity and nudity, something noticeably absent from the franchise until now.  With one shot of full female nudity, more blood than before, and a colorful vocabulary from our better than average newcomer leads, the series feels like it gave in to peer pressure in trying to stay current.  What made these films so refreshing initially was the feeling the filmmakers were charting their own course with each new entry and not running alongside what their contemporaries were doing.

The film doesn’t skimp on frights and happily doesn’t save them all for the traditional final freaky act.  Landon makes nice use of a modern oujia board in the form of a popular 80’s game and ratchets up the tension as the movie moves toward its twist of a climax that winds up being not so much a game changer but one that hits the soft reset button for future entries.

Neither a home run nor a strike out, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones comfortably rides that mediocre fence with one foot firmly planted on the what-the-hell-I-liked-it side.  If you’re a fan of these types of fright films or the series as a whole you’ll want to check this one out to get your first scares of 2014 taken care of.

The Silver Bullet ~ Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

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Synopsis: After being “marked,” Jesse begins to be pursued by mysterious forces while his family and friends try to save him.

Release Date:  January 3, 2014

Thoughts: For this fifth entry in the cash-cow franchise for Paramount Pictures, the producers of Paranormal Activity have changed things up a bit.  Straying from its usual October release schedule, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones arrives in January and eschews the series previous use of security camera footage and night vision views in favor of a handheld approach on the streets of California.  What’s a tad distressing is that this first trailer seemingly gives away everything about the movie, even its climax.  I’m hoping I’m wrong but if you know the Paranormal Activity formula of a slow build up to a nerve jangling finale, you can’t help but notice a few shots that look awfully familiar.  I didn’t hate Paranormal Activity 4 as much as most but felt like that installment didn’t move the story ahead like the other sequels did.  Will this new setting and new focus help the film maintain its audience hungry for scares?