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Movie Reviews

Breaking In



Director: James McTeigue

Writer: Ryan Engle

Starring: Gabrielle Union, Billy Burke, Richard Cabral, Ajiona Alexus, Levi Meaden, Seth Carr, Mark Furze, Jason George, Christa Miller, Damien Leake

Reviewed by Ren Zelen

When her estranged father, a stinking-rich, white-collar criminal, is mown down by a car on the eve of his court sentencing, under circumstances which, strange to say, no-one finds suspicious, our heroine Shaun (Gabrielle Union) takes her two kids to spend the weekend on the implausibly vast and luxurious rural Wisconsin property where she was raised, in order to prepare for its sale.

Leaving her devoted husband, who is lovingly apologetic (naturally) at having to stay in the city and work over the weekend at his (unspecified) high-powered job, dedicated mother Shaun and her two kids – youngster Glover (Seth Carr) and phone-addicted teenager Jasmine – (Ajiona Alexus), arrive at the house to find the alarm unexpectedly disabled.

They put this down to a power outage, and tech-savvy Glover goes up to investigate the state-of-the-art, high-tech security system which surrounds the house. This includes surveillance cameras, a lockdown shield system, and even a drone which can fly around checking out the numerous rooms and corridors.

However, Mom Shaun barely has the chance to make a few calls and finish a glass of wine before it transpires that they are not alone after all – the house has already been infiltrated by four ex-cons.

It turns out that Shaun’s shady dad had liquidated his assets and stored a cool $4 million in a safe hidden somewhere in his extensive country mansion. The felons we not expecting to be interrupted in their search and they are also subject to a ‘ticking-clock’, as they have only 90 minutes to find the money before the local police show up – a failsafe after the alarm has been disabled.

The disparate foursome consists of impassive leader Eddie (Billy Burke), young unseasoned informer Sam (Levi Meaden), oddly named, violent Latino gangster, Duncan, (Richard Cabral) and lastly, former military safecracker, Luke (Mark Furze).

While Shaun is out on the patio the assailants grab her children and try to extricate any information they may have about the location of the safe. Meanwhile, they send out Luke to get the mom.

However, Mom is not quite so easy to apprehend, and after a scuffle utilising a broken wine glass, and a chase into the woods, Luke is incapacitated and tied up, leaving Shaun free to return to the property. But now Mom is on the outside of her fortress of a house, having to break her way in, as her kids are being held hostage inside – hence the title of the film – a novel reversal of the usual house-siege situation.

To remind us all of Shaun’s particular predicament, Eddie spells it out for her in their first verbal exchange – “You’re a woman, alone at the mercy of strangers, and your greatest weakness is locked inside this house.”

It’s a rather contrived premise, but still intriguing, offering various tense scenarios as Shaun concocts schemes to save her kids. She’s clever and resourceful and uses her superior knowledge of the house and terrain to her advantage. Because of Shaun’s knowledge of the house and its environs, and her unexpected tenacity, the villains are often caught on the back foot, and are forced to improvise responses to her attempts, with mixed results.

Likewise, some of Shaun’s plans work, some of them don’t, but she is almost certainly more ingenious than the typical mom at the school gates – perhaps she is more her father’s daughter than she would like to admit?

Her ingenuity however, prompts a supremely corny, cringe-worthy moment of dialogue when Eddie faces Shaun in the final stand-off. He is moved to admit he underestimated her and asserts his admiration, calling her an extraordinary woman, ‘No’, she responds, ‘I’m not extraordinary, I’m just …a Mom…” (eliciting an audible groan from the audience). Nevertheless, Gabrielle Union always remains watchable – playing vulnerable and threatening by turns.

A veteran action director, McTeigue shoots individual fight scenes well enough, but never provides much modulation or escalating tension. Shaun breaks in and out of her property with relative ease, hatches plans whose parameters never become apparent, and always manages to be exactly where she needs to be. McTeigue’s other work (V for Vendetta, Sense8) tends to contain an element of social commentary, and in Breaking In we see a strong woman of colour, outwitting a group of criminals intent on violence to her children and herself.

The character Shaun certainly demonstrats the cliché of the ‘lioness-mom’ protecting her cubs at all costs, but the fact that the family has the advantage of the fabulous wealth, and that the husband and son are rendered so utterly ineffectual, does appear to be going overboard in putting across that message.

Nevertheless, Breaking In is an entertaining, untaxing thriller, whose 88-minute run-time never drags long enough for us to examine the story’s implausibility too closely. The film remains fast-paced and suspenseful, making it easy to overlook the storytelling inconsistencies and to focus instead on the emotional aspect of a mother who will stop at nothing to save her children.

Editor-in-Chief of Movie Marker. Likes: Scorsese, Spielberg and Tarantino Dislikes: The film 'Open Water' I mean, what was that all about?

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Colette

Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.



Director: Wash Westmoreland

Stars: Keira Knightley, Dominic West

Released: London Film Festival 2018

Born in 19th century France, Sidonie Gabrielle Colette wrote more than 80 volumes depicting her childhood, her life, her pains and pleasures. Her writings were sensual, vivid and all published under her husband name, “Willy”.

No stranger to female-centric stories, Wash Westmoreland follows up on “Still Alice” and “Echo Park, L.A.” with this dazzling period biopic starring Keira Knightley and Dominic West.

The film starts, the young country girl, Colette (Knightley), marries writer and critic Henri Gauthier-Villars (“Willy”) who introduces her to Parisian salons. Willy soon finds himself in debts and is desperate enough to seek his wife’s help. She will write. Colette writes what she knows and her first novella, “Claudine à l’école” (Claudine at school) is a success. Willy forces her to write the next ones, locked in a golden cage, to ensure his fame and success.

The settings are sumptuous and we gladly follow the camera through the stunning but confined Parisian apartments where the outside light only comes through when she feels inspired. Costumes evolve, as Colette, from heavy and restricted dresses to wild and daring clothing as if Mademoiselle Chanel had designed them herself.

Colette finally loosens from her husband and experiments with woman, society and dancing, feeding her inspiration. Forced and uncredited, Colette cannot enjoy writing and runs off to perform in the music-hall in her own name. In like most biopics, we go from one key event to another, regrettably quickly and often without knowing how we got there. Willy’s sudden appointment of his wife is left as unexplained as the abrupt ending that could have potentially seen Colette, a happy writer.

In the second part of the film Westmoreland seems more interested in looking at the awakening of a young woman rather than at the birth of an author whereas Keira Knightley shines in the lead role. Often known for playing the innocent and rebellious youth, Knightley still pulls off the young Colette in the first part of the film but is at her best when she evolves into a mature woman, aware of own desires. The best scenes of the film come when Colette is free and herself, usually in the company of other woman, particularly the terribly charming Missy (Denise Gough). Westmoreland multiplies two shots and close ups and creates impactful intimate scenes but regrettably gives up on them too fast.

It is a change to see a character such as “Willy” that is both ridiculous and loving. This duality creates, perhaps, a more truthful relationship between the two. No one is born an artist and behind every writer there is an intuitive editor (and in 20th century France, who else could it be than a man?). For Westmoreland if there is no Claudine without Colette, there would have been no Colette without Willy.

With its lavish setting and jumping plot, Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – If Beale Street Could Talk



Beale Street Movie Marker

Released: 8th February 2019

Directed By: Barry Jenkins

Starring: Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Brian Tyree Henry

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

In his entrancing and eventual Best Picture Oscar winner ‘Moonlight’, it was the longing to be authentic. To be accepted in an often volatile environment that powered its narrative.

Clearly in this pitch-perfect adaptation of the James Baldwin novel, director Barry Jenkins is consumed with longing of a different kind that is just as potent. Justice. An eradication of the infuriating systemic abuse of law and power against black people in America, that sees this luminous love story in 1970’s Harlem, strike modern-day parallels with our own divided, morally skewed society.

An incandescent portrayal of young romance. The tenderness, respect and sheer revolve that underpins the relationship between Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) will leave you spellbound from the outset, as their lives are soon mired in despair. The rapturous joy of new life as Tish falls pregnant, backed up by the triple threat of mom Sharon (Regina King), dad Joseph (Colman Domingo) and sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris). Quickly cancelled out by the malice of Fonny’s staunchly religious family and a false yet potentially devastating rape allegation made against him, as they scramble to prove his innocence.

Punctuated by Kiki Layne’s wholesome narration and an overwhelmingly beautiful Nicholas Brittell score that i would be content listening to for days on end. Jenkins exchanges the melancholic blues of his previous effort for a broader but no less lush visual palette, with its exquisite interiors and classy costume design almost serving as a rainbow for the tears that have streamed down their faces through such hardship, but their spirit and love continues to illuminate their gritty surroundings. Whether it be lingering close-ups of sweet embrace or deep sorrow. Its director doesn’t flinch for a second in conveying the simmering emotions on display and in doing so, leaves you completely transfixed by his tactful approach to the source material.

There is a raw resilient energy that permeates throughout its central romance. Kiki Layne’s Tish serves as the remarkably understated, calming influence to Stephan James’ broken-hearted prisoner, a slave to a corrupt system with a searing monologue by Fonny’s dear friend Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry) reinforcing the pain inflicted. Through it all, their hopeful adoring looks and stifling intimacy simply captivate. In Regina King’s marvellous mother figure, she peppers the film with considerable candour, armed with dialogue that pierces your soul. Whilst Jenkins leaves enough room for inspired cameos that are best left a secret, which gorgeously represent a sense of community and a progression in attitude, that defies the period.

A steady panning shot as Fonny smokes may seem throwaway. In this case, it is awfully fitting to articulate the finesse of its director. Lose yourself in the mesmeric haze of ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’.

A lyrical experience that reminds you of the poetic power cinema can truly possess. His love for the art form brought him here. On this form. Trust Barry Jenkins to go all the way.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Stan & Ollie



Stan and Ollie Rating Movie Marker

Released: 11th January 2019

Directed By: Jon S Baird

Starring: Steve Coogan, John C.Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

Products of classic Hollywood whose superior slapstick routines triggered endless laughter from their legion of fans, propelling them to legendary status. The sheer physicality and comedic prowess displayed by the English/American duo of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, still puts many modern-day efforts to shame.

But like so many comedians, there is a tragic element to their careers that contradicts their profession. Through this solid biopic by Filth director Jon S. Baird, it looks to give us a poignant insight into the duo’s grueling twilight years.

Their popularity slowly dwindling. Their bones creaking. Whether on the big screen or the stage, Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Hardy (John C.Reilly) are suddenly not the hottest ticket in town in the early 1950’s. Lumbered with Rufus Jones’ Bernard Delfont, a wisecracking promoter who seems more invested in the likes of Norman Wisdom, they look to reignite interest with a lengthy theatre tour and a long-gestating film project. Yet with audiences middling, contract negotiations stalling and the workload far beyond what was expected, it puts a significant strain on the health and friendship of these two towering talents.

Inevitably with its story, you would expect ‘Stan & Ollie’ to be assured in its abilities to make you laugh. However much of the first half feels surprisingly stilted as Coogan and C.Reilly throw themselves into the pair’s much-beloved routines, with regular cutbacks to their adoring audiences. For the uninitiated, it may initially make you wonder what the fuss was about. Thankfully as the film’s supporting players are introduced to spar with our central characters, it finds a more consistent comedic rhythm, neatly intertwining with the film’s simmering emotion.

Whilst it’s undoubtedly a few visual flourishes away from being a formulaic BBC Christmas special. The admiration of S.Baird for Laurel & Hardy certainly shines through in its refined production, beginning with an exquisite tracking shot on a studio lot as he works his way through the duo’s masterful mischief with fondness.

The rapport between John C.Reilly and Steve Coogan anchors proceedings wonderfully, skilfully capturing the mannerisms and effectively articulating how dependent they are of each other, despite their ongoing disputes. In C.Reilly’s Ollie, his fully-fleshed turn pierces through the fat suit he wears, whose willingness to perform despite failing health is soul-stirring. Whilst the relentless nature of Coogan’s Stan, as he looks to churn out the material strong enough to breathe new life into their double act, makes for compelling viewing. The real danger posed however, is that the film’s main attraction are nearly upstaged by their witty wives, with Shirley Henderson’s Lucille and Nina Arianda’s Ida threatening to steal every scene they grace.

Entertaining enough to gently applaud. Yet perhaps not an act that quite raises the roof. ‘Stan and Ollie’ coasts by on its endearing nostalgic charm and committed performances.

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