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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

The Little Stranger ★★★★

Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to.



Released: 21st September 2018

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter, Liv Hill

Reviewed By: Sinead Beverland

Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to. At the helm is Room Director Lenny Abrahamson, with an impressive cast including Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson and Charlotte Rampling.

Set shortly after the second world war, Doctor Faraday (Gleeson) introduces us to the faded grandeur of Hundreds Hall, a place he envied feverishly as a child. Having belonged to the Ayres family for several generations, the house is now inhabited by just Mrs Ayres (Rampling) and her two adult children, Roderick (Will Poulter) and Caroline (Wilson). When Faraday is called to the house to visit the unwell young housemaid Betty, he recollects his childhood adulation of the place. Remembering the presence of a young girl, he is told that this was Mrs Ayres first daughter, Susan, who had died as a child. It seems the spectre of Susan (affectionately known as Suki) still lays heavily over the house, as housemaid Betty tells Faraday she fears something ‘isn’t right’. As he becomes more entwined with the family and their home, strange events begin to raise concerns and individually threaten members of the family.

From the very outset, the film breeds an unsettling feeling, the house is imposing with long shots conveying the sense that the characters are being observed. The audience follows Faraday in to this fading world of status and money, sensing his childhood desire and starched formality. The family are equally intriguing and unnerving. Roderick, badly injured during the war, is now an invalid struggling to cope and disturbed by the sense that something in the house does not want him there. Matriarch Mrs Ayres seems to be doing her best to keep the past alive and daughter Caroline (the best of the bunch as attested to by a fellow doctor) seems strong yet vulnerable. When Faraday begins an intriguing friendship with Caroline, their relationship evolves to hinge the entire ethereal story together. With fantastic performances all round, the characters all emerge fully formed, conveying depth without the need for swathes of expository back story.

The terror of the film gradually reveals itself, impacting in set scenes that are truly disturbing and realistic. Director Abrahamson has a subtle touch (as seen in the Oscar Nominated Room) and these climactic scenes engulf you, whilst revealing the fate of certain characters. Abrahamson knows how to accentuate the fear for the audience and uses restraint to devastating effect. As the house leaks secrets and the memory of the deceased Susan comes to the forefront, the story is told with an intensity that uses strikingly rich music and extreme close ups to create a claustrophobic atmosphere. However, to reveal too much of the story here, would spoil the experience of discovering for yourself what is happening at Hundreds Hall.

The Little Stranger is a mature and nuanced film, layered in such a way that it address status and class alongside desire and emotion. The period setting is detailed and worn, bridging the gap between transitioning eras in Britain.  This is no straightforward horror or ghost story and the film certainly feels to have done justice to its excellent source material. Rich in theme, characters and style, I would gladly take The Little Stranger home.

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Movie Reviews

Dogman ★★★



Released: 19th October 2018

Directed By: Matteo Garrone

Starring: Marcello Fonte

Reviewed By: Rhys Handley

Dogman is the anti-Paddington. Antithetical to the marmalade-loving bear’s enduring mantra – “if we are kind and polite, the world will be right” – dog groomer Marcello (Marcello Fonte) carves out a life in the dilapidated outskirts of Rome modestly tending to his estate’s canine residents and enjoying the respect of his neighbours.

But Marcello’s submissive, accommodating kindness is pushed closer and closer to its limit by the hulking Simone (a terrifying Edoardo Pesce, surely masked in near-mutant prosthetic), a brutish ex-boxer who stalks the estate terrorising the residents. Unable to say no to a friend, Marcello facilitates Simone’s egregious coke habit to little recompense.

When Simone’s scheme to rob a nearby jeweller’s implicates Marcello and he is apprehended by the police, the Dogman takes the fall himself and goes inside for a year for the sake of the bully who pretends to be his friend. When he comes out, something has changed.

Marcello, diminutive and always sporting a toothy grin, strikes an unimpressive, but likeable figure. He is perfectly happy with his lot as the film opens – a divorced father who takes pride in his work and loves trips to the beach with his daughter. While director Matteo Garrone makes a meal of the grim, filthy aesthetic of the film’s setting, he peppers in moments of levity and blissful tranquility to reinforce the humble satisfaction of Marcello’s daily life.

To see him repeatedly indulge the cruel, selfish whims of Simone quickly becomes a source of frustration, as the brute encourages vices in Marcello that seems entirely at odds with his persona. Marcello is swept away on break-ins and hedonistic strip club nights in jarring scenes more in keeping with Garrone’s work in the gangster canon such as 2008’s Gomorrah.

In these scenes, the toxicity fuelling Marcello reveals itself. Fonte delicately skews the kindly facade when Marcello enters Simone’s world. Behind his courteous smile is a sickening glimmer of delight – Marcello loves the thrill and decadence of life of crime. His latent desires mix with his better nature, to create something more insidious than Simone’s overt depravity.

Dogman stumbles in its closing chapter as Marcello is released from prison, returning to a community who despises him for violating their trust and chasing Simone’s false offers of brotherhood and fortune. Marcello reemerges not exactly changed, but more honest to himself about what he is. Garrone and his co-writers steer this portion of the story with a steady hand, but it is hard to shake comparisons to other established squares-gone-rogue like Walter White.

Marcello’s resolve and vengefulness is convincing thanks to Fonte, but its emergence is sudden and teeters dangerously close to cliche. His push and pull with Simone is rote, which makes its languid pace a little irritating – this has suddenly become a very different film, and it can’t carry the slower moments of contemplation as well as it could before Marcello was locked up.

An inevitable confrontation takes place, bursting with brutality and gore. But rather than a release of tension, it feels like a betrayal of the thoughtful, measured character piece Garrone set up. The violence overreaches for shock value where Garrone had before been satisfied with something more pensive and empathetic.

Luckily, he pulls back in the final moments of the film and dovetails elegantly by concluding what is essentially his thesis on ‘little guy’ psychology. He frames Marcello not as a good man pushed too far, but as someone whose better and worse natures are intrinsically tangled to create a monster very different to the bully who ultimately leads him to snap.

No matter how kind and polite the Dogman might try to be, he cannot deny the malice that festers in his heart – and Garrone artfully distills Marcello’s melancholic final moment of self-realisation in a resonant closing shot that gracefully irons out the kinks in this curious, inconsistent little film.

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Movie Reviews

Superfly ★★

Director X’s flashy remake of the Blaxploitation classic is a thunderingly dull experience



Director: Director X
Stars:  Trevor Jackson, Jason Mitchell, Michael K. Williams
Released: 14th September 2018 (UK)

Black Panther, A Wrinkle in Time, BlackKklansman – it’s proving an impressive year for top-tier studio-driven black cinema. The perfect year, as it happens, to release a remake of seventies Blaxploitation classic Super Fly. Or, at least, it would be, if the determining creative mantra behind this update weren’t presumably anything more than to make an episode of Power with all the stylistic glimmer of a P. Diddy video.

Superfly (neatly bringing the title right up to autocorrect standard by repositioning itself as a single word) sees Grown-ish star Trevor Jackson take on the iconic role of the hustling dealer trying to earn his way out of the game – albeit in a newly millennial take that supplants the character’s own drug use for what appear to be Sherlock-level powers of information gathering on anyone he might need to manipulate, charm, or blindside. He also sports the most incredible head of hair this side of Josh Brolin.

Alex Tse’s screenplay sees no gain in revisiting any of the subversive terrain that made Super Fly the enduring classic it became, his ambitions outright stopping at the point his writing could passably sell a made-for-cable urban crime series (such as – to pick a name out of a hat – Power?). Beyond that it falls to director Director X (of the Toronto Xs) and star Jackson to bring the proverbial funk, and – though X really knows how to sell a music video with all the tonal swagger of John Singleton’s Shaft remake (though, noticeably, none of its darkness or consideration) – Jackson simply isn’t a strong enough presence to sell the supposed gravitas of his lead. It’s a weakness no amount of style or gunfire can distract from, and it sinks Superfly dead.

There’s a top-shelf supporting cast in there, with the likes of Jason Mitchell, Michael K. Williams, and Rick Ross turning up for their two cents and subsequently failing in tandem to elevate this dross to become anything close to worthy of standing in its own brand’s shadow. Expectedly enough, it sports a kickass hip-hop soundtrack – with rapper (and the film’s producer) Future offering up a bevy of atmospherically charging beats to ensure you’re at least bored to music, though there is something faintly amusing (outside of context) about hearing an entire cast prattle on about wanting to wipe out “the Snow Patrol”, like they’re working for the NME in 2005.

Twenty years from now, film historians will likely regard Superfly in the same manner as we currently regard Gus van Sant’s 1998 remake of Psycho or Stallone’s 2000 remake of Get Carter – that it’s a pointless creation that completely missed the cultural point of its own iconic original – and they’ll be right to do so. Provided they remember that Superfly even existed in the first place – which they, and you, would be decidedly better off not.

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