Sunday, August 28, 2016

House of Pain: The Incredibly Intense “Don’t Breathe” is Out of Sight

I’m a sucker for a good home invasion thriller. Especially really good ones. “Don’t Breathe” is a really good one. It sort of flips things around a bit by being from the point-of-view of the home invaders while the one being invaded is, in fact, the villain. From Fede Alvarez who directed the surprisingly good “Evil Dead” remake, “Don’t Breathe” is an efficiently made, smart, and almost unnervingly suspenseful thriller. You won’t be doing much breathing during its tightly wound 88 minutes.

Most genre fans will see plenty on influences in “Don’t Breathe.” I saw a little bit of “The People Under the Stairs” and “Panic Room.”  And then there’s a sequence that’s just as tense as the ending of “The Silence of the Lambs.” The film actually takes the less is more approach as nothing in the film is too overly graphic which is surprising considering that it literally RAINED BLOOD in Alvarez’ version of “Evil Dead.” Of course, here, you certainly won’t easily get over a scene involving a turkey baster. You’re better off not showing this movie to your relatives on Thanksgiving.

There’s nothing I like more in a fun thriller than a short runtime and a simple plot. In “Don’t Breathe” three friends make money by burglarizing homes. The unofficial leader Money (Daniel Zovatto) gets some intel that a local blind man who lives alone in a completely rundown and abandoned neighborhood has hundreds of thousands of dollars stashed away from a settlement involving the death of his daughter. They figure it’s an easy score since, after all, the guy is blind. Not surprisingly, things go really wrong, very quickly. Just imagine that if in “Wait Until Dark” Audrey Hepburn’s character was a hulking, raging psychopath.

“Don’t Breathe” is a great example of a real, creative artist at work. Sure Alvarez cut his teeth making a studio remake that ended up surprising many, but here he has much more room to making something to call his own. He layers on the atmosphere. And the characters are likeable even if the make money from ripping off others. Jane Levy plays a young woman with a young son and dreams of a better life. I love the ambiguity of the morality of characters in films like these. You end up rooting for people who aren’t necessarily “good.” Nothing here is exactly black or white. And the house itself where a majority of the film takes place is as much as a character as any of the humans.

I know it’s been said over and over again but with a summer full of retreads and sequels it always seems to be a nice little thriller that gets the job done. It’s a frightening, efficient film and fans of the genre will certainly be pleased with it. This one is bound to be a classic and only promises even more great work from Fede Alvarez and his team.  GRADE: A-

Trailer for Don't Breathe on TrailerAddict.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Wiener Takes It All: “Sausage Party” Brings New Meaning to the Term ‘Food Porn’

“Sausage Party” is as filthy as you would expect a movie called “Sausage Party” to be. At first it’s a tad jarring to see a bunch of animated characters who are everyday food items like honey mustard, ketchup, sausages, and hog dog buns to be using the f word every five seconds. Initially it seems like the screenwriters were more interested in overly vulgar dialogue than creating a good story but once you really get into “Sausage Party’s” plot and its delightfully controversial ultimate message (there is no God!) it’s much easier to sit back and ride this R-rated train of profanity and hilarious debauchery all the way to its shocking climax. It's like a cracked-out version of "Toy Story."

A majority of “Sausage Party” takes place in a supermarket. All the food items have human features and talk to one another, though to the humans they appear as everyday inanimate objects. These food items believe that humans are like Gods who “choose” them, take them home, and eventually end up in “The Great Beyond.” Of course we all know what happens to food that gets bought from the supermarket. The film follows a foul-mouthed sausage voiced by Seth Rogen named Frank (what else?) who lives in a package with a bunch of others sausages including Carl (Jonah Hill) and the slightly deformed Barry (Michael Cera). Frank has dreams of being “chosen” and going to the Great Beyond with his girlfriend Brenda Bunson (she’s a hot dog bun and she’s voiced by Kristen Wiig). One bad thing leads to another and Frank and Brenda find themselves knocked out of a shopping cart, determined to get back to their shelves before the big red, white, and blue sale begins the next day.

On their adventure back Frank and Brenda meet lots of interesting characters on the way. There’s the Jewish bagel named Sammy Bagel Jr (Edward Norton) who has a rivalry with Kareem Abdul Lavash who’s a Middle Eastern flatbread voiced by David Krumholtz. Then there’s Teresa del Taco, a lesbian taco shell who’s totally crushing on Brenda. And in one of the film’s weirdest and funniest bits a wad of gum takes the form of Stephen Hawking complete with electronic voice and wheelchair. It’s only appropriate in a movie like this that the main villain literally be a douche named Douche (The League’s Nick Kroll) who’s hell-bent on revenge after his nozzle gets bent. There are plenty of clever and witty and borderline offensive characters based on various races, ethnicities, and stereotypes. They leave no one left to be offended. It’s pretty glorious. Not to mention the completely shocking NSFW ending that almost got the film an NC-17 rating. Seriously.

Pardon the pun, but even though the film started off a little rocky for me, “Sausage Party” eventually grew on me. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who were responsible for the delightfully depraved “This is the End” and co-writers Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir offer an ultimately witty script fully realized by directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon. The computer animation is appropriately crude and the film probably overstays its welcome a bit but it eventually won me over. It’s utterly ridiculous in all the right places and actually has something to say about this world in-between all the vulgarity, drug references, and raunchy humor. Sure, some of this humor is a little too on the nose but as long as you’re willing to go along for the ride it won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth.   GRADE: B  

Trailer for Sausage Party on TrailerAddict.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Harley & Me: “Suicide Squad” is a Big, Ol’ Entertaining Mess

“Suicide Squad” has been bashed so much for the past week I don’t feel the need to keep it going. Though, at the same time it can’t quite be defended. It’s not really a great movie, but when you look back at other not-so-great super hero adaptations (ie “Green Lantern”) you realize it’s entertaining to a certain point and nowhere near as bad as many claim. Hot off the controversially received “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” Warner Bros has given us their latest attempt to cash-in on what those Marvel geniuses have been working on for nearly a decade. It’s certainly something you can’t build overnight. “Suicide Squad” is at least an attempt to give us something a little different from the DC world and at least it’s one not directed by Zack Snyder. Initially visually appealing, with an obvious but enjoyable soundtrack, “Suicide Squad” is entertaining enough, and even though it's basically a mess and generally underwhelming, it does feature a few decent performances by actors who should have had their own movies before this ultimately convoluted film made it to the big screen.

“We’re bad guys,” the clown-faced Harley Quinn says at one point, and that’s true though the movie tries so hard to make them likable you feel like your own morals are being compromised. But she’s so charming! And she is. It’s because she’s played by Margot Robbie, who has been destined for stardom since her breakout role in “The Wolf of Wall Street” just a few years ago. Even if I don’t quite get her character – or why the corrupt intelligence operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) would want her non meta-human skills for this group of meta-human criminals, but more on that later – Robbie fits so nicely into the role she could have easily headlined her own film. The fact that her onscreen lover Joker (Jared Leto) is so oddly not thought out (is he just a clown-faced Scarface or what?) feels like a gross miscalculation. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Leto’s performance, I just don’t get this version of the character or how he really fits into this story (he’s not even part of the Suicide Squad). I don't even remember him making a joke. 

The only other character that was interesting was played by Will Smith – a gifted actor, who gets extra points for sitting out Independence Day Resurgence earlier this summer. He plays Deadshot who by my calculations feels like DC’s version of Deadpool. Maybe it’s because their names are so similar and the fact that they’re both guns for hire? Deadshot, who has a disturbingly good aim, is basically a serial killer but he has a young daughter who he doesn't get to see anymore since he was captured by Batman (Ben Affleck returns). There are a bunch of other sorted characters—portrayed by a decidedly diverse cast of actors—which the movie takes nearly 45 minutes to explain in one of the longest sequences of exposition in cinematic history; and yet you don’t really get to know any of them. Harley Quinn and Deadshot are the only ones worth caring about and the filmmakers know it.

Remember I mentioned Viola Davis? She’s here on a break from teaching law students how to get away with murder to form a secret squad of bad guys for… doing stuff? Some evil enchantress figures into it somehow and causes some kind of mass chaos in Midway City which is supposedly DC’s version of Chicago. In exchange for basically being forced into this “Suicide Squad” the prisoners are granted shorter prison sentences. The second half of the movie is watching these bad guys let loose on a nearly devastated and desolate city as they try to catch the really, really bad guy.

There are fun songs that blare on the soundtrack and there is a cool candy-coated color scheme that director David Ayer initially presents which is pleasing to the ears and eyes but the movie is mostly just bombastic. The movie moves along swiftly for the most part but I imagine most film goers who aren’t into comic book movies will be bored endlessly. I’ve certainly built up my tolerance for these films so I got through it mostly unscathed. The whole thing certainly feels like a disappointment compared to its catchy marketing. The tone is somewhat odd; parts are funny, parts are overwhelmingly dark. Was this supposed to be the darker DC version of “Guardians of the Galaxy?” Perhaps its biggest problem is another case of too many cooks in the kitchen, or perhaps “Suicide Squad” just wasn’t the best direction to go in post “Batman v Superman.” I’m sure there’s a lighthearted and fun superhero movie in the DC cinematic universe somewhere. “Suicide Squad” certainly isn’t it.  GRADE: C+  

Feature Trailer for Suicide Squad on TrailerAddict.