Breaking In

BreakingIn

Directed By: James McTeigue
Starring: Gabrielle Union, Billy Burke, Richard Cabral, Ajiona Alexus, Levi Meaden, Seth Carr, et. al.
Rating: PG-13
Grade: C+

After her father is murdered in broad daylight, Shaun Russell brings her children to the house she grew up in so she can finish packing his personal belongings and ready the house for sale. What she doesn’t realize is that her father’s murder was orchestrated so that a group of thieves could break into the house and steal $4 million Shaun’s father was keeping in a safe somewhere in the house. When her children are taken hostage by the thieves and used as leverage to get the location of the safe, Shaun goes on the offensive and does whatever she can to take out the intruders and rescue her children, hoping to stall them long enough that the security company will contact the police and report an issue.

This somewhat unfortunate, cookie-cutter thriller makes the best of what few assets is has, namely Gabrielle Union and Billy Burke. Union’s steely, mamma-bear determination seems to be a decent fit for the actress, and Burke seems to be thoroughly enjoying playing the cold, calculating sociopath. Their respective performances are almost enough to let one overlook some of the gaping plot holes peppered throughout the film, the largest of which is the general timing of the movie. They don’t specify how long after her father’s death that Shaun is selling the house, which doesn’t explain why the thieves waited so long to break into the house to look for the money. Of course, the simplest explanation is that there wouldn’t be a movie then, but it still somewhat irks me.

What few special effects used in the movie were decent, and the background filler isn’t noticeable.

While not great, the movie is easily watchable. The oversimplified plot lends towards casual watching without missing much in terms of story. As stated before, Union and Burke are the bright spots, taking their roles and running wild with them. This also manages to create a movie that can be watched more than once for when you’re bored and just want something on in the background as noise.

Breaking In is currently only available free to stream if you have HBO, but it can be rented through Redbox or Netflix home delivery, or purchased at any participating store or on-line retailer.

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The Possession of Hannah Grace

PossessionOfHG

Directed By: Diederik Van Rooijen
Starring: Shay Mitchell, Grey Damon, Kirby Johnson, Nick Thune, Louis Herthum, Stana Katic, Maximillian McNamara, Jacob Ming-Trent, et. al.
Rating: R
Grade: C+

Fresh out of rehab, former police officer Megan Reed takes a job as a night-shift intake clerk for the local morgue. When she receives the disfigured corpse of a young woman named Hannah Grace, Megan begins to see and experience strange things like equipment failure and items moving on their own. Sure that she’s just imagining things in the cold, quiet, labyrinth-like facility, Megan ignores her unease and attempts to continue to do her job as best she can. When a strange man breaks into the facility and attempts to destroy the corpse, Megan is forced to subdue him, but not before he claims that Hannah Grace is possessed. Deeply unsettled, Megan does her best to continue her job, but soon, people go missing and are found dead, and Megan notices impossible changes to Hannah’s corpse. Soon fighting against time, Megan soon realizes that she needs to make sure Hannah Grace stays dead.

While incredibly creepy on first watch, there are very few true scares in this movie, which seems to mostly rely on jump-scare tactics to get a reaction, instead of letting the viewer contend with their growing unease. The plot itself is somewhat original, giving us what would ordinarily be a layperson’s point of view in a possession movie, rather than the priest fighting to save an innocent soul, though they never do explain why Megan isn’t killed by the demon possessing Hannah. Shay Mitchell manages to hold her own for the most part. It’s her first major role post-Pretty Little Liars, and it’s also her first time anchoring a project on her own. She comes off as a bit young for the role, but it also manages to work in her favor a bit.

The special effects are pretty good, and the background filler goes unnoticed.

Anyone who likes slightly watered down horror movies should enjoy this. The plot’s not terrible, and neither is the acting. One of its saving graces is that it could possibly turn into a movie incredibly repeatable for background noise, or when you just want to watch something slightly cheesy.

The Possession of Hannah Grace is currently only available free to stream if you have Starz, but it can be rented through Redbox or Netflix home delivery, or purchased at any participating store or on-line retailer.

Monster Party

MonsterParty

Directed By: Chris von Hoffmann
Starring: Sam Strike, Virginia Gardener, Brandon Micheal Hall, Kian Lawley, Erin Moriarty, Robin Tunney, Julian McMahon, Chester Rushing, Jamie Ward, Lance Reddick, et. al.
Rating: NR
Grade: B+

When a trio of low-level thieves decide to infiltrate a high-end party at a rich family’s home by posing as caterers, the last thing they expect is that the party is actually an annual meeting for recovering serial killers. However, when one of trio proves to be too tempting a target for one of the guests, all hell breaks loose. After the house is put into lockdown, the remaining two attempt to navigate household, and find they have no choice but to trust the daughter of the party’s hosts, who claims not to share in her family’s bloodlust. As time ticks by, the unlikely allies find they have no choice but to fight back if they want to make it out alive.

Sometimes all you need is a movie that gives you exactly what you expect of it, and perhaps a little bit more. This B-grade horror/thriller may not have any deep meaning or late-stage twists, but what it delivers is a refreshingly honest, original movie about the difficulties of overcoming addiction, no matter what that addiction may be. While most of the ‘monsters’ slip effortlessly back into their old ways, Robin Tunney’s Roxanne visibly struggles with temptation, and Lance Reddick’s Milo uses an iron-clad grip to keep his at bay. Erin Moriarty’s Alexis, the ‘sober’ family member displays the struggle of being the responsible family member who has no taste for the rest of the family’s drug of choice.

The blood effects used in the movie were decent, and the background filler isn’t really noticeable.

Parts of the movie tend to lean more towards drama than horror, but it doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyable experience. I’m not quite sure what I initially expected when I watched the movie, but what I got was pleasantly good movie that anyone who doesn’t mind a bit of a bloodbath should enjoy. There are very few scenes with graphic gore, though a good portion of the movie is soaked in blood. The movie itself is enjoyable enough that you probably wouldn’t mind watching it more than once.

Monster Party is currently not available free to stream anywhere, but can be rented through Redbox or Netflix home delivery, or purchased at any participating store or on-line retailer.

The Boy (2016)

TheBoy

Directed By: William Brent Bell
Starring: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, James Russell, Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle, Ben Robson, et. al.
Rating: PG-13
Grade: B-

American Greta Evans takes a job as a nanny for Heelshire’s, a couple in the English countryside with an 8 year old son. When she arrives, however, she discovers that the “boy” she’s meant to be caring for is actually a life-sized doll named Brahms, after the couple’s deceased son. After getting a basic rundown of Brahms’ daily routine and meeting the grocery delivery person, a charming man named Malcolm, who is also the only other person allowed in the house, Greta is given a strict set of instructions regarding Brahms’ care, and is left alone with the doll. After following her own routine for a few days, Greta begins to notice strange things happening in the house, such as the doll and other things moving seemingly of their own accord. Confiding in Malcolm that she thinks the doll may actually be alive, she is told the story behind Brahms’ death, and that he may not have been the sweet child the Heelshire’s claim him to have been. After Greta receives an unexpected visitor, the terrifying truth behind the incidents in the house is revealed to be far worse than she or Malcolm thought possible.

This is another movie that should have been far better than what the final product turned out to be. What was intended to be an intense psychological thriller was watered down to a stereotypical semi-horror/thriller. After reading what the original idea for the movie was, I’m almost certain that it would have far better, and scarier, than what was actually released. The acting is okay. After several years on The Walking Dead, Cohan has adapted well to acting in horror scenarios, and her American accent is solid. The American accent of the actor who plays her ex, however, is choppy and mottled, but he’s not in very many scenes so it doesn’t detract from the story. The other actors are using their natural accents.

There are little to no special effects beyond background filler, and that isn’t noticeable.

If you don’t mind low-grade thrillers, then you’ll probably like this movie. Enough of the original story is retained that it’s not completely predictable. It also doesn’t rely solely on jump scares to get a reaction. It’s a decent effort to create an atmospheric movie, and, in part, it succeeds. After an initial viewing, it could definitely be used as background noise for someone who doesn’t want to sit in silence, but doesn’t want to worry missing out on the plot details of a newer or more complex story.

The Boy is currently not available free to stream anywhere, but can be rented through Redbox or Netflix home delivery, or purchased at any participating store or on-line retailer.

Professor Marston & the Wonder Women

ProfessorMarston

Directed By: Angela Robinson
Starring: Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, Connie Britton, Monica Giordano, JJ Field, Chris Conroy, Oliver Platt, Maggie Castle, et. al.
Rating: R
Grade: B+

Professor of Psychology and inventor, William Moulton Marston, finds his life turned upside down after a three-way affair between himself, his wife Elizabeth, and their assistant/mistress Olive Byrne gets them all kicked off the Harvard campus. Needing purpose after losing his livelihood, Marston attempts to make a living as an author, eventually coming up with an idea for the superhero Wonder Woman, through which he would attempts to instill his, at the time, unheard of and highly controversial theories about psychology and sexuality into the mainstream. However, after his private life is once again made public, Marston fights not only to keep control of his creation, but to keep his unusual family intact.

This movie had the potential to be something great. Instead, it seems to be attempting to ride to coattails of the success of the Wonder Woman movie. It focuses less on the creation of the heroine, and more on the unusual sexual practices of her creator, with an unnecessarily long section of the movie dedicated to the trio discovering and engaging in light BDSM and roleplay. The storytelling format is something of a stilted flashback, with large portions of the story being broken up by Ethics Board meeting Marston is attending until the movie catches up with itself. The acting is well-done. Despite that all three lead characters are American, only Heathcote manages to completely mask her accent. Evans’ accent only slips occasionally when his voice is raised. Hall, however, can’t seem to find a grip on her accent, though it doesn’t really detract from the story itself.

The effects are almost entirely background filler, and are not really noticeable.

The movie itself isn’t entirely a wash. So long as you can look past the, in my opinion, unnecessary focus on polyamorous relationship, it’s interesting to see the circumstances that led to the creation of the world’s first, and still most popular, female superhero. However, like most based-on-a-true-story movies, there are some dramatizations made, and it should be noted that descendants of both the Marstons and Olive Byrne have denied the nature of the relationship between the three presented by the movie. That aside, someone looking for an interesting drama based on the real events that led to the creation of a superhero should like this movie.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is currently free to stream through Hulu, and can be rented through Redbox or Netflix home delivery, or purchased at any participating store or on-line retailer.

A Simple Favor

SimpleFavor

Directed By: Paul Fieg
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Linda Cardellini, Ian Ho, Joshua Satine, Andrew Rannells, Kelly McCormack, Aparna Nancherla, et.al.
Rating: R
Grade: B

When over achieving mommy-vlogger Stephanie meets sleek, effortless Emily, the last thing she expects is a fast friendship filled with martini lunches and near-daily play dates between their two sons. However, when Emily goes missing after asking Stephanie to watch her son, Stephanie takes it upon herself to not only investigate the disappearance, but make sure Emily’s family is well cared for. As the plot behind Emily’s disappearance thickens, Stephanie finds herself in a twisted web of secrets and lies as she attempts to unravel the mystery she has found herself inextricably entangled in.

So far as recent crime thrillers go, this one mostly holds its own weight. While director Paul Fieg is mostly known for his comedies, he manages to create an almost noir-ish atmosphere with the movie. The plot is mostly solid, and the actors all work well together. Kendrick and Lively slip into their roles well, and Golding has decent chemistry with both. The actors playing the children handle their roles well, too, especially considering that the content can get heavy at times. The contrast between the brightly-lit suburban setting and the dark nature of the story is an interesting narrative device and makes already uncomfortable subjects just a bit more so.

Nearly all of the effects are background filler, and are not noticeable.

Anyone looking for a decent mystery thriller should like this. While parts of it lean toward predictability, it mostly manages to stay a step ahead of the viewer, and the ending is clever. As with all R-rated titles, parents may want to watch the movie before allowing young kids to see it. Anyone wanting to watch the movie again should be able to do so without getting bored.

A Simple Favor currently is not free to stream, but can be rented through Redbox or Netflix home delivery, or purchased at any participating store or on-line retailer.

A Star Is Born

StarIsBorn

Directed By: Bradley Cooper
Starring: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Rafi Gavron, Anthony Ramos, Dave Chapelle, Greg Grunberg, Drena De Niro, et.al.
Rating: R
Grade: A-
After barely making it through a sold-out concert, down on his luck rocker Jackson Maine heads to a Los Angeles drag bar where he meets Ally, a struggling songwriter who performs at the bar part-time.  After spending the evening getting to know her, Jackson invites Ally to his next concert in Las Vegas, where he invites her on stage to perform one of her songs.  When he finally convinces Ally to perform one of her songs solo, her career takes off, and what ensues is a volatile, passionate romance as they both try to balance out Ally’s skyrocketing career with Jackson’s own failing one.
An emotional roller coaster almost from start to finish, this most recent remake of the classic film is an incredible feat for first-time director Bradley Cooper to have taken on, and he manages to make a beautiful film worthy of the nominations it received.  The chemistry between Cooper and Gaga feels real and natural.  Lady Gaga’s inexperience as an actress seems to have worked well in her favor here, because it conveys into a character discomfort with the sudden limelight she finds herself in, and while Cooper is not a professional musician, he does a more than adequate job in singing for his character.  His character’s relationship with his brother, played by Hollywood staple Sam Elliott, is one of the central relationships in the movie, though it probably should have gotten focus than it did.
Most of the effects used are background filler and not noticeable.
So long as you don’t mind emotionally exhausting dramas, you should enjoy this movie.  It’s adequate pacing lets the audience absorb the information before moving forward, and you find yourself truly caring about the characters as endure their struggles.  And, while it may not be something you want to watch on a weekly basis, it is likely that you would want to watch it again, and it shouldn’t begin to grate on those repeat viewings.
A Star is Born is currently free to stream through Hulu, and can be rented through Redbox or Netflix home delivery, or purchased at any participating store or on-line retailer.

Bad Samaritan

BadSamaritan

Directed By: Dean Devlin
Starring: David Tennant, Robert Sheehan, Kerry Condon, Carlito Olivero, Jacqueline Byers, Tracey Heggins, Rob Nagle, Lorraine Bahr, et.al.
Rating: R
Grade: C
Sean Falco, an amateur photographer supplementing his income by valeting cars and robbing some of the restaurant’s customers, loses control of his life when one of the houses he breaks into belongs to a sociopath who has a woman tied up one of the rooms.  As the man, Cale Erendreich, takes his revenge on Sean for compromising his illegal lifestyle, Sean races against time to clear his name and free the woman before she’s killed.  Enlisting the help of an FBI agent who believes that Erendreich may be a serial killer only she is certain exists, Sean does all he can to protect his loved ones and gather evidence that Erendreich is a killer.
This movie should have been better than it was.  The idea of a petty thief who accidentally crosses paths with serial killer and becomes a target gets points for originality, but unfortunately its potential isn’t fully realized.  Sean is portrayed as a loveable screwup with ‘standards’ (he won’t get a photojournalism job because that would be selling out) who is almost unbelievably dumb (leaving doors unlocked, etc.), meanwhile, Erendreich is almost supernaturally intelligent (he hacks into Sean’s computer files/social media/etc.) and quickly becomes an almost unbeatable foe who expertly turns Sean’s life upside down in only a few days.  Another thing that bothered me was the accent Tennant used.  While not outright bad, I’m more used to his natural and/or English accents from previous endeavors.
Most of the effects used are background filler and not noticeable.
While not entirely boring, this movie definitely could have been better than what it was.  Instead of giving real stakes and tension, they go more for cheap thrills and a breakneck pace that doesn’t allow for anything to really be processed before moving forward to the next ‘danger’.  As long as you don’t get your hopes up too high, you should have no issue with having watched this movie, though it may not be something that gets repeat viewings.
Bad Samaritan is free to stream through Hulu and Amazon Prime, and can be rented through Redbox or Netflix home delivery, or purchased at any participating store or on-line retailer.

Kim Possible (2019)

KimPossible

Directed By: Zach Lipovsky & Adam B. Stein
Starring: Sadie Stanley, Sean Giambrone, Ciara Riley Wilson, Todd Stashwick, Taylor Ortega, Alyson Hannigan, Connie Ray, Erica Tham, Patton Oswalt, et.al.
Rating: TV-G
Network: Disney Channel
Grade: B+
Teen hero Kim Possible, who overcomes any obstacle in her path, finds herself unusually out of her element upon beginning high school.  Despite having her best friend, Ron Stoppable, tech whiz Wade, and new friend Athena by her side, Kim’s continues to slowly lose control over her once-perfect life.  When her nemesis, Dr. Drakken, is broken out of prison by his henchwoman Shego, Kim discovers that it’s not just her personal life that she’s out of step with, but when one of her friends is put in danger, Kim does everything she can set things right and rescue her friend and stop Dr. Drakken’s evil plot.
The plot for this movie – What happens when the intrepid hero loses their special spark? – was surprisingly original for a children’s made-for-TV movie.  It’s not often franchises, existing or potential, are willing to not only admit that the main character is flawed, but to actively show them make potentially disastrous mistakes and learn and grow from them.  The actors themselves work well together, and the ones playing Kim and Ron have a wonderful platonic chemistry.  It was also nice to see Todd Stashwick get to have fun with a role, instead of the straight-up bad guy he usually plays.
Some of the bigger/more prominent effects falter to scrutiny, but this is on par with other DCOMs (Disney Channel Original Movies).  Most of the background filler isn’t really noticeable.
We didn’t have cable growing up, so I was largely unfamiliar with the original cartoon that this DCOM is based on, and though I have seen a handful of episodes since watching this movie, the cartoon doesn’t have much bearing on the movie’s plotline.  That said, this is a cute movie that should appeal mostly to the younger crowd, although adults who don’t mind kids movies should find it enjoyable as well.
Kim Possible is free to stream through the DisneyNOW app, and is available for purchase or rental at any participating store or on-line retailer.

The Pelican Brief

PelicanBrief

Directed By: Alan J. Pakula
Starring: Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, John Heard, Tony Goldwyn, James Sikking, William Atherton, Robert Culp, Stanley Tucci, Hume Cronyn, John Lithgow, Anthony Heald, Jake Weber, et.al.
Rating: PG-13
Grade: B

When two Supreme Court justices are murdered on the same night, Tulane law professor Thomas Callahan takes it upon himself to investigate possible reasons for the murders, especially since one of the judges was terminally ill. With the help of his girlfriend/student, Darby Shaw, Callahan comes up with a plausible theory that the authorities haven’t thought of, which theorizes that the judges were killed to aid an appeal of a court decision to protect a piece of land housing a rare subspecies of brown pelican. After turning the brief over to a friend at the FBI, Callahan is murdered, and Darby seeks out the help of both Callahan’s friend in the FBI, as well as investigative reporter Gray Grantham, who was also close to one of the murdered judges. After Gray is contacted by an insider at a high-powered law firm, he begins to believe that there is more to the murders than meets the eye, and he and Darby race against time to uncover a plot that leads all the way to the President of the United States.

Based on the John Grisham novel of the same name, this political thriller is well-paced and manages to keep the viewers attention throughout. Both Roberts and Washington were rising stars at the time and do great work with the material. The story itself remains relevant, even all these years later, since it’s not too hard to see a high-ranking politician ordering/being complicit in an assassination for financial and/or political gain.

There aren’t many special effects beyond background filler, which isn’t very noticeable.

This movie is something of an underrated gem. While it may not be as flashy as some action movies, it offers a well-paced story with a decent ticking clock. One of the few flaws was a character who was supposedly protecting Darby, though that wasn’t made completely clear. Other than that, this is a movie most people should enjoy, even if it’s just to get a glimpse of two stars before they were mega-famous.

The Pelican Brief is currently not available to stream anywhere, but can be rented through Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased through a participating store or on-line retailer.