Thursday, August 25, 2016

DON'T BREATHE REVIEW



THERE IS NO ONE TO LIKE

Film Review by Fiore 


As a film critic, there are certain signposts that signal a film’s worthiness.  For example, if a film is made through the Asylum production studio, you can bank on cheesy effects, a substandard plot and a formulaic tale with an ending worthy of a groan.  The same can be said of Ghost House Pictures and Stage 6.  So when DON’T BREATHE, the latest thriller to hit the screens opened as a co-production of Stage 6 and Ghost House, I immediately changed my outlook for the film and was not disappointed when it unfolded.  Unfortunately, my guests at the screening had no clue what was coming, and did not have an enjoyable evening.
 
DON’T BREATHE has a plethora of problems, however one of them is not star Steven Lang.  Lang holds the film together and his performance as The Blind Man is commendable.  Lang, who has been playing bit parts for decades, made a bit of a wave as Increase Mather, the infamous witch hunter and puritan on WGN’s original series SALEM.  Lang’s character portrayal was so good, they brought him back in season two, even though he died in season one.  You can do that when you’re dealing with the supernatural.  He is proving to be the spotlight of the second season as well.  So it is probably no great surprise he dominates the screen in DON’T BREATHE.  Though he has limited dialogue, his mere presence, and some creative make-up for his eyes, help provide most of the thrills in the film.

Where the film goes south is in the script.  Writer and Director Fede Alvarez gives the audience no one to like.  It concerns three youths who make a living by robbing houses tied to a certain security outfit.  The trio is made up of the nerd, Alex, who has all the security company connections, played by Dylan Minnette;  the gangster wannabe, Money, played by Daniel Zovatto; and the tramp love interest, Rocky, played by Jane Levy.  The storyline prompts the audience to empathize with Rocky, but she is just not a likable character.  Alvarez tries to win over the audience by making her a single mother concerned about her child, and presenting her as the product of an abusive drug slut mom, but none of these social concerns make her any more likeable.  Through most of the film you want The Blind Man to kill everyone.  By the end of the movie, you would rather all these characters die.
 

KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.    The cracked window
2.    The dog in the car


As I watched DON’T BREATHE I kept thinking of Jason Statham in THE TRANSPORTER.  Rule number one – never look in the package.  Rule number two – never change the deal.  Our pitiful trio have a great system working and then decide to break all their established rules for one possible big score.  Their entire plan is so flawed it reeks of stupidity.  Who decides to search a house while the owner is in it?  Really?

Just when you think you have a handle on this film, Alvarez turns it down another dead end.  Each turn proves disastrous.  By the time the insemination scene occurs, there is nothing left, save for a few standard jump ploys.  

All told, DON’T BREATHE is a decent thriller, but one more worthy of Netflix than a theatre ticket price.  It is, however, a great date movie, especially if you’re looking to have someone special clinging on to you for dear life.  In that case, it is worth the price of admission, and could make for an interesting evening. 




THE GRADE FOR DON’T BREATHE = C


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

HANDS OF STONE REVIEW



FILM LETS VIEWERS OFF THE ROPES 

Film Review by Fiore 



HANDS OF STONE is another in a continuing stream of boxing films Hollywood is determined to produce.  While other sports films are periodic, boxing is enjoying a massive entrenchment in the Hollywood staples.  CREED, SOUTHPAW, HANDS OF STONE and WE BLEED FOR THIS will all be released within 11 months of each other.  No other sport enjoys that type of celluloid celebrity.  

In a recent interview on the award-winning OUTTAKES with FIORE, celebrated fighter and former Kicking Kritic Joe Messino claimed the appeal of boxing films is the story.  “It’s not a team sport.  It’s one-on-one once the fighters climb in the ring.  The appeal of boxing films is the story of how and why the fighters are there.”  Since Joe boasts myriad fighting trophies, I asked him to accompany me to the screening of HANDS OF STONE.  I’m glad he did; for he provided an insight into the film I would not have otherwise gleaned.  More on that later.  

HANDS OF STONE is about Robert Duran, for that was his moniker in the ring.  But Scriptwriter and Director Jonathan Jakubowicz actually approaches the story from the aspect of Duran’s trainer, Ray Arcel, played by Robert DeNiro.  HANDS OF STONE is really his story; how he trained over 20 champion fighters in his career, how he fell in disfavor with the mob over televising boxing, and how he made a triumphant return to the sport when he discovered Duran.  But no one knows Arcel; they do know Duran.  So Jakubowicz spends script pages bouncing from one character to another, never really giving Arcel the main spotlight and diminishing the relationship between the two men.

Edgar Ramierez plays Duran and does a credible job.  Unfortunately, he shares a lot of screen time with DeNiro and Rueben Blades, who plays Carlos Eleta, Duran’s shady, greedy manager.  Blades is solid and presents Eleta in a fashion that makes viewers want Duran to punch him out instead of Sugar Ray Leonard.  Leonard, by the way, is played by Usher, the only pop singer to date to rhyme the words floor and blow in his hit “Yeah”.   As an actor, Usher is a pretty good singer.  He plays Leonard like a black Howdy Doody, constantly grinning and bobbing his head.  He does, however have a love scene with Janelle Davidson, so I guess all is well in the end. 


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.    The bar smackdown
2.    The talk in the corner
3.    The fight with Moore

Neither Ramierez or Usher can fight.  I’m sure they went through hours of arduous training, but it is not Leonard-Duran caliber.  Cinematographer Miguel Ioann Littin Menz (see, this name is ridiculous -  two names and done) covers the faux pas by utilizing close-up shots and quick editing.  Though not as confusing as the camera work in JASON BOURNE, it is still obvious there is no real boxing going on in the ring.  Gylenhaal’s rounds and all of Stallone’s were considerably better, and those guys couldn’t fight either.

HANDS OF STONE is edited sporadically.  While Arcel and Duran supposedly have this intense relationship, it is not presented well.  More emphasis is placed on the two fights with Leonard.  As a result, when the film’s final reels are displayed it is difficult to comprehend the emotional bond between the two.  It is understandable why Editor Ethan Maniquis approached the film in this manner.  In order to pace the film well, a lot of the byplay and bonding is short-circuited and the audience is forced to do a lot of reading between the scenes.

One advantage of having both Usher and Blades in the film is both are accomplished musicians.  They perform individually and together on a majority of the film’s soundtrack.  Its good music.

The one insight Joe presented to me was a maxim in most boxing films.  The movie is virtually over before the final fight.  He systematically went through the boxing films since the original ROCKY, and explained the theory.  He then selected the scene that signified the conclusion of HANDS OF STONE.  I won’t ruin the film for you by telling you what scene it is, however I will say the one trait in all the concluding scenes Joe highlighted is the fighter’s return to the “way of the warrior”.

It may sound odd to say about a boxing film, but personally I would like to have seen more scenes on the development of the relationship between Arcel and Duran, and less of the family and political scenarios used to set the stage.   HANDS OF STONE is an average film, but one that had so much more potential, especially with DeNiro on set.


THE GRADE FOR HANDS OF STONE = C

Thursday, August 18, 2016

HELL OR HIGH WATER REVIEW



AN ADULT, MODERN DAY WESTERN

Film Review by Fiore 


Westerns are one genre of film simply not made often enough.  I’m not sure what alienated Hollywood producers from Westerns.  Perhaps it was political correctness, after all it would be wrong to show the savagery of Indians in today’s culture; or it could be the opposite side of the coin, that people would not pay the price of a ticket to see settlers and cowboys, part of our history, denigrated as ruthless scoundrels.  Or perhaps it’s because the Hollywood Looney Liberal Left (H3L) simply can’t stand to show a time when American patriotism was at its peak.  Something tells me there is a middle ground were Westerns could survive and thrive.  No one, however has he willingness, or the creativity, to go there.

This is why I had so much fun with HELL OR HIGH WATER.  It is, essentially, a modern day Western.  It features the stogy, die-hard lawman in the vein of Wyatt Earp, the citizen popular criminals reminiscent of Jesse James, and of course the ultimate antagonists, the large banks and their unscrupulous barons.   Combine these elements with incredibly fine performances by Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster and HELL OR HIGH WATER proves to be an adult film worth watching.

Pine and Foster are the Howard brothers.  Upon the death of their mother, the leeches from the bank move in to foreclose on her farm, offering a mere pittance of its value.  Toby is a ranch hand who has no marketable skills off the farm, while Tanner is fresh from prison, where he served a ten-year sentence for murder.  

Pine elevates his thespian skills to an adult level, not having to worry about aggressive phaser fire or warp drive engines.   Foster is in top form and could be considered for supporting actor considerations.  Relegated mostly to secondary roles, Foster never fails to deliver stunning performances, whether it is an adult drama, like HELL OR HIGH WATER, or a cheesy sci-fi yarn with space zombies.  The man has talent.

Not happy about the muscling of the Midland Texas Bank, the boys opt to begin a series of bank robberies to halt the farm’s foreclosure.  This catches the eye of Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton, played by Bridges, who is also a personal friend of Cordell Walker, another famous Texas Ranger.  With his partner Alberto Parker, played by Gil Birmingham, he seeks to stop the boys and return law and order to Texas, or at least this small part of it.  Though he has a small part, Birmingham makes the best of it, making his character most endearing.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.    THE DINER
2.    THE POV SHOT AROUND THE S-CURVE
3.      THE FINAL CONVERSATION


At the heart of HELL OR HIGH WATER is a simple tale everyone can relate to:  a small, insignificant man seeking justice in a system rigged for the wealthy and powerful.  The underdog (no Wally Cox voice necessary) battling and beating the system.  The cast is in top form.  Cinematographer Giles Nuttgens offers yeoman, but effective shots and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan delivers a script for adults (hooray), not filled with the mindlessness that so enthralls the Millennials. 




THE GRADE FOR HELL OR HIGH WATER = B