Saturday, December 10, 2016

Movie Reviews: Don't Breathe, Captain America: Civil War

Don't Breathe
directed by Fede Alvarez
Just because he's blind don't mean he's a saint.
This thriller movie is in many ways an updated version of the 1991 movie The People Under The Stairs. It veers from that movie's message of rebirth by playing with the audience's expectation of who to root for and who the bad guy may be. I couldn't tell you the whys and wherefores of every state or municipal law concerning use of deadly force by the homeowner during a home invasion or break in. I do know though that more states and municipalities have passed laws that give more latitude to homeowners to use deadly force against intruders without fear of criminal or civil liability-if the intruder was actually in the home. If someone breaks into your house why should you wait around to see what their intentions are? "Never mind the dog, beware the owner" is a sentiment shared by many homeowners, particularly those who live in high crime areas. And the city of Detroit is one of the nation's higher crime areas which is likely why this movie is set therein. This film only has four main characters, three of whom we first meet doing what they do best, breaking into homes and stealing goods.  

The crew leader is the blustering Money (Daniel Zovatto) a man who has obviously been listening to Eminem and Vanilla Ice too much. Money's girlfriend Rocky (Jane Levy) has a poor home life. Rocky's abusive mother is lazy. Rocky wants to take her little sister and split for California with Money. Alex (Dylan Minnette) is the brains of the trio. Alex's father works at a home security firm. So Alex has access to keys, electronic overrides and jamming systems, as well as intelligence about a home's contents. Alex has a healthy fear for the law. Alex attempts to minimize the team's chances of getting caught by only robbing empty homes. He knows exactly which crime is a misdemeanor or felony. 

Unlike the swaggering Money, Alex has no taste for violence, rhetorical or actual. Alex might have a taste for Rocky though as he's been looking at her in a certain way, something Money has noticed and does not like one bit. Money is tired of the small scores. He wants something big. Money's fence tells him that word on the street is that a blind veteran (Stephen Lang) in inner-city Detroit keeps a large cash settlement in his house. This settlement came from a lawsuit over the death of his daughter from a drunk driver. This cash could be what Money and Rocky need to get to California. Alex dislikes the idea of breaking into a home while the owner is still there. He doesn't like the idea of stealing cash. And he really doesn't like the idea of stealing from a blind man. But a few pleading looks from Rocky are all it takes to change Alex's mind. Funny how that works. The trio case the deserted neighborhood before they make their move. Surprise, surprise the burglary doesn't go as planned. In no short time the hunters have become the hunted. The viewer may change his/her mind multiple times about who is the bad guy in this situation. The movie deals with that in different ways before making a decision. All of the characters are unlikable. Rocky and Alex aren't as unpleasant as Money but they are still willing to break into people's homes and take things which don't belong to them. Rocky's cute little sister or Alex's aborted attempts to break out of the Friend Zone by offering to tag along to California don't change that.

This movie was very suspenseful. It has all the normal jump scares which viewers have come to expect. There's also a rising sense of panic as the burglars realize that they made a mistake. The Blind Man may lack eyesight but he's a combat veteran. This film shares some similarities with Green RoomDon't Breathe initially creates a sense of pathos for the Blind Man, who navigates his home by sound and touch. If anything is out of place he will be temporarily confused before becoming suspicious. The Blind Man's senses of smell, touch and hearing are all quite acute. Although there's absolutely nothing supernatural in this movie Lang's muscular definition, beard and lupine stride as well as his fiercely protective Rottweiler put me in mind of werewolf films. The Blind Man's house is much larger than it would appear to be from the outside. The last third of the movie panders shamelessly to an audience subset. It's over the top and utterly ridiculous when you give it some thought. But these films don't require deep thought. I know the area where parts of this movie were shot. It's not quite the urban dystopia that one might imagine. However the urban desolation adds to the characters' desperation and isolation. I'm skipping the trailer on this because the available trailers give away critical spoilers. The director also did the remake of Evil Dead, reviewed here. If you like thrillers then you will probably enjoy this film. You may not care for a few grossout scenes or just how expertly the filmmaker manipulates your sympathies. This was a short film, just under 90 minutes.  Most of the film is shot in darkness or very low light.

Captain America: Civil War

directed by Joe and Anthony Russo
Is it better to always follow orders and submit to the group or should your conscience be your guide?
This movie was 2 and 1/2 hours long. And it felt like it. There are many themes explored within this film but the most interesting one and the causal factor for the titular split among the superheroes is the age old question of Quis custodiet ipsos custodes or Who guards the guards? In a world where the superheroes can resist arrest or ignore laws as they see fit, how can their heroic role be made to fit within the framework of domestic and international law? Many superheroes are American; what happens if such superheroes decide to become appendages of the American military/intelligence services? And just who is setting the rules for how superheroes interact with law enforcement and diplomats in their own countries let alone foreign ones? Many laws strictly detail when and under what conditions the law enforcement officials of one state or municipality can operate in a different jurisdiction. And the same is true for federal law enforcement or intelligence setting up shop in a foreign nation. Without the proper permissions and agreements, things can get nasty. The Avengers are finally faced with those sorts of questions, when a terrorist/criminal situation they're trying to defuse in Nigeria goes sideways, causing a number of local and foreign deaths and injuries. The world isn't buying the normal utilitarian justification that the Avengers' actions prevented worse casualties. Heck not all of the Avengers themselves still believe that. The Nigerian incident, combined with previous bystander casualties in New York and Sokovia, is the last straw. 
The Avengers are going to be placed under United Nations supervision, by hook or by crook. There must be some oversight and rules. The Avengers are simply too dangerous and too powerful to be allowed to operate without multi-government agreement. That is what US Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) explains to the team, at least the ones he can find. As he pointedly notes neither he nor the team leaders know where the Hulk or Thor are or could control them if they did know their locations, something which is akin to a government losing control of thermonuclear weapons. The Avengers can willingly sign the Sokovia accords or things will get very nasty. Because behind the playboy persona and devil may care attitude Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) cares very deeply about doing the right thing and is suffering from guilt, he decides that the team should sign the accords. Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is in his heart a soldier. One might expect that he'd go along with the program. But part of his soldier's duty as Captain America sees it is to reject unlawful orders and authority. And try as he might Captain America simply can't see why bending the knee to the UN would make things any better. He refuses to sign the accords. This dispute simmers along between the two men but becomes hot when at the accord signing ceremony someone plants a bomb that kills King T'Chaka of Wakanda. 

All available evidence suggests that the culprit was Captain America's long time frenemy, the possibly brainwashed Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). That's enough for the new king of Wakanda, T'Challa aka the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). He wants vengeance for his father's murder. And he doesn't think anyone can stop him from getting it. Iron Man wants to bring Bucky in, alive if possible but dead is fine too. And Captain America thinks something's not quite right but even if Bucky did do it Captain America is not going to let anyone kill his friend. Period. If that means a rumble then the good Captain is ready to throw down. With the Avengers. With the Federal Government. With everyone!

So these people fight. And fight some more. And then fight again. The Avengers risk dissolution as secrets and double crosses are revealed. There are very different concepts of right being fought over. Other heroes/heroines like the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), The Vision (Paul Bettany), War Machine (Don Cheadle), The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) all end up choosing a side. This is a big budget spectacle which has its impressive moments. For my money the film could have dropped at least 30 minutes without losing all that much. There is obviously plenty of violence, some of which could have pushed the movie from its PG-13 rating to an R. There's some cleavage, mostly displayed by Olson. Rudd and Holland provide much needed comedy. Frank Grillo is the villainous Crossbones while Daniel Bruhl shows up as a doctor with a past. This film has the normal look and sound for a Marvel movie.

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