When the Bough Breaks (2016)

Released: September 9, 2016. Directed by: Jon Cassar. Starring: Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall, Jaz Sinclair. Runtime: 1h 47 min. 

When the Bough Breaks, Screen Gems’ third September thriller with stalker, manages to be almost memorable because it’s so awful and such a poorly executed Fatal Attraction knockoff.

John and Laura Taylor (Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall) have realized they can’t have a baby after Laura’s had three miscarriages, so they decide to hire a surrogate mother. They find the seemingly perfect candidate in Anna Walsh (Jaz Sinclair). After moving into their guest house, she eventually becomes obsessed with John and interferes with his personal and professional life.

She asks inappropriate questions but of course, John doesn’t say anything. This whole situation could be avoided if he would just tell Laura that Anna’s being a creep and trying to seduce him. It becomes a stranger situation because she has their baby in utero and it threatens to become a hostage situation – legally, it’s her baby – so that’s a way it offers a fresh turn on the Fatal Attraction plot. Unfortunately, that’s where any originality begins and ends.

You’ve seen every twist and turn before and it unfolds in an unsurprising way. The writing’s basic from first-time writer Jack Olsen. Morris Chestnut’s John is an ambitious lawyer who loves his wife and doesn’t want to cheat. Hall’s Laura is a traveling chef or something, and she really wants to start a family. The two stars try their best in one-dimensional roles, and they deserve better.

Jaz Sinclair is the nutty Anna and she’s given the most to work with as the over-the-top stalker. She’s whiny and bratty, and Sinclair plays the bratty side believably but it’s unintentionally hilarious when tries to be totally crazy.

Jaz Sinclair, Morris Chestnut

Jaz Sinclair and Morris Chestnut in When the Bough Breaks. (Source)

She’s silliest and most over-the-top hilarious when she screams and flails her hands in a fit in her car, which makes her looks like a pre-teen brat throwing a temper tantrum. The tantrum could be a clip from the MTV show My Super Sweet 16 because the birthday girl didn’t get the car they wanted.

The performance is not good. When she’s told to be innocent, she just smiles excessively and is annoyingly cutesy. At one point she watches John and Laura kissing, and it’s creepy and robotic –  it’s like she doesn’t quite know what they’re doing. It’s awkward.

In all fairness, the character’s just awful. There is a gem of a scene under the dreck where Anna sings “Rock-a-bye-Baby” in the bathtub. She attempts to be menacing (it doesn’t work), as she cuts her leg with a razor blade. Its presence is so random that it enters unintentional hilarity, and the scene only seems to serve to establish where the film gets its name. It really is unfortunate director Jon Cassar just didn’t make this a stalker comedy.

It’s baffling this is billed as a horror film, because there’s nothing scary about it and the writing and Cassar aren’t able to conjure up any kind-of suspense. Its PG-13 rating also makes it incredibly tame. Nudity is avoided when John watches a video of Anna on his computer and before she can disrobe, he hastily shuts his laptop in the nick of time. No nudity, no gore, no scares: No entertainment.

Score: 25/100

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Assassin’s Creed (2016)

Released: December 21, 2016. Directed by: Justin Kurzel. Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons. Runtime: 1hr., 55 min.

I haven’t played any of the Assassin’s Creed video games, so I’m not sure if I would have been able to follow the Apple of Eden storyline better. But since I hadn’t played the games, I was pretty damn confused throughout.

Marion Cotillard’s psychologist character Sophia Rikkin tells us throughout that if they could acquire the Apple of Eden, they could rid the world of violence – because whoever has it controls free will. I didn’t really get the reasoning that if you have the apple, you would control free will, and it seemed like the writers assumed viewers would know that the Apple has mind-control abilities (which is fair, because most people who see this have likely played the games). I thought the explanation was murky, and the story suffered from a lack of clarity.

The story also suffered from just being generally uninteresting. Callum “Cal” Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is sentenced to death by lethal injection for murder – they never elaborate much past that – and since he’s legally dead, he’s taken in by Abstergo Industries (led by Jeremy Irons, father to Marion Cotillard’s character) for an experiment. Turns out, he’s the descendant of a Knights of the Templar member, Aguilar de Nerha (also Fassbender), and is taken through his movements and memories in 1492 Spain to see what happened to the Apple of Eden.

The most compelling parts of the story are definitely the scenes during the Spanish Inquisition that writhe with style, and you know when they’re in 1492 because of a transitioning crow flying through the air. The scenes are action-oriented, and are the most exciting parts of a largely boring feature. The costumes of the time are pretty awesome, too.

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Michael Fassbender in Assassin’s Creed (Source)

Michael Fassbender is good in a dual performance. It’s an athletic one and the fact that he kept a straight face during a manic and rather hilarious (I’m unsure if the hilarity was intentional) rendition of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” was impressive. That’s where the good of the movie starts and ends.

The character of Cal, or any other characters, aren’t interesting. Michael K. Williams made an appearance as another descendant within the Order and his characterization was slack, to say the least. His dialogue was rather cryptic. Cal’s characterization was alright – his mother was killed and it made him an angry person – but he was boring. Irons and Cotillard’s characters who were searching for the Apple were also nothing memorable, and were simply driven by the prospect of eradicating violence.

The whole screenplay just felt like the writers spent more care on the action sequences and fight choreography than crafting a competent story of any kind, with any characters you might even want to slightly root for.

I found the editing annoying when Lynch was plugged into Animus, the device that let him see his ancestor’s memories, since the scene alternated between Aguilar in 1492 back to Lynch in 2016. Perhaps it was trying to remind us that it had happened and now he was just living through the DNA memory, learning assassin skills as he went.

Whatever Aguilar does, Lynch does in 2016 – and the edits of him in Spain actually fighting real people was more interesting than Lynch in a huge room fighting ghostly holograms. It felt unnecessary to switch back and forth so many times, just because Fassbender’s playing both people and we know they’re doing the same exact thing but in different settings.

Cinematography-wise, everything was either too bright or really dark (at least when seen in 3-D). Fight and chase scenes were hectic, making things harder to follow at certain points on who was killing who. The frantic editing also helped avoid showing basically any blood whatsoever, which was ridiculous at one point when there definitely should have been blood. It apparently comes in the territory of adapting an M-for-Mature rated game franchise into a tame PG-13 movie that’s not nearly gritty or interesting enough to be good.

Score: 30/100

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

Purge AnarchyReleased: July 18, 2014. Directed by: James DeMonaco. Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford. Runtime: 103 min.

After last year’s The Purge disappointed, my expectations were virtually non-existent for The Purge: Anarchy. The quick production of the sequel also contributed to my low expectations, because I appreciate a strong production value.

The film opens with three different chapters that intersect within the first 30 minutes. The first chapter is an average working mother Eva Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo), and her daughter Cali (Zoë Soul). They represent the lower-class citizens, and they’re forced out onto the streets when a small army infiltrates their urban apartment building. Another chapter follows a police sergeant (Frank Grillo) who is out on purge night on his own accord, searching for vengeance. The third follows a middle-class couple (Liz and Shane, Kiele Sanchez and Zac Gilford respectively) whose car breaks down on the highway in downtown Los Angeles. When all of these characters intersect, a simplistic A to B plot is introduced.

 Writer/director James DeMonaco improves on the original in a lot of ways. Most notably, the high concept works better as an ultra-violent action flick, and the original’s horror aspirations just made it weaker. With a decreased amount of pop-up scares, this seems to aspire to be an action film with horror undertones – as it would be freaking scary to be out on purge night. It’s a high-concept from the mind of DeMonaco where annually each year, crimes – including murder – are completely legal for twelve hours. Of course, you can’t use weapons over Level 4 (rocket launchers would be out of the question) and you won’t legally be able to assassinate the President.

 The idea is designed to render the crime rate non-existent and to lower the unemployment rate. It’s a way for Americans to let off steam, or to “release the beast,” a right they are given by the new founding fathers of 2023. It’s also a way for the corrupt government to allow the murdering hunters to thin the herd by killing those who cannot defend themselves – the homeless and the poor. It’s also a way to control the American population, like hunters do to control the animal population.It’s also another way for Americans to be Number One in lowest unemployment rate and lowest crime rate.

 One unbelievable aspect is that people still won’t be imprisoned on non-Purge day. I don’t buy that there still won’t be money laundering or bank robberies. One thing that DeMonaco failed to take into consideration is the desperation of humans; because if they’re desperate enough, they’ll still steal or rape. Especially if they’re mentally ill, they’ll probably still kill because they could just snap. Even if they do wait until Purge day, it’s just not logical – because the justice system is what would be keeping that anger, or crazy urge to kill someone, in line.

Never-mind one’s morals or anything. There’s a bit of a more moral argument brought into this film through certain characters. One is a young woman named Cali (Zoë Soul) who is fascinated by an activist’s beliefs in the immorality of the Purge. This man, Carmelo Johns (a great Michael K. Williams), wants to fight back – because it’s legal, baby! Cali’s brief lectures to another character about the immorality of it all makes it a bit more in your face than it should have been in an average horror movie, but it adds a layer that the original was missing.

Another thing that is fascinating is the fact that some wealthy families actually purchase martyrs for Purge night. They go through sick and poor people, desperate enough to be bought out for a sum of $100k, which could help their families in great ways. It’s an intriguing little concept within the Purge mythology.

The film has good pacing and a strong third act. The characters are underdeveloped, but that’s fine with everything else going on. Since DeMonaco brings his story onto the streets of the purge night, it has much more depth and possibility of events than the first had, which was a limited home-invasion thriller with long stretches of yawn-worthy cinema. He knows where to improve and that’s great for a young filmmaker. Perhaps I enjoyed this because my expectations were non-existent, but if this is the direction the low-budget franchise is headed, it’s looking pretty good.

Score: 75 out of 100

RoboCop (2014)

RoboCop (2014)Released: February 12, 2014. Directed by: José Padilha. Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Abbie Cornish. Runtime: 117 min.

In a time where remakes are a dime a dozen, MGM comes out with a remake of the 1987 cult-classic “RoboCop,” which isn’t nearly as good as the original, but who would expect it would be? I just can’t understand the notion why someone (José Padilha, in his Hollywood directorial debut) would want to remake a near-perfect film. At least this isn’t a poor film. Like the original, it follows police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman); a loving husband and father, and a good cop – something that seems to be hard to find in the corrupted 2028 version of Detroit. When he has a lead on the main villain of the film – Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow) – his car gets blown up. OmniCorp, a leading force in robotic technology, sees Murphy’s condition as the perfect chance to make the so-called RoboCop – half-man, half-machine.

The most refreshing thing about this remake is to see the new versions of the ED-209, where the advancements in filming technology is able to create some great robots; while the movement of the ED-209 in the original in film is just laughably bad. This also takes some liberties in altering the original source. In the original, Murphy is actually brain-dead, if memory serves me correctly. In this one, Murphy is kept alive, only receiving bad burns from the explosion. This way, it helps the film become a question of who’s control in the robot suit; the robot or the man? That aspect of the film isn’t that compelling. It’s okay at first, but it’s not entertaining as it can be when Alex’s control instincts are altered to be quicker in combat; bringing about the theme of freewill. One other part some might not like about the film is when Alex isn’t all there, and he experiences a shift in personality. From this, themes of consciousness come about.When Murphy becomes unlikeable for a stretch, it’s reminiscent of that stretch in “Spider-Man 3” when Peter becomes distinctly unlikeable because he’s been overpowered by the venemous substance.

Since the wife and child are present characters in this film, one would think the filmmakers would want Murphy to communicate with them; but for a fair deal of the film, that enjoyable aspect is taken away from this feature. This stretch is poor because Murphy doesn’t feel like a layered character anymore, he is simply RoboCop. Viewers can tell they are trying to make RoboCop more human this time around; because of the fact that Murphy’s face is shown largely throughout the film, and his guard mask only comes down in combat as protection. For me, I believe that if Clara (Abbie Cornish), the wife, and David (John Paul Ruttan), the son, are present – they should be there to communicate with Alex, build each other as characters, as well as being used to show Murphy’s humanity. Alex’s family is his drive to keep going. Joel Kinnaman portrays him believably; but he’s often too depressed in parts, too robotic and vacant in other parts, and by the time he says a classic line, the delivery feels so forced that the film might be better without it. Abbie Cornish also portrays a character affected by the whole situation, and her performance is enjoyable.

Some other positive aspects of this film are the visual effects, the explosive action and the suit design; the black is nice. The film is pretty entertaining even if some plot components feel a bit empty (particularly when Murphy is too robotic). One thing I do miss is the gore of the original. A lot of the times there is a gunshot and a random henchy just goes down for the count. Lame. There is some gore, but it’s not that enjoyable – it takes place in a hospital room, where we see what is left of Alex – his lungs, throat and head. It’s oddly compelling, but in a sickening way. The story isn’t nearly as engaging as the original, either, because the originals’ villains are much stronger. Who can forget Kurtwood Smith as one of the meanest cats around town? Also, what happens to Murphy to be put into the suit is more underwhelming because the motive for the hit is to just get him off the main criminal’s tail; I think, like in the original, no motivation to kill Murphy (unless you count sheer meanness as a motivation) is a much more terrifying idea.

Michael Keaton, Jackie Earle Haley, Gary Oldman occupy supporting roles on the OmniCorp team. Keaton is Raymond Sellars, the mastermind behind OmniCorp; Gary Oldman is Norton, Murphy’s doctor; and Haley seems to be a weapons expert who makes sure everything is in tip-top-shape with the robots. Michael K. Williams portrays Murphy’s partner; I couldn’t help but wonder at some points what it would be like to see a black man in the RoboCop suit. Well, not just any black man, him in particular; because I find myself to be impressed by his acting capabilities, and I just can’t wait to see him in a leading role. Sam L. Jackson is another supporting character, portraying a TV personality who is present from time to time with developments on the Dreyfuss Act, which doesn’t let robots on American soil. At the story’s heart, this is really about how robots might be able to better an intensely corrupt Detroit, and, to a greater extent, the rest of the world if this test deems successful. It would decrease crime levels, but with robots occupying spots on the police force, one has to wonder how many jobs will be lost. How would the police officers make a living? Would there be a job waiting for them at OmniCorp? Just some food for thought, there, to finish off the review.

Score65/100