Don’t Breathe

Jane Levy stars in Screen Gems' horror-thriller DON'T BREATHE.

Fear and desperation are a lethal cocktail of emotion; fear being the bleach to desperation’s ammonia. Some cases are not as toxic as others, but when the light at the end of the tunnel begins to go dim, our baser instincts kick into overdrive. Whether you’re melting Cheez Whiz on stale saltines because you don’t have the means to make actual nachos and Walking Dead is on in two minutes so you don’t have time to go to the store, or stealing a loaf of bread to feed your family, we do what it takes to survive.

Living in a dilapidated neighborhood in Detroit, Rocky (Jane Levy), her boo-thang, Money (Daniel Zovatto), and their third wheel friend, Alex (Dylan Minnette) spend their free time breaking into nicer homes in better areas and stealing valuables to pawn on the street. Rocky is the only breadwinner in her household and takes care of her little sister, Diddy (Emma Bercovici), while her mom and her mom’s charming beau slum about on the sofa.

When Money gets wind of a man in town sitting on a small fortune, the gang decide that they’ll have this one last hurrah and then take off for sunny California. After scoping out the joint, they learn that the owner of the home is blind.

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Upon making this discovery, Money turns into Al Jolson in Bombo and decides that they’re doing it that night. Naturally, the house is locked up like Fort Knox. Money is full of brilliant, sage wisdom, but his observation on why there are, like, 16 locks on the door — because all of the money is inside, duh — is maybe his finest revelation.

After a successful entry, the three search for the stash only to find that they’ve stumbled into some Cave of Wonders shit. They’ve disturbed The Blind Man’s (Stephen Lang) slumber and will pay dearly. Though he is blind, his advantage is that all of his other senses have been expertly sharpened. His on-screen time is spent mostly sniffing, listening, and punching.

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I’d tell you more about the movie, but that wouldn’t be right. There are so many buttery little nooks and crannies in this English Muffin that it needs to be savored firsthand.

That said, there are many great things that I CAN tell you. I had ample mixed emotions throughout and it just kept turning the tables. It is reminiscent — at least to this critic — of the 1986 thriller Crawlspace starring Klaus Kinski. Similar in the way that it’s this super creepy, almost super human dude chasing these kids through his house and showing up in places impossibly quickly based on where he was in the last scene, always to the delight of the crowd.

It’s got remnants of the vintage element of surprise that makes older horror movies so much better than the rubbish we mostly get these days. I read a review before I saw the film that said it’s non-stop and I thought to myself, “This shit better not stop.” and it really doesn’t! It’s a monster truck rally and The Blind Man is Truckasaurus.

There’s very little setup before we get to the meat and potatoes, so-to-speak. The character development isn’t the strongest I’ve seen, but they do a fine job in the time allotted, and it needs to be said that Stephen Lang — who doesn’t have a ton of lines — sounds like a 50/50 mix of Dieter Laser — Dr. Heiter in Human Centipede — and Christopher Walken. It’s. Amazing.

Bottom line, this movie is a fat lot of jump scares, but it is a dang fun theater experience. This was a “fingers in ears” thrill ride and I absolutely recommend catching it on the big screen. And just keep in mind that if you ever see a blind, ripped dude, you turn and run as fast as you can forever.

 

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What We Do in the Shadows

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I wish I could invent a time machine to go back to 2014 so that I could be with What We Do in the Shadows for a little bit longer. The life span of a great romance is never long enough. My love affair with Shadows comes two years late, but I think I’ve made the most of it by watching it so many times that — much like a vampire — it has gained immortality in my mind. And my heart. Unless either of those things is set on fire.  Or impaled on a stake.

Whenever you’ve got roommates cohabitating — or in a flatting situation, as the Kiwis say — there can be turmoil. Whether it’s because somebody got blood all over the sofa in the lounge or someone else hasn’t done the bloody dishes in 5 years, things can get a bit tense.

What most people don’t realize is that vampires deal with the trials and tribulations of the average day to day — or night to night — as it were, too. A documentary crew was lucky enough to be privy to the goings-on in this house in Wellington, New Zealand. They captured the events leading up to the annual Unholy Masquerade; a veritable who’s who in the undead community.

What they found… was pretty mundane.

Viago (Waititi) — aged 379 years — traveled from Germany to New Zealand to be with the woman he fell in love with. Only, his servant, Phillip (Frank Habicht), badly botched the job — placing the wrong postage on Viago’s coffin — and it took roughly 18 months for him to get there. He was too late.

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The youngest of the group, Deacon (Jonny Brugh) — aged only 183  years — is the rebellious one. He’s the James Dean of the crew. Always more concerned with looking cool than doing his part around the flat. What else would you expect from a former Nazi Vampire?

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8,000 years young, Petyr (Ben Fransham) is the oldest of the flatmates. He’s got the Nosferatu game on lock and mostly keeps to himself in his basement tomb. He’s basically me with bigger fangs and no hair.

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And then there’s Vlad (Clement) — aged 862 years. Once known as Vladislav The Poker for torturing victims by poking them with implements, he dedicates most of his time to orgies and going out to have a good time. When he’s not doing unsavory things, he spends what is probably an unhealthy amount of energy feeding the hatred he has for his nemesis, The Beast.

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The worst thing about being a vampire is that you have to drink human blood to survive. Fortunately, Deacon has a familiar named Jackie (Jackie Van Beek) to do his bidding which includes dishes, yard work, and tracking down potential victims in exchange for eternal life. On the quest for victims and a good time, the foursome meet Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer).

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Nick’s eyes were bleeding heaps, but he’s come out on the other side and is now a full fledged vampire. He brings his best mate, Stu (Stu Rutherford) around and is surely only allowed to hang out because Viago, Deacon, and Vlad like Stu so much. Nick has only been a vampire for a short time and loves bragging about it. This ultimately leads to dire consequences.

To make matters worse, vampires aren’t the only believed-to-be mythical creatures roaming round Wellington. A run in with some werewolves proves to be troublesome as well. The leader of the pack, Anton (Rhys Darby) tries to diffuse the situation, but pack member Dion (Cohen Holloway) only exacerbates things by breaking the code of “Werewolves not Swear-wolves.”

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Will the vampires and werewolves ever be able to put their differences aside? I’ll never tell. At the end of the day, though, vampires are just like us. Except they can fly. And they can’t eat fries. Or sun bathe. And they drink blood. And don’t have reflections. But the solidarity runs deep. And that’s what really matters.

Shadows hits everything: love, friendship, loss, and the importance of changing into track pants so that your trousers don’t rip to shreds when you transform into a werewolf during a full moon. Also noteworthy are the visual FX. Some are digital, but others are as simple as camera tricks. From occasional vampirical flight to an expertly blurred shot when a dude’s head is turned all the way around. There’s no WETA Digital here. Just damn clever camera work.

Taika Waititi truly has the Midas Touch. He is the epitome of a comedic genius. Waititi earned a cult following with his first feature length film, Eagle vs Shark, which also starred his co-writer/director on Shadows, Jemaine Clement. The two met at university and went on to form comedy troupes So You’re a Man and The Humourbeasts. Maybe most impressive about Shadows is that everything outside of the scene in which Taika speaks German is improvised. Waititi and Clement should always work together forever. The results are 1000% magic.

While he is currently directing what will likely be one of the biggest films of 2017 — Thor: Ragnarok — Waititi has truly worked his way up the ranks to get where he is now. It’s lovely to see someone achieving the success and accolades they deserve. Taika is a voice for the unappreciated, largely unknown filmmakers of the world.

In addition to being one of the last bastions of true grit in cinema, he’s got the most skux crew I’ve seen. In my favorite film of this year, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, you see a lot of the same actors from his previous films. Not only are they wildly talented — all possessing a refreshingly natural gift for their art — you wanna  be friends with these folks. Shit, I wanna say, “To hell with it” myself and move to New Zealand because that would increase my odds of hanging out with them exponentially.

If you haven’t seen What We Do in the Shadows, buy it today. If you download it for free, I’ll personally find you and poke you with implements. Takeaway points: we should all be lucky enough to have a Stu in our lives and if there’s something you want out of life that seems unattainable, just say, “To hell with it” and go after it anyway.

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BONUS TRIVIA: The role of Stu is played by a guy named Stu Rutherford. He was hired on the film to do actual computer work and was told he’d have a small part in the movie. He was actually a business analyst in Wellington at the time. I guess that worked out, eh?

 

 

 

You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

2002

Y’all know me. Know how much I love Jaws. About a week ago, the host of the How Is This Movie? podcast, Dana Buckler, reached out to me on Twitter via my personal account, @mister_quint. He complimented my username and said that Jaws is also his favorite movie.

My first thought was, “Oh yeah? How many Jaws tattoos do YOU have?”

But then he invited me to join him on his show to do a Jaws retrospective next month and I humbled up real quick.

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After chatting with Dana, I found out that he not only possesses a wealth of movie knowledge that rivals my own and likely surpasses it, but he’s just an affable guy.

Turns out he’d read some of my reviews and — outside of putting me in touch with a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association — he asked if I’d like to have a weekly segment on the show!

Gee, I don’t know… should Spielberg have killed off Hooper in the movie? Yes! Absolutely!

2001

 

This Fall I will be joining the How Is This Movie? show doing a weekly film review of a new release! That differs from the show’s typical fare in that it’s about something new to theaters as of the weekend before. Pretty neat!

Our Jaws episode will be my official introduction to the How Is This Movie? audience and will cover everything from the novel by Peter Benchley — the existence of Jaws before the movie was even a twinkle is Spielberg’s eye — to the brilliantly bad, sometimes almost actually good sequels.

2003

Just two superfans talking about Jaws. It should be noted that I initially types “Jawas” there. That would be a very different episode.

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