Thursday, September 01, 2016

Festival-Adjacent: Don't Breathe and A Flying Jatt

It's starting to feel like I'm never going to finish the Fantasia Festival reviews between work, house-hunting and packing stuff up to get things across town, especially since other new releases that the other folks at EFC don't write up keep coming out.

These two are a kind of interesting weekend for me as I had to schedule them around Chinatown's Films at the Gate on the one hand, and on the other were easy connections to Fantasia: Don't Breathe was actually one of the closing films (I went for On the Silver Globe both out of curiosity and because my pass didn't cover the big studio release), and I was kind of impressed with star Tiger Shroff as a screen fighter, enough to make me certain to make time for the Indian superhero comedy, even though it was only playing six days at odd times.

While watching Don't Breathe, I found myself thinking that it was kind of an interesting coincidence that I was seeing a movie with one of the year's worst movie dogs the day after one with one of the best, and it made me wonder whether getting a dog to act cute or nasty is more difficult. I suspect working with an angry-seeming dog is more nerve-wracking, but what do the trainers have to do differently?

Anyway, Don't Breathe is a lot of fun. A Flying Jatt isn't quite so much, but I kind of wish it had hung around longer so that the curious might have a chance to check it out.

Don't Breathe

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 August 2016 in AMC Boston Common #17 (first-run, DCP)

The interesting, if not always good, thing about Don't Breathe, it's that it's just creative enough that it doesn't need to push the envelope with gore in order to make an impression on the audience, but for the sake of surprise still escalates, just in a different direction. It is, by and large, what you'd call successful in its aim, twisting something familiar into a movie that comes by its jumps fairly and often, even if a bitter may disapprove of how it gets there.

Though in real life, Detroit is on something of an upswing, there are still areas where the one occupied house is surrounded by abandoned units. Those houses are being burgled by three young people - Alex (Dylan Minnette), who swipes the alarm codes from his dad's security company; Rocky (Jane Levy), the best friend on whom he has an obvious crush; and Money (Daniel Zovatto), Rocky's boyfriend - trying to amass enough cash to set themselves up in sunny California. Alex is careful, making sure that their crimes don't rise to the legal threshold of a felony, but Money has found the proverbial Big Score, a blind widower (Stephen Lang) with no neighbors who likely has a lot of cash from a wrongful-death settlement in the house. That the house is locked down so tight indicates that the money is almost certainly there - but also that its owner is more formidable than he seems.

Aside from a brief flash-forward at the start, director Fede Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues take a little bit of time getting the crew to the house, and that set-up is a bit more frustrating than it needs to be. There's an opener where we see how they usually rob a place, and is not a bad example of establishing characters and relationships through action, but after that, we're either given too much or too little: We see Rocky with the cute little sister and useless mother (with am equally unemployed boyfriend), and it almost creates too much sympathy, especially with Alex being played a little too nice - we see how he swipes his father's codes but it seems like the film could use something that plays up either how he's betraying his family to impress people who don't actually like him that much or that he's not as sweet as he seems. If the group had arrived at the house with some sort of strong internal conflict, a palpable desperation, or even a starker amorality, then maybe the filmmakers still have to push an envelope to position them as the protagonists compared to the villainous homeowner (just read practically any comments section to see how many people will shrug off people getting killed if they've committed any sort of offense), maybe that plot device feels a little less trivialized in an attempt to get the audience pulling in the right direction.

Full review on EFC.

A Flying Jatt

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 August 2016 in Apple Cinemas Cambridge #1 (first-run, DCP)

A Flying Jatt doesn't have the same sort of scale or budget as an American superhero movie, but in part because of that, the film plays as a charming throwback to the origins of the genre. It's often silly and is not particularly worried about being seen as kid-oriented, things that sometimes seem to terrify both the film and comic divisions of Marvel and DC. It gives good and evil appropriate powers and costumes and lets them fight it out, and it's surprising how many superhero stories miss that basic appeal.

This one opens with the villain, Malhotra (Kay Kay Menon), who is very upset that the transport costs from his polluting chemical plant are so high, apparently because the plot of land they need to build a bridge across the lake is occupied by a tree which has a sacred symbol occurring naturally in its bark, but the owner - Bebe Dhillon (Amrita Singh) - not only refuses to sell, but is downright abusive, especially after a few drinks, needing to be held back by her sons Rohit (Gaurav Pandey) and Aman (Tiger Shroff). Though the latter is a martial-arts teacher at the local school, few really feel he takes after his late father, known as "The Flying Jatt" for being the first Sikh to learn kung fu at Shaolin Temple. But when Aman fights Malhotra's gigantic Australian hired gun Raka (Nathan Jones) at the tree, he comes away with the abilities of a superhero - although things like his crippling fear of heights may hold him back.

The thing where Aman spends a lot of time flying about a meter from the ground is one of the more quietly funny bits of a film that runs long enough to be a great many things, as many Bollywood movies do, and that sort of silliness is an area where it excels. The montage of terrible potential costumes is a bit of a bore (future filmmakers should consider retiring this obligatory sequence unless they have a really clever take on it), but the slapstick and secret-identity hijinks that ensue tend to be fairly entertaining.

Full review on EFC.

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