I Saw ‘Free Guy’ and Then ‘Don’t Breathe 2’ Immediately Afterwards: Here’s What Happened

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CREDIT: Sony Pictures; 20th Century Studios/Screenshots

Free Guy:

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Joe Keery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Lil Rel Howery, Taika Waititi, Channing Tatum

Director: Shawn Levy

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: August 13, 2021 (Theaters)

Don’t Breathe 2:

Starring: Stephen Lang, Madelyn Grace, Brendan Sexton III

Director: Rodo Sayagues

Running Time: 98 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: August 13, 2021 (Theaters)

In Free Guy, good vibes beget more good vibes. When Guy the NPC gains self-awareness, he focuses on self-improvement, and that leads to all the other NPCs in Free City becoming better versions of themselves, and even some of the real people playing the game start to adopt a more positive view of the world. As it turns out, that tendency was in Guy’s programming all along. He’s got a fantastically complicated algorithm that allows for so many wondrous possibilities. It’s infectious, even for a Ryan Reynolds skeptic like me.

Contrast that with Don’t Breathe 2, in which hate begets more hate. The first Don’t Breathe effectively toyed with our sympathies regarding Stephen Lang’s blind Norman; the sequel tries to do the same, but his negative characteristics are a bit too overwhelming to fully root for him. (Also, his blindness isn’t utilized to the same thrilling effect.) Furthermore, the people who target him this time around have a sympathetic reason for doing so, but basically every action they take in the name of their mission is pretty despicable. At least the young girl isn’t similarly hate-filled – there’s no Bad Seed vibes here. But otherwise, the blood and the pain just pile up and pile up.

Free Guy: 4 out of 5 Skins
Don’t Breathe 2: 2 out of 5 Light Switches

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Mortal Engines’ is Full of Striking Visuals and Admirable Ambition But a Little Pedestrian in the Execution

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CREDIT: Mark Pokorny/Universal Pictures

This review was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

Starring: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Leila George, Ronan Raftery, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang

Director: Christian Rivers

Running Time: 128 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Guns, Knives, and Giant Metal Gears

Release Date: December 14, 2018

It’s not very often that you encounter a premise as fresh as that of Mortal Engines. In a dystopian future in which society has rebuilt itself following a planet-destroying war, cities are mobile, with the larger populations swallowing up smaller settlements as they chug along the land. Also, there’s a bizarre reference to the Minions of Despicable Me fame. The opening segment is invigorating, as the facially disfigured Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) gets consumed  into London and attempts to assassinate Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), head of the Guild of Historians. The clanking machinery and whirring gears are stunningly realized, bizarre but never quite disorienting. With a script by the Lord of the Rings team and a steampunk aesthetic, the pedigree and look are familiar, but with a first-time director in Christian Rivers (the storyboard artist for most of Jackson’s films) and a cast mostly made up of little-knowns, the vibe at first glance is wholly fresh.

Alas, after that kickoff, Mortal Engines mostly relies on tired fantasy tropes. There are discoveries about the truth of one’s parentage, flashbacks to growing up with a makeshift guardian, a long and arduous journey for characters to complete a mission and learn more about themselves along the way, and a big climactic battle in which all the chickens come home to roost. That formula can still work in this day and age, but it is just not particularly compelling in this case. At least there are some unique visual flourishes here and there to tide us over.

There is also plenty of room to ponder the philosophical query of what geographically defines a city in its most fundamental terms. If cities are constantly moving around, then what are they traversing across? Immobile cities, or something that we don’t even have a conception of in 2018? Of course, the cities of today are also moving, insofar as Earth is always orbiting around the Sun. Rivers and his cast and crew may very well have benefited from really poring more deeply into the quandary of relativity of location.

Mortal Engines is Recommended If You Like: Steampunk, Ambition above all else

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Traction Cities


This Is a Movie Review: Christian Bale Gives It His Grimmest in the Dour, Distressing ‘Hostiles’

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CREDIT: Lorey Sebastian/Yellow Hawk, Inc.

This review was originally posted on News Cult in December 2017.

Starring: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons, Adam Beach, Q’orianka Kilcher, Ben Foster, Bill Camp, Stephen Lang

Director: Scott Cooper

Running Time: 127 Minutes

Rating: R for Western Hostility

Release Date: December 22, 2017 (Limited)

Christian Bale excels at playing men who are forced into carrying the weight of a profoundly demanding mission, whether by their own volition or due to leverage someone else holds over them. The Dark Knight’s “the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now” is basically that status as personal credo. In the 1892-set Western Hostiles (Bale’s second collab with his Out of the Furnace director Scott Cooper), he plays a much more reluctant protagonist, an Army captain forced to deliver a Cheyenne chief and his family back to tribal lands, under threat of losing his pension if he refuses. He looks like he hasn’t bathed in years; that stink and his impressive mustache tangibly represent the brunt he is under.

Ergo, Captain Bale (Captain Joseph Blocker is his character name) is filled with a lot of hostility, and he is surrounded by a lot of low-grade or full-blown hostility, whether it be from his fellow soldiers, the suicidal widow (Rosamund Pike) whose family was recently slaughtered, his Cheyenne transports, or the natives that ambush them. We might have our winner for Most Accurate Title of the Year right here.

While nobody in this film is particularly heroic, I do worry that its portrayal of Native Americans hearkens back to a more racist tradition of Westerns. The opening scene presents a group of Comanches at their most savage. For no clear reason, they burn down a family’s home, skinning the father’s scalp and mercilessly killing him and his two young daughters. I am sure that some natives were actually this brutal in late-19th century frontier America, and I do not mean to say that I think that Hostiles is implying that all of them (or all of this particular tribe) were this awful. But the fact that this worst version is all we see of them and that this portrayal is presented so bluntly is concerning.

At least we can appreciate at the aesthetic pleasures (or anti-pleasures, really) with fewer moral qualms. If you ever wanted to see Ben Foster tied up in the cold, muddy rain at night, Hostiles is the film for you. Cooper’s designs for how icky and uninviting nature gets without modern amenities is thoroughly harsh. Lovingly so, even (at least the crafty attention to detail is loving). You’ll probably want to shower afterwards, in a cathartic sort of way, or if you’re a 19th century fetishist, you’ll run right out and find the closest available barren lands.

Hostiles is Recommended If You Like: John Wayne and Clint Eastwood at their most rugged

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Hostiles