Producer-actresses star in female-centered films

By Tom Von Malder | Aug 11, 2018
Photo by: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment Gabrielle Union stars in, and serves as a producer for, "Breaking In," an action thriller in which a mother must save her two children from armed intruders.

Owls Head — Breaking In (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR/PG-13, 88/87 min.). Directed by James McTeigue ("V for Vendetta") and starring Gabrielle Union, who also serves as a producer with Will Packer, this is a tight little thriller with really no excesses. Union (TV's "Night Stalker," "Flashforward") plays Shaun Russell, whose two children get trapped inside a fortress-like home with three home invaders, while she is shut out. Ryan Engle's ("Rampage," Liam Neeson's  "The Commuter," "Non-Stop") script is to the point, if not overly original, with the main twist being that the whole house serves as a panic room.

The film opens with a jolt, an intentional act of violence that kills a man. That man turns out to be Shaun's father and she has to handle the disposition of his estate, including the sale of his vacation home (more like a mini-mansion) on the shores of Lake Constance, Wisconsin. Her husband cannot make the trip to Shaun's childhood home, but she brings along her two children, high schooler Jasmine (a solid Ajiona Alexis) and younger Glover (Seth Carr). After they arrive and enter the house, they are confronted by a gang of four who are after an alleged $4 million stashed in the house's safe. Reportedly, Shaun's father converted all his assets into cash because he was under investigation by the district attorney.

This brings up the biggest flaw in the movie. If her father were under investigation, no way would the government allow Shaun to dispose of his property, some of which might be evidence. However, it is tension and action that one looks for in a film like this, and "Breaking In" delivers.

The gang of four are leader Eddie (Billy Burke of the "Twilight" films), willing to do what it takes to get the job done; blond Sam (Levi Maeden of "Pacific Rim: Uprising"), who just wants to get out of there when things turn tough; Peter (Mark Furze), who has the knowledge to open the safe once it is found, but whom Shaun gets the better of outside the house; and Duncan (Richard Cabral of TV's "Lethal Weapon" and the upcoming "Mayans M.C.") who basically just wants to kill anyone in his way. Duncan is the most cliché character in the film.

The house serves as another character with its alarm system, motion-detector lights, shields that drop down to cover the windows and video system showing every room. Once outside with the house's defenses activated, Shaun must figure a way in to rescue her children. As there usually is in a film of this type, there is a late twist one might not see coming.

Overall, the film is a bit similar to last year's "Kidnap," which starred Halle Berry as a mother chasing a thief who stole her car with her son inside. "Breaking In" is the more interesting of the two films. The unrated version is about a minute longer and seems just to contain more of the "f" word. Extras include audio commentary by director McTeigue and writer Engle; an alternate opening (2:08), again with optional commentary by the pair; and four alternate scenes (14:28; they add nothing really), also with optional commentary by the pair. There also are four featurettes, the best of which (4:19) shows how some of the stunts were accomplished. The others have Union and the producers talking about the film (4:19); a look at the director with Parker and Engle interviews (5:06); and some behind-the-camera stuff during a look at the evolution of a heroine (2:54). Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2.75

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Tully (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 95 min.). "Tully" is a good movie with strong performances by Charlize Theron (also a producer) and Mackenzie Davis, but it is a film I found difficult at times to watch, probably because I could not relate to the material. Basically, it is a movie about post partum depression, although the viewer may not realize that until very late. It also is the third collaboration between director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody, after "Juno" (2007) and "Young Adult" (2011; also starring Theron).

Theron plays Marlo, who is about to deliver her third child, having already a son (Asher Miles Fallica as Jonah, 6) and a daughter (Lia Frankland as Sarah, 8). Jonah, however, is "quirky," as the head of the kindergarten where he is about to be expelled puts it. He definitely has some developmental issues. Marlo brushes his body each day to help calm him, but he is prone to sudden outbursts, such as the one when Marlo tries to park in a different lot than he is used too. (A spot where the noise started to give me a headache.) Her well-meaning husband (Ron Livingston as Drew) is often away on a business trip, so is of little help. (He is of little help in the bedroom as well -- always playing shoot-'em-up video games instead of showing Marlo affection.)

Marlo's brother (Mark Duplass as Craig) is far more successful and not shy about showing off how wealthy he is. He offers to pay for a night nurse to help Marlo after the child's birth. Marlo at first refuses, but soon the day-to-day drudgery gets her down and she welcomes Tully (David), the 26-year-old night nurse into their household. (This follows several minutes of the baby crying during a montage that almost made me stop the movie.) Tully proves to be a wonder, helping Marlo's life considerably, and even helping with her other two children. At one point, Marlo says of Tully: "You're like a book of fun facts for unpopular fourth-graders." The two women bond over nights of sangria and reality TV shows like "Gigolos."

The only bonus feature looks at the relationships of the film (10 min.). Grade: film 3.25 stars; extra 1/2 star

Marrowbone (Spain, Magnolia, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 110 min.). Also known as "The Secret of Marrowbone," the film is set in and around a small coastal Maine town, but actually was filmed in Spain with a mostly British cast and is presented in English. Marrowbone is the last name a mother and her four children adopt, after escaping from the fallout of something horrible that her husband did in England, a secret that is not revealed until midway through the film. However, it is hardly the film's only secret, and not the only horrible acts committed by the father.

The film is narrated by Jack (an excellent George Mackay of the "11.22.63" mini-series and the films "Captain Fantastic," "Pride"), the oldest son. The other siblings are Billy (Charlie Heaton of Netflix's "Stranger Things," the film "Shut In"), Jane (Mia Goth of "Everest," "A Cure for Wellness") and young Sam (Matthew Stagg of the "London Spy" mini-series). Just before their mother (Nicola Harrison as Rose) dies, she makes Jack promise to keep her death a secret until he is 21, so that the four children will not be separated by family services. Prior to this, the siblings had met neighbor Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy of "Split," "Thoroughbreds"; the only main actor not born in England), an orphan who lives with her aunt and uncle (only shown in two deleted scenes). Jack, who is the only child who ever goes into town, eventually falls in love with Allie, who is being pursued by a slightly older lawyer (Kyle Soller as Porter), who hopes to land a job in New York City. However, Porter also is handling legal affairs for the Marrowbones.

Once again, a house is a main character, as the siblings live in a very large, partially rundown house. It is a house in which all the mirrors have been covered and in which there are ghostly cries and noises, not all of which are caused by the live-in raccoon. The haunting, which leads to another secret,  affects Sam the most. Then, there is a tin of British pounds, which is referred to as "blood money," that Jane believes to be cursed.

The film gets very confusing at one point, as a lot is jammed in, and there is a reveal that makes the viewer look at everything that has happened differently in retrospect. Some of the horror elements are quite good -- the Spanish seem adept at that -- but at times the film is silly, as when Jack walks into the library where Allie works and remarks on how many books there are. (Come on, it is a library.) The film, also written by director Sergio G. Sanchez (he wrote "The Orphanage") and from the producers of "Pan's Labyrinth," almost gives things away early on with a scene just before the title sequence.

Extras include four deleted and seven extended scenes (29:35), including a 4-minute bit in which an intruder in the house turns out to be a bear and another in which Jack tries to explain to Allie what is going on; an interesting behind-the-scenes look in which the director and producer talk in Spanish and which shows the two weeks of rehearsals (29:28); and a visual effects reel (1:48). Grade: film 2.75 stars; extras 2.5 stars

Star Wars Rebels: The Complete Fourth Season (LucasFilm/Disney, 2 Blu-ray or 3 standard DVDs, TV-Y7-FV, 353 min.). This 15-episode season four also is the final season for the animated series which shows the start of the Rebellion through a set of newly created characters in the Star Wars universe. Basically, the show has followed the growth and development of future Jedi Ezra (voiced by Taylor Gray), reluctantly trained by Jedi Kanan (voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.) in the time after Order 66 had wiped out most of the Jedi. The series began 14 years after the events of "Revenge of the Sith" (and five years before "A New Hope"). The show aired on Disney XD.

During the season, one key member of the Ghost spaceship crew is lost through personal sacrifice. That crew also includes Hera, who has been kind of a mother figure to orphaned Ezra; Sabine, the young woman with the trust issues who is from Mandalore; Zeb, the most "alien" of the crew who becomes like a big brother to Ezra; and robot Chopper. As one can tell from the descriptions, the crew had become a surrogate family for Exra.

This season also is the first for the show to touch on previously familiar people, vehicles and places in Star Wars film lore. The overall story this season has Ezra lead the crew back to his home world of Lothal to fight against the oppressive forces of the Empire's Grand Admiral Thrawn. X-wing fighters are introduced during a tremendous space battle above Lothal. Also, Kanan and Ezra's character arcs reach their logical, satisfying conclusion.

Extras include six audio commentaries by executive producer Dave Filoni and 80 minutes of insightful looks at each episode by Andi Gutierrez that delve into episode plot recaps, plus cast and crew interviews and answers to fan questions. "Force of the Rebellion," with Filoni, looks at Ezra's growth within the Force, including his visit to the World Between Worlds. Another featurette looks at Kevin Kiner's marvelous music for the series, including the contributions of his two sons, Sean and  Dave (9:38). The major feature is "Ghosts of Legend" (27:48), which looks at the characters and their bonding as a family, the beginnings of the Rebel Alliance and other details of the series. All bonus features are exclusive to Blu-ray except "Rebels Recon" with Gutierrez. Grade: season 4 stars; extras 3.5 stars

Here and Now (HBO, 4 DVDs, TV-MA, 567 min.). This series is fascinating due to the characters created by Alan Ball, who also gave us the series "Six Feet Under" (3 Golden Globes, 51 Emmy Awards) and "True Blood" (16 Emmy Awards, 1 Golden Globe) -- two of my favorite series -- as well as the Oscar-winning film "American Beauty" (5 Oscars). Ball wrote and directed the strong premiere episode.

The series centers are the multi-racial Bayer-Boatwright family of Portland, Oregon. Heading the family are Greg (Tim Robbins) and Audrey (Holly Hunter). They have three adopted children and one biological daughter (Sosie Bacon as Kristen), who loses her virginity in the pilot during her father's 60th birthday party, while still wearing a horse's head costume, then gets into a fight with some anti-abortion picketers outside a women's clinic. Greg has kind of soured on his existence, including his marriage -- he pays for regular sex with an escort -- and much of his fame is based on one book, "A Layperson's Guide to the Here and Now," published decades ago. He is a philosophy professor. Audrey, a former therapist, has established a high school Empathy Project, but it loses its funding midway through the season.

Ramon (Daniel Zovatto), currently a college studio and web game designer, was adopted and is from Colombia. He recently came out as gay and seems to have found his first boyfriend in barista Henry Bergen (Andy Bean). Brother Duc (Raymond Lee) was adopted from Vietnam and is a motivational architect, while sister Ashley (Jerrika Hinton) was adopted from Liberia and runs a fashion website. Ashley, who has a daughter, is unhappy in her marriage to Malcolm (Joe Williamson), who likes to spend a lot of time with his guy friends doing outdoors sports.

Much of the series' beginning centers on Ramon, who is starting to see "11:11" in many places -- on the clock at the coffee shop and on the dashboard of his elliptical at the gym -- and when he hallucinates (a memorable burning candles scene). Audrey thinks it is a mental problem, possibly brought on by marijuana usage, and makes Ramon see Dr. Farid Shokrani (Peter Macdissi), who is Muslim. (The doctor's son apparently is transgendered as he dresses as female at home.) The therapist and Ramon have some kind of mystical connection, as the woman and child that Ramon saw on a beach in one of his "visions" matches Shokrani's mother and child self in the picture he has in his office.

The characters are intriguing and the acting is good, especially by Robbins, Hunter and Zovatto,  who has a good ease about him. There are no bonus features. Grade: season 3.75 stars

Riverdale: The Complete Second Season (Warner Bros., 4 DVDs, NR, 932 min.). The main story arcs of season two of the live adaptation of the Archie comics are The Black Hood serial killer, who secretly is in touch with Betty (Lili Reinhart); Jughead (Cole Sprouse) going to live with his father (Skeet Ulrich as FP Jones), attending South Side High and becoming a leader of the Serpents gang; and Archie (K.J. Apa) going to work for Veronica's (Camila Mendes) father, mobster Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos). Hiram and his wife (Marisol Nichols as Hermione Lodge)have been working to buy up South Side property, including the high school and the trailer park where a lot of the Serpents live.

On the home front, Betty finds her mother's (Madchen Amick as Alice Cooper) long-abandoned son Chic (Hart Denton), who brings violence into the household and may not be who he seems.

The set includes all 22 episodes, including the high school musical episode, with Kevin Keller (casey Cott) directing a version of "Carrie: The Musical." one of the brief featurettes looks at the making of that musical episode (4:43), while there also is a gag reel (4:58), vocal warm-ups by the actors (2:10; silly) and a pop quiz of the actors from Comic Con (1:38). Another extra is the 2017 Comic Con panel (29:31) with nine of the main actors and two executive producers. It seems a bit pointless as they try to be coy about the new season -- including whether Archie's father Fred (Luke Perry) survives being shot in the diner -- when fans already have seen the season, including the interesting mayoral race between Fred and Hermione. An overview of the season is "The Darkness Inside" (18:29), which is the best of the extras. There also is at least one deleted scene for each episode, but no audio commentaries. Grade: season 3.25 stars

Some British TV series

Delicious: Series 2 (Acorn DVD, NR, 187 min.). There are four episodes in this second series of the drama about food, love and infidelity in Cornwall, Britain. It stars Dawn French ("The Vicar of Dibley," "French and Saunders") as Gina Benelli, the ex-wife of philandering chef Leo Vincent (Ian Glen), who suddenly dies in series one. Gina and Leo's widow (Emilia Fox as Sam) have turned the failing hotel into a profitable enterprise. Gina does the cooking, while Sam manages the business. Joining the cast this series is Franco Nero ("Camelot," "John Wick: Chapter Two") as Joe Benelli, Gina's father. This year, there is an ongoing police investigation at the hotel, an unexpected new guest and a handsome new hire. Meanwhile, Leo's secrets come back to haunt his family, as he ruminates on life from beyond the grave.

The bonus features are a behind-the-scenes look (10 min.) and a photo gallery. the show has been renewed for a third series. Also available is series one  (Acorn DVD, NR, 185 min.), another four episodes. In that series, Sam, suspecting Leo's has having an affair, does to Gina for advice. It also has a behind-the-scenes featurette (7 min.) and a photo gallery.

Striking Out: Series 2 (Acorn, 2 DVDs, NR, 327 min.). This Ireland-based legal drama stars Amy Huberman (Irish Film and TV Academy winner for Best Actress in a Lead Role in a Drama for "The Clinic") as Tara Rafferty, a successful Dublin lawyer who, after discovering her fiancée (Rory Keenan of "War & Peace" as Eric Dunbar, a fellow lawyer) is having an affair, abandons her wedding plans and job to start an unconventional practice. In series two her attempt to succeed without the former high-powered firm she used to work for is threatened  as one of her employees betrays her and another is in jail. Rafferty suspects hat her former boss -- Eric's scheming father -- is behind it all.

To pay the bills, Rafferty takes on clients whose legal problems range from deportation, to divorce from a bigamist, to a lawsuit against a convent. Rafferty's mentor (Neil Morrissey as Vincent Pike) leads a high-level corruption inquiry that could endanger both Rafferty and Dunbar. There are six episodes, a behind-the-scenes featurette (19 min.), a panel at a Television Critics Association event (15 min.) and a photo gallery. Also available is series one (Acorn, 2 DVDs, 214 min.). During the series, Rafferty assembles her team, which includes street-smart, client-turned-assistant Ray (Emmet Byrne) and private investigator Meg Riley (Fiona O'Shaughnessy). Senior Counsel Pike also helps her. Series one consists of four episodes and comes with interviews with the cast and crew (29 min.) and a behind-the-scenes photo gallery.

The Detectorists: Series 3 (The Final Season) (Acorn, 2 DVDs, NR, 179 min.). This BAFTA Award-winning comedy stars Mackenzie Crook ("Game of Thrones") -- also the writer and director of the series -- as Andy and Rachel Stirling as his wife, Becky. The pair, to save up money for a place of their own, have moved in with Becky's formidable mother (Diana Rigg of "The Avengers" as Veronica; also Stirling's real mother). The series name comes from the fact that Andy and Lance (Toby Jones of "Captain America" and the "Harry Potter" and "Hunger Games" films) are metal detectorists, who spend their days plodding along ploughed tracts and open fields looking for treasure. This season, Andy has a new position as an archaeologist, but it is not the dream job he had hoped it would be. Andy and Lance also are in danger of losing their favorite detecting field to the construction of a new solar farm.

The six-episode set comes with cast interviews (16 min.) and behind-the-scenes featurettes (34 min.).

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