[Early Review] Breakthrough (2019)

or “Not a Great Remake of The Dead Zone”

Director: Roxann Dawson

Cast: Chrissy Metz, Josh Lucas, Topher Grace, Mike Colter, Marcel Ruiz, Dennis Haysbert, Sam Trammell

Screenplay: Grant Nieporte

116 mins. Rated PG for thematic content including peril.

 

Breakthrough holds the historical distinction of being the first 20th Century Fox film released under Disney’s ownership. Fun factoid for you.

Breakthrough is based on the true story of John Smith (Marcel Ruiz, TV’s One Day at a Time), a teenager who fell through the icy lake and was without oxygen for an extended period of time. After being brought to the hospital, he was pronounced dead. His mother, Joyce (Chrissy Metz, Sierra Burgess is a Loser, TV’s This is Us) prays to God to help bring back her son, and miraculously, her son’s heart starts beating again, but John is still fighting for his life, and as the community rallies around Joyce and her family, prayer and hope become a fighting force.

I have gotten a lot of flak for my reviews of faith-based films in the past. I go into every film hoping for it to be a winner and I tend to put myself in the mindset of the film, asking “What does this film intend to accomplish?” For horror films, it’s usually to scare the pants off the audience. For comedies, it’s often to brighten someone’s day. It’s important to know a film’s intention before going in. When I see a faith-based film, I expect to have something inspirational or uplifting or at least something that challenges my beliefs to strengthen them. Most of the time, I don’t get that, and a lot of the time, it’s because the film doesn’t pull me in.

Breakthrough is one of the stronger faith-based films in recent years. It didn’t feel, to me, like the first feature film for a director, but it is. Director Roxann Dawson, a veteran of television directing for many years, tackles the subject material rather nicely.

The film’s biggest blunders come from its screenplay from Grant Nieporte (Seven Pounds). The script has some of the cringiest dialogue of the year, but there’s such a well-rounded cast performing that it isn’t as noticeable as often. That being said, there’s only so much that can be done with Chrissy Metz’s dialogue. She often has to deliver some really cheesy work and it falls flat at times and pulls you right out of the film.

The screenplay’s structure works pretty well in that it establishes our emotional conflicts in the film early on and plays with the relationships of the various characters as they maneuver in and out of the film. I respected the fact that Joyce doesn’t get along well with the new Pastor in town, played by Topher Grace (Spider-Man 3, TV’s The Hot Zone). Their conflict is a little goofier than I would have liked, but I still see the attempt. I also liked that the story attempts to tackle the idea that some people are saved by faith while others are not. It doesn’t wholly accomplish this, but again, it’s an area these films tend not to tread.

Perhaps the area where the film struggles in its overall narrative is placing Joyce at the center. I was much more engaged with her husband Brian (Josh Lucas, Sweet Home Alabama, Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House) and his struggle to accept that his son is fighting for his life. I would have liked to see his journey to faith be reclaimed). I also liked Tommy (Mike Colter, Men in Black 3, Extinction), the firefighter who saves John because he hears a voice telling him to keep looking. His problem is that he thinks God was talking to him, but he doesn’t believe in God. Either of these characters would have been stronger to place the load of the film on because they both have journeys to go on. We never see Joyce truly struggle in a realistic way and that makes her less of a dynamic character who is believable. Her struggle is not identifiable.

Breakthrough is altogether not a great film, but as far as films of this type go, I think this one is worth catching if you need a pick-me-up. It’s rather glossy and the dialogue needed a miracle at times, but it also made me feel good at times and inspired me in little doses. Breakthrough is not for everyone, but it will satisfy its core audience.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 4 – The Dead Zone (1983)

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Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe, Colleen Dewhurst, Martin Sheen

Screenplay: Jeffrey Boam

103 mins. Rated R.

 

Hey folks, just popping on tonight to talk about David Cronenberg’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel The Dead Zone. Sorry, this is coming in pretty late, but I’ve been packed away in preproduction meetings for most of the evening.

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Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken, Catch Me If You Can, Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser) is an everyman, an English teacher with aspirations of the perfect life. All that is stolen from him when a fateful car accident puts him in a coma for five long years, during which time the love of his life Sarah (Brooke Adams, Days of Heaven, The Accidental Husband) has moved on, a killer stalks the streets of Castle Rock, and a man named Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen, TV’s Grace and Frankie, Apocalypse Now) has risen up in the state government. As Johnny awakens and deals with his unevolved state in an evolved world, he has discovered a gift to see into other people’s pasts, presents, and futures and pull out their deepest fear and most horrifying secrets. Johnny must learn that with this new power comes more loneliness and fear than he has ever known, and he must make the hard decisions on how to deal with the information he uncovers about everyone around him.

Christopher Walken plays a unique and powerful Johnny Smith, effectively putting a haunting edge to the character that director David Cronenberg (The Fly, Maps to the Stars) once believed to be too general. He commands the screen with his presence and pain through most scenes, except the ones with Brooke Adams. I like Brooke Adams, but I do not like her in this film. Here, she plays a removed Sarah Bracknell, in which she has no connection to Walken’s character and therefore loses footing on every encounter.

We get some great supporting turns from Tom Skerritt (Alien, Ted) as Castle Rock Sherriff Bannerman running cold on the trail of the Castle Rock Killer who turns to Johnny for guidance, Anthony Zerbe (American Hustle, The Matrix Reloaded) as Roger Stuart, a man removed from the relationship with his son who Johnny finds comfort in helping without the use of his abilities, and Martin Sheen as the shady Greg Stillson, who just might have more demons in his closet than anyone Johnny has encountered. The three absolutely knock it out of the park without playing too high to camp.

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Now the finished film is missing some key scenes from the novel that would have elevated the storytelling much more, creating a more unique tale, but Cronenberg shows a beautiful sense of the New England landscape and character-driven story to the piece that remain from King’s source material. There isn’t a whole lot that doesn’t feel aged here, but that isn’t always  a bad thing.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of David Cronenberg’s The Fly, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 13 – The Fly (1986)

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Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz

Screenplay: Charles Edward Pogue, David Cronenberg

96 mins. Rated R.

 

I’m so happy that I am able to include this film on the 31 Days of Horror this year. David Cronenberg’s The Fly is and will always be one of my favorite horror films. I love the cautionary tale mixed with genetic experimentation and the effect of playing God on human sanity.

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The Fly, a remake of a 1958 Vincent Price horror gem, is the story of Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park, The Grand Budapest Hotel), a brilliant man of science who has just invented a teleportation device, but due to a horrific accident in which a fly gets into the teleportation pod with him, his DNA is forever altered. Seth chooses to document and study his terrifying metamorphosis into a creature he calls “Brundlefly” as his relationship with the beautiful reporter Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis, Beetlejuice, In a World…) is forever scarred.

I’m not the greatest Cronenberg fan. I don’t love everything he touches. I wasn’t really a fan of Scanners, and Eastern Promises made me very bored. On the other hand, I absolutely loved A History of Violence and find his adaptation of Stephen King with The Dead Zone to be particularly creepy. So I went into The Fly with mixed possible feelings. I didn’t know much about the film, except that funnyman Mel Brooks produced it, which was odd. I later read that Brooks tried to not discuss his involvement in the film due to its genre being something he isn’t usually associated with. When fans discovered he produced the film, he thought “to hell with it” and showed up the premier with fly antennas to give out to fans.

When I saw the film, it shocked me. But more than that, it broke my heart. I was so terribly saddened by the emotional journey between Seth and Veronica throughout the film that as I exited the theater, I couldn’t even speak. I had to words. The film just destroyed me.

From a physical aspect, the film is gorgeously oozing with feeling and ambience. The creature effects by Chris Walas are so good that I was happy to see his name first in the credits due to his excellent work in the film. I’m not surprised by his Oscar win for the either.

The film bothered me, and I suppose that it because of how perfect it is. I sometimes wonder how the film would have turned out under the steady hand of master-of-oddity Tim Burton, who the project was originally envisioned for. I just think that Cronenberg understood the cerebral which was inlaid with all the fantastic out pain. He injected this film with plenty of inner pain. I also think about The Fly: The Musical, a stage musical version of the film, and wonder how this movie would translate in such a way.

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From the opening titles (I love the fly vision as the film comes into focus at its intro) to the heart-wrenching finale, The Fly is a masterpiece, a wholly realized vision of terror that few could ever berth. David Cronenberg was definitely not the choice I would’ve had for director, but I can honestly admit I would have wrong in that decision. This film is perfect.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

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