Movie Review – ‘The Magnificent Seven’

“The Magnificent Seven” rustles up a widely satisfying film for moviegoers to consume.  It singlehandedly grabs a Colt .45 Peacemaker and makes Westerns cool again. 

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF


Denzel Washington makes his Western movie debut in this Wild West remake of the 1960 American film classic.  Director Antoine Faqua, who brought us “Training Day” and “The Equalizer” starring Washington, now showcases the Academy Award-winning actor as methodical gunslinger Sam Chisolm, a soft-spoken but duly sworn bounty hunter who must save a small farming town from a greedy, tyrannical killer and his men.

Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke bookend a magnificent supporting cast of unsavory characters that boast gun-fighting reputations and skills found as far away as three days’ travel by horse.  One of the film’s best attributes is the recruiting trip and sales pitch that Denzel Washington must take in order to assemble his diverse band of justice warriors. 

The unwritten Code of the West says that you never ask a cowboy about his past, only judge him for the man he is today.  Perhaps in no other movie genre is less character development expected or required than in Westerns.  As predictive as the gun-blazing endings to these old frontier stories are, viewers can just as easily spot the troublemakers in every saloon and along each dirt-filled main street. “The Magnificent Seven” is no exception, with twitchy fingers, long stares and whispered voices the precursors to gunfire and scattered bystanders.


From one deadly dust-up to another, this suspense thriller packs steady rounds of bullets flying and wisecracks flowing.  Justice may have a number, but that sum is vastly lower than the overwhelming odds these seven must confront.  In the meantime, though, camaraderie, card games and whiskey calm the mercenaries’ nerves.

Although Washington, Pratt and Hawke aren’t Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson from John Sturges’ roll-out 56 years ago (which was based on Japan’s film “The Seven Samurai” in 1954), this 2016 version is impressive on its own merit. The cinematography, while underutilized, captures New Mexico’s land of enchantment with its picturesque sheer, rocky cliffs.  Scoring the film’s music at the time of his death, “Titanic” composer James Horner brings crossed looks, showdowns and even nightly campfires alive through his talented sound mix.

Despite a predictable plot, “The Magnificent Seven” rustles up a widely satisfying film for moviegoers to consume.  It singlehandedly grabs a Colt .45 Peacemaker and makes Westerns cool again.  A well-acted ensemble that looks like a United Nations peacekeeping force, is anything but.  “The Magnificent Seven” looks, feels and sounds like the Old West.  And that’s how it should be.  Giddy up.

Grade: B

“The Magnificent Seven” is rated PG-13 for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, historical smoking, some language, and suggestive material.  Its running time is 2 hours and 12 minutes.

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Mel Gibson’s ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ hits theaters Nov. 4

He ran into the hellfire of battle without a single weapon to protect himself. From Oscar-winning director Mel Gibson comes a true story to theaters in November…

A year ago at the Venice Film Festival, this movie received a 10-minute standing ovation. Ten. Minutes. Wow.

Here’s the real Desmond T. Doss (1919-2006), Medal of Honor recipient for his actions as an U.S. Army medic during World War II.  And this is his story:


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Coming Soon – ‘Bleed for This’

Last year, moviegoers found two well-acted and compelling boxing stories.  One rekindled a 40-year old story about a crowd pleasing Philly fighter.  The other, a less noticed but still knockout film, showed the difficult task of climbing back atop the boxing world after one loses almost everything.

Now comes what looks like another very well made boxing movie with exceptional screen performances.  Promoted as one of the most inspiring and unlikely comebacks in sports history, “Bleed for This” is the incredible true story of Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza, a boxer who climbed to stardom after winning two world title bouts.

Ben Younger directs and wrote the screenplay and Martin Scorsese is one of the film’s four executive producers.  Besides the underappreciated Miles Teller (“Whiplash”), “Bleed for This” also stars Aaron Eckhart (“Sully“) and Katey Sagal, from the discontinued “Sons of Anarchy” hit television series.

“Bleed for This” opens in select theaters on November 4th.

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Movie Review – ‘Snowden’

Viewers see how secrecy is both a necessity to a nation’s continued security and an unwelcome intrusion, hell-bent on collecting on everybody in order to investigate and stop only the dangerous.

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF


In his latest film, controversial Academy Award-winning director Oliver Stone presents a fairly balanced dramatization on the true life mass surveillance program exposed by former National Security Agency computer whiz Edward Snowden in 2013. Smartly, Stone never makes the case that Snowden’s leaks of this nation’s highest classified materials should give the whistleblower a free pass from any future criminal prosecution.  Instead, “Snowden” revolves around the single premise of whether a government should be able to collect, store and, potentially, tap into the personal information of innocent people. 

Focusing solely on the nine-year period between Edward Snowden’s hire at the Central Intelligence Agency to his sudden departure from the NSA, “Snowden” superbly illustrates how personal electronic devices leave an unmistakable cyber trail for others to manipulate and potentially apply pressure points upon our daily lives.  Moviegoers will be alarmed at how shared data from phone calls, emails, text messages and even web cameras can all be exploited unknowingly to reveal a person’s social media DNA fingerprint. 

Ever wonder how your Google searches or merchandise inquiries create those annoying, yet specific, pop-up ads on your social media applications and news feeds?  “Snowden” offers a glimpse behind the clandestine curtain to uncover a Mega-data collection program used to drag-net the globe in a post 9-11 world, where the U.S. intelligence community is determined never to be caught flat-footed again by terrorists.

snowdenshailenejosephgordonlevittThe Divergent Series” star Shailene Woodley and Joseph Gordon-Levitt provide powerful performances.

This red-meat film takes on the U.S. spy agencies and government contractors charged with staying one step ahead of our adversaries. To Stone’s credit, “Snowden” isn’t politicized and equally blames the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations for the loss of our citizenship’s privacy. Viewers see how secrecy is both a necessity to a nation’s continued security and an unwelcome intrusion, hell-bent on collecting on everybody in order to investigate and stop only the dangerous. 

While Edward Snowden’s perspective on the need and use of mass surveillance takes top priority, the film does acknowledge that the former SIGINT geek broke classified-handling laws and knowingly revealed our country’s most sensitive collection techniques.  Less explained is the powerful Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (or “FISA Court”), established in 1978 and authorized to oversee our government’s surveillance warrant requests on foreign spies operating inside the U.S.  Or how Snowden’s going public wasted a valuable intel tool and probably fast-forwarded other countries’ cyber surveillance desires.

 “Snowden” is an American rights story that resonates well beyond the simplistic patriot or traitor media headline still propagated today.  It arms us with enough background on mass surveillance to ask ourselves the hard questions on personal privacy and seek answers from individuals and agencies used to operating in secrecy and outside of public view by necessity.  It would behoove all Americans to get more knowledgeable on the FISA Court and the authorities and powers it grants to so few.  And to weigh, individually, at what cost are we willing to forgo our privacy in this high-tech gadget and social media world.  

Grade: A

“Snowden is rated R for language and some sexuality/nudity.  It’s running time is 2 hours and 18 minutes.

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Kick-off this year’s Arizona Underground Film Festival: ‘The Trolls’

trollthetrollsAttention Tucson film lovers,

Making its appearance at this week’s Arizona Underground Film Festival is a delightful and entertaining film with an imaginative and humorous underdog story to tell.


Attempting to reverse the tables on patent lawsuits, The Trolls is a delightful and entertaining film that exposes those big, old Goliath money schemers taking David’s money in a game designed to keep the little guys on the sidelines.  Austin filmmaker Lex Lybrand’s latest project maintains a blistering pace throughout that captivates viewers with a unique narrative and exceptionally delivered, well-timed comedic relief. 

An extremely well-cast ensemble is led by an amusing Rob Gagnon, who’s surrounded by an equally talented pool of supporting characters.  But it’s Lybrand’s outstanding script that really drives The Trolls.  With a terrific eye for fast-paced storytelling, Lybrand never lets a scene go on for too long or spiral off-topic. Lybrand’s succinct airtight writing combines with his razor-sharp editing skills to shape and build momentum.  Instead, audiences find a novel idea propelled by genuinely funny and intriguing personalities.  Audiences seeking a comedy with a compelling viewpoint and distinctive cast will find The Trolls a delightful and entertaining film experience.

trollthetrolls2The well-cast and richly talented performers from The Trolls.

The Trolls is Unrated, but would garner an R rating for language. It’s running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.  Besides the movie’s appearance this week at the AZ Underground Film Festival, The Trolls can purchased in DVD at or in Blu-Ray format (limited edition) from its distributor.


Marking its 9th year, the Arizona Underground Film Festival kicks off a week of World, North American and Arizona movie premieres. Help support independent cinema and up-and-coming writers, directors, cinematographers and actors. All screenings will be held at The Screening Room theater at 127 E. Congress in downtown Tucson. Check out this link for more information on the film festival and to watch trailers.

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Whoa… ‘Transpecos’

A limited released movie from last weekend that most viewers will have to find via Video On Demand.  Looks like an intense thriller on the subject of this border war film from last year.  A powerful, timely subject marks the debut directorship for Greg Kwedar and has made an impressive showing at film festivals.

“Transpecos” can be rented for $4.99 at either Amazon Video, iTunes, Vudu or Google Play Movies. It’s running time is 1 hour and 26 minutes.

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9/11 – A Personal Look Back

“10:30 a.m. – The 62nd Airlift Squadron (my unit) calls to notify me that my leave is now cancelled and I’m being recalled.”  – Patrick King, REEL BRIEF


I repost my 9/11 story every year because it’s important to remember not only the tragic details of this horrific day but to honor those who died, or were forever changed, after September 11, 2001.  So here it goes…


September 11, 2001

On leave this Tuesday, I was enjoying my day off from work at Little Rock Air Force Base, just returning home after an early morning workout.

0749 (all Arkansas times) I turned on the television in my master bedroom and was walking to go start the shower when I heard a CNN reporter mention that a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York City. I immediately turned around in the bathroom and looked back at the TV in the other room; images showed the same weather in Lower Manhattan as we had in Cabot, Arkansas—brilliant blue skies.

I watched for a couple of minutes–assumed it was a small airplane with a pilot who had experienced a medical condition flying and couldn’t control his plane’s direction. I began to clean up, leaving the television set on.

0803 I’m getting dressed and flipping channels to get more information on the accident in NYC. As I’m watching ABC News, I see with my own eyes, United Airlines Flight 175 crash into the South Tower, taking out floors 77-85 in an instant! Holy ****!

911 jet

I’m now glued to the television set watching people scramble for survival from downtown Manhattan. A bad feeling begins to set in for me. This is trouble. Big trouble.

News reporters on ABC, NBC and CBS speculate whether they are witnessing a terrorist attack or some rare accident—and a CNN anchor assumes the second explosion was caused by fuselage of first plane exploding. WABC suggests the two crashes might have been caused by navigational system failure.

0813 F-15 fighters from Otis Air National Guard Base leave military airspace near Long Island, bound for Manhattan.

0815 NBC News’ Today program reports United Airlines and American Airlines employees reported aircraft had been hijacked prior to hitting the WTC towers.

0817 CBS News correspondent in Washington DC mentions that in the intelligence community, Osama bin Laden is probable cause.

0825 Otis-based F-15s establish an air patrol over Manhattan.

0826 The FAA orders a national ground stop. No takeoffs of civilian aircraft regardless of destination. All military bases in the United States ordered to THREATCON DELTA.

0839 FOX News Channel reports “We—we are hearing—right now that another explosion that—has taken place. At the Pentagon.”

0845 All U.S. airspace is shutdown. No civilian aircraft are allowed to take off, and all aircraft in flight are ordered to land at the nearest airport as soon as possible. International flights headed for the U.S. are redirected to Canada. South American flights to the U.S. are diverted to Mexico.

0853 CNN confirms a plane crashed into the Pentagon.

0905 Andrea Mitchell, reporting on NBC from outside the Pentagon, reports that Osama bin Laden may have been involved in the attacks. CNN’s headlines read: “SOUTH TOWER AT WTC COLLAPSES.”

0928 The North Tower of the World Trade Center collapses, 1 hour, 42 minutes after the impact of Flight 11.


0941 NBC News confirms that a plane has “gone down” in Somerset County, 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

0949 FOX New Channel is the first of the United States news networks to implement a “news ticker” at the bottom of its screen for supplementary information about the attacks. CNN adds one at 1011 hours, and MSNBC adds one at approximately 1300. All 3 cable networks have used a “news ticker” continuously in the years since.

0953 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld orders the U.S. military placed at DEFCON 3, for the first time since the Yom Kippur War in 1973. DEFCON 3 increases force readiness above that of normal. DEFCON 1 is nuclear war is imminent.

1030 The 62nd Airlift Squadron (my unit) calls to notify me that my leave is now cancelled and I’m being recalled. They confirm I’m still in the local area and tell me to attend a mandatory mass briefing at 1500 hours in the squadron’s main auditorium.

130221-F-WE773-483Five U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft line up before taking off during readiness week at Yokota Air Base, Japan, on Feb. 21, 2013. The 374th Airlift Wing uses C-130s to support combatant commanders in the Pacific region. DoD photo by Senior Airman Cody H. Ramirez, U.S. Air Force. (Released)

DoD photo by Senior Airman Cody H. Ramirez, U.S. Air Force. (Released)

Not sure what the outcome of the squadron briefing will be, or how much time I’d have if I came back home to pack up, I decided to take my mobility A-3 bags and flying gear to the unit that afternoon.

1204 President Bush puts the U.S. military on high alert worldwide.

1420 I drive to work in my uniform, planning for the main gate to Little Rock Air Force Base to be packed with people reporting for duty and briefings.

1445 As I suspected, the entrance to the base was much different than at any previous time in my decade on active-duty. Instead of the security forces looking at our base ID stickers on our windshields and waving us onto the installation with a crisp salute, we had 100% ID checks.

Just beyond the front gate sat a Humvee with netting and a .50-caliber gun, manned by 2 security forces. Surrounding their set-up were sandbags.

1500 Everyone in my squadron was in attendance and seated early for this briefing. My squadron commander, Lt Col Damon Booth, came in and started off with what most of us had already realized…we were at war.

He continued and said things were different from anything we’d ever seen before. This wasn’t Desert Storm. Or Bosnia. This was our Pearl Harbor. America was attacked and he explained into more details what our intelligence sources knew at the time.

Lt Col Booth ended with a note of caution; be ready. We were currently on the receiving end of a very tragic day for our Nation. However, we would get the opportunity soon to go on the offensive. ‘Be ready’. We’re going to get these folks who did this.

1945 I returned to my home in Cabot that night, just a short 20 minute drive from the base. I had a lot on my mind. Were my kids OK? What did they know? What would I tell them?

One thing that wasn’t on my mind and needing worry, was the spirit of the American people. The images in NYC of volunteers going into Manhattan to help. Firefighters and police officers risking their lives…seeing their brothers and sisters die that day. Truly heroic efforts by all first responders and New Yorkers. And throughout America…fire departments nationwide started sending their crews and trucks to NYC to help.

As I departed the highway and got closer to my home, I begin to see America fight back. To stand together like I’d never seen her do before. Driving through the first neighborhood towards my house it hit me. All the flags in the front yards. The yellow ribbons and banners people had already put up. Neighbors were out talking to each other, not coiled up in their homes. People came together. We would be OK.  American would not falter.  The United States of America, a nation now acting as one, would survive and respond to the people who did this.

Never forget.


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Movie Review – ‘Sully’

“Sully” is a powerhouse film that aviation enthusiasts will find deeply satisfying for getting the human factors in flying correct.  Eastwood’s clever technique used to tell this incredible story–in a variety of ways and perspectives–is sensational and the film’s best feature.

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF


One of the most difficult challenges a filmmaker endures is telling audiences a true story in which the world already knows its dramatic and surprise ending.  Now take that entire factual account, which only lasted 208 seconds in real life, and put together a fascinating 96-minute film that’s both intellectually and visually stunning.  Using retired airline captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s own memoir, Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters, director Clint Eastwood masterfully retells the harrowing conclusion to the 2009 U.S. Airways flight that miraculously makes a water landing in Manhattan’s Hudson River. 

Eastwood does a remarkable job of personalizing “Sully” to moviegoers and air travelers.  Tom Hanks, in his most unrecognizable role since 2000’s “Cast Away”, effortlessly portrays the senior aviator on that fateful morning and harbors the second-guessing that clouds every pilot’s mind after an incident or close call. 

An enthralling script heavy in aviation-speak and a behind-the-scenes look at aircraft investigations reveals the enormous burdens and decision-making placed upon so few with precious little time to react.


“Sully” successfully goes beyond the “Hero” label pinned to the chest of a man doing what over four decades of experience in the air has taught him.  More importantly, Eastwood discloses the post-traumatic stress disorder and self-doubt experienced by a husband, father, coworker and, yes, pilot nearly 24/7 following the ordeal.  We see a vulnerable flight deck crew’s opinions and memories get tested against a faceless, but more powerful, adversary: cockpit voice & data recorders, computer animations and air traffic control tapes.  Along each radar blip left by Flight #1549 a pragmatic National Transportation Safety Board methodically attempts to get answers to their standard questions, establish a timeline and find out all the facts…regardless of whom or what else may get destroyed along their investigative path.

This film’s greatest attribute is the way in which Eastwood presents us with those stressful 3 minutes and 28 seconds of Cactus Flight 1549.  Like pilots staring at color blind tests looking for the hidden numeral to appear, Eastwood’s sensational optics aren’t fully appreciated until the ending, as all 155 crew and passengers emerge from the icy waters of New York City.  The horrendous sight of cramped, narrow aircraft aisles and seating will make you nod in approval to Eastwood’s laser focus on accuracy.  Likewise, the computer-generated images of the short-lived flight will leave you mesmerized and ready to high-jump anything sitting between you and the theater’s stairs. 

“Sully” is a powerhouse film that aviation enthusiasts will find deeply satisfying for getting the human factors in flying correct.  Eastwood’s clever technique used to tell this incredible story–in a variety of ways and perspectives–is sensational and the film’s best feature.

Look for “Sully” and Tom Hanks to make almost everyone’s 2016 Best Picture and Best Actor lists this January.  And don’t discount Eastwood for a Best Director nomination.  If this movie takes off at the box office, it could find itself on short final ready to land even more awards.

Grade: A

“Sully” is rated PG-13 for some peril and brief strong language.  It’s running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.

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Movie Review – ‘Greater’

A stronger, more impressive walk-on story than the football classic “Rudy”, Brandon Burlsworth’s epic transition from awkward middle school player to All-American baller will have moviegoers standing and cheering!

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF


While only 2% of college scholarship football players actually get their shot at the National Football League, for walk-on gridiron players the odds are even longer. When sports enthusiasts hear “walk-on football movie”, most immediately think of real-life Notre Dame football player Daniel Eugene “Rudy” Ruettiger, who was portrayed by Sean Astin in the motivational 1993 movie “Rudy”. Fewer football fans, though, may recall the true story of Brandon Burlsworth, the Arkansas native many sports experts consider the greatest walk-on player in the history of college football.

“Greater” is an uplifting, faith-based story that chronicles and celebrates a young, overweight boy (Burlsworth) from a broken home in Harrison, Arkansas, who only wants to fulfill his life-long dream to play college football for his favorite team–the University of Arkansas Razorbacks.

This Christian film unapologetically preaches faith, family and football. Its storyline sermon takes on misfortune and boldly asks why God could place such agony and pain upon the shoulders of one family to carry.

Along Burlsworth’s long and remarkable college football journey in the late 1990’s, viewers witness a young man respond to every personal attack and setback with a smile and working even harder, always staying true to himself. “Greater” reinforces the notion that during difficult times, all we can control is how we respond to that crisis. The overall game plan, though, remains in God’s hands.


The movie touches upon all the mental and physical struggles Brandon Burlsworth experienced. Yet it still promotes a hopeful message of stubborn determination and doing the right thing—even when no one is looking. “Greater” shines an unmistakable light on religious faith…one’s faith in God, and, faith in oneself. Both vital to helping friends, family and fans cope with life’s unforeseen challenges.

With Christianity and religion often ridiculed by the media and on the football field at the expense of devout players such as Tim Tebow, it’s refreshing to find a positive underdog story for believers and nonbelievers to get behind and cheer.

A stronger, more impressive walk-on story than the football classic “Rudy”, Brandon Burlsworth’s epic transition from awkward middle school player to All-American baller will have moviegoers standing and cheering! In “Rudy” Ruettiger’s case, he was focused on getting accepted to Notre Dame academically while exposing his body like a crash-test dummy at practice. In “Greater”, though, Burlsworth’s hard work went largely unnoticed until it was time to step onto the football field.

Making All-SEC Academic Honor Roll every year, his leadership directly helped turn a hapless Arkansas football into a national powerhouse and Top-10 ranked team. Burlsworth’s spirit comes through brightly in “Greater”, creating large holes for this film to run through nearly untouched.

Grade: B+

“Greater” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, an accident sequence and some violence.  It’s running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes.

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Movie Review – ‘Don’t Breathe’

“Don’t Breathe” does many things right. Only in downsized true-life Detroit could this mayhem ensue without nary a neighbor or watchful citizen taking notice. This film also deserves serious props for its originality and ability to house almost an entire film within 3,500 square feet. But the most enjoyment of “Don’t Breathe” comes from a few well-thought-out twists and turns that will catch viewers off guard.

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Don't BreatheLead

Leave it to three unlikable high school-aged home burglars to rip the top box office spot from one of 2016’s most anticipated movies. After three consecutive weeks (and $283 million) DC Extended Universe’s “Suicide Squad” has lost its grip on the #1 weekend movie ranking to this low-budget horror flick. Minus sequels and franchise films from the summer box office gross equation, and “The Secret Life of Pets” and “Don’t Breathe” are the only original films to stand in first place since May.

Is “Don’t Breathe” really that good of a story or has the summer of ‘16 been a relatively bland theater experience? I’m voting the latter and think movie studios are just purposefully holding back their best films of 2016 in hopes of increasing their odds for end-of-the-year award considerations.

As for “Don’t Breathe”, Uruguayan film director Federio Alvarez introduces moviegoers to a trio of malcontents who exhibit zero redeeming qualities and make even fewer good decisions. Hell-bent on robbing the Detroit home an Army veteran blinded in war, these vacuous teens don’t even wait for the man to leave his address before the horror begins for them.


If anyone knows horror and how to bring constant Rocky Balboa punishment to crass victims it’s director Alvarez, who gave us “Evil Dead” in 2013. And “Don’t Breathe” does many things right. Only in downsized true-life Detroit could this mayhem ensue without nary a neighbor or watchful citizen taking notice. This film also deserves serious props for its originality and ability to house almost an entire film within 3,500 square feet. But the most enjoyment of “Don’t Breathe” comes from a few well-thought-out twists and turns that will catch viewers off guard.

One doesn’t necessarily associate great film performances with horror films. But believable characters, through exceptional on-screen labors, make our movie experiences more enjoyable and memorable. Without such effort, audiences don’t fully invest in the production of the film’s budding plot or its cast of personal stories to share. In “Don’t Breathe” viewers lack any sort of appeal or empathy towards the three teenage robbers, thus missing one of the most important substances to a story.

The summer of 2016 has been good for horror films. Aside from its paper-thin character development and less than impressive cast, “Don’t Breathe” still can’t hold its own against two other better shocking horrors this summer. Shark-filled “The Shallows” and the nail-biting supernatural “Lights Out” are both films that can raise your blood pressure faster and give you more entertainment value than “Don’t Breathe’. Go see either of those two horror films for just as many jump-out-of-your-seat moments but with outstanding screen performances and more appealing characters.

Grade: C+

“Don’t Breathe” is rated R for terror, violence, disturbing content and language, including sexual references.  Its running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.

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