Tag: stephen lang

Gridlocked


Gridlocked (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

High body count action-thriller “Gridlocked” delivers the expected from the genre, but it falls flat nearly every time it tries to pull off a surprise. The premise is cheeky: narcissistic and troubled movie star (Cody Hackman) who assaulted a paparazzo is assigned by the court to shadow a cop (Dominic Purcell) as good faith that he means to change his ways. In reality, it is a PR strategy to keep the actor out of jail so he can continue making his next blockbuster. The serious cop and flashy clown pair is nothing new, but screenwriters Rob Robol and Allan Ungar (who directs) go for the laughs and commit to them even though a good number of jokes are made-for-TV fluff. At first, the cop is not keen on babysitting but the more the duo spend time with one another—well, you know how it goes. The centerpiece is the action: a mysterious shadow group (Stephen Lang) breaks into a police training facility for… something not worth waiting for; the picture takes more than half of its nearly two-hour running time to reveal the motivation of its standard slithering villain. Action sequences are occasionally well-choreographed and exciting. Although there is no convincing danger, I found myself wishing to know what would happen next. Comic touches which set the initial tone are relegated behind loud and busy shootouts eventually. And when they do return to the foreground in the action-heavy latter half, they feel out of place. There is an undeniable lack of discipline in tone.

Don’t Breathe


Don’t Breathe (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

Fede Alvarez, director and co-writer of “Don’t Breathe,” takes inspiration from great horror-thrillers which utilize space effectively in order to establish, sustain, and release tension. At one point, there is reference to an excellent scene in John Carpenter’s “Halloween” where the heroine is trapped in a confined space with her attacker. What results is a picture that, although not original, is highly watchable and consistently entertaining because the equation is feverishly being evaluated as complex factors are introduced to it.

The material is light on character development which can be overlooked due to its fast pacing. The respective motivations of the three burglars (Dylan Minnette, Jane Levy, Daniel Zovatto) who decide to break into the house of a blind man (Stephen Lang) and steal six figures worth of cash are simple and clear, each one given a specific place on the moral spectrum. Character depth is icing on the cake but not necessary in a film like this.

Silence can be deafening considering the fact that the faintest noise, like the creaking of the floorboards, can alert the blind man, who is not as innocent as he seems, to the location of burglars-turned-potential-victims. Standout scenes involve silence partnered with tightly controlled lighting that create ominous shadows and the camera pans around the room—we wait in careful anticipation when the silence will be shattered and it is time for the thieves to move briskly in order to have a chance at survival.

Although the story for the most part takes place inside two-story house with a basement, it gives the impression that every room is utilized to its maximum capacity. We grow familiar to the layout of the home with dark and tragic secrets. Notice that just about every space revisited later in the picture contains a memory involving the unsuspecting trio, whether it be the hall in front of the door to the basement, the closet, the laundry room, the homeowner’s bedroom, the front door leading to freedom… or at least an impression of it.

Lang plays the blind man with a convincing air of dominance. Despite the character’s inability to see, highly memorable are instances when he uses his hands to pummel the trespassers into unconsciousness. The sheer brutality of it is not found in his eyes or even his arms—but the hands: they are like sharp branches one second, a steel hammer the next. The camera sits still when his hands are used, less still when a gun is involved.

“Don’t Breathe” is relentless, even in the manner in which the story ends. I admired that there is neither an easy nor a clean-cut happy ending. With the kind of brutality that transpires in that Detroit home, it is clear that no one should walk away unchanged physically and internally. That kind of trauma sticks around for years, if not till it’s time to check out.

Avatar


Avatar (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★

James Cameron has always given us movies that are beyond anything we would expect whether it’s about an upcoming apocalypse (“The Terminator,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”), a rescue team plunging into an alien-colonized planet (“Aliens”), a secret agent finding out about his cheating wife (“True Lies”), a romantic interpretation of a tragedy (“Titanic”), or a real-life deep sea adventure (“Aliens of the Deep”). So when he releases a new movie with an extremely high budget and spent years and years shaping it, it saddens (and angers) me that people expect it to be downright disappointing. That lack of appreciation for a director who obviously loves his work and cares about his audiences just doesn’t fly with me. That group-think of hoping someone would fail is such an ugly quality and I don’t ever want to be a part of it. As I expected, “Avatar” exceeded expectations and I cannot help but rub its success on the faces of those people who judge a movie by its trailer (including the fools who claim “it sucks” without proper justification such as actually watching the film). Whatever happened to giving something the benefit of the doubt?

“Avatar” tells the story of humans–divided into researchers and the army–who go into another planet called Pandora in hopes of extracting the mineral Unobtainium to save Earth from an energy crisis. The catch is that the area where most of the element of interest is found underneath a giant tree that is inhabited by the Na’vi, the blue-colored, highly spiritual natives who do not get along with the humans despite efforts from the lead researchers (Sigourney Weaver, Joel David Moore) to get to know their culture and customs. After waking up from a coma and finding out about his twin brother’s demise, a paraplegic marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington–words cannot describe how much I love this guy) is hired by a colonel (Stephen Lang) to gain the natives’ trust (through transfering his mind into an avatar–a DNA hybrid of man and Na’vi) and double-crossing them in the end. In exchange, the colonel promises to give Jake the functionality of his legs by means of an expensive spine surgery. However, things quickly got more complicated when Jake falls in love with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and the fact that Jake finds it more liberating (or meaningful?) to be in a Na’vi than a human.

One of the many qualities I loved about this film was its ability to be about a lot of things (love, self-awareness, faith, discovery…) but never losing the wonder of meeting and interacting with an alien culture. Note that I use the word “culture” instead of “species” because we really got to know what they were about and why we ultimately root for them. Right when we plunged into the dangerous world of the Na’vi, I felt like I was experiencing something completely new. Like the lead character, everything was fascinating. I wanted to touch the strange-looking flowers and I wasn’t sure whether a certain creature was friendly or ready to attack. The theme of rebirth was consistently tackled throughout the picture in meaningful ways. Although some may see it as having a religious perspective, being not a religious person myself, I was moved by the possibilities and the interpretations made me feel more alive. I just wish that there were more metaphors and discussions regarding the science. I was interested in how they created an avatar. They did mention DNA hybridization but I’m sure that’s not the complete story. “DNA hybridization” may sound complicated to most people but once one has studied the basics (I have), it’s really a quite simple concept. Having set in the future, it could have really increased that “wow” factor by offering us unconventional explanations and poking fun of the limited technology we have now. (Since we think we’re so technologically advanced nowadays.)

I was very engaged when Weaver’s character was explaining the parallels between the neural connections in our brain and the Navi’s complex relationship with mother nature. That particular scene really supported my ethics and beliefs that a true scientist is sensitive to its subjects and not just all about the cold science. That message is really important to me because, from my experiences, every day I’m surrounded by a lot of people who are all about the brain but who are seriously lacking emotional intelligence. The director makes it apparent that this is about brains vs. brawns (scientists and Na’vis vs. the army) but I think it’s much more layered than that because there were scientists in the film that didn’t care about the natives and there were members of the army that did care (Michelle Rodriguez). Despite all the extended action sequences, I thought it had something more in its core and that’s why I couldn’t help but admire the picture. Admittedly, the story could have been much stronger but when I look back on it, the only way it could strengthen that aspect is to have another hour or so. I certainly wouldn’t cut a scene from the final version because I thought each one had something special to offer. It definitely had Pocahontas elements to it yet it’s different because it was able to offer a modern (or futuristic?) interpretation.

“Avatar” is an outstanding achievement in filmmaking, especially when it comes to its visual effects. I would not be surprised at all if it won every single technical awards in the Oscars or perhaps a Best Picture nomination. With a budget of over $300 million (from what I read from multiple sources), I thought the budget really translated onto film. Not only did the CGI images looked sharp by themselves but it was also amazing to see the CGI mesh so well with live action and the live actors. My experience was also magnified because I saw the movie in 3D. (I suggest you watch it in 3D as well.) With a behemoth of a running time that is 160 minutes (personally, I wish it ran longer), it may seem intimidating at first. But once all the action and imagination starts, you will not want to take a bathroom break. I can only hope others will have a chance to be absorbed in this world that Cameron has created for us. Most of all, I wish that people would stop hating on huge projects such as this one and show more appreciation and humility toward people who work so hard to offer us something new. It’s alright to express distaste after actually giving the final product a chance. But it’s important to still have some respect because what we project to the world is ultimately a reflection of us.