REVIEW: Don’t Breathe

10 01 2017

What separates Fede Alvarez’s “Don’t Breathe” from a standard-issue horror flick? Technical proficiency, primarily. It’s hard to watch the film and not be aware of the way sound, image and camera movement are being used to produce an aura of fear and dread. But therein lies the issue with its effectiveness: I was so cognizant of the ways in which I was being manipulated that I could never fully let the atmosphere overtake me.

At this level of critical distance, it’s easy to see the film for what it is: an average heist film, a run-of-the-mill haunted house flick and a mediocre final girl narrative. Said survivor Rocky (Jane Levy) is among a band of robbers in Detroit who preys on easy targets to make some cash. It’s a classic case of doing the wrong thing for a noble reason since Rocky’s ultimate goal is to escape from a horrible family situation – her mom’s boyfriend has a swastika tattooed on his hand – with her much younger sister.

But she and her pals meet their match when they rob a blind army veteran (Stephen Lang) whose home has its fair share of surprises. Perhaps it was my loss not to experience it as intended in the dark of a theater, but “Don’t Breathe” hardly affected my respiratory system. Alvarez clearly knows what he’s doing, though he lost me somewhat by showing what he’s doing. C+2stars

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REVIEW: Avatar

23 12 2009

It takes more than just gumption and chutzpa to get up on one of the world’s biggest stages and declare yourself king of the world; it takes conviction.  When James Cameron did just this at the Academy Awards in 1997 after “Titanic,” it was shocking to some and bombastic to others (I’m too young to remember the occasion).  What had he really done to gain the title “king of the world?”  What separates him from the dozens of directors who stood in the exact same place as he had?  What is the legacy of “Titanic” other than a firm position in the highest echelon of box office performance and a hefty loot on Oscar night?  According to IMDb, it is now the lowest rated of the five Best Picture nominees that year.  From what I understand, the movie electrified the people and was simply too popular to ignore.

Fast forward 12 years to today where James Cameron has just released “Avatar.”  If he got up on national television and screamed, “I’M KING OF THE WORLD,” I just might buy it.  His latest project is one fifteen years in the making, and he may have just sparked a revolution in cinema.  “Avatar” is breathtaking moviemaking at its finest, with astonishing visuals that are designed to do more than just floor you.  They engulf you and transport you to Pandora, a land of untold beauty complete with its own indigenous people, language, and wildlife, for an exhilarating ride and fascinating experience.

I knew the effects would be a slam dunk victory for Cameron, but I had my doubts about his ability to craft a story after “Titanic,” whose melodramatic plot I can usually summarize in one sentence (Leo and Kate have a lot of fun and the boat sinks).  Much to my surprise, Cameron actually constructs a very engaging story with undertones about the dangers of imperialism.  Cynics might call it the Smurf County production of “Pocahontas,” but the story still feels fresh even though it is a bit recycled.  Jake Sully (Sam Worthington of “Terminator Salvation” fame) is a paraplegic Marine who is torn between the two competing human forces on Pandora after he develops a special bond with the native Na’vi.  The scientists, led by the sassy cigarette-smoking Grace (Sigourney Weaver), want to discover how the Na’vi think in order to live in harmony with them.  The military operation, commanded by the hulking Colonel Quatritch (Stephen Lang), works in tandem with the financial side of the project, run by a thundering businessman doing his best Ari Gold impersonation (Giovanni Ribisi), to figure out the best way to get their hands on the bonanza underneath the sacred tree of the Na’vi.  They would prefer relocation but are not afraid to resort to subjugation if the natives prove to be a handful.  While Jake tries to serve two distinctly different agendas, he becomes quite taken by the Na’vi and the way they live in cooperation with nature – and not to mention quite smitten by the Amazonian Neytiri (Zoë Saldana).  Soon, the two forces tugging for Jake becomes not scientists vs. military but Na’vi vs. humans. Read the rest of this entry »