Tag Archives: Stephen Lang

Come and Sea

Avatar: The Way of Water

by George Wolf

Week after week, really good films telling solid, compelling stories have been debuting in movie theaters and sinking like streaming-bound stones. What’s it gonna take for movies not named Top Gun to move people off the couch and back into the cinema?

James Cameron thinks the answer is to provide a sensory experience you just cannot get anywhere else. And on that front, Avatar: The Way of Water is a resounding success. See it on the IMAX screen, with the 3D glasses on your face, the thumping Dolby in your earholes and the high frame rate injected in your eyeballs and you’ll be transported to a theme park-like world of technical wonder.

The storytelling, on the other hand, is all wet.

Since we last left Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) over ten years ago, he and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) have formed a happy family among the forest people of Pandora.

Their peace is shattered by a new invasion from the sky people, with a Na’vi clone of Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) out to settle an old score. To keep the Na’vi from the fight, Jake and family flee to a village of the water people (including Kate Winslet and CCH Pounder) that’s led by Tonowari (Cliff Curtis).

But just as the forest family is bonding with their new water world, Quaritch and his troops come calling for a showdown.

You know who realized they shouldn’t run, that war would follow them and put others at risk? Neytiri did, the latest in a long line of smart women in James Cameron movies who no one listens to. That’s not the only throwback to Cameron films you may notice. Aliens, The Abyss, and Titanic are all over this film, and why not? Everybody else steals from them, why not Cameron?

The problem is not that he borrows from himself, but that he repeats himself. Scenes replay the same beats again and again. There’s so much wasted narrative space in this three-plus-hour film, and yet voiceover narration explains what that space could have been used to show.

And that’s the ironic weakness that consistently keeps Avatar 2 from resonating beyond surface-level amazement. Cameron (who also co-wrote the script) shows us so many wonderful delights, but precious few of them advance any investment in character, theme or narrative. It’s not that the ideals hitching a ride with the wizardry aren’t worthy, it’s just that they’re slapped together with so much obviousness and redundancy.

As the long-promised follow-up to the all-time box office champ, and carrying a budget in the hundreds of millions with several more sequels in the pipeline, there was already plenty riding on Cameron’s new vision. But a big return for TWOW could fast track a bittersweet bargain. The days of a rising tide at the multiplex lifting all boats seem to be fading fast, and one more huge wave might not leave room for anything on the big screen that’s less than pure spectacle.

Calling Dr. Phil


A Good Marriage

by George Wolf


The last time Stephen King wrote a screenplay the results were, to be polite, disappointing. The film was Sleepwalkers and to be impolite, it sucked out loud.

But hey, that was 22 years ago, so let’s forget about the past and focus on how much better his latest screenwriting project turned out. With A Good Marriage, King expands his own short story into an intimate, no frills feature built on love, secrets, sex and murder.

Anthony LaPaglia and Joan Allen are Bob and Darcy, a longtime couple who are still plenty hot for each other, and who have the type of marriage others point to as being ideal.

The situation around their New Hampshire home is a bit more troubling. There is a serial killer in the area, and though news reports of the latest victim dominate the evening news, Bob and Darcy have family matters to attend to.

Their daughter’s wedding is at hand, and after the happy day, Bob leaves on a business trip. Alone in their big house, Darcy is tackling some household errands when she happens upon a secret stash of evidence that undoubtedly links her loving husband to a very dangerous double life.

From there, King and director Peter Askin have some fun with the thriller genre, leaving you unsure just how much of Darcy’s life with her now-suspicious husband is really happening. As you might expect, the two veteran leads take full advantage, with Allen especially delivering a rich performance that effortlessly swings between domestic bliss and survivalist cunning.

Scene-stealing honors go to Stephen Lang (Avatar) as an old-time detective tracking the killer. King gives him some juicy dialogue, and his scenes with Allen display a delicious back and forth tinged with a darkly comical mutual admiration.

In fact, it’s a shame A Good Marriage doesn’t explore its wickedly humorous edges more completely. It could have beefed up a story that’s stretched thin at times, and ridden three fine performances to even higher ground.