“The Grey” 2012 Dir. Joe Carnahan

With Liam Neeson, Dallas Roberts, Frank Grillo, Joe Anderson, James Badge Dale and Dermot Mulroney

“If we don’t move and work now, we’re fucked.”

 

    I’ve had a love affair with Joe Carnahan’s films. Like most love affairs, it’s been off and on. His film “Narc” is one of the best that the “cop on the edge” genre has to offer. “Smokin’ Aces” let me down, though the visual style wet my beak enough to keep me engaged, to keep me wanting more Carnahan. “The A-Team” was his Hollywood film that garnered enough success for him to make his boldest and most commanding film to date, “The Grey”.

    Liam Neeson, who has become the world’s most bona fide badass due to his juggernaut of a performance in “Taken”, headlines the cast of eclectic character actors who portray a group of rough necks whose plane crashes in the frozen Alaska wilderness and are being hunted by a pack of wolves. Fuck yes.


    Neeson has made a remarkable transition from young European thespian to the mentor figure, to a 59 year old action hero. What sets Neeson apart from the flock of action stars that have migrated into making the “Expendables” films is he’s a truly remarkable actor who now fuses his talent with action. This allows him to breathe the proper amount of life and depth into each action oriented character he plays.

    Joe Carnahan delivered Neeson a wickedly great, suspense AND drama filled screenplay that goes beyond the man versus wolf dimension the TV spots and advertisements lead you to believe. The film is more in tune with man versus nature, but really boils down to man versus self.

    The entire first act of this film deals with Neeson, named Ottway which sounds like a name that was written for Lee Marvin, writing and reflecting on a letter to his (former?) wife. The longing, the pining, to see his wife again, to touch her is heartbreakingly conveyed in Neeson’s voice, the expression he carries in his face that does more acting than most actors can do in an entire film.


    I can’t help but think that Neeson drew from his own personal experience of his wife, Natasha Richardson’s, untimely death. Ottway searches for a reason to live, until he finds himself amidst a plane wreck where he assumes the role of leader.

    The men are hunted by a pack of wolves, and leave the crash site to try and escape the hunting radius that the wolves patrol. Ottway finds himself in a position of survival, and he must defeat his own demons while fighting back against nature and himself to try and conquer it all.

    Yes the film does become predictable, and you can foresee the men getting picked off by the wolves, one by one. But the ace that Carnahan holds up his sleeve is his brilliant ending that garnished boos, and “what the fuck!?” when the credits began to roll. I won’t spoil how the film ends, but it has resonated with me since I saw the film a week ago, and has given me such an inner passion for this film, that I can’t wait to see it again.


    Oh, and just one last thing; stay through the credits because there is one last scene. I, myself, missed it. After reading about it, I really wish I had seen it.

 

Rating: 9/10

    

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“Gangs of New York” – 2003. Dir. Martin Scorsese

With Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Gary Lewis with Jim Broadbent, Brendan Gleeson and Liam Neeson.

“You see this fucking knife? I’m going to teach you how to speak English with this fucking knife.”

  • Bill “the Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis).

I need to get this off my chest now. Cameron Diaz is fucking awful in this film, Leonardo DiCaprio is miscast and I don’t know what Scorsese was thinking by casting Henry Thomas. Phew…I feel better now. That being said, “Gangs of New York” is Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece.

The film starts out bold. Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) is preparing his men for an epic battle with the Confederation of American Natives which is lead by Bill “the Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) to see who controls the Five Points for good and all. Vallon and his men mount inside a rundown church, and meet outside in the Five Points (where all major roads meet to a town square). They stand outside in the dead of winter and stand idle – waiting for hell to unleash.

Men with top hats and blue sashes begin to slither out of buildings, and stand on the other side of the square. This is where we see Cutting, glass eye and all. What unleashes is a brutally violent battle. The battle sequence is one of the best filmed, being slowed down to 12 frames per second and queued up to Peter Gabriel’s ambient and eerie sounding “Signal to Noise”.


Men are screaming, ripping each others cheeks apart, and stabbing each other with dull and rusty blades. It’s a chaotic scene but our focus begins to turn to Cutting who is weaving through the crowd, blood lust is in his eye and his sights are set on Vallon. Cutting takes no prisoners; killing his own men who stand in his way just to get to Vallon.

He gets to Vallon and stabs him in the side, then in the stomach. The Priest falls and the battle is over. All the men halt. A young Amsterdam Vallon (played as an adult by DiCaprio) is taken to an orphanage and is to be sure to get “a good education” scowls Cutting.

Time passes and Amsterdam is then let out as an adult. He returns to the Five Points with a mission of revenge. He is slowly taken under the wing of Cutting and Amsterdam gets as close to him as possible so he can avenge the death of his father.

This is an extremely flawed film; I’ll be the first to admit that. There are a lot of things very wrong with it. I have always said that Colin Farrell would have be absolutely PERFECT as Amsterdam. My belief is that since Scorsese had been trying to make this film for decades, the studio would only green light the film if he had star appeal. As much of a great actor Day-Lewis is – he’s not a box office draw (for the masses anyway), so DiCaprio and Diaz were forced into the film for their box office appeal. But to be positive, this film did start a wonderful collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio (and to be negative – it’s starting to run its course). But don’t think for a second the collaboration is anywhere near as good as Scorsese/DeNiro or Scorsese/Keitel.

DiCaprio just doesn’t work. His shitty neck beard and pretty bad Irish accent are very distracting. Every scene he shares with Day-Lewis he’s completely overshadowed. The character that Diaz plays is a thief that has a special relationship with Cutting – so she’s given free reign and doesn’t owe him “tribute” – just sex.


The character of Jenny should have been turned into an older “street woman” and played by Jodie Foster. She could still have that relationship with Cutting, and also allow Amsterdam’s fixation with her as well – creating the jealously trap that happens. I think it would have added more maturity and weight to the film.

This is Day-Lewis’ film hands down. He carries the entire film on his back with the help of Neeson, Gleeson and Reilly (hey – remember when he used to be an actor?). The attention he commands from you is unreal. I’ve never seen an actor be able to do this with every single film he’s in. The guy is a fucking titan of cinema.

This is the film that combines all of Scorsese’s passions, everything he’s built his career on. It’s a period piece epic, it’s an antiwar film (the Civil War draft directly reflecting Vietnam), the setting is New York City (which Scorsese loves more than anything) and it’s about the birth of organized crime – or the mob if you will. The film is an ensemble film, which Scorsese is wonderful at crafting. This is an extremely personal film for Scorsese – as personal as “Mean Streets” or “The Last Temptation of Christ”. The guy had tried making this film since the 1970’s!

This film is vintage Scorsese. I haven’t felt this in a Scorsese film since “Gangs”. His use of steady cam, tracking shots, and slow motion just reminds us that he is the greatest living director. When Diaz is introduced into the film, it’s in a slow motion sequence that’s queued up to music – much like Sharron Stone in “Casino” – Scorsese is a master of his craft and I will battle each and every one of you to the death over “Gangs of New York” being his masterpiece.


Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance is absolutely wonderful. My words can’t do his art justice. One of my dreams have always been to direct a film with Day-Lewis, but I can’t even imagine how intimidating such a thing would be. This is a guy who invests himself into his characters for the entire film. He’s not Daniel Day- Lewis, he’s Bill Cutting. He doesn’t speak with an English accent; he speaks with his thick New York accent on and off the screen. Anyone who can’t admire his passion, admire his skill is a fool.

Review 10/10

“Clash of the Titans 3-D” – 2010. Dir. Louis Leterrier.

With Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Artenrton, Nicholas Holt, and Mads Mikkelsen.

“Release the kraken!”

“Clash of the Titans” is the epic story of man’s rebellion against the Gods. Man has grown angry with the wrath of the Gods, and begins waging a war by destroying monuments and burning down temples. Zeus (masterfully played by Liam Neeson) grows angry with the unrest of humans and their lack of worship. His brother Hades (a creepy turn by Ralph Fiennes) proposes an idea of wrecking havoc with his beast, the kraken, to cause humans to once again fear the Gods and worship.

Poseidon (Danny Houston) the other brother who controls the sea agrees with Hades, and Zeus goes along with the plan. He gives in to Hades misleading plan and Hades begins to wreak havoc on humans. Perseus (Sam Worthington) who is unknowingly a demigod (half human, half God) finds himself in between the human cause of unjust by the Gods, and being the son of Zeus.

What follows is an epic journey of Perseus and a small legion of soldiers traveling to distant lands to seek advice from the three witches, that send them on a journey to kill Medusa and decapitate her to use her head to kill the kraken.

This is my first 3D movie (I never saw “Avatar”; I know I’m the only person in the world that hasn’t seen it). I felt very forced into 3D, it wasn’t necessary to make it in 3D, but I understand why . Well actually 90% of the film was filmed in 2D, but then came “Avatar” and well, you know the rest. A lot of frames where 3D was used made the background out of focus, if we’re focused on the foreground, the background is incredibly fuzzy.

Aside from the epic disaster of 3D, the film was very entertaining. It was a very enjoyable action/adventure film with a solid heroic performance by Worthington and two solid performances by Neeson and Fiennes. Mads Mikkelsen (who played Le Chief in “Casino Royal”) is the leader of the group of men that takes Perseus on this journey. He’s a hard bent soldier who has bloodlust and a need to fight. He’s very entertaining and gives a good performance.

Liam Neeson as the almighty Zeus.

The film is paced well, but some of the parts of the film begin to drag, and leaves you slightly bored (this could also be from my dislike of 3D). The CGI is excellent, the cities, beasts and wide shots of scenery are triumphant. The climactic kraken scene is fucking excellent. It is a magnificent creation of a horrific beast that is one of the most menacing CGI creations ever unleashed on screen.

The one major gripe I have with the film is that it isn’t epic enough. It runs about 116 minutes, but should run closer to 140 minutes. The story is too complex for a short runtime – too many plot arcs were left out, we don’t even see Poseidon for more than a total of 45 seconds. Poseidon is such a major character in Greek mythology since he is the brother of Zeus and Hades. This film should have been made on an epic scale, it should have been longer – at least by 20 to 30 minutes, and should have had better writers.

Skip the 3D and see the film the way it was meant to be, in 2D.

Review 7/10

Scenes I love: Schindler’s Tango – “Schindler’s List” – 1993 Dir. Steven Spielberg

This scene completely captivates me. It begins with Schindler applying his Nazi mask, and grooming himself to be a part of the regime. What really moves me is the simple dolly shot of Schindler sitting in his chair, holding a cigarette in front of his face, he watches us as we roll by him. Neeson gives us such a compellingly seductive look that brings us to his will. Watching Neeson make love to the camera is the most pleasurable part of this film that breaks my heart over and over again. Out of all of Spielberg’s great and not-so-great works, this short clip that includes the dolly shot of Schindler stands up against Spielberg’s best work. Enjoy.

Top Ten of the Year (Thus Far)

Top Ten Films of the Year

Here’s my top ten of the year thus far.  The notable films that I haven’t seen yet include “Nine”, “Avatar”, “An Education” and “Invictus”.  I would only assume that Avatar will make the cut, and maybe some more films.  So please dear reader, stay tuned.

1. “Antichrist” Dir. Lars von Trier.  With Williem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

2. “A Single Man” Dir. Tom Ford.  With Colin Firth, Julianne Moore and Mathew Goode.

3.  “Up in the Air” Dir. Jason ReitmanWith George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Jason Bateman and Anna Kendrick.

4.  “Inglorious Basterds”.  Dir. Quentin Tarantino.  With Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, and Til Schweiger.

5.  “Bad Lieutenant:  Port of Call New Orleans” Dir. Werner Herzog.  With Nicholas Cage, Eva Mendes, Xibit, and Val Kilmer.

6.  “The Watchmen” Dir. Zach Snyder.  With Billy Crudup, Jeffery Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Mathew Goode and Jackie Earl Haley.

7.  “The Girlfriend Experience”  Dir. Steven Soderbergh.  With Sasha Grey and Chris Santos.

8.  “Taken” Dir.  Pierre Moral.  With Liam Neeson, Famke Jassen, and Xander Berkeley.

9. ????

10. ????