Sunday, January 29, 2012

Want to know what I think of: The Grey

Between "Mission Impossible: Ghost Prototype" and "The Grey," I've finally conquered my fear of heights.

Okay, okay, let's get serious.

"The Grey," is the film that "Milo & Otis" wanted to be.

Okay, okay, seriously, let's get on with it...

I was really looking forward to "The Grey" because I always believed "The Edge" would have been better with Liam Neeson.

Okay, okay, guys, let's get serious.

But seriously, if you're afraid of heights, this film will give you panic diarrhea. Just ask the fine folks at the Petaluma Cinema West.

Director Joe Carnahan is one of the smartest filmmakers working today, and if you don't believe me, just watch "The Grey." You'll shut your stupid mouth super fast. But you'll probably be crying, cause this film is emotional. More than "War Horse." Or "One for the Money." In fact, before watching "The Grey," it wouldn't be a bad idea to re-watch "Narc" "Smokin Aces" and especially "The A-Team."

Let me quickly break them down for you:

"Narc" is probably the most accurate depiction of police procedure ever filmed.
"Smokin Aces" is one of the most deranged action films ever made, and I mean that in the best way possible.
"A-Team" is the action film that Shane Black never wrote. If you want an impeccably delivered action flick, this is for you, ranking up there with "Lethal Weapon" and "Die Hard" in terms of sheer entertainment. If you watched it and just thought it was another run-of-the-mill action film, you weren't paying attention.

So, that brings up to "The Grey." We learn that Liam Neeson's John Ottway is a security sniper for an Alaskan oil rig, killing wolves if they get to close to the men. Awesome. As he describes it, it's a place for "men unfit for civilization." We see him try to commit suicide, but changes his mind at the last minute. You'll ask yourself why he wants to kill himself (at least I did), and the film answers that pretty quickly: his wife is dead. Spoiler. Not really.

Since he's not dead, he boards a plane home, and it's here that Carnahan subtly introduces us to the band of survivors we're about to spend some time with. Because the plane crashes. Spoiler. So, in the middle of nowhere, these men must learn to band together and defend themselves against a pack a wolves and the freezing cold. Hell, there's even time for an "Alive" joke. Right before a man's face gets torn. Indeed, make no mistake, this is a brutal film, one that doesn't pull any punches and never hesitates to shake you to your core. When I say that it doesn't pull any punches, I don't mean that in reference to Neeson fighting wolves as you've no doubt seen prominently in every trailer and tv spot. That is not what this film is about. And if you're buying a ticket hoping for some man-on-beast combat, you're going to be severely disappointed. Yet, despite this fact, the audience was applauding and gasping at every moment, and even in the small town of Petaluma, these people erupted into applause at the end. And tears, I might add. Many people left with red eyes, and it ain't from the drug problem this town has.

The attacks from the wolves are perfectly executed, always unexpected and consistently frightening, yet they're over before you can recover from your anxiety-induced seizure and wonder what the hell just happened. This film isn't apprehensive about dealing with death, both physically and philosophically. There are many discussions about faith, yet they never come across as heavy-handed or preachy. You understand why the characters would say these things; everything in this film is impressively organic. Speaking of characters, this is not a one-man show. Carnahan allows every character to develop, and thankfully every actor steps up and delivers, making this film a rare case where there is not a weak link, the honerable mention being Frank Grillo's Diaz, who is constantly opposing Ottway's authority, someone that would have been grating under any other director, but Carnahan molds a very empathetic character.

Liam Neeson owns this film, though, and "The Grey" may go down as one of the worst studio blunders in film history. Why this wasn't released last month is beyond me. I've been hearing for months that this is one of his finest performances, and all the hype is true. He doesn't just deserve to be nominated, he needs to win that Oscar. Knowing about the death of his wife back in 2009 makes this all the more emotional, understanding that he's drawing from some dark places. A scene where he's talking to a dying man after the place crash is undoubtedly going to be one of the most memorable scenes in 2012, as Neeson infuses the moment with an overwhelming sense of warmth and tenderness, which serves as not only a beautiful character moment but also a pause for the audience to catch their breath after the heart-stopping plane crash, which is one of the most terrifying plane crashes you've ever seen.

This is not a morbidly pessimistic film, even with all the despair that these men encounter. Carnahan faces these issues with supreme confidence, elevating this type of survival film into something that will resonate with you hours, days, even months after you've watched it. When I say that this is filmmaking at its finest, you better believe I'm telling the truth. "The Grey" is so matter of fact about its brilliance that you'll leave wishing all films could be made like this.

THE FINAL COUNTDOWN: It's like "The Family Stone," but with wolves.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Top 10 Best Films of the Year (of 2005)

So, I was recently browsing my MySpace blogs and I came across something interesting: my top films of 2005. I want to share this with you all, because I love you. With that in mind, let's reflect on the year of Cthulu, 2005.

10. Good Night, and Good Luck
David Strathairn is an actor of unlimited talent, conveying so much with a simple glance. Clooney is a genius, proving that time and time again since 2005. Like this year's "Ides of March," it's claustrophobic in the confidence in which the politics are delivered, making it all the more satisfying in the end.

9. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Why people don't love this film is beyond me. Like "In Bruges," I've tried to get so many people to watch this and they can't get into it. Without a doubt one of the most quotable films of the past 20 years, this is the film that convinced Jon Favreau to cast Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, and reminded us all why we love Val Kilmer. If you've never seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it tonight. I placed this at number 9 back when I wrote it, and time has proven that it definitely should have been higher. It's too bad it never made a strong connection with audiences, I would love to see these two characters again.

8. The Constant Gardener
This is still one of my favorite romances of all time, perfectly adapted from John le Carre's novel about a man investigating his wife's death and possible infidelity. The less you know about the film going in, the better.

7. Match Point
Again, a film that should probably be higher. Everything about this film is a masterpiece, from the simple, old-fashioned structure of the narrative, to the tennis motif, the grace of the character development, and even the Shakespearean use of the spirits towards the end. When this was released, critics said that it loses its way in the middle but redeems itself in the end. They were wrong then and they're wrong now.

6. King Kong
I'm probably a bigger supporter of this film than most people, but in retrospect, this is not a better film than the previous four entries. I felt that this film was a brilliant re-working of a classic. Sadly, it's not. It's a very good film, but not the great one I called it back in 2005. There is a lot to like about this film, from the beautiful opening to the individual character arcs, and even Jack Black, who is able to carry himself splendidly throughout the film. In fact, I'd say he is better than even Adrian Brody, who can't seem to find the right tone. The less said about Colin Hanks the better. Can there ever be enough Kyle Chandler? (no) Unfortunately, the pacing is way off at times, and the dialogue is atrocious. Peter Jackson cranks up the action to the extreme, like a kid on crack, and as a result, it cheapens many of the setpieces, including the T-Rex vine battle, where we witness poor Naomi Watts face death over and over again that we have given up by the big finale. Surprisingly (and this was an issue even back in 2005), some of the effects are absolutely horrendous, including the sequence where the crew are being chased by the bronto stampede. Yet counter that with the spider pit sequence, a magical moment where Jackson flexes his filmmaking muscles and delivers one of the most thrilling moments of his career. In the end, though, this film belongs to Andy Serkis, who also plays Lumpy the Cook, who acted alongside Watts even when he wasn't being motion-captured. He gives Kong incredible depth, forcing the audience to feel for the beast, a task that wasn't accomplished successfully in the original. There was a lot of mockery at the frozen pond dance at Bryant park when the film was released, and to this day, I can't quite understand that. It's an incredibly emotional moment, made all the more poignant by the fact that you know what's coming to this animal. It's here where you understand that this has nothing to do with romance, but friendship. So, while King Kong isn't Jackson's finest hour, it's far from his worst.

5. The Squid and the Whale
Anyone that has ever been in the middle of a divorce will surely relate to this film, and how the event affected you will dictate your enjoyment of the film. People I know who went through the same thing couldn't watch it. It's a brutally honest film that vividly depicts the scabrous disintegration of family, throwing you into a group of people that hate each other for different reasons. Jeff Daniels should have won the Oscar for his performance of a man who is brilliant yet bitterly delusional, unaware that people are mocking him. Laura Linney proves once again that she is one of the finest actresses of our time, evident in the scene where she finally explodes at her husband. It sort of loses its way towards the end, but that last scene makes up for the shortcomings, speaking volumes about these people who have lost their way.

4. Kingdom of Heaven: Director's Cut
I implore you, never ever watch the theatrical cut of this film. Tom Rothman fucked over everyone involved with his decision to cut down this film to an incomprehensible length. So many involved would undoubtedly received nominations, and I'm positive it would have performed better at the box office. By excising much of the running time, many of the main themes, including the pernicious results of ideological extremism, are buried under the rug in favor of the action setpieces, a very secondary element when viewing the Director's Cut, so secondary that they really aren't that impressive. There's so much more going on in the battle that was omitted that it's understandable why people reacted negatively upon its release. The motivations of all the character are more clearly defined, and Eva Green's descent into madness makes perfect sense. Did you know she had a child in the theatrical cut? Probably not. Liam Neeson's Godfrey now resonates strongly within proper context, and both Irons' Tiberias and Norton's leper king Baldwin are given room to breath and develop. The film refuses to take sides, and Scott and writer Monaghan leave the film open to interpretation and discussion. It's a film about respecting ideas and intellect; one of the best of Scott's career.

3. A History of Violence
There isn't a director alive more qualified to tackle this tale of moral ambiguity than David Cronenberg, fearlessly forcing you into the brutality of a man whose primal nature has sat dormant for many years. I saw this several times in the theatre, and every time, people walked out at the "rape" sequence, an act Cronenberg was well aware would alienate certain audience members. It opens up a series of questions that haunt you for weeks after seeing it. Thankfully, the film avoids any sort of answer.

2. The New World
Oh, man, this is a beautiful film in every way imaginable. The philosophical musings of the characters are simply transcendent, delivered organically against the backdrop of a paradise under attack by man's many destructive desires. People complain about the length, but for me, it works perfectly.

I still consider this to be one of Spielberg's best. Really, do you need anything else?