The Grey

The Grey

Liam Neeson will know better than to fly economy next time.

(2012) Action Thriller (Open Road) Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, James Badge Dale, Nonso Anozie, Ben Hernandez Bray, Anne Openshaw, Peter Girges, Jacob Blair, Lani Gelera, Larissa Stadnichuk. Directed by Joe Carnahan


In the deep heart of the North, it is always cold, a block of unforgiving ice that will freeze all hope. Only the strong may roam freely there and even those know the harsh reality of life – that as strongas you are, there is always something stronger and more fierce.

John Ottway (Neeson) has that same cold place in his own heart. He is a contractor at an Alaskan oil pumping station, working with roughnecks in the middle of nowhere, far away from civilization. He is on the security detail, making sure that the men are protected from grey wolves and other Arctic predators. However, there is a predator inside him, one that has eaten him alive. His wife (Openshaw) has left him to his loneliness and that burden is one he can no longer carry.

He intends to kill himself, takes his high-powered rifle and puts it in his mouth, ready to pull the trigger. Instead, he heads back to his barracks and waits for his contract to be up so he can go home with the other roughnecks who have worked their contract.

They board a small plane, ready to fly to Anchorage and from there to points beyond but the plane never makes it there. It crashes in the wilderness, leaving a handful of survivors. The weather is freezing, with a blizzard making visibility nearly zero. There are many dead and dying, like Lewenden (Dale) who is frightened but eased into the abyss by Ottway.

It becomes clear they aren’t alone in the wilderness when Ottway spots one of the stewardesses whimpering in the underbrush. He goes to rescue her and realizes that she was being eaten by a wolf. Ottway believes that they’ve had the unfortunate luck to crash in the midst of the territory of the wolves who take exception to the intrusion.

Things get worse when Hernandez (Bray) who’s on watch is killed and partially eaten by a wolf. Knowing that they are exposed in the wreck with little means of defending themselves, Ottway believes their best chance is to head south and hopefully exit the territory of the predators. He also knows that nobody will be looking for them terribly hard.

As the men make their way through the unforgiving wilderness, they come to terms with their impending mortality, the existence (or non) of God, and the significance of their lives. As they fall to the cold, the terrain and to the wolves, soon it becomes clear that the cold heart of the North is a grey wasteland of death and redemption.

Carnahan, whose body of work includes Smokin’ Aces, does some of the best work of his career. This is not your ordinary wilderness survival film; these are no cardboard cutout characters with heroes and villains vying for control in the elements. These are hard men, worn down by hard lives whose tough fronts begin to crumble when faced with horrible death. There is an awful lot of that, from wolf attacks to falls to freezing to death.

Neeson has made a career transformation from an Oscar-caliber dramatic actor to an action star. Pushing 60, the rugged Neeson has become king of the beginning of the year action flicks, with success in both Taken and Unknown coming in the first two months of their respective years. As with those films, he lends The Grey gravitas, bringing the inner turmoil of John Ottway to the surface but only in a subtle way, one that doesn’t interrupt the flow of the film or ever ring false 

Carnahan also cast his film with mostly character actors who are largely not well known to the general public, although some might recognize Mulroney from My Best Friend’s Wedding – he is virtually unrecognizable here. Grillo and Roberts also deliver strong performances.

Part of the allure of The Grey is the cinematography. Masanobu Takayanagi brings the snow-covered landscape of British Columbia (standing in for Alaska) a kind of stark but majestic beauty. The cold is almost palpable through his fine work.

While there are some gruesome scenes of wolf attacks and of human remains, both from the plane crash and the attacks, the action here is almost more internal than external (not that the latter is lacking in any way shape or form). This is about the journey and not so much the destination. The movie is based on the short story “Ghost Walker” by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (who also wrote the first draft of the script) and if the movie’s Nietzschean themes are any indication, it might be worth checking out.  

The movie has been getting a fair amount of critical acclaim with a lot of folks surprised at how good it is. For my part, Carnahan has done some good work and has exceeded expectations here. Nobody should be surprised that Neeson delivers such a fine performance – while not Oscar worthy perhaps, it certainly sets the bar high for the rest of the year.

REASONS TO GO: A raw, unadulterated survival film. Neeson again gives a strong performance.

REASONS TO STAY: May be a bit too Nietzsche for some.  

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the images of the wolf attacks and their aftermath are awfully disturbing, and there’s plenty of bad language for all.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Carnahan, Neeson and producers Tony and Ridley Scott previously worked together on The A-Team.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/31/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 78% positive reviews. Metacritic: 63/100. The reviews are solidly positive.


SNOW LOVERS: There is plenty of it on the ground and falling from the sky. This is as cold-looking a movie as you’re ever likely to see.


TOMORROW: The Garden


New Releases for the Week of January 27, 2012

January 27, 2012


(Open Road) Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, James Badge Dale, Nonso Anozie, Ben Bray, Anne Openshaw. Directed by Joe Carnahan

A group of oil roustabouts, cocksure and rowdy, are getting ready to go home. Flying back on a chartered plane from their remote Alaskan oil field, their plans of spending their hard-earned money back home comes to a grinding halt when their plane crashes. At first the survivors thank their lucky stars that they survived the crash. Then, they begin to face the daunting prospect of carting the injured and themselves through miles of desolate and rough Alaskan wilderness to make it to civilization. Their task gets exponentially more difficult when a pack of rogue wolves, desperate to survive the winter themselves, begins to stalk this new source of fresh meat.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller/Action/Adventure

Rating: R (for violence/disturbing content including bloody images, and for pervasive language)

Albert Nobbs

(Roadside Attractions) Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson, Brendan Gleeson. In 19th century Ireland, it is most certainly a man’s world. For a woman to make it in that world she must be exactly like a man to survive. In the case of Albert Nobbs, a woman becomes a man, wearing the guise for 30 years, hoping to eventually buy her own shop but she finds that in expanding her opportunities, she has created a prison of her own device. Close in the title role has received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for some sexuality, brief nudity and language) 

A Dangerous Method

(Sony Classics) Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Vincent Cassel.  Director David Cronenberg takes us to turn-of-the-century Vienna where two giants of psychotherapy, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, find their professional and personal relationship tested by the appearance of a troubled but beautiful woman who becomes patient to one and lover to both. Into this highly volatile mix comes a second patient, a hedonist who yearns to push the boundaries further. The results of this fact-based affair will shape the modern science of psychiatry as well as 20th century philosophy.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for sexual content and brief language)

Man on a Ledge

(Summit) Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Ed Harris, Jamie Bell. A man steps out onto the ledge of a high rise. Suddenly an ordinary afternoon is transformed into a media event. But this isn’t an ordinary suicide attempt nor is this some loner who has come to the end of his rope. No, this is merely window dressing meant to obscure the man’s real agenda – to prove his innocence and to expose the machinations of a man who stole everything from him. A city stands captivated while the drama is played out on a stage 27 stories up.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and brief strong language)

One for the Money

(Lionsgate) Katherine Heigl, Jason O’Mara, John Leguizamo, Debbie Reynolds. Desperate for work after six months unemployed, former lingerie salesperson Stephanie Plum takes a job working for her cousin’s bail bonding agency. Her first job is to pick up the biggest bail jumper on her cousin’s roster; a former ex who broke her heart and dumped her in high school who is on trial for murder. It turns out that this case is going to be much more complex and personal than Stephanie thought. From the best-selling series of novels by Janet Evanovich.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action Comedy

Rating: R (for language)

Four-Warned: January 2012

January 2012Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

1. THE GREY (1.8)
2. RED TAILS (1.9)


RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

JANUARY 2, 2012

ALBATROSS (IFC) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A descendant of Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle seeks to gain experiences for her own writing, seducing an older married man with devastating results. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 British in a cheeky sort of way.

JANUARY 4, 2012

IT’S ABOUT YOU (MPI) Genre: Documentary. Follows John Mellencamp on his 2009 tour and during the recording of his 2010 album in various historic and musical sites throughout America. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (Opens in limited release January 6) RATING: 1.9 Really captures the soul of the artist and chronicles his creative process.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (Cinema Guild) Genre: Crime Drama. A group of men – a cop, a doctor, a prosecutor and a murder suspect among them – search the Anatolian steppes as darkness falls for the corpse of a victim. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.3 The Grand Prix winner at Cannes, the trailer looks amazing.

JANUARY 6, 2012

BENEATH THE DARKNESS (Image) Genre: Horror. A small town mortician, respected since his days as the high school quarterback, retreats into darkness after his wife dies. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Looks like standard crazed mortician slasher fare.
THE DEVIL INSIDE (Paramount) Genre: Horror. A daughter visits her mother, who killed three people when she was a young baby, in an Italian asylum to determine if her mother is sane or possessed. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Sort of a found footage version of The Rite.
NORWEGIAN WOOD (Soda/Red Flag) Genre: Drama. A freshman University student living in Tokyo in the 1960s develops romantic relationships with two very different women amid a world churning in turmoil. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.7 Stars the incredible Rinko Kikuchi; shows us the 60s from a very different viewpoint.
ROADIE (Magnolia) Genre: Drama. A roadie is fired after 20 years on the road with Blue Oyster Cult and must get his life back together after having done nothing else. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 I was part of the generation who thought rock and roll would never die never realizing that while it doesn’t die it does get old eventually.

JANUARY 11, 2012

LOOSIES (IFC) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A young New York City pickpocket discovers that the girl he had a one night stand with is pregnant, forcing him to re-evaluate his life choices. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Has a certain New York brassiness to it and it look genuinely funny.

JANUARY 12, 2012

NORTHEAST (Tribeca) Genre: Drama. A young man tires of skating through life and decides to find someone to build a life with. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.6 The trailer does not help the cause of this film.

JANUARY 13, 2012

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST 3D (Disney) Genre: Animated Feature. The re-release of blockbusters in 3D continues. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 3.7 Please God…go see a new movie instead.
CONTRABAND (University) Genre: Action/Crime. A former smuggler is drawn back into the life when his brother-in-law dumps cargo, incurring the wrath of the client. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 Mark Wahlberg looks awfully good in this role.
THE DIVIDE (Anchor Bay) Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller. A group of survivors trapped in a basement after a nuclear holocaust begin to turn on one another. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 A really intriguing trailer and premise, with a fine cast.
DON’T GO IN THE WOODS (Tribeca) Genre: Horror. A band goes to a wooded retreat to focus on writing some new songs and instead find themselves attacked by a caped killer. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 The directing debut of actor Vincent D’Onofrio looks like a pretty standard slasher film.
JOYFUL NOISE (Warner Brothers) Genre: Musical Comedy. A church choir in a national competition threatens to fall apart due to the rivalry between two members Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.4 Normally Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah in the same cast would be enough to pique my interest but the trailer looks weak.
NEWLYWEDS (Tribeca) Genre: Drama. The seemingly blissful marriage of two newlyweds is threatened when the husband’s hard-to-handle sister comes to stay with them. Release Strategy: Chicago only. RATING: 2.3 Edward Burns is one of my favorite indie actor/directors and this looks like it might wind up being one of his best.
SING YOUR SONG (S2BN) Genre: Music Documentary. Musician/activist Harry Belafonte’s career is profiled. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.5 Belafonte deserves to have his accomplishments highlighted from both a musical standpoint as well as a political one.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Genre: Psychological Thriller. When her son turns out to be sociopathic, a mother’s culpability comes under scrutiny. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 One of the creepiest and most disturbing trailers I’ve seen in a long while.

JANUARY 18, 2012

CRAZY HORSE (Zipporah) Genre: Documentary. The world famous nude dance revue in Paris is profiled here, with some surprising inside information. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.5 Titillating yes, but interesting to see how the process works.

JANUARY 20, 2012

CAROL CHANNING: LARGER THAN LIFE (Entertainment One) Genre: Documentary. The life and times of one of Broadway’s most legendary entertainers. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 A heartfelt and affectionate look at an American icon.
CORIOLANUS (Weinstein) Genre: Drama. One of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays is re-set in modern Italy and is directed by Ralph Fiennes, who also stars. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Setting Shakespeare plays in modern settings with Shakespearean dialogue always strikes me as being a bit pretentious.
THE FRONT LINE (Well Go USA) Genre: War. On the eve of the end of the Korean War, a Korean counter-intelligence officer is set to a place where the fighting is particularly ferocious to find a spy for the other side. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Looks to have an epic quality that marks the best war films.
FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST: THE SACRED STAR OF MILOS (Eleven Arts) Genre: Anime. A pair of brothers seeks out a fugitive alchemists with terrifying powers who wants to lead her people into an orgy of conquest. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 The trailer didn’t particularly stand out but then again, I like anime so there’s that.
HAYWIRE (Relativity) Genre: Action. A highly trained covert operative is betrayed by someone close to her in the agency and not only seeks revenge but answers. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.7 MMA superstar Gina Carano tries out her acting chops.
MISS BALA (20th Century Fox) Genre: Drama. A young woman from an impoverished part of Mexico dreams of becoming a beauty queen. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 The trailer seems to dwell on the role of organized crime in Mexico; not sure what to make of it yet.
RED TAILS (20th Century Fox) Genre: War. A squadron of African American fighter pilots for the U.S. Army fight the prejudices and ignorance of their own country as well as the enemy. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 George Lucas tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen; Star Wars meets World War II.
ULTRASUEDE: IN SEARCH OF HALSTON (Tribeca) Genre: Documentary. The life of the most iconic fashion designer of the 70s is examined. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 Fashion doesn’t really interest me but I’ll admit I’m a bit curious because of his relation to the times he lived in.
UNDERWORLD AWAKENING (Columbia) Genre: Horror/Action. Warrior/vampire Selene wakes up from suspended animation to a world in which the humans have subjugated the vampires and the Lycans only to find all three races facing an even darker threat. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 2.3 The concept has been better than the execution in this series but I gotta admit Kate Beckinsale always looks great in it.
WATCHING TV WITH THE RED CHINESE (Roam) Genre: Period Drama. In 1980 three red Chinese exchange students discover America largely through television, romantic triangles and violence. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Interesting concept but the trailer didn’t really stand out for me.

JANUARY 27, 2012

DECLARATION OF WAR (IFC) Genre: Drama. A young couple face the serious illness of their newborn baby as a kind of war. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.1 Stars Valerie Donzelli and Jeremie Elkaim based the movie on their own experiences; the film drew raves at Cannes.
THE GREY (Open Road) Genre: Thriller. Liam Neeson tries to lead a team of Alaskan oil drillers through the wilderness when their plane crashes – oh, and they’re being stalked by a pack of rogue wolves too. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.8 The trailer looks plenty exciting.
MAN ON A LEDGE (Summit) Genre: Crime Drama. A disgraced ex-cop just out of jail steps out onto a ledge; the hostage negotiator sent to deal with him soon realizes he may have a different agenda in mind. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 The trailer reminded me a little of the Joel Schumacher film Phone Booth.
ONE FOR THE MONEY(Lionsgate) Genre: Action Comedy. A former lingerie sales clerk takes a job as a bail bondsman out of desperation and finds herself enmeshed in a mystery involving an ex that she’d gladly see rot in jail – but he just might be innocent, a mystery that just might get them both killed. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Katherine Heigl plays Stephanie Plum, heroine of this Janet Evanovich mystery series
THE THEATER BIZARRE (W2 Media) Genre: Horror. An anthology of horror stories told by a marionette-like host in a strange theater with an audience of one. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 3.1 These types of anthologies tend to be wildly hit or miss, although I did appreciate the amount of blood, gore and nudity that the trailer advertises.
THE WICKER TREE (Anchor Bay) Genre: Horror. A pair of missionaries in Scotland innocently accept an invitation to participate in a local festival, unaware of the deeper rites that are to be celebrated. Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 From the writer of The Wicker Man, starring Christopher Lee; could be good but I still am wary after the remake of that film.

The Devil Inside, Contraband, Haywire, Red Tails, Underworld Awakening, The Grey, Man on a Ledge, One For the Money