Liam Neeson is that rare breed of actor who grows more badass with age who at the cusp of 60 appears quite credible besting men 30 years younger – or anyone else foolish enough to provoke him. In The Grey – a gripping but ponderous man-versus-wild epic directed and co-written by Joe Carnahan (The A-Team) – his foe is no less formidable than Mother Nature in all her fury. She has met her match.
Neeson plays Ottway a man whose sole job on an Alaskan oil rig consists of gunning down the occasional wolf that makes a run at an oilworker. (Fences apparently being in short supply in the Arctic.) Ottway is a hard stoic sort and one gets the strong sense that he tended toward irascibility even before his wife departed (for reasons not made clear till late in the film) taking with her his remaining purpose for living. He gains a new one appropriately enough when his flight home crashes down in the Alaskan wilderness killing all but a handful of its passengers. Ottway his survival skills honed in a previous life emerges as the only person capable of guiding them to salvation.
Carnahan surrounds Neeson with an ensemble of familiar types the most notable of which are Talget (Dermot Mulroney) the family man Henrick (Dallas Roberts) the conscience and Diaz (Frank Grillo) the jerk. They encounter the predictable male team-building hurdles puffing chests and locking horns before Ottway asserts himself as the Alpha Male. Figuring they’ll perish before salvation arrives they agree to make the perilous trek to the nearest human habitat braving any number of dangers the most fearsome of which are the ravenous “rogue wolves” that roam the landscape. (The film shot in British Columbia in conditions that were apparently every bit as brutal as they appear on-screen certainly looks authentic – both beautiful and ominous.)
When they aren’t battling the predatory lupine menace the men have time – far too much time – to reflect upon their plight and its existential implications. The Grey would have been perfectly enjoyable as a straightforward survival epic the “Liam punches wolves” movie promised by the trailer but Carnahan is intent on imbuing the film with a philosophical poignancy wholly unsuitable for a film featuring lines like “We’re in Fuck City population five and dwindling ” and “We’re gonna cook this son of a bitch!” – the latter uttered at the capture of one of the wolves. As a film Carnahan’s macho metaphysics leave The Grey feeling a bit overcooked.
As devourers of pop culture we're quick to categorize our entertainment for our own safety. Comedy drama thriller sci-fi horror—everything we have the chance to consume has a label to ensure that we know exactly what we're getting.
Occasionally a movie defies classification. While not a revolutionary piece of cinema 50/50 is especially gratifying simply because of its abandonment of genre and the baggage that comes with owning one. The movie starts with a simple inciting incident: one day 27-year-old Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) learns that he has a life-threatening tumor growing on his spine. Of course the news doesn't sit well with the public radio producer who's in the middle of work on an exciting piece for his station just adjusting to living with his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) and sees his life as a lengthy exciting prospect. Adam never smokes he waits to cross the street he always tucks his shirts in and keeps his sweater vests tidy—what did he do to deserve this?
But Adam doesn't go on a quest to find his true self or spend days writing a bucket list. He lives his life—and its friends and family who feel the tremors of his disease. Rachael quickly finds herself off balance and unable to cope with Adam's situation while his mother Diane (Anjelica Huston) tries to coddle him finding a new opportunity she never found with her Alzheimer's-stricken husband. His co-workers throw him a guilt-induced party.
At a total loss Adam finds comfort in his pal Kyle (Seth Rogen essentially playing himself) who uplifts his spirits through dedication marijuana and loose women. Nothing seems to out-weigh the punch-in-the-gut feeling of losing his hair to chemotherapy or barely being able to walk around his house without feeling winded but Adam stays afloat thanks to Kyle's incessant goofiness and a newfound friendship in his therapist Katherine (Anna Kendrick). Equally out of water in her new job the two bond over their discovery of humanism in the scientific process of beating cancer and while the growth of their relationship is one of the few things in the film that feels remotely contrived it gives Adam hope in the face of his possibly-fatal surgery.
50/50 isn't sugar sweet nor is it stone cold serious. Director Jonathan Levine allows the events to unfold in a unique and reserved realism allowing the movie to bounce from laugh-out-loud funny (thanks in a large part to Rogen's star talent in a supporting role) to tearjerker drama without any broad segues. Gordon-Levitt has established himself as one of modern cinema's best watchers the type of actor who can float through a picture without making too much a ruckus but who's identifiable and helps us understand his surroundings. But he fits right in to the Apatow-style comedy Rogen and Levine conjure up throughout the movie. In one scene Adam chows down on some pot brownies courtesy of his elderly chemo-mates (Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer) leading him to groove around the hospital hall spaced out and loving it. It's an uproarious moment but poignant too—finally Adam can let go of a bit of his grief.
Providing a foundation for 50/50's minimalist tactics are the supporting cast. Howard once again proves her versatility turning an unsympathetic character into a dimensionalized presence. What Rachael does in the film isn't admirable but thanks to Howard's performance not entirely unreasonable. Huston and Kendrick are strong and grounded enough that when Adam begins to check out of life as surgery looms they don't disappear from the film. But it's Rogen who really steals the show perhaps because his friend and 50/50 writer Will Reiser based the movie on their real life experiences but the comedy-first actor steps up later in the film when the weight of reality starts to bring everyone down.
50/50 isn't a comedy or a drama but a portrait of real people surviving real hardships. Shedding a few tears over the course of the film is perfectly acceptable—the jokes are that funny and the emotion that powerful.
About 10 years ago the residents of Springwood ended Freddy Krueger's legendary reign of terror by drugging the town's teens to prevent them from dreaming and locking away the ones who wouldn't forget the master of nightmares. But as Freddy points out "being forgotten was a bitch." In order to emerge from his purgatory Freddy needs to instill fear back on the 1400 block of Elm Street--and he thinks he has found his ticket with the hockey-mask-wearing serial killer Jason Voorhees. Taking the form of Jason's dead mother Freddy invades Jason's dreams and instructs him to leave Crystal Lake and head to Elm Street to do some slaughtering. The plan actually works and as the town becomes fearful once more Freddy is able to prey on their vulnerability. But whom will Freddy torment if Jason slashes all the teens in town? As advertised by the studio the two '80s horror icons eventually engage in the ultimate showdown. Moviegoers however will have to check out the movie to find out who wins the face-off but the question is is it worth it? If you are not a fan of either franchise be prepared to sit through a shoddy story that is missing the tension and buildup so prevalent in Wes Craven's original 1984 thriller A Nightmare on Elm Street. If you are devotee the melding of Freddy and Jason on the big screen is a pretty delicious treat but the battle's outcome may ultimately frustrate fans.
Almost 20 years ago Robert Englund gained cult status as Freddy Krueger--a horror icon as recognizable as Boris Karloff's Frankenstein. Now Englund's name has become so synonymous with this character that replacing him would be catastrophic--and with good reason; this character actor is cause enough to go see the Freddy vs. Jason. This is Englund's eighth time going under the putty knife and he appears to still be having a blast playing Freddy. Although the character's physical appearance hasn't changed a bit (he still wears that skanky striped sweater and his razor fingers are still charmingly low-tech) but his quips are more sarcastic than ever. "What's the matter Lori " the dream-crasher taunts his victim. "Miss your wake-up call?" Former stunt performer Ken Kirzinger portrays Freddy's challenger Friday the 13th's Jason Vorhees. Different actors portrayed the character in 6 of the 10 installments of the Friday series; the last four sequels starred Kane Hodder. But since Jason sports a hockey mask and doesn't talk he doesn't have many personality traits to note--unless you count his slashing technique. So while Kirzinger is a convincing enough Jason it's safe to assume this stunt man was probably hired more for his ability to crash through glass and go up like a human torch rather for any likeness to Jason.
Director Ronny Yu who helmed the psycho doll thriller Bride of Chucky in 1998 is no stranger to the horror genre. Freddy vs. Jason is well done especially Yu's subtle transitions from the characters' realities to dreamland. This is where the director manages to inject a bit of tension into the film by playing mind games with the audience: When a character heads towards imminent danger the audience is never sure if they have fallen asleep and are dreaming or if what is happening is real--until a visual clue pops up like a bleating goat appearing where it clearly doesn't belong. Yu does this with a sense of humor and a bit of '80s nostalgia which is sure to please connoisseurs of the franchise. But the problem with Freddy vs. Jason is that it is so busy not taking itself too seriously that it fails to instill fear. Screenwriters Damian Shanning and Mark Swift had the thorny task of blending Freddy's supernatural and somewhat intellectually superior storylines with Jason's thuggish slasher plots and the result is story that leans more towards the brutish. The buildup and tension that made Nightmare on Elm Street so eccentrically frightening is gone and Freddy is brought down to Jason's level forced to fight physically rather than use his manipulative mind power. Watching the two malevolent entities hacking away at each other Freddy and Jason have almost been reduced to standing jokes.