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.
A year ago an aspiring filmmaker sent me a copy of his first feature film, Stuck Like Chuck, out of the hope I might give the film some coverage. This is hardly a rare occurrence if you write about movies for a living. What is rare, however, is receiving a debut film, particularly of the low key, indie comedy variety, that ends up actually being good.
Sadly, as is too often the case with indie films, Stuck Like Chuck faded into a distribution-less phantom zone where the only way to see it was to hear about it from a friend and then buy a copy directly from the filmmaker. But, like I said, that was one year ago. Today you can view the film in full online completely free of charge, and don’t fear the MPAA knocking on your door, it’s 100% legal as well. And here’s why you should do just that:
Who Made It: Written, directed, edited and produced by Jerry Cavallaro (fun fact, he took third place in Netflix 2008 Movie Watching World Championship).
Who’s In It: Joe Moran, Jocelyn DeBoer and Patrick McColley round out the film’s core trio. They’re more or less complete unknowns, but they’re all talented for first time actors. But, if you do need a little more veteran flavor every now and then, you can keep your eye out for Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman as well as Chris Elliot.
What’s It About: Let’s quote the official synopsis: “Stuck Like Chuck is a comedy about friendship, love, college and the awkward situations that bring them all together. Charlie is a student filmmaker. Juliet is a hot film geek. Rob is just awesome. Since Charlie is a wreck when talking to Juliet outside of class, Rob locks the two of them in their Film-201 classroom for the night. Pop culture is dissected, life is observed and love spends the night in.”
Why You Should See It: The official synopsis doesn’t quite do the film justice. Yes, it’s about an awkward guy (Charlie) and a pretty gal (Juliet) being locked into a room for a night by said awkward guy’s socially inept roommate (Rob), but at its core, Stuck Like Chuck is about capturing the spirit of that first time you really connect with another person; that first time someone grabs your attention beyond just a physical attraction and you panic about making wrong moves and making right moves and so you just end up making any move out of the hope you don’t f**k up too badly. Now I don’t mean for the film to sound like a super sappy romantic comedy, but it’s a surprisingly sentimental film that really gets that flaky just-in-college mindset and understands how to talk about it an organic way.
Yes, the performances aren’t going to redefine the way you think about the craft. Yes, the production was made on a shoe string budget and it shows. Yes, it’s not immaculate on a technical level. But none of that really matters because Stuck Like Chuck’s ambition shines through the no-budget trappings. I’ve little doubt its the most common comparison writer-director-editor-producer Cavallaro gets, but this is Clerks-level filmmaking. The exhibition of the story may not be impressive, but what it’s trying to do and what it actually does certainly are. As with Clerks, there’s an appreciation for the fact that our romances—be they with other people or with things like movies and pop culture—are often crude and hard to manage, but we pursue them because we’re compelled to.
Plus, we’re talking about a free movie here. It’s not like it’s going to break your bank to watch Stuck Like Chuck instead of any number of more mainstream comedies starring the likes of Kate Hudson or Katherine Heigl. If you do end up liking the film (and I think you will), you can donate $1 to Cavallaro and company and in return you’ll be given 10 hours of making-of material you can watch online. Not a bad value, if ya’ ask me.
So here's your chance. Watch the movie right now: