This week, Cody watched new releases about life and death, love and loss, a knockout Crush, and the magic of film.
THE GREY (2012)
When a plane carrying Alaskan oil rig workers crashes, seven survivors are stranded in the middle of frozen nowhere. They soon discover that the crash has landed them within a thirty mile radius of a wolf den - "the kill radius". The wolves begin picking the men off one-by-one as they struggle to survive the elements and find some way to escape.
The big selling moment of the trailer shows star Liam Neeson strapping a knife and broken bottles to his hands, preparing to challenge a wolf one-on-one. That moment has earned this film the joke nickname "Punches with Wolves"... It's really not that movie.
What director Joe Carnahan has delivered, based on co-writer Ian MacKenzie Jeffers' short story Ghost Walker, is not your run-of-the-mill "when animals attack" flick. It's not about "wow, cool!" hero moments and there's nothing entertaining about the wolf attacks. The wolf attacks are vicious and horrifying, this is down and dirty desperate survival.
The characters are handled very realistically. Even when there's the typical guy with a bad attitude, it's not as simple as the guy just being a douche who we want to see killed, the character has more depth than that.
The cast is strong across the board, Neeson puts in a fantastic performance and there's great work from his fellow survivors. Frank Grillo is given a lot to work with with his character and handles it perfectly. My favorites of the bunch were played by Dermot Mulroney and Dallas Roberts.
We get to know these guys as the film goes on, we learn who they are as they discuss the things people would in this situation - the lives and people they have waiting for them at home, whether or not they believe in an afterlife. We don't want to see them die, and when they do fall, you feel the loss.
The Grey isn't a fun movie, but it is a great movie. Intense, thrilling, and heartbreaking.
Anyone reading this is probably familiar with the game show American Gladiators, which would pit regular folks in physical competitions against professional athletes and bodybuilders. The first iteration of this show aired between September 1989 and May 1995, during which time I was 5 to 11 years old, the perfect age range to get a good deal of entertainment from it. I used to watch episodes with my maternal grandmother while staying over at her house.
The show was briefly brought back starting in January 2008, and since my maternal grandmother had just passed away less than five months before the first new episode aired, I decided to watch the show for old times' sake. I still found it decently entertaining, and soon found another reason to watch every episode - one of the gladiators. A female gladiator called Crush. I, like most people watching, quickly developed a crush on Crush.
It turned out that "Crush" was professional Muy Thai and MMA fighter Gina Carano. One of the people taking an interest in her around this time was director Steven Soderbergh, and by the end of 2009 he was developing a "From Russia with Love meets Point Blank" project for her to star in. At the time, the film was going to be called Knockout, but it reached theatres this January with the title Haywire.
Carano stars as former Marine Mallory Kane, who's now working for a private contracting firm run by her former boyfriend Kenneth, taking jobs like rescue missions and surveillance jobs from government agencies, "duties that it would be inappropriate to give to the military." The plot is far from original - Mallory is betrayed, nearly killed, and seeks revenge on whoever sold her out - but it works.
Soderbergh has surrounded Carano with a terrific cast that includes the likes of Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas (rocking a magnificent beard), Bill Paxton, Michael Angarano, Michael Douglas, internet golden boy Michael Fassbender, and internet whipping boy Channing Tatum, but these big names don't overshadow her. She is the star, there are very few minutes where she's not on the screen, she carries the film on her shoulders and does well in her role. She also gets to kick a lot of ass. The fights look great and Carano, of course, performs them very convincingly.
A report from the marketing research company CinemaScore has gotten some attention, saying that the average audience rating of this film was a D. I think this is because Soderbergh made more of a serious, arthouse film than people were expecting. This isn't a big actionfest (which there's nothing wrong with, I'd love to see Carano in something like that as well), Soderbergh was aiming to make a "realistic" action film with a story, which he tells in a rather low-key way... And then lets his very attractive, badass leading lady unleash on some fools.
THE DESCENDANTS (2011)
Based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings and directed by Alexander Payne, this drama deals with some extremely heavy subject matter.
Matt King and his cousins are direct descendants of Hawaiian King Kamehameha. A lot of money and land has been passed down to them, but now the rule against perpetuities will cause their family trust to expire in seven years and their 25,000 acres of pristine land on Kaua'i has to be sold off. As sole trustee, Matt is in charge of this deal... And while he's focused on this, a tragic, life-changing event occurs.
Matt's wife Elizabeth is injured in a boating accident and lapses into a coma that she likely won't wake up from, leaving Matt to care for their young daughters Alexandra and Scottie, the real descendants of the title. This isn't a role Matt is used to, he was just the "backup parent", and the situation gets even tougher when Alexandra reveals to him why she had a falling out with her mother while she was home from boarding school over Christmas vacation: Alexandra discovered that Elizabeth was having an affair.
The death of a spouse/parent and cheating? As you might expect, there are moments in this film that can tear your heart to pieces, but it's also peppered with a good deal of levity, so it never gets too painful to watch.
There are several great performances, George Clooney has earned a well deserved Oscar nomination for his role as Matt. He has one moment in particular that gets me choked up and teary-eyed just thinking about it.
Shailene Woodley really impressed me as Alexandra. I've known about her from the show The Secret Life of the American Teenager, which my mother watches but I've never seen an episode of. In this film, she proves to be an actress to watch and I hope she develops a strong film career. I see that the Central Ohio Film Critics Association has awarded her Best Supporting Actress. Right on, Ohio.
After seeing the trailer for Hugo, I really had no interest in going to see it theatrically. I admire director Martin Scorsese as a filmmaker and I'm a fan of actress Chloe Grace Moretz, but a childrens' film about a kid with a wind-up toy being chased around a train station by Sacha Baron Cohen was one that I could wait to see. But then I started seeing reactions that were beyond what I would have expected from what the trailer was showing me. People raving about the film, for some reason making mention of the one minute long 1896 film Train Pulling into a Station, and saying that anyone who loves film must see Hugo... Though they would never say why, exactly. So I had to see it for myself.
People were right, there was greatness in Hugo beyond what I had been told. The trailer I had seen is mostly for half of the movie, there are only a couple clues to the part of the film that I felt was really great, and you'd have to be well-versed on short silent films of the early 1900s to catch them.
I still wasn't all that into the story from the trailer, of Hugo and the automaton and the train station, and at times the pacing felt achingly slow, but things take a turn at what felt like was around the halfway point (the nearest theatre has completely made the switch to digital projection, so no more time estimates based on the "cigarette burns" of reel changes), when Moretz's character reveals to Hugo that she has never seen a movie. The cinema is a special place to Hugo, it's where he spent some of the best times with his late father. His father loved movies, was fascinated by them ever since seeing 1902's A Trip to the Moon by filmmaker Georges Méliès.
Georges Méliès himself turns out to be a character in the film, and this story - based on the illustrated novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick - is a fictionalized lead-up to events that occured in Méliès' life in the late 1920s. Méliès was an insanely prolific filmmaker in the early 1900s, making over 500 short films, few of which survived over the years. It's when the Méliès reveal comes about and the film delves into his story, giving glimpses of his filmmaking days, that things really took off for me.
It's easy to see why Scorsese chose to make this his first childrens' film, as it gives him a chance to tell a story that includes showing the importance of a cause he cares deeply about, film preservation. The story presents films as more than just art, business, or entertainment, but as an awe-inspiring, powerful, magical, transportational medium, a view that has largely been lost over time. Cinema may have lost its lustre for many in the audience, but it remains a wonderful way to see dreams while awake.