Perseus, a demigod in denial, undertakes a perilous journey to get something he needs to kill something else and save the world. That’s the plot for both “Clash of the Titans” (2010) and the new “Wrath of the Titans,” set ten years later when Perseus is a single dad. Titans, the mythological offspring of Uranus and Gaia only appeared in the first film as a mention in opening narration. But the second concocts one Titan, the 1500-foot-tall Cronus, for a climactic mega-clash. Read the rest of this entry »
“You’re going to die, that’s what’s happening,” John Ottway soothes a dying colleague, a fear-whisperer, himself a man strangely at peace, reconciled. In the opening narration of “The Grey”—a title reflecting the determination of survival, not wolves—Neeson’s sharpshooter character refers to the Arctic oil roughnecks around him as “ex-cons, drifters, assholes, men unfit for mankind.” Weariness, not loathing or judgment, freights his voice, sonorous masculine gloom. Ottway’s just a grey-beard tucked into a green rag-wool hat, aswirl in snow, eyeing advancing wolves. (“And I’ve stopped doing the world any real good” is Ottway’s sad murmur, more of alienation than self-pity.) Shortly, things grow grimmer: grayer. In a time of timid large-scale movies, “The Grey” is bold in its harsh turns, with obvious dashes of “Moby Dick” and “Jaws”—man against the implacable beast but ultimately himself—as well as moments that hark back to predecessors like Robert Aldrich’s crash-survival “Flight of the Phoenix,” “Deliverance” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” (But that’s not to call the movie “derivative.”) Joe Carnahan’s talent as a director of dynamic action was apparent from his earliest movies, including the no-budget “Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane” (1998) and “Narc” (2002). An assignment to direct an installment of “Mission: Impossible” fell through, and the more recent “A-Team” didn’t impress many. Yet in “The Grey,” a story of men surviving in the sub-Arctic Alaskan wilderness after an accident, Carnahan’s promise is fulfilled. It’s a bravura man-against-the-wilds, man-against-wolves, man-against-himself thriller, fire and ice. And Neeson: worldly, weary, worn. He and Carnahan this time ’round: the Alpha-Team. The blues, grays and whites of the film’s palette chill from the first frames: you can tell straightaway it’s going to be a story of survival against the odds, or earnest failure. The cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi (“Warrior”) is raw and beautiful. Brute without brooding, it’s a very masculine movie. But there are moments of brisk lyricism: in distance at night, dozens of eyes float in the darkness, a gloaming of fear as much as a phalanx of carnivores. Human blood wells and visibly, audibly ices, defining a track, a huge paw-print. The survivors look toward blackest night, their breath rising in unison in columns like kanji, Japanese lettering. The commercials that have been playing the past couple months have been canny about misdirection: all I’ll suggest is stay through the end credits. With Dallas Roberts, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Joe Anderson, Nonso Anozie, James Badge Dale. 117m. (Ray Pride)
“The Grey” opens Friday.
If the leading cause of screen death for assassins is other assassins, the most common non-lethal ailment for their agent colleagues is amnesia, as we see in “The Bourne Identity,” “The Long Kiss Goodnight” and now, “Unknown.” In “Taken” (2009) Liam Neeson played an ex-CIA agent who wreaked havoc in Paris to extract his daughter from the posh yacht of a Middle Eastern pervert. Now it’s Berlin’s turn to endure collateral mayhem as Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris from New Hampshire. He must extract himself from an intellectual-property heist (156 laptop files “worth billions in the wrong hands”) and the assassination of a Middle Eastern playboy and philanthropist. Bruno Ganz (“Downfall”) plays an ex-Stasi agent who helps our hero find himself. His other helpmate is a Bosnian taxi driver played by Diane Kruger. Screenwriters Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell, working from a novel by Didier van Cauwelaert, help the historically illiterate with background briefings on the former Yugoslavia and the former East Germany. An American couple (Neeson and January Jones) check into the Hotel Adlon for a tenth annual biotech “summit.” The plot promptly detours Harris into a four-day coma. His memory is shaken and his identity is taken. This who-am-I? thriller creaks with dumb mechanics. Director Jaume Collet-Serra did far better in “Orphan,” where hypopituitarism took the place of amnesia, and the Saarne Institute, not Section 15, was where the wrong-doers originated. “Unknown” is watchable escapism with a corny finale of global proportions for popcorn concessions. With Aidan Quinn, Frank Langella, Sebastian Koch, Olivier Schneider, Stipe Erceg. 109m. (Bill Stamets)
On the 253rd day of enduring his two cousins displaced by the Luftwaffe bombing of London, the disagreeable Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter, “Son of Rambow”) scribbles in his diary: “Investigate legal ramifications of impaling relatives.” He cannot stand their nattering about Narnia, a fantastic kingdom of chatty satyrs, centaurs, minotaurs and minoboars they visited in the 2005 and 2008 installments prior to “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” All three were written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on the childrens’ book series by lit prof and theologian C.S. Lewis (1898–1963) that were published in the 1950s. Screenwriter Michael Petroni is also credited for the third, the first in 3D. The live action was converted; the CGI was created in 3D; both work quite well. Read the rest of this entry »
Three years, three months and three days are the successive time frames–marked on screen–that telescope the suspenseful timeline as John (Russell Crowe) breaks his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) out of Allegheny County Jail before her transfer to prison. This Pittsburgh community college teacher, raising their little boy by himself, does not believe Lara bludgeoned her boss to death with a fire extinguisher in her office’s parking structure, but there was enough evidence for a twenty-year sentence. Unike Crowe’s character in “Proof of Life” (2000), an ex-military contractor rescuing execs kidnapped by rebels, John is a middle-class everyman devoted only to his spouse. He faces a steep learning curve to acquire a new set of extra-legal skills. “Show me where the bullets go,” he tells the proprietor at the gun shop. Read the rest of this entry »
Attacking the CIA as corrupt, this comic anti-American action film is anti-corporate to boot: the CIA’s co-conspirator in a scheme to counterfeit hundred-dollar bills is none other than Black Forest, an evil contractor named after the former Blackwater USA (now called Xe Services LLC). Based on ninety-eight episodes of the 1980s NBC series, the good guys are four Army Rangers who’ve accomplished eighty missions in the past eight years. Now they execute a bunch of fun escapes, attacks and extractions in Mexico, Iraq, Germany and California. Director Joe Carnahan earlier looked at dirty cops in his “Narc” (2002) and risky cons in “Smokin’ Aces” (2006). He writes “The A-Team” with Jim Piddock, Skip Woods and Brian Bloom, who plays the Black Forest operative Pike. The original Mr. T. character is reprised by Quinton “Rampage” Jackson as a Gandhi-quoter with “Pity” tattooed on four knuckles of one hand and “Fool” on the other. Bradley Cooper plays the cute one who hides little metal implements in his mouth for getting out of jams when fast talk cannot. Sharlto Copley from “District 9” plays the nutcase who dabbles in recreational electroshock. Their leader is played by the fatherly Liam Neeson, who insults Black Forest employees as “assassins in polo shirts” and taunts a CIA spook: “Shouldn’t you be installing a dictatorship or overthrowing a democracy?” Later, the spook cracks: “The CIA’s got rules—our rules are just cooler.” Topical commentary includes lethal military retaliation against Mexicans trespassing on Arizona airspace, and a ward of mental patients cheering a fourth-wall-breaking 3-D film screening. “Overkill is underrated,” observes an A-Teamer, speaking for all concerned in this fun summer popcorn-peddler. The leftover bit after the end credits is not to wait for. With Jessica Biel, Gerald McRaney, Patrick Wilson. 118m. (Bill Stamets)
Eliot (Liam Neeson, “Kinsey,” “Taken”) either injects a powerful muscle relaxant (the make-believe “hydronium bromide”) into people incorrectly declared dead by the local coroner, then buries them alive, or this mortician is cursed as a corpse-whisperer. The first one was his mother’s. He listens to their unceasing insistence they’re not dead, and berates deceased in-denial schoolteacher Anna (Christina Ricci) after a car wreck: “You’re a corpse, Anna, your opinion doesn’t matter!” Anna cannot feel her pulse, but sees her breath fog a mirror. Eliot could be dead, too, although that possibility, posed in a single line of dialogue, is not long-lived in the script by director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo and her co-writers. With its meaninglessly punctuated title, “After.Life” contains a lineage motif: Eliot handles Anna’s late piano teacher and also mentors her student. This morbid boy lives with his aged mother or grandmother, although she may not be living with him, since she is only seen sitting in a chair in front of a TV showing really, really old black-and-white programs. (This apprentice inters a live chick he abducts from a science project in Anna’s classroom.) Other dead-end allusions link a nosebleed, red hair dye, spilled red wine, a red Volvo, the red box for an engagement ring, a slinky red slip, a pulsing heart and a blood-flecked bobble-head doll. The score, shock chords and sound design are utterly routine horror-style, despite Wojtowicz-Vosloo claiming her debut feature is elevated by arty “European” ambiguity. With Justin Long, Josh Charles, Chandler Canterbury and Celia Weston. 103m. (Bill Stamets)
Harper’s runs ads that promise the magazine has no “content.” Turning to film, with digital 3-D projection retrofitted onto most of the studios’ biggest projects, I wonder if we’re talking “movies,” “product” or just “data.”
I was content not to preview the 3-D converted version of “Clash of the Titans,” which was shot to be shown in 35mm and digital projection. It’s a remake of the 1981 hunka-hunka burning cheese that was graced with the last of Ray Harryhausen’s captivating stop-motion animation. Stop-motion: that stuff artists painstakingly do with their hands?
User interfaces have taken us far enough from data, from the fact that the “cloud” of information out there that rains down ones and zeroes in insistent succession, to allow us to forget just how far the electronic is from the photochemical and the mechanical, from miles of celluloid unspooling through an early twentieth-century device called a “projector.” When does it get real, tactile again? When hard-earned money passes through the window, $11 for most movies before the 3-D premium. That’s tactile. That’s what we’re doing with our hands. Read the rest of this entry »