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Monthly Archives: February 2012

[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckvDo2JHB7o]
After years of seeing it in pieces, occasionally watching it in its entirety out of a sense of geek obligation and thinking about how it compares to his better works from the same age, I’ve come to the sad and unavoidable conclusion that John Carpenter’s Escape From New York is undeservedly placed among his cannon of classics.  It isn’t an awful, eye gouging, pooch screwing of a movie, but there is only small praises to be found in its barren scenery and wishy washy plotting.  It’s a b-movie blessed with a great idea but marred by some very under cooked execution on behalf of writer-director Carpenter.

Released in the summer of 1981, Escape From New York marked the first time John Carpenter would work with his soon-to-be favorite leading man, Kurt Russell.  Carpenter was still riding high from the phenomenal success of Halloween but had a touch of the sophomore slump with his dopey follow up, The Fog.  30-year old Kurt Russell was mostly untested movie star material.  He was known for corny 60’s era Disney movies as a teenager, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, and had only recently escaped the confines of a career in TV.  The year before Escape he starred in another eventual cult classic, Used Cars.  With only this lighthearted resume to back him up Russell was seen as an offbeat choice to play the lead character of Snake Plissken, a menacing, one eyed killer with a rotten attitude towards everyone and everything.  Carpenter and Russell would eventually make four more movies together, most of them beloved in film nerd circles everywhere, Escape being one of their most beloved efforts above all.

Escape has a plot so on-the-nose perfect it’s been duplicated, emulated and just plain ripped off by scores of genre filmmakers since, even Carpenter.  Set in the ‘distant future’ of 1997, a massive crime wave in the late 80’s forced the U.S. government to wall off the island of Manhattan and turn it into a dumping ground for dangerous convicts and social degenerates.  Under constant surveillance, the island is an inescapable Hell run over with freaks, many of whom could be mistaken for the walking dead.  One night American terrorists seize Air Force One with the aim of killing the President (Donald Pleasance).  The plane crashes on Manhattan but the President is ejected in an escape pod.  When a rescue team arrives to retrieve him, a Buscemi look alike creepazoid with freakishly tall hair shows the soldiers a finger, the President’s, and demands they leave.  As all this is going on, being brought to Manhattan for incarceration is Snake Plissken, the badass who will begrudgingly save the day.  Plissken gets baited to save the President with the promise of a clean slate, the catch though is that Plissken has just 24 hours to get the job done.  A peace conference is under way and once it’s over the President’s retrieval becomes somewhat superfluous.  More importantly to Snake, he will die from the two microscopic explosive devices cunningly implanted in his neck.  The stage is set for a fearsome action movie with a great race against the clock device to keep us moving.  So why doesn’t anything feel the least bit urgent, pressing or necessary?

Escape From New York has coasted for decades on the semblance of attitude.  With his humorless clinched jaw, unshakable cloak of badass and Eastwood inspired attitude, Russell all but puts Escape in his pocket and walks away with the entire movie.  At least that’s what happens for most of its fans.  After recently watching Escape for the 4th or 5th time in its entirety, it hit me that Russell has a real case of Boba Fett syndrome.  As in he looks cool as shit, he exudes menace but he doesn’t really do anything to warrant the idolatry many have bestowed on him.  Plissken isn’t ahead of the game or even very astute most of the time.  Sometimes he survives by wits but on some occasions its simply screenplay mandated luck.  Russell has enough shitkicker attitude to make the part fun to watch but once you get past that, there isn’t much to the guy.  He’s an amoral, asskicking, anti-hero in the Eastwood tradition, but he’s missing something important.  Eastwood’s characters were usually fighting for some kind of underdog, dispensing a harsh justice that the law itself couldn’t doll out.  Plissken only acts because he has no choice.  He doesn’t need to be deep, but he could stand to be something except a grizzled nihilist.   If he’s disinterested and doesn’t care about what’s happening around him, why should we care?  We don’t and that’s a big problem.  The character has potential, but there’s just not enough on the page besides a lot of jokes about everyone thinking Plissken is already dead.

Escape has scores of other issues besides Plisken.  He’s the least of its issues.  The shaggy screenplay feels thoroughly half assed.  It leaves numerous plot points and story devices half explained or not clear at all.  We’re told there’s a peace conference the President must attend within 24 hours or…..what exactly?  A war is mentioned but no details are forthcoming.  If the 24 hours go by with no President would they not have bothered to rescue him?  That scenario is stupid but it’s implied as a possibility.  Tied directly into this is the cassette tape MacGuffin.  The President is carrying some supposedly all important cassette tape which he intends to play to the delegates so impatiently awaiting his appearance.  What’s on it is never divulged and in the end, after Plissken double crosses everyone and destorys the tape, couldn’t someone simply say what was on it?  It’s a cassette tape for God’s sake.  Why didn’t someone find a boombox and dup that shit or better yet, just tell the President what’s on it?  It’s a lame plot device and Carpenter’s inability to forward think technology in the slightest is kind of surprising.

Next there’s the sinister character of The Duke (Isaac Hayes).  His plan for the President isn’t very clever or impressive.  He’s going to march across one of the city bridges with the President as hostage and demand the release of himself and his legion of followers?  How’s that going to work?  Why would it work?  There’s no door into this joint.  Was he going to keep the President hostage forever?  Add to this the fact he keeps sitting around and waiting to execute his grand plan and you’re left with a bad guy who just seems disinterested in his own getaway.  Speaking of getaways, who the Hell are Stanton and Barbeau having a shootout with on top of the World Trade Center? And why are these mysterious marauders throwing the one thing which could help them escape, Plissken’s glider, off the damn building?  And since when can people go up and down 50 stories of building in 8 seconds?  Carpenter also cheats on his 24 hour gimmick.  Faced with a need to get to the end of his story he simply knocks Plissken unconscience for 10 hours so we can jump to the conclusion, as well as avoid shooting in the daylight.  Top all of this off with the fact that Carpenter has to base his whole story on a huge coincidence.  The Presidential plane crashes just as Plissken is being deported to New York.  What luck.

If Escape From New York has an electrifying element it’s the supporting cast.  Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrianne Barbeau and Adrianne Barbeau’s tits make a compelling cavalcade of talent.  And putting Isaac Hayes in your movie probably seemed like genius on paper.  Apparently Hayes wasn’t up to the challenge, or more likely, given the material to make his role compelling.  His Duke character is a lot like Plissken in that he’s another guy who looks cool but doesn’t do much but ride around in a limo with hanging chandeliers on the hood.  A nice touch.  Hayes has a handful of fun, throwaway lines but not much else.  Pleasance gets to chew a little scenery but sounds pretty damned English to be the President of the United States.  Borgnine is an old pro having fun playing Cabbie, but he’s basically a plot device on wheels.  Whenever Plissken needs to vamoose from a situation Cabbie and his cab appear as if summoned from thin air.  Harry Dean Stanton and Adrianne Barbeau make a decent enough duo but the movie doesn’t really get much mileage out of them.  There’s clearly something implied between them, she goes all homicidal/suicidal when Stanton gets blown up, but whatever is there is barely dwelled on.   Outshining everyone is Van Cleef, a man who exudes such a sinister vibe he could probably make most grown men piss themselves.  Even though he doesn’t have much of a role to play he elevates the film with every minute he’s on screen.  He and Russell have the give and take that Van Cleef had with Eastwood in their Man With No Name films, except this time Van Cleef has the upper hand he could never quite get on Eastwood, and he loves it.  Why Carpenter and his co-screenwriter simply didn’t make Van Cleef the defacto heavy is a good question which looks to have no answer.

All of these qualms feel as if they belong squarely on the shoulders of Carpenter and his co-writer Nick Castle.  Carpenter is a director of marginal talent who has managed to make great movies.  Most of his better films involve small situations and tight settings.  The arctic confines and increasing paranoia of The Thing chill the viewer to the core.  The simple shadowy figure of Michael Myers still scares the bejesus out of people.  In Starman Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen score the best relationship he ever captured and it’s done solely from the confines of a Mustang.  Christine was nothing more than three teens and and evil bitch of an automobile.  Faced with trying to build and visualize a dead Manahattan, inhabit it with criminal rabble, get his characters around and bring together a half dozen eccentric personalities for an action flick, Carpenter’s ability far exceeds his grasp.  Escape never builds any sene of momentum or urgency.  The movie feels static and looks flat.  The quick pulse it aims to have keeps slipping away in a narrative which feels like it needs a few more turns through the screenplay machine.  Coincidence, circumstance and just plain laziness are all over it.  Russell carries as much of the proceedings as he can but it’s hard not to notice that Escape is constantly dogged by a lack of urgency and forethought.

This is the only Carpenter classic I have never been able to bring myself around to.  I’ve been a devoted fan of Halloween, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, Christine and Starman for most of my movie watching life.  But I could never bring myself around to get excited about this one.  After one more revisit with it, yet another attempt on my part to find and feel what people love about it, it’s about time to give up.  It’s a movie which will remain a dedicated following for years to come, but I can’t bring myself to join the ranks.  Making things even more depressing is that when finally given a chance to return to the property for a much desired sequel 15 years later, Escape from L.A., Carpenter, Russell and the rest of the crew choose to slap together a tactless, dumb psuedo-remake with most of the same mistakes.  It was final proof that perhaps Carpenter should have given this bigger ideas to someone with a little more know how and a lot more ability.

[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBmnkk0QW3Q]

Ten Word or Less Review – The director of Godzilla does Shakespeare.

Destroyer of the world!  Wrecker of the Earth!  The man who never saw a national monument he didn’t want to topple over in an orgy of CGI carnage!  Roland Emmerich is back!  And this time he’s bringing you Shakespeare!  Hamlet vs Aliens?  No.  The man who brought you city obliterating spaceships, the storm that froze our planet, the Earth’s crust that fell apart and a shitty Godzilla movie now feels obliged to spin an epic yarn about how politics and social decourum conspired to create Shakespeare, the world’s biggest literary fraud.  Anonymous tackles the less than substantiated claim that Shakespeare’s plays were in fact written by the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans), here portrayed as a talented and tortured playwright caught in an age when to be such a thing was seen as pure sin.  In a certian light Emmerich seems like the right man for the job.  This is a dunderheaded conceit and Emmerich specializes in dunderheaded movies.  But he’s also monotonous, tone deaf and rarely any good with actors.  Most of these qualities eventually drag Anonymous into the muck from which it was spawned.

Anonymous begins by having renowned Shakespeare actor Derek Jacobi take the stage and begin to make the case for looking at Shakespeare with a crooked gaze.  He had an average education.  No examples of his handwriting exist.  But whatever thin possibilities this conspiracy hopes to exploit are gradually fallen to pieces in a plot rampant with silly twists, rampant incest, then eventually Emmerich’s favorite thing, explosions.  Anonymous quickly establishes that de Vere is a supremely talented artists who toils away in privacy, pumping out masterpieces in secret the way someone today fires off an e-mail to their mother.  With no outlet for his work he recruits playright Ben Johnson to act as his surrogate author.  Johnson hesitates to rise to the task and it’s here that the lecherous Shakespeare seizes his opportunity for financial gain and critical respect.  The film bounces back and forth between older Edward the tortured writer and a young Edward, wooer of Queen Elizabeth (Joely Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave).  Their relationship is actually the emotional crux of the story.

Anonymous’ screenplay grasp at any straw it can to support its hairbrained theory.  Shakespeare himself is only a minor character portrayed as a morally abscent, opportunistic buffoon incapable of writing his own name, yet we’re supposed to believe he could keep this monumental secret until the day he died.  This is just one of many of Anonymous’ logic impaired claims.  As Edward de vere, Rhys Ifans nearly holds the story together as the repressed and spiritually sunken Earl.  His performance is full formed and totally convincing, free of any winking or coyness.  If there’s a joke a foot he’s not in on it.  But Emmerich’s tactless storytelling, and an over reaching and negligently researched screenplay, overpower him and his follow diligent co-stars.  The story deteriorates scene by scene into a balderdash costume drama.  Maybe that’s what Emmerich intended all along, but that’s giving him too much credit for guile.  No Emmerich film as ever felt the least bit cunning or intentionally deceptive.  It seems a confident assumption that he really was taking this seriously and if so he really should stick to destroying worlds with computer graphics.

If Emmerich’s entertainments have always kept you glued down, and you really don’t care how ridiculous this whole thing comes across, then perhaps his movie will prove a good lark for weekend viewing.  It has lurid drama and high court shenanigans at every turn.  Sex, deception and murder lurk behind all its corners.  But most likely the only thing breaking through yonder window will be exasperation followed by boredom.

[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzcVvTHZlQo]
Real Steel – Shawn Levy, a supremely untalented director with way too much success under his belt, got really drunk one night and had himself his own little Sly Stallone film festival.  Buzzing on overpriced hooch with his friends and lackeys, everyone feigning enjoyment to some degree, Shawn was hit with what he immediately believed to be an idea of epic magnitude.  As Stallone’s crap opus Over the Top reached its dramatic apex, Mr. Levy thought to his overindulged self, ‘The only thing which could make this astonishing movie about arm wrestling any better would be robots!’  And thus we have the blisteringly stupid movie Real Steel to live with and tolerate for the rest of civilization.  A true to form Stallone 80’s tribute piece replete and abound with boxing robots.

Real Steel is quite comfortable in its own goofy, metallic skin.  It’s the story of a deadbeat, dickhead father (Hugh Jackman) bonding with the aggressively annoying son (Dakota Goyo) he abandoned so many years ago to pursue a skyrocketing career in robot boxing.  Steel envisions a future where actual boxing is even less revered than it is today and has been totally supplanted by large fighting robots who are cheered and rooted for by white trash rednecks.  Running with such a colossal pile of crap the filmmakers and cast just dive in and assume this asinine concept is going to fly.  I have to give them credit.  Real Steel is like watching the middle school talent show where the poor dork kid with no talent for anything fearlessly seizes the stage and proceeds to humiliate himself, blissful and without any sense of awareness that he’s humiliating himself.  It just plows ahead with its hair brained idea like nothing is wrong at all, but you know in the back of your mind something really awful is going down and it might be wise, even tasteful, to look away, but you don’t.  You sit there and let the confounding nature of it all just sink in.  You feel bad for yourself.  You feel bad for the poor people who got sucked into participating.  You feel like a chump for spending actual money to experience it.

Steel is an amazingly corny experience and if a mouthful of the Green Giant Whole Kernel makes your taste buds happy, feel free to ignore my observations.  But if you watched the preview I did and were struck like a Mac truck by everyone’s favorite, profane three letter shorthand, ‘WTF?’ then Real Steel lives up to every justified assumption you made about it.  It’s a schtickish, ridiculous exercise in sport movie cliche built up and assembled for a Transformer loving audience.  You’ve been warned.

[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zH7KZD5vGBY]

Cowboys & Aliens – A rule from this point forward.  All movies in which the title consist solely of Genre Staple A vs./and Genre Staple B should be avoided at all cost.  It’s always a bankrupt washout of movie garbage.  Alien vs Predator?  Shit.  Freddy vs Jason?  Of course it was shit.  Anyone remember Ecks vs. Sever?  Didn’t think so.  I didn’t even like it when Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein.  And this time it’s no different.  As awash with creativity as the title implies, Cowboys & Aliens consist of some cowboys (Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford) and some aliens and the cowboys shoot the aliens and the aliens maul and kill the cowboys and that’s about it.  There are some motives and some plot but you won’t care.  Slash the budget and eject the shockingly major league talent and you’ve got a story and a screenplay perfect for your typical Sunday night SyFy Channel piece of shit.  The story is boring, routine and such a forgone conclusion it may make those of you with achy joints reach for the Advil.  A piss poor excuse for a tent pole action movie experience if there ever was one.  Jon Favreau once again shows he is a director of limited scope and ambition but a Hell of a conversationalist he must be.  How he got the notoriously picky and prickly Ford to join his ranks for this must have required such an epic spinning of dialogue that somewhere in the afterlife Homer himself wept and envied Favreau’s abilities to talk shit.  That or he just wrote Ford a great big fucking check.  Probably the later but it doesn’t matter.  This is a movie no one could love and I doubt anyone will be remembering for very long.

[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-M5Qx57_UU]
Ten Word or Less Review: Peter Parker and Anakin Skywalker melded together, then given camera.

The superhero genre gets its mandated handheld movie treatment with Chronicle, a mixed bag of ideas and execution that spins a common comic book yarn while also trying be unlike anything we’ve seen.  The ambitious idea doesn’t come off though.  The tried and true conventions of comic books and their big screen brethren are here.  Andrew, a lowly high school kid with a lot of issues finds himself the recipient of cosmic powers, but unlike so many mutated heroes which came before, Andrew documents his morphing from normal human to super human with a camera.

Andrew (Dane DeHaan) has some prototypical teenage problems, shy, awkward, picked on, no girlfriend, but Chronicle goes deeper.   The roots of Andrew’s anguish aren’t just these cliches, but his home life as well.  Andrews’ mother is dying of cancer and his father is an abusive, bitter alcoholic.  In short, Andrew is living in a spirit crushing Hell.  His whole reason for picking up a camera in the first place is defensive.  Chronicle’s first scene shows Andrew turning the camera on as his drunken father beats on his bedroom door.  Once Andrew reveals that he’s documenting the event, his father backs off.  It’s this kind of perceptive and unorthodox scene that leads the viewer to believe Chronicle may be about to document something very different.  Something the superhero genre could desperately use, new perspective.  We go along with Andrew and his camera as he experiences the daily humiliation that is his life.  He has only one pseudo-friend, a cousin named Matt (Alex Russell).  At an off the grid party in the middle of nowhere Andrew, Matt and soon to be class president Steve (Michael Jordan) go down a mysterious hole in the ground.  There they find a mysterious object emanating the kind of noises and lights that usually give people super powers or cancer.  They don’t get cancer.  A few weeks later Andrew turns on his camera and the trio have begun to discover that they possess the powers which have possessed so many to don tights and a cape.  But unlike Peter Parker or Superman, Andrew doesn’t feel compelled to save people from burning buildings.  After a life of belittlement and abuse, he feels compelled to be the one burning the building.

Chronicle is only the second movie of 2012 I’ve seen but it’s likely to go down as one of the most frustrating.  Andrew’s fleeting scenes of a sad and abusive home life give the movie a sobering edge rarely found in your typical Marvel fluff.  We never saw Uncle Ben trying to beat the crap out of Peter Parker.  But these scenes don’t make up enough of Chronicle’s brief 85 minute run time.  Chronicle quickly becomes a collected hodgepodge of good and bad ideas, well thought out scenes (home life) followed up by embarrassing ones (hole in the ground).  Scenes documenting the trio discovering their abilities are also a highlight.  The 85 minute run time makes Chronicle feel brisk but also incomplete.  There are more than a few places where another scene or story beat could be used to flesh the material out.  It’s also hamstrung by a predictable ending which it doesn’t have the budget or technique to pull off.  Even though Andrew’s powers keep progressing the rest of his life remains a painful mess.  Chronicle doggedly insists on humiliating Matt at every turn so that his eventual succumbing to his humanity hating impulses feels like a forgone conclusion.

And despite all these setbacks Chronicle‘s biggest overriding problem is its over worn handheld format, a technique which slowly but surely just gets in the way.  The movie takes great pains to keep its cameras between us and the action, eventually becoming a torrid of handheld clips and video feeds during its overreaching finale.  Chronicle would’ve benefited greatly if director Josh Trank had simply shot his movie like a movie.  The handheld POV becomes gimmicky and pointless after a while and leaves one wishing for something, maybe anything, else.

Chronicle is a mildly botched experience but it shows promise on behalf of a lot of people involved.  Dane DeHaan makes a solid impression in a part which could be very unsympathetic and grating.  Director John Trank needs a less restrictive screenplay as well as something not tied to such a debilitating visual format.  Pay attention to them in the future, but right now their movie is an uneven mess.

 

 

2011 has been a largely unspectacular year for movies.  There have been a lot of fine movies but everything seemed to hover around the very good or mostly just good range.  I didn’t see everything I meant to or ultimately will but I feel the eleven movies pictured above represent the best of the year I can put together with what I have to work with.  Everything else is listed below.  What I didn’t catch yet but meant to is at the bottom.

Very good, fun to be had, almost something special: MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, TREE OF LIFE, POINT BLANK, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, WAR HORSE, SOURCE CODE. FRIGHT NIGHT, M:I – GHOST PROTOCOL, CEDAR RAPIDS, DRIVE ANGRY, TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL, HANNA, RANGO, INSIDE JOB, CONAN O’BRIEN CAN’T STOP, MARGIN CALL, THE COMPANY MEN, BRIDESMAIDS, EVERYTHING MUST GO

Not bad, okay, good but didn’t go for it: IDES OF MARCH, TIN TIN, THE ARTIST, DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, CONTAGION, THE MUPPET, ATTACK THE BLOCK, THE LINCOLN LAWYER, KUNG FU PANDA 2, CAPTAIN AMERICA, THOR, WIN WIN

Missed the mark by too much: THE LAST CIRCUS, MONEYBALL, SUPER 8, HUGO, TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON, THE MECHANIC, HORRIBLE BOSSES, CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE, THE CONSPIRATOR, SUPER, MEEKS CUTOFF, PAUL

Stunk up the joint: SCREAM 4, RED STATE, GREEN LANTERN, THE THING, BATTLE: L.A., YOUR HIGHNESS, SUCKER PUNCH, HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN

Couldn’t finish the damn thing: MELANCHOLIA

Meant to see and may yet eventually: A DANGEROUS METHOD, YOUNG ADULT, COWBOYS & ALIENS, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, J. EDGAR, MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, THE HELP, A SEPARATION, ANONYMOUS

 

[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqP2o62sZMs]

 

Ten Word or Less review: Predator…by Jack London

After a few opening scenes doused in solemn, contemplative narration by star Liam Neeson, then a horrific plane crash sequence which jars and terrifies, it should be clear to the viewer that The Grey isn’t going to be any kind of standard issue action movie.  But just to drive the point home, after the plane crash, survivor Neeson scavenges through the wreckage looking for survivors and supplies.  Lying on what was the ceiling of the plane, a young man is pinned under a seat with blood pouring out of him.  He’s panicked and begging for help as a the few remaining survivors look on in fear, and with a calm that can only come from an experienced and knowing soul, Neeson sits by his side, looks him over without panic and states ‘You’re going to die.’  He holds the guys hand, he talks to him like a priest taking a last confession and he eases this poor soul into the next life.  It’s at this point you should shed any expectations that The Grey is solely about Liam Neeson delivering uppercuts to the chin of a wolf.

Neeson plays Ottway, a sniper working for an Alaskan oil company who picks off wolves that go after pipeline workers.  It’s a job he’s skilled at doing, but holds no love for.  Ottway is a man trapped by a vague hopelessness.  We know little about him other than he’s suicidal over no longer being with a woman we assume is/was his wife and has hidden himself from the world by going off to the edge of the civilization with others also little fit for everyday society.  After the plane crashes, viscous wolves quickly begin to set upon the survivors and Ottway goes into survivor mode, but The Grey doesn’t call on Neeson to put on the facade of the indestructible badass.  Ottway knows more than his other survivors but he’s admittedly no less terrified and helpless.  Though Ottway becomes the defacto leader of this group of men, he possesses very little ability to keep them alive.  His plans for surviving don’t often work, but through no fault of his own.  In The Grey, nature is ruthless and indifferent, no matter how much of a wellworn macho badass you are.  This is a story about how nature at its purist form, death is no more than a calculated, inescapable inevitability.

Neeson’s resurgence as a leading man is very welcome but it has been because of silly action fodder like Taken and The A-Team.  Someone realized that the 60ish Neeson still looked convincing delivering a punch and ran with it.  These new films are comic book romps more in line with the sensibilities of Jason Stratham than the guy who played Oscar Schindler and Michael Collins.  The Grey trades in on Neeson’s rediscovered stardom, the gimmicky trailers lead some to cheekily dub the film Wolfpuncher, but more importantly, his gravitas as a performer is what holds our center of attention.  Neeson’s Ottway is a man who wants to see these men live, but knows all too well that the odds are against them.  He defiantly tries to lead them to salvation and is left railing at God when his efforts again and again prove futile.  The screenplay, which affords more than just Neeson a great deal of soul, gives all of its characters real spirit and personality.

Putting all of this remarkable work together is Joe Carnahan, an unlikely a source for an introspective adventure movie.  Carnahan became a director to watch over a decade ago with his gritty cop drama Narc.  Since then, he’s wasted his talent and time on silly action movies destined to fill the gap between beer ads on Spike TV.  With his credibility in the toilet, Carnahan reemerges to establish himself as someone still very capable of drama which is uncompromising and true.  The Grey is so convincing it freezes you to the bone with its constant onslaught of snow and terror.  He makes this film into a tundra bound, steadfast narrative where our protagonists don’t just run for their life, but observe and contemplate it as it sits on the precipice of ending.  As the survivors dwindle in number, their deaths aren’t handed out with superficial consequence.  The camera dwells upon them as they experience their last thoughts.  What a man sees in his final moments becomes of sincere importance and the movie takes on much deeper dimension.

The Grey has the structure and trappings of a slasher movie, its cast being picked off one by one but unlike a slasher movie, we aren’t rooting for mindless characters to be devoured by a homicidal carnivore.  It’s a movie of bewildering strength that rattles the viewer and leaves them with a real experience to think back on.  Those expecting a convential adventure with Neeson delivering a gut check to the Big Bad Wolf will be thrown for a profound loop.

[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62nelnMXW3M]

 

Ten Word or Less Review: In a lonely place.

The secretive, central character of Shame is Brandon.  Brandon’s apartment is a lot like Brandon.  It’s white and clean and uncluttered with mess.  He owns some books and records but has no art on the walls.  It reflects very little outward personality and though small, it demonstrates some level of personal success on his part.  A well kept apartment on a high floor of a Manhattan complex surely cost a fortune no matter how tiny.  But right below the surface of this pristine exterior lies something rotten.  Brandon, and by extension his living space, is hiding something from everyone.

Michael Fassbender plays Brandon and his secret is that he is a sex addict.  We watch during Shame’s opening moments as Brandon indulges in sexual activity at every possible moment.  Be it with prostitutes, willing strangers up for a one night stand or indulging in a constant stream of porn at both home and work, Brandon is a functioning addict of a very high order.  Getting off is the driving force behind his whole existence, but there is nothing like joy or love in what Brandon does.  Like an alcoholic who drinks but no longer derives pleasure from it, Brandon’s behavior is simply compulsive and mechanical.  His system of living gets an abrupt and unwanted disruption when his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) begins to stay with him.  She’s an agent of the untidy, physical and emotional, and she throws his patterns disturbingly out of whack.  Because of her arrival, as well as other extenuating circumstances, Brandon slowly loses his grip on his perverted existence.  His neatly kept facade begins to break down and the extent of his self destructive behavior begins to be revealed.

Shame marks another notable achievement for Fassbender.  He almost single handedly returned credibility to the X-Men franchise and now stripped of budget and gloss, Fassbender shows that he’s not going to run away from unflattering material, or abundant nudity, in the face of growing success.  His Brandon is a pathological recluse.  He’s a seemingly well adjusted but distant man with no genuine interest in anything.  Though he’s well liked at work and easily obtains sex from females, he wants no meaningful relationship with anyone, not even his sister.  Like the worst kind of junkies Brandon will sacrifice meaningful relationships to keep up his habit.  His addiction defines him and anything which disrupts it drives him to some level of emotional disturbance.  When he develops an actual connection with a co-worker followed up with genuine, not compulsive, attraction, he can’t perform.  Later, when thrown into a state of embarrassment because of Sissy, Brandon tries to de-porn his apartment and the extent of his addiction is given a full frontal view.  Behind every closet door, inside every drawer, in every antiseptic nook and cranny of his living space is hard core pornography.  His apartment turns out to be no more than a giant porn bomb.  From here he begins a destructive spiral that he leads him to dark corners and dangerous behavior.

On the flip side of Fassbender’s Brandon is Mulligan’s Sissy, all reckless energy and irresponsibility.  Shame is one of young Mulligan’s best achievements yet in a brief career that deepens with each film.  Sissy’s very nature drives Brandon slightly insane.  Mulligan has just a handful of scenes but she achieves so much with just a little we can easily understand how her life of unbottled emotion terrifies Brandon.  An extended sequence where Sissy singing a disquieting version of “New York, New York” is the kind of scene people will play at retrospectives of her work 30 or 40 years from now.

Shame is filmed with a calm, calculated eye by Irish director Steve McQueen.  The movie looks and feels scrubbed of imperfections and sanitized of anything foul.  McQueen constructs his movie out of long, unbroken takes which give it a calm and observed feeling.  Though we’re watching a story about a man whose obsessed with sex, there is nothing erotic about anything.  It would be easy to label it all as distant, art house pretension on his behalf but it works well for this story of an addicted man and his repressed nature.

Shame does turn a bit too blatantly art housey as it winds down.  It seems like innumerable art house films must embrace certain cliches as Shame does.  There are no deal breaking snafus but Shame’s last 10 minutes could be culled form any number of other unsettling films about disturbed people.  The ending may leave well versed viewers of independent cinema with a feeling of deja vu but as Shame has so much to recommend in terms of performance and execution, it’s easy to forgive its conventional final moments.