Tuesday, February 14, 2012

3 Movie Reviews From 2012: The Grey; Safe House; The Woman In Black

The Grey (2012)
Director - Joe Carnahan
117 Min; R
Liam Neeson - Ottway
Dermot Mulroney - Talget
Various others

The most important thing you should know before seeing this film, contrary to some of the trailers, is that it is not entirely an action movie, with non-stop scenes of men fighting wolves in epic wilderness battles, and thank goodness for that because then we would be stuck with a typical awful Hollywood movie starring the persistent Liam Neeson.  Instead, we are given a pretty wonderful existential experience from the perspective of a man who has lost his passion for life.  Is it possible he will find his way back while leading a small band of plane crash survivors in the frigid Alaskan wilderness?

Part realistic, part fantasy, when 7 oil field workers find themselves in a hopeless situation after their plane wrecks in a snow storm, they have to figure out a way to work together to survive, though they learn very quickly that they are being stalked by vicious wolves who are, according to Ottway (Neeson) protecting their den and will do so at all costs.  Having the most experience with wolves (as a shooter for the oil company) Neeson quickly assumes the leadership position among the survivors, but his goals, as we learn over time, are not simply to be a leader and to solve the problem - this is a man who has internal demons he is forced to confront, whether he wants to or not.

The wonderful aspects of The Grey come from multiple angles.  As the title suggests, the film is both bleak in color and tone and we really feel the pain and desolation these men must feel.  We also have a tremendous mounting dread of the wolves, out there, waiting and watching, ready to pounce upon their prey - those yellow eyes in the darkness are unrelenting.  And then we have the internal conflicts of these men, whom we come to know over the course of the film, especially Ottway.  I have to shake my head at a particular scene where the men must cross a ravine from a very high place, but otherwise this is a wonderful surprise to find in February.  The ending is quite spectacular if you've been following along and really trying to understand these men, and what transpires (even after the credits role) is not nearly as important as the fact that the ending occurs as it does.

**** and 1/2 out of 5

Safe House (2012)
Director - Daniel Espinoza
115 Min; R
Denzel Washington - Tobin Frost
Ryan Reynolds - Matt Weston
Veer Farmiga - Catherine Linklater
Brendan Gleeson - David Barlow

I'm going to ask you to do one thing that will make your viewing of this film 100x more enjoyable: please forget in advance that you will be comparing the plot details to several other films of this genre, specifically the Bourne movies.  It doesn't matter.  This movie simply rocks.  This is 2 hours of great action and solid acting that left me loving every second.

A February action movie with big stars that actually works is a welcome event to me, and both Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds really deliver here.  This is not the over the top cocky Denzel from Training Day, rather this is a cautious, though confident man who has been living a life on the run requiring survival for so long that he is cool and calm in every situation, yet obviously calculating every move as if it could be his last.  He knows he is not invincible. He is Tobin Frost, a rouge CIA agent who suddenly finds himself in a position that requires him to turn himself into the US Embassy to save his own life. Reynolds is the 'housekeeper' of the CIA safe house in South Africa where Frost is brought for interrogation.  It is his responsibility to ensure that anyone brought to the safe house is protected.  And then all hell breaks loose.

Never a dull moment, this movie is fun and fast paced and even though it suffers from the typical Hollywood problem of not having people die when they are shot at 500,000 times, it pulls off an otherwise thrilling piece. I asked you to forget a few things at the beginning of the piece - please also forget that figuring out who the bad guys are is really not the point - maybe I've seen way way way too many movies or maybe it was just some sloppy film-making, but it came as no revelation to me when the final scenes went down and I had known from the first moments what they would be - not the point at all.  This is a must see action film.

**** out of 5

The Woman In Black (2012)
Director - James Watkins
95 Min; PG-13
Danielle Radcliffe - Arthur Kipps

I'll make this very brief.

This movie was a lot better than I imagined it would be, and nothing very special overall. This is a big screen 'gotch'ya' scary movie with a little more depth than a typical slasher film.  The depth comes from Danielle Radcliffe's Arthur Kipps, a man with the unenviable task of sorting through the papers in an old house that is believed ot be haunted by the Woman in Black, a ghostly thing who has been wreaking havoc and revenge on the townspeople who didn't try to save her child from death, so now she takes their children for death as her own.

I actually enjoyed a lot about this movie and I think if you are looking for a scary movie on the big screen you could do a lot worse.  Radcliffe does not remind me at all of this Harry Potter character of the past decade, so hopefully for him he will be able to make a smooth transition to other roles.  My main complaint is with the over the top 'gotch'ya' moments of the screaming Woman as they feel forced and unnecessary - she is terrifying enough being silent.

*** out of 5