31 January 2012

Man on a Ledge

Elizabeth Banks, left, and Sam Worthington are shown in a scene from "Man on a Ledge."
It's called "Man on a Ledge." And sure enough, when the movie begins, there is a man. And within a couple minutes, before he has spoken his fourth line of dialogue, that man is on a ledge.

The movie has many faults, but false advertising is not among them.

The man is Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington), once a cop, now an escaped convict. The ledge is on the 21st floor of the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City.

Because this is a movie, we know with about 99 percent certainly that Nick will not jump to his death, that he is an innocent man, that he was framed for the theft of a $40 million diamond from businessman David Englander (Ed Harris) and that his innocence will be proven by his brother, Joey (Jamie Bell), and Joey's girlfriend, Angie (Genesis Rodriguez), who are across the street breaking into Englander's building. And, in accordance with Roger Ebert's Law of Economy of Characters (which states, "Movie budgets make it impossible for any film to contain unnecessary characters"), we know the people responsible for the frame job are on on screen right in front of us.

The Grey

From left, Dallas Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Liam Neeson and Nonso Anozie are shown in a scene from "The Grey."
Pushing 60, Liam Neeson has seen his career take an abrupt turn in recent years. "Taken" (2009) and "Unknown" (2011) established him as a box-office draw in the early part of the year and an unlikely action hero with a world-weary, working-class approach to beating up the bad guys.

"The Grey" emphasizes that world-weary quality. The actor, at his very best, draws from his own experience—mourning the 2009 death of his wife, actress Natasha Richardson, in a skiing accident—to portray Ottway, a lonely, brooding man who also has loved and lost.

Working with an Alaskan oil-drilling team, patrolling the perimeter, shooting the dangerous wolves that venture a little too close, Ottway is on the verge of suicide when we meet him. Stronger instincts kick in, though, when he and a handful of others survive a plane crash and are stranded in the harsh Alaskan wilderness. They must contend with both the elements and a pack wolves that doesn't take kindly to guests in its territory.

26 January 2012

Narc (2002)

Ray Liotta, left, and Jason Patric are shown in a scene from "Narc."
Joe Carnahan, director of the new Liam Neeson survival thriller "The Grey," had his breakthrough with the 2002 cop movie "Narc."

Detroit cop Henry Oak is a beast of a man, an intimidating figure with an end-justifies-the-means attitude toward law enforcement. Brought to ferocious life by Ray Liotta in "Narc," written and directed by Joe Carnahan, he's a ticking time bomb hellbent on finding the killer of his former partner and friend, an undercover narcotics cop named Michael Calvess.

Oak is the man with whom Nick Tellis (Jason Patric), a narc who's been suspended since accidentally shooting a pregnant woman 18 months earlier, must work when he's brought onto the case. The departmental brass hope Tellis can use his old street contacts to get to the killer. With his captain (Chi McBride) dangling full reinstatement in front of him, he has to accept the offer even though it will take him away from his wife (Krista Bridges) and baby son. He tries to refuse, but he's as addicted to the job as he was to the drugs he got hooked on while working undercover.

The mean Detroit streets of "8 Mile" seem almost cheerful compared to the cruel world of "Narc." Carnahan employs every stylistic trick in the book to create this effect, including extensive use of handheld camera shots (used to great effect in the opening chase scene), filters, flashbacks presented with quick-hitting, violent edits, toying with the focus and using split screen (an economic method to get us through the more mundane period of the investigation). Used intelligently, these tools all serve to enhance the story, characters, mood and tone.

24 January 2012


Gina Carano and Ewan McGregor are shown in a scene from "Haywire."
Action film, spy movie, revenge picture—any way you slice it, the nuts and bolts of “Haywire” have been done to death. But never before by maverick filmmaker Steven Soderbergh.

In his hands, the movie becomes a bit of a puzzle, with cross-cut flashbacks, occasional shots of black and white, and an array of unconventional camera angles.

To top it off, Soderbergh and his screenwriter, Lem Dobbs (who also wrote Soderbergh's “Kafka” and “The Limey”), developed the movie around a performer with virtually no acting experience, former mixed martial arts star Gina Carano.

They tailored the script to her strengths, resulting in a terse heroine of the Jason Bourne variety and a narrative that, despite everything Soderbergh pulls from his bag of directorial tricks, is based on a handful of visceral hand-to-hand combat scenes.

12 January 2012

2012 Movie Preview: Part Two

Here's some of what Hollywood has lined up for the second half of 2012.

Andrew Garfield is shown in a scene from "The Amazing Spider-Man."
"The Amazing Spider-Man" (July 3)
Director: Marc Webb
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Field
Plot: Teenager Peter Parker deals with human problems and new superhuman abilities.
Maki Meter of Anticipation (on a scale of 1 to 10): 7

"Ice Age: Continental Drift" (July 13)
Directors: Steve Martino, Mike Thurmeier
Stars: Ray Romano, Denis Leary, John Leguizamo
Plot: Manny, Diego and Sid embark upon another adventure after their continent is set adrift.
Maki Meter: 4

05 January 2012

2012 Movie Preview: Part One

Box office revenue and attendance at movie theaters were down in 2011, but Hollywood is eyeing a big year in 2012.

The schedule is packed with the latest adventures of Batman, Spider-Man and other superheroes, James Bond, the sparkly vampires of “Twilight,” Abraham Lincoln and a return to Middle-Earth.

Here is a sampling of what to expect at the movies in the first half of this year.

“Contraband” (Jan. 13)
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Giovanni Ribisi, Kate Beckinsale
Plot: A former smuggler heads to Panama to score millions of dollars in counterfeit bills to protect his brother-in-law from a drug lord.
Maki Meter of Anticipation (on a scale of 1 to 10): 4