Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

“There are no atheists in foxholes,” as the old saying goes. But what about in wolves’ dens? It’s a question I never knew I had. Just one of many reasons why THE GREY, the new thriller from co-writer/director Joe Carnahan, is such an uncommon and splendid achievement is that it asks (and answers) that question.

I had been sold on this movie from the minute I was made aware that it was to be a survival drama where the great actor Liam Neeson faces off against a pack of hungry wolves. “Herman Melville meets Jack London meets Hemingway meets wolves meets Liam Neeson’s fists.”  That movie would have been just fine.  But this movie is twice as good.  It’s got all the thrills and chills you could hope and expect out of that brilliantly direct premise — but on top of that, THE GREY is one of the more profound, dynamic, and uncompromising illustrations of existentialism I have seen on a movie screen in quite a while. This film goes deep — like “straight to the bone, through the ribcage, all the way through to the soul” deep.

For those of us who have been starving for brutal, bruising, uncompromising American cinema, THE GREY is proof of life.

The Grey (2012)

That was what I had started to write in January 2012. Here’s what I finally wrote about the movie in December for Daily Grindhouse:

THE GREY marked its territory in my number one spot all the way back in January of 2012, and fiercely warded off all comers with teeth bared.  I love all the movies in my top ten and there are plenty still which almost made the list, but THE GREY is the one I really took to heart.  For one thing, I am ready to go to the mat on the argument that the storytelling and filmmaking in THE GREY is at least as exemplary as any of the year’s more award-friendly critical darlings.

The score by Marc Streitenfeld is gorgeous and heartbreaking. The cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi is crisply delineated and winter-clear.  The script by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers & Joe Carnahan is perfectly-paced and indelible.  And Joe Carnahan’s direction is world-class.  I was a huge fan of Carnahan’s movie NARC, and I think his SMOKIN’ ACES and THE A-TEAM, while surely on the cartoony side of the action-movie spectrum, show action chops on par with the best of ‘em.  I have been following and enjoying his work for a long time, but THE GREY makes Carnahan a canon filmmaker in my eyes.

I was lucky enough to see THE GREY a month early, so I could watch with fascination as it was received by the public.  Considering how thoughtful a film it is, all the simplistic and reductive “Liam Neeson punches wolves!” jokes were almost obscene.  Some of the marketing did seem eager to group THE GREY alongside the Liam Neeson action-thrillers of the last few years, and obviously this is a different thing entirely.  Interestingly, some religious groups embraced the movie, although I’m not sure it’s saying what they may want it to be saying.  And some environmental groups were bothered by the portrayal of the wolves, which is a well-intentioned complaint but misses the point.  First of all, Liam Neeson’s character views the wolves above all with a kind of respect.  But more importantly:  The same way FLIGHT isn’t really about a plane, THE GREY isn’t exactly about the wolves.

Think about the title.  Did you look at the wolves in that movie?  Didn’t look all that gray to me.  They looked almost black.  They blended in and out of that night with ease.  These aren’t real-world wolves.  These are something else.  The wolves in THE GREY are an engine, relentlessly forcing the sands through the hourglass.  In my reading of the title, “The Grey” refers to that space between existence and non-existence, between the white of snow and the black of death. No, this isn’t a movie about wolves.  This is a movie about mortality.

The Grey

Many fans of the movie have noted how THE GREY structurally resembles a typically horror movie, as the cast of characters are gradually winnowed away, and maybe that’s true, but in that case I’ve never seen a horror movie that treats the ranks of the culled with such care.  Most of the characters who die in THE GREY get sent out on a moment of dignity, even grace, or at least as much as can be mustered.  (There is one major exception, maybe the most upsetting death in the entire film, but that is the one that prompts the film’s most important emotional moment, so it’s not much of an exception after all.)  This is a movie that shows many people dying, yet it is the rare such movie that happens to value life.  That is one reason why I am struck where it matters by THE GREY.

There are also personal reasons.  I’ve spent the last four years attending more funerals than I wanted to attend in a lifetime.  Without any exaggeration and in a relatively short time, I’ve lost half my nearest and dearest.  I’ve been living with death.  This movie is what that feels like.  Wolves and winter – that’s all just visual trappings meant to illustrate an idea.  The point is, there may come a time in your life when everybody you know starts dropping like flies at the hands of some relentless cosmic flyswatter, and then what are you gonna do?  Pray to God?  Good luck there.  Worth a try.  Maybe He answers your prayers.  Maybe He doesn’t answer.  Probably he doesn’t answer.  Now you’ve got a choice to make.  Or maybe there isn’t a choice at all.

“Fuck it.  I’ll do it myself.”  That isn’t a renunciation.  That is, in fact, a profoundly spiritual decision.  This movie illustrates that concept so beautifully that if I had the tears to do it, I’d cry them.  I thank this movie for existing in 2012, and I thank Joe Carnahan and his cast and crew for braving the cold to make it.

The Grey (2012)

For further reading:

My Top Ten Of 2012

THE A-TEAM

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

@jonnyabomb

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Bill Hicks Sane Man (1989)

If one were to step back and truly consider the unceasing patchwork of entertainment news clobbering our eyes, ears and minds twenty-four-hours-a-day, it would serve as a disturbing reminder of how little has changed since Bill Hicks prowled comedy stages, serving as a lonely voice of sanity out amongst the wilderness of institutionalized idiocy.

I’ve written about Bill Hicks once before. I was impressed by David Letterman’s 2009 tribute to Hicks, where he brought on Bill’s mother and personally apologized to her for the infamous incident where Hicks was kept off The Late Show due to Hicks’s propensity for inflammatory material. I thought it was a classy move on Letterman’s part – if belated, since Hicks died in 1994 of pancreatic cancer. I then went on to describe why I believe that Hicks’ brand of inflammatory material would have been necessary to broadcast, as it still is, because I think Hicks’ perspective, and those like his, demand to be heard.

Television, today more than ever, is absolutely flooded with mediocrity and moronity. Since television is only ever a reflection of what the American people are most concerned with at the time, that is a disturbing statement. It’s not a crime to enjoy turn-your-brain-off entertainment – but it IS a crime when the balances are off so badly. Mediocrity is rewarded and morons are everywhere, and even though we’re in the future, nothing’s changed. Some of the same exact same morons are still prominent, in fact!

It’s almost eerie that so many of Bill Hicks’ favorite targets back in the late 1980s and early 1980s are either still lingering, or have made their moronic return. The Bush family and the Iraq War are in sequels. Billy Ray Cyrus has returned with an even more ridiculous haircut, in a new role as world’s creepiest stage dad, pimping out his daughter to the world. The most recent Doritos ad, which was a huge hit at the SuperBowl, was the most-watched ad of all time. The New Kids On The Block are back on tour, clearly not recognizing the obvious irony in their name (or the obvious double-entendre in the name of their tour). And creepy Jay Leno and his gargantuan head are still clogging up the late-night comedy world, an unkillable milquetoast cockroach with a face the size of a parade float and a frame of reference the size of a peanut.

Watching the Bill Hicks concert film Sane Man, I was filled with growing irritation.

That’s not true. Watching Sane Man, I was laughing constantly.

It’s only afterward that the irritation struck, when I realized that all of the aforementioned morons are happily moving into advanced age with ever-thickening wallets, while Bill Hicks was struck down in his prime by an insidious disease. So many people have nothing useful or interesting to say; meanwhile, Bill Hicks was only getting started on expanding our brains and enlightening our perspectives. It’s just plain not fair.

But no one wise ever said the universe was fair. All we can do is keep Hicks’ work fresh in our memory, and luckily, there’s plenty of it available.

Sane Man is a concert film from 1989. It’s basically a rudimentary VHS recording of a typical Hicks performance, live, in front of a typical nightclub audience (with some amazing mullets), for a truly impressive length of time. I generally listen to Hicks’ CDs on repeat, so what struck me about watching him on screen for nearly two hours straight was his amazing confidence in front of a crowd. Hicks owned that stage. He clearly had absolute conviction that his words were worth hearing. (If he felt any personal reservations, it sure didn’t show.) His words were worth hearing, as always, but it’s nice to see that he seemed to know that too. If you like neurotic comedians, this ain’t your guy.

Sane Man probably isn’t my favorite Bill Hicks performance I’ve ever seen – for one thing the dated video elements and imperfect recording make it tiring to watch after a while. Also, a lot of the material Hicks performs here will be very familiar to diehard fans — a lot of it appeared in slightly different form on his albums — although it is a treat to see him act out his Jimi Hendrix routine. And this isn’t one for mixed company – Hicks gets particularly vulgar at a couple moments (understandable considering the fact that he’s playing to a drunken audience.) Personally, I never get tired of hearing any of Hicks’ bits and I’m not offended by his bluer material, so predictably, I loved Sane Man. I just wouldn’t recommend it as someone’s first exposure to Hicks’ brilliance. Start with any of the albums instead – they’re all still in print and available in most any music store that has a comedy section. Look for them (and more information) at the official website.

What I love about Bill Hicks is that, while his anger and disappointment were palpable, it was always clear that he was an optimist at heart. He wasn’t bitter about how things were; he just wanted things to be better. Bill Hicks left this earth too soon, but he left plenty of peerless comedy and immortal inspiration behind. He is as alive as ever, on his albums and videos.

Hear them.

And if you want to read more about Bill Hicks, I recommend tracking down Cynthia True’s terrific biography, American Scream, or this collection of Bill’s writings.

From June 23rd, 2010.

@jonnyabomb

LAWLESS is a couple weeks old now, but it’s still way worth talking about.  It’s not to be confused with FLAWLESS, the Philip-Seymour-Hoffman-in-a-dress movie, nor is it to be confused with the upcoming DREDD movie, which as we all know is guaranteed to have a surplus of law.

Here’s what I said about LAWLESS before I saw it

WETTEST COUNTY was on my list of 50 most eagerly-awaited movies of the year.   But it’s not called that anymore, though.  Now it goes by the handle LAWLESS, a much more generic title which sounds a little cooler after knowing it was generously bestowed upon the movie by none other than Terrence Malick.  Whatever it’s called, it’s a John Hillcoat movie, which after THE PROPOSITION and The ROAD, promises good things.  I’m definitely getting a less-artsy, more-mainstream PUBLIC ENEMIES vibe from the new trailer, but that doesn’t strike me personally as a deterrent.

Check out the trailer, it made LAWLESS travel that much higher on my want-to-see-now meter:

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Now, to read what I had to say about LAWLESS after seeing it (spoiler warning: it’s a lot of very nice things), you’ll have to click over to Daily Grindhouse:

>>>LAWLESS!!!<<<

And make damn sure you check out that soundtrack: