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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: The Grey

'The Grey': Winter months birth Liam Neeson cinema

January 30, 2012 | 10:23 am

 

"The Grey," starring Liam Neeson, was the surprise winner at the box office this weekend

At the beginning of 2009, after nearly three decades of making movies, Liam Neeson had exactly one $20-million opening as as a leading man (1999's "The Haunting," in which he shared top billing with Lili Taylor). Since 2009, though, he's done it a remarkable three times.

The latest example came this weekend with a $20-million opening for "The Grey," which follows the success of "Taken" in 2009 and "Unknown" in 2011.

It's hard to know what makes an actor suddenly emerge as a box-office draw after years in the trenches, but Neeson is one of the more interesting case studies out there. Though just a few months away from hitting the big 6-0, the actor has created an unlikely brand as a crusading vigilante. The enemy in his films, of course, doesn't really matter -- shadowy global assassins, Eastern European thugs, wolves. Nor, for that matter, does the cause -- it simply has to be nominally just and involve the survival of him and/or the people he cares about.

It just all has to happen against a film-release backdrop of, well, not much. Try Neesoning in a summer movie and watch your film disappear. But in January and February the actor somehow plays big and believable.

Cinematic historians will look at "The Grey," "Taken" and "Unknown" as a vein for surprisingly rich exploration. (Charles Bronson’s estate may want to have a look too.) The specter of a man raging successfully against a system rigged against him certainly appeals to males, especially older ones, giving cultural and feminist theorists plenty to write about.

It's hard to overlook the special-effects factor. There's something about seeing a middle-aged man pummeling, running and panting in a movie these days, what with CG-driven tent poles offering  well-coiffed manchildren who stand back and let the engineers do all the work.

In fact, if you really want to go for it, you can look at Neesonmania through the prism of the working man and the 99% -- in some ways, a little like Neeson himself, who has been toiling for years and also suffered a humanizing tragedy when his wife died in early 2009, just as his comeback was beginning.

"Fill me with only what I need to fight," Neeson intones in "The Grey." His movies, even to their staunchest defenders, aren't really filled with much more. Yet somehow they leave us more than satisfied.

RELATED:

"The Grey" director has a death wish

Makers of "The Grey" confront inner beasts

"The Grey" shines bright in opening weekend

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Liam Neeson in "The Grey." Credit: Open Road


'The Grey' director Joe Carnahan has a death wish

January 28, 2012 |  3:21 pm

Deathw

EXCLUSIVE: The weekend is already shaping up nicely for Joe Carnahan, the director of the Liam Neeson survival thriller "The Grey" which is poised to take the box-office crown.

Now Carnahan has landed a new gig: He's being hired to write and direct a remake of "Death Wish," the 1974 vigilante picture that helped put Charles Bronson on the map, according to a person familiar with the project who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak about it publicly.

MGM and Paramount are developing the film, which will reboot Michael Winner's box-office hit. The original starred Bronson as Paul Kersey, a liberal architect who morphs into an assassin after his wife and daughter are brutally attacked. Bronson's character then undertakes a one-man mission to hurt and kill a host of criminals on the streets of New York. The movie was a cultural phenomenon of sorts, helping birth the modern action movie and also provoking criticism for its intense violence.

Four sequels were made over the course of the next two decades, with the franchise eventually running out of steam in 1994. Sylvester Stallone came on at one point to attempt a reboot of the original but the project got stuck in development about five years ago.

The new "Death Wish" will be produced by "The Grey" producer Jules Daly along with Ridley and Tony Scott's Scott Free Prods. An MGM spokeswoman and a Carnahan representative did not immediately have a comment.

"The Grey" features an outlaw theme of its own, as a group of survivalists in the Alaskan wilderness must fend off a dangerous pack of wolves. Carnahan previously wrote and directed another notable reboot, "The A-Team," and was also behind the 2006 mob action film "Smokin' Aces" in 2010. Carnahan was also set to direct the upcoming drama "Umbra" before recently falling off.

Under the leadership team of Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum, MGM has been developing a slate of library titles, many of them classics from a few decades ago such as "Robocop" and "War Games."

RELATED:

Movie review: The Grey

Makers of 'The Grey' confront inner beasts

MGM studio remade with a focused strategy

-- Steven Zeitchik

Twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Charles Bronson in "Death Wish." Credit: MGM/Paramount

 


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