24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Liam Neeson

Home Theater: 'Kevin,' 'Rampart' disturbing yet compelling

May 15, 2012 | 11:57 am

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Looking to catch a film on Video on Demand or DVD or Blu-ray? Following are some of the newest options available to home theater aficionados.

'We Need to Talk About Kevin'
Available on VOD beginning May 15

Writer-director Lynne Ramsay's first movie since 2002's magnificent “Morvern Callar” is an adaptation of Lionel Shriver's novel “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and stars Tilda Swinton as the ostracized mother of a sociopath. In keeping with Ramsay's usual style, “Kevin” is impressionistic, jumping around in time from the heroine's perspective as she tries to figure out whether her son is a creep because she's always been cold to him or if she's cold because he's so awful. The approach works magnificently for the film's first hour, until Ramsay has to deal more directly with the plot, at which point the movie becomes less about common parental anxieties and more about living with a monster. Still, Ramsay is worth paying attention to even when her material lets her down. The film comes to DVD and Blu-ray from Oscilloscope on May 29.

Millennium, $28.98; Blu-ray, $29.99/$34.99

Woody Harrelson gives one of his best performances in “Rampart,” an ambitious character sketch set against the backdrop of the scandal-ridden late '90s LAPD. Director Oren Moverman and writer James Ellroy skip from incident to incident, as Harrelson's self-described fascist police officer Dave Brown beats up suspects, conspires with criminals and directly interferes with the case being built against him. “Rampart” contains enough characters and plot to fuel an entire season of an edgy cable drama. Harrelson is compelling as a character unyielding in his worldview. The DVD and Blu-ray include a featurette and a Moverman commentary track. Available on VOD beginning May 15.

'The Grey'
Universal, $29.98; Blu-ray, $34.98

Director Joe Carnahan and his co-screenwriter, Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, bring Jeffers' short story “Ghost Walker” to the screen as “The Grey,” starring Liam Neeson as a depressed oilman who helps his coworkers survive after their plane crashes in Alaska. “The Grey” is tough and elemental, focusing on the brutal cold and an encroaching pack of wolves that threatens to tear these men apart. When they're not fighting for their lives, the wanderers sit around the fire and talk about fate, God, families and the mistakes they've made. The DVD and Blu-ray add deleted scenes and a fascinating Carnahan commentary. Available on VOD beginning May 15.

'Norwegian Wood'
New Video, $29.95

Haruki Murakami's cult novel “Norwegian Wood” is an aching nostalgia piece, about a man looking back at his college years in Tokyo in the late '60s, when he lost a friend to suicide and had love affairs with two women -- one morose, one vivacious. Writer-director Tran Anh Hung's film version captures a lot of what's special about the book: the sense of a magical time and place and how much the protagonist (played by Kenichi Matsuyama) sleepwalked through it while mired in his own melodrama. Jonny Greenwood's dreamy score and cinematographer Ping Bin Lee's luminous images cast a spell. The DVD includes an hour-long making-of featurette and a 10-minute look at the film's reception at the Venice Film Festival.


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William Friedkin to serve as L.A. Film Fest's guest director

-- Noel Murray

Photo: Ezra Miller and Tilda Swinton in "We Need to Talk About Kevin" Credit: Nicole Rivelli/Oscilloscope Laboratories

Box Office: Liam Neeson climbs to No. 1 again with 'The Grey'

January 30, 2012 |  1:40 pm

The Grey was the No 1 movie at the box office over the weekend
The year got off to a good start for Hollywood, as ticket sales were up every weekend in January compared to the same month in 2011.

Three new films opened at the multiplex this weekend, but it was the Liam Neeson action film "The Grey" that won out with around $20 million. Katherine Heigl's latest comedy thriller "One for the Money" took the runner-up spot with roughly $12 million, while the ensemble cop flick "Man on a Ledge" came in with an underwhelming sum of around $8 million.

As a result of the new openings, ticket sales were up roughly 15% this weekend compared with the same period last year. Overall, receipts have increased about 12% already in 2012 -- welcome news for the movie business, which saw box office decline last year.

For more on the weekend's hits and misses, check out this week's box office video report.


'The Grey': Winter months birth Liam Neeson cinema

Box Office: 'The Grey' shines bright in opening weekend

Will 'The Artist' get a box-office boost from Oscar noms?

--Amy Kaufman


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

'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.


"The Grey" director has a death wish

Makers of "The Grey" confront inner beasts

"The Grey" shines bright in opening weekend

--Steven Zeitchik


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

Is a slow winter a sign of a sea change in moviegoing?

February 21, 2011 |  7:00 am


In the early part of 2009, two stars of modest drawing power each premiered new movies. The actors, Liam Neeson and Kevin James, had never on their own opened a movie to significant effect, and the January-February period their movies were entering had historically been a slow one.

But when the dust settled, both Neeson and James had major hits on their hands: "Taken" and "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" each topped $145 million in domestic receipts, and both landed in the box-office top 20 for the year, a rarity for a winter film.

As chance would have it, Neeson and James each came out with new movies again in the early part of this year. The results, however, haven't quite been the same. James' "The Dilemma" -- despite the accompanying presence of the once-bankable Vince Vaughn -- was by many accounts a disappointment, failing to reach $50 million in the U.S. Neeson's "Unknown" is the surprise leader so far this holiday weekend with a total of $21.8 million tallied between Friday and Sunday. But it still came in about 15% below the first three days of "Taken" and doesn't seem, at this stage, to be on that film's same upward trajectory.

The James/Neeson comparison -- as close to scientific as one gets in the hurly-burly world of box office -- highlights a question that began creeping up in January and now seems as ironclad as Neeson's Euro-based fighting skills, namely: Where are the winter hits?

"Taken" and "Blart" weren't the only breakouts back in January and February of '09. Three other movies that came out in that period also reached the respectable threshold of $75 million in domestic box office. And in 2010, a total of five movies again hit that mark. Sure, some of them were A-list extravaganzas that could be expected to do well ("The Book of Eli," Shutter Island, "Valentine's Day"), but others were far from sure things ("Dear John," "Percy Jackson and the Olympians").

This year it's been a different story. With just one weekend left in February, only a single 2011 release  has topped $75 million -- Seth Rogen's "The Green Hornet" -- and even that was considered just a modest success. (Two other movies, "Just Go With It" and "No Strings Attached," have an outside shot of reaching that number.) It's not as though there have been been a dearth of star-driven movies, either; in addition to Rogen, this winter's films feature the likes of Natalie Portman, Justin Bieber and Adam Sandler.

If it were just a slow January and February, you might be able to explain it away as a winter aberration. But overall attendance has been showing weekly year-to-year declines for what is now more than three months, a drop that can hardly be attributed solely to last year's "Avatar" dominance. And 2010 ended with the lowest attendance level of any year in the previous decade, save for a recession-plagued 2008. The U.S. has added nearly 30 million people since 2000. But the number of people who've attended movies has gone down.

Films are hardly the only form of entertainment to suffer declines. Television -- particularly televised sports -- has been bleeding viewers for years. As recently as 2002 about 10 million households turned in to the NBA All-Star game. Sunday's telecast is expected to draw only about half that. In many ways, the multiplex has gotten off easy -- or, if you're inclined to pessimism, is headed for a bigger fall.

There is, of course, some good news for anyone worried about the health of American moviegoing: the remarkable resilience over the last few months of quirky, filmmaker-driven movies, as we've been documenting in this space and as my colleague Patrick Goldstein explored in this excellent column recently.

Coming into the fall, few might have predicted that a British period dramedy, a Coen brothers' western, a psycho-sexual drama about ballet and a dense story about Facebook would each outdraw every movie the studios would release in January and February. Yet they have.

It's still too early in the year to announce a slump for studio movies. And it's too early in the resurgence of grown-up films to proclaim them back for good. But if the bad news is that moviegoing in general is down, the good news may be that moviegoing for quality films is up.

--Steven Zeitchik

Photo: A scene from "The Green Hornet." Credit: Sony Pictures


The Big Picture: What brought adults back to the movie theater?

Company Town: First Look: "Unknown" is surprise leader on President's Day weekend

Company Town: "Green Hornet" rolls to top spot on slow holiday weekend



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