Joe Carnahan, director of 1997's cult classic Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane has come back from a 10-year artistic low, with his newest release, The Grey. This is a reimagining of a statement by the English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes who said 'man is wolf to man' in an attempt to explain violence between human beings. Here, for dramatic effect, Carnahan uses actual wolves, making for a terrifying and grown-up film in a genre mostly made for teenagers.
Other highlights being released this weekend include Americano, the debut effort of pedigree filmmaker, Mathieu Demy, and The Rum Diary, a new cinematical dive into the fantastically inebriated world of Hunter S. Thompson.
A plane carrying the employees of an oil company crashes in Alaska and, as if that's not tragedy enough, the small group of survivors find themselves chased by a pack of wolves. Liam Neeson takes on the role of leader of the all male group. And the film becomes a desperate portrayal of what happens when human beings fall prey to their own animal instincts.
Ten years ago, Joe Carnahan made a name for himself with his second film, Narc – a police thriller with a rawness that remains impressive to this day. Carnaham also almost ended up directing Mission: Impossible III, which might have been interesting to watch. But instead, he opted to work on such instantly forgettable projects as Smokin' Aces and The A-Team.
It's always great to see an apt craftsman back to working with interesting raw material. At its best, The Grey is fascinatingly constructed, and the most important elements are only suggested. Menacing eyes glowing in the dark, a disembodied howl or growl – the things we don't see are much more powerful than what's actually shown on screen.
Carnahan, we can tell, is trying to follow in the footsteps of great masters such as Hitchcock, Spielberg in his Jaws era, John Carpenter in The Thing and Ridley Scott in Alien.
To sum it up, there's a sharp awareness of construction in The Grey and the film stubbornly steers away from clichés such as the all too familiar conversation around the campfire. And the eventual pay-off makes it all worth it.
Dir. Joe Carnahan, USA, 2011. Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, Nonso Anozie, James Badge Dale, Ben Hernandez Bray, Anne Openshaw. 117 mins.
Chances are, most reviews and synopses for Americano will tell you this: the film's director and leading man, Mathieu Demy, is the son of filmmakers Jacques Demy and Agnès Varda. This information is not just irrelevant trivia.
In this debut project, although Demy is unable to soar to the heights of his father's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, or his mother's Cléo from 5 to 7, he makes a solid film that fuses both of his parents' styles.
He uses his father's fantastical tone, which is always present, no matter how harsh the reality he is portraying. From his mother, he takes themes such as discussions about the institution of family, and a perspective that borders on documentarial.
Americano features the director himself as the leading character. He is a French man forced to travel to California – where he spent part of his childhood – to arrange details of the funeral of his recently-deceased mother.
It's amusing to see that, for the flashback sequences, Demy uses footage from Documenteur, a 1981 film directed by his mother in which he also played the son. The best moments are during the protagonist's journey to Mexico, in which he attempts to make good his mother's dying wish – to say goodbye to her, and find himself.
Dir. Mathieu Demy, France, 2011. Mathieu Demy, Salma Hayek, Geraldine Chaplin, Chiara Mastroianni. 105 mins.
The infamous creator of Gonzo journalism, Hunter S. Thompson, has already had one of his best works adapted to the silver screen, by the former Monty Python member, Terry Gilliam. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas also featured Johnny Depp in the lead role, and had the advantage of an extraordinarly inventive director. The audience was taken on an acid and mescaline trip, alongside the characters in one of the most delirious experiences in film history.
Unfortunately, The Rum Diary sinks in the same aspects in which Fear and Loathing soared. Using Thompson's novel about an American journalist working in 1950's Puerto Rico as a starting point, director Bruce Robinson sadly lacks the empathy Gilliam so obviously had for the author. Once agin, Depp nails Thompson's unique persona and quirks, but Robinson is ultimately unable to bring his nonconformity to the film.
Dir. Bruce Robinson, USA, 2012. Johnny Depp, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard, Giovanni Ribisi, Aaron Eckhart, Richard Jenkins. 120 mins.
This documentary is a compilation of thousands of recordings from the same date, 24 July 2012, submitted on Youtube by members of the public. Director Kevin Macdonald and his team had 4500 hours of footage, made by 80,000 people from 192 countries to choose from. The idea here is to chronicle the daily life of average people from all over the world.
Dir. Kevin Macdonald, USA/UK, 2011. 95 min.
The seventh feature film by Brazilian director Beto Brant, Eu Receberia as Piores Notícias dos Seus Lindos Lábios (I'd receive the worst news delivered by your beautiful lips) explores a love triangle formed by a travelling photographer and the volatile wife of an Evangelic preacher. The story is based on a novel by Marçal Aquino, who's been working with Brant ever since his debut film, Os Matadores.
Dir. Beto Brant, Renato Ciasca, Brazil, 2011. Gustavo Machado, Camila Pitanga, Zecarlos Machado, Gero Camilo. 100 mins.
Not too long ago, Time Out London published a list of the 100 scariest films in cinema history. Oddily enough, no films from the American Pie franchise were mentioned. This newest - and horrifying - entry, which brings the original cast back together, might make for a good opportunity to rethink that list.
Dir. Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, USA, 2012. Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Seann William Scott, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Tara Reid, Mena Suvari, Eddie Kaye Thomas. 113 mins.
This new film by Wayne Wang (who directed the excellent Smoke and the overly sentimental The Joy Luck Club) features two parallel storylines. In 19th century China, two friends overcome distance, using a secret language. In the present day, two women gain a new perspective on life, by remembering their ancestors' stories. Using these elements, Wang conjures up an unabashed emotional film. 'It tugs your heartstrings and makes you think,' the less imaginative among us will say, as we leave the cinema.
Dir. Wayne Wang, China/USA, 2011. Gianna Jun, Bingbing Li, Archie Kao, Coco Chiang, Vivian Wu, Hugh Jackman. 104 mins.
A documentary about the fights for land properties in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, this film highlights the case of the Suiá-Missu farm, known in the '70s as Brazil's largest private land extension. Indigenous tribes, farmers and many other groups today strive for a piece of this Amazonian property.
Dir. Maria Raduan, Brazil, 2010. 72 min.