1. The Grey (2012)
Story: In Alaska, an oil drilling team struggle to survive after a plane crash strands them in the wild. Hunting the humans are a pack of wolves who see them as intruders.
Director: Joe Carnahan
Stars: Liam Neeson
Review: The Grey is based on the short story "Ghost Walker" by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers. The film was clearly inspired by similar horror tales such as Hitchcocks' The Birds, Spielburgs' Jaws and Scotts' Alien. Yet it is also an exciting though horrifying tale of survival with a surprising philosophical agenda. Promotion for The Grey in part targeted Christian groups by issuing a "film companion," which highlighted the spiritual value of the film. John Ottway (Liam Neeson) is a man who battles with despair throughout the film and topics such as love, death and faith and how they relate to despair are explored. One of the most interesting scenes comes toward the end when Ottway curses God and asks for his help in his deepest moment of despair, but receives no response. Ottway responds to God's non-responsiveness with a statement of individualism that encourages him to take matters into his own hands.
The greatness of this film is not only the horrifying elements that will surely make the viewer cringe, but also its philosophical and theological elements. It tied in with the Gospel reading from the Divine Liturgy on the Sunday the movie was released, which was the Sunday of the Canaanite Woman (Matt. 15:21-28). Whereas in the film Ottway, in his despair, quickly gives up on God after he asks for His help and gets initial silence, the Canaanite woman persists in her hope, despite her despair and Jesus' silence, and gains God's mercy. I was also reminded of a few stories from the lives of the Saints, among which was a story of Elder Paisios that I translated in the post following this one.
Warning: Do not watch this movie while on a plane flight.
Heads Up: Make sure you watch till the end of the credits, where there is an extra scene.
2. Albert Nobbs (2011)
Story: Glenn Close plays a woman passing as a man in order to work and survive in 19th century Ireland. Some thirty years after donning men's clothing, she finds herself trapped in a prison of her own making.
Director: Rodrigo García
Stars: Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska
Review: The screenplay is based on a short story by Irish novelist George Moore. Glen Close does a remarkable job portraying Albert Nobbs, an introverted "man" with a simple little dream, but in order to achieve this dream "she" must become a "he". In the written story Nobbs is 30 years old, but in the movie the character looks about 60 which causes some awkward moments to look at in the film, particularly when Albert is seeking to marry Helen (Mia Wasikowska). Overall however this was a moving film that is superbly acted. It is not a "gay film" as some would suspect, but it more reminded me of a secular version of certain saints lives when women fled to male monasteries to become monks as men. Usually these saints encountered great tragedy for their identity change and were only discovered to be men upon death. Spoiler alert: something similar happens in this movie.
3. The Iron Lady (2011)
Story: A look at the life of Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, with a focus on the price she paid for power.
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Stars: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent
Review: The Iron Lady tells the story of a woman who smashed through the barriers of gender and class to be heard in a male-dominated world. The story concerns power and the price that is paid for power, and is a surprising and insightful portrait of an extraordinary and complex woman who refused to compromise. There is controversy about the film in how Margaret Thatcher's dementia is portrayed, and I would agree it goes a bit too far with this. The film should have focused more on her career, which it skims over like a news reel. But Meryl Streep seems to perfectly capture the voice and mannerisms of Thatcher in one of the best performances of 2011.
4. Man On A Ledge (2012)
Story: As a police psychologist works to talk down an ex-con who is threatening to jump from a Manhattan hotel rooftop, the biggest diamond heist ever committed is in motion....
Director: Asger Leth
Stars: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris
Review: I am typically not a big fan of over-the-top heist films, yet this one I found mildly entertaining for its intriguing premise. Like Tower Heist of last year, it is a contemporary parable of the "99 percent", but it fails to deliver any powerful message, and often comes off as absurd. I have no problem with suspending my disbelief to a certain degree, but Man on a Ledge has one too many bizarre moments to count. You're not going to find anything profound with Man on a Ledge, just simple mindless entertainment.