The Ice Road

Release: Sunday, June 25, 2021 (Netflix)

👀 Netflix

Written by: Jonathan Hensleigh

Directed by: Jonathan Hensleigh

Starring: Liam Neeson; Laurence Fishburne; Marcus Thomas; Amber Midthunder; Benjamin Walker

 

 

 

**/*****

Though Liam Neeson’s latest thriller The Ice Road may be out of season for those of us in the northern hemisphere, it lies smack in the middle of a prolific run the 69-year-old Irish actor has been enjoying the last decade-plus, marking one of three movies he will star in this year alone. Presumably it will also be the worst.

Written and directed by Jumanji (1995) and Armageddon (1998) scribe Jonathan Hensleigh, The Ice Road just may represent the nadir of Neeson’s post-Taken routine. Action titles such as Non-Stop (2014), Run All Night (2015), The Commuter (2018) and indeed the Taken sequels have all coasted on the goodwill of a built-in audience but few as shamelessly as The Ice Road, a bare-minimum effort with original ideas as commonplace as service stations out on the Canadian Prairies. Compounding the problem is some really questionable acting from supporting parts and a villain who becomes the Terminator in ways more comical than compelling.

Neeson blends into the environment just fine but his Mike McCann, a North Dakotan big rig driver, is nothing you’ll remember when all is said and done. Recently fired from his job having stood up for his PTSD-suffering brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas), he joins a highly dangerous mission to deliver crucial equipment from Winnipeg to a mine in Northern Manitoba that has collapsed after a methane explosion. The 20+ souls trapped inside are relying on this last-ditch effort before they run out of oxygen. Time is of the essence but the trek to get there is paved with hazards, many natural and others man-made.

Good old-fashioned subterfuge at the corporate level is the cliched dramatic destination to which the increasingly apathetic viewer is pulled. This is less an action thriller as it is a conspiracy snoozer involving blue-collar truckers and white-collar snakes (Benjamin Walker’s characterization as a risk assessor belies his apparent immortality). At the Katka mine, company suits (Matt McCoy and Bradley Sawatzky, both pretty bad at acting on evidence of this movie) attempt damage control through an omniscience that becomes increasingly cartoonish. 

The best stretch of The Ice Road is its first half, as we are pulled into an extreme environment that offers entertaining man-vs-nature conflict not seen in a Neeson flick since 2011’s The Grey. The physical and technical challenges are effectively communicated as the crew — Mike, Gurty, a Winnipeg trucker named Jim Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne) and the hot-headed Tantoo (Amber Midthunder) — battle variable ice conditions and all sorts of nuances the layperson would never think about. Apparently dashboard bobbleheads are more than purely decorative. However, as environmental factors take a backseat to the human treachery lying underneath, The Ice Road sacrifices its blue collar identity for woefully generic melodrama. None of it written or performed particularly convincingly. 

While it is refreshing to see Neeson take on a character who is not endowed with a mythical set of skills, one is left wishing that the guy could have at least been endowed with better lines and quite frankly, a better film overall. 

“I do not believe in chance. When I see three wellheads, three drivers, three trucks, I do not see coincidence. I see providence. I see purpose.”

Moral of the Story: Pushes the line, for me personally, in terms of what a fan should be willing to accept at a base-line level of entertainment when it comes to these kinds of slight action-thrillers. Goodwill isn’t in infinite supply. The above review may be harsh, largely a reflection of frustration over how I entered the film with low expectations and not having even those met. There’s nothing sinfully bad about it, but all added up The Ice Road is just too lazy to recommend when there are so many other, (even if slightly) better Neeson options. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 109 mins.

Check out the “slick” Official Trailer from Netflix here! 

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.slashfilm.com 

Top That: Seven Most Dramatic Scenes from the 2019 NBA Finals

If you were to tell me back in October that the Golden State Warriors would not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy for the third straight year and the fourth in five seasons, I would have called a Flagrant Two on you for excessive foolishness.

If you do the math, taking it all again this year would be less a feat than it would be fate: Take the core four — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala — and then add three-time NBA All Star center DeMarcus Cousins to a championship-winning roster that, oh by the way, acquired the likes of Kevin “Burner Twitter Account” Durant two years prior, who confirmed it was indeed a good idea to get out of dodge by earning back-to-back Finals MVP status in that time. There’s also a number of solid bench players who could go off at any moment — the likes of veteran point guard Shaun Livingston, Duke alum Quinn Cook; even Sweden’s own Jonas Jerebko got in on the action.

And while we’re at it, may as well factor in head coach Steve Kerr, well known for his brilliant sharpshooting back in the heyday of the Chicago Bulls and today for his incredible leadership abilities.

His team has more collective talent than any team in the league but you can’t understate his ability to steer it through adversity and five consecutive Finals appearances’ worth of fatigue. He’s a player’s coach if there ever were one. Look no further than the fact the notoriously hot-headed Draymond Green is still a Warrior, despite earning enough technical fouls in the 2016 NBA Finals to warrant a one-game suspension — largely viewed by the public as one of the decisive factors in the Warriors’ historic collapse (I say one of, because the other is undoubtedly the tandem of then-Cleveland Cavaliers Lebron James and Kyrie Irving).

Unbelievable skill, passionate playing, and lofty standards set by a highly likable, accomplished player-turned-head-coach — and let’s not discount the brilliance of GM Bob Myers who put many of the pieces together — all equates to a franchise built to dominate the league for the foreseeable future. A dynastic (and dynamic) team that, on paper and on the hardwood, can’t be slowed — much less stopped four times in a best-of-seven set.

Then Toronto happened.

(Yeah, okay injuries happened too. But then injuries can always happen to any team at any time, and let’s not pretend the Warriors haven’t benefited from some ailing opponents during this run. Granted, these were some terribly timed ones and they happened in dramatic fashion. But . . . Zaza Pachulia, anyone . . . ?)

Back to the more relevant specifics. The rebirth of Kawhi Leonard also happened. And it was scary. Say what you want about who the Warriors did or did not have at a critical juncture and about Leonard himself:

  1. the inscrutable body language
  2. the seemingly Terminator-esque personality
  3. the way he left one of the most winning franchises in the NBA

But there’s no denying The Claw is among the most effective two-way players the modern game has to offer. On evidence of his transcendent play in this year’s Finals alone, he just may be the best player in the league not named Lebron James. And that ruthless determination trickled down to his not-inexperienced teammates. After basically single-handedly bringing Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks back down to earth in the Eastern Conference Finals, and dispatching with the Philadelphia 76ers on a last-second bouncer in the series prior, Leonard inspired his teammates to rise to the occasion. Jalen Rose said it: it takes a championship mentality to beat the champs. It was a true team effort, with big contributions from the likes of Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and of course Kyle Lowry himself, whose former brother-in-arms DeMar DeRozan was sent away to the Spurs in the acquisition of Leonard this season.

Let’s be clear: I truly enjoy the Warriors’ brand of basketball. It’s exciting, intense, creative, selfless. From an entertainment perspective it doesn’t get much better than watching the “Splash brothers” destroy everyone else’s dreams from way beyond the arc. Despite a few hiccups along the way — the lamentable signing of the aforementioned Pachulia, apparently among the league’s most hated players and the (also aforementioned) clap-back episodes of a thin-skinned Durant in response to his critics after leaving OKC for Golden State — I’ve loved what this team has done for the NBA. It’s made the sport more relevant than ever.

And yet — and YET! — I couldn’t wait for the Raptors to finally get some. They’re the East Coast version (okay, the Canadian version) of the Warriors — affable, unbelievably talented, experienced, and now armed with The Claw. It’s a nice change of pace. The Toronto Raptors’ 4-2 victory over Golden State earned the city — the nation — its very first NBA Championship. Oh, Canada — that was awesome.

Below you’ll find seven of the most dramatic scenes from these ultra-dramatic Finals. (Press pause on the images to stop the slideshow.)


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(7) Game 3. When fans and players collide. Kyle Lowry dives into the crowd trying to rescue a loose ball, then gets shoved by a clearly irritated fan. But it gets better. That fan is none other than GS minority owner Mark Stevens, whose actions were not only widely condemned by fans and players alike, they also earned him a one-year ban from the court and a fine of $500k. The money may be nothing to that guy, but the public embarrassment is pretty damaging. Wonder who will take court-side seats with him when he’s finally let out of the dog house. 

(6) Game 5. An unfortunate but sadly predictable scene. After sitting out more than a month with a “mild calf strain” suffered in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals vs the Houston Rockets, Kevin Durant re-enters a win-or-go-home situation vs what appears to be their equals. After playing only 11 minutes (but scoring 12 points), he goes down while clutching at his ankle. The Toronto faithful shamefully began cheering, only for the players to quickly show good sportsmanship by telling them to shut up with that noise. Durant later would later confirm successful surgery on a ruptured Achilles tendon, effectively rendering this season — and all of his 2019-’20 season — officially over. 

(5) Game 4. Fred VanVleet hanging on literally tooth and nail (or eye, in this case). After taking a vicious but inadvertent elbow to the face, the former Wichita State Shocker had to leave the game to receive seven stitches after profuse bleeding from his eye. (Shudder.) Oh, and he chipped part of his tooth, too. Talk about leaving it all out there.

(4) Game 6. Steph Curry reacts to Klay Thompson going down at the opposite end of the court after an awkward landing and with an apparent knee injury. This is a pretty powerful scene. It’s not often you see Curry deflated to such a degree. But something else about this scene was quite incredible. While Thompson needed help from his teammates just to get off the court after the play, he needed to return to the court in order to shoot two free-throws he was owed. If he didn’t, he would have forfeited the night then and there. In what must have been tremendous pain, Thompson re-emerged, sending a blast of energy back through the crowd as he demonstrated once again the Warriors’ indomitable spirit, no matter how grave the situation. Don’t tell me injuries ruined this series. They very nearly won this game.

(3) Game 6. With no time-outs left and their season on the line, the Warriors call . . . a time out. This situation rarely occurs and I didn’t realize that when you call an excessive time-out you not only award the other team a technical free throw, you give them possession as well. Down by a point, and after a mad scramble for the ball as it approached the half-court line, less than a second left to play, it was really all they could do to stave off the inevitable. Some decry these last tenths-of-a-second as anti-climactic. I thought it was completely the opposite. A wild finish to a series that had no right to be this dramatic. 

(2) Game 6. The Canadian faithful in one of the many satellite “Jurassic Park” viewing parties (pictured here, Maple Leaf Square), set to explode as the final seconds tick away in the 2018-19 season. It’s about to become real. The Toronto Raptors are on the verge of winning its very first NBA title in its 24 years of existence. I still get the chills seeing these images. 

(1) Post Game Celebration. Kawhi Leonard proves he is indeed a “fun guy” as he celebrates with his team after beating the mighty Warriors 4-2. This is Leonard’s second NBA title (in 2014 he helped the San Antonio Spurs overcome the Miami Heat which at the time had the Big Three in Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, and also nabbed his first Finals MVP trophy). 


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Photo credits: Business Insider; Newsweek; Sports Illustrated; The Washington Post; ABC; InsideHook; BNN Bloomberg; New York Times

Just a Quick Thought

'Joy of Man's Desiring' movie posterIt’s time for another Quick Thought, because I don’t know how else to make this announcement. I just want to make all of my readers aware that my contributions to Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings indeed continue, although it has been a while since my last piece. I thought I would direct your attention over to that site, where you will find my latest contribution, a review of Canadian documentarian Denis Côté’s most recent offering The Joy of Man’s Desiring, best summarized by IMDb’s quasi-plot ‘summary:’

An open-ended exploration of the energies and rituals of various workplaces. From one worker to another and one machine to the next; hands, faces, breaks, toil: what kind of absurdist, abstract dialogue can be started between human beings and their need to work? What is the value of the time we spend multiplying and repeating the same motions that ultimately lead to a rest — a state of repose whose quality defies definition.

While I personally did not get a lot out of the watch, I can certainly vouch for the “absurdism” and the “abstraction,” as Joy uniquely bridges the gap between drama and documentary. But does an overload of static shots and half-mumbled dialogue make for a compelling watch though?

Find out here. 


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Photo credits: http://www.allocine.fr 

Tusk

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Release: Friday, September 19, 2014

[Theater]

Written by: Kevin Smith

Directed: Kevin Smith

No walruses were harmed during the making of this film, though you better believe the human component didn’t fair so well. Particularly those in the audience.

Kevin Smith I find a gamble even at the best of times. His scripts, though often clever, intelligent — laced with profanity, sure, but that’s not part of it — and fairly accurate reflections of small-time American life, frequently tread the line as to whether there’s enough material to justify a full-length feature.

If ever one was curious about life at the convenience store Smith used to work at when he was young, there’s always Clerks, a genius bit of social commentary. Then there was one in color too, as if to prove he wasn’t just being pretentious. Zack & Miri, though one of his lesser-knowns, offered an interesting take on the things people would do for one another in a time of need. It was packed full of real flesh-and-blood characters, even if categorically perverted the lot of them.

Jay & Silent Bob (how could I forget?) was yet another intimate little story involving two stoners feeling insulted for being excluded from a movie adaptation based on their life. We’re actually trending away from reality a little more here but that’s quite convenient actually, because I’m about to drop the bomb on everyone.

Walrus2

Now this is terrifying. . .

In 2014 we’re presented with Tusk. And don’t I feel like a fool now, thinking almost every one of his productions thus far have come at the cost of his own sobriety. Surely he had to have been tripping on some kind of amazing hallucinogenic when conjuring up some of these outings. No, I stand corrected. We have finally found that which exists as purely one drug addict at a party’s proposition to another, laid prostrate on the ground, foaming at the fucking mouth:

“Hey, I know what’ll make for a good movie: let’s shove a pair of walrus tusks up someone’s face as part of an homage to the weird-looking mammal, one in which the victim is a complete douche and deserves virtually everything that happens to him. Here’s the kicker: we won’t tell Tom Six about how much we really enjoyed his experiment!” (Six was the director of that horrible thing some might affectionately refer to as The Human Centipede.)

What you’ll find here is hardly a rip-off of that production. Tusk is superior in its construction, and possibly even in its conception. One major difference is Smith’s decision to fuse comedic elements together with its horrifying content. Unfortunately another is that Smith half-assedly presents his case. There’s too much talk-talk and not enough warrooo-warrooo (that’s the sound a human-turned-walrus makes), and the build-up shows footprints after being trampled on in order to deliver a gimmick that can’t in any way, shape or form be taken seriously. Make no mistake: the walrus, visually, is a huge disappointment.

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What now, bitch?

Wallace Bryton (Justin Long. . .in the tooth) and his buddy Teddy (The Sixth Sense‘s very own Haley Joel Osment) run a semi-successful podcast based out of Los Angeles. They call their show the Not-See Party. See what they did there? When a story idea presents itself to Wallace, he takes off for the land of funny-talking Americans (boy does Kevin Smith hate Canada) in search of his next opportunity to blow off his extremely attractive girlfriend who is with him for some unexplained reason. That these two are together is, when compared, the kind of cinematic injustice one can get over in a hurry. He fails to return, however, after stumbling upon a much more interesting lead.

A note in a bathroom beckons the tragically curious to an isolated mansion located on the outskirts of civilization (a.k.a. Manitoba). Wallace comes, he sees, but does he conquer? Tusk no. Neither does the polarizing Kevin Smith, whose life work may be best summarized as some of the most inspiring and ambitious slacker cinema. Tusk succeeds in grossing out the audience but only for a very brief period of time. The shock value is quickly ousted by bouts of hilarity, but we’re never sure if we’re laughing with the director or at him. And the ending is bound to leave the average audience in a most befuddled state.

Tusk is best summed up as wire-to-wire disappointment. Unable to truly capitalize on horror until too late, one thing it does have going for it is a delightfully sinister performance from Michael Parks, who plays some deranged Canadian version of Jigsaw, bent on establishing a relationship with the only thing he can seemingly identify with. Also, see this for another virtually unrecognizable Johnny Depp. But I have the distinct feeling these things aren’t the primary reason audiences are lining up to see this ‘truly transformative tale.’

Sigh.

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1-0Recommendation: Smith’s latest is as bizarre as — if not more so than — advertised. But it fails perhaps more than anyone might have imagined. Put it this way, when Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” hits, and you find yourself actually getting into the film, it’s a testament to how long we’ve been awaiting a distraction. Or, how much we really dislike the lead character. A recognizable song trumps any of the events on screen. I started tapping my legs. . .the legs that I still have. I started fidgeting in my seat. I had forgotten how good that song is. I highly encourage a rental rather than shelling out money to the theater for this one. It hardly beckons to be experienced on a big screen.

Rated: R

Running Time: 102 mins.

Quoted: “I don’t wanna die in Canada!”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

The Grand Seduction

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Release: Friday, May 30, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

The theater where I went to see this film didn’t serve nearly the appropriate amount of my favorite lager. They also failed to carry appropriate beer-drinking mugs. So, making do with what I had, I found myself toasting the events on screen with a luke-warm plastic cup filled with a swill of Coors Light.

The Grand Seduction is one of those films whose infectious spirit is so great you won’t notice yer actively participatin’ in the singin’ an’ drinkin’ an’ dancin’ ’til yer bein’ forcefully removed from the theater because of the racket ya be causin’.

Unfortunately, the above wasn’t an anecdote; at no point in my moviegoing career have I ever been escorted from a cineplex. (Have any of you?) Point is, there’s little you can really do to avoid being seduced by this eccentric little film. Its hooks will be in deep thanks to charming performances delivered across the board. Spearheaded by the great bearded Brendan Gleeson — whose Irish heritage will likely have you confused about where this film is supposed to be set on more than one occasion — the cast’s efforts certainly help overshadow a story that is largely lacking in originality or plausibility.

The French film La grande séduction debuted at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival to such a warm reception that an English language version was immediately suggested; it’s popularity all but demanded it. After several setbacks including directors dropping in and out of the project, the current film finally was fleshed out with an appropriately eclectic talent pool in Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Gordon Pinsent, Liane Balaban, and Mark Critch.

In a brisk hour and forty minutes we are stolen away to the remote harbor of Tickle Head, a place so insignificant Newfoundland barely even wants it. It’s an extreme northern locale whose downtrodden appearance and sparse human population is frequently mined for comedy, often very successfully. But the movie lies within Gleeson’s Murray French, a man whose joviality belies a spirit slowly crushed by lifelong hardship. When the town mayor abandons his post for better job prospects on the mainland, Murray starts spinning a web of lies in order to make Tickle Head a more attractive place for the young Dr. Paul Lewis (Kitsch).

Why, pray, does this little outcropping home to barely more than 100 need a good-looking, wealthy townie for a doctor?

Well it’s all a part of the deal Murray’s trying to secure with a major oil conglomerate that has tentative plans to bring a factory to the area. The good people of Tickle Head sure could use the work. Instantly Murray sets about fabricating a number of stories and overhauling the community to the doctor’s liking — he even requires everyone to embrace the sport of cricket, and suppress their passions for a real sport, like hockey. Finding a scene this year that’s more intrinsically hilarious than watching a group of disoriented old men in white and pink linen attempt to master this obscure skill by the edge of a sun-dappled cliff is going to be a real challenge.

As Murray continues to stage his grand seduction for the doctor, who continues to struggle with being away from his wife and familiar surroundings, the lies become more significant, eventually posing something of a moral conflict for Murray and they start to spiral out of control. It’s a tipping point for the credibility of the script, as well, unfortunately. How much of this are we really meant to take seriously? At times the silliness swells to a point where its understandable that the entire production need not be taken seriously, though this is not entirely the case. There are a few moments of genuine human drama peppered throughout this farce, though it’s easier to take The Grand Seduction at face value as a straight comedy.

Despite it’s tendency to venture into cliche territory, this adaptation has a huge heart. Good luck not cracking a smile, at the very least. And remember, for a film like this its always a good idea to bring a frosty mug from home. The people of Tickle Head openly invite you into their homes, and it would be rude not to bring offerings. Just sneak them into the theater in your pockets or something.

The-Grand-Seduction-Movie

3-5Recommendation: I recommend this film with the simple assumption that you enjoy laughing at movies, and laughing at a lot of different things. Humor runs the gamut from rib-tickling slapstick to dialogue that’s at once self-aware and self-depricating. A film based in such a remote location usually always feels like a “refreshing” experience, and this certainly proves to be a byproduct of watching this one. Although it’s a fictional place, Tickle Head feels as real as any small community you’ve ever traveled through or spent time in. Come get to know these people, they’d love to meet you. And I almost guarantee you won’t regret meeting them.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 113 mins.

Quoted: “Who here has a case of creeping Athlete’s Foot. . .? Frank?!”

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