THE ICE ROAD (2021)

June 24, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Somehow, it’s already time for Liam Neeson’s semi-annual macho thriller. In this one, he gets to drive a big rig. Over a frozen river. He also gets to wear flannel, chew on a toothpick, and punch two guys (but no wolves) … all while doing the right thing in order to save some trapped miners. And it’s not about the money. Well, it starts out about the money, but in the end, it’s not about the money!

Neeson stars as Mike, a trucker whose spotty employment record is likely as much his own doing as it is that of his brother John/”Gurtie” (Marcus Thomas), who is not just a super mechanic, but also a war veteran with some mental challenges. The VA hospital quickly diagnoses Gurtie with PTSD and prescribes multiple pills for him. Mike tosses out accusations and the pills, as the two brothers head to Winnipeg for a rescue mission.

Jonathan Hensleigh also wrote and directed the 2011 film KILL THE IRISHMAN which I enjoyed. This time he serves up some nice opening shots that give us a real feel for the isolation and frozen tundra of the setting. When the mine collapses, trapping the workers, the oxygen clock starts, and Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne) is charged with finding 2 other available and experienced truckers who can drive over the ice road and deliver the necessary equipment within 30 hours. Mike and Gurtie are chosen for one truck, and Tantoo (Amber Midthunder, “Legion”) is chosen for the other. She has extra incentive, as her brother Cody (Martin Sensmeier, WIND RIVER, 2017) is one of the trapped miners.

We do get brief segments with the miners, including Cody and Lampard (Holt McCallany, “Mindhunter”) who are focused on saving as many men as possible. Of course, all of this is the fault of yet another big, bad corporation led by a profit-oriented GM (Matt McCoy, known by “Seinfeld” fans as Lloyd Braun). Along for the ride with the truckers is Varnay (Benjamin Walker, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, 2016), introduced as an insurance actuarial. And yes, there’s more to his story.

If you’ve ever seen “Ice Road Truckers” on the History Channel, you have some idea what’s about to occur. Thrills, chills, and unforeseen obstacles come at a rapid-fire pace … as if driving 75,000 pounds on 30 inches of slowly melting ice-covered rivers wasn’t enough. This is a wild movie, so expect even more. The bobbleheads on the dash aren’t just good luck charms, and everyone isn’t who they seem. Big companies who cut corners and those who don’t treat vets properly are the targets here, but it’s to be enjoyed as a frigid and perilous rescue mission – and one more chance for Liam Neeson to prove he’s a man’s man.

Available on Netflix beginning June 25, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016)

September 25, 2016

mag-7 Greetings again from the darkness. In this era of endless remakes, sequels and superheroes, I strive to keep an open mind when it comes to mainstream movies. All I ask is that the classics be left alone. Most will agree that there is no need for a new version of The Godfather, Citizen Kane or Gone with the Wind; however, disputes arise in the gray areas. An old guy like me may cringe at the thought of updating this western, though it’s easy enough to understand how Hollywood studio types view it as an opportunity to sell tickets to a younger audience. In art vs. commerce, making money usually prevails.

The 1960 original, directed by John Sturges was itself a remake/reimagining of one of the greatest films ever made: Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954). Both are must-see’s for any movie lover. Given the technical advancements in filmmaking over the past 50-60 years, it only makes sense that director Antoine Fuqua (Southpaw, Training Day) would go bigger, faster, louder. What he can’t do is match the cool factor of Steve McQueen, Yul Brenner, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, or of course, Toshiro Mifune.

Mr. Fuqua does bring a more racially diverse cast with Denzel Washington taking the lead as Chisolm, the dignified man-on-a-couple-of-missions. Chris Pratt basically buckles a holster onto his Jurassic World character and becomes Faraday, the wise-cracking sharp-shooter, who is as likely to cheat in a card game as lay his life on the line for a good cause. The “seven” are rounded out with Ethan Hawke as war hero Goodnight Robicheaux, Vincent D’Onofrio as bear-sized man Jack Horne, Byung-hun Lee as knife specialist Billy Rocks, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Vasquez, and Martin Sensmeier as native-American outcast Red Harvest. You might think the only thing missing from this culturally diverse group is a woman, but Haley Bennett (and her distractingly terrible hair dye) plays a key role as a recently widowed town person intent on revenge against the heartless robber-baron Bogue, played by a sneering Peter Sarsgaard.

Co-writers Nic Pizzolatto (“True Detective”) and Richard Wenk (The Expendables 2) devote so much screen time to Denzel and Pratt that we never much get a feel for what makes the other characters tick. What’s not missing is the thundering hooves of galloping horses, steely-eyed glares, and gunfire … lots and lots of gunfire. This is where today’s sound technology really adds a welcome element – the cocking of a rifle, the leather of the holster, and of course, the near-deafening chorus from the Gatling gun all benefit from Sony 4k sound.

Fuqua’s stylistic approach may have more in common with Silverado (1985) than the 1960 Sturges film, but it’s important to note that this was legendary composer James Horner’s final score before he passed away. While we hear Horner’s unique take, we can’t miss the influence of the iconic original score by Elmer Bernstein. So while Pratt’s “So far, so good” joke may be a Steve McQueen re-tread, your appreciation of this latest probably correlates to your appreciation of the 1960 version.

watch the trailer: