Nicholas Stoller’s “The Five-Year Engagement” (2012) (presented by 10 Years Ago: Films in Retrospective)

Poster for "The Five-Year Engagement"

This review originally appeared as a guest post on 10 Years Ago: Films in Retrospective, a film site in which editor Marcus Gorman and various contributors revisit a movie on the week of its tenth anniversary. This retro review will be a bit more free-form, recappy, and profanity-laden than usual.

When I first saw The Five-Year Engagement back in 2012, my fiancée and I were three weeks out from our own wedding and in the thick of last-minute event planning nonsense (following a much shorter engagement than five years). She took a well-deserved night off in our shared apartment, and I did the same – far away, by myself in a second-run movie theater where I saw this film for a grand total of $3. I even drafted half a solipsistic review about the unenviable position of being in the perfect state of mind and position in life to find a film super-relatable. Then, true to form, I was too busy to finish and post it. I’m relieved that’s the case, because I was riding high on goodwill for Nicholas Stoller‘s previous films, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek (the former of which held up to 10YA scrutiny a few years back). If I’m being honest now, The Five Year-Engagement is not as good a comedy as either of those, even if Stoller’s understanding of the emotional stakes and reality of a couple putting so much stock into the planning of a single event remains as strong as ever.

That couple is Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt), and about the best thing I can say about them is that they’re each very funny in turns (one of only a handful of comedy roles Blunt has done), and their characters noticeably change and grow over the course of the film. Segel, who was most of the way into his run of How I Met Your Mother at this point, seems to be doing his very own speed run of sorts (which, unlike Ryan Reynolds’ version in Definitely, Maybe, does a bit more to justify its premise), shifting his attitude about his impending nuptials in parallel with satisfaction and stability in his own life. Much of the film’s conflict stems from his dissatisfaction with the couple’s life together in Michigan, where Violet is in her dream job, an academic posting in a university psych department, which required Tom to give up his dream job of being a head chef at a fancy restaurant in San Francisco. The script is not at all shy in interrogating the gender dynamics of such an arrangement (which so often goes in the other direction), and after a mere decade, this dilemma feels no less emotionally resonant. One of Tom’s most earnest moments is when he dopily, but honestly, asks Violet if she knows what it’s like to be “the guy in a relationship and not have a job that you’re proud of”. My temptation here is to boast about how much I’ve grown since seeing this the first time. To pretend as if I don’t still possess dumb, arbitrarily gendered notions of what it means to provide for my family, or to act like we no longer live in a political economy which constantly reinforces those notions in every way from wage inequality to the religious right’s unrelenting attacks on reproductive rights and the autonomy and existence of people outside of heteronormative gender roles. But the truth is, society hasn’t changed that much on this front in the past decade, and the fortunes of women have backslid significantly during the pandemic. And even if I’m more capable of interrogating my own gut feeling that cooking weekend breakfast is just such a dad thing for me to do, it’s not as if those sexist ideas have retreated from me in any real way. It’s the sea we swim in. And as Tom finally, cathartically screams: I hate it here.

Still from "The Five-Year Engagement"

This movie was honestly a bit of a fucking slog this time – it took me two days to finish. Much of the comedy – of that Apatow-produced sort where you just put a bunch of funny people in a room and let them improvise – landed fine then, but mostly just made me impatient this time. A still-goofy Chris Pratt, a passably British-talking Alison Brie (who gets one of the film’s best scenes, in which she and Violet have an argument using Sesame Street voices) were enjoyable as ever. Professional awkward muffin Brian Posehn delivered the only jokes that were clearly intended to make everyone in the room as uncomfortable as the audience (at one point he lovingly describes Violet as a fuckable Disney princess). Rounding out Professor Winton’s (Rhys Ifans) marshmallow pop-psychology lab were three seasoned comedians: Randall Park, Mindy Kaling, and Kevin Hart. Only the latter’s character still worked for me this time around, because of the movie’s commitment to his experimental obsession with masturbation, and because he finally gets a moment in which he gets to stop being a comedy character and become a bit of a drama character – a nasty one, to boot. A barely-formed Dakota Johnson gets a nasty moment as well – the only moment in which she is a proper character, not a mere 23-year-old object of temptation, and also the one in which she reminded me she was already better than this material at that age.

The romantic rivals are a real problem in this film. Tom gets two co-workers – Audrey (Johnson), whom the script never takes seriously, and a bizarre non-entity of a chef, Margaret (Tracee Chimo), whose sole specific character attribute is some awkward nonsense involving potato salad. For Violet, there’s Professor Winton, and Ifans really did try with this character – Winton seems genuinely conflicted about his attitude toward Violet (his student and subordinate!) both personally and professionally, even as his intellectual brain allows him to spin a coherently self-serving defense of his libertine antics (we’re all running on “caveman software”, you see). But Aldous Snow – Russell Brand in Stoller’s previous two films – this is not. Stoller still seems to fundamentally understand that a romantic rival to the Official Couple needs to be both comically interesting and romantically desirable (something that many rom-coms don’t bother with), but the lack of narrative confidence in this character shines through the script, which resorts to shallow gimmickry like parkour and literal magic tricks to make Winton seem more like a showman and less like a chimera of random comic personas. And we have quite enough of that from his grad students.

Still from "The Five-Year Engagement"

All of that said, the movie’s emotional arc is coherent enough – I just found it substantially less affecting this time through. This is a couple whose problem, fundamentally, is that they have an idea of marriage that is all wrapped up in achieving perfection and stability beforehand, as well as the fairytale notion that it’ll all be wine and roses after you say, “I Do”. I’m ten years in with my wife, and I’ll spare you my reflections on the nature of marriage here (head over to my 10YA review of The Kids Are All Right for those), but it’s fair to say that at this point in my life, I find these insights a bit quaint and obvious. Also quaint at this point in the COVID pandemic (which Dr. Fauci told me this week is no longer “full-blown“): putting so much stock into big group event planning. You can’t have a wedding? Who fucking cares. Head down to the courthouse and get it done. I attended my first in-person wedding in two years a few weeks ago, I can tell you, while it was marvelous to make a comeback, it was a lot of work dressing to the 7s (my fashion peak), drinking someone else’s booze, and betting on the future of a love and happiness that I have zero control or genuine understanding about, except for my vague (but sincere!) impression that the couple seems to be good for each other. Love gets compared to multiple stale pastries in this film – a day-old donut, a perfunctory cookie – but the film’s ethos all adds up to “Love the one you’re with,” because you can’t be sure anything else is coming in the future. I can’t even call this cynical. It’s not. It’s a sentiment I’ve seen many versions of – that “The One” is just whomever you happen to be dating when you’re ready to settle down, and they’re hopefully someone you can negotiate a shared life with.

So get on with it if you’re gonna. Some of us have work in the morning.

FilmWonk rating: 5 out of 10

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #197 – “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” (dir. Tom Gormican), “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn” (dir. Radu Jude)

This week, Glenn and Daniel consider watching a fourth-wall prodding, self-aware film in which Nicolas Cage plays dueling versions of himself, gradually crafting a screenplay and over-the-top conclusion to the very film that we’re watching. But enough about Adaptation. On to The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. And then we check out an epistemological discourse on the multifaceted foundations of fascist thought, punctuated with fucking, because it’s time to watch a Radu Jude film, which regrettably felt like a pandemic-laden, stream-of-consciousness retread of I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians. (28:11).

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating (The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent): 7 out of 10
FilmWonk rating (Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn): 5 out of 10

Still from "Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn" (2021 film)

Show notes:

  • [00:59] Review: Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn
  • [17:54] Review: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
  • We misstated the number of COVID-19 deaths per capita in Romania, which, as of this writing, is higher than the per-capita rate in the United States. See Statista for comparison. As an absolute rate, the US death rate (which stands at 989,000) is much higher than that of Romania. Not something we’re inclined to brag about in any case.

Listen above, or download: Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play)

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #196 – “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (dir. Daniels), “Deep Water” (dir. Adrian Lyne)

Poster for "Everything Everywhere All at Once"

This week, Glenn and Daniel wade into the dark, twisted, and borderline satirical look at marriage from Unfaithful director Adrian Lyne, Deep Water. But first, they follow Swiss Army Man directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan into their multiverse-spanning sci-fi epic/intimate family drama, Everything Everywhere All at Once (54:44).

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating (Everything Everywhere All at Once): 9/10 (Glenn), 6/10 (Daniel)
FilmWonk rating (Deep Water): 7.5 out of 10

Still from "Deep Water"

Show notes:

  • [01:58] Review: Everything Everywhere All at Once
  • [29:03] Review: Deep Water
  • [42:10] Spoilers: Deep Water

Listen above, or download: Everything Everywhere All at Once, Deep Water (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play)

Gareth Evans’ “The Raid: Redemption” (2012) (presented by 10 Years Ago: Films in Retrospective)

Poster for "The Raid: Redemption"

This review originally appeared as a guest post on 10 Years Ago: Films in Retrospective, a film site in which editor Marcus Gorman and various contributors revisit a movie on the week of its tenth anniversary. This retro review will be a bit more free-form, recappy, and profanity-laden than usual.

There are two instructive moments early in The Raid, a film which gained the subtitle Redemption for its American release, but never really troubled to justify it. The first is when the Jakarta PD assault team busts into the tenement apartment building run by criminal mastermind Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy) and kicks off their police action by immediately shooting a criminal lookout – by which I mean a child – to death as he runs to alert his superiors, succeeding in his final mission right before the bullet passes through his neck and spine, ending his life before he hits the floor. A corner boy, a child soldier, an innocent pawn, put to the usual use of children lured into the black market drug trade: an energetic instrument of information, transit, violence, and limitation of criminal liability. This child is innocent, of course, of everything but growing up poor, but there are others who come to harm in this film through no fault or specific action of their own just because they happened to be home when the police arrived to turn it into a war zone.

“What was that?” demands Sergeant Jaka (Joe Taslim), who can hardly believe what his Lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno) has done. “Necessity!” Wahyu shouts back. He’s lying, of course, but it hardly matters. All hell breaks loose in short order, and by the time 30 minutes have passed, the bullets have mostly run dry, and the knives and Indonesian Pencak Silat martial arts come out (this is the second moment of clarity). It quickly becomes clear – and stated in dialogue – that this is not a movie presenting hero cops (except for maybe one or two), trying to do good. They’re just here to have a raucous good time punching their way through the bad guys, and as most of the cops are unceremoniously killed, it’s clear that there is no redemption to be had here. Only blood.

Still from "The Raid: Redemption"


The One Good Cop (besides Jaka above) is Rama, played by Iko Uwais, who serves as fight choreographer along with with “Mad Dog” actor Yayan Ruhian. And holy lord, it shows, not just in the epic boss fights performed by each of these characters (as hero and villain respectively), but in the sheer complexity of martial arts on display in an environment which, by all rights, should not be able to showcase this much variety and visual interest. The martial arts action in this movie is unparalleled in quality, making brilliant use of the environment: staircases, windows, doorways and doorframes, walls, and the topography between floors, along with bats, bombs, guns, knives, and machetes cascading in endless combinations, with a flurry of blows that land with such frequency and ferocity that you can practically feel your innards bruising. Multiple people get swung around like baseball bats themselves in this film, with supernatural strength reminiscent of the vampire antics of Blade 2, but in this event, it’s all real stuntwork, filmed in-camera. As for Rama himself, there’s not much else to him besides a stoic badass. Before he goes off to war, we see him pray to Mecca and kiss his pregnant sleepy wife of no other definable characteristics goodbye. While his family stakes get a bit more muddled as the film goes on, this is very much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of character, with religion and family beats that would feel at home in any other cop film, albeit with Islam (the majority religion of Indonesia) taking the superficial spot usually occupied by Christianity in American cinema.

Is it bad that I don’t have much to say about this film, apart from, “It’s still awesome, go watch it”? This has only happened one other time, when I revisited Kick-Ass and found that my opinion on the film remained virtually identical to when I first saw it. This is shaping up to be one of my shortest 10YA retrospectives ever, because this was a near-perfect action film in 2012, and it remains one to this day. Uwais, Ruhian, et al have gotten a few more showcases for their skills (after being paid handsomely to appear in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and do…almost nothing). Gareth Evans, the Welsh director who brought The Raid and its sequel to life, has returned to the UK with his family and is now the creator of a series called Gangs of London, which is well-regarded by all accounts, but I haven’t seen it. I did, however, join genre fans in watching Karl Urban in Dredd later in the same year, and made fun, superficial comparisons between the two. What I’ve always liked about this comparison is that I haven’t met a single person who actually thinks the films are identical – they just have a number of structural details in common, insofar as they’re both about cops invading a building full of criminals run by a mastermind who orders their demise by intercom as they fight their way to the top. Dredd is also quite fun, albeit significantly more focused on gunplay than martial arts. The interest in these films has always felt less to me like a competition and more like a second slice of cake.

Still from "The Raid: Redemption"


What the films do have in common is that they both ostensibly showcase the state monopoly on violence being unleashed upon villains so cartoonish, so indefensible, so over-the-top evil, that we can cheer on their eradication even as we can look around the world (and at home) to examples of that very same force being used exclusively to punish the poor and downtrodden for petty crimes and stepping out of their place, as the wealthy and powerful plunder, propagandize, evade taxes, invade their neighbors, and cook the world without a hint of consequences. Perhaps we even fantasize about the merits of this same gang of gun-toting heroes sorting them out for us, because as humanity has always known, calling on disinterested gods for intervention and violence is always easier than solving society’s problems ourselves. But it’s not as if The Raid isn’t aware of all of these things. As with every cop drama before it, the cops are the most crooked and powerful gang in this city, in whatever city, and with the exception of one or two that act as audience surrogates and escapist heroes, they’re all as likely to deservedly die as the nameless hordes that they spend the film mowing down for our amusement. While my interest in cop dramas has waxed and waned over the years, I didn’t enjoy this movie any less this time through. I can maybe see why enjoying these films is perhaps not the most psychologically edifying activity to be engaged in. But whatever, neither is reality TV. Sometimes I can just let people have their fun.

FilmWonk rating: 8 out of 10

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #195 – “The Batman” (dir. Matt Reeves), “Cyrano” (dir. Joe Wright)

Poster for "The Batman" (2022 film)

This week, Glenn and Daniel check out director Matt Reeves and lead Robert Pattinson‘s take on the Caped Crusader, the fourth in our jaded millennial lives, and find it largely acceptable. Then we check out a musical take on the fictionalized life of Cyrano de Bergerac, from director Joe Wright, adapted from the stage musical by Erica Schmidt, which Daniel thought was solidly fine, and which changed Glenn’s life forever as musicals sometimes do (1:08:53).

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating (The Batman): 7.5 out of 10
FilmWonk rating (Cyrano): 8.5/10 (Glenn), 6.5/10 (Daniel)

Still from "Cyrano" (2022 film)

Show notes:

  • [02:16] Review: The Batman
  • [23:58] Spoilers: The Batman
  • [43:34] Review: Cyrano
  • The Cyrano soundtrack and score, which Glenn estimated at “probably 90 minutes of music”, clocks in at 1h18m, and has only continued to grow on him since the podcast recording.
  • We referred to a blooper edit of the trial of Tyrion Lannister. Remember it?

Listen above, or download: The Batman, Cyrano (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play)

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #194 – “Kimi” (dir. Steven Soderbergh), “Blacklight” (dir. Mark Williams), “I Want You Back” (dir. Jason Orley)

Poster for "Kimi" (2022 film)

This week, Glenn and Daniel check out a pair of thrillers, starting with Blacklight, a Liam Neeson thriller currently only in theaters, which provoked rare agreement that it is one of the worst movies we’ve ever reviewed on the podcast. Then we found a breath of fresh air with Steven Soderbergh‘s Seattle-set (and Seattle-shot) thriller, Kimi, a thoroughly modern take on a Hitchcockian thriller set in the modern, tech-infused, poverty-laden corporate surveillance state in which we live, new on HBO Max.

Finally, speaking of Hitchcock, we concluded with the Strangers on a Train of romantic comedies, in which a thoroughly charming Jenny Slate and Charlie Day play a pair of new acquaintances who each conspire to undo the other’s recent breakup, with the messy and enjoyable I Want You Back, new on Prime Video (51:42).

Still from "Blacklight" (2022 film)

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating (Kimi): 8 out of 10
FilmWonk rating (Blacklight): 2 out of 10
FilmWonk rating (I Want You Back): 7.5 out of 10

Still from "I Want You Back"

Show notes:

  • [02:41] Review: Kimi/Blacklight
  • [33:18] Review: I Want You Back
  • Glenn just wrote a 10YA re-evaluation of Liam Neeson in The Grey, a film that improved with age, which made Blacklight even harder to stomach.
  • Kimi prompted us to look up what happened to the Arkansas first-degree murder case that hinged on evience obtained from an Amazon Echo device – the case was eventually dropped due to what prosecutors declared was insufficient evidence to support a murder charge.
  • Derek DelGaudio has a small and important role in Kimi, which gave us a chance to plug his excellent 2021 Hulu special, “Derek DelGaudio’s In & Of Itself.

Listen above, or download: Kimi, Blacklight, I Want You Back (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play)

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #193 – “A Hero” (dir. Asghar Farhadi), “The Lost Daughter” (dir. Maggie Gyllenhaal)

Poster for "A Hero" (2021 Asghar Farhadi film)

This week, Glenn and Daniel return to the elaborate moral maze of Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi with A Hero (now streaming on Prime Video). They debate what’s right and wrong, and whether moral complexity that feels calculated can still effectively serve a good story. Then they venture into the rich narrative world of novelist Elena Ferrante, as adapted by first-time director Maggie Gyllenhaal, with The Lost Daughter (now streaming on Netflix), for a different sort of moral complexity, examining the role of women who find themselves unsuited for motherhood (01:13:35).

Still from "The Lost Daughter"

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating (A Hero): 7.5 out of 10
FilmWonk rating (The Lost Daughter): 6/10 (Daniel), 8/10 (Glenn)

Show notes:

  • [01:37] Review: A Hero
  • [17:24] Spoilers: A Hero
  • [38:05] Review: The Lost Daughter
  • [52:51] Spoilers: The Lost Daughter
  • CORRECTION: We misstated a couple of details about A Hero. It was filmed in the Iranian city of Shiraz, not Tehran. And while the film was selected to compete for the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, it actually won the Grand Prix, which is considered the second-most prestigious prize of the festival after the Palme D’Or.
  • We referred back to a review of a previous festival selection, Glory, a Bulgarian political satire about a character who finds a bag of money on the railroad tracks, which came to mind while watching A Hero. As of this writing, Glory is available for streaming on Tubi.
  • We also referenced Foxcatcher, The Green Knight, and A Bigger Splash.
  • We referenced film critic Alissa Wilkinson‘s excellent write-up of The Lost Daughter over at Vox – check it out here: “Untangling Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter“.
  • At Daniel’s request, I also read Armond White‘s awful review of the film (which has an equally awful headline) at National Review, which I will not link here, but you’re welcome to google if you want to welcome that into your life.

Listen above, or download: A Hero, The Lost Daughter (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play)

Joe Carnahan’s “The Grey” (2012) (presented by 10 Years Ago: Films in Retrospective)

Poster for "The Grey"

This review originally appeared as a guest post on 10 Years Ago: Films in Retrospective, a film site in which editor Marcus Gorman and various contributors revisit a movie on the week of its tenth anniversary. This retro review will be a bit more free-form, recappy, and profanity-laden than usual.


Once more into the fray. Into the last good fight I’ll ever know. Live and die on this day.”

“I died with my brothers – with a full fucking heart.”

“When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way.
Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.


“Theirs is not to reason why, theirs is but to do and die.”

John Ottway (Liam Neeson) is no poet, but his dad was, as well as being a “clichéd Irish motherfucker when he wanted to be. Drinker, brawler, all that stuff”. His cartoon leprechaun of a father really isn’t the problem here, nor is his obviously dead wife, who manages to appear in identical flashbacks six separate times, lying in bed saying “Don’t be afraid” in full hair and makeup while – as is revealed about 20 seconds before the end credits – bloodlessly dying of a terminal disease. Nor is the problem Ottway himself, whose opening monologue awkwardly admits that he is surrounded (at the remote Alaskan oil drilling site that is his workplace) by assholes, ex-cons, fugitives, and drifters. Nor is the problem that he uh…”moves like he imagines the damned do” (whatever that means). Most of the verbal or voiced-over attempts to add depth to these characters read as generic screenwriting stand-ins that probably should have been replaced with something more poetic later on. Ultimately, none of it was replaced – The Grey just kinda kept piling it on. And a decade ago, I scoffed and waited impatiently for the wolf-punching to begin.

People face death for a lot of unnecessary reasons in a society that treats many humans as disposable instruments of empire-building, and some of them are inclined toward poetry in the process. What’s more, a lot of poetry has been written for them, often by people who have no sense of what they’re describing – educated and pampered cultural elites who haven’t faced a shred of real danger, and would wordlessly shit themselves if they ever did (film critic says what?). After five million dead in two years of COVID (and a million more per year from tuberculosis, before and since), I suppose I may just be done scoffing at the dying of the light for a while, or meandering, febrile attempts to make sense of it before the moment comes. Let the damned speak their piece. Not like anyone’s going to do it for them.

Still from "The Grey" (2012 film)

I revisited The Grey because I feel as if I’ve become a more charitable critic in the intervening years, and this one stuck with me more than I expected it to. I stand by most of my previous reviews, but that’s not to say I’ve never changed my overall opinion of a film. Listening back to our podcast for The Grey, I was, I must admit, an insufferable snark monster about this film. I respect the craft involved. For cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi – who was hot shit for a few years there, filming for the likes of David O. Russell, Scott Cooper, and Tom McCarthy – to shoot something this coherent in blackness and snow, with a mostly CGI wolf-pack that spends most of its time hunting and striking in the dark, is a real accomplishment (even if the absolute king of this is still Emmanuel Lubezki on The Revenant). The sound design (from supervisors David G. Evans and Mark Gingras) is crucial as well, giving personality, bearing, and distance to the wolf pack as they are barely perceptible in the howling winter. Two things are simultaneously true of this film: It is a better-than-average survival thriller with a middling script, whose performances, with broadly interchangeable and equally doomed men, are each given an artisanal touch by their performers that the film’s various death monologues sorely needed. And God help me (or – fuck it – I’ll do this one myself), I enjoyed this film a lot more this time around, perhaps because I’m entering middle age, and death is no longer the kind of distant hypothetical annoyance it was at the height of my mid-20s energy and arrogance.

I must confess, I’ve spent the last decade inadvertently spreading a bit of misinformation about this film – for me, this was always the one that fraudulently sold itself as “the Liam Neeson wolf-punching movie”. As Ottway dons his improvised death-knuckles (made of tape and broken miniature liquor bottles) for his final showdown with the Alpha Wolf (guarding the den that it turns out the group was wandering toward this whole time), the film ends as each animal lunges toward the camera. Cut to black, and credits. My younger self was annoyed, and would tell anyone who would listen that there is no wolf-punching in this goddamn movie. As it turns out, that wasn’t and isn’t true. It’s a bit hard to see in the crash-site mire and darkness, but Ottway does punch a wolf about 25 minutes into the film, during one of the first attacks amid the wreckage. Then Diaz (a pre-Purge, pre-MCU Frank Grillo) stabs and eventually decapitates one. It’s just all very dark and muddy and incomprehensible, which bugged me at the time, but is pretty clearly a deliberate choice in retrospect. Anyway, fuck it. Jeremy Renner fist-fought a wolf the very same year in a scene that has aged rather poorly, and suffice to say, this was always a bit of a “be careful what you wish for” scenario.

Ottway’s barking atheism in the final scene is a powerhouse moment for Neeson, who didn’t acknowledge any real-world influence in Ottway’s expression of grief for his late wife in this film, but invited the audience to draw their own conclusions. The man slumps by the side of the river, a lone and temporary survivor of an animalistic slaughter, bargaining with a god he no longer believes in. And it lands. But the moment when his performance started to click for me was much earlier in the film, when the time comes for Ottway to take Diaz down a peg by mocking his masculine bravado and admitting, for all of these roughnecks to hear, that he is scared shitless. Of course, the scene ends with Diaz pulling a knife and demanding Ottway fight him, echoing a challenge that we hear taking place offscreen between a pair of wolves – the Omega and the Alpha, Ottway tells us. And each pack of animals settles their business in similar ways. Ottway throws Diaz to the ground and disarms him. Then he gives back the knife with a quick “No más”. Diaz, in spite of himself, starts to apologize before the Omega shows up, outcast to a quick death to test the humans’ defenses. There’s a very loose and messy statement about violence and toxic masculinity at work in this scene, with no clear conclusions, but it is interesting to hear these men debate how much of society’s basic decency has followed them into this situation (including whether to loot the bodies for supplies and wallets), when it appears the only thing keeping them together is Ottway’s persuasive threats to start beating the shit of any malcontents in the next five seconds. This clear and natural mantle of leadership brings the group together as brothers in arms (minus the arms) with a plainly obvious chain of command: Ottway is the Alpha.

Despite their bravado, each of them still manages to visibly weep whenever one of their brothers gets killed before their eyes, even if they don’t even know each other’s first names until the end. This idea – of fighting for the man next to you – is nothing new to this film. It’s a war movie trope just as surely as the poetry above (which I borrowed from The Grey, Lone Survivor, Act of Valor and…a 170-year-old Tennyson poem). And yet it always rings a true in the moment, because with the knowledge that everyone dies alone, there is something intuitive about a person facing a senseless, violent death right in front of you and recognizing that the least you can do, in the interests of your shared humanity, is to hold their hand and feel bad for them. The group takes the small, defensible moments between attacks as an opportunity to wax religiously, with Talget (Dermot Mulroney) insisting that God must have spared them all for a reason, and his buddies pointing out that Flannery (Joe Anderson) and Hernandez (Ben Bray) were “spared” as well, only to be eaten by wolves. Ottway and Diaz argue from separate places grounded in firm atheism: Diaz, out of cynicism and spite worthy of a PureFlix origin farce starring Kevin Sorbo, and Ottway, radiating sincere regret. He’s done with God, but he remembers his days of faith and misses them – something I found relatable, even if I’m also not keen to go backward.

Still from "The Grey" (2012 film)


There’s a reason why all this death poetry rings familiar and runs together for us. We tell the same stories over and over again about this mortal coil because we occasionally find comfort and meaning in them. And the less the world makes sense to us, the more elusive that meaning can be, which may be why a new study in the Journal of Religion and Health indicates that self-reported religious faith has plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic – a reliable effect across religious and spiritual people from all prior levels of devotion. In a world so full of senseless death and dubious purpose, perhaps that’s why a simple survival story landed better for me this time. These guys – these assholes, ex-cons, fugitives, and drifters, don’t have to fix the world they’re helping to break by drilling for Arctic oil, any more than I have to do so as one of the complicit billions buying and burning it. They’re in a survival situation that feels primal and essentially human. No tools apart from their brains and muscles, and their ability to use them collectively (including one pretty awesome cliffhanger action scene – one of the few things I also liked the first time I saw the film). The world, such as it is, ceases to matter for the duration of this story. Which makes the story feel like it matters more.
 
The last line of poetry above, Theirs is not to reason why, theirs is but to do and die, was written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in 1854, in “The Charge of the Light Brigade”. That last bit must have been too grim for modern audiences, because it has mutated over time to “Theirs is not to wonder why; theirs is but to do or die”. A simple twist of grammar turns an imposed suicide mission into chosen heroism. The poster tagline for The Grey suffers from a similar mutation – Live and die on this day, a trifling poem by Ottway’s terrible father, becomes Live or die on this day, a trite piece of studio marketing which definitely suggests that survival is both the point and a possibility. Perhaps that’s why The Grey let me down the first time. A false bill of fictional goods doesn’t bother me so much anymore. Tennyson led an interesting life and became a beloved historical poet, but he was a pampered Victorian aristocrat who never saw hide nor hair of whatever the fuck the Crimean War was about, so I won’t be too outraged on his behalf for his message being lost in the clichés. But I’ll spare a thought or two for the dead men he wrote some poetry about. And whichever wolves devoured them, lest they be devoured themselves.

FilmWonk rating: 6.5 out of 10

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #192 – “The Matrix Resurrections” (dir. Lana Wachowski), “Drive My Car” (dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi)

Poster for "The Matrix Resurrections"

This week, Glenn and Daniel are joined by returning guest Megan to do a Scene Unseen-style review of a sequel we both greatly anticipated, The Matrix Resurrections (which Daniel was unable to see last week). Then Megan – both Japan expert and marvelous wife to Glenn – delivers a brutal reminder of the healthy interplay between fandom and family by disdaining director Ryusuke Hamaguchi‘s new adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story, Drive My Car, which we both compared to previous #1 Glennie selection Birdman, and which Megan referred to as “pretty far up its own ass”. Glenn agreed, but the movie also made him cry, so we sort that out together, as one does.

This will be our last episode for 2021. Thank you for listening for another year and we wish you well (01:31:17).

CW: Pregnancy loss
May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating (The Matrix Resurrections): 7 out of 10 (Megan/Glenn)
FilmWonk rating (Drive My Car): 5/10 (Megan), 7/10 (Daniel), 8.5/10 (Glenn)

Show notes:

  • [02:02] Review: The Matrix Resurrections
  • [19:17] Spoilers: The Matrix Resurrections
  • [45:35] Review: Drive My Car
  • [01:03:39] Spoilers: Drive My Car

Listen above, or download: The Matrix Resurrections, Drive My Car (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play)

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #191 – “The Power of the Dog” (dir. Jane Campion), “Bruised” (dir. Halle Berry)

Poster for "The Power of the Dog"

This week, Glenn and Daniel welcome back Erika to check out the directorial debut of Halle Berry in Bruised, in which she stars as a disgraced MMA fighter trying to connect with her estranged son. And then we check out Jane Campion‘s gorgeous, but narratively unfocused adaptation on toxic masculinity in the early 20th century American West, The Power of the Dog, which provoked a wide range of reactions on the podcast. Both films are now available on Netflix. (01:24:17).

Still from "Bruised" (2021 film)

*CW: This episode contains mentions of suicide, alcoholism, familial and intimate partner violence, and rape, as pertains to the subject matter of each film.
May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating (Bruised): 5/10 (Erika), 6/10 (Daniel), 7/10 (Glenn)
FilmWonk rating (The Power of the Dog): 3/10 (Daniel), 5/10 (Glenn), 9/10 (Erika)

Show notes:

  • [02:01] Review: Bruised
  • [26:34] Spoilers: Bruised
  • [39:58] Review: The Power of the Dog
  • [55:46] Spoilers: The Power of the Dog
  • There was a minor technical issue with the remote recording, and it is occasionally possible to hear a brief echo – we edited this out as much as possible, and we do apologize for the disruption.
  • CORRECTION: Jane Campion was not the first woman to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director – she was second (for The Piano, for which she would win the award for Best Original Screenplay). The first woman to be nominated for Best Director was Lina Wertmüller for the 1976 Italian film, Seven Beauties.
  • Erika plugged the 1989 TV miniseries Lonesome Dove, starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones, which is streaming on StarzPlay as well as for rent on multiple platforms.

Listen above, or download: Bruised, The Power of the Dog (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play)