Sneaky Previews: Beware the trailer for “The Grey”


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“The Grey” with Liam Neeson opens this weekend. It’s a good movie. I’m just not sure it’s this movie:

When that trailer hit the Internet a few months ago “The Grey” quickly garnered a jokey reputation online as “The Movie Where Liam Neeson Punches Wolves.” I don’t really want to spoil the film for you, but I almost have if you’re going to enjoy this thing. If you’re planning to go to “The Grey” because you want to watch Liam Neeson beat the shit out of a pack of of wolves, you are going to be sorely disappointed. Last year, a woman sued the makers of the film “Drive” because she found its trailer “misleading.” If that woman sees “The Grey” based on its trailer she might try to sue the entire film industry.

The trailer’s not really misleading per se; (just about) everything you see in it, along with Neeson’s stoic voiceover, does appear in the final film. It’s not so much the details that the trailer gets wrong, it’s the tone. The aggro music, the shots of Neeson running and screaming with broken liquor bottles taped to his knuckles like a drunk trying to imitate Wolverine, it all suggests an intense and slightly cartoonish action spectacular. Which is pretty much what you expect from Neeson and director Joe Carnahan. The last project these two made together was the big-screen adaptation of “The A-Team.” After you’ve had a tank fight a plane in mid-air, what’s a little wolf punching between friends?

In reality, though, “The Grey” is one of the darkest movies to come out of Hollywood in a very long time. A plane carrying Neeson and the employees of an Alaskan oil refinery goes down in the middle of nowhere, and the few survivors need to band together to find their way back to civilization and, yes, fight off some very angry wolves. But the film is less about action than philosophy — about what it means to be alive and why we struggle so mightily against death. It’s structured like a survival horror film — a large cast is whittled down one by one — but Carnahan doesn’t fetishize death the way a survival horror movie would. Instead, he brings us into the lives of the characters, who are fully formed and painfully real. And when they die, brutally and mercilessly, it hurts.

This is a sad, powerful film. It sticks to your ribs like a good meal. You’ll be carrying it around with you for days. But it ain’t what the studio’s selling, namely The Movie Where Liam Neeson Punches Wolves. Is that a problem?

I say it is and it isn’t. On the one hand, if you saw “The Grey” because of that trailer and felt ripped off afterwards, I’d be hard-pressed to argue with you. On some level, that trailer is a bait-and-switch. It’s not particularly cool to promise folks one movie and give them another, even if the movie you actually give them is deeply moving and totally satisfying, albeit in a completely different way.

On the other hand, if there’s anything worse than a trailer like the one for “The Grey” it’s a trailer that’s the exact opposite of the one for “The Grey;” in other words, a trailer that spoils everything. This is a subject we’ve discussed a couple of times on IFC.com, most prominently in this list of trailers that totally give away the ending of the movie. Though spoiling your own movie seems like a terrible idea, the strategy has occasionally worked, most famously with Tom Hanks’ “Cast Away.” The trailer revealed the fact that — SPOILER ALERT, WHICH IS MORE THAN THE TRAILER GAVE YOU — Hanks manages to escape the island on which he gets stranded (just like “The Grey,” the film takes place in the wake of a harrowing plane crash). The trailer couldn’t have been more clear that Hanks survived his ordeal and returned to to civilization. The film still made over $400 million worldwide.

But why? Why pay for a movie whose outcome you already know? It was a question that vexed me when I wrote that list. Here’s the answer I finally came up with: many audiences aren’t going to movies for entertainment, they’re going for reassurance. They don’t even want the happy ending — they need the happy ending. They need to be coddled and comforted and told that even if you get stuck on an island with a volleyball as your only friend you needn’t worry because somehow you’ll make it home okay. And more than needing it — they need to know that’s waiting for them in the theater before they pay for the ticket. If there’s a chance Tom Hanks dies, they don’t want to go. Life’s tough enough already. They don’t need that heartache.

So maybe that’s what “The Grey”‘s trailer is — not really misleading as much as it is reassuring. If we’re going to watch people get threatened by wolves, we need to be sure Liam Neeson will be there, bottle claws and all, to protect them. The problem here is that “The Grey” itself doesn’t really believe in reassurances. In Carnahan’s view, you can be a good person, you can have a beautiful family, you can cry to God all you want, but when those wolves come, no amount of single serving liquor will protect you. It’s a profound statement. But profound statements don’t put asses in the seats like guarantees do.

I can’t guarantee you’ll like “The Grey,” but I think you will. I can guarantee you ain’t gonna see much wolf punching. Proceed accordingly.

Did the trailer of “The Grey” make you want to see the movie? Tell us what you think in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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Documentary Now! Robert Evans Mansion

The Reel Deal

Everything You Need To Know About “Mr. Runner Up” Inspiration Robert Evans

Watch the two-part finale of Documentary Now! this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

In its upcoming two-part finale, Documentary Now! spoofs the crown jewel of docs: The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s the autobiographical documentary about Robert Evans, the unlikely Hollywood mogul whose mix of self-aggrandizing bravado, classic good looks and extremely circumstantial good luck took him from being a salesman to an actor to the head of Paramount Pictures.

If you’ve never seen the film, it’s totally worth it. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a staggeringly-high approval rating. Watch it before, or watch it after — doesn’t matter. You’ll appreciate it whenever.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of background that will come in handy…

Robert Loves Robert

Robert Evans desk

USA Films/Everett Collection

Robert Evans is the ultimate Robert Evans fan. The movie was narrated by Robert Evans and based on his memoir of the same name. It is totally unbiased.

He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

Robert Evans, Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

Evans produced some of Hollywood’s true classics: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Love Story…the list goes on. Totally legit and amazing movies.

He’s Also Kind Of A Joke

Wag The Dog
New Line Cinema

Evans has been parodied in TV shows and movies like Entourage and Wag The Dog. He is the quintessential “producer” you already have in your head.

So Wrong He’s Right

Robert Evans Slap
20th Century Film Corp

Robert Evans is a notorious narcissist whose love of self is so blind and sincere that it’s actually adorable.

There’s Something Missing

via Giphy

Entire sections of Robert Evans’ life are left out of the documentary. Maybe it’s because of timing. Maybe it’s because real life isn’t a tidy narrative. Who knows.

He Blew It

Spider coke

Evans had a pretty spectacular fall from grace. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking in the early 80’s, and was connected to a contract killing during the production of The Cotton Club. Oops.

Losing Is For Losers

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In the Robert Evans mythology, all tragedies are just triumphs in disguise, and every story has a happy ending…for Robert Evans.

Bill Hader Jerry Wallach

With these simple facts in hand you are now prepared to thoroughly enjoy the two-part finale of Documentary Now! starting this Wednesday at 10/9c on IFC.

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Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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