Tag Archives: Jeremy Renner

Arrival (2016)

At last! I finally got to see Arrival, the sci-fi movie directed by Prisoners and Sicario (and soon Blade Runner 2049) filmmaker Denis Villeneuve. Of all the Best Picture nominees at the Oscars this year, Arrival was hands down the one I wanted to see above all others. Villeneuve is a master at creating atmosphere, tension, and stunning visuals, and I couldn’t wait to see what he could do with a film based on an award-winning science fiction story.

With expectations that high, I almost anticipated disappointment as I walked into the darkened cinema today. I intentionally avoided most of the trailers and all reviews so nothing will be spoiled, though I did hear a throwaway line in a podcast that revealed a little too much for my liking. Still, I felt like I knew little enough to make the experience fresh and unencumbered.

When I walked out of Arrival, I was speechless. I didn’t say anything more than a couple of words for quite a long time. My mind just couldn’t stop spinning and thinking about what I had watched and what it all meant. It’s 116 minutes long but I felt like I could watch another 116 minutes of it. I have no doubt I will be thinking about the film for days and I can’t wait to watch it again. It’s a thinking-person’s sci-fi movie—my favourite kind.

The plot is very simple. Amy Adams plays Louise Banks, a top linguist who is contacted by the US government when mysterious alien crafts suddenly appear around the world with no apparent agenda. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) plays physicist Ian Connelly, while Forest Whitaker plays an US Army colonel. The film takes quite a realistic approach to what would happen in the event of an alien arrival event, providing its own subtle takes on government relations, societal reactions, religious beliefs and individual emotions.

The film is absolutely stunning to look at. I was very excited about the visuals of this movie after seeing Sicario, and though Arrival has a different cinematographer (Bradford Young, who was the DP for Selma; Roger Deakins was the DP for Sicario), the look is nonetheless beautiful. I’m not talking about just the special effects, which are seamless, but the landscapes and Villeneuve’s use of camera angles and focus. I’m very surprised the film was not nominated for Best Cinematography.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that Arrival is some kind of alien invasion blockbuster. It’s a much more contemplative film where the pace is very measured. There was a section of the movie after the initial contact that felt a little slow and had me worried about where the narrative was heading, but fortunately, it soon got out of that rut and dragged me into its world. Before long, Arrival developed one of the most immersive film experiences I’ve had in years. I became completely lost in its story, characters and intrigue. There are so many fascinating little revelations and twists and turns — not all of them are shocking or unpredictable, but even the ones I could see coming nonetheless sent chills through my body.

The performances are, as expected, wonderful. Amy Adams should have been nominated for her portrayal, which carried the film from start to finish and was full of raw, nuanced emotion. Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, and Michael Stuhlbarg are all solid in supporting roles. I imagine much of the acting from Adams and Renner came in front of green screens, which only makes their performances more remarkable.

The closest film I can compare Arrival to is the 1997 classic Contact, directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Jodie Foster. Both are very personal sci-fi films that are fantastic at creating intrigue — they show enough to whet the appetite and satisfy your curiosity, but not too much so that the sense of mystery remains in tact. Both films are also very philosophical and emotional. I like how they don’t explain everything and leave the audience with unanswered questions and room for open-ended interpretations.

In the end, Arrival turned out to be every bit as good as I hoped it would be, albeit via an experience that was very different to what I had expected. It’s fascinating, thought-provoking, and ultimately very moving and heartbreaking. It is definitely one of movies on my list of favourite films of 2016 — the only question is whether it’s at the very top.

5 stars out of 5!

PS: The film isn’t perfect though. Apart from that slow patch I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t a fan of the Chinese general character played by veteran Asian actor Tzi Ma. The big blunder the film makes is that the head of the People’s Liberation Army should actually also be the President of China (and also the General Secretary of the Communist Party). Also, as hard as Amy Adams tried, her Mandarin pronunciation was poor,

Movie Review: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

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We all know he is crazy. But when it comes to making crazy action blockbusters, there’s no superstar in the world equipped with more charisma and intensity to do the job than Mr Tom Cruise.

Despite having hit the big Five-O since Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the surprising smash hit that turned out to be the best in the franchise yet, Cruise returns in fine form for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, the first film financed by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. It’s a slick, wild, fun and funny experience, a fantastic popcorn movie that appears to have taken a page out of the Fast & Furious franchise by building on the success and familiarity of the predecessor with even crazier action stunts you’ve never seen before.

Cruise returns as IMF agent Ethan Hunt, who finds himself going head-to-head with his most formidable nemesis yet, Solomon Lane, the head of the mysterious Syndicate terrorist group, played by Sean Harris (who looks like Mason Verger from Hannibal even though he has no facial injuries). Returning are his comedy relief sidekick Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), last entry’s William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and good old Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames). New to the cast are Alec Baldwin, head of the CIA, and Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson (who earned a Golden Globe nomination for The White Queen in 2013), in my opinion a true superstar in the making.

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who previously collaborated with Cruise on the underrated Jack Reacher and was also a writer on the excellent Edge of TomorrowMI5 kicks off with a spectacular opening sequence that is basically declaring to its audience that they are in for a treat. And from there, the film takes us on a heart-thumping ride around the world, filled with cool gadgets, technology you never knew existed, fast cars and loads of stunts to push action — and credulity — to the edge.

Not everything makes perfect sense and people never seem to get hurt — or even scratched — despite the most brutal of crashes, falls and collisions, but as is the case with the last few Fast & Furious flicks, MI5 embraces its insanity and outrageousness to the fullest, and in doing so becomes a form of surreal enjoyment that few films of the genre can match.

There are admittedly some pacing issues as there are times when the film slows down too much for my liking, though the set action pieces — in particular one involving an underwater sequence and another involving a motorcycle chase — are absolutely fantastic and rank right up there as the best of the franchise.

Tom Cruise, say what you will about him, can still get it done as Ethan Hunt. It’s no different to the type of intense performance we’ve seen countless times, and despite turning 53 this month, Cruises hasn’t lost a step. Equalling his impressiveness is Rebecca Ferguson, who isn’t necessarily a knockout beauty but is shockingly convincing as Ilsa Faust, a British agent/terrorist. The 31-year-old actress exudes an air of confidence and vulnerability that makes Faust a fascinating character you’re not sure if you can trust, and manages to keep all the difficult action scenes authentic because she makes you believe she is capable of possessing those skills.

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Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson

Simon Pegg gets a very meaty role this time, both in terms of screen time and humour, though sadly neither Jeremy Renner nor Ving Rhames get to show much of what they can do as they are largely confined to operational logistics. Alec Baldwin, on the other hand, is a welcome addition who makes CIA chief Alan Huntley a much more interesting character than he otherwise would have been.

Full credit too to Alibaba, basically China’s version of eBay, for keeping MI5 essentially free of “Chinese characteristics.” In recent years, most high-profile films involving Chinese investment always force in some cheesy Chinese elements or actors, but in this film you almost forget that. They don’t go to China, there’s no mention of China, and the only Chinese actress in it — played by Zhang Jinchu, basically a less famous Zhang Zhiyi — has a tiny role that you barely even notice.

I do have a bit of a complaint about some of the close-range combat sequences because the use of quick cuts get a little too liberal to be coherent at times, but apart from that Rogue Nation is an exceptional action film I had a blast with. It’s not quite on the level of Ghost Protocol, a surprising revelation no one expected to be that good, though that could also be because expectations this time around are might higher. Nonetheless, it’s easily the second best entry in the MI franchise and I hope they keep making more as long as they are this awesome.

4 stars out of 5

PS: Yes, they apparently do plan to make a sixth film.

2014 Movie Blitz: Part VI

Kill the Messenger (2014)

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Surprised this one didn’t get more burn.

This is the true story of Gary Webb, played by the brilliant Jeremy Renner, a journalist who uncovers the CIA’s role in importing crack cocaine into the US to secretly fund the Nicaraguan contra rebels. OK, so maybe the CIA didn’t import the drugs themselves, but they acquiesced in stopping it and they knew that it was going mostly to impoverished black communities. That’s pretty huge news, right? But for whatever reason the story, much like this film, slipped under the radar.

The film had a big cast too that included the likes of Ray Liotta, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Paz Vega, Oliver Platt, Andy Garcia, Michael Sheen and Robert Patrick. It’s hard hitting, gripping and gritty, and though it might not be the most exciting film, it certainly kept me entertained and emotionally invested in Webb’s plight.

Renner is sensational in this, proving once again that he can be believable no matter what kind of character he plays. Webb is a complex character and Renner brings out his fear, frustration and anger in perfect abundance. The moral of the story, as always, is to not mess with the US government because they will mess you up tenfold in return.

3.75 stars out of 5

The Best of Me (2014)

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Ever since The Notebook, his debut novel, Nicholas Sparks has been trying to recreate the magic with clones of his most beloved work. The Best of Me is his latest attempt, and frankly, it stinks.

Perhaps that’s too strong of a word, but I feel like if you’ve seen one Nicholas Sparks movie you’ve seen it all. This one, in particular, embraces the formula to the letter. An innocent romance between young star-crossed lovers, who end up being separated for some painful reason. Years later, they reunited by chance and rekindle the passion, lamenting how things could have been, before finishing with a bittersweet ending that aims to be both tragic and moving. If you haven’t noticed, that description matches both The Notebook and The Best of Me.

James Marsden, who played the third wheel the girl dumps in The Notebook gets an opportunity to redeem himself as the male lead this time, while Michelle Monaghan earns her paycheck as the rich girl who falls for the poor boy. The film also utilises flashbacks, in which the younger characters are played by Aussie Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato, respectively. One problem with this arrangement is that James Marsden (41) looks a little too young and Luke Bracey a little too old (25) for them to be versions of the same character 21 years apart, though the bigger issue is that the two actors look absolutely nothing alike! Seriously, they might as well have gotten Samuel L Jackson to play the older version because the resemblance is zero.

Fans looking for the same thing will probably love it — explains why they keep rolling these movies out — but for me this film was just so much saccharine fluff. You can clearly see the plot points it’s trying to hit along the way, including the contrived ending you could see coming a mile away, and if you don’t buy into the characters there’s not much of a chance you’ll feel anything for them. There was one good scene between Monaghan and the actor who plays her douchey husband, Sebastian Arcelus, when they’re at the dinner table and you can see why their marriage isn’t working out, but apart from that The Best of Me won’t bring out the best of anyone who watches it.

1.75 stars out of 5

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2014)

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I can’t remember much about The Woman in Black except that Daniel Radcliffe is in it and that the film was surprisingly good and scary. The sequel, Angel of Death, on the other hand, is bland and boring.

There is a connection between the two films — being the haunted house — but they have a different cast and different directors and screenwriters. Susan Hill, who wrote the book the first film was adapted from, helped with coming up with the story, but if I didn’t know that I would have thought she simply sold the rights in return for an easy paycheck.

Angel of Death follows a boarding school teacher (Phoebe Fox) and a bunch of students forced to evacuate their boarding school during World War II. Of course, then end up at the Eel Marsh House where the Woman in Black resides. Spooky stuff starts to happen, and there’s a mystery behind the haunting that needs to be figured out. All fairly standard horror tropes.

The best thing the film has going for it is the creepy atmosphere of the house and the fact that children are involved (also scary), though the narrative progresses slowly and there are too many lulls in between the attempts at scares, which aren’t really scary with the exception of a couple of well-timed moments. On the whole, this is a straight-to-DVD-quality horror sequel fans of the original will likely be disappointed with.

2 stars out of 5

If I Stay (2014)

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Chloe Moretz is growing up quickly, and this is a bold choice for her to venture into supernatural teen romantic drama territory (which I argue is even bolder than her young prostitute stint in Denzel’s The Equalizer). If I Stay, based on the novel of the same name by Gayle Forman, tells the story of a teenage cellist named Mia who falls into a coma following a devastating car accident with her family. The twist is that Mia’s soul is still hanging around outside her body, kind of in a limbo state, and she must decide whether she wants to move on to the afterlife or stay to be with her rock band musician boyfriend (Jamie Blackley).

It’s not a terrible film, but If I Stay didn’t do much for me. The narrative jumps around, with a few scenes in the present and plenty of flashbacks that trace the progress of the romance, which came across as fairly stereotypical and without anything fresh to offer. There was a heavy focus on music, given that they are both musicians and all, but I didn’t care much for either of their musical tastes. I thought its central conceit — the whole should I stay or should I go thing — was interesting, though the execution felt like it was trying to milk tears from audiences as opposed to letting the moving drama speak  for itself. Some parts worked, while others came across as clear attempts at manipulation.

Chloe Moretz, who is very good as usual, tries really hard to make it work. Unfortunately, while I can see how some viewers would fall in love with this movie, for me, If I Stay is a film that fails to fulfill the potential of its premise.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: American Hustle (2013)

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The highly anticipated American Hustle reunites acclaimed director David O’Russell (Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter) with the stars from his two previous films, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, and Christian Bale and Amy Adams – and the result is arguably his best film yet.

Set in the late 1970s, the movie is very very loosely based on a true story, thus prompting the line “Some of this actually happened” at the beginning of the film. I don’t want to give the plot away, so I’ll just provide a basic premise by saying that Christian Bale and Amy Adams play a pair of low-level con men (or should that be con people?) who bite off a little more than they can chew when they team up with Bradley Cooper. Jennifer Lawrence plays Bale’s wife and Jeremy Renner plays a mayor. The brilliant cast is topped off by the likes of Louis CK, Michael Pena and Robert De Niro.

As the title suggests (it was originally titled American Bullshit), the film is all about scamming people in an era when people are a little more naïve and trusting than they are now. It’s technically an entertaining caper drama, but American Hustle is also one of the sharpest, wittiest and funniest black comedies of the year. Though they are very different movies, the offbeat tone of the film is similar to Silver Linings Playbook, so if you enjoyed that you’ll love this.

The wonderful characters are what make American Hustle such a pleasure to watch, and each of them stand out in their own way. The film is almost like an intertwining collection of fascinating character studies, and what’s more is that the chemistry between all of them is amazing — the way they play off each other, react to each other and talk to each other. Just rapid fire nuggets of gold all the way.

Christian Bale is his usual solid self, but again went the extra mile by piling on the pounds and shaving part of his head to make himself look like a fatty with an elaborate comb-over. He is the only man in Hollywood who can go from this:

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Empire of the Sun (1987)

To this:

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American Psycho (2000)

To this:

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The Machinist (2004)

To this:

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Batman Begins (2005)

 To this:

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The Fighter (2010)

To this:

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The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

And now to this:

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American Hustle (2013)

Bradley Cooper is as good as he was in Silver Linings Playbook, and I think Amy Adams has never been better. Of the three leads she is probably the one likeliest to win an Oscar.

I am of course biased about this, but I reckon Jennifer Lawrence absolutely stole the show. She is just magnificent, so natural, so delightful, so hilarious; a laugh a second and full of impact in every scene she’s in. Jeremy Renner delivers an understated but important performance, and Michael Pena’s comedic chops shine through despite few words. I was ready to call this the best ensemble cast of the year and I didn’t even know Robert De Niro and Louis CK were in it!

The film is arguably a little too long at 138 minutes, but the script is tight and the dialogue razor sharp. O’Russell’s direction is enthusiastic and vibrant and again, the performances are just ridiculous. I don’t doubt that it is the best ensemble cast of any film in 2013, and I expect a load of Oscar nominations coming the film’s way. The film has already garnered 7 Golden Globe nominations, with O’Russell’s direction and screenplay and the four leads all earning nods along with the film itself.

I don’t know if the film will win Best Picture or if it will go down as a borderline classic, but American Hustle is certainly one of the best films of the year. A pure joy to watch.

4.5 stars out of 5

PS: It also has probably the best soundtrack of the year!

Movie Review: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (3D) (2013)

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I’m not sure what spell I was under that made me go and see Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, the latest instalment to the fairytale/historical ‘reimaginings’ Hollywood loves so much nowadays. What’s worse, this film was forced upon me in 3D, with no non-rip off 2D versions available anywhere (as far as I could find, anyway).

The premise is simple: Hansel and Gretel (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton), the brother and sister from the classic Grimm fairytale, after killing a witch as per the story, grow up to become adult witch hunters. Bet you didn’t expect that!

The famed duo take their witch-killing talents to a small village where small children have been missing, and agree to help the mayor find the kids and slay the nasties, much to the disdain of local sheriff (Peter Stromare).

What ensues is a lot of witch hunting and fighting against the head nasty (Famke Janssen) and her minions. In 3D.

If you’re in the mood for something silly, you might enjoy Hansel and Gretel’s adventures. I, on the other hand, failed miserably to engage with this film despite not expecting a whole lot in the first place.

I suppose the aim of the filmmakers was to create something that people would think is cool (killing witches), make it a little scary and a little funny, and add a dash of money-grabbing 3D. But the problem was that the film was not very funny or very scary. Sure the witches looked nasty, but they were more comical (in a bad way) than frightening. And the majority of the humour lacked punch and came across as fairly lame. There really wasn’t anything that made this film stand out from other similar efforts.

Gemma Arterton does her best but Jeremy Renner, Academy Award nominee, looked like he was just there for the money. Plus he has the least suitable face for a fairytale in probably all of Hollywood — he just looks too…modern.

Another major gripe is the action, which had little originality and was plagued by rapid cuts that made it difficult to figure out what the heck was going on at times. Throw in the arbitrary, annoying and pointless 3D, and what you have is an uninspiring, all-round mess.

1.75 out of 5

Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy (2012)

A Bourne movie without Bourne? Why the heck not?

The Bourne Legacy is the fourth instalment of the Bourne franchise and it’s the first in the series without Matt Damon, who played the titular Jason Bourne in the first three films (Bourne Identity, Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum). Instead, we get a pretty darn good replacement, Jeremy Renner, who I have been a fan of since The Hurt Locker and then became a massive fan of following The Town. And being Hawkeye in The Avengers didn’t hurt either.

It needs to made clear, however, that Renner is not playing Jason Bourne — he is Aaron Cross, another super soldier created by the US government. So why is a guy named Cross in a film with someone else’s name in the title? Well apparently, Damon’s decision to walk away from the franchise was only “temporary” because he and Paul Greengrass, the director of the first three films, didn’t think the studio gave them enough time to do this fourth film justice.

What this means is that The Bourne Legacy takes place in the same universe and is a continuation of the Bourne story but focuses on a different central character. You see photos of Bourne and he is repeatedly mentioned by the government and the press, but he’s supposedly hiding somewhere so that Aaron Cross can do his thing.

It does feel kinda weird watching a Bourne film where he isn’t in it, but I suppose Tony Gilroy, who was a co-writer on the first three films and wrote and directed this one, did the best he could under the circumstances. It certainly helps that the intense Renner plays a very different character to Bourne and is a killer badass in his own right.

That said, I don’t think the script is as brilliant as it pretends to be. We studied Gilroy’s Oscar-nominated Michael Clayton script in my screenwriting class, which I admired greatly for its confident dialogue and ability to keep the audience hooked by thrusting them into a world which has to be gradually pieced together, bit by bit, to understand what the heck is going on. You are constantly wondering what people are saying and doing throughout the film, and it’s not until the pieces start falling together that it all starts to make sense.

Gilroy employs the same technique for this film, but if you really think about it, all the pieces don’t exactly fall into place or fit together. He sets up a lot of “mysteries” as a device  to keep the audience engaged, but never ends up answering them in the end. Perhaps it was this kind of uneven writing that prompted Damon to call Gilroy’s The Bourne Ultimatum script a “career killer.”

Another problem  is that the forced references to Jason Bourne can be confusing for viewers who aren’t completely across the history of the franchise. I have watched all the earlier films in the series but to be honest I don’t remember a whole lot about the plot, which made it a little frustrating at times when the characters rambled on about the various government projects and some scandal that was being played out in the media. I also recognised returning actors such as Scott Glenn, David Strathairn and Joan Allen, but I had trouble remembering who they were. I imagine I’m not the only one who struggled with this aspect of the film.

But let’s face it, the plots of the Bourne films have always been secondary to their well-crafted suspense and action, and that’s where The Bourne Legacy also shines. The Bourne Legacy carries on the franchise’s tradition of “realistic” action that avoids reliance on CGI, which is made more impressive considering that Renner apparently performed almost all of his own stunts (talk about being devoted to the craft). The final extended action sequence, in particular, is probably the best in the entire series, and that says a lot.

I can’t believe I have written this much and not mentioned the two newcomers to the franchise, Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton. Weisz plays a doctor who is involved in the medical aspect of the program while Norton is the new guy trying to hunt the super soldier down. Norton offers the better performance but is given the short end of the stick in the script, where he can disappear for long stretches and be completely forgotten at times. Weisz, on the other hand, is gifted some of the best scenes in the film, including one outstandingly horrific sequence at the laboratory where she works, and another later on at her house. It’s scenes like these that demonstrated Gilroy’s ability as a director — someone who knows how to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. And he isn’t as big of a fan of the shaky hand-held camera as Greengrass, which for me was a huge plus.

On the whole, The Bourne Legacy is a rather flawed movie and might be regarded by some as a “filler” film that can make the franchise more money while it waits for Damon to return. But what I can’t deny is that it is still an excellent flick purely from an action and suspense perspective and that Renner is absolutely dynamite as the new super soldier on the block. Damon has left open the salivating possibility of returning to the franchise in the future, which in an ideal world would put both him and Renner on screen at the same time. That would be awesome.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011)

Talk about an unexpected early Christmas present.  I have always liked the Mission: Impossible series but never considered myself a huge fan, but I must admit I enjoyed the fourth film (does that mean it’s a ‘saga’ now?), Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (let’s called it MI4), immensely.  In fact, I think it is the best film of the entire series, and by a not inconsiderable margin.  How rare is it that the fourth film of a franchise is the best of the lot?

MI4 is crazy.  No, not jumping on Oprah’s couch crazy, but crazy good.  Given that no one wants to produce Tom Cruise films any more, Mr Scientology decided to produce it himself (he has the money, so why not?), along with JJ Abrams (director of the third film) and Bryan Burk.  The director?  Brad Bird, a strange choice considering he directed only animations, such as The Incredibles, Ratatouille and the Do the Bart Man music video, but it turned out to be the right choice because he made the impossible somewhat believable  (at least while you’re in the moment anyway).  The partial use of IMAX cameras also allowed some spectacular shots in a film packed with riveting action and intrigue from start to finish.

There’s nothing particularly clever about the plot — secret missions, double crosses, an evil genius determined to destroy the world, and only Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his desperate, isolated, back-against-the-wall team can save us.  We’ve seen it all before, but as they say, it’s all in the execution.

And that’s where MI4 delivers big time.  High tension, white-knuckle action, explosive chase sequences, insane stunts, cool machines and gadgets, scaling buildings and the film’s trademark: flat-dropping down deep vents.  Yes, even within the context of the MI franchise we’ve seen a lot of these things already, but there’s always a twist that makes it fresh, and frankly, it’s simply done better than before.  You may have already seen a few of the more iconic scenes in the trailers, but if you haven’t, even better.

The cast that plays the newly assembled team is awesome.  Tom Cruise is older, wrinklier and eye-baggier, but still fit and charming enough to pull off the role of super agent Ethan Hunt.  Alan Thicke’s (the dad from Growing Pains, remember him?) daughter-in-law, Paula Patton (she married his son, musician Robin Thicke) is a sexy yet kick-ass agent, and Simon Pegg returns as the bumbling computer hacker to provide the laughs.  I was very impressed with the latest recruit, a mysterious analyst played by Jeremy Renner.  I knew he could do reckless loner (The Hurt Locker) and intense badass (The Town), but I didn’t expect him to play the role of super agent this well. No wonder Renner was selected to take over the Bourne franchise after Matt Damon’s departure.

Michael Nyqvist (the original Mikael Blomkvist from The Millennium Trilogy) is somewhat underused as the crazy baddie (though noticeably better than his performance in Abduction, also as a crazy baddie), but on the whole the cast is super.

As far as action blockbusters go, MI4 is one of the best of the year.

4.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Town (2010)

I finally got to see The Town, the Boston crime drama/thriller co-written and directed by Ben Affleck.  I had heard some good things about it, but I certainly did not expect The Town to be one of the best films I’ve seen this year.

There’s nothing terribly original or groundbreaking about the premise of ‘The Town’, ie Charlestown, a small neighbourhood that boasts the highest number of bank robbers in Boston.  Affleck plays Doug MacCray, a local crook with a shady family history and a hot-headed best friend, James Coughlin, played by Jeremy Renner (from The Hurt Locker).  An introductory heist introduces two key characters — Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), a pretty bank manager, and Adam Fawley (Jon Hamm from Mad Men), an FBI agent hunting them down.

The Town is an intense, emotional and explosive roller coaster ride that’s gripping from the very beginning until the final scene.  It’s incredibly sharp, well written, has a great cast, and the heist sequences are some of the best I’ve ever seen.  Affleck, who has never been the greatest actor in my opinion, has established himself as one heck of a director, and I certainly hope there will be plenty more to come from him in the future.

Affleck, Hall and Hamm are all solid — but for me it’s the brilliant Jeremy Renner who steals the show as the impulsive, reckless, but extremely loyal friend.  The guy exudes screen presence and put me on edge every time he appeared.  He was terrific in The Hurt Locker, where he was the ‘good guy’, but he’s probably even more effective here as a villain of sorts.  I was surprised the film didn’t get more love from the voters on the Golden Globes, but I’m pleased to see that Renner got the nod for a best supporting actor nomination (the film’s only nomination).

Another pleasant surprise was Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively, who has a small but important role as the local skank.  Lively has a tendency to annoy me on Gossip Girl, but I can’t deny she was amazing in this.  Well done.

There’s nothing I didn’t like about this film.  I’ve heard that critics are comparing The Town to the classic 1995 De Niro/Pacino film Heat. I was too young to remember the latter film favourably, but I am so impressed with The Town that I will definitely go check it out.

4.5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: The Hurt Locker (2009)

The Hurt Locker isn’t a film that jumps out at you as a front-runner for the Best Picture Oscar while you are watching it.  It has the feel of a small-scale film, focused on a specific subject in a specific setting, with largely unknowns in the lead roles.  But don’t let that put you off.  It is undoubtedly one of the best films of the year.

I would call The Hurt Locker an American war suspense-action-thriller.  Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (K-19: The Widowmaker, Point Break – yes, that’s right!  Point Break!), it tells the story of an United States EOD (Explosives Ordnance Disposal) team in post US-invaded Iraq.  To many viewers, it will be a world that is as foreign as Pandora from James Cameron’s Avatar.

The Hurt Locker a cut above most other post-911 war movies for several reasons.

First of all, it is probably the most suspenseful film in recent memory.  The thrills come in waves, but when it comes, the tension is so unbelievably high that it made me forget how to breathe.  Full credit must go to Bigelow, who combines life-and-death situations with documentary-style shooting to create an atmosphere that makes the audience feel like they are right there in the pressure cooker with the EOD team members.

Second, the script by Mark Boal is outstanding.  Boal is a freelance journalist who actually spent time with a bomb squad in Iraq.  This experience, coupled with his ability to create intriguing, well-developed characters, makes The Hurt Locker the most authentic-feeling Iraq war movie to date.

Third, the acting is first class.  The three main leads (Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty) are considered relative no-names in Hollywood, but all deliver performances that bring their respective characters to life.  Renner (28 Weeks Later) is particularly excellent and is well-deserving of his Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.  He brings a brooding arrogance and obsessive quality to Sergeant First Class William James that makes the already-tense environment even more explosive.  Renner’s face reminds me of a pudgier Jason Bateman, but his screen presence (according to a friend) is reminiscent of a young Mel Gibson (before he went off the rails, of course).

Lastly, I really enjoyed the subtlety of The Hurt Locker.  It may be an anti-war movie at heart, but it doesn’t ram any political messages down your throat.  There’s no American hero bravado or that ‘Americans are evil’ sentiment.  There’s a telling image here and there, but for the most part, you can simply enjoy the movie for its intense action and ignore the underlying message.

Having raved about the film, it isn’t quite perfect.  At 131 minutes, The Hurt Locker is probably 15-20 minutes too long, and partly because of this, the last third of the film isn’t quite as exhiliarating as the first two-thirds.  However, these are only minor complaints in an otherwise superb film.  The only thing really preventing The Hurt Locker from getting full marks from me is that I simply don’t think it is memorable enough.  It may be one of the best films of the year, but it’s unlikely to be one of those classics people will easily recall years down the track.

4.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: I now think The Hurt Locker has a pretty good chance of beating Avatar for Best Picture because of this new preferential voting system.  That said, I’m sticking with my prediction of Avatar for Best Picture.  The one with the bigger chance of an upset could be Bigelow over her ex-husband James Cameron for Best Director.  This is one of those years where voters seem to rally around a cause, and this year the stars may be aligned for the first ever female director to take the prize.]