Archive for Jeremy Renner

Thanos: The Hand of Fate

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2018 by dcairns

How about a Cronenberg superhero team? Brundlefly, Mugwump, Revok and Rose from RABID, led by Dr. Brian O’Blivion?

Yes, I was lured into seeing AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR by the promise of seeing Edinburgh onscreen, a mild enthusiasm for the Russo Bros, and a mild investment in these superheroes. And yet I never saw (so far) THOR: RAGNAROK, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY II or BLACK PANTHER so I’m not yet a hopeless case, even though those three are probably better than CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR which I *did* see.

Certainly the Guardians provide the most solid entertainment of all the army of supes on display here. Of the Avengers, Hawkeye is absent, and Black Widow and War Machine and Falcon don’t really get anything memorable to do. This post is going to be full of spoilers, by the way.

Characters who do get amusing business:

Bruce Banner is suffering from a kind of erectile dysfunction: he can’t hulk out, which means he’s basically a scientist in this film. They can’t find a convincing way to write such a character and Mark Ruffalo, so effective and immediately right in the role in the first AVENGERS, seems a little uncomfortable with the sillier stuff, but his embarrassment at the big green guy’s sudden shyness is very funny.

This never happens.

Alongside the third-generation Hulk is the third-generation Spiderman, who’s quite good. Emphasising that Peter Parker’s a teenager makes Tom Holland stand out. He sounds a bit like the teenage clerk in The Simpsons.

As you might predict, encounters between the very similar Dr. Strange and Iron Man — two alpha male jerks — turn into dick-measuring contests. After all, they’re both Sherlock Holmes. Thor and Starlord’s banter plays out the same way, except Starlord is obviously plagued by feels of inadequacy. Dave Bautista as Drax homoerotically rhapsodising over Thor’s muscles is amusing. But there are no actual gay, bi or trans people in this movie, and no real sex, either. There’s a sweet, non-threatening romance between Scarlet Witch and Vision, which is the Edinburgh bit, and Gwyneth Paltrow does a walk-on for some interrupted wooing with Downey Jr. Other than that, the only hint of lasciviousness comes from the tight costumes. The musclebound characters don’t sem quite human to me, so the sexiest people from my viewpoint were probably the lithe Vision and Nebula, a robot and an alien cyborg, respectively.

Nebula (Karen Gillen) is basically the only Scot in the film, since the version of late-night Edinburgh we get is completely unpopulated. This struck me as implausible — a few bellowing drunkards would have added a welcome touch of realism — and it gives the lie to Thanos’s (big purple chin)  claim that the galaxy, or was it the universe, is running out of resources and so the ONLY POSSIBLE SOLUTION is to disintegrate half of everybody alive. Many people have pointed out how silly his plan is (he could, just for example, sterilize 90% of everybody, or, with his godlike powers, he could maybe rustle up some more resources. But no.

Josh Brolin underplaying a behemoth with a giant purple chin with grooves in it like he tried to carve it into a beard, with a ridiculous masterplan, is actually really compelling as a character. A real triumph of acting and mocap and animation etc, over character design. (As a character in comics, Thanos doesn’t look ridiculous at all, or at least no more ridiculous than his surroundings. The movies ought to have tweaked his appearance slightly, or differently.)

Gee, I’m getting tired of writing about characters called Scarlet Witch and Starlord. Probably a good thing I didn’t go into comics.

Oh, other amusing things: Peter Dinklage plays a twenty-foot tall dwarf (Thor, who is slightly shorter than twenty feet, call him a dwarf). To make his acting to scale, Dinklage overdoes his Game of Thrones English accent by 4000%.

CIVIL WAR bored me because it was mostly about heroes smashing stuff up, in a meaningless fight in which you knew they wouldn’t kill each other. Very obviously, a lot of innocent bystanders would have to have been killed, but the movie airbrushes this aside. This one is more enjoyable because there is a variety to the action, it’s not all smashing property and a lot of it is in space. It’s the opposite of MISSION TO MARS: the best stuff is in space.

Fake kebab shop.

But it’s striking that the movie has neither a beginning — we start at the end of a battle we haven’t seen (was it in RAGNAROK?) and end with the bad guy triumphant (well, more like quietly contented, because Brolin is underplaying). It’s a seemingly devastating conclusion (quite effective, because there ARE a lot of nice actors in these party costumes who can look genuinely traumatised as their friends turn to unconvincing CGI ash). The “ending” is sort of bold, because I can imagine some small kids and dumbasses not understanding that it’s all going to be undone in the sequel, the only question being whether they’ll resurrect the characters who didn’t disintegrate and merely died from stabbing, brain-gouging or falling from a high place.

At the end of this, by a wild coincidence that’s sort of amusingly contrived, the characters left standing, apart from a couple of Guardians of the Galaxy, are basically the original Avengers line-up plus Don Cheadle.

Will I end up seeing the sequel? Maybe… maybe I need my Jeremy Renner fix. He’s not in this one, so I immediately watched THE BOURNE LEGACY when I got home. It was the best Bourne film, apart from Jeremy Renner.

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Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2012 by dcairns

I gave up going to blockbusters after the worthless TWISTER, only breaking my embargo when there seemed something genuinely special on offer from the creative talents involved. And then lapsing a few other times.

Brad Bird’s involvement in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL was enough to draw me in — he’s shaken up the world of feature animation (THE INCREDIBLES, for instance, has no songs, one writer, is two hours long, features numerous deaths, and focuses on its hero’s mid-life crisis) and I was intrigued to see what his live-action debut would be like. How would he handle actors and props and settings and camera moves with their own real physical weight?

The yearning of the flesh to become pixel.

Confession — I have actually seen all the M:I films at the cinema. It’s that “creative talents” clause: Cruise has seriously sought out filmmakers with interesting sensibilities. Weirdly, J.J. Abrams, the least celebrated director, crafted maybe the most satisfying film, maybe because he had the best script. Besides, I liked the way he was able to shoot action scenes where shots served more than a single purpose, even as he cut fast. DePalma’s opening installment seemed tailor-made to offer him some typical set-pieces, such as the hi-tech version of his trademark split-screen sequence. I’ve finally decided I can’t stand John Woo, and anyhow grafting the plot of NOTORIOUS onto an action drama was a dumb move — it makes the fights and chases even more redundant than usual. The writers tried to make it a Woo vehicle by inserting a dove. Big deal. Abrams carries less baggage that those guys, and he had an inventively absurd script to handle (that improvised defibrillator was outrageous).

Bird casts better than any of his predecessors since DePalma: it’s impossible to beat the combo of Ving Rhames and Jean Reno, who have such distinctive comic-book looks, but Bird doesn’t miscast his bad guy as Woo and Abrams did (Dougray Scott is too stolid, Philip Seymour Hoffman is an excellent actor wasted as a cartoon snark) — I didn’t find Michael Nykvist quite as colourful as I’d have liked, but his role is actually less significant than you’d expect, with relatively little screen time. Somebody with more visible derangement or physical threat might have been nice, but it’s no big deal.

The star attraction here is Jeremy Renner, America’s best knobbly actor, who manages to be more intense and dynamic than Cruise and funnier than Simon Pegg. Paula Patton and Lea Seydoux provide requisite glamour, and there are some surprise cameos. But it’s what I enjoyed in M:I III, the enjoyable absurdity, that makes this one the best yet ~

1) Tom Cruise does a lightning sketch in biro on the palm of his hand and Renner positively IDs it, using only the information that it’s a “European male”. This is my new favourite thing ever.

2) Cruise survives AT LEAST four lethal vehicular smash-ups, each more of a sure-death proposition than the one before.

3) He climbs the tallest building in the world using special gloves. Which don’t work. He should’ve tried licking his palms like Steve Martin in THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS.

4) He coincidentally finds himself on the run with a man with a secret and tragic link to his past, who also coincidentally was the only survivor of auto smash number 2.

5) Cruise and Pegg sneak around the Kremlin using a portable screen that projects a view of the corridor they’re in, so the security guy can’t see them. This is a digital version of the tunnels Wile E. Coyote would paint on rock faces. I would like one — it would make my living room look bigger.

6) Cruise gains admittance to the Kremlin — basically Moscow’s Disneyland, I believe — by sticking on a false moustache to impersonate a general. Even though he has a machine that makes completely convincing and flexible rubber masks. In fact, these masks are never used in this film, almost as if the writers, Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec, thought they were too silly to get away with. Which, in its touchingly naive way, is the most joyously absurd thing of all.

If you like action films at all, you should try this — gleefully O.T.T. mayhem, coherently and dynamically shot, with Michael Giacchino’s score once again channeling the spirit of sixties espionage flicks. But it’s also Bird’s least emotional film to date, which is odd, although I guess it fits the nature of spy films. The attempts at human drama mainly involve backstory and characters from previous entries in the series, so they don’t amount to much. The emotion you will get is the sweaty palms and pounding pulse of suspense, which is the chief reason most people are going to go, I expect.

This movie finally cracks the series’ biggest problem, which is that it’s simultaneously about a TEAM, and a star vehicle for one actor. The balance is finally right, even though, rather weirdly, we end up with more access to Renner’s emotions than Cruise’s, and Renner gets the Big Emotional Backstory scene. A coda tries to hand it back to Cruise, but that’s a little late in the day. Still, this plays along with one of Cruise’s underrated qualities as a star: you’re never quite sure what’s really going on with him.

This is Bird’s first film not ostensibly about a Beautiful Freak or Amazing Genius, though by its nature it’s still a celebration of The Exceptional, just in less overt, didactic form. Maybe that theme needed retired anyway. I’m not 100% sure what this latest film’s theme IS, just as I’m not sure what Ethan Hunt’s appropriation of W’s “Mission accomplished” is meant to tell us…

Shellshocked

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on September 4, 2009 by dcairns

the-hurt_lockerMake it look like a video game? Well, maybe, if it gets the audience to come.

I sometimes worry that, with age creeping in, this blog will become a series of enthusiastic reviews of old movies, even really stupid or trashy ones, and grouchy, negative reviews of modern movies. So a film like THE HURT LOCKER comes as a real boon, because I can totally celebrate it. If I have any complaint (apart from the detailed political take-down that follows), it’s that the title sounds off-puttingly serious. It is a serious film, but it’s also utterly thrilling. They should counter the title with a tagline like “You will gnaw your own knees off with suspense!” ~ The Independant on Sunday.

The director, Kathryn Bigelow, male gigolo, has had an odd, patchy career of late, and I haven’t caught her more recent films (K19: THE WINDOWMAKER, THE WEIGHT OF WATER), though I did enjoy her fin-de-siecle VR epic STRANGE DAYS, written by her ex-hubbie James Cameron and presented to her as part of their divorce settlement, I believe. Kind of a booby-trapped gift, since after becoming the most expensive film ever directed by a woman, it rolled over and died at the box office and left her career severely hobbled.

kathrynbigelow01Your breasts are the shells I adore.

Bigelow has always inclined to male-centered stories, hence the flip nickname I’ve given her, but I may have to retire that because she’s now genuinely worth taking seriously. Oliver Stone himself, with that complete lack of irony we’ve all grown to know and flinch from, said her work as a student had a lot of balls. Movies like POINT BREAK problematized the idea of a woman making boys’ films, since apart from the eroticizing of the male body (which several straight male action directors have also done), it was hard to see what the point of a woman director was when, as my friend Ben Halligan pointed out, the woman in that film fulfills all the usual stereotyped roles: object to be gazed at by the male characters; object to be competed over by the male characters; object that disappears from the plot to allow the male characters to wrap things up man to man. Throw in some gratuitous t&a, and Bigelow looked like she was happy to uncritically service the status quo, and maybe even push it to new extremes in order to prove her allegiance. (Having said that, NEAR DARK and BLUE STEEL do show at least somewhat more interesting and nuanced gender politics.)

The action of THE HURT LOCKER focuses so entirely on men that sexuality hardly gets a look in. Stationed in Iraq, the protagonists have no access to women (Arab countries don’t seem to offer the r&r possibilities of the far east) and entertain themselves in their off-hours by punching one another in the stomach (the manliest past-time I’ve ever seen). As Bigelow has said, the film doesn’t offer an analysis of why these men, or the Americans and British in general, are in Iraq, keeping the film’s point-of-view aligned with that of the three main characters, a bomb disposal team in Baghdad. This means that the film breaks down into a series of suspense sequences in which roadside bombs are defused or detonated, with only the briefest of vignettes of off-duty activity in between. At the end of the screening I felt exhilarated… and jumpy.

hurt

There are some issues with this approach. A critique of the war emerges, but really it’s a portrait of occupation and conflict in general. While war emerges as something you wouldn’t want to get mixed up in (although its terrible addictive appeal is also seductively woven through the narrative), I don’t think this holds up as an anti-Iraq-war movie. The one thing everybody can agree on is that bad things happen in war. I doubt this movie would change the minds of any hawkish neocons: it’s a compelling and convincing portrayal of the stresses of military action, and it might make some undecided viewers wish for a quicker resolution to the war, but despite the feeling of futility much of the action engenders, there’s nothing to convince us that this war is worse than any other. (What makes it worse is its venal and unnecessary nature.)

The focus on three characters also stops the movie from dealing closely with Iraqi characters: the damage done to the people of the invaded country isn’t shown, since the civilian population are significant only in that any one of them may turn out to be an insurgent. “If he wasn’t an insurgent before, he probably is now,” deadpans the reckless SSgt James (Jeremy Renner) as a taxi driver is bundled off by security forces. Perhaps the script, by former Iraq-based journalist Mark Boal, could have found more time for the Iraqi people. Inevitably, in a situation like that portrayed so vividly in the movie, innocent civilians will get hurt and killed by western forces, but the script avoids dealing with this.

Twice in the film, Iraqis put themselves in danger through a failure to understand the situation, and I wondered about this… of course, language and cultural differences make miscommunication all too possible, but did the taxi driver who drives straight through a roadblock, and the shopkeeper who makes a mobile phone call, really not notice the guns aimed at them? In showing these civilians as, essentially, retarded aliens, the film does somewhat buy into the assumptions about the relative value of American and Iraqi lives that made the war possible. On the other hand, both those characters MAY have been insurgents…

Having got all that out of the way, I can’t urge you strongly enough to see the film, which is an incredibly slick, well-played, psychologically insightful and palm-sweatingly tense thriller. No taint of worthiness hangs over the proceedings. Bigelow gets her rocks off on the military hardware and mega-slo-mo effects, but doesn’t lose sight of the film’s overall purpose, which undercuts the high-tech heroics (a drone like the metal beastie from SHORT CIRCUIT does the really dangerous work, while Renner dons a full ROBOCOP costume to get up close and personal with explosive devices). The sound design alone, full of nervy little clinks and jangles, as well as the dreaded big bangs, makes this a cinema must. The photography, by Ken Loach regular Barry Ackroyd, goes for that kinetic, confused docu-style hyperactivity, but avoids the irritating excesses of visual incoherence that mar much modern cinema. It’s the same device, but under control.

Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty are all excellent, and their unfamiliarity helps the film — see it now before they become famous and spoil everything. I particularly love the way Bigelow starts the film by killing the guy who looks like a leading man. Start as you mean to go on.