Arrival Review: Inner space


Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writer: Eric Heisserer (screenplay), Ted Chiang (short story)

Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg

12434057_arrival-2016-final-movie-trailer-poster_t980cdc14


Release date: November 10th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 116 minutes


4½/5

Best part: Adams’ compelling performance.

Worst part: Some dodgy CGI.

In Hollywood, aliens typically come in two forms. Sometimes, they are tentacled monsters hell-bent on obliterating humanity (Predator). Other times, they remind us about peace and love (ET: The Extra Terrestrial). The movies either resemble popcorn-fuelled blockbusters or more calming fare. Arrival undoubtedly falls into the latter category.

Arrival leaps away from stereotypical alien-invasion material. The movie, vying for critics’ recognition over box-office dollars, is worth the largest audience imaginable. It’s worth extended hours of discussion and contemplation. The plot follows university linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) stranded in the present. crushed by her daughter’s loss and ex-husband’s neglect, her cynicism reaches breaking point. However, on a seemingly normal day, twelve extraterrestrial spaceships hover over key sites around the world. Nicknamed ‘shells’ by the US military, the ships do little besides open their doors every eighteen hours. Their reasons for landing are wholly unclear. Louise is recruited by US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to form a team to clarify the aliens’ intentions. Joined by theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), the team studies a shell hovering in Montana.

Besides 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow, viewers must travel back to the 1970s and 80s for a truly engaging and interesting invasion epic. Arrival resembles the type of cinematic masterpiece seldom replicated by filmmakers or seen by audiences today. Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario) and screenwriter Eric Heisserer grasp short story author Ted Chiang’s original material (Story of Your Life). The two deliver the year’s most thought-provoking blockbuster; a movie with enough to do and say simultaneously. Villeneuve and Heisserer’s shared vision immediately kicks into gear. The deliberate pacing and tone may deter wider audiences looking for shootouts and explosions. Here, conversation and action are equally important. The story explores the values of incisive decision-making and processing. Louise and Ian, continually entering the ship and contacting aliens ‘Abbott’ and ‘Costello’, craft a plan to understand the otherworldly language. Its professionals-doing-their-jobs narrative is utterly compelling.

Villeneuve’s atmospheric direction delivers some of 2016’s most compelling sequences. His version of time travel works wonders. Unlike similar fare (Interstellar), the leaps in time and space are never distracting. Louise, experiencing flashbacks to her daughter’s slow demise, sees a puzzle forming in her mind. By the third act, she compellingly connects the dots to find her way. The movie develops several well-rounded perspectives. Along with Louise and Ian’s glowing optimism, we see wise alien beings, careful military types (led by Weber and Agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg)), fearful, right-wing soldiers and foreign military prowess. Like his previous works, Villeneuve draws phenomenal performances from Hollywood élite. Adams, with this and Nocturnal Animals, earns serious Oscar contention as the movie’s heart and soul. Renner and Whitaker deliver likeable turns in smaller roles.

Villeneuve and co.’s vivacious approach separates it from all other 2016 blockbusters. Arrival is a bleak yet optimistic dissection of humanity. Right now, like the movie’s events, the world is on the brink of anarchy and despair. If there was ever a need for intelligent discussion, it is now.

Verdict: A groundbreaking journey.

Captain America: Civil War Review: Braun vs. Iron


Directors: Joe & Anthony Russo

Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Stars: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan

Civil_War_Final_Poster


Release date: April 28th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 147 minutes


4½/5

Best part: The airport showdown.

Worst part: Minor leaps of logic.

Let’s face it, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has eclipsed everything DC Comics/Warner Bros. could possibly hope to achieve. In its 13-blockbuster run, this franchise has set the bar for every other studio now clamouring for their own extended universes. With Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice turning from promising idea into jumbled, obnoxious mess, Marvel is still going strong. Can you believe it’s been eight whole years since Iron Man came out? Neither can I, neither can they.

instaCaptain America: Civil War looks set to be the most fulfilling blockbuster of 2016. The movie succeeds on every level, delivering on its promises and refusing to show fear or cynicism. The plot itself is more intricate and meaningful than your average MCU installment. Following up from the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Civil War opens up with the new, unique Avengers squad on its latest mission in Lagos. Tracking down weapons trader Brock Rumlow/Crossbones (Frank Grillo), their efforts end with multiple civilian casualties.

The world looks set to turn against our troupe of sexy, spandex warriors, convinced humanity is better off without them. Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) are scalded by US Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) for their shocking collateral damage, aiming to push United Nations sanctions into effect. Whereas the team feels justified in their actions, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Vision (Paul Bettany), and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) side with the government. After Steve’s frenemy Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is blamed for a catastrophe, Cap goes on a one-man mission to find answers.insta

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo along with long-standing screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, coming back after The Winter Soldier, have successfully taken the reigns from Joss Whedon. Their latest provides a sense of balance most blockbusters either avoid or can’t quite grasp. Its plot, unlike most cluttered superhero epics, follows one streamlined path from beginning to end. From the prologue and opening action sequence onwards, its character turns and narrative twists remain steady. Like the original Civil War storyline in the comics, the UN bill – titled the Sokovia Accords here – starts a ticking time bomb to the team’s obliteration. The conflict splits the story between both sides evenly – fusing its narrative, thematic, and emotional resonance throughout the exhaustive 147-minute run-time.

Team Cap and Team Iron Man have significant points of view. Cap and co. believe it’s their responsibility to protect the world and bring justice to anyone on the wrong side of the law. Cap – divided between the worlds of yesterday, today, and tomorrow – believes a bit of ‘ol’ fashioned’ goes a long way in this paranoid, surveillance state era. Stark’s troupe, however, points out the mass casualties already caused. The former weapons/tech. giant turned humanitarian warrior puts his foot down, outlining the escalation in worldinstawide violence and shady bureaucratic border-hopping. Both agendas are reasonable, literally and figuratively tearing the franchise’s two most beloved characters apart.

The Russos take on the monstrous task of following on from previous installments and setting up new ones. The pre-established characters and talented performers are given their due, with all sub-plots fitting together like intricate jigsaw pieces. Threads including Steve and Sharon Carter/Agent 13(Emily VanCamp)’s dynamic, Natasha’s diplomatic work, Sam and Bucky’s quarrels, Vision and Wanda’s impending relationship, Stark and Rhodes’ everlasting friendship and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Scott Lang/Ant-Man(Paul Rudd)’s involvement make for numerous light-hearted gags and soul-crushing moments simultaneously. It even throws in new characters including vengeful Wakandan prince T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), spunky youngster Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and scheming, sympathetic human villain Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) with textbook precision.

This globe-trotting, ambitious adventure delivers some of the MCU and modern Hollywood’s most inventive action sequences. The much-talked-about airport set-piece marks the franchise at its absolute peak. This impressive sequence brings our 12 major superhero characters together with aplomb, showcasing the astonishing array of fighting styles, abilities, and personalities. Pouring gravy onto instathis already hearty steak, the opening sequence, car chase, and heart-wrenching finale provide some ass-kicking delight in between the political discussions and character-driven interludes.

Captain America: Civil War successfully highlights Cap’s never-ending conflict with the 21st Century and The Avengers’ struggle to reassure the human race of its importance in the universe. Thanks to esteemed direction, a stacked cast, fun character-actor cameos, big laughs, and even bigger emotional rifts, this is the franchise’s most mature and momentous installment yet. Fingers crossed Infinity War Parts 1 and 2 can live up to our ridiculous expectations.

Verdict: Another rich superhero epic/fulfilling MCU installment.

Kill the Messenger Review – Publish & Prosecute


Director: Michael Cuesta

Writers: Peter Landesman (screenplay), Gary Webb, Nick Schou (books)

Stars: Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Platt


Release date: October 10th, 2014

Distributor: Focus Features

Country: USA

Running time: 112 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Renner’s enjoyable performance.

Worst part: The exhaustive exposition.

Back in 1996, San Jose Mercury News investigative journalist Gary Webb changed the game for budding reporters, veteran editors, and everyone in between the world over. He published several articles condemning the Central Intelligence Agency’s treatment of specific Los Angeles communities. At this time, conspiracy theorists weren’t paid close attention to. Pushing the truthers into the background, society was much less jaded and skeptical…at least I hope so, anyway. Kill the Messenger strives to meticulously dissect the material.

Jeremy Renner.

Kill the Messenger, despite the intriguing narrative and starry cast, primarily illuminates  politics and media’s current relationship. Despite the original story’s grit, the movie – based on Webb’s expose Dark Alliance and Nick Schou’s book of the same name – strives to reach mass audiences. Heads up journo students, fully fledged reporters, and editors: this movie takes the profession and tares it to shreds! Throughout, that “I can’t believe this actually happened!” feeling lingers in the consciousness. Thanks to this, everything hits hard! If you can’t stand a history lesson, get out now! The story revolves around Webb(Jeremy Renner)’s clashing professional and personal lives. After completing one of the year’s biggest stories, exploring the confiscation of homes from on-trial drug-running suspects, our subject becomes one of San Jose Mercury News’ biggest hitters. Known for his go-getter attitude and revelatory writing style, his hunger for truth and ratings turns novel ideas into hit stories. Keeping a close relationship with his editors, Jerry Ceppos (Oliver Platt) and Anna Simons (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), his nice-guy persona nabs him front-page leads and keen-eyed sources. At home, despite he and wife Susan(Rosemarie DeWitt)’s marital quarrels, his family is happy and tight-knit. He receives a call from Coral (Paz Vega), girlfriend of a notorious, on-trial cocaine trafficker. The man, prosecuted against by Russell Dodson (Barry Pepper), is rumoured to have worked with the US Government in the 1980s.

Renner, Mary Elizabeth Winstead & Oliver Platt.

Finding the link between the CIA and Nicaraguan anti-communist rebels, Webb unearths disastrous wrongdoings and their effect on LA’s African-American community. Throughout most of Kill the Messenger, we follow a David vs. Goliath tale of professional line-drawing and personal justification. This docudrama, exploring the decade’s biggest journalistic investigation, depicts an note-worthy rise-and-fall tale. As the investigation continues, it explains each step and tidbit. Given a notepad, interesting sources, and momentous revelations, Webb succinctly tugs each thread. The turning point, hitting during Webb’s interview with incarcerated drug kingpin “Freeway” Ricky Ross (Michael K. Williams), establishes the movie’s immense tone and purpose. Throughout the first half, as the fact vs. perspective feud simmers, his mission attracts lawyers, criminals, and crime lords. Despite the meaty material and searing relevance, it’s afraid of exploring the political, ethical, and social ramifications. Some sequences, depicting heartening interactions between our characters, outline the movie’s immense value. Sadly, others stretch its believability to breaking point. Telling and not showing, the narrative – switching from intriguing journo-drama to vague corporate-thriller – skims over vital details. The second half – depicting Webb’s conflicts with the CIA, editors, and rival media outlets – delivers broad characters and a mind-numbing anti-climax.  Whilst interviewing Norwin Meneses (Andy Garcia), Webb’s dilemma – choosing whether or not to publish this information – is highlighted obtusely.

“American kids did die and are still dying, just not the ones you care about apparently.” (Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), Kill the Messenger).

Renner, Michael K. Williams & Tim Blake Nelson.

Worthy of consideration, Kill the Messenger‘s  subject matter remains timeless. Director Michael Cuesta – known for TV dramas including Homeland and Dexter – obviously loves the material. Despite his love of the facts, the independent filmmaker struggled to tell them. Leaping between major twists and turns, this docudrama – unlike All the President’s Men and The Insider – distorts enthralling details with underutilised plot-threads and weighty exposition. Aiming at a specific demographic, it expects us to know everything about these events. Despite its many facts and viewpoints, the movie never crafts an interesting agenda. As Webb is attacked mercilessly by the government and media, the broad storytelling and free-wheeling tangents muddy its points. Also, it never examines LA’s drug scene or Nicaragua’s ever-present issues. Telling a straight-forward version of events, Cuesta’s inexperience comes across. Shaking the camera and dimming the lights, his style carries several TV-drama-thriller traits. Examining modern media’s moral and commercial well-being, this docudrama captures the link between conspiracies, government actions, mass culpability, and journalistic integrity. Thrust into a dangerous world, Webb is a fascinating and likable subject. Renner, hopping between blockbusters (The Avengers, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) and drama-thrillers (The Hurt Locker, The Town), delivers a shades-of-grey turn as the notable journo. Injecting scorn and charisma into the role, this underrated A-lister deserves immense credit.

Studying the nihilistic, dog-eat-dog world of professional journalism, Kill the Messenger tells a story worth exploring further. Despite the promising conceits, it jumps awkwardly between fact and fantasy. Giving its supporting players only one-or-two scenes each, Renner’s hearty performance carries this docudrama. Stripping away his Tinseltown glow, the forty-something actor returns to character-actor roots for this grueling role. Truth be told, he deserves much more than Hawkeye and Hansel.

Verdict: An intelligent and well-acted docudrama.

American Hustle Review – ABSCAM Anarchy


Director: David O. Russell 

Writers: Eric Singer, David O. Russell 

Stars: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner


Release date: December 13th, 2013

Distributors: Columbia Pictures, Entertainment Film Distributors, Roadshow Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 138 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: The entertaining performances. 

Worst part: The alienating plot turns.

In one of American Hustle‘s more pivotal scenes, Christian Bale’s Character Irving Rosenfeld asks Bradley Cooper’s character Richie DiMaso the movie’s most important question: “Who’s the master? The Painter? Or the forger?”. Despite being the trailer’s most valuable moment, the query still efficiently sums up this crime-drama’s raw edginess. American Hustle, safely landing into Academy-Award-contention territory, is one of 2013’s most puzzling yet entertaining movies. Its top-flight cast, enigmatic plot, and dizzying set pieces deliver multiple rewards.

Christian Bale & Bradley Cooper.

Despite presenting itself as a “For Your Consideration…” Oscar trap, American Hustle is an honest and adept crime-drama. Today, we rarely become witness to such ground-breaking yet kinetic movies. Despite facing stiff competition in this year’s Oscar race, American Hustle wouldn’t care if it won, lost, or drew. Acclaimed director David O. Russell (The FighterSilver Linings Playbook) is obviously his own man. Given his fiery on-set temper and inspiring talent, O. Russell achieves the near impossible – delivering a stylish, convoluted, and enlightening crime drama free from pretentiousness and overblown moments. Despite my glowing recommendation of American Hustle, I understand the movie’s already-discomforting-yet-minor backlash. It’s certainly not for everyone. At least, I can try to win people over by describing the movie’s terrific yet dicey plot. Rosenfeld (Bale) is a despicable businessman running several companies within New Jersey. With his dry-cleaning and glass-installation businesses in tip-top condition, he becomes a slimy yet clever small-town hero. However, Rosenfeld’s world is rocked by seductive beauty Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). With Prosser becoming Rosenfeld’s mistress/business partner, their greatest plans kick into gear. Embezzling large funds from gullible investors, the terrible twosome expand their vast riches. Thanks to Prosser’s alter ego ‘Lady Edith Greensly’, their schemes and romance blossom into something dreadfully beautiful (or beautifully dreadful, it’s difficult to tell). However, Rosenfeld is bewitched by his bi-polar wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and adrenaline-and-cocaine-fuelled FBI agent DiMaso (Cooper). Forced into the FBI’s clutches, Rosenfeld, Prosser, and DiMaso forcefully work together to take down corrupt yet well-meaning Camden Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner).

Amy Adams.

Amy Adams.

From there, allegiances, plans, and ideologies are warped, tortured, and eviscerated. It may seem diabolical, but the dramatic beats liven up this talky crime-drama. Depicting the late-70s’ ABSCAM scandal, American Hustle delves into the true story’s intricate webbing and most enigmatic elements. With its opening title card saying: “Some of this actually happened”, the movie pokes fun at Hollywood’s stranglehold over inspirational yet unbelievable true stories. After biting into ABSCAM’s saucy yet dangerous secrets, the movie sporadically delves into its own fantastical and larger-than-life adventure. I’ll admit, the convoluted plot-strands and alienating exposition become this cognitive structure’s most problematic elements. However, these inane moments hurriedly brush past the audience. Its most memorable moments are worth the admission cost. Here, ABSCAM’s most confusing aspects are insignificant titbits stuck in an increasingly formidable conflict. Before and after the scandal is brought up then brushed aside, the characters take control of the movie’s electrifying and alarming narrative. Within the first ten minutes, American Hustle takes us on a discomforting, sexually appealing, and comedic journey. Thanks to Rosenfeld and Prosser’s shared narration, these characters introduce and describe themselves. O. Russell, continually choosing controversy over convention, makes several brave choices within the first act. Beyond the schizophrenic narration, the narrative jumps from one influence to another. Despite the movie’s overt self-indulgence, O. Russell displays a glowing affection for such influential crime-drama directors as Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Sidney Lumet. The tonal shifts, ever-changing perspectives, and debilitating plot-turns are derived from Goodfellas and Casino. In fact, like those pulsating movies, American Hustle graciously explores the criminal mind’s most fascinating intricacies.

Jeremy Renner.

Despite the engaging narrative, the plot occasionally gets away from O. Russell and co-writer Eric Singer. Highlighting the true story’s most baffling parts, the movie locks onto its comical and distasteful characters. Despite this, the movie’s sickening comedic touches quickly launch into overdrive. With the wild characters embracing this pressing situation’s absurdity, the biting and ironic humour comes thick and fast. Stuck between rocks and hard places, these dim-witted heroes and villains bumble, wine, and cuss through every dangerous conflict. With lives and reputations at risk, insults fly across each swanky setting. In particular, Rosalyn’s nasty insults and abrasive attitude hit with gut-punch-like effect. Credit, obviously, belongs to O. Russell for the movie’s pitch-black humour and cynical outlook. Despite the punchy tone and zippy pacing, O. Russell’s work hurriedly descends into darkness and chaos. With his filmography covering the gulf war, mental illness, and fallen sporting heroes, his misanthropic perspective casts a detailed shadow over each unique project. American Hustle, his most violent and zany effort yet, illuminates similarities between 70s, post-Vietnam USA and post-economic-crisis Earth. O. Russell, giving fraudulent miscreants second chances whist looking down upon important government agencies, develops several truthful yet misguided opinions. Like Catch Me if You Can and The InformantAmerican Hustle‘s criminal/lawman conflict supports the anti-hero and flips-off the villainous yet untouchable government fat-cats. At least, O. Russell’s work says what we are all thinking. Beyond that, O. Russell bravely pokes fun at the American Dream. Deliberating on race, gender, and class, the movie makes middle class, suburban living seem like a torturous adventure. Setting household appliances, inventive schemes, and aspirations alight, American Hustle is not for the faint-hearted or ignorant.

“Did you ever have to find a way to survive and you knew your choices were bad, *but* you had to survive?” (Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), American Hustle).

Jennifer Lawrence.

Jennifer Lawrence.

Thankfully, for less-opinionated viewers, the visuals develop a kinetic and entertaining sensory experience. Sporting elaborate costumes, hair-dos, and personalities, each character sustains exterior and interior quirks. With these characters’ schemes as outlandish as their skin-flashing outfits, the costume design lends American Hustle a pulsating and tangible sheen. In addition, each character – whether they be rich, poor, innocent or slimy – balances stupefying hair-dos atop their attractive facades. DiMaso’s perm, Rosalyn’s beehive, and Polito’s road-kill-like hairstyle are enlightening distractions. Opening with Rosenfeld pasting a bizarre toupee atop his bulbous scalp, American Hustle‘s characters are defined by styles and substance. The mis-en-scene, plastering ugly colours, swanky interior designs, and elaborate patterns across every frame, lends verisimilitude to this otherwise sketchy and kooky narrative. O. Russell, infatuated by overt 70s icons, pumps up the catchy soundtrack at opportune moments. Wings, Steely Dan, The Bee Gees, and Elton John elevate certain tension-inducing sequences. However, credit belongs to the A-list actors draped across every sizzling frame. Their determination and courageousness, tested by O. Russell’s punishing direction, pushes them through each discomforting scene. Like O. Russell’s previous efforts, the shouting matches develop each puzzle piece and flawed character. Swiftly increasing each interior setting’s temperature, the pithy dialogue and loud voices reveal each character’s ugliest qualities. Bale, carrying a belly and comb-over, transforms into a seedy, depraved, and quick-witted figure. Cooper steals his scenes as the incessant and manic agent. Adams, falling boob-first into every scene, is revelatory as the slinky yet tough mistress. Renner and Lawrence provide big laughs and immaculate performances. Meanwhile, Robert De Niro, Louis CK, Alessandro Nivola, Jack Huston, and Michael Pena contribute commendably.

With his energetic direction, elegant screenplay, and Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook alumni, O. Russell has pulled off a stunning hat-trick. Despite minor quarrels, American Hustle peels back several purposeful layers over its 2+ hour run-time. Unlike American Gangster, American Psycho, and American Pie, this crime-drama discovers that particular word’s immense ironic twang.

Verdict: A funny, scintillating, and engaging crime-drama. 

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters Review – Fairytale Foibles


Director: Tommy Wirkola

Writer: Tommy Wirkola 

Stars: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Jannsen, Peter Stormare


Release date: January 25th, 2013

Distributors: Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Country: USA

Running time: 88 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Renner and Arterton.

Worst part: Janssen’s laughable performance.

Sometimes, Hollywood works in mysterious ways. It’s inexplicably both cynical and cyclical. For some reason, Hollywood’s latest craze has been to adapt well known fairy tales. Film (Snow White and the Huntsman, Red Riding Hood) and TV (Grimm, Once Upon a Time) are sweeping through every classic Grimm Brothers story. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is an example of how this plan can falter.

Renner & Arterton.

If you can’t stand the film’s premise – or even its ridiculous title – than be warned. The film itself is somehow a hell of a lot sillier. Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton), as we all know, survived a terrifying ordeal at the hands of a witch. In this version, their childhood survival tale inspired them to scour the lands for witches and dark magic. Celebrated for their witch hunting abilities, they wonder into a small town with their egos and weapons in hand. The disappearance of 11 children has prompted a state of panic throughout the cursed realm. These kidnappings are the work of terrifying witch Muriel (Famke Janssen). Hansel and Gretel soon realise there is more to this case than they ever could’ve imagined.

Famke Janssen.

Famke Janssen.

Taking this small story and fleshing it out is a brave idea. The story of Hansel & Gretel is one of the world’s most popular fairy tales. What is left, however, is a movie that tries too hard to cater to everyone’s desires. The film was pushed back from January 2012 to February 2013. This is never a good sign. The film, however, is not anywhere near as bad as it could, or possibly should, be. This is definitely a schlocky 21st century action flick. With this type of production, the film-makers have to convince the audience to look beyond the original idea. Last year, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter failed to live up to any kind of low-brow expectations. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, however, has done the best it can with dodgy material. Norwegian writer/director Tommy Wirkola has proven himself to be a passionate film-maker. His surprise smash hit, Dead Snow, mixed two contrasting ideas- Nazis and Zombies. Here, he has swung for the fence. Trying his luck with both Hollywood and a much bigger budget, his latest effort is a mix of enjoyable and disastrous. It’s a hyper-violent and gratuitous 88 minutes. Expletives, nudity and blood splatters cover the screen at every turn. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a darkened twist on the legend, but still not a very inventive one.

Hansel & Gretel in action!

This is a buddy-action flick that should be enjoyed with a $10 mega-bucket of popcorn. Wirkola’s direction shows off a kinetic and glorious sense of style. He has a child-like vision for every setting and costume at his disposal. He was clearly inspired by Spanish master director Guillermo del Toro. The forest and village settings, for example, provide a dark aesthetic for this farcical adventure. Meanwhile, the anachronisms in this fantasy-actioner are laughable. This film is all over the map in multiple ways. The accents oddly range between American, British and ‘European’. Perhaps he was thinking that no one would notice. Even more noticeable is the materialistic touch every leather-clad costume and weapon is given. Their arsenal is light-years ahead of the film’s period setting. Fold-out rifles, chain-guns, stun guns and even defibrillators are all on display. So too is Van Helsing’s notorious crossbow gun. It’s easy to point out the stupidity of the whole thing. Wirkola understands this issue whilst providing an unapologetic and energetic B-movie. In fact, one could argue that this is the new Van Helsing – stupid, schlocky and star-studded. The script, however, has more holes than a severed head. With Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights) producing, you would think the comedic elements would work. Instead, one-liners and comedic moments fall flat. The film lacks a necessary balance between tongue-in-cheek and straight-faced (see del Toro’s Hellboy series for a definitive example of how this should work).

“I hate to break this to you, but this isn’t gonna be an open casket.” (Gretel (Gemma Arterton), Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters).

One of many witches here.

Buddy-action flicks rely, to a certain extent, on the charisma of their actors. This is where the film marginally succeeds. In every scene, Renner looks like he doesn’t want to be there. When he delivers his lines, however, he displays why he is one of Hollywood’s most popular actors. Posing and smashing his way through every scene, he is still a likeable and convincing leading man. Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Prince of Persia) is an underrated actress. Her ethereal beauty and soft voice light up the screen. She fares better than Renner here, proving she can compete with other female stars at the box office. Renner and Arterton’s chemistry distracts from the thin characterisation. Hansel and Gretel are your typical crime-fighting duo. They pose and fight with style whilst contrasting one another. Renner can play a cynical bad-ass better than most A-list actors. His version of Hansel is a predictably disturbed hero. Complete with an ailment that comes up more than once in the story. Meanwhile, Gretel is the optimistic presence. Her run in with a deluded fan-boy (Thomas Mann) is particularly charming. Mann, Janssen and Stormare become caricatures in this already over-the-top blockbuster.

Films like Shrek and Pans Labyrinth have already conquered this sub-genre. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a senseless yet enjoyable mix of dumb, dumber and dumbest. Even while relishing its opportunities, the film is still excessive and clichéd.

Verdict: Not ‘good’ but still enjoyable.

The Bourne Legacy Review – Spy Slip-up


Director: Tony Gilroy

Writers: Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy (screenplay), Robert Ludlum (books)

Stars: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach


Release date: August 10th, 2012

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 135 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Jeremy Renner.

Worst part: The wavering pace.

It’s hard to believe that four years ago Jeremy Renner was a character actor working through small roles, trying desperately to achieve A-list status. His career post-Oscar nomination for The Hurt Locker has deservedly paid off; now with his first blockbuster lead role in action thriller The Bourne Legacy. His talent however far succeeds the material here as this latest instalment in the Bourne franchise is a missed opportunity.

Jeremy Renner.

Continuing the dislodging of covert operations Treadstone and Blackbriar at the conclusion of The Bourne Ultimatum, Jason Bourne’s actions have set off a deadly turn of events for everyone involved in the programs. The CIA however fails to stop Aaron Cross (Renner) from acquiring the strength, agility and intelligence needed to escape his handlers while covering his tracks. His actions collide with Dr. Martha Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a scientist with knowledge of his much needed resources. The unlocking of his genetic biology will hopefully find them an escape from the special forces hunting them across the globe. Along the way, as Cross and Shearing run across the world together, we become trapped the clutches of CIA dark-horse Eric Byer (Edward Norton), US Navy admiral Mark Turso (Stacy Keach), and agency director Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn).

Rachel Weisz.

This instalment shares many flaws with the similarly underwhelming and overrated original, The Bourne Identity. Tony Gilroy (co-writer of the original trilogy, director of Duplicity and Michael Clayton) replaces action with political intrigue; removing the distinct thrills and tight pacing of The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum. The loss of Paul Greengrass’ kinetic, claustrophobic style loses the quick pacing, energetic action-set pieces tension filled story-telling needed for a post-9/11 thrill ride. Legacy is unevenly paced, with a dull narrative and multiple elements unimaginatively taken from previous instalments. The film skirts between reality and implausibility, with tracking from CIA and FBI headquarters stretching credibility and interest, while scarcely providing a threatening antagonist. Action is sparse here, with time spent mostly on the blowout from Jason Bourne’s controversial actions. Unfortunately, this provides nothing but confusing exposition and small appearances from characters important to the original trilogy. It’s an unnecessary instalment, only expanding this universe of covert agents around the globe to a small extent. Knowledge of the previous trilogy is important, with the Bourne scandal uncleanly presented in this story of political betrayal in the face of a post-9/11 media-based democracy.

“Now, I’ve got a plan, and it’s just not that complicated. What I’m going to do is wait for the next person to show up to kill you. Maybe they can help me.” (Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), The Bourne Legacy).

Edward Norton.

Edward Norton.

When the action does kick in, it delivers a much needed boost to Legacy‘s proceedings. the quick cuts, brutal hand-to-hand fight sequences and motorcycle chases, though derivative of previous instalments, establish the importance of this series in the genre. While the science lab shootout is chillingly effective for this gritty survival story. The heavily debated issue was how Renner was going to successfully take over the series without Matt Damon or the titular character. He continues his impressive string of performances here with the same intensity brought to similar roles in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The Avengers. Having already proven his worth with both action and drama, his dialogue sequences with the likes of Oscar Isaac and Norton, as determined USAF handler Eric Byer, are electric, as his charisma, along with physical presence and agility in his many fist fights and rooftop chases, creates an impressionable lead actor. Rachel Weisz also succeeds as the sympathetic victim and Cross’ contact/aid, thankfully sporting a character with greater depth than the other female characters in this series and providing some much needed emotional force for this toned down instalment.

Undoubtedly, the Bourne franchise set the bar for modern action-thrillers and film franchises. Sadly, however, this series now appears to be cannibalising itself. Despite Gilroy’s efforts, this franchise seems outgunned and outmanned without its titular hero.

Verdict: An occasionally thrilling yet underwhelming fourth instalment.