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Posts Tagged ‘Jeremy Renner’

Arrival (2016) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, February 5th, 2017


Stars – Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg
Director – Denis Villeneuve

Released by Paramount

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Both this one and La La Land have been getting a lot of nominations and praise. In each case the accolades are well deserved. The hype which is the normal way the publicity machine rolls from major studios may turn some off. This is not the most amazing science fiction film made in years. Whether it qualifies as the best picture you will see this year may get in the way with what it has to genuinely offer. Put all of that aside and enjoy it for what it is. Arrival is solid film delivered in a very slick way. Everything we see and hear is controlled and tweaked with clear intentions. Arrival fits nicely next to vintage science fiction films like The Day The Earth Stood Still and Forbidden Planet. It is a first cousin to more modern ones like Contact and Interstellar. This is thinking man’s science fiction. It’s classy and centers more on character than spectacle. Even if the film concentrates on the multiple alien space ships that have landed around the world, it is clearly just as dedicated to the journey within one person’s soul.

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Several huge monolithic space craft suddenly appear and hover above the ground or oceans throughout the globe. In fairly short order the military and government are focused on finding out what their intentions are. Is this peaceful or is an attack imminent. Since the aliens do not appear to communicate in any earthly ways a linguist and mathematician are recruited to establish contact with them. How they do this takes up the bulk of the film and it frankly fascinating in all its detail. There is a neat transition in the film that asks you to kind of think sideways along with the two experts who are trying to establish communication with the aliens. It’s a clever construction as the plotline of the film will wobble wobble nicely towards its satisfying conclusion. The small crew has to get inside bulky space suits. They ride way up to a small opening in the ship that is presented at the same time each day. Once inside gravity goes out the window. It is a strange journey to a very large unidentified dark space that faces a humongous window like force field. The aliens are huge. Most of their bodies disappear into a heavy fog that enshrouds everything there. They have long octopus like tendrils that reach out.

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That fact that the communication happens in the written or drawn word is a fabulous and lovely visual conceit. We as an audience get to watch rather then listen to them try to establish contact. Amy Adams draws on a board and presents it to the creatures. The octopus like arms spray out an ink. They use this to then write in the foggy air. Real octopuses can emit an inky spray too. That makes a nice and gentle connection with real world science. As we watch them trade images back and forth this encourages us to shift our way of understanding the film as it unfolds. This is not an earth shattering gimmick but an intelligent way to invite us to appreciate the movie on another level. That level is not necessarily smarter but it makes for a few nice moments of realization as things unfold in the last portion of the narrative. The fact that film stands apart from the onslaught of action special effects oriented films in this genre is refreshing. That doesn’t mean it is better just that it quenches your thirst from something more cerebral.

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Amy Adams delivers an excellent performance. Like many great science fiction tales the main character looks to the stars to find something within themselves. It is a warm feeling that she courts wonderfully throughout the whole film. She also embraces a melancholy sadness that permeates her character. Adams is able to share with us the way that changes and morphs into a different kind of understanding and appreciation. Jeremy Renner has a more grounded presence. Both of his feet are firmly planted on the ground while his partner’s tend to lift a bit. The writing in the script makes them an interesting and surprisingly balanced pair. Forest Whitaker gives a low key and a more intelligent portrayal of the military commander that is usual. So many films in this genre pivot on the rivalry between the military and the scientists. Here the military willingly steps aside when called for.

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Arrival is a well done film that gives us a more cerebral science fiction tale. If you have read or seen a lot in this field some of the revelations may not be as original to you. The real strength in the story is its humanity or soul. Put all the hype aside and let yourself be taken on a nice ride. Arrival works well.

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Video – 2.39:1
The picture looks sleek. At all times what we see is carefully controlled and presented with perfect clarity and good colors. The fog and haze that define the spaceship environment looks so real you could touch it. There is a depth to the billows of that fog, too. Flesh tones look nice.

Audio – DTS Master 7.1 in English, Dolby Digital5.1 in French and Spanish. Subtitles are offered English, English SDH, French, and Spanish
Dialogue is always clear and easy to follow. The music and effects are mixed to create an unusual environment. The soundscape that is created for the interactions with the aliens is quite remarkable. It would be chilling if you weren’t so tied to the possibility of meaningful contact. While there is good surround the sub woofer does not rock here. Effects are more subtle that you may be expecting.

Extras – Xenolinguistics: Understanding Arrival Acoustic Signatures: The Sound Design , Eternal Recurrence: The Score , Nonlinear Thinking: The Editorial Process, Principles of Time, Memory & Language.
All of theses are presented in HD. The first one runs a half hour while the others are in the 15 minute range. They offer up a nice examination of how the film came together. There is a good emphasis on the creation of the soundscape for the film. A Digital HD copy is included.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Mission Impossible Rogue Nation Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, November 29th, 2015


Stars – Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Alec Baldwin and Ving Rhames
Director – Christopher McQuarrie

Released by Paramount

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Two hours and eleven minutes of fast fun; no question about it. This Mission Impossible bears some lovely tips of the hat to the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock practically invented the romantic adventure thriller that reached its zenith with North by Northwest (1959). He also established much of the film grammar that directors readily draw from even today. Throw in a little fun shoe fetish and you’ve got an enjoyable stylish thrill ride that delivers as strongly as the last Mission Impossible outing, Ghost Protocol. The fifth adventure in the series begins with Tom Cruise literally running after a jet that is about to take off with a shipment of nerve gas that will most certainly fall into the wrong hands. Cruise hangs on as the plane takes off and barely gets on board after Simon Pegg manages to open the right door for him to enter. It’s a nice opening reminiscent of the pre-credit sequences that became one of the trademarks of the James Bond series.

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In fairly rapid order Cruise gets captured and is set free by Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) just as he is about to be tortured by the Bone Doctor. Meanwhile back in the Senate CIA director Alec Baldwin has convinced them to shut down the lone wolf Impossible Missions Force. They are getting too cocky and he is convinced their success is just due to luck. Cruise and his loyal team are on their own the track down the evil Syndicate. This is a group of dangerous spies who have faked their deaths and now work in league. Kind of like SPECTRE. The plot is not that important. They basically follow on person to another trying to locate the leader of the Syndicate. Along the way Ilsa keeps turning up. She is clearly trying to kill or capture Cruise until she helps him at the last minute. We’ve seen the deep cover double agent bit before but that doesn’t take away from the rapport these two characters have throughout the film. Familiarity is not an issue at all. We are clearly shown just what kind of movie this will be right from the beginning. Director McQuarrie faithfully delivers the goods here.

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Rogue Nation gives us that amiable camaraderie between Cruise’s band of IMF members – Ving Rhames, Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg. Fun as they are the film is built on its series of powerful set pieces. There is a remarkable assassination attempt at the Vienna Opera House. It’s a spectacular location. The audience is huge and amongst them is the chancellor aka the target. Cruise follows a bad guy up through the maze of catwalks suspended high above the stage. The orchestra swells. We can see the mark on someone’s music sheet indicating a loud crescendo that will cover the killing. This is the same device that Alfred Hitchcock used so well in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). The centerpiece of the film gets back to the old Mission Impossible type assignments. They have to break into a heavily guarded data storage center to retrieve a file. In order for Simon Pegg to fool the various digital checkpoints someone will have to go deep within the core and swap out an identity recognition file with one that looks like Pegg. This core is only accessible by going down a huge whirlpool that leads to a completely submerged port. Once inside someone will have to grab the right connection while being spun around in circles over and over. All this has to be done while holding your breath for two minutes! The whole bit is very suspenseful. The water filled set is completely threatening.


There is a killer motorcycle chase that allows Cruise to show off what looks like some real life motorcycling riding that gets integrated into the scene. Cycles and cars blast through the highway until only the high speed cycles are left to see it to the end. Right before this sequence we ride with Cruise and Pegg as their car careens around the streets.  The car crashes and Cruise picks up a motorcycle to join the chase. The problem is that Pegg is comic relief. He’s good at it, too. So we are having a laugh just as we are expected to throttle up for this balls to the wall action scene. It’s a bit of a whiplash. Usually the comedy goes after the chase. The only other note that rings false for me was the casting of Sean Harris as the leader of the supremely evil Syndicate. He’s just not all that much of a villainous presence. Those are minor quibbles in what is a terrifically entertaining fun ride.

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Cruise has managed to make one of these Mission Impossible films about every four or five years since 1996. The second one directed by John Woo had some outstanding action scenes. The last two though have nicely elevated the look and feel of the series. Yes the films center most assuredly around Cruise but he pulls it off. Rebecca Ferguson turns in a very nice performance as Ilsa. She plays alluring yet deadly in a believable fashion. She handles the action scenes well, too. You get exactly what you expect with this. Again for my money the last two have upped the ante nicely.

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Video – 1.85:1
This is a crisp and clean state of the art presentation. Slick as glass without a smudge on it. That kind of presentation perfectly suits this style of movie.

Audio – 7.1 Dolby Atmos, Dolby 5.1 in French, English, Portuguese and Spanish with subtitles offered in English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese
My system is not equipped with the Dolby Atmos support however it defaulted to a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that complete rocked the house. Not only was the dialogue clear but in many cases there was a bass support that gave a real movie theater like treatment to the voices. The musical soundtrack particularly when it was tied to an onscreen sources like the orchestra in the Vienna Opera House soared with plenty of muscle. Sound effects had that sub woofer rumble you expect. Every once in a while a setting had that immersive layer of sound effects that worked the rear surround speakers. This is exactly the kind of mix that surround systems were made for. If you have a nice rig at home, give it some gas and sit back and enjoy it. This is easily one of the best home soundscapes I have heard all year.

Extras – Commentary by Tom Cruise and director/screenwriter, Lighting the Fuse, Cruise Control, Heroes, Cruising Altitude, Mission: Immersible, Sand Theft Auto,
The Missions Continue. A DVD and digital copy download are also included. There was also an offer to get a digital copy of one of the previous Mission Impossible movies.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray- Excellent

Movie – Good / Excellent

Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters Blu-Ray Review

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Stars: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Ingird Bolse Berdal, Derek Mears
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Released by Paramount

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Set in medieval times, the film starts with a brief prologue that covers the well known fairy tale. The house in the woods made of candy looks almost psychedelic with a multitude of tasty treats glistening in the night that young Hansel gobbles up. As expected they dispatch the witch who is pretty intense. After she is locked in the burning oven they toss off a James Bond style quip and are on their way. Following the credits we see a merchant selling bottles of milk. Each one is adorned with the picture of a missing child. That’s a funny bit. Hansel and Gretel are in their twenties or early thirties now and hunt witches for a living. They have a fantastic collection of weapons that recall the ones from Van Helsing (2004). They curse like longshoremen. Hansel is a diabetic and must inject himself every few hours from his hypodermic invention. The way they destroy the witches is ultra violent with plenty of splattering blood. The action is heady and fun. The costumes are slick and cool. Jeremy Rennar plays Hansel with all the coolness credibility he earned in The Avengers, Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol and The Hurt Locker. Gemma Arterton (Disappearance of Alice Creed) also brings a hip swagger to the role.

The main storyline concerns a particularly nasty witch played by Famke Janssen (Taken, Turn the River) and her two witch sisters. They are kidnapping children from the neighboring towns to complete a spell which will protect them from being burned at the stake. The striking Ingird Bolse Berdal from Norway plays one of the sisters. She’s been seen in the Norwegian films Cold Prey I & II and Escape (2012) recently out on DVD here in the US. The director Tommy Wilkson’s main credit is the Norwegian film Dead Snow (2009) about Nazi zombies. He gives this film a very European feel with it being shot in Germany. Apart from the various nasty witch kills there is a set piece with the witches laying siege to a town. They set it afire and look to snatch one more child. It a thrilling sequence. Some of the clashes between the witches and the humans feature a display of powers that are right out of a comic book with bolts of energy flying left and right. At other times they battle like superheroes throwing people through walls and windows. That shift between styles can be very off balancing. At one point poor Gretel is captured in the woods by the evil sheriff (Frank Stormare) and is about to be gang raped by his horde of sleazy henchmen.

The wild swings back n’ forth between the type of film we are watching can be a little perplexing and that may very well be what hurt it upon its initial release. We’ve got a troll who we know will turn out to be a good friend under all those CGI effects. There is some nice puppetry. The set design is an intoxicating blend of fantasy flavored colors. However we get a pretty unrelenting gore quotient. There is even an homage to Tom Savini’s work in Day of the Dead (1985) with a witch’s head being pried off her body with a shovel. The witches are quite frightening with a mix of make-up and effects. The large gathering of witch sisters draws from a punk style of costuming that would fit right in with Cyndi Lauper’s eighties videos. If you take it on a throw in the kitchen sink level with all out action, blood, guts and gore this is an enjoyable ride. The influences from other films are plentiful and abundant. Instead of using regular brooms, the evil witches grab twisted branches and take flight with them like the speeder bikes in Return of the Jedi. Just know going into this that it will switch its tone and attitude like a Hong Kong film and you’ll be fine. A focused script polish and clearer sense of direction would have helped. However it is obvious once things get going that director Wilkerson is out to have some fun with this one.

Video – 2.40:1   -  This is the extended cut which at 97 minutes is ten minutes longer than the theatrical release. Michael Bonvillain’s photography is terrific throughout. There are lots of interesting compositions and an imaginative use of color

Audio – Dolby True HD 5.1 in English, Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. Subtitles offered in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and English SDH.  Dialogue is understandable throughout. Music and effects have a strong up front balance that suits the film well.

Extras – The following featurettes are included. Reinventing Hansel & Gretel, The Witching Hours and Meet Edward the Troll. A DVD and Digital copy are included as well.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic

Movie – Good

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol Blu-Ray, DVD Review

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol Blu-Ray, DVD

Stars: Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg
Director: Brad Bird
Released by Paramount

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

This is one film that delivers on the promise of a great action film with no reservations at all. Cruise is first seen in a prison cell and he looks like a man. Still handsome but he has aged and it suits him very well indeed. His character Ethan Hunt has been away so when he accepts his mission he is met with a new team that features an IT geek who has been promoted into the field. Simon Peg is masterful in the comic relief support role. You know his mettle will be tested when the chips are down. He brings just the right level of humor and humanness to the part. He does not play it too broadly at all. He’s really perfected this kind of thing since his days on The Enterprise in the re-booting of the Star Trek franchise. Jeremy Renner plays the member with emotional baggage that has to come clean in order to be effective. The only one that falls just a bit shy of the mark is Paula Patton.

There were times when the pace, gadgetry and international settings brought to mind the globe trotting headiness of a good old  James Bond film. There is a sequence that feels right out of the old television series. A meeting between two couriers has to be stopped. Rather then just intercept each player and hijack the goods, Ethan Hunt’s team goes delightfully old school with rubber masks, re-designing hotel rooms on the fly and impersonating not only the hotel waiter but the couriers themselves to each other. There is a trade of diamonds for information and said jewels need to be swiped and smuggled out of one room and delivered literally into the hands of another agent at just the precise moment without a nanosecond to spare. The bit is giddy fun for fans of the original series.

J.J. Abrams has a producer’s hand here and it is evident as he brings in Anil Kapoor who is recognizable form the last season of 24 to play yet another target for the team, a rich sheik who must be charmed by Paula Patton. Producer Abrams’ (24) influence can be felt in the breakneck pace of the film, which really does cruise along even at 135 minutes (forgive the pun). Director Brad Bird is know for his work with animated features like The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouile. From the looks of the film, he’s ready for some more real live actors. He makes what could be yet another overstuffed dull big budgeted over the top action picture an enjoyable blast. The whole film has a nice sense of fun and that childlike thrill of rushing from one ride to the next at a Sunny Summer’s day at the Amusement park.

The fights scenes are well done and you can follow every move clearly. No hyper kinetic slice n’ dice cutting here. All of the action scenes rely on their execution, stunt work and construction. There is digital work done here to be sure but nothing that gets in the way of the action. With the over-reliance on fast, close cutting in most of today’s action films that choice, and the old school framing, is very much appreciated and frankly works so much better.

All formidable action movies have a set piece that stands out. This one has an amazing sequence with Tom Cruise climbing outside of a hotel window and scaling up and over several floors of sheer glass wall using these Spiderman like gloves that allow him to stick to the surface. It’s shot and edited extremely well producing several gasp for air moments as you are certain Cruise is taking the long way down. There are two other films with stunts that take place outside the slippery slope of a modern glass-sided building. In Sharky’s Machine (1978) a record was set at 220 feet for the highest free fall taken as legendary stuntman Dar Robinson plunged out from a window in Atlanta’s Hyatt Regency Hotel. In Who Am I (1998) Jackie Chan slid down the accented glass face of a hotel in Rotterdam, Holland all the way to the ground. Ghost Protocol can proudly join the ranks of these exhilarating and exciting films that see a glass sided building and think…you know what would be really cool? And then they do it.

The plot points can be as easily forgotten as one of Hitchcock’s McGuffins. Bad guys are up to no good and the team has to stop them from getting X and Y  so they can blow stuff up. However the characters that make up the team work well together bustling the narrative forward with urgency and some comic relief courtesy of Simon Pegg. There is a bit of back-story given to Jeremy Renner’s character that introduces just a dash of gravitas and guilt. That shading works well and serves to keep you guessing as to the motivations of the members of the team. It’s not a terribly Machiavellian twist and you’ll see it coming, but again it’s a nice texture.

2.35:1, 1080p. The Blu-Ray offers a slick and rewarding viewing experience. Excellent detail is readily apparent. The rich colors compliment the various exotic locations, especially in the wide establishing shots, some of which are done from high up in the sky. This is just what you’d expect from a topflight modern Hollywood production. It doesn’t disappoint at all. Though the Blu-Brother is the clear winner here, the DVD presentation more than holds is own. The screen caps are from the DVD.

The film sounds fine. Dialogue is supported with a generous amount of bass to give it that movie theater quality. Effects are good, though nothing jumps out as extraordinary. The 7.1 DTS mix (BR only) is presented in English, 5.1 in French and Spanish and Portuguese. Subtitles choices are English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

There is an entire disc full of extras that comes with the Blu-ray. Mission Accepted, Impossible Mission, Deleted Scenes, and Trailers. Too many? Generally one needs a little more critical distance from a film to justify such depth, although this is very enjoyable chest thumping. The regular DVD edition does not come with the second disc of extras.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent