Tag Archives: Jeremy Renner

Cosmic Conversation

Amy Adams cracks alien communication code in moving, contemplative ‘Arrival’

ARRIVALArrival
Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner & Forest Whitaker
Directed by Denis Villeneune
PG-13
In theaters Nov. 11, 2016

Whenever space aliens plunk down—as they’ve steadily been doing, courtesy of Hollywood, for some 75 years—it’s always a priority to figure out why they’re here, what they want and if they have a message for us.

All little E.T. wanted was to “phone home,” then to go home. The friendly “greys” in Close Encounters communicated with a blast of now-iconic musical notes. In a classic episode of The Twilight Zone, people of Earth learn too late that a space alien’s book was not a humanitarian help manual, but a collection of recipes—To Serve Man!

In the moving, contemplative Arrival, people around the world wake up one day and discover gigantic, dark, featureless, pod-like spacecraft, all hovering silently a few yards above the ground—a dozen of them, in various locales around the planet.

What do they want? What’s inside? Extraterrestrial tourists? Scientists? Warriors? Should we welcome them? Fear them? Blast them out of the sky?

Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner

Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner

In the United States, one of the pods has “landed” in Montana and an elite team is scrambled to find out what’s going on. A key member is college professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist and communications expert whose outstanding translation chops are already renowned by the U.S. military, especially to Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker).

Whisked away in the middle of the night on a military chopper, Louise is teamed with a mathematician and man of science, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). Can the two of them decipher the extraterrestrials’ language, decode their message and determine their intentions—before the rest of the world freaks out and starts shooting?

Working from a screenplay based on a short story by Ted Chiang, director Denis Villeneune, best known for the taut Prisoners (2013) and the gritty drug-war thriller Sicaro (2015), creates a trippy, timely tapestry about the power of communication—and about the possibilities of “language” far beyond simply spoken or written words.

ARRIVALOnly hours later, inside the pod, Louise and Ian interact—on the other side of a large window—with a pair of aliens, enormous, seven-legged, squid-like creatures that communicate in dark, circular “squirts.” These circles, Louise and Ian discover, are the aliens’ alphabet, their language, and pieces of a much larger puzzle—the keys to unlocking something much, much bigger and infinitely more mind-blowing.

To reveal much else ventures into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that when Louise cracks the code, there’s an ambiguity about a word that sends everyone into an international panic. A prequel to the whole alien “arrival,” at the very beginning of the film, sets up the entire movie and becomes its heart and soul in ways you won’t know until the ending twist. Amy Adams is brilliant as Louise, and it’s refreshing to see a whip-smart sci-fi movie that powers through so strongly and confidently on a character, an emotional human story and a performance, instead of special effects.

And coming on the heels of such a rancorous, noxiously loud political season, in an era of so much noise blasted ceaselessly over so many channels, this movie’s uplifting message about the unifying power of communication—to reach beyond time and space, as a tool instead of a weapon, to heal instead of harm, and to build bridges instead of barriers—is a welcome Arrival, indeed.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Captain Crunch

The Marvel gang’s all here in superhero-packed mega-movie

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Captain America: Civil War

Starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Sebastian Stan & Scarlett Johansson

Directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

PG-13

What do superheroes do when they’re not saving the planet? A lot of the same things everyone else does—they prattle around the house, do their best to get along and sometimes get on each other’s nerves.

“Who’s putting coffee grounds in the disposal?” Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) asks his houseguests, which include Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Vision (Paul Bettany). “Am I running a bed and breakfast for a biker gang?”

Crammed into a back of a tiny VW Beetle, the hulking Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) has a request of Falcon (Anthony Mackie). “Could you move your seat up?” Like a grumpy sibling on a family road trip that’s already over-stretched his patience, Falcon isn’t exactly in an agreeable mood. “No!” he snaps.

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Spider-Man (Tom Holland) gets in on the action.

Captain America: Civil War is a big, sprawling superhero mega-movie, with more spandex to the gallon than any flick that’s come down the pike in a long time. The latest in the multi-billion-dollar Marvel cinematic canon, it’s officially the third of the Captain America franchise, but it’s also a continuation of the Avengers movie arc, and it ropes in characters from other Marvel movie properties as well, including Iron Man, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and even the new Spider-Man (Tom Holland), whose movie won’t be in theaters until next summer.

The “Civil War” in the title refers to the major rift that occurs within the Avengers when a United Nations panel wants to rein them in. The global community is concerned about the civilian deaths and wakes of destruction that accompany the superheroes’ bad-guy smackdowns—a theme that also cropped up a few weeks ago in another comics-character slugfest, Batman v Superman.

The Avengers divide into two camps about the issue—those who feel that some international oversight and cooperation is the way to go (led by Iron Man), and the rebels who refuse to sign the accord (team Captain America). That sets the stage for several spats, a couple of subplots, more than two hours of squabbles and one stupendous battle royale in an abandoned airport.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..L to R: Sharon Carter/Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..? Marvel 2016

Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Captain America (Chris Evans) have a serious huddle.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo keep things moving along with style, substance and significant flair, and they give all their characters time to shine—no easy task when they are so many, including newcomers Chadwick Boseman as an African prince who becomes the Black Panther; Marissa Tomei as Peter Parker’s Aunt May; and Daniel Brühl as the Eastern European über-villain Zemo. There’s also Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Martin Freeman as a CIA official, Emily Van Camp (from TV’s Revenge) as Sharon Carter, and William Hurt as the U.S. Secretary of State. Oscar-nominated Alfre Woodard pops in as an aggrieved mom.

But through it all are the Avengers, the world’s coolest, most powerful cadre of superfriends—family, actually—being ripped apart, fractured from within, pulverizing each other as the divide between them, widened by treachery, becomes filled with distrust, dark secrets and deep wounds from the past.

There’s a whole army of frozen Winter Soldiers, a funeral and a sweet kiss between two characters that may point to future romance.

How does this wham-bam, jam-packed road trip on the superhero highway end? I won’t spoil it. But you shouldn’t be surprised to know that even when it does, it doesn’t, and that the Marvel movie map is still being drawn for Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man and other characters for years to come!

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Super-Stuffed

New ‘Avengers’ is full of most everything—including itself

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Avengers: Age of Ultron

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson & Jeremy Renner

Directed by Josh Whedon

PG-13

Summer is when Hollywood rolls out its big guns, and this star-packed, superhero-stuffed eruption certainly starts things off with a bang.

The second movie in Marvel’s Avengers franchise, it’s full of just about everything, including itself. It’s got all six of the do-gooders from the first movie, plus a couple of newbies. It’s dense with character backstories, relationship dramas and plot points that zip and zing in every direction, including forward—to more movies to come—and backward, riffing on things that happened in previous ones. It begins with one extended mega-wallop of a fight, a castle siege in a snowy forest, and ends with an even larger one, on a crumbling island city in the sky. And it crams even more in between, including a dyna-whopper that rips up most of Manhattan.

I imagine insurance premiums for the Avengers are through the roof.

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James Spader provides the voice of Ultron.

Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and the Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) band together again, this time to fight an evil, smack-talking robot, Ultron (voiced by James Spader), who quotes the Bible and sings a ditty from Pinocchio as he goes about his mission of global annihilation.

Two new characters, the genetically altered twins Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), also come aboard—but only after playing freaky and fast for the other team first. Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Stellan Skarsgård, Anthony Mackie and Cobie Smulders return for cameos. Look—there’s Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in Lord of the Rings! Paul Bettany, previously unseen as the voice of Tony Stark’s computer system, Jarvis, materializes anew as a floating, red-faced uber-android named Vision.

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Paul Bettany

If you’re a Marvelite, you’ll probably be in fan-gasm heaven. Otherwise, you might find the constant, crashing swirl and whirl of imagery and the barrage of inside references overwhelming and exhausting.

The cast is top-notch, and returning writer-director Josh Whedon packs the script and the screen with cleverness as well as ka-pow. But even at a lengthy 141 minutes, things still feel jammed and crammed. All the busy CGI huffing and puffing make the quieter moments stand out even more, like a scene in which the other Avengers, a bit tipsy after a party, humorously try (unsuccessfully) to lift Thor’s hammer from a coffee table, or the romantic subplot between Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner, in which she reveals a deep secret about her past and he painfully admits why his raging alter ego makes him less than ideal as a boyfriend.

It’s all part of the Marvel long game, a studiously crafted, mega-million-dollar maneuver in which comic-book characters are morphed from page to screen, connected, separated, then re-combined in various combos for a seemingly endless chain of box-office catnip. Coming up: Ant Man on July 15, a new Captain America next summer, the third Thor plus Dr. Strange in 2017 and another Avengers in 2018.

“Someone’s been playing an intricate game and made pawns of all of us,” muses Thor as Ultron draws to a close. True that, in more ways than one.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Con-Fabulous

Swirling scandal saga based on real events from the 1970s

American Hustle

Blu-ray $40.99, DVD $30.99 (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

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Director David O. Russell’s sprawling, swirling ‘70s saga, nominated for 10 Academy Awards, is a tale of con artists, FBI agents, a fake oil sheik, real gangsters, crooked politicians and others hustling to make it or break it against the backdrop of a real-life American scandal. The fabulous ensemble cast of Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner keeps the show rolling; the colorful clothes and disco-era hairstyles are dy-no-mite; and the soundtrack rocks with tuneful tracks of the era. Extras include a making-of documentary with the filmmakers and cast, plus deleted and extended scenes.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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