Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg
While the sci-fi films that dominate the box office and attract the most attention tend to be rollicking space adventures like Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy, at its heart science fiction is a genre about ideas. At its best, science fiction uses fantastic, unfamiliar scenarios to discuss relevant issues and relatable ideas. Up and coming Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve’s latest film, Arrival – based on Ted Chiang’s “The Story of Your Life” – uses the story of aliens arriving on Earth to explore notions of communication, memory and time.
Twelve 1,500 foot tall spacecrafts shaped like giant coffee beans have settled at seemingly random locations around the globe. Every 18 hours a door at the bottom opens enabling us to go in and make contact. Continue reading
Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Samuel L Jackson
The 2012 superhero team up movie The Avengers, the culmination of Phase One of Marvel Studios plan for blockbuster world domination, was an enormous success taking $1.5 billion worldwide and becoming the third highest grossing film of all time. So naturally expectation is sky high for their next gathering, Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is still haunted by the events of New York which concluded The Avengers. Knowing what forces exist in the universe he is acutely aware of the limitations of the Avengers. They can only protect the world from so much. With the help of Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) he has been secretly working at a plan he calls Ultron, which he imagines as “a suit of armour around the world.” After the Avengers reclaim Loki’s sceptre from a Hydra bunker, Stark and Banner try and harness its artificial intelligence and plant it in Ultron. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, so sure enough this plan backfires. Designed to keep the peace, the sentient Ultron (James Spader) sees allowing the Earth to evolve through the elimination of the human race as key to achieving that peace. Continue reading
Director: Michael Cuesta
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosemarie DeWitt, Oliver Platt, Andy Garcia, Tim Blake Nelson, Michael Sheen, Barry Pepper, Michael Kenneth Williams, Ray Liotta
Hollywood has a history of celebrating the heroic investigative journalist who, spurred on by an ardent belief in the public’s right to know, exposes corruption in the system and keeps the government and its institutions accountable. But with his political thriller Kill the Messenger, Michael Cuesta uses the true story of San Jose Mercury News journalist Gary Webb to deliver a cautionary tale about the potential ramifications of crusading journalism.
In 1996 Webb penned an explosive series of articles which alleged links between US intelligence services and the Central American cocaine trade during the 1980s. The three-part series, called “Dark Alliance,” suggested that the CIA was aware that Nicaraguan rebels were smuggling cocaine into the US but opted not to intervene as they were using the profits to arm Contra militia in their civil war against Nicuragua’s Sandinista government. These revelations caused outrage not only because it amounted to a violation of congressional rulings that the CIA was not to aid the Contras, but because the resulting crack cocaine epidemic had ravaged the African American community. Not only did Webb’s work ruffle feathers at the CIA, it also raised the ire of the larger newspapers – the New York and Los Angeles Times in particular – embarrassed that this huge story had passed them by.
Where Kill the Messenger is interesting, and deviates from the model of All the President’s Men, is in its exploration of the aftermath of the exposé. Webb’s investigation only makes up part of the film. The publication of “Dark Alliance” comes at about the halfway point and the rest of the film is about what happens to him as a result of his actions. Rather than make Webb’s career, it destroys him. We see the expected denials from the CIA and their efforts to intimidate him – he is unnervingly reassured “we would never threaten your children, Mr. Webb” – but what is more confronting is the way that he is cannibalised by peers in the press. The embarrassment of the bigger newspapers for missing the scoop leads them to devote their energy not to investigating the story but to discrediting Webb and his methods, often through overinflating his claims. Ultimately, the distressing thing is not that the government silenced him or destroyed him, it is that they didn’t have to.
While Kill the Messenger invites comparison to some of the great political thrillers of the past, it is not quite of that level. The film is a bit hit and miss; more interesting than it is engaging. It moves so quickly through the investigation phase that it is difficult to keep up with the ins and outs of the case, and to fully appreciate the significance of each new piece of information. Director Michael Questa is best known for his work in television (he has directed a number of episodes of Homeland), and it is fair to say that there are moments in which Kill the Messenger feels more like a television show than a movie. In fact it may have been better served as a TV miniseries where it would have had a bit more time to explore the intricacies of its plot.
It is Jeremy Renner that really makes Kill the Messenger worth watching, as he gives arguably his best performance since The Hurt Locker. He is obviously really invested in this project, also acting as one of the film’s producers. The film is very much on Webb’s side. We are never invited to question his information or his ethics, as other characters do. But Renner brings the light and shade to the character which prevents Webb from being a two-dimensional hero, a simplistic crusader for truth. Renner is supported by quite an impressive cast, fleshed out with a series of single scene cameos from quite big names; Andy Garcia, Michael Sheen, Robert Patrick, Michael Kenneth Williams, Ray Liotta.
Kill the Messenger is one for lovers of conspiracy theories, and with its story not being as well-known as some other conspiracy thrillers, it will leave you with a bit of homework to do when you exit the cinema.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Kill the Messenger? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Pihla Viitala, Thomas Mann, Peter Stormare
If there’s something strange in your neighbourhood, who you gonna call? Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. That’s right, the little boy and girl who got lost in the woods and found themselves in a witches cottage made of candy are all grown up, and armed with an arsenal of medieval machine guns and crossbows they travel the countryside ridding towns of their witches.
The Brothers Grimm’ tale is the latest in a growing number of traditional fairy tales to get Hollywood revisions in recent years. In 2011 we had Red Riding Hood, last year we had a double dose of Snow White with Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, and Jack the Giant Slayer is due to hit our screens in March. In actuality Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters was shot two years ago and Paramount have been waiting for the right moment to let it out. This provides some answers for those people wondering what on earth Jeremy Renner was doing in this after appearing in genuine blockbusters like The Avengers, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The Bourne Legacy.
The first time I saw a poster for this movie I shook my head. When I saw the trailer it just made me a bit sad. Surely this had to be one of the most ridiculous premises for a movie yet, I thought. But then I saw it and guess what, it is ridiculous… but it isn’t terrible.
Don’t get ahead of yourself, it is far from being good, but it isn’t terrible. Where it drops the ball is that it doesn’t seem to realise that it is ridiculous. Ridiculousness in itself is not a bad thing. Had the filmmakers embraced the ridiculousness of the notion that Hansel and Gretel might grow up to be arse-kicking supernatural bounty hunters they could have played it up a bit, earned a bit of camp appeal and maybe even gathered a cult following. Instead the movie seems to take itself a bit too seriously, surprising given that Will Ferrel and Adam McKay of Anchorman fame are among its producers.
While most of the movie is pretty inane, there are moments of cleverness. For example, not only did their childhood experience set them on the path to their present day profession, it has also left Hansel a diabetic, suffering from “the sugar sickness” and requiring regular insulin injections.
In a movie that is so predictable that you feel like you know what is around every corner, the one thing that is surprising about Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is how schlocky it is. While the premise seems to suggest a very light gothic horror, the movie has a lot of blood, a surprising amount of coarse language and even a little bit of nudity. As a result it has been given an MA15+ rating (R in the USA) which will surely only serve to restrict the access of the primary demographic who might have been persuaded to think Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters sounded like a good idea.
Rating – ★★
Review by Duncan McLean