Tag Archives: Jeremy Renner

“The House”



I call Las Vegas my home so I tend to enjoy movies about gambling and casinos, and “The House” has plenty of good quality laughs. It’s not a shining example of a great comedy by any means, but it’s funny and creative enough to mildly recommend if you’re looking to switch your brain off for 90 minutes. I am actually surprised at how amusing this movie is.

Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler are Scott and Kate Johansen, a married couple whose only daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) is ready to leave for college. It turns out that after some financial confusion, they have no money to send her to school. Desperate to make $50,000 as quickly as possible, their gambling addict neighbor Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) suggests they start and run an illegal underground casino because, after all, “the house always wins.” The story may not sound that hilarious on the surface; it’s when the trio starts to become consumed with their new roles as wannabe casino mobsters that the entire premise takes off.

There isn’t a river of free flowing, laugh-a-minute jokes here, but there are enough quality laughs from the gags that do land — and when they land, they land in a big way. You may not be laughing throughout, but you’ll be laughing heartily when you do. Poehler and Ferrell actually pair comedically well together, playing off each other with a casual, comfortable swagger, but it’s Mantzoukas who quickly becomes the real scene stealer. His down and out character is funny without ever passing into lazy slapstick territory, and he is remarkably capable of handling some of the film’s darker, more serious jokes.

Nick Kroll and Rob Huebel lend their usual brand of deadpan humor as the crooked town mayor and the affable police chief, and there’s an unexpected brief cameo from Jeremy Renner as a real baddie (I wish he’d had more time onscreen). If you tend to find any of these actors hilarious, then you’ll “get” the brand of comedy in this movie.

Overall the film is not as generic as you’d expect and is actually a pretty funny concept that’s well executed. The story didn’t go in the direction I expected, and there are a few genuine surprises. Will this be a comedy classic for the ages? Nah. But it’s enjoyable even if it is ultimately forgettable.

Sundance Review: “Wind River”



“Wind River” opens with a bang — literally. The first scene, a guaranteed tough watch for animal lovers, introduces us to Fish & Wildlife agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner). Cory is performing the lone sniper-like duties of his job, picking off a pack of livestock-hungry wolves one by one with his high-powered rifle. It sets the tone for the rest of the film, a story of savagery, loneliness, and slow burning pursuit.

When Cory discovers the dead body of a local native American teenage deep in the rugged Wyoming wilderness, the FBI calls up rookie agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to lead the investigation simply because she’s close to the area. The pair work together with local law enforcement to track down clues in an attempt to solve the mystery of the potential homicide. This is a deliberately paced thriller, with clues slowly unfolding to reveal the completed puzzle. The entire story feels a bit like an extended episode of “True Detective,” especially when the film insists on following a straightforward crime drama formula and timeline. But for nearly every piece that’s solved, there’s a sudden outbreak of bloody violence.

Fans of writer / director Taylor Sheridan will quickly note the very similar themes (and even scenes) from his earlier work. This is a clear celebration of rugged masculinity in our hero as well as a savage tale of violence among men. As with his other screenplays, this one is beautifully and authentically written, a story of uncompromising brutality and human insight. The dialogue is heartfelt and genuine; when a father learns his daughter has been raped and has died, he just asks to “sit here and miss her for a minute.” Anyone who has ever had to deal with unforeseen grief can relate.

These are fully developed characters that are naturally (and simply) written, which means it’s up to the audience to fill in many of the blanks as to their motivations, desires and back story. This is a major part of what works about this film; these characters are not completely spelled out, making them all the more human. (It’s also partly what fails in the story too: there are several bothersome plot details that are overlooked and ignored altogether, like a possible connection between the similar deaths of two teenage girls several years apart).

Sheridan is also behind the camera on this feature, and he has a particularly good eye for choreographed tension and violent action sequences. He’s also skilled at picking a talented crew that compliments his material in both the content and setting. The film’s appropriately somber, ominous score (by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis) is absolute perfection. The main bloody shootout scene and the snowy, desolate setting is gorgeously photographed by Ben Richardson.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t a few directorial choices that will divide audiences (such as a major flashback scene where we are shown the factual events in a bloody, disturbing, unflinching look at the crime, including a graphic rape).

But this is more than just a competent directorial debut for Sheridan. While it’s not as well directed as the films he simply wrote (“Sicario,” “Hell or High Water”) and it’s certainly not as commercially accessible to the average moviegoing public, it’s impressive nonetheless.

This film was screened and reviewed at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.




The peculiar and cerebral “Arrival” is packed with heavy themes for thoughtful people, making it a sure audience-divider between those looking for a high art think piece and those seeking an entertaining sci-fi escape. While its ambitiousness is something to admire, the film is also not as thought-provoking as I’m sure was intended.

The film sets out to shatter the conventions of its genre, although it starts off the same: citizens turn on their televisions to news reports that many mysterious alien spaceships have parked themselves over several of the world’s major countries. University professor and expert linguist Louise (Amy Adams) is plucked out of bed by a military honcho (Forest Whitaker) to help decode the alien language. Joining the team is fellow smarty-pants Ian (Jeremy Renner). These intellectuals are tasked with saving humanity by simply finding the answer to the big question: “why are they here?”

Of course there are several gung-ho Army soldiers who want to join in with Russia and China to respond with military force instead of taking the emotional, talky route. There are plenty of scenes of the scholars of the world coming together to solve the puzzle (while not sharing too much intel). As the world struggles to understand the extraterrestrials as well as each other, the allies begin cutting off all contact one by one, eventually ‘going dark’ and retreating to their own safe spaces. This really speaks to many Americans right now as we are attempting to cope with the realization that Donald Trump will be our country’s next president. The film is profound in its message of isolationism — and its timing.

This is unconventional science fiction that’s a welcome breath of fresh air — sort of. You won’t find a computer animated spectacle loaded with thrilling special effects because this is a film that presents a brainy exploration of big ideas. But while the story kept my mind busy, I had very little emotional connection to the film.

The premise isn’t all that compelling and the obvious conclusion is more than a little unsatisfying. There are too many dreamy sequences that I viewed as a complete flop. While they are calculated to look dark and dreary, I found them to be poorly filmed and out of place. The aliens come in peace, but they want humans to learn their language so we will be able to alter the space-time continuum (or something like that). It’s ironic that the film also plays with time when it’s convenient, and solely as an audience manipulation tool. We also have to suffer through irritating faux-profound voiceover from Adams about the “order of time.” Yawn.

A lot of fuss is being made about “Arrival,” and I get it. But this isn’t exactly my definition of an enjoyable time at the movies.

Matt was unavailable for review.


“Captain America: Civil War”



More of an Avengers movie than a Captain America movie, “Captain America: Civil War” will surely not disappoint fans of the Marvel mega-franchise. It suffers from the obvious, usual faults of most big-budget superhero flicks but in the end it accomplishes what it sets out to do in the first place: entertain.

“Civil War” splits up the Avengers into two teams: one led by Captain America (Chris Evans) and the other led by Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). Side one wants to keep the Avengers free from government oversight so they can continue to defend the world without any regulatory interference while the other wants to sign a treaty that holds the superheroes accountable. When each side calls on some of the Avengers to come help stand their ground, stuff gets serious!

Ultimately, the clever plot, an X-Men movie style character-driven focus, and immensely likeable actors save the day (and this overly long film) from being a complete disaster. Even fans will have to admit that the first half of the movie isn’t very good, but the last half is so incredibly well done that I quickly forgot (and forgave) the awful first hour and the slow, stumbling start. Once the Avengers choose sides and start a mini-battle on the runway at an airport, things really get cooking and never let up.

Super archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is as rugged as ever, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) literally gets into Iron Man’s suit, and winged Falcon (Anthony Mackie) soars opposite War Machine (Don Cheadle). Once Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) starts carelessly hurling cars off the parking garage deck with her mind, I was hooked. This is a beautifully conceived action sequence and it was the highlight of the film for me.

Most of your favorite characters are here (noticeably absent are Thor, Hulk, Loki and Pepper Potts) and there are lots of insider references to die-hard fans of the Marvel universe. The movie is packed with little surprises too, but viewers unfamiliar with the characters and backstory may get temporarily lost. Captain America (Evans) and frenemy Bucky / Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) keep up their easygoing, believable chemistry as two childhood friends who now find themselves (sometimes) on the opposite sides of right and wrong.

Adding gravitas to mix are the always exceptional Paul Bettany (Vision) and the often underrated Daniel Brühl (Zemo), while Rudd, Downey and Mackie contribute their usual brand of sarcastic-laced humor to keep things fun. Chadwick Boseman (channeling a young Chiwetel Ejiofor) joins the cast in a super sweet catlike getup as Black Panther. By far the best new addition is the hugely charming Tom Holland (Spiderman), an actor once and for all playing Peter Parker exactly as he should be: a sweet, nerdy boy who’s coming of age with his new superpowers. I can’t wait to see more of Holland’s Spiderman, he’s that good.

The effects are enjoyable too (an early scene with a young Robert Downey Jr. is quite an amusing use of CGI) and the story is strong. The film takes on an ambitious challenge and tackles some tough questions about violence and justice, which I applaud. It’s been far too long where we get movie after movie of the Avengers blowing shit up, destroying buildings and killing innocents. Finally they are being taken to task for their careless approach to saving the world.

Not to gloss over the truly bad parts of the film, I must point out there’s no denying the opening action sequences are absolutely terrible. So terrible that I was thinking to myself “oh man, this is going to be a LOOOOONG movie to sit through.” The super fast cutting means you can’t tell what the heck is going on half the time. The musical score is loud and harsh and the sound effects are too cartoonish (a film that presents itself as taking place in the real world should have authentic bone-crunching sounds).

The worst — and I mean the worst side of bad you can imagine — is the horrendous editing in the first action sequence, particularly when it comes to Scarlett Johansson‘s (Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow) stunt double. The filmmakers didn’t even try to make it appear that Johansson was actually doing any of her stunts, instead showing us rearview shots of what looked like a petite dude in a redhead wig. It’s so bad that I want to see the movie again just to pay even closer attention to the editing failure. It would be funny if this wasn’t such a huge budget movie! C’mon Disney, get it together (see more visual and editing shortcuts in their 2016 film “The Jungle Book“).

Other than the frantic editing, poor original score and snail-like pacing, the other laughably bad aspect of the movie came in the form of Olsen’s sometimes there / sometimes not Russian accent. It would fluctuate in and out, scene after scene, to the point where it was like she forgot that Wanda was supposed to be from Russia. Olsen is a great actress so I left the theater scratching my head over this pretty serious lack of attention to detail.

I have to mention Stan Lee’s cameo, one of the most fun in any Marvel movie. He has a small speaking part near the end of the film and I’m still laughing about it two days later. (If you see this film, please make sure you don’t violate the Moviegoer’s 10 Commandments).

The movie’s themes of friendship, loyalty, accountability and revenge are incredibly well done and compelling. I can’t divulge too much because I want to avoid giving out any spoilers, but let’s just say many of the conflicts in the film are extremely astute and insightful. This is a good movie, and it’s a superhero movie done right.


“Captain America: Civil War” represents a slight improvement over most of the recent the character-specific movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but not by much.

As the film opens, we find Cap (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, who faded in and out of a Russian accent several times during the movie) fighting some baddies in a third-world country, attempting to avert yet another major, potential world-ending disaster. As their mission ends in the loss of innocent lives (yet again), these members of the Avengers find themselves subject to enhanced scrutiny on the global level. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is in favor of having an increased degree of oversight placed on all of the Avengers and their activities; Captain America is very firmly against it. These ideological conflicts lead to the titular civil war. Unless you’ve been living in seclusion, you already know all of this.

The first problem with “Civil War” is that it does take its sweet time in getting started. There is (dareisayit) too much emphasis on exposition and setting up the conflict between the two warring sides. After the opening action sequence, nothing much happens for the next 45 minutes or so. We are re-introduced to characters that we apparently should be familiar with, but those of us who are casual fans will find ourselves slightly confused as people and events are referenced that we sort of remember from the previous MCU but have mostly forgotten by now.

It starts to get interesting by the halfway point, when we see the big fight between heroes that is highlighted in every trailer, commercial, and teaser reel. Of course, the problem with the big fight is that we all suspect that they aren’t going to kill one another; they may have political differences from one another but the battle is not driven by any deep-seeded hate or fundamental conflict of ideology that can raise the stakes and lead to someone getting killed. Without those stakes, it’s difficult to care very much as the good guys all fight one another. I was surprised to find that the best thing about the big battle was Ant-Man (I disliked the stand-alone movie almost as much as Louisa did), but Paul Rudd really added a much-needed degree of levity to the action and was finally allowed in that scene to be “Paul Rudd.” So the big battle scene was sort of a wash for me: there were some enjoyable elements, but fundamentally it was lacking in gravitas.

Okay, so let’s recap the bad: the first 45 minutes were sort of boring and the big battle sequence was anticlimatic and lacked emotional weight. Added to that, the direction was haphazard and inconsistent — as before, the Russo brothers once again overused shaky-cam and quick-cutting to disguise their lack of talent for filming action. Finally, the involvement of Spider-Man (which was spoiled by the many commercials and trailers) seemed like kind of a throw-away. I mean, I really liked this version of Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and I look forward to seeing more of him, but I’m not sure that he was as important to this story as the Marvel execs said.

Now on to the good. First and foremost, it was very refreshing to see a Marvel movie where the central conflict is not driven by some world-ending CGI whatsit (e.g., “Captain America: The Winter Soldier“; “The Avengers“; “Avengers: Age of Ultron“; “Thor: The Dark World“; “Iron Man 2“), but instead is character-driven. Later in the movie, the fight between Tony Stark / Iron Man, on the one hand, and the Winter Soldier / Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and Captain America, on the other hand, becomes very personal and very compelling. I actually believed that these characters were ready to kill one another, for reasons that were not driven by politics.

The Bucky-Cap relationship also worked well for me. This is one element that I remember well from the previous “Captain America” movies, and I really felt the connection between the two of them. When the two conflicted with one another, it was instantly compelling and I really cared about both of them. In some ways, “Civil War” is the most human of the MCU movies because it was so intensely personal — particularly as between Stark, Cap, Bucky, and the Black Panther.  Bucky’s going off the reservation also led to one of the most impressive scenes in the movie — one involving Cap, Bucky, and a helicopter.

Another thing I liked about the movie was its next-level use of computer graphics to re-create an incredibly realistic and lifelike version of Tony Stark / Robert Downey Jr. at a younger age (specifically, about the age he was when he was in “Weird Science“). I know it must have cost the studio a bajillion dollars to pull off, but the effect was flawless. Seriously, folks: if you haven’t seen the movie yet and go to see it after reading this review, please try to appreciate how amazing that one scene is. I don’t know if it was possible only because RDJ had a good amount of source material to use from back when he was working as an actor at that age, but I really hope we get to see more of that in other movies in the future.

Finally, all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies do a fantastic job of recruiting first-class acting talent. In addition to Downey Jr., Olsen (who gets a pass from me on the accent thing because she really is a talented actress who was good in the movie otherwise), Mackie, Evans, Johannson, and Rudd, you have Paul Bettany (Vision), Martin Freeman (Everett Ross), William Hurt (Secretary of State Ross), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), and Marvel newcomers Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) and Quentin Tarantino alumnus Daniel Brühl (Zemo). Boseman did an excellent job, and Brühl — as one of the key instigators — brought to his role the essential humanity that was needed to give this story a heart. His performance was easily my favorite of the film.

In conclusion, I liked “Captain America: Civil War” more than I thought I would. I would like to see Marvel do more of these character-driven films that don’t depend entirely on aliens or giant robots to drive the story. This was certainly a step in the right direction, but the Marvel movies have a long way to go before they can match the greatness of “Star Wars.” As far as I’m concerned, “The Force Awakens” set a new bar for how good Disney can make a movie when it really wants to do it right.