Tag Archives: Jeremy Renner

Niki Caro’s North Country

Charlize Theron can pretty much play any role when she sets her mind to it, and when it comes to embodying the collective injustice and abuse inflicted towards female mine workers in late 80’s Minnesota, she is heartbreaking. Of course many other brilliant actors work hard to bring Niki Caro’s North Country to life, but it’s Theron who gives it the wounded centre and makes us care, not just about the issues at had but her character as well.

She plays a semi fictional character named Josey Aimes, who is loosely based on a real life woman that launched a milestone lawsuit against the corporate mining giant. Josey has escaped her abusive husband and come home to seek refuge with her parents (Sissy Spacek and Richard Jenkins) while trying to provide for her two children. The highest paying wage in the region is at the mines but from the moment she joins up she’s faced with hostility, scorn and rampant sexual harassment from the vast male work force there, and the few other female employees fare the same, unless they keep their head low. Josey and her young coworker Sherry (Michelle Monaghan) have it the worst because they’re, shall we say, easiest on the eyes, while their childhood friend Glory (Frances McDormand) keeps up a tough exterior, but in truth they are all of them fed up. As their treatment gets worse, Josey does the unthinkable and launches a high profile lawsuit against Big Mining for mistreatment and neglect, causing a shit-storm of controversy for both herself and the entire town whose survival depends on that industry. Not only that, but the case dredges up painful events from her past that involve supervisor Jeremy Renner, whose special interest in tormenting her dates back to then and explains why he radiates with guilt.

This is a brave, difficult choice for a woman to make especially when it seems like everyone is against her, but Josey is determined and Theron makes her wounded, charismatic and captivating. Woody Harrelson does a fine job as the lawyer hired to represent her, an idealistic man who isn’t afraid to unleash some hell when delivering statements or interrogating a witness because he believes it will lead to change. Jenkins is always brilliant, the arc he carries out here goes from cynically intoning that his daughter must have cheated on her husband to illicit violence like that to later openly defending his her with his own violence in court when he finds out what she has gone through. The old pro handles it gracefully and I can’t remember if he was nominated for this but he should have been. McDormand is her usual salty self and is excellent, while Sean Bean, an actor who often plays gruff, alpha male badasses is laid back and sensitive as her introvert boyfriend. Watch for great work from Xander Berkeley, Rusty Schwimmer, Corey Stoll, Brad William Henke, Jillian Armenante, Amber Heard and Chris Mulkey too.

Director Caro drew huge acclaim for her film Whale Rider a few years before, another story that dealt with a girl trying to find her place in the world and defying the men in her life. Once again this is a fantastic piece that shows her talent for filmmaking, never coming across as too much of a dramatization or too slack when it needs to cut deep. Theron is a force of nature and you can see the hurt, frustration and will to not back down burning in her eyes. This is a tough film to watch in many instances, but an extremely important one to sit through and the type that Hollywood doesn’t usually jump to green-light, at least back then anyways. Something of a masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

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Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival

Every few years, if we’re lucky, we get a science fiction movie as good as Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, a cosmic miracle of a film. Built around the ages old trope of aliens invading earth, and even throwing shout outs to sci fi flicks of yore (Robert Zemeckis’s Contact, Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day to name a few), it ultimately is completely it’s own thing and there has never been anything quite like it ever before in the genre, or in Big Hollywood. Villeneuve, whether working in crime, thriller or mind-fuck territory, has always proudly broke the mold and blasted new crevices into seemingly charted out tonal territory. It’s only fitting that a SciFi outing from him is something remarkable, and he terraforms the genre to incredible thematic plateaus here. Amy Adams is reliably terrific as a linguistics guru brought in by the government to try and communicate with a mysterious race of extraterrestrials, shadowy beings who have illegally parked their mammoth, monolithic ships systematically all over the globe. What do they want? Why are they her? Tensions rise when the military (Forest Whitaker gives the obligatory general role his trademark brand of implosive compassion) and the CIA (Michael Stuhlburg does paranoia to a turn) butt heads over what to do, while a snarky mathematician (Jeremy Renner, excellent) has his own ideas. Adams develops an inspired way of both understanding these beings via their unique brand of written language and imparting to them our English words, or at least a variation. The scenes inside their ship are so haunting and atmospheric we get the sense this is real footage we’re sneaking a peek at, and the government may bust in and raid our TV room any moment. The beings themselves are a visually intriguing bunch, like dreamy space elephant/whale/spiders who evoke a strange, genuinely alien aura. But time is running out, and if Adams can’t make both their language and intentions clear, the big guns of fear and ignorance threaten to come out and play. The film has an important, uplifting message that communication should always supersede violence, a hard truth but a necessary one. My favourite aspect of this film is its elliptical final act, and anyone who has already seen it knows what I’m talking about. Much of the film, although artistic, is straightforward, but Villeneuve really plumbs the fathoms of human consciousness and pulls forth ideas that not only are rarely explored this maturely onscreen, are also very difficult to understand in linear, analytical fashion. It’s this drive to push his audience, to dole out just as much brain and soul candy as eye candy into our cinematic trick or treat bags that’s the reason he’s such an important, landmark filmmaker, and it’s a joy to see such films take centre stage at the multiplex. With key supporting work from the great Tzi Ma and a ghostly original score by the late maestro Johan Johansson that eerily inhabits the film like an alien force all its own, every individual and element involved combine to give this film something special and rare: a genuine sense of wonder.

-Nate Hill

Kenneth Branagh’s Thor

People get a little aghast when I say that Kenneth Branagh’s Thor is my favourite Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, but there’s something about the operatic, orchestral grandeur of Asgard contrasted with Thor’s deadpan, hilarious arrival on earth that is an irresistible flavour and calls back to classic adventure films of the 90’s that saw fish-out-of-water protagonists up to the same shenanigans (think the sea and feeling of Spielberg’s Hook, or the like). The world-building up there in the cosmic realm is still just some of the best eye candy the studio ever put out in their superhero romps, and no one blasted into the leading man scene quite like Chris Hemsworth did with his broad, knowingly silly and very heartfelt performance. The Avengers entries seem to earn all the love and they’re fun, but I like the solo outings that leave breathing room to focus on one of these heroes at a time, and really get to know them. Thor’s transformation from a proud, boorish and naive strongman who knows but one form of diplomacy (hit em with his hammer) into a wise, compassionate being worthy of the crown is just a great arc to see unfold. Throw in Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard and priceless Kat Dennings as the most utterly charming human ‘sidekick brigade’ the universe has to offer and the whole thing becomes an almost instant classic. Branagh is a Shakespearean veteran, and every hint of that instinct is on display in the theatrical showmanship of Asgard, in the performances of Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston as scheming Loki, Anthony Hopkins as godly Odin and terrific Idris Elba as celestial gatekeeper Heimdall, who steals every scene. On earth-side Natalie Portman is adorable and blooms with both romantic yearning and genuine smarts, Kat Dennings takes the concept of comic relief and runs with it so deftly she almost walks away with that portion of the film. Clark Gregg fleshes out his glib Agent Coulson character, Jeremy Renner does his first badass turn as Hawkeye, Colm Feore is icily menacing as Laufi, king of the fearsome Ice Giants, while Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas and Jaime Alexander fill in as Thor’s rowdy warrior entourage, mistaken for Robin Hood, Jackie Chan and Xena when they stroll down Main Street after arriving nonchalantly on earth to help the god of thunder do battle with a giant fire-stuffed tin man sent by spiteful Loki. There’s something so thrilling about this picture though, from the chemistry between Thor and Portman’s Jane to the camaraderie he has with Skarsgard’s Professor Selvig to the larger than life, tripped out and gorgeous visuals of Asgard set to a banger of a score by Patrick Doyle, it all just works so damn well and is the one chapter in the MCU canon that works best as a stand-alone film all its own. Another!!

-Nate Hill

Making Epics and eating Subway with Patrick Stewart: An Interview with Shahin Sean Solimon by Kent Hill

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There is a filmmaker working in Hollywood right now, who is out to show the big boys that you don’t need hundreds of millions of dollars to make the movies you want to make. Shahin Sean Solimon is the man behind the movement. Together with his talented group of like-minded artists, he is forging new waves to achieve epic results without the big budget price tag.

“If I inspire some thirteen year old kid somewhere to pursue his or her dreams as I have, no matter what the nay-sayers say, I’ve done my job.”

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And getting the job done is exactly what Shahin has been doing.  Beginning with his first feature Djinn, Based on ancient middle eastern fairy tales written thousands of years ago, and passed down from generation to generation, Shahin crafted luscious, fantastical realms along with a pure and moving tale love and destiny.

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With his second film he took it to the next level, conjuring the days of high adventure and summoning cinema which brings to mind the heady days of Ray Harryhausen with: Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage. When the Sultan’s first born is taken by an evil sorcerer, Sinbad is tasked with traveling to a desert of magic and creatures to save her. Add into this the talents of Patrick Stewart (X-Men, Star Trek: The Next Generation), who offered his distinct vocal styling as the films narrator. He also turns out to enjoy Subway, but you’ll have to listen for more on that.

Now, for the next big thing. In his third feature Alpha: The Awakening, Shahin is tackling the sci-fi and post-apocalyptic genres with one mighty stroke. It is the story of a man, Apollo, who wakes up in the future to realize the human race has been wiped out because of an ancient virus.

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There seems to be no end to his creativity or his ability to realize his visions. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with this talented filmmaker who is, without a doubt, taking the bull by the horns and making the movies he wants to make.

“My inspiration as an artist is not about money, or fame…but about trying to project imagination, show a different perspective of life, and simply entertain.”

And entertaining us is what he has done and will, I believe, continue to do.

Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River


“I knew this girl, and she was a fighter. However far you think she ran, I can promise you she ran farther…”
I couldn’t find an exact verbatim quote, but that’s the kind of affecting, succinctly written dialogue to be found in Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River, a deeply moving knockout of a film. The third in a so far brilliant stateside saga dubbed the ‘frontier trilogy’ (following Sicario and Hell Or Highwater), River is the beast of the bunch, a surprisingly emotional, fully engaging murder mystery set in yet another harsh, weather beaten vista where life struggles to survive, namely a desolate Indian reservation in the heart of Wyoming. We open with life in jeopardy right out of the gate: as Nick Cave’s haunting original score howls across the snowy plain, a terrified young girl flees through the landscape, alone and injured. She doesn’t make it through the night. This sparks an investigation from the scant law enforcement the area has to offer (Graham Greene is wonderfully world weary as the tribal Sheriff), a rookie FBI Agent (Elizabeth Olsen) and a veteran game tracker (Jeremy Renner in hands down the best work he’s ever done) who’s rocked by his own personal tragedy. Their task is anything but easy, stalled on all sides by criminal activity, uncooperative suspects and that ever present, ruthless winter climate. The mystery, although not quite as elaborate as one might imagine going in, is an unfortunate and infuriating situation that fires up the blood, as well as Renner’s dogged hunting instinct and need for retribution, an act he solemnly promises to the girl’s broken father, played by Gil Birmingham in the kind of show stopping, heartbreaking performance that pretty much demands a best supporting nod. Renner is just… so good, and it’s jarring to see him out of that glossy Hawkeye getup and in a role with some real heft, but he carries himself with grave charisma, especially in a monologue that will have eyes, ears and hearts rooted to the screen. This is Sheridan’s first time in the director’s chair and the guy proves he’s just as uncannily gifted as he is with writing, especially when it comes to action, his rendition of the classic Mexican standoff/shootout is queasily suspenseful and the best sequence of it’s kind that I’ve seen in years. He’s also got a knack for finding just the right musical talent for his pictures as well. Sicario saw Jóhann Jóhannsson whip up an audible nightmare of a score, and Hell Or Highwater also had the benefit of Cave and Warren Ellis, whose compositions here echo out through the desolation like laments for those lost, dead and buried under the snow. Tightly paced, emotionally rich, suffocating in it’s scenes of tension, cathartically invigorating when it needs to be, all of the best things a story should be are on display here. If Sheridan’s output continues to ascend the way we’ve seen so far, he’ll singlehandedly save ol’ Hollywood. 

-Nate Hill

PTS Presents Writer’s Workshop with Eric Heisserer

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unnamed-1Podcasting Them Softly is beyond thrilled to present a chat with screenwriter Eric Heisserer, whose new science fiction film, Arrival, hits theaters this weekend! Riding a wave of stellar reviews and showcasing the directorial talents of Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario, the upcoming Blade Runner 2049), Arrival has all the makings of an instant genre classic, and we were honored to be invited to take part in the official media junket for the first time. We’d like to extend an extra special thanks to the publicity departments of Sony Pictures and Paramount Pictures, Lauren Woods at PMKBNC, and Eric himself for making this happen! Hope you enjoy this fast but informative discussion about one of our most anticipated films of the year!

MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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The Avengers (2012) was the culmination of an ambitious project that was carefully planned by Marvel Studios over several years and spans several films utilizing characters, both major and minor, from each. While the notion of a shared universe with characters from one franchise appearing in another is a relatively novel idea in film, it is nothing new in comic books where costumed superheroes cross-pollinate all the time and even contribute to a larger story (see Secret Wars II). With Iron Man (2008), Marvel decided to do in film what they’ve been doing in comic books for decades. Its commercial success paved the way for subsequent adaptations of The Incredible Hulk (2008), Thor (2011) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), each one featuring a scene that hinted at something bigger and it has finally arrived with The Avengers, which features heroes from all of these films banding together to form a super team of sorts.

The challenge that Marvel faced was to find a director that could successfully bring all of these wildly different heroes together and also handle the movie stars playing them. Up to that point, Marvel had employed journeymen studio directors like Jon Favreau (Iron Man 1 & 2), Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk) and Joe Johnston (Captain America: The First Avenger). But with Kenneth Branagh directing Thor, it was the first time the company had hired someone with auteurist sensibilities since Ang Lee and his fascinatingly flawed yet ultimately ill-fated take on the Hulk in 2003. And so, the hiring of Joss Whedon to direct The Avengers surprised some. With only one feature film on his resume – the cult film darling Serenity (2005), and known mostly for his television work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its spin-off Angel and sci-fi western Firefly, there was some question if he could handle a $200+ million blockbluster populated with movie stars.

Whedon got his start as a screenwriter and honed his chops over the years on T.V. sitcoms and as a prolific and often uncredited script doctor (Speed, Twister, etc.), but more importantly were his hardcore comic book fan credentials, having actually written a brief run for The X-Men, so he knew how they worked in terms of dialogue, plotting and depicting visual action – perhaps the most important criteria for The Avengers gig. It was a calculated risk that paid off as the film amassed an impressive box office result and received strong critical response.

The Tesseract, a powerful energy source that was featured prominently in both Thor and Captain America, has activated itself and appears to be trying to open a portal to outer space. Sure enough, exiled Norse god Loki (Tom Hiddleston) arrives with the intention of using it to take control of Earth and enslave its inhabitants. To this end, he brainwashes brilliant physicist Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and S.H.I.E.L.D. (a top secret government organization) operative Clint Barton a.k.a. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to help him do his bidding. This doesn’t sit too well with S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and he decides to enlist Earth’s mightiest heroes to stop Loki.

This includes Russian super spy Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) who quickly finishes her “interrogation” of Russian gangsters to approach Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), a philanthropic scientist now staying “off the grid” by working in the slums of India and trying hard not to unleash his Hulk persona, a being with superhuman strength that is off the charts. Captain America (Chris Evans) has been thawed out since being trapped in ice at the end of World War II and is still trying to sort things out with Fury’s help. S.H.I.E.L.D. also approaches Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), interrupting his work on a clean energy source. Norse god of thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Loki’s adoptive brother, is the wild card, arriving out of nowhere to intervene when Iron Man and Captain America attempt to capture him, resulting in an impressive skirmish. This all builds up to a spectacular climactic battle between Loki and an alien army that comes swarming out of the portal created by the Tesseract and the Avengers.

With the unfortunate exception of Jeremy Renner, the entire cast gets a chance to flex their acting chops the best they can between massive action set pieces. Mark Ruffalo, the third person to play Banner after Eric Bana and Edward Norton, really nails the human side of his character, playing him as slightly twitchy and paranoid drifter. He appears confident (because, hey, he can turn into the Hulk) yet distracted – a jumble of emotions. This is easily the best representation of the Hulk on film, both visually in terms of CGI and also how he’s portrayed – as a rampaging monster – the Mr. Hyde to Banner’s Dr. Jekyll.

Not surprisingly, Robert Downey Jr. gets the lion’s share of the funny quips – he was born to spout Whedon’s witty dialogue. It is a nice return to form after the cluttered rush job that was Iron Man 2 (2010). Based on Whedon’s perchance for having prominent strong-willed female characters in his projects, Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow gets a beefed up role and proves to be an integral part of the team. Not only does she show off a considerable physical prowess but she also holds her own against the likes of Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo.

Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth carry on with their characters from their respective films without missing a beat, each adding their own unique flavor to the team. In particular, Evans does a good job when Captain America steps up and takes tactical control during the war in New York while Hemsworth has some nice moments with Tom Hiddleston as warring brothers who just happen to be gods.

The Avengers is chock full of eye candy for comic book fans, from the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier to actually seeing superheroes fight each other – something, oddly enough, you don’t see in most films but that happens all the time in the comics. It is pretty cool to see the likes of Thor, Iron Man and Captain America duke it out while engaging in playful superhero banter. Unlike the other Marvel films starting with and including Iron Man, Whedon creates a real sense of danger for our heroes. There’s a feeling that they might fail and this tension is thrilling because it is so rare in these kinds of films, except maybe The Dark Knight (2008). It also raises the stakes when Whedon’s film needs it because there is a real sense that the Avengers are fighting for something tangible. He gives them something personal to fight for than just the usual let’s save the world goal. This culminates in the climactic battle in New York City between Loki and his alien army and the Avengers in one thrilling sequence after another, each filled with large-scale slugfests. The choreography during this massive battle is top notch. There is never any confusion as to what is happening and where, which is quite refreshing. The end result is pure, unfiltered comic book geek nirvana.

avengers2The Avengers falls rather nicely within Whedon’s wheelhouse as it is all about a group of misfits that band together to save the world from a great evil, just like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and so on. It doesn’t get any more disparate than a Norse god, a billionaire playboy, a World War II super soldier, a brilliant scientist, and two spies. Like much of the aforementioned work, the heroes in The Avengers bicker and fight amongst themselves but when the need to step up for the greater good arises, they put their differences aside and make a stand together. Loki continues in the tradition of eloquent Whedon villains who are incredibly confident because, well, in his case he wields great power and knows it. However, Loki isn’t just out to rule the world. For him, there is a personal component – he seeks vengeance for the slights he feels were incurred in Thor. This film was a great way to kick off the summer blockbuster season in 2012 and is a potent reminder of what a filmmaker who knows how comic book works can do if given the chance. The result is a smart, witty film that is a throwback to entertaining, crowd-pleasing comic book adaptations like Superman: The Movie (1978) and Batman (1989).