Ep. 104 – Brigsby Bear, Logan Lucky, Wind River, Step, and the moviegoing bombshell that is MoviePass

August 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Podcast

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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review “Brigsby Bear” while Cody rides solo on reviews of “Logan Lucky,” “Wind River,” and “Step.” The fellows also discuss the bombshell offer made by MoviePass–a movie a day for only $10 a month.

Click here to download the episode!

Kill the Messenger

October 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ray Liotta
Directed by: Michael Cuesta (“Roadie”)
Written by: Peter Landesman (“Parkland”)

As print media continues its slow decline into becoming increasingly more obsolete, it is always fun to see a film tackle the seemingly lost art of the tenacious newspaper reporter out to break a story wide open. In “Kill the Messenger,” it just so happens that the target of this exposé is the United States government.

Based on a true story, “Kill the Messenger” follows San Jose Mercury News investigative journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) and the huge story he uncovers in the mid-90s. After following trails led by the girlfriend of a drug dealer, Webb discovers that the CIA knowingly allowed cocaine into the U.S. and allowed it to be sold in order arm rebels in Nicaragua. Once Webb releases his story, praise is soon met with scrutiny and danger as his career, family and life hang in the balance.

In the lead role, Renner gives his best performance since 2010’s “The Town.” It’s a role that is equal parts aggressive and vulnerable, both of which Renner excels at, elevating the material in the process. While there are good supporting performances from actors like Oliver Platt and Rosemarie DeWitt, “Kill the Messenger” unfortunately doesn’t make much use of his sprawling cast of great actors. Actors like Andy Garcia and Michael Sheen briefly appear and are gone in an instant, failing to make a lasting impact.

For the most part, the true-to-life story in “Kill the Messenger” is very intriguing, though it does tend to ebb and flow more than one might like. Scenes at the beginning of the film where Gary is putting together the initial pieces of the puzzle allow for the tenacious character traits to reveal themselves, setting the table for the rest of the film. These scenes also establish the tone as the film becomes very sharp and even a bit witty, especially in the scenes with a lawyer character played fantastically by Tim Blake Nelson.

As Gary begins to dig deeper into the conspiracy, he sets out on a journey to uncover the truth, which is where the film begins to lose a bit of its luster. These segments feel tenuous and while Renner carries them and character actors shuffle in and out, the scenes and story feel a little slight overall. The momentum is regained, however, and the strongest points of the film happen when Gary is under a smear campaign from competing newspapers. It is here where Renner is able to show his emotional range, from the fear for his life to the frustration of having people question his journalistic integrity. It’s an interesting study of and asks important questions like, “How much power does the government really have?” It’s an issue that is still extremely timely today.

Towards the end of the film and sprinkled throughout, director Michael Cuesta flirts with the larger implications that the CIA and the government heavily contributed to the crack epidemic that began in Los Angeles in the 1980’s. It’s a worthwhile connection of a social issue that ultimately has its impact blunted by a lack of exploration. Though the film may not connect on every level it sets out to, a mostly well-driven narrative and a great performance from Renner make “Kill the Messenger” a story worth telling.

The Bourne Legacy

August 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachael Weisz, Edward Norton
Directed by: Tony Gilroy (“Duplicity” “Michael Clayton”)
Written by: Tony Gilroy (“The Bourne Ultimatum”) and Dan Gilroy (“Real Steel”)

After both star Matt Damon and go-to director Paul Greengrass passed on doing a fourth film featuring Damon’s badass amnesiac Jason Bourne, the studio behind the series (Universal Pictures) had a decision to make. Should they recast the role with a new actor? Maybe they could reboot the franchise and start from scratch. All the studios are doing it these days. Or perhaps they could just leave well enough alone and be content in having produced a fantastic trilogy of solid action movies that redefined the genre for the 21st century and move on to something else. With none of those options deemed suitable, Universal pulled a “Teen Wolf Too” and made a movie where everyone knows who Jason Bourne is, but since he’s not around they just made the story about this other guy who’s just like him instead and called it “The Bourne Legacy.”

“Legacy” stars Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross, a Bourne-like agent from Operation Outcome, a sister operation of the previous films’ Operation Blackbriar. When Jason Bourne brings down Blackbriar, the high-level CIA suits, led by Eric Byer (Edward Norton), order all of Outcome’s agents killed. Cross manages to escape, however, and enlists an Outcome scientist (Rachel Weisz) to help him get the drugs he needs to survive.

Tony Gilroy, the screenwriter behind all three of Damon’s entries in the series, takes over the director’s chair in addition to his writing duties this time out. Gone is the kinetic, handheld camera feel Greengrass brought to the series, and with it most of the excitement. Gilroy doles out the series’ trademark action sparingly, peppering it in here and there between long scenes about pharmaceuticals and people talking about what the never-seen Jason Bourne is doing at the moment. With a good portion of “The Bourne Legacy” taking place at the same time as the events in “The Bourne Ultimatum,” you may start to feel like you’re stuck in a theater showing a dry political drama while the whole time you can hear the rumbles coming from the awesome action movie playing next door.

Jeremy Renner, who you may remember from “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” and “The Avengers” as the guy who was along for the ride while the real heroes did their thing, steps in to the lead and does an okay job, but doesn’t come close to matching the desperate intensity and anger Damon brought to the series. It doesn’t help that Renner’s Cross isn’t suffering from memory loss, trying to regain the life that the CIA stole from him. Instead he’s a modern day Captain America – an injured soldier with a low IQ given drugs that turn him into a super soldier. That’s right, Renner’s ass-kicking powers come from a daily dose of drugs, a revelation that’s nearly as disappointing as finding out that Jedis are only Jedis because of the high amount of midichlorians in their blood. Throughout the movie we’re told over and over that Jason Bourne wasn’t the only one. But he should have been.

The Avengers

May 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo
Directed by: Joss Whedon (“Serenity”)
Written by: Joss Whedon (“The Cabin in the Woods”)

It happens in the second half of the highly-anticipated Marvel comic-book movie “The Avengers,” a precisely planned superhero assemblage that has been culminating since 2008’s release of both “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” reboot (most über-nerds unfairly ignore director Ang Lee’s fascinating “Hulk” of 2003 as art-house nonsense). As “The Avengers” ensemble cast, including Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and Chris Hemsworth as Thor, contemplate how to stop the supervillain Loki (Tom Hiddleston) from destroying the earth with his barrage of alien soldiers and machines, Captain America (Chris Evans) takes it upon himself to assign his comrades to do what each one of them does best.

“Hulk … smash,” he says, directing his bulging, green, gamma ray-infused super teammate who swiftly carries out his instructions by ripping apart serpent-like battleships running amok in NYC. It’s a phrase fanboys will be pleased to hear, especially since Marvel seemed to agree with their assessment of Lee’s aforementioned attempt, which prompted the studio to hit the reset button by plugging Edward Norton into Eric Bana’s transforming role as Bruce Banner (the role now belongs to Mark Ruffalo after creative differences arose between Marvel and Norton). From that point on, the comic-book conglomerate knew exactly what they needed their Universe to become.

“The Avengers” isn’t trying to reinvent the comic-book movie like Lee or Christopher Nolan with his “Dark Knight” trilogy. It’s evident that the studio’s main objective is mass commercial appeal and not to clutter things up with complex ideas and themes. That’s exactly what they’ve been doing over the last four years. With releases like “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger,” they wanted to give fans already invested in these characters concrete evidence no one was going to wax philosophical. They wanted big, blaring scenes capable of melting eyeballs in 3D. In the simplest of terms, they wanted to see Hulk, well, smash.

And smash he does in “The Avengers” alongside the mightiest of heroes, which first appeared together in comic books written by industry savant Stan Lee in the early ’60s. Back then, the squad was created to compete with the ever-growing popularity of DC Comics’ Justice League. While the roster has changed over the years, the modern film adaptations have chosen to follow the characters best able to sidestep their natural comic-book kitsch (sorry Ant-Man, your protruding shoulder pads are just too silly to overcome). With approximately $1.8 billion in box-office revenue worldwide, geekdom has spoken. Despite its flaws, “The Avengers” is solid entertainment.

What better way to appease the geeks than with one of their own? Directed by cult favorite Joss Whedon (TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”), “The Avengers” is pumped with exciting action sequences and razor-sharp special effects that can compete with anything Marvel has ever put out. Known for his clever writing ability (screw Buffy, the dude wrote Darlene’s “To Whom it Concerns” poem during a Season 2 episode of “Roseanne!”), Whedon’s dialogue is perfect for more charismatic characters like industrialist playboy Tony Stark — though far less so for characters like Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and the always doltish Thor, who unfortunately doesn’t provide much oomph to the already ordinary storyline. It starts with Thor’s evil brother Loki, a flimsily written antagonist who is able to get his hands on a powerful cube known as the Tesseract, which holds the key to unlimited sustainable energy. With the planet on the brink of destruction, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) rallies his all-star team together to (trumpet fanfare) save the human race. Before they can do that, however, the Avengers must experience some growing pains as a diverse superhero unit and quibble like kids on the playground. It’s during these fight scenes that fanboy fantasies come true. Watching Thor’s hammer slam down onto Captain America’s shield is the stuff of epic wonder. Other amazing feats of action bliss include the Hulk intercepting a fighter pilot as he ejects from a damaged jet, and Stark changing into his Iron Man suit in midair.

While the narrative itself leaves much to be desired, Whedon, who also has the overrated meta horror movie “The Cabin in the Woods” out at theaters, does have a knack for hilarious pop-culture references, snappy one-liners that get every character involved, and some physical comedy. It all keeps the story from falling into too many past superhero pitfalls. “The Avengers” may not divert much from the typical superhero blueprint, but what hardcore Marvel enthusiast would really want that anyway?

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

December 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg
Directed by: Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”)
Written by:  Andre Nemec (TV’s “Alias”) and Josh Applebaum (TV’s “Alias”)

The “Mission: Impossible” franchise is an odd one.  As the only, “Hey, let’s update an old TV show!” film series to make it out of the ’90s alive (“Lost in Space,” anyone?), the movies have been a mishmash of styles, each film having little to nothing to do with the one that preceded it aside from the character of Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise).

The first one, released 15 years ago and directed by Brian De Palma, was Tom Cruise’s answer to James Bond with elements from the TV show, like fantastic disguises and self-destructing messages,  grafted onto the plot for name recognition alone. “M:I- 2” in 2000 was a balletic John Woo-directed fever dream that featured things like a motorcycle fight and slow-motion doves. In 2006, “Mission: Impossible III,” directed by J.J. Abrams, brought a lens-flared grittiness to the series. Hunt took a beating after finally being held accountable to the laws of physics, and the franchise was given new life, as if a tiny explosive device had been shot up its nose.

“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” directed with ease by animation veteran Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”) ends up being the first true sequel in the series. Continuing the tone set by Abrams (credited here as a producer) “Ghost Protocol” opens to find Hunt locked away in a Russian prison. With the help of agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton), recently-promoted agent Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” Hunt manages to stage an elaborate escape. The IMF needs Hunt, because it seems the recent murder of IMF agent Trevor Hanaway (Josh Holloway) has resulted in the loss of Russian nuclear launch codes that could bring about the end of the world. After a mission to infiltrate the Kremiln and obtain a launch device goes awry, resulting in the IMF being branded as terrorists and disavowed, it’s up to Hunt, Carter, Dunn, and analyst-turned-agent Brandt (Jeremy Renner) to stop global nuclear war.

While you can’t deny the slickness of the presentation, it’s the mechanics of the plot that dampen the enjoyment. The film’s big action set piece, featuring Cruise sprinting vertically down the side of the world’s tallest skyscraper, ends up being the end result of an incredibly robust network firewall, of all things (not to mention that his stealth is undone by running on the outside of building on actual windows), and the back story of Renner’s character (rumored to be a replacement for Cruise in future missions) is unceremoniously defanged by the time the credits roll. The gadgets range from innovative and fun, like an iPad-powered cloaking device, to complex and contrived, like a magnetic hover suit/robot combo. As villains go, Michael Nyqvist’s Kurt Hendricks is a disappointing bore, especially following Philip Seymour Hoffman’s brilliantly psychotic turn as Owen Davian in “M:I-3.” While Cruise’s Hunt remains a cipher, Renner and Pegg combine for some welcome bursts of humor, and the chemistry of the pairing is reassuring for the day Cruise decides to step away.

The stakes have never been higher and the spectacle has never been greater, but the plotting has never felt more episodic. After raising the bar with the third movie, you can’t help but feel a little let down that Cruise, Abrams, and Bird merely maintained the status quo.

The Town

September 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall
Directed by: Ben Affleck (“Gone Baby Gone”)
Written by: Ben Affleck (“Gone Baby Gone”), Aaron Stockard (“Gone Baby Gone”), Peter Craig (debut)

As impressive as actor Ben Affleck’s directorial debut was in 2007’s “Gone Baby Gone,” there is still a lot to be desired in his follow-up film “The Town,” a taut but mostly formulaic crime drama set in Boston with hints of deep-seated tension that never really boil over long enough to take seriously.

Along with his duties behind the camera as director and co-writer, Affleck stars in the lead role as Doug MacRay, the leader of a four-man banking-robbing crew who don’t seem to spend as much time planning out their capers as much as they do dodging across their Charlestown neighborhood with cops in pursuit.

In the opening scene of the film, Doug and his band of masked men, which includes his good friend James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), clean out a bank vault and scare the hell out of pretty bank assistant manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) by taking her along for a post-robbery ride only to drop her off unharmed when the coast is clear.

A romantic relationship between Doug and Claire follows soon after when Doug begins to trail her to make sure she isn’t giving the cops information that can somehow link the crime back to him and his boys. A flirty run-in at the Laundromat and a lunch date later and Claire is smitten. It makes less sense as their courtship continues and Doug and Claire have to make decisions when the truth is finally revealed.

John Hamm (TV’s “Mad Men”) stays two steps ahead of everyone as FBI Special Agent Adam Frawley who quickly fingers the thieves with some smart detective work, but can’t close the case without concrete evidence. Other characters like actor Chris Cooper as Doug’s imprisoned father and actress Blake Lively as James’ wired sister and Doug’s former fling fall victim to Affleck and co-writers Aaron Stockard and Peter Craig’s storytelling woes.

There is more to these characters than our trio of screenwriters would like to have us believe. Renner shows the most range with a bit more edge and controlled rage than the rest of the cast. Affleck, too, keeps a tight grip on his role and doesn’t allow it to become too similar to heist movies of the past.

Overall, Affleck’s sophomore picture “The Town” isn’t without its flaws, but the performances and strong direction play a good equalizer for the narrative issues and unexceptional Boston setting.

The Hurt Locker

March 19, 2009 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Ralph Fiennes
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow (“Strange Days”)
Written by: Mark Boal (debut)

Director Kathryn Bigelow (“Strange Days”) transports audiences into an intense sequence of wartime heroics set in Iraq in “The Hurt Locker.” In the film, SSgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) plays a hotshot solider on an Army bomb squad that is in harms way every single day on the job. Without a heavy-handed political message about the war, the characters in “Locker” are easier to relate to as we watch them put their lives on the line for the greater good. Renner is great as William, but it’s the direction of Bigelow that is the real gem here. Not only will she be the first woman since Sophia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”) to earn an Oscar nomination in 2003, she definitely has a viable chance to be the first to actually win. Along with the extreme combat situations, the film also delivers an effective message about a soldier’s addiction to danger that cuts to the heart of the deep issue of commitment to country and family.