Wind River

A new movie review by The Movie Snob.

Wind River  (B-).  Writer–director Taylor Sheridan wrote two recent movies I liked quite a bit (Hell or High Water and Sicario), so I had fairly high hopes for this one.  I didn’t like it as well as those two movies, but it’s not bad if you like crime stories (and have a strong stomach for pretty graphic violence).  Jeremy Renner (Arrival) plays Cory Lambert, a federal game & fish commission guy out in rural Wyoming.  He hunts wolves and mountain lions when they get out of hand, but then one day he discovers the body of a young Native American woman out in the snow.  This really hits Cory hard because his own teenage daughter died under mysterious circumstances some years before.  He teams up with Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen, Captain America: Civil War), the lone FBI agent sent out to work on the case.  They get into some tight spots.  There is an intense flashback that shows the crime they’re investigating.  The movie is rated R for “strong violence, a rape, disturbing images, and language.”  You’ve been warned!

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Arrival

A movie review from The Movie Snob.

Arrival  (C).  The critics are giving this cerebral new sci-fi flick a lot of love, but I just can’t join the chorus.  The set-up is one you’ve probably seen before: giant alien spaceships suddenly appear in several different locations around the globe.  They appear to resist or ignore our efforts to communicate with them–at first.  A serious army guy (Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland) recruits a top-notch linguist (Amy Adams, Man of Steel) to help with the communication efforts concerning a spaceship in Montana.  She teams up with a physicist (Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker) who is somehow also supposed to be able to help crack the aliens’ language.  Meanwhile, military guys around the globe are getting really itchy trigger fingers.  Although I agree with the critics who are lauding Adams’s lead performance, the movie as a whole just didn’t really do it for me.  I liked director Denis Villeneuve’s last effort, Sicario, much better.  But maybe I just wasn’t smart enough for this one.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Movie Man Mike checks in with a blockbuster.

Avengers: Age of Ultron. (B+).  This film is a fun, entertaining Summer action blockbuster film.  It’s got all the usual characters—Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downy Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).  And of course, there’s even some screentime for Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson).  With all the characters, you almost wonder how writer Joss Whedon has time to develop the characters and the story.  But Whedon is no newcomer to this.  There’s time to develop a little backstory—particularly for Hawkeye and even time enough for a little budding romance.  And there’s time to develop an action packed story arch with the unintended creation of Ultron—a super android (James Spader).   By the end of the film we are introduced to a new superhero—Vision (Paul Bettany), who teams up with the good guys to help defeat Ultron and his army of super-being androids.  There’s plenty of action in this film but I have to say that after a while some of the fight scenes in this film began to seem a little too similar to the fight scenes in the last Avengers film.  I just hope that’s not a sign that the franchise is wearing thin.  Certainly, there will be more to come.  And you will want to stay for the credits so that you’ll get a glimpse of the next villain to do battle with the Avengers.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

New from The Movie Snob.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters  (D).  I deliberately waited until this one arrived in the dollar theaters, but I still got burned because it was showing in 3D, so it wound up setting me back $3.25.  Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) and Gemma Arterton (Clash of the Titans) star as the sibling pair of fairy-tale fame.  Now they are all grown up and hire themselves out to kill pesky witches.  It’s a grim, muddy, super-gory movie with no panache or sense of humor.  Famke Janssen (X-Men: The Last Stand) plays the main evil witch, and IMDB.com reports that she has said she took the role only to pay off her mortgage.  An attractive Finnish actress named Pihla Viitala somewhat relieves the drabness of the production in her couple of scenes.  Rated R for “strong fantasy horror violence and gore, brief sexuality/nudity and language.”  That pretty well sums it up.

The Town

New review from The Movie Snob

The Town (B). The critics have really liked the latest directorial effort from Ben Affleck (Argo), and I have to say I liked it too. Affleck stars as Doug McCray, the leader of a small band of bank robbers from the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston. Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) costars as McCray’s trigger-happy right-hand man, James Coughlin. In the opening bank robbery (in which the gang is heavily disguised), Coughlin takes a bank manager named Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) hostage. Although the gang later lets her go unharmed, Keesey also turns out to be from Charlestown, and Coughlin is concerned that she might be able to I.D. them later. McCray refuses to let Coughlin snuff her, and he contrives to meet her so he can try to find out if she saw anything that could identify the robbers. She’s a sweetie, and soon enough McCray is hooked. Meanwhile, hard-as-nails FBI man Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm, TV’s Mad Men) is tightening the net around the gang. Although the movie is not quite believable in spots, I still thought it was a good heist movie, with some better than average car chases, shootouts, and the like.

The Movie Snob’s 2009 Year in Review!

Happy New Year, and welcome to my annual movie round-up. If I saw a movie in the theater in 2009, I consider it fair game for this column, even if it was technically a 2008 release. I saw 62 movies in the theater last year, and these are the most worthy of your attention.

Movie of the Year: My pick is The Hurt Locker, a taut thriller about the Iraq War that has a strong documentary feel to it. The actor who carries the movie, Jeremy Renner, does a heck of a job as a bomb-defusing expert. I think the movie recently came out on DVD, so check it out.

Runner Up: The number 2 spot goes to a 2008 release, The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke. He should have won the Oscar for his moving portrayal of a washed-up professional wrestler. The scenes in which he tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter, played by Evan Rachel Wood, are especially moving, but the whole movie is excellent.

Best Action/Adventure Flick: And my pick for the 3d best movie I saw this year would be District 9, the out-of-nowhere sci-fi movie about a shantytown of extraterrestrials living outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, and the clueless bureaucrat whose job is to push all the aliens into an even more remote concentration camp. I’m crossing my fingers for a sequel to this one! Honorable mention goes to J.J. Abrams’s reboot of the Star Trek franchise, even if he rewrote Trek history in the process.

Best Animated Feature: With the caveat that I haven’t seen The Princess and the Frog yet, I’ll go with the obvious choice of Up, in which a grumpy old man ties enough helium balloons to his house to fly all the way to South America. But except for the awesome opening montage that tells the whole story of the man’s life in just a few minutes, I didn’t think Up was really all that great.

Best Comedy: I’ll stretch this category a teensy bit and pick My One and Only, a winsome little movie that is supposedly based on episodes in the life of George Hamilton during his teen years. The redoubtable Renee Zellweger plays George’s mother, a hapless Southern belle searching for love in all the wrong places. I’m probably exaggerating its merits, but I really liked it at the time. Same goes for Management, a romantic comedy starring Steve Zahn and Jennifer Aniston. It involves a totally impossible romance, but the leads are so likable I just had to like the movie. In the category of crude yet funny, I liked I Love You, Man.

Best Documentary: Let’s go with the obvious choice and pick Disney’s Earth. Who doesn’t love a good nature documentary? I love ’em, and I’ll go ahead and mention Under the Sea 3D as being worthwhile too.

Best Drama: Or maybe it belongs in the comedy category, but either way I really enjoyed Up in the Air starring George Clooney and directed by Jason Reitman. It’s still in the theaters, so get out there and see it! Another movie that straddles the dramedy line is the quirky (500) Days of Summer, starring the quirky yet adorable Zooey Deschanel. While you’re at it, check out the CD she sings on, under the name She & Him. I was also grabbed by the 2008 release The Reader, although I still don’t know quite how I feel about that movie. It’s a strange one.

Best Foreign Film: I don’t think I saw too many foreign films this year, but I liked A Woman in Berlin, about the Russian conquest of Berlin in 1945 as seen through the eyes of one German woman. It was brutal without ever feeling exploitative. I also recommend the book, which I think is still listed as authored by “Anonymous” even though the woman’s identity is known. Another good one was The Class, or Entre les murs, about a French teacher trying to deal with a very fractious and multicultural classroom. Also, Summer Hours, a French movie that’s just a simple little family drama, well-told.

Honorable Mentions: I have a bunch of them. There’s Wendy and Lucy, a little movie about a sad, down-on-her-luck young woman played by Michelle Williams, and her beloved dog. Adventureland is a good little coming-of-age story starring Jesse Eisenberg of Zombieland fame. Moon is a thought-provoking little sci-fi movie. In the Loop is a funny look at the run-up to a fictitious (?) war as seen through the eyes of low-to-mid-level American and British government staffers. The Informant! is a straight movie about a bizarre guy; you just can’t help asking, “Is this really based on a true story? No, really?” Ellen Page scores again in the roller derby movie Whip It. The Coen brothers ask unanswerable questions in A Serious Man. And finally I will mention, based solely on the strength of their visual effects, Disney’s A Christmas Carol and Avatar. See them in 3D, I insist!

First seen on video this year: I haven’t done this before, but I’ll go ahead and recommend a few movies I saw on video this year. The animated feature Bolt is a cute one, about a dog who thinks he has super powers — kind of like a canine Buzz Lightyear. The original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still is still surprisingly good, and the 1963 version of The Haunting is still surprisingly scary. I also enjoyed the little-seen Luke Wilson movie Henry Poole Is Here, the classic Western The Gunfighter starring Gregory Peck, and the classics From Here to Eternity and To Have and Have Not.

So that’s my 2009 in a nutshell. Please post your comments and voice your own opinions!

The Hurt Locker

A new movie review from The Movie Snob

The Hurt Locker (A-). This is the first movie about the Iraq War that I have seen, and it is a good one. The setting is Baghdad, 2004. Our protagonist is Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters), whose specialty is defusing bombs. He’s very good at his work, but he’s reckless and occasionally disregards protocol. This tends to make nuts the two other soldiers whose main job is to protect him from snipers as he goes about his deadly business. There’s no axe to grind on display here; the camera is “embedded” in the unit, and it simply shows what these men see and experience as they regularly risk death in a hostile and alien land. It plays like a very intense documentary, except in a small handful of scenes in which big-name actors unexpectedly show up and, truthfully, kind of break the mood. I like Ralph Fiennes (The Reader), Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential), and Evangeline Lilly (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) as much as the next person, but their appearances didn’t help the cinema verite feel.