Wind River – Film Review

Wind River

Directed by Taylor Sheridan

Starring Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham

Certificate 15

I know three things about Wind River before I settle into my comfy cinema seat. It was scripted by Taylor Sheridan, who penned Sicario and Hell or High Water (two of my favourite films of recent years), and stars one of my favourite actors, Jeremy Renner.

Everything else is, aptly, a mystery.

As the movie opens, and I’m treated to vast snowy vistas at the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, we meet US Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Renner).

It reminds me of why I love cinema. You just don’t get that same emotional impact on TV or (obviously) on your phone.

And that wintry American landscape is a key character in this beautifully told, brutal, intelligent thriller based on a true story.

Lambert has a tragic past, a Native American Indian ex-wife and son. While hunting vicious wildlife he happens upon the body of a frozen woman with bare feet.

Enter ill prepared FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen, Renner’s co-star in the Avengers/Captain America movies).

She’s obviously in over her head and needs Cory’s skills as a hunter who knows the area and the locals. Assisted by the wonderfully deadpan Ben (Graham Greene – Dances with Wolves), the story takes its time offering pieces of the jigsaw which slowly slot into place.

It’s not a film that feels in a rush, and director Sheridan keeps the attention throughout.

Yes, there are action scenes, and a lot of footage of Renner on a snowmobile, which keeps the energy up when it could start to flag.

The most important thing here is the performances and the dynamic between Renner and Olsen. Obviously they gelled in the Marvel movies, but while she’s all wide-eyed inquisitive and wet behind the ears, his face is a relief map of experience and buried pain. He’s cut from the same cloth of iconic heroes of old like Steve McQueen and Harrison Ford in his prime.

Not sure about Nick Cave’s soundtrack, which sounds like a drunk had stumbled into the recording studio when no one was looking, but it does add a spiritual element to the movie mirroring the Native American theme.

I’d quite happily watch this again as a double bill with Hell or High Water. Sheridan has a knack for crafting great thrillers with compelling characters, and if there’s any justice, Renner should get an Oscar and BAFTA nomination for his turn. It’s one of his best performances since The Hurt Locker.

Laced with humour to alleviate the tension, it ticks over beautifully with well realised characters and a breadcrumb trail that leads me and the audience further into the mystery.

The movie closes with a chilling statistic about the fact the FBI does not have statistics on missing Native American women, whose numbers remain unknown. It could be preachy but isn’t.

The fact I stay through most of the closing credits is testament to how good the film is.

Some critics have called it one of the best films of the year. I’d have to agree.

8/10

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The Grand Tour – Eps 1-3 reviews

Motormouth petrolhead journalists who punch colleagues have no place at the BBC. In the new frontier of online streaming, it seems such indiscretions are glossed over. Especially as the audience for said punchy presenter and his mates is global. 

For years Top Gear has hinted at what a global appeal TV looks like. Slick cars, sexy photography, that track by Hans Zimmer you can’t quite put your finger on without song ID software. 


Last of the Summer Whine – Hamster, Clarkson and Captain Slow are back. 

Now along comes The Grand Tour, the movie budget version of Top Gear, albeit straight to TV, complete with cameos from big names (Jeremy Renner), epic opening, and, well more of the same. Only with a bit of swearing. 

If TG was PG, pushing at 12A, TGT is 15 certificate nonsense of the highest order. And while Jeremy Clarkson may have made a career out of saying outrageous things in the past, he’s really going to have to go the extra mile to beat the pending US president, a man who seems to believe everything he reads on social media like it’s been fact checked by the QI elves. 


California Streaming – photos: Amazon

Episode one took us to the desert of America and the Burning Van festival. Ep two promises South Africa. And so on. A different country each week. Grand indeed. 

Given Chris Evans’ short stint on TG, there’s a chance the show which turned Clarkson into a superstar May recover lost ground (pun intended), but with the Beeb’s modest budget, and the lack of producer Andy Willman, it remains to be seen whether Richard Hammond and his fellow speed demons will take pole position in the race for the best motoring show… in the world. 

Episode two: South Africa
There was a time when watching Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond talk cars was a little like watching a rocket on a launch pad with restraining clamps holding back their collective rocket. Funded by BBC public-funded cash, there was only so much they could do. 

In episode two of The Grand Tour, they rocked up in Johannesburg. That tent from ep one overlooking a remarkable similar desert to their inaugural Californian instalment. 


Out of Africa – photo: Amazon Prime

After poking fun at the local politics and wildlife, Clarkson attempted to get into the absurdly gorgeous £1.8m Aston Martin 7 litre v12 Vulcan. After doing so, he stalled it. Proof that while some motors may look like the stuff of posters on a teenager’s wall, in reality they can be a bit of a let down. 

Clarkson may now have more money than Midas, but his similes were no better than Top Gear. But then who cares? Same banter from the grumpy old men but with a more exotic backdrop. 

Nought to 60 in 2.9 seconds is an alluring prospect… should you ever need to accelerate away at that speed without fear of killing an animal or being arrested. 

Jeremy may have had his doubts as he hauled his old bones into the seat in minute one but by the end he was clearly in love. 

Photo: Amazon Prime

Pudgy-faced Stig replacement The American is already getting on my nerves. He talks, he swears. He annoys. 

What the fans really want is a droolsome shot of the new Bugatti, a car capable of draining its tank, flat out in nine minutes. It looks like something from Tron and costs about the same price as the first movie. I want one. 

Not so sure about a device that can blow your bike up should you want to deter thieves and possibly maim them in the process. 

Arguably the highlight was watching the unholy trinity in Jordan, enacting scenes of explosive drama more at home in a Call of Duty game. Clarkson abseiling from a chopper was a hoot. What followed was pure Last of the Summer wine, with guns. 

And Jeremy being hit on the head with a shovel. Very funny. As is Charlize Theron’s appearance. 

Episode three: Whitby

For my money, this is the best episode of far. And it’s not just because the lads set up camp in Whitby, though they ignore it for the bulk of the show. It’s the fact their Italian job epitomises the best elements of Top Gear and their new show. Three glorious cars, gorgeous backdrops. And general silliness. 

Clarkson and May acting like bickering brothers, Hammond the over excited boy racer in the muscle car.

Oh, there’s a nice cameo from Simon Pegg, and for those wondering about the fate of Clarkson’s house, all becomes clear. 

It looks amazing, is a lot of fun and reminds me my annual visit to Whitby is long overdue. 

Top trivia: The author once shared a flight from LA with Pegg and Peter Andre. 

Arrival – Movie Review

When a dozen shell like spacecraft arrive over key locations around the world, linguistics expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams) leads a team of investigators.

 

Arrival is many things. A love story, an alien invasion flick, a study of grief and longing, and a drama about communication all rolled into one. 
What it actually is is revealed in the final minutes and packs one of the biggest emotional punches of the year. Though punch is too strong a word. It’s more of a tap, hitting part of your soul that resonates. 

Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner are always great and here they offer a solid emotional anchor to a project that could have floated away like the dozen ships at the heart of the movie. 


The scenes of human-alien interaction cleverly take place in an arena that looks like a movie theatre with no seats. We relate to the heroes witnessing what looks like a giant interactive movie. There are echoes of Torchwood’s ETs, only more benign, or are they?

After his powerhouse dramas Prisoners and Sicario, Denis Villeneuve has struck gold again, delivering a compelling tale with an aptly alien score. 

Some movies signpost their messages a while in advance but this takes its time revealing the heart-rending core of its tale. 

I left the theatre with a deep sense of melancholy and empathy. Yes it’s a film that has a start, middle and end, but not how you might think. 


Though marketed as an Independence Day-style thriller, it’s really an art house movie, more reminiscent of Under the Skin and Day the Earth Stood Still than the less commercial, cerebral movie it is. Like all the best films, such as Lost in Translation and Eternal Sunshine, this lingers long after the credits have rolled.

Obviously it’s not perfect. A ticking clock plot twist feels contrived, and those responsible seem brushed under the carpet too easily, but it’s not a deal breaker. When the key to the third act’s denouement comes it feels right given the context. 

There are inevitable comparisons with Contact, Jodie Foster’s 1997 sci-fi epic which involved a female protagonist, aliens, subterfuge and big ideas, but that was let down by a cop out finale which looked like it belonged in a Bounty advert. This avoids such pitfalls.

A repeat viewing is almost essential. 
My passion for Blade Runner 2 has been building for years, and given Villeneuve’s track record so far, I doubt he’s going to drop the ball with that sequel.  

Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation: The Review 

A list blockbusters are essentially operas – larger than life with colourful characters, exotic backdrops and a rhythm to the storytelling that ebbs and flows in all the right places. Perhaps most importantly the third act should reach a crescendo before ebbing into the closing titles. 

And the Viennese opera is the backdrop for one of the best action scenes of the year as IMF agent Ethan Hunt attempts to stop an assassination. 

Yes, it’s MI5, aka Mission Impossible Rogue Nation, the latest chapter in the blockbusting franchise loosely based on Bruce Geller’s 1960s TV show. 

Any fan of the series or film saga will know what they are getting from the out set.

  
Great stunts, exotic locations, Tom Cruise dropping into a perilous situation, that superb Lalo Schifrin title theme, and quite obviously masks.

After the disappointing Ghost Protocol a few years ago, I thought the series had run its course, having got progressively better with each chapter… until part four. 

However, writer and director Christopher McQuarrie, who Cruise had worked with on Jack Reacher, has helped breathe new life into the franchise with one of the best chapters so far.

Following that outstanding pre-credits stunt involving Cruise hanging on the side of a transporter aircraft, we are back in London and Hunt going through the motions of accepting a new mission, should he choose to accept it… only with a twist. 

  
However, when things go pear shaped and Hunt is captured by an anti IMF organisation called the Syndicate, Ethan is assisted by a femme fatale. 

Rebecca Ferguson is outstanding as Ilsa Faust, the strongest female character in the series. Sexy, intelligent and a match for Cruise. The fact she looks like Hunt’s old flame (Michelle Monaghan) is a clever touch, as is the visual rabbit’s foot cue, a throwback to MI3. 

Following that superb opera set piece and the brilliant underwater data card swap, things peak with a chase through Casablanca. 

That third act is more problematic – bags of exposition, generic foot chases and 20 minutes too long. 

It’s not a deal breaker. There’s enough good stuff that came before to make the final half hour bearable, but just a shame the wordy internecine shenanigans didn’t come in the middle and the chase at the end. 

The other key problem is Ving Rhames – wasted as returning IMF agent Luther (essentially Simon Pegg’s Benji has usurped him as the hi-tech aid; his comic timing as valuable as ever, while adding a sense of much needed gravitas). 

Rhames looks redundant with little to do except flick a few buttons, offer some exposition and be the thread that connects the other movies. 

Thankfully Jeremy Renner is terrific in support, as is Alec Baldwin as the obligatory government official. 

Top turns are also offered by Tom Hollander and Simon McBurney. 

However, as much as I was mesmerised by Sean Harris in Harry Brown, here he just looks like a malevolent Sean Lock as the generic villain. 

  
There’s also a lack of other decent female characters – either one sacrificial pawn (as with Bond) or the morally dubious Faust.

Cruise always delivers with movies like this, offering more astounds for your pound, but with a relatively weak opening compared to the other series entries, one wonders if the inevitable MI6 will be the series finale.