Tag Archives: Jeremy Renner

‘Ad Astra’ director James Gray’s American masterpiece… and why UK audiences never saw it

Until going up the jungle in The Lost City of Z (2016) and now into deep space with Ad Astra, the films of American director James Gray – from Little Odessa (1994) to Two Lovers (2008) – all told stories of New York, with many focusing on immigrant families. His 2013 ode to classical melodrama, The Immigrant, was the culmination of that interest.

Set in 1921, it sees Polish immigrant Ewa (Marion Cotillard) tricked into a life of Manhattan burlesque and prostitution as she tries to fund the release of her ill sister, who has been confined to Ellis Island. She also finds herself caught in a toxic love triangle between Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), the charmer pimp who got her there, and his chivalrous magician cousin, Emil (Jeremy Renner).

Featuring contenders for Cotillard and Renner’s career-best performances, reliably magnetic work from Phoenix, and cinematography from Darius Khondji that simultaneously evokes 19th-century painting, silent cinema and the 70s highpoints of Godfather cinematographer Gordon Willis, The Immigrant is a beautiful and devastating slow-burn drama. Its closing act, particularly the lingering final shot, must count among the finest American filmmaking of this decade.

So, why was the film never released in the UK?

Full feature for the BFI

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Captain America: Civil War (Anthony Russo/Joe Russo, 2016)

One of the most frequent complaints to be thrown at Marvel Studios’ franchise (released under Disney) concerns their entries’ tendency towards homogeneity. Another is their too-frequent focus on the ongoing ‘cinematic universe’ brand, rather than making cohesive, satisfying individual films in their own right. Well, Captain America: Civil War feels like something of a turning point, for several reasons. It manages to be a sprawling clash of the titans that incorporates key superhero players from other movies (with their own individual personal conflicts and quirks) while also debuting entertaining new ones (Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther and Tom Holland as some kid called Peter Parker); it largely keeps its teases for future entries concerned with emotional fallout instead of plot McGuffins; and it tells a cohesive, compelling story with genuinely interesting ramifications…

Full review for The Skinny

Avengers: Age of Ultron (Joss Whedon, 2015)

In Avengers: Age of Ultron, James Spader voices the eponymous villain, an entity of artificial intelligence that can inhabit seemingly any mechanical host around the world that it sees fit; break one body and you’ll just find him in an ever bigger one. Ultron is the superhero film embodiment of the ghost in the machine. Age of Ultron’s writer-director Joss Whedon, meanwhile, is the human in the too-often homogeneous Marvel machine, packing his second Avengers film with wit, pathos (as a result of characters’ palpable emotional vulnerability), and some actual thematic thrust regarding the concepts of invincibility, the transient state of human existence, and America’s knack for trying to prevent conflicts that haven’t even started with methods that doom people anyway. The symphony of destruction works because this blockbuster behemoth has an actual soul…

Full review for The Skinny