Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

jack ryanReleased: January 17, 2014. Directed by: Kenneth Branagh. Starring: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner. Runtime: 105 min.

“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is one of those films that is simply a decent time at the movies; take it or leave it. It has similar action to a lot of other CIA actioners, with an A-list star playing a big name character. Granted, the name Jack Ryan isn’t as big as James Bond or Jason Bourne – but it’s recognizable, nonetheless. This is the fifth film with the Jack Ryan character created by Tom Clancy. I didn’t realize there were so many Jack Ryan movies, but this is a prequel to them all. This is when he is recruited by the CIA. He spends quite a few years as a simple covert CIA analyst, but he becomes an operational agent when he stumbles upon a Russian terrorist plot to destroy the American economy.

Before becoming a CIA analyst, Ryan was an active duty officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he suffered an injury to his leg after his helicopter was shot down. I thought this might add an interesting layer to the character, because he might feel the need to push himself extra hard to prove himself because he had to overcome the injury; no such luck. It’s used as a tool to provide a bit more background information of the character, and so he can meet his love interest Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley). She becomes entangled in the danger of the situation when she surprises Jack in Moscow, Russia – where he’s stationed, to audit the main villain of the film, Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) because of mysterious stocks that the CIA cannot access.

It’s fairly easy to follow, especially when Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) tells Jack to explain it like he does not have his high education; basically saying, keep it simple. It’s amusing when films use that sort-of dialogue, because it helps the audience understand it better, too – and it seems to me that’s exactly why the dialogue is structured that way. The plot’s the basic ‘stop the terrorists’ approach with some sub-plots that make sense by the end of it all.

It’s a decent amount of fun because of Branagh’s direction of a few great action sequences (most notably the finale) and a suspenseful recon mission. He makes an interesting choice where his character is walking away from a building and he puts on his sunglasses. In action movies, you might as well expect someone to walk away all cool from an exploding building while putting sunglasses on. He put his sunglasses on, but the explosion never came; brilliant! Branagh’s direction is better than his performance because his character is generally lackluster. The film’s not the fastest getting into it but when Jack kills someone in self-defense and then explains what the villains might be up to, it speeds up quite a lot.

Jack Ryan sfhsigs

Apparently, this is also a mystery as well as an actioner, as far as the people at IMDb are concerned; but it’s not much of a mystery at all. It’s pretty straight-forward. Anyway, at least the main character keeps the film interesting when the action isn’t going on. The relationship shared between Jack and Cathy is one of those where everything is complicated because he can’t tell her that he is working in the CIA. He can only tell her if they wed, but she doesn’t want to marry him just yet for whatever reason – even though she loves him. Since it’s never really clear why she’s so stubborn about the whole marriage thing, it makes their chemistry a bit harder to grasp onto, and it’s more difficult for them to have great chemistry when he has to be so secretive. It’s funny that these heroes always have a love interest; they must enjoy making it easier for the villain to have a Plan B to use the loved one against the hero or however they go about it.

Keira Knightley is good in her role, because she isn’t sure whether to expect Jack of cheating or not. Chris Pine is decent as Jack Ryan, the hero of our film. Pine is charming, but he has not been particularly noteworthy outside of the “Star Trek” films, at least what I have seen of him. Since I have not seen the other four Jack Ryan films, I am not sure if he’s better than Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford or Ben Affleck. As a reboot film, and a fun actioner – it’s a decent watch.

Score70/100

Advertisements

January 31 to February 2 Box Office Predictions

The two films being released the last weekend of January is “Labor Day” and “That Awkward Moment.”

The idea of a film called Labor Day being released in January is a bit of a funny idea. At 2584 theatres, this is the widest initial release for any Jason Reitman film yet. Similar films debut at $9.7 million. I doubt this film will hit double digits this weekend – I saw it yesterday, and I wasn’t a big fan of it. My review will be posted late Friday or Saturday. This is starting the February romantic craze two weeks early before Valentine’s Day, but I wonder how many are in the romantic mood. Anyway, my prediction for this is $7.7 million.

But if people are in the romantic mood, I think “That Awkward Moment” might be a better date night choice. It looks funny and it’s about relationships where people are in that state where they ask “Where’s this going?” It seems like one of those “The do’s and do not’s of dating” sort-of flicks. I’m sold on the cast, practically, well three out of four of them – I like Efron, and Michael B. Jordan especially – I still have to see him in “Fruitvale Station”, though – and Imogen Poots is good, she’s one of the only things I liked about “All is By My Side.” I’m undecided about Miles Teller, but I’ve only seen him in “Project X” and “21 & Over,” and since I hated both of those – I’ve only seen Teller work with shitty material. I might have to wait to see “The Spectacular Now” to form a stronger opinion about him. Anyway, films similar to this open at $13.7 million. What I’m curious about is, will this open closer to “21 and Over’s” $8.7 million, or “Project X’s” $21 million? Since it has Zac Efron, I think it’ll open to $18.3 million.

As for as the first holdover for “I Frankenstein,” I think it’s likely it’ll drop at least 50%, probably more like 57% since when it grosses such a low number – at $8.6 million – it usually just shuffles out of theatres. It seems to me that it will be in its second-rate theatre run by February 7th, depending on how it does this weekend. But if you want to see it in theatres, I’d get on it!

Here’s how I see the Top 10:

1. “That Awkward Moment”: $17.3 million
2. “Ride Along”: $13.4 million
3. “The Nut Job”: $8.3
4. “Lone Survivor”: $8.2 million
5. “Labor Day”: $7.7 million
6. “Frozen“: $7.3 million
7. “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”: $6.3 million
8. “American Hustle“: $5.3 million
9. “I, Frankenstein”: $4.9 million
10. “The Wolf of Wall Street“: $4.5 million

American Hustle (2013)

Am hustleReleased: December 20, 2013. Directed by: David O. Russell. Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper. Runtime: 138 min.

With “American Hustle,” David O. Russell creates a heavily stylish look at the lives of con men and an FBI agent trying to reduce corruption in late 1970’s New Jersey; but ridding the city of corruption might not be so easy when one is working so closely with con men. Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his seductive mistress Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) make their living by selling fake reproductions of great art, and getting checks from people who give them a deposit of $5, 000 who think they will receive $50, 000 in return because Sydney creates an alias (Lady Edith Greensley) where she has connections to British banking.

When the pair gets caught by the Feds, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) says they will get out of it if they help him bring down some powerful people in the government in New Jersey, such as Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). The powerful folk can be tempted by the funding to rebuild Atlantic City. The con artists are led into this world of powerbrokers and mafia that is dangerous, but enchanting. One of the only people who can jeopardize the whole operation is Irving’s wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), who doesn’t appreciate her husband having a so-called whore on the side.

This world of powerbrokers and mafia is only enchanting to me because of the style and the cast. Director Russell creates quite the vision with the help of cool hairstyles (maybe not Irving’s combover), tans and cleavage. Russell is a great director, but I do like his last outing “Silver Linings Playbook” a lot better than this. The cast helps keep audience members interested because they’re great screen presences. The plot itself is slowly-paced some of the time, where I just thought it would be a good place to get to the point and bust these baddies already. But no, Richie keeps wanting more people to take down. For some of it, the actors on-screen are some of the only aspects that keep this from being a snoozefest. The  character developments are interesting, and I like how unpredictable working with career liars can be.

I like the tension between Irving and Richie; it gets created by Richie putting moves on Sydney, who Richie thinks is actually named Edith – her alias. Richie is a bit of a crazy character, who gets in over his head a bit often, and his behaviour might just be better suited for a film like “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Bradley Cooper is showing more and more versatility with each role, so that’s really great. He’s worthy of the Academy award nomination with this performance, but this isn’t winning material. The only other character who might be crazier than him is Irving’s wife Rosalyn. Jennifer Lawrence fits this character because she makes a lot of different kind-of character choices, so the two unpredictable personalities fit. Lawrence is funny as the character, when she consistently starts fires – but more than a bit odd for me when she’s talking about how the best nail polish smells great but has a hint of a garbage smell.

The character dynamic between Irving and Rosalyn is interesting because she doesn’t want to divorce him because no one in her family has been divorced before, and Irving doesn’t want to divorce her because he adopted her son. I think Rosalyn’s reasoning is a bit more immature, so she should just take her gross-smelling nail polish and hop on someone else’s dingaling; because they’d both be happier. Irving is trapped in this situation, especially when Sydney would just much rather have him all to herself and get Rosalyn out of the picture entirely.

Amy Adams is just great as her character, one who is caught so in the lies that she seems to get lost in her character of Edith; and she gets to sport a great British accent, so that’s fun. I think her true motivations are love, freedom and money. She’s the eye candy for Richie, and there’s so much tension in her and Irving’s relationship because of that. Christian Bale is also great as his character, one who seems honest to his friends and seems like a kind-enough con man. So as you can see, this cast is pretty great. A comment on the only main cast member who didn’t receive an Oscar nomination: Jeremy Renner’s character is easily the most noble of them all, because whatever he does is either for his family or New Jersey.

There seems to be an ongoing theme of how everybody has to cheat and lie alittle to get their way. There’s also an interesting theme of reinvention. These characters get so into the role they’re playing that they seem like they might eventually lose sight of themselves. Maybe they like the role they’re playing more than they like their actual self. If you think about it, actors aren’t so different from these con men.

Of course, actors actually make an honest wage while playing a role – but they reinvent themselves to make others believe the role. That’s what I think great acting is, where you, as the audience member, simply believes the actor is the character they’re playing. That’s why I don’t really like reading all those tabloid magazines and gossip about the actor, so I can more easily believe that they’re really character they’re playing. (I also don’t read them because I don’t think they’re interesting at all.)

I think method acting really utilizes that, when even the actor changes their appearance to fit the character – that’s why I like Christian Bale a lot. He goes through the craziest transformations, like when he was as skinny as a pterodactyl in “The Machinist” and then bulked back up for “Batman Begins.” Now he has a big belly and a combover for this film. I really appreciate when people go so far for their art – as long as they don’t do it too dangerously, because then they might not be around to make enjoyable films much longer.

Score: 77/100

The Call (2013)

The CallReleased: March 15, 2013. Directed by: Brad Anderson. Starring: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Evie Thompson. Runtime: 94 min.

“The Call” is a run-of-the-mill but enjoyable thriller that stars Halle Berry. Berry’s character, Jordan Turner, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after an ordinary phone call goes wrong. There is an intruder in a young girl’s house, she hides under the bed, and when they get disconnected – Jordan makes a diar mistake, she redials the phone. The killer comes back upstairs for the girl, and he gets her.

This event makes Jordan resign from her current post, and she now teaches people how to be 911 operators instead. Skip ahead six months, and a young blonde named Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin) is abducted at a local mall. She has a phone in her pocket so she phones the police where she eventually gets to talk to Jordan. Jordan realizes, that in order to save the girl, she must confront a killer from her past.

This is a decent thriller. It’s just a bit disappointing. Breslin and Berry perform well. The movie begins with a heightened sense of realism, but it gets silly and much too conventional. Violence heightens and the clichés begin. Being a cop and investigating something without backup is one thing, but being a 9-1-1 operator and doing the same thing is a whole different, and ridiculous, story. The thrills are good and many viewers will still be entertained, but the conventionality keeps it from being anything great. The movie is creepy, so that’s effective; but as a whole, it just isn’t special.

Score63/100

Philomena (2013)

PhilomenaReleased: November 27, 2013. Directed by: Stephen Frears. Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark. Runtime: 98 min.

Today, teenage pregnancy is a commonplace. There’s even a TV show about young pregnant girls called “16 and Pregnant” that premiered back in 2009. It seems like a stupid premise to me, but it shows how accepting people are of it these days. Back in 1960s Ireland, around the time of the Magdalene sister homes, if a young girl was pregnant – a lot of parents would be so ashamed that they’d disown their children and force them to live in a convent. They wouldn’t have any other place to go, and they’d have to work their asses off to repay the nuns.

This is what happened to Philomena Lee, a 16-year-old who had a child, and when her son was about 3 years old, he was adopted. Ever since, Philomena (Judi Dench) has kept this a secret. On the son’s fiftieth birthday, Phil (now in her 60s) tells her daughter about Anthony – and with their luck, they find a political journalist, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), who was recently let go from his job, to take on this human interest story.

After fifty years of Philomena not knowing where or how her son is doing, the pair set off to find Philomena’s son, following leads and information the convent might possess; which, unfortunately, isn’t much to go on. Martin has to use his journalistic skills to find where the son might be. One reason this film is so charming is because these characters are so different. Martin is a bit more realistic thinker who thinks questions like ‘Do you believe in God’ are difficult to answer. He’s more pessimistic than Philomena; but almost equally funny. Philomena is one of those people is genuinely interested in people say, and she finds humour in the simplest of things – even if she doesn’t realize that she’s being hilarious. That’s what helps make this a simple comedy in parts. It’s lightly entertaining but it’s an effective drama, too. It’s a different sort-of road trip film, but a refreshing one.

I’m glad that there is a surprising layer of great comedy, because without it the film would be boring. That’s a reason I was hesitant to see this, because the story sounds like it could be good, but it also sounded slow to me. Judi Dench’s great performance helps; she plays a character who only wants to know how her son’s life is going, and know if he’s ever thought of her. Like I said, she is very funny, as well. She is a character who carries around this secret and its shame hand in hand. I think Steve Coogan’s performance is great here, as well, because his comic delivery is just priceless. He is considerate of Philomena’s wishes, and doesn’t always feel like a journalist in it for the money. I think he’s an underrated actor. He impressed me here as an actor and as a co-screenwriter – I’m sure he had a big hand in the witty dialogue.

The friendship that is created is charming. The characters’ beliefs are challenged throughout from what they learn along the way. This is also an ideal film for schools that might want to express the Catholics’ beliefs back in the 1960s; it seems to me some nuns still hold those beliefs. Those would be the old-fashioned ones. I think this is a film that should be experienced because of its subject matter. It’s powerful and is emotionally gripping. It’s the idea of being taken away from one’s family that gets to me. I mean, if anyone tried to take me away from my mother, heads would freaking roll!

There’s a quote commonly used by critics “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry” and oftentimes, those can only be applied to great films. Only so many directors and writers have that ability. Alexander Payne has a true knack for it, and even his co-writers on “The Descendants” Nat Faxon and Jim Rash do, too, as expressed in “The Way, Way Back.” This film’s director, Stephen Frears (“The Queen”) has a talent for it as well. I laughed a lot with this one, but for me, the “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry” line can only partly be applied.

There’s enough emotional content here to make many people cry – because this is such a powerful subject. I didn’t cry, because it takes a lot for me to cry at a film. This might sound cheesy, but even though I didn’t cry on the outside, my soul ached for Philomena in parts – because she is just such a likeable and often relateable character. I relate to her because she likes “Big Momma’s House.” She at least laughs at a preview on hotel Pay Per View (also giving an idea of what year it is, because there are more new releases then older releases, so this film is set in 2000 or 2001). I hope she got around to watching that movie.

Score80/100

Frozen (2013)

FrozenReleased: November 27, 2013. Directed by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee. Starring (voices): Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Idina Menzel. Runtime: 1o2 min.

I heard that “Frozen” utilizes music to assist its narrative and to portray the character’s feelings, but I didn’t think there’d be a musical number right off the bat. There’s a cute reindeer and a cute little kid on the screen while working men are singing a working song while loading ice onto sleds. The catchy tune and the beautiful landscapes hooked me right away. I couldn’t help but wonder why the landscape looked green and wasn’t frozen? The story starts when the two princesses, Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel), are children. The two sisters are best friends, until a near death-experience for Anna, when Elsa and her were playing, wipes her memory of Elsa’s true powers and makes their parents want to hide the two princesses from the kingdom in order to hide her powers.

When Elsa becomes the Queen of the Kingdom of Arendelle, she has to interact with the people. She is scared of what the people would think if her powers were exposed, while Anna could not be happier to be let out of the castle. Later on in the night, Elsa’s powers are exposed in a fit of impatience, and when she runs away, she puts unintentionally puts the kingdom in an eternal winter. Anna must set out on a perilous journey climbing snowy mountains accompanied by a worker bee Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven, and a trusty snowman called Olaf (Josh Gad).

I thought this might have been a bit more like “Narnia” where the kingdom has been trapped in a winter for awhile because she didn’t know how to reverse it; not where the kingdom is trapped twenty or so minutes in. I didn’t mind, though. It’s interesting to see the way the citizens have to adapt to the sudden change of weather. The character designs look absolutely great; the princesses are really beautiful, and great additions to the Disney princesses line-up. There’s one character called Hans (Santino Fantana), who Anna falls for pretty quickly. Elsa is a realistic character who doesn’t think people should marry each other after knowing each other eight hours. Many might expect Kristoff to be the initial love interest, but it’s refreshing how that isn’t the case.

Anna is a great character because she is so full of wonder at everything, and you’d be, too, after being trapped in a castle after all those years. The isolation is reminiscent of other animated films, but it’s handled so well in this. Anna’s curiosity is entrancing, and it’s heartwarming how she wants to love her sister so badly even though she feels like she doesn’t know her anymore. It’s heartbreaking, too, because Elsa is afraid of hurting her sister again. It seems that Elsa is an antagonist to herself because she is scared of what her powers might do to others, but she still has a lot of love in her heart, even though she struggles with it. A lot of these emotions are portrayed through incredible original songs.

She’s not a villain, but an anti-hero who doesn’t mean to harm others unless endangered- or so it seems to me. She has a great sense of self-empowerment, really, as shown in “Let It Go” – a song that also shows she is accepting her true self. I love the bond of sisterhood portrayed here. One main antagonist is the Duke of Weaselton (Alan Tudyk), who sees Elsa as a sort-of Frankenstein. And there’s a giant snowman called Marshmallow that Elsa makes to protect her. Other than them, there’s not many antagonists, but a lot of conflict – and a whole lot of entertainment.

The music is one of the best parts about the film, and the voicework is memorable. The bonds between all of these characters are fascinating. I think the singing is just excellent. Jonathan Groff is pretty good, I liked him best when he was doing his voice for his reindeer Sven. His mannerisms are very funny, especially when his tongue hangs out. It’s also refreshing that the animal can’t talk. Yet, there’s a talking snowman. Olaf is hilarious, and a bulk of the comic relief, but other characters in the film are funny, too. This is just entertaining and remarkable. The animation is also outstanding, snow has never looked so beautiful in an animated film. The landscapes are just quite breathtaking.

I hope there are more films made that have stories based in Norway. It’s kinda cool. (I didn’t really realize it was a Nordic country until a scene featuring a character with a very Nordic accent.) What I think is really great about this movie, is that even though it has themes that Disney has used before – love, accepting oneself, sisterhood, all those great themes that help improve the narrative – it still has the ability to surprise and mesmerize, manage to solve conflicts in refreshing ways, and make classic themes feel original – and that’s quite an achievement.

Score97/100

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

wolf of wall streetReleased: December 25, 2013. Directed by: Martin Scorsese. Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie. Runtime: 180 min.

I’m not going to claim that I’m an expert on anything movies just yet, especially not on films by Scorsese – hell, I haven’t even seen “Goodfellas” yet (something I plan on changing this weekend). All I know is this is a freaking awesome film. This is based on the true story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.

Belfort made a lot of his money in the pennystocks after the market crash in 1987, where he started his own company. His commission would be 50%, so even if he had someone invest $10, 000; he would still be getting $5000. At one point, Belfort explains a bit how stockbroking works, and since the writers know most of us aren’t following what he’s saying, he gets to the point, and says all we have to know is it isn’t legal. The fourth wall is broken a lot, which is amusing.

The film is downright hilarious; its type of comedy is dark, oh but it is the funniest film of the year that isn’t primarily a comedy. This is a tale about amoral behaviour, but it’s not as if the crew members are advocates for this kind-of behaviour. They’re compelling characters, either way, and likeable for drug crazed folks. It’s a similar case with “Pain and Gain,” but it’s not like the characters in this film are full-blown psychopaths like in “P&G.” They’re cheating people, but they’re not killing anyone. They’re just greedy and really love money. Belfort is a sex and drug addict who really likes this drug called Ludes, it was around as a sleeping pill, but if you could last fifteen minutes on it without falling asleep, you’d get a wicked high. The characters are hilarious on these ludes, by the way. DiCaprio portrays Belfort to near-perfection, causing heartbreak in the viewers here and there. He has some true power in this role, and it’s compelling when he realizes how he often hurts the people around him.

Jonah Hill plays his best friend Donnie, a man with big pearly whites and a really funny personality. He’s one of those characters that does some stupid stuff, but you still like him a lot even after he does it. The plot follows the trouble Belfort faces and the colourful characters he meets along the way, and it’s so nice to see Ethan Suplee again in a small role. Matthew McConaughey teaches Belfort the ropes of the stockbroking business and how to be a better one – lots of jerking off and lots of cocaine. As you can see, the film can be a bit filthy with all of its sex and drugs – but it’s often sexy. A lot of the sexual acts are over-the-top and therefore just really funny; so if you see it with your parents, you’d be entertained and might feel uncomfortable at the same time. This has spectacular pacing for a film that’s three hours long, and it has some compelling character development. I like the way it shows how money can change a person. The stockbroking game is a crazy life, apparently, but it helps make this film entertaining and great, and my favourite of the year. I really can’t wait to see this again.

Score100/100