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

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Promised Land (2012)

Promised LandPromised Land

Release Date: January 4, 2013

Director: Gus Van Sant

Stars: Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, John Krasinski

Runtime: 106 min

Tagline: What’s your price?

Corporate salesman Steve Butler (Damon) arrives in a rural town with his sales partner, Sue Thomason (McDormand). With the town having been hit hard by the economic decline of recent years, the two outsiders see the local citizens as likely to accept their company’s offer, for drilling rights to their properties, as much-needed relief. What seems like an easy job for the duo becomes complicated by the objection of a respected schoolteacher (Holbrook) with support from a grassroots campaign led by a man (Krasinski) who counters Steve both personally and professionally.

This environmental drama reunites Good Will Hunting star Matt Damon and director Gus Van Sant. While it has the same good acting and fine direction, it doesn’t quite have the best characters or writing. Thus proving Ben Affleck’s writing was one heck of a contribution to Good Will Hunting‘s screenplay.

The characters in this feature are simple and generic. Damon’s character of Steve Butler is decent, but his beliefs seem distorted throughout the feature. He goes through a roller coaster of emotions where he tells the people one thing, but he thinks something else. However, that character change is necessary for the screenplay because his soul is supposed to be changed and touched by the people themselves. Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand) is a fairly uninteresting character merely established as a mother on a business trip who just really wants to be back with her son. Krasinski’s Dustin Noble is playing the nice guy routine, trying to convince the people of the town that Global will ruin the local economy instead of helping it.

Global is a natural gas company that uses a process called fracking to go underground and retrieve the valuable resources. This film raises awareness of this dangerous process. This is also an analysis of how big companies don’t care for the environment or the people themselves, they only care for making money. But this town has something to say about that. The only other 2012 film that has a louder message of the environment is Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. But really, that is tailored for children, and many aren’t clever enough to realize when an idea is being hammered down their throats. However, this is an adult drama and the majority of adults know when an idea is loud or preachy.

The only things that set this film apart is the rather loud message and the change of heart Steve has. Though, it really doesn’t stop it from being generic and often bland. Some redundant plot points that do not do anything for the story whatsoever are less interesting than a man snoring loudly. It is also a very by-the-book feature that goes through the motions. Sure, it’s a decent watch, but it’s nothing more. The cast is stellar (also including Scoot McNairy, Hal Holbrook and Rosemarie DeWitt) but none of the talented actors are given thoroughly interesting characters.

In a nutshell: Promised Land is a decent, but far from good, experience that isn’t more than that. It’s an environmental drama that tries to explore unique concepts like fracking and greedy large companies, but it needs Ben Affleck on as a writer. The end product comes across as usually bland, predictable and very generic. It goes through the motions of this type of drama until the very end.

55/100

Argo (2012)

Argo

Release Date: October 12, 2012

Director: Ben Affleck

Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman

Runtime: 120 min

Tagline: The movie was fake. The mission was real.

Argo is one of the best films of 2012.

Argo tells the story of the Iranian revolution, and hostage situations that were involved with it. On November 4, 1979, the Iranian revolution reached its boiling point, the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was stormed by militants, and Americans were taken hostage. During this revolution, six American citizens manage to escape and find refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. It was only a matter of time before the citizens’ cover was blown, or they were rescued. A CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) specialist, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), concocted the best bad idea the CIA had to rescue the citizens, and get them out of the country with their lives.

This was a covert operation that wasn’t known to the public eye until the 1990s. The story is amazing, and extremely memorable. This story was back in 1979 and 1980, so it definitely makes for an early 80s atmosphere. It’s nice that this revolution gets revisited, it brings knowledge of something that happened a fairly long time ago. The impact it had on the world at the time seems large, but, apparently, not large enough for me to hear of it in this day and age.

It’s sort of fascinating how Affleck made it feel more like the 80s, and he did it in quite the innovative way: according to IMDb, he shot it on regular film, cut the frames in half and blew those images up to 200% to increase their graininess. The viewer can also tell that they’re in for an older styled atmosphere because of the old Warner Bros logo which was to match the time of the 80s.

I recall seeing this W in the logos, or at least something similar to it.

Ben Affleck’s pure Hollywood acting career may be dust in the wind (or at least starting to feel a bit like that) but his directing career isn’t going South anytime soon. He has a real knack for making great and memorable films.

It’s an extremely thrilling and captivating film experience, and is the most riveting film of 2012 thus far.

There are history and politics thrown in here, but politics only crossed my mind a few times. It feels more like a great CIA rescue mission more than anything else. It’s intense and there’s some great comedy thrown in there. There’s one great joke that gets used a few times, but doesn’t get overused because it’s thrown at you at times you least expect it.

The rescue mission is a great gamble, because Affleck’s character is both risking his life and theirs.

The characters are fine, because they are real and none feel expendable at all. Affleck’s character has a son and a wife; and some of the Americans stuck at the Canadian Ambassador’s house are married. Each actor and actress wonderfully capture emotions of stress, anxiety and intense worry.

One of the most captivating things about Argo is the boiling suspense of the situation, and the viewer can just feel it build throughout. It also really is quite nerve-racking.The pacing is great, and it doesn’t feel slow in a lot of places. There are a lot of memorable scenes, and then others just build up the plot. There aren’t any bad scenes, though, so that’s great. Argo sort of plays out like an assassin giving you his first choke-hold, he’s inexperienced and you may feel the grip loosening from time to time, but then it strengthens again and doesn’t let go until the very end.

Something that annoyed me is the odd time when there wasn’t any subtitles when the Iranians spoke their language (Farsi, maybe?). Still, you can tell the emotions that they are feeling, so I guess it doesn’t matter very much, now that I think it over more.

The use of old footage really interested me some. It worked into the film well and didn’t feel out of place at all.

The film does live up to its hype, and to its trailer. The use of Aerosmith’s song Dream On, was extremely effective and amped it up about ten times as much. I wish they didn’t use some of the film’s best lines in the trailer. Yet again, studios do that a lot. They still were great when I heard them during the film though.

Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishé, Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Zeljko Ivanek and Titus Welliver make up this great cast.

Argo offers an incredible true story, a lot of fine action, and a lot of great suspenseful scenes. It’s one of the most riveting films of 2012, and definitely the most intense. The direction, acting, story, the amount of memorable scenes are all great. It’s such an impressive piece of cinema, and will be a real contender at the Oscars this year.

90/100

Box Office Predictions #1 – October 12

These are my box office predictions for the weekend of October 12-14, but only for the four brand new releases: ArgoHere Comes the BoomSeven Psychopaths and Sinister.

Argo

Plot: As the Iranian revolution reaches a boiling point, a CIA ‘exfiltration’ specialist concocts a risky plan to free six Americans who have found shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador.

Argo is Ben Affleck’s third feature film as director, the other two being Gone Baby Gone and The Town. Affleck’s last directing, and acting, gig – The Town – made $23 million in its opening weekend, and Affleck usually makes a pretty large box office splash. Town is a bank heist thriller, and that sort of concept may appeal to a larger audience than this, because political thrillers aren’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea. This though, has the whole ‘true story’ pitch, and it has a lot of fine performers like Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman. The film’s trailer makes itlook great, so hopefully the film will live up to its trailer.

Argo Prediction: $34 million

Here Comes the Boom

Plot: A high school biology teacher looks to become a successful mixed-martial arts fighter in an effort to raise money to prevent extra-curricular activities from being axed at his cash-strapped school.

Here Comes the Boom is the newest Happy Madison Productions film that is a martial arts action-comedy. It reminds me of 2008’s Never Back Down, which opened to $8 million. Sandler’s films often make over $100 million, when he’s headlining. Kevin James’ last headlining film, in relations with Sandler, was Zookeeper which opened to $20 million. His last action comedy was Paul Blart: Mall Cop that opened to a bit over $30 million. This seems like another mindless comedy, but those can be fun.

H.C.B. Prediction: $20 million

Seven Psychopaths

Plot: A struggling screenwriter inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu.

Seven Psychopaths is a crime-comedy that is Martin McDonagh’s second feature film, and he also wrote and directed it. A huge attraction for this is the great cast that includes: Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken and Abbie Cornish. McDonagh’s last film was the British crime-comedy In Bruges that in total grossed $7.7 million, and a little under $450 thousand in its first weekend. It has grown in audience since its release, though. I think this one will make a greater splash because I’ve seen one trailer for this on a popular channel, and I can’t recall seeing any for In Bruges. This also has a better-known cast. The comedy may not appeal to all, but it seems just hilarious to me.

S.P. Prediction: $4 million

Sinister

Plot: Found footage helps a true-crime novelist realize how and why a family was murdered in his new home, though his discoveries put his entire family in the path of a supernatural entity.

Sinister has been given a great advertising campaign. I’ve probably seen the trailer a good six times, but not because I looked it up or anything. The story seems pretty interesting and quite scary. A big advertisement hook has been it’s from the producer of Insidious and Paranormal Activity. Insidious grossed $13.2 million in its opening weekend, and $97 million in total – and P.A. grossed $193 million in total. The hype for this has been great, and horror lovers are going to be lining up to see this one.

Sinister Prediction: $30 million

1. Argo – $34, 000, 000                       2. Sinister – $30, 000, 000

3. Here Comes the Boom – $20, 000, 000

4. Seven Psychopaths – $4, 000, 000

Do you readers have any predictions?