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

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Star Trek Into Darkness

Release Date: May 16, 2013

Director: J.J. Abrams

Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana

Runtime: 132 min

Summer 2013 seems like a time for vulnerable heroes. First, Iron Man/Tony Stark of Iron Man 3 experienced anxiety after the events of The Avengers. Now, it’s Captain James Kirk’s time. After losing something he holds dear, he takes his U.S.S. Enterprise crew after a Enterprise agent turned war criminal, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), to settle a personal score. This mission is really bigger than any of them ever expected it to be.

It has become apparent that the plots for Star Trek movies are essentially spaceship wars, where the ship with the biggest guns wins, and it is practically always, the U.S.S. Enterprise. They are also traditional revenge stories; and they don’t elevate above that, because they stick to the formula. These stories are average, but this franchise makes them fun, maybe because it’s a revenge story set in space with big weapons on spaceships. The fun story-lines still don’t make me feel incredibly impressed. That is the reason why, while both of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films have been well-done, I am not so eager to seek out any of the Star Trek TV shows or movies with Shatner and Nimoy. I’m good with watching Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto rock their roles.

Simon Pegg’s Scotty and newcomer Alice Eve’s Carol become more primary characters of the Enterprise, as well as, of course, Kirk and Spock. However, there isn’t enough of a focus on Uhura (Zoe Saldana) or Bones (Karl Urban), and the mostly secondary characters of Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) become more secondary. While they have critical duties to fulfill, it feels like they have a very limited amount of screen time. Bones is usually the prime comic relief character, and while he does produce a few good yuks; Scotty’s the main comic relief in the movie. Will you hear many complaints about that? Probably not, because Simon Pegg is very funny. The whole crew still works as an ensemble, where Alice Eve makes this sci-fi fun a little more sexy. We are still able to become invested with these characters, where even Vulcans become human. The computer-esque, logical thinking Spock is very likeable; and Quinto is such a strong actor, that you might yearn for more of him in roles where he doesn’t have pointy ears and a bowl-shaped haircut. The layer of emotional vulnerability that is added to Kirk is creative, and so is the contrasting layer added to Spock; where he is afraid to portray specific, all-to-familiar, painful emotions.

Some of the best scenes are emotionally powerful ones, as well as some fun scenes where the crew mostly banters in a hilarious way. While that isn’t good for an action movie, the amusing banter is more than welcome. Some of the action sequences are stunning and usually thrilling. That’s the point, they’re bigger, they’re badder, they’re bolder; even if they don’t feel quite as magical as they did in 2009’s Star Trek. More than a few are forgettable, but some really special ones stand out. The story is mostly easy to follow, even if it has the tendency to be complex.

That is mainly thanks to the main villain, John Harrison. Benedict Cumberbatch is a booming on-screen presence. When Kirk relentlessly hits him, he just stands there without a scratch with a facial expression that asks, “What are you trying to do, puny man?” He’s savage, he’s deadly, he’s brilliant, he’s terrifying. He makes Eric Bana’s Nero look like a forgettable, little mouse. I think it further exemplifies the influence of The Dark Knight‘s Joker on blockbuster, good vs. evil action movies, where writers are now trying to find the next, big, brilliant terrorist mind. This guy just might be him. Cumberbatch is the most memorable part of the movie, and he absolutely dominates every scene. Even when he isn’t on-screen, the audience misses him. This isn’t Pine’s show, not Quinto’s, and not even Abrams’ any longer. He dominates it so well, in fact, it should hereby be known as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Star Trek Into Darkness.

In a nutshell: While I wouldn’t call this 2013’s best film, I will call it 2013’s best action and science fiction movie. There are memorable action scenes, good twists and turns, and amusing dialogue exchanges. The villain outdoes the villain of its predecessor; but I think the crew isn’t utilized as well. To Trekkies, the plot might feel reminiscent of a few prior movies; so contrary to one of the franchise’s most prominent taglines, it’ll feel like it is going where prior movies have gone before. Still, this is really fun summer entertainment.

83/100

Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek

Release Date: May 8, 2009

Director: J.J. Abrams

Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Leonard Nimoy

Runtime: 127 min

Throughout elementary school, my dad would turn on the TV at 5 P.M. to channel 50; the Space channel. That’s the time Star Trek: The Next Generation (or whichever Star Trek TV show it was) would play. I’d make a face and say, “Do we have to watch this?” My dad would reply, “Yes.” Suffice to say, I loathed the show. I comprehend why it has such a fan-base, but man, did it bore me to tears!

If a future me told me that, one day, I’d like, let alone love, a movie that had Star Trek in the title, I would call myself crazy. It looks like I should be calling every mental institution in town; because this Star Trek is freaking awesome!

The brash James T. Kirk tries to live up to his father’s legacy with Mr. Spock keeping him in check as a vengeful, time-traveling Romulan creates black holes to destroy the Federation one planet at a time.

Star Trek is built to introduce a great franchise to a younger generation, and I’m really glad that it’s so great. The viewer doesn’t have to be a Trekkie to understand what’s going on or even enjoy the hell out of it, for that matter. It’s fairly easy to follow, for a movie that has a lot of time-traveling. Even people with little brains who don’t understand science fiction so well would be able to follow this. To me, that’s very cool. Someone doesn’t have to be a Trekkie to enjoy what’s going on, mostly because it’s actually an amazing action movie.

There’s explosions, flying bullets, cool creatures, et cetera. All in space. Sweet! J.J. Abrams is able to bring excellent direction to the feature and some humour to the feature. This makes me want to re-watch all that I’ve seen of Abrams’ work, and re-assess my opinions of some of his movies (Cloverfield, Super 8). He truly brings everything to the table, here; and the movie has some great cinematography and visual effects, as well.

Whilst the film has an excellent pace, I don’t think the story is incredibly impressive. The story is very good for what it is, but it is limited and it doesn’t have much room to elevate itself above a mere revenge story. It has a lot of time travel, but I think the story is only slightly above average. There’s lots of action and some nice drama, and the witticism of it all is very awesome. I think the movie’s strongest aspect are its characters and its ensemble cast.

Chris Pine portrays James T. Kirk this time around, and he’s the great face of the franchise for a new generation. The character becomes suffocated by the shadow of his late father, because he wants to live up to everyone’s expectations. This doesn’t stop him from being very confident and having a good time while performing his duties on the U.S.S. Enterprise. The relationship between he and Spock is a fascinating one. Spock is the main target of the villain Nero (Eric Bana). The Romulan villain is out for vengeance of something Spock did or possibly didn’t do, and that’s what thirsts his anger. Bana is intimidating at the time, but truly forgettable.

Anyway, about Spock. Spock is faced with much emotional turmoil throughout the feature, and it hardly helps that he doesn’t know how to effectively portray – or put into words – what he’s feeling. He’s played awesomely by Zachary Quinto, and I think he and Pine are great to lead the Enterprise. It’s great to watch Quinto, because he reminds me why I spent my time watching every episode of TV’s Heroes (I did that task for Hayden Panettiere, too, though). The rest of the cast (Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban, Bruce Greenwood, among many others) helps make the fantastic ensemble. They’re an ideal cast to lead the Enterprise. Simon Pegg is also part of the crew, and his role of Scotty reminds me why I enjoy watching him perform so damn much. He’s perfect for this role, and he brings the most wit to the feature. After he shows up, it becomes that much more entertaining and hilarious.

Star Trek isn’t able to elevate itself above a solid revenge story, but there’s hardly anything wrong with that. This enjoyable film will still appeal to both Trekkies and newbies to the franchise. This is immensely entertaining, a great space adventure, and an excellent action film.

88/100

This Means War (2012)

This Means War

Release Date: February 17, 2012. Director: McG. Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy. Runtime: 1hr, 37 min. Tagline: It’s SPY Against SPY.

Best buddy CIA agents FDR [Franklin] (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) are marked for death by Heinrich, an enemy of the CIA. He marks them for death because they killed his brother. They get pulled out of the field because of this. Tuck decides to insert some fun into his life by trying online dating. He meets the beautiful Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), and he is immediately stricken. FDR is also stricken when he flirts with her in a video store – and he soon swoons her into a date. The two budaroo’s soon find out they’re dating the same woman, and they “respectfully” decide to keep quiet and let her make the decision. Though, they’re finding being respectful is a little harder than expected, and they put cameras all over her home and start sabotaging each other’s dates.

Oh, you know that old buddy comedy formula. They each vow that this something-or-rather competition (in this case, winning the affection of a sexy gal) will not get in the way of their friendship. However, that promise is never kept. And then they’re all magically hunky-dory in the end.

If you go into this expecting full-blown quality action, you won’t get it. There are about four action sequences that are enjoyable, but mediocre. And they are certainly not memorable. This is very much a romantic comedy. Though, it is more comedy than romance. It’s mostly hilarious with some comedy lacking in a few areas of the film. The three protagonists are likeable, but hypocritical.

SPOILER ALERT: When Lauren finds out that FDR and Tuck knew each other, she gets angry and says “I trusted you.” Well, lady, you’re the one who was dating two men at the same time. Then she immediately forgives the two lads. END OF SPOILERS.

The story is okay, but it’s very predictable. In the simplest of words, it’s just a story of retaliation. The main protagonists just go after each other after one sabotages one’s date, and it’s just a never-ending cycle. The story certainly isn’t one for the ages, and it really isn’t a film I’d like to endure again any time soon. Mostly because it has some of the worst storytelling I’ve ever seen. The general premise is an okay one, but it’s just brought down by a few aspects. This is mostly the Heinrich sub-plot. The writers never really forget about him, but they don’t make his character anything special. They drop a few reminders throughout the film that he’ll probably return. Also, the storytelling is so bad, that I’m 95% sure they never even tell us why they’re after Heinrich. Sure, some characters say: “What does this have to do with the Heinrich case?” But I don’t think they ever even bothered to tell us. Sure, it might be ‘If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you’ confidential, but we, as the audience, what to know! Also, the only reason FDR and Lauren really hit it off was because Lauren was trying to make an ex-boyfriend jealous, and the writers completely forgot about him after the fact.

This Means War is by no means a horrid film, it is only a flawed and an extremely mediocre one. It’s a fun, funny and entertaining ride, that just gets completely brought down by a far-too average story, lack of action, poor storytelling and characters that are hard to care for completely.

This also violated the rule of ‘Don’t show a movie that’s better than your own.’ In a nutshell, don’t freaking show Gone with the Wind in your movie!

Score: 60 out 100

Rise of the Guardians (2012)

Rise of the Guardians

Release Date: November 21, 2012

Director: Peter Ramsey

Stars (voices): Hugh Jackman, Alec Baldwin, Isla Fisher

Runtime: 97 min

Tagline: Legends Unite.

Wait a minute, wait a minute! Who’s Jack Frost, again…? Is he that one guy that’s always nipping at everyone’s noses?

When a forgotten bogeyman from the Dark Ages called Pitch launches an assault of fear on earth, the Immortal Guardians are all called to fight off against him to maintain the innocence of children all over the world.

The beginning feels sort of like one student in high school is trying to write a report, but they’re having trouble organizing their thoughts. That being said, the beginning is an introduction to the characters which feels a bit disorganized. Though, after a small amount of time, it finds its pace and the story just gets better and better.
This is a great time of year to try to build up the spirits of children everywhere. This is brilliant because this time around, it is not all about Ole’ Saint Nicolas. Everyone gets their chance to shine in this. The Guardians are just great, and they give all the figures, that children believe in, the chance to show their flares.

There’s of course Santa Claus, but this time around he has a funky Russian-esque accent offered by the voicework of Alec Baldwin. He is pretty traditional looking, but he also seems pretty edgy because of his ‘Naughty’ and ‘Nice’ tattoos on his forearms. He offers some insight onto who’s actually making the toys at the North Pole. Apparently, it’s a bunch of Yeti’s, they only make the pointy-hatted elves think they’re making the toys. Who knew?

There’s also the Easter Bunny. Hop was the last Easter-themed flick, but the Guardians‘ Bunny makes the little Easter Bunny from Hop look very ordinary. Here, Hugh Jackman offers some great voicework to this character, and in the process he makes him Australian. He’s a six foot-two Easter Bunny that has a sweet boomarang, that makes him feel like he just stepped out of a video game.

There’s the Tooth Fairy, voiced by the beautiful Isla Fisher, who’s a mix between human and hummingbird. There’s also the mute Sandman (who isn’t voiced by anyone, the studio dodged a bullet casting this guy) who communicates with symbols and funny gestures. There isn’t any explanation necessary on what these two do. Though, this next character, you might need a little introduction to him.

The new Guardian in town is the wayward Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine). No, not anything like a snowman or Martin Short’s version of him. All Jack wants to do is cause snow days and havoc, but he wants to have a little fun while doing it. He constantly wonders of his true destiny, and he is a character that knows what it feels like to be invisible. Another character that knows what it feels like to be ostracized and forgotten is the film’s main antagonist, Pitch Black (voiced by Jude Law).

Pitch is a jagged-toothed Bogeyman that wants to instill fear in the hearts of children everywhere. His main motivation of doing this is so he can teach the Immortal Guardians the feeling of loneliness and invisibility he has felt for hundreds of years. He wants to be the big guy on campus for once. Pitch’s main rivals are both Jack Frost and the Sandman. When Pitch steals Frost’s memory of a former life, Frost’s motivation is to retrieve this very valuable material. Frost is also on the fence about his destiny, and he relates to Pitch from time to time because he, too, knows what it feels like to be overlooked because of his juvenile behaviour. The main conflict between Sandy and Pitch is simple. The Sandman brings happy dreams to the children of the world, while Pitch brings dark nightmares. Sandy is obviously not very happy about this, and you won’t like him when he’s angry. However, these are not the only conflicts – the characters are all given their time to shine, so it never feels as if there is one primary character.

There was a concept that came to mind when both the characters of Pitch and Man on the Moon (the moon practically, it’s like God to the Guardians) were initially introduced. It brought to mind the concept of how Lucifer was cast out of Heaven by God, because he wanted to be the head honcho. A plot point that I attempted to predict is that Pitch may have once been a Guardian, but then he was cast down because he was turning evil. That’s just a thought that came to mind because of the good vs. evil forces.

The message is one of the finest in animated films this year: if you believe, it will overcome all fear. It’s greatly displayed in this family film.

Like Monsters, Inc. was with Pixar, this DreamWorks’ edgy children’s and family film. It’s a sort of strange concept that works pretty well. Pitch, the Bogeyman, is sometimes depicted so ominously, it might be a little too hard to handle for the smaller children. There is also some thematic material that can get quite dark. However, there is enough innocent humour to level it all out.

The 3D effects are sometimes gimmicky, but that’s okay. While it is sometimes gimmicky, there are also many cool effects that bring very inventive animation to life even more vibrantly.

Rise of the Guardians is a slightly flawed animated adventure that may have some deeply thematic material and action sequences that could be midly scary for small children. The main flaw is the beginning, because it feels disorganized – but it finds its pace soon enough. The story is wildly inventive, as are the alterations of the beloved Guardians. It’s a great thing to teach the kids this holiday season – don’t just believe in Santa Claus, believe in the other figures too, when their time of year comes around, at least.

80/100