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

Ender’s Game (2013)

Ender's GameReleased: November 1, 2013. Directed by: Gavin Hood. Starring: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld. Runtime: 114 min.

Ender is conveniently named because he is called upon to lead the war against the genocidal species the Formics after they nearly annihilated the human race in an earlier invasion. He must end it all, in a film where war tactics are prominent and intriguing. You just can’t win one battle, you have to win the war; keep \kicking the enemy, and it will send a message. It will make them never attack again.

Many of these ideas are enforced by an intense Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), a generally unlikeable but important character. Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis), one who focuses on the psychological status of the young students recruited by the International, is there to balance out Graff’s intensity. At least, that’s how I see her. I am afraid if this character wasn’t present Graff would be completely intolerable. Ender (Asa Butterfield) is the perfect choice to lead this battle because he’s smart, and has a near-perfect balance of compassion and violence. That is ideal for a war leader, at least in the International’s eyes.

Ender is the third child to go through this sort-of training, after his brother and sister. His brother, Peter (Jimmy Pinchak), couldn’t get very far because he resorted too quickly to violence. His sister, Valentine (Abigail Breslin), made it further into the training, but couldn’t advance because she was too compassionate, which is a believable trait for a character portrayed by Breslin. (She just seems kind and genuine, if you ask me.) Her character plays a much bigger role in Ender’s development than Peter. I find it interesting in this world that the parents have to file a government request in order to produce a third child. It seems to me that this might be put in order so the population doesn’t get out of control – in case the Formics attack again and they don’t kill as many humans? That’s my theory.

I am not sure how faithful this is to Orson Scott Card’s book of the same name, but I like many aspects of the film and I think Ender is a compelling character, a smart and emotional one with strong morals. He also sees many troubles of having this pressure weighing on his shoulder, because he is relied on to be a new leader. Everyone needs a leader. These war tactics are thought-provoking, and I think that’s why I prefer the first two thirds of the film over the third act. The third act has some good moments but the actual battle is lackluster. But the visuals are good, and I enjoy the set-up of this familiar science fiction flick. It’s a movie with good action scenes, a good cast and interesting aspects, but the fact that the whole movie leads up to an unrewarding battle is disappointing.

There’s some great battle training sessions that are entertaining. It’s like an anti-gravity laser tag, and it looks like a fun sport that I’ll probably never play because I don’t like heights. Haha. Ender makes a few enemies during his training, mainly Bonzo (Moises Arias in his third film of the year) who is a little man with a big Napoleon complex. He treats everyone like crap if he gets shown up. Well, he treats everyone like crap all the time. I’m liking Arias more and more though; even in an unlikeable role. Ender makes a friend, too, in Petra (Hailee Steinfeld), but it’s never crystal clear if they’re romantically involved or just friends. One more thing: There’s a really cool video game sequence that reveals Ender’s mental state to Viola Davis’ character and it’s just beautifully animated. I think this film would make a great video game – but as a movie, it leaves a bit to be desired as an sci-fi action flick.

Score63/100

42 (2013)

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Release Date: April 12, 2013

Director: Brian Helgeland

Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie

Runtime: 128 min

Jackie Robinson (portrayed by Chadwick Boseman) is a prominent figure in the civil rights for black athletes, as he is the first African-American athlete to play in the major leagues and break the colour barrier. 42 is the second biopic for Robinson, after 1950’s The Jackie Robinson Story. This follows Robinson’s life between 1945 and 1947, focusing on the hardships faces, after being integrated into a white-dominated sport by Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford).

It highlights these hardships he faces so precisely, that we really start to care for Robinson and what he goes through to play a game that he loves, and advance equality among races in the process. It is a true testament to the heart and soul of Jackie Robinson, a man for segregation, and a true American hero. That’s what helps this become such a successful film when it’s both on the field, and off.

When it’s on the field, it’s very rousing and often times, you’ll have the urge to stand up and cheer. It really feels like one is watching the actual game on TV for the first time, and that’s what helps it feel genuine. The more competitive viewers might even feel the urge to yell at the screen when the umpire makes a bad call; and you’ll definitely feel infuriated by some of characters’ actions against Robinson. You’ll either want to clap or weep for him at times because of the opposite race’s contempt he must face.

A lot of the racism is expressed through manipulative characterization. Some are just right, like when some of his own team mates still don’t feel comfortable playing with him or even showering with him, for that matter. Or when a child at a Cincinnati game falls under the societal pressures of the day and begins shouting racial slurs at Robinson like the rest of the crowd. Other times, they’re way over-the-top. Take Alan Tudyk’s character of Ben Chapman, for example. What he does is infuriating and manipulative because its cause is to get the watcher’s blood boiling, but it does work effectively, and it will definitely rouse a certain reaction. When Jackie breaks down and cannot take the discrimination any more, it is truly powerful and one of the film’s strongest scenes, on the field or not. That’s what really admirable about a sports feature like such: It finds a unique balance between scenes on-and-off the green grass.

It’s always exciting and never a dull moment, even if the dialogue gets more corny than your grandmother’s best corn dish at Thanksgiving. It’s helped by the stellar performances from the cast. Almost everyone in the supporting cast is fine, but Andre Holland as journalist and companion of Robinson, Wendell Smith, is very good. Lucas Black as Pee Wee Johnson is excellent, and the scene he shares with Boseman is significant and heart-warming  Chadwick Boseman (best known prior to this for small-screen roles in Persons Unknown and Lincoln Heights) shines as Jackie Robinson in a star-making role, and since Robinson can’t play himself (dead men can’t act!), you’ll be glad it’s Boseman. The chemistry between him and Harrison Ford (appearing as Branch Rickey) is excellent, and the scenes they share together are very memorable. Since Ford will most likely receive an Oscar nomination for his outstanding performance, he once again proves he has the ability to be wildly successful without a fedora on his head or a lightsaber in his hands.

It’s also impressive that such a powerful film gets to have a little fun with itself, as it beams with charm. There’s some laugh-out-loud humour here, as well, especially when John C. McGinley (portraying Red Barber) commentates; one of his funniest lines about being, about Robinson, “He’s definitely a brunette.” What would we do without that keen sense of observation?

Do not miss the opportunity to see 42 in theatres, because it is a fantastic true story that has to be known; it’s a rousing, charming grand slam and a new American classic. It’s a two-hour-plus film that feels like 90 minutes, and it’s one of the best sports movies of the past few years.

90/100