Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (Full Review)

The late Tom Clancy has always had a knack for writing thrilling espionage. The Hunt for Red October (1990), Patriot Games (1992), Clear and Present Danger (1994), The Some of All Fears (2002)… all films made from Clancy’s Jack Ryan book series. This time around, director Kenneth Branagh (Much Ado About Nothing, Thor) looks to reboot the film series with Chris Pine as the lead.

ImageYou don’t need to be a fan of Jack Ryan movies or even familiar with them to take a chance on Shadow Recruit. Like James Bond films, Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible series, or anything with Jason Statham in it, each outing is meant to stand on its own. Shadow Recruit in many ways feels like an episode of 24. There is no point in wasting time on character development or weighty emotion filled drama because at the end of the day you’re only in it for the thrills. And Jack Ryan’s latest adventure has plenty.

The plot, which is too convoluted to describe fully, mainly involves Russians planning a terrorist attack that will topple the U.S. economy.  Chris Pine takes the helm as marine turned CIA analyst Jack Ryan (previously played by Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, and Alec Baldwin). He isn’t nearly as magnetic as he is in the Star Trek films, but he is good enough to warrant being an action star. Director Branagh, himself, plays the villain who is as dark, deranged and one dimensional as any antagonist in a Jack Ryan movie. Meanwhile, Kevin Costner is at his stoic best as Jack’s CIA mentor and Keira Knightley portrays Jack’s whiny fiancé.

Like with most action movies, Shadow Recruit does well to know that thrills and action sequences are more important than characters or even plot. This isn’t Daniel Craig’s thought provoking Skyfall nor does it try to be. What it is, is a solid two hours of hotel room brawls, car chases, and covert missions that should keep you interested enough to warrant spending a few bucks if you’re bored at home.

FINAL GRADE: B-

Spike Jonze’s Her… Full Review

“Love is a socially acceptable form of insanity.” There may not be a better quote from this film to describe this film. Director Spike Jonze’s Her is unlike anything you’ve seen before, for better or for worse.

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Reading the synopsis of a film is often enough to put off some people. And a story, set in the not too distant future, about a lonely divorcee who falls in love with his super advanced version of Siri is enough to put off many. But if that plot intrigues you, as it did me, then you may have your mind enlightened by a very clever and heartfelt sci-fi drama-comedy.

Juaqin Phoenix (Gladiator, Walk the Line, The Master) leads a star studded cast that manages to bring just enough weight to a movie that has an exceedingly melancholy tone. Phoenix’s Theodore Twombly is your run of the mill endearing nerd, but his emotional ups and downs and his journey into falling for an artificial intelligence unit is what makes the movie worth the watch. Amy Adams (Man of Steel, American Hustle) is sweet and loveable per usual as Theodore’s friend and neighbor, ironically named Amy. Rooney Mara (The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo) and Olivia Wilde (Tron:Legacy, Rush) are striking in their short appearances.

Scarlett Johansson, or at least her voice, is what makes everything go. The exceptional warmth she brings to the role of Theodore’s “operating system” Samantha makes you completely forget that she isn’t real. Her, or its, transition from female Pinocchio to hyper-evolved intelligent being may be inevitable, but because of Johannson’s adorable allure and sex appeal we can’t blame poor old Theodore for going along for the ride. I mean what guy isn’t aroused by Scarlett Johansson’s voice?

There are loads of eerie and awkward scenes in Her. But if you’re watching a film about a guy who is romantically linked to his computer, then you shouldn’t be surprised by this. More importantly, you shouldn’t let it detract you from the message. Who, or what, we choose to love may not be as important as our society tries to make it seem. At the end of the day, how we love and why we love is what should drive us. And if we can find happiness, then nothing else matters.

 

FINAL GRADE: B+

Top 10 Movies of 2013

2013 has come and gone, but these movies left a lasting impression. Here are my favorite films of the year. Click on the title to see a more detailed review!

10. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues – funniest comedy of the year.

9. Don Jon – A clever and witty look into the everyday guy’s mind.

8. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – More tense and more emotional than the first while managing to be more lively than it’s book.

7. The Wolf of Wall Street – the funniest non-comedy of the year. Leo DiCaprio shines again.

6. Prisoners – The year’s most intense thriller with plenty of solid twists.

5. Monsters University – Best animated film of the year. It even tops Monsters Inc.

4. Fruitvale Station – Michael B. Jordan shows why he is one of the best young actors in the business.

3. American Hustle – An all-star cast shines behind a smooth 70’s backdrop.

2. Gravity – Most original film of the year and one of the most visually captivating of all time.

1. Star Trek into Darkness – Intense, funny, and exciting. It’s everything you want in a Summer movie. Saw it 4 times in theaters and wish I’d seen it more.

 

Honorable Mention: 12 Years a Slave, Best Man Holiday, Despicable Me 2, Ender’s Game, Elysium, Man of Steel, Now You See Me, This is the End

14 for 14 (The Most Anticipated films of 2014)

It’s 2014 and a new year means new movies to look forward to. Here are 14 movies that I’ll be anticipating (for better or worse) and that you should mark your calendars for this year!

14. Transcendence – April 17th

Starring: Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy

The film has an interesting premise centering around an Artificial Intelligence researcher having his mind infused with sentient technology. But the cast and the fact that the movie is being produced by Christopher Nolan is what draws my interest.

13. Transformers: Age of Extinction – June 27th

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kelsey Grammar, Stanley Tucci, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor

Part 3 seemed like a decent enough end to the trilogy, but for some reason Michael Bay refuses to let the series die. I can’t help but be interested to see how he’ll keep this movie from being the worst of the bunch, especially without lead actor Shia Labeouf. Here’s hoping that he puts together a decent enough plot for once to go along with the machine on machine battles we’ve come to love.

12. Hobbit: There and Back Again – December 17th

Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly

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Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth movies are always an acquired taste, but if you’re looking for more action, the final film in the Hobbit Trilogy will likely be right up your alley. Focusing on the Battle of Five Armies from J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel, this film likely won’t disappoint even the casual fan.

11. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – May 2nd

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHann, Emma Stone, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field

Spidey kicks off the summer movie season with the sequel to 2012’s Amazing Spider-Man. The first movie was good even if it felt like something we’d already seen, but with different actors. Sony is upping the ante with the Spider-Man properties and is hoping to expand the movie universe much more than the original trilogy did (blame Avengers). Still, as much as I like Andrew Garfield better than Tobey McGuire, I can’t help but be nervous with the oversaturation of villains in the film. Even if they are being played by three amazing actors (Foxx, DeHann, and Giamatti), the last Spider-man movie with 3 villains didn’t go so well.

10. Edge of Tomorrow – June 6th

Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt

The last time Tom Cruise made a sci-fi summer movie, it was cinematic gold. Even last year’s Oblivion turned out to be better than expected. So, my hopes are high that this film about a futuristic soldier caught in a time loop on the last day of an apocalyptic battle, will be one of 2014’s best.

9. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – July 11th

Starring: Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke

2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a sleeper hit. Andy Serkis reprising his role as lead ape, Caesar is reason enough to be excited for this sequel, but casting Gary Oldman as the leader of a human rebellion just adds to it.

8. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – August 8th

Starring: Megan Fox, William Fichtner, Whoopi Goldberg

Perhaps no movie on this list has had more negative press in pre-production then this one. Produced by Michael Bay, the original script was rumored to have involved the Turtles being aliens or something ridiculous like that. Regardless, as a life long fan of Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael, I am predisposed to being intrigued about how this series can be reinvented.

7. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – August 22nd

Starring: Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Jamie Chung, Rosario Dawson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green, Mickey Rourke, Jeremy Piven, Ray Liotta

Look at that cast… go ahead… look at it. Ridiculous. This sequel to the 2005 comic book noir has been in development hell for almost a decade. Finally, it is almost upon us. Hopefully all of that time getting it made was spent making sure it lives up to the spectacle of the original.

6. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy – August 1st

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Benicio Del Toro, John C. Reilly, Bradley Cooper

For those who were perplexed by the mid-credit scene during Thor: The Dark World, it was in reference to this. There aren’t many people familiar with the source material (including your’s truly) so there is a lot of skepticism about Disney/Marvel’s last film before the release of 2015’s Avengers 2. Regardless of my lack of familiarity, Zoe Saldana, a space setting, and a talking raccoon with machine guns voiced by Bradley Cooper is enough to make me give it a chance.

5. Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 – November 21st

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Phillip Seymour-Hoffman, Sam Claflin, Julianne Moore, Jeffrey Wright

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I’m a big fan of the book series. Last November’s Caching Fire managed to up the ante of the series a tad better than the first movie did so my expectations for the first film installment of Book 3 are very high.

4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – April 4th

Starring: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford

If you watched the 3D version of Thor: The Dark World and were lucky enough to experience the extended trailer for Winter Soldier then you probably understand my excitement for this one. I enjoyed the previous Captain America movie and I’m thoroughly convinced this one could be better if not the best Marvel movie since Iron Man. Plus there’s still the added factor of setting up Avengers 2, which this film will undoubtedly lead us into.

3. The Raid: Barendal – March 28th

Starring: Iko Uwais

Stop what you’re doing and go find The Raid: Redemption right now. It contains the best fight scenes ever conceived. Seriously… go watch it right now. I’m thoroughly convinced that there is no better action movie in existence. If the sequel is even half as good, it will thoroughly blow everyone’s mind like the first.

2. Interstellar – November 7th

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, Bill Irwin, Topher Grace, Wes Bentley

Inception, The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Prestige, Memento… all proof that Christopher Nolan literally isn’t capable of making bad movies. He is keeping his latest masterpiece close to the chest, but with the cast he has assembled it is sure to be another critical and financial hit. All that is known is that the film will center around physicist Kip Thorne’s theories of wormholes. Interesting.

1. X-Men: Days of Future Past – May 23rd

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Peter Dinklage, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore

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If you saw the mid-credits scene in The Wolverine you can guess that this film should be epic. Fox was lucky enough to land the rights to X-Men long before Disney bought out Marvel. Now they are finally taking advantage of owning this property by expanding on the X-Men universe with tons of planned films in the near future. Bryan Singer, director of X-Men and X2, returns to direct this ambitious, time-travel ensemble film that reunites his original cast with the cast of 2011’s X-Men: First Class. If they can pull this off, it could amount to one of the best super-hero films of all time.