Movie Reviews

Orange Is The New Jack
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Starring: Chris Pine, Keira Knightly, Kenneth Branagh, and Kevin Costner
Screenplay: Adam Cozad and David Koepp (based on characters created by Tom Clancy)

Ok. The great American literary treasure, Tom Clancy; novelist and author of the famous Jack Ryan spy novels put his pen down forever October 1st, 2013. With his loss we can never again look forward to fresh, original material unfolding the ever-interesting adventures of Jack Ryan. For those of you who have buried  your heads in drama and comedy and documentary films, you may not realize that movie title after movie title and the disjointed parade of high-profile actors have all been telling the tale of the same character,  Jack Ryan. Some ears me prick up when they hear the title,  'Patriot Games', starring Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, or 'The Hunt For Red October', starring Alec Baldwin as... yes, that's right: Jack Ryan.

Great. So now you know the rules of the game. and along comes the film, 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit', starring Chris Pine of 'Star Trek' fame as Jack Ryan. Chris Pine may have been genetically constructed in a lab to play this part, it comes so perfectly and impeccably to him. In the case of Kenneth Branagh as director, it seems he may always have a learning curve when it comes to directing true action-adventure. Utterly lost with his direction of 'Thor' in 2011, and even further lost in his interpretation of the American experience in that film, Branagh shows some small improvements as an action-adventure director in 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit'. Kenneth Branagh adequately takes on the acting role of the super bad guy, Viktor Cherevin , with a lifetime of bitterness eating away at his insides, literally. Unfortunately, and in spite of the fact that Branagh is quite used to wearing both the hat of the director and the hat of the actor, in this case we missed out on the subtleties that are usually available in his performances. He was quite likely distracted by his adequate handiness at directing this 'Orange Is The New Jack' film, when his energies could've been used living through the malificent character of Cherevin just a little bit more. Somewhere lost in a moment of interrupted meditation, ultimate performance in this role may have been sacrificed to Branagh's focus and concentration on directing. Everyone of Branagh's characters has a moment of quintesence, which summarizes that great performance. Branagh clearly did not have the time to find that moment. Maybe, just maybe the soul of Viktor Cherevin lays on the editing room floor (not likely in the diital age), and is awaiting resurrection in a director's cut a decade yon.

And so in the dark chamber of the cinema, which is likely to go the way of the library, which is already going the way of the dinosaur, we stare wide-eyed at yet another Jack Ryan. 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit' was never composed by Tom Clancy. He is gone, and his characters are living on, nurtured by new pens. They pretty much have this Jack right. The unsuspecting CIA administrative investigator who is catapulted to the position of adenaline-fueled field operative in one rapid movement. In an effort to quash a terrorist group's viscious plan to attack the unsuspecting people of Western society & their economy, Jack Ryan travels the world at a lightning speed barely one small step ahead of his eager and persistent girlfriend. The girlfriend, Dr. Cathy Muller, played by Keira Knightly, who's lanky, casual presentation of affections can outstrip the cunning and training of a CIA operative. That's normal, right? And it's normal for a dude like this to date a girl who can give a five-minute diagnosis of some other dude's severe illness and then discuss Russian literature, and then sit through an espionage scenario without a gun,or an ear piece, or any training other than her womanly instincts. Yup. That's what we love about the movies. In the role of the girlfriend Keira Knightly very nearly steals the film out from under Chris Pine. But that is pretty much the reason she was put in this film. She really does give Chris Pine a run for his money, and there may have been no small amount of favoritism shown to her by favorable camera angles and dialogue meted out by our fair director, Branagh.

The passion and the very reason for this film exists in one scene in which Keira Knightley's Dr. Cathy, is kidnapped by the bad guys led by Branagh. She is pushed screaming into a carload of bad guys and Chris Pine suddenly turns into the spy expert he never knew he was, leaping over cars and running like a bullet to savehis long-legged, Russian literature spouting, sexy medical doctor girlfriend. It's supposed to make you feel tired from reading it, but it makes your heart pump while watching it.

Kevin Costner, in the role of Thomas Harper, has resigned himself to be the fatherly, wizened spy who guides Jack Ryan through his transition from sharp minded pencil pusher to be reborn as a superspy. It works. Costner is convincing, however it could be doubtful he enjoyed the transition in his career. Likely as not he would be happy to dance with some wolves again at the drop of a hat.


The Dark Knight Rises

Director: Chris Nolan

Starring: Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, MarionCotillard, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine


Screenplay: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan (story: Christopher Nolan and David S. Boyer)


Director of Photography: Wally Pfister


The third installment on what is unquestionably the best film series of any adventure story hero, The Dark Knight Rises, takes the audience eight years ahead of the madness of the second film. Bruce Wayne is an older, more physically defeated man, which inadvertently makes all the single ladies in the audience want to love him, and bandage him, and cook him a good meal. But there are probably more men and boys in the audience than age-appropriate women/potential dates for Batman. Man, the geeky boys love them some Batman, alright. The astounding number of dateless young guys lined up to take in the story of the caped crusader, is almost disturbing. Girls, if you are looking to snag, tag and bag a guy, get down to the closest movie theatre showing Batman, aiight! Pink sweater and pearls and a little meatloaf in a tupperware container, and you’re good.


The film is well rounded in the intelligent weaving and unraveling of a script that certainly received the right amount of thought and attention. There is a beautiful motif of the orphaned child surviving this cruel world and creating a family by choice rather than biology. Batman/Bruce Wayne is the ultimate orphan, forced to watch his own parents’ murder, and worse still, feeling responsible for their deaths. Yet he grows to be the greatest guardian of the children who need him: his fellow citizens of Gotham. The repeated theme of adoption and parenting actually is not beaten to death. The theme is necessary and it emerges as it should.


This film is a limitless palate of light with brushstrokes executed by the camera. Someone needs to thank the director of photography, Wally Pfister, for shooting an absolute treat for our eyes made from the delicate pushing and restraining of light. Many film makers don’t need the true skills of the old days, when a director of photography had to distinguish 10,000 subtle shades of black, gray and white, but here, in colour, we get to see the frame upon frame which could easily be captured as a still shot and inspire hours of lessons in the use of light. Wally Pfister has been working with Christopher Nolan for years and years. And, they had a dude (Bob Kane) whose only job was to develop the characters in this film. That’s it. “Dude, make the script even better by reading every comic ever written about these characters, then boil it all down into a descriptive package that the writers can use to boost their work, o.k.?”Way o.k.


Christian Bale can do no wrong in this film. Bale was built for the role of Batman within the context of this carefully constructed trilogy of art. Privately, he may (or may not) voice some discomfort with the origins of the Batman films, but look at this genius performer: Forever and ever, no matter what Christian Bale ever says or does, he started out in one of the easiest industries in which to fail, and succeeded to the point that he defined the credibility of an entire cast and crew just one year into his career, in ‘Empire of the Sun’. What a performance that was. ‘American Psycho’, ‘Reign of Fire’, ‘Equilibrium’, ‘The Machinist’, ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’, yeah, I said it. All amazing, and wonderful work from Christian Bale. Who can change the channel when they come across a late night showing of ‘Equilibrium’? The futuristic film gives a view of a world where life is conducted under strictly enforced laws against emotions and the creative objects that inspire emotions. ‘Equilibrium’ could not exist without Bale, who inserts himself into the film as easily as he has created the complicated and quietly sensitive dual roles of Bruce Wayne and Batmen.


The cast is made up with performers whose careers are each dictionaries of American and  international film. Gary Oldman in the role of Commissioner Gordon, who stunned America and the world in the film, ‘Prick Up Your Ears’. Look it up. Morgan Freeman is back as Fox, even though some of us thought he kinda quit his job at Wayne Enterprises at the end of the last film. Eight years, I know. Marion Cotillard has a completely stunning career, having won an Oscar in the role of Edith Piaf in the film, ‘Piaf’. In ‘Dark Knight Rises’ she comes off as a seemingly uncomplicated, yet dedicated humanitarian. Anne Hathaway gets to finally approach a role as a mature, experienced actor. Too bad she has the career changing role of Fantine in ‘Les Misérables’. After that film opens, people may not remember how Hathaway finally managed to simply play the correct depth and tone of a role without hamming, or mugging or switching on the “doe-eyed damsel” programme here in the role of Selina/Catwoman. That’s Life’s perfect timing. She does get to straddle Batman’s mean street machine, without the lascivious camera angles and fanfare that could not be resisted when Megan Fox mounted in her motorcycle in the first installment of ‘Transformers’. Better agent, I guess.


Tom Hardy is Bane. O.k. that’s all we need there. He did a great job. Stop looking at me. O.k., remember him in ‘Star Trek: Nemesis’ as Shinzon? Right. And he was in ‘Inception’, so when Christopher Nolan likes you, you don’t go hungry. Bane wears a mask over his lower face for the entire film. His physique and sometimes his eyes, are enough to convey his intention. Who wants to say it? Talk about a total physical transformation, or what, eh? He did NOT look anything like THAT a few years ago. Holy Masked Villain, Batman! Joseph Gordon-Levitt is here in the role of Blake. You loved him in ‘Inception’. His talent pool runs deep, and his understated sensitivity is put to good use in the context of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’.


Michael Caine. So nice to have him back. He is perfect in The Dark Knight Rises as Alfred the old family butler. Every minute of his long career has created the necessary experience to carry off the subtleties of this loving, gentle and intelligent character. Not a hint of the boredom that could easily plague an experienced, Oscar-winning actor who wakes up one day and says, “My God, I’m playing a comic book character!”.


On Friday, July 20th, 2012 at the opening day screening of The Dark Knight Rises, a maniac shot and killed twelve innocent people in Auroa, Colorado. Many more people were seriously wounded, and traumatized. There is no sense or understanding to this horror. The beautiful lives that were lost will forever remain an inspiration to us all to appreciate life. It is our hope that the families of all who suffered and died on that day will find some comfort in our prayers for them.


Rock of Ages

Director: Adam Shankman

Starring: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Malin Akerman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Mary J. Bleige

Screenplay: Justin Theroux, Chris D'Arienzo, and Allan Loeb

Musical Book: Chris D'Arienzo


‘Rock of Ages’ holds up the old school tradition of film art entertainment which is based on… a Broadway musical. More so than most other forms of film art entertainment, Broadway conversions require that the audience suspend their disbelief for a couple of hours. Usually that is a (no, not a “tall order”. Yuck!) lot to ask of today’s film audiences who have been thrilled with the return of 3-D  and the arrival of Real-D which can barely entice them away from their own 3-D and Real-D televisions at home, with surround sound and whatever. Except, in the case of ‘Rock of Ages’, one of the performers came to work so ready, so studied and prepared for the job at hand that every moment of his screen time was pure, unadulterated channeling of the essence of a genuinely anguished rock icon, tortured by his own talent and the trappings of his success. Tom Cruise.


Lest we forget, this is the man who gave the performance of his life in ‘Born on the Fourth of July’; a performance which earned him his first of three Oscar nominations. Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough. No really, really, nobody bought one ticket to see either of them in this film. Audiences follow the talent, and all of the talent and interest in this film are held firmly by Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, and Mary J. Blige. Sorry, Catherine Zeta-Jones revealed her worst kept secret: she has a marked limitation in her performance abilities. It hasn’t really mattered until now, but Catherine Zeta-Jones may have been responsible for about 20% of the of the total box office losses for ‘Rock of Ages’.. Malin Akerman is a very special talent, but a lovely opportunity was missed in this case. In the role of Constance Sack, a journalist with Rolling Stone Magazine, Malin Akerman delivers an uninteresting version of an angelic little devil. She is capable of so much more, having literally turned a cartoon character into a screen goddess in ‘The Watchmen’.


Mary J. Blige is absolutely perfect. She brings dignity and powerful singing to the shady role of strip club owner, Justice Charlier. Paul Giamatti is the sleezy manager. Sadly, he is the character I identify with the most. It comes to all of us sooner or later: honesty. Russell Brand is definitely the man for the job as he plays the necessary comic relief with his trademark abandon, in parallel with Alec Baldwin’s bar owner straight man (no pun intended). Alec Baldwin gave the world a lesson in acting with intensity back in the day in ‘Miami Blue’. ‘Rock of Ages’ is not the vehicle for Alec Baldwin to unleash the acting beast that sleeps within his heart, but when the right script comes along, I guarantee, no one will waste one minute gossiping about his marriages and girlfriends, and the papa-flippin’-razzi.


So what have we got here? An assembly of sorta memorable rock songs from the 80’s , meant to warm the cuckolds of some of our hearts as we remember which shoulder-padded jacket we were sporting when this song,  and that song was still new. They get it right that bars are dark, and rock is best served at night, when we all look gorgeous in the shadowy black and blue glow of the footlights. Beauty moment: the bar gets ripped off by the band. Woo-hoo! God, don’t we wish that were possible today. What has happened to an industry that, today, trots its icons and money-makers, out on stage for barely enough to gas up the van? It isn’t the economy, but a cartel of bars and mediocre rooms that have forgotten the fact of the business: sometimes you win, and sometimes you take the hit.


One thing they got really, really WRONG in ‘Rock of Ages’: rock stars do NOT sleep. Why doesn’t anyone just say it out loud? If a rock star is sleeping, you will never get him or her to wake up by calling their name a couple of times. They don’t sleep and they are always ready to get on stage and do it one more time, as long as they got on the right airplane at the right time, and that’s someone else’s job. So… someone needs to get on with that re-write.


The screenwriters, Justin Theroux, Chris D'Arienzo, and Allan Loeb, weren’t friends with my favourite bands, but there’s something in there for most. ‘Rock of Ages’ is an almost-document of an uncomfortable time in the history of rock music, when vacuous pop groups pushed rock aside, and sold their souls in a feeding frenzy in which greed sometimes won over talent, and created the atmosphere that allowed the tragedy of Milli Vanilli to become the scapegoat of the music industry’s shame.


Music, especially rock and roll music, is a beautiful thing. No one really gets to own it, not even the producers of ‘Rock of Ages’. As long as twelve year old kids can sit in their rooms and strum a second hand guitar; as long as newlyweds rock out to “Shook Me All Night Long” as their first dance, then rock and roll can never really be ruined by the uneven hodgepodgery of Hollywood film moguls.


Snow White and the Huntsman

Director: Rupert Sanders

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Sam Caflin, Bob Hoskins, and Noah Huntley
Screenplay: Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini
Ok. So of course all of the kids from the 'Twilight Saga' films are getting pimped out major big, because, let's face it, folks, they have a world-wide following in every corner of the planet. Their audience has the best, never-ending kind of cash flow: Mummy and Daddy's money. So everyone is rightfully striking while the proverbial iron is yadayada. Kristen Stewart is hitched in as the star in what is about to become a trilogy (at the very least), titled 'Snow White and the Huntsman'. Really, they have all the right ingredients - but notice how the word "ingredient" can sound a little bit like the word "greedy"? No? Is it just me? It's harder to get a more rich and diverse talent than the beautiful oscar-winning Charlize Theron, who brings a bold evil, tinged with mild pathos to her character of Ravenna, the wicked witch. The spin on this older than old classic storyline actually makes a kind of sense that may have actually been absent for the past 500 years: The witch wants Snow White dead to prolong her own life and power as an evil witch-queen. So it's not just about insane jealousy of an innocent girl's beauty. See?!
Chris Hemsworth is on a roll. Aren't they all when the muscles and hairline and facial skin tightness are all in synch? Yummers. If you like that sorta thing. So he's ok as the Huntsman. But really, really, in a worn-the-heck-out typical series of shots that have been set up and re-done for the small screen from 'Gun Smoke' to 'Star Trek' to 'Hercules', the audience is introduced to the (as far as I can tell) nameless Huntsman as he gets turfed out of a bar - sorry the public house - no, the mead house. That's it! The house of mead and ale, me boys! Whatever. So he's rolling drunk, and catches a few punches on the jaw, and pops out a few surly lines. Oh my! How against type for what will surprisingly turn out to be the story's hero. Sheesh! The producers should have suspended production after seeing those dailies. C'mon.
But all is forgiven for the sake of the costumes (mostly), and painstaking selection of locations, scenery, props and music, bloody lovely music here, me boys! They try the new thing with the transforming the helpless waifs of olde into fighting heroes. Yeah, as if! Um... Snow White has been locked up until her eyes are unused to daylight. Then after being in a coma (you know that's coming, right? I didn't blow it for you, did I?), she rides for like forever wearing armour, then fights a few soldiers, still wearing armour, then she runs up a set of spiralling, stone stairs, still wear armour and carrying a huge shield and a sword. Again, c'mon! I'm pretty fit, and I know I woulda passed out at the top of those stairs, I'd be all "Dude, it's time for a mead break, man!" I'd need some mule milk, or ale or something, ya know?
Kristen Stewart knows what she is doing. She finds her light, and plays the angles of her face to the maximum of innocent strength and beauty. She simply isn't given the script worthy of her hard work. Period. It took three writers to fudge this screenplay together. Look, you can rent it, and turn down the sound, but you'd miss the delightful music... so don't do that. Worse still, the director, Rupert Sanders hasn't a clue here. Watch this film a few times, and you can see that Charlize Theron probably gave the director one look that said, "Sit down, and be quiet and let me work." Imagine, this lady was handed probably the single most quoted words in the history of literature. What parent hasn't read this bed time story to the little ones? "Mirror, mirror on the wall..." Charlize, what can I say? You turned that step-mother out, baby. It's brilliant seeing the coming together of Charlize Theron's understanding of how to assemble a character, and how to reveal the many, many layers that she exposes, sometimes with little more than an adjustment in her breathing. Symphonic.
Ok, we get the empowering women thing, but some of this story borders on showing kids characters that get squashed flat as pancakes by boulders, then pop back up under a halo of stars, and waddle off into the sunset. Hey, women are ready for action once they've cut their long skirts short. Golly. That's been done to d-e-a-t-h. Maybe they shoulda dangled Kristen from a helicopter, too...? Yes, fantasy. Got it. It has to be said: The material is tragically mishandled by the director. No one needs to dwell on it. The stars of 'Snow White and the Huntsman' have options for two more films. Sadly, this painfully inexperienced director, Rupert Sanders, has already been announced as the man for the job for a stab at creating another pedantic foray into the realm of the well-known.
Noah Huntley ('28 Days Later', 'Event Horizon' and 'Narnia'), is a very rich and believable king... of the... um... land. Bob Hoskins as the dwarf, Muir, a sensitive with some kind of unexplained "spiritual gift", isn't given even half as much as we crave from such a profoundly talented performer. Sometimes less is more, but here less isn't enough. The more mature approach to the group of dwarf miners is tantelizing. No, Snow White isn't their lost wench-maid, making seven tiny beds every morning and cooking seven tiny bowls of porridge. She is the leader of a diverse and interesting band of her scattered countrymen.
The good news is, a strong writer, David Koepp (pronounced "kepp" as in 'Spider-Man', 'Mission: Impossible' and 'Jurassic Park') will be forming the screenplay for the sequel to 'Snow White and the Huntsman', so jippee!!! Yes, j-i-p-p-e-e.

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