Film Reviews

Film Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

In the decades after the Cold War, much of the landscape of clandestine warfare had transformed itself from the confines of blacklists and microfilm to the vast ether of information and data across the globe. Spies and their craft had changed, and with it, Hollywood’s portrayal. The practice had gone from jabbing someone with a poison-tipped umbrella to taking down entire nations with access from a computer; and so Hollywood had to evolve its sleuths from uber charming, yet seemingly unflappable womanizers to flawed, troubled and broken men. Jason Bourne became the modern day spy. James Bond became Jason Bourne and almost every spy since, has had a Bourneness to them that we, the movie-going audience seem to relate to. There’s now a vulnerability grounded in reality. Where once luxury sports cars turning into submarines was acceptable, it is now the norm for our agents to be armed with nothing more than a pistol, some training and their wit, facing their greatest of enemies in the reality we all find ourselves in.

Jack Ryan, perhaps author Tom Clancy’s finest creation, has been off grid since the Ben Affleck-starring The Sum of All Fears in 2002. It was an admirable entry into the Jack Ryan series but lacked the tension and imminent fear that presented itself in previous Jack Ryan outings- most notably in the still terrific The Hunt For Red October. In the ten or so years proceeding, much has changed in the world, and while nuclear threat seems to loom far in the background, the prescient danger continues to be that of technological warfare threatening to undermine our most treasured of security: finance. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the official reboot of the Jack Ryan franchise and sees our protagonist continue his Benjamin Button act since Harrison Ford last donned the title in 1994’s Clear And Present Danger. The character’s genesis is beginning at a younger age we are given more of his development before delving into the primary plot of the film.

Imminent danger

Imminent danger

Chris Pine’s Jack Ryan falls somewhere between Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford’s; young enough to be brash and reckless, but at the same time, boasting a quality that convinces audiences he will grow into the Jack Ryan of old. Pine is surrounded by a pretty well-to-do cast that includes Kevin Costner (playing Ryan’s mentor and super-agent William Harper), Keira Knightley (Ryan’s eventual love interest and femme fatale Cathy Muller) and the irrepressible Kenneth Branagh (pulling double duty serving as the film’s primary antagonist Viktor Cherevin, as well as its director). The film is stronger for their parts, and while Costner’s role is quite restrained, there is an air of importance to him that works within the confines of the film. We’re also given a colourful palette of characters breathing out the warm air of nostalgia with its heavy Russian-villain lean. It’s the film’s most prominent connection to the spy films of old, and perhaps, beneficial in giving Shadow Recruit a sense of freshness. Surprisingly, Knightley’s character displays the cast’s biggest single nitpicky flaw. Knightley’s strikingly beautiful accent is stripped of its allure as she yams and yahs through a pretty terrible American accent. It’s the ‘Charlize Theron in Monster’ of accents (and not in the ‘winning an Oscar for the performance’ kind of way).

Unlike The Sum of All Fears, we’re given the less far-reaching plot of espionage cloaked in today’s turbulent and volatile financial landscape. Jack Ryan, CIA analyst, is tasked on uncovering a Russian plot to destroy America by crippling its financial structure. It’s all smartly done with the kind of explanatory tone that never breaches into condescension or overly smart. We’re given a look into the evolution of the Jack Ryan character- from tired economics student to battered and broken marine, and finally to the film’s primary voice; the analyst. While the film progresses over the course of a decade, it never grows tiresome and moves briskly through its narrative stages. The action is thick and heavy, and we’re once again grounded in the kind of hand to hand combat The Bourne Identity cemented as the preferred palette. The pace is comfortable and the dialogue smart, and much of the film exudes the kind of excitement and tension The Hunt For Red October is noted for.

Branagh’s direction resonates beautifully amongst the steel and structure of both New York City and Moscow; and in a particularly harrowing scene between himself and Knightley’s character, given a real sense of isolated terror and impending doom. Who knew lightbulbs could be so dangerous?

The spy genre may be one of the fields of film that has excelled the most in the post 9/11 world. They’re more grounded and realistic and to that extent, far more believable. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is an exciting new beginning for the franchise, and while it may not be as alluring as the original Jason Bourne outing, the Jack Ryan franchise hasn’t felt this right since the early 90s.

[rating=4]

 

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is in the cinemas now. 

 

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Adam Cozad, David Koepp
Cast: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh
Released by: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 105 minutes

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Film Reviews

Film Review: Thor: The Dark World

With the success of The Avengers firmly cementing the global resonance of the Avengers brand, the general audience has gotten in a sense, the size and enormity of this Marvel world. With The Avengers, we see that each and every one of these superheroes, their lives, their troubles, their individuality, and the characters that populate their sphere, are indeed interconnected. These events then, all in one world, has created an interesting dichotomy for Marvel and their individual movies.

Iron Man 3 felt entirely underwhelming, not because Tony Stark’s latest adventure was boring or dull, but because he felt alone and isolated from his newfound superhero friends. It was difficult to parse the events happening in his story without thinking, “why aren’t Hulk and Captain America there to help him?”

Yes, it is a suspension of belief, but it was enough that it crept into the idea that after The Avengers, we now have to go back to singular protagonist films.

So comes Thor: The Dark World, whose characters and actions undertaken in the previous outing became the backdrop and on-going conflict in The Avengers. The sequel to Thor comes a few years after the events of New York and sees Thor (Chris Hemsworth) defending the Nine Realms from a host of evils permeating different worlds. In the backdrop we have the Dark Elf Malakith (played with menace by Christopher Eccleston) who has long plotted to return the realms to complete darkness. He ultimately becomes a serious threat and we are given an intergalactic conflict we haven’t seen in… well, two movies.

Caught up in between are Thor’s earthly friends Jane (Natalie Portman), Professor Selvig (Stellen Skarsgard), and Darcy (Kat Dennings) who become part of Earth’s defence in a new battle against Malakith.

What new director Alan Taylor brings is a more easy-going attitude to the film. The sense of humor that was hinted at in the first is let loose with clever one-liners and likeable and enjoyable characters. He does well to present Loki (Tom Hiddleston) as the “is he or isn’t he a bad guy?” through the film and much of what happens unfolds at a good pace. The Dark World wins out because the film travels between Asgard and Earth in unobtrusive fashion, giving the audience a thrilling sense of the enormity in which these universes are connected.

Unlike Shane Black with Iron Man 3, Taylor is given a much bigger canvas to paint on thanks to these realms, and we’re taken away form the darker, more foreboding instances to moments of cinematic grace and beauty. Asgard gets a deeper look at than in the first film and we’re met with some scenes that give the audience a genuine sense of awe.

Yet as London comes under attack by a menace that seems far greater than the Chitauri, a small part of our mind asks where Tony Stark or the Hulk or Captain America are and why they’re not here to help. Nonetheless, while it does come to mind, it does not take away from the enjoyability and reflection of The Dark World. We’re meant to separate these lone films from what we have become accustomed to in The Avengers, and it’ll just take time, and/or a really good film to do it.

These standalone films must now once again become appetisers to the next Joss Whedon feast of spoils in Age of Ultron and judging Thor: The Dark World on these merits, we’re actually given a good return. The post-credits scene is a good reminder that Marvel is planning another significant venture outside of the next Avengers film and serves as a nice introduction to this next step (stay for it). If you’ve soured a little from the depreciating value of Iron Man, prepare to buy right back in as The Dark World is easily one of the best entries into the Marvel canon pre- and post- Avengers.

[rating=4]

 

Thor: The Dark World opens in US cinemas November 8th and is currently playing in Australian cinemas.

 

THOR: THE DARK WORLD
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Stellen Skarsgard, Christopher Eccleston, Anthony Hopkins
Produced by: Marvel Studios / Walt Disney Pictures
Website: marvel.com/thor#/home

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Film, Film Reviews, Highlights

Film Review: The Other Guys

Set to the backdrop of large-scale financial crime and scandal, the Adam McKay-directed The Other Guys is part buddy cop movie and part outrageous comedy sprinkled with dabs of absurdist action/drama. It is as unconventional as it sounds, and at times, proves to be a tough slog, but surprising results at its conclusion make this the surprise comedy hit of the year.

Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg are an out-of-sorts detective pairing that has spent more time at a desk than out in the field. Ferrell’s character (Allen Gamble) is tied to his computer because he’s hiding a less-than-savory past while Wahlberg’s Terry Hoitz was demoted for hilariously shooting Derek Jeter in the leg and conceding the Yankees to a World Series loss (and for any real New Yorker, a big deal). They’re both offbeat but of a different nature, Gamble is smart, reserved, painfully dorky, while Hoitz is angry and disgruntled. Their characters provide much of the movie’s comedic friction between two diverging points of view. It’s unexpected too, with Wahlberg proving to be as good as an action star as he is a deadpan humorist. He doesn’t do much laughing in the movie, just lots of shouting, blank stares and pitch-perfect one-liners delivered with unexpectedly great comic timing. Ferrell on the other hand, juggles his over-the-top routine with more subdued but equally funny quips that is typical Ferrell, but just a little less Ron Burgundy.

The two find themselves thrust into the center of the scandal after New York’s most ridiculous and gung-ho detective duo (brief but welcome appearances from Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson) are put out of commission. These two were the supercops of the city, and much of the humor comes from Gamble and Hoitz trying to emulate their success with their own brand of police work as they attempt to overcome one obstacle after another. Steve Coogan plays white-collar criminal and investment guru David Ershon, whose bumbling but conniving character is good enough to propel the story, if not a little underused. Michael Keaton and Eva Mendes are good in their supporting roles with Keaton’s police chief by day and Bed Bath & Beyond employee by weekend as funny as Keaton’s been in years. Mendes’ turn as Gamble’s suprisingly beautiful wife is a good running gag- played off well by the dumbfounded and perplexed reaction we get from Wahlberg’s character during their initial meeting. There’s a lot to take in with the smorgasbord of characters on show weaving in and out of the story, and the movie does its best to try and maintain cohesion amongst the humor. Gamble and Hoitz are no Riggs and Murtaugh, but there is a far more genuine bond between the two than any two-cop pairing since the first Bad Boys.

Collectively, the strong cast is able to offset the unstable nature of the movie’s comedic premise. Those expecting the same kind of brainless humor in Talladega Nights or Step Brothers will probably be disappointed with The Other Guys and it’s more textured jokes. It’s a modern hybrid of the absurd with the conventional, all done with ample intelligence. Alongside Judd Apatow, McKay has been on the forefront of the recent drive of changing comedy. It’s smarter humor, one without a laugh track, and unfortunately it’s lost amongst some. But regardless of its reception, The Other Guys is genuinely one of the funniest movies of the year, succeeding by telling a good joke with smarts and cool confidence.

Directed by: Adam McKay
Cast: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johson
Released by: Gary Sanchez Productions / Columbia Pictures
Website: http://www.theotherguys-movie.com/

[xrr rating=3.5/5]

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Film, Film Reviews, Music

Film Review: Oil City Confidential

One of the most immediate things you notice about Canvey Island in the UK is its desolate, almost-lifeless visage. Adorned in the most brutal way possible by a gargantuan oil refinery, it is a most fitting birth place for one of rock music’s most enigmatic, yet seemingly underappreciated acts in history; progenitors of punk Dr Feelgood. Julien Temple (The Future is Unwritten, The Filth and The Fury) once again brings to life music’s most lucid tales, this time with the least known acts to complete his trio of films (Joe Strummer and the Sex Pistols in the aforementioned documentaries). Dr Feelgood were, to all intents and purposes, punk before punk- straggling on stage around 1971 against the glam and glitz of stadium rock being served by the likes of the Beatles and the Stones and their kind. This is the very essence of the piece, that Dr Feelgood were rock’s mainstream counterculture, the pre-eminent underground rock n’ roll band.

Let’s make no bones about it however; Oil City Confidential is driven by Dr Feelgood’s primary guitarist and chief songwriter Wilko Johnson. This man is the documentary’s tour de force protagonist, praised for his iconoclastic herky-jerky guitar movements on stage and choppy riff style, his recounts and storytelling are the centrepiece of Oil City. His eyes bulge when he tells you about Canvey Island, he shimmies, shakes, and bounces all over the screen, and the history of the band comes to life because Johnson knows how to tell a great tale.

Other than the band’s almost-as-enigmatic lead singer Lee Brilleaux, we don’t get as much substance from the supporting cast. There are interesting bits and pieces that prop up the two main characters, but it is Johnson and Brilleaux that make this band unforgettable. The latter of who, regales us with his immense drinking ability, dirty white suit, and great rock n’ roll frontmanship. Sadly Brilleaux lost his battle with cancer in the mid-90s and his presence is made up or archival footage and interviews long before this documentary was made- but through the snippets of live footage and television appearance, it is clear that Brilleaux was one of rock n’ roll’s most memorable lead singers. Fittingly, burning out more than fading away.

The editing is fast paced and Temple is almost better than anyone at setting up a great backdrop to a music documentary. This is perhaps the weaker of his trio, but only because the Sex Pistols and The Clash provide a richer source of music history. It is however no reason to overlook Oil City Confidential, in their own small place in history on a broken down, ugly piece of English land, Dr Feelgood wrecked havoc just as well as anyone, and reserve their right to be remembered.

Directed by: Julien Temple
Cast: Wilko Johnson, Lee Brilleaux, John Martin, John Sparkes
Released by: Cadiz Music
Website: http://www.oilcityconfidential.co.uk/
[xrr rating=3/5]

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Film, Film Reviews, Videos

Film Review: I’m Reed Fish

The inherent problem with people telling their life stories is that, most of them are pretty boring. For Reed Fish, this is not necessarily the case- in fact, the writer felt his life to be so compelling that he put his own name in the title. So beget I’m Reed Fish, a quirky, indie-esque flick that details the sometimes sad, sometimes funny, and sometimes happy life of a kid who tried his best to shake the small-town out of him before realizing that sometimes, what you’re looking for isn’t very far at all.

The heart of it all is very familiar- love, sorrow, loss, and happiness confined to a small population rife with all its little eccentricities- but the time we get to spend with Reed Fish (the character) himself helps give the audience a better understanding of who he is, and why he does the things he does. Fueled by family tragedy, he explores the shadow cast by his late father as he literally brings the small town of Mud Meadows together as its morning radio host. His life begins to unravel when a girl from his past returns to disrupt his almost perfect life, bringing doubt and uncertainty about who he truly loves. It unfolds unspectacularly, until about 1/3 of the way through when the audience receives a much needed jolt as the film structure becomes greatly more three dimensional. The story then, is given much needed depth, and becomes more interesting, and at its core, alive.

It is cast very well- all the personas in involved are an extremely likable bunch; Gilmore Girls’ Alexis Bledel, Jay Baruchel (who does admirably as the title character), and Schuyler Fisk prop the film up as its protagonists, with barely-there but noticeable side spots for the likes of Katey Sagal, SNL’s Chris Parnell, and Shiri Appleby (Roswell). Much of their behavior plays out very much like how an indie film would- to the backdrop of sweetly melancholic indie/folk tunes that seem to trickle out at just the right emotional moment. Interestingly, Schuyler Fisk, who is an established musician as well as actor, plays an important part in giving the film its “heart” … thanks greatly to her music (which fit the sentiments of the film almost exactly).

It is a modest film, with modest aspirations that are all but met. It won’t shake the indie waves as much as a Garden State did, but like it, it has just as much sentimentality. But most importantly, its heart is in the right place.

I’m Reed Fish is available now on DVD. Pick it up from Amazon.

Video:

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