Jack Ryan has the distinct honor among cinematic spies of being…not that great. He’s been in more films than Jason Bourne and as many as Ethan Hunt (once Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation hits theaters next month), but after being shuffled from actor to actor over the course of the franchise the character has lost a ton of steam. Part of this is due to the caliber of actor (from Alec Baldwin to Harrison Ford [x2] to Ben Affleck to Chris Pine) and part of this is due to the fact that Ryan’s less “spy” and more “data analyst”. That’s not a cop-out, though: Jack Ryan is really just an analyst. It’s the increasing need to shove Ryan into spy territory that begs the comparison to other spies (‘magine dat), so by the time Shadow Recruit came out Jack Ryan wasn’t a mild-mannered systems professional but a sexy gun-wielding wannabe.
And hey: if you want us to make that comparison, Mr. Powers That Be, then with the ghost of Tom Clancy as our witness we’ll do so gleefully. Or not so gleefully, as it were, because no one’s having any fun at all with Shadow Recruit. Why should we? We established in our recent review of the fantastic Quiller Memorandum that a great spy movie doesn’t even need to have a spy as the main character, so forcing Ryan to be more badass than bookworm doesn’t do much for credibility in that arena. Spoon-feeding every plot point doesn’t help either, and again with Quiller the brilliance was in the sense that any John Doe walking across the screen could be a villain; the poster tagline for Shadow Recruit is a flaccidly unoriginal TRUST NO ONE…but then we get nineteen shots of the hotel maid looking suspicious, so it turns out we’re informed exactly who we should and should not trust.
Continue reading Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
For such a successful franchise of movies, there is no denying that of the 23 James Bond installments, a handful of the movies are nothing special on their own. That is to say, strip away the Bond allure and you’re left with a lot of movies that probably resemble a 2014 Kevin Costner film (3 Days to Kill, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit… you get the picture). But the most recent entry Skyfall certainly does not fit into this category of Bond movies. In many ways, Sam Mendes’ first Bond movie is not a typical Bond film; making it not just a great James Bond movie, but a great movie in general.
Mendes gives the viewer this sense early when Q says to Bond — but really to the audience as a sort of aside — “what did you expect, an exploding pen?” It’s Mendes way of saying, “what did you expect, a typical Bond movie?” In the case of Q, what he gives Bond — a fingerprint encoded gun — is even better. And in the case of Mendes, what he gives the viewer is also far better.
Continue reading Skyfall (2012)
A quick glance at Sam Raimi’s filmography shows a greater preoccupation with iconography than with originality. He’s retread the old “cabin in the woods” and “superhero origin” tropes three times over (four if you count Darkman), yet, Robert Frost be damned, it has made all the difference. Through Evil Dead and Spider-Man, Raimi has evaded the title of “hack” to become both an auteur and blockbuster filmmaker, which is no easy feat when you’ve made Spider-Man 3. He manages to inject adrenaline and humor into genres that would die of exhaustion under any other director’s hand. As for The Quick and the Dead, the Western genre has only benefited from the Raimi treatment.
The Quick and the Dead reminds us of familiar Western figures straight away: the blind shoeshine, the bumbling barkeep, the merciless sheriff, the one-eyed ex-convict, and a flamboyant assortment of gunslingers. Of course it wouldn’t be a Western without the nameless hero, and fortunately we have Sharon Stone to give us an emotional anchor as The Lady amid a grotesque cast of caricatures. She arrives in town to exact revenge on the sheriff for the murder of her father, but gets roped into a quick draw dueling competition before she can do the deed. Continue reading The Quick and the Dead (1995)
Netflix has beefed up their foreign language film offerings lately, adding within the past few months a new cache of hundreds of popular films from around the globe. One such movie is The Intouchables (no, not the French re-make of The Untouchables starring a French Kevin Costner) a 2011 French film directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano. In fact, by sheer numbers The Intouchables is the Mona Lisa of foreign language films, grossing $281 million worldwide, more than any other non-English movie in history.
The movie’s worldwide success raises the question: how did this film about the true story of wealthy quadriplegic Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his underqualified, rough around the edges, ex-con caretaker Abdel Sellou shine above the rest? For starters, the original story itself is fascinating. An old wealthy man taking a chance on a young criminal as the man responsible for his own wellbeing is intriguing, but, in most cases, would seem too far-fetched. In the case of The Intouchables, the story is practically completely true, even when it seems overblown.
Continue reading The Intouchables (2011)