Paramount’s Latest Installment In The Jack Ryan Franchise Falls Flat

Courtesy:  Paramount Studios

Courtesy: Paramount Studios

2014 has not been a good year for movies.  As a matter of fact, one could argue that this year has been one of the worst years for movies in recent years.  Marvel and DC spent the summer trying hard to one-up the other on a bigger scale than ever before.  And both of Michael Bay’s big screen blockbusters failed to reach audiences in the way that had been hoped.  And the summer season wasn’t the only disappointing part of the year, either.  Paramount tried to make a hit with its latest installment in the Jack Ryan franchise in the form of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.  Sadly, even putting that movie at the start of the year didn’t help this largely disappointing, formulaic flick.  Compared to the big name films that filled out (and flopped) the summer movie season this year, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is not much better.  The most obvious of reasons for its failure is the fact that it’s not just a continuation of the late author Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan franchise, but that it is yet another complete re-working of that franchise.  That is nothing new from the Jack Ryan franchise.  Another reason that this movie fails is its writing.  Rather than paying homage to the stylistic approach of previous Jack Ryan films, this one is more of a formulaic action flick than one with the substance of say The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games or Clear and Present Danger.  The one positive to the whole thing is believe it or not the acting on the part of veteran actor Kevin Costner.  That’s the biggest surprise of all considering how overrated he and the movies in which he has starred throughout his career have proven to be over the years.  It’s the one shining light in a movie that does absolutely nothing to honor the legacy of Tom Clancy’s one great franchise.  Had this movie been any other movie and not part of the Jack Ryan franchise, it might have worked.  But sadly that wasn’t the case.  And as a result, it will ultimately end up becoming a largely forgettable film.

When Paramount Studios decided to back Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, the studio’s heads had to have known that this movie was a major gamble.  The last time that audiences heard from Jack Ryan was in 2002’s largely forgettable film The Sum Of All Fears.  That movie failed for many of the same reasons that this latest installment in the Jack Ryan franchise failed, too. The primary reason for that failure is the fact that it is obviously set on a completely different timeline than the franchise’s previous installments—The Hunt For Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger.  Those that remember that far back will recall that according to the original canon, Ryan was injured in a  helicopter accident in Vietnam or Korea.  This movie sees Jack being injured after his chopper was shot down in Afghanistan.  And the movie itself is set not long after the events of September 11th, 2001.  So right from the beginning, audiences are introduced to a story that is set on yet another completely different time line.  At least the transition between the original Jack Ryan movies (The Sum of All Fears not included) was believable.  This isn’t the first time that lead actor Chris Pine has starred in a reboot, either, sadly enough, either.  Anyone remember the recently rebooted Star Trek franchise?

The fact that Paramount has not only rebooted the Jack Ryan franchise, but put it on a completely different timeline is bad enough.  But that’s only the beginning of the problems for this movie.  Things get even worse when taking into consideration the movie’s script.  This movie’s script hardly echoes the quality scripts presented in the original movies in the Jack Ryan franchise.  It is a formulaic action flick rife with car chases, explosions, the standard hero and villain roles, and equally standard chase to save the damsel in distress.  The damsel in question is Ryan’s love interest Dr. Cathy Muller, played well enough by Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean 1 – 3).  It’s all set against a story that is anything but original.  As a matter of fact, it lifts liberally from some all too familiar events from the early 1990s.  The original Jack Ryan movies didn’t need to rely on actual events to be enjoyable.  The people behind their scripts crafted stories that were both original and enjoyable all in one.  This movie sadly doesn’t do that.  The result is yet again a story that will in the long run be anything but memorable.

For all of the negatives that weigh down Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, there is at least one positive to the whole thing, albeit a small positive.  But good is good, right? The one positive to the entire presentation is the work of veteran actor Kevin Costner.  Those that are familiar with Seth McFarlane’s hit animated Fox sitcom Family Guy will recall the joke asking “How does he keep getting work?”  The joke is fully substantiated considering Costner’s own acting and the movies in which he has starred throughout his career.  In this critic’s own view, the only good movie in which Kevin Costner has ever starred was Field of Dreams (1989).  His acting was good.  And the story was just as good.  Other than that, he hasn’t really landed a memorable role or starred in a memorable movie.  In the case of this movie, Kostner takes a back seat to the much younger Pine.  He doesn’t try to hog the screen as some sort of mentor or anything to that extent.  He is just someone older with more experience.  He passes on some knowledge to Pine’s younger Ryan at one point.  Other than that, he is largely a supporting character.  And he does quite well in that role, too. He is actually believable in that role, interestingly enough.  That being said, his acting is about the only thing to which audiences have to be excited in this movie.  Other than that, it is mostly a forgettable movie.

When Paramount Studios decided last year to release Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit at the back end of the annual winter movie season, the studio’s hopes were obviously that it would bring in better numbers, not being jumbled in with the far too overcrowded summer blockbuster season.  Sadly, even now in its home release, audiences will see that no matter when the movie was released, it was doomed to failure.  It could be argued that in examining the movie’s script, it is little more than a fictionalized and modernized story “based on actual events.”  That’s especially the case for those that remember certain events from the early 1990s.  The fact that the movie places Jack Ryan in a wholly different timeline once again takes away from its enjoyment even more.  Even the star power of veteran actor Kevin Costner couldn’t help the movie even though he actually succeeded in his supporting role.   Keira Knightley does very little to help the story, either.  Her character Dr. Cathy Muller comes across as little more than the helpless love interest to Pine’s Jack.  All things considered, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit proves to be one more in a long line of prequels, sequels, and reboots churned out this year that will ultimately end up being forgotten amid that mass of other equally forgettable  films.  Here’s to hoping that should audiences ever see any new adventures of Jack Ryan, Paramount and company will get it right next time.

Anchor Bay’s The Midnight Game Is A Fright Filled, Fun Indie Horror Flick

Courtesy:  Anchor Bay Entertainment/Starz

Courtesy: Anchor Bay Entertainment/Starz

Anchor Bay Entertainment’s new horror flick The Midnight Game is a surprisingly entertaining work for an indie horror flick.  The central point of the movie’s success is its script.  One watch of this fright-filled story shows that it’s not just another teen slasher flick.  For that matter, there’s barely any blood shed throughout.  It will however leave audiences guessing right up to the end.  Another reason that horror fans will appreciate The Midnight Game is the acting on the part of the movie’s cast.  The cast knows that this movie is an indie flick.  And while the cast doesn’t necessarily ham it up per se, each cast member’s acting does come across as lightly poking fun at the whole teen horror sub-genre of the horror realm.  Last but not least of all worth mentioning about The Midnight Game is the fact that while it obviously lifts from certain other horror flicks, it doesn’t go so far as to blatantly rip off said movies unlike far too many movies out there regardless of their genre.  These three factors each play their own role in the overall success of The Midnight Game.  Together, they make this indie horror romp one that any fan of the genre will want to watch at least once now that the movie is officially available in stores and online.

The central point of The Midnight Game’s success lies in the movie’s script.  At first glance, one might think that this movie is going to be just another run-of-the-mill gore fest loaded with lots of references to people taking part in satanic rituals.  The reality of the movie is that it is anything but.  Sure, it is essentially another teen horror flick.  But at least it isn’t just another one of the standard gore-filled slasher/evil spirit flicks that are all too common nowadays from the world of horror.  Yes, there is some blood shed at points in the movie.  And there is one very brief moment of nudity.  But both elements have been kept to a minimum.  For that reason alone, the movie’s writing staff is deserving of a certain amount of credit.  There’s no denying that there is at least some predictability at certain points in the story.  But the writing staff makes up for that by throwing in a rather interesting twist ending, which will not be revealed here for the sake of those that haven’t yet seen this frightfully fun teen horror flick.  It is a twist though, that will leave audiences wondering and talking.  And that it will have that lasting effect is a fitting final testament to the talents of those behind the movie’s script.

The talents of those responsible for crafting the script behind The Midnight Game are definitely worth noting in the overall enjoyment of the movie in whole.  The work of those charged with crafting the story’s script goes a long way toward making the movie work.  The same can be said of the acting on the part of the movie’s cast.  The cast—Renee Olstead (The Secret Life of the American Teenager13 Going on 30Still Standing), Shelby Young (The Social NetworkDays of Our LivesEverybody Hates Chris), Guy Wilson (Little Black BookDays of Our LivesThe Open Door), Valentina de Angelis (As The World TurnsGossip GirlBereavement), and Spencer Daniels (Star TrekThe Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonThis Is 40)—doesn’t necessarily ham it up.  But it’s obvious that the cast members had fun with their roles throughout the movie’s filming.  They did take their roles with a certain level of seriousness.  But they didn’t take them so seriously that they went over the top.  Their acting could be argued to have even been a little bit of a spoof of the teens in every teen-centric horror flick ever released to a point.  That’s really what made this aspect work so well.  They were just that spot on in their depictions of the stereotypes used in all the other teen horror romps already out there.  Audiences will know in watching the cast at work that they are watching a movie.  Yet thanks to that acting, audiences will still want to watch what happens to each “teen” next, even going so far as to laugh at their characters at some points.  Again, herein lies one more reason that any horror aficionado will want to see this movie if only once.  There is still more worth mentioning even after considering both this aspect of the movie and its script.

The script and acting that went into The Midnight Game are both key to the movie’s overall enjoyment and success.  Anyone that is familiar with the world of horror will note in watching though, that this movie bears quite the similarity to a number of other horror flicks out there.  Those flicks include the likes of: Fear Dot ComThe Ring, Shadow People and others of that ilk.  Audiences that give The Midnight Game will see the comparison rather early on and even in the story’s final minutes.  The catch is that while the similarity is there, The Midnight Game doesn’t go so far as to directly rip off those works.  Despite being loosely related to said movies, it still maintains its own identity against them, thus helping to maintain at least a certain sense of originality.  That is the final touch to this movie that makes it one of this year’s more surprising entertaining indie flicks.  It’s a movie that any horror aficionado should watch at least once whether this Halloween or any other time of the year.

The Midnight Game is available now on DVD in stores and online.  It can be ordered directly online via the official Anchor Bay Entertainment website at http://www.anchorbayent.com/detail.aspx?ProjectId=8e063eb4-72ab-e311-b062-d4ae527c3b65.  More information on this and other titles available from Anchor Bay Entertainment is available online at http://www.anchorbayent.com, http://www.facebook.com/AnchorBay, and http://twitter.com/Anchor_Bay.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

True Trek Fans Will Appreciate The Captains Close Up

Courtesy:  Entertainment One/epix

Courtesy: Entertainment One/epix

The Captains Close Up with William Shatner is an enjoyable documentary for anyone that has grown up with Gene Roddenberry’s beloved sci-fi franchise that is Star Trek.  That started as a shot in the dark decades ago has grown to become one of television’s most beloved franchises.  And the people that have helmed the most famous of all starships in sci-fi history have by connection become among the most respected, beloved, and famous figures in television’s modern history.  Fans get to see them every year at conventions around the country.  But how many fans have ever had the chance to see all of the Federation’s most well-known captains in one place at the same time?  Thanks to Entertainment One and epix, Star Trek fans can hear from those individuals in this new DVD.

Epix and EOne’s new Star Trek documentary sees the very first of the individuals to lead the Federation’s flagship interview those that came after him.  This includes Avery Brooks (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek: Voyager).  Even Chris Pine (Star Trek, Star Trek: Into Darkness, People Like Us), makes a surprise appearance in the first of the DVD’s five segments.  Audiences will appreciate the interviews culled for this presentation as they show not just the captains, but the people behind the uniform.  One of the most intriguing factors that viewers will note ties together each of the actors is their collective theatrical background.  Each of the cast members started out in theater before making a name for themselves in each of their respective installments of Star Trek.  One cast member from one of the more recent franchises even notes in her interview that having a theatrical background coming into any of the Star Trek franchises was very important.  That is because it helps to adapt to and interpret each script and situation.

The theatrical experience tying each captain to the other is intriguing.  There is no doubt about that.  Most interesting of all though, is the interviews themselves.  Shatner comes across in an entirely unpretentious fashion as he sits down with each star.  Watching him discuss life on and off screen with each captain is more like watching two old friends catching up on old times than any formal interview.  Deciding which interview best illustrates this is difficult.  But being that he is the most well-known of the captains, the most logical choice would be Shatner’s interview with Sir Patrick Stewart.  Stewart speaks candidly with Shatner about his modest upbringing, his career before and after Star Trek, and about his charity “Refuge.”  Even Stewart’s own son gets in on the act.  He comes in, sits down with Shatner and his dad, and shares some rather entertaining tidbits of information about growing up in a family of actors.  Viewers will laugh along with Sir Patrick as his son shares these entertaining anecdotes.  Sir Patrick’s reaction is timeless.  He visibly blushes, hides his face and laughs embarrassed at the stories.  On the completely opposite end, Sir Patrick’s own emotional story of growing up with an abusive, alcoholic father is just as moving.  It is moving not because he admits his father only beat his mother, but because it led him to create “Refuge” in an attempt to help women who have been victims of domestic violence.  It’s easy to see how difficult it was to discuss this story.  And it makes him that much more human.

After his interview with Stewart, the next best example of the interviews’ candid nature would have to be Shatner’s interview with Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek: Voyager).  Somehow, the pair moves from talking about home cooking to the more serious discussion about reactions to audience criticisms and so many other topics.  Among those topics is that of how Mulgrew came into the role of Captain Janeway almost by chance.  Those that are less familiar with Voyager will be surprised to discover that Mulgrew got the part of Janeway after the original actress who was to play Janeway abruptly quit mere days after being given the position.  She goes on to discuss the joy of working on the show and balancing that with her own personal sadness and stress of dealing with divorce off screen.  It’s another of the more emotional moments shared throughout the interviews collected for this DVD.  Fans will find their own favorite moments when they buy or order the DVD for themselves.  It is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered via Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00D3XM3MY/ref=s9_simh_gw_p74_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=12P7CS8DNG71Y48M096T&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1389517282&pf_rd_i=507846.  More information on The Captains Close Up with William Shatner and other DVDs and Blu-rays from EOne is available online at http://www.entertainmentone.com.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Star Trek Sequel One Of Summer 2013’s Best

Courtesy:  Paramount

Courtesy: Paramount

Star Trek Into Darkness is one of the best movies of the Summer 2013 movie season.  However, for all of its successes, there is no denying that it is not a perfect work.  The movie, which clocks in at just over two hours keeps audiences engaged from the story’s opening moments.  And that is thanks in large part to following the standard Summer blockbuster formula.  Here’s where things get dicey, and some of this critic’s fellow Trek fans might be angered.  To those potentially angered readers, please read this entire review before attacking.

One of the biggest factors in the success of Star Trek Into Darkness is that much like its predecessor, audiences don’t have to know the rich history of Gene Roddenberry’s creation that started with Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS).  Its references to the movie franchise’s reboot were so few that audiences that have yet to see that movie need not worry about having seen it in order to enjoy this story.  Director J.J. Abrams and his staff of writers did an impressive job in keeping this tradition alive from the movies based on both TOS and TNG.  Though, those that are long-time fans of both Star Trek TOS and the long running movie franchise will enjoy it just as much as TOS and the movie franchise’s reboot.  Long-time fans will enjoy the reference in this movie to the famed Troubles with Tribbles episode from TOS.  Long-time fans will enjoy seeing actor Leonard Nimoy reprise his role as the original Spock just as much (not to reveal too much).  That’s right.  Leonard Nimoy is back once again.  And long-time fans will love how Abrams and company poke fun at themselves with his re-appearance.  How they go about doing so will be kept under wraps so as to not spoil another positive moment from an overall impressive work.

Director J.J. Abrams and his staff of writers did an impressive job making a story that much like the movies from TOS and TNG, doesn’t require knowledge of the previous movie to be enjoyed.  This and the references to TOS played important roles in this movie’s success.  Just as much cause for success was the personal growth of Chris Pine’s Kirk and Zachary Quinto’s Spock.  Kirk starts off in this movie the same brash almost Tom Cruise “Maverick” style figure as they were introduced to in the series’ 2009 reboot.  It would be impossible to explain this without spoiling at least one aspect of the movie.  That aspect would be that Admiral Pike is killed off.  In his death, audiences finally see Kirk grow as a person.  They see what was obviously the relationship of a son and his (for all intents and purposes) surrogate father in Pike.  Audiences also see the relationship between Spock and Kirk grow even more from their initial meeting in the 2009 reboot.  This is perhaps one of very few aspects of this work that would require viewers to have seen the previous film in order to appreciate it.  Theirs are the only relationships that show any growth from the previous installment in the franchise.  That’s not an entirely bad thing.  Simon Pegg is as funny as ever in his role as Scotty.  And the relationship between Scotty, Kirk, Spock and Bones produces more than its share of laughs once again.

For everything that makes Star Trek Into Darkness such a success, it isn’t without its faults.  This story has plenty of comical moments between cast members; enough that they would make quite the blooper reel in the movie’s home release.  But one can’t help but look back on the movie and realize just how much running around and yelling filled most of the story.  There was so much that in hindsight, it makes for more than enough fodder for Saturday Night Live’s writers to spoof.  Thankfully for the movie’s staff of writers, all the running around and yelling wasn’t enough to overpower the story’s main plot that while not overly original, is still nicely updated.  It’s a story that is well worth its time overall, whether one is an experienced Star Trek fan or not.

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People Like Us Is An Underrated, Moving Drama

Courtesy: Dreamworks Pictures

Family is the most important thing that any person can have.  Without family, what does anyone have?  Sam (Chris Pine), his mother (Michelle Pfeiffer), and the sister he never knew he had (Elizabeth Banks) learn this lesson in Dreamworks’ new movie, People Like Us.

People Like Us is a powerful and emotional drama.  On the surface, it may be just another movie that’s based on actual events.  But the story presented here is much more real and emotional than audiences may want to believe.  Cases such as the story presented here really do happen.  The problem is that society has attached a stigma to it.  So it tends to be generally swept under the proverbial carpet.  People don’t want to know about such stories.  Keeping in mind just how real People Like Us is, one can’t help but feel sorry for Sam’s sister, Frankie.

When Sam first revealed to Frankie that they were related, she goes absolutely berserk.  Not knowing for so many years would make such a revelation a massive load both emotionally and psychologically.  One has to put oneself into Frankie’s shoes to really appreciate her reaction.  She was looking at the situation from the vantage point of having had an emotional connection to Sam before discovering he was her long lost brother.  Here was this single mother who had no clue who the father of her child was.  The shock of having her hopes dashed is entirely understandable here.  Of course, she does come around by the movie’s end.  The full ending won’t be given away for the sake of those who haven’t yet had the opportunity to see the story.  Though audiences are encouraged to see it for themselves to find out how it all ends.

The emotional drama between Sam and Frankie is just part of what will keep audiences watching throughout the movie’s near two-hour run time.  Sam’s relationship with his mother Lillian (played expertly by veteran actress Michelle Pfeiffer) gets tied into the story.  The secret that Lillian keeps plays directly into Sam’s relationship with Frankie.  At the same time, it’s that same secret that eventually brings Sam and his mother closer by the story’s end.  It would be wrong to say that the end of People Like Us is happy.  Rather, it’s better described as bittersweet.  But ironically, enough, it will leave audiences feeling fulfilled after the emotional journey on which they embarked at the story’s beginning.

When it was originally released earlier this year in theaters, People Like Us was released among a glut of Summer blockbusters.  Because of that, it was easily lost in that sea that is the silver screen.  But it will be released next Tuesday, October 2nd on DVD and Blu-ray.  As surprisingly deep and emotional as it is, hopefully it won’t be lost in the sea of new home releases as it is definitely worth the watch. 

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