JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014)
Reboot of this series based on Tom Clancy’s character features Chris Pine as a young Ryan recruited into the CIA as an analyst by agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) after an impressive tour in Afghanistan that left Ryan with an injured back. Once healed, Ryan is sent undercover for 10 years on Wall Street to uncover funds being channeled to terrorist organizations but, instead finds a plot between Russian businessman Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh who also directs) and high ranking Russian officials to completely bring down the U.S. economy. Harper thrusts Ryan into the field that takes the rookie agent from Moscow and back to New York City to stop the plot which involves a exploding a bomb under Wall Street. Branagh delivers an entertaining thriller based on Adam Cozad and David Koepp’s screenplay and gets good performances from himself and his cast. The film only falters when Ryan’s girlfriend Cathy (Keira Knightley) gets involved in the intrigue as it is cliche’ and highly improbable the CIA would risk the mission by involving a civilian directly in so delicate an operation. But, otherwise it is a solid enough thriller and while not memorable, it does pass the time nicely and moves quickly with enough action to offset the espionage.
MR. JONES (2013)
For the first 2/3 of the film, this found footage horror had me. The premise involves a young couple Scott (Jon Foster) and Penny (Sarah Jones) who move into a house in the middle of nowhere so Scott can film a nature documentary. But, the discovery of a mysterious neighbor and his bizarre sculptures leads the couple to think they have found the elusive “Mr. Jones” a reclusive artist who, in the 70s, sent random people around the country his strange pieces without explanation. In the art world he is something of a legend and myth. Now the subject of their film becomes Jones but, they start to find there is something more to his sculptures then art and that something may be a force they are not ready to deal with. Writer/director Karl Mueller comes up with a very interesting story and angle in which to work in the found footage format and it does grab the viewer at first but, then he blows it in his last act by trying to get too artsy and allowing the film to become simply incoherent and confusing. He goes overboard with his editing and visuals and totally looses control of the story which gets lost in an endless montage of imagery meant to be hallucinogenic but, only induces a headache and leaves us wondering what is really going on. It’s too vague and some of the images flashed before us seem simply random and without purpose. His small cast are fine and he does have a nice visual style but, in the end, gets too over-indulgent for his own good instead of finishing out what started as an intriguing story. Still, with a little restraint, Mueller could yet turn into a filmmaker to watch. Also stars Iron Man and Star Trek’s Faran Tahir which throws off the found footage illusion as he has been in two very high profile films and is instantly recognizable.
As a huge fan of writer/ director Neil Blomkamp’s District 9, I couldn’t wait to see what he came up with next. Now after a 4 year wait, his sophomore flick Elysium has arrived. I liked Elysium. I was certainly entertained but, it does have some problems that keep it from reaching the standard set by District 9 such as, a bit of an overloaded story and some surprising overacting by a few principles. Elysium tells the story of the future Earth of 2154. The planet is overpopulated and ravaged and the rich and powerful have moved off planet to the enormous space station of Elysium where they have every convenience and luxury, while the rest are left to labor and wallow in the mess. Enter ex-con Max, (Matt Damon) a man trying to work hard and stay out of trouble and prison, while dreaming of reconnecting with childhood sweetheart, Frey (Alice Braga). An accident at work leaves Max fatally poisoned with radiation and with 5 days left to live, Max needs to get to the only place where he can be cured, Elysium… which is off limits to the poor inhabitants of Earth. Max turns to crime-lord and hacker, Spider (Wagner Moura). Spider will get Max on Elysium if he helps steal the information about all it’s access codes stored in the brain of one, John Carlyle (William Fichtner) who, unknown to Max and Spider, is working with Elysium Secretary Of Defense, Delacourt (a surprisingly miscast Jodie Foster) to overthrow Elysium’s president (Faran Tahir). Still with me? Needless to say Max now has information that Delacourt will kill to get and is being hunted by her henchman, Kruger (Sharlto Copley) all the while trying to find his way to Elysium to heal himself. Throw in strength enhancing exo-skeletons, Frey’s sick daughter and we have a Sci-Fi action soup with a lot of ingredients. Elysium does have a bit of an overcomplicated story and while it is not hard to follow, it just has a lot of elements to it as, once again, Blomkamp tackles the theme of ‘the haves and the have-nots, as he did in District 9. We get the contrast of the over populated slum Earth has become to the spotless and perfect living conditions the wealthy enjoy in Elysium which, floats above in Earth’s orbit as a constant reminder of how little we all are to them and how they are so above us. The message is not subtle but, Blomkamp skillfully keeps it from overwhelming things with so much else going on. There is a lot of fast paced action and with a complex story as we have, the director keeps things moving very quickly. The excess of plot doesn’t slow things down though one feels it might have served the film if things were streamlined a little bit and there weren’t quite so many players in the game. And as for the players, Damon and Braga are strong though Braga’s Frey really doesn’t get that much screen time till the last act so we don’t identify with her as much even though we do get treated to flashbacks of she and Max as kids in an orphanage. Damon proves once again he can be an action star yet with some nice depth, giving Max some layers that enhances his character much like his surgically attached exo-skeleton enhances his strength and agility. Sadly it’s veteran actress Foster who seems to be miscast here. She never quite strays into camp but, plays Delacourt like one half stereotypical bureaucratic douche and the other half Roger Moore era Bond villain complete with unidentifiable accent. It sticks out awkwardly in what is a serious Sci-Fi flick as does District 9 star Sharlto Copley, who is completely over the top as Kruger. Which is disappointing consider how good he was in D9. A calmer demeanor would have made him more threatening. Neither characterization seems to fit in with the more grounded performances of the leads and more serious tone of the film. Joining them is Wagner Moura who is just weak and tries to compensate by over doing it as Spider. An actor with a bit stronger presence who doesn’t need to try as hard would have worked better. But, there is still plenty to like about this film. It’s story may be complicated but, there is a lot of action to move it along and some delightfully gruesome moments splattered here and there as this future’s weapons do make a mess. The last act especially is quite thrilling and has a nice emotional impact to go with all the explosions, gunfire and mechanically enhanced hand to hand combat. The SPFX are flawless, the design is breathtaking and the film could easily take place in District 9’s world. The score by Ryan Amon suits the film well, though reminded me of Dark Knight Rises a bit, but, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. So, all in all I liked Elysium and recommend it especially if you enjoyed District 9. It’s a bit meatier then most summer fair so, those who are tired of moody superheroes might like being given a bit more to chew on. Just be prepared that there is a complex story to digest along with the action and that a few of the veteran cast members just don’t seem right for their roles. Entertaining despite it’s flaws and another strong role from the versatile Damon.
A solid 3 mechanically enhanced Matt Damons