Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – The Sum of All Ryans

by Ethan Alter January 17, 2014 6:00 am
<i>Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit</i> – The Sum of All Ryans

When we last saw Jack Ryan -- CIA analyst and reluctant action hero -- on the big screen, he was racing against the clock to prevent an all-out nuclear war between American and Russia, the favorite antagonist of his creator, Tom Clancy. He also looked a lot like Ben Affleck, who had inherited the role from Harrison Ford, who in turn had inherited it from Alec Baldwin in a string of regenerations of Doctor Who-vian proportions. The casting switch was intended to give a fresh start to the then-three movie franchise, but following a respectable (though far from stellar) box-office performance, Affleck's Ryan was prematurely retired instead. (Just as well; there are a number of reasons why The Sum of All Fears didn't work and Affleck's callow performance tops the list. Funnily enough, though, he'd probably make a great fortysomething Ryan if he were to attack the part today.) A decade later, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit offers up another Ryan regeneration from which the character emerges with the face and form of Chris Pine. More notably, though, this is the first Ryan adventure that isn't directly based on a Clancy novel and perhaps that explains why it works as well as it does… at least until it doesn't.

Five Reasons Why the <i>Paranormal Activity</i> Franchise Should Rest in Peace

Well… it was fun while it lasted. After five years and five movies, the Paranormal Activity franchise is, at last, dead on arrival. The final nail in the coffin? The anemic debut of the so-called "spin-off" installment, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, which attempted to capitalize on the first-week-of-January release date that's been so horror-friendly in past years (just look at the first-weekend grosses for Texas Chainsaw 3D and The Devil Inside) but wound up getting trounced by Frozen's dynamic duo of Elsa and Anna, who re-claimed the top spot following their film's seventh week in theaters.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Best Kept a Secret

by Ethan Alter December 25, 2013 6:00 am
<i>The Secret Life of Walter Mitty</i>: Best Kept a Secret

The curse of specializing in comedy -- either in front of or behind the camera -- is that at a certain point, you kind of want to be taken seriously. And while that understandable motivation is how we wind up with such richly dramatic career left turns as Woody Allen's Manhattan, Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love and Sarah Silverman in Take This Waltz, it also results in misguided botches like Robert Benigni's Life is Beautiful, Adam Sandler in Reign Over Me and Tina Fey in Admission. Be prepared to add The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the latest directorial effort from Ben Stiller, to that list.

The Hobbit — The Desolation of Smaug: Desolate This!

by Ethan Alter December 13, 2013 6:00 am
<i>The Hobbit — The Desolation of Smaug</i>: Desolate This!

The interesting thing about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is that while it's ostensibly meant to continue the adventure that began in the previous installment An Unexpected Journey, it's equally concerned with setting up what's to come. And I'm not talking about the third and final installment in Peter Jackson's super-sized adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's slender fantasy tale There and Back Again (coming your way next December). I mean the original three films that started his soon-to-be-six-chapter Middle-earth opus, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's not just the extended re-appearance of Orlando Bloom's elfin archer Legolas that brings to minds buzzwords like Fellowship, Towers and returning Kings: Desolation of Smaug is filled with allusions to, in-jokes about and extensive set-up for the War of the Ring that rocks Middle-earth either 60-odd years from now (movie time) or 10 years in the past (real world time). A more accurate title for the movie might be: The Hobbit: The Lord of the Rings Begins… Oh Yeah, and There's Some Dragon Named Smaug Flying About, Too.

New York Film Critics Online 2013 Awards Results

by Ethan Alter December 9, 2013 11:11 am
New York Film Critics Online 2013 Awards Results

The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO), of which TWoP's Moviefile is a voting member, met yesterday for its fourteenth annual awards ceremony. Here are the results from the meeting.

Black Nativity: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Harlem

by Ethan Alter November 27, 2013 6:00 am
<i>Black Nativity</i>: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Harlem

In its original incarnation, Langston Hughes's enduring Christmas musical Black Nativity -- which premiered Off-Broadway in the early '60s and has been revived annually ever since -- was a straightforward re-telling of the Nativity story (you know -- manger, three wise men, virgin birth, the whole deal) featuring the not-at-all straightforward (at the time, anyway) sight of an all-black cast recounting the birth of Jesus through song and dance. That performance serves as the centerpiece of the new film version of Black Nativity, with the impressive ensemble -- including Oscar winners Forrest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson, Oscar nominee Angela Bassett, Grammy winner Mary J. Blige and… um, Tyrese Gibson -- participating in a recreation of the Nativity story that begins on a church dais before spilling out onto the streets of Harlem. Scored to soaring gospel numbers (sung in power-ballad fashion by Hudson et al.) and unfolding against an intriguingly hallucinatory urban backdrop, this sequence is the highlight of the movie and points to why the Hughes's stage piece has endured all these years. Unfortunately, the new stuff surrounding it is far less timeless, making the movie resemble a musty period piece from the '60s.

Gravity: Something in the Air

by Ethan Alter October 4, 2013 6:00 am
<i>Gravity</i>: Something in the Air

Considering the title, it's somehow appropriate that Alfonso Cuarón's outer space thriller, Gravity, boasts the most buoyant opening sequence I've seen all year. And I'm not just talking about the space-assisted buoyancy of the central characters, medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), who we meet hundreds of miles above the Earth as they're repairing a busted board on the Hubble space telescope. No, the tone of the entire sequence is what's so light and cheery; while Ryan fiddles with the Hubble, Matt floats in a wide arc around the construction site with the aid of a jet pack -- Cuarón's camera gracefully following his path without a visible cut -- cracking wise and sharing stories of his past adventures in the final frontier. All the while, Earth is looming in the background below (and sometimes above) them, beatifically beaming like an oversized nightlight. Simply put, it's a majestic scene, one that rekindles the romance of space travel that's been lost in both movies and real life over the decades. It also provides audiences with an idyllic moment of peace before things start to go wrong.

Indie Snapshot: The Summit

by Ethan Alter October 4, 2013 5:55 am
Indie Snapshot: <i>The Summit</i>

Among documentaries devoted to the fine art of mountain climbing, no film has yet scaled the heights reached by Kevin Macdonald's terrific, terrifying 2003 film, Touching the Void, which recounted a doomed two-man expedition in the Andes through a mixture of talking-head interviews and convincing recreations. Nick Ryan's new non-fiction account of a disastrous K2 climb, The Summit, doesn't break Macdonald's record either, but it's a sturdy film in its own right, one that chronicles in compelling detail (again, through interviews and staged recreations) how even the most experienced mountaineers are always at the mercy of the elements.

Closed Circuit: Faulty Wiring

by Ethan Alter August 28, 2013 6:00 am
<i>Closed Circuit</i>: Faulty Wiring

Among the many disappointments of the thrill-free British thriller Closed Circuit is that it wastes such an evocative title on such a bland movie. After all, that name instantly puts one in mind of vintage '70s paranoia pictures like The Parallax View or Three Days of the Condor, movies where a lone hero is plunged into a shadowy world of espionage and betrayal, perpetrated by an all-knowing, all-powerful corporate and/or government entity. And the film's opening credits sequence further teases that that's what's in store for viewers, filling the screen with footage gleaned from various closed circuit cameras positioned around a contemporary London neighborhood. At first, we're treated to scenes of ordinary life: people walking and talking, cops directing traffic and vendors peddling their wares. But then the image of a nondescript delivery truck starts to recur on the various monitors as it backs its way into a particularly populous section of the street. Just as a police officer comes over to wave the driver away, the screens go white as an explosion reduces the surrounding area to rubble.

<i>The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones</i>: Your Burning Questions Answered

Is Lily Collins the next Kristen Stewart? Could it be more obvious that she's running around the streets of Toronto rather than the streets of Brooklyn? And what the heck is a "mortal instrument" anyway? You've undoubtedly got questions about the latest wanna-be YA franchise-starter The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and we've got the answers… with some spoilers in the mix as well.

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