by Jeff Boam


Opening This Week

I, Frankenstein
Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy
In this PG-13-rated adaptation of the graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux, Frankenstein’s creature (Eckhart) finds himself caught in a centuries old war between two immortal clans. The Plus: The players. Here, Stuart Beattie (a relatively new director known for his screenplays for 30 Days of Night and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) helms a big-budget flick with a cast that includes Eckhart (The Dark Knight), Nighy (About Time), Miranda Otto (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and Jai Courtney (A Good Day to Die Hard). The Minus: The plain truth. Honestly, with these exhibits as evidence (The Losers, Dredd), few moviegoers care about comic book adaptations that don’t include heroes with capes, regardless of how good their reviews. Given that I, Frankenstein sports a monster mash-up tone reminiscent of Underworld comes from the hands of an unproven blockbuster director, however, it’s more likely that this property will fall under the category of poorly reviewed comic book flicks featuring heroes without capes that nobody wants to see (Jonah Hex, R.I.P.D.).


Now Playing

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Chris Pine, Kevin Costner
*** — Executive Derision
Bond-ed and Bourne too late, Jack Ryan nonetheless gets reinvented for the 21st century with excitingly mixed results. In this PG-13-rated reboot of the late great Tom Clancy’s espionage franchise, a young covert CIA analyst (Pine) uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack. It’s as thrilling as Hell, then daffy as heck. Intricately plotted, then ploddingly silly. A worthy follow-up to Patriot Games, then a Clear and Present wanker. The film lays out some interesting thinking man’s groundwork full of death-defying espionage and breakneck fist and firefights, but simply arrives too late to the party. The first of the Jack Ryan flicks NOT to be based on Tom Clancy’s novels, this Recruit is a Shadow-y follow-up (or forebear) to the likes of nearly all that preceded it. It presents some flag smashing spy craft worthy of the best geopolitical thriller but then connects the dots with a color-by-numbers rudimentary actioner approach. Dammit, even the action sequences that work beautifully betray the whiff of been there/done that. Like the nuclear explosion in Sum of All Fears, there’s a dark cloud descending over this franchise but it’s not the cast. Thankfully, once and future Captain Kirk actor Chris Pine delivers, as does director/big bad Kenneth Branagh. It’s Kevin Costner, however, who deserves the spoils if war. He’s presented as an old No Way Out era spymaster, but the flick deftly shows that he’s just hitting his prime. Why isn’t this man given more leading man punch-‘em-ups like Liam Neeson?

Ride Along
Ice Cube, Kevin Hart
** — Flunk the Police
Ridden hard and left for dread, Ice Cube’s latest nearly brings moviegoers along on a straight up bust. Oh, it boasts some laughs, but sometimes makes audiences long for his PG-rated days pulling desk duty in family flicks. In this PG-13-rated comedy, a fast-talking security guard (Hart) joins a hard-nosed cop (Cube) on a 24-hour patrol of Atlanta in order to prove himself worthy of marrying the cop’s sister. The fact that the ridiculously formulaic Ride Along blatantly robs so many cliches from decades old police actioners speaks volumes about the comedy’s entertainment value overall, however. Once you stop shaking your head at the jaw dropping amount of stolen goods being sold as new kicks on screen, you can actually stop to appreciate the occasional yuks. They’re often derived from a recipe too, mind you, but the players bring some mad skills. Ice Cube knows what he’s good at: playing Ice Cube, furling his brow and snarling every line like you just peed all over his Air Jordans. It’s a gift, like Bud Abbott’s ability to play the flim flam straight man better than anybody. Here, his Lou Costello is Kevin Hart. Long due a starring role after dominating comedy tours and supporting gigs, he emerges more with the one-schtick pony sellability of Chris Tucker than the golden funnyman cometh aura of Eddie Murphy. It’s a pity too because — with your eyes shut and ears covered— Ride Along could be confused for a watered down 48 Hours instead of what it is, an anemic Money Talks.

Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams
**** — Virtual Humanity
Interfacing profoundly with every personal pronoun, Her moves deftly through a hyper-modern romance like a house on fire-wall. In this R-rated drama set in the not-too-distant future, a lonely writer (Phoenix) develops an unlikely relationship with his new operating system (voice of Scarlett Johansson) that’s designed to meet his every need. The film must get labeled a “fantasy” because it takes place JUST beyond tomorrow — not with flying cars but with sentient thoughts. Regardless of the ‘when,’ this brilliantly realized vision of our exceedingly detached accelerated culture succeeds beautifully because of the ‘how.’ Believably oddball, Joaquin Phoenix exudes a naturalistic quality that often makes you think you’re watching a documentary about heartbreak. Meanwhile, Scarlett Johansson brings an amazing depth to a character rendered simply with the spoken word. Without director Spike Jonze shepherding a spot-on vision of an anti-social media-infused society that’s just around the corner, however, this perfectly played cultural critique about the need for true human contact would be for naught. The only problem is that it’s too good, forewarning a dated feel for when we become and pass by this culture. For the prophetic Jonze, this is a great problem.

Small Screens

Blue Jasmine
Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin
**** — Blue is the new Gold
Enough about Captain Phillips, this week’s other Oscar-nominated new DVD release. If Woody Allen’s latest happens to leave filmgoers a little Blue, it’s only because this auteur paints such a ridiculously engrossing portrait of a woman well past the verge of a nervous breakdown. In this R-rated drama, the widow (Blanchett) of a Madoff-type investor (Baldwin) struggles to adjust once the high life crumbles. A timely tale of financial malfeasance and a brilliant bi-polar character study, this cross-cutting story is as every bit as gut-punchingly brutal as Match Point with moments as gut-bustingly funny as Mighty Aphrodite. With a turn that proves both beautiful and withering in the same scene, Cate Blanchett deserves the Oscar for Best Actress — period. Thanks to pitch perfect support from Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay and Louis CK, Allen can technically call this an ensemble but Jasmine only blooms because Blanchett says so.

Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman
“A Study In Pink”
**** — Inspector Gad Zooks
So far in the 21st Century, Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law introduced fisticuffs and flat-out comedy to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective while Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu introduced the network television procedural formula to that same sleuthing sociopath. Only current Doctor Who producer Steven Moffat brought Sherlock to Sherlock, however. Indeed, the setting might be updated to taking place in the current day, but these detective tales evince all of the wit, wisdom, and wiles of the source material. Brilliantly adapted to include modern amenities but not modern sensibilities, Moffat and co-writer/Mycroft Holmes (brother of Sherlock) star Mark Gatiss make the world’s most famous private detective more accessible than he’s ever been on screen, big or small. Season 3 just kicked off here on PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre, so start right at the beginning on Hulu with the Pilot, a ridiculously cunning, intelligent, and respectful update of Doyle’s classic “A Study in Scarlet.”