Paramount via Everett Collection
A quarter of the way into Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit's far-too-long runtime, the titular hero takes note of a war-time portait in his adversary Viktor Cherevin's office. "Napoleon," Ryan says, proudly identifying the subject of the painting. "Ah," the nefarious Cherevin smiles. "I see you know your history." You'd think we'd get a bit more academic sophistication in a film directed by Kenneth Branagh... hell, in a line delivered by Kenneth Branagh. But this is par for the course in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit's script. And even more problematic, it's the thing that sticks with me most only a few days after seeing the movie. Well, that and the fact that Chris Pine and Keira Knightley make for the most compatibly attractive onscreen couple I have ever seen. Aside from these standout elements, the film dissolves into a 105-minute (jeez, it feels twice that) blur of running, driving, choking, shooting, and the like.
But it's not a painful jaunt all the while, and this is thanks almost entirely to Pine. An actor who we remember popping up in early Lindsay Lohan movies and thinking little of, Pine has earned his place at the center of franchises like Star Trek and, this weekend's box office intake permitting, Jack Ryan. He maintains character and personality in the movie's heightened scenes of "the first kill" and pulling the long con on Cherevin. With a better, smarter script, Pine could thrive in an action hero role like Ryan, but here he's only left to occasionally cut through a staunch layer of boredom.
Paramount via Everett Collection
The other winning factor of Jack Ryan is in its female lead: Knightley and her character Dr. Cathy Mullins. Another pervasive charmer, Knightley manages to inject a wealth of vitality into the movie at the points most desperate for some flavor — so much so that we're not simply thrilled, but relieved when she shows up unexpectedly to tag along with boyfriend Jack on his mission to... to... well, it's something to do with stopping terrorism. Trust me, you'll forget the specifics as soon as you leave the theater, if not sooner. But the most impressive part is that Shadow Recruit actually gives Knightley something to do as Mullins. She doesn't just wait around and lament the life choices of her danger-prone boyfriend, she gets in on the action. And we're glad for it. Without her, it'd just be Pine. And as much as we like him, he needs somebody else with a personality to play off (sorry, Kevin Costner, but you're not exactly playing your A Game here).
In short, there's almost nothing to say about Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, which in itself says a lot — it's dull, it's slow, and it's got two stars who deserve a lot better than the material they're dealt. Aw hell, maybe the sequel (yeah, we've come out of denial... it's gonna happen) will up the ante on the script, and not mistake knowing who Napoleon is for being a history expert.
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The trailers for Hope Springs might lead you to believe it's a romantic comedy about a couple trying to jumpstart their sexless marriage but it causes more empathetic cringing than chuckles. Audiences will be drawn to Hope Springs by its stars Meryl Streep Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell and Streep's track record of pleasing summer movies like Julie & Julia and Mamma Mia! that offer a respite from the blockbusters flooding theaters. Despite what its marketing might have you believe Hope Springs isn't a rom-com. The film is a disarming mixture of deeply intimate confessions by a married couple in the sanctuary of a therapist's office awkwardly honest attempts by that couple to physically reconnect and incredibly sappy scenes underscored by intrusive music. Boldly addressing female desire especially in older women it's hard not to give the movie extra credit for what writer Vanessa Taylor's script is trying to convey and its rarity in mainstream film. The ebb and flow of intimacy and desire in a long-term relationship is what drives Hope Springs and while there are plenty contrived moments and unresolved issues it is frankly surprising and surprisingly frank. It's a summer release from a major studio with high caliber stars aimed squarely at the generally underserved 50+ audience addressing the even more taboo topic of that audience's sex life.
Streep plays Kay a suburban wife who's deeply unsatisfied emotionally and sexually by her marriage to Arnold. Arnold who is played by Tommy Lee Jones as his craggiest sleeps in a separate bedroom now that their kids have left the nest; he's like a stone cold robot emotionally and physically and Kay tiptoes around trying to make him happy even as he ignores her every gesture. One of the most striking scenes in the movie is at the very beginning when Kay primps and fusses over her modest sleepwear in the hopes of seducing her husband. Streep makes it obvious that this isn't an easy thing for Kay; it takes all her guts to try and wordlessly suggest sex to her husband and when she's shot down it hurts to watch. This isn't a one time disconnect between their libidos; this is an ongoing problem that leaves Kay feeling insecure and undesirable.
After a foray into the self-help section of her bookstore Kay finds a therapist who holds week-long intensive couples' therapy sessions in Good Hope Springs ME and in a seemingly unprecedented moment of decisiveness she books a trip for the couple. Arnold of course is having none of it but he eventually comes along for the ride. That doesn't mean he's up for answering any of Dr. Feld's questions though. To be fair Dr. Feld (Carell) is asking the couple deeply intimate questions so if Arnold is comfortable foisting his amorous wife off with the excuse he had pork for lunch it's not so far-fetched to believe he'd be angry when Feld asks him about his fantasy life or masturbation habits.
Although Arnold gets a pass on some of his issues Kay is forthright about why and how she's dissatisfied. When Dr. Feld asks her if she masturbates she says she doesn't because it makes her too sad. Kay offers similar revelations; she's willing to bare it all to revive her marriage while Arnold thinks the fact that they're married at all means they must be happy. Carell's Dr. Feld is soothing and kind (even a bit bland) but it's always a pleasure to see him play it straight.
It's subversive for a mega-watt star to play a character that talks about how sexually unsatisfied she is and how unsexy she feels with the man she loves most in the world. The added taboo of Kay and Arnold's age adds that much more to the conversation. Kay and Arnold's attempts at intimacy are emotionally raw and hard to watch. Even when things get funny they're mostly awkward funny not ha-ha funny.
The rest of the movie is a little uneven wrapped up tightly and happily by the end. Their time spent soul-searching alone is a little cheesy especially when Kay ends up in a local bar where she gets a little dizzy on white wine while dishing about her problems to the bartender (Elisabeth Shue). Somewhere along the line what probably started out as a character study ended up as a wobbly drama that pushes some boundaries but eventually lets everyone off the emotional hook in favor of a smoothed-over happy ending. Still its disarming moments and performances almost balance it out. Although its target audience might be dismayed to find it's not as light-hearted as it would seem Hope Springs offers up the opportunity for discussion about sexuality and aging at a time when books and films like 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Mike are perking up similar conversations. In the end that's a good thing.
Men and women...when did it all get so complicated? In elementary school, boy-girl relationships were so simple and untainted by hormones and deep feelings. Girls never needed to worry about getting hit on during recess and the only commitment boys needed to think about was handing in their homework on time. Then puberty hits and everything changes -- guys and girls no longer see each other as mere recess playmates. Girls become sexual objects of desire and boys become potential future husbands, but does this always have to be the case? Are cross-gender friendships completely off the table at a certain age?
The entertainment industry has flooded our minds with countless romantic comedies where the guy always ends up with the girl, trying to disprove the age old question: can a guy and a girl really be "just friends"? I believe they can...it may not be common, but it can happen. In honor of this week's Friends With Benefits, starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, I've decided to prove my theory that members of the opposite sex can be friends -- without the benefits. Here are some examples of movie and television characters whose relationships never ventured beyond the friendship realm:
Harry Potter and Hermione Granger (The Harry Potter Series) Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe certainly never tried to slip one another any sort of love potion. This duo has been there for each other through thick and thin throughout the entire Harry Potter series, yet romance has never been a factor for them. Granted, both are usually pretty busy trying to save the entire wizarding world from He Who Must Not Be Named but Harry still found time to kiss Cho under the mistletoe and woo Ron's sister Ginny. These two make a great team that even has Draco Malfoy shaking in his Slytherin booties, and they don't need to breach the friends zone to do it. Meredith Grey and Alex Karev (Grey's Anatomy) Now here's an interesting relationship that never amounted to any sexual fruition and that's really saying something given the sexual promiscuity of Seattle Grace Hospital. Seriously, this show has seen more relationships than patients and yet Ellen Pompeo's and Justin Chambers' characters have never even discussed hooking up in the on-call room. Let's face it, they'd probably be really good together. She was a mental case, he's known for taking care of mental cases — it would be a perfect fit. McDreamy, though I love him, made her all normal and boring with absolutely no issues. So why didn't the writers want these two to stay away from each other? Meredith needed a person she could confide in that would give her actual outside clarity instead of molly-coddling her like everyone else, and Alex needed someone who wasn't afraid to tell him he's being an ass. Not exactly the makings for a love story — and it's exactly what both parties needed. Jimmy Dugan and Dottie Hinson (A League of Their Own) Talk about a dynamic duo! Jimmy Dugan and Dottie Hinson provide an astounding example of how some friendships can change you for the better. Tom Hanks plays a sad, washed-up, drunken baseball pro, who initially can't stand being the coach of an all girls baseball team, but Geena Davis' strong, exceptionally talented character helps show him that's there's more to women than just pretty faces. She gets him to quit drinking while he forces her to acknowledge how much she truly does love the game of baseball. I have no doubt these characters would have made an adorable couple, but they remained strictly friends throughout the course of the entire movie. The best part is that their lack of an intimate relationship doesn't detract from the plot of the story, it adds to it. They have a deep, mutual respect for one another, thus making this relationship a...home-run. Haley James and Lucas Scott (One Tree Hill) These two are like the epitome of an absolutely love-you-like-a-friend-but-nothing-more relationship played by Bethany Joy Galeotti and Chad Michael Murray. You can tell the thought of getting together never even crosses their minds throughout the course of the entire series. Lucas is even the one to walk Haley down the aisle on her wedding day! He's like her big brother figure and those are really nice to have. He would never let anything happen to her, but she doesn't have to worry about him trying to feel her up. They view each other as family, so there's no other ulterior motives or hidden feelings which is highly refreshing, especially in today's society. Rachel and Ethan (Something Borrowed) They say there's a fine line between love and hate...well you can say the same for love and friendship. In the recent rom-com, Something Borrowed, Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) has always let everyone push her around and it has cost her a lot — even love. John Krasinski's plays her adorable best friend, Ethan, who ultimately tries to get her to quit being a doormat and start living her own life. It's called tough love and it's pretty effective (I've used it on some friends myself) which is exactly what Rachel needed from him. Although Ethan ends up confessing that he thinks he has romantic feelings for her, nothing comes from it and they remain best friends even after that awkward conversation. Dewey Finn and Principal Mullins (School of Rock) Jack Black and Joan Cusack are hilarious in this family flick where education meets rock 'n roll in School of Rock. Since Cusack's character is the principle of a prep school she is wound tighter than a Timex, but Black's comical, substitute teacher character allows her to unruffle those tail feathers and realize that even adults are entitled to recess. The relationship between these two continues to develop as the movie progresses, but in a strictly platonic way (even after drinking has been involved). While they become more than just co-workers to each other, their friendship portrays a fun, childlike innocence that fittingly represents the theme of the movie itself. These two end up actually teaching each other a lesson and they're both better people for it. They get an A+ in my book! Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling (Silence of the Lambs) "Why hello, Clarice" are words that never fail to send chills up my spine. Now normally these two wouldn't come to mind when you're talking about friendships, but think about it. Anthony Hopkins' ingenious portrayal of Hannibal the Cannibal shows audiences that even the darkest of hearts are not immune to feelings. Hannibal never allows any harm to come to Jodie Foster's character and even defends her honor when a guy in an adjacent cell acts offensively towards her. Granted, he went a little too far in making the guy swallow his own tongue, but it showed that -- in his own sick and twisted way -- he cared for her. This protective theme towards Clarice continues on even into the sequel when he decides to cut off his own hand rather than hers. And let's not forget the most important thing: he never once attempts to eat her! If that doesn't show friendship, I don't know what does. Peter Pan and Tinkerbell (Peter Pan) Even Disney characters can live happily ever after without resorting to romance. Peter Pan and Tinkerbell represent the very essence of childhood innocence, so there's need to explore grown up feelings such as love and romance - ick (this is Neverland we're talking about). Even in the face of potential death, these two never resort to anything beyond their friendship because, in actuality, they're just kids after all. The beauty of their relationship is based on the fact that it has absolutely no layers to it. With a child, what you see is what you get — everything is good-natured and fun, which is exactly what this pair is supposed to represent. While we may look back on our childhood years and be thankful that they're behind us, we can't help but feel nostalgic of a time where life was less complicated and all problems were solved with a pinch of pixie dust.