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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Cindy Prascik's Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Dallas Buyers Club & 12 Years a Slave

Dearest Blog, in a weekend where my cinema rolled out all the awards nominees at once and I should have seen six movies, I feel pretty good about the fact that I managed three: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Dallas Buyers Club, and 12 Years a Slave. Though most of the world has probably already seen at least two of those, we'll keep spoilers to a minimum, nothing you wouldn't know or guess from the trailers.

First on the weekend's agenda was the new release Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

Newly-minted agent Jack Ryan gets himself in hot water after discovering a terrorist threat from Russia.

First, dear Blog, let me say how comforting it is to have good ol' Mother Russia back to her cinematically villainous ways. I'm a child of the Cold War, and I have to admit I'm just not feelin' more recent threats like North Korea and the Taliban.

In his first outing as the iconic Ryan, Chris Pine is younger and less polished than his predecessors, but no less entertaining. He's a good fit for the role, and I won't mind if he's the new face of a(nother) franchise. Kenneth Branagh is a bit over the top, but enjoyable, as the big baddie, but, sadly, Kiera Knightly is a casting misstep as Ryan's fiance. She's flat, unsympathetic, and her generic American accent is awful.

Good action sequences and interesting (if dubious) technology keep Shadow Recruit moving at a nice pace, and it doesn't overstay its welcome.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit runs 105 minutes and is rated PG13 for "sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language."

Especially in this glittering awards season, there's nothing special or memorable about Shadow Recruit, but if you're looking for a couple hours of fun escapism at the movies, don't let snotty reviewers talk you out of this one.

Of a possible nine Weasleys, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit gets six.

Number two on my weekend's agenda was the much-anticipated Dallas Buyers Club.

After discovering he has HIV, a Texas rodeo rider challenges the law and his own prejudices in his attempts to find treatment.

With Golden Globes, Critics' Choice, and SAG awards already under Matthew McConaughey's and Jared Leto's belts, nobody needs this blog to reassure them of the quality of performances in Dallas Buyers Club; it goes without saying they are simply amazing. The supporting cast, including Denis O'Hare and Jennifer Garner, also does a fine job.

The story is at times sad and difficult to watch, but never miserable just for effect. It doesn't bog down and engages from the first second to the last.

Dallas Buyer's Club clocks in at 117 minutes and is rated R for "pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity, and drug use."

Reviews say as much about the reviewer as they do about the subject, and when it comes to this year's awards contenders, Dallas Buyers Club is the one telling the story that matters to me, personally. I'm grateful the people telling it have done such an extraordinary job.

Of a possible nine Weasleys, Dallas Buyers Club gets eight and a half.

The final installment in my weekend triple-header was the lauded drama 12 Years a Slave.

A free black man is torn from his life in New York and sold into slavery in the south.

Again, any plaudits I can heap on this film are pretty redundant at this point. It's cleaning up at the major awards shows and, while it's not my personal best picture, I wouldn't say doesn't deserve the accolades, either.

The cast, awards-acknowledged (Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o) and not (Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Alfre Woodard, Brad Pitt, Garrett Dillahunt, and especially Paul Dano), is extraordinary, and the story is as fascinating as it is disturbing. For my money, the movie occasionally over-does it, dragging some shots and scenes on longer than necessary. There's no denying that it works at times to set a mood or maintain tension, but other times it just made me look at the clock. In the end, it's a small flaw to forgive in what's otherwise a truly special picture.

12 Years a Slave runs 134 minutes and is rated R for "violence/cruelty, some nudity, and brief sexuality."

Tough as it is to watch, 12 Years a Slave should be mandatory viewing for everyone, period. It's just that important.

Of a possible nine Weasleys, 12 Years a Slave gets eight.

Now I've done my duty with awards nominees and have to get out to see The Hobbit again one day this week! Until next time...

When "Chris Pine on a motorcycle" is an option, you didn't think I'd pick a photo from one of those other movies, did you?

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