The Labor Day weekend saw the theatrical box office dominated by films that opened several weeks ago (“Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Meg,” “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”) but there’s at least one very worthwhile new film to add to your watchlists.
It was also a weekend that saw the release of the new “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” streaming on Amazon Prime – with a running time sufficiently long that you could watch all three of the new theatrical releases below and still have enough time to go out for dinner or walk the dog, or both. And it’s not even that great, feeling like a very stretched movie with scenes that could have been trimmed and a subplot or two that could have been left out.
CIA analyst Jack Ryan notices a series of payments made through a cell phone app that raise his suspicions and before you know it, he and his new boss are careening through Yemen and France in hot pursuit of a pair of Lebanese brothers intent on unleashing a series of attacks. But there’s enough extra content for stand-alone specials on sex trafficking and the plight of refugees, and the emotional toil of both drone pilots and the families of those they’re ordered to target. Plus odd details like Jack Ryan himself, a cautious analyst who digs data, riding a bike in traffic with headphones and a Muslim immigrant ex-doctor in an impoverished neighborhood of Paris with a large, expensive Audi SUV. Cut to quarter of this length, this could have been pretty good.
My favorite new film of the week, and one of my favorites this year, is “Juliet Naked,” a wonderful story about a woman (Rose Byrne) whose long-time boyfriend (Chris O’Dowd) idolizes a once-famous but since unseen singer-songwriter (Ethan Hawke). O’Dowd’s Duncan consider himself an expert on all things Tucker Crowe (Hawke) and edits a blog and discussion board for like-minded, obsessive fans of his work. When Annie (Byrne) posts a less than favorable review of a previously unheard recording, it upsets their awkwardly stale relationship and causes Tucker Crowe himself to secretly praise Annie’s opinion, which in turns initiates an online friendship between Annie and Crowe that Duncan knows nothing about.
The whole movie is a delightful series of awkward revelations and encounters, as one relationship crashes and burns and another takes flight. The three leads are consistently excellent and it’s one of those films with a back catalog of songs written for Tucker Crowe and sung by Ethan Hawke that feel authentic and rich – but perhaps not quite good enough to justify obsession. The only downside, perhaps, is the portrayal of Annie’s sister whose inability to maintain a relationship of her own makes for yet another big screen LGBT character who feels like she’s played for comic relief – but it’s less overt in a film that’s already comedic.
“Kin” is a moderately interesting but marginal misfire about a boy (Myles Truitt) who finds a strange ray-gun-like weapon in an old warehouse, while looking for copper to strip out of the walls. When his brother (Jack Reynor) gets out of prison, they end up on the run from a growing number of people intent on finding revenge and/or the weapon, the aftermath of which is a little hard to miss.
Aside from feeling very much like a TV pilot, designed to establish the parameters for subsequent weekly adventures, the film has what seems like a serious flaw. Rated as PG-13 by the MPAA for “for gun violence and intense action, suggestive material, language, thematic elements and drinking,” the film seems more like an R-rated film and an odd fit for its target, young audience. It’s not just the amount of violence, which doesn’t match that of other PG-13 films like “The Hunger Games” and its sequels, but the tone of it. James Franco plays the villain who displays a brutality and callous disregard for just about everything and everybody that seems out of place here – it’s a performance that seems more suited for the higher rating. And while there are obvious elements of science fiction in play here, it’s not a fantasy or dystopian world that’s depicted, and so the violence seems much more real. It’s also a film that’s clearly intended to spawn sequels that might be a hard sell after failing to break the top ten at the box office.
Oscar Isaac plays an Israeli Mossad agent, part of a team covertly dispatched to Argentina in 1960 to capture the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley), in “Operation FInale.” It’s a true story, or at least an adaptation of a true story, that ought to be far more compelling than it manages to be. Eichmann is captured in a somewhat messy abduction and held in a safe house in Buenos Aries while local authorities, Eichmann’s son, and other local Nazis and Nazi sympathizers try to find him.
The whole operation is complicated by the relative difficulty in 1960 of flying somebody out of Argentina, and to Israel, in anything other than a commercial airliner – an enterprise that’s significantly delayed by paperwork and apparent reluctance on the part of the airline. In an era when we’ve seen or heard about volume “extraordinary renditions” and “enhance interrogations,” it’s interesting to see, or perhaps to lament the passing of, the logistical difficulties and reluctance associated with such activities in the past. All of which might make for a better dinner conversation starter than an entertainment main course.