Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

by Mark Ramsey
Published January 25th, 2014

They say the Jack Ryan franchise is in jeopardy because younger audiences simply aren’t interested.

And here I thought it was just me.

So franchise founder Tom Clancy has died, but Jack Ryan keeps getting younger. Sounds like the plot of a better movie than Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

Yes, Ryan used to be head of Central Intelligence and even U.S. President. But that was a long time ago when he was older. Now, much time has passed and – in classic Hollywood tradition – he’s younger! Granted, you know how the story ends a long time ago, but now see how it begins today. So that it can end years ago.

Where’s the scene where Jack climbs into a DeLorean with a wild-haired Christopher Lloyd?

You know what I mean.

We open on a college campus and Chris Pine as Jack Ryan – the world’s oldest collegian. Then he’s off to Afghanistan. It’s there that he’s recruited by Kevin Costner, the Obi-Wan Kenobi of this movie, who has read Jack’s dissertation and is mightily impressed.

“Well it was just a frat house guide to home micro-brewing,” said Jack, “but if it’s good enough to get me a spot on Wall Street and a gig in the CIA then I must surely be a Republican! I’ll temporarily suspend my bid for the perfect tan and my aspiration to deliver the U.S. Mail just a bit longer.”

But before all that, he must romance his physical therapist, Keira Knightley, run in the rain, and try to make us forget that he twice piloted the Starship Enterprise.

Cut to Moscow…

Just like we did in the ’80′s.

There, plans are afoot to sink the U.S. financial system because, as the Russians reasoned, “it’s not like every nation is connected in a complicated web of financial interdependence where the rise and fall of one affect all or anything!”

Smart Russians!

Time for some boring international geopolitics and skullduggery!

Can Jack Ryan save the world the same way he once saved two soldiers from a downed chopper – with a broken arm!? You bet he can, buster! He’s Jack Ryan, and never has there been a more reliably monosyllabic all-American name than that!

Can Jack sneak into the Russian chief’s inner sanctum and download some codes for the crew of CIA agents operating out of a van in Red Square when they’re not selling Italian ices to tourists?

“Would you like an highly encrypted thumb drive with that cherry ice?”

Can he race through the streets of New York to upset a plot in progress and save the city in the nick of time?

If you’re at all puzzled by the answers to these questions, then you were probably among the few, the brave, and the proud actually in the audience for Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

“Maybe we should have recruited the audience,” said Chris Pine, “because all I see out there are shadows.”

Kenneth Branagh does double-duty here, both as director and Jack’s Russian foe with a characteristically sketchy grasp of English:

“This is not game, Jack!” said Branagh in a Russian accent only a Russian mother could love.

“You mean this is not A game, don’t you?” said Jack.

“Blame typo on new version Final Draft.”

Keira is a doctor. Jack is a CIA agent. She speaks with an English accent, and he pretends to understand the words when she does. It’s a match made in the kind of Heaven where Sean Connery is still piloting runaway Soviet subs.

Tom Clancy may be dead, but Jack Ryan is only getting started.




Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

by Mark Ramsey
Published January 25th, 2014

What could be more predictable than new chapters of the Paranormal Activity franchise?

How about spinoffs which follow the exact same formula and even feature special guest appearances by franchise regulars? Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones should be marked “return to sender.”

Wait, is this a spinoff? A sidetrip? An exit ramp? Or a phishing scheme?

I vote for phishing scheme.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is written and directed by Christopher Landon, son of Michael Landon, whose Little House on the Prairie pantry must have been stocked full of a very small number of original ideas and a very large quantity of fine weed.

The makers of this franchise noticed that Hispanic audiences were flocking in droves to the Paranormal Activity fright-fests. Shockingly, some Hollywood exec put two and two together and came up with cuatro. And faster than you can say “ay, caramba” a cleverly bilingual paranormal entity invades the Spanish-speaking part of town turning it to taco Hell.

It’s a spinoff that spins right off the rails!

We begin with a high school graduation – and that’s exactly where the education ends.

We hear groans and growls through an air vent. Maybe it’s the producers trying to digest their integrity without spraying it all over their high priced toilets.

Come to find out there’s a witch living in the apartment complex!  I know because I just saw her fly her broom out to pick up a churro.

Say what you will about the spooks. I think the most horrifying scene in this movie is clearly the one where one of our heroes has a penis drawn onto his face. And let’s acknowledge that anyone with a penis for a face must be a hero. Just ask Danny Trejo.

Fortunately our friends discover a way to communicate with the entity: By question and answer with one of those old SIMON kids’ toys. And that’s only because the talking My Pretty Pony licensing deal didn’t pan out. Indeed, I’ve been asking questions of my LEGOS lately – like “why do I still own LEGOS?”

Our hero discovers that he has been bitten by the entity and now is developing super powers, like the ability to fall back and remain suspended in mid-air – just like the better judgment of the audience.

It’s only a matter of time until we discover a character with a suspicious wall of newspaper clippings. Where are these walls of newspaper clippings, other than in movies featuring walls of newspaper clippings?

Suddenly our “marked” hero gets moody. Before you know it, all over the house crucifixes are tumbling faster than dashed audience expectations.

Cut to a guest appearance by franchise regular “Katie” whose presence in a Paranormal Activity movie is about as predictable as a Kim Kardashian selfie.

Hey, I didn’t say this was Para-good, I said it was Paranormal!

There’s not enough salsa in all of East LA to make this movie anything but guaca-muddy. This is a by-the-numbers take on the Paranormal Activity franchise, no matter whether those numbers are in English or Spanish.

Somebody stick a fork in this franchise. Or at least drown it in molé sauce.

And every member of the cast and crew along with it.


Thor: The Dark World

by Mark Ramsey
Published November 13th, 2013

It’s fall – that time of year when Hollywood pumps out serious Oscar contenders…er…I mean, a sequel to Thor!

And the only similarity between Oscar and Thor is that both have heads that sound hollow when you knock on them.

We begin with a lengthy Anthony Hopkins soliloquy that establishes the infinite absurdities to come. The premise of Thor: The Dark World could not be sillier if it featured an invasion of balloon animals on a planet of bobble-heads.

Behold Thor! He, who wields the Giant Hammer. He, the carpenter of the Gods. He, the Heavenly Handyman!

“Only our headgear is more ridiculously proportioned than my hammer,” says Thor to the people of Asgard, or “ass-guard,” as the folks at Marvel Entertainment refer to it since it’s protecting the most vulnerable part of their fleshy empire. ‘Tis a land where all men and women have facial hair, and some of it’s even on their face.

Pity poor Thor. Life in the Heavens is not enough for him, for he cannot forget Natalie Portman like the rest of us have.

He misses all that quirky comic relief back on Earth, where the scientific community appears to be opening at the Laugh Factory on Sunset. As if the convergence of planets every 30,000 years wasn’t funny enough!

“I’ve never feared anyone with a hammer before, unless they are also equipped with more advanced weapons, like levels and tape measures,” said the once evil Loki, here just seeking someone to build an extension to his deck.

“Behold our fearsome headgear! We fight until the last man stands with a helmet of fruit piled atop his head! With wings of an eagle so large one head-turn could produce a neck fracture. We fight for the Great Odin – and for the Greater Lady GaGa. Verily, baby, we were born this way!”

There’s a dangerous dark substance called “aether” which must be buried where no one can find it – right under the nose of Natalie Portman who, we must aggressively remind ourselves by repeating it over and over and writing it on the back of our hand, is a scientist, after all. Natalie absorbs the dark substance.

“Inside her is a relic that predates the universe,” says Anthony Hopkins. “And we don’t mean Michael Douglas.”

That dark substance will return the universe to darkness, courtesy of the dark elves. Yes, it’s all dark. Not unlike my mood as Thor: The Dark World predictably careens towards a conclusion so inevitable you could see it coming several giant flying hammers away.

If only time flew as fast as those hammers do.

To a giant hammer everything looks like a giant nail, or in this case a giant snail. There is not a moment of surprise in Thor: The Dark World - it is so crushingly boring that rather than roll credits, it should schedule us a wake-up call.

Where were we?

Wait for it…I’m talking about that most anticipated of moments: The one where Chris Hemsworth must remove his shirt.

“My shirt and I are like identical magnetic poles,” mumbles Hemsworth, “repelling each other for your amusement.”

And then there’s the once great Anthony Hopkins:

“I am Odin. King of Asgard. Protector of the Nine Realms.”

“Oh perfectly round one, are you also protector of the nine refrigerators?” asks Natalie Portman. “And why do you wear one gold eyepatch?”

“Because I look thinner without depth perception. And in black.”

To save the world, Natalie must fire a weapon when all the 9 realms are converged into line at exactly the right time and place. Well of course!

“The very fabric of reality will be torn apart if we fail,” says Natalie, who doesn’t seem to realize the very fabric of reality was torn apart immediately after the opening credits.

We’ll face “spacial extrusions,” says Natalie with a straight face that has already been scrubbed of possible spacial extrusions.

“We must cause an anomaly,” she says, “and I only wish that was a reference to the first Thor movie!”

Remember when sequels were gracious enough to include a roman numeral so at least you knew what you were watching was not the first and was far from the last? No such luck in Thor: The Dark World, where the only thing Roman is my attention well beyond the theater.

I’ve got more suspense at the bottom of my popcorn bucket than in this entire movie.

To the last person out of this dark world, please turn out the lights.


Ender’s Game

by Mark Ramsey
Published November 4th, 2013

The world’s smartest children are its best hope!

And its best hope for a random tantrum, too!

Just the right mix of skills for a soldier! Keep the grown-ups safe at home, send the kids to work! This is what war would look like if it were made in China!

Best of all, children can live on a diet of JuicyJuice and Go-Gurt! I have always said if a soldier is old enough to brush his own teeth, he’s old enough to save his own planet.

Yes, everything changes except your voice in This Man’s Army.

Leave it to General Harrison Ford to spy on recruits via webcam and mope through countless scenes of juvenile psychoanalytic babble as young Ender complies like a rat in a cootie-free maze.

What is wrong with Harrison Ford? Is he a method mumbler? When did his lip get so lazy and set the tone for the rest of his performance? He looks less likely to chase aliens and more likely to chase those young whippersnappers off his lawn.

Fifty years have passed since aliens invaded Earth and had to be pushed back. Since then, Harrison has launched a military day care featuring zero-gravity laser-tag and endless opportunities for IMAX video games. “Young people integrate complex data more easily than adults,” says Harrison.

“They also more easily integrate Teen Mom on MTV,” say the jubilant aliens high-fiving each others’ antenna.

Pity poor Harrison Ford. In less than two generations, he has gone from “You’re all clear, kid. Now let’s blow this thing and go home” to “We need to clear up your skin, kid. Now let’s blow some bubbles and go on a play-date.”

What’s this idea of sending a bunch of kids into space? And why didn’t I think of this the last time I was in Wal-Mart?

Says Harrison: “Let’s see how Ender deals with defeat…Let’s see how Ender deals with frustration…Let’s see how Ender deals with a video game…Let’s see how Ender deals with the death of an Ewok in Star Wars Episode VI…Let’s see how Ender deals with binge viewings of The Real Housewives of Orange County…”

Hey, I’m in the audience waiting for something to happen here!

So Ender is transferred to Team Pinnochio where the kid in charge is about 4 feet tall with a nose about 4 feet long. Not surprisingly he has both a bad attitude and a nose for trouble and everything else in a four foot radius. Soon enough, Ender graduates to head his own team, a band of misfits several misfit toys short of an island.

“Ideas are welcome,” Ender tells his team.

“A stirring stick that seals a Starbucks cup!” says one cadet.

“How about ideas that are a bit more on point?” says Ender.

“A map to Ben Kingsley’s nose that’s tattooed right on his face?”

“Good one, consider it done!” says Ender.

And so the climactic battle begins!

“Aim that molecular disruption device at the enemy fleet, but for God’s sake don’t hit Ben Kingsley’s nose.”

“Should we fly it around Ben Kingsley’s nose?”

“We don’t have time, Man! Even at hyperspeed we’ll all be old and gray and maybe even 19 by the time it’s done!”

It’s at this point that Harrison Ford starts wearing a beret and, presumably, selling Girl Scout cookies.

“A box of Samoas for the first kid who obliterates the enemy planet and all life on it,” says Harrison.

“Add in some Thin Mints and I’ll captain the entire fleet for you,” says Ender, “and one day perhaps I’ll even be old enough to drive.”

After several scenes of frantic screaming and theatrical hand motions that pass for action, Ender’s Game reaches its all too welcome conclusion.

That’s when Ender becomes a tween Admiral. No, I’m not kidding.

And it’s when we learn the movie’s central lesson: Show kindness to those with fewer opposable thumbs than ourselves.

And save Ender’s Game for the sandbox.



by Mark Ramsey
Published September 9th, 2013


It’s the future – or the past – or another time – or another place – or maybe I just wish all that were true!


His eyes glow – while yours and mine simply glaze over!


¿Quién es más macho? Riddick es más macho!


Because one name says it all – and not nearly enough – all at the same time!


Because “Riddikulous” has too many syllables.


Hey, if it’s got “dick” in it, it must be as good as a Kardashian!

Okay, we open on a world only Riddick understands, and it’s all downhill from there!

When we last saw Riddick, he was mumbling through a completely different film franchise.

“I’ve been here before,” he slurs. Well I will never be here again, I can tell you that much.

It’s a world of wires and green screens and gray market Human Growth Hormone from the studio physician, Dr. Felonious Feelgood.

“Don’t knock Human Growth Hormone – it means at least something in this movie is human,” says Riddick – and by “says” I mean “slurs.”

“I don’t know how many times my low-slung testicles have dragged me, mumbling and rumbling, through a guttural monologue,” says Riddick, who is up for  Oscars in two new categories this year:

“Most Gratuitous Self-Esteem” and “Best Australopithecus.”

Riddick is the story of a man-like, actor-like beast and his space dog struggling to survive in a land where the only nutrients are muscle-building supplements and a wide variety of free weights.

Riddick is being watched! And not only by the disapproving gaze of the audience! No! Also by mercenaries bent on his retrieval. And I hope they retrieve the rest of my dignity while they’re at it.

Wait, Riddick was King of the Necromongers!? I’m assuming that’s a biker gang in Venice, right? What are the qualifications for being crowned Necromonger King, anyway, a high ratio of forehead-to-penis size?


“Riddick only kills when it’s justified – that’s what makes him cool,” said director David Twohy. “What also makes him cool is that his movie opened on a weekend where the only other new thing at the box office was a 64-ounce Kale-flavored Slurpee.”

The testosterone drips from the screen like the sweat from Riddick’s brow. And that brow has been thousands of years of evolution in the un-making – a brow so heavy it must be checked on commercial flights – a brow that goes “beep”…”beep”…”beep” when it backs up.

Look, if you like to watch a lumbering muscle-man do slow motion leaps into the air, Riddick is the movie for you.

This movie would have been better with a laugh track, besides the one I had to insert myself.

Says Riddick: “There are bad days – and there are legendary bad days.”

And that goes to prove director Twohy’s claim that “If you open enough fortune cookies, a script naturally emerges.”

Beware: Low-hanging forehead.


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