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"The June Paramount Blu-Ray Review Roundup"

Poster of the film "Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit" Starring Chris Pine, Keira Knightley and Kevin Costner and Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Courtesy of Getty Images

Now it's with great pleasure that I do my first official review thread for Paramount Home Entertainment and I'm very excited after all this is the company that has given us classics like The Godfather, Breakfast At Tiffany's, 3 Days Of The Condor, Ordinary People, Footloose, Flashdance, Saturday Night Fever and Forrest Gump. I'm very proud to start reviewing their titles along with the many other studios that are apart of the movie reviewing family.

Now let's get this show on the road!

"Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit"

Starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley and Kenneth Branagh 2014/PG-13/1 Hour 45 Minutes./Aspect Ratio: 2:40.1/English HD 5.1 Special Features: Audio Commentary with Director Kenneth Branagh and Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura/Jack Ryan: The Smartest Guy in the Room/Sir Kenneth Branagh: The Tsar of Shadow Recruit/Jack Ryan: A Thinking Man of Action/Old Enemies Return/Deleted & Extended Scenes with optional commentary by Branagh and di Bonaventura.

In this surprisingly entertaining and engaging reboot of the late Tom Clancy's memorable literary character, Jack Ryan makes a welcomed return after a 12 year absence after the hit film. The Sum Of All Fears that featured Oscar Winner Ben Affleck (who alot of people thought he was miscast) as a young Jack Ryan with fellow Oscar Winner Morgan Freeman being his mentor in the film. While the consensus favors Harrison Ford as the best interpretation of Clancy's creation and the best film adaptation of Clancy's books easily goes to John McTiernan's captivating, The Hunt For Red October starring Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin in their best roles ever.

Shadow Recruit gives us another variation on the Ryan character going far far back to before he joined the CIA as the brilliant analyst that he would become. This time Chris Pine steps into the oversized shadow of Ford, Baldwin and Affleck with a nice portrayal of the character as he at the beginning of the film is a Lieutenant in the Army during the Afgan conflict in 2003 in which his chopper crashes and he's nearly paralyzed. After a rigerious rehab that lasts ten months and in which he meets his future wife, Kathy (Knightley) and during his recovery his recruited by a shadowy CIA agent named Thomas Harper (Costner) to join the company. Ryan's assignment is to investigate a Russian billionare investor named Viktor Cheveren (Branagh), who has a plan in place involving both a terrorist act on American soil as well as Wall Street that would leave the U.S. into the second great depression. Racing against both time and the execution of Cheverin's plans, Ryan goes through all the action hoops to stop him and his conspirators.

The film is very well done and it has a fast pace to it unlike the other films and mainly consisting of action, the exposition of the story (which is paper thin) is left on the cutting room floor. Pine is attractive and appealing as Ryan and Knightley has never been better with Costner providing the mentor approach much like Connery had with him in the brilliant, The Untouchables. Branagh is a little weak as the villain and that's perhaps because he's a little underwritten character wise and that's the flaw of the film. He's not a standout villain, just a background one. The Blu-Ray is spectacular in both visual and sound and with a decent amount of Special Features and Digital Copy included, this is a very solid purchase. The film gets a surprising and entertaining thumbs up. (*** 1/2)

"The Terminal"

Starring Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana and Chi McBride 2004/PG-13/ 2 Hours 8 Minutes/Aspect Ratio: 1:85.1/English 5.1 HD Special Features: Booking the Flight: The Script, The Story/Waiting for the Flight: Building The Terminal/Boarding: The People of The Terminal/Viktor's World/Take Off: Making The Terminal/In Flight Service: The Music of The Terminal/Landing: Airport Stories/Photo Gallery/2 Theatrical Trailers

Celebrating it's tenth anniversary, is for what many consider to be one of Director Steven Spielberg's misguided flops according to many. "The Terminal" is a wonderfully written and acted film that is far from the flop that many consider it to be and in fact, it is a very charming and gentle film that does have a message to it. Oscar Winner Tom Hanks stars as Viktor Navorsky, a man from the fictious country of Krokozia in which he arrives to JFK airport learns that he can't enter the United States or New York City for that matter because of a violent coup that's taking place back home. Considered undesirable by the bulldog terminal supervisor Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci, in a good performance), Viktor is left to wonder and literally live in the airport until his country's problems are resolved and he can visit New York City. He soon adapts to his situation by learning English, dining on Burger King, getting a job on a construction crew and making some new friends throughout the terminal. He soon helps a desperate dining server (Diego Luna) woo and romance a young Visa officer (Zoe Saldana) to the point of proposing marriage to her and finds romance for himself with a stewardess (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who is having an affair with a married man. Viktor's primary reason of wanting to go to New York so badly is keep and honor a promise to his deceased father to obtain the autograph one of the last players to perform at a jazz festival in his home country which he keeps in a Planters peanuts can.

The film is one of my personal favorites aided by winning performances by Hanks and his supporting cast including Luna, Tucci, Saldana and Chi McBride. Zeta-Jones is miscast here despite looking radiant in a couple of scenes but isn't a good complimentary to Hanks like Meg Ryan was in all of their films together in which they had a natural chemistry. Here it's a little forced and while you hoped he would get her, screenwriters Andrew Niccol and Sascha Gervasi wisely and rightfully don't hook them up and keeping the focus on Viktor's promise to his father. The blu-ray features every special feature that was present in the Limited Edition DVD 3-disc gift set that Dreamworks produced including one exceptional documentary on how that wonderful Terminal was built by production designer Alex McDowell, which is fully functional and just jaw dropping to see something as magnificent as this for a film. There's a special featurette on the music by Oscar Winner John Williams, writing one marvellous score for this film along with the standard Making of featurettes.

The Terminal is not for everyone but for those who appreciate a good feel good story Spielberg style, this is best you're going to get. I highly recommend this one personally. Thumbs way way up. (****)


Starring Matthew McConaughey, Morgan Freeman, Anthony Hopkins, Djimon Hounsou, Anna Paquin and Nigel Hawthorne 1997/R/2 Hours 35 Minutes./Aspect Ratio: 1:85.1/English 5.1 DTS-HD Special Features: The Making of Amistad/Theatrical Trailer

After the overwhelming success of both Jurassic Park and Schindler's List, Director Steven Spielberg was pretty much a bankable hit maker to whatever project he chose to direct or even produce. 1997 featured two Spielberg films, one of which was the sequel to Jurassic Park, The Lost World that despite resoundly negative reviews and nowhere close to the wonder of its predecessor was still a box office hit. Amistad which also suffered from mixed reviews despite some wonderful production design and performances by then rising stars McConaughey and Hounsou, as well as Hopkins, who would score a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role, Freeman and Stellan Skarsgaard. The film which to me isn't one of Spielberg's best nor his worse is a somewhat compelling real life story of a cargo of Africans who have been sold into slavery in Cuba and taken on board the Amistad, a slave ship traveling from Cuba to the U.S. in 1839 and chained in the cargo hold of the ship. As the ship is crossing from Cuba to the U.S., Cinque (Hounsou), the groups' leader leads a mutiny and they take over the ship continuning to sail and find both help and land. Instead, they reach the United States and they are immediately imprisoned as runaway slaves. Without speaking a word of English and about to be sentenced to death for killing their slave captors when abolitionist lawyer Roger Baldwin (McConaughey) decides to take their case, arguing that they were free citizens of another country and not slaves at all. The case finally gets to the Supreme Court, where John Quincy Adams (Hopkins) makes an impassioned and eloquent plea for their release.

The film did receive 4 Oscar nominations, despite the mixed reviews. The film is very striking it's portrayal of these victims who were unjustly jailed for fightining for their freedom. Spielberg gets a little bit oversentimental at times and that's where the film's weakest moments are. I enjoyed most of it and mostly due to the strong character moments between McConaughey, Hounsou, Freeman and Hopkins which are superb. This was Dreamworks, then Spielberg, music mogul David Geffen and former Disney CEO Jeffery Katzenberg's second major film for the then fledging studio after the George Clooney/Nicole Kidman action-thriller, The Peacemaker which opened early in the Fall of 1997 as their first ever film to be released by the studio was a modest success and would soon become a cult classic years later. Amistad is a film that most will enjoy as a history lesson and others will dismiss it for its overdramatization. Personally, I'm a sucker for courtroom films like John Grisham's film adapations and other films such as The Lincoln Lawyer and True Believer, but this one after repeated viewings in the past and now this Blu-Ray, still just doesn't quite work for me after all these years and I still can't recommend it. Thumbs down. (** 1/2)

As in the other review threads that I've done in the past, I will pick one film from the studio's catalog as my personal recommendation. In this case, I will make two choices.

My first choice is:

"Catch Me If You Can"

Starring Tom Hanks, Leonard DiCaprio, Amy Adams, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen. Directed By Steven Spielberg 2002/PG-13/2 Hours 21 Minutes/Aspect Ratio: 1:85.1/English DTS-HD 5.1

This one of Steven Spielberg's most fun and enjoyable project in quite a long time that still holds up exceptionally well. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale Jr., a young man who in real life would become the worlds' first major con artist passing around fake checks while posing as an airline pilot for Pan Am, a lawyer and a doctor all before turned 21 years old. On the hunt is a wiry FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Hanks) who pursues Abagnale throughout his escapades and soon comes to admire the young man and would be the one to finally capture him. Abagnale would eventually join the FBI in the fraud division under Hanratty's guidance.

The film is fun, it's wonderfully shot and the era in which the story takes place is perfectly handled. Hanks and DiCaprio are the perfect foils for one another and it's their relationship that makes the film that good along with supporting performances by Christopher Walken as Frank Abagnale, Sr. who taught his son a few tricks leading to his eventual short life of crime, Amy Adams in her first major role, really sparkles, Jennifer Garner is very sultry in her cameo appearance and Martin Sheen is also well cast as well. Featuring one of John Williams' more memorable scores along with that famous opening that was eventually spoofed on The Simpsons years later. If you like fun, caper movies this definitely is a great one. (****)

My second choice is:

"John Grisham's The Rainmaker"

Starring Matt Damon, Claire Danes, Jon Voight, Danny DeVito, Danny Glover, Mary Kay Place and Mickey Rourke Directed By Francis Ford Coppola 1997/PG-13/2 Hours 15 Minutes/Aspect Ratio: 2:35.1/English DTS 5.1

This is easily and for me one of the best adaptations of any of John Grisham's novels and the one that's truest to its source material with the others coming a tad short. Francis Ford Coppola's adapation features a pre Oscar Winning Matt Damon as young naive Memphis lawyer Rudy Baylor, who has just passed the bar and ends up working with a shady lawyer named Bruiser Stone (Mickey Rourke, in a fun performance) and ends up handling the case of a young man dying from lukemia after a wealthy insurance company named Great Benefit has denied their claim to him back to health. Rudy also ends up handling the will of a kindly old senior named Birdie (Teresa Wright) as well as protecting a beautiful young woman named Kelly (Homeland's Claire Danes) married to an abusive husband while learning to be an actual lawyer with the help of Deck Shefflet (Danny De Vito in a marvellous performance) who has flunked his bar exam six times and chases ambulences. Rudy has to find the inner strength to fight off the corporation and their high priced and powered attorney (Jon Voight) to bring justice to those poor people in need.

The film was a modest hit when it was released, but it revived Coppola's reputation as a great director after flops like Bram Stoker's Dracula and Jack. The film is well shot, the performances are earnest and natural. Damon really emerges here as the actor he's become known for and DeVito is a whole lot of fun and he looks he's having fun throughout. The film also features some wonderful cameos as well with Virginia Madsen turning up as a key witness, Country singer Randy Travis as a hostile juror, the late Roy Scheider as the big man in charge of Great Benefit and Danny Glover as the kindly judge guiding (and secretly wanting) for Damon's character to win the case. Featuring a wonderful score by the late Elmer Bernstein and Michael Herr's nicely written narration for the film, The Rainmaker is a very special and overlooked film which it shouldn't be. It clearly is the best of the Grisham films with The Firm and The Pelican Brief following after it and with good reason. It is a terrific film that deserves alot more attention. (*****)

To recap here are the reviews for this month:

Thumbs Up for Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit. A very engaging and surprisingly entertaining reboot of Tom Clancy's literary creation that now belongs to Chris Pine.

Thumbs Up for The Terminal featuring a wonderful performance by Tom Hanks and that impressive set design.

Thumbs Down for Amistad despite some solid performances, but the story is overly sentimental.

So that's it for this month. Stay tuned for next month with the upcoming release of Noah starring Oscar Winners Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly. Until then... The Blu-Ray player is now turned off.