Almost Human – Tim Plays Catch-Up

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I remember being very excited that Karl Urban was going to be starring in a new sci-fi show, and I was rather happy that J.J. Abrams (I tend to like Abrams work. I know its not for everyone, but I enjoy it for what it is, entertaining) was serving as executive producer alongside J.H. Wyman, the show’s creator. I was ready for it, and then, thanks to the fact that I don’t have even basic cable, let alone a PVR, I missed it’s inaugural broadcast.

It wasn’t until I was working on an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. checking guest cast names when I saw the IMDB page recommendation that if I like S.H.I.E.L.D. I might want to check out Almost Human.

It had started?!?! When did that happen??!?!?! On November 4th apparently as the above poster suggests, but I didn’t even see any of those.

So, the downside is, I’m 3 weeks behind, but the upside is, I’m 3 weeks behind, meaning I can watch 3 eps back to back and get a really good feel for the show. After the first episode, I’m thinking I am going to like this show.

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Within moments of it starting the show made me think of Judge Dredd, Blade Runner, RoboCop and In the Heat of the Night, and I quite liked the world it exists in, though I do have this little stickler… if crime has risen 400% due to science and tech advancing and spilling out in forms of drugs and weapons… why does everything look so clean? Is part of the new tech stuff that keeps things looking spotless and pretty?

The always welcome Karl Urban plays John Kennex, a human cop, who while not a fan of the fact that his assigned partner is an android of the MX series, always gets the job done, even if it involves bending the rules, and occasionally ignoring his captain, Sandra Maldonado (Lili Taylor). That right there tends to make him just another in a long line of TV cops, almost to the point of being a cliché (in this case it seems more or a leaping off point), and yet, with the look of the show, and Urban’s charm, he makes this character his own.

After a brutal incident in the series opener that sees him losing his human partner, and his right leg (later replaced by a synthetic one), his distrust of MX are at an all time high – they base all their decisions on laws and logic, they lack that intuitive and emotional instinct…

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So when his latest MX has a roadside ‘accident’, Rudy (Mackenzie Crook), digs out an older model, a little twitchy because of their emotions, but the only android available…

Enter DRN or Dorian (Michael Ealy), an emotional android, who, while not happy about being called a ‘synthetic (there’s that word again), is very eager to be a police officer. So an unlikely partnership is formed.

The first episode, Pilot, sets up what looks to be a season arc, as the gang behind a biologically targeted attack on the police may have a personal connection to Kennex. I like the tech we’re introduced to, just a hop, skip and a jump beyond what we’re using today, but totally believable that such a thing could exist some 30 odd years down the line.

One of the things I love is the holographic police tape, that reads, projects and logs officers’ identities as they pass through it. It’s the little things, and details that for me, will help make this show.

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The second episode, Skin, takes on the abduction of women to harvest their skin and DNA, to make sex machines or the equally distasteful term, bang-bots more life-like, with this DNA and skin, they feel more real, are able to emit pheromones. I’m glad they got this episode out of the way early in the series, they dealt with the issue of sex with machines, quite well. They also dealt with death, whether for human or android, as Dorian watches one of the androids get deactivated.

In the third episode, Are You Receiving?, we get a bit of a Die Hard scenario, some great lines, especially letting Kennex use a classic Star Wars quote, and the continuing development of the relationship between John and Dorian. It’s evolving into one of respect, teasing (the dating profile stuff is hilarious) and loyalty, and it’s enjoyable to watch Urban and Ealy work together.

The series has lots of humor, is a fun police procedural, with some great future tech, and strong performances from some fantastic actors.

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Rounding out the cast alongside Urban, Ealy, Crook and Taylor is Michael Irby and Minka Kelly, all looking like they are enjoying themselves.

So far the only thing I would change would be to make it a little more gritty and lived in, the world, as mentioned, looks too pristine, especially with crime supposed to be so high, but overall, I am enjoying everything they’ve presented so far, and will be tuning in for the rest of the season.

Have you watched it? What are your thoughts?

Almost Human airs Mondays on Fox.

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Under Siege (1992) – Andrew Davis

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If you take Die Hard, remove Bruce Willis’ charm and humor and put it on a battleship, you have this entry on the 101 Action Movies list.

I’ve never been a big Steven Seagal fan, though having said that, I saw all the films he did in the early 80s and 90s, and none of them, as far as I’m concerned come close to this one, which could be seen as the best film he’s ever done.

Seagal plays Casey Ryback, a former Navy Seal who is now serving out the rest of his tenure as a cook on the USS Missouri, which is on its final voyage before she is decommissioned. He’s loyal to his captain, and the crew love him.

All except for the ship’s XO, Commander Krill (Gary Buesy back to being a baddie after his turn in Point Break), who is scheming not to just get rid of Ryback, but is in fact working in concert with an international group of villains to see the cruiser’s tomahawk nuclear missiles.

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Under the guise of the Captain’s (Patrick O’Neal) surprise birthday party, Krill flies in the lovely distraction of Miss July Jordan Tate (Erika Eleniak) a rock band, and catering team. All of them but for Tate are actually there to seize control of the ship, and are led by Stranix (Tommy Lee Jones) an unstable former government killing machine.

While most of the ship’s crew are dead, or locked up in the forecastle, Casey breaks out of the galley, where Krill trapped him, and begins to wage a one man war on Stranix and his cohorts, with the lovely Jordan in tow.

The action comes fast and furious as Casey works his way through the baddies, and does his able-bodied best to bring Krill and Stranix’s plan to a dead stop. With a satellite uplink, he’s in touch with a command center which offers him off-site intelligence and clues him in to everything that is going on.

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It’s a bit of mindless fun, and while Tommy Lee Jones seems to be avidly chewing the scenery, it’s not stellar material, this is a no-brainer afternoon on the couch, distraction movie that has a lot of noise and bang to it.

Seagal may have the moves in this movie, but he’s not the best actor in the world, he’s soft-spoken delivery just doesn’t really work, but that’s not why he’s in the film, he’s there to kick butt and save the day.

This he does, and he does it well.

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With the added weight of actors like Tommy Lee Jones the film plays more seriously than some of Seagal’s other fare of the time, and Andrew Davis as a director shows a strong grasp of action scenes, but also in laying out the ship’s geography for the viewing audience.

I personally enjoyed seeing Colm Meaney show up as a bad guy in this film, because he’s always been a fave of mine, and I love when he pops up in films.

Overall, it’s a fun film if you’re lazing about on the couch.

What’s your favorite Seagal film?

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The Hunt For Red October (1990) – John McTiernan

the-hunt-for-red-october-movie-poster-1990-1020196499Tom Clancy’s techno-thriller, which I remember reading back in grade 9, when my friend Michael introduced me to it and after that, every Christmas until I 1989, I would receive Clancy’s new novel in hardcover for Christmas, was put to film by John McTiernan. Coming off of the incredible run of success that Predator and Die Hard had given for him, McTiernan turned his eye to the bringing Jack Ryan to the screen.

Alec Baldwin plays the incarnation of CIA analyst Ryan in this entry on the 101 Action Movies list, but it is Sean Connery who delivers the stand out performance.

I love this film – this was one of the movies that I would put on all the time when I was working in a video store, its dialogue heavy, and I would just wander around delivering the lines in time, and working on my Sean Connery impersonation (see the Ladies of Seed episode of The Mind Reels for THAT!).

baldwinJack is called from his home in London, where he lives with his wife (Gates McFadden – the only woman in the movie but for a stewardess with any lines!), back to Virgina, and the CIA when a new submarine that can run virtually silent is launched from Russia under the command of Marko Ramius (Connery).

Ryan is called in to figure out Ramius’ motivations as he captains the Red October into the Atlantic and completely disappears… is he defecting? Is he starting World War III?

The cast is packed with familiar faces, Sam Neill, James Earl Jones, Scott Glenn, Timothy Carhart, Richard Jordan, Joss Ackland, Tim Curry and Stellan Skarsgard, and each of them is given their moment.

samIn fact, after Jurassic Park, I think this is my favorite role for Sam Neill, playing Ramius’ friend Vasili Borodin, he’s kind of quiet and reserved, and the scene he shares with Connery during the Crazy Ivan is one of my favorites.

As both American and Russian forces rush to find Red October before the other, politics are played out behind the scenes as Ryan presents his info to the Security Council and ends up having to go out into the field to prove his theory.

conneryThe claustrophobic environments of the submarines help to raise the tension throughout the film, which keeps building until the final showdown with the Red October, with Ryan trying to stop a missile launch that would plunge the world into war.

All of it is underscored by Basil Poledouris’ stirring music and choral a soundtrack that got a lot of play on my walkman when I finally tracked one down! (soundtrack that is not a walkman).

Scott Glenn’s Mancuso (my fave role for him outside of Silverado and The Right Stuff) and Connery’s Ramius are perfect mirrors of one another, calm and smart commanders who can think, and out think their enemies.

The Thor’s Twins sequence is wonderfully fantastic, the way the dialogue cracks, as orders are given, tensions rise, and at the center of it, maintaining his own count, and inner map, Ramius, quietly giving orders, and outmaneuvering his pursuers. Brilliant.

octoberThis is a film that in the wrong hands could have come off as cheap, and hokey, but the effects work (the Red October sub was filmed on a smoke-filled stage, and was never filmed in water) is top-notch, the actors all bring their A-game, and the details and the tech all have the ring off authenticity.

This is one of my favorite submarine movies of all time, along with Das Boot…

How about you?

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Die Hard (1988) – John McTiernan

die_hardThe 101 Action Movies brings me another one of my favorites.

Fresh off the success of Predator, McTiernan took Bruce Willis, then mostly known for the TV series Moonlighting and launched him into superstardom as everyman police officer John McClane, who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Flying out from New York to California to see his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) and their kids for Christmas, John arrives at Holly’s place of work, a 40-storey office building for the annual party. Shortly behind him are a gang of smart thieves, letting the authorities think they are terrorists, led by Hans Gruber (the always brilliant Alan Rickman).

The building is locked down, no one gets in or out, and it’s up to John to try to save the day as he is by turns the hunter and the hunted as he takes the villains down one at a time. For all that, McClane is by no definition a superhero, he’s an average guy caught up in extraordinary circumstances, and as the tension builds so does his wise-ass attitude, and of course his now trademark catchphrase makes a welcome R-rated appearance.

diehard_lMcTiernan proved he could direct action sequences in Predator, in this film he perfects them. He also takes his time with the set-up, establishing his characters and the building’s geography.

John is pushed to his limits, barefoot and living by his wits as things get worse and worse as the building and its surroundings is filled with bullets and explosions.

Outside the building allies are few and far between, Gruber has anticipated every move the authorities will make, leaving Agents Johnson (Robert Davi) and Johnson (Grand L. Bush) flapping in the wind. Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) stays in contact with McClane via radio, despite the fact that Powell’s boss Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson (Paul Gleason) doesn’t believe a word of it.

Stirring the pot is Richard Thornberg (William Atherton), who learns the connection between Holly and John and broadcasts it…

gruberThe film races to its climax, as John shows down against Karl (Alexander Godunov), Gruber’s right hand man, and finally against Hans himself.

But he certainly doesn’t come through unscathed, by the film’s end he’s beaten, bruised and bloodied, and to this day, the scene with the glass still makes my feet clench.

I can remember the first time I saw it, once again at the theater on the American base in Bermuda, and I went both nights it screened. I had never seen an action movie like it. It was smart, funny, and expertly crafted. For the longest time, as a teen, this was my favorite movie, after Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark, and was watched repeatedly on VHS and DVD. Everything in it just seems to work, without a single missed moment or opportunity.

diehardThere’s no question that the bad guys get their comeuppance, but they give as good as they get, they just never expected someone like John McClane to be a problem.

Michael Kamen provides a pulsing score to go with the action on the screen, as McClane leaps from rooftops, rides elevators, and savagely takes down his enemies.

The interplay between John and Al grounds the film, especially post-glass while McClane considers his odds while in the bathroom, blood everywhere. He comes across as a real guy, and its moments like that, coupled with his terrible handling of his catching up with Holly at the film’s beginning  that do that.

johnThat and the fact that he is battered almost beyond recognition by film’s end, but his wits and improvisational skills keep him going.

This one continues to tower over all other action movies before or since, and can always be counted on to get me through a rainy day.

What’s your favorite John McClane moment?

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Dirty Harry (1971) – Don Siegel

dirtyharry“I know what you’re thinking. ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

That iconic monologue cemented a place in cinema action history for Clint Eastwood, no longer just a western star, Dirty Harry turned him into an action superstar. This classic film from 1971 is a most enjoyable entry on the 101 Action Movies list.

Eastwood is ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan a San Francisco homicide detective that constantly seems to get the worst assignments. He’s more than a bit of a loner, the concepts of justice firmly set in his mind, though the grayer shades of the legal process seem to have absolutely no place in his life. Which of course leads to difficulties in doing his job, he’s more than aware of the difference between right and wrong, but legalities seem to constantly get in the way.

harry1He’s not above beating a confession out of a criminal he knows is guilty, or yelling ‘freeze’ once before letting loose with a round of fire, or as we also see, torturing a guilty crook to get the information he needs.

Callahan’s assignment is to track down a sniper who is holding the city ransom, demanding $100,000 or he’ll kill one person every day.

The sniper, Scorpio, is played to creepy perfection by Andrew Robinson. He just seems completely round the bend in this film, and it’s more than a little frightening. From beating the crap out of Harry, to having the crap beat out of himself so he can frame Callahan, to hitting, threatening and singing with a bunch of hostage children on a school bus.

The film is violent, tightly edited and features a 70s era score by Lalo Schifrin. It also allows Eastwood to walk around exuding a manner of cool folks have often imitated but never equaled since.

It’s rather telling, when one reaches the film’s end, SPOILERS (for a 42-year-old film no less), and he tosses away his badge after finishing off Scorpio.

andrewCallahan is very much a western character transplanted into a modern-day police thriller, working to deal justice as he sees fit. He carries the death of his wife with him everywhere, and seems more than willing to take it out on anybody, regardless of race, creed, age or sex.

He’s cut off from everybody, and is a completely solitary character, though his partner Gonzalez (Reni Santoni) comes to his rescue when Scorpio is laying into him.

In the end, it is the game played between Scorpio and Harry that engages the viewer. You want to see Scorpio get his just desserts, and you know Harry is going to serve it up for him…

DirtyHarry29It had been awhile since I saw this one, so I was happily stunned (all over again I’m sure) of an aerial shot that starts in close on Harry and Scorpio. Scorpio is sprawled on the football field, clutching the leg Harry has just put a hole in with his Magnum, and is applying painful pressure to it with his foot. He’s trying to find a 14-year-old girl Scorpio has kidnapped and buried somewhere. As Scorpio yells and screams, demanding his rights, his lawyer, an ambulance, Harry keeps pushing, demanding to know where the girl is, and the camera just keeps pulling back away from the field, away from the stadium, up into the air above San Francisco, leaving us wondering how far Harry went to get the girl’s location.

Wow.

The lone cop would be a resurfacing motif through action movies for years to come, but few can do it as well as Dirty Harry. (Except maybe John McClane in Die Hard).

Yes the film can bring into question ethics, moralities, rights, and one can debate those endlessly, and I’m all for it, these subjects  are always up for discussion, but it’s also a kick-ass little film.

Who’s your favorite action movie cop?

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Rare Exports

I know. It’s only April, so what the hell am I doing watching a movie about Santa Claus?

Well… the short answer is I’ve wanted to see this Finnish film since I first heard about it.

And now I have.

I was simply delighted with this film. If you take equal parts Goonies, The Thing, Monster Squad and A Christmas Story and gave the kid an actual shotgun, not a pellet gun, you might get somewhere close to the fun that this movie entails.

You see, Santa Claus as we know him is a creation of the Coca-Cola company, sad but true, look it up. The idea of Santa, however, is an old one. And the jolly old fellow, in some versions of his history were not always nice, and naughty children were often punished brutally.

Which brings us to our young hero, Pietari (Onni Tommila). He and his friend are spying on an a dig atop a mountain, where they overhear that the excavators are looking for something, and are going to blast into the depths of the mountain to find it.

Soon, the herd of reindeer that were to supply Pietari and his hard-working, lonely, and trying to do right father Rauno (Jorma Tommila) turn up dead, there are bare footprints appearing across the roof of their home, and outside Pietari’s window, there are creepy, old, bearded, naked men stalking through the snow, and children are vanishing.

Our young hero, who spends most of his time, armored up in his hockey gear, towing a stuffed toy on a leash behind him, and a shotgun strapped across his back, kicks into research mode, learning that the mountain was man-made, burying a malignant creature.

The beauty of the film, in addition to its locations, which looks cold, but lovely, is that everything is played straight, which makes it so much fun!

The creepy old guys are exactly that, and there are hundred of them, as we learn (also explaining how Santa can be everywhere in one night), but much like Santa, you don’t want to be naughty. They’re violent and liable to attack you at any moment, unless you’re well-behaved.

I can see why this film has already achieved cult status in some circles. It’s certainly found its way into my pantheon of favorite Christmas movies which includes films like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

If you’re looking for something a little different, and a lot of fun, you should track this one down. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Jack Ryan

Tom Clancy books were just a part of my teen years as Stephen King novels, Star Trek, and classic 80s movies (course how was I to know they were going to be classics when I was watching them? I just knew I loved them.

I got into the books with the first paperback edition of The Hunt For Red October in the mid-1980s through a schoolmate I’ve sadly lost touch with, Michael Hay. From then on, until I left home for University, my parents, specifically my mother, knew what book to get me for Christmas, the latest Clancy techno-thriller.

Paramount Pictures has had an on-again off-again relationship with Clancy’s main protagonist, John ‘Jack” Patrick Ryan since the 1990s. In the course of 12 years, Hollywood’s version of Jack Ryan had four adventures, and changed his appearance three times. In the same amount of time , Bond did the same, but had a lot more adventures… just saying.

Despite that, I honestly believe that each and every one of the films were solid entertainment.

I rewatched them recently, just to revisit them, sue I know that Chris Pine is tapped to play Jack in yet another incarnation

They also recently announced that Kenneth Branagh, fresh off of his blockbuster take on Thor, and his turn as Sir Laurence Olivier in My Week With Marilyn, would be taking the helm behind the camera.

I like this idea, Branagh is a strong director, and has made some fantastic films (remember Dead Again?) and Chris Pine is a making some serious headway in Hollywood, because of Star Trek (2009) and seems like just a hard-working good guy.

I love a good techno-thriller, and honestly don’t believe there are enough of them. The combination of action, politics, and spy work, has always entertained me (take a look at Spy Game, and though not necessarily a spy/techno/thriller – Sneakers).

Paramount’s first incarnation of Ryan’s adventures was a big-screen adaptation of The Hunt For Red October, which featured Alec Baldwin as Ryan, Sean Connery as Ramius, the captain of the defecting Russian submarine Red October, Sam Neill as Ramius’ first officer and an all-star supporting cast including Stellan Skarsgard, Tim Curry, James Earl Jones, Scott Glenn and Timothy Carhart.

Directed by John McTiernan (Die Hard), Red October is one of those movies that I would throw on the television on a regular basis when I was working at a video store, I love the dialogue, the pacing, and a stirring score by Basil Poledouris.

Two years later, Paramount brought forth Ryan’s next adventure in Patriot Games, though in the world of the novels, Games happens before Hunt.

Baldwin had to bow out, as he had other commitments and the role was offered to Harrison Ford.

Ford’s Ryan stops a kidnapping/assassination attempt on members of the Royal Family (in the novel, this was Charles and Diana) by a splinter faction of the IRA led by Patrick Bergin and Sean Bean. When Sean Miller’s (Bean) brother is killed by Ryan in the botched attempt on the Royals, Miller swears revenge, escapes from custody, and begins to stalk Ryan, his family and the visiting Royals in America.

The film was directed by Australian director Phillip Noyce (Salt) and had a score done by the awesome James Horner (Aliens, Star Trek II). It also once again featured a strong cast alongside Ford and Bean, including James Earl Jones (reprising Admiral Greer), Anne Archer, Thora Birch, Richard Harris, and Samuel L. Jackson.

This is my favorite of the two films Ford turned in as Ryan, it’s an action flick, with politics, and some wonderful tech sequences, including a scene featuring Ryan watching a satellite attack on an IRA camp.

Two years later, Paramount Pictures brought us Clancy’s version of the war on drugs. With Admiral Greer (James Earl Jones) falling fatally ill, Ryan is forced to assume his position in advising the President (Donald Moffat) on what to do when a ‘life-long friend’ is killed for his involvement with a drug cartel.

The President authorizes Operation: Reciprocity and we are finally introduced to one of Clancy’s other famous creation, agent John Clark, played my Willem Dafoe.

This one is more politics heavy, which is fine with me, though it was originally advertised as a big action movie.

Once again helmed by Noyce, this film saw Ryan refusing to violate his morals and ethics, and holding everyone around him to the same stringent code. The tagline for the film was “Truth needs a soldier,” and as he realizes that those he’s working with, including the President are hanging him out to dry, blaming him in fact for troops in Central and South America (under Reciprocity) performing illegal actions against the drug cartels, he goes to work on rescuing the stranded strike team, and stopping the president and his cronies.

Once again there were some really great sequences in this film, including Ryan squaring off against the President, the tennis phone-call sequence between Ryan and his inter-office nemesis Ritter (Henry Czerny), as well as the intense ambush sequence, awesomely scored again by Horner.

The all star casting continues with Joaquim de Almeida and Benjamin Bratt.

Then, the series stalled.

And was relaunched in 2002.

Phil Alden Robinson (Sneakers, Field of Dreams) hit the reset button with The Sum of All Fears. In this film Ryan, now played by Ben Affleck, is just starting out as an analyst, lying to his girlfriend (and one day wife) Cathy (Bridget Moynahan) about what he does for a living.

When a rogue group of Neo-Nazis get their hands on a nuclear device from Israel, they begin playing the Russian and American governments off of one another, pushing them dangerously close to all out war, which includes a stunning nuclear detonation on American soil.

It’s up to Ryan, with the help of Clark (now played by Liev Schreiber) to prove the Russians are innocent and stop the true culprits before it’s too late.

This film is probably the most epic in scope of all the Jack Ryan films, as it has story points that pop up all over the globe, and you can see how close everything comes to completely falling apart – like a modern and updated version of the Bay of Pigs incident with Kennedy and Krushchev.

This time out the film features a score by the late Jerry Goldsmith (Alien, Star Trek The Motion Picture) and the all-star casting continues with James Cromwell, Morgan Freeman, Philip Baker Hall, Ron Rifkin, Ciaran Hinds, Bruce McGill and Colm Feore.

It’s a fairly solid collection of films, and still hold up their entertainment value, so it will be interesting to see where Jack Ryan and company go next…