Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992) – John Carpenter

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A John Carpenter film I haven’t seen (there are a couple), and I’m kind of divided on this one. It’s very obvious that this is one of the few films that he didn’t (or couldn’t) have complete control over and is also one of the very few that didn’t have him doing the music as well.

The music, however, was a first for Hollywood, featuring Shirley Walker as the first woman to write an orchestral score for a major studio’s release.

The film stars Chevy Chase (nowhere near as likable in this film as he was as Fletch) as Nick Halloway, a man in the wrong place at the wrong time, and after a freak accident, is rendered completely invisible. He is pursuing Alice (Daryl Hannah) before things get transparent for him, and then he in turn is pursued by CIA operative David Jenkins (the always awesome Sam Neill – who went on to make one of my favorite non-Kurt Russell Carpenter films – In the Mouth of Madness).

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The film wanders, and occasionally wobbles from comedy to science fiction to drama to romance, and not always as smoothly or ably as other Carpenter films, and I wonder if it had more to do with the control the studio had over the picture as opposed to the talents of those involved.

There are some nice moments, and homages, in a conversation with Jenkins he refers to himself as Harvey, the imaginary rabbit, and when he meets up with Alice some time after the accident, he’s all bundled up in bandages and cuts a very familiar image to film buffs – that of Claude Rains in the original film.

It is undeniably a Carpenter film, but feels, sanitized and run through a studio system, it doesn’t have the irreverence and edge that most of his films seem to have.

Despite that I was suitably entertained, and was even left with moments of wondering… how did they do that, as Halloway wanders about unseen.

A lot of the time, however, we, as the viewer, are permitted to see Halloway and his interactions with those around him, there’s a priceless moment when an old woman’s purse is snatched, and Halloway grabs it back from the young thug. That made me laugh out loud.

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The film also features a lot of familiar names and faces, joining Chase, Hannah and Neill are Micheal McKean, Stephen Tobolowsky, Patricia Heaton and Rosalind Chao.

Some of the comedy seems a little silly, but I found myself, as always, enjoying Neill’s performance, for me, he’s always been an incredible reliable actor, and I’ve never not enjoyed his performances, and I see a revisit to In the Mouth of Madness coming up again soon!

Jenkins chases Halloway throughout the film with an unchecked tenacity, which causes him to make a fatal error in the film’s climax, which was actually nicely executed.

The film is undeniably Carpenter, but more Carpenter-Lite, and I can’t help but wonder what kind of film this would have been had he been given complete control over the project.

I think it’s time to watch another one…

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Possession (1981) – Andrzej Zulawski

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A bizarre, and troubling tale was recommended to me by this odd list I came across listing horror movies, the majority of which I’d seen, but this one I’d never heard of…

After his turn as Damien Thorn in the Omen III, Sam Neill took on the role of Mark in this haunting and troubling film that shows the dissolution of a marriage, murder and a strange menace.

Mark has returned from a business trip to his wife Anna (Isabel Adjani), but their relationship is strained, verging on the brink of divorce while their son Bob (Michael Hogben) plays with his toys and works on holding his breath in the tub.

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Their discussions are strained, verging on the violent and abusive and Mark learns that Anna has been having an affair with a man named Heinrich (a truly bizarre performance by Heinz Bennent).

Anna begins to leave the apartment at various times, going to see Heinrich, or at least that’s what Mark initially believes, instead we learn that she is going to a decrepit looking, multi-roomed apartment and terrible things are happening within it.

Mark has a brief relationship with Bob’s teacher Helen (also played by Adjani), who seems to be a complete polar opposite of Anna, which momentarily tempers his obsession for having to possess his wife, but he still needs to know what others want from her.

To say the film is bizarre doesn’t do it justice, I’ll openly admit to not even understanding it all, except that by film’s end, an evil has been released and the first person it seems to be coming for is Helen and Bob.

Both Neill and Adjani are intentionally over the top, and the hysteria that convey on-screen pushes its way forcefully into you, and keeps you on edge and nervous.

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The climax of the film is violent and bloody, but the most intense scene occurs when Anna is walking in a long hallway, and begins to lose control of herself and her body.

This may be a film I need to revisit sometime and try to puzzle it out some more, but the intensity of it, not to mention the fridge and the odd creature that haunts Anna’s apartment, are enough to give me pause before I go back to it.

I do know it is about Zulawski’s own divorce, feelings of guilt, and despair, but there are enough odd moments and characters, like the Pink Socks Man (Maximilian Ruthlein) to knock you sideways.

One cannot fully classify this as a horror film, although it has a monster, but neither is it a straight forward drama. It is simply a terrifying look at a broken relationship…

Have you seen this one? What did you come away thinking of it?

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Jurassic Park (1993) – Steven Spielberg

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As soon as I heard about Michael Crichton’s new book in 1990, I scrabbled to get my hands on a copy, and ended up co-opting and keeping my mother’s hard cover edition as soon as she was done with it. Then, hearing that Spielberg had bought the rights for it, I knew I had to read it!!!

So it’s no surprise with a pedigree of a Michael Crichton story, a Steven Spielberg film, with music by John Williams, creatures by Stan Winston, and an all star cast including Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeff Goldblum and Richard Attenborough, it’s no surprise that this one ended up on the 101 Sci-Fi Movies list.

Featuring a beautiful score by John Williams, a seamless blend of CG and practical dinosaurs (created by Stan Winston and his studios) Spielberg brought dinosaurs to the screen in a huge way, and made them believable.

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Just like Doctors Alan Grant (Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Dern), we are stunned after their arrival on John Hammond’s (Attenborough) private island, and they see real dinosaurs striding around. It’s awe-inspiring and everytime it brings a lift to my heart.

Grant and Sattler, along with Doctor Ian Malcolm (Goldblum), a lawyer (who’s there to over see the investors stake) Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) and Hammond’s grandchildren Tim (Joseph Mazello) and Lex (Ariana Richards) are there to sign off on the park, a theme park created to showcase these resurrected creatures.

As things often do, especially for a big budget film, or a Michael Crichton novel, things go sideways real quick, as an incoming hurricane and a devious IT guy (Wayne Knight), effectively cripple the entire island, including the security systems, freeing all the dinosaurs, including the giant Tyrannosaurus Rex and a pack of velociraptors.

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Grant, who is not a fan of kids, is stranded with Tim and Lex, and they have to find their way across the island back to the main building, and hopefully escape via helicopter.

Ellie, has to work with Malcolm, Hammond, Ray (Jackson) and Muldoon (Bob Peck), the park’s game keeper, to restore the power, and contain the animals.

The film is a rollercoaster ride of epic proportions, with stunning sequences, including the T-Rex attack, and anything involving the velociraptors.

There is humor, scares, and Spielberg’s sense of wonder and action combining to bring these incredible animals back to life.

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This film is a true blockbuster, and while best viewed on the big screen (I love whenever the Cineplex Digital Film Festival screens it) it works just as well in your home theater.

And even now, in 2013, that’s right, as I write this, Jurassic Park is 20 years old, it still works, it still enthralls, and you can still walk away believing those dinosaurs are real.

And while the film has created two sequels at this time, the first film is still the strongest and the best, even though so much of it differs from the original novel. Whatever, says I, because for those two hours that I’m sitting there, wrapped up in the image and the sound of this fantastic film, dinosaurs, real dinosaurs are walking the Earth again.

This is one of the films, that is in my Top 20 of all time (though they do change positions) and I have lost count of how many times I’ve seen it… How about you?

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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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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…

Alcatraz

So I’m catching up… again. I tend to focus on one show at a time though, so I’m not really apologizing, It also means I get a whole bunch of episodes to watch at once as I catch up.

Apparently I have waited long enough for Alcatraz.

I settled in, and flew through the first 3 episodes as quickly as I could load them up, and while I am not necessarily hooked yet, I’m definitely very intrigued…

Course barring Felicity, and Alias (though I did watch all of it), I tend to be a huge J.J. Abrams fan. Now yes, he only serves as an executive producer on the series, but for the most part he and I seem to like the same things…

The premise is this, it’s commonly believed that Alcatraz closed, and shipped all of the inmates off the island. Well in this series, that didn’t happen, in fact, 260 inmates vanished, along with 43 prison employees.

Flash forward to the present. Somehow, some of these people have slowly started to reappear, not aged a day since their disappearance, and all of them more than eager to resume their criminal activities.

As of yet, we don’t know who caused this incident, how they brought them forward through time, or for what purpose…

But a small team, established in a sub-sub-basement of Alcatraz, are looking to recapture them, while trying to figure out these bigger mysteries.

So it’s a police procedural with a healthy dose of ‘huh’ added to it with the over arcing mystery of what happened on Alcatraz March 21, 1963.

Leading this team, is the always awesome, Sam Neill as former Alcatraz employee Emerson Hauser.

I’ve honestly been a fan of his since he first menaced the Nazarene in The Omen III when he played the full-grown son of Satan, Damien.

My favorite performances of his would still be in Dead Calm, opposite Nicole Kidman, and of course as Dr. Alan Grant in the Jurassic Park films.

To me, Sam is just cool, and watching how his story interweaves with the disappearance of the people from Alcatraz is intriguing, as we learn that he was on the island, but must have left before the incident, because his character has aged. But we also know he’s been on the island waiting for their return for a long time.

He recruits a local homicide cop, Rebecca Madsen, who may be more involved with the prison’s history than she knew.

First off, where has Sarah Jones been hiding, cause what a cutie! Sue and I have talked about her, and she seems like a cross between Haven’s Audrey Parker (Emily Rose) and with her short hair and occasional attitude, Galactica’s Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff).

Against Emerson’s orders she begins tracking down one of the first of the 63s. This of course shows him that he can use her on his own team, and co-opts her into his program.

Rebecca begins to learn more about the 63s, and her own family history when it comes to Alcatraz. But first and foremost she’s a cop, and her job is to track down these criminals. The first 3 were pretty vicious, a murderer, a sniper, and a child-killer. I’ll be interested to see just how dark the series wants to go, because the child-killer one went pretty dark.

Rebecca brings with her an odd partner, one she co-opted from, of all places, a comic book store.

Dr. Diego Soto, played by Lost alumnus Jorge Garcia has done his research on Alcatraz, he’s written books on the subject, there is nothing he doesn’t know about it. Except for the fact that 260 inmates disappeared.

But he knows there names, their crimes, and their motivations.

Now, we’re only a short way into the first season, so the series is still trying to find it’s feet, and define itself, so I’m not going to make any harsh judgments yet.

I like the fact that they aren’t giving us everything at once, we know that there are more characters out there who may know more than us, or maybe they don’t. We know that there is something truly odd going on here, but I don’t want it revealed anytime soon. I like the mythology they are building up around the show, and as long as they have a destination in mind, and aren’t making it up as they go along, then for now… I am quite willing to join their investigations.

Jurassic Park at the Digital Film Festival

I love the Digital Film Festival put on by Cineplex here in Canada. It’s a chance to see beloved films from the 80s and 90s back where they belong, on the big screen… in a digital presentation.

I would go to all of them, if I had the time and the cash flow, even at $5 a pop it can add up pretty quick.

So we pick and choose our selections carefully. This year we’re only looking at 4 films, but they are all classics, and I love seeing them with audiences that love them as much as I do.

And always interspersed amongst them are people who are experiencing the film for the first time.

Tonight we traveled to Isla Nublar to visit Jurassic Park.

It’s everything you remember it as, and it’s fantastic.

Sue and I had a brief discussion after the film was over, wherein I said that this film, from 1993 is still the gold standard when it comes to combining practical and computer generated effects.

In today’s day and age it’s probably cheaper to do something CG as opposed to do it practically, but no matter how good it seems to be, it will never have the weight and reality of a practical effect. As good as CG has gotten it can never completely capture an on-set performance, where not only the actors can interact with it, but so does the lighting and the entire environment.

Spielberg knew when to use practical and when to use CG in this film, and that’s why it works better than many of the films that followed it from lesser filmmakers. To paraphrase Ian Malcolm, everyone was so excited by what they could do with CG, they never stopped and thought about if they should.

A wise filmmaker should know how to balance it. And in this film Spielberg does that.

The late Stan Winston was the undeniable master when it came to creature effects, animatronics, and practical special effects, His creations interacted with reality, and by extension allowed the viewer to believe in them.

The film, based on the novel by the late Michael Crichton, is almost a rehash of Crichton’s earlier novel, and film, Westworld, where technology is used to create a fantastical theme park, and as things do, they go sideways.

Spielberg is at the top of his popcorn blockbuster movie making game in this film, balancing the wonder of seeing these creatures living and breathing on the screen and the action/tension/horror of seeing what they can do in the modern world.

He also has a top-drawer cast at his disposal, Richard Attenborough, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldlblum, Wayne Knight, and the always-cool Samuel L. Jackson.

Once again, by giving the actors practical creatures to respond to and work with, adds to the believability of the film while you’re watching it, and watching the wonder, awe or terror on their faces in the nursery, with the sick triceratops, or the full-scale T-Rex in the attack scene serves as a gateway for the viewer.

You can believe that these creatures exist again.

And oh, what I wouldn’t do to see one in real life, which I’ve always thought was the symbolism of the last shot of the film of the birds flying. The dinosaurs are still with us, they just evolved.

Rounding out the magic of classic Spielberg movies, you have Dean Cundey serving as cinematographer, Michael Kahn editing, Kathleen Kennedy producing, and of course, a triumphant score by the always brilliant John Williams ( that man has been so influential in my life!).

Even 18 years on, 19 come this summer, the film still works, and looks fantastic.