Ronin (1998) – John Frankenheimer

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This entry on the 101 Action Movies list has quite a pedigree, it’s directed by John Frankenheimer, has a screenplay by David Mamet (as Richard Weisz), and stars Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Jonathan Pryce, Stellan Skarsgard, Sean Bean, Skipp Sudduth and Michael Lonsdale.

Shot entirely on location in France, the film is gritty, realistic, and incredibly tense, and has a couple of fantastic car chase sequences!

DeNiro plays Sam, a retired operative who is now taking jobs where he can get them, he is hired, along with other ex-military and operative types to steal a package that is being chased down by the Russians and the Irish. Each of the group has their own special skills, and despite repeatedly asking, are never told what is in the case, only that they are being paid well for its collection.

Sam is a professional, and yet he and Vincent (Reno) strike up a friendship, and watching these two together on-screen is a real delight, their relationship is real and natural. And even though they aren’t sure if they can trust one another completely, at least they know both of them work with a sense of honor.

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The same cannot be said of their fellows, and one or more of them - Dierdre (McElhone), Larry (Sudduth), Spence (Bean) and Gregor (Skarsgard) may not be all they appear to be.

When betrayal strikes, Sam and the group race to track down the package before it falls into the wrong hands, and a dangerous, sprawling game of chase begins across The Continent.

The action sequences, whether vehicular, foot or gun are wonderfully and intensely executed, and especially evident in the car chases is the fact that none of it is enhanced by computer generated effects. Every crash, every maneuver is real, there were hundreds of stunt drivers used for the driving sequences, and it looks fantastic on-screen, and it feels frighteningly real, as the cars weave in and around traffic, racing against traffic, racing through tunnels, smashing into cars, buses, the bit where a motorcycle gets clipped is stunning.

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DeNiro and Reno are both exemplary in the film, and I would love to see them do another one together. Both of their characters have a tired edge about them, and while they are undeniably keeping secrets from one another, the friendship that does develop between them feels believable and real.

The story is tensely paced, and there is a sense of urgency and danger permeating the film, even when it takes a breather before plunging into the final sequence, there’s a tension underlining everything, keeping the viewer on edge, because in this world when violence erupts, it’s quick, brutal and deadly. The shoot-outs are brilliantly conceived and orchestrated, my favorite being ‘The Fish In A Barrel’ scene.

This is a film with a great cast, tight pacing, gorgeous locations, fast cars, and an intelligent script. A film that entertains, but never talks down to the viewer. That is the kind of action film I truly enjoy.

What did you think of it?

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GoldenEye (1995) – Martin Campbell

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Welcome back to the 101 Action Movies list 007. After a number of years that had Pierce Brosnan’s name bandied about for taking over the role of James Bond, he finally takes on the coveted role and makes it his own. It also features one of my favorite pre-credit sequences in the Bond saga, which also sees the introduction of 006, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean), there’s the bungee dive off the dam, which is fantastic to see, and was stunning on the big screen, watching the two of them work together, and then watching Bond get out after things go sour.

Following a title song penned by Bono and The Edge and belted out by Tina Turner, Campbell throws us right into things, introducing our first female M (Judi Dench), a truly delightful femme fatale with the great name Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), a visit with Q (Desmond Llewelyn), a smart Bond girl, Natalya (Izabella Scorupco) and appearances by Alan Cumming, Joe Don Baker, Robbie Coltrane and Tcheky Karyo.

This time around, Bond is after a former friend and agent, Trevelyan, who has appropriated a weapons satellite, code-named GoldenEye, that can fire a localized electro-magnetic pulse, which will disable electronic equipment, wipe out computer information (including banking and land holdings) and could throw a country right back into the middle ages.

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While there are nowhere near as many gadgets in this film as there were in the majority of the Roger Moore films, there are a couple, but in the end, thankfully, 007 has to survive on his wits as he and 006 faceoff against one another.

There are some fantastically over-the-top sequences like you would expect from the pre-Casino Royale reboot, including a tank chase through St. Petersburg, sky-diving without a parachute after a plane, an escape from a ticking-time bomb of a train, and of course the inevitable destruction of the baddies HQ.

Eric Serra, a staple of Luc Besson movies, is on hand to score the film, and for me it is one of those soundtracks that will be eternally tied to the movie, it’s a different kind of score for a Bond film, but I couldn’t imagine a different score for it now, it just works. I’d put it on repeat while my I rocked GoldenEye on my N64 (best game ever!).

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Brosnan slides right into the role of Bond very nicely, and it’s fun to see him take it on. He plays Bond with aplomb and takes things like Xenia’s last name all in stride, not quite winking at the audience, but you can tell his tongue is buried deep in his cheek. Despite that the film plays well as a straight action film, and shows that the Bond franchise still has legs (though I think the Casino Royale reset was necessary when it came along).

Everything just works in this film, and it’s weird, Martin Campbell made two incredibly successful Bond films, launching two Bonds, Brosnan and Craig, but beyond that, I’m not a big fan of his theatrical efforts. How about you?

What’s your favorite Brosnan Bond film? Or your fave Bond film ever?

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Patriot Games (1992) – Phillip Noyce

patriot_games_xlg Phillip Noyce takes over for John McTiernan, Harrison Ford takes over for Alec Baldwin, and Tom Clancy’s techno-thriller follow-up to The Hunt For Red October, Patriot Games finds its way onto the 101 Action Movies list.

Jack Ryan (Ford) and his family are on a working vacation in London, when he foils a kidnapping/assassination attempt on members of the royal family (in the original novel it was Prince Charles and Princess Diana) by a rogue splinter faction of the Irish Republican Army led by Sean Miller (Sean Bean). pgames2 Ryan kills Miller’s brother during the sequence, and there the course is set for the rest of the movie, as Miller, busted out of prison by his confederates including Kevin O’Donnell (Patrick Bergin) and Annette (Polly Walker), begins a plan of revenge.

Under Noyce’s direction and Ford’s performance the film plays as a smart action-thriller of two men in a battle of wills both fighting for their families. Miller travels State-side and makes an almost lethal attempt on Ryan’s wife, Cathy (Anne Archer) and daughter, Sally (Thora Birch).

Beyond angry, Ryan returns to the employ of Admiral Greer (James Earl Jones) and the CIA, from there, Ryan tries to take the fight to Miller, and in an eerie sequence, Ryan watches via satellite as a team sweeps Miller’s training camp in north Africa as they put the government’s tech to work. bean Richard Harris plays IRA supporter, and spokesman, Paddy O’Neil, while Samuel L. Jackson plays Ryan’s good friend Ryan.

James Horner brings a highly enjoyable score to the film, as Ryan uses all the resources at his disposal to bring down Miller. Sean has one more plan, using his contacts he learns of Lord Holmes (Jame Fox) visit to America, as well as his planned stop at the Ryan household for a dinner to say thank you once again to Ryan for saving he and his family.

The film isn’t all action, chases and explosions, there is politics, and spying at work as well, with a huge cast of characters, giving the film a broad feel to it. pg1 Finally, in the final act, Miller lays siege to Ryan’s home, in the middle of a terrible storm, the power is out, and he and his cronies are stalking Ryan, his family, his guests, and the royals.

Ryan does his best to make sure his family is safe, before leading Miller on a final chase, away from the house and out onto the water as they chase one another down with speedboats.

While there were significant differences from novel to film, this Jack Ryan adventure is a strong and enjoyable entry on the 101 Action Movies list, and Ford is perfect as the family man pushed into battle by the threat to his family.

I’ve rather enjoyed all of Ryan’s outings on the big screen, a good techno-thriller is always a joy to watch, and both Noyce and Ford are in top form for this film, though the political maneuvering in the next Ryan outing is just as much fun to me.

Have you read the books, watched the films? Who’s your fave Jack Ryan, and what’s your fave Clancy story? ryan

Game of Thrones S02E01 – The North Remembers

I have been looking forward to returning to Westeros since the end of the first season of Game of Thrones, not to mention when I finished the books (still haven’t read Dance of Dragons yet – paperback please).

The novels, and now the series it has spawned is epic in nature, there are tons of locations, a plethora of characters, and layer upon layer of politics and betrayals.

The first episode throws us right back into it. The harbinger that is the comet continues to hang in the sky, a sword of Damocles, and gives us moments with all of our favorite characters, well those ones that are still alive at this point.

That was the sad part, but it’s the same in the books, because the story is so huge, you only get to spend bits of time with each and every character. One of my favorites, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) is talked about through the entire episode, as the Lannisters are hoping to use the late Ned Stark’s (Sean Bean) daughters to keep the rest of the family in line, or at least to broker a form of peace between them.

It was nice when she showed at the end of the episode , accompanied by one of the late King Robert Baratheon’s (Mark Addy) bastards Gendry, making his way along the King’s Road away from King’s Landing where all of Baratheon’s ill begotten offspring are being slaughtered to make sure they can’t lay claim to the throne.

Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), the new king, born of the incestuous relations between Cersei (Lena Headey) and the captured Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), is still a completely spoiled ass, and he’s gonna be like that for a long time, at the cost of far too many lives.

Tyrion (Emmy and Golden Globe winner Peter Dinklage), by far one of my favorite characters, is always fun to watch, especially when he reveals that he has been made the new Hand of the King in the absence of his father. Cersei fumes at that, and I delight in seeing her thwarted.

The youngest son of the Stark household, Bran (Isaac Wright), is attempting to rule and maintain Winterfell, the Stark estate, while his mother and oldest son, Robb, who has laid claim to become King of the North.

I like that we’re getting to see some of Bran’s dreams, as he starts to realize he’s connected to his dire wolf.

The dire wolves themselves look great! Robb’s (Richard Madden), Grey Wind, is huge, and there’s a pretty sweet moment between him and the chained Jaime Lannister.

Petyr “Little Finger” Baelish (Aiden Gillen) is still trying to play his own political games, but coming up against Cersei Lannister almost proves to be his end.

Jon Snow (Kit Harington), and the members of the Night’s Watch have left The Wall, heading into the frozen north to investigate the barren villages, and the rumors of an army massing there.

We get a quick scene with Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), her still-growing dragons, and her loyal aide Sir Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen).

Baratheon, had two brothers, both of whom are attempting to lay claim to the Iron Throne in Kings Landing, Renly and Stannis.

Stannis (Stephen Dillane) is advised by Melisandre (Carice van Houten), a sorceress sheathed all in red, who is going to be a lot of trouble…

The entire world is going to be torn apart in the war that is beginning to rage.

The production value of this series, and the level of detail in the costumes, weapons, locations, and all the props continues to stun and amaze. It is a completely realized world.

It’s hard not to get attached to a lot of these characters, even the ones you love to hate, especially when you know the body count the series is going to have.

Game of Thrones is back!

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…