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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Stephen King’s It

I’ve been revisiting Stephen King books, and then when I’m done a title, I like to take a look at the accompanying film, or mini-series.

I recently finished King’s epic book It. I haven’t read that since I was a teen, probably 13 or 14. I used to make sure that my Mom got King’s new book in hardcover every Xmas. She read it, and then I would get my hands on it. Let me tell you lugging that big heavy book around, along with all my school books… I must’ve really liked it.

And re-reading it, it’s still just as much fun as I remember it. Much like the adults coming back to Derry, parts of the story would come back to me as I read it, as their past was unveiled for them, I would recall it as well; and while It may no longer be my favourite King book, that honor falls to 11/22/63, it’s still in my top 5.

I ate it up, King has such a handle on writing his characters. He makes the children’s world and the adults world come to life with a vivid detail that always allows me to see his books in my head like a movie.

Maybe that’s why, on revisiting the mini-series I was a bit disappointed.

I spent the last couple of weeks back in Derry, walking the streets of both 1958 and 1985, racing around on Silver, reading comic books, dodging bullies, and facing the physical incarnation of fear…

And she’s a bitch.

There are so many moments, scenes, and bits of dialogue that I love…

Almost none of them made it into the mini-series. I know, I know, compressing a 1100 page book into a three-hour mini-series – you’re gonna lose stuff in the translation, but with only three hours, the film rushes it. Our seven young kids are thrown together so quickly, instead of taking its time, that it seems no just coincidental, but completely contrived.

There’s no real emotional hook in the film, you aren’t given a chance to get to know the characters, know not only their fears, but the different things they bring to the Losers’ Club, their friendships…

Not to mention the history of Derry, all the back story, all the previous recurrences of It, or Pennywise, throughout its history. I would have loved to have seen the Black Spot, seen a young Dick Halloran before he went to work at the Overlook, the massacres, the destruction of the factory…

So I think that it’s time to perhaps bring the book to the screen again. But maybe this time take a page from HBO’s work on the Game of Thrones series, don’t confine it to 3 hours, make it an epic, season long event.

I would love to see a more faithful adaptation, taking it’s time, setting things up, building the relationships, the scares, the story. I’m a little stuck on how they might do the Turtle, but there are a couple of ideas toying in my head on that one too.

I think it’s a fantastic idea, especially on one of the cable stations, like HBO, FX or the like, somewhere that they don’t have to worry about language or violence, and they could tell the whole story.

And if one book does well, what’s to say they couldn’t adapt another, and another, bringing all of King’s library to life on the small screen in a way it hasn’t been seen before.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are things I quite like about the mini-series adaptation of It, I think the casting of the kids was almost bang on – especially Jonathan Brandis as Bill, Seth Green as Richie and Brandon Crane as Ben. I quite liked Annette O’Toole as Beverly, John Ritter as Ben and Tim Meadows as Mike Hanlon, but more often than not, I though a lot of the characters were interchangeable because there wasn’t enough character development for them.

Tim Curry is always good, he’s Tim Curry and his Pennywise is probably the character given the most to do, but his character and its motivation is kind of lacking as well, in the book, each of them has an encounter with It, but actually escape from It. In this, it seems quite happy to pop up and tease the children and only kill the ones that don’t have large parts in the screenplay.

I do hope it gets put on the screen again… somebody at HBO see this and get to work on it will you? I’d be happy to help out!

Have you seen It recently, read,or re-read the book? What did you think?

Revisiting Stephen King

I’ve been wanting to read something spooky for a while, and it’s tough to come across books and authors who actually can creep me out with a tale of the supernatural.

So I decided to go back to my youth.

Like most folks, I read a lot of Stephen King in my teen and high school years. They were awesome books.

And they still are.

So I’ve started reading King again, in no particular order as well. I’ll read a novel, then a collection of short stories, and I have to say I am having a great time. The novels I’ve read (or reread as the case may be) so far are 11/22/63 (quite possibly my favorite King book of all time, replacing It), Cell, The Dark Tower series (except for the most recent one – which is an amazing epic, worlds-spanning fantasy western series that has no equal), Tommyknockers, The Shining and It. The collections have been Night Shift, Nightmares & Dreamscapes, and Everything’s Eventual.

The man has a gift, whether the genre is your preferred corner of fiction or not, most will admit to that. Yes, there are times when the story can seem overly long, I noticed that in It, but even then, when you take it for what it really is, building and expanding the mythology of the worlds he creates, then it really is enjoyable.

And oh the connections!

It’s easy enough to simply google them, or use wikipedia, but there’s a singular enjoyment when revisiting material you haven’t read in decades, and you see the little threads tying his universes together.

I love that Jake in 11/22/64 passes briefly through Derry, and meets Richie Tozier and Beverly Marsh from It a short time after the epic events of that tale, and that Dick Halloran the psychically gifted cook of the Overlook hotel in The Shining shows up in one of the tales about Derry in It.

Haven, of course gets mentioned a couple of times, Tommyknockers takes place inside that little burg, but it’s not recognizable as the television show that shares the same name and is loosely based on Mr.King’s The Colorado Kid.

There are some undeniable creepy and iconic images in his books, and I tend to like his supernatural tales, as opposed to something like Tommyknockers. The idea of the kind of evil seen in things like The Shining or It just engage me more. I like It, I think because of the fact that part of it is told from an adult’s point of view, and the rest is from the viewpoint of the same characters but as children.

The nostalgia that is so prevalent in 11/22/63 is also right there in It, and I think that’s part of the appeal. That and the fact that a kid’s life can be like that, seemingly facing great evil during your summer days, but still needing to be back at home for dinner and chores. I also love the fact that It, or Pennywise the clown as he is more commonly known (masterfully played in the small screen adaptation by Tim Curry) could appear as one of your greatest fears. The book is filmed with frightening moments and images, the idea of pictures coming to life has stayed with me so long that I worked it into my horror novel.

I do believe my next book may be The Talisman, which I remember starting when I was younger, but never finishing. I’d like to amend that, and of course read the sequel. I’m also looking forward to revisiting Salem’s Lot, because I love a good vampire story.

What are some of your favorite King books or short stories? What one should I read next?

Natasha Eloi (Part 1)

Natasha Eloi is about as amazing as people come, she’s a self-taught videographer, a journalist, a sci-fi and movie geek, and just a delightfully fun soul whom Sue and I simply clicked with.

We met for an evening of chattage at the Duke of Kent, and we sat there for almost three hours, and recorded for almost two! Now instead of cherrypicking the best bits, and how do you do that with someone as amazing as Natasha, with all the brilliant stories and enthusiasm she has? We decided to break up the chat over three podcasts, all of then equally engaging, and showcasing Natasha’s sense of humour, her great stories, and just getting to know this amazing woman.

So order up a plate of fries, grab a pint or a cuppa, and enjoy the first part of our chat with Natasha Eloi (Part 1).

Ridley Scott – My Top 10

I am so pumped for Prometheus, but we know that. So, while I wait very impatiently for June 8 to return to The Company, Lv-426 and learn the secrets of The Engineers I thought it would be very interesting to run down my list of favorite films by Sir Ridley.

While some people may not necessarily agree with all my selections I stand by them, and I honestly believe he is one of the best technical directors working today.

So without further ado… My list…

10) Thelma & Louise (1991) – An awesome road movie, with two very strong female leads. Leaving their less than stellar lives behind they take to the road in search of more.

It all seems to go well enough until Louise kills a man who attempts to rape Thelma.

From that moment on, they are on the run, racing towards the inescapable ending of the film.

And what a ride!

9) Robin Hood (2010) – This one may raise a few eyebrows, especially coming in higher than Thelma & Louise, but that;s because everyone, I believe, went into the film thinking it would simply be a retelling of all the stories that had gone before, robbing from the rich giving to the poor and the like. This time around it’s a completely different tale, while still incorporating a lot of the familiar trademarks of the legend. Ridley knows how to get what he wants, and each shot is masterful, no matter what people thought of the subject matter. I also have to say, as is apparent from how many times he shows up on the list, I do like when Russell Crowe and Scott work together.

8) Body of Lies (2008) – Ridely show’s his technical proficiency to the extreme with this political techno-thriller featuring Leonardo DiCaprio as CIA operative Roger Ferris who is working on tracking down a terrorist leader working out of Jordan. But in this game, intelligence is the top card and his double-dealing boss, played by Crowe, who put on some weight for the role, proves that he cannot be trusted, twisting and controlling the information, and pulling the strings, screwing Ferris time and again, though they’re supposed to be on the same side of the conflict. This is a movie that you can’t walk in and out of, you have to pay attention to everything, you see, Scott never underestimates the smarts of his audience, and refuses to talk down to them.

7) Matchstick Men (2003) – Ridley doesn’t often delve into comedy/drama but this con-man film is a lot of fun, and it’s neat to see Ridley step away from the action-dramas he usually helms.

Nicolas Cage plays Roy Waller, a con man, who is suffering from a staggering amount of phobias. He works with Frank Mercer (the always awesome Sam Rockwell) on a ‘water-filtration’ scam until his teenage daughter, played by Alison Lohman, shows up and puts a kink in things, by telling her father she wants to learn the business. Like all con films, there are twists, turns, betrayals and surprises, and this one works just fine.

6) Legend (1985) – A straight out fantasy film, Legend stands out for a couple of reasons, the swapping of music scores at the last second, and the fantastic performance by Tim Curry, as the satan-like Darkness. The film was trimmed and re-scored initially, removing a sweeping score by Jerry Goldsmith to replace it with a more synthetic soundtrack by Tangerine Dream. This was before Tom Cruise was a huge name, and the film doesn’t get lost under his ego, instead, the fairy tale nature of the film is front and center, and is lovely to look at, not to mention Mia Sara (sigh). If you seek this one out, make sure you track down the Director’s Cut, as opposed to the original theatrical cut, which lost almost 30 minutes of footage.

5) Black Rain (1989) – American cops out of their element in Japan, lost in a world that deals with things completely differently than the way they are used to on the streets of New York. Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia are the cops, sent to escort a criminal back to Japan, where they promptly lose him through deception, and a complete lack of language and protocol.

When things go really badly, Douglas’ Conklin goes head to head with the Yakuza with the help of a Japanese partner (Ken Takakura) and a ex-pat played by Kate Capshaw. An awesome flick.

4) Gladiator (2000) – Scott’s first effort with Crowe, and I’m sure some of you are wondering why it’s not my number one choice. Now, I do believe it’s a great film, even if Maximus speaks with a mostly Australian accent, but for me it doesn’t have as much repeat watch value as the remaining three on the list. In fact Black Rain almost beat it out for this position. Still it’s gorgeous, the action sequences are fantastic, and as always technically incredible.

Ridley brings ancient Rome to life in a way most viewers hadn’t seen since Ben-Hur, and it’s a bloody good ride. It also features, I feel, one of Hans Zimmer’s best scores.

3) Black Hawk Down (2001) – Based on an actual incident, that ends up being epic in size, this film shows that not only can Scott handle action, create intense war scenes, it also shows he can work with and balance an incredibly large cast including Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana, Jason Isaacs, William Fichtner, Jeremy Piven, Tom Hardy, and Ron Eldard. Wonderfully intense, Black Hawk Down is the epitome of wars depicting modern warfare in my mind.

And it’s impact does not lessen with repeated viewing. If you’re able, get your hands on the 3 disc special edition DVD set (this version is yet to be released on blu-ray) there are some fantastic behind-the-scenes and historical documentaries.

2) Alien (1979) – A haunted house story set in space. That’s how its been to described, and at its core, that is what it is. Much like Star Wars, which came two years before, there is a level of detail, and use to the universe that Scott created with this film. It’s not clean or pristine, it’s been lived in, and as we learn, it’s not safe.

I love the fact that the first hour of this film is all set-up. You get to know the characters, you see the Nostromo, then you have the landing, the derelict ship, and of course things go sideways as we see, almost simultaneously that the message they received was not an SOS, but possibly a warning, and Kane encounters the eggs, and the facehugger within.

There’s not an imperfect moment in this film as far as I’m concerned, the model and creature work, the design, the cinematography, the costumes, it all combines to create a completely believable world…

1) Blade Runner (1982) – Alongside Metropolis, Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner will go down in history as one of the most influential science fiction films ever made. The Final Cut is the version I stand by, more ambiguous and thought-provoking than the original version with voice-over. Scott once again created a lived-in world, that while set in a 2019 that probably won’t come to fruition by the time we reach that year (though it may very well happen in the decades that follow it – I’m not sure about the replicants, but the spinners, and the buildings, and the pollution, and the implied political state).

This is my favorite film by Ridley Scott, though differing from the source material, it created a whole new film genre the future noir.

With these amazing films, is it any wonder I can’t wait for Prometheus? And I if it will find a place in my top 10 Ridley Scott films…

What are yours?

And will you be there June 8th?

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…