Saturday, October 27, 2012
(December 2007, U.S.)
I AM LEGEND is, indeed, a rarely appreciated film for my tastes and collection because in most cases by the time any original story has gotten to it's THIRD film version, I'm likely to loose interest because most versions and remakes of stories never top the original film version. Not so in the case of Richard Matheson's original novel because in my opinion, the first film THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964) and the second THE OMEGA MAN (1971) were just no damn good at all. Three times is definitely a charm here because I AM LEGEND is one of the most terrifying post-apocalyptic science fiction horror films I've ever seen. Believe it or not, the terror for me comes not so much from the cannibalistic humanoid night seekers that military virologist Lieutenant Colonel Robert Neville (played by Will Smith) is fighting to survive against, but rather the the quiet and eerie dead atmosphere of what was once the great island of Manhattan, New York.
Let me begin with that one first - over the last two decades I've seen my fair share of computer generated amazement on the big screen and I swear to you right now, none of it compares to the hard impact of looking at New York City completely deserted of all human beings (except Will Smith). You look at it and you know very well computer effects were involved, but you would also swear that the film was shot on location in a dead, deserted city, if you didn't know any body. It's just that well done and it's also just that freaky. It's also, of course, very chilling to imagine just one person living in an entire city. You can feel it most in my opinion when we hear Neville's voiceover calling out to whomever may be listening on a daily basis...
"My name is Robert Neville. I am a survivor living in New York City. I am broadcasting on all AM frequencies. I will be at the South Street Seaport everyday at mid-day, when the sun is highest in the sky. If you are out there...if anyone is out there...I can provide food, I can provide shelter, I can provide security. If there's anybody out there...anybody...please. You are not alone."
They're just words, I know, but listen to them when you watch the film and really take them in and you just might know what I'm talking about.
The entire human race being wiped out by plague or biological warfare is not exactly new to the screen. In fact, one of the most effective films I'd seen prior to I AM LEGEND concerning this topic was the ABC-TV television mini-series of Stephen King's THE STAND back in 1994. It's also a fact that human beings falling victim to disease or the like and turning into some sort of horrifying monsters isn't the newest film sensation, either. As a matter of fact, were it not for Richard Matheson's original story, George A. Romero may never have been inspired to give us his NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), and thus, the entire genre of "living dead" movies may never have existed. I AM LEGEND shows you not only what's become of humanity (what's left of it) but takes you back in time a bit to not only introduce you to a medical marvel that was thought to be the cure for cancer (before it turned into something else entirely), but also shows you the horror of the breakdown in the system of not only the disease itself, but the chaos that erupts when the island of Manhattan is quarantined from the rest of the world. It's one thing to watch herds of people in a panic to survive by attempted escape, and it's another matter entirely to watch our own military planes intentionally destroy a portion of the Brooklyn Bridge in order to prevent it. Indeed, the breakdown and destruction of humankind can be a terrifying thing to watch, sometimes more terrifying that the tradition and cliche of monsters. Though I must admit, I get more of the hee bee gee bees scared out of me watching the scenes when Neville's diseased RATS are going crazy trying to break out of their confinements in order to kill him than I do watching humanoid monsters trying to do the same thing. I hate, hate, HATE rats!!!
It impresses me that I AM LEGEND is portrayed at such an epic scale and yet the film is only one hundred minutes long. Proof positive that quality triumphs over quantity and less is, indeed, more. I have to also finally say that since INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996), I haven't gotten bored yet of watching Will Smith play the science fiction hero. The man has definitely got something in that department.
And hey, why is it that when the world is coming to an end on screen, New York City is always the first one to get it??
Favorite line or dialogue:
Robert Neville: "All right, let me tell you about your "God's plan". Seven billion people on Earth when the infection hit! KV had a ninety-percent kill rate, that's five point four billion people dead! Crashed and bled out! Dead! Less than one-percent immunity! That left twelve million healthy people, like you, me, and Ethan! The other five hundred and eighty-eight million turned into your dark seekers, and then they got hungry and they killed and fed on everybody! Everybody! Every single person that you or I has ever known is dead! Dead! There is no God!"
That's some scary shit!
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
(November 1932, U.S.)
I must confess that every once in a while I feel as if I may be alienating many of my readers when I post a blog for a very old film. I know there are many out there who love classic films, but I can't shake the idea that whenever I get into something that dates, say pre-1950, many out there are likely shaking their heads thinking to themselves, "This is way before my time.". Presuming I'm correct, that's a very tragic attitude in the world of film, in my opinion. There are countless gems to be discovered in the "Pre-Code" era of cinema, as well as the silent period, too.
That little gripe having been aired out, be aware that without a classic prison picture like I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (there's a long title I'll try not to repeat too often!), we may never have gotten future classic prison films like BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (1962) or THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994). You've very likely never heard even heard of this film or its star, Paul Muni. The best I can do to familiarize you with the star is to say that if you love Brian DePalma's SCARFACE, know that it's a remake of an original 1932 film of the same and Paul Muni is the infamous gangster that would one day be taken over by Al Pacino as Tony Montana. Did that help?
Paul Muni plays James Allen who return a decorated veteran of World War I whose war experience makes him extremely restless to just spend his life at an ordinary job. He wants to see places and build things. He leaves home to find work on any sort of project, but unskilled labor is plentiful and it's hard for him to find a job. Wandering and sinking into poverty, he accidentally becomes caught up in a robbery and is sentenced to ten years on a brutal Southern chain gang (for stealing only $5.00, no less!). The brutality of that prison life (mind you, the word PRISON is never actually spoken - only the words CHAIN GANG) is obvious, even for the 1930s. He inevitably (and predictably) escapes and actually meets with years of success as he's not only able to evade the law, but also to become a productive and upstanding citizen of the city of Chicago. Like all good things, though, it doesn't last long enough. He's caught again and is offered a deal for a full pardon if he'll return to the chain gang and serve out his time. Quite stupidly, he agrees to the deal on faith. This can be particularly unnerving to the viewer because you know from the minute the offer is made that it's going to turn out to be total bullshit and James will be right back where he was with no chance of a future. You see, when you watch a prison film, you have a tremendous longing for the protaganist to escape the brutal hell of his life and emerge triumphantly, whether he's guilty or innocent of his crime. We can't help it. That's what makes a great prison film work.
There's an unforgettable shot at the close of the film when James, having escaped for the second time, visits the woman he loves outside her home. The visit is only momentary and he must then take it on the run again. As he says goodbye, James retreats into the blackness of not only the film itself, but the life he now maintains on the run from those who have shown him nothing but brutality and injustice.
This film is one that defines classic black and white cinema. If you have the means, the mind and the patience, rent it and see it for yourself. Trust me.
Favorite line or dialogue:
James Allen: "Helen! Helen!"
Helen Vinson: "Jim! Jim! Why haven't you come before?"
Jim: "I couldn't. I was afraid to."
Helen: "It's been almost a year since you escaped."
Jim: "But I haven't escaped! They're still after me. They'll always be after me! I've had jobs but I can't keep them. Something happens. Something turns up. I hide in rooms all day and travel by night. No friends, no rest, no peace!"
Helen: "Oh, Jim!"
Jim: "Keep moving! That's all that's left for me! Forgive me, Helen. I had to take a chance to see you tonight...just to say goodbye.'
Helen: "Oh, Jim, it was all going to be so different!"
Jim: It is different! They've made it different!"
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
(September 1961, U.S.)
What WAS Paul Newman's greatest role? That, I suppose, is a matter of personal opinion and debate. Some would say HUD (1963) or COOL HAND LUKE (1967). Others might say it was his latter performance in THE VERDICT (1982). For me, and for many others, I'm sure, nothing ever has and never will beat the character of "Fast Eddie" Felson in THE HUSTLER. It's just a damn shame that the poor man had to wait twenty-five years before he'd win the Oscar for best actor of 1986 in Martin Scorsese's sequel, THE COLOR OF MONEY, a movie I actually saw before its classic predecessor.
This is a film that glorifies the game of pool, of course, but it's fundamentally a story of what it means to be a human being, set within the context of winning and losing. "Fast Eddie" wants to become a great pool player, possibly the best in the entire country, but he encounters obstacles in attempting to fulfill himself as a human being along the way. He attains self-awareness only after a terrible personal tragedy which he was responsible for. And despite winning the big climactic pool game at the end against Minnesota Fats (played by the legendary Jackie Gleason), it comes with a human price that Eddie decides is just too high.
Now fear not, fans of Jackie Gleason! I'm not about to simply mention his great name in just a simple pair of parentheses. This is a man whom, sadly, I only discovered for the first time when I was a kid and saw SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (that's just WRONG in so many ways!). Since then, however, I'm proud to admit that I'm a HONEYMOONERS junkie. But to watch Gleason as Minnesota Fats is a performance that is hell-and-gone from anything you've ever seen come from the likes of Ralph Kramden. Fats is well-dressed, quiet, smooth, graceful and deadly serious about his pool playing. It's those simple characteristics that actually make him incredibly intimidating to someone like "Fast Eddie" who knows that this man (Fats) is a force he'll need to take seriously (and take down) in order to acheive his dream. He makes it clear early in the film that "I came after him!" It's characters and performances like these that make this film one of the few American movies in which the hero actually wins in the end by surrendering and finally accepting reality instead of his glorious dreams. The possibility of these dreams don't surface again for another two and a half decades when "Fast Eddie" meets Tom Cruise!
I'd like to conclude with attempting to verbally describe a specific shot that captures a look on "Fast Eddie's" face, and one I've never been able to forget. It's at the very end of the film when he stares at Minnesota Fats before speaking to him for the last time. You'd need to actually see this to know what I'm talking about, but it's a deadly serious look that says many things, in my opinion. It's says 'I love you', it says 'I hate you', it says 'I'm glad I met you', it says 'I despise your existence'. But above all else, it says what I would consider to be the most important human feeling that can take place between these two great men of pool; it ultimately says, 'I respect you'. And that being the case, that look is followed by what I consider my the most perfect lines that can be spoken between "Fast Eddie" Felson and the great Minnesota Fats...
"Fast Eddie" Felson: "Fat man, you shoot a great game of pool."
Minnesota Fats: "So do you, Fast Eddie."
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
(December 1964, U.S.)
For this particular post, I'll start off with an amusing personal story. My father has often told me that just after he and my mother were married in 1964, they went to see HUSH...HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE. It's my opinion that little-to-no research was done for this film on their part because both of them have always avoided horror or psychological thrillers as a rule. I'm guessing they went to see this film based on its star power and nothing else. As a result, I'm told that the woman who would one day become my mother went running out of the movie theater screaming her head off. Perhaps this should have been the first clue to my father as a sign of what his marriage to her would be like (but that's another matter entirely). So, given this little piece of trivial family history, along with an admitted adiction to Turner Classic Movies, it was inevitable that I would discover this film sooner or later.
Let's talk about the star power here for a moment. One can't help but take notice and wonder how stars like Bette Davis, Olivia deHaviland, Joseph Cotten and Agnes Moorehead, who all shined in classic films like GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), CITIZEN KANE (1941) and NOW VOYAGER (1942), would ever consent to being in a film like HUSH...HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE. Did they all need the money or were they all dying to try something different, something offbeat, and something in the world of the macabre? Who knows. It's clear though that Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1960) had a profound effect on films of this type that would clearly be seen for decades to come.
I also can't help but wonder something else: when singer Kim Carnes sang about "Bette Davis Eyes" in 1981, was she perhaps referring the eyes of gentle kindness that we see in films like DARK VICTORY or NOW VOYAGER or was she singing with her dark side and recalling the wide-eyed, sinister, horrific eyes of this film and even WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? Davis' eyes are downright piercing and even horrifying in this film; the kind of eyes that would kill a person standing in front of her. Her entire character of Charlotte Hollis is downright frightening because it's pretty clear from early on that the poor woman is not playing with a full deck. Within the first ten minutes of the film, her young lover John Mayhew of 1927 (played by a young Bruce Dern) is hacked to pieces by an unseen murderer...and for 1962, it's quite a shocking murder that begins with a severed hand and continues with bloodshed (Jesus, Dad, what were you thinking???). So the question throughout the film is a very basic (and very cliche), "Did she or didn't she?" Cut to present day (1964) and Charlotte is a wealthy spinster, seemingly stark, raving mad and refusing to vacate her abandoned family plantation which has been taken over by the Louisiana Highway Commission. Her cousin Miriam (played by Olivia deHaviland) has arrived with intentions to help Charlotte pack up and leave. One with even just a little imagination can guess pretty quickly that she has other sinister ulterior motives up her sleeve. This is a very interesting role for deHaviland because most of the films I've seen her in has featured her as a very kind, giving person. Not here, though. She wants Charlotte's money and she wants Charlotte put away in the nut house. This won't be hard to do given Charlotte's current state of mind, but a little push doesn't hurt either. With the help of accomplice Drew Bayliss (played by Joseph Cotten), they plant terrifying props and create deliberate circumstances in the house that will help drive Charlotte even madder than she already is. Without giving too much away, let me just say that it almost works. Almost means that Charlotte is likely to triumph in the end, but not without busting some heads first (literally!).
HUSH...HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE can be a bit over the top at times, particularly in Bette Davis' outrageous performance, but it's an effectively directed and beautifully shot black and white film, containing enough scary sequences and jolts amid a very brooding and tense atmosphere.
By the way, I have to say that it's rather amusing to listen to Olivia deHaviland repeatedly say the name Charlotte because it sounds so damn close to SCARLETT. If you've seen GONE WITHT THE WIND, then you know what I'm talking about.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Harry Willis: "You're my favorite living mystery."
Charlotte: "Have you ever solved me?"
Friday, October 12, 2012
(September 1992, U.S.)
I really miss Woody Allen! I know he's not dead (yet) and he still makes movies on a regular basis, but he just hasn't been the same, in my opinion, for well over a decade. I miss the totally neurotic, narcissistic Woody Allen of the island of Manhattan who's constantly worried about his health and can never seem to make his love life work. I miss the beautifully furnished apartments, the scenes of Central Park captured at just the right time of year and the quiet, intimate, candle-lit restaurants of Woody Allen's Manhattan. The Woody Allen films of Paris, Rome and Europe in general I just can't seem to get into. I suppose that's just the way it is as the man continues to age.
Woody Allen's 1992 film was released at just about the exact time the world discovered that Woody Allen and Mia Farrow were coming to an end because Woody decided to start fucking his adopted daughter, Soon Yi Previn. And because nothing helps a film's box office receipts like some good, juicy controversy or scandal, HUSBANDS AND WIVES did much better than it likely would have were it just another release during the director's career. Really, when you think about it, the timing couldn't have been more perfect - a movie about troubled marriages starring Woody and Mia just as their own real life marriage crumbles. It also coincidentally features Woody's character seducing a young twenty year-old college girl (named Rain!) played by Juliette Lewis. You know, I can still remember Woody going on TV and saying, "The heart wants what it wants." True, I suppose...I just can't see wanting Soon Yi Previn!
Now onto the film itself, which by the way, is inspired by Ingmar Bergman's TV mini-series SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (1973). It's about two married couples. Gabe (Woody) and Judy (Mia) are seemingly happy together after many years. Jack (played by Sydney Pollack) and Sally (played by Judy Davis) announce that they're splitting up after many years together and that they're also both fine with it...supposedly. Marriage is complicated, we know, but Woody shows us that break-ups can be just as complicated. People move on to other partners. Sometimes they're bright, educated, sophisticated, old fashioned men for Judy like Michael Gates (played by Liam Neeson) and sometimes they're uneducated, ditzy, health food-obssessed, astrology-committed, yet fun and sexually exciting women for Jack like Samantha (played by Lysette Anthony). With Jack and Sally, we learn that despite a marriage with difficulties and despite futile attempts to move on with others, two people who have shared too many years, too many experiences and have very deep roots with each other are likely destined to be together forever, one way or another (that's how it is in the movies, anyway).
The marriage of Gabe and Judy is quite the opposite. The shocking announcement of Jack and Sally's break up at the beginning of the film provokes Judy's hidden desires to be free herself from a marriage she doesn't feel as passionate about any more. Many of Woody's films depict a great change in characters and circumstances within a relatively short period of time. Predictably, Gabe and Sally end up divorced by the end of the film and surprisingly Judy finds that despite her innner wishes of freedom, she's the type of person who needs to be married. She ends up marrying Michael Gates. This all actually inspires me to recall the lyrics in "Love Stinks" by the J. Geils Band that goes, "You lover her, but she loves him, and he loves somebody else, you just can't win. In a Woody Allen film, though, sometimes you do win.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Rain: "Okay, isn't it beneath you as a mature thinker, I mean, to allow your lead character to waste so much of this emotional energy obsessing over this psychotic relationship with a woman that you fantasize as powerfully sexual and inspired when, in fact, she was pitifully sick?"
Gabe: "Look, let's stop this right now because I don't need a lecture on maturity or writing from a twenty year-old twit!"
(I've dated my small share of twenty year-old twits in my time!)
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
(June 2009, U.S.)
THE HURT LOCKER begins with an opening quote on screen that is inescapable: "The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug." This is hardly a surprising revelation to the enthusiastic viewer of war films. We've seen it before in countless combat films starring John Wayne. We instantly recall Robert Duval's character of Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore in APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) whenever we hear that famous line, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning!" This, however, is the first war film I've ever seen that actually takes the necessary moment to acknowledge the hard fact of combat's impact on the soldier who can ebrace his job on the battlefield and inevitably like what he's doing.
Sergeant First Class William James (played by Jeremy Renner) is hardly John Wayne and nowhere near Sylvester Stallone. He's a man in Iraq in 2004 who's been previously battle-tested and has become expert as disarming explosives. William's maverick methods and sometimes irresponsible attitude lead his men to consider him reckless, and it's then that tensions mount between soldiers. Tensions predictably becomes comradery when men are in the field and act with bravery and valor to save each other's lives. But we must remember that this is an unpopular and unwanted war by many, many Americans (thank you, George W. Bush...asshole!). These are men that must do a hard job in a hostile land of citizens who want them either gone or dead. How do mercilessly kill the enemy and still remember to maintain your humanity? Their is a thought-provoking sequence where William befriends a young Iraqi boy who sells DVDs on the street, perhaps an attempt to hold onto his fatherly instincts, as he is the father of an infant back in the United States. When he believes that the boy was murdered and used as a human bomb, he not only feels the pain of that action, but even risks his own life to attempt some exercise in revenge. When he further learns that the boys body does NOT belong to the one he befriended, rather than express any human joy or relief, his heart appears to harden further, because it's become obvious that human attachments to children (or anyone else) in this hostile land is futile.
THE HURT LOCKER is hardly a combat film in the traditional sense. Very little shots are fires throughout the film. These are soldiers who repeatedly do the same thing nearly every day during their tour of duty. One might expect this sort of storyline to get boring after a while, but that's hardly the case. You know this is a story of men who look for and disarm bombs, and because we know that, we can't help be watch with a feeling of sick dread in our stomachs - because bombs explode and we never know when or where it will happen and who will be the victim of it. And as many war films may attempt to do, THE HURT LOCKER takes a moment to try and offer some sympathy for the enemy in the form of a "good" Iraqi family man who's been rigged with bombs attached to his body and begs the American soldiers to not allow him to die. War is hell, we know, and we also know that it's proper to hate the enemy. Iraq should never have been our enemy the second time around after the new century began. But if it HAD to happen, then I could only wish for and hope for our American soldiers to obliterate our enemies...because that's their job and I don't feel it's wrong for some of them to inevitably like what they have to do. That's my opinion.
THE HURT LOCKER won the Oscar for best picture of 2009.
Favorite line or dialogue:
JT Sanborn: "I'm not ready to die, James."
William James: "Well, you're not gonna die out here, bro."
Sanborn: "Another two inches, shrapnel zings by; slices my throat, I bleed out like a pig in the sand. Nobody'll give a shit. I mean my parents, they care, but they don't count, man. Who else? I don't even have a son."
William: "Well, you're gonna have plenty of time for that, amigo."
Sanborn: "No, man. I'm done. I want a son. I want a little boy, Will. I mean, how do you do it, you know? Take the risk?"
William: "I don't know. I guess I don't think about it."
Sanborn: "But you realize every time you suit up, every time we go out, it's life or death. You roll the dice, and you deal with it. You recognize that don't you?"
William: "Yeah, yeah, I do. But I don't know why. I don't know, JT. You know why I'm the way I am?"
Sanborn: "No, I don't."
Thursday, October 4, 2012
(December 1999, U.S.)
Last night I watched Norman Jewison's THE HURRICANE for the first time since originally buying the DVD many years ago. In doing a little extra research for my blog post, I discovered that there are a lot of controversial accusations out there that discredit the premise of the film that Rubin "Hurricane" Carter was as innocent a man as the film claims him to be. Thankfully, it's not my job nor my concern to proclaim the man's history of innocence or guilt for the crimes he was accused of committing. The film is my concern and clearly it's one I enjoy.
The first thing I have to bring to the table is the outstanding performance of Denzel Washington, one that's only second to his portrayal of Malcom X in Spike Lee's 1992 film. You watch a character like Rubin Carter come to life on the screen and you can't help but wonder why Washington would even bother to make films like UNSTOPPABLE or that silly remake of THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 (blame the late Tony Scott, perhaps).
The film tells the story of the middleweight boxer whose conviction for a New Jersey triple murder was set aside after he had spent almost 20 years in prison. Washington narrates Carter's life and the film basically concentrates on the period between 1966 and 1985, when he was finally released from prison. The fight sequences are brilliantly shot in black and white to focus on the rage, hate and even pride that drives Carter to survive the turmoils of his life. In a parallel plot, there's an underprivileged youth from Brooklyn, Lesra Martin (played by Vicellous Reon Shannon), who becomes interested in Carter's life and destiny after reading the man's autobiography, and convinces his Canadian foster family to commit themselves to his ongoing and seemingly hopeless case. Circumstances culminate with Carter's legal team's successfully pleading the lastleg of the case to a federal judge who will finally listen (he's played by Rod Steiger) to the new evidence presented and allow justice to prevail to a man wrongfully accused and imprisoned.
Without bothering to try to conclude what is true or false in this story, one of the elements I find intruiging is how Carter is able to successfully isolate himself from the general population of the prison. I don't know the details of true prison life (thankfully!) but this is the first so-called prison film where I've ever seen something like that happen to a prisoner. As Carter himself puts it in the film, the fate of most inmates in general population is to get stabbed or raped in the shower. How he avoided all that, I'll never know. More power to him, I suppose.
In telling the story of one man's fight for freedom and justice, THE HURRICANE rides to outstanding glory with an incredible performance from its star and it's supporting cast, even by actor Dan Hedaya, who portrays the biggest piece of shit police detective I've ever seen on film. You can truly feel Carter's hate for this man because you long to hate him, too; and you do, quite successfully.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Rubin Carter: "Hate put me in prison. Love's gonna bust me out."
Lesra Martin: "Just in case love doesn't, I'm gonna bust you outta here!"
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
(March 1990, U.S.)
I've mentioned this before (which means I'll mention it again!) - the year 1990 was one of the worst years of my life. It started out bad the moment the clock struck twelve on New Years Eve and pretty much stayed that way for the next three hundred sixty-five days. While most people might have turned to drugs or alcohol (maybe I should have!) to combat such a depressive state, I turned to the movie theaters for any means of joyful escape. It didn't always help because from my own personal retrospect, 1990 was not such a great year for movies. THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER was the first film of that year (and that decade) that truly brought a smile to my face. I even saw it twice.
You know, some time ago when I wrote my blog for the late Tony Scott's CRIMSON TIDE (1995), I received a little bit of flack from some readers when I declared it my favorite submarine film. People couldn't comprehend why I'd chosen that over THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. My reasons are, of course, my own, but I'm here now to tell you that director John McTiernan's follow up to DIE HARD (1988) is a spectacular, high-tech submarine thriller in its own right. By March 1990, the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall had already been disolved for several months now, so the timing of Tom Clancy's story of high tensions at sea between the United States and the Russians may have already seemed dated and out of touch with current events. But the action in this film takes place in 1984 during the Cold War, shortly before Mikhail Gorbachev came to power. Captain Marko Ramius (played by the great Sean Connery), is the commanding officer of Red October, a new Soviet typhoon-class submarine whose silent caterpillar drive renders it virtually undetectable to sonar. Once put to sea, the U.S. and Soviet powers believe that Ramius may be a renegade mad man with his own diabolical intentions behind the sub's nuclear powers. CIA analyst (played by Alec Baldwin) must race against time to prove that Ramius' intentions are actually to defect and turn over Russia's super sub to the United States. It's tense-filled cat-and-mouse undersea adventure with suberb acting by all involved.
Viewed all these years later, one of the first things I do is not to try and over-compare the role of Jack Ryan between Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford. Both bring their own individual spirits of the character to life in their own thrilling adventures. Alec Baldwin is still young and still a very fresh face to the screen and does not need to rely on any "movie star" elements to keep his performace afloat. Sean Connery is perfect in any commanding role. The thrills in this film come fast and hard, though not as fast and hard as in CRIMSON TIDE (in my humble opinion). And even during a time when the Cold War is just a brief distant memory, the political tensions between the U.S. and Russia and the actions that could lead to nuclear war are valid enough on screen to keep the view gripped and get them wondering which side is going to flinch first during a game of "undersea chicken". It also occurred to me that a high-tech political thriller such as this contains very complex and technical dialogue, which I confess, I find very entertaining to listen to. Perhaps it's my tiny brain concluding that complex dialogue just sound more intelligent to my ears. Who knows.
As I mentioned earlier, 1990 was a bad year for this writer. But as a temporary mild distraction, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER kicked things off in the movie theater to a pretty decent start.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Skip Tyler: "When I was twelve, I helped my daddy build a bomb shelter in our basement because some fool parked a dozen warheads 90 miles off the coast of Florida. This thing could park a coupla hundred warheads off Washington and New York and no one would know anything about it till it was all over."