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Film Roundup XIX

Clear and Present Danger – 87%

Harrison Ford reprises the role of CIA analyst Jack Ryan that he took over from Alec Baldwin in Patriot Games. In this adaptation of a Tom Clancy novel, Jack finds himself drawn into the web of intrigue surrounding an illegally-waged war between US special forces and a Colombian drug cartel. Any attempt to further summarize this tightly-plotted thrill ride would be counter-productive.

This is both the absolute best of the Jack Ryan movies to-date, and one of the last really good movies Harrison Ford appeared in before dropping into second-rate alley in the late ’90s. Clear and Present Danger is an intense blend of action and intrigue that keeps me on the edge of my seat in ways that few movies do anymore. It’s the sort of film that really makes me struggle to remember the last really good action movie I saw. Action is not really my top genre, but if more of them were like this, it might be. And let’s not forget the strong supporting cast, including Willem Dafoe, James Earl Jones, and a very young Thora Birch (who, as it happens, is actually older than I am).

Blade Runner – 95%

In the future (2019), humanity has created hyper-advanced androids, known as replicants, to work in off-world colonies. The replicants, which are nearly indistinguishable from humans, have been declared illegal on planet Earth, where they are hunted and terminated by “blade runners.” One such blade runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), faces the biggest challenge of his career when he is assigned to track down four rogue replicants who have hijacked a ship back to Earth and disappeared into the hive of humanity that Los Angeles has become.

Oh, look, I’m talking about Harrison Ford again; this time at a point in his career when he ruled the world, fresh from helping create pop culture icons in Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Blade Runner is an intense movie as well, but also a more cerebral one; a sometimes-troubling investigation into the question of what it truly means to be human. It’s strange to think that this film (which was released some 27 years ago now), portrays a “distant” that is only a decade away, but its shortcomings as prophecy have no effect on its philosophical impact. For any fans of sci-fi and cinema, Blade Runner is undoubtedly required viewing.

The Martian Chronicles – 28%

Ray Bradbury’s classic collection of short stories chronicling humanity’s colonization of Mars got the 6-hour miniseries treatment in 1980. Notable faces include Rock Hudson and Roddy McDowall, as the episodes follow the first abortive missions to the planet and the surge of colonization which follows across a period of several years. The original stories are riveting, and their episodic nature ought to translate well to television, but this adaptation falls far short of its potential. It never succeeds in convincing us to believe we are seeing Mars, which is partially a failure of special effects and partly a failure of creative design. Even these sorts of lapses could be overlooked, however, if it weren’t for the fact that the show is such an unbearable snoozefest. The greatest failure is not the show’s apparent lack of budget, but its lack of anything interesting to keep us awake.

A Time to Kill – 84%

This adaptation of John Grisham’s first novel (although it was the fourth to be made into a motion picture), is a story about an explosive trial that rocks a sleepy Southern town (as you might expect). After Carl Lee Hailey’s (Samuel L. Jackson) ten-year old daughter is raped by a couple of drunk rednecks, he ambushes them in the courthouse and kills them both. Now he is standing trial for murder, and it is up to local lawyer Jake Tyler Brigance (Matthew McConaughey) to get him off. Meanwhile, the controversy stirred up by the trial brings the KKK and NAACP to town, and it seems almost certain that serious violence will erupt between them.

I’m a big fan of Grisham’s pot-boilers, and the film versions of them never fail to translate the novels on which they are based faithfully and compellingly to the screen. This is no exception, despite the somewhat manipulative nature of the set-up. The cast is killer, as well, another standard of Grisham movies: Sandra Bullock, Kevin Spacey, Oliver Platt, Ashley Judd, Donald and Kiefer Sutherland. It’s not great art, but I like it.

The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming – 75%

Carl Reiner and Alan Arkin face off in this outrageous Cold War farce about a Soviet submarine that accidentally runs aground near a small New England village. All the Russians want is to get out unnoticed, but their inability to blend in as Americans convinces the locals that an invasion is imminent, prompting panic to set in. Reiner plays the mostly level-headed Walt Whittaker, who is determined to avert full-scale chaos, while Arkin is the Soviet officer assigned to clandestinely acquire a boat large enough to pull the sub back out to sea.

The film is cute, and funny enough in its way, but doesn’t even begin to approach the dark brilliance of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. Oddly enough, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Arkin) and Best Adapted Screenplay, just like Strangelove. Russians (deservedly) lost to A Man for All Seasons, while Strangelove fell before the popularity of My Fair Lady. I guess the Academy just never found the threat of nuclear war to be all that humorous.

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~ by Jared on January 15, 2009.

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