Review: The Hunt for Red October (dir. by John McTiernan)


The Hunt for Red October

Fresh off the success of his two previous films, The Predator and Die Hard, John McTiernan was now tasked with adapting one of the 1980’s most popular novels with Tom Clancy’s debut techno-thriller, The Hunt for Red October.

By 1990, the year the film was released, Gorbachev had thawed the Cold War that existed between East and West. The Berlin Wall was months away from being torn down and glasnost became the word of the day for most people who knew nothing but the spectre of nuclear annihilation hanging over their heads since before born.

It was during the final years of the Cold War that an insurance salesman with a penchant for military and spy thrillers tried his hand in writing one. this first attempt became a worldwide sensation and was quickly put up in a bidding war by all the major studios. It would be Paramount Pictures who would win to adapt The Hunt for Red October for the big-screen and John McTiernan would be hired to steer the film.

While Sean Connery would ultimately be cast in the main role of Soviet submarine Marko Ramius, he wasn’t the first choice. German actor Klaus Maria Brandauer was originally cast but ended up leaving production a coupe weeks into production due to prior commitments. So, in comes Connery and the rest, as they would say, is history.

The thing about film adaptations of popular novels has been how much of the novel could the filmmakers, especially the screenwriter, be able to fit into a film that would run around 2 hours or so. Some cutting of scenes that fans loves would have to be done and depending on the scenes in the novel, a backlash could begin against the film even before filming was completed.

Fortunately, this was Hollywood in the late 1980’s and there was no such thing as the internet as we know of it today. There were no blogs dedicated to reporting on every minute detail of a film production. No amateur film newshound bringing up unsubstantiated rumors of the going’s on during a film’s production. This was still a Hollywood who controlled how news of their activities were going to be reported and what they decided to tell and show reporters.

This would be a boon for McTiernan’s The Hunt for Red October since the film had some major help from not just the U.S. Navy, but from the Department of Defense in trying to make sure the film was as realistic as possible in portraying the life of American submariners, Naval personnel and how the intelligence community in the West operated. Again, this was also with the film portraying all these groups in a much more positive light in return for their assistance.

In today’s world, such a compromise from the filmmakers to gain the help from the military-intelligence apparatus would be akin to some as perpetuating warmongering and glorifying the military. I could see blogs shouting for boycotts if such a thing happened nowadays.

But returning to the film The Hunt for Red October, for a straight-by-the-numbers thriller it still brings a certain surprise and inventiveness in the action-thriller genre that other filmmakers decades later would try to emulate (Crimson Tide and the many Jack Ryan-based films). Despite a Russian accent that really was cringe-worthy even when first heard, Sean Connery made for a charismatic and sympathetic Marko Ramius whose reasoning for defecting with the titular submarine Red October went beyond just the politics of the era.

Backing him up was a strong ensemble cast with a very young Alec Baldwin in the role of Jack Ryan, James Earl Jones as his boss CIA director Adm. James Greer and Sam Neill and Scott Glenn as Cmdr. Borodin and Capt. Mancuso. The film goes in heavily into Clancy’s love for technobabble and military jargon, yet the actors involved seemed very game and convincing in acting out the dialogue that would sound ridiculous is just read without context and understanding.

While the film does sacrifice some of the more political maneuverings in the book, which meant less scenes with Richard Jordan as National Security Advisor Dr. Pelt, it does streamline the film to be more action-oriented. It was a shame they went that way in which parts of the novel to cut out since Jordan’s performance as Dr. Pelt was one of the highlights of the film, despite his limited screentime.

In terms of action, The Hunt for Red October proved once again that McTiernan knew how to handle both tension and action in equal measure. He makes the cat-and-mouse battle between the Soviet and American subs seem as thrilling as any fast-paced dogfight scenes that thrilled filmgoers when Top Gun premiered on the bigscreen.

Even the film’s orchestral score from the late and great composer Basil Poledouris would lend the film a certain level of martial prowess that Poledouris’ compositions were known for. Even after many viewings it’s still difficult not to hum the film’s Soviet national hymn-inspired theme.

While The Hunt for Red October was one of the last films of the Cold War-era that still showed the tug-of-war between the East and West, it was a fitting end to a part of Hollywood’s cinematic history that portrayed Communism, especially that of the Soviet Union, as the big go-to Enemy that made action movies of the 80’s so popular with the Reaganite crowd.

The success of this film would begin a cottage industry of sequels featuring the character of Jack Ryan who would be portrayed in subsequent films by none other than Everyman himself Harrison Ford then in a miscasting in a later sequel by Ben Affleck.

Cleaning Out The DVR: Just The Ticket (dir by Richard Wenk)


(Hi there!  So, as you may know because I’ve been talking about it on this site all year, I have got way too much stuff on my DVR.  Seriously, I currently have 193 things recorded!  I’ve decided that, on January 15th, I am going to erase everything on the DVR, regardless of whether I’ve watched it or not.  So, that means that I’ve now have only have a month to clean out the DVR!  Will I make it?  Keep checking this site to find out!  I recorded the 1999 romantic comedy Just The Ticket off of Epix on October 13th!)

Just The Ticket tells the story of Gary Starke (Andy Garcia).

Gary lives in New York City.  He is a tough, streetwise character, loyal to his friends and quick to anger if he feels that anyone is trying to take advantage of him.  He has no time for pretentious posturing or snobbish social gatherings.  Gary’s a man of the people.  He works with and takes care of an aging former boxer named Benny (Richard Bradford).  He looks after a pregnant, former drug addict named Alice (Laura Harris).  When the slick and dangerous Casino (Andre B. Blake) starts to do business in Gary’s territory, Gary is the only person with the guts to stand up to him.  Having never had a family (he’s never even seen his birth certificate and has no idea who his parents were), Gary has adopted the street people as his surrogate family.

That’s not all.  Gary is also a lapsed Catholic who, when he goes to confession, opens by saying that it’s been 25 years since his last confession and that he’s taken the Lord’s name in vain 20 to 30 times that morning.  Gary needs some help because his girlfriend, an aspiring chef named Linda (Andie McDowell), has left him and Gary wants to win her back.  The priest asks Gary if he can get him tickets to see the Knicks…

Why does he ask that?

You see, Gary is a legendary ticket scalper and…

Okay, I probably just lost you when I used the terms “legendary” and “ticket scalper” in the same sentence.  And I’ll admit that, when I discovered this movie was about ticket scalpers, it nearly lost me as well.  Just The Ticket treats ticket scalping with a dignity and reverence that I’m not quite sure it deserves.  I wasn’t surprised to discover that director/writer Richard Wenk apparently based the character of Gary on an actual ticket scalper that he knew.  A lot of bad movies have been made as the result of a director, writer, or producer coming across some mundane activity and thinking, “Wow, this would make a great movie!”

(That’s one reason why, every few years, we suddenly get a dozen movies about race car drivers.)

However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Just The Ticket is not a terrible movie.  Admittedly, it’s totally predictable and there are a lot of scenes that don’t work.  For instance, there’s a lengthy scene where Gary and Linda destroy a snobbish food critic’s kitchen.  I could imagine Gary doing that because he has nothing to lose.  But Linda is actually hoping to become a chef in New York City.  Would she really run the risk of making a permanent enemy at the New York Times?  There’s nothing about Andie McDowell’s performance that suggests she would.  The scenes between Gary and his aging partner also tend to overplay their hand.  Richard Bradford gives a good performance as Benny but we all know what’s going to end up happening to him as soon as he starts crying after Gary insults him.

With all that in mind, Just The Ticket still has an undeniable charm.  Some of it is due to Andy Garcia’s dedicated performance.  He is frequently better than the material and he and Andie McDowell have enough chemistry that you do want to see Linda and Gary get back together.  Some of it is because Just The Ticket is not afraid to shy away from being sentimental.  It’s hard to think of any other romantic comedy in which the Pope plays such an important supporting role.  It’s a sweet movie.  It has a good heart.

There’s something to be said for that.

Playing Catch Up: Welcome to New York (dir by Abel Ferrara)


Welcome_to_New_York_(2014)

Gerard Depardieu is naked a lot in Welcome to New York and I know you’re probably being snarky and sarcastically thinking, “Well, then I’m definitely going to track down this film…” but actually, the frequent display of Depardieu’s body gets to the heart of what makes his performance so memorable.  Playing an extremely unsympathetic role, Depardieu doesn’t hide the character’s depravity from the audience.  He reveals every inch of the character, from his flabby body to his empty soul.  It takes courage to bring such an unsympathetic character to life and talent to keep the audience watching and fortunately, Depardieu has both of those.

Welcome to New York opens with Depardieu (as himself) talking to a group of reporters and explaining why he’s decided to play a character based on Dominique Strauss-Kahn in Abel Ferrara’s upcoming movie.  It’s an interesting way to start, both because it features Depardieu’s scornful opinion of politicians and because it leaves no doubt that, even if Depardieu’s character has been renamed Devereaux, Welcome to New York is directly based on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case.

(Dominique Strauss-Kahn, of course, was the wealthy French socialist who many thought was going to be the next President of France until he was arrested after raping a hotel maid in New York City.  As a wealthy and well-connected white man, he was acquitted of raping the maid, who neither wealthy, well-connected, or white.   Throughout the trial, the usual collection of elitists complained about how Americans just didn’t understand French culture but, ultimately, Strauss-Kahn’s political career was ended by the scandal.)

Welcome to New York closely follows the facts of the Strauss-Kahn case.  Wealthy banker and politician Devereaux is in New York on business.  When he meets his daughter and her boyfriend, he spends the entire lunch asking them about their sex life.  When he returns to his hotel, he and his business associates hire a group of prostitutes and have one of the most depressing orgies ever captured on film.

I have to admit that during these first part of the film, I was often tempted to turn off Welcome To New York.  No, it wasn’t that the film was too explicit.  Instead, my problem was that Devereaux was such a dull character.  Devereaux has a lot of sex during the first third of the film but, at no point, does he seem to enjoy it.  Instead, he is detached from everything happening around him and it doesn’t exactly make for compelling viewing.

But, as the film played out, I realized that we weren’t supposed to find Devereaux in any way compelling.  Instead, Devereaux is portrayed as a hollow and empty shell.  For him, sex is all about entitlement and power.  After his is arrested for raping the hotel maid, Devereaux appears to be more surprised than anything else.  Rather than feeling regret at being caught or even fear that he might be convicted, Devereaux seems to be shocked that a man of his wealth would be held responsible for his actions.

After Devereaux is arrested, the film’s pace picks up a bit.  Devereaux’s wife, Simone (Jacqueline Bisset), flies to New York and takes over her husband’s defense.  It’s not that Simone feels that Devereaux has been wrongly accused.  In fact, Simone really doesn’t seem to care much for her husband in general.  However, Simone is determined that Devereaux is going to be the next president of France and she certainly has no intention of allowing some American criminal case to stand in his way.  Bisset gives a chilling performance as the almost fanatically driven Simone.

Soon, Devereaux is under house arrest and staying at a rented house.  (For these scenes, Welcome to New York filmed in the same house that Strauss-Kahn stayed at during his trial.)  It’s while locked away in the house that Devereaux finally starts to realize that he has gone too far.  It’s in the house that Devereaux remembers the man he was once was and is forced to confront the man that he has become.

Welcome to New York is not always an easy film to watch but, thanks to Depardieu and Bisset’s ferocious performances, it’s a film that will reward patient viewers.