Juggernaut (1974)

Country: United States/United Kingdom
AKA: Terror On The Britannic
Director: Richard Lester
Starring: Richard Harris, Omar Sharif, David Hemmings, Anthony Hopkins, Shirley Knight, Roy Kinnear, Ian Holm, Clifton James, Jack Watson, Sim MacCorkindale
Music: Ken Thorne

Juggernaut is one of those action flicks from the 1970’s, which by today’s standards seems pretty light on for action. But that’s not to say that the film isn’t good – in fact it’s great! But instead of fuel injected muscular action, we get thoughtful plotting, suspense and drama. By drama, as this film stars legendary hellraiser Richard Harris, I mean a scene where he downs a bottle of whiskey (J&B, of course) and then throws the bottle at the wall to express his frustration. Sure it’s not going to win any major thesping awards, but it shows a man being a man, rather than exaggerated slow-mo, almost homo-erotic shots of a guy as he straps on the weapons he needs to complete his mission. In Juggernaut, Harris plays Anthony Fallon, and while not being a spy or a soldier, he too has a mission. He specialises in disarming bombs. In this instance a fruitcake calling himself “Juggernaut” has planted seven bombs on the ocean liner Britannic. These bombs have been welded into 44 gallon drums, and have been fitted with all sorts of booby traps and trembler switches. This is not just a case of “cut the blue wire!”

The film itself is quite simple. As mentioned, a maniac has put seven bombs on board the Britannic and he demands a ransom — five hundred million pounds. To confound things, the Britannic has sailed into a force eight storm. Fallon and a team of six men, including his best friend, Charley Broddock (David Hemmings) are assigned to disarm the bombs. They fly out in a Navy seaplane and parachute into the rough seas beside the ship. The launch sent out to collect them is immediately swamped by the seas and capsizes. Fallon and his men must swim to the ship and then scale the sides on flimsy swaying rope ladders.

Now all that is the easy part because Juggernaut is an insane genius and the bombs he has planted are designed to test the experience and skill of those who attempt to disarm them. This leads to some of the most emotional scenes in the film, where Fallon and Charlie are working on separate bombs, in separate, sealed off, parts of the ship. They communicate by radio, and Charley follows Fallon’s moves step for step. If Fallon should make a mistake — BOOM — then Charley is to continue on as the lead, and a new man would takes his place as his second. Harris and Hemmings seem to have a natural chemistry together. You’ve got to remember that back then Hemmings compared to Harris was still a young pup. Hemmings had success in the sixties with films like Blow-Up and Barbarella (to a lesser extent) but Harris was the superstar. Con-incidentally, Harris and Hemmings both appeared in Camelot, so maybe that’s where they forged a friendship and the results appear on the screen in this film.

Now all of this tense drama is carefully plotted — more than I care to outline here. But all the questions you ask are answered, like “why not get the passengers off in lifeboats?”

The cast for this film is amazing. Harris and Hemmings I have talked about, but in smaller but equally important roles are Omar Sharif as Alex Brunel the Britannic’s captain; Anthony Hopkins as McCleod, the Police officer who has the job of catching Juggernaut; Ian Holm as Porter, the managing director of the shipping line; and Roy Kinnear as Curtain, the ship’s social director who has the unenviable task of keeping the passenger’s morale up.

Essentially, Juggernaut is a disaster movie, but without being as overwrought as The Towering Inferno and Earthquake. But it works in a similar fashion. It features an ensemble cast who have their own story threads, which provides the emotion and suspense as the story goes along. When a character is caught in a compromising or dangerous situation you empathise with the character as the story has built them up. Now having built up this film in this review, because I think it’s great, be reminded, I love these old school action dramas. I like good old fashioned story telling, and that’s what you get from Juggernaut.

Juggernaut (1974)

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

Country: United States / Germany
Director: John Woo
Starring: Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton, Richard Roxburgh, John Polson, Anthony Hopkins
Music: Hans Zimmer

As most regular readers would be aware, I am Australian and often lament the fact that my country’s contribution to cinematic espionage is rather small. Then along comes a film like Mission: Impossible II, while not being an Australian film, a large portion of the film is set in Australia. Now you would think I would be jumping up and down for joy and pumping my fist in the air. But just to be contrary, I wasn’t! When I watch spy films, I like to be swept away to exotic locations, like the Bahamas, Istanbul or the Orient. But here is a film set in my own backyard. How is that exotic? The final kicker for me, was during a chase scene towards the end of the film, where our hero, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is trying to escape on motorbike from some bad guys, he is being chase by a mid nineties white Ford Falcon. Now I own one of those! Villains should drive cool cars – not as cool as the hero, mind you, but cool – what happened to the black Mercedes – or any other black European saloon – that suggests power and evil (ness). Despite my grumbles Mission: Impossible II is not a bad film, and I am guessing that people from other parts of the world may have even enjoyed the snapshot of Australia (particularly Sydney) that this film provides.

The film opens in Sydney, at the laboratories of Biocyte Pharmaceuticals, and a mad professor named Nekovich has just injected himself with a nasty virus called Chimera. He has the antidote though – it’s called Valleraphon – and he has to take it within twenty hours or he will die. Why has he injected himself with this disease? Would you believe it is to transport it into the United States. So Nekovich catches a plane to Boston with a friend, who he refers to as Dimitiri, but most viewers will recognize as IMF agent Ethan Hunt.

En route, the pilot, Hugh Stamp (Richard Roxburgh) advises passengers that they are encountering a severe drop in cabin pressure and he releases the oxygen masks from the ceiling. The passengers put them on and pass out – even the co-pilots pass out. Two, who hadn’t pulled down the masks are Nekovich and Hunt, but Hunt takes of Nekovich with a hard elbow to the throat. Hunt then takes Nekovich’s suitcase which contains the Vallerophon. Much to everybody’s surprise, Hunt then rips his face off – it’s a latex mask like the ones used in the first Mission: Impossible movie. It isn’t Hunt at all, but another IMF operative named Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott). Ambrose and his small team of men who now control the plane parachute out, leaving the plane, now on auto pilot to fly into a mountain.

You maybe thinking, that killing hundreds of innocent people in a plane crash is not a really nice thing to do, and surely unbecoming of an IMF agent. And you’d be right. Ambrose has gone renegade. He sees Chimera and Vallerophon as his break break to make millions of dollars – but unfortunately he has made a small mistake. He didn’t realize that the Chimera virus wasn’t in Nekovich’s suitcase like the Vallerophon – it was in Nekovich himself. So Ambrose is stuck with an antidote to a disease that he does not possess.

Meanwhile in some rugged mountains in Utah, the real Ethan Hunt, who is on holiday, is doing a spot of mountain climbing. Once he reaches the top, a helicopter swings by and fires a rocket into the ground at Hunt’s feet. It is not an explosive rocket – it is just a canister containing a message – or more precisely, a set of sunglasses. Hunt retrieves the glasses from the casing and slips them on, and he receives a message from his boss, Mission Commander Swanbeck (Anthony Hopkins). His instructions are rather vague, but he is to recruit three operatives for his next mission (should he choose to accept it), but one of them must be Nyah Nordorf-Hall (Thandie Newton). Hunt is told she is currently in Seville.

Nyah is a professional thief, and when Hunt catches up with her, she is trying to steal a necklace from a wealthy Spaniard. Hunt intervenes and recruits her to work on the mission. Little does Hunt know that Nyah used to have a relationship with Ambrose. He believes that she has been recruited for her skills as a thief. When Swanbeck informs Hunt that his mission is to go after Ambrose, who is in Australia, preparing to steal Chimera, and that Nyah is simply the bait, Hunt isn’t too impressed. You see, he has formed an attachment to Nyah himself.

Hunt’s two other assistants on the mission are Luther Strickell (Ving Rhames). Strickell, who you may remember from the first MI movie, is the computer genius. Next, for a bit of local colour, there is Australian chopper pilot, Billy Blair (John Polson). Blair is also comic relief.

Tom Cruise plays Hunt as either a smirk or a scowl, and that’s fine. You’re either a Tom Cruise fan or your not – he appears to have lost a few fans in recent years due to some of his off screen antics – but he is still a fine actor and these days, Hunt is one of his signature roles.

I’ll be the first to admit that Thandie Newton is a glamorous lady, but I find her acting unconvincing. I realize her character is one that has been tricked into performing a task that she doesn’t want to do, and that may explain why she spends the whole film with a scowl on her face. At the same time, this does not endear her to the viewing public. Where we should be feeling for her character, instead we feel like staying out of her way because she’s angry.

Dougray Scott as Sean Ambrose is the best thing in this movie. He’s an amazing actor. I have seen him play roles where he is down to earth everyman, but here he is a full on menace to society – even his enunciation of words is right on for such a character. He can take a simple line of dialogue, and make it sound like a slew of profanity is coming your way, where in fact there are no swear words at all. Many a film falls or stands on the strength of the villain, and this film stands due to Dougray Scott.

An uncredited, Anthony Hopkins plays Hunt’s controller Swanbeck, which is okay. The role is little more than a cameo. One part of me likes the idea of Hunt receiving from a controller, almost like an ‘M’ character. After all it makes sense that Hunt should receive detailed mission briefings from a superior. But another part of me longs for the hokey disks or tapes (or whatever) than Jim Phelps used to receive – as voiced by Bob Johnson. There’s a hint of this in the sunglasses that Hunt receives at the beginning, but it is voiced by Hopkins.

At the time of the films release, much was made out of the fact that the film was directed by John Woo. Woo’s reputation as a master of stylized action scenes was intended to inject a new harder style into the Mission: Impossible series, but for me I found many of the action scenes contrived. The scenes I felt that were fantastic were the more introspective scenes, where Woo used slow motion to great effect. The flamenco scene when Hunt first sees Nyah is a show stopper, and the scenes at the end, as Nyah wanders aimlessly around Sydney are first rate. These contrast greatly with the cold sterile motorbike action scenes.

Mission: Impossible II, like all the films in the series (to date), was released with an enormous saturation advertising campaign, which to me has two effects. The first is that it puts bums on seats, which is great for the movies companies who are looking to make coin. The second effect, if a film is over hyped and doesn’t deliver to the levels that the saturation campaign claims, then viewers walk out of the cinema cheated, feeling that they haven’t got their money’s worth. I believe M:1 2 is like that. The film was so hyped, that upon release it couldn’t live up to the expectations and I believe that many people walked out of the cinema believing that the film was crap. It’s not. It’s quite a good little espionage tale, and now, all these years later, it is much easier to sit back, relax and enjoy the movie for what it is.

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

When Eight Bells Toll (1970)

Country: United Kingdom
Director: Etienne Perier
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Nathalie Delon, Robert Morley, Jack Hawkins, Corin Redgrave, Derek Bond
Music: Angela Morley (as Walter Stott)
Based on the novel by Alistair MacLean

Hannibal Lektor as a secret agent! I’m sorry but Anthony Hopkins performance as ‘Hannibal The Cannibal’ was so successful, and much imitated, that it has now moved beyond a mere performance in a movie, to being a part of popular culture. No matter what Hopkins did in the past or may do in the future, now he will always be compared to, or judged as Lektor. But long before The Silence Of The Lambs, Hopkins portrayed a cold, ruthless secret agent in this adaptation of Alistair MacLean’s novel, When Eight Bells Toll. Back in 1970, Hopkins was in reasonable shape and it didn’t seem like such a stretch for him to play a two-fisted, highly skilled secret agent. This is not the case in the recent film Bad Company, where he seemed completely out of place.

The film opens at sea, with secret service agent, Philip Calvert (Hopkins) in scuba gear. He surfaces near a large freighter at anchor, and proceeds to haul himself up the anchor chain and onto the deck. He makes his way to the radio room and opens the door, only to be looking down the barrel of a gun. The man holding the gun has a steely gaze and doesn’t waiver a muscle. Calvert begins to realise something is not right. This bloke doesn’t speak or move at all. Calvert moves closer and takes the pistol from the man’s hand. The movement causes the radio operator to topple over revealing a knife in the centre of his back. He is dead – just propped up to seem life like. This is someone’s idea of a joke. As Calvert searches more, he finds another dead body. Who are these two men? I am glad you asked, but to find out we have to flash back to a few days previously.

A helicopter lands in the gardens of a giant white mansion. This building is in fact Secret Service Headquarters. Calvert alights from the helicopter and is met by Hunslett (Corin Redgrave). Hunslett, although an agent, specialises in intelligence gathering and does very little field work. He outlines there current problem to Calvert. It appears that several bullion ships have been hijacked at sea. In the film it is never adequately explained why gold bullion would need to be transferred by ship – but let’s just take it as a given that it is important. These ships are hijacked and the crews are taken to Ireland where they are released a few days later. By this time the ships have vanished. Calvert and Hunslett have to come up with a plan to stop the theft and round up the people responsible.

The plan they come up with involves hiding two men to act as radio operators on board the next bullion ship. If it is hijacked, the men will transmit the ships location at designated times, and Calvert will follow behind in another boat. It will come as no surprise that the two men chosen for the mission are the two men that Calvert found dead in the opening sequence of the movie. Calvert and Hunslett don’t have free reign though. They are answerable to Sir Arthur Arnford Jones (Robert Morley). Jones is a stuffy bureaucrat who doesn’t like Calvert’s brash and arrogant manner. But against his better judgement, Jones allows the plan to be put into action.

It’s another eccentric performance from Robert Morley, not too dissimilar to his role in Hot Enough For June – but whereas Hot Enough For June was a gentle comedy, this film is a straight laced action adventure. Thankfully, half way through the movie, Morley gets with the program and pulls it in, and the film is all the better for it.

Every good spy film has a villain, and in When Eight Bells Toll it is shipping magnate, Sir Anthony Skouras. Playing the part is seasoned character actor Jack Hawkins. Hawkins looks quite ill in this movie, and his dialogue has been looped by Charles Gray.

When Eight Bells Toll is actually a pretty good little movie. It may not have the globe trotting excesses of a James Bond film, but it has some fine set pieces, and drips with atmosphere. The cinematography around the Scottish coast is as breathtaking as it is inhospitable. At times, you can actually feel cold and a little sea-sick when watching this film.

There’s one action scene that I think warrants a special mention, which involves a helicopter that Calvert is travelling in, being shot out of the sky and crashing into the sea. The scene is tense and well staged. All in all, this is a good one and worth looking out for.

When Eight Bells Toll (1970)

Bad Company

Director: Joel Schumacher
Starring: Anthony Hopkins. Chris Rock, Gabriel Macht, Peter Stormare, John Slattery, Kerry Washington, Garcelle Beavais-Nilon, Matthew Marsh
Music: Trevor Rabin

Bad Company is a Jerry Bruckheimer production so you know exactly what to expect. It is big, it is loud and it is glossy. Personally I enjoy Mr Bruckheimer’s productions. I think they are great popcorn fare, but they don’t trouble your brains cells too often. The director, Joel Schumacher has had some success in recent years too, with Batman Forever and Falling Down. But regardless on the men behind the scenes, your enjoyment of this film will depend on if you like Chris Rock’s brand of comedy mixed with a modern hi-tech espionage story. If you don’t like Chris Rock’s motor mouthed urban style than this movie is not for you.

The film opens in Antique shop in Prague. Sophisticated C.I.A. Agent Kevin Pope (Chris Rock) is undercover. He is pretending to be a buyer called Michael Turner. What is he buying? A portable nuclear bomb that conveniently fits into a suitcase. The seller is Adrik Vas (Peter Stormare). Agent Pope isn’t working alone though. He has a money man coming to pay for the weapon. Enter fellow agent Oakes (Anthony Hopkins). Oakes hands over a million-dollar deposit on the weapon (against a cool twenty million total). Vas hands Pope a cell phone and tells him that he will call in ten days with the final details for the exchange of the weapon.

So the first meeting has gone well. Both Pope and Oakes go their separate ways. Unfortunately, another buyer cannot compete with the C.I.A. to buy the weapon. But this group want it anyway. Their solution is to kill the buyer – Pope. This evil organization is called The Black Hand, and their leader is Dragan Adjanic (Matthew Marsh). As Pope walks back to his hotel several of Adjanic’s men start tailing Pope. Well it is not so much tailing; it is chasing him in their BMW. Pope runs for his life. But his days are number as The Black Hand has agents everywhere. Pope is shot in the back and killed.

This poses a problem for the C.I.A. How are they going to complete the purchase without Pope. Vas doesn’t trust Oakes, or anyone else for that matter. Their only pipeline in was through Pope.

That brings us to Jake Hayes (also played by Chris Rock). Jake lives in New York and is a no-good hustler and ticket scalper, who sells tickets to sports events, Broadway shows, and everything and anything he can get his hands on. It is not a good time for Jake in his life, as his girlfriend Julie (Kerry Washington) is dumping him and moving to Seattle because he has no prospects. But things are about to change for Jake as the C.I.A. is watching him.

Oakes arranges a meeting with Jake and tells him a few truths about the way he was brought into this world. When he was born, he was one of a pair of twins. His mother died two days after childbirth and his father had long since vanished. Soon after birth, Jake developed a severe chest infection and had to be hospitalised. The doctor at the time thought it was better to separate the twins – improving the healthy one (Kevin)’s chance of adoption. And so it was. Kevin was adopted by the wealthy Pope family, went to college and became a Navy seal before joining the intelligence community. Jake on the other hand went to a foster home, which he shared with eight other foster children. But enough of the sob story. Oakes asks Jake to impersonate his brother. Jake agrees for a fee. Ten Thousand in advance and ninety after the job is done. Oakes agrees. They have eight days to get Jake in shape – turning a rough diamond into a gentleman spy.

This is the premise of the whole film. It is a classic fish out of water story. In this case taking the urban street hustler with the smart mouth and putting him in a tailored suit and placing him in some glorious surroundings. But strangely, Rock isn’t that outrageous when he is placed in this unusual setting. It is usually the contrivances of the story that upset the apple cart, rather than Rock’s mouth. Oh well, back to the story.

Oakes and his team start training Jake to take over from his brother. First he has to learn to speak like his brother and then Czech. Next he has to learn to recognise all the faces of the players in this deception. He also has to train his brain to be alert at all times.

Jake comes through all the preliminary tests with flying colours, so Oakes superiors decide on a more thorough test. They send Jake to Kevin’s apartment. If he can convince Kevin’s neighbours and friends that he is actually Kevin, he will be good to go.

There is also a second more cynical reason to send Jake to Kevin’s apartment. It is likely that The Black Hand are not convinced that Kevin is dead, and if they see Jake, it may force them to make a move.

Naturally enough that is exactly what happens. An assassin sneaks into the apartment and tries to kill Jake. Jake escapes by walking along a narrow window ledge and then fleeing into the streets. The C.I.A. team watching Jake take care of the assassin, but Jake has scarpered and is nowhere to be found. He doesn’t want to be a part of this life where people are trying to kill him.

Oakes tracks him down at his foster mother’s home and gives him a father to son chat which convinces Jake to go on with the mission. There’s plenty more to come once Jake and the team hit Prague. There are double crosses, triple crosses and as there’s a nuclear bomb involved, there’s a beat the clock ending. All of these elements add up to a fairly decent spy story. But it isn’t without it’s flaws. The biggest being the casting of Anthony Hopkins. Don’t get me wrong I like Hopkins work, and he does a good job in this film, but he was simply too old for this role. He, as the experience agent, in essence is the action man of the film. There is something not quite believable about a pudgy silver haired old man shooting it out with a gang of mean spirited terrorists and winning. Hopkins nearly sells it, but not quite. The scenes where he is running through the train station at the end are almost laughable.

Bad Company