Rides a Roller Coaster
Still Knows Action Genre...
Ronin, legendary director John Frankenheimer (Grand Prix, The Manchurian
Candidate) has put his considerable talents into a post-Cold War tale
of espionage and intrigue that's in the grand tradition of the genre.
film focuses on a group of mercenaries and ex-spies brought together by
a mysterious Irish woman named Dierdre, ostensibly to recover a metallic
case and its unknown contents. Naturally, that's only the tip of the iceberg,
and from that rather formulaic beginning Ronin takes the viewer on a high
speed, high tech chase across France in which you never really know who,
if anyone, is a good guy - let alone what the heck is really going on
- until the carefully-timed placement of the knowledge squarely under
that the movie is muddled; far from it. It's deliberately unhelpful, unfolding
at its own pace, and that helps build the excitement. It's worth the wait,
too; along the way, you learn more than you might expect about these people,
their motivations, and who in fact they really are and for whom they're
cast is led by Robert De Niro, who plays Sam - who may be an ex-CIA agent
but who's now working for the highest bidder. He's joined by Jean Reno,
Stellan Skarsgard, Skipp Sudduth, and Sean Bean as the team members. Bean's
presence, along with those of Jonathan Pryce and Michael Lonsdale, could
make the cast seem almost like "return of the ex-James Bond villains,"
but all three actors have what can best be described as supporting, almost
cameo roles - which shows the high powered quality of Ronin's outstanding
won't spoil things by telling anything more about the plot - except to
mention that Frankenheimer has staged a couple of the best car chases
in recent years and they'll keep you pumped.
of Frankenheimer, he has done an excellent job of staging the action and
violence without going overboard with the gore. Sure, there's shooting
and killing, but it's handled more in the tradition of directors like,
well, John Frankenheimer rather than Paul Verhoeven. In all, Ronin is
an engrossing yarn.
a DVD, Ronin pushes the current envelope, not so much for its disc technology
but for its extras. The disc arrived with an invitation to participate
in a special live Internet event on the making of the film, hosted by
John Frankenheimer himself! This was a terrific teaser for me personally,
because I once worked for the director on his film "The Fourth War"
(I played a shrubbery). Unfortunately, I was called out of town on the
date prescribed, so couldn't take advantage of the live event. However,
MGM/UA posted transcript so those who bought the disc later, or couldn't
participate, can still catch up.
online part is only available to consumers with DVD-ROM drives, unfortunately,
and requires installing PCFriendly's software onto your hard drive (as
if we need another Web Browser!) and you need the DVD in the drive for
it to work.
this is terrific if you have a DVD-ROM drive, it leaves out consumers
with home theatre DVD players and this is a shame. After all, they still
shelled out the bucks for the disc, so why shouldn't they be allowed the
bonus, too - especially since it's a particularly interesting one. Perhaps
future such MGM outings could merely include a key code or password with
the disc so all disc owners with Internet access can participate.
it's a great idea and, as one who always looks for interesting extras
with each DVD release, I can't help but applaud the direction in which
this is headed.
to be fair, you do get a feature length running commentary on the film
by John Frankenheimer - and the transcript of the online chat session
is available at MGM's web site as well. It's a must read for film and
neat extra is an alternate ending to the movie (the original ending, in
fact), so you can second guess the director as to which version is best.
And, in a nice move that counters a recent trend toward sparse documentation,
the disc's liner notes are generous and include behind-the-scenes info
as well as the usual chapter listings, cast list etc.
and Dolby Digital sound quality are superb, as expected with DVD, and
the French soundtrack is also recorded in Dolby Digital.
also have to give MGM/UA full marks for including both widescreen (2:35:1)
and pan-and-scan versions on opposite sides of the disc. As with other
dual format discs, however, the labelling around the spindle is incredibly
tiny; however, MGM/UA has marked the widescreen version with a red tag,
while a blue one graces the full screen version. My tired old eyes watered
the DVD, is not only a ripping good yarn, then, it's a lovely example
of DVD and its potential.
from MGM/UA Home Video
Starring Robert De Niro
Story by J.D. Zeik, screenplay by Zeik and Richard Weisz
Produced by Frank Mancuso, Jr.
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Rising an Unexpected Pleasure
Willis, Baldwin vehicle
Imagine Films' Mercury
Rising, at first glance, looks like your typical action spy thriller,
with nothing out of the ordinary to recommend it. Don't let that fool
you, though; it's a movie that draws you into it, and makes you really
care for the protagonists.
is really about a nine year old autistic named Simon, who just happens
to be able to read the US government's ultimate "super code."
This makes him a security risk that must be eliminated, and the government
will stop at nothing to see that it happens. They kill his parents almost
before his eyes and only Simon's secret hiding place saves him. Simon
needs a "big brother" if he's to survive, someone with a charitable
nature who's willing to put his life and career on the line to do what's
Sounds like a Bruce
Willis character, doesn't it? And, of course, it is. Willis plays Art
Jeffries, FBI agent on the skids who virtually stumbles onto the scene
and then rises to the occasion in a manner that makes you proud. Along
the way he come across others like himself, "little people"
who care - as well as "big people" you want to hate because
of their ruthlessness, but who aren't really villains despite everything
That's where Alec
Baldwin comes in. His is really only a supporting role, that of Nick Kudrow
the head "baddie." Baldwin sees on the "big picture"
of national security and how many lives the breaking of the Mercury code
endangers. To him and his minions, the deaths of a few "little people"
are warranted to ensure the safety and security of US agents and interests
Mercury Rising has
the action and intrigue you'd expect, but it isn't just a shoot-em-up.
It's an intelligent movie and an engrossing yarn with a typically mysterious-sounding
John Barry musical score and, despite not really wanting to see it, we're
glad we did.
The DVD is only offered
in widescreen, and comes with Dolby Digital audio on the English soundtrack.
Spanish and French audio are traditional Dolby Pro-Logic surround. Picture
and sound (the English, at least) are excellent, as one would expect.
You don't get a lot
of extras with Mercury Rising. The liner notes are basically non-existent
beyond the outside case and a chapter listing. There are some production
notes, cast/filmmakers' bios, and the theatrical trailer. The box says
there's a section of film highlights as well, but we certainly couldn't
find them beyond the chapter selection list.
Still, even with its
chintzy DVD extras, we highly recommend Mercury Rising as a movie.
Mercury Rising, from
Imagine Entertainment and Universal Home Video
Starring Bruce Willis and Alec Baldwin
Written by Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal
Produced by Brian Grazer and Karen Kehela
Directed by Harold Becker
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