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RONIN by Random Movie Club
Your October Random Movie Club Results Are In!

Preshow Entertainment: The Death of Vinyl

Pizza: Zach's


There are a lot of giant monsters that have invaded Japan. There's the three-headed Ghidorah, giant moth Mothra, giant turtle Gamera, and of course...giant dinosaur Godzilla. And then there's Ronin, a giant pterodactyl, and a mean sunuvabitch at that. Most people are likely to assume that there is only one Ronin, but there are actually two. Unearthed, it's no surprise that they both proceed to wreak havoc on the Japanese landscape (which is largely models, and no, I don't mean of the Devon Aoki variety). Anyway, these two birds of a deadly feather...wait, what the?? Ooops. I was thinking about RODAN! Sorry...

RONIN is a 1998 action thriller by the late John Frankenheimer filled with great car chases and a story you have to pay attention to.

DeNiro-profile by Random Movie Club
Sam (Robert De Niro) is walking cautiously down a Parisian street, ducking into crannies a la a young Vito Corleone stalking Don Fannuci (which may have been intentional, as it sure looks like he's wearing the same hat). He enters a cafe. But why does the cafe employee say "we are closed" when Sam enters, especially when moments earlier, we watched the counter woman enter and start her shift?
Dierdre (Natascha McElhone)
Actually, all the characters in this cafe look a little too suspicious; the woman bartender, a patron who smokes next to a "no smoking" sign and a man at the bar. The counter woman, Dierdre (Natascha McElhone), shepherds them into a waiting, nondescript van which in turn takes them into a nondescript warehouse where two other shady characters are waiting. But don't worry, they're all as clueless as you and I. In fact, we learn just about everything in RONIN at the same time they do.

Natascha-DeNiro_Tourists by Random Movie Club
Sam's ex-CIA, so he has some cool tricks up his sleeve. He's constantly testing and fooling people, as in the way he covertly takes pictures of the villains by asking a stranger to take a picture of him and his "wife." Explaining how to use the camera, he snaps away at the bad guys. His partners in crime are the mild yet serious Vincent (Jean "The Professional" Reno), ex-KGB Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard), impetuous Spence (Sean Bean) and laid back driver Larry (Skipp Sudduth). It's a great band of outsiders. That's where the movie's title comes from; Ronins were samurai who lost their masters, so they worked alone. Not all five of these modern-day ronins will be loyal to each other. I'm just sayin'. Crap...did I just say "I'm just sayin'?" I'm sorry, I won't ever do that again.

The next morning, Dierdre briefs the five on their mission. Yesterday, they were all strangers. Today, they're the A-Team. They're to steal a suitcase. You know this will be trouble, even though, or perhaps especially because, the suitcase is a McGuffin.

Pryce by Random Movie Club
The big cheese that Dierdre answers to is Irish, and if you don't believe me, his name is Seamus O'Rourke (Jonathan Pryce, being very Martin Landau-y). But others want the suitcase as well, like traitors and those pesky Russians. There's a lot to think about. Like I said, on your toes, soldier, if you want to follow the plot (I mean that in a good way).

But as confident and capable as these merry men are, they are sometimes a bumbling bunch. Their plans don't always work, usually because of carelessness or betrayal. Someone will even get shot, sort of by accident, in the pterodactyl-less RONIN, and then retreat to a French man's house for help. And if you don't believe that he's French, his name is Jean-Pierre (Michael Lonsdale, another great performance). Jean-Pierre likes painting his miniature ronins as well as cementing the theme. The shot person must operate on himself. While it doesn't have the extreme gore of, say, HOSTEL or even the self-preservation/mutilation of 127 HOURS, it's still pretty real and cool.

Michael Lonsdale (Jean Pierre)


The many different factions of bad guys also have their share of misfires. It seems every time someone holds a gun to someone else, the other person can just run away. And after a while, it gets not just tiresome but downright silly.


But sometimes in a movie like RONIN, you just have to look the other way. Like how can this group of people, who had just met, hatch their plans (that's plural because one mission leads to more) so fast? And what about when Sam leans a sign up against a luggage cart so when the bellhop moves the cart, the sign will fall and mimic a gunshot which will force the villains to react? How could he have been so sure it would have played out that way? Or that there'd even be a sign near a luggage cart. Sure, I suppose he's ex-CIA and they know how to improvise, but sometimes I felt he was a little too confident. Any CIA guy will tell you that there's no sure-fire plan. That's what they all tell me, anyway. Also, people get shot or are involved in car crashes, emerging bloody, then hours later are involved in a foot chase. Me? When I'm shot, I like to spend the minimum of a few days recovering.

Here's the question I kept asking myself while watching RONIN; why would you choose a job where you can get killed? I mean, other than selling Quick Picks and questionable hot dogs at 7-11. Everywhere these guys go, people are getting shot, stabbed, slit, punched and mangled. What kind of job is that? Plus your odds of living a long life are kinda wee. These guys probably wouldn't have lived this long in real life. For the love of Pete, maybe it's time to settle down. Crap...did I just say "For the love of Pete?" What the hell is with me today? If I say "It is what it is" I may just kill myself.

MINOR SPOILER: Man, it's great that one of the main players leaves the mission...and... never returns. We're so programmed to know that if a character walks away, he'll be back later to save the day. Not so in RONIN, which is just one of many pleasant surprises.

Reno-DeNiro by Random Movie Club
But ask anyone who's seen it, the true highlight of RONIN, hands down, are the exciting car chases and stunt work, which include collateral damage of a rare movie kind. Car chases that make you remember the chaotic finesse of movies like BULLITT and THE FRENCH CONNECTION instead of the epilepti-cam work of a BOURNE movie. Frankenheimer lets the shots breathe so we can see the car-eography (I appear to be hyphen-happy today). And even the characters realize the danger, unlike so many movie chases. Witness the man in the passenger seat who is on his way to be killed (he knows this). When he puts his seatbelt on, you know you're in for a ride.

However, RONIN's numerous high-profile chases and double crosses fail to ground it in real life. Not to mention the dozens of people, many innocent, who are killed while these factions are trying to obtain the suitcase (which is more of a box, if you ask me). A number high enough to make national news for years, so you sort of know this can never happen in real life. But who cares? RONIN is a movie that keeps you on your toes while letting you have fun.


And along the way, Frankenheimer, no stranger to the genre (SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, THE original and freakin' amazing MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE), brings us a checklist of old school action items; hand held devices that change traffic signals, cars that signal each other by flashing their lights, and that old standby - kissing the girl (who may be the enemy) as a cover when the authorities spot them (they did this in ZEPPELIN, which we saw two months ago, as well as my favorite Hitchcock - NOTORIOUS). Frankenheimer, who cut his teeth in live TV's Golden Age, storyboarded all 2200 shots (I lost count at 2196, so I took his "director's commentary" word on it), even (or especially) in the car chases. Some of those chases used 300 stunt drivers. Christ, I didn't know there were that many in the world. I also like that there were subtitles in French and Russian, keeping it real.

But the booming elephant thumps of music washes over the movie like a production assistant wetting down the streets, sometimes creating a suspenseful moment, but more often making you wish you can shut the music off and keep the rest of the tracks intact.

RMC CONNECTIONS: RONIN is the second movie in a row featuring actor Feodor Atkine, who played Woody Allen's brother in last month's LOVE AND DEATH. Also, we just saw Michael Lonsdale two months ago in a suffocating performance in Truffaut's THE BRIDE WORE BLACK.

RONIN is a good movie. One that makes you pay attention, even if it occasionally cheats too much. I guess it is what it is. Oh, crap...


Preshow Entertainment: The Death of Vinyl

deathof vinyl by Random Movie Club
Apparently, this was part of a show on Al Gore's network Current TV called VC2 (Vc squared, meaning VCC, meaning Viewer Created Content). The show is in segments with a timebar on the bottom to let you know how far along the segment is. But the show itself is a bit of a misnomer. I expected a documentary on the end of records, and instead got a hodgepodge of thinly-related, mildly interesting pieces.

The first segment visited two record stores, Park Ave CDs and Rock N Roll Heaven, where employee/music enthusiasts rhapsodized (or perhaps they eulogized) about how buying music should be a social event rather than a process involving sitting home downloading. The next segment was an animated piece featuring Gorgon the Awkward Alien trying to buy Phil Collins records from an uncaring record clerk (a species that's all but extinct). The third segment, about a guy from Queens who uses albums to create art, just started when the pizza arrived.

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