“I’ve got too much time on my hands, and it’s ticking away, ticking away from me.” — Styx
Remember "24," that terrific post-9/11 counterterrorism thriller series on Fox a few years back, starring Kiefer Sutherland? How could anyone forget, right?
Actually, my point is, remember how every second of the real-time show’s nine seasons — from its opening shot to the fadeout on its final season finale — ticked off on a digital clock read-out in the lower corner of the TV screen?
Without all the shooting, explosions and graphic torture depictions, that’s what life at The News-Gazette is like these days.
The clock is ticking.
As you may have read, this newspaper will soon be under new ownership. Officially, it takes place within the next week or two. Beyond that, we don’t know much more than you do.
After that, well, we’re still waiting to find out. Will I still be an employee of this storied, award-winning journalistic institution? Will there still be a Frank’s Faves? As I write this, no idea. But as I said, the clock is ticking.
I’m living in a real-life suspense thriller!
OK, truth be told, there’s nothing altogether thrilling about being in real-life suspense. It’s actually pretty stressful. Except when it happens to someone else. Then it makes for one of my favorite kind of movies — the kind where every second of the story’s action is one second closer to complete catastrophe — or redemptive triumph. Every second matters in the ultimate scheme of how that final second plays out.
Kind of like real life in that sense.
So, with that in mind, and faith that I’ll still be here to do it all again next week, and the week after that, let’s not waste a single second more before getting right to the subject of this week’s faves quest. After all, the clock is literally running on:
MY 10 FAVORITE RACE-AGAINST-THE-CLOCK MOVIES
— “Speed” (1994). Mad bomber Dennis Hopper has rigged explosives aboard a Los Angeles bus to arm when it tops 50 mph and detonate if it then slows to under 50. Sure, 50-plus is doable on L.A. freeways, but what happens when the bus inevitably runs out of gas? That’s only one of three impossible scenarios he puts bomb squad partners Keanu Reeves and Jeff Daniels in. Still, the clock they’re racing only becomes literal when it’s the retirement watch Hopper uses in one of his bombs that leads Daniels into a fatal ambush. Reeves, Hopper and Sandra Bullock are all in top form in this nonstop-action movie that never lets you catch your breath.
— “WarGames” (1983). The digital countdown in this sci-fic thriller starring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy is actually the readout screen on a huge U.S. defense supercomputer named Joshua as it systematically works out the launch code for a global thermonuclear missile attack. The race, in this case, is to teach the computer the ultimate lesson humanity had to learn during the Cold War — that mutually assured destruction is a futile exercise in which “the only winning move is not to play” — before it figures out the final number of that code. The film famously made a fan of then-President Ronald Reagan and actually changed history in that it inspired him to sign the first computer security directive by a president.
— “Labyrinth” (1986). Fourteen-year-old Jennifer Connelly races against a different sort of clock — a 13-hour timepiece, in fact — to save her baby brother from the Goblin King, played to peculiar perfection by David Bowie. When this clock’s time is up, the whole world of the Labyrinth falls to pieces, literally.
— “Back to the Future” (1985). Michael J. Fox’s race against the clock is similarly literal in the sci-fi blockbuster’s climactic scene when he must accelerate to 88 mph in Christopher Lloyd’s converted DeLorean at precisely the stroke of midnight on the town’s doomed clock tower in order to get back to the present from the past.
— “High Noon” (1952). Gary Cooper’s real-time race against the clock in this classic Western is a slow, deliberate contest against his own fears as he counts down the time to the title hour when a vengeful gang of killers he has to face alone is due to hit town. No, wait, he’s not totally alone. Grace Kelly, get your gun!
— “Crank” (2006). Jason Statham as hitman Chev Chelios awakens to find he has been injected by a rival with a synthetic drug which inhibits the flow of adrenaline and slows the heart, thus requiring that he spend every succeeding second racing against his own heart rate — keeping his adrenaline up through risky and dangerous acts, which include picking fights with other gangsters, reckless driving and motorcycling, taking illegal drugs, fighting with the police and having public sex with his girlfriend. Talk about a busy day ...
— “Apollo 13” (1995). Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton are the distressed astronauts watching their power and life-support gauges red-line, but it’s Gary Sinise, Ed Harris and the rest of the earthbound gang at Houston’s Mission Control that race against the clock to come up with a lifesaving solution to the hobbled spacecraft’s dilemma.
— “Source Code” (2011). Jake Gyllenhaal has eight minutes to avert a nuclear-terrorist disaster. And in true time-travel fashion, he gets multiple shots at those eight minutes — until he’s out of chances and has only seconds to get it right, for good.
— “Escape From New York” (1981). Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken has 22 hours to rescue the president from the giant maximum-security prison that the Big Apple will be in the future. That’s because he’s been injected with micro-explosives that will rupture his arteries within 22 hours. Talk about your effective job incentives ...
— “The Andromeda Strain” (1971). Defusing a bomb with no time to spare is a tired movie cliche. But no one goes through more than James Olson to disable a nuclear self-destruct device triggered by the title virus when it mutates beyond its containment facility. That includes a crawl through automated lasers. Ouch!
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