Tag: renny harlin

Die Hard 2

Die Hard 2 (1990)
★★★ / ★★★★

It cannot be denied that “Die Hard 2,” directed by Renny Harlin, is bigger and more elaborate than the original in terms of special effects, stunts, chase sequences, and villainous takeover. But it isn’t necessarily better. For one, believability is thrown out the window—so much so that even our hero, John McClane (Bruce Willis), now an L.A.-based cop visiting his in-laws in the East Coast for the Christmas holidays, acknowledges the near impossible odds of he coming upon yet another terrorist plot. You’d think that its self-awareness would be charming—and it is once or twice—but after such one-liners are uttered, the picture reverts to by-the-numbers and occasionally thrilling action.

What elevates the predecessor is style. There is a foreboding feeling about it even before terrorists set foot inside the Nakatomi Tower. The group leader was played by Alan Rickman, commanding a genuinely ominous presence, so controlled and calculating. We are reminded of the antagonist’s cold-bloodedness every fifteen minutes. Here, the man who takes over the airport is played by William Sadler, the character being a former colonel in U.S. Special Forces working for a deposed dictator (Franco Nero) currently on his way to the United States. Sadler is physically fit and his expression is stern, but his presence is not imposing. He fails to put a stamp of originality to his character. I felt the actor delivering a performance instead of being. As a result, when McClane and Sadler are finally face-to-face, there is only minimal tension. Because we know that the villain is one-dimensional, there is no surprise in store that may blindsight McClane.

I enjoyed the realistic look of the airport. People look as though they intend to get somewhere; holiday cheer can be felt in the air. It is so crowded, you believe the story really is taking place amidst the holiday rush. When a chase gets busy, for instance, McClane and his target can readily disappear into the sea of sardines. They trip, fall, and get funny looks when they bump into someone. I enjoyed it most when the picture forces us to pay attention to the action, not necessarily in terms of who lives or dies, or even the level of creativity of the sequence. By simply making the eyes dance, we feel we are a part of whatever is going on.

However, minimal time is spent on terminals. Instead, much of the action unfolds in and around the communication tower where air traffic flight director Trudeau (Fred Dalton Thompson) and airport police captain Lorenzo (Dennis Franz) struggle with how to regain control of the hacked systems. Humor, I guess, is supposed to be had between McClane and Lorenzo butting heads but I found it to be more of hindrance, a nuisance, in a film attempting to establish a sense of tone and urgency. I yearned for the predecessor’s quiet moments in which McClane is forced to observe the things he has no control over. Death contributes to his guilt, but it also strengthens his resolve.

There is something personal at stake for McClane, but the execution is lacking. His wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), is on her way from Los Angeles. Because the communication tower is compromised and the guiding lights on the landing strip are turned off, planes are unable to land safely. It is only a matter of time until fuel runs out. Bedelia’s talent is wasted here. She is stuck on the plane with an opportunistic TV reporter (William Atherton) who has placed a restraining order against her for having punched him in the face in the previous picture. But nothing of interest is done with either character. For the most part, it feels like a waste of film. The whole thing is a tired setup for the hero and the belle to hug and kiss once the day has been saved.

“Die Hard 2” stands in the shadow of its predecessor, and it shows. Perhaps the better choice would have been to overhaul the formula and establish new rules and expectations. What’s at offer is tolerable and occasionally terrific—like McClane attempting to stop a plane from taking off late in the picture and the tight-lipped colonel’s idea of “punishing” those in command of the communications tower for insubordination—but it fails to take the franchise to the next level.

The Dyatlov Pass Incident

The Dyatlov Pass Incident (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Since learning about the nine experienced Russian backpackers who perished in the Ural Mountains under mysterious circumstances, Holly (Holly Goss), a psychology student in the University of Oregon, has been drawn to the subject. She hopes to uncover the pending questions about the deaths and so she receives a grant to make a documentary. Along with Holly, four college students (Matt Stokoe, Luke Albright, Ryan Hawley, Gemma Atkinson) go to Russia to conduct an investigation.

“The Dyatlov Pass Incident,” written by Vikram Weet, plays with the audience by presenting an increasing number of questions accompanied by a steady escalation of unease. It is a horror movie in a sense that people eventually get attacked and die but it is a cut above being standard even though obvious holes in the plot are present. It is willing to look deep into the bizarre so it is never boring—a feat considering that it is a found footage film.

The picture invites us to be interested in the mystery. Instead of relying on eerie photographs and old newspaper clippings regarding the incident to create a sense of foreboding, it utilizes space to get us as close as possible to what is being investigated. For example, once the characters reach the location of interest, red paint is sprayed on ice to denote the various locations of the dead bodies. Seeing the red marks combined with the photos shown early in the film, it is easy to imagine the ravaged rotting corpses back in 1959, just waiting to be discovered.

When humor is forced, it just does not work. I suppose the idea is to create some sort of levity for two reasons: to convince us the characters are not simply fodder for the picking and to let our guards down just before something terribly wrong occurs. Instead, whenever the three young men and women try to be funny or witty, I felt them saying their lines as opposed to feeling the experience and being in the moment. The acting is not the film’s strongest point so it might have worked better if the lines that sounded too unnatural were eliminated.

I enjoyed that it is a found footage film in spirit but not necessarily in style. Someone holds the camera most of the time but it does not shake relentlessly every time something scary happens. Occasionally, when appropriate, it does. It shows us that director Renny Harlin is confident in the images he wishes to display. Moving the camera to create a dizzy spell is not scary, but the camera sitting still as we look closer and try to make sense of what is going on can be—given the right number of beats and appropriate shock.

Also known as “Devil’s Pass,” the film offers some beautiful shots of icy terrain, a few effective chills, and ambition. A handful of clues are dispersed throughout which justify the ending. A few details are tricky but most of them come together, I think. The script and execution may not always be right on the money but it gets the job done.

The Long Kiss Goodnight

The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
★★★ / ★★★★

With the exception of her name and the fact that she was pregnant, Samantha Caine (Geena Davis) woke up with no memory eight years prior. Doctors diagnosed her with focal retrograde amnesia, a condition where a person is unable to remember the past but has no problem making new memories. Since her rebirth, Samantha is able to get a job as a schoolteacher while raising her daughter (Yvonne Zima) as a single mother. She has even managed to meet a nice guy named Hal (Tom Amandes) with whom she is seriously considering to marry.

But after being involved in a car accident, she has begun to exhibit specific abilities she had not been aware before—like being very comfortable with a knife. It turns out that Samantha, whose real name is Charly Baltimore, is a former assassin for the United States government, now a remnant of the Cold War, and her former employer (Patrick Malahide) is intent on eliminating her.

Written by Shane Black and directed by Renny Harlin, “The Long Kiss Goodnight” starts off with great energy but with wobbly knees. The background story involving Samantha’s family in suburbia fails to capture my interest because it far too cheesy, a setup that one might catch on a two-hour television pilot that is destined to get cancelled three to five episodes later.

It does not help that we meet them during a Christmas party where everyone is required to put on a happy face. In a sense, we are not given a chance to get to know the real Hal and Caitlin, Samantha’s daughter, before the mother must leave with her private investigator, the wise-cracking Mitch Henessey (Samuel L. Jackson), in order to dig further into discovering her true identity. I was more interested in the kids’ whispers involving the fact that they know a woman who has amnesia, like the word is tantamount to someone who is insane or unsafe to be around.

On the other hand, the action scenes are glorious, some undoubtedly creative. While the picture commits a number of physics-defying sequences, I was entertained nonetheless because filmmakers do not shy away from possibly coming off silly. Due to the lack of self-consciousness in the material, it is able to gather momentum, convincing us all the more that the protagonist’s story is one that is worth seeing through.

The bad guys’ endgame feels almost inspired by comic books where the hero—in this case, heroine—must save thousands of people from death. Again, it seems like the film is actually proud in not downplaying the comedy. At times I found myself gasping out of suspense then catching the fact that the gasps had turned into laughter, almost a sigh of relief that things turn out all right in the end. Because the picture is able to get more than one type of reaction, I was able to have fun with it.

Timothy (Craig Bierko), an enemy of the state that Samantha is supposed to assassinate before she lost her memory, is an intimidating but charming villain. It is too bad the actor is not given very much to do except holler orders at his minions, offer sarcastic remarks, and use a machine gun during his most desperate times.

One of the questions that should not have gone unanswered is how Samantha ended up with amnesia in the first place. Did she hit her head while on a mission? Were drugs forced into her system during an intense torture? With a bloated running time, there is no excuse for not answering key questions, especially for a movie about missing identities. A lack of attention to detail tends to leave holes.

Deep Blue Sea

Deep Blue Sea (1999)
★★★ / ★★★★

As campy as this movie was, it had genuine thrillers and horror. Director Renny Harlin tells the story of a group of researchers who breed genetically engineered sharks in order to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The sharks’ genes had to be altered because their normal size did not produce big enough brains to store more proteins–proteins that activate inactive Alzheimer-ridden neurons. The researchers consisted of Saffron Burrows, Stellan Skarsgård and Jacqueline McKenzie. Thomas Jane was the person who wrestled with sharks in order to incapacitate them so the researchers could extract brain matter, Samuel L. Jackson was the funder of the project, Michael Rapaport as the physicist, and LL Cool J as the god-fearing chef. I liked the fact that this picture used humor in order to relieve some of the tension on screen. There were a plethora of very funny one-liners, especially from LL Cool J as he tried to fight off a shark in the kitchen. But the one character I had a big problem with was Burrows. For such an intelligent person, she made such stupid decisions, especially toward the end. It was as though the film wanted to note a sort of evolution in her morals, which really wasn’t necessary at all because, as a scientist, she must be objective and be able to weigh the pros and cons of situations. If I were in her position, I would not have felt as much guilt for creating very intelligent, giant sharks if it meant saving millions of people who suffer from Alzheimer’s. As a person who works with people who are ravaged by the disease, I can understand how serious it is and losing a few lives in the process would not have impacted me as much if I were to consider the big picture. Also, this might be a minor complaint, but the movie implied that one can “bring back” those who were in severe stages of the disease. In reality, it’s not possible because the memories have been lost. Stopping the degeneration and even prevention, on the other hand, are entirely possible. But granted, this movie was released in 1999 and we didn’t understand the disease as well back then. Overall, this is a thrilling film with several clever ideas but does suffer with a weak first few minutes and ending. “Deep Blue Sea” is simply a story of survival–a cross between “Jaws” and “Daylight.”