If you’re suffering from a deficiency of satisfying action in your action movies (a common ailment these days) then Renny Harlin’s The Long Kiss Goodnight is just the pill. Harlin loves his practical combat scenes, death defying stunt work and blunt, frank violence without frenetic movement or trickery, and what he pulls off here is what the genre should be. Working from a screenplay by Shane Black, the pairing is kind of a delirious match made in heaven for fans of either artistic maverick. All of Black’s favourite motifs run amok here: stingingly funny verbal beatdowns, sharp and culturally aware characters, a Christmas setting, children in extreme danger, you name it. Geena Davis pulls a Jason Bourne as amnesiac schoolteacher and loving mother Samantha Cain, whose violent past comes back to haunt her in several ways when she discovers she’s actually a maladjusted CIA assassin named Charley Baltimore. The bad guys come fast and heavy at her, including perky Craig Bierko as a terrifying yet somehow hilarious sociopathic freak, David Morse as a vengeful former target and lovable Brian Cox as her dodgy ex handler. She’s aided by a fast talking, slightly seedy private investigator played memorably by Samuel L. Jackson, and the whole pack of them prance through this terrifically entertaining spy yarn with enthusiasm and old school Hollywood charm. The action scenes are so brazen and willfully cinematic they’re almost comical, but that’s Harlin and I love the guy to bits, the genre just wouldn’t be the same without him. The very first encounter Sam has with massive thug One Eyed Jack (Joseph McKenna) is showcase material, I’ve never seen a shotgun do to a wall what Renny stages here, but it works in fully charged, high comic book fashion. It’s popcorn bliss, a buddy flick, a mystery, a rollicking black comedy, a great spy flick and a treatise on what action films should be all about. Fucking great stuff. Chefs do that!
Are you into science fiction infused with film noir? Do you enjoy films like Blade Runner, The Matrix, Inception, Dark City and Source Code? Well, Joseph Rusnak’s The Thirteenth Floor isn’t quite as good as those, but it’s still a welcome addition into stylized 90’s high concept tech retro futurism, given the darkly lit flair of a noir mood-scape. Somewhere in the naughty 90’s, the head scientist (Armin Mueller Stahl) at a research firm has discovered that his advanced software project works a bit too well, and that he’s created a living, breathing virtual reality zone of 1937 Los Angeles where there are consequences to actions and the simulations living there have a rebellious nature. After his untimely murder by an unseen hand, his protege and fellow researcher (Craig Bierko, who does alright but always seems a bit miscast and aloof here) is drawn into a trippy web of intrigue, forced to make the journey into the simulation and search for clues in a hazy, sepia toned LA of the 30’s. Vincent D’Onofrio does double duties as another scientist and a dodgy bartender inside the simulation. Complete with the bumbling, Stetson sporting detective (Dennis Haysbert) and the mysterious, angelic femme fatale (Gretchen Mol), this strives hard to be noir and genuinely does invoke the right feeling, from the feverish, atmospheric lighting of 90’s LA to the production design of the 30’s. Sometimes the muddled elements of romance seem a bit misplaced and awkward, as do a few story elements here and there, but when it works it really works, weaving a thoughtful, twisty narrative that arrives at a reasonably mind blowing conclusion, asking questions about the nature of reality, blurring the lines between soul and software in the best ways. This has been eclipsed by other similar films from that decade, and fair enough as they are admittedly more competent, but I still feel like this is a forgotten gem of sorts and really deserves some love from fans of the several genres it’s composed of. Fun stuff.