Renny Harlin’s Die Hard 2 trades in the Nakatomi Plaza skyscraper for a giant 747, which is basically just a skyscraper barrelling through the air anyways, but it also expands action from the one location concept to a sprawling, chaotic LAX airport during the Christmas Eve rush. Bruce Willis returns as eternally exasperated underdog cop John McClane, whose wife (Bonnie Bedelia) is stranded on said aircraft while a severely violent band of terrorists clutters up the whole thing and makes it impossible for them to land. While not blessed with the malicious exuberance of Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, Harlin finds a steely replacement in William Sadler’s Colonel Stuart, the sociopathic, seriously scary dude in charge of the hostile takeover who has no reluctance in shooting his own guys just for fun. Franco Nero is the foreign dictator whose imprisonment ties into the airport fiasco, while the villains provide intense early career work for cool actors like Don Harvey, John Leguizamo and Robert Patrick. There’s something so relatable about McClane, Willis plays him as an everyday joe who is constantly second guessed by people way dumber than him and sort of has to go it alone based on the sheer level of incompetence he’s surrounded by, especially that of an ignoramus cop (Dennis Franz) who has it in for him big time. The action here is top tier, from the big bucks spent on the plane antics hundreds of feet above to the shootouts, explosions and combat thundering through LAX. Gotta give a special shout out to these terrorists, they possess a sadism and ruthless edge that is impressive even by franchise standards. I love this film, I think it’s every bit the worthy sequel and on the same level as the first.
Brad Anderson’s Vanishing On 7th Street pulled a vanishing act of its own almost immediately following release, sinking into the background with little acclaim or celebration. I really love its slow, atmospheric and ambiguous take on the post apocalyptic chiller. Anderson has two brilliant thrillers under his belt (Session 9, The Machinist) another two great but flawed ones (The Call, Transsiberian), but this is up there with his best for me, and definitely his most overlooked. Anakin Skywalker plays a Detroit news anchor who wakes up to something sinister: people are disappearing into the long, gaunt shadows that have started to amass here and there, especially at night where light sources are scarcer. By disappearing I mean just that; the dark hits them and suddenly there’s just a pile of clothes where they were standing, it’s quite jarring. He forms a band of desperate survivors including plucky Thandie Newton, her son (Jacob Latimore), an orphaned girl they find (Tyler Groothius) and custodian John Leguizamo, excellent as that one guy who won’t go down without a fight. It’s a dim, dark and depressing film that slowly drains the hope and light from the corners of each frame, but I love that primal terror one gets from it. Usually when we are scared of the dark we can keep the fear at bay by staying away from it, but here the darkness has a life of its own and comes for you, a chilling premise that Anderson really makes the most out of. Top tier horror for me. Oh and watch for a subtle tie in to a popular mystery in American history right at the end, implying all sorts of origins for this phenomena that Anderson wisely leaves unexplained.
With the impending release of a new Spawn film next year that will be written and directed by original comic book artist Todd McFarlane (!), it’s time to take a look back at the eclectic 1997 version. It’s a mixed bag that’s mostly filled with stuff I love, in particular a real nasty comedic edge brought to the table by John Leguizamo’s profane, obese, horrific hell clown The Violator, who lets face it, kind of steals the show. I read that every actor under the sun was considered for the lead role, from Denzel to Samuel L. Jackson to Tony Todd, but I feel like they really lucked out with martial arts legend Michael Jai White, whose sinewy presence lends itself to the dark character and practically radiates pent up rage. Spawn was once Al Simmons, a government assassin who was royally fucked over by the evil mercenary Wynn (Martin Sheen, trying his darnedest to shake the good ol’ Hollywood boy image) and sent to the fiery pit of hell, only to be resurrected as a half demon antihero with more whacked out powers than Beetlejuice and a serious hankering for revenge. That’s this movie anyways, I’m not sure how faithful it is to the comics. Guided by a pseudo Van Helsing looking mentor dude (Nicol Williamson in his final screen role) and pining for the wife (Teresa Randle) he widowed, he embarks on a bloody odyssey to… well to kill Martin Sheen and anyone who gets in his way doing it. Oh yeah, and Leguizamo’s demon clown follows him around making horrifically dark jokes (“I’ve been around since before you were soup in your momma’s crotch) and chewing more scenery than the actor has in the rest of his collective career, which is some fucking achievement. It’s funny because this film simultaneously contains some of the best and worst special effects of the 90’s; Spawn looks, feels and sounds terrific, with tactility and tangibility that should be admired, swooshing reptilian cape, glowing eyes and all manner of slice n’ dice weaponry. However, when we see him visit the devil in hell, the CGI used to bring old Satan to life look absolutely abysmal, like a Starfox final boss they forgot to completely render. I suppose they didn’t have enough budget to make everything slick, but honestly they should have just cut those scenes completely rather than have that embarrassment parade across the screen. Still, it’s hardly a blight on the movie and if anything is part of its scrappy charm, I’ve just been accused of being too much of a critical Pollyanna lately, so I have to throw in the occasional jab at a film I love just for credibilities sake in this snooty community of cinema we live in. Overall this version of Spawn is a blast of beautiful special effects, horrific imagery, vivid performances and Leguizamo mugging the camera like an aggressive dog. I’ve read that he was in that fat suit for so many takes one time that he actually had to deliberately piss himself, which I’m sure only added to the manic energy he has, like how’s that for method acting. I’m not sure what McFarlane has planned for his new one (Jamie Foxx has landed the lead), but I’d advise him to retain the bite and ferocity this one has, as well as its dark humour, weird dream logic and practical effects vs CGI. I’m sure he knows what he’s doing though, it’s not like he’s the original creator of the whole comics series or anything.
Join Frank and special guest host, Paul Sparrow-Clarke, as they talk in depth about one of Brian De Palma’s most underappreciated films, Carlito’s Way. Paul returned to PTS to discuss Carlito’s Way after joining Frank and Tom during their From Russia with Love podcast in their For Your Ears Only James Bond podcast series. We hope you enjoy the show!
Tony Scott’s Revenge is a difficult one to sit through, but it’s Aalto a good showcase of not only the late director’s inherent talent around a camera and staging of restless, brutally violent action, as well as one of the better, albeit off-putting entries in a sub genre I like to think of as ‘desert noir’ (Oliver Stone’s U Turn pioneered and set the good standard in my books). Sweaty, sleazy, excessively graphic, melodramatic and mottled out of those old school, primitive pulp laden love triangle bad blood archetypes, it’s relentlessly unpleasant but has a dark hearted charm that somehow sneaks in the back door and gives it an iota of likability, albeit in a weird way. Kevin Costner plays a hotshot navy pilot (Scott shamelessly plugging Top Gun) who heads to Mexico for a little down time, where he finds anything but. While on a visit to his old gangster friend (Anthony Quinn, that big ol’ sweaty Italian meatball), he meets the kingpin’s beautiful, shockingly young wife Miryea (Madeleine Stowe, back when she used to be in things), and naturally they fall in love. This ignites a volcanic conflict between them all that results in some of the most sadistic, sexist acts of violence and a giant rift in the brotherhood between Costner and Quinn, for you see, the pilot saved his life years before and there’s some vague blood debt owed, obviously now null in void when he tries to mow the guy’s lawn. There isn’t much to the story other than these Stone Age, chauvinistic games of betrayal, sex and retribution the three play, or at least the two while Stowe is so badly hurt she’s out of commission after the first act. Costner spends time moping about the backroads and flophouses of Mexico, befriending a dusty old shit-kicker (the late character actor James Gammon, credited simply as ‘Texan’), who helps him get back on his feet. He’s also aided in his vendetta against Quinn by two mercenaries, played by scene stealing Miguel Ferrer and John Leguizamo. The eventual final confrontation between them has the hollow howl of redundancy as both men sheepishly realize they’ve become a slave to their own emotions and ruined their lives, and especially Miryea’s. Ebert wrote of this “It’s such a good job of salesmanship that you have to stop and remind yourself you don’t want any.” Well, that’s Scott for you, who could take footage of a domestic dispute and whip it up into a frenzy of action and energy you can’t take your eyes off of. This is a dark, empty, unpleasant film bereft of gallows humour or tongues in cheeks. But there’s something about it’s lurid sense of danger, hot blooded anger and over the top, hide-behind-the-couch doses of extreme violence that draw you in and cast a dark spell.
John Wick: Chapter 2 expands nicely on a mythology that we caught a glimpse of from behind the shadowy curtain of assassin’s anthropology in the first film, a fantastic meld of stylish world building and hyper violent, stunts driven action that saw Keanu Reeves come blasting back onto the big screen in probably the best role so far of his career. Chapter 2 has one big challenge to face though: the first one was driven by the fact that those fuckers killed his dog, and the man’s subsequent bloodlust over it. That was the crux, the catalyst, the reason we cheered so loudly each time he maimed or mauled someone. Now, I don’t need an excuse like that to watch an antihero slaughter people, but some might, and the dog thing just propelled him forward faster and furious…er. What’s the catalyst here? Well, they destroy his house. Not quite the emotional kick in the nuts you get from seeing a beagle murdered, but it seems to be enough to light Wick’s fuse again, so there you go. He’s faced with a figure from his past here, some fruitcake of an Italian mobster (Ricardo Scamarcio) who wants him to come out of retirement and kill his powerful sister (Claudia Geroni) to ensure his seat at a revered council table of international crime figures. It’s basically John Wick’s Eurotrip, as he treks across the pond to kill more goons and thoroughly destroy more night clubs and other such convenient set pieces than you can shake a stick at, before returning back to New York for an ultra-violent third act. John Leguizamo, the always awesome Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Bridget Moynahan and David Patrick Kelly all reprise their wicked cool roles, whilst Common, Ruby Rose, Peter Serafinowicz and Franco Nero create new characters that flesh out this fascinating world of killer’s mythology even further. The film is special though for two important reunions for Reeves that give wonderful callbacks to earlier in his career: the prologue sees Wick ferociously reclaim his stolen car from Abram Tasarov (Peter Stormare) the more gregarious brother of Viggo, villain from the first film. Reeves and Stormare played Constantine and Lucifer in the underrated 2005 comic book adaptation, where they faced off with just as much menace and charisma we see in their little bit here. It’s also a reunion for Neo and Morpheus, because Laurence Fishburne shows up as the godlike Bowery King, a rooftop dwelling, pigeon keeping derelict who runs a vast crime syndicate that all disguise themselves as dishevelled hobos. It’s wonderful references like these that pack the pedigree with solid gold and moments to remember, not to mention it’s just a worthy sequel, a slam bang screamer of an action flick and a great time all round. Bring on Chapter 3, and I request an Al Pacino villain turn so we can get nostalgic for The Devil’s Advocate all over again.
The Lincoln Lawyer was the first film in the revival of Matthew McConaughey’s career after a lengthy slump stretching back to the early 2000’s, and what a banger of a pseudo courtroom drama it turned out to be. Based on the series of novels by Michael Connelly which focus on slick, morally untethered defence attorney Mick Haller (played to perfection by Matt), director Brad Furman whips up an enjoyable, razor sharp yet laid back LA crime saga that’s smart, re-watchable and competently staged, not to mention stuffed to the roof with great actors. Haller is something of a renegade lawyer who operates smoothly from the leather interior of his Lincoln town car, driven by trusty chauffeur Earl (the always awesome Lawrence Mason). Mick is ice cool and seldom bothered by the legal atrocities he commits, until one case follows him home and digs up a tormented conscience he never knew he had. Hired to defend a rich brat (Ryan Phillipe) accused of murdering a call girl, events take a turn for the unpredictable as older crimes are dug up, double crosses are laid bare and everyone’s life starts to unravel. It’s a deliciously constructed story with twists and payoffs galore, as well as one hell of an arc for McConaughey to flesh out in the kind of desperate, lone wolf role that mirrors the dark side of his idealistic lawyer in Joel Schumacher’s A Time To Kill. Let’s talk supporting cast: Marisa Tomei is sexy and easygoing as Mick’s ex wife and rival, Bryan Cranston simmers on low burn as a nasty detective, William H. Macy does a lively turn as his PI buddy, plus excellent work from Frances Fisher, Shea Wigham, John Leguizamo, Bob Gunton, Bob Gunton, Pell James, Katherine Moennig and the great Michael Paré as a resentful cop who proves to be quite useful later on. There’s a dark side to the story too that I appreciated, in the fact that not every wrong is righted, or at least fully, a sad fact that can be seen in an unfortunate character played by Michael Pena, but indicative of life’s brutal realities, something Hollywood sometimes tries to smother. One of the great courtroom films out there, a gem in McConaughey’s career and just a damn fine time at the movies.