(Third viewing, On DVD, April 2017) I first saw Die Hard with a Vengeance on opening day, and I’m pretty sure I saw it again on DVD ten or fifteen years ago. But I can’t find a mention of it on this site, so here we go: I really, really like the first two-third of this film. It open on the iconic “Summer in the City” soundtrack of a bustling mid-nineties Manhattan before starting to blow stuff up. Then it’s a wild ride through the city, accumulating brain-teasers, going through cheeky overdone action sequences and letting Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson do what they do best. John McTiernan’s direction is exceptionally good and there’s a sense of fun, joy and movement to the story. Every cinephile imprints on the movies of younger years, and mid-to-late nineties action cinema is the standard against which I will forever measure others. Die Hard With a Vengeance’s first two acts is good, solid, highly enjoyable moviemaking. I like it a lot, and I had forgotten just enough details about the movie to be charmed all over again. It’s also a beautiful wide-screen homage to New York City in its multiplicities of glories. Then … the film leaves Manhattan and loses quite a bit of steam. While the script is always big on coincidences, they get actively outrageous by the time our two main characters meet again upstate. By the time we’re on a boat, the film settles down to a far more conventional beat, and the tacked-on ending at the border feels more superfluous than anything else. Still, two-third of a great movie followed by a third of an okay one is better than the average. Contemporary viewers will notice that both Trump and Clinton are name-checked (the latter as a likely “forty third president”), and that a few moments eerily echo the events of 9/11.
(Second or third viewing, On TV, December 2016) I’m reasonably sure that I’ve watched Predator at least twice, and one of those was within the past ten years. But since I can’t find any mention of it in my files, here are a few notes: Even today, the film works pretty well. The transition from a military action picture to Science Fiction is handled well, and director John McTiernan has to be commended for its restraints before unleashing all stops. The cast is an embarrassment of riches, and nearly everyone will note the presence of two actors who would go one to become governor of their states. The machismo gets intense at times (it’s a good thing that Elpidia Carrillo is in the picture at all, otherwise this would have been an all-male production) but it fits within the film’s unassuming genre aspirations. The special effects are a bit primitive, but they get the job done and pale in comparison to Arnold Schwarzenneger’s muscular performance. A truly bad image quality (thanks to ultra-low bitrate encoding on a standard-definition channel) couldn’t stop me from enjoying the film. Never mind the sequel; this is one of the defining action movies of the eighties.
(Second viewing, on Cable TV, March 2016) I remember seeing Last Action Hero in theatres in 1993, days after graduating from high school, and liking it quite a bit better than the reviewers did at the time. I approached it again with nostalgia-tinted intentions, ready to make a bold claim that its action movie self-referential satire would have been far more successful in today’s vastly more irony-friendly culture. But after actually watching the film, I reluctantly concede that the critics were right then and are still right now: Despite an engaging premise, some spectacular set pieces and a self-deprecating performance by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Last Action Hero ends up as a film too flawed to be considered successful. Reading up on the film’s troubled production history certainly helps clarify why the result seems so haphazard: the involvement of so many people in writing the script explains why it feels so disjointed and underwhelming. The rushed post-production certainly led to the slack moment-to-moment pacing. Worse: Last Action Hero takes a sky’s-the-limit concept and beats it down to a dull rooftop rainy climax, ignoring dozens of better ideas along the way. It fatally chooses to set its climax in the dingy real world rather than the sunny fantasies of the movies. It doesn’t just make jokes, but underlines each of them twice to make sure that we get it. The kid protagonist is more annoying than sympathetic, the all-evil portrait of New York feels dated (although that one isn’t the film’s fault—NYC’s murder rate is now an astonishing 15% of what it was back in 1990) and much of the plot mechanics should have been simplified to focus on the fun-and-games of the premise. I still like much of Last Action Hero: some moments work really well as comic throwbacks to a specific type of early-nineties action film, director John McTiernan manages to make some of the movie-world action sequences a lot of fun (most specifically the hotel rooftop sequence) and some of the individual jokes do land. But the key word here is “some”: As a whole, Last Action Hero doesn’t manage to achieve what it sets out to do. Why doesn’t anyone think of remaking this film rather than successful ones?