Saturdays with Siskel & Ebert - Million Dollar Mystery (1987)
Film Review - The Girl Who Played with Fire

Reliving the Summer of 1990 - Week Seven

DIE_HARD_2_Cover

Saving the day with Bruce Willis in “Die Hard 2” and getting off that crazy thing called “Jetsons: The Movie”

DIE HARD 2 title

Die Hard 2

Nutshell: Off to Washington Dulles International Airport to pick up his wife (Bonnie Bedelia), John McClane senses trouble brewing when he spies a group of shady men commencing shady plans. Following his instincts, McClane discovers a team of terrorists, led by Colonel Stuart (William Sadler), have commandeered the airport’s control tower, threatening to fly the circling planes dry unless their demands are met. McClane, knowing his wife is onboard one of those jets, takes off into the bowels of the property to raise some hell, hoping to thwart any and all evil plans while the local police and airport administration sit on their thumbs as time ticks away. 

DIE HARD 2 McClane and Holly

1990: In the same manner people look back glowingly on the day they lost their virginity, I treasure my initial screening of “Die Hard.” It was my first theatrical R-rated feature, viewed well below the 17+ age restrictions set by MPAA. Of course, the event was held in a dingy, shoebox Minnetonka, MN mall movie theater, but towering screen dimensions hardly mattered. Blazing past my eyes was a searing action film unlike anything I’d seen before, with extensive screen ferociousness and riveting characterizations thwacking me over and over again with bullet-dodging perfection. I was swollen afterwards, puffy from the screen perfection as John McTiernan and Bruce Willis molded a miracle for 1988. A miracle that’s never been topped.

However, that didn’t mean 20th Century Fox was going to leave things be.

“Die Hard 2” was the big ticket for the summer of 1990, stumbling into theaters wet as the filmmakers endured numerous delays during production, facing an impossible release date and a temperamental actor in the throes of superstardom. I monitored the progress of the picture the best I could, soon reaching a feverish point of fanatical insanity when rumors suggested the production was sniffing around the local Minneapolis/St. Paul airport as a potential home for John McClane and his blow-em-up playground. Infuriatingly, my unfailingly snowbound home state failed to supply the intense winter wonderland for the studio, who took their business elsewhere. Thanks, Jack Frost. You dick.

DIE HARD 2 McClane 1

Heading back to the “Tango and Cash” trailer epiphany event described in Week Four, a teaser for “Die Hard 2” also wanted in on the fun that afternoon, though that piece of advertising was slightly less revealing when it came to footage…or anything, really. A static, mostly audio-driven trailer, the teaser for the heroic sequel was more interested in providing an introduction over making a first impression; the sneak peek summoned the intensity of “Die Hard” while adding a dash of tongue-in-cheek flavoring, calling out the absurdity of the situation long before critics could sink their fangs into the rehash nature of the sequel. The trailer asked, “How could the same thing happen to the same guy twice?” The answer was simple: because it should.

My socks were blown off. Expectations, even after the keyhole peep the teaser provided, were stratospheric. I was just so utterly ready for this movie.

In the Brichives, I scribbled a countdown to the opening of “Die Hard 2,” with pages marking how many days were left before I could feast on the McClane buffet again. It’s somewhat embarrassing to look back on this excitement, yet I mourn that purity of anticipation, which was eventually replaced by unavoidable cynicism and moviegoing overkill, with a few thrilling exceptions over the years (“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” “Superman Returns”) keeping me in high spirits. However, nothing pulled quite as hard as “Die Hard 2,” and I made sure to remind myself of this burning anticipation at every turn.

Already buckled in to receive a monster actioner, “Die Hard 2” exceeded my expectations in 1990, delivering enormous thrills and spills as the hero cop stormed an airport on a bloodied, improvisational quest to protect his wife from another shock wave of terrorists. Regurgitation of plot? Of course, but I was lost in the moment, hungrily eating up director Renny Harlin’s set-pieces, which made exquisite use of wintry locations and airplane anxiety. The picture cursed until blue in the face, exploded, shot up the joint, and smirked -- “Die Hard 2” fit me like a glove, organically building off the original picture with a fresh round of McClane in harm’s way. I was smitten from the metallic slam of the title card.

As far as I was concerned, summer was over. 

DIE HARD 2 Dennis Franz

2010: It seems almost impossible to consider, but we now have four “Die Hard” movies in our cinematic history. The third, 1995’s “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” is a breathtaking trilogy closer, evoking the inherent combustibility of NYC with palpable summertime humidity and claustrophobia -- carefully moving away from cries of sequelitis with dashes of greed and puzzles, gifting McClane a confident partner in Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson). Mournful singer Sam Phillips (a woman roughly the size of a dorm room fridge) as a killing machine? Truck surfing? McClane as a drunk? Citywide panic? It’s a marvelous, exhaustive picture, capturing the “Die Hard” elements with renewed interest in epic proportions.

The less written about 2007’s “Live Free or Die Hard,” the better. Man, what a heartbreaker that was. 

DIE HARD 2 Fire

“Die Hard 2” has taken quite a beating over the last two decades, earning a reputation as a throwaway sequel, with McClane himself, Bruce Willis, making an effort to poo all over the picture. A rushed film? A rehashed film? A crude film? Yes, yes, and yes. I won’t deny the movie is rough around the edges, but I find “Die Hard 2” to be mesmeric entertainment, taking the burden of blockbuster status seriously as it attempts to match the original film’s mastery of silver screen tension while opening up the scope a bit by taking the action outdoors and into the sky.

It’s a massive motion picture, but agile and propulsive, once again winding McClane around trouble he didn’t ask for. Director Renny Harlin utilizes locations and sets splendidly, aiming to evoke Nakatomi Plaza restlessness while allowing McClane more freedom to make trouble, trudging into the snow to provide a crippling sensation of environmental obstruction. I realize Harlin’s squandered his potential by helming some real stinkers in recent years, but his direction here is tidy, broad, and inventively chaotic when called upon. Devouring cinematographer Oliver Wood’s dazzling anamorphic mood, Harlin achieves a real sensation of pressure, through acts of unforgivable villainy and McClane’s full court press into troublemaking, which always find its way to shootouts and increasingly destructive acts of bravery. The plot knowingly traces over McTiernan’s accomplishment, but Harlin makes the sequel its own creature of commotion, thrashing McClane through a slightly tilted set of circumstances, with a few compelling plot twists and a horrific mid-movie airplane crash (actual innocent casualties!) to keep the stakes high.

DIE_HARD_2_William_Sadler_Blocked

Burrowing into the cold, “Die Hard 2” never loses its step, introducing a wealth of combative personalities to rub McClane raw, played by an assortment of gifted tough guys, with Dennis Franz hitting nothing but net as airport police weasel Captain Carmine Lorenzo. Baddie Colonel Stuart is also a delightful thorn for McClane, though actor William Sadler goes more for cold-blooded menace (offering some nudity to keep the mood tense), knowing full well there’s no topping Alan Rickman. Perhaps not the most petrifying of opponents, Stuart’s reign of terror is effective and his comeuppance suitably yippee-ki-yayed, mothertrucker.

The script even invites Richard Thornberg (William Atherton) to the party. His reptilian journalist ways are more than welcome here, adding some dimension to the threat.

DIE HARD 2 Thornberg

And then there’s Willis. John McClane has remained his finest role, permitting the actor to swing around his smirk and tough guy attitude while retaining his sense of humor. Willis is simply phenomenal as this scattered character. A highlight of “Die Hard 2” is how the picture sustains McClane’s everyman appeal, even as he slips into superhero mode, keeping the man battered and bewildered as he charges into confrontation. The sequel supplies a refreshing sense of fatigue as the nightmare rolls on, and frustration as every powdered-sugar-covered suit in the airport would like nothing more than to discredit and shoo away the invading cop. Despite Willis’s needless dismissal, the sequel delivers a substantial new twirl in Mr. McClane’s wild ride. On the other hand, Willis was also quoted praising “Live Free or Die Hard” as “better than the first one.” Perhaps his judgment isn’t worth stressing over.

All nitpicks aside, there’s a moment in “Die Hard 2” that unites us as a nation of moviegoers, all seeking the same source of screen magic. Midway through the adventure, McClane finds himself trapped inside the airplane of his enemy, which the baddies are slowly filling up with grenades and verbal taunts. How to escape such certain doom? McClane straps into an ejector seat and launches himself into the fiery sky at the moment of detonation. Not content to cover the moment in concealing close-ups and cuts, Harlin allows the lunacy to gradually rocket into the viewer’s lap, providing the picture with its signature moment -- a wondrous feat of movieland survival that sums up the McClane character and the heightened spirit of “Die Hard 2” beautifully.

I’m a massive fan of “Die Hard 2,” finding it to be a skilled sequel, a brass-knuckled bruiser of an action picture, and a sublime cinematic distraction. Nothing’s ever going to top the original “Die Hard,” but as continuations go, whatever the film lacks in dazzling originality, it makes up for in exquisite widescreen theatrics and explosive entertainment. It’s an awesome machine of mayhem.

DIE HARD 2 Explosion



JETSONS THE MOVIE title

Jetsons: The Movie

Nutshell: Offered the deal of a lifetime from his cheapskate boss, Mr. Spacely (voiced by legend Mel Blanc), George Jetson (George O’Hanlon) decides to uproot his family (including daughter Judy, his boy Elroy, and Jane his wife) and move them to a far off paradise, when he can begin work as the supervisor of a controversial Spacely Sprocket factory. As the family attempts to fit into their new surroundings, George learns why the plant has endured such difficulty getting up to speed, meeting an alien race known as the “Grungees,” whose habitat is threatened by Spacely’s massive drill.

JETSONS THE MOVIE George and Family

1990: I was reluctant to include any mention of “Jetsons: The Movie” in this diary simply because I’ve never seen the film. It never popped as something I needed to view -- weird, because “The Jetsons” (and sister show “The Flintstones”) was pure comfort food during morning cartoon time as a child, delighting me with its depiction of outlandish futurism and yelpy slapstick. It was such a marvelous show, but its feature film incarnation fell off my moviegoing radar. Time to right that wrong, especially when there’s former teen queen Tiffany involved.

JETSONS THE MOVIE George and Grungees

2010: Why there was even a “Jetsons: The Movie” to begin with is a great question. The film struggles with its identity for the duration of its running time, blending modern CGI tools (primarily employed to arrange the space neighborhoods) with rather crude animation that reflects the more traditional “Jetsons” experience more precisely. It’s a beaming space race concept looking to join the more cynical, technologically advanced year of 1990, hoping a new generation of families might be open to another, shinier round of George and the gang.

While pleasingly cartoony and true to the spirit of the show, “Jetsons: The Movie” is a bizarre feature film, desperate to seem relevant to the kids of the era. A cameo from Rick Dees is one thing, but the casting of pop princess Tiffany as boy crazy Judy Jetson (rudely replacing Janet Waldo) is a blatant attempt to drum up interest from a demographic that wouldn’t be caught dead at a “Jetsons” screening. Raspy and untrained, Tiffany isn’t much of a Judy, but the production manages to squeeze a few songs of out her, including a surreal number that stops the movie cold, introducing a visual explosion in a film that can barely color inside the lines.

If you have any sort of psychedelics on you, I’d recommend ingesting them now…

The story is basic environmental rape routine, with the Grungees (an incredibly prescient name) teaching George about the fragility of their home planet, while the rest of the picture is devoted to mild character antics. It’s a terribly featherweight movie, lacking a ripping sense of cinematic urgency to help understand why Universal would think this moderately amusing trifle needed a wide release and numerous marketing tie-ins. It’s fine rainy afternoon material, and perhaps a respectable curiosity for fans (both Blanc and O’Hanlon died before release), but hardly worth a serious ticket buying commitment.

However, why I didn’t see this in 1990? I have no idea.

Or, in the immortal voice of Astro, I rhave no ridea.

JETSONS THE MOVIE George and Spacely


Coming next week…

Patrick Swayze makes kissy faces with Demi Moore from the afterlife.

GHOST

Andrew Dice Clay assumes command of his first starring vehicle.

ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE

And Bill Murray takes clowning around a bit too literally.

QUICK CHANGE

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