Die Hard 2 (1990): A Good Sequel That Could Have Been More

die-hard-2

       With how successful the first “Die Hard” was it was inevitable that it would get a sequel. Like most films that start out strong they don’t really need a great Sequel to be promised a Franchise and this is very true of “Die Hard 2” as it is good but lacks a lot of what film does and repeats some things from the first film that weren’t what made the first film great in the first place. I’ll get into more of what I mean later in the review.

        The film was directed by Renny Harlin, written by Steven E. de Souza and Doug Richardson and produced by Charles and Lawrence Gordon as well as Joel Silver.

      The story involves John McClane (Bruce Willis) going to meet his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) at the Washington D.C. airport on Christmas Eve when former U.S. military special forces soldier Colonel Stuart (William Sadler) takes control of the airport in order to rescue a dictator General Ramon (Franco Nero) who is being brought in for crimes of drug trafficking. From here McClane must stop them before the circling planes above run out of fuel.

The Pros: The Premise –  The premise of an airport being under siege is really cool. There are so many areas that can be explored and planes as a threat and what need to be rescued are a good ticking time bomb for the hero forcing the action to always be moving.

The Action – The action is solid, but I’d expect nothing less from a “Die Hard” film. There are a lot of great fist fights, gun fights and great use of the different areas of the airport from fighting on a plane to in the baggage area.

Ed Trudeau – Thompson did a good job in this role as you see his main deal is trying to get the planes to land and you see how in over his head he is. He isn’t an enemy to McClane but he isn’t exactly an ally either. He is all about the big picture and when the big picture is falling apart around him he doesn’t know how to react.

Sergeant Al Powell – Reginald VelJohnson makes a cameo in this! It is thanks to him helping McClane that he is able to find out that the military guys he saw are supposed to be dead and that they have something planned. It is small but I liked that bit of humanity and friendship we see between him and McClane.

John McClane – John McClane is really the heart of the film as the entire premise of the guy is a cop in over his head who has to think and improvise his way out of situations. This is fully on display here as he could care less about the politics around him and just wants to save his wife and the planes that are circling above.

The Ticking Clock – The ticking clock is that the planes will run out of fuel with the power shut down at the airport leading them all to crash. It is a powerful ticking clock too and shows the military guys at least thought that part of the operation through. It adds tension to all the events that happen after.

The Final Fight – The final fight takes place on a jet about to take off and it is pretty awesome! McClane takes on a few of the military guys, defeating one and using the other to break open the fuel so that he can blow them up from the jet engine fuel that was spraying from the engine. One of the best action sequences I’ve watched in any film like this.

Okay/Con: The Villains – I never understood the villain motivations…why were a bunch of U.S. soldiers so attached to a South American Dictator. They say it was because he was good at killing communists but we never get their plan after he is rescued. Did they plan to reconquer his country? Him being a drug trafficker is never shown to be a motivation, which would have shown them to be lying about the communist thing…so in end they are a mixture of okay and con. All the actors do a good job with what they are given but every good villain needs clear, fully explored motivations.

The Cons: The Reporter – This guy was annoying. He could have been shown to be a 3 Dimensional guy trying to get the story out of the terrorists holding up the airport but instead he creeps on women, purposely makes people panic and panics himself in the end. This man served no purpose but to cause panic in the airport. Honestly the role of the press played could have been so much more.

The D.C. Cops – The D.C. cops only hamper McClane until he saves them at the end and after he rallies them to fight the military guys. They are just there to be against McClane and later soldiers and the transition isn’t handled very well.

Holly – She is there to be rescued…that is it…simple damsel and she deserved better if they were going to have her appear again. At least Al Powell was able to get info. to McClane to help stop the terrorists.

Repeating the First Film – It takes place on Christmas Eve, outsider who no one is helping, ticking clock and things get resolved with wife once more at the end. Switching any of these up or doing something creative with it would have elevated this film to great.

    This is a good action movie that is worth checking out, but if you are only ever going to watch one “Die Hard” film just stick with the first one. This one repeats a lot of unnecessary things from the first film and the villains aren’t nearly as interesting. What makes it good though are the action sequences and John McClane is still very much a compelling everyman that keeps makes the action mean something and adds heart to a film that could have had no heart with a different star.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) – A Fun Adventure That Gives Justice to the Characters and Plot

Hellboy 2 Poster

        The blog is finally back! I’ve been on a bit of haitus since I’ve been moving to a new apartment, my sister got married this week and I had car trouble in Seattle and had to replace a flat, which took a few days. There are reviews upcoming, the first of which is this one that I’ve been working on. Enjoy.

       “Hellboy 2” is a lot of fun. This is a film that takes everything that worked about the first film and focuses it (with some of the same problems still around as well) and creating a few new problems. It is the better film though, as the characters in this are more memorable and Hellboy isn’t the only character driving the plot this time. Non-spoiler thoughts, check this film out if you like the Hellboy comics and enjoyed the first film.

    The film was directed and written by Guillermo del Toro and produced Lawrence Gordon, Mike Richardson and Lloyd Levin.

    The story involves Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and the team working top the evil elf Prince Nuada from summoning the immortal Golden Army from ancient that nearly wiped out humanity before.

The Pros: The World – Guillermo loves the dark world of fairy mythology (see “Pan’s Labrynth”) and here he gets to show and express that love in the mythos on display. His world is fascinating and all characters look so real and alien. This is really him in his element as this film had some of my favorite character designs.

The Soundtrack – Danny Elfman once again creates a powerful score! This is a guy who specializes in dark fairy tales and that is what this Hellboy film is. he does a masterful job capturing the tragedy and loss in scenes and the soundtrack is worth checking out just for what it is.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning. While the last film was too dark at times this one embraces the dark but also the light to create beautiful contrasts in locations and characters, giving the film and otherworldly feel. Guillermo Navarro did a fantastic job.

The Introduction – A little Hellboy is being red a story by his adoptive father Trevor (yay, John Hurt is back!). It is a touching scene as we learn that fairys and humans lived in harmony until humans started destroying the land leading King Balor to create a Golden Army of magic. He regrets it all after the death toll rises and makes a peace treaty with humanity. His son leaves in exile as he wanted humanity wiped out and he and his daughter hide the pieces so the army may never rise again.

The Characters – The characters are what drew me into the world of Hellboy (though Hellboy isn’t as interesting as Abe of Krauss in my opinion) and they are the reason I will continue to see these films.

King Balor – The King is awesome and shuts down his son when his son tries to call for war again. It takes his son killing him for him to be stopped. I wanted more of this guy as he was a fascinating and powerful character.

The Goblin Smith – This guy makes a deal to save the life of Hellboy and we learn he was the smith who made the Golden Army and fears his creations. He brings Liz to the Angel and she makes the deal to bring Hellboy back even knowing it could lead to the end.

The Angel – The Angel sees Hellboy’s future and in it only destruction. She is a dark and haunting figure with eyes of a large cranium and great black wings. She has my favorite design in the film and if they make more I hope we see her again. She saves Hellboy’s life.

 Hellboy – Hellboy’s arc is learning to communicate with Liz and work on a team. He is by the end and has rubbed off on Krauss who rebels against the agency. His arc is cool as we see even though he is stupid, his heart is in the right place and he is a talented fighter.

Liz – Liz makes the choice Hellboy made last movie where he risks all to save her, she does the same this film. She is the one who has gotten control of her powers (I would have liked to see more of how that happened) and is the one helping Hellboy become responsible.

Abe Sapien – Abe has a character arc as we see him love and lose as he brings the crown to Nuada that awakens the army (and rightfully calls out Liz and Hellboy for doing the same thing). Sadly not all love works out as Nuala dies to save them all. It is a touching scene and we see how perceptive Abe is. I really liked his character after this film.

Prince Nuada – The Prince is in it for revenge and has a great design as a dark warrior. He trained for centuries and his plan nearly works because he is the only one who doesn’t love and only wants to control. Luckily he is stopped in the end by his sister, who it turns out was the only one who could unless the heroes were willing to kill her by killing Nuada.

Princess Nuala – Nuala should have got more screentime. We see she is compassion and a healer, while her brother is the warrior and she is shown to be wise as she knows that the war will only end in the destruction of all as the Golden Army is only built to destroy. She also falls in love with Abe and is lovely until she kills herself to stop her brother keeping up the theme of tragedy that pervaded the film.

Johann Krauss

 Johann Krauss – Krauss is awesome! He is pretty much immortal because he is living ectoplasm in a suit. This leads to him being both smarter and stronger than Hellboy and a better leader on all counts as he doesn’t depend on brute forcing his way through situations. He does see the value in it though and resigns from the agency with the rest of them as they are tired of being tools, given that Hellboy’s existence is shown to be just a tool for his father to cause the end of the world. All of them, including Krauss, reject that control.

Okay: The Ending – It is cool that Liz and Hellboy are going to be parents, the freeze frame for the final shot was a bit annoying though.

The Cons: Disposable Agents – So many agents die, they are basically red shirts and I feel the stakes would have been hire if they’d felt more like characters rather than disposable bodies.

The Prince’s Long Term Plan – What was his plan after humanity was wiped out? He never talks about it and it seems that the Fairy Realm is largely afraid of him. He lived only for revenge when he could have been so much more since he wanted to rule and killed his father to do so.

  I enjoyed this film much more than the first one largely because the side characters got a lot more exploration while still keeping the Hellboy mythos key with him being son of a Demon Lord. The price and cost of choices was explored really well too and using the Fairy World to do so was masterful since in mythology they are all about dealmaking. Krauss was my favorite character and his character growth was a big part of what made the film so fascinating outside of the great world and character designs that we’ve all come to expect from Guillermo del Toro.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

Hellboy (2004): A Solid Overall Arc That Drags in Parts With Missed Opportunities

Hellboy Poster

   Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite directors and I’m glad he tacked the “Hellboy” comics as they are a lot of fun and I like the subversion of what it means to be a demon in popular culture that these comics do. Hellboy is a flawed human whose issues of anger are made worse by what he was born as, but it doesn’t wholly define him, so he gets actual character arcs in the films he’s had thus far. These are solid films, I wouldn’t call the first one great, as it does have a few things that bring it down from being that, but it is good.

      The film was directed and written by Guillermo del Toro with the producers being Lawrence Gordon, Mike Richardson and Llyod Levin. Peter Briggs was the creator of “Hellboy” and also worked on the initial story with del Toro.

     The story involves Hellboy’s (Ron Perlman) arrival on Earth when the Nazi’s led by Rasputin (Karel Roden) are using a Portal and magic to bring about the end. It is here his adopted father Trevor (John Hurt) takes him in as they must deal with the fallout of the failed Nazi Plot and the fact that their enemies aren’t through with Hellboy yet.

The Pros: The World – The world is amazing and captures the look of the comics really well. The fact that Guillermo del Toro was the one creating in this world is to his credit as he clearly loves it. The visuals are stark and everything feels like it is from another world at the right time.

The Soundtrack – Marco Beltrami is fantastic and manages to capture both the magical and historical mixture of aspects that make up the film. Whether it is the opening or even capturing humorous moments, his score captures them brilliantly.

The Cinematography – Guillermo Navarro does a wonderful job of bringing the visuals of del Toro’s imagination to life as each scene feels like it is out of a comic book and tension is created in how the shots are set.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of the film outside of the world and design.

Agent John  Myers – Myers is one of the blander characters but he is our outsider perspective of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense in which Abe Sapien and Hellboy are agents for. He is good at showing the wonder at each new revelation and at his core is a good guy.

Liz Sherman – Liz has an arc outside of Hellboy but her relationship to Hellboy really drives the plot. Her main arc is learning to control her powers and to face the anxiety she has attached to it from all the people she has hurt.

Abe Sapien – Abe doesn’t really have an arc in this but gives us the alien Spock perspective as he doesn’t have the unstableness of Liz and Hellboy. I liked his character a lot and wish more could have been done with him as he showed himself to be the brains of the operation multiple times.

Trevor Bruttenholm – John Hurt plays Trevor, who is the leader of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense and has a great arc as it is through him we meet all the villains and the one who truly cares for and loves Hellboy. It is Trevor’s love that helps Hellboy find himself when he is being used as a weapon by Rasputin and even though he is killed, his legacy lives on through his team.

Grigori Rasputin – This villain was good but not great. He fits the standard evil wizard trope but with demons…but shows he can be more too as he clearly loves Isla and is devoted to the cause as he was granted immortality by a demon inhabiting his body. I felt more could have been done to explore his motivations and backstory, but he works as someone who does have some level of honor.

Karl Rupert Kroenen

Karl Ruprecht Kroenen – This Nazi assassin is one of my favorite characters. He looks like Voldo from the Soul Series and no matter how many times he gets killed he keeps coming back. He’s a masochist who lives for inflicting the pain he feels on others and is a zealot. This is the guy who kills Trevor and has the highest kill count of our heroes. I was hoping he’d survive this film if they decided to bring him back since not only does he have a great design but as a villain he is very much his own perfect terror.

Hellboy – Ron Perlman really does a great job as Hellboy, a teenage demon just trying to do right by others and himself while still dealing with anger issues and a big ego. The character has a big heart that shines through multiple times as we see him become more fully aware of his issues and face them over the course of the film.

Okay: Isla Haupstein – I liked her character as she brings back Rasputin, sadly that is all she does though. I wanted to know her motivations beyond her love of Rasputin as she deserved more and Bridget Hodson does a great job with what little she is aloud to do.

The Demons – These guys are tentacles, except Hellboy, which is boring. The Hellhounds did look cool though and they did feel like a threat even if they didn’t have all that much variety.

Cons: Women Only Exist to be in Relationships – Liz and Isla largely exist in the plot in relationship to the ones who love them. Everything they do is a reaction to this which doesn’t give them a chance to be full characters in their own right.

Pacing – There are times this film really drags. Many scenes could have been cut and would have brought the film’s score higher.

Faceless Agents – So many agents get killed and none of them really stand out besides Myers. The rest are Red Shirts and exist to die to establish a threat.

   This is a solid and flawed film that is well worth checking out, especially if you are a fan of del Toro you will probably enjoy this. The designs are fantastic and Kroenen is a great villain. I loved his design. Hellboy is also a great flawed protagonist dealing with the role everyone wants him to play (both good and bad) and growing up since he is pretty much a teenager in a whole new world. I wish the women had been written better as Isla fascinated me and Liz seemed to exist to be with Hellboy, though I’m glad they had her face her anxiety and grow from it. Del Toro is one of my favorite directors and this film illustrates some of the things he excels at in his films.

Final Score: 7.8 / 10

Die Hard (1988): An Amazing and Classic Christmas Action Film

Die Hard

    I had never watched “Die Hard” until a few days ago. I’m glad I did. This is the movie that hits all the right notes for a great action film and a great film overall. It isn’t complicated but it doesn’t have to be, the characters…largely the main stars of the the hero and villain carry the film as we see them use different strategies to defeat one another. There stakes are always high and it never lets up.

     The film was directed by John McTiernan and written by Steven E. de Souza and produced by Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver. The screenplay was based off the story “Nothing Lasts Forever” by Roderick Thorp.

     The story involves New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) being trapped in a building where his ex-wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) is when 12 terrorists lead by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) hold the place hostage. It is up to McClane and the LAPD to defeat him.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise is fantastic! The stakes are always high and both Gruber and McClane are racing against time. McClane to get outside help to even the odds and to stop the terrorists, and Gruber to access the cash and hack the system. For this reason the stakes are always high as both are hero and villain have limits and time working against them.

The Action – The action is amazing! From every gunfight with one of Gruber’s minions, to the final battle up on top of the roof and Gruber blowing up the roof and the final scene with our heroes and villain hanging off an edge. It pulls you in and doesn’t let go.

The Soundtrack – Michael Kamen did a great job on this soundtrack. It’s visceral and captures the tension of the different situations John is in really well.

The Minions – The minions are a lot of fun. The ones who stood out the most were the blond German brothers and the tech Theo all who were clearly loving their roles. I actually cared about what happened to them as the team of terrorists were a close knit group and had more distinct personalities than most of the business people in the building they were holding hostage.

Sgt. Al Powell – Reginald VelJohnson does good work as the cop with a history who made the worst mistake one can make (mistook a toy for an actual gun) and is living with the regret. He is the heart and soul of the film who keeps John grounded.

Hans Gruber – Alan Rickman plays one of the best villains in action film. He manipulates everyone perfectly and it is only the x factor of John that makes throws off his plan. Even than he manages to hurt our hero pretty bad and I really liked how much humanity Rickman gives the character, especially when he goes undercover as a hostage to learn about John’s motivations for being there. When he is beaten it is earned and that is what makes him so fantastic outside of his fantastic mind.

John McClane – John is the everyman who adapts to a new dangerous situation and rises to the challenge, managing to eventually get outside help and defeat Gruber. He is a loner and we see a man who is lost and living in the past (his wife has moved on). It is in his conversations with Al his humanity is revealed and we see getting back to his kids is his primary motivation for all he does. We also see his kindness when Gruber goes undercover to set a trap for him and he treats Gruber with kindness when he thinks he’s a hostage. There is a humor to him too and he is like a cowboy.

Okay: Takagi – Owns the business being hostage and is killed by Gruber. He has courage though and we see him stand up to Gruber on multiple occasions and we see his compassion in how he treats McClane and his employees. I wanted to know more about what motivated him though, which is why he isn’t a pro and is just okay.

Holly – She is a damsel a bit too often once Gruber learns that she is John’s ex-wife. She could have been more of a damsel to the writer’s credit so I’m not putting her as a con, she just doesn’t have as distinct of motivations as some of our other characters though.

The Cons: The Business People – Whether it is Holly’s new relationship or the guy working with the terrorists, they were just sleazeballs and were weak as characters.

   Merry Christmas all! This is easily one of the best Christmas films I’ve seen (it all takes place over a Christmas party) and the dynamic between Gruber and McClane creates a visceral and fun action film that I cannot wait to watch again. I understand completely why this film spawned a franchise, it truly is that good of story. Nearly all the characters are in their A Game and the sleazeball business men aren’t enough to bring it down.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

K-PAX (2001): The Power of an Outsider

K-Pax

  “K-PAX” is a good film. It’s not a favorite film as at times it was a little confusing and it could sometimes be slow, but it has some great character development, fascinating situations and the acting is really good. It is definitely a sci. fi. worth watching and the premise itself is very intriguing.

     The film was directed by Iain Softley, written by Charles Leavitt and produced by Robert Colesberry, Lawrence Gordon and Lloyd Levin and is based off the book of the same name by Gene Brewer.

     The story involves a man named Prot (Kevin Spacey) who believes himself to be an alien from the world of K-Pax. The story unfolds as he is taken into an asylum where he is treated by Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges). Prot changes the people in the asylum and Mark has he provides insights some of which he would only know if he was alien as Mark seeks to discover the traumatic event that Prot refuses to speak about that drives the story forward.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Edward Shearmur did a fantastic job giving the soundtrack a sci. fi. and introspective feel. I liked how it helped us see the world through Prot’s eyes and showed us just how alien the world felt to him.

The Cinematography – John Mathieson did a wonderful job on the cinematography. Everything feels like it is a surreal dream, which I think is purposeful since so much of the film is from Prot’s perspective and how he makes others change their perspective. There are lots of moments of stark contrast but also soft scenes that contrast the use of dark and light.

The Members of the Asylum – The Asylum is a fascinating place as the people there aren’t bad. Mental illness is not presented in a negative light which was great as it humanized the flawed people. There is Bess who leaves at the end, a man who thinks everything stinks, the man who is afraid of things that can kill him and the one who Prot puts in charge and gives tasks too. All of them have a humanity to them and a stark way of expressing themselves contrasted with the Doctors and Prot who are all very reserved.

Prot – Prot is a great character. He is an alien from K-PAX (the film establishes this based on people’s reaction to when he is Robert Porter again) and we get the story of how he came to Earth. It was to save Robert’s life as Robert was his friend whose family was murdered by a killer. All of this we learn over time through the eyes of Mark Powell who is the Doctor treating Prot. It’s a sad story and we see how kind Prot is in how he wants everyone to heal and to live. All the actions he does at the Asylum help the inmates to feel joy and to get out of their routine. When he leaves it is felt by all and Kevin Spacey does a masterful job in the role.

Mark Powell – Jeff Bridges is the Doctor who ends up believing Prot while at the same time seeking out the story of his host. He learns about the tragedy of Robert Porter and takes care of Porter after. He is also alienated from his family and obsessed with his work until Prot reminds him that he only has so long to live so should make the choices in life that build relationships with those you care about, not destroy or alienate them. At the end we see he understands this as he cares for the catatonic Robert Porter.

The Message – The message is to remember to connect with others and to make choices that bring about healing in yourself and those around you. Everything Prot does is to this end and we see that his saving Robert’s life has given him happiness even if he can’t express it at the end. We only have so much time alive, so make the most of all relationships.

The Ending  – Prot leaves at the end in a ray of light leaving Robert Porter’s body who is alive now and catatonic. The inmates whisper about it and it is very mysterious and reminded me a lot of “The Green Mile.” I enjoyed the ending too as Mark’s last act is reestablishing his relationship once more with his son.

The Cons: The Other Doctors – The other Doctors are pretty bland don’t feel all that fleshed out. They don’t really have much power as agents either as everything they do is a reaction to Prot or Mark which I disliked since there quite a few of them that appeared throughout the film consistently…but we learned nothing about them or their motivations.

Mark’s Family – Mark’s family has the same problem as the Doctors. I had no idea what they wanted besides time with Mark and they felt like they were needed so that Prot’s point would be stronger about relationships mattering, but I didn’t care about them. I knew and cared about Robert’s family than I did them since Robert’s backstory of working at a slaughterhouse and the dreams he shared with Prot were much more compelling.

Pacing – The pacing was very slow which at times was good for the introspective moments but there were many times I had to make sure I knew what was going on as it was too slow to fully register a sequence of events that had just occurred. This film could have been much faster, had more character actions and it would have been better for it. The only really fast moment were when the members of the Asylum reacted and when Prot panics when Mark’s kids are playing in the water and he thinks they’re going to drown.

“K-PAX” is a movie worth seeing. The ideas are good, the main characters are great and Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges are truly phenomenal. Just know that the minor characters who aren’t inmates in the Asylum are really bland and that the pacing doesn’t help. These are the reasons why that even though I liked the film, I cannot consider it a favorite or great overall. It is a good film though and there is a lot of like in it, even with the problems it has.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10