Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Die Hard scenario’

Air Force One (1997)

06/14/2011 1 comment

Air Force One is the official air traffic call sign of any United States Air Force aircraft carrying the President of the United States. The two jets to which this title is officially assigned are the most technologically advanced and most secure aircraft in the world, designed to protect the President from any threat. You practically have to give a kidney and your firstborn to get the clearance to board. However, little do bad guys know that the real threat to intruders is not the hordes of Secret Service agents and countermeasures that populate the plane during Presidential excursions – at least not when the President is Indiana Jones.

Air Force One is an action film directed and co-produced by Wolfgang Petersen, and written by Andrew W. Marlowe. It stars Harrison Ford, Glenn Close, Gary Oldman, Xander Berkeley, William H. Macy, and Paul Guilfoyle.

It is 1993. A crack team of elite Spetsnaz and Delta Force commandos have just captured General Ivan Radek, the leader of a terrorist regime in Kazakhstan. Three weeks later, American President James Marshall gives a speech in Moscow, rejecting the idea that he should be congratulated for this victory, instead expressing dismay that it took the United States this long to act. He vows to take a hard line against terrorism, political self-interest be damned. Of course, this is certain to get up somebody’s nose. As he, his wife and daughter, and most of his political posse of advisors and cabinet members board Air Force One to head back to the States, a group of terrorists loyal to Radek board the plane under the guise of a Russian news crew. In the middle of the flight, they seize control of Air Force One and take its passengers hostage with the goal of forcing the President to call Moscow and have Radek released. Meanwhile Secret Service agents hustle Marshall to the escape pod to keep him out of harm’s way. Marshall has other ideas, though; these people are threatening his family and national security, and he is not going to let this stand. It isn’t long before the terrorists realize that they are trapped aboard a highly advanced aircraft with a very angry ex-military Battle President, who is willing to do anything to get them the hell off his plane.

It is clear from the premise itself that this is a pre-9-11 movie. Petersen himself said that with the tightening of national security protocols both civilian and presidential, it would be nigh-impossible for anyone to get the level of access to (and inside) Air Force One, let alone highjack it. As it was, at the time film crews were not even allowed inside either of the Air Force One jets, forcing the filmmakers to make educated guesses about the interior. However, the fact that the setup is dated and the immediate setting for the bulk of the movie was pretty much made up does not make this an uninteresting movie. The idea that terrorists would manage to get this far into the U.S. government’s inner sanctum is thrilling and terrifying, considering that they would be able to wipe out the top tiers of American political authority with frightening ease. While it is still an extremely difficult plan to execute in today’s political climate, this is the scenario that all the security-tightening is designed to prevent, and all it would take is a single hole to render everything moot.

Of course, while this is an action movie, it largely depends on a skilled cast to execute properly. Harrison Ford is excellent as James Marshall, an ex-military man trying to outwit some very dangerous people aboard a relatively tiny space. While he has come a long way since his Indiana Jones/Han Solo roots, he is resourceful and clever, using the resources he has at hand to foil the enemy forces swarming his jet. Glenn Close, playing his Vice President, is a protective and helpful voice on the ground, doing her best to negotiate with dangerous terrorists and guide Marshall to the knowledge he needs while working to prevent the Presidency from being usurped by well-meaning cabinet members. On the other side of the coin, Gary Oldman is a terrifying villain, willingly threatening women and children in pursuit of goals that could throw the civilized world into chaos, in ways that seem a far cry from his villainous role as Zorg in The Fifth Element, released the same year. He is ruthless. He is fanatical. He is unquestioningly loyal to Radek. He will eat your children. (And off-camera, he’s apparently a fun guy to be around.)

If you enjoy gripping, claustrophobic action movies and you’re a fan of Harrison Ford, I highly recommend Air Force One. While the premise may be nearly impossible today, it still plays on modern terrorism fears and keeps you hooked the whole way through.

Advertisements

The Fifth Element (1997)

05/23/2011 1 comment

What do you get when a teenaged art student writes a sci fi film?? What do you get when a French director noted for his contributions to the cinema du look style direct it? What do you get when they’re both the same person? You get this.

The Fifth Element is a Friench sci fi film co-written and directed by Luc Besson, starring Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, and Chris Tucker.

In 1914, when planet Earth is on the verge of World War I, an alien race called the Mondoshawan arrives at an ancient Engyptian tomb to retrieve a weapon capable of fighting a Great Evil that appears every five thousand years: four stones representing the four classical elements, plus a fifth element that can unite the other four. They promise to return when the Great Evil returns, presenting a key to be kept safe until then. Fast forward 349 years. Planet Earth is now a bustling, futuristic, visual cacophany, and the Great Evil is drawing closer, eating a Federated Army starship. The Mondoshawans attempt to return to Earth with their anti-evil weapon, but their ship is ambushed and destroyed by Mandalores, a race of shapeshifting mercenaries hired by one Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg. In the remains of the Mondoshawan ship, Earth’s scientists find a sample of astonishingly complex genetic material, and reconstitute it into a supreme being named Leeloo, who escapes and winds up in the company of Korben Dallas, an ex-Army Major with the Federated Army Special Forces turned cab driver. After the situation is explained to him, Dallas is ordered to recover the stones from their current holder, an opera singer. Dallas isn’t so sure about the saving-the-world thing, but he thinks Leeloo is hot, so what the hell. And a very beautiful action movie ensues.

The first thing you will notice about this movie is its beauty. The Fifth Element is a definite treat for the eyes, giving you plenty to see as the story unfolds. The future Mr. Besson offers us is colorful and chaotic, from the costumes to the sets to the vehicles, with everything enhanced with CG just enough that the effects don’t get in the way. New York City of 2263 is just as busy as its modern counterpart, but in three dimensions – perfectly understandable in a setting with flying cars – leading to a unique twist on the car chase seldom seen in science fiction. The costumes are garish and exotic, offering a unique flavor to the setting without making the eyes bleed, though this is turned up until till the dial breaks with Chris Tucker’s near-brush with drag queen fashion as Ruby Rhod (incidentally, the costumes he wears during the Phlogiston scenes are not the most garish the costume designer had cranked out; those were shown to Tucker first to make the actual costumes seem tame by comparison). Pair the Technocolor palette with a handful of unique alien designs (without having the whole movie crawling with weird races), and The Fifth Element is a lot of fun to watch without even touching the story.

Fortunately, unlike some other pretty movies I’ve seen, the plot rises to meet the challenge and doesn’t drown in the spectacle, offering a unique take on the “saving the world” plot, set against the flashy backdrop of this colorful future. The action parts are about average for 90’s Bruce Willis, with gunfights, bad guys, car chases, and snarky one-liners tossed about. Dallas is delightfully deadpan about the whole thing: with his history in the Special Forces, absolutely nothing phases him about getting chased by cops after an alien woman falls into his cab from about five stories up, hostile Mandalores shooting at him while opera plays in the background, or even the impending destruction of Earth by a Big Ball of Hate. He assesses, he reacts, he powers through, and he goes about his business. One unusual point that I didn’t notice for a long time after I watched this movie for the first time, though: You have the hero, Korben Dallas. Fine. You have a human antagonist serving the Hateball, Zorg. These two people never meet. At all. They’re never in the same room with each other at any time in the movie. They never see each other. This seems like it wouldn’t work, until you realize that the movie isn’t about Dallas vs. Zorg, but rather Dallas vs. the Hateball. Zorg becomes an incidental pawn in the Hateball’s plans, and while he’s entertaining to watch, he’s only a part of the grand scheme for the annihilation of all life. Brilliant.

If you’re tired of the same old sci fi action movie with the same cookie-cutter settings and conventions, check out The Fifth Element. It’s sheer eye candy, backed by a solid plot that will entertain any sci fi fan.

Speed (1994)


“Pop quiz, hotshot. There’s a bomb on a bus. If the bus goes above fifty miles per hour, the bomb is armed. If it goes below fifty, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do?”

There are relatively few movies out there where the entire premise can be explained in a single line of dialogue. Fortunately, this one sticks to the basics. Bomb. Bus. Nameless potential victims. Mad bomber. Love interest. Heroic cop. Shit blowing up. All that’s left is for you to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Speed is an action thriller film directed by Jan de Bont and written by Graham Yost and Joss Whedon (Yes, that Joss Whedon). It stars Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sanda Bullock, Jeff Daniels, and a Santa Monica city bus.

Howard Payne is not a happy man. So show how unhappy he is, he traps a bunch of people in an elevator rigged with explosives, threatening to send who whole mess plummeting to a rather abrupt doom if his demands are not met. He is thwarted by SWAT officers Jack Traven and Harry Temple, who rescue the hostages, but Howard appears to get blown up by yet another bomb. Oh well. Jack and Harry are commended for their bravery, and all seems well, until the following day when a city bus driven by a friend of Jack’s goes boom. Jack receives a call at a nearby pay phone, and learns two things in rapid succession: Howard Payne is (surprise!) still alive, and he has rigged a second bus to explode. Once the bus goes above fifty miles per hour, the bomb is armed, but once it drops below that… well, you get the idea. Since this second bus is an express bus, stopping it before the bomb is armed proves futile, leaving Jack with no alternative but to board the bus at cruising speed in order to ensure the safety of its passengers and try to figure out how to get everyone safe. Now, he and his fellow police officers must think fast during the only fixed scrolling level in cinematic history to keep a city bus from going boom.

This is not a complicated movie, as summarized by Payne. As one of the crew for Die Hard, naturally de Bont would bem well-suited for this “Die Hard on a Bus” scenario, and as far as that goes he does not disappoint. Speed doesn’t try to pretend to be anything but an extended car fu story, and in this respect it does well. The plot is exciting, the villain is Evil with a Reason (which you find out as the cops dip into Payne’s backstory), and the idea of being trapped on a city bus rigged to explode is a commuter’s nightmare.

That said, the acting is… about what you’d expect in a movie like this. Keanu Reeves had made other movies between Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey and this one, but I think this is the first one where he managed to really shake off the spirit of Ted Logan and start to mature as a serious actor. Dennis Hopper is wonderfully hammy as mad bomber Howard Payne, and Sandra Bullock is charming as the frazzled brunette role she would go on to play in later movies. Among the supporting cast, the other police officers were surprisingly competant given the usual trend in the action genre, but amongst the imperiled passengers the only real standout is Alan Ruck’s character Stephens, notable for his diplomatic translation over a radio of Jack’s reaction to finding a second explosive device on the bus.

So, if you’re looking for a decent action movie with a deceptively simple plot, you could do worse than Speed. It’s not complex, but it is engaging in a Snakes on a Plane sort of way, and it would be worth a rental one evening if you had nothing else to do.

30 Days of Night (2007)

04/11/2011 1 comment

Welcome to Barrow, Alaska: the northernmost point in the United States – so far north, in fact, that there’s a span of about a month where the sun don’t come up at all. Ordinarily that don’t bother most of the locals; those that don’t like it head south for sunnier climes and the rest just hunker down like the hardcore Alaskans they are. This year, though, things are a little bit different, as the prospect of a thirty-day dark has brought some hungry visitors to Barrow, and they’re not feeling too neighborly…

30 Days of Night is a vampire horror film directed by David Slade and based on the comic book miniseries of the same named by IDW Publishing. It stars Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, and Ben Foster.

As the quiet Alaskan town of Barrow prepares for its annual “thirty days of night” in the middle of the polar winter, Sheriff Eben Oleson notices that someone is taking great pains to isolate the residents, sabotaging the town’s communications and transport. When Eben’s soon-to-be-ex-wife, Stella, misses the last plane south, it looks like she is going to be trapped there for the long night as well, which makes things awkward between the two of them as they try hard to avoid each other in a town whose current population is about 200 people. Eben discovers a twitchy stranger in town is stirring up trouble, necessitating his arrest and jailing. the stranger is far from upset about this, saying that death is coming, and he seems to be under the impression that death is gonna help him out for all the good work he did on its behalf. Eben thinks the guy is just a loon until the sun goes down for the last time, and some other newcomers attack the local telecommunication center and power supply, leaving the town dark and completely cut off from the outside world. As Eben investigates, he and the other locals make a horrifying discovery: a pack of vampires has descended on the town, taking advantage of the long period of darkness to feast on the blood of the living. Now, Sheriff Oleson is in the middle of a desperate fight to save the remaining townfolk and last through the darkness, hoping to make it until the sun rises again…

Now, anyone with a decent working knowledge of world geography knows that above the Arctic Circle the sun doesn’t seem to behave like it does in the rest of the Northern Hemisphere. There’s a stretch in the middle of winter where the sun doesn’t rise. At all. In reality it isn’t as abrupt as it is in the movie, with a stretch of days where it just gets a little twilight-y without actual daytime, during the period depicted as full dark in the movie. The real-life Barrow is quite a bit more populous, boasting about 4,000 people with State PD rather than a local sheriff, and the airport doesn’t shut down in the winter except during storms. That’s the trouble with naming your fictional setting after a real town – the facts get in the way. But hot damn if the concept doesn’t make a neat vampire story. The vampires look like human-shaped sharks rather than merely pretty, predatory humans, and they’re ruthless and vicious and gigantic douchebags to their food source simply because they know they’ve cut off every avenue of escape. In the comic they get one hell of a smackdown from a master vampire who wants to keep up the Masquerade that this bunch are so happily wrecking; not so here. The solid black eyes and the mouth full of sharp fangs are chilling and psychopathic, and the extreme measures they take to make sure that absolutely nobody gets out is so brutally ruthless that I actually found myself a bit afraid of them. Those eyes have no soul. These vampires will eat your face, and enjoy it.

As far as the human cast goes, Josh Harnett fares well as Eben Oleson, but the other locals seem to fade into the background as potential vampire snacks, even his soon-to-be-ex who, while pretty handy in a pinch, never offers any clues as to the reasons for their split. The other humans are largely forgettable, and all in all the vampire sharks are more interesting than the townfolk. The dialogue felt a bit hackneyed at times – not so much a problem with what was in the script so much as the delivery. While the plot was mostly engaging, in the end most of the characters felt less like real locals in a real town way up in Bum Frapping Egypt, Alaska, and more like what they were – largely disposable characters in a vampire movie.

While the concept of vampires above the Arctic Circle had promise and the vampires themselves looked great, uninteresting characters and slightly odd dialogue made this more or less a conventional vampire movie in a new and interesting setting. While overall it was engaging as a vampire movie, unfortunately I think the comic miniseries did it somewhat better. Vampire fans should enjoy it, though. Rent it sometime.

Snakes on a Plane (2006)


Okay, think of things that scare you. Think long and hard. Scared of flying? Congratulations – you share the #1 fear amongst Americans. Scared of snakes? Hey, that’s a major fear as well, and an instinct hardwired into our psyche. Guess what? New Line Cinema decided to put them together in one movie, added Samuel L. Jackson, and stirred. A simple concept, with a simple plot.

They called it Snakes on a Plane. And it was awesome.

Snakes on a Plane is an action-horror film directed by David R. Ellis and starring Samuel L. Jackson, Julianna Marguiles, and Nathan Philips, along with lots and lots of snakes and just enough of a plot to contain them all.

While Sean Jones is vacationing in Hawaii, he witnesses a gangster named Eddie Kim murdering a witness, and naturally finds himself on Kim’s hit list. FBI Agent Neville Flynn is assigned to get Sean safely back to the mainland so he can testify against Kim in Los Angeles, putting Sean in first class on a passenger jet under security so tight it seems that Kim won’t be able to get within a mile of him. However, Kim has managed to come up with the only plan that the FBI hasn’t trained for: a time-released crate filled with hundreds of venomous snakes. After we meet a number of airline disaster sterotypes sharing the jet with Sean, the plane takes off, and midway through the flight the crate pops open. Naturally, snakes ensue.

Now, by the time this movie was made, the serious airline disaster movie had already been ruined forever by Airplane!, but the disaster genre as a whole had recently experienced a resurgence through the 90s and the turn of the 21st century. The “serious” disaster movie had been completely supplanted by the “fun” disaster movie, and that’s exactly what this is. In essence this is the Scream of airline disaster movies – a self-referential work poking fun at its own genre even as it offers thrills and scares (I mean, how can being stuck in an aluminum tube at 23,000 feet with hundreds of snakes not be scary?) Eddie Kim, the theoretical driving force for the core of the plot, drops almost entirely out of the movie once the plane takes off, but that’s okay – the movie wasn’t really about him to start with.

The casting was well-done here. Samuel L. Jackson is badass as usual as a no-nonsense FBI Agent opposite a terrified Nathan Phillips as Sean Jones, each trying to deal with the crisis in their own way. A few fun facts: news of Jackson’s casting largely inspired the fan-written line about motherf***ing snakes on a motherf***ing plane, but he threatened to drop out when his agent wanted to change the very descriptive title Snakes on a Plane to something more serious, on the theory that Jackson “can’t work” on a movie called Snakes on a Plane. Jackson assured his agent that the very awesome title was the only reason he wanted to work on the movie in the first place. And this is why he is awesome. In the supporting cast, we have a bevy of airline disaster stereotypes: the nervous guy who hates to fly, the ditzy blonde socialite with the yipyap dog, the unapproachable celebrity, the arrogant businessman who hates everyone else on the flight, the kids flying alone, the horny couple in the Mile High Club, the woman with the baby, the retiring flight attendant on “one last flight”, and the ambiguously gay male flight attendant. However, since this movie is already playing with its own genre, it plays with the supporting cast as well: the unapproachable celeb is a germophone, the woman with the baby helps draw venom out of a kid’s arm, the kid’s brother helps a herpetologist determine what snake bit the former, and the ambiguously gay flight attendant isn’t gay, just really enthusiastic. (Yes, seriously.)

If you like disaster movies and are looking for a fun homage to the airline disaster movie, absolutely check out Snakes on a Plane. It’s the movie inspired by a hundred airline disasters which in turn inspired a hundred internet memes.

Die Hard (1988)


New York City Police Detective John McLane wants to have a Merry Christmas. He’s travelled to Los Angeles to reconcile with his wife and generally enjoy a lovely office Christmas party there. Unfortunately, a group of international terrorists have other plans, but they’re about to learn a hard lesson: don’t mess with a New York cop’s Christmas.

Yippie-ki-yay.

Die Hard is an action film directed by John McTiernan, based on Roderick Thorp’s novel Nothing Lasts Forever. It stars Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, and Paul Gleason.

When John McLane arrives in Los Angeles, all he wants to do is relax and make things right with his wife Holly. However, while he’s in her office in Nakatomi Plaza, freshening up for her office Christmas party, a group of terrorists led by Hans Gruber take over the building, taking the other guests hostage, including Holly. McLane’s Spidey senses start tingling almost immediately, and he eludes Gruber’s henchmen as they search for any stragglers. Gruber presents his little band of merry men as working towards various extremist goals, but it is soon revealed that their goal is more local in origin. However, McLane isn’t going to stand for their shenanigans. He might be technically off-duty, but being a cop is in his blood, as Gruber & Co. learn as they find themselves matching wits with this unknown variable.

When this movie was first released, it was innovative for a number of reasons. First, John McLane was more or less an average guy. Yeah, he was a cop, and yeah, he took a lot of punishment, but he got injured. He got tired. Second, up till this point, Bruce Willis had been known as a comedic actor, and the switch to action raised a lot of eyebrows. Fortunately, he took well to the role, offering wisecracks as half the people in the building were trying to hunt him down, in sharp contrast to Rickman’s wily Hans Gruber, who is all business and comes to hate this particular monkey wrench with the burning intensity of a thousand desert suns. McLane is resourceful and crafty in addition to being a trained bruiser; the ability to solve problems with his brains rather than shooting everything to pieces is a skill that not many modern action heroes possess. The other terrorists appeared to only be there to add more menace to McLane’s plight, but Holly Gennaro-McLane had a number of scenes that indicated that either she and her husband were made for each other, or someof his attitude had rubbed off on her.

The plot was well-crafted as well. While Die Hard established a template since used by a number of action movies throughout the 80s and 90s, here it is chock full of twists and turns that keep even seasoned action fans on the edge of their seats, as McLane makes his way through friendly territory turned enemy territory, trying to stay one step ahead of the bad guys who would just as happily kill him as kill any of the hostages, if it would remove more more obstacle from their plan. It’s a simple plot, yes, but a delightfully twisty one.

If you want to see the movie that kicked off Bruce Willis’ long, well-earned journey into badasshood, pick up Die Hard. It’s the movie that kicked off a hundred “Die Hard on Whatever” plots, and it remains the best out of all of them.