All-Time Favorite Trailers: ‘Die Hard 2’

I so wish I saw this particular movie trailer in a theater when it first came out. Instead, I first watched it on the Movietime Channel which would later become E, Entertainment Television. One of my dad’s friends, however, told me of when he saw the “Die Hard 2” teaser trailer on the silver screen and of the reaction it generated. At first, it looked to him and the rest of the audience like just another action movie as the narrator went about describing Dulles International Airport even as there were title cards showing us exactly what he was saying. In my mind, I could see the audience repeating what they saw onscreen in a lifeless way as they waited impatiently for this trailer to end and for the movie they came to see begin.

But then Bruce Willis appeared as John McClane, and the audience burst into spontaneous applause as “Die Hard” quickly became an all-time action movie classic upon its release, and to see the former “Moonlighting” actor bringing this character back to the big screen made them super excited. With John McClane, Willis gave us a new kind of action hero which was so different from the superhuman ones Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone among others gave us time and time again. As a result, McClane proved to be more human than any other action hero many of us had seen previously.

When it comes to this particular teaser trailer, what I love is how it has all these sound effects going on even as the narrator narrates away, and it forces you to imagine what is going on at this airport during one of the busiest travel seasons ever. We have all been to the airport during the holidays and have experienced the craziness and insanity of getting checked in and of the flight delays which are usually inevitable, and this teaser pokes at those fears and anxieties we have while waiting to travel home to see our families.

Once we see the title card which says “but tonight on Christmas Eve,” I began to realize this might be the “Die Hard” sequel we had been waiting for. Then Bruce Willis enters and says, “How can the same thing happen to the same guy twice?” It makes perfect sense that McClane would say this as, like I said previously, this is an action hero more human than the average one we had been exposed to for many years. Furthermore, I was happy to see Willis say this as many sequels strand characters like McClane in the same situation, and yet the filmmakers would treat it as though the previous movie never happened. But with this simple exchange which spells out how he spent Christmas this way last year, I became even more enthusiastic about this sequel as the filmmakers knew in advance that they had to deal with this inescapable fact.

Even after all these years, I still love watching this “Die Hard 2” trailer as it raises my excitement level to a very pleasurable degree, and it takes a lot for a movie trailer to do this for me these days.

WRITER’S NOTE: In addition to the teaser trailer above, I am also including the two trailers which came after it. Back then, this proved to be the first time when I realized movie studios were never content to release just one trailer for a summer blockbuster. Each of them was thrilling to watch, and this sequel was released back in a time when my expectations for a motion picture were much higher than they are now. These days, I am very guarded in my expectations as I usually expect them to not be met.

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Why ‘Pump Up the Volume’ Remains My Favorite Teen Movie

Pump Up The Volume movie poster

Of all the movies I have seen about being a teenager, “Pump Up the Volume” is still far and away my favorite. It is also the one which hit me the hardest emotionally as, after seeing all these movies about nerds and jocks fighting each other on school grounds, this one had characters I could actually relate to. I grew up during the years of “Beverly Hills 90210” which infected us with a fantasy version of the high school experience where you could have your troubles as a teenager but would still come out of it with a smile, a cute boyfriend or girlfriend and some fancy, fancy clothes which made you look oh so incredibly cool. This movie does not exist in that fantasy world, thank goodness, and I would love to see Hollywood produce more movies like it.

Allow me to give you some background information about myself as it will inform how strongly I feel about this movie. My family had moved around quite a bit when I was a kid, but it actually didn’t bother me much until we moved from Southern California to Northern California. I lived in Thousand Oaks for five years, and at that point it was the longest I had ever lived in one place. For once I felt settled, and then my dad quit his job and got a new one up north in the Bay Area, and my whole life went into major upheaval as I had no choice but to move with my parents and away from a place which truly felt like home.

I had to start all over again making new friends, and even after all these years it still feels so unfair to have been put through this moving thing one time too many. I became very antisocial and withdrawn as I was so frustrated and depressed at this situation I was thrown into. For a while, it felt like I could not talk to anybody as I didn’t know what to say. In retrospect, the fact I got through adolescence in one piece seems like a miracle.

“Pump Up the Volume” features a character who went through something very similar. Christian Slater gives one of his all-time best performances as Mark Humphreys, a high school senior who has just moved with his family from New York to a suburb in Arizona which appears to be located in the middle of nowhere. He is a shy and withdrawn kid, clearly not happy about his situation. He can’t talk to anybody, not even to his parents who he feels completely alienated from. But by night he is Happy Hard On, a pirate radio DJ who operates an underground station in the basement of his parents’ new home. While Mark is very quiet in the classroom, he comes to life on the radio and rants about his new neighborhood and the world he is growing up in with complete abandon.

As time goes on, his radio program starts drawing in more and more listeners who relate to what he is going through. Chaos begins to reign at his high school and the adults work to control the situation, having no idea of what the kids are really going through. This scares Mark to the point where he wants to stop doing his show, but since this is one of his biggest outlets for the frustration and aggression he constantly feels, he can’t bring himself to stop. It’s through his venting that he suddenly becomes the voice everyone needs to hear, especially the kids.

“Pump Up the Volume” covers a lot of ground that other teenage movies don’t bother to, and it’s much more down to earth than others in the genre which, for myself, was a huge relief. I got so used to seeing movies about the classroom dork winning the girl of his dreams or beating out the jocks that made him believe he was so uncool. Watching movies like those when I was a teenager just made me feel more ostracized than I already did, so “Pump Up the Volume” was a godsend in how it had a main character I could actually relate to. Adolescents need movies like this to make them realize they are not the only ones going through rough times, and to make them see how being a teenager is not always what we expect it to be.

In one scene, Mark takes a call from a kid who admits he likes guys and ends up describing a truly humiliating situation he got trapped in. In another, he takes a call from a listener who has written him a letter saying he wants to kill himself, and when Harry asks him why, the listener says with tears coming out of his eyes, “I’m all alone.” But as Mark quickly admits, maybe it is okay to be alone sometimes, and that in the end we are all alone. It sucks, but there seems to be no real escaping this fact. Then again, I have no problem with anyone proving me wrong there. I can’t think of another teen movie before this one that dealt with such down-to-earth characters.

A lot of people have complained the adult characters are largely one-dimensional. While I can definitely see some validity in this argument, I also remember seeing these seem people at my high school. Believe me, these people do exist. Annie Ross plays Loretta Creswood, the principal of Hubert Humphrey High, and she is a true bitch in every sense. Loretta lives to see her students get the highest SAT scores in the state, and she has no time for troublemakers whom she sees as having no interest in education. I have friends of mine who are teachers, and they do not hesitate in telling me just how much they hate the principals they work with. The way they are described to me, they are just as bad as the one Ross plays in this movie.

Then you have Mark’s dad, Brian (played by Scott Paulin), who at first seems oblivious about how to deal with his son’s problems, but then he turns out to be the students’ savior when upon realizing they need to be heard, not talked down to. At the same time, Loretta doesn’t show the least bit of regret in expelling those students she feels are undeserving of an education. Paulin is terrific in making Brian seem like much more than the average parent, and he makes the character a heroic educator as we how much he values the fact everyone has the right to an education.

Another great performance comes from Samantha Mathis who plays Nora Diniro, a total rebel and a free spirit who never apologizes for who she is. Nora ends up befriending the terribly shy Mark, and she later comes to discover his secret identity. Nora eventually becomes Mark’s conscience as she makes him realize the powerful effect he has on the kids in the town and on her as well. When he wants to back out when things get too dangerous for him, she angrily reminds him he has a responsibility to the people who believe in him.

There’s a great scene where the two of them are outside in Mark’s backyard when he desperately wants to communicate to Nora, and she tries to make him as comfortable as possible. Nora even ends up taking off her sweater and stands in front of Mark with her breasts bared; forcing Mark to look into her eyes as they quickly make a connection not easily broken. Both Slater and Mathis have fantastic chemistry together, and Mathis creates the kind of free spirited character we all would have loved to have been like in high school.

“Pump Up the Volume” climaxes with the walls closing in on Mark as the adults try to figure out his real identity and shut him down for good. The fact he continues to be defiant even as the authorities get closer and closer to catching him was really inspiring to me. You want to see him, in the words of Jack Black from “School of Rock,” stick it to the man. Then Slater delivers this piece of dialogue which still stays with me:

“High school is the bottom. Being a teenager sucks, but that’s the point! Surviving it is the whole point! Quitting is not going to make you strong, living will. So just hang on and hang in there.”

“Pump Up the Volume” still resonates very deeply for me all these years later. It came out in the summer of 1990 which was, ironically the summer before I started high school. This movie became one of the things which kept me going through adolescence even when I got very, very depressed. Unfortunately, it was a box office flop on its initial release, but it has since gained a strong following on home video and DVD. It’s a following I hope will continue to grow, and maybe if we’re lucky, there will eventually be a special edition DVD and Blu-ray containing documentaries, trailers, audio commentaries and even music videos. Hey, Criterion Collection, are you listening?

“Pump Up the Volume” also contains one of my all-time favorite soundtracks. My only problem with it is it doesn’t have Leonard Cohen’s version of “Everybody Knows” which serves as the perfect song to open the movie with. Instead, we have the version by Concrete Blonde which comes on towards the end when Mark makes his last stand against the powers that be. I certainly don’t want to take away from their cover of the song as they did a great job on it, but Cohen’s version is perfect fit for Mark’s state of mind. It also would have been cool to get some of Cliff Martinez’s film score on the soundtrack as well as I really loved how it sounded. Still the soundtrack does have a lot terrific tracks from The Pixies, Soundgarden, Cowboy Junkies and Sonic Youth.

For me, “Pump Up the Volume” was a godsend. It gave me a character who was dealing with the same problems I dealt with when I was a teenager, and there were few, if any other, movies which contained individuals like him. Most teen movies back then just left me with a never-ending feeling of utter resentment as they featured kids who got to experience things I never did and felt robbed of. All the misfits, social rejects and those who felt dejected and rejected need and deserve a movie like “Pump Up the Volume.” After all these years, it remains very close to my heart, and I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone.

* * * * out of * * * *

Renny Harlin and Steven E. de Souza Look Back at ‘Die Hard’ & ‘Die Hard 2’

Die Hard poster

Steven E. de Souza and Renny Harlin dropped by the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood back in 2009 to talk about the making of “Die Hard” and “Die Hard 2.” Both films introduced us to modern action hero John McClane, a man more real and human than the muscular superheroes played by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. They also inspired a most popular concept in movies; the lone warrior fighting overwhelmingly bad odds. The audience at the Egyptian clearly had seen both these movies hundreds of times, but seeing them on the big screen made them seem more exciting than ever.

In talking about the genesis of “Die Hard,” de Souza said it was based on Roderick Thorp’s novel “Nothing Lasts Forever.” The filmmakers followed the book closely, but there were differences: John McClane was older and visiting his daughter, not his wife. Also, Al Powell (played by Reginald VelJohnson) was originally a cab driver, but the character was turned into a cop as the CB radio craze had long since ended. The writers also dropped the ticking time bomb as well. De Souza also explained in writing the screenplay how he made Hans Gruber the protagonist and John McClane the antagonist. Basically, while Gruber is dragging out time, McClane is busy trying to foil his plans.

In casting “Die Hard,” de Souza admitted Bruce Willis, best known back then for starring on the television series “Moonlighting,” was not the first choice. Frank Sinatra had first dibs as “Nothing Lasts Forever” was a sequel to his movie “The Detective,” but he felt he was too old to play the part. Offers were made to Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Caan and even Richard Gere, all of whom turned the role down as they found McClane to be too passive.

Die Hard 2 poster

The conversation moved on to “Die Hard 2” which de Souza said 20th Century Fox decided to move forward with a week after the original opened. Harlin said he had just finished making “A Nightmare On Elm Street 4,” one of that franchise’s biggest hits. This led to him getting many offers as the thinking is studios proclaim you a genius when you have a hit movie. Harlin said he still doesn’t understand the thinking behind this. 20th Century Fox had offered him “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane” and gave Harlin total freedom in filming a movie which featured, as he put it, “girls in bikinis.” The studio bosses liked what they saw and gave him “Die Hard 2” to direct, and Harlin began shooting it two weeks after “Ford Fairlane” wrapped.

Harlin remembered “Die Hard 2” as being so hard to make and that even Joel Silver came to admit he put too much on his plate. As nervous and excited as he was about doing it, Harlin bemoaned his misfortune at shooting during what he called “least snowy winter ever.” He and the production team looked everywhere for snow and couldn’t even find any in Colorado or Montana. In Spokane, Washington, they finally lucked out with lots of snow and were set to start filming, but a sudden heat wave melted it all on the very next day.

Both Harlin and de Souza said they saw “Die Hard 2” as a comedy which makes sense when McClane says, “How can the same thing happen to the same guy twice?” Bruce Willis, however, didn’t see it as a comedy and initially refused to say the “yippee kay yay” line again since he already did in the first film. Harlin said Silver eventually convinced Willis to do a take his way and then another take Harlin’s way. Indeed, it works well as a comedy as McClane’s bad luck is impossible to ignore. Harlin did however credit Willis for the “just the fax ma’am” line.

Thanks to de Souza and Harlin for dropping by. Seeing “Die Hard” and “Die Hard 2” on the silver screen was a great treat. After all these years, they remain exhilarating action movies to watch.

 

Paul Verhoeven and Company Revisit ‘Total Recall’ in Hollywood

Total Recall movie poster

On Friday, August 24, 2012, Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven dropped by the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood where American Cinematheque screened a 70mm print of his 1990 movie “Total Recall.” Joining Verhoeven for a Q&A after the movie was two of its screenwriters, Ronald Shusett and Gary Goldman. They discussed the rigors of making the movie, and of how the script eventually made its way out of development hell.

As we all know by now, “Total Recall” is loosely based on the Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” Shusett said he and the late Dan O’Bannon, writer of “Dark Star” and “Alien,” bought the rights to the story back in 1974, and they completed their first draft in 1981. From there it was set to be made into a movie, but the project kept falling apart time and time again. Filmmakers like Bruce Beresford and David Cronenberg had worked on it for a long time but eventually pulled out due to creative differences or studios canceling the project because of its enormous budget.

“Everything kept falling through over and over again,” Shusett said. “Sets were built, but then the project kept getting canceled because it was too expensive. Back in 1990, this was considered to be the most expensive movie ever made. I wanted to keep all those sets that were built from being torn down, and I asked one studio executive how I could save them. He responded that I should change the movie’s name to ‘Partial Recall.’”

Verhoeven got involved in “Total Recall” because Arnold Schwarzenegger had picked him to direct after seeing “Robocop.” Schwarzenegger had actually been interested in doing the movie for a long time and had encouraged Carolco Pictures producer Mario Kassar to buy the rights to it from Dino De Laurentis whose film company had gone into bankruptcy. The movie had already gone through many drafts, and it took one specific scene to pique Verhoeven’s interest:

“I came to the scene where Dr. Edgemar (played by Roy Brocksmith) visits Arnold’s character on Mars and tells him that he’s not really here,” Verhoeven said. “In that moment you are not sure if what you’re seeing is real or a dream, and that got me really excited because none of the movies I had made in Europe ever had a scene like that. What Edgemar tells Arnold is that what he is experiencing is not true, so we had to prove it wasn’t true again.”

Working with Carolco Pictures on “Total Recall” was “paradise,” Verhoeven said, as they never forced anything on the filmmaker other than actors they hand-picked to star in their movies. He also said the beauty of Carolco is that they never subjected him or the movie to test screenings. Verhoeven went on to make “Basic Instinct” and “Showgirls” for Carolco, and then the gigantic flop that was “Cutthroat Island” ended up forcing the company into bankruptcy.

Schwarzenegger was set to be the star of “Total Recall” no matter who directed it, and Verhoeven said he was perfectly fine with that. Changes in the story had to be made though as his character was originally an accountant. Verhoeven and the screenwriters ended up changing his profession to that of a construction worker as they all agreed you could not go around Arnold.

Verhoeven also pointed out how having Schwarzenegger in “Total Recall” made the movie “very light” which was great because, as put it, “the straight way of telling the story would not have worked.” This has been further proved by Len Wiseman’s remake of the movie which even Verhoeven admitted “wasn’t good.”

The main problem with adapting any Philip K. Dick story to the silver screen is that they are basically told in two acts, and finding a third act proved to be very difficult.

“I got really scared because there had already been forty drafts written, and we could never seem to figure the third act out,” Verhoeven said. “It eventually came down to Hauser (Schwarzenegger’s secret agent character) always being the bad guy as it gave us somewhere to go.”

One audience member asked Verhoeven how Sharon Stone got cast in “Total Recall:”

“Sharon came in the first day of casting, and after a half hour I was convinced she would be perfect as Lori,” Verhoeven said. “Once we were filming the movie, however, I came to realize what she could do as an actress. After one fight scene where she almost kills Rachel Ticotin’s character and Arnold aims a gun right at her, she quickly changes moods in what seemed like a heartbeat. It was Sharon’s final scene before her character was shot that made me want to choose her for ‘Basic Instinct.’”

Goldman told the audience movies like “The Matrix” and “Inception” wouldn’t have happened without Verhoeven’s pushing the idea of the dream in “Total Recall.” The audience applauded this sentiment loudly, and the movie still holds up well more than twenty years after its release. It’s a shame the producers of the recent remake failed to realize what made the original so good as one of them described Verhoeven’s movie as being “kitsch.” That producer is now eating their own words in the wake of the remake’s critical and commercial disappointment.

The Hunt For Red October

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My dad just watched John McTiernan’s “The Hunt for Red October” for what seems like the 600th time. After all these years since it remains one of the few movies he never gets sick of watching. While I was at first annoyed with him wanting to watch it instead of something he hadn’t seen before, it didn’t take long for me to be reminded why this movie is so compulsively watchable. The cast is excellent, the direction is taut, and it is far more thrilling than the average PG-rated movie. I remember my friends not taking this movie very seriously when it came out as they were more interested in sneaking into the latest R-rated movie, but they didn’t know what they were missing.

This was the first cinematic adaptation of a Tom Clancy novel and, as a result, the first instance of him getting pissed at Hollywood for not faithfully adapting his work. I still have not read the book, so I have no idea how it differs from the movie. At this point, I’m not really sure if I care because book to film adaptations are not going to work if you’re going to be 100% faithful to the source material. Not everything transfers over to the big screen for a number of reasons, and if Clancy were still alive I’d tell him he should be happy this movie helped sell more copies of his books.

I’m not going to bore you with all the plot details. All you need to know is that it involves a new Russian submarine called the Red October which contains a propulsion system which allows it to run silently to where it cannot be detected by sonar. It is commanded by Captain Marko Ramius (Sean Connery) who lives a lonely life now that his wife has passed away, and many soon become convinced he is out to attack the United States before the country can even realize it’s under attack. CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin), however, becomes convinced Ramius is actually trying to defect and becomes obsessed with proving his theory to where he’s willing to put himself in harm’s way.

On top of this being the first Clancy novel brought to the silver screen, it also served as an introduction to the hero of many of his books, Jack Ryan. Of all the actors who have played this CIA analyst to date, Baldwin remains my favorite as he makes Ryan into an accidental action hero, not a man out to save the day. But Ryan’s brilliantly analytic mind allows himself to see and understand things others cannot due to their mistrust and their Cold War obsessions, and this makes him a necessary part of the action whether he likes it or not. Unlike all the other military generals, Ryan has met Ramius and knows how his mind works.

Sean Connery is as legendary as his character of Marko Ramius is to the Russian military in this movie, and it should go without saying he is perfectly cast here. Seeing those eyes of his on the big screen at the start gives us an idea of how human Ramius is, and Connery renders him a fascinating individual whose life cannot be boiled down to one sentence. The former James Bond actor could have given a ridiculously over the top performance, but he instead underplays his role to where we truly accept him as a submarine commander and that there is more to him than we can see at first.

Seriously, McTiernan got the perfect cast for “The Hunt for Red October.” Back in the 1990’s when this movie came out, it was hard to think of another actor other than James Earl Jones who could play Ryan’s superior Vice Admiral James Greer. Jones gives each scene he’s in an immense gravity, and he makes it look like he doesn’t even have to try. Scott Glenn is coolness personified as Captain of the U.S.S. Dallas, Bart Mancuso, and watching him keep his emotions in check throughout the is fascinating. When Mancuso does lose his cool, you want to make sure you’re not the reason why he is.

Next, you have Sam Neil who plays Vasily Borodin, Ramius’ second in command. Neil has the captain’s back when others begin to doubt him, and I love the scene where he talks to Connery about the possibility of living in Montana. Neil is sublime in this role, and his last scene is a real heartbreaker.

Then you have actors like Tim Curry, Fred Dalton Thompson, Richard Jordan, Joss Ackland, Stellan Skarsgård and Jeffrey Jones inhabiting their roles to where you feel like you’re watching actual Washington officials and military personnel instead of just a bunch of performers. It’s impossible to imagine “The Hunt for Red October” without any of these actors in it. Furthermore, they are each blessed with a number of classic one-liners provided to them by screenwriters Larry Ferguson and Donald B. Stewart.

One actor I want to point out in particular is Courtney Vance who plays Sonar Technician Ronald “Jonesy” Jones. His performance ended up being this movie’s most underrated as we watch him listen to the noises he heard to where you cannot doubt the conclusion he comes to. While the computer tells Jonesy he’s listening to a “magma displacement,” he knows he really heard something which has got to be man-made. Watching Vance as Jonesy is a joy because he makes this character much more than the average petty officer aboard a ship.

McTiernan’s genius in directing “The Hunt for Red October” is in keeping things down to earth and not bombastic like you would expect to see in a Michael Bay movie. Right from the start, he’s intent on bringing us into these characters’ lives to where we don’t feel like we’re watching some ordinary film. Unlike “Die Hard” which he made before this, it is not an action-packed movie until the very end, and he has us getting far more invested in what the characters are up to. As a result, it seems unlikely this movie could be made in the same way today as studio heads would most likely expect something far more formulaic.

If there are any flaws to be found in “The Hunt for Red October,” it is with some of the special effects as the torpedoes look kind of fake. While McTiernan and his crew appear to have all the other details down perfectly, this one doesn’t work the way it should. Still, that’s just a minor thing that doesn’t do much to take away from one’s pleasure in watching this submarine classic. It really is one of those movies which is impossible to get sick of watching, and it holds up more than twenty years after its release. Outside of “Das Boot,” this remains one of the greatest submarine movies ever made.

* * * * out of * * * *