John McClane’s third cinematic adventure finds the wisecracking New York cop pushing 40, hung over, headed for divorce and dealing with a mad bomber who’s got a particular grudge against the man who saved the hostages of L.A.’s Nakatomi Plaza all those Christmases ago; the villain is soon revealed to be Simon Gruber (Jeremy Irons), the brother of a certain German thief that McClane through out a window and a deadly trickster who reveals clues about where his explosives are hidden throughout NYC via a series of “Simon Says” games. There are lots of particularly tense “bomb diffusion” scenes in Die Hard with a Vengeance (including one rather hair-raising one set in a school), but our favorite has to be the one in the East Village’s Tompkins Square Park (about 58 minutes in), where McClane and his impromptu partner of sorts, store owner Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson), have to determine the exact amount of water to put into a series of plastic jugs in order to create the correct weight with which to defuse the bomb, which is rigged to a scale in a fountain. Willis and Jackson have terrific chemistry in this film, especially when they’re bickering (which is most of the time) — this scene features some of their best back-and-forth insults as they try to figure out how to keep the park from exploding whilst the various park-goers wander around in the background, barely noticing in true NYC style.
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows‚ and audiences didn’t really care one way or another. In theory, The Shadow should’ve worked: Alec Baldwin proved he had the stuff of a leading man (and an action hero) a few years earlier with his turn as Jack Ryan in The Hunt For Red October, and the character had at least nostalgia on its side thanks to being the star of one of the most popular radio serials of all time. Unfortunately, a lousy script, Russell Mulcahy’s chaotic direction and Penelope Ann Miller‘s grating performance as a socialite/telepath/damsel-in-distress made for a less-than-stellar would-be franchise-starter, though Baldwin certainly excels in the role of Lamont Cranston, a decadent playboy who moonlights as a crime-fighting vigilante (hmm‚). The silly plot has the Shadow facing off against the last known descendant of Genghis Khan (John Lone), but amidst all of this mess stands the unflappable Ian McKellen as Miller’s father, an atomic scientist for the War Department; it’s up to him to dismantle the doomsday explosive that will destroy us all (at about an hour and 35 minutes in), and of course the first wire cut makes the countdown go faster. Watch Gandalf save the day (with a few hair-raising missteps along the way).
Speed made Keanu Reeves a full-blown action star in 1994, but you already knew he qualified three years earlier with his awesome turn in the equally awesome Point Break. It’s also the one truly great film that Jan de Bont made as a director before starting to stumble with Twister, hitting the floor with Speed 2: Cruise Control and pretty much staying there and never getting up again with The Haunting and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. But if you’re going to have just one truly great action film on your directing resume, Speed might indeed be second only to Die Hard with its tale of an L.A. cop (Reeves) who has to keep a bus from going under 50 mph or else it’ll ‘spooled, courtesy of a disgruntled ex-Bomb Squad member turned mad villain (Dennis Hopper, who’s totally having a blast with the role) (sorry). Lots of bombs go boom in Speed (though they don’t always claim victims, such as in the super-tense opening scene that takes place in a crowded elevator); the one that might is the one strapped to Sandra Bullock, the bus passenger turned bus driver who ends up being Reeves’ number-one ally; there just has to be one final challenge, even after Hopper gets decapitated by a tunnel signal (which was red, by the way). Watch Keanu show off his mad disarming skills (at about an hour and 46 minutes in) — the first step of involves kicking the heck out of a subway train pole; the second step involves derailing the aforementioned subway train.
Director Richard Lester indulges in almost none of the goofiness that made A Hard Day’s Night one of the best films of the ’60s and that completely sabotaged Superman III (and parts of Superman II) in this super-intense thriller about a team of military demolitions experts (led by Richard Harris) who are sent to defuse seven bombs planted aboard a luxury liner in the middle of the North Atlantic as a Scotland Yard detective (Anthony Hopkins) — whose wife and two kids are on board the boat — tries to find the crazy mastermind responsible, a man who refers to himself as “Juggernaut.” While the film is certainly a bit dated in some areas (a ransom of five hundred thousand pounds was a lot more extreme back ’74), it’s lost none of its edge-of-your-seat excitement; this is a white-knuckler if there ever was one, as most of the film is pretty much just one long step-by-step dismantling of a very complicated explosive device with multiple components (there’s a particularly fascinating moment at about 54 minutes in, complete with Harris chewing thoughtfully on his pipe). Shot on board a real Soviet Union cruise ship; the production company put out a call for extras with the enticement of being able to take a cruise in the North Sea for free — and with the warning that the ship would be seeking out the worst weather possible, as the passengers in the film are unable to be evacuated due to rough waters.
Love comes at quite a price in this epic WWII romance starring Ralph Fiennes as a disfigured burn victim who’s the sole patient of Hana (Juliette Binoche), a French-Canadian nurse stationed at an abandoned Italian monastery; through a series of flashbacks taking place both before and during the war, we find out that “the English patient” was Count Laszlo de Almasy, a Hungarian academic and mapmaker who had fallen in love with a married woman (Kristen Scott Thomas), with their subsequent affair having tragic consequences (as affairs usually do in movies). Parallel to this mysterious story is Hana’s own romance with Kip (Naveen Andrews), an Indian bomb defuser in the British Army, a relationship she’s reluctant to completely commit to due to her history of tragic romances. The English Patient is good stuff, if you like the kind of movies that Oscar likes, even though it falls into the trap that many Hollywood romances can’t avoid with mistaking “creepy unhealthy obsession” for “love” — as for the bomb diffusion element, Kip has to leave Hana’s bed to actually go do his job at about an hour and 55 minutes in when he’s called upon to dismantle a very large explosive that’s been found in the ground, a scene that’s not as tense as it could’ve been due to being intercut with shots of Binoche riding her little bicycle, looking beautiful and worried.