Monday, 5 May 2014

Best action flicks of the 90s

Do you think the nineties was the best decade for action movies in recent years? While I’m not sure about my own answer, I can confidently say that Speed tops my list and worms its way into Tuesday’s Overlooked Films at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.

I missed forgotten books last Friday. My proposed review of a short vintage mystery, announced with fanfare in the previous post, will have to wait. I read the ebook but I have not had the time to write about it. Before I do, however, I'll have to once again go through the book, to sift through the various characters and figure out who is who, make sense of the subplots, and see how I can refer to a particular dialect. Was the book confusing or was it my lack of understanding? The latter, no doubt.

In the past, mystery novels have left me baffled. I've had to reread certain portions to clear my doubts. It is easy to go back in a book, not so in an ebook, especially if you're reading on a tablet where you tap page after page and get nowhere. The “search” option is no patch on turning back pages in an actual book. Besides, you can’t take down notes while reading on a tab; after a while your fingers hurt and you experience mild arthritic symptoms!

With no book review in immediate sight, I thought of writing about some of my most preferred action movies. Here is how this post came about.

Saturday evening, as I returned home by a near-empty suburban train, I overheard two fellow commuters discuss action films and one of them observed that the nineties was the best decade for action movies in recent times. While it was a matter of opinion, my fellow passenger had a point. They mentioned a few movies based on which I drew up my own list but didn't get very far as I wasn't sure if the films were made in the nineties.


Later, after cross-checking on the internet, I found that I was right. My random list of action films across genres included Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Die Hard 2 and Die Hard with a Vengeance, Con Air, Executive Decision, Speed, The Fugitive, Mission: Impossible, True Lies, Face/Off, The Rock, Independence Day, The Matrix, and Air Force One. I liked all of these though I'd reservations about Face/Off.

I’m aware that I've left out several good movies, like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs; I have not seen either and I'm not sure they fit into the “action” mould. Or even sf comedy Men in Black for that matter.

Choosing my best action film of the nineties wasn’t easy. After much thought I narrowed down the fourteen movies to six: Terminator 2, Executive Decision, Speed, The Rock, Independence Day, and Air Force One. I have seen each of these films more than once and every one of them is a slavish entertainer.

The action in The Rock is thrilling from the time Sean Connery takes a clueless FBI on a reckless and destructive chase in a Humvee, through San Francisco, to the secret mission Connery and Nicholas Cage undertake on Alcatraz Island. The dialogues are good, particularly the biting humour between Connery and Cage. Rogue army men Ed Harris and David Morse, holed up inside the former military prison, are the bad guys who actually play the good guys. Harris and Morse, two fine and amiable actors.

There are similarities between Executive Decision and Air Force One. Both are hijack dramas and both Kurt Russell and Harrison Ford have a distinctive on-screen presence. Russell must share honours with David Suchet, John Leguizamo, Halle Berry, and Oliver Platt in what I thought was a cohesive cast in a well-integrated plot. Ford, who has perfected the grimace, has more at stake—it’s his film, it’s his plane, and he has a right to order terrorist Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman) to get off the flying White House in midair.

Air Force One and Independence Day must be two of the most jingoistic films ever made. “Liberty 24 is changing call sign. Liberty 24 is now Air Force One!” and all that grandstanding. People love these films. They want their presidents and prime ministers to be like James Marshall and Thomas J. Whitmore. Celluloid icons come alive.

Predictably, a lot of people liked Arnold Schwarzenegger as the villainous cyborg in The Terminator. Arnie in a negative role? Not for me. I prefer him as the good guy, including in the sequel Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Anyone, even a deadpan bionic man, who throws a security blanket around you with the assuring line “Come with me if you want to live” must mean well.

That leaves us with Speed which I decided was my first choice for the best action movie of the nineties. I liked everything about it: it is an ordinary film with a tightly woven script; it has nonstop action and suspense; it has a good cast—a grim-faced Keanu Reeves, the endearing Sandra Bullock, the "multi-talented" Dennis Hopper, the affable Jeff Daniels, and a pleasant-looking Joe Morton; it has a fairly believable storyline—a speeding bus filled with regular people and a bomb that'll go off should it slow down or stop; it has a daredevil cop and a spunky gal to save everyone’s day; it has funny lines; it has romance, friendship, and vengeance; and it has a half-crazed villain with a sardonic humour. 


Speed, directed by Jan de Bont, whose portfolio as cinematographer is more impressive, is a busload of nerves and hypertension, and good fun all around.

Which action films of the nineties didn't make it here?

18 comments:

  1. I find I have to pay a lot more attention to a mystery than to a straight novel. Which is why I read more straight novels now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Patti, I usually have this problem with mysteries where too many characters pop in and out of the narrative. I also find sf complicated, sometimes, not for the characters but for the story; but it's a genre I started reading seriously only a couple of years ago.

      Delete
  2. I tend to like action movies with a mixture of SF and/or horror with them. Predator for example. Or Aliens. For more straightforward action movies. I'm fond of Die Hard, which came out sometime around the 90s decade. A more recent one I liked was the first Taken with Liam Neeson.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Charles, I loved PREDATOR and I'll watch it any number of times. I also enjoyed DIE HARD 1 that takes place inside a very tall building and has Alan Rickman (Snape) as prime villain. I didn't care for any of the sequels including the more recent ones like LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD. Bruce Willis' character, John McClane, is invincible; I think he has superpowers. TAKEN was good, part two not so much.

      Delete
  3. I don't think I have a favourite period for movies, though this would probably be a favourite genre. Something that doesn't require too much concentration or isn't especially deep. Don't know if I have ever seen Air Force One, but I enjoyed all the others as well as The Running Man.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Col, you're right. One of the reasons I enjoy watching nonstop action movies, like COMMANDO, is because you don't have to think. I know I'm wasting my time but I'm having a good time. Many of these action films could pass off as comedies; COMMANDO and TRUE LIES being just two examples. I haven't seen THE RUNNING MAN yet.

      Delete
  4. Ah, well, plenty of room to argue here Prashant, I'm sure! I was never that keen on AIRFORCE ONE or THE ROCK but loved SPEED and TERMINATOR 2 for instance. It's purely a question of degree and personal taste (and perhaps a slight diminution in jingoistic fervour int he one I prefer)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sergio, agreed, lots of room for debate though I don't think it'd be worth it. I'm glad you liked two of the films that I liked too. The thing about AIR FORCE ONE is that no one, other than the president, matters, but that is what the film is about. I liked THE ROCK more on account of Connery, Cage, Harris, and Morse.

      Delete
  5. I really can't stand most action movies that are more about explosions and gun fire and the slaughter of the supporting cast than real storytelling. I've never been able to watch DIE HARD or any of its sequels, for example. SPEED is one of the better movies with a real story. It's a direct descendant of the 1970s disaster movie with a plot of impending doom and a slew of supporting characters with soap opera subplots attached to them. I'm still a big fan of all those movies -- TOWERING INFERNO, EARTHQUAKE, POSEIDON ADVENTURE, and the over-the-top absurdities of AIRPORT '75. I'm not so sure about the acting of Keanu Reeves, though. He's so deadpan and earnest in SPEED that he's unintentionally hilarious most of the time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. John, I'm with you on SPEED. It's one of the most uncomplicated action films I've seen, probably after COMMANDO. And by "uncomplicated" I mean straight and simple. I saw all the disaster movies you mentioned, in cinema halls in late seventies, and remember the AIRPORT series, TOWERING INFERNO, and POSEIDON ADVENTURE most. One of the AIRPORT films had an air hostess take over the cockpit and land the plane safely with instructions from the control tower. Kurt Russell, probably more qualified than the stewardess, does something like that in EXECUTIVE DECISION. I don't have an opinion on Keanu Reeves although I've seen him in a mixed bag of films like SWEET NOVEMBER and THE MATRIX.

      Delete
  6. Prashant, great post! I've been meaning to watch TERMINATOR 2 just never got around to it. I kept mixing it up with other movies of a similar theme.I have seen a couple of scenes out of order, so it's time to get with the program. :) I liked AIR FORCE ONE a lot though, admittedly, I'm not Harrison Ford's biggest fan. I also loved INDEPENDENCE DAY, THE FUGITIVE (my favorite Harrison Ford after Star Wars movie) SPEED, though this is not, for whatever reason, a movie I like to re-watch. My most re-watchable is THE FUGITIVE (of the bunch you mention).

    My favorite action movies of all time are the Jason Bourne films with Matt Damon but those came later into the 21st Century.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yvette, thank you! I liked THE FUGITIVE a lot. I agree, it was one of Harrison Ford's better films, deadly serious and on the run. Ford has acted in all sorts of films including romantic comedies and rather successfully too, like SIX DAYS SEVEN NIGHTS opposite Anne Heche and WORKING GIRL opposite Melanie Griffith, although I prefer him as an action hero. I don't remember him in STAR WARS as much as in the INDIAN JONES films one of which had a rather forgettable Indian angle. I'm surprised that I have never seen any of the Bourne films though I read one or two of Robert Ludlum's novels on which they were based.

      Delete
  7. The 90's was a good decade for action films. I had never even watched an action film until 1990 when my husband and I watched Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. I am not any good with lists, but a lot of the ones you mentioned here are favorites. I also loved Executive Decision, but it has been a while since I saw it last, and I did not realize that David Suchet was in it. SPEED was a favorite; we watched it many times.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tracy, LETHAL WEAPON and DIE HARD along with THE UNTOUCHABLES were some of the better action movie of the late eighties. I thought EXECUTIVE DECISION was a well-directed film and Kurt Russell is a fine actor provided he gets good roles as in TOMBSTONE. David Suchet looks nothing like he does in the Poirot series but that is to be expected. I'm relieved I'm not the only one who watches the same action movies again and SPEED is always worth a re-look.

      Delete
  8. I'm not a big fan of action movies, so I was surprised at how many of these I'd seen - I think they were popular choices for any group visit to the cinema, and I did a lot of film-going in the 90s. It would have to be Speed for me - Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves, ludicrous plot but great fun.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Moira, surprisingly, I watched every action movie listed above on television although I did see the disaster flicks of the 70s and early 80s, as mentioned by John, in cinema halls. I think television changed the way I saw films. Nowadays I only go to the theatre to see animated, musical, and superhero films.

      Delete
  9. I'm not a huge action fan, though I don't hate them. I do prefer disaster movies over them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Ryan, I'm impartial to both action and disaster movies although I don't mind a little realism in the films. Those of the sixties and seventies were much better than the technology-driven action and disaster flicks of today.

      Delete