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Posts Tagged ‘Die Hard’

Never one to miss a chance to see a classic movie on the big screen, this year I have seen more than ever:

Pandora’s Box (1929) – Seminal Louise Brooks movie, the masterpiece of director G W Pabst.  Screened thanks to the BFI in what they call a “New 2K DCP of the 2009 restoration of Munich Film Museum’s definitive cut, with score by Peer Raben”.  Telling of the rise and fall of desirable and seductive but naive young dancer Lulu (Brooks).  It still stands up as a mesmerising film nearly 90 years on with simple modern storytelling, you soon forget you are watching a silent film and just appreciate it as a film.pandorasbox1

Some Like it Hot (1959) – Screened in a stunning 4K restoration as part of the BFI comedy genius season – Two down on their luck musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) witness the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.  They escape town disguised as women with an all female band bound for the Florida sun, where they intend to skip out on the band.  There is however a complication, Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe).  If there is any such thing as a perfect movie, this is it.  Sixty years later the comedy is still relevant and hilarious.  The performances (including Marilyn Monroe’s) are outstanding, but its Billy Wilder’s sharp script and direction that shine through.  What has long been my favourite film plays even better on the big screen with an audience. Some Like it Hot

Night of the Living Dead (1968) – 50 years ago was year zero for the modern zombie movie.  Just about every zombie movie in the past half century draws influence from George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.  But how does it hold up as a film in its own right?  Shown in a 4K restoration, it was as good as ever, and looked better than ever.  Working as a visceral horror and a allegory of a nation tearing itself apart.  A perfect horror movie. Night of the Living Dead

Halloween (1978) – 40th Anniversary 4K restoration of John Carpenter’s slasher masterpiece.  I probably don’t need to give a plot synopsis, but will for those who are new to this classic: As a child, Michael Myers kills his teenage sister on Halloween night, fifteen years later he escapes and returns to his hometown.  Halloween didn’t invent the slasher movie, but it certainly revolutionised and popularised the genre making it a mainstay of horror throughout the 1980’s.  It has spawned multiple sequels (with another due later this month), a remake, and countless imitators, does it deserve all this?  Hell yes, it is a true horror masterpiece.  Modern audiences may find the deliberate pacing slow, they are wrong, not a second of the 91minute runtime is wasted.  Michael Myers is a blank cipher with little back-story and no discernible motive.  He is a classic movie monster, but one all the more frightening because unlike Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, or the Wolf-Man, he is just a man, he is a real world boogeyman.  The films emotion comes from Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence, but the Steadicam mounted camera is as much a character as any of these people.  If you haven’t seen it, look it out now before seeing the latest sequel. Halloween 1978

The Fog (1980) – The second in a series of John Carpenter movies to receive a 4K restoration.  A small town celebrating its centenary is enveloped by a fog that brings with it a reckoning from the past.  A spooky almost old-fashioned horror that is relatively tame, but enjoyable none the less.  Notable of the first onscreen pairing of Jamie Lee Curtis and her mother Janet Leigh. The Fog

The Evil Dead (1981) – Five young friends unwittingly release and are possessed my daemons while on holiday in a cabin in the woods.  The effects show their budget, the acting isn’t always great and the editing is conspicuous.  None of this stops it being a stone cold classic.  The Evil Dead

Escape From New York (1981) – Another remastered John Carpenter classic.  Made in 1981 and set in the future, 1997 where Manhattan has been turned into a giant maximum-security prison.  Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is sent into the prison to rescue the president after Air Force One is hijacked.  What could have been a forgettable Sci-Fi B-movie is elevated to stone cold classic by the inclusion of the iconic Snake Plissken, and more importantly Kurt Russell’s portrayal of him.  Made in a cynical post-Vietnam war/Watergate American it is strangely and frighteningly relevant today.Escape From New York

Die Hard (1988) – Towards the end of the 1980’s Die Hard rewrote the book on action movies, how has it aged?  The simple answer is very well!  It is made with typical 80’s film stock that is a little grainy and muddy looking (not as bad as 70’s, but not as bright or crisp what came before or after), other than that it is very modern.  If you saw it for the first time many of the story beats may seem a little clichéd, it isn’t, this is the archetype that everything else copied.  A treat to see on the big screen. Die Hard

Audition (1999) – Horror thriller from the prolific director Takashi Miike.  A widower takes an offer from a friend to “audition” girls to find him a new wife.  I hadn’t seen this since watching it at the cinema on its original release, as great as I remember.  What I had forgotten, was how long it took for the horror to begin, and how quickly it became horrific. Audition

Battle Royale (2000) – Set in a near future, Japan to help suppress a problem of rising crime amongst teenagers, a class of students is randomly selected each year and sent to an island, where they are forced to fight to the death.  A modern classic that has been the benchmark for teenage dystopian movies for the past eighteen years.Battle Royale

Martyrs (2008) – Around ten years ago I watched Martyrs on DVD based on multiple recommendations. I understand it had a cinema release but certainly not at any of my local multiplexes (I didn’t visit independent cinemas often back then). My feeling at time was that I thought the film was excellent, but I didn’t want to see it again. Fast forward a decade and one of my local independent cinema’s, the Mockingbird in Birmingham advertised a 10 year anniversary screening. Never one to pass up the opportunity for seeing a classic on the big screen, how could I refuse!  On a second viewing the film is just as powerful and disturbing as before. Whereas first time around I was unsure of what to make of the ending, I now believe it is intentionally left open to interpretation. I have a stronger view on the meaning of the ending but would rather people drew their own conclusions. After all, the meaning is probably as influenced by what the viewer brings to it as what they see on the screen.Martyrs Lucie

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captamericablogathonCap’ is clearly an action guy so for my third list of recommendations I have gone for action movies:

Enter The Dragon (1973)Enter The Dragon

Raiders Of the Lost Ark (1981)Raiders Of the Lost Ark

The Terminator (1984)The Terminator

Aliens (1986)sigourney weave aliens

Lethal Weapon (1987) Lethal Weapon

Die Hard (1988)die hard

Point Break (1991)Point-Break Utah and Bodhi

Hard Boiled (1992)hard boiled

The Matrix (1999)The Matrix

District 13 (2004)District 13

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On episode 5 of the Film Don’t Hurt podcast Kai and Dylan talk about a list devised on The Vulture of the best 25 action movies since die hard. You can see what they came up with HERE. While I don’t disagree with any of there list (except Suppercop that I haven’t seen) I have my own ideas so thought I would come up with my own list. Die Hard is probably my favourite action movie. I have stated many times that it reinvented the genre. While this is largely true, if you look at it from a different point of view, it also killed the genre. Through the 70’s and 80’s action meant big men like Stallone, Schwarzenegger or Lundgren. With Die Hard Bruce Willis made it possible for the everyman to be an action hero. Then through the 90’s things changed with the rise of comic book movies and directors like Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich who just want to blow shit up. I like comic book movies but am a board of blowing shit up movies as reflected in my list. It was surprisingly difficult, there are at least another fifteen movies I would have liked to have included. I couldn’t decide on the order for the list. The best movies or the ones that represent the genre best. I decided to go for a chronological list, firstly for simplicity but I also think it gives an interesting overview of the changes in the genre. I used the same three simple rules:

Not every movie with action in it is an action movie. (it had to be a film that wouldn’t make any sense if you took all the action scenes out)

Only one film per franchise.

No animation.

Nikita (1990)nikita
Total Recall (1990)Total Recall
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)Terminator 2 Judgment Day
Point Break (1991)Point-Break Utah and Bodhi
Hard Boiled (1992)hard boiled
Speed (1994)Speed
The Crow (1994)The Crow
Desperado (1995)Desperado
Run Lola Run (1998)Run Lola Run
Taxi (1998)taxi
The Matrix (1999)The Matrix
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Gladiator (2000)Gladiator
Battle Royale (2000)Battle Royale
Blade II (2002)Blade 2
The Bourne Identity (2002)The Bourne Identity
Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)uma thurman kill bill
District 13 (2004)District 13
Serenity (2005)river
Batman Begins (2005) (I prefer The Dark Knight but Batman Begins is more of an action film)Batman Begins
Casino Royale (2006)Casino Royale
Apocalypto (2006)Apocalypto
300 (2006)300
Doomsday (2008)Rhona Mitra Doomsday
Avengers Assemble (2012)Marvel Avengers Assemble
 

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Inspired by Spring Breakers from earlier this year I was wondering is there a film that represents each month of the year. For some there are lots to choose from, others are a little harder to think of. Here is what I came up with:

JANUARY In Search of a Midnight Kiss (2007)
New Years Day

in search of a midnight kiss

FEBRUARY Some Like it Hot (1959)
February 14, 1929 – Saint Valentine’s Day massacre.Some Like it Hot

MARCH Piranha 3D (2010)
Spring breakPiranha 3D

APRIL A Night to Remember (1958)
April 15, 1912 – The Titanic sank. A Night To Remember

MAY Dazed and Confused (1993)
May 28, 1976 – the last day of school at Lee High School, Austin, Texas.Dazed and Confused

JUNE Bobby (2006)
June 5, 1968 – Robert F. Kennedy was shot and mortally wounded while leaving the Ambassador Hotel.Bobby

JULY Independence Day (1996)
Independence DayIndependence Day

AUGUST Richard III (1995)
On 22 August 1485 Richard III become the last English king to die in battle. Richard III

SEPTEMBER Dirty Dancing (1987)
Labour DayDirty Dancing

OCTOBER Halloween (1978)
31st OctoberHalloween

NOVEMBER Pieces of April (2013)
ThanksgivingPieces of April

DECEMBER Die hard (1988)
Christmas EveDie hard

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Please note this is not a review of Olympus Has Fallen but is does contain plot spoilers.

When I saw the lazy and lamentable A Good Day To Die Hard back in February I suggested the filmmakers take a look at the original classic Die Hard from 1988 to remind themselves what made it so great. Now two months later I have seen a film made by people who have clearly spent a lot of time watching Die Hard, so much so that at times it felt like a remake. It also had the benefit of a decent director in the shape of Antoine Fuqua. Although he has never recaptured the heights of Training Day (2001) he has made some good dumb fun like The Replacement Killers (1998) and Shooter (2007).

Olympus Has Fallen or Die Hard in The Whitehouse

So with all this going for it Olympus Has Fallen must be a great film? Sadly it isn’t. at risk of damming with faint praise, it isn’t terrible. The problem, going far beyond the confined setting of Nakatomi Plaza/The Whitehouse, the movie totally lacks originality and actually takes key plot points from Die Hard. Including the failed helicopter assault, the hero bumping into one of the terrorist (who is pretending not to be a terrorist), and not forgetting the twist, where the terrorists motives are revealed to be different to what they first appeared to be.John McClane and Mike Banning

Then we move onto Die Hard’s greatest asset, the villain, not only is Hans Gruber one of the best (and best written) villains in movie history, but he is played with relish by Alan Rickman, a great actor who was born to play the role. Rick Yune, isn’t terrible, but he lacks the menace of Rickman’s Gruber as well as an underwritten part.Hans Gruber and Kang

Bruce Willis has become an action hero and is often mentioned in the same breath as fellow 80’s action stars Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, what is often forgotten is Willis only earned this reputation because of Die Hard, prior to that he was best know as the star of TV romantic comedy drama. This everyman quality was one of the things that made John McClane agreat character and more importantly, Die Hard a great film. Casting the man best known for playing King Leonidas prevents any possibility of any everyman quality to Olympus Has Fallen, but it would have been so easy to solve this problem. Simply swap the casting around and making Aaron Eckhart the action hero and Gerard Butler (who also produced) the President.Olympus Has Fallen aaron eckhart and gerard butler

So while I can’t condemn a filmmaker for following my advice of making a film more like Die Hard, I equally can’t praise them for remaking Die Hard. My plea, please come up with some original ideas. And this leads me to a final thought; last week I was left wondering how Oblivion would compare to the similarly themed After Earth due out later this year, Olympus Has Fallen isn’t the only White House under attack movie this year. White House Down is due for release in the summer, given that it is directed by Roland Emmerich, I suspect the American landmark will get even more trashed.

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A few thoughts on A Good Day To Die Hard: Die Hard 4.0 (2007) aka “Live Free or Die Hard had its problems but it also had its charms. The wisecracking Justin Long fulfilled the roll taken by Samuel L. Jackson in the superior Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995). While Mary Elizabeth Winstead playing John McClane’s daughter performs a similar role to McClane’s wife, Bonnie Bedelia in the classic original Die Hard (1988). These two elements combined with a half decent antagonist played by Timothy Olyphant and a few good action set pieces to make the movie watcahble if inferior to its predecessors. A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) tries to combine the two archetypes into John (aka Jack) McClane Jr. (Jai Courtney) but this is the least of the movies problems.A-Good-Day-to-Die-Hard

There is a scene in the movie where the McClane’s drive from Moscow to Chernobyl in little more time than the villains fly there in a helicopter. As we walked out of the movie last night, the friend I had watched it with mentioned that Chernobyl is six or seven hundred miles from Moscow across the border in The Ukraine. Ten to twelve hours drive. As I said at the time, if the movie was any good he wouldn’t have noticed or at least wouldn’t care. But how did our heroes end up at Chernobyl? To put it simply it was the conclusion of a thin but convoluted plot that borders on xenophobia.A_Good_Day_To_Die_Hard_poster

Filled with big action scenes but lacking any fun or excitement. A car chase puts the protagonist in peril or perceived danger, this creates excitement, by taking that danger out of the movie removes the viewers involvement and interest. While we know that John Mclane isn’t going to get badly hurt in a Die Hard movie, we still need a glimmer of realism and a sense of danger to keep us on the edge of our seat and keep us interested. In this new Die Hard movie Bruce Willis’ character crashes spectacularly twice before changing vehicle and carrying on unharmed, and all this is within the first act. How far have we come from our hero running, barefoot over broken glass in the Nakatomi Plaza. An there begins the start of the success of the original Die Hard, the Nakatomi Plaza, and what the confines of one building brinks to the story. No one gets in, no one gets out, one man against a group of bad guys. With limitations comes creativity and that’s what we got in Die Hard, that and one of cinemas greatest ever villains, Hans Gruber played to perfection by Alan Rickman. It is also worth remembering the way Die Hard rewrote the rulebook of the action movie by casting the “everyman” Bruce Willis who at the time was best known for the TV show Moonlighting. After the success of their previous movie Predator (1987), it would have been easy for director John McTiernan and producer Joel Silver to cast Arnold Schwarzenegger or someone like him in the role, they very nearly did. It was reported that Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Richard Gere, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson and Frank Sinatra (long story) all turned the part down. Robert De Niro, Don Johnson and Richard Dean Anderson were also considered.Stirb langsam

In the ultimate copout of the genre/franchise the distributors cut the movie to achieve a 12a certificate. This is the kind of cynical filmmaking where the bottom line comes before the artistry of the movie. Many of the problems can’t be blamed solely on the director, John Moore, but the poor pace and lack of vigour certainly can be. Not nominally one for character assassination, however Moore doesn’t exactly have a strong track record: Behind Enemy Lines (shameless rip-off of Bat*21), Flight of the Phoenix (crappy remake), The Omen (crappy remake) and Max Payne (terrible video game adaptation). At a time when the Bond franchise is hiring Sam Mendes and Star Trek has been taken over by J.J. Abrams, it shows a lack of ambition at best.

Where can the franchise go from here? It could be that its time to call it a day, alternatively like the character in an action film the producers may look for redemption. If they are going to have another stab at it, they need a great and hopefully original concept, a good script and a talented director. In short they need to do what John McTiernan did twenty-five years ago.

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Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises are amongst my favourite movies of the year, but between them they cost the best part of the unimaginable sum of half a billion dollars. What can be done with a lower budget? All of the ten films listed below were made for less than $25million and are all the better for the invention and creativity that comes with limitations of a small budget. In a B movie tradition I have discarded indie drama’s in favour of genre movies: action, gangsters, sci-fi and horror.  The other notable thing, is that despite their B credentials they all received a UK cinema release.

Haywire
Budget: $23,000,000 (estimated)
Legend has it that Steven Soderbergh was sat at home late one night channel surfing when he came across a Mixed Martial Arts contest (a cage fight). He was so enthralled with one of the contestants Gina Carano that he diced to write a movie for her. Having never acted before it was a big risk, but we are talking about the director who cast porn star Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience. Taking a different approach for haywire, he filled the supporting roles with talented actors (Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton and Ewan McGregor), but it is the action that really sets the film apart. Forgoing the post Bourne trend of ultra close-ups and staccato editing in favour of long takes and mid length shots with lots of depth of field. It all helps show off Carano’s fighting talents. A love it or hate it film, it has received mixed reviews, personally I love it.

Killer Joe
Budget: $10,000,000 (estimated)
Back in 2006 William Friedkin made a criminally overlooked gem called Bug, it was based on a play by Tracy Letts who also wrote the screenplay. The pair re-teamed to adapt a play Letts wrote twenty years ago. Set around a criminally stupid dysfunctional Texas family it is a violent and repugnant tale. Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon are all brilliant but are in the shadow of the real star Matthew McConaughey. Often funny but the humour is truly jet black, this is a seriously fucked up film that many people will hate, again, I love it.

The Raid
Budget: $1,100,000 (estimated)
Welshman Gareth Evans is the unlikely director of this film that highlights Indonesian martial art, pencak silat. Set in a Jakarta tower block controlled by a crime lord a swat team have to fight for their lives as the story of why they are there gradually unfolds. A brutal and violent film that isn’t actually that originally but still manages to feel fresh and new. It isn’t as good, inventive or as memorable as Die Hard but it cost less than £1million, in other words less than the coffee budget from Lord of the Rings.

Wild Bill
Budget: no idea but its British so it won’t be much!
Dexter Fletcher has always been a decent and likeable actor, although never a great one, therefore it many come as a surprise, but his debut feature as a director is brilliant. Given his association with British gangster movies it is natural that Wild Bill would be set in London’s underworld. What’s great about the movie is that it avoids the usual storylines associated with this type of movie in recent years and concentrates on more personal story of an ex con who returns home from prison to find his two young sons abandoned my their mother. Being a farther is the last thing on his mind but something compels him to do the right thing. Fletcher also avoids the pitfall of casting himself instead opting for a whose who of British TV and genre movies.

Killing Them Softly
$18,000,000 (estimated)
This gritty tale of low level mobsters and hit men could have been a disaster. Not a great deal happens, it is filled with scenes of men talking around the issues of the movie. The social and political commentary have earned the movie its greatest praise and largest criticism. Directed by Andrew Dominik and starring Brad Pitt, the pair worked together on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and are both on top form again. And like all great genre movies, it clocks in at less than 100 minutes.

Lockout
$20,000,000 (estimated)
Based on an “original idea” by Luc Besson, I’m not sure there is an original idea in the whole movie and don’t think Luc Besson has actually had an original idea in a long time, but that really doesn’t matter, the movie is great. Its silly and its fun and that’s all it ever intended or indeed needed to be. The plot involves a shady but honest spy type character who is forced to rescue the president’s daughter who is held hostage on a prison in space. So basically its Die Hard meets Escape from New York, in space. The CGI is terrible and the plot is thin but none of this matters, the action is good and the dialogue is often funny. The real appeal is a surprisingly good Maggie Grace and the always brilliant Guy Pearce.

Chronicle
$12,000,000 (estimated)
The surprise low budget hit from the early part of the year. A Sci-fi movie reminiscent of Push (2009) and the TV show Misfits. I’m not a fan of the found footage genre but they get away with on the whole here. It loses its way in the final act but overall it is still an enjoyable movie. The unknown cast are good and the fact they are unknown often works in the movies favour.

Storage 24
Budget: again no idea but its British so will be well within the $25million limit.
I have suggested in the past that Noel Clarke is the most important person in the British film industry at the moment. Actor, writer, director and producer, awarded the Orange Rising Star Award at the 2009 BAFTA’s, he is the writer and star of Storage 24. Ultimately it is an alien invasion movie but without the grandeur of Hollywood movies and scaling it back to a small intimate and personal story. It plays out like a haunted house movie with a great blend of horror, comedy and action. Remembering the golden rule the creature is kept hidden for a long time and when we see it, its pretty good for a low budget movie. Criminally overlooked and underrated.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (aka Get the Gringo)
$20,000,000 (estimated)
Sadly under seen thanks to Mel Gibson’s personal problems and the lack of a cinema release in America. First time director Adrian Gruenberg worked for Gibson as assistant director on Apocalypto, the pair give us an old fashioned story of a getaway driver who finds himself in trouble south of the border. There is a scene towards the end of the movie where Gibson impersonates Clint Eastwood but long before that the film starts to resemble A Fistful of Dollars (1964)/Yojimbo (1961) and is all the better for it. Full of both the action and the dry whit you would expect from Mel Gibson of old. Ultimately it is the story of a flawed character looking for redemption, just like Gibson himself.

The Grey
$25,000,000 (estimated)
A horrible and inaccurate portrayal of grey wolves but a haunting and entertaining movie. Liam Neeson has always walked the line between serious actor and action star, originally leaning more towards actor but more recently falling on the action side of the line. When a plane carrying oil drillers crashes in the freezing wastes of Alaska the survivors are hunted by killer wolves. A metaphor for the destruction of the environment and the power of nature or just a survival thriller. Whatever you get from the movie it is well made and largely enjoyable.

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