(A Good Marathon) DIE HARDS

All Five Die Hard Movies In A Row Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Trust John McClane
By Bret Dorman

(UPDATE: Between now and Feb 17th cinemaPUNCH fans can win a FREE DIE HARD POSTER. Visit cinemaPUNCH on FaceBook for details!)

Checklist:

3 Bottles of Dr. Pepper. Check.
1 Big Redbull. Check
1 Lays Stax, regular (because the store was all out of Salt and Vinegar Pringles). Check.
1 Box of Mike and Ikes, Tropical Typhoon. Check.
1 Bag of Party Size Pretzel M&Ms. Check.
1 Die Hard Promotional Poster. Check.

1 Marathon “Press Pass”. Check.

Although I personally consider Mission: Impossible to be the best Action Movie Franchise, it goes without saying Die Hard is the Greatest Action Movie of All Time. Today is a day to celebrate the franchise that set the bar and see where that franchise will go and just how many more ways John McClane can find to fight helicopters.
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12:00 DIE HARD

I got to this movie just a minute late due to unforeseen circumstances. I missed the man telling McClane about the feet thing, but saw Holly on the phone with the help. It always bugged me how she just ended her phone call with “What would I do without you?” Click.

Die Hard is great because it doesn’t let anything go to waste, yet it never feels like a stretch for anything to be brought up. The feet thing. The Rolex. The Twinkies. And so on. Even as Al confesses his tragic reason for becoming a desk jockey, he lays out the vulnerable moment as McClane is pulling shards of glass out of his feet, at his most vulnerable.

The action is plain and simple. A bunch of guys with guns. Fighting each other. One shot in particular, Tony (Karl’s brother), enters the floor under construction calling out to McClane (telling him he won’t hurt him… Right…) and the camera focuses primarily on the gun. Just a good shot that highlights the immediate threat.

One thing that always made me smile was McClane checks Tony’s shoes, but never checks any other terrorists shoes. The movie addresses the problem of bare feet ONCE, then dismisses it. Not a nitpick, just a funny observation. They got it out of the way. That’s more than most movies do.

Also when McClane asks Hans to just let him out Hans says no. Why not? Why not just let the one dude fucking shit up out? Roll credits.

That’s all I got for now. Love how much mayhem McClane survives and his bitterly sarcastic attitude. They don’t give us much time inbetween so gotta make these quick.

TRIVIA!!!

(AMC is doing two trivia questions inbetween movies to win prizes. Hopefully I’ll get one.)

Q: How many actors appear throughout all 5 Die Hards?
A: 1. Bruce mother fucking Willis.

Q: What was Die Hard called in Russia?
A: A Tough Nut To Crack. (Yeah… Seriously…)

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2:30 DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER

Its obviously going to be hard to follow up Die Hard. Is Die Harder the worst of the series? Yes. But it takes the hits do the rest of the franchise can live on. While it is a mess, it takes a lot of shit for being bad, but I do think the intentions were good and even at times, admirable. The execution just can’t hold up to the original. But they do try…

Some things carried over from the first:
Christmas
Holly
Al, in a nice little cameo in the beginning
Twinkies, in a nice little cameo as well
John’s fear of flying
William Atherton messing things up
The badguys being more than just terrorists (ex military in this case)
The badguys knowing the good guys playbook (blowing up the antennae)
Radios being used to monitor plans
A double cross
“Let It Snow” over the credits

But even if all these traits that do what the first did and even change it up, there’s something missing. The movie starts out and in less than 10 minutes there is gunfire. Cool! Right?! Eh… No. The first even took a solid 15 minutes to DEVELOP characters and relationships before getting into the action. You know who John McClane and Holly Genaro are and their relationship to each other before Hans shows up. This movie sacrifices John having to triumph over personal issues to just him shooting badguys.

But boy does he shoot badguys. Amidst all the CGI heavy movies that pollute the summers nowadays, even a mediocre live action stunt fest feels good. McClane in the luggage room using the conveyor belts is nice. Using the walkway to get the gun is neat. The icicle improvisation always gets an audible reaction. The snowmobile on the ice lake is cool (McClane jumps onto it and breaks into water but keeps going in an unhighlighted dangerous stunt moment). And jumping from a helicopter to a plane, then fighting on the wing is badass. These are all moments overlooked, but help to establish that as long as a franchise takes care of its main events and set pieces, it will live strong.

What doesn’t work despite good intentions are some of the one liners. “Are you pissing in someone else’s pool?” “Yeah… and I’m all out of chlorine.” Um… what? “Don’t you know you’re supposed to stay seated until reaching the terminal (okay, fine) … No frequent flyer miles for you.” Oh snap!!! (Not really). And everyone has the same sarcastic tone and silly quips, which makes John a lot less “special” and “unique”. Also the ending is oddly sentimental, especially knowing where the franchise takes the relationship of John and Holly.

Also I like the “wrong place wrong time” line not because its a cliche line, but how its used later in the fourth.

Everyone is relieved Argyle is absent. He served his purpose. He belongs in Die Hard. Not the sequels.

TRIVIA!!!

Q: In Die Hard With A Vengeance, Zeus becomes John McClane’s partner. Who played Zeus?
A: Samuel L Jackson (seriously?)

Q: in Die Hard, what was the surname shared by the two FBI agents?
A: Johnson (no relation) (also… seriously? again)

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5:00 DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE

Die Hard With A Vengeance immediately undoes Die Harder by opening with “Summer in the City” playing over a shot of a hot sunny summer morning. John McTiernan takes back over and his presence is felt right away by an immediate explosion. Die Harder started its action mundanely, with suspicion. Vengeance starts its action with a bang. The other difference is John McClane starts at a low point. Separated again. “Back” in The Big Apple (first time for us the audience though) with his backlog of crimes. And hung over. Hardly any time seemed to pass between 1 and 2, but you can feel the daily struggle McClane has had to deal with at the start of 3. It has weight behind it.

Some things carried over from the first:
Those small touches set up and brought back later like the badge number (and playing the lotto, how the van of cops all know the numbers but the elevator of fake guys don’t), the headache/aspirin, and the garbage trucks.
Terrorists after more than what they seem to be after (ultimately after money).
A mother fucking GRUBER!!!
Classical music piece as the badguys theme of sorts.

I noted Die Harder seemed odd because every was sarcastic. Vengeance definitely ups the sarcasm and not only does it seem more at home in a New York City police station, but its different for two reasons. One, they put someone in direct opposition to McClane. John is always right about everything. Here, we get to see someone argue and even help him, when the situation become too big for our main hero. This man is Zeus, the racist black guy played by Samuel L Jackson, whose loud persona is just the volume needed to mix with McClane. Also, John’s disbelief in his own luck comes back, as he manages to survive explosion after explosion, which accompany every single set piece of the film.

What’s more impressive, is that this movie has a 20+ minute heist section where Simon and his crew break into the federal reserve. Our two heroes are missing for this entire chunk, right in the middle of the movie. Yet we never get bored. I love the way McTiernan lays out the reveals, information (hiding some things, showing others – like the lady in the TVs sneaking behind the one brave security guard), and the momentum of the camera as it moves through the mayhem. McTiernan builds a certain visceral and kinetic energy as things blow up and large vehicles move through the rubble. Also, bringing back a Gruber could have been cheesy, but its a nice touch for the third movie to do.

The first car “chase” as John and Zeus race through Central Park and the streets of NYC again adds to the power of live, well choreographed stunts. At one point they call an ambulance to (unknowingly) clear a path for them. The camera cuts to a shot of an ambulance turning onto the main road, then the camera zooms in just behind it and McClane’s taxi BURSTS into view. Goddamn that’s a great fucking shot. Plenty of fuck yeah moments like that (also driving through the bridge barrier and crashing below to make up for time). Plus McClane’s badassery as huge intimidating guys he knows are baddies pour into the elevator he’s in and he doesn’t break a sweat.

Also, they do manage to get a few Christmas references in. This may not take place on December 25th exactly, but one thieving kid does state the fact there are no cops around makes it Christmas for criminals. A nice way to acknowledge the first without retreading its holiday theme.

TRIVIA!!!

Q: In Die Hard, Holly uses her maiden name. What is it?
A: Genaro. (Lame)

Q: To date, how much has the Die Hard franchise grossed worldwide? (Multiple Choice)
A: Not A) 800 mil Not C) 1.6 bil but B) 1.1 bil

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7:30 LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD

Ah yes, the bastard child of the series, forever marked with that horrible “PG13” scar. For better and worse, this is a Die Hard movie though, and it does have its cons as well as its pros.

Some things carried over from the others:
A badguy who is an expert and knows the goodguys’ response tactics.
Family trouble.
Cool elevator scene.
A FBI Agent named Johnson.

Watching all four movies in a row, its clear just how much technology has become more and more important to the series. At first it was just a neat gadget, a touch screen computer and an electro-magnetic lock. Now its the entire badguys’ plan of attack. Live Free does feature lots of great physical stuff and some really cool camera work, but as the series becomes more ambitious, so does the reliance on CGI to keep one upping the spectacle. The technology becomes more and more dangerous to McClane both as a weapon used against him and the filmmaking used to portray that. Plus this movie definitely looks out of place (not a bad criticism) from the rest due to the fact it looks like it was polished up in a computer. The first looks like a “film”. This looks like “commercial”. But most Big Budget Blockbuster do nowadays. Just the natural evolution of things.

Some good stuff? I did mention there was some right? Yes. Firstly, Justin Long provides a great antagonistic partner for McClane. His sarcastic attitude is much different than Jackson’s in Vengeance. Instead of getting someone loud to confront John they got someone much sharper to mumble and stutter some quips along side and against our always disgruntled hero. His lines get some of the biggest laughs, including the air bag gag (“How’d you do yours?”). Also, the way McClane uses vehicles as a weapon is completely refreshing for the genre. Car vs Helicopter. SUV vs Maggie Q. 18 Wheeler vs Harrier. Awesome. It adds a violent surrogate for McClane’s anger and frustration with always getting shot at.

However, the movie can only be so violent. As a PG13 movie it is missing some good squibb work that is always present in the franchise (it will be interesting to see if Good Day features this as well). Oddly enough the movie does have plenty of swear words. Shit and Bitch are present. Only Fuck is missing (although jerkwad/jerkoff are used more than ever). Its a shame they couldn’t even fit a full “Yippee Kai Yay Mother Fucker” into the movie. You’d think the MPAA could let that slide, given the franchise history. I know Fuck has been clearly said in PG13 before (although “Mother Fucker” is different than “Fuck”, but still).

Also, this movie feature some HORRIFICALLY UGLY ADR (additional dialogue replacement). As the film cuts from shot to shot characters lips are CLEARLY not matching what they are saying. This could be to edit around swearing to cut it down to PG13, but strangely the “Unrated” DVD seems to awkwardly edit in unnecessary swear words using even more bad ADR.

Timothy Olyphant adds a good twist, as someone out for non-money. The first and third are basically heist movies. The second a drug leader rescue mission. But here Olyphant delivers a very cold performance where he has to basically be frustrated with everyone all the time. In the end he does want money, but only if the country is willing to listen and change and “pay the price”. Otherwise, he’s willing to throw it all away.

Lastly, the other thing this movie captures well, is McClane’s madness as he mumbles to himself. John talking to himself is one of the best traits about him. And here his best “one liners” aren’t one liners at all, but the way he “ooo”s, “aah”s, grumbles, laughs, and chuckles after doing something awesome or surviving something insane. His reactions are definitely a highlight.

PS free running/parkour is a welcome addition to the action genre and this franchise in general, specifically because its mostly just one cool henchman who uses it, not every single baddie.

NO TRIVIA!!! Right on to The Grand Finale!!!

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10:00 A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD
(Spoiler! free)

Just to be clear, all of my problems with Good Day are problems of the modern action movie in general. That said, Good Day offers up some real kick ass action. The humor is typical as well as a lot of the over editing and basic structure. There are a lot of cool practical effects and while the CGI is noticeable (it usually is) I like how it is used.

Some things carried over from the others:
A third Gruber brother!!!

Just kidding. I said this would be Spoiler! free. But there are some nice references/callbacks.

Also some great usage of the middle finger! Love it. And yes “Yippee Kai Yay Mother Fucker” is said.

As noted in the review for Live Free, I wondered how violent this would be. Answer… Not very. Is it too much to ask for some good squibb work? But the destruction of the movie is impressive. I’ll give it that.

All in all… A must see for action fans and Die Hard fans.

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Closing Thoughts: The Times They Are A-Changin’

(Editors Note: I’m going to take the tone that assumes you don’t like the sequels for being different. Sorry if the tone gets a little defense/offensive. But as a die hard Die Hard fan, I feel like I have to defend certain things.)

I’m not the first to make this observation. But the first Die Hard takes place in a building. The second in an airport. The third in a city. The fourth on half the East Coast (with the fate of the ENTIRE country at stake). The fifth in Russia (with the fate of the ENTIRE world potentially at stake). What’s next? SPACE? Haha! (Cue rimshot!)

But seriously. Let’s put McClane in space for the sixth Die Hard. I 90% want this. I say 90 because maybe there is some other option that could be before space I am overlooking. The “problem” action franchises have is that its not just enough to keep doing the same. Things need to change. Things need to evolve. But even if you simply change some things, the stakes need to be raised as well (two different things). Yes, what made Die Hard great was its immediate intimacy. Its nice that ALL the Die Hards take place in a confined amount of TIME (only gradually letting hours or even a day or two transpire in between cuts and mostly at the beginnings). But can you imagine McClane fighting 5 common (I mean, exceptional) thieves? With only his wife and a some hostages as the stakes EVERY. SINGLE. TIME? No. That’s ridiculous.

So why not just end the franchise at Die Hard? Why make sequels? Because its fun. We like McClane and WANT to see him put through the gauntlet over and over. And we want him to say “Yippe Kai Yay Mother Fucker” every time. And we want him to to shoot badguys. And we want him to be sarcastic. And we want a third Gruber brother or relative of some sort (or at least I do).

I’m sure a lot of people will be sad that the Die Hards have become less “important” to the genre and more reflexive of it over the franchise’s history. I honestly do believe that the Predator/Die Hard (director John McTiernan) combo of 1987/1988 are the one-two punch combo that forever changed action movies into what they are today. Those two movies do what they do so well everyone after just knew that’s what they had to do as well. Before that everyone was just making flicks for fun. After that everyone was/is making them in comparison. (Side Note: Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981, serves as an early prototype, but its pre-Die Hard pacing/vibes are definitely noticeable.)

Some will argue that because the Die Hard sequels are less influential, they are worse movies. Well, “worse” is a harsh word (for anything when comparing it to Die Hard), but I disagree regardless. Die Hard 2-5 have reflected the times of our culture and the action genre in general. But acting out is a young man’s game. Die Hard: The Franchise is not young anymore. And sadly, in our sequel/remake based culture, its really hard to get something young. The next wave of good large scale action movies is GOING TO HAVE TO COME THROUGH EVOLUTION OF FRANCHISES.

Final Destination 5 was a good EVOLUTION of its franchise. Fast Five was ridiculously good for what it should have been and evolved into a different genre (car races -> heist). Bond has evolved from basic spy to cheesy to dark. Batman has survived reinventions and become better off for it. Some of the people who argued Tim Burton’s Batman was the definitive Batman are now the same arguing they can’t ever imagine a Batman without Nolan. Rambo evolved from man pushed to madness by arrogant police to outright hero to reluctant badass. I think all of these franchises showcase movies that even as the franchise goes on, include some great movies towards the latter ends of their (unfinished) spectrums. I may not like some of the movies in the middle (or even beginning) of these franchises, but I admire the persistence to the point where the later additions could be just as influential as the originals, especially if they are so for different reasons while remaining true to the heart of the franchise. Besides, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol was a huge bar raiser for the genre in terms of pacing and plot through action.

Things change. We have to accept that. Yes, I do hope original content will emerge from the collective creative ether. And I do think there are good original movies that come out today. But that’s no reason to WANT franchises to fail. Good Day is a perfectly serviceable generic action flick featuring some kick ass action, awesome stunts, sarcastic quips, middle fingers, as well as the other bad things that make generic things generic. As long as movies have something to add to the conversation/collective creative ether, I think it is at least worth while. Its why Die Harder is the “worst” of the bunch. It ADDS the least. It takes too much from the first, even with good intent, but doesn’t ADD enough to the action genre that hadn’t been done. Its just a collection of some neat gimmicks here and there. Live Free is PG13 (which for some, understandably may make it “auto-worst”) but it ADDS vehicular weaponry in a way I hadn’t ‘quite’ seen done before. It adds to the digital terrorism realm and antagonistic buddy cop realm (even if those two are much more quantitatively less in things it adds to).

So there’s the lesson I learned from my Die Hard Marathon. Am I perhaps over thinking it or blowing A Good Day To Die Hard’s “importance” out of proportion? Perhaps. But as Justin Long says to Bruce Willis in Live Free “just because something is classic doesn’t make it good.” True. But just because *some* things have changed in a franchise doesn’t make them bad.

Yippee Kai Yay,
Bret Dorman

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