R0BTRAIN's Bad Ass Cinema: Rob's Die Hard Celebration

So you may have noticed that instead my regular Monday morning column, the Bad Ass Cinema was moved to Wednesday this week. The reason for this is because whether it’s a good movie or not, I wanted to mark the return of one of American Cinema’s great Action heroes; John McClane and his new adventure Live Free or Die Hard. With the first new Die Hard film to reach theaters in 12 years, we get to go back to a franchise that has thrilled audiences with its grit, humor and awesome action, and I simply can’t wait to get back to watching McClane kick the crap out of scumbags.

Since its inception, Die Hard has almost become the official movie of Inside Pulse, with the film being the subject of my own column, my own column, plus several features here at Popcorn Junkies, and this week fellow writer Scott Sawitz reviewed Die Hard: The Ultimate Collection over at the DVD Lounge. On top of all that, for the last month I’ve been watching and writing about nothing else besides Die Hard knockoffs. There’s just no denying that we love all things Die Hard on this site and it’s a love we like to constantly show.

So as part of this little celebration, I’m breaking my column up into a couple of sections. First up, I’m going to finish up with looking at the series so far with some coverage of Die Hard with a Vengeance, and then some of the other writers here at IP, as well as some of my personal friends have written up little mementos and thoughts about McClane’s adventures, and I thought I’d offer those up as well. So sit back and enjoy a little bit more of the Die Hard love and then get out there and give McClane a good welcome home.

Die Hard with a Vengeance Starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jeremy Irons.

Some movies just start off hitting you in the face like gangbusters. Without question, one of those films is definitely Die Hard with a Vengeance, as the sounds of The Lovin’ Spoonfuls’ Summer in the City and iconic images of the Big Apple give way to panic and chaos, as a gigantic explosion rocks downtown Manhattan. Once again, this film is probably another that just couldn’t be made today, as the movie is littered with moments of New Yorkers covered with dust and dodging different forms of brutality, from explosions to gunfire.

When he’s called into action to deal with the problem, John McClane is at his lowest point ever. I love Bruce Willis’ McClane in this film, as when we first see him he’s hung over, suspended from duty, but regardless of this is still unquestionably ready to get out there and stop this mad man, no matter what. Willis could play this role in his sleep at this point, but doesn’t sleep walk here, giving McClane a grouchiness that makes him hilarious and darker than we’d seen him before. Gone is the lady-killer and smooth New York Cop. In is the alcoholic loser, on the outs with his wife yet again.

What I love too is that McClane isn’t just stuck in another building fighting the bad guys. Instead, Director John McTiernan, who returned to the series after sitting out of Die Hard 2 finally lets us see McClane is his own element; New York City. Die Hard with a Vengeance is a terrific New York Cop movie, with McClane knowing the streets and the neighborhoods like the back of his hand. By opening up this world a bit, McTiernan is able to surprise us with all of his ingenuity, and this third Die Hard adventure gets to feel fresh, despite actually telling a story with many of the same elements the others had. McClane still has to race to where he needs to be by taking underground shortcuts and outsmarting his adversaries, but he’s not just tied to one building. Instead NYC becomes a giant version of Nakatomi Tower.

Now mind you, this does cause the film to lose the claustrophobic tension of the first two films. There’s no substitute for the incredible sequences of the first film that had us gasping as McClane had to survive falling down huge air shafts or playing cat and mouse with Hans Gruber’s henchman on the upper floors of the Nakatomi building. Smartly though McTiernan decides to divert our attention away from this factor by loading us down with hearty alternates.

First up is a welcome injection of comedy into this picture, provided mostly by the repartee between John McClane and Samuel L. Jackson’s Zeus Carver. This was an interesting time in Jackson’s career, as he had not reached the superstar level he would obtain in later years and carry into the present. Jackson had received well deserved notoriety for amazing supporting roles in films such as Jungle Fever, and his breakout performance in Pulp Fiction, but he was still an actor the public was learning to see. While Die Hard with a Vengeance would help further put him in the public eye, it wouldn’t make him the megastar he would eventually be either.

What Jackson does give is an ever-present solid performance. Zeus is an interesting foil for McClane, becoming friends with the hard-edged cop despite racial tensions. This role goes into the same category as some of Jackson’s other Action movie roles, such as the one in The Long Kiss Goodnight, in which he plays a strong character, but not an Action lead. What he does have here is terrific comic timing, playing a more straight man to McClane’s antics, but with that fantastic Samuel L. Jackson line delivery. Playing off McClane’s cranky cop after they’ve commandeered a taxi, Willis’ character tells Zeus to relax, giving him a comforting, “I know what I’m doing”. This is returned with an emphatic, “Not even God knows what you’re doing!” which is a terrific example of the banter between these two that goes the entire movie.

The other way that McTiernan is able to make up for the lack of claustrophobic tension is with spectacular action sequences. From McClane’s awesome car spinning shoot’em up to his final “two bullets versus a heavily armed helicopter” the movie simply never lets up with it’s over the adrenaline rushes. The movie’s best scene is an insane chase that begins on foot, then in a taxi as McClane and Zeus race through a heavily crowded park. The two then split up while Jackson drives off to reach a destination and McClane tries to find a bomb on a subway car. This is breathless entertainment by McTiernan that has the laughs of an Indiana Jones action scene crossed with the intensity of The French Connection’s chaotic brutality within its chases.

Add to this the film’s awesome heavy, as Jeremy Irons looks as if he’s having the time of his life as Simon, the sadistic terrorist who keeps setting up games for McClane and Zeus to play. Watching the film recently, I noticed Simon’s plot of having the duo run from place to place was very similar to Harry Callahan’s plight set before him in Dirty Harry, only with crazy riddles with bombs when they reach their destination. We also get to come full circle, as Simon is affiliated with Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber from the first movie, which gives him both a proper motivation, and also a pattern to his behavior which ends up only being slightly different to Hans’.

In his own right though, Jeremy Irons lights up the screen, going completely over the top as he plays with his accent and stays at a level that is nothing less than charming. While he could never eclipse Rickman’s performance in the first movie, Irons goes the distance in fine fashion, making a formidable foe for McClane. I do wish he could actually get more scenes in with Willis, but the ones that are there are very lively, with Irons’ character seemingly having a deep respect for McClane’s tenacity, but having to do what he does because of a vendetta.

The movie comes back to McClane though. This is a character that just will not give up, making him so likable and easy to get behind. Yet we also love the character because he’s not infallible. McClane isn’t a superman; he’s just a regular cop who knows how to get out of sticky situations, usually with luck more than anything else. McClane’s got problems with his wife and kids, but you know he still loves them and will do the right thing in the end.

With so many trilogy cappers turning out to be very disappointing, Die Hard with a Vengeance brings the goods in a big way, giving us huge action, homage to the previous films and new twists to make this film a good one all on its own. While not measuring up to the first film, this film strives to entertain with a gusto that is rarely seen these days. With terrific heroes and a slimy villain, the movie gives you all you can handle and then some.

Die Hard Memories

As I planned this week’s column, I wanted to throw something special in celebration of this Bad Ass Hall of Fame Action Series. While my own thoughts have been published before on these movies, I wanted to get some comments from my colleagues and friends about these testaments to the awesomeness of Action cinema. While I can’t really remember the first time I ever watched Die Hard, I can probably guarantee you that it was on HBO some time when I was in middle school. The movie was absolutely violent, which apparently my father had no problem with what so ever. It wasn’t until years later that I could really take in the nuances in the picture, and see what really separated it from the other films of it era, from the best villain of the decade to John McClane really becoming the first thinking man’s Action hero. The movie is now annually watched at the Sutton household every Christmas and will probably continue to be for the rest of my life. Now here’s some other thoughts from friends and fellow writers.

Mike Noyes – Fellow Popcorn Junkie and DVD Lounge Lizard.
Die Hard Most guys can remember the first time they saw Die Hard. I was pretty young and my parents and I were in a hotel. My dad was flipping around on the TV and stopped on Die Hard. I sat and watched it with him and was instantly entranced by John McClane. Then my mom noticed how violent the film we were watching was and insisted that my dad change the channel and Die Hard was taken away from me before I’d seen even fifteen minutes. It was a few years before I was able to finally see the film in it’s entirety and how happy I was to see Bruce Willis in all his kick ass glory. All the Die Hard films thus far have been pretty good (yes, even the Renny Harlin one) and I’m sure Live Free Or Die Hard will prove once again to be a kick ass ride, despite the inclusion of Justin Long.

Shaun Stidham, Best Friend and Columnist for WKCB.com
John McClain and Die Hard changed the action landscape. Before we basically had the muscular bad ass with a one liner or the crazy revenge seeking bad ass with nothing but hate in their heart. John made it cool to be a slightly balding, barefoot super cop. Plus he had the coolest crazy eye in the history of cinema.

Danny Cox – Fellow Popcorn Junkie and DVD Lounge Lizard.
The entire Die Hard trilogy has long been a favorite of mine and always will be. For some reason I can watch With a Vengeance on repeat and never get tired of it, which I’ve recently done thanks to the Encore channels (“Yeah, Zeus. As in father of Apollo? Mt. Olympus? Don’t f*ck with me or I’ll shove a lightning bolt up your ass? Zeus! You got a problem with that?”). Die Harder is my least favorite of them all, but still a great watch. But Die Hard is special to me for so many reasons. I can quote it word for word, like others it puts me in the Christmas spirit, and it is simply one of the most bad ass flicks ever. And I think I like the first and third one so much because of the continuity storyline between the Gruber brothers thanks to Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons being all sorts of cool. As lackluster as the fourth film may end up, I can’t wait for it and know I’ll end up loving it anyway.

And finally, I present the thoughts of close personal friend and confidant, Ms. Christina Przybys. Somehow she had gone her whole life without taking in Die Hard, despite being the biggest Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman fan I know of. With Live Free or Die Hard quickly approaching, she decided to finally make her acquaintance with Officer John McClane and Hans Gruber. This is the note I received the next morning.

Christina Przybys, Close Personal Friend and aspiring Artist
Yes, I finally watched Die Hard, and yes, I thought it was awesome. It held my attention for the whole movie, which is more than I can say about most movies. And not only did it have Bruce Willis, but it also had Alan Rickman. I have to admit, during the beginning I was just waiting for Rickman to come out, and needless to say, I was very pleased when he did. I just love that man. There were explosions too. I like those.

Alas, this brings to a close my little Die Hard party, but I’m sure this won’t be the last of John McClane mentioned in this column to come. The movies are an American institution and I can only hope the new one can somehow live up to those expectation. With that said, see you guys next week. Yippee Ki Yay!

Picture Credits: impawards.com, razyboard.com, blogger.com