I went to watch Die Hard a few weeks ago and found myself in a non-action mood. I flipped through my DVD book trying to find a movie to something to keep me occupied. What I ultimately chose was another Bruce WIllis flick, M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, a superhero origin story that has Willis play a man coming to terms that he may indeed be different than the rest of the world. There’s a sequence in the film when Willis’ David Dunn is talking to Mrs. Price, mother of whacky comic collector and ‘breakable’ Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) when this bit of dialogue comes out…
Mrs. Price:This is one of Johann Davis’s earliest drawings. See the villain’s eyes? They’re larger than the other characters’. They – insinuate a slightly skewed perspective on how they see the world. Just off normal.
David Dunn: Doesn’t look scary.
Mrs. Price: Mm-hmm. That’s what I said to my son. But he says there’s always two kinds; there’s the soldier villain – who fights the hero with his hands; and then there’s the real threat – the brilliant and evil archenemy – who fights the hero with his mind.
Obviously that had a big effect on the rest of Unbreakable, but it also really put words to a theory I’ve always loved. I love that The Joker is no match physically for Batman, but he’s so crazy that he can pull of these plots and be even more effective than a Killer Croc or Clayface or any other brute in the Rogue’s Gallery. The same theory applies in so many things I love, pro wrestling, video games, TV shows, and I just so happened to luck myself into Die Hard with this theory ripe in my head.
1988’s Die Hard is one of, if not the, most celebrated movie in the action genre. It’s the main reason I made this blog, as prior to a few days ago, I’d never seen it front to back! The story is relatively simple, New York Cop John McClane (Willis) is out in Los Angeles for Christmas visiting his career driven wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). Upon arriving at her office building he settles in only to have the place taken over by terrorists lead by the legendary villain Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). McClane has to take down the terrorists and save the occupants of the building along with help from Carl Winslow eh-hem Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson). Me summarizing this is kind of foolish, as I’m close to certain I’m the only person in the world above the age of 15 that hasn’t seen this movie. So yeah, Christmas spirit meets terrorism meets bad ass cop. An equation that can’t be messed with. And if you want to add a pretentious feather to your cap, it just so happens to be based on a book, Roderick Throp’s Nothing Lasts Forever! I wonder if the book is better than the movie.
The first good thing about this movie is that Willis is so good as McClane. He’s just natural. I’ve never been the biggest Willis fan, so I was rather surprised at just how pleasant he made the role. McClane is an everyman put in a ridiculous situation and he reacts pretty crazily. It’s fun. Hans Gruber is also amazing, a role that Alan Rickman plays to perfection, easily the best role I’ve seen him in (sorry Harry Potter fans). He’s the perfect mix of brilliant, evil, and collected. He’s the “brilliant and evil archenemy” preached about in Unbreakable. And the two work off of each other so well. Average Joe Cop meets Evil Genius Terrorist. Polar opposites who just happen to cross paths on this Christmas Eve. The banter they have is great, and it spawned one of the greatest lines in film history!
While McClane and Gruber’s main plot is really awesome, what truly puts this movie in the upper echelon of action flicks is everything going on around them. There are so many secondary characters that just flesh out the entire story. There’s the LAPD officer Al Powell, frantically trying to explain to other officers that McClane is worth trusting, based solely off a hunch. Also we get hilariously naive Argyle the limo driver, blissfully playing with a teddy bear and blasting Run-D.M.C. in the garage of the complex, Harry Ellis, the smarmy executive who wants Holly and truly believes he can convince the terrorists to leave the building, and of course Holly herself, who plays the perfect half-bitch half-loving wife. And on the flip-side we have Gruber’s small army of terrorists are well played too, especially the menacing Karl played by the late Alexander Gudonov. What’s great about Karl is his motivation. How many movies have goons with actual motivation aside from following orders? Not many. So Karl avenging his brother’s death (McClane killed him first!) and getting fed up with McClane’s successful attempts to avoid death really give him an important role. Also, Gruber’s hacker Theo adds some American flavor to the mostly European terror attack. He’s the Argyle of the bad guys, not just in color, but in tone.
You’re probably saying “Enough about how good the story is bro! How about the people killing each other and things blowing up?! That’s why we’re here!” and for that I say the action is good. One thing I like is the consistency of it. When McClane gets to the building he takes his shoes off to relax, and as the attack begins he doesn’t have the chance to put on shoes, so there are several instances where his feet are put at risk. Stupid? On the surface yeah, but it’s a small detail that with repetition actually feels important. How many action movies can make a detail as small as footwear a point in a fight? Anytime Karl is involved in a fight it’s almost guaranteed to be brutal, and he provides some of the most bad ass moments of the movie. Knowing that there are three other Die Hard movies, I was still at the edge of my seat when Karl was battling McClane. And the final sequence where Gruber and McClane actually go at it is amazing and one of the most badass deaths of all time. Guess who dies?!
So yeah…Die Hard is iconic for a reason. It’s a perfectly wrapped Christmas package. Gruber is one of the most hateable villains in the history of film and McClane is one of the most relatable heroes. It just works. Simple as that.
What’s next, fine readers? Well let’s cross the pond with a nice 2000’s reboot that’s about gambling and drinking! Let us head to Casino Royale!
ADDED TO THE RANKINGS: Bruce Willis, Alexander Gudonov
(All images and video are copyright Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)
First and foremost I apologize for the heinous amount of time it took for me to write this review. There were several instances where I found myself writing and then just dozing off because it was so boring. There’s a line that must be drawn when reviewing glorified B movies, and it took me a long while to realize exactly where that line is. So again, apologies to those that may have been waiting for this….
When one thinks of great ensembles in film, their minds immediately jump to the likes of Ocean’s 11, Heat, The Departed, Crash and a slew other critically acclaimed flicks. Stuff that most adults could watch and say, “Now this is a piece of art!” When I think of great ensembles one film immediately comes to mind. And using the term ‘film’ is a stretch. We’re talking 2010’s The Expendables. A film that features more testosterone than a middle school locker room, more over the top personalities than a high school theater production and more “hell yeah’s” than a college frat party.
The movie is essentially a who’s who of action. First and foremost we have the director, writer, producer and star Sylvester Stallone as Barney Ross. Stallone is no stranger to the genre, and he’s certainly no stranger to the ways of awful acting. Ross is the leader of a ragtag group that is equal parts biker gang, thrill seeker, and mercenary. They take money where they can and do whatever is asked of them. Most of the time killing is involved, intentional or not. Each member of the group exemplifies a few general characteristics, and their characters grow solely based on those characteristics alone. Stallone’s Ross is the leader of the pack, a man who has seen so much action in his years that he may just lose all sense of dignity. Then we have Jason Statham as Lee Christmas, a knife aficionado dealing with a one dimensional romantic relationship. Jet Li is next, as Yin Yang, the Asian karate guy. How politically correct. Then there’s Dolph Lundgren as the phyiscally imposing Gunnar Jensen, a man on the brink of losing his marbles. And rounding out the group is token black guy Terry Crews as token black guy Hale Caesar and Randy Couture as emotionally unstable Toll Road. These guys are joined occasionally by semi-retired Expendable Tool, played perfectly by Mickey Rourke.
In this scene, Rourke’s tool was enjoying semi-retirement.
With the team assembled, the crew begins their journey on a routine hostage rescue situation. After introducing Lundgren’s loose cannon personality by having him literally halve a man and attempt to hang a pirate, the group returns home and gives him the boot for putting Yin Yang’s life on the line. Shortly thereafter Ross is offered a job. He goes to a church to hear the deal and meets Mr. Church and Trent Mauser, played by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Without as much as a punch swung, the three icons chew up the scenery in what may be the best scene in the movie. Arnold’s Mauser turns down the mission because it’s too crazy, and obviously Ross accepts. So Statham and Stallone inspect the island, realize it’s a foolish mission and go home, wherein Stallone realizes that he’s left behind a culture that needs someone like him. Tool sits down with Ross and the two discuss a previous event that left Tool dead inside, and how he could have made a difference in the world. This is the one and only scene where genuine acting ability is utilized. Motivated by his friends words, Ross boards his plane to go back and realizes that all of the Expendables are with him. The rest of the movie involves waterboarding, men punching women, explosions and a flurry of awesomeness. Did I mention Eric Roberts and David Zayas (Dexter, Oz) lead the bad guys, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin is their number one hitman?
“I’m down to punch a lady in the face. Who are you to judge me?”
Now, to the meat of this film. The action. As I said previously the first bit of action in this movie is a torso being blown off. And you know what’s great? Even though I’m spoiling that, it’s still absolutely awesome. The whole introductory scene does a nice job at placing a bit of a disagreement between Statham and Stallone’s characters at what is a better weapon, a knife or a pistol? This theme is the kind of theme that brands your movie as a classic. Screw man vs. society or the meaning of life, I want to know whether a knife or a pistol is better. Call me crazy! One thing that this flick does really well is diversify the action. It’s not like every scene is all punches or torsos being blown off. There’s a nice variety of things being destroyed, whether they be people, palaces, docks, helicopters…even a basketball gets deflated. Another thing that Stallone did was pair up the fights well. He knew that this flick was every action junkies wet dream, and he delivered the pain in the best ways possible. We get to see the two faced Gunnar Jensen turn on his friend Yin Yang and have the brute force of Dolph Lundgren take on the quick paced Jet Li. Pro wrestling legend Stone Cold Steve Austin gets to have a fist fight with mixed martial arts icon Randy Couture. Given this cast, we get to see a small handful of dream fights. Kudos must also be given to the inclusion of the characters in these fights. Too many action films suffer from generic action, people fighting each other, in this movie we see these generic stereotypes play right up to their names. The best of whom in my opinion is Statham. I’d seen him in more serious movies like Snatch and thought he was okay, but he really oozes action star. He delivers the one liners perfectly, has some killer fight presence, and just knows how to perform on the stage that is set. Terry Crews is definitely another guy that kicks some major ass and has a very bright future in these types of films if he so chooses. His effortless sense of humor makes Hale Caesar seem much more than a guy with a razor blade and a machine gun.
“Next time I’ll deflate all your balls.” is the actual line in this scene.
So the verdict is this. Understanding fully that you are going into a movie that was almost direct to DVD, The Expendables delivers in spades. There is some awful dialogue performed by guys who could care less about it, and there are some amazing action displays. Stallone picked a great team and used his immense knowledge as one of the forefathers of the genre to craft a terribly good movie. Testosterone for the win.
People have been asking me, “What’s next?” and my response is “It rhymes with Chode Blouse.”
ADDED TO THE DAMN RANKINGS: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren, Stone Cold Steve Austin
(All images and video are copyright Millenium Films)