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What A Day To DIE HARD – The Marathon Review

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A little over a month ago, we posted that in celebration of it’s 25th anniversary there will be a DIE HARD Marathon showing all four movies starting around NOON on February 13th followed by the premier of A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD at 10PM getting out just before MIDNIGHT. That’s almost 12 action-packed hours of DIE HARD awesomeness! As you can guess, there was no way I could refuse to take this opportunity to see one of the greatest action-movie series of all time for the first time on the big screen, or make that Mega-Screen since I decided to see this at Wehrenberg’s Chesterfield Galaxy 14 Cine, which in my opinion is one of the best movie theatres here in the St. Louis area. For $25 you got all five movies plus a collectable lanyard that entitles you to a 25% discount at concessions throughout the whole day and with their wide-selection, it comes in handy because there’s only so much popcorn a person can eat. This was going to be a day I’d never forget!

Below I’ve written up some mini-reviews of each movie.

DIE HARD (1988)

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In DIE HARD, New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis, MOONLIGHTING) is attending a fancy office party in the Nakatomi Corporation’s L.A. glass tower. He’s come from the Big Apple to reclaim estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia, PRESUMED INNOCENT), who now works for Nakatomi. Suddenly 13 terrorists burst in with major weaponry and you’ve got yourself a fire-powered, blood-drenched action picture that doesn’t let up.

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Newcomer Alan Rickman (ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES), fresh from the Royal Shakespeare Company, as the villain Hans Gruber redefined the action genre villain. The man’s charm lies in that volatile mixture of violence and cunning, all sheathed in a gentlemanly civility. Hans is intelligent, and Rickman plays the part with not only a sense of the man he’s portraying, but an obvious respect for him as well. It doesn’t take much time for us to be aware that Hans is no ordinary terrorist.

Bruce Willis is perfect as the wisecracking John McClane, an “everyday” sort of guy who gets caught up in circumstances that force him to play the reluctant hero. This is a person that we can root for, even when some of the things he’s doing are humanly impossible. Willis’ acting skills are limited but it’s hard to imagine anyone else in this role. He play’s a hero who carries with him the smirks and wisecracks that helped make MOONLIGHTING a television hit and at the time of this film’s release they gambled an unheard of $5 million salary on a television star. I’m thinking it paid off well.

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DIE HARD is directed by John McTiernan (PREDATOR) and written by Jeb Stuart (THE FUGITIVE) and Steven E de Souza (48 HOURS) from Roderick Thorp’s book, NOTHING LASTS FOREVER, which is technically a sequel to the 1968 film, THE DETECTIVE, starring Frank Sinatra.

DIE HARD is partly an interracial buddy movie, partly the sentimental tale of a ruptured marriage, the film is largely a special-effects carnival full of machine-gun fire, roaring helicopters and an exploding tank. The strange thing is it works and is exceedingly stupid but escapist fun. It took a certain audacity to set an entire 100-megaton thriller inside a high-rise office building, and DIE HARD was an exhilarating blowout. The movie proved that Bruce Willis, toning down his TV smirk, could hold the big screen with surprising authority and that it would be far from a bad thing if all movie villains were as charming as Alan Rickman’s suavely malicious German terrorist.

3.5 Out Of 5 Stars

DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER (1990)

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It’s Christmas Eve, and John McClane (Bruce Willis) is in trouble… again. This time, the scene is no longer the Nakatomi Tower in Los Angeles, but Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C., where a group of terrorists led by the renegade Colonel Stewart (William Sadler, BILL & TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY) has taken command of the runways and control tower. Unless their demands, which include the immediate release of the drug lord on his way to the United States for trial, are met, Stewart’s band intends to start crashing planes. And Holly McClane (Bonnie Bedelia) is on one of those planes, endlessly circling above while a winter blizzard envelopes the already crippled airport. As before, it’s up to John to save the day.

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Based on Walter Wager’s novel 58 MINUTES, the screenplay by Steven E. de Souza (DIE HARD) and Doug Richardson (BAD BOYS) is persuasive braggadocio, a fast-churning, bloodthirsty canticle of mayhem. Directed by Finnish import Renny Harlin (CLIFFHANGER) in a breakneck excess that trades on both our fear of flying and our thrill in flying by the seats of our pants.

DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER zooms along like a roller coaster tanked with jet fuel. It’s rambunctiously entertaining, a loop-de-loopy bumper car ride through a firecracker sky, all bright lights, sonic booms and impossible heroics.

3 Out Of 5 Stars

DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE (1995)

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And now for my favorite way to DIE HARD… WITH A VENGEANCE!

In the previous DIE HARD movies, Bruce Willis started out as a reasonably well-groomed guy, only to end up as a tattered, bloody hero. In DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, he’s wearing a grimy undershirt at the start, as if to signal, “Let’s cut to the chase.” What fans expect, and what DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE delivers, is pure action, with bigger and better explosions and stunts. The movie turns two hours of bombings, subway crashes, car chases and helicopter pursuits into the ultimate roller-coaster ride.

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After the frighteningly realistic bombing of a Manhattan department store, McClane gets a call from a mad bomber named Simon (Jeremy Irons, THE LION KING), ordering him to stand on a Harlem street corner wearing a sandwich board bearing a motto that one would particularly hope not to be wearing in Harlem. McClane’s life is saved by a local store owner named Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson, PULP FICTION), who is then included in Simon’s strange game of cat and mouse. Simon is not, however, only a mad bomber. He has a purpose behind his behavior, and a private army at his command. And it turns out he has a motive for singling out McClane, since it was McClane who dropped Simon’s brother off that Los Angeles highrise in the first DIE HARD movie.

Willis and Jackson inhabit most of the scenes, usually together. They work well together as actors, Jackson’s observant detachment is a good counterpoint to Willis’ manic desperation. And there’s a running gag, as Simon sets the puzzles and Zeus solves them (although after all these years I’m still not quite clear how they used the three- and five-gallon jugs to measure out exactly four gallons of water). Willis is exactly what you’d expect and more so, a smirky, likable slob, and Jackson provides a good balance. He’s tense where Willis is laid-back, angry where Willis is ironic. With Jackson, it’s always personal.

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With extraordinary, state-of-the-art exaggeration, DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, written by Jonathan Hensleigh (ARMAGEDDON), goes from big to bigger to even bigger than that. It’s pointless to fully describe the escalation of menace, plot twists and other alarming developments that take place. There’s so much of it. Do you remember Nigel, the fictional British rocker in THIS IS SPINAL TAP, who insisted on turning up the volume of his amplifier to 11? DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE manages to reach that level.

DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE has scale and imagination, as well as a climax straight out of D.W. Griffith, with the picture inter-cutting between two simultaneous races against time. Director John McTiernan’s return to the DIE HARD genre is a triumph. I refer to more than two hours of blitzkrieg action, extraordinary stunts and explosions, and more climaxes than the previous two movies combined. Bruce Willis plays himself magnificently, while Samuel L. Jackson makes one of the greatest action-movie sidekicks, ever.

4 Out Of 5 Stars

LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (2007)

DIE HARD 4

The action begins quietly enough in the Washington, D.C., offices of the F.B.I., where an apparent hacker’s prank causes a security breach that drives the agency’s chief, Bowman (Cliff Curtis, PUSH), to order a roundup of all the mischievously inclined hackers in the country and have them brought to his office for questioning. So there is Detective McClane minding his own business, more or less, as a concerned parent when popping up at a lovers’ lane where his estranged daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, SKY HIGH), has done all she can to fend off the improperly breast-ward advances of a loutish date. The car door swings open and there is Daddy McClane with all his paternal fury, but Lucy is angrier with her father than she is with the by-now-confused boy. Poor John, like most contemporary lawmen, has made a mess of his marriage and alienated his children. Lucy storms up to her apartment alone, and her derailed date drives off after being glared at by the girl’s father—as only Mr. Willis can glare. McClane gets into his own car, preparing to call it a day, when he gets a call from his chief asking him as a favor to one of the chief’s friendly contacts at the F.B.I. to pick up a hacker named Matt Farrell (Justin Long, GALAXY QUEST) in Camden, New Jersey, and take him in for questioning. After protesting that this is a job for the New Jersey police, McClane drives off to what he thinks will be a routine assignment. Little does he know that Farrell has become the latest target of extinction by a malignant group of cyberterrorists. The computer-illiterate McClane quickly finds himself dodging with Farrell a seemingly inexhaustible succession of assassins all the way from New Jersey to Washington, D.C., and from there all across the East as a series of cyber-9/11’s rock the country.

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The bad guys in this instance are led by a rogue computer genius named Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant, JUSTIFIED) who has been shabbily treated by the federal government. His assistant is a sinister Asian beauty (Maggie Q, NIKITA). He intends to get his revenge by hacking into every computer-run system in the country, beginning with the transportation grid and ending with the financial system, from which he intends to drain every last penny before he’s finished. His scheme is called a “fire sale” (as in “everything must go”) and, of course, it will make him rich. But that’s not the point; the point is revenge. The central joke of the movie-and its not a bad one-is that it takes a rogue cop (McClane) to catch a rogue mastermind, nevermind the fact that McClane is so obviously computer illiterate. It’s hard to imagine him owning a PC, let alone cruising the Internet in search of blog tidbits or pornish delights. But if he did, we can only imagine him picking up a computer and hurling it to the floor when for some reason he had trouble paying bills online or balancing his checkbook. In other words, his short-tempered everyman has been dragged snarling and fretful into the computer age, and there’s some fun to be had from him.

DIE HARD 4 DV

From a screenplay by Mark Bomback (UNSTOPPABLE) and David Marconi (ENEMY OF THE STATE) and based on a story, A FAREWELL TO ARMS, by John Carlin (INVICTUS), Nothing in LIVE FREE OR DIE HARDcould or did happen. The action in this fast-paced, hysterically overproduced and surprisingly entertaining film is as realistic as a Road Runner cartoon. But the work done by stuntmen is amazing, and the many action set pieces are choreographed with breath-taking efficiency by director Len Wiseman (UNDERWORLD).

3 Out Of 5 Stars

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (2013)

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John McClane comes full circle in A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD, the fifth entry in the DIE HARD franchise. The unsinkable New York City cop played by Bruce Willis began by battling vaguely East German terrorists in 1988, then kept up with the times by hunting a Latin American dictator, a fiendish bank-robber and, in 2007, some “cyber” criminals. Now he’s back to Cold War containment, trying to stop renegade Russians from going nuclear.

We’re introduced first to a pair of Russians, Yuri Komarov (Sabastian Koch, UNKNOWN), a billionaire on trial for his life, and Viktor Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov, COLD SOULS), another billionaire afraid of what Yuri will say in court. In New York, Bruce Willis’ John McClane is concerned for his son Jack (Jai Courtney, JACK REACHER), whom he hasn’t seen in years. Informed that Jack’s in Russia, McClane heads to Moscow. There he finds Jack is a CIA agent assigned to bust Komarov out of jail because of a mysterious “file” that could lead to a cache of uranium. McClane tags along, grabbing guns to chip in with “killing all the scumbags.” Along the way, the NYPD vet tries to reconnect with his surly boy.

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This DIE HARD includes crunchy car chases and spectacular fireballs but forgets to give Willis’ McClane the grit, wit and lip that made him such an action icon. Everything is handed to him (guns, grenades and stylish leather jackets appear out of nowhere), yet he seems cranky and tired. He frequently mocks his injured son (“You need a hug?”), and his new refrain, “I’m on vacation!,” sounds more like a tourist’s complaint than a zippy tagline.

Directed by John Moore (MAX PAYNE) and written by Skip Woods (X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE), A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD is the lamest and most vacant of the quintet. It isn’t just the weakest of the DIE HARD pictures; it’s a lousy action movie on its own terms, even without comparing it to the adored 1988 franchise launch starring Bruce Willis as John McClane, the New York cop who’s a carnage magnet for all the terrorists and a super-cool symbol of American might, right and muttered wisecrack.

Be sure to check out WAMG’s own Jim Batts’ full review of DH5 here!

2 Out Of 5 Stars

In closing, it was an enjoyable experience even after being highly disappointed with the last film, I still say it was a day well spent. I do hope when the sixth movie comes out (it’s inevitable) they bring it back to what made the series the greatness it once was. Maybe bring director John McTiernan (after his legal troubles have subsided that is…) back and bring the story full-circle, throw in some of the characters from the previous movies like Al, Zeus and yes even Farrell. I’d also like some closure with the McClane family, maybe fill in the blank on what’s happened with Holly in the last three movies (not including her brief mentions) and her reaction to her children’s imminent danger in the last two, I’ve always thought of that as a big hole in this whole series especially since the first two movies revolved somewhat around her.

To some, spending 12 hours watching Bruce Willis non-stop on the big screen is too much but I say nay! It’s true I’ve seen the first four films multiple times on television but some movies are meant to be seen on the big screen and that goes especially for DIE HARD, this series changed the way we see action-movies and will forever be a classic. Next time an opportunity like this arises be sure to check it out for yourself, you won’t regret it!

I give the whole series a 3.5 out of 5 Stars.

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