Film Review: Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)

Also known as: Die Hard 2 (simplified title), 58 Minutes (working title)
Release Date: July 2nd, 1990 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Renny Harlin
Written by: Steven E. de Souza, Doug RIchardson
Based on: 58 Minutes by Walter Wagner, characters by Roderick Thorpe
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, William Atherton, Reginald VelJohnson, Franco Nero, William Sadler, John Amos, Dennis Franz, Art Evans, Fred Thompson, Tom Bower, Sheila McCarthy, Vondie Curtis-Hall, John Leguizamo, Robert Patrick, Mark Boone Junior, Colm Meaney, Robert Costanzo, Tony Ganios

Twentieth Century Fox, Gordon Company, Silver Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“Oh man, I can’t fucking believe this. Another basement, another elevator. How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” – John McClane

Why the fuck do people shit on this movie? It’s a solid action flick with a solid action star that also boasts one of the manliest casts ever assembled for a motion picture not named The Expendables.

I love this movie and while I can recognize that it isn’t a perfect masterpiece like its predecessor, it is still a fine motion picture that helped to make the original Die Hard Trilogy one of the greatest trilogies of all-time. That was all undone and fucked up once Hollywood went back to the cow to milk the tits off of the franchise years later but I still consider the first three Die Hards to be a trilogy and that’s that.

John McClane is back and honestly, that’s all you really need. However, they set this one at Christmas, once again, and then padded out the rest of the cast with some of the coolest male actors of the time: Franco Nero, William Sadler, John Amos, Dennis Franz, Art Evans, Fred Thompson, Tom Bower, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Robert Patrick, John Leguizamo, Mark Boone Junior and Colm Meaney. Not to mention that they also brought back Bonnie Bedelia, William Atherton and Reginald VelJohnson in a cameo.

There is so much testosterone in this picture that it is hard to see the movie sometimes as it’ll spill over the top of the screen and ooze down the front of it. If that’s not what you’re looking for in an action flick circa 1990, then go watch Fried Green Tomatoes with your Aunt Millicent!

This film grabs you from the get go and doesn’t let go until the credits roll. It’s packed full of action and when shit isn’t blowing up or getting shot at, we’re treated to solid scenes between the solid cast and thus, there isn’t a dull moment in this entire picture.

I love the chemistry between just about everyone in this film. Bruce Willis, at least in this era, could work with anybody and bring the best out of them. While the guy has unparalleled charisma, it always seems to carry over and rub off on anyone he works with. I absolutely loved his banter with Dennis Franz and I also loved his camaraderie with Art Evans.

Looking at another tandem that’s great in this picture, I have to tip my hat to Bonnie Bedelia and William Atherton. This is their second time playing these characters that are at odds with one another but they work so well together that it kind of sucks that they never came back for any of the other films.

Look, it is hard to top perfection, which is what the first Die Hard was. But, man, this is a really good attempt at trying to follow it up and just give the fans more of what they wanted.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Die Hard movies, as well as other Bruce Willis action films of the era.

Film Review: Salem’s Lot (1979)

Also known as: Salem’s Lot: The Movie (cable TV title), Blood Thirst (video title), Phantasma 2 (Spain), Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (Netherlands), Salem’s Lot: The Miniseries (Germany)
Release Dates: November 17th, 1979, November 24th, 1979
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Paul Monash
Based on: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Music by: Harry Sukman
Cast: David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, Bonnie Bedelia, Lew Ayres, Ed Flanders, Fred Willard, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor

Warner Bros. Television, CBS, 184 Minutes (uncut), 183 Minutes (DVD), 200 Minutes (TV), 112 Minutes (theatrical version)

Review:

“You’ll enjoy Mr. Barlow. And he’ll enjoy you.” – Straker

The last time I watched this wonderful film/TV miniseries was just before the 2004 remake came out. So it’s been a really long time and because of that, I guess I forgot how incredibly fantastic this was.

While I’ve never read the book, I know about what changes they made in this adaptation and frankly, I’m fine with all the major tweaks.

For one, the vampire is not some Eastern European dandy of the Bela Lugosi variety. Instead, Tobe Hooper gave us a vampire that is more reminiscent of Count Orlok from the 1922 film Nosferatu. And the late ’70s were a great time for vampire movies, especially lovers of F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu between this picture and the Nosferatu remake by Werner Herzog.

Another change that was made is that the final confrontation with the heroes and the vampire took place in the creepy basement of the vampire’s house, as opposed to one of the heroes’ homes. The vampire house was truly a character all its own in this film and it made this movie a mixture of classic vampire fiction and a traditional haunted house story.

What’s really great about the finale, is that the house that was created for the film is absolutely terrifying and enchanting all at the same time. The set designers created an incredibly creepy mansion for the final showdown and it truly brought the dread onscreen to a whole other level. A level that this film couldn’t have reached had they kept the story true to Stephen King’s novel.

The vampire mansion is just one part of this movie’s mesmerizing atmosphere, though.

All the scenes that feature some sort of supernatural element take on a strange life of their own. The scenes where the vampire children come to the windows and float into the rooms at night with fog billowing in are f’n incredible!

Honestly, for its time and maybe all-time, Salem’s Lot takes the cake for creating a perfect ambiance for a horror picture on the small screen. Honestly, I’d love to see this on the big screen, if it is ever showing somewhere near me.

The vampire kids at the window was so well done that it became a bit of a trope following this film. It was used in other movies like The Lost Boys and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Plus, this film has a moment where a character is impaled by deer antlers mounted on the wall. This would go on to be seen in other movies as well.

Additionally, this would inspire vampire movies in other regards. Fright Night borrows from Salem’s Lot in different ways. That film even has a big finale in the vampire’s home and while it isn’t as incredible as the finale of Salem’s Lot, it is still a great sequence that is a nice homage to it. Fright Night is a classic in its own right, which also spawned a sequel, a remake and sequel to the remake. I even heard a rumor that it may be turned into a television show in the future.

But while this film would go on to inspire countless others, Tobe Hooper, the director, also had his own homages to other films in this, primarily the work of Alfred Hitchcock and his masterpiece Psycho. The vampire mansion has a very similar appearance to the house on the hill above Bates Motel. Hooper also employed similar shots.

For a TV movie, this also has some pretty good acting but no one else quite kills it like James Mason. He absolutely owns every frame of celluloid in which he appears. I’ve always loved Mason but seeing him truly get to ham it up while being terrifying was so damn cool. And honestly, Mason looked like he was loving this film, as he was so committed to the role that he breathed life into it that no other actor probably could have.

Salem’s Lot is a bonafide classic and pretty close to perfect. My only complaint about it is the running time. The film does feel a bit slow in parts but it was a two-part miniseries and had a lot of characters and subplots. In fact, those were all greatly trimmed down from the original novel and some characters were combined to simplify the story. But honestly, I’m still okay with the final result and I wouldn’t trim much, as almost every scene featuring the main characters feels necessary.

In the end, I love this movie; more so than I remembered. I’m glad that I revisited it after all these years and I feel like it’s a film that I will go back to fairly often now that I’ve been reminded as to just how damn good it is.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu remake, as well as other vampire films of the ’70s and 2000s Shadow of the Vampire.

Film Review: Die Hard (1988)

Release Date: July 12th, 1988 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: John McTiernan
Written by: Jeb Stuart, Steven E. de Souza
Based on: Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Alexander Godunov, Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleason, De’voreaux White, William Atherton, Clarence Gilyard, Hart Bochner, James Shigeta, Al Leong, Robert Davi, Rick Ducommun, Mary Ellen Trainor, Wilhelm von Homburg

Gordon Company, Silver Pictures, 20th Century Fox, 132 Minutes

Review:

“This time John Wayne does not walk off into the sunset with Grace Kelly.” – Hans Gruber, “That was Gary Cooper, asshole.” – John McClane

I ended the year and the holiday season on a bang, as I got to see Die Hard on the big screen. I saw the second and the third ones in the theater but seeing the original on a 3o foot tall screen wasn’t something I got to experience when I was nine years-old in the summer of 1988. I’m glad I got to rectify that injustice, as Die Hard is purely perfection.

Yes, I know that using a word like “perfection” is pretty bold but Die Hard made a bold statement when it came out in a time when the action genre was ruled over by the two kings of the ’80s: Stallone and Schwarzenegger.

Bruce Willis was a nobody in 1988, other than being Cybill Shepherd’s sidekick on TV’s Moonlighting and for playing a good villain in one episode of Miami Vice. This is the film that made him a star and a household name, almost instantly.

This film has a pretty amazing ensemble cast as well. You have two of the ’80s biggest weaselly character actors with Paul Gleason (The Breakfast Club) and William Atherton (Ghostbusters and Real Genius). You have the ’80s and ’90s quintessential lovable cop, Carl Winslow himself, Reginald VelJohnson. You’ve also got Robert Davi as an FBI agent and Al Leong as an evil henchman, which was his modus operandi back in the ’80s.

The two biggest parts, after Willis’ John McClane, are Bonnie Bedelia, as his wife, and Alan Rickman, as the German terrorist Hans Gruber. As great as Rickman always was and even considering his iconic run as Snape in the Harry Potter films, this, to me, was always his greatest role. Having just seen this again, I still feel that this was the greatest and coolest role that Rickman ever had. He played it so well, even with his fairly funny scenes faking an American accent.

While the 1980s gave us the best action movies of all-time, many of them have flaws and a certain level of cheesiness to them, especially now, three decades later. Die Hard, however, still brings it. And while it has its funny lines and moments, they never got cheesy. It all still works and works well. The plot is solid, the action is amazing, well thought out, well executed and there are a lot of layers to the film that all weave together in a sort of brilliant way that you just don’t see in straight up action flicks.

Die Hard is perfect. And the reason why is that it is damn near impossible to pick it apart and to try and figure out a better way to make it work. It doesn’t feel dated and it should when looked at within the context of when it came out and what the standard was at the time. The vast majority of Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s movies feel dated but somehow, Die Hard feels truly timeless. It’s a smarter and better executed film than one would probably assume at first glance. It is greater than the sum of its parts and all the elements of the film come together seamlessly and impeccably.

Rating: 10/10