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

Film Review: Terror Train (1980)

Also known as: Train of Terror
Release Date: October 3rd, 1980
Directed by: Roger Spottiswoode
Written by: T.Y. Drake
Music by: John Mills-Cockell
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Johnson, Hart Bochner, David Copperfield, Vanity (credited as D.D. Winters)

Astral Bellevue Pathé, Sandy Howard Productions, Triple T Productions, 20th Century Fox, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Well, you know what they say: cold hands, warm heart.” – Mitchy

This was the second film I watched in a New Year’s Eve slasher double bill that I hosted at my house. The first was New Year’s Evil.

Terror Train is the better of the two pictures. The main reason is that it is more imaginative. Also, it stars Jamie Lee Curtis while she was at the height of her run in the slasher genre. Plus, the killer uses different disguises, one of which looks like movie critic Gene Shalit dressed as a train conductor, as seen in the film’s poster.

While you pretty much know who the killer is and why he wants to kill these college kids, you still aren’t entirely sure if the killer is the horrible victim of the prank gone bad in the opening of the film. There are some swerves, here and there, and the overall plot is decently constructed, which is more than you can say for most slasher pictures.

This movie also features a very young David Copperfield. Obviously he plays a magician but those bits where he does tricks are pretty cool to see. I have always liked Copperfield and seeing him perform within the movie is a an extra treat.

One thing I like about this picture is the atmosphere. The film is pretty dark throughout but there is vivid lighting and a sort of mixture of neon highlights and a chiaroscuro lighting and shadowing style. The movie has a kind of subtle neo-noir vibe to it but it is probably more of a call back to the Italian giallo style of the ’70s. Those giallo pictures were very early versions of what would evolve into the standard slasher film framework.

Terror Train has this cool characteristic where it sort of pulls from classic horror, film-noir, giallo and even German Expressionism in the use of shadows and angles to create a feeling of disorientation. I don’t necessarily think that any of that was intentional, at the time, it is just a film that came out during a transitional period and wears its influences on its sleeve whether it knows it or not.

The film itself isn’t as exciting as its stylistic flourishes but it is still a slightly better than average slasher flick in a time when these films were pumped out like E. L. Fudge cookies at the Keebler factory.

Jamie Lee Curtis is good in this and you also get to see her play opposite of Hart Bochner, who is probably most remembered as that yuppie douche Ellis in Die Hard.

Rating: 6/10