Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Netflix pick of the month: My favorite Xmas movie

DIE HARD. A 1988 holiday classic.

Bruce Willis arrives at his estranged wife’s company Christmas party in a high rise to find that a group of terrorists are holding everyone hostage. Yes, it’s a familiar holiday theme but handled in a fresh fun way.

Who needs chestnuts roasting when you have C4 explosives? Why bother with carolers when you can have a SWAT team? And Santa and his reindeer give way to the more preferable snipers in a helicopter.

No need for old St. Nick to come down the chimney. Bruce Willis comes down the elevator shaft.

It’s a story filled with dreams, detonators, family reconciliations, Germans, a character named Holly, hostages, armored vehicles, and stunts that can only be justified as magic.

Bruce Willis proves to be a breakout action star and newcomer Alan Rickman is such a delicious diabolical villain you’d vote for him today if he were running for president against Bush.

You’ve probably seen DIE HARD. Or the 42 knockoffs that the film inspired (true story: some years later a writer pitched a studio “DIE HARD in an office building”). But you saw it as a summer action blockbuster. See it again as a holiday family drama with people gunned down by machine guns.

Every time a siren blares an angel gets his wings.

You can still vote for your favorite Daffy Definition. Exercise your civic duty and go here to have your voice heard.


Emily Blake said...

Oh yes. Last year right before Christmas Cinemateque showed a double feature of Die Hard and Bad Santa in the Santa Monica theater. That was pretty awesome.

This year they're showing Jingle All the Way.

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ELS said...

Best thing that differentiated "Die Hard" from every other action movie at the time was that taste of realism. John McClain wasn't tall, handsome, strong enough to tear a door off a wall and smash three guards into unconsciousness with it, and able to withstand a hail of bullets with a half grin. He actually RAN OUT OF AMMUNITION. When he was walking around barefoot, someone actually decided to use broken glass to stop him... and IT CUT HIM.

It also seemed that Rickman was a smart bad guy, not an obsessive maniac ignorant of how the world works - "Get me ten billion dollars in four hours or I blow up Montana!"

It's a really good piece of film, and even the first sequel was still pretty palatable.

I Remain,
Eric L. Sofer
The Bad Clown

Anonymous said...

There are other, hidden, glories to Die Hard. For example, it gave Bruce Willis a film career which must have vexed the ever-lovin' snot out of Cybill Shepherd whose own film career had gone the way of her singing career; then as now something devoutly to be wished.

It also gave a career boost to the guy who played Urkel's dad. (Dad?)

Toby O'B said...

And just in time for Christmas, Reginald VelJohnson showed up on 'Chuck' this past Monday night playing Al Powell once again!

Anonymous said...

Growing up, my parents and six siblings watched all the traditional favorites: Going My Way, The Bishop's Wife, We're No Angels, It's a Wonderful Life, etc. Christmas Eve did not begin until the Republic Pictures tolled at the end of It's Wonderful Life.
When I was 15 my mom was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. Two terrible years later she died. That first Christmas was one of raw grief. Other people would have a Merry Christmas, but not us. So no Bing Crosby, Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart. Instead we had a double feature of "The Terminator" followed by "Die Hard."
Life went on. Things got better. I still see my six siblings every Christmas. Haven't seen Bruce or Arnold's opus since that Christmas.

Corinne said...

Alan Rickman is fantastic. He was great in "Die Hard" but I confess that his role as Alexander Dane/Dr. Lazarus in "Galaxy Quest" showed how well he could do comedy.

estiv said...

(true story: some years later a writer pitched a studio “DIE HARD in an office building”).

The account I read was that the pitch was made to one of the producers of the original Die Hard, who behaved with a patience unknown to such as Louis B. Mayer. As for that writer -- is there such a word as "uber-clueless?"

Anonymous said...

my favorite non-traditional Xmas movie is "Trading Places"

also, for us jews, "The Hebrew Hammer" is worth watching once
-a jewish "blaxploitation" movie with Adam Goldberg as a Hasidic Shaft like character trying to save Hanukkah

Anonymous said...

It should also be noted that Die Hard also has two of the great actors-playing-asses of late-20th-century cinema: Paul Gleason and William Atherton. If they'd tossed in James Rebhorn, they'd have hit the trifecta.

There's no doubt that Alan Rickman set the gold standard for showy villain roles that are now so de rigeur. And I'm pretty sure I'm the only chick who decided to see Sense and Sensibility because of how much she loved Rickman in Die Hard.

Gridlock said...

Best bit of Die Hard trivia - it was originally written as the sequel to Commando.

Anonymous said...

"Last year right before Christmas Cinemateque showed a double feature of Die Hard and Bad Santa in the Santa Monica theater."

That is too awesome for words! Two of my absolute favorite Christmas movies together! I am envious. I wish a theatre up here in Toronto would do that, I'd gladly head out in the snow to see them.

Jason said...

Die Hard and Die Hard 2 are Christmas traditions in my house, along with the more traditional classics. Also, The Ref.

Anonymous said...

Yippee Kia Ay, Mellon Farmer.

Anonymous said...

LOL, great choice. It's been both mine and my sister's favourite Christmas movie since it came out.

Kirk said...


Urkel's neighbor, not his dad.

I also feel the need to defend Cybill Shepherd's film career, at least how it played out in the 1970s. She holds her own acting opposite Robert De Niro in TAXI DRIVER. I'm thinking particularly of the scene in the restaraunt where she has to convince us that she's actually attracted to that wingnut. She's also not bad playing straight man to Albert Brooks.

And she gives a good performance in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, but even if she hadn't, how could you ever forget that swimming pool scene?

Anonymous said...


You misjudge me. I'm not saying CS had no film career. I am saying that was the case by the late 80s and, given both her personality -- I'm not at liberty to divulge the specifics -- and her relationship with BW, the way things played out must have galled her to no end.

And I never saw that show, so I am kind of pleased I didn't know he was Urkel's dad.

Kirk said...


I sensed a slight slight in your comment expressing delight in your ignorance as to the role that guy played on FAMILY MATTERS, and was all prepared to issue an angry defense or rebuttel. The only thing that stopped me is that I'm not exactly sure what I should defend or rebut. I do have a vivid memory of that show, so, at the very least, I didn't MIND it terribly much. I also didn't have cable at the time, and in that 3 channel universe (5 if you count PBS and UHF) you just tended to ABSORB things.

Oh, I know what I liked about that show. That girl from Dawn was on it. She was good. Almost as good as Cybill Shepherd.

(For all I know she was a bitch off-screen. Maybe that's why Tony Orlando dumped her)

Anonymous said...

Ugh. Really? A movie everyone's seen a thousand times?

TVBlogster said...

I watched this film for the first time in 20 years for a script analysis class I had over the summer. I dragged my heels to view it again because I'm not an action/adventure kind of person and forgot the whole film over the years. It was sensational. We analyzed this film and the script for week. Allegory galore - using "The Hero's Journey" as our guide.

The other Die Hards sucked, tho.

Anonymous said...


That's because I'm something of a prock.

P.S. My WVW is "cakedled" a portmanteau of "cake" and "handled"

Anonymous said...

Joe: I hope prock and some of the other WV coinages catch on. I just saw the Sarah Silverman episode in which she tries to create and popularize her own word, "ozay," but is upstaged by Brian Posehn's "dotnose."

Anonymous said...

In fact! We could give them further cred by using them in combination.

Example: I'd say dispimp is an absolute prock.

P.S. My WVW is "prelecom" which as we know is what comes before a lecom, and much earlier than a postlecom.

Anonymous said...

There's a scene in the original D.H. that illustrates beautifully the hazards of pan-and-scan cropping for video release.
In the 2.20:1 original when Alan Rickman's character coldly terminates the CEO, you see Godunov and the other henchman morbidly settling a bet in the background. In the P&S the bit disappears.

Anonymous said...

Oh the glories of "Die Hard," on of my very favoritist movies.

FBI agents Johnson & Johnson

The unhinged terrorist Alexander Godunov

James Shigeta's last words "Well, you'll just have to kill me."

Alan Richman as the world's best dressed thief pretending to be a terrorist but really homicidal at his core.

"Let It Snow" as an ironic comment on all the action.

Roy Rogers as the ultimate inspiration for American courage and cowboy cool. Who knew?

Bonnie Bedelia as a woman so smart you'd want her as your wife. And you'd be willing to fight for her, even if she's constantly pissed off at you.

Paul Gleason at his buffooniest.

Hart Bochner as the slime bucket so full of himself he practically begs Hans Gruber to kill him.

Reginald VelJohnson harvesting Twinkies from the Arco station on Olympic. And the fact that his character's fat cop backstory is resolved so well at the end.

That Bruce Willis' John McClain keeps on quipping no matter how beat he gets -- just the way we all hope we'd be in the same ludicrous situation.

William Atherton as a reporter so slimy he'd turn in the McClain's housekeeper to the INS and exploit their kids. And put John and Holly McClain in even more danger.

Tons of great action, about an acre-foot of great dialogue and a couple of good tit shots.

TCinLA said...

The story of how "Die Hard" is one that proves William Goldman was right when he famously said that "the three rules of Hollywood are: Nobody. Knows. Anything."

Fox "owed" a movie to Bruce Willis for "Moonlighting." They had the property of this novel, and they also had this big high-rise building they owned that was built but not finished, and had no tenants in it. So they could do the movie really cheap with Willis - who was pleading to do a non-comedy role even though everyone "knew" he was a comedy actor. They also had an option to exercise with McTiernan as a director. The most expensive part of the deal was having Steven DeSouza rewrite Jeb Stuart's adaptation of the novel, and even that wasn't so expensive because DeSouza had yet to "make his bones".

So they went off like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland and shot this little movie in this "free" set (which allowed them to write off the cost of having it there while the contractors were still working on it), and they wouldn't owe Willis anything more and he'd owe them another season of Moonlighting.

And, just as "no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!" - no one expects some little throwaway project to be a hit...

TCinLA said...

Forgot to mention, while DeSouza had written "Commando", he had not been overjoyed with it being turned into a "superhero" story, so when he realized that "Die Hard" was going to be a movie that wasn't going to have a lot of attention paid to it in production (i.e., too small for the "geniuses" in development to screw with and fuck up), and was going to have a star who wasn't an "action hero," the script ended up with all those small bits of "realism" like the business of running out of ammo and being barefoot and having to worry about the broken glass and such that everyone likes. A lot of us who write that genre know that when the her in an action movie isn't a superhero, but rather a more "everyday guy," his victory is bigger because he has to work for it. But try explaining that to the "geniuses" who were panting to cast whichever pumped-up steroid addict was the "flavor of the month" back then.