#821 Die Hard (1988)

When Die Hard hit the big screen, Bruce Willis wasn’t much of anyone in Hollywood. After this movie premiered in 1988, he became a household name and one of the biggest box office draws of the late 20th century. In addition to his performance that evoked heroism, drama, and humor, Alan Rickman’s performance as Hans Gruber was also a legendary intro to Hollywood after similarly only appearing in some small television dramas (however his impact on the stage prior to acting on film is undisputed). As each seemingly incidental story arc and setup unfolds in this heart-pounding action flick, we are rooting for the good guys to come out on top and find that all of the little setups have a rewarding place later in the film.

Repeated viewings over the past thirty years, and this “one-man-army…rollercoaster ride of a movie” (Joanna Berry, Schneider) has certainly kept its charm and not gotten old. It is simply one of the greatest action movies ever made, from its opening frames in a turbulent airplane to the unforgettable final sequence outside the doomed Nakatomi Plaza. A true edge-of-your-seat popcorn classic.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Die_Hard

Jennifer

As one of two Christmas movies my husband is willing to watch with me, I was excited to get the holiday spirit rolling at our house.

It’s Christmas eve in L.A., and evil terrorist Hans Gruber and his minions storm the corporate holiday party, kidnap the employees, and work to carry out their plan to steal six-hundred million dollars.   They are all blond, probably Russian, but none of them thought ahead to pack a hair elastic for this mission? I think a ponytail would have served them well.  The fly in their ointment of a perfect heist is  New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis). This move has some almost silly gratuitous violence and bloodshed, along with some great comedic performances and impressive practical effects.

Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman are great as the hero and the villain, but my favorite character in this movie has to be Reginald Veljohnson as Sgt. Al Powell.  The dynamic between his character and Bruce Willis’s, although they only appear on screen together once, helped to propel the plot forward and added some great comedic dialogue in the midst of all the machine guns blazing and knee cap shootin’.

In our book, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die,  the author notes, ” When McClane takes his shoes and socks off in the beginning, you just know that’s going to be a plot device later…”   This and the evolution of his white undershirt throughout the movie can’t be missed.

“Yippee-ki-yay!”

Garrett

As a kid that grew up in the midst of all of these incredible films as they came out,  Die Hard evokes some real nostalgia when I watch it. As a trained writer years later, I am in awe of all of how well this film is able to inject little plot and story elements that eventually pay off by the end of the film. I have probably literally watched this movie a hundred times, and not only has it has not gotten old, but it manages to surprise me with some new elements of wonder every time I watch it.

From sets and costumes that are surprisingly not (that) dated (somehow), to the personalities of even the smallest actor having a convincingly fleshed-out idea of their motivations and character, Die Hard is the yardstick by which every action film that came after it is measured. The sequels are even more fun, my favorite in the original trilogy being …with a Vengeance which actually bucked the trend of bad sequels happening to good movies. I hate to admit it, but I haven’t seen the fourth or fifth yet for fear that it will turn out like my experience with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – as The Last Crusade came out in 1989…  Those were the years of good movies, folks, and apparently the ones we’re living in now are the years of the bad, too-stretched-out sequels.

Anyway, Die Hard remains one of my favorite film staples with good reason. It was a pleasure revisiting it for Before We Die Films. Side note, it is only one of a handful of Christmas films I can actually stomach. It shares a spot on the list with Gremlins, Bad Santa, Lethal Weapon, Harry Potter, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas (which, let’s face it, is a Halloween movie), and RENT (which I would say I prefer the filming of the stage musical to the actual feature film).

This is a movie based on a book, but not one I will likely be picking up.

#727 Terms of Endearment (1983)

Terms of Endearment swept the 1983 Academy Awards as a “successful Mainstream American weepie” (Schneider) that combines comedy, fun, romance and tears into a two-hour thirty-year mother-daughter spectacle. Based on the novel by Larry McMurty, this film features some top-notch performances that carry a script that we didn’t entirely agree on whether it was successful or not. While we enjoyed it, it was overly sentimental and melodramatic and times, and we feel like we want to scoff at Joanna Berry’s suggestion that it is a “tearjerker of the highest order” and “keep(s) sickly sentiment at bay.” Some of the directorial decisions made us ‘meh’ quite a bit, even though as a whole it is a fantastic ensemble piece that is carried by the acting much more than the script and unfortunate editing choices.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terms_of_Endearment

Garrett

After watching this film, I decided that I loved the idea of it, but the execution of it was all wrong. The primary thing I have with it is that it was a huge missed opportunity for the director and screenwriter in terms of what my expectations of the piece are from a storytelling standpoint, and it was the performances of the actors that carried this disjointed and sometimes ridiculously melodramatic piece. That is somewhat of a tragedy since the time that we are watching this film is exactly the time of our lives we are living – it had a lot of potential in terms of the emotional and mental position of us as audience members, but when the end came (and I knew it was coming) my reaction was a simple, “well, that’s sad for them,” some more disjointed scenes, and then roll credits. I mean, I should feel like I am just like Jeff Daniels’ character in age, profession, stress, fatherhood, etc, but honestly, I found myself caring for and identifying more with Garrett… because who else would you want to be? Besides, we share a name (don’t even get me started on the heavy-handed use of aptronym).

To begin, the transitions in the film were so off that I found myself wondering how much time had gone by and whether or not characters were even still in a relationship at all. In one scene, Emma is drinking wine and moving out of their house, and in the next she is six months pregnant, but they aren’t unpacked yet and there was nothing in the transition that suggests any time went by at all. In another, Emma leaves forever and is happy, and a week (or month, or six months) goes by, but in the next scene it appears she actually wasn’t leaving forever and it has only been a few days. And what’s with Danny DeVito?

The dramatic moments are sometimes too much, and sometimes things that should be too much are shaken off by Emma’s character with a joke and a titter. This says a lot about her character, in a good way, but the elemental overarching fall-to-the-floor crying and devastation was never convincing to me. Nor were the characterization and lines of Flap and Aurora as well. Was Flap cheating? The movie ended and I was convinced he wasn’t until he said in the hospital room… but he didn’t really say he was, he just said it was an issue in their relationship. What? Honestly, this might just be an editing issue, but I was confused, and that made me care less at the end.

Now, the thing about the film is that while I think the story could be told a lot better (this movie had some great scenes, but it would essentially be The World According to Garp if The World According to Garp sucked, but I am convinced that the book is a great deal better because the medium matches this kind of disjointedness and it would make sense), it is the performances that truly carry this film. MacLaine, Nicholson, Winger, and Daniels were stellar, and they took a script and a concept and embodied the complexity of characters that may not have had that complexity on the page.

That says a lot about Hollywood and casting decisions as a whole anyway. That even with a bad script, one can make a touching and believable movie with the right ensemble, and that is what you have here. I can forget about the parts I didn’t like, but I won’t forget what I saw come out of the actors. They believed their roles, they embodied them, and it was real.

Two last things. While my opinions may not be popular, the commerciality of the flick without a clear handle on the execution is best summed up with The fact that a sequel followed it up thirteen years later that lost $8 million – that the production wouldn’t work without the same cast, even if everything else was the same. Second…The opening scene? I laughed for ten minutes… until I saw the look I was getting from my wife. Dads and husbands, take note.

Jennifer

I have to say I love discovering older movies with some of my favorite actors.  Jeff Daniels and Jack Nicholson deliver terrific performances in this movie, and similarly, Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine are stellar.

The transitions and some of the editing in this movie is disorienting and did leave us speculating about what did or did not happen in the plot, but the performances by these actors were so powerful and astonishing that you continue to love and care about them even if you’re not too sure what’s going on in the film.   I really feel like the cast carries the whole movie.  Even the supporting actors like John Lithgow and Jack Nicholson were terrifically fun to watch.

This movie does have some dated elements, like the horrible “soft touch” effects in the beginning.  Also, as soon as Emma found the lump under her arm you just knew exactly where the plot was making a beeline for.

I really enjoyed most of the middle of this movie, but I did find the ending overly sentimental and somewhat emotionally manipulating.  The beginning is such a jerky start/stop of flashbacks and flashforwards that it takes a while to get your bearings in the film.  To echo Garrett,  what’s the deal with Danny DeVito?

This movie delivers some unforgettable performances.  It delivers a mix  of comedy and drama with some overly saccharine scenes, but in the end absolutely worth a watch.

 

 

BigChill

#723 The Big Chill (1983)

The Big Chill is Lawrence Kasdan’s sharply anti-Hollywood ensemble piece that takes a bunch of 1960s baby boomer friends, shoots them into the world and displaces them only to reunite them for the funeral of their dear, unknown friend Alex. Teetering on the edge of reality show and soap-drama, this film was clearly an edgy addition to the films of its period as it dealt primarily with subtle, complicated interpersonal relationships arising from the distance of miles and decades. Battered throughout with a nostalgic soundtrack, The Big Chill delivers the complicated weaving of several tales into a piece that seems to be able to keep each characters plates effectively spinning for its hundred minutes. The final paragraph in Schneider’s book perfectly sums up the spirit of the film that “captures all the idealistic feelings and disappointments of a ’60s generation stuck in the far more materialistic ’80s, while The Big Chill‘s ensemble cast delivers just the right combination of sadness and humor, never lapsing into sentimentality.”

We watched The Big Chill on Criterion (#720.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Big_Chill_(film)

Jennifer

This movie is perfectly cast and has all the elements of an amazing movie.  It begins with the funeral of college friend, Alex.  The seven remaining close friends are reunited to share their memories of him and of themselves as young adults.   As the friends are reunited at the funeral and the days following, each of their personal stories, complicated entanglements, and unresolved issues begin to be revealed.  And then…. not much else happens.   Each character’s crisis is largely unresolved.  Things go left unsaid, major life changes do not occur,  each person takes their regular place to resume the life they had been leading before.  And maybe that’s the point?

The characters are both likable and horrible.  They were clearly popular and beautiful, and over and over again reminisce about old college memories.  When one friend interjects that they hadn’t even met the group yet, and could not have been at an event, the characters give barely a pause.  They have polished their memories to represent themselves in the most favorable light and have no concern with reckoning with the truth of the matter.

The soundtrack to this movie is kickin’.  I remember growing up and seeing the Big Chill record album  in constant rotation at my house – and for good reason.  Actually, the music may be the best part of this movie.

Also, can not argue with movie’s answer of “dance party” to solve every awkward moment/internal crisis.

Garrett

This was a stellar ensemble piece that featured impeccable performances by a cast that truly found working together second nature. I thought about this film quite a bit after seeing it. I posted that we were watching it on Facebook, and then heard from many people that it was their favorite film, that they owned the soundtrack, and that they were moved by it. For me, these responses shocked me a little, and I am going to go into this in what is likely an ill-informed commentary-criticism below…but I stand behind my thoughts on the film, because the more I thought about it, the more I began to think that maybe my perspective was a bit off in terms of watching it today and recognizing that this film was largely about our parents…and then again, maybe their perspective is off because of nostalgia for their own youth and not for what this film really portrays.

For some reason, I saw this film hovering around the portrait of several characters in the midst of a cloud of strange narcissism. They all converge on this funeral, and as they gear up for arriving each is in their own little world in their routines. Then, as they converge on the house where they stay, they have their own routines, read their own things, and all have to do their hair as evident by the hair dryers everyone has. But if you pay attention to what they are talking about, they are all talking about themselves the entire time. The movies, the club, the writing, the not writing. They slowly connect to one another, but it is all about what each individual person wants for themselves in terms of the connection – sex, a baby, a way out of a boring marriage. They are so self-absorbed that they rarely realize that they never circle back to occasionally remembering why they were there to begin with – Alex. The few times it happens, the characters are by themselves, and a gaping hole opens in them.It is evident in the baby talk, the filming of themselves, and a tremendous amount of self-involvement until there.

This narcissism is almost directly evident in the scene with Hurt is filming himself with a camcorder, and conducting an interview that is a quasi-therapy session. We never see the scene finish, though, except that he is momentarily interrupted. The same goes for a quick mention of Vietnam, and cut scene. My bad marriage, cut scene. What are we to do?, dance party. As a matter of fact, almost every gravitational and meaningful scene is interrupted by an “alligator over the transom,” that is, some deus ex machina to transfer the scene to some unimportant flitting surprise involvement that is out of their control – the bat, the football game, the Temptations, the police. And yet, the only emotion comes alone, in a crushing wave of tears and horror of knowing one’s time on earth is limited…and then, disappears again before anything can truly be discovered.

I know. I am redundant. But the impulsivity and lost wandering amidst those you spent your youth with, and then focusing primarily on impressing them or telling about some big upcoming project or investment (which was never actually going to happen by the way) is simply the characters holding a mirror up to themselves and trying to then turn it around for everyone to look at…but all they see is their own reflection since the mirror is completely opaque-reflective.

And what about Alex?

The Big Chill felt like The Breakfast Club before The Breakfast Club was The Breakfast Club…And it was about their parents instead. Which is funny because in both films the characters are facing this huge narcissistic existentialist crisis… If anything reinforces this horror movie of self-involvement, it is the completely artificial sitcom ending and the obsession with the video camera. If this film took place today, it would be with an anxiety-addled twentysomething whose youtube rants go unwatched in the vast scope of the millions of minutes uploaded every second, and who refuses to see their friends because our character has nothing to show for the last decade. Or they could lie. Or some other drastic choice. Regardless, Alex was completely forgotten in this film, and he was the centerpiece of the whole conflict, and our characters did everything they could to talk about themselves because they hadn’t seen one another in so long. Everyone’s conflict was within themselves, and they bounced off one another’s conflicts like multiball in a pinball machine. Pretty to look at, but it doesn’t really affect anything besides the arbitrary score on the machine.

Do I think it is a good film? I think it was an excellent film, but a tragedy more than anything. I think that it also really puts the culture of my parents into perspective. Where it might suggest something about myself, or should, it ultimately makes me look at these characters and feel no connection to them at all. I immediately saw baby boomers, their selfishness and indirection, and constant striving to…do what? Make money? Score cocaine? Only worry about what they want, immediately, now, with no regard for possible bystander consequences?

Thank god these people didn’t have children…Then again, that lucky bed…

I think that the actors in this film knew exactly what they were going for, and they were impeccably believable in these roles and working together. Perhaps that is what everyone loves about the film – that these people are so genuine, three-dimensional, and real. Perhaps that is what I think is so awful about their characters, and why the film is so accurate.

 

#704 E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

One of the most memorable films of our youth, E.T. is easily a vehicle that carried the career of Spielberg and the 1980s. It is a well orchestrated, completely sentimental piece that was one of those definitive 1980s theatrical experiences. Buttressed by a cast that convincingly props up our little foam rubber protagonist, E.T. “works as a delightful adventure that appeals to the child in all of us, also delivering enough sentimental moments to have the hardest viewer reduced to a blubbering mess before the end credits” (Schneider’s book). Rife with 80s cinematic cliches, the film can easily hold its ground as being one of the first to make them happen, and that is where the magic certainly never gets old.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E.T._the_Extra-Terrestrial

Jennifer

I loved watching this movie again!  I saw it for the first time in elementary school ( it was the 80’s who knows why we got to watch it?).  One thing that really appealed to me about this film as a kid and as an adult is how unrealistic the story is – but so highly entertaining.  The use of the real puppet/model added  so much  more to the character and the film than CGI ever could.  In reading about the movie it was fascinating to learn how they create the puppet, sometimes manned by a 12-year old actor with his hands portrayed by a different female actress.

While the storyline itself seems far-fetched and sometimes very disjointed, the actors, especially the kids in the movie, delivered strong performances that were still enjoyable to watch as adults.  The adults and the parents in this movie are often absent, an afterthought, or of minor importance until the very end.  I felt that this really captured how kids perceive the world around them – that anything is possible,  that rules can change, or bend.

I also loved everything about the sets, from the quintessential 1980’s house with rugs in every room and the wood paneling on the wall, to spotting and identifying past products and their logos.

This film, its story and its many memorable images continue to hold up today.  The seven-year-old was enthralled watching this film – as was I.

 

Garrett

E.T. I remember it. I remember the stuffed animal I had, the little plastic E.T. guy with the little thumb thing on the back that made his neck elongate and his head go up, and who could forget the portrait of him with Michael Jackson, right?

My perspective of not having seen it since a child has apparently clouded my nostalgia as an adult. I honestly looked back at this viewing and my past with the film. Aside from enjoying the time spent with my child being able to experience the film over again vicariously through him, I watched it with a little more of a critical eye and noticed that I have no idea what was actually happening. Like, it really doesn’t make sense in a lot of ways, and it really seems to me like a story that was being made up as it went along, carried by a puppet and the strange and fuzzy-bordered mythology that goes along with it.

There is one aspect that I actually gleaned from the special features I watched following the film, and that is that Spielberg said he modeled the story and the mythology as a means to process his parents’ divorce. In hindsight, the crumbling foundation of one’s world crashing down around you and being unsure of anything but wanting to have something secret, stable, and reliable… Something to care for and something to have control over and to love you…this is something that really hits home for me, and it is almost with that explanation that the meaning and the metamorphosis of what the film is as an allegory makes so much more sense to me.

Do I think it is a great movie? I am not sure – prior to revisiting it as an adult I would have said yes because of my memory of it. But the piece itself is a testament to the power of imagination in adults and what it can accomplish for children on the screen. This is a movie of discovery and childhood wonder, but as a writer myself in 2016, I found too many loose ends and ‘why that’ sort of things happening. If the backbone is in those divorce statements that Spielberg made, however, how beautiful to process these emotions in this manner so early on. If anything, as an adult, that is the part that I attach to the most with this movie.

Finally, there is really something to be said about using real models and real puppets and old school special effects in movies. We watched the rerelease of the original film today without the digital enhancements (and “walkie talkies were a mistake”) and it still holds up. More theatrical, three-dimensional, textural, and beautiful than a lot of the CGI that is a centerpiece to films of today, and that is a good thing.

 

#755 Ran (1985)

Kurosawa’s beautiful, horrifying, and hyper-theatrical interpretation of King Lear is a sprawling triumph on a massive scale. The colorful, gigantic horror of the world that Kurosawa created in this final epic is a dimension of confusion, betrayal, and jockeying for a hold of an empire of dirt. Perhaps what is most interesting is that Kurosawa envisioned this as a story about a real historical figure, and it wasn’t until much later that he recognized that all of the changes he made made it incredibly close to Lear. This is a beautifully spectacular film that is a triumph of film making as much as it is a triumph of an interpretation of a literary work.

Kurosawa painstakingly worked on his vision for this film for what we understand was to be somewhere in the vicinity of a decade, hand-painting all of the storyboards of the production and making sure every last detail was perfect for its $12 million budget. In Schneider’s book, the editor suggests that “Kurosawa is unsurpassed in his mastery of film technique…the performances range from brilliant to something resembling utter perfection… (and the film) displays the wisdom of a lifetime in a “mere” two hours and forty minutes, during which time itself is simply suspended.”

We couldn’t agree more.

We watched the Criterion Collection DVD for this viewing.

Garrett

I watched this when I took a Shakespeare course as an undergraduate, maybe when I was twenty. I remember it being awesome but weird. The perspective that I have as a more mature adult, more mature reader, performer, teacher, and father has made this experience a great deal more engaging and revolutionary. At the time, I was consuming an absurd amount of media as part of my studies, not to mention working a full time job and completing my work as a student. It is staggering to look back on, but ultimately it makes me realize that I really glossed over a lot of it and could use returning to it now as a slower, more focused adult.

This film was magnificent. The performances were stunning and convincing, even though they presented a hyper-theatrical version of humanity. One realizes through the performances, makeup, gorgeous costumes and locations, and shots that this is indeed a fictional film – but the reality in which the story is told is unmistakable and utterly engrossing. With its super-wide angle shots of beauty and destruction, the auditory torture of harsh sounds (the crickets screaming) contrasted with the absolute silence that occurs, and its true confusing atmosphere, this film is unparalleled in its scope and execution.

It is absolutely unbelievable that in the end of his career Kurosawa was having difficulty securing funding, but this film is truly something spectacular and would have been a shame. He considered this film to be his greatest work – and as a fan of Throne of Blood and Seven Samurai, I might agree…. Even though everything he has made holds such striking and eye-opening beauty and horror. Imagine if it hadn’t been made, though? His masterpiece is a masterpiece, and leaves the world and Shakepseare’s vision so much more vibrant.

Jennifer

This movie is worth the watch for the landscape alone- it is breathtaking, vibrant, and vast.  The most powerful part of this movie is what you don’t realize at first watch – there are no close-up scenes, no zooming in on actor’s faces or movements. Every scene is filmed with a wide angle and this enhances the role that nature and the environment play in this story (the storm was a formidable player in Shakespeare’s Lear).  Having read Lear and recently  Fool by Christopher Moore, I greatly enjoyed this twist on the tale.  The costumes, sets and effects were magnificent- unlike anything I’d seen in a film.