Monday, February 18, 2013

Like You Were There: Adam Riske at the Die Hard Marathon

On Wednesday, February 13th, I went to see all five Die Hard movies at a theater in suburban Chicago. Care to relive the day with me? 

12:00pm: I’m in line waiting to pay for my concessions. In front of me are a father and son that have a penchant for arguing with each other and the cashier. The kid seems embarrassed. The dad is flabbergasted. It was like watching A Good Day to Die Hard.

12:15pm: Die Hard
The Experience: The marathon got off to a rough start. At 12:15, the screen froze on what seemed to be a Windows startup menu with a blacked-out desktop display. The next 10 minutes played out like a case study on the dangers of 4K digital. An old man in a suit comes out and we think he is going to address the crowd, but he doesn’t. He just stares up and the projection booth. Is he willing it into working? CONCENTRATE!

A woman in back screams out, “Why isn’t there a projectionist up there? How long is this going to take?” I turn around and the woman is the wife/mother of the father & son in line for concessions. IT’S MAMA CONCESSION and you don’t wanna piss off Mama Concession! She continues to yell at this powerless old man. He answers, “We don’t have projectionists, these all run on their own.” Mama Concession yells out “When it’s a $25 event, you should have people up there.”  I sink in my seat. I understand her frustration, but people like Mama Concession only make everything worse. 

The movie starts 10 minutes late at 12:25pm, and everything is going smoothly...BUT THEN near the end of the movie all hell breaks loose. Right after Alexander Godunov is wrapped in chains by Bruce Willis and Willis is shooting his gun in the air to get the hostages off the roof, the lights in the theater go up and the pre-show countdown music starts. We watch Die Hard with audio about powering down our cell phones and buying Cinemark gift cards for a couple of minutes before the movie’s sound kicked back in. Just like f-in' Saigon, hey, Slick?

To Be Appreciated: Die Hard is a great movie, so instead of stating the obvious I want to point out one thing in particular I love about it that is never seriously talked about. 

Die Hard is one of the best depictions of a budding male friendship ever put on screen. It gets a little weird at times (“That’s a date…bring the ice cream”), but isn’t it nice to see a camaraderie and respect develop between two complete strangers who are grown men? They rib each other, but it’s not macho bullshit like we see in so many other action movies. These two dudes genuinely care about each other, and John McLane would not necessarily have become a screen icon if not for Al’s character in the first movie. Al brings out elements of John’s personality that inform the character we, as movie audiences, root for in later installments, such as his vulnerability and weariness. The two of them are the heart and soul of an otherwise excellent action movie. 

7 Word Review: Die Hard is perfect. Better every time.

2:40pm: Die Hard 2
The Experience: So Die Hard wrapped up around 2:35pm, with Die Hard 2 kicking off just five minutes later. It was an eventful five minutes. I went out into the lobby for a bathroom break and outside is a guy yelling (and waving an arm) at a teenage ticket taker about the movie starting late and how all of the rest of the movies are going to start late and blah blah blah. The girl said the rest should start on time (she was right). I’m sorry, but if you are so inconvenienced by something so trivial that you have to yell at a child, please find a quiet place and go screw yourself. You are hopeless.

The break in between the two movies was also when the theater put out the free A Good Day to Die Hard posters for marathon attendees. I did not get there in time to get one, which is fine, but it was pretty annoying seeing people coming in with 4 or 5 posters for themselves. Savages.

The movie started on time and there were no problems UNTIL, near the end of the movie (when Holly McClane’s plane is landing), the lights in the theater go up and the pre-show audio kicks in again. This time we got to see Holly’s flight land to the rhythms of Latin Pop music!

Better Than I Remember: I have always liked Die Hard 2, but never shared the love I have of the original with the sequel. It’s odd, because Die Hard 2 is very similar to Die Hard. It’s pretty close to what The Hangover II did unsuccessfully with its overrated original. 

But in Die Hard 2, there are a lot of quirky and interesting things happening that I never paid much attention to. It’s almost an F This Movie Fest 2 reunion with Bruce Willis, Robert Patrick and William Sadler all showing up. The movie has some kind of weird B-plot about good journalists (the woman who looks like a bird) vs. bad journalists (William Atherton, who is only in this movie to give Bonnie Bedelia something to do). There are a lot of fun character actor performances in this movie from the likes of Dennis Franz, Art Evans, Django and John Amos. There are TONS of people with mustaches in this movie (in part 3 it’s the same thing, but with glasses). There’s a fascinating little detour with a horny Budget Rental Car worker (the scene ends with the great-bad pun “Just the fax m’am. Just the fax.” as Willis shows her his wedding ring). Lastly, it has an icicle-to-the-eye death.  At this scene, I thought "What is it with the early '90s and ice deaths…didn’t they have one in Cliffhanger?" I then remembered both movies were directed by Renny Harlin. Now I am thinking about him on the set of Cutthroat Island yelling into a bullhorn ”Ice death! Find a way!” If there are any other Renny Harlin ice deaths I’m forgetting, please leave a comment.

My only gripe with the movie - which is better than I remember - is the plane crash that happens about halfway through. Times have changed a lot since 1990, and I have trouble watching a sequence like this today (especially since they show the passengers before the crash). They play it seriously, but it goes on way too long and is unnecessarily cruel. The filmmakers could have made the same point with something less nauseating.

7 Word Review:  It’s like a Die Hard goodie bag.

4:55pm: Die Hard with a Vengeance
The Experience: Nothing noteworthy.

The Goonies Derivation: I used to LOVE Die Hard with a Vengeance. It was released in 1995, when I was just about 13 years old. At the time, it was my favorite Die Hard movie. I had a lot of nostalgia for the movie, because I saw it the night I had my Bar-Mitzvah (it was a celebration movie after my big shindig). I also used to love this movie because I convinced my high school German teacher that it had significance as German cinema and he played it in our class -- for 20 minutes, until he figured out I lied to him. Why did I think of doing this? Because he had a German poster for this movie hanging in our class room. It was called Stirb Langsam Jetzt Erst Recht. In English, this translates to Die Slowly: Right Now OK! 

This was my first viewing of the movie since probably the late '90s. Boy, was I wrong about it being great. This movie is really unpleasant. It is almost wall-to-wall arguing. Instead of the weird journalism beats in the second movie, we get weird racism elements which add nothing. We know McClane is not a racist from the first two movies, and Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson) is a racist, but that part of the character never pays off. It’s just there because the filmmakers think it’s funny. That would also explain the weird shot of people in an office building eating popcorn while they look at the aftermath of a terrorist bombing. It’s even worse than the plane crash in Die Hard 2, because now it’s played as a joke.

Also, why make McClane a drunk? And why is he now divorced? Did Holly not appreciate being saved twice from terrorists by her husband? Is he just really bad in bed? 

About halfway through Die Hard with a Vengeance is where I hit my wall with the marathon. It was all downhill from there. 

The middle of Die Hard with a Vengeance features the stretch where the series jumps the shark.  What I mean is, John McClane is no longer a regular guy. He’s an action figure that you can throw around without any injury. The jump-the-shark moment happens when McClane survives the flooding of the underground dam. After that, there’s the cable drop down to the ship. In Live Free or Die Hard, there are those flipping taxis that almost hit McClane -- not to mention that whole bullshit with him surfing a jet. The entire movie of A Good Day to Die Hard is implausible in terms of realistic action.

Die Hard with a Vengeance is by no means terrible. Jeremy Irons is good and the movie has a real sense of setting, but it is certainly where the series begins to take a tumble.

BTW..the water jug riddle in Die Hard with a Vengeance is a total cheat. They cut away! How did they get the two gallons of water in the three-gallon jug? They just said they have to be precise.  What the hell? 

Seriously, if you get the water jug thing, leave a comment.

7 Word Review: This is worse than I remember. Damn!

7:20pm: Live Free or Die Hard
The Experience: Nothing noteworthy.

What A Difference 5 Years Makes: Depressed after my experience with Die Hard with a Vengeance, I was really not in the mood to watch any more Die Hard movies, but I soldiered on. I liked Live Free or Die Hard in 2007. I thought it was the best they could possibly do restarting the franchise.  Watching it now, I don’t know what I was thinking.

In all fairness, the movie is so-so and my gripes are kind of silly. I just could not get past all the obnoxious tech-speak in this movie. For example, “Link into the old sac-comms!” “The warlock is a digital jedi.” “Give me the go codes!” “Prep the video package!” “Power down my gear.” 

The movie also is shot in an obnoxious blue tint most of the time.

There are some nice moments. I like the speech about being a hero in which McClane says one thing that happens when you’re a hero is that you eat meals by yourself -- not something you usually hear in an action series. The performances are mostly good. The action is shot well.

Lastly, why does McClane’s daughter hate him? He saved her mother from terrorists! TWICE! He should have a lifetime pass from his kids for that. 

7 Word Review: Honest to blog, movie -- please stop talking.

10:00pm: A Good Day to Die Hard
The Experience: Before the movie, there was a Bruce Willis intro thanking us for being there for the past 10 hours. He should have apologized for the movie we were about to see.

I’m 50% Russian and I 100% Hated this Movie: I don’t have the energy to write a review other than this top ten list. It’s terrible. Don’t see it. 

Top Ten Reasons A Good Day to Die Hard Blows
10. John McClane is now an ugly American in Russia.
9. John chats with his daughter on the phone during a high-speed chase.
8. Bruce Willis is now playing second fiddle to Jai Courtney…in HIS OWN SERIES!
7. Slo-mo action sequences with lots of CGI. I caught myself saying ‘No’ aloud at one point.
6. They go to Chernobyl.  
5. Terrible villains. One eats carrots and dances? WTF?
4. Why does his son hate him? Is saving his mother TWICE and his sister once from F-ING TERRORISTS not enough? I feel like we’re missing a scene of John McClane stomping on his kids’ toys or hitting on his daughter’s friends.
3. The photography of the movie is either that awful blue tint again or overexposed like we’re looking at the glowing suitcase in Pulp Fiction.
2. The action is terribly composed -- shaky cam, random zooms, Tom Hooper close-ups. For the first time in the series, the action is incompetently shot.
1. It is basically a 90-minute f-you to all fans of the series with no understanding of what made the earlier entries work in the first place.
7 Word Review: Like realizing your girlfriend is a Nazi.

11:51pm: Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker! It’s over! I’m so tired. Thank you for being over. Oh geez, I have to drive home now? And I have how long until I have to wake up for work? 6 hours? I feel like crap. Look at all this garbage food I ate. Was attending the Die Hard Marathon a mistake? 
Yes, it kind of was. I think both Die Hard with a Vengeance and Live Free or Die Hard are significantly hampered when compared in such close proximity to Die Hard and Die Hard 2. They work better as stand-alone experiences. A Good Day to Die Hard is beyond saving.

Watching five Die Hard movies in a row was more exhausting than any Music Box Massacre I have ever attended, and those last 24 hours. This was only 11 1/2. Then again, as Patrick Bromley once said (I’m paraphrasing), "At F This Movie!, it’s not worth doing unless you’re exhausted by the end of it.”

If you yourself are exhausted and a little disgusted after reading this column, then I have succeeded in making you feel like you were there.

Maybe it would have been a better day to Safe Haven.


  1. I knew this review would not have a happy ending. It's kind of like Sophie's Choice in that way.

    The water jug riddle, as I understand it:

    Fill the 3 gallon jug - pour everything into the 5 gallon jug.
    Fill the 3 gallon jug again and pour into the 5 gallon jug until it's full. Now there's 1 gallon left in the 3 gallon jug.
    Empty the 5 gallon one, pour the single gallon in, fill the 3 gallon jug again and add it to the gallon in the 5 gallon jug. Done!

    (The words gallon and jug mean nothing anymore in my brain)

    I don't get how they ended up with 2 in the movie. It's confusing and strange.

    1. Once they have 4 gallons in the five jug, they then fill the 3, and then pour 1 gallon into the 5 (to fill it). That leaves 2 gallons in the 3 gallon jug.

      I think an easier way to get 2 gallons in the 3 jug would be to fill the 5, pour out 3 gallons into the 3 jug. That would leave 2 in the 5 jug, empty the 3, and replace it with the contents in the 5. They really made it too complicated in the movie.

  2. I'm so glad someone else had a problem with the shaky cam in A Good Day....when they used it during a two-head conversation scene I was like "WTF?!" and actually said something to that effect, out loud. I became that person I hate, who talks during movies. But I feel it was justified. Good summation, made me glad I chose to skip the marathon.

  3. I loved A Good Day to Die Hard, the car chase alone was worth the price of admission. I am being dead serious why I say that was one of the top 5 best car chases I have ever seen in a movie. Yes, terrible villain. I know the action was totally unrealistic but that is not why I come to this franchise. It is unrealistic that the same s*** could happen to the same guy 5 times, so who cares?

  4. @Rik - Your way makes so much sense! I guess it wouldn't be that exciting to watch on-screen. Shrug. They should have had this as a riddle between Biblo and Gollum in The Hobbit.

    @Matt S - Thanks for commenting but you and I disagree on this so much that I don't even know where to start. OK, I do. Watch 5 other car chases in action movies today and AGDTDH will no longer be in your top 5 car chases.

    I will say though the realism thing was never a problem for me until I watched all 5 Die Hards in a row.

  5. Great recap, Adam. Glad you took one for the team so we didn't have to. :-) It seems like the series' nosedive coincided with first the departure of Holly in "Vengeance" (she's only on for a few seconds when McClane leaves her hanging on the other end of a phone call), then with the pairing of McClane with each of his two grown-up kids in the last two. Looks like the further we get away from the humanity or human connections McClane talked about in his early movies (and in "Vengeance" we still at least have his NYPD co-workers, the first and only time in the series McClane works in his homecourt) the worse for wear things get.

    To be fair, kudos to Fox and the filmmakers for not hiring a Bonnie Bedelia lookalike actres and trying to pass her off as Holly. Also, how many times could Holly be put in mortal danger without diminishing returns? I mean, just having Al Powell in "Die Hard 2" (a very nice humanizing touch that indicates he and McClane remained friends after the Nakatomi incident) stretches credulity already as far back as the supporting cast. It also just occurred to me that, by having McClane rescuing his daughter in "Live Free" and his son kicking ass and blowing away bad guys alongside him in "A Good Day," the franchise embraces wholly the stereotypes of the action genre and life in general (girls are weak and need saving, guys need to kick butt to get things done). Unless, of course, the subtext is that genetically McClane's daughter got her mothers' genes and the son got daddy's stubborn ass-kicking genes.

    To me the series jumped the shark with the descent with a tow cable from the car on the bridge down to the boat in "Vengeance." I know impossible coincidence and luck play a big part in an action movie's template (otherwise a normal person would be dead before the 2nd reel) but my God, for McClane and Zeus to not only survive the fall into the boat without breaking their backs but for the cable to snap that other guy in half? Please! Adam, I don't have a problem with McClane surviving the flooded tunnel in "Vengeance" (even though the CG effect of the water catching up with the truck is worse than the one in "Die Another Day," which gets rightfully shat on as 'CGI ruins a franchise' moment), but Zeus driving by at the exact moment McClane is flushed out of the tunnel by that geyser? Again, PLEASE!!! The moment in "Live Free" that McClain duels with a stealth jet and wins (I still remember the sepulchral silence of the packed theater, everybody thinking the same but everybody being too stunned at the stupidity we were witnessing to do anything but stare at it silently) I knew I was done with "Die Hard" sequels. It would have taken incredible reviews to make me think of seeing the new one, which now has 'will watch on cable' written all over it. So, Adam and Patrick, thanks for saving me $14 (NYC theater ticket price) and two hours of my life. :-)

    My new-to-me movies for the past few days:

    2/15/13: Japan during the world Depression? Perfect setting for a family comedy with social commentary, i.e., Mikio Naruse's FLUNKY, WORK HARD! (1931) on DVD.

    2/16/13: Wanted: Bob Dylan imitator with remnants of humanity still visible on-camera. Michael Moore's documentary THE BIG ONE (1997) on DVD.

    2/17/13: Sidney J. Furie, why didn't "Iron Eagle I through IV" put you in the Tony Scott fast track? PARTNERS IN ACTION (2002) on UniMas, that's why.

    2/18/13: If you're going out you might as well go out swinging wildly (and missing?). Steven Soderbergh's SIDE EFFECTS (2013) in theaters.

  6. Best middle finger given to an exploding helicopter since They Live

  7. I also took one for the team & saw A Good Day to Die Hard. Hey Vargas, you should think about moving to Chicago because I only wasted $6.50 at the Regal City North 14 on cheapo Tuesdays. $14 for a regular ticket at a NYC theater (?!!!!!!).

    I really liked the 1st four Die Hard movies. I know it’s considered cool and hip to bash Live Free or Die Hard but I thought the action delivered, I liked the stuff about McClane being behind the times, & Timothy Olyphant was a good villain with his pissed off, smarmy performance. Sorry Vargas, but I remember the theater crowd I was with was digging the big rig truck vs the F-35 jet duel. I guess you went to one where they were sipping wines & expecting a Die Hard movie to be 100% realistic. Even in the 1st two “more realistic” movies, you had McClane jumping off a skyscraper with a fire hose & dropping off the wing of a 747 that was about to take off. Maybe I have lower standards, but there have always been over the top action scenes in every DH that would’ve killed anybody in real life.

    AGDTDH feels so rushed with the choppy editing & the bad ADR. From the beginning, I didn’t like the awkward opening credits distracting me from what was happening. There are a lot of F-bombs but except for two kills, the violence is mostly PG-13. At least Live Free or Die Hard felt like the R-Rated action had to be toned down to PG-13. AGDTDH is almost the exact opposite. This also feels like a movie that had 20-30 minutes chopped off of it. There’s the scene where Willis decides to leave his Taxi to walk to the courtroom & then you see other people leaving their cars as well (?). I hated the Jack hates Daddy McClane angle because Jai Courtney actually had some good chemistry with Willis in the few scenes where they weren’t arguing with each other. I would want to see Courtney & Willis in another DH movie with a competent director & a script where they have a healthy father son relationship. Willis’ McClane was very unlikable with the constant “I’m on Vacation” jokes, punching an innocent civilian, & then trashing their cars. The armored Twisted Metal truck chase scene was easily the highlight because it was mostly just good old fashioned real vehicular carnage. Like Adam mentioned above, it’s too bad John Moore incompetently shot the rest of the action with CGI, Slo-mo, shaky cam, etc.

    BTW, I can already name 5 car chases within the last ten years that are better.
    The crane truck & the driver-less police cars chasing John Connor in T3. (Why didn’t Jonathan Mostow get to direct AGDTDH? Say what you will about T3, but Mostow at least knows how to direct & edit action scenes.)
    The final chase in Fast Five with Toretto & O’Connor’s cars towing a safe & destroying have of Brazil with it.
    The Tumbler escaping from the police in Batman Begins.
    The Tumber & The Bat Pod vs the Joker’s 18-Wheeler in The Dark Knight.
    The second race in Death Race which has the Dreadnought wreaking havoc & getting destroyed in spectacular fashion.


    All the villains are lame & the big "double cross" or "triple cross" twist to find out who's really pulling the strings makes little sense.

    The ending has the McClane family (without Holly, I guess the producers didn’t want to give Bonnie Bedelia a cameo paycheck) reuniting at a military airport. John, Jack, & Lucy are clearly talking to each other for about twenty seconds but the ending music is drowning them out & I can’t hear the conservation. It then ends with a freeze frame. Was the dialogue that bad? It just seemed so weird to end like that because the scene seemed to set up Lucy’s reaction to her brother & dad finally burying the hatchet.

  8. Oh god why didnt I listen to Adam he tried to warn me. Man this film I'm sorry this "film" was just awful by god just terrible. I realize now I literally checked out of this movie around the time they got to Chernobyl, I honestly cant remember what happened after that oh god this movie.

    What the hell was John Mcclane saying about being on vacation? I dont freaking care. So about 15 minutes in I say to myself "Disconnect from this being a Die Hard movie just look at it as an action movie with Bruce Willis" and then the incoherent car chase begins my god who's chasing who and why I dont freaking care cause I cant tell what the hell is going on you shaky cam bastard John Moore!

    So anything positive about A Good day to Die Hard? Well I appreciated the fact they didnt CGI it all up in the first 2/3rd of the movie until the last action sequence when they slow motioned and CGI'd it up and ugh!

    Villains- uh shoot I dont know Russian people
    Heroes- John Mcclane is technically here I guess
    Action-What the Hell is going on?
    Hot Ladies- um the one villains daughters has nice legs, dear god this movie made me wish for the overgratuitous T & A of a Michael Bay film.
    Fun- Look I would be lying if I said this was the worst movie I've ever seen but it is currently the worst movie this year so far and I think has a chance at the 2013 Toilet title (and I am saying that knowing an M Night film is being released this year)

    Final Thoughts-The F this movie team tried to warn me but I didn't listen and now I wear the cone of shame. In spite of all this I do hope their is one more Die Hard film with John Mctiernan directing and delivering at least a solid film, it doesn't have to be perfect, just good and I can finally move on with my life. Rant over

    1. McTiernan is going to prison for a year pretty soon (and then three years on probation):

      Now that would be a great plot for a "Die Hard" movie: John McClane must bust McTiernan out of prison so he can direct another great "Die Hard" movie and get the series back on track. Problem is, McTiernan can't direct his own escape movie because he can't direct while he's in prison (McTiernan's no Jafar Panahi! 8-P) so that would mean another "Die Hard" sequel before the McTiernan-directed one (assuming they don't send Tommy Lee Jones to chase after McTiernan's fugitive ass) that would be guaranteed to suck. Oh, Hollywood. :-)

  9. Having just watched "A Good Day to Die Hard", I think this is the first movie franchise that, if you've already seen them, and if you're going to do a Die Hard marathon, it might be best to watch them in reverse order. Maybe even if you've never seen any of them.

  10. Great article man! You're the first person I've heard say they like Die Hard 2 better 3. That's awesome because I completely agree. And I've always hated that the last three had this terrible theme of John's family hating him. I know he had marriage problems, but they worked them out. And that scene in 2 where he shows the girl hitting on him his wedding ring was so great. It showed what a good husband he is. For me, the series is the first two. That's all I need.