Week of Movies: 4 & 3

Thursday 23 November (2006)

Yesterday took us to the half way point in the list, bringing two more awesome films. I know what you’re thinking: ‘Stan, how can this get any better?’ Well, kids, there’s four more to go, so hold on tight and prepare yourselves for movies four and three:

5. Goodfellas (1990)
6. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
7. Scarface (1983)
8. Dr. Strangelove (Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb) (1964)
9. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
10. Vertigo (1958)

My 4th Favourite Moviedie hard (1988)

It really bugs me when people say that Die Hard is ‘just another action movie’ – it’s not. It invented most of the conventions associated with the modern action movie, and it’s a lot more clever than people give it credit for. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Bruce Willis is on fine form as New York cop John McClane, who goes to LA to visit his estranged wife and kids for Christmas. It’s Christmas Eve and he’s relaxing in the Nakatomi Plaza building, where his wife (Bonnie Bedilia) works, when out of nowhere the staff are taken hostage by a gang of terrorists, led by the charismatic Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman, in a movie-breakout role.) McClane evades capture, and then begins systematically taking down the bad guys in order to save his wife. Gruber, meanwhile, has a much more elaborate plan in mind, and as the police and then the FBI and news media gather outside the building, things start getting more complicated.

Okay, so on a pure enjoyment level Die Hard is perfect – the action scenes are fantastic, and the characters are sketched to perfection. McClane is the reluctant, tough-guy hero, who’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gruber is the cold-blooded and methodical bad guy who will stop at nothing to make sure his plan succeeds. Together they represent good and bad so clearly that you respect them both equally – whilst all the while knowing who to root for.

But let’s go deeper. Every single tiny detail in Die Hard serves a purpose, and everything the characters do has a very clear and believable motive. There are no scenes where you say to yourself; ‘Hmmm, that doesn’t make much sense…’ and the end result of this is that the film fits together like a jigsaw – every piece has a place, and then when you take a step back and look at the whole, it fits together perfectly.

John McTiernan’s direction is simply superb, and the cinematography and score are equally good. God, this film is absolutely fantastic – every time you watch it you see something you didn’t see before, and it always adds to your appreciation. If only all ‘mindless’ action movies were this well thought out… Oh well.

Die Hard is undisputably the greatest action movie of all time – it’s clever, intelligent, funny, dramatic and most of all, incredibly entertaining. Go and watch it again right now and just see how well crafted it is. I love it.


My 3rd Favourite Movieapocalypse now (1979)

When I first watched Apocalypse Now, to be honest, I was bored. It was too long, and too little happened in it to make that time worthwhile. I thought it was overrated. It took a few re-watchings of the ‘Redux’ DVD to realise just how phenomenally good it actually is.

Martin Sheen plays Captain Willard, a soldier who has been so dehumanised by his experiences that he spends his time drinking himself into a stupour, waiting for the next assignment. His oppourtunity comes soon enough, as he is tasked with sailing up-river to take out one Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) – a military officer who has gone insane and is living as a warlord. The mission is very much top-secret, but as Willard travels through the madness of wartorn Vietnam reading Kurtz’s dossier, he begins to think that maybe Kurtz isn’t insane after all…

Everything, everything about this film is so incredibly well stylised; it’s a joy to watch. Even the opening credits will blow you away, as the helicopters rain napalm over a serene jungle to the sound of The Doors (The End.) In fact The Doors feature heavily in the soundtrack, which is one reason to love the movie on its own. As the story progresses, the narrative becomes more fractured and hallucinatory even, and the concept of ‘war is hell’ has never been so prevalent as in this movie.

It’s ostensibly based on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and it’s a great source for inspiration. Transposed to Vietnam, the soldiers in this film are a strange mix – one of them drops acid before going into combat; another sends his men out surfing in the midst of a battle. It shows both sides of the Vietnam war – the sense of disorder, and an almost party atmosphere juxtaposed with the horror of the conflict.

It’s easily the greatest war movie of all time, and it’s a true cinematic tour-de-force – this is what movies were made for. Absolutely brilliant.


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