Saturday, April 5, 2014

Die Hard

Joseph, my manager, booked me as a major entertainer on another tropical cruise this week, figuring it was the sort of restful gig I needed, after my harrowing ordeal in the rehabilitation center. I expected a private plane and pampered treatment out to the Hawaiian islands where I was to board the 'Norwegian Star' and was very put out to find myself back in Economy with a stale cheese sandwich and reruns of Rosanne on the video system. Fortunately, I reached Honolulu with only one minor altercation with a flight attendant who insisted on confiscating my manicure kit, considering my onyx and emerald nail file to be a potentially deadly weapon. Continental airlines better return it as it was a gift from Charlie Chaplin for services rendered during the filming of Monsieur Verdoux.

When I reached the ship, I was shocked to find out that I had not been booked as the headliner, instead, I was to be an opening act for some faded beauty queen from Richfield, Minnesota. I had a small tizzy in the middle of the grand atrium as Mrs. Norman Maine opens for no one; unfortunately, Joseph had already signed the contract so I am obligated to go on. In retaliation, I am doing my Sink For Your Supper program - songs related to great maritime disasters. The motorized iceberg could not reach Hawaii in time so I will have to improvise. I met with Miss Richfield, 1981 this afternoon to plan out the evening and found, to my shock, that she is not only the headliner here, but she has also been cast as Margo Channing's replacement in the title role of the new kabuki musical version of Stephen King's Christine. I advised her to make sure her understudy tried on the costume first, given poor Margo's plunge through the floorboards due to the weight. Miss Richfield was most gracious and I wish her well; she seems to have a brilliant future for an entertainer who was performing for lime Jell-O molds in Lutheran church basements just a few short months ago.

Being thoroughly grumpy, I retired to my cabin for a film. As my career seems to be going down in flames, I opted for a film that fit my mood and, flipping through the DVD collection, came across John McTiernan's film Die Hard from 1988. Die Hard helped reinvent the modern action film as a comic romp and solidly cemented Bruce Willis' place in the pantheon of Hollywood action leading men. Until this film, he was best known as the antic comic lead from the TV series Moonlighting and there were serious doubts that he could carry an action film.

Die Hard takes place one Christmas season in Los Angeles. Bruce Willis is John McClane, a New York cop whose marriage to Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), is in trouble after she has taken an executive job at the Nakatomi corporation in LA. John shows up for Christmas to try and patch up his marriage and arrives from the airport to find the Nakatomi Christmas party in full swing in a penthouse suite designed to look like Frank Lloyd Wright's 'Fallingwater'. John is kicking back in his undies in a private bath when the Nakatomi building (really the Fox Plaza building in Century City but we're not supposed to know that) is suddenly invaded by terrorists led by the evil Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). Gruber and his Eurotrash followers in their Armani outfits quickly secure the building, take the celebrating Nakatomi workers hostage, and issue demands as if they're international terrorists. (They're actually operating under quite different motives, which turns the film from a nasty terrorist drama into a caper comedy, allowing the audience to come along for the ride.) Soon, McClane becomes a one man vigilante force taking the bad guys out one by one, determined to rescue his wife, his marriage and the day.

Willis proved he had the charisma and the combination of grim humor and everyday Joe believability to make a credible accidental action hero. His performance holds the film together and makes it a wonderful roller coaster ride. He is matched by Alan Rickman's oily Gruber. This was Rickman's first major Hollywood project and he perfected the villain you love to hate here before moving on into even more high profile projects. Bonnie Bedelia, an understated and intense actress, is a good foil for Bruce Willis but she's not given much to do other than be a damsel in distress. There's also some great comic supporting turns from Hart Bochner as a coked up executive and William Atherton as a do anything for the story TV reporter.

McTiernan is fully in control of his film. The enclosed setting makes him be inventive with his camera moves and his storytelling points and, with the exception of a subplot involving an infantile limousine driver, he knows exactly what he needs to do to keep the thrill ride going. He's aided and abetted by his editors and production designers who keep a high tech 80s sheen over the whole look of the film. The movie catapulted him to the front ranks of action directors; unfortunately he's been wasting his time recently with bad scripts like The Thirteenth Warrior.

The DVD is a lavish two disc version loaded with extras. The film is a gorgeous widescreen transfer taking full advantage of surround sound capabilities. There is a commentary track with McTiernan and his production designer which is quite informative. There is a contemporaneous 'making of' documentary which shows some behind the scenes footage. There are a number of interview extras - and that's only disc one. Disc two includes a number of DVD rom features which allow you to view the script and storyboards and even recut certain sequences to your taste to learn more about the editing process.

Bare feet on carpet. Bare feet on broken glass. Torn undershirt. Dead terrorist in Santa hat. Chain aerial ballet. SWAT truck through doors. Gratuitous Rick Ducommun. Exploding helicopter. Rolex watch plot device. Frank Lloyd Wright bridge model.

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