JUMPCUT All The Way: Die Hard (1988)

Directed by: John McTiernan
Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson

Written by Fernando Andrade

What makes a good Christmas movie? Well, I find good Christmas movies always seem to generate this magical aura of emotions, memorable moments, and love of some sort. Now, if Die Hard does not encapsulate all those things then well, I’m not sure what a Christmas movie is frankly.

Released on July 15th, 1988, for the last 30 years of its existence people continue to bring up the question, “Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” It is one of the most divisive movies of all time for that specific reason (not so much in a critical filmmaking way). I doubt when director John McTiernan and star Bruce Willis signed up for this film, they thought one of the biggest takeaways would be whether it’s a Christmas movie.

Die Hard sees our hero John McClane (Bruce Willis), an NYPD detective, fly out to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve (yes that’s right Christmas Eve!) on a mission to reconcile with his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). How adorable right? A man wanting to make amends with his wife. In the first few minutes, we learn that McClane hates to fly, showing us how much this truly means to him making the trip all the from New York to win back his wife’s heart. Now that on its own would make a pretty decent Christmas story, but it’s not over there. The Christmas party (wow a Christmas party, no way) which they are at is attacked by a terrorist group led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), and it is up to McClane to defeat them as they stand in the way of his ultimate goal.

Sure, Die Hard is no sweet and innocent Christmas movie like Elf or The Polar Express, but who says Christmas movies have to be? Not only is the setting of the movie Christmas Eve, but the dialogue – which granted at times is also very ’80s in design – has many references to Christmas. Die Hard produces an incredible amount of emotions, as we are constantly on the edge of our seat rooting on McClane. Die Hard also contains some of the most memorable lines and moments in movie history. From the classic “Yippie-Ki-Yay, Motherfucker!” to “Welcome to the party, pal!”, John jumping from the top of the Nakatomi building, and the intense air vent scene, many believe Die Hard to be the gold standard when it comes to action movies, and rightfully so.

I feel that is one of the biggest reasons why there is a push back to consider it a Christmas movie. It’s bloody, it’s littered with profanity, and offensive to some extent – things which aren’t synonymous with Christmas. No one said it was a Christmas movie for the whole family to enjoy, but it still contains those key ingredients of a good Christmas movie – just for adults.

Besides always coming up in conversations around the holidays, Die Hard did a lot of other things in the world of film as well. Mentioned previously, many consider Die Hard the gold standard when it comes to action movies. This means a lot of action movies have, in some way, been influenced by Die Hard since its release. It also spawned, at the time, a new star in Bruce Willis. Before being John McClane, Willis had only appeared in two other films, Blind Date in 1987 and Sunset which was released the same year as Die Hard. Following the success of the movie, Willis would go on to star in films like Pulp Fiction, Twelve Monkeys, and The Sixth Sense. Now his career has been on a downward trajectory (minus Looper), but at the time, his career was one of the best. We also gained one of the best villain roles of all time thanks to the late great Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber. Die Hard was nominated for 4 Academy Awards including Best Sound, Best Editing, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Visual Effects. It grossed $140.7 million in it’s worldwide run in 1988 but has probably made a lot more since then with many theatres making it a tradition to screen the film around the holidays. It also led to four sequels and a rumoured prequel set to be released in the near future, but we don’t really talk about those.

Will the conversation of, is Die Hard a Christmas movie ever stop? My bet is probably not, but if it were up to Fox Studios, that answer would be a big fat yes, thanks to a new trailer recently released pretty much confirming the answer. A marketing stunt you say? More than likely, but still I’ll take any kind of affirmation at this point. Then again, film is subjective and there will always be a naysayer out there. The never-ending discussion has cemented itself with Die Hard’s legacy. Whether you choose to think Die Hard is a Christmas movie or not (it is), watch it if you never have. You will experience one of the best overall action films ever made, and more than likely find yourself exclaiming Yippie-Ki-Yay as you open your Christmas presents.

JUMPCUT All The Way: Love Actually (2003)

Directed by: Richard Curtis
Starring: Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Colin Firth

Written by Cameron Frew

Films are a mixture of wine and perishable meats; some grow better with time, others do not age well at all. Love Actually is one such picture that has somehow fallen into both categories for the public: some praise its knowing cheese and saccharine, uplifting qualities; others (often quite furiously) criticize its mishaps and moral ambiguity, particularly among one or two of the umpteen sub-plots in this festive jamboree of laughs, sadness and joy.

Perhaps the most quintessentially British outing in the Christmas watchlist each year, the first sequence is a capture of reunions, hugs and happiness at London Heathrow airport. Then eases in Hugh Grant’s monologue, rekindling even the slightest ashes of lovesick hopelessness. He speaks, rather gently, of how love is “actually, all around”, the fact that any phone call that came from the Twin Towers on that fateful day wasn’t filled with messages with hate, but with, well, love.

Richard Curtis had long-established himself as a writer of spirited, kind-hearted comedy long before here. Four Weddings & A Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’ Diary – he wrote them all. But this was his first foray into directing, and that debutant nature flairs up occasionally with the odd overlong placeholder shot of a decorated cityscape or the River Thames. But this is generally impressive for someone on such hefty screenplay duties as well as captaining the ship.

A brisk run through of the plot then, shall we? It’s essentially similar to Crash, but a romantic comedy. We follow eight couples that are loosely connected in their own ways in the lead up to Christmas Day. New loves are found and old loves are fractured along the way, but the most important thing to remember is that all you need is — okay I’ll stop now.

There’s Bill Nighy, a faded rock star releasing a trashy Christmas single with his manager (Gregor Fisher). The former is amusingly brash and uncouth and wonderfully played by Nighy, who clearly had the time of his life with the role.

Then we have Colin Firth as a man forced out of his relationship by his adulterous girlfriend and brother (try not to cringe when you hear “hurry up big boy”), taking peaceful refuge abroad when he meets the woman who will change everything (Lúcia Moniz). For all the grander tales of affection, Firth’s is much slighter – not as easy to invest in, but by its sweeping zenith, you’ll fall head over heels.

There’s a handful of smaller, fleeting sub-plots which lack depth but pack in some great jollity. Martin Freeman and Joanna Page star as A-list stand-ins for movies; in this case, they’re in a sex scene. But nattering sparks fly and every moment they share has a cheeky, modest glee. Kris Marshall, after failing to woo the female population of the UK, decides to go to America, where he believes he will be a hit with the ladies. This is one particular instance where Curtis really invites you to be in on the joke, allowing the sort of fantasy many would probably dream of to unfold without any boundaries – and it’s hilarious.

Still in cutesy territory, there’s Liam Neeson as a recent widower, left to raise his stepson (Thomas Sangster), who so happens to have fallen for a classmate at school. She’s the cool girl, who “has no idea who he is”. In terms of bravura exuberance, this is the most effective relationship of the movie, again reaching a stunning finale that’ll have you cheering at the screen and wiping away the tears.

If you’re a Love Actually novice, get used to the idea of crying. This is not a saga free from heartbreak. We’ll start with Laura Linney’s story; she’s in love with a colleague, with whom she shares the odd flirty glance but remains to shy to do anything about it. After a push from her boss, Alan Rickman, wheels start turning. But there’s one problem; she has to always be available on the phone for her brother with special needs. Thankfully, this isn’t played for comedy at all; in fact, it’s potently bittersweet, hitting home a really selfless message where others opt for grand, romantic gestures.

The gestures are sometimes pointed in the wrong direction. The queen of queens, Emma Thompson, is Rickman’s wife. While she is self-effacing and affectionate, he is rather distant. Could be because he’s more interested in the office secretary (Heike Makatsch), who flouts decorum with her demands of “something she wants” and spreading of her legs. Rarely does infidelity evoke such rage; when Thompson realizes her husband’s dirty deeds, she shares a poignant moment with herself to the sound of Joni Mitchell (also, beautifully framed by Michael Coulter). As those tears stream, your fists tighten; it’s one of the most beautifully performed bits of acting you’ll see in an otherwise fluffy piece.

Whereas that’s a story of outright immoral actions, Andrew Lincoln’s is a bit more dubious. His best friend, Chiwetel Ejiofor marries Keira Knightley. But Lincoln is repeatedly cold to her, almost aggressively rude, like she sours his taste buds just from the mere soundbite of her voice. But the old maxim is wee boys pull girls’ hair because they like them. When this internal conflict comes to a close in arguably the film’s most iconic scene, your enjoyment is based on how well you can strip away your ethical thoughts on the matter.

But of all the aspirational fairytales, it’s Hugh Grant’s. He stars as the newly instated Prime Minister, who has an immediate fondness for one of Downing Street’s household staff, Martine McCutcheon (who has an expertly exclaimed dose of swearing: “Where the fuck’s my fucking coat?”). There’s a real charm in their growing liaison, with all their interruptions you constantly route for them. This includes the disruptive, devious President of the United States (Billy Bob Thornton), who functions as an overblown but very effective caricature of the sort of smugness in politics that seems to come with birth across the pond.

But the way they all flow together is nothing short of inspired. You can’t argue that it was a phenomenon, and is readily established as a modern classic in the December genre. For what could have been a self-congratulatory exercise in bringing together a who’s who of rising and veteran stars, Love Actually is remarkably uncorrupted (despite the problematic nature of a few plot points). It’s a thoroughly British affair; endearing, involving, witty. But it’s also an ode to outlandish acts and tolerating hardship, to the necessary evil of tough love and the reparatory nature of a softer touch. Let Craig Armstrong’s uplifting, poppy, crescendo-filled score move and enthral you, and accept that no matter how many times you watch Love Actually, your blood will always boil because of Alan Rickman.

Decade Definers: 1980s – Birth Of The Action Hero

Written by Chris Gelderd

Like most things in life, it’s hard to pin-point the exact formation of something. A season. A movement. A trend. These things just seem to happen when every factor around it comes into alignment and all the signs point to go. Somethings just naturally work with the environment around them. The film industry also does this and has done for over 100 years

The 1980s saw the formation of many things that changed the industry forever. The emergence of special effects allowed film-makers to really let their imagination blossom. Risks were being taken across horror, sci-fi and comedy with franchises taking off left right and centre, content being pushed for teen audiences (the introduction of the US PG-13 rating for such an occasion) and talent was setting the bar high in their chosen genres, such as Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Jane Fonda and Eddie Murphy to name but a few.

Yet the 80s was a decade that discovered a new wave of acting and creative talent that changed the way we look at action movies and their heroes forever, and we can see that winning template is used in films today to cater to new generations.

The world needed heroes, and the right men – and women – came along at the right time to deliver. Not satisfied with your suave Brit Sir Roger Moore and his family friendly James Bond adventures, mature audiences wanted more. More action! More violence! More stars! More outrageous, exciting, balls-to-the-wall popcorn entertainment!

The studios listened. The creative talent put pen to paper. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 1980s and the birth of the action hero!

Ask any film fan to name 5 action stars and they will probably give the same names.  From just a rather small selection of big name stars throughout the 1980s, we certainly got a truckload of memorable and long-standing action films from them. Some spawned franchises that still are going strong today, others simply one off treasures. Either way, they helped shape a genre that inspired much of what we see today on the big (and small) screen.

Let’s take a look at some of the big names that came to be during the 1980s and how they helped shape the action movie itself.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger

One man proved you didn’t need to be the next Charlton Heston of the acting world in order to make shockwaves across Hollywood and the world. Sometimes all you needed was a thick, inimitable European accent, muscles the size of watermelons and the passion to chase the American dream. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the ‘Austrian Oak’, did just that when he launched onto the scene during the 1980s with his imposing, unique frame as a bit player in cheaply produced movies before the studio execs took a risk and cast him in films where dialogue and plot were minimal, but action and iconography where high.

Arnie gave us 9 movies during the 1980s that became classics of the genre and his trademark style of witty one-liners, high violence, break-neck stunts and blending action into sci-fi, fantasy and comedy. From ‘Conan The Destroyer’ in 1982 that tested his boundaries for taking any role seriously and dishing out action in any form he was given, he soon was given movies such as ‘The Terminator’ in 1984, ‘Commando’ in 1985 and ‘Predator’ in 1987.

Each film was unique and different, letting Arnie win over fans and critics not with his acting, but with his ability to be an action hero across any genre who was tough talking, physically imposing and looked like a demi-God with his muscles and strong stance. He used any means at his disposal to eradicate bad guys – and sometimes good guys – and gave James Bond a run for his money with the one liners. Arnie became synonymous with action films and many of his 80s films stand strong today and shape franchise on the big and small screen in a career built on action that doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

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Sylvester Stallone

Stallone gave us two big ‘R’s throughout the 70s and 80s…and 90s and 00s, all things considered. Rocky Balboa was his character for sport and drama, but Rambo was his character for action and excitement. From 1982 to 1988 (and 2008, but we’re not here for that), Stallone carved a new niche for his action ability in the form of John Rambo, a traumatized Vietnam veteran.

After a debut in ‘First Blood’ that actually gave us a grounded action film that used drama, humanity and tension as its main driving points, it’s two sequels “First Blood Part II” and “Rambo III” threw humanity out the window (literally) and cranked up the chaos to 10.

Muscles bulging as he waged war against the Vietnamese and Russians to save POWs and innocent people, Rambo became the invincible one-man army whom America and the world could count on.  Armed with  rocket launchers and sub-machine guns, bow and arrows and hunting knifes, Rambo proved Stallone could deliver the sort of story fuelled action audiences wanted, and it continued over his career with the likes ‘Tango & Cash’, ‘Demolition Man’ and ‘The Expendables’.

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Bruce Willis

An interesting case study indeed when you look at it. Out of all the action heroes of the 80s, Willis looked least likely. He wasn’t imposing to look at, not intimidating to hear talk and his career launched in the 1984 US comedy drama TV show ‘Moonlighting’ and the 1987 comedy romance film ‘Blind Date’.

Fox produced a film based on a 1979 novel ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’, a sequel to the 1966 book ‘The Detective’, which was adapted into a 1968 film starring Frank Sinatra and allowed Sinatra to accept or decline to star in the new film. He declined. Arnold Schwarzenegger declined it as a sequel to ‘Commando’. Who was left to cast? Bruce Willis, obviously.

Now when you say the words ‘Die Hard’, it conjures up a film often agreed to be the greatest action film of the 1980s. A simple story about a New York cop saving hostages inside a skyscraper whilst taking down a small army of European terrorists was just what people wanted. Full of explosive action, snappy humour, a surprising world-weary and iconic portrayal by Willis of NYPD cop John McClane and a villain as dastardly and suave as them come in the guise of the late, great Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber.

‘Die Hard’ quickly became a template to base an action hero saving the day against the odds, and shaped the hero who could be an everyday cop in the wrong place at the wrong time, not just a muscle bound war hero or super soldier. It launched four sequels, video games and also Willis’s career into action orbit and also the greatest debate going in movies today – “Is Die Hard a Christmas film or not?”.

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Sigourney Weaver

The 80s action market was a place for men. Women had little chance to show they could do as much damage as the guys sadly, but one woman took a role, built it up over a franchise and proved that with the right support, it wasn’t just the men who could kick ass and save the world…or galaxy.

Sigourney Weaver has her niche in drama and comedy, but her action debut came in a little known sci-fi film in the late 1970s called ‘Alien’ that had her go up and survive against a deadly alien being in space, where nobody could hear her or her ill-fated male crew scream. The role of Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley was a big boost to female talent at that time, and while Weaver continued her box-office draw in comedy with other classics such as ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Working Girl’, the 80s saw her return to the role of Ripley in 1986s ‘Aliens’.

This time, Weaver led a group of male supporting actors as space marines to return to and wipe out the colony of aliens and their queen to save the galaxy from extinction. Weaver gave just as good as she got in terms of attitude, action and ability. A fine actress of her generation, she carried over a humane side to her tough-talking and ass-kicking Ripley going up against the deadly aliens and held her own, much like John McClane in ‘Die Hard’, being an everyday person up against the odds but who handles weaponry and heavy machinery as easy as breathing. Weaver cemented a successful and iconic role in an already iconic franchise and is one of the few female actors to carve out a successful action hero over the years.

Now, sadly, I have to rein this piece in because I could go on exploring defining actors and their roles for many more pages, but you all have lives and I must let you get on with them.

I hope this small glimpse into what the 1980s gave us in terms of action resonates with you. A handful of international actors helped produced dozens of action films with the support of creative talent such as James Cameron and Joel Silver that would resonate for years to come and also help launch female talent in front of and behind the camera around the world. The 80s gave us simple pleasures without the need for extensive plots, complicated stories and bloated character development. The era is almost a golden age of simplicity and it’s that simplicity that makes it so easy to return to watch any action film of the time for nothing but entertainment and enjoyment.

There are many more stars out there I could have mentioned. I’ll leave you with a handful more here to explore in your own time as ones who also helped define the action decade:

  • Jackie Chan (‘Police Story’, ‘Project A’)
  • Jean-Claude Van Damme (‘Bloodsport’, ‘Kickboxer’)
  • Harrison Ford (‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’, ‘Blade Runner’)
  • Mel Gibson (‘Mad Max 2’, ‘Lethal Weapon’)
  • Chuck Norris (‘The Delta Force’, ‘Missing In Action’)
  • Kurt Russell (‘The Thing’, ‘Big Trouble In Little China’)

Yippie-ki-yay, mother f….