DID YOU READ

Tim Grierson on the Enduring Legacy of “Die Hard”

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On July 15, 1988, the weekend’s big action-thriller was a film featuring one of Hollywood’s most beloved characters played by one of its biggest stars. I’m speaking, of course, of “The Dead Pool,” the last of Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” movies. But that weekend also included another release, although it was only on 21 screens. Starred some TV actor. Had a kinda ridiculous premise. It was “Die Hard.”

It’s been 25 years, and a lot of the movies from that summer have been forgotten: “Cocktail,” “Young Guns,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.” But “Die Hard” has endured. This Friday sees the release of the franchise’s latest sequel, “A Good Day to Die Hard.” Over time, the series has gotten increasingly more ludicrous and cheerfully over-the-top. But at its core, the scrappy, underdog spirit of that original “Die Hard” remains. Which is another way of saying, thank god for Bruce Willis.

When the original “Die Hard” opened, Willis had enjoyed a little success in films thanks to the comedy “Blind Date,” which had come out the year before. (He followed it up with “Sunset,” a bomb.) Still, Willis was primarily known for his Emmy-winning role as David Addison on the comedy-drama series “Moonlighting.” He wasn’t the most obvious choice to play John McClane, a NYPD officer who has to take out a bunch of terrorists holding a gaggle of hostages (including his estranged wife) in a Los Angeles skyscraper right before Christmas. This was the 1980s, when action heroes were played by Schwarzenegger or Stallone.

But the secret to the film’s success — the whole franchise’s, really — was that Willis didn’t try to be one of those action heroes. Instead, he seemed to take a page from Harrison Ford, whose “Star Wars” fame had only grown due to the Indiana Jones films. As Indy, Ford never wowed us with his hulking frame; it was his sarcastic, black-and-blue ordinariness that made the character so appealing. He was a hero not because it was easy but, rather, because it was really hard. Willis took wisecracking David and turned him into a reluctant gun-toting, explosion-evading grumpy smartass who wanted to defeat the bad guys mostly because they were annoying the hell out of him. Eddie Murphy had proved the viability of the high-octane action-comedy with the “Beverly Hills Cop” movies, but in “Die Hard” Willis leaned more toward the action than the comedy. In ’88, people probably didn’t go to “Die Hard” because it was funny. That was just a lucky side benefit.

It also didn’t hurt that he was paired with a truly fun nemesis. As Hans Gruber, Rickman did a variation on every super-snide James Bond villain that came before, except he was actually smart and not campy. It’s almost as if Rickman wasn’t aware that ’80s bad guys were supposed to be really cheesy. Best know for his work on the stage and on television in England, Rickman wasn’t well-known by film audiences. For all we knew, maybe he was a criminal mastermind. (And for all the fine performances he’s given since, his cool, slightly haughty demeanor has been their constant through-line, connecting him back to Hans forever.)

Another reason the film has held up is because it’s simply ingenious. Based on the 1979 book “Nothing Lasts Forever,” “Die Hard” basically invented a whole new genre of action movie: one in which a regular guy is trapped in a location with a bunch of heavily-armed baddies. (As luck would have it, though, these “regular guys” often just happened to be buff dudes like Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme.) This was a major change from most action movies, which drew their excitement from elaborate chase sequences or scenes in which the hero has to infiltrate the villain’s stronghold. With “Die Hard,” McClane was constantly hiding in the Nakatomi Plaza trying to evade capture while communicating via walkie-talkie to a local cop (Reginald VelJohnson) outside the building. The film was more of a cat-and-mouse thriller than a conventional shoot-‘em-up. (Although, granted, there is still a lot of shooting ’em up.) Maybe that’s why none of the sequels was ever quite as good: They all had Willis, but they opened up his world to make them more like other people’s action movies.

This isn’t to say that “Die Hard” is perfect. As groundbreaking as the film is, it features one of the stupidest side characters in all of action movies. That, of course, would be Dwayne T. Robinson, the LAPD chief played by Paul Gleason who’s almost maniacal in his distrust of McClane. As Roger Ebert said perfectly in his review at the time, “As nearly as I can tell, the deputy chief is in the movie for only one purpose: to be consistently wrong at every step of the way and to provide a phony counterpoint to Willis’ progress. The character is so willfully useless, so dumb … that all by himself he successfully undermines the last half of the movie.” That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but Robinson does deliver the film’s unforgivably dumbest line: After a FBI helicopter is destroyed, killing everyone inside, he matter-of-factly comments, “We’re gonna need some more FBI guys, I guess.” It’s entirely possible Gleason is playing the same numbskull from “The Breakfast Club.”

But when you go back and watch “Die Hard” now, fondness will probably help you forgive those types of problems. Above all, what’s great is that the movie doesn’t realize it’s going to give birth to a genre or a franchise. It’s just this plucky little movie about a dude in an undershirt winning back his wife by saving her and her coworkers. The movie is simply a great idea executed extremely well.

The sequels realized that they never could recapture the once-in-a-lifetime ingenuity of the “Die Hard” plot, so they had to keep expanding the concept and adding new quirks, all the while joking about the fact that, yes, it is completely preposterous that the same shit keeps happening to the same guy over and over. In “A Good Day to Die Hard,” which I haven’t seen yet, he’s fighting alongside his son — a plot point that I’m sure Fox is hoping will extend the brand after Willis really is too old to be doing these movies. But it’s funny how the franchise has come full circle. “Nothing Lasts Forever,” the book that inspired the original movie, was written by Roderick Thorp and was itself a sequel to his book “The Detective,” which became a movie starring Frank Sinatra in 1968. In “Nothing Lasts Forever,” the hero (Joe Leland) is an older guy trying to save his daughter and grandchildren from terrorists. No doubt Fox decided to make McClane younger for “Die Hard” so that it seemed more realistic. Nowadays, McClane’s old enough that such a storyline doesn’t seem nearly so farfetched anymore.

You can follow Tim Grierson on Twitter.

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John C. McGinley -Photo Credit Kim Simms/IFC

Necessary Evil

Get Freaky With New Stan Against Evil Photos

Stan Against Evil haunts IFC starting November 2nd at 10P with back-to-back episodes.

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From the warped minds behind The Simpsons and The Walking Dead comes your next horror comedy obsession.

Stan Against Evil employs ghoulish horror and pitch-black comedy that’ll both tingle the spine and tickle the ribs. And before the demon-possessed festivities kick off Wednesday, November 2nd at 10P ET with back-to-back episodes, we’ve got a glimpse at stars John C. McGinley and Janet Varney as mismatched small New England town sheriffs Stan Miller and Evie Barret who find themselves pitted against witches, demonic goats and other bizarre horrors.

Check out the Stan Against Evil stars — both living and undead — in the brand new photos below. Follow Stan on Facebook and Twitter for more updates as we approach the scarifiying November 2nd premiere.

Janet Varney Stan Against Evil

Witch Stan Against Evil

Book Stan Against Evil

Demon Stan Against Evil

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Zombieland Jesse Eisenberg

Brain Dead

The 10 Funniest Zombie Movies

Catch Zombieland this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia/courtesy Everett Collection

Zombie movies are based on our fear of mortality, but if there’s one thing action heroes do best it’s laugh in the face of death. The rotting, easily-shotgunned face of death. We’re enjoying undeath this month on IFC with Zombieland, so we’re also counting down the 10 funniest zombie movies. Run!

10. Army of Darkness

Ash Army of Darkness
Universal Pictures

Ashley J. Williams is the hardest working blue-collar demon fighter in movie history. (Even though he causes most of the problems he solves in the first place.) When he’s not defeating the Deadites, he’s delivering hilarious quips with typical deadpan flair.


9. Fido

Fido
Lionsgate Films

Fido is a fantastic comedy, but you should expect that with stand-up superstar Billy Connolly in the title role. A nightmarish 1950s-esque world of white picket fences and decaying flesh sets the scene for painfully funny interactions between the living and the dead — and it’s quickly revealed that the zombies are better family figures than many of the upstanding citizens.


8. Dead Snow

Dead Snow ramps up the camp with an isolated group of teenagers battling an entire zombie Nazi division, and it doesn’t skimp on the gore in the process. One of our heroes looks really badass when he amputates his own arm to escape the effects of a zombie bite — only to look down in despair when a zombie chomps on his crotch.


7. Dead and Breakfast

Line Dance
Anchor Bay Entertainment

Dead and Breakfast is a musical zombie comedy, and even with all that you might not expect what happens next. You always knew a zombie movie would have to do a “Thriller” moment. You might not have expected the filmmakers to turn the Michael Jackson hit into a country-style line dance.


6. Dead Alive

Lord of the Rings-meister Peter Jackson cut his teeth on gory, outrageous horror comedies, and his 1992 New Zealand film Braindead (known as Dead Alive in America) is one of his best. It also can claim the definitive zombie baby scene.


5. Warm Bodies

Dead Heat
Summit Entertainment

Warm Bodies takes Romeo and Juliet to a new, gorier level. The warm and loving Julie falls for the mono-syllabic “R,” whose dead heart really is brought back to life by her affection. There’s a great parody of teen romance movies with a musical montage makeover sequence where the zombie is transformed into an attractive date.


4. Return of the Living Dead Part 2

Screwdriver
Lorimar Entertainment

Return of the Living Dead Part 2 is, true to its name, the revenge of the original brain-eating zombie movie. Part 2 goes all-out on the comedy, and while some super-serious fans may balk, there are a lot of great gags to enjoy. Our favorite has to be the zombie literally saying what’s going through its head, a hilarious moment as brain munchers rarely get great lines despite being the whole point of these films.


3. Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the Dead
Universal Pictures

Dawn of the Dead is an unrelenting attack of undead horror and despair, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t time for fun. Because when you’ve got an infinite supply of zombies and ammunition while chilling on the roof of your gun store, you can kill time and celebrity look-a-likes.


2. Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead Records
Universal Pictures

Shaun of the Dead isn’t just an excellent comedy — it’s a love-letter to zombie movies. An early scene where the tired Shaun stumbles through a zombified wasteland as if it was another unpleasant work morning is wonderful, but the funniest bit has to be the life-or-death music reviewing scene, where our heroes decide which records can be spared or used to fight off a hungry undead.


1. Zombieland

Zombieland
Columbia Pictures

There are hundreds of zombie movies, but there was never any doubt which one was the funniest. Because only one has Bill Murray. His brief appearance as an actor whose zombie impersonation goes a little too well is an instant cinema classic. And also the funniest thing ever to happen because of Garfield.

For more laughs and scares, check out a sneak peek of IFC’s Stan Against Evil, premiering November 2nd at 10P with back-to-back episodes, below.

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Scary Movie 2

Rotten Fruit

Catch Scary Spoofs and Kung Fu Keanu on IFC’s Rotten Fridays

Scary Movie 2, The Matrix Revolutions and more are coming to IFC's Rotten Fridays.

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Warner Bros.

Compelling plots, believable characters and plausible conflicts are standard in Hollywood classics. But sometimes our brains need a break, which is why IFC and Rotten Tomatoes have teamed up to give you the best of the worst, the “too rotten to miss” movies every Friday at 8P throughout September.

This month’s crop of “Rotten” favorites includes highlights (and lowlights) from Keanu Reeves, Sylvester Stallone and more. Check out the full schedule below and start planning your most sarcastic live-tweet commentary.

Rotten Fridays

“Too Rotten to Miss Movies” every Friday @8P on IFC.

The Matrix Revolutions (Tomatometer: 36% Rotten) – Friday, September 2nd starting @ 8P
Speed 2: Cruise Control (Tomatometer: 3% Rotten) – Friday, September 9th starting @ 8P
Epic Movie (Tomatometer: 2% Rotten) – Friday, September 16th starting @ 8P
Scary Movie 2 (Tomatometer: 15% Rotten) – Friday, September 23rd starting @ 8P
Rocky IV (Tomatometer: 39% Rotten) – Friday, September 30th starting @ 8P

Kick back with The Matrix Revolutions this Friday at 8P on IFC!

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