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July 22, 2013

"Die Hard" and "Midnight Run" Turn 25

A lot of critics will now praise Die Hard, as the film's critical reputation has grown over time to match what audiences knew from the start.

But don't believe critics on this point -- I remember reading critics knocking Die Hard as merely so-so, and knocking all the things you'd expect them to brainlessly knock (it's loud, it's shooty and splodey, Bruce Willis smirks, etc.)

Here's a specific memory I have -- Die Hard and Midnight Run came out not just in the same year but within days of each other. Die Hard came out July 15, 1988, and Midnight Run came out July 20, 1988, making mid-late July 1988 the greatest five day period in the history of big-budget action-comedy.

Anyway, I remember a reviewer reviewing the both in the same column, praising Midnight Run as a good spin on both the action movie and road trip movie genres, but knocking Die Hard as Just Another Big Explosive Actioner.

Absurd. I couldn't say which if these movies is better if you put a gun to my head, but to knock either one of them is to announce yourself as a tasteless idiot who doesn't judge the movies he sees, but only the genre. Midnight Run was acceptable, by this criterion, as it wasn't wholly an action movie, but was partly of a genre critics were permitted to like (the road movie); Die Hard must be inferior dreck, though, because action movies must be inferior dreck.

Point is, almost every critic is an idiot, and if they're now praising Die Hard, well, they didn't when it counted, when it opened. Yeah, now that they understand that the weight of opinion is decidedly against them they can rewrite their reviews to comport with Other People's Opinions; but aren't they selling their own opinions? If it takes them ten years of reflection to understand that Die Hard was an amazing piece of craft, what the hell are they even in the movie criticism business at all for?

At any rate, PJ media has a write-up noting that Die Hard just turned 25 last week. They've got a bit of trivia (it was based on a novel; did you know that? I've seen the movie 600 times and I don't remember a mention of a novel in the credits).

They don't seem to have remembered, then, that Midnight Run just turned 25 two days ago. Hopefully they'll rectify that.

Some sad news on the Midnight Run front: Former real-life cop turned scene-stealing actor Dennis Farina has died at age 69.

The mustachioed Farina was accustomed to playing characters on either side of the law, such Lt. Mike Torello on TV's Crime Story as well as mobsters like Jimmy Serrano in 1998's Midnight Run and Albert Lombard on Miami Vice. He had a fruitful partnership with that show's creator, Michael Mann, having also starred in his films Thief and Manhunter.

Sidney, get a sandwich, get a creme soda, do some f*ckin' thing or I'll stick this pencil through your heart.

Below, the original trailers and the films' signature themes.

Hives of Scum and Villainy: Both films underline the fact that an action movie is only as good as its villain, and both Die Hard and Midnight Run had great ones.

Die Hard might get the edge as its villain was new-ish -- a lot of people think Hans Gruber was completely original, but he wasn't completely original. We'd seen the sauve, educated European super-criminal before, but always in James Bond movies; we'd never seen this character up against a blue collar guy and outside the fantasy context of the James Bond universe. And Rickman stole the movie, of course.

His first movie!, PJ Media notes. Bit of trivia: Rickman's "Bill Clay" meeting with McClane was added late, during filming. Rickman was cracking the set up with his parody of an American accent, and they decided to write a short scene where he could deploy it.

What was definitely new about Rickman's Gruber was that he was hilarious and likable. All movies made after this point would have funny, likable villains, often to the point, as in Die Hard 3, where you really didn't want the hero to beat the villain; you sort of wanted them to settle their differences amicably, and part as friends.

Farina played a more conventional villain, the mobster, and also with an enormous amount of comedy. Farina managed something extremely difficult: He had people crying with laughter during his various "bury this phone in your head" outbursts, but turned on a dime, when needed, to deliver a chilling threat to the Duke ("And then I'll kill your wife").

I imagine it must be difficult to switch gears that hard and yet still have the audience believe both, from the height of hilarity to the depths of sociopathic evil, but Farina managed.

Oh, I replaced the Midnight Run end theme with a suite of themes from the film, most importantly opening with the caterwauling guitar that opens the film and perfectly introduces down-on-his-luck bounty hunter Jack Walsh (I mean John Wesley Walsh).

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posted by Ace at 07:29 PM

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