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Die Hard – a movie list challenge

I’m watching and writing about the Top 100 Movies of All-Time this year, based on multiple film publication lists. You can read more about how I came to rank and place the films on the list at my introduction post here.

Die Hard

Rank: 82
List Appearances: 3/10
Average Rank: 45
Highest Rank: 20, on Empire‘s The 100 Greatest Movies
Total Final Score: 1165.5

There are five movies I consider to be perfect action movies. Those include Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Dark Knight, Die Hard (though technically an action/triller), and The Professional. What does it take to mark a perfect film? Good characters, a story that hits all the most important tonal marks (love, high stakes, high emotion), and relatively believable (and preferably explosive) action sequences. Die Hard as a franchise may not play by these same rules, but the first film absolutely does.

It’s be a few years since I last watched Die Hard, and I was surprised at how many details were done in the movie. I love that the first conversation of the movie introduces John to walking barefoot, and how that one seemingly inane detail plays out through the entire movie. We meet John McClane (Bruce Willis) as his plane lands in LA. He stands in the airport holding a teddy bear half as big as he is. His limo driver is a chatty man who helps build a picture of why John is here and what choices have led him to this particular juncture. John and his wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), are estranged. Her career took off and left him in NYC while she moved to LA to pursue what appears to be a high-ranking position in her company.

Die Hard is one of a few movies in the late 80s and early 90s that focused on working women and the ever-changing dynamic of the family model. Holly is the only working person left in an office full of men and some women who are partying on Christmas Eve. Meanwhile their children are at home with a in-home housekeeper/nanny. It would have been seen as extreme in the year it was made, but now, it seems like it was just progressive, since that’s really the norm.

Not long after Holly and John meet in her office, the group of “terrorists” arrive, and the story shifts to a one-man army. The group are led by the amazing Alan Rickman (RIP), in his feature film debut. It’s hard to believe that last part, because his performance is polished. Bruce Willis looks the action hero part, but he was not the first choice for John McClane. He was more known for his work on comedies, so it seemed like a bit of a stretch, which is equally surprising considering how well he donned the tank top and blue jeans.

As with all action movies, there is a suspension of disbelief on the physics of the action, but not nearly as much as there is in later films. The action is top-notch, with explosions, shattered glass, and ringing gunfire to remind you both the bad guys and John mean business. But what I truly appreciate is the fact that after every encounter, McClane looks a little more broken. He’s able to do incredible feats at the start, but he limps into rooms in the end, bloody and bruised from a few hours of extreme violence. He’s clever, though, and that is what really keeps him alive.

I love Die Hard, and no amount of bad sequels will ever change that.

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The Empire Strikes Back – a movie list challenge #24

I’m watching and writing about the Top 100 Movies of All-Time this year, based on multiple film publication lists. You can read more about how I came to rank and place the films on the list at my introduction post here.

The Empire Strikes Back

Rank: 24
List Appearances: 6/10
Average Rank: 21
Highest Rank: 2, on Empire’s The 100 Greatest Movies
Total Final Score: 6285

Last week I mentioned that The Empire Strikes Back is a superior film to Star Wars IV: A New Hope, and I meant it. Legendary writer, Lawrence Kasdan, took George Lucas’s first film and built on it, with bigger character development, better conflicts, greater stakes, and more expansive worlds. It is easily my favorite Star Wars movie of all time.

I love that Empire gives the audience a lot of firsts, but it doesn’t necessarily throw its originality in your face. From the icy world of Hoth to the swampy, reptile-infested Dagobah System to Lando’s Cloud City, there is a lot of scenery to look at and enjoy.

From the moment you get a glimpse at Luke on the surface of Hoth, you can almost feel the chill. The unpleasant and cold terrain sets a tone that permeates through the this section. There are a lot of moving pieces, with Luke’s being dragged to a cave and eventual rescue, Han’s plans to leave the base, and Leia coming to grips with that decision, but every single thread holds the same amount of weight and shares the same amount of screen-time. We are finally getting to know these people just that little bit better, and it’s clear they have spent quite some time together as well. It all culminates in the incredible Battle of Hoth, showing Luke commanding with confidence and Han whisking Leia away from her command post.

By contrast, the Dagobah system looks humid and unrelenting, an odd choice to remain when the rest of your people have been obliterated. Yoda trains Luke, and there are some amazing sequences showing him climbing, doing flips, and general awesome feats that are meant to symbolize his strength with the Force. I still love the sequence where Luke moves the ship only to be certain he can’t, which causes him to fail. It is a perfect metaphor for everyone’s lives, the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will. Unfortunately, we don’t all have Yodas in our life to prove us wrong either.

Han, Leia, Chewie, and C3PO (thankfully with reduced screen-time this time around – did I mention 3PO reminds me of my grandmother, fretting about every little thing? No. Well, he does, the less I hear him the happier I am.) escape the Empire twice once leaving Hoth. The asteroid chase sequence proves how great Han and Chewie are at flying, and Han’s ability to think on his feet. The Exogorth (the giant asteroid worm) sequence is horrifying, complete with suitably terrifying jump scares as well. They entered the cave out of necessity, but left out of even greater need. Apparently there’s a whole history about these space slugs, but I’m pretty happy to know as little as possible. I can’t imagine being stuck in another creature’s body. *shudders*

The highlight of the film is Lando’s Cloud City. It is a gorgeous locale with rich, vibrant colors to contrast the extreme climates of the other two locales. The introduction of Lando Calrissian is perfect, and he fills the screen with as much charm, and perhaps more, as Han. His betrayal and subsequent reverse betrayal seem characteristic of the qualities Han may well have possessed in the first film. He protects his people, first and foremost, and in a way that seems heroic. Cloud City also features the best dual of the trilogy and the upsetting freezing of Han.

I could gush about the movie for hours, but I think it’s pretty obvious I love this movie.

 

Next up on my review list is Die Hard. Geez, that’s going to be a tough one to watch. (hahaha)

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Star Wars: A New Hope – a movie list challenge #9

I’m watching and writing about the Top 100 Movies of All-Time this year, based on multiple film publication lists. You can read more about how I came to rank and place the films on the list at my introduction post here.

Star Wars IV: A New Hope

Rank: 9
List Appearances: 8/10
Average Rank: 30
Highest Rank: 4, on Ranker‘s The Best Movies of All Time
Total Final Score: 11088

In 1977, film history was made. Star Wars was a cultural phenomenon unlike anything before, and its importance on film is still felt today. The original trilogy are among my favorite movies of all time. Before I was five, I had seen them at least half a dozen times. I still lament that I never knew that feeling of “Oh my god! Darth Vader is Luke’s father!” because I just knew it before I knew what street I lived on. My first crush was Luke, and by extension Mark Hamill, and I knew his name and Carrie Fisher’s and Harrison Ford’s before I knew my neighbor’s first name (she was Mrs Armstrong). I liked A New Hope, but mostly, I liked Ewoks and Jedis and R2D2 and Yoda, in that order. I was five, after all, and one movie was all the movies. Even now, I love hearing that 20th Century Fox fanfare playing at the start of the movie and getting excited. Dad didn’t even have to tell me. I just knew he was starting it again. I’d exclaim, “Return of the Jedi!” and sit on the couch eagerly waiting for the text scroll to start.

Speaking of text scroll, did you know that George Lucas had to pay $100,000 to put it on at the start of the movie and have the credits at the end? Before Star Wars, the main credits for a movie were at the start for all movies. That’s significant now, because it has become the standard, and credits at the start are definitely not the norm (though the start of Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can is a brilliant example of the now outdated style).

I have seen A New Hope probably a hundred times. I stopped counting long ago. I haven’t watched it as often in my adulthood, though, due to the tragedy that are the Lucas cuts. The VHS copies I had growing up still sit at home with my mom on the other side of the world, if I ever want to watch the unadulterated versions. I can only hope that one day Disney will re-release them in their original version, for film preservation purposes, but I’m sure that requires some kind of negotiation with Lucas himself.

I still get goosebumps every time the John Williams’s theme starts, and when new ones come, I might even tear up just a tiny bit during that text scroll. I spent so much of my childhood thinking the three were going to be it, that now this idea of one a year is still messing with my sense of nostalgia. I’m sad that soon that joy I felt at the mention of Star Wars might diminish with time. There are now more movies out that aren’t necessarily needed (a la Rogue One and Solo: A Star Wars Story), though they still have some merits (Rogue‘s battle sequence on the beach is amazing, as is Solo‘s Kessel run). I recognize that my nostalgia gets in the way of me enjoying some of the newer films. I also recognize that a large number of the world’s population have never watched a single film, and to those people, I say, “Don’t.” There’s a reason they haven’t watched it, and being forced to watch this zietgeist of a movie can only end in disappointment.

I sat down to watch A New Hope this week in preparation for this review, and while I have recounted a lot of my personal experiences, I do want to talk about the merits of the movie and why I absolutely agree it should be in the Top 100 of all time.

A New Hope is a great introduction into the Star Wars universe and is brimming with colorful characters, aliens, and worlds, though it is not the best of the series. The superior film is Empire Strikes Back, for many reasons, but I will get into that next week. For now, I want to talk about what I think makes Star Wars so great and the reason for its rabid fan-base.

It was the first accessible space opera and science fiction movie ever made, and more importantly, the best production to that day. There’s something to be said about practical effects. The older Star Wars hold up more than the Anakin trilogy, because there was very little reliance on visual effects as we know them now. That’s what makes the changes harder to swallow because the addition of CG pulls you out of the magic of the original movie. There was clear meticulous detail in bringing to life the space ships and droids and sets. From the vastness of space in the opening scene, to the claustrophic corridors of the ships. When Darth Vader walks through that foggy door juxtaposed against the stark white interior of Leia’s ship, when the music shifts into the low dun-dun-dun, you know he is the baddest of the bad.

The cast of characters are fleshed out in some way. Leia is a fierce warrior, and despite her capture, she has zero qualms about berating or belittling her captors. When she grabs a blaster and commands Han and Luke into the garbage chute, her authority is felt and believed. She is a force to be reckoned with, and she is certainly no princess. As a young girl, I looked up to Leia as an example, and I know many other girls and young women did as well. Han and Luke were one-dimensional in A New Hope, but while Han was the snarky comedic relief (“Great, kid! Don’t get cocky), Luke bore the weight of destiny on his shoulders. He had barely had time to learn to feel the Force before he lost his only teacher.

By extension, I think the now overused concept of finding out you’re special is a theme that connected with a lot of the audience. I don’t know a kid that isn’t certain he/she were adopted at some point in their lives. Or at least a long lost relative of Merlin or King Arthur, destined to some day discover some innate power or gift that they didn’t know they had. Luke, with his transformation from reluctant farmer to destroyer of a Deathstar, was the embodiment of that desire. And really, with that and space battles and lazer swordfights (yes, I know, they’re lightsabers) and Millenium Falcons, what more could you want?

 

 

 

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Unemployed

“How’d it go?” he asked me.

Before I was down the street, I had called my husband, stopping to strip off my blazer with my briefcase tucked between my legs. The Friday afternoon sun bore down on me, slowly melting the makeup on my face.

“Really well!” I told him, excited. “…Of course, that probably means I didn’t get the job.”

He let out a mirthless laugh.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” I said. “It’s so perfect for me. Honestly, it hasn’t even been two weeks since my retrenchment.”

He paused. Only three days before he had been the symbol of strength, telling me to leave the money worries behind and focus on me.

“So tell me all about it,” he finally said.

Monday morning at 8am, I received the call. “How’d you think you went?” the recruiter asked.

I knew from the question I had won the position.

I was right.

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New Year Adventure

2019 started with an early morning dog walk. It was midway through the walk when I received a call from hubby that he was trying to catch a dog that was running across the streets where he was walking our other dog.

I raced home to get the car, grab the keys, put my girl (dog) in the backyard, and took a lead. The dog was not collared, hubby had said, and I was willing to bet not microchipped either.

I found hubby on the corner of a main road with our boy sitting very patiently and the stray wagging her tail in hubby’s arms. She was a beautiful, young, red Kelpie with sagging teats. It took us both to put her into the car and strap her in safely.

At 6:30 in the morning, there weren’t many options available to us. I tried calling the RSPCA, but after 30min, I was still on hold. Meanwhile we brought her to our house where she terrorized our cats and was too scared to play with our big dogs. We couldn’t keep her, but it was also a public holiday and likely not much would be open.

Hubby called a local vet at 7am when they opened, who said they could take her if she was microchipped only. I finally got onto the RSPCA who told me that they didn’t take lost dogs, but they did put us on file as having found her in case the owners called. The Pound wasn’t open on public holidays, but they had metal drop boxes for lost dogs that were checked periodically through the day.

We took her to the vet first. But we were right. No microchip in her. So they told us to take her to the drop boxes or keep her until the owner called the RSPCA.

By this point, I’m so sad for the little girl; it seemed no one wanted her. She was a gorgeous dog with a big smile and constantly wagging upright tail. I swear she was still a puppy, but she wasn’t trained at all. I was pretty certain she was just used to be bred. So a giant part of me just wanted to rescue her from the made-up life I had created in my head.

We drove over to the drop boxes that both the vet and RSPCA told us about, and I was instantly in tears. These metal boxes had very little light in them, were small and cramped, with no water in them. They looked so inhumane. We were lucky that another lady was there before we arrived, and had blocked the entrance in hopes of catching one of the after hours employees as they tried to come into work. And it worked, just as we arrived.

We didn’t have to put the little darling into that horrible box, and we were able to see her be taken straight into the kennels. We left, both sad for her but happy we had hopefully saved a life on New Year’s Day.

Two hours later, the RSPCA called me. The owner was looking for a dog fitting my description.