The Christmas Collection

29/11/19 The Muppet Christmas Carol

06/12/19 Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

14/12/19 Home Alone

25/12/19 Die Hard

05/12/20 Disney’s A Christmas Carol

12/12/20 Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

19/12/20 Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

25/12/20 Die Hard 2: Die Harder

05/12/21 Mickey’s Christmas Carol

12/12/21 The Grinch (2018)

18/12/21 Home Alone 3

04/12/22 Dr Who Christmas Specials (RTD Era)

11/12/22 Dr Who Christmas Specials (Moffat Era Part 1)

18/12/22 Dr Who Christmas Specials (Moffat Era Part 2)

25/12/22 Home Alone 4: Taking Back the House

Die Hard 2

I think that Die Hard 2 is often overshadowed by the original Die Hard, and I can understand why. The original is an action classic which has become an annual Christmas watch for many people, myself included. However the sequel is equally good, and as with many sequels, is much bigger in scale. Die Hard 2 (or Die Harder) was produced with double the budget ($7 million), double the cast, and was released in the summer of 1990. It also doubled the earnings of the original, with a worldwide box office of over $240 million and so I have to wonder where the love for this film has gone. Oh… it’s right here.

We follow ex NYPD Officer John McClane as he finds himself in a terrorist controlled airport on Christmas Eve while waiting for his wife’s plane to land. Once again, John finds himself facing off against this unforeseen threat, although this time with the added struggle of not being taken seriously by airport police. The main villain of our piece is Colonel Stuart who is portrayed with perfect poise and menace by William Statler- whom many folks will know from his portrayal of Death in the Bill and Ted films. All he wants is to commandeer the plane of a foreign political prisoner, and he is willing to hack the airport control tower and crash as many planes as it takes to get that done. With several planes circling the airport, running low on fuel and awaiting permission to land, there are a lot of lives at stake. The stakes here are higher than they were previously, and unlike before, John is not on his own, having to contend with local law enforcement and the airport management. Whilst they do eventually, inevitably, come to his aide, they remain hesitant of his heroics throughout most of the movie. They even go so far has to have him escorted out of the Control Tower when he finally has proof that one of their “punks and thieves” is a professional mercenary. Once again, the law enforcement in this franchise proves itself to be utterly undependable.

We are once again joined on our journey by the selfish and arrogant Richard Thornburg who is aboard the same plane as John’s wife Holly… much to his dismay. You may also know actor William Atherton from his role as Walter Peck in the original Ghostbusters, and his portrayal of self-centred jerks continue to be an absolute joy all these years later. Even as Thornburg is giving an interview on the news, live, over the phone, from the airplane… he is watching himself in a bathroom mirror. The absence of his character from the following sequels, though understandable, is a real shame because I could genuinely watch this character in a fake news show akin to The 9 o’clock News. The other star player is the late Fred Thompson, who portrays Air Traffic Flight Director Ed Trudeau. His performance feels genuine and you get the feeling that his character has been doing this job for years, but still cares about every single person in his airport. As his systems are taken away from him and his planes are left stranded in the air, he barely ever loses his cool. Every person in this or any other level of authority should aim to be this kind and respectable.

The big draw of Die Hard 2 the new setting. It’s often described as The One With The Airport as opposed to its predecessor The One With The Tower. It means that instead of navigating the small amount of space between several floors, John is having to run from one end of the airport to the other, which proves to be as tiring as getting shot at continuously. It also means that while the plot can have the same bones (John, terrorists, boom) it is delivered in a different way. Instead of dealing with these terrorists directly, he at times simply has to watch their actions play out. They have based themselves at a church on the outskirts of the airport grounds, placing them far enough away from the action that they won’t have to suffer any consequences, unlike the previous film where if the building had collapsed it would have killed everyone. John is stretched thin here while the terrorists are barely lifting a finger. Shifting location was a decision that worked for the most part in Home Alone 2 but with Die Hard 2 it proved to be the best of their many creative decisions.

On top of all this are the practical effects, which I could really just sum up with “exploding plane” but which deserve more attention than that. This was the first film to take a matte painted background and to composite live-action footage over the top of it. Although it was only used for the final scene, it would pave the way for the likes of Independence Day, and I can think of no better legacy. There is something about how practical the effects in this film are and how real it makes everything seem. I think that’s because they allow the events to take their toll on John and everyone around him. Much like with Die Hard John is left covered in grime, blood and injuries by the time the credits roll, in stark contrast to today’s action flicks which seem to have decided that their heroes cannot be shown to have weakness. That’s the thing with Die Hard 2. Yes, it’s bigger, and yes, there has to be a small suspension of disbelief, but it doesn’t feel fake or forced. It’s a good time and I really look forward to watching it every year.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Die Hard

A man flies from New York to Los Angeles to surprise his wife, who hasn’t seen him in 6 months. The villain of our story is sophisticated and only in it for the money. There’s snow, there’s romance and there’s festive music throughout. These are the hallmarks of a classic Christmas Rom-Com, but it is also the hallmarks of Die Hard, featuring Bruce Willis as off-duty police officer John Maclane. Many of you may be under the impression that Die Hard is an action film, but the gunfights and explosions are actually rather scarce, though what they lack in quantity they make up for in quality. Particularly outstanding is the explosion in the elevator shaft, which seems to the rock the camera to its very core. This film is, in short, is a work of art – and it deserves the franchise that it spawned.

We follow John Maclane as he attends a party at Nakatomi Plaza on Christmas Eve, where the building is overtaken by Hans Gruber and 11 other “terrorists”. While the FBI plot their attack, and the local news network watches, John takes a defiant stand. John’s limo driver Argyle is also there, chilling in the garage. The inclusion of Argyle is, to me, one of the best elements in the entire film, because the film barely pauses to acknowledge him. We’ll be in the middle of a gunfight and suddenly cut to Argyle chatting away on his limo-phone having heard nothing. I’ve always been a fan of juxtapositions like this, though I’m not sure I can aptly explain why. I think it’s because they are a form of expectation subversion which is one of my favourite forms of comedy. Perhaps it’s because I see a little bit of my own lack of observation skills in Argyle, and as such relate to him more than I do John Maclane. Perhaps it’s because I think he’s cute. It could be any and/or all of these things.

As I’m sure we all know, the true hero of Die Hard is Sargent Alan (Al) Powell. At first he seems to be a regular movie cop, buying vast amounts of Twinkies “for his wife” but then he is called to Nakatomi Plaza to investigate a disturbance. He decides that it’s a wild goose chase and that nothing out of the ordinary is happening, until a terrorist falls onto the hood of his police car and he is shot at. While most films might make Al a one-time gag character, Die Hard instead opts to keep him around, making him a straight-man in comparison to the stereotypical FBI and LAPD. Al ends up being one of the most well developed characters ever to exist in an 80’s action movie, if not film in general. The finest character in the piece though, is Hans Gruber portrayed by the late Alan Rickman. Here is a villain who simply saunters into the plot, and casually executes his plan. His gentle tone barely falters, but as members of his crew start dying and his detonators go missing, his bravado starts to falter. Once he discovers Holly Gennero to be the wife of John Maclane, he takes her hostage out of spite. I can’t see Hans at the start of the movie doing anything out of spite, which goes to show how good John is at his job.

Die Hard is a character driven story in the guise of an action blockbuster. While Hans Gruber’s death may be an obvious green screen, the explosions are real. The practical effects, while minimal, are great. CGI has its advantages, but almost nothing beats watching a genuine explosion occur. It’s only topped by watching those same explosions at Christmas time, this year and every year that follows.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your festive neighbourhood queer