Monday, December 21, 2015

Match Up Monday: Die Hard VS Lethal Weapon

Last night the Egyptian Theatre continued their awesome line up of holiday titles. So far you've run the gamut of classics new and old like It's a Wonderful Life, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Scrooged and White Christmas. But Sunday was for action. Particularly, awesome 80's action with 1988's Die Hard and Lethal Weapon from 1987. I'd never seen either one on the big screen and was excited to soak in two Christmas set staples. Last week I saw some attention whore internet guy trying to act like he was strange or an early adopter/inspiration to consider Die Hard as a Christmas movie. Uh, it's set at Christmas. At a Christmas party. There's Christmas decorations. Christmas music. There's frigging Christmas themed tape used to hide a gun complete with jingling bell sound effects to remind you it's Christmas. What exactly doesn't make the film a Christmas one? Some people just can't get enough of themselves I guess...

Anyways, 20th Century Fox's Die Hard is a classic of film and the genre. John McTiernan directs a polished and creative blend of big action and high drama. Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza's script loosely based on Roderick Thorp's novel is a textbook example of storytelling. You have set ups and payoffs, interesting characters, human drama, wise cracks and funny jokes along with inventive and exciting action sequences that all take place in only a few locations. Every character is memorable from limo driver Argyle (De'voreaux White) to coke snorting douchebag Ellis (Hart Bochner) and Al Leong's candy bar grubbing baddie. It was fun to see Fox Plaza and Century City from the 80's as The Ralph's and McDonald's are still around. No more .74 gas though...Bruce Willis' put upon John McClane has to overcome Alan Rickman's slick group of mostly long haired, European terrorists all while dealing with a pending divorce and running around with no shoes. The digital print looked great and besides a few hairstyles, the film plays pretty timelessly. The film had a tumultuous road to the big screen but proved to be a big hit, grossing $137 million bucks worldwide and leading to two solid sequels and two not so great ones over 25 years and $1.4 billion in global receipts. Oh and everybody says "pal" a lot.

A year before, Warner Brothers redefined the buddy flick with Lethal Weapon, Richard Donner's tale of mismatched cops. Danny Glover plays Roger Murtaugh, a 50 year old ready to retire while Mel Gibson is Martin Riggs, a suicidal cop on the ragged edge. While Rickman's Hans Gruber was after $600 million bucks, Riggs and Murtaugh come up against the remnants of a Vietnam War outfit selling heroin dubbed Shadow Company, lead by The General (Mitchell Ryan) and his out there to Pluto mercenary henchman Mr. Joshua (Gary Busey). Shane Black's explosively dark script along with Donner's workman expertise combines family, loss, intense action, stunts, jokes, drugs and near suicide in a cohesive and endlessly entertaining package. The final chase sequence takes place on Hollywood Boulevard right next to the theatre where we were watching. Musso and Frank's was the only marquee I recognized as still standing. Whereas Die Hard seemed timeless with it's gorgeous print, classical music and polished sheen, Lethal felt very much of it's time. From wild hair and outrageous fishnet outfits, you get homophobia, Apartheid and mismatched partner banter and a really bad 80's song over the credits on a beat up, 30 year old print. Gibson's angry-crazy acting and waking up with a cigarette and beer screams 80's but that's because the flick has been ripped off so much. Michael Kamen's scored both films with DH going atmospheric and heightening the shock value while his Eric Clapton assisted guitar and saxophone riffs in LW are nearly laughably awesome 3 decades later. Over here we get "son of a bitch" stated from nearly every cast member.

The films share much of the same DNA as Joel Silver co-produced both, Michael Kamen composed, both were shot in Los Angeles and familiar faces like Mary Ellen Trainor, Grand L. Bush and Al Leong appear. And you could smoke indoors back then. They both defined the action genre for contained settings with Die Hard launching a plethora of imitators (on a bus in Speed, by boat in Under Siege) while the buddy picture would never be the same after Lethal Weapon. Weapon would be a top 10 grosser for the year with a $120 million dollar take worldwide and kick starting three sequels over 11 years for a $955 million global haul. Die Hard keeps on ticking with new creatives (4 directors in 5 movies) involved and a proposed 6th installment in the works while Lethal Weapon lies dormant after a falling out between producer Silver and now retired series director Donner. Allegedly original writer Black wrote a 5th installment while Warner Brothers was keen to revive the franchise with younger actors but Gibson refused to participate before running into personal woes.

Winner: It's a tie! Die Hard is a masterful piece of filmmaking with a truly unique story while Lethal Weapon is an era time capsule that is arguably more entertaining. Die Hard is one of those movies you watch once in a while and marvel at its near prestige accomplishments but Lethal Weapon is the crowd pleaser you view regularly.

Yippie-ki-yay mother f*cker and go spit. Have a Merry Christmas while you're at it, pal.

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