McTiernan. Just finished Edward Yang and now on to John McTiernan—talk about a pair- haha—hopefully anyone reading this gets a chuckle out of the juxtaposition here. McTiernan delivered not one, but two superb action films in the 1980’s—Predator and Die Hard. Die Hard lands in my top 500 of all-time (fewer and fewer directors left that can say that on the list of course) and that’s a strength. Many call it the ultimate/best/definitive action film- tough to say (another great debate is whether it’s a Christmas film? Haha) but the consistency genre work from McTiernan is worthy of praise even if the filmography doesn’t extend too far beyond those two films (three total in the archives or years (all the archiveable films come within a 4 year stretch of each other from 1987-1990).
Best film: Die Hard
- Like McTiernan’s 1987 entry, Predator, Die Hard is an updated (and modified) western. Instead of The Magnificent Seven (Seven Samurai) it’s Shane here in many ways
- Clichés are clichés for a reason and Die Hard would go on to be so influential to the action genre that it may seem cliché now—but it isn’t—it’s an architype – a standard and the premise has been copied a hundred time sense (DP Jan de Bont did it pretty well himself in Speed)
- Pure good and pure evil—much like Shane with Ladd and Palance—we have Willis and Rickman here
- It’s not Bergman or anything intellectual, but I think it’s smarter than most critics give it credit for. I don’t think it’s a coincidence or lazy that it’s the 80’s and all these terrorists want is money
- Willis became a star and his performance here is deserving. He’s an everyman who is cool and witty. “Does it sound like I’m ordering a f*cking pizza?”-haha
- Very smart narrative addition to have Reginald Vel Johnson as the cop who Willis talks to and becomes friends with
- There are still a handful of cheeseball “thanks for the advice” one liners and even poor Willis’ wife is falling to her death nearly while her husband is delivering a one-liner
- Willis is brilliant but Rickman is equally masterful—the film doesn’t work as well without those two in lead
- Paul Gleason (principal from breakfast club) has some good comedic lines as does the dueling FBI agents both named Johnson (Robert Davi and Grand Bush)
- Hart Bocher as “Ellis” is pure comedic genius as well
- Very smart to set this film in Xmas- it feels grounded to have it during the Christmas holiday, at a holiday party, “Ho Ho Ho” line by Rickman and Run-DMC “Christmas in Hollis” song
- Lens flare galore here- pre JJ Abrams
- Haven’t seen glass breaking like this since the Joanna Cassidy death in Blade Runner
- Countless “cowboy” references (including a John Wayne reference and one during climax) which helps my McTiernan as modern day western director theory
- There are some plotting issues- Willis checks the building directory clearly to show that she’s now going by her maiden name…. it’s a set up—the guard then says they’re the only ones left in the
- During the finale it’s absolutely ingenious to have Willis tape the gun to his skin—I thought it was/is brilliant
total archiveable films: 3
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 1 (Die Hard)
top 100 films of the decade: 2 (Predator, Die Hard)
most overrated: McTiernan doesn’t have an overrated film. He has only one in the TSPDT consensus top 1000 and that’s Die Hard at #506. I have it at #448—extremely close. Predator isn’t doing as poorly
most underrated : Predator but it isn’t a travesty. It isn’t doing as poorly as you’d think on the TSPDT which shows you how much critics have come around on it since the terrible reviews upon release in 1987—right now it sits at #1545—not awful.
gem I want to spotlight : The Hunt For Red October
- It doesn’t have the haunting claustrophobia of Das Boot but it’s a superb thriller
- Strong Tom Clancy source material – the plot actually rides pretty closely to Dr. Strangelove without the comedy of course
- It’s better than the weak metacritic score (58 at the time I’m writing)- but you could see it as a disappointment with McTiernan (coming off Predator and Die Hard) and that cast
- The cast is outstanding. Much is made of Connery with that accent playing a Soviet naval commander but he’s very good here- frosty, melancholic— and the supporting players are strong and abundant- Baldin, James Earl Jones is great, Richard Jordan is very good, Stellan Skarsgård in an early small role—I think Scott Glenn comes off very well—perhaps the best in the cast
- Great canted angle shot of Stellan Skarsgård showing the stress and claustrophobia
- Sam Neil’s sweet “do you think they’ll let me live in Montana?” monologue.
- The shot of Baldwin crawling in the ship is shot very much like McTiernan shooting Willis in Die Hard
- Baldwin vs. Harrison Ford here as Jack Ryan—Baldwin plays him more as an everyman- Ford is more of a super hero—hard to imagine Ford’s Ryan turning green from smoking
- Ends on a high note- quoting Christopher Columbus and Baldwin saying “Welcome to the New World”
- Recommend- not in the top 10 of 1990
- Modern day westerns—Western as action genre- , Predator, Die Hard is an updated (and modified) western. Instead of The Magnificent Seven (Seven Samurai) it’s Shane here in many ways. Die Hard– Countless “cowboy” references (including a John Wayne reference and one during climax) which helps my McTiernan as modern day western director theory
- Gorgeous use of 65mm for special effects in Die Hard– including the slow-motion death from falling shot (so well done) with Rickman
- Again it isn’t on the level of Spike Lee’s powerful use of dutch or canted angles in Do the Right Thing but McTiernan used them occasionally to add a heighted sense of suspense or tension
- Die Hard
- The Hunt For Red October
By year and grades
|1988- Die Hard||MS|
|1990- The Hunt For Red October||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
I would like to talk about a movie I saw today called Predator.
Here’s why I think it’s so good. I’ll split my comments into 2 parts to make it easier for you to read.
1) It’s just so damn entertaining. Great pacing and ‘worldbuilding’. Great narrative about army going in to rescue a soldier. Builds well from there. The iconic images and one liners (“GOOOOOOO GET TO THE CHOPPA” for example).
2) Great visuals and gorgeous cinemaphotography(so incredible to look at). The camera movements, (the tracks, shaky cam etc), the lighting is gorgeous with smoke towards the end and the use of the jungle, water etc.
3) Arnie is superb – great acting. Weathers is brilliant too -rarely blinks. Whole cast is superb. Script is excellent. Wrinting is incredible.
4) Good blending of genres – we have comedy, horror, scifi and action along with thriller.
5) Good visual effects. They look dated which is good because it makes the predator look like it is out of this world and not earthly. The transparent specail effect and infrared is gorgeous and still holds up even today.
6) Very assured direction from McTiernan- very confident – very impressive.
7) Decent formal repition of shots – smoke is repeated – creates a nice atmosphere. The frames are set nicely. 2-3 heads in the frame usually. One in the front and one at the back.
8) Great makeup – blood, sweat (on a side not, there are many effective closeups in the movie showing sweat and fear.) The costume design is great. Predator looks scary. Kevin Peter Hall is massive. He uses his size well- the predator is nicely acted.
9)’ Maximalist’ – looks of guns and explosions- very well done.
10) Great score by Silvestri
11) Good editing – some fades/dissolves – nice edits between infrared to normal.
12) greatly directed action sequences
13) Creates suspense by not showing monster for a long period of time – HItchcokian fear/suspense – Jaws.
14) Themes. The survelliance by the Predator could be referring to the watergate scandal. Another theme is how mindlessly soldiers lives are sacrificied because of bad officers’ orders- team sent in on such a dangerous mission (“expendable assests”) – Paths of glory has similar themes.
Another theme is how we hunt animals as trophies. In real life, human beings are the predators – in the movie the soldiers are prey (shot through high angle shots sometimes – to look vulnerable)
15) Well developed characters – this makes the audience care for them
16) The cinematography (slow camera movements, photography and lighting) is gorgeous throughout but at the end it is just breathtakingly stunning. The predators tries using advanced/superior weaponry to injure Arnie originally. However he then see Arnie as a worthy opponent so he fights him without weaponary (themes of traditionaly masculininty). The ending is beautiful looking. Soldiers dead whose life has been sacrificied for no reason. Arnie escapes but his crew is dead. He is sad. Similar to Platoon’s ending with the helicopter, Arnie close to tears etc. Then the ‘hype music starts as the credits role. Great ending to a superb movie.
Hey Drake and other readers of the blog – what did you think of my analysis? Any more points you would like to add?
Hello @Azman, very good analysis, but I can not comment, I have not seen it
@Azman- thanks for sharing. This film has had an interesting relationship with critics for sure— at first it was just a bad movie, then a guilty pleasure, and now– good enough to make the TSPDT top 2000
I’m glad you appreciate the comments. You’re welcome. I like sharing my thoughts on this page and interacting with other cinephiles.
You are right. This film was a big success initially with regular cinephiles but critics largely disliked it. They’ve come around since then and accurately rate the movie highly.
Have you considered expanding your top 500 to a top 2000 or something? Would predator be on that top 2000?
@Azman– I think I’ll expand my top 500 to 1000 when I do it– maybe 2021 or 2022. And yes- Predator is on my top 100 of the 1980’s right now so any film that lands on the top 100 of a decade should be at— or really close— in the top 1000
@Hey Drake, if you update all your pages (like you are with your year end archives), will the original comments still remain? I would like it because a lot of the comments have really useful information about the movies. I like to read those comments after reading your reviews/rankings.
@Azman- I’m going to try to keep the comments– it depends on the format updates on the site. So far so good on the year by year archives.