Are the ’80s over… again?

Two weeks ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger scored one of the worst opening weekends of his career, as The Last Stand — the first film to star him in the lead since he became Governor of California a decade ago — opened to a mere $6.3 million. It was the lowest opening for any of his films since 1986, when Raw Deal opened to $5.4 million on a bit more than half the screens that The Last Stand had.

Then, this past weekend, Sylvester Stallone scored one of the worst opening weekends of his career, as Bullet to the Head opened to a mere $4.5 million. With the exception of a few films that played in only a handful of theatres, it was the lowest opening for any of his films since 1981, when Nighthawks and Victory opened to $2.5 million or possibly even less.

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Die Hard 4 to come out in ten months

The Hollywood Reporter, via Reuters, reports that 20th Century Fox announced yesterday that Live Free or Die Hard — yes, that’s the name, and it’s dumb, but then, so was Die Hard, if you think about it — will open June 29. The new film will be directed by Len Wiseman, director of the Underworld movies (2003-2006), and it just might be filmed in Vancouver. Reports the Reporter:

The story centers on an attack on America’s computer infrastructure that begins to shut the country down. The mysterious figure behind the scheme has figured out every digital angle but never counts on Willis’ old-fashioned, “analog” character, John McClane.

Sounds interesting, I guess. But it must be asked: Does the world really need, or even want, a new Die Hard movie?

The first film, based on Roderick Thorp’s Nothing Lasts Forever (my comments) and released in 1988, is a classic, and it virtually saved the action-movie genre. At a time when flops like Stallone’s Rambo III and Schwarzenegger’s Red Heat were causing some pundits to predict the demise of the action hero, Bruce Willis, then a mere TV star, came along to show how great an action movie could be — indeed, how much an action movie could matter — if the hero was given a strong dose of humanity.

Brief personal tangent: Since the first film came out when I was 17 — over half a lifetime ago! — it was one of the very, very few movies that I “snuck into” before I was old enough to see anything I liked without adult accompaniment. Though I didn’t really “sneak” into it, per se; the woman at the counter just didn’t bother to ask me how old I was. I had already seen a number of films that were rated R in the United States, because they were rated 14-A in British Columbia; Die Hard, however, was a solid 18-A.

Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990) was almost exactly like the first film — thanks to a few unlikely narrative coincidences, it brought back almost all the surviving characters from the first film, who once again find themselves dealing with terrorists on Christmas Eve — but in a bigger, badder, and grimmer sort of way. It’s more of a mutated clone of the original than a sequel, but at least it showed that the filmmakers were trying to keep as many ingredients as possible of what had been a highly successful recipe.

For those who found the first sequel kind of embarrassing, Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) was originally billed as a return to form — look, it even had the same director as the first film! — but it has never really worked for me, not least because it loses the family-guy aspect that made John McClane so interesting in the first place, and its few fumbling attempts to keep that element in the script just make the absence even more annoying. Quite frankly, if it doesn’t have Bonnie Bedelia, then it ain’t a Die Hard movie. Plus, this movie eschewed the unity of time and place that marked the first two movies, though possibly as a reaction against all the other films that had imitated it — Speed (1994) had been “Die Hard on a bus”, Under Siege (1992) had been “Die Hard on a boat”, etc. In hindsight, this film looks like one of the earlier mis-steps in director John McTiernan‘s slide to irrelevance, and the Pulp Fiction (1994) in-jokes also feel kind of dated, now.

And now, there will be a fourth film. The first three films were produced over a span of seven years. The gap between the third and fourth films will be almost twice that, at twelve years. Does anyone really want to see John McClane again? Was it the character, all by himself, who was so interesting the first time, or was it the larger matrix in which that character found himself?

Suffice to say my hopes aren’t too high for this new movie.

Review: Unbreakable (dir. M. Night Shyamalan, 2000)

Unbreakable has a lot in common with The Sixth Sense, the surprise spook-story hit that nudged its way into the ranks of the top ten box-office hits of all time early this year. It is written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. It stars Bruce Willis. And it is a solemn tale about a person who has supernatural powers and must find a way to come to terms with his gift, and use it responsibly.

Willis plays David Dunne, a security guard who survives a train wreck without getting so much as a scratch, while all the other passengers die. David is soon contacted by Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a comic-book zealot who has been keeping an eye out for just such an incident, hoping to find an invulnerable man. Elijah has extremely fragile bones — the kids back in school used to call him “Glass” because he shattered so easily — and he’s been waiting his whole life to meet someone at the opposite end of the vulnerability spectrum.

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Review: The Sixth Sense (dir. M. Night Shyamalan, 1999)

The sun still shines brightly in these last days of summer, but moviegoers are showing a pronounced taste for things that go bump in the night. As I write this, no less than three of the week’s 10 most popular films are ghost stories of one sort or another, each with its own spin on this time-worn genre.

The Haunting epitomizes the flawed big-studio Hollywood approach: throw lots of money at the screen, come up with all sorts of special effects on your computer, and hope the audience will be scared. But the effects actually undermine the suspense. The scariest movies are those which play on the audience’s own imaginations. Don’t show, and don’t tell—rather, suggest.

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