Merry Holidays, everyone!
As we are nearing the end of December, and are on the verge of crashing into the full swing of the season, I thought I would spotlight a few of the very best Christmas films currently available on Netflix’s Watch Instantly service. First up, for your consideration, a classic holiday action extravaganza: Die Hard.
Who Made It: Die Hard was directed by the great John McTiernan. The year before Die Hard, McTiernan gave us the ultimate Schwarzenegger vs. alien hunter movie: Predator. McTiernan’s ability to craft the perfect action scene is unquestionable and he would ply that trade again when he returned to the franchise to direct Die Hard: With a Vengeance.
Who’s In It: Die Hard stars Bruce Willis in the lead role and was actually a major launching pad for his entire career. Though not his first film, it was his first real cinematic vehicle. At the time Willis was most widely known for his work on the comedy series Moonlighting and was far from being considered an action star. Die Hard was the film that made Hollywood change their perception of Willis forever.
What’s It About: Die Hard is the story of New York City cop John McClane who travels to L.A. at Christmas to visit his estranged wife and kids. He is taken from the airport to the Christmas party of his wife’s company, The Nakatomi Corporation. Unfortunately, John isn’t the only last-minute attendee. A group of international terrorists take control of the party seeking to steal a fortune from the company’s vault. John must now use all his training, his courage, and the element of surprise to singlehandedly take them out.
Why You Should Watch It:
Die Hard is a classic for a myriad reasons. It set the standard for action movies for years to come. It took the action experience out of the wide-open battlefield or sprawling landscape of an entire city and confined it to one high-rise; creating a sense of claustrophobia and forcing the hero to improvise. The best scenes in the film are John McClane crawling through the ventilation ducts or leaping from one floor to the other via the elevator shaft. He goes so far as to Gerry rig a fire hose into a rope and dive off the roof and into a lower floor. Amazing! This “hero stuck in a ______ battling terrorists” model would be imitated for years.
And the hero is not some superhuman, or specially government-trained killing machine. He’s a cop; a regular blue-collar worker who didn’t go looking for a fight, but instead had adversity dropped in his lap and has to rise to the occasion. That famous scene wherein he walks across the broken glass is a bloody token of his mortality, reminding us all that our hero is just an average guy with Titanic-sized balls. The relationship between McClane and Sgt. Powell, played by Family Matters’ Reginald VelJohnson, further emphasizes his average Joe status. Powell becomes John’s only link to the outside world, his one unwavering voice of support; the kind any one of us would need to even consider continuing on in a dire situation like his.
Of course, a great hero is nothing without a great villain, and Die Hard has one of cinema’s best. The leader of the terrorist cell/band of thieves is a sinister figure by the name of Hans Gruber. Playing the role of the seminal antagonist was none other than Alan Rickman, who would go on to play Snape in the Harry Potter franchise. Rickman is so icy cool, so calculating throughout the film and his curt, patronizing back-and-forth with McClane is outstanding. It boils down to the perfect canonization of the age-old battle between brains and brawn. Ironically, McClane ends up winning by outsmarting Gruber.
The real reason for the longevity of Die Hard’s appeal has to do with its setting; not so much the where, but the when. There were, and continue to be, so very few Christmas-themed action films when Die Hard was released in 1988. The holidays, after all, are supposed to be a time of merriment and reverence, right? Die Hard warps this to its own devices; even using jingling bells and snippets of carols to underscore its sinister tone. John McTiernan changed the rules and gave us what would come to be regarded as one of cinema’s foremost action films, with plenty of violence and profanity in tow, set during the most wonderful time of the year.
Sometimes, in order to escape the iconic roles with which they are branded, actors need to swing way outside their type and play roles that are definitively uncharacteristic for them. The feat, tried time and time again, is now being braved by the man we know so rigidly as Steve Urkel: Jaleel White.
White will join the premiere of the upcoming season of House. Not as a doctor—that would be too close to the nerdy Urkel. Not as a patient—again, vulernability is Urkel's middle name (actually, his middle name is Quincy). Instead, White will be playing a prison inmate to the also-incarcerated Gregory House (Hugh Laurie), who thought it a fine idea to drive his car into the living room of Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) during last season's finale. The trailer for the upcoming season depicts a pretty understandably dissatisfied House dealing with his new living situation.
So, Jaleel in jail -- that's not exactly a storyline we ever expected to see on Family Matters.
Family Matters itself is such a triumph for television history. The series began as the most obscure spin-off of all time: Harriette Winslow (Jo Marie Peyton) originated as the elevator operator in Perfect Strangers before getting her own family sitcom. At its inception, Family Matters was a sentimental, low-stakes comedy about raising children right and minor marital spats. But then, on December 15, 1989, upon the introduction of the nasal, clumsy neighbor boy everything changed (and not just in terms of the show... everything).
Jaleel White took what was originally a fluffy but grounded series and turned it into complete mayhem. The same series that displayed the dangers of firearms also had Urkell and Carl Winslow (Reginald VelJohnson) shrink down to macroscopic size via the former's haywire science project. Urkel was such a distinct character, that he single-handedly distorted this entire program, and, understandably, has been an inescapable connotation for his portrayer. But perhaps launching a new image via the popular drama House will grant White notoriety as a more diverse, adept performer.
Or perhaps he'll inadvertendly impart the wrath of his ventriloquist dummy lookalike onto the New Jersey hospital. Personally, either option is a win.
House's eighth season premieres October 3 on Fox.