My 500 favourite films

This is the 500th post on this website, so to celebrate I’ve quickly knocked up a list of my 500 favourite films. Well, that’s a lie. It wasn’t quick. It’s taken *weeks*.

I’ve limited my choices to narrative films that were released at the cinema, so there are no TV movies, documentaries or concert films. And I’ve tried to be honest. I’ve not artificially added ‘classics’ just because that’s the thing to do. I’m not saying The Wizard of Oz, Lawrence of Arabia, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shawshank Redemption or any other omissions are bad films; it’s just that I don’t have a personal affection for them. Neither have I shied away from including unpopular films. If a movie is on this list it’s because I genuinely like it.

1920
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

1922
Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror

1927
Metropolis
Wings

1929
Piccadilly

1931
Dracula
Frankenstein
M

1933
King Kong

1935
Bride of Frankenstein

1936
Dracula’s Daughter

1941
Citizen Kane
The Maltese Falcon

1942
Casablanca

1946
The Big Sleep
It’s a Wonderful Life
A Matter of Life and Death

1948
Rope

1949
The Third Man

1950
Sunset Boulevard

1951
Strangers on a Train

1952
Singin’ in the Rain

1953
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

1954
Dial M For Murder
Rear Window

1958
Carry On Sergeant
Dracula
Some Like It Hot
Vertigo

1959 
North by Northwest

1960
Psycho

1961
Carry On Regardless

1962
Dr No
The Manchurian Candidate

1963
Carry On Cabby
From Russia With Love
The Great Escape

1964
Carry On Cleo
Carry On Spying
A Fistful of Dollars
Goldfinger
A Hard Day’s Night

1965
Carry On Cowboy
For a Few Dollars More
Help!
Thunderball

1966
Carry On Screaming!
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

1967
Carry On Doctor
You Only Live Twice

1968
Once Upon a Time in the West
Planet of the Apes
The Producers

1969
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Carry On Camping
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

1970
Carry On Loving

1971
And Now For Something Completely Different
Carry On At Your Convenience
Diamonds Are Forever
Dirty Harry
Duck, You Sucker!
Duel
Escape From The Planet of the Apes
Shaft

1972
Blacula
Carry On Abroad
Dracula A.D. 1972
The Godfather
Shaft’s Big Score

1973
Carry On Girls
Coffy
The Exorcist
High Planes Drifter
Live and Let Die
Magnum Force
Scream Blacula Scream
Shaft in Africa
The Wicker Man

1974
Blazing Saddles
The Conversation
The Godfather Part II
The Man With the Golden Gun
Murder on the Orient Express
Young Frankenstein

1975
Dog Day Afternoon
Jaws
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
The Rocky Horror Picture Show

1976
All The President’s Men
The Eagle Has Landed
The Enforcer
Keoma
The Omen
Rocky
Silent Movie

1977
Jabberwocky
The Spy Who Loved Me
Star Wars

That’s Carry On!

1978
Damien: Omen II
Death on the Nile
Grease
Halloween
Superman: The Movie

1979
Alien
Apocalypse Now
Mad Max
Monty Python’s Life of Brian
Moonraker
Rocky II

1980
Airplane!
The Blues Brothers
The Empire Strikes Back
Raging Bull
Superman II

1981
An American Werewolf in London
For Your Eyes Only
History of the World, Pt 1
Mad Max 2
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Time Bandits

1982
Airplane II: The Sequel
Blade Runner
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Evil Under the Sun
First Blood
The King of Comedy
The Missionary
Rocky III
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Tootsie

1983
A Christmas Story
The Dead Zone
Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life
National Lampoon’s Vacation
Never Say Never Again
Octopussy
Return of the Jedi

Sudden Impact
Superman III
To Be or Not to Be
Trading Places
WarGames

1984
2010
Beverly Hills Cop
Blood Simple
The Boys in Blue
Ghostbusters
Gremlins
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
The Karate Kid
Police Academy
Runaway
Sixteen Candles
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
The Terminator
This is Spinal Tap

1985
Back to the Future
Brazil
The Breakfast Club
Brewster’s Millions
Clue
Commando
The Goonies
Ladyhawke
National Lampoon’s European Vacation
Return to Oz
Rocky IV
Santa Clause: The Movie
Teen Wolf
A View to a Kill
Weird Science

1986
Aliens
Clockwise
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Howard the Duck
Jumpin’ Jack Flash
Little Shop of Horrors
Police Academy 3: Back in Training
Pretty in Pink
SpaceCamp
Stand By Me
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Top Gun

1987
Beverly Hills Cop II
Dirty Dancing
Empire of the Sun
The Fourth Protocol
Good Morning, Vietnam
Innerspace
Lethal Weapon
The Living Daylights
The Lost Boys
Mannequin
Masters of the Universe
Near Dark
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Predator
The Princess Bride
Project X
RoboCop
The Running Man
The Secret of My Success
Spaceballs
Three Men and a Baby
The Untouchables
Withnail & I

1988
Big
The Dead Pool
Die Hard
D.O.A.
A Fish Called Wanda
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!
Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach
The Rescue
Scrooged
Vice Versa
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Working Girl
Young Guns

1989
The Abyss
Back to the Future Part II
Batman
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Black Rain
Fletch Lives
Ghostbusters II
Honey I Shrunk the Kids
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Lethal Weapon 2
Licence to Kill
Parenthood
Police Academy 6: City Under Siege
Slipstream
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
Twins

1990
Back to the Future Part III
Die Hard 2
Edward Scissorhands
The Exorcist III
The Godfather Part III
GoodFellas
Home Alone
The Hunt For Red October
Narrow Margin
Nuns on the Run
Predator 2
Presumed Innocent
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Total Recall
Young Guns II

1991
Barton Fink
JFK
The Last Boy Scout
Point Break
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Terminator 2: Judgment Day

1992
Alien3
Batman Returns
A Few Good Men
Lethal Weapon 3
Memoirs of an Invisible Man
The Muppet Christmas Carol
Patriot Games
The Player
Reservoir Dogs
Sneakers
Unforgiven
Wayne’s World

1993
Dazed and Confused
The Fugitive
Groundhog Day
In The Line of Fire
Jurassic Park
Last Action Hero
Schindler’s List
True Romance

1994
Clear and Present Danger
Ed Wood
The Hudsucker Proxy

Nadja
Pulp Fiction
Shallow Grave
Star Trek: Generations
Speed
True Lies

1995
The American President
Bad Boys
Casino
Crimson Tide
Desperado
Die Hard With a Vengeance
Get Shorty
GoldenEye
Heat
Mallrats
Outbreak
Se7en
Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead
Toy Story
Twelve Monkeys
The Usual Suspects
Waterworld

1996
2 Days in the Valley
The Fan
Fargo
The Frighteners
From Dusk Till Dawn
Grosse Pointe Blank
Independence Day
Mission: Impossible
Trainspotting

1997
Alien Resurrection
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Face/Off
Fierce Creatures
Jackie Brown
L.A. Confidential
Lethal Weapon 4
Men in Black
Starship Troopers
Titanic
Tomorrow Never Dies

1998
The Big Lebowski
Enemy of the State
The Negotiator
Out of Sight
Ronin
Saving Private Ryan
The X Files

1999
American Beauty
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
Galaxy Quest
The Limey
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
Toy Story 2
Wild Wild West
The World is Not Enough

2000
Dracula 2000
Gladiator
Memento
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Shadow of the Vampire

Shaft
Sleepy Hollow
Timecode
Traffic
X-Men

2001
A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Amélie
The Fast and the Furious
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Moulin Rouge
Ocean’s Eleven
The Parole Officer
Spy Game

2002
24 Hour Party People
The Bourne Identity
Catch Me If You Can
Chicago
Die Another Day
Gosford Park
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Solaris
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
The Sum of All Fears
The Time Machine

2003
Bad Boys 2
Kill Bill, Vol 1
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Runaway Jury
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
X2

2004
The Bourne Supremacy
I, Robot
Kill Bill, Vol 2
The Manchurian Candidate
Man on Fire
Ocean’s Twelve
Shaun of the Dead

2005
The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Batman Begins
Good Night, and Good Luck
Kingdom of Heaven
King Kong
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Serenity
Sin City
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

2006
The Black Dahlia
Casino Royale
Children of Men
Crank
Déjà Vu
The Departed
Mission: Impossible III
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Superman Returns

2007
The Bourne Ultimatum
Death Proof
Die Hard 4.0
Hot Fuzz
I am Legend
No Country For Old Men
Ocean’s Thirteen
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Planet Terror
Superbad
Run, Fatboy, Run

2008
The Dark Knight
Frost/Nixon
How to Lose Friends & Alienate People
Iron Man
Quantum of Solace

Vantage Point

2009
Crank: High Voltage
The Damned United
Fast and Furious
Inglourious Basterds
The Invention of Lying
Sherlock Holmes
Star Trek
The Taking of Pelham 123

2010
The Book of Eli
Easy A
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec
Inception
Robin Hood
Scott Pilgrim vs The World
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Unstoppable

2011
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
The Artist
Attack the Block
Captain America: The First Avenger
Contagion
Drive
Fast and Furious 5
Hugo
The Inbetweeners Movie
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Paul
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Super 8
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
X-Men: First Class

2012
21 Jump Street
The Dark Knight Rises
Django Unchained
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The Hunger Games
Looper
Skyfall

2013
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Iron Man 3
The Lone Ranger
Star Trek Into Darkness
The World’s End

2014
22 Jump Street
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
The Inbetweeners 2
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
The Lego Movie
X-Men: Days of Future Past

2015
Bridge of Spies
Crimson Peak
Ex Machina
The Hateful Eight
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
Legend
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
Mr Holmes
Spectre

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
A Walk in the Woods

2016
Deadpool
The Nice Guys
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Star Trek Beyond
Their Finest
X-Men: Apocalypse

2017
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Logan
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge
T2 Trainspotting

Totals:
1920s: 5 films (1%)
1930s: 6 (1.2%)
1940s: 8 (1.6%)
1950s: 11 (2.2%)
1960s: 26 (5.2%)
1970s: 55 (11%)
1980s: 126 (25.2%)
1990s: 103 (20.6%)
2000s: 87 (17.4%)
2010s: 73 (14.6%)

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Downton Abbey: series 5 episode 8

WeddingofRoseandAtticusS5E8

SPOILER WARNING: Plot points will be revealed in this episode-by-episode discussion of ITV period drama Downton Abbey.

Written by Julian Fellowes. Directed by Michael Engler. Originally broadcast: 9 November 2014, ITV.

Rose is preparing to marry Atticus in London, but their respective parents are causing problems… Also, Edith’s secret daughter is now living at Downton, Robert helps Mrs Patmore, and Tom decides to move to America. 

When is it set? 1924, before the grouse season. The local village’s war memorial is unveiled on the 25th of the month, soon after Rose’s wedding.

Where is it set? Downton Abbey and the local village. Violet’s house. Grantham House in London. Scotland Yard. The Hornby Hotel. Rules restaurant. St James’s Park. The Sinderbys’ London residence. Caxton Hall Registry Office. An illegal gambling den.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Andy (Michael P Fox) is a footman hired temporarily while the family are in London. Thomas takes a shine to him, but Denker spies an opportunity to rip him off. She coerces Andy into going to a gambling den near Shaftesbury Avenue and he loses a fortune. Later, Thomas smells a rat and insists on coming along when the pair go again…
* Basil Shute (Darren Machin) runs the gambling den. Thomas soon twigs what’s going on: Denker receives free drinks if she brings dupes with cash to the club. So Thomas wins back the money that Andy lost, then deliberately drops Denker in the shit with Basil.
* A woman (Sophie Cosson) bursts into Atticus’s hotel room, dips her dress off her shoulder, then walks out. He’s bemused by the incident, but the next day Rose is sent some photos of it… She’s devastated and confronts Atticus, but Tom Branson suggests that her haughty father-in-law arranged the sting in order to scuttle the wedding. Lord Flintshire denies he was involved.
* Rose marries Atticus, becoming Lady Rose Aldridge.
* One of the guests at the wedding reception, Lady Manville (Sarah Crowden), compliments Robert and Cora for putting on a brave face as their ward marries a Jew. “I wonder if you remember that my father was Jewish?” says Cora.

Best bits:
* Rose shows off some outfits to Cora, Mary, Isobel and Violet. The costume design on this series really is excellent.
* The bickering between Violet’s servants – butler Spratt and maid Denker – is likeable nonsense played by two actors with comic talent.
* Robert says there’s something about Marigold (who’s his granddaughter, even though he doesn’t know it). “A sense of déjà vu. I can’t quite put my finger on it…” Later, the truth dawns on him – she reminds him of Michael Gresgon – and he lets Cora know he’s worked it out. “Just tell me if I’m wrong,” he says. She says he’s not.
* Lady Flintshire meets her future son-in-law, Atticus. “What a peculiar name,” she says before walking off.
* While in London, Anna is asked to visit Scotland Yard. When she arrives she’s shocked to discover it’s so she can take part in a police line-up.
* Mary tells Tom that she doesn’t want him to leave the country… because she’ll then be left alone with her sister, Edith. “When you read in the paper I’m on trial for murder, it’ll be your fault.”
* Having had her eyes opened to art and history and education, Daisy declares she’s going to move to London. Mrs Patmore is clearly devastated at the idea of losing her surrogate daughter. (Daisy later changes her mind.)
* Lord Flintshire works out that the sting operation on Atticus was arranged by Rose’s mother – so he confronts her. She’s bitter because the couple have lost all their money and fears that marrying a Jew will further damage Rose’s future.
* Carson solemnly tells Violet that Denker is unwell… then we cut to the servants’ hall and see that she’s blind drunk!
* The police arrive at Grantham House and arrest Anna for murder!

Worst bits:
* Tom’s had a letter from his cousin in Boston, Massachusetts, who sells cars but wants to move into farming equipment and has asked Tom to be his business partner. He’ll stay at Downton until Christmas but then leave. The drawn-out subplot of Tom’s potential emigration to America has become very tedious.
* The policeman Vyner returns. He’s now discovered that the murdered Mr Green was not that nice a man after all. He’d attacked several women, some of whom have now come forward. Mr Green, a lowly servant, died two years ago. Is it really that believable that the Met would still be investigating his death in a road accident?
* Likewise, the police say a second witness has now come forward and says that whoever was arguing with Mr Green moments before he fell under a bus was shorter than Green. That witness must have a very good memory. He somehow identifies Anna as the killer.

Real history:
* When asked a racist question by Lady Flintshire – “Do you have any English blood?” – the Jewish Lord Sinderby tells her that his wife’s family arrived in England during the reign of Richard III (1452-1485).
* Mary takes Rose, Tom and Edith to Rules. As Edith points out, it’s the restaurant where she and Michael Gregson first had dinner together (during series three).
* Mr Molesley takes Miss Baxter and Daisy to the Wallace Collection, an art gallery in central London that opened in 1900.
* Having been a diplomat there, Lord Flintshire isn’t sure how much longer ‘British India’ has to go. Isobel mentions “that terrible Amritsar business.” On 13 April 1919, in Punjab, protesters and pilgrims were fired upon by British Indian Army troops commanded by Colonel Reginald Dyer (1864-1927). Hundreds were killed; maybe as many as a thousand. Flintshire says it was an unfortunate incident order by a foolish man. The aloof Lord Sinderby can’t agree: he reckons Dyer was just doing his duty.
* A drunk Denker sings It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, a song written by Jack Judge. He came up with it on 30 January 1912 for a five-shilling bet and it was performed at a music hall the following night.
* Violet says that she attended the wedding of the Earl and Countess of Rosebery, which was held on 20 March 1878.
* At the unveiling of the war memorial in Downton village, Carson recites the Ode of Remembrance (“We will remember them…”), which is taken from For the Fallen, a 1914 poem by Laurence Binyon.

Maggie Smithism of the week: “My dear, love is a far more dangerous motive than dislike.”

Mary’s men: Her former suitor Tony Gillingham shows up at the wedding reception and brings Mabel Lane Fox with him. They’re getting married in December.

Doggie! Isis has died between episodes. Sniff! Robert employs a local mason to carve her gravestone. (This gives him the idea to mark Mrs Patmore’s nephew’s sacrifice. He can’t be included on the war memorial because he was shot for cowardice, so Robert pays for a separate plaque.)

Review: The penultimate season comes to an end enjoyably enough.

Downton Abbey: series 5 episode 7

Downton-Abbey-Season-5-Episode-7-1

SPOILER WARNING: Plot points will be revealed in this episode-by-episode discussion of ITV period drama Downton Abbey.

Written by Julian Fellowes. Directed by Philip John. Originally broadcast: 2 November 2014, ITV.

Edith has fled to London, so her mother chases after her. Meanwhile, Rose agrees to marry Atticus, while Isobel announces she’s to marry Lord Merton – but in each case there’s resistance from the prospective in-laws. 

When is it set? We begin the day after the preceding episode ended, so we’re in mid 1924.

Where is it set? Downton train station. Downton Abbey and the estate. The Bateses’ cottage. The offices of Edith’s publishing company. A London teashop. Violet’s house.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Although she herself is barely seen, it’s decided that young Marigold will now live at Downton Abbey as Edith’s ward. Only Edith, Cora, Violet and Rosamund know that the girl is Edith’s daughter.

Best bits:
* Cora’s indignation when she finally learns that she has a third grandchild. She’s furious that Violet and Rosamund kept the secret from her and says she’ll never trust her mother-in-law again.
* Blimey, Mary looks amazing when dolled up with her 1920s flapper frock and bob-cut hairdo.
* Arrogant Lord Sinderby is asking Cora whether she minds having a different religion from her father – implying, incorrectly, that she’s embarrassed by her Jewish roots. She points out that, unlike his family, they didn’t anglicize their surname.
* Violet is upset when Isobel announces her engagement. Mary assumes it’s jealousy, but it’s because Violet will miss having her pal around.
* Charles Blake invites Mary to the cinema and actor Julian Ovenden pronounces the word in the old-fashioned way: ‘kinema’.
* A fun bit of farce: Cora has convinced Edith to return to Downton with Marigold, but they don’t want any of the family to know about it. But when they pull into the train station, who should be waiting on the platform but Mary. There’s then some business to make sure she doesn’t see the child. (For the coincidence to make sense, the trains to and from London must use the same platform.)
* Mr Molesley kills two birds with one stone when he engineers a visit to the farm of Daisy’s father-in-law: Mr Mason boosts a depressed Daisy’s confidence, while Mr Molesley takes Miss Baxter along to cheer her up.

Worst bits:
* Mrs Drewe arrives at Downton to tell Cora all about Edith’s secret daughter… and tells her in a scene that we don’t see. Mrs Drewe isn’t even in the episode. Downton Abbey enjoys its off-screen storytelling a bit too much.
* Mrs Hughes tells Mary about the railway ticket that could prove Mr Bates’s innocence… in the hallway, which allows Miss Baxter to eavesdrop.
* “Have you decided at least whether you’re leaving?” Rosamund asks Tom Branson, who has been occasionally mooting moving to America for about 27 years now.
* Lord Merton’s twatty son *somehow* gets a return invitation to a Downton dinner and yet again acts like a moron.

Real history:
* Mr Molesley mentions William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1847-48 novel Vanity Fair.
* Daisy has been reading the newspaper. “Mr MacDonald seems to limp from crisis to crisis,” she says. “They were going to do so much when they came in, the first Labour government. And now I doubt if they’ll last a year.” Her prediction is right: Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald left Downing Street on 4 November.
* Mary goes to see a film starring American actor John Barrymore (1882-1942).

Upstairs, Downton: The scene at a cinema recalls a similar moment in the Upstairs Downstairs episode News From the Front (1974).

Maggie Smithism of the week: When Mary is cruel about her sister, Violet says, “My dear, a lack of compassion can be as vulgar as an excess of tears.”

Mary’s men: Her suitors Charles and Tony are still staying at Downton after last episode; Mary’s love rival Mabel Lane Fox is there too. Charles and Mabel are plotting to push Tony away from Mary. He says he can’t let Mary go but won’t say why. (It’s because they slept together.) So Charles tells Mary that she needs to release him more clearly. A few days later, Charles learns that he’s being posted to a trade delegation to Poland and will be gone for several months, so he asks Mary to come to London: he has an idea. They go to the cinema, then stage a snog as Tony and Mabel walk past. Tony finally gets the message and gives up hopes of a life with Mary.

Doggie! Isis lies docile next to Robert’s chair or in front of the fire, and Robert is getting increasingly concerned for her health. Cora wonders whether the pooch might be pregnant. But sadly no: Robert takes Isis to the vet and learns she’s got cancer. She’s not expected to live long… Robert and Cora let Isis sleep in their bed that night.

Review: Death, murder, anguish, heartache, war, rejection, loneliness… Downton’s done them all. Yet the imminent death of a dog is the most touching storyline yet.

Next episode…

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013, John Moore)

A-Good-Day-to-Die-Hard-bilde-1

Spoiler alert: these reviews reveal plot twists.

John McClane heads to Moscow when his son is arrested and thrown into prison…

Source material: This is the first Die Hard film that isn’t based on pre-existing material. Initially, the movie was going to be called Die Hard 24/7 and there were rumours it was to be a crossover with TV show 24. John McClane would have teamed up with Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. Surely that would have been more entertaining than what we ended up with…

John McClane: He’s still a cop in New York and still separated from ex-wife Holly. Hearing that his son is in trouble, John flies to Moscow, where everyone is either a criminal or a moron and the authorities show no interest in terrorists running amok. He makes idiotic quips as he blithely ignores huge destruction and untold deaths, and for the first time the character seems uncaring and arrogant. Bruce Willis gives the most dour, lifeless and bored performance of his career. Look into the actor’s eyes and you can see him daydreaming about the fee.

Regulars:
* Jack Gennero (Jai Courtney) is John McClane’s 30-ish son, who was known as John Jnr when we saw him as a small boy in the original Die Hard. Like his mother in that film and his sister in Die Hard 4.0, the character doesn’t want to use John’s surname; father and son also haven’t spoken for a few years, which explains why John is unaware that Jack is now a CIA operative working in Russia. But when news reaches New York that Jack has been imprisoned, John flies over to see what’s what… For a while, actor Jai Courtney seemed to be specialising in turgid franchise films: he’s also in Terminator Genisys and Suicide Squad. And he’s terrible here, turning a character we should care about into a petulant brat. Why the CIA would ever trust this whiny, quick-to-tantrum man-child with daddy issues is difficult to fathom.
* John’s daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), returns from the previous film for a cameo.

Villain: There’s a cack-handed plot about a Russian billionaire called Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch) who has a secret file that could incriminate corrupt politician Viktor Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov), so Chagarin’s henchman Aik (Radivoje Bukvić) breaks Komarov out of prison in order to get the file. If you manage to pay attention until the third act, you discover that the file never existed and Komarov is the real bad guy. Or something. Also involved in the story is Komarov’s daughter, Irina (Yulia Snigir), who’s there simply to provide a shot for the trailer when she unzips her motorcycle leathers to reveal her underwear.

Music: The score by Marco Beltrami is actually not that bad. It’s busy and powerful and steals the interest during many of the film’s 376 action scenes.

Review: A poster for this film contained the strapline ‘Yippie ki-yay, Mother Russia’. Not one single element in the movie itself even approaches that level of smartness or self-awareness. Watching A Good Day to Die Hard is a truly dreadful, depressing experience. It seems to want to be a Bourne film: urgent, visceral action; clipped, terse dialogue scenes; and driving incidental music. But it lacks the intelligence, panache and interesting characters that made those early Bourne adventures so engaging, and instead comes off more like a straight-to-DVD Steven Seagal flick. There *is* a plot – we know this because there’s one scene after 55 minutes where Jack explains it to John. There’s also a plot twist – late on, one character kills another and we’re meant to be impressed by the script’s Usual Suspects-esque sleight of hand. However, the film is directed by John Moore (who’d previously made the appalling remake of The Omen). He’s not interested in wit or character development or depth or subtext or suspense. He prefers computer-game carnage carried off without any style or story logic or consequence. “It’s going to be loud,” smirks one of the bland villains just before the first of several thousand explosions – it’s also going to be sensationally dull. This is a crass, classless, joyless, artless sequel and the worst film ever made that comes from an otherwise decent series.

One… oh, I don’t know… thing that blows up out of 10

Die Hard 4.0 (2007, Len Wiseman)

live-free-or-die-hard-justin-long-bruce-willis

Spoiler alert: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Note: In North America, this film is called Live Free or Die Hard. But it was thought that the rest of the world wouldn’t get the pun on New Hampshire’s state motto (‘Live free or die’). The replacement title is arguably a better fit, given the movie’s subject matter, and director Len Wiseman and star Bruce Willis have both said they prefer it.

When cyber-terrorists take control of every Government computer system in America, New York cop John McClane teams up with a young hacker to stop them…

Source material: The genesis of this movie lies a magazine article by John Carlin called A Farewell to Arms, which was published in 1997 and investigated cyber-terrorism. Its research and ideas were then used as the basis of a film script called WW3.com, but production was postponed due to the 9/11 attacks. A few years later, it was dusted down and rejigged as a Die Hard sequel.

John McClane: It’s been 12 years since we last saw our hero. In that time, he’s lost both his wife and his hair. He also has an edgy relationship with his now-grown-up daughter. Bruce Willis plays the role with noticeably less sparkle than in the previous films: this is a middle-aged, world-weary, grouchy John McClane.

Regulars:
* Lucy Gennero (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) was last seen as a small child in the first film. She’s now in her mid-20s and, like her mother two decades earlier, is refusing to use dad John’s surname. She crops up early in the film when her father warns off her boob-grabby boyfriend, then returns much later when the villain takes her hostage. It’s a good, spirited performance from Winstead.

Villain: Nestling somewhere between the first Die Hard’s icy-cool Hans Gruber and the third movie’s OTT Simon, Thomas Gabriel is one of those bad guys who’s so well-funded you wonder why he’s bothering. Seriously, his operation – dozens of goons and nerds, thousands of dollars’ worth of high-powered computers, helicopters, cars, a Knight Rider-style techno-truck – must have cost an absolute fortune. Why doesn’t he just retire to an island somewhere? Well, joking aside, his motivation is that no one listened when he warned the authorities that the US was open to a crippling cyber-attack. So he’s decided to do it himself to teach them a lesson. Timothy Olyphant is suitably intense in the role, and also has a couple of dry one-liners. His chief sidekick is Mai Linh (Maggie Q), a sexy Asian chick who can beat people up. (Was this film written by men, by any chance?)

Music: The unremarkable score is by Marco Beltrami. (Michael Kamen, who worked on the opening trilogy, had died in 2003.) Credence Clearwater Revival’s 1969 song Fortunate Son is heard on a radio in one scene – John is disappointed that his young friend Matthew doesn’t know it.

Review: The Die Hard series moves into the 21st century. The world has changed since John McClane’s last outing, so we now get a plot built around cyber-terrorism. There are lots of computer screens and keyboards and servers and cables and primitive smart phones and Red Bull-gulping hackers listening to loud nu-metal music (and never using a mouse). All that coupled with a race-against-the-clock storyline means the whole movie is reminiscent of TV show 24, especially in the way that computers can basically do *anything* the plot requires. Later on, we also meet Warlock (Kevin Smith), an angry geek living in his mother’s basement surrounded by Star Wars toys. It’s a fun world to drop the old-fashioned John McClane into. He feels out-of-place and is far from comfortable with computers and modern technology. It’s a case of PC vs McClane, you might say if you were stretching for a pun that doesn’t really work. But the movie also has a huge sense of Hollywood scale. Outdoor scenes often feature masses of extras and wide-open spaces, while the stunts and general carnage are ridiculously overblown. Plausibility and the laws of physics are thrown out of the plate-glass window as cars fly through the air and crash into helicopters. With such an action-movie budget to play with, in fact, it’s a shame that so many dialogue scenes in vehicles are shot against unconvincing greenscreens. But the spine of the story is another buddy-movie team-up. This time, John McClane’s companion is 20-something whizzkid Matthew Farrell (Justin Long) and they’re an entertaining partnership. The age difference is used for several gags and characters beats (John is “a Timex watch in a digital world”), while the two actors have chemistry. And for all its flashy pyrotechnics, Die Hard 4.0 is actually about something: the film has comments to make about society’s overreliance on technology. (In a neat gag, a Terminator action figure – a symbol of cold, soulless, artificial intelligence – falls off a shelf and starts a bomb.) It might lack the bite of the first three films – it’s a 12 certificate, for example, so the dialogue is not as colourful – but Die Hard 4.0 zips along and is very enjoyable hokum.

Seven fire sales out of 10

Downton Abbey: series 5 episode 6

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SPOILER WARNING: Plot points will be revealed in this episode-by-episode discussion of ITV period drama Downton Abbey.

Written by Julian Fellowes. Directed by Philip John. Originally broadcast: 26 October 2014, ITV.

Edith discovers that Michael Gregson is dead. Also, Thomas Barrow needs help, Robert is still annoyed with his wife, and Mr Bates gets the wrong end of the stick…

When is it set? Robert has the hump with Cora for flirting with another man so not much time has passed since the last episode. It’s summer 1924.

Where is it set? Downton Abbey. Violet’s house. Prince Kuragin’s bedsit and a hairdressers in York. Dr Clarkson’s office. A cottage that Mrs Patmore is considering buying with an inheritance. The grounds of Caningford Grange, the estate of Lord Sinderby. A hotel in London.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Violet has a new lady’s maid called Denker (Sue Johnston). She’s not getting along with butler Spratt, though. The two disagree over household routines.
* It’s finally confirmed that Michael Gregson – who we last saw in an episode set two years before this one – is dead. He was murdered by Nazis during the Munich Putsch and only now have his remains been discovered and identified. Edith has inherited his publishing company.
* The parents of Rose’s new friend Atticus Aldridge appear for the first time. Lord Sinderby (James Faulkner) seems cold and distant, but Lady Siderby (Penny Downie) is nicer.

Best bits:
* Having received a telegram saying that the editor of Michael’s magazine is on his way to Downton, Edith spends most of the day in utter dread: she knows it must be the confirmation of Michael’s death.
* Mary says she’s genuinely sad to hear about Michael. “Though what he saw in Edith…” she can’t resist adding.
* Mr Bates finds a contraceptive – a device Anna is actually hiding for Mary – and jumps to the wrong conclusion. He assumes Anna doesn’t want a child with him because she thinks he murdered Mr Green.
* The incongruity of the Dowager Lady Grantham siting in a dingy bedsit and holding a glass like it’s radioactive.
* Having learnt that Michael died a long time ago, a distraught Edith tries to visit her daughter. But the girl’s guardian – who doesn’t know that Edith is the mother – refuses to let her in. Actress Laura Carmichael does pained so well. You really feel for her. Later in the episode, Edith is distraught as her family get on with their lives: planning a picnic, trying out a new hair style… So she decides to leave Downton without saying where she’s going. And she takes daughter Marigold with her…
* Cora asks an angry Robert to return to their bedroom. (He’s been sleeping in his dressing room.) But he’s stubborn and refuses. “Very well,” she says. “If you can honestly say you have never let a flirtation get out of hand since we married, if you have never given a woman the wrong impression, then by all means stay away. Otherwise, I expect you back in my room tonight.”
* Thomas Barrow has been looking ill for several episodes and now reveals why: he’s been using a barbaric medicine designed to ‘cure’ him of being gay. He asks for help from Miss Baxter, who of course he’s often treated very badly. But she’s a decent person so puts that aside and takes him to the doctor. Dr Clarkson tells Thomas that the treatment is just saline, but he’s feeling rotten because the needle was infected. Thomas also reveals that he’s tried electrotherapy, all to try to change him; to make him more like other men. “Well, I’ll not be coy and pretend I don’t understand,” says Dr Clarkson. “Nor do I blame you. But there is no drug, no electric shock, that will achieve what you want.”
* Mary has her hair restyled as a bob-cut a la Louise Brooks. Wowzers.
* Mr Bates tells Anna what happened the day Mr Green died. He went to York, then bought a return train ticket for London… But he didn’t get on the train. He knew that if he saw Green he’d kill him. He also explains why he kept the train ticket. It was proof that he *didn’t* go to London (ie, if he’d travelled it would have been torn in half).
* Violet sighs when she learns that Rose’s new boyfriend is Jewish. “There’s always something, isn’t there?”

Worst bits:
* Mary learns that two friends are to take part in a nearby point-to-point race and says she might join them. Anna then has to ask the plot-hole-covering questions. How can they take part when they don’t ‘follow the hunt’? Mary says they must have wangled it somehow. Are ladies allowed to race with the gentlemen? They changed it just before the war.

Real history:
* “And was it this Herr Hitler?” asks Cora when the news about Michael’s death reaches Downton. “Apparently,” says Robert. “At least his gang of thugs. During the so-called Bierkeller Putsch in Munich.” The putsch – a failed coup led by Adolf Hitler – took place on 8-9 November 1923. Cora says that Hitler has been locked up for five years, but Robert has heard that he won’t serve anything like that. (He was in prison for nine months.)
* Marie Stopes’s family-planning book Married Love (1918) features again.
* Daisy is still studying, even though her tutor Miss Bunting has left. She’s now onto the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1714).
* Upon seeing Mary’s daring new hair, an impressed Isobel says, “Pola Negri comes to Yorkshire!” Negri (1897-1987) was a movie actor of the silent era and the first European star to transfer to Hollywood.

Upstairs, Downton: The point-to-point scenes are very reminiscent of the Upstairs Downstairs episode The Bolter (1973), in which James and Hazel went on a hunting weekend.

Maggie Smithism of the week: When Robert says a grieving Edith needs time to think, Violet says, “Oh, all this endless thinking. It’s very overrated. I blame the war. Before 1914, nobody thought about anything at all.”

Mary’s men: Both Charles and Tony are at the point-to-point. Mary’s love rival Mabel Lane Fox also shows up – she and Charles are trying to convince Tony to be with Mabel, so that Mary is then free for Charles… 

Doggie! While the family discuss some planned renovations, Cora spots that Isis is lying on the floor looking very listless. She wonders if she’s ill; Mary suggests she’s pregnant. The pooch doesn’t improve.

Review: Poor Michael Gregson. He was a fun presence in the show for a few episodes, then the mystery of what happened to him has dragged on for so long. 

Next episode…

 

Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995, John McTiernan)

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Spoiler alert: these reviews reveal plot twists.

An enigmatic man called Simon forces Lieutenant John McClane to complete a series of tasks and puzzles in New York City – otherwise he’ll blow up a school…

Source material: Whereas the first two Die Hard movies were adapted from unrelated novels, this one is based on a film script called Simon Says. Originally intended as a standalone thriller, it was then rewritten as a potential Lethal Weapon sequel. But after Bruce Willis rejected several storylines for a third Die Hard film – including an idea that was later used for Speed 2: Cruise Control – Simon Says was appropriated and retooled as Die Hard With a Vengeance.

John McClane: He’s in a bad way as the story begins. John’s back working as a cop in New York but has been suspended; he hasn’t spoken to his wife for a year, and spends the whole film with a monster hangover. Incidentally, between the previous Die Hard movie and this one, Bruce Willis had cameoed as John McClane in Loaded Weapon 1. One of the leads of that 1993 comedy film was Samuel L Jackson, who’s the chief guest star of Die Hard With a Vengeance. Both Willis and Jackson were also in Pulp Fiction together in 1994, though their characters only shared one scene and didn’t talk to each other. So as an in-joke during Die Hard With a Vengeance, John McClane quotes some lyrics from Flowers on the Wall, a song that Bruce Willis’s character listens to in Pulp Fiction.

Regulars: Holly McClane is mentioned a couple of times and we hear her over the telephone briefly. But this is essentially the only Die Hard movie with no recurring characters other than John. 

Villain: The film’s bad guy is only a voice to begin with – he makes calls to the cops and demands that John McClane play parlour games. They deduce that he’s German and clearly holds a grudge against John, yet no one puts zwei and zwei together… The character is played by a blond, athletic Jeremy Irons, who finally appears on screen after 45 minutes. Sadly, it’s a pretty irritating performance. Truly successful bad guys don’t think of themselves as evil; in their heads, they’re the heroes. However, Irons is a paid-up member of the Jonathan Pryce School of Villainy – ie, he thinks his character should be twirling his moustache and laughing manically. (The actor also does a naff American accent during one scene.) He has several lackeys, but none makes much impression. Eventually, it turns out that all the games and puzzles are just a distraction while Simon steals tons of gold bullion from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Why involve John McClane at all? Because Simon is the brother of the first movie’s Hans Gruber and wants revenge for his death.

Music: Michael Kamen returns for a third Die Hard score, and has perhaps too much fun quoting the tune of 19th-century song When Johnny Comes Marching Home.

Review: After LA in film one and Washington, DC in film two, the Die Hard series now hits New York – and it’s a very NYC-centric story. Manhattan, Harlem, Central Park, Wall Street, traffic jams, the subway, yellow taxis, coarse cops, rude businessmen – they’re all here! The spine of the story sees Bruce Willis’s John McClane forced to team up with Samuel L Jackson’s Zeus Carver, a smart, pragmatic shopkeeper from Harlem. They make a great, bickering team and we’re soon into classic mismatched-duo, buddy-movie territory. The characters bounce around New York, solving puzzles and trading sharp dialogue. It’s a lot of fun… for 45 minutes. Then the actual plot kicks in, Jeremy Irons shows up, and it all becomes very on-the-nose. The stunts get bigger, the villains’ plot becomes more convoluted, the terror levels are raised – but we’ve lost any Die Hard-ish distinction.

Seven sandwich boards out of 10

PS: I spotted an oddity while rewatching this 22-year-old film – the script mentions both candidates from the 2016 US Presidential election…

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Die Hard 2 (1990, Renny Harlin)

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Spoiler alert: these reviews reveal plot twists.

While waiting for his wife to land in Washington, policeman John McClane stumbles across a terrorist plan to seize control of the airport…

Source material: The plot of Die Hard 2 is taken from 58 Minutes, a novel written in 1987 by Walter Wager. A good, rattling thriller, it has no connection to either the first Die Hard film or the book it was based on. As well as rejigging 58 Minutes for John McClane and co, screenwriter Steven E de Souza took the opportunity to add a sly crossover with his earlier movie Commando (1985): both films feature the fictional Central American country of Val Verde. (By the way, Die Hard 2 is often referred to as Die Hard 2: Die Harder in promotional material – but that subtitle doesn’t actually appear on screen.)

John McClane: Our hero has become a minor celebrity in the two years since the first film. His heroics at the Nakatomi building led to interviews and TV appearances, though we’re told he struggled on current-affairs show Nightline. Bruce Willis is again superb in the role and the frequency of his wisecracks has only increased. “How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” he asks himself knowingly as goes up against terrorists while wearing a dirty vest.

Regulars:
* John’s wife, Holly McClane (Bonnie Bedelia), is on a cross-country flight that’s approaching Dulles when the bad guys take over the air-traffic-control systems and stop all landings. The plane is going to run out of fuel, of course, upping the personal ante for John down on the ground. While the crisis develops, Holly gets an enjoyable little subplot with…
* Slimy news reporter Dick Thornburg (William Atherton) is – how’s this for a coincidence? – on the same flight as Mrs McClane. This causes an issue because a judge has ordered that she stay 50 yards away from him after punching him on live TV. When he deduces that there’s a problem on the ground, Dick calls his station and broadcasts the information – so Holly zaps him with a taser.
* Sgt Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) appears briefly when John phones home to LA to ask for his colleague’s help. Al’s eating a Twinkie, which is a call-back to the first film.

Villain: The leader of the terrorists is Colonel Stuart (William Sadler), who’s introduced via a bizarre scene of him doing yoga in the nude. The character is a cold, calculating baddie who’s nowhere near as dynamic or interesting as Die Hard’s Hans Gruber – but then again, who is? Stuart has several lackeys, including guys played by Robert Patrick (soon to be the T-1000 in Terminator 2) and Vondie Curtis-Hall (who later directed an episode of Firefly). Their plan is to secure the release of General Ramon Esperanza (Franco Nero), a Central American fascist who’s being extradited to the US and is due to land at Dulles. Halfway through the film, a crack team of US Army commandos arrive on the scene, seemingly to defeat the bad guys – but then we later learn that they’re actually allies of Stuart. The squad’s leader is played by John Amos, later a semi-regular in The West Wing.

Music: Michael Kamen again provides the effective score. Vaughn Monroe’s Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow! plays the film out, as it had done in the first Die Hard movie.

Review: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This sequel shamelessly reuses most of the successful ingredients from the first Die Hard – a wisecracking John McClane, his composed wife, the slimy journalist Dick Thornburg, a group of well-drilled terrorists, a confined location at Christmas, some local police who don’t know what they’re doing – and the result is very, very near to being equally entertaining. The film has real drive and momentum, and crosscuts between the subplots with a genuine slickness. The action scenes are inventive and exciting. The dialogue is packed full of action-movie attitude. And while the antagonists feel a bit off-the-shelf, there are some other enjoyable guest characters. Instead of an almost empty skyscraper, this time we’re in a wintery, blizzard-struck airport containing 15,000 people. The place is run by the unflappable Ed Trudeau (Fred Dalton Thompson, a fascinating man who was a lawyer during the Watergate hearings, later a US Senator, and ran for President in 2008), while the local police force is headed by Carmine Lorenzo (Dennis Franz), one of *the* great sweary/ranty/angry police captains in genre cinema. Meanwhile, a TV journalist called Sam Coleman (Sheila McCarthy) is on the scene to not only provide the audience with exposition but to also help John out a couple of times. So, while not reaching the Mount Olympus heights of the first movie, Die Hard 2 is a very fine action thriller in its own right. There’s a certain untidiness in some areas – a bit of unconvincing ADR here, some clunky dialogue there – and we miss a villain as good as Hans Gruber. But all in all, a very, very enjoyable film.

Nine sitting ducks out of 10

Downton Abbey: series 5 episode 5

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SPOILER WARNING: Plot points will be revealed in this episode-by-episode discussion of ITV period drama Downton Abbey.

Written by Julian Fellowes. Directed by Minko Spiro. Originally broadcast: 19 October 2014, ITV.

Isobel considers whether to accept Lord Merton’s marriage proposal, Rose meets a new man, and Simon Bricker comes to visit… while Robert’s away in Sheffield.

When is it set? Summer 1924.

Where is it set? The house. Dr Clarkson’s office. Violet’s house and back garden. York (including the crypt at St Mary Magdalene’s church). The Drewes’ farm. London (including Simpson’s restaurant).

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Mr Vyner (Louis Hilyer) is an inspector from Scotland Yard who comes to Downton to ask Anna and Mary about the day Mr Green was killed.
* Rose meets a young man called Atticus Aldridge (Matt Barber) when he helps her with her umbrella during a rainy day in York. He then joins her in visiting some Russian refugees – in part because his family has Russian roots. However, a pompous refugee takes against Atticus because he’s Jewish.
* After Tom says he sees no future in their relationship, Sarah Bunting quits her job so she can move to Preston.

Best bits:
* Mrs Patmore says, “I’ve got some good news for a change. An old aunt’s died… No, that’s not the good news.” (Mrs P has inherited a few hundred quid, which Mr Carson suggests she invest in a local building firm.)
* Poor Edith lashes out at dinner – her forced separation from secret daughter Marigold is clearly upsetting her. She’s then devastated when the Drewes moots moving away and taking Marigold with them. Soon after, Edith’s grandmother works out that something is amiss and confronts Edith. Learning the truth, she tells her to send the child to a foreign school. But we later see Edith make a secretive phone call to someone in London…
* Rosamund tells her mother, “I’m afraid you’ve read somewhere that rudeness in old age is amusing.”
* Almost every exterior scene takes place in heavy rain, which adds a bit of texture to the episode. It also means we get the sound of rain dubbed onto interior scenes just before we cut to some location filming.
* Simon Bricker visits Downton (again) to take a photo of a painting for a book he’s writing. Well, that’s his excuse: he’s clearly sniffing around Cora, and happens to stay at the house while Robert is away. Later, Simon sneaks into Cora’s bedroom in the hope of some action! Aghast, she asks him to leave… Meanwhile, downstairs, Robert is returning home unexpectedly. When he walks in on Cora and Bricker together, Simon at least admits that’s he’s not there by Cora’s invitation. But then he taunts Robert – so Robert punches him and they brawl.
* Hearing the commotion from her mother’s bedroom, Edith knocks on the door to ask if everything’s okay. Cora answers and calmly says that she and Robert were playing a game and knocked over a lamp! 

Worst bits:
* Sarah Bunting is surprised that Tom’s family don’t like her and she can’t understand why Tom keeps defending them. Really?!
* “You never told me what the inspector wanted yesterday,” says Mr Bates to wife Anna. Hang on, a married couple are both suspects in a murder investigation and a copper from Scotland Yard comes to interview one of them… and they wait 24 hours before discussing it?

Real history:
* Rose reads in the paper about a nudist colony called the Moonella Group, which opened in 1924 at Wickford in Essex.
* Violet says that Ellen Terry has nothing on Isobel when it comes to stringing out a moment. Terry (1847-1928) was the leading Shakespearean actress of the late 19th century.
* Mr Carson mentions American portrait painter John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) and British writer Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936).
* Rosamund says ‘Atticus Aldridge’ sounds like “the hero of a novel by Mrs Humphrey Ward”. Mary Augusta Ward (1851-1920) was a social campaigner as well as a novelist.
* Atticus’s family were forced out of Odessa in Russia during the pogroms of 1859 and 1871.
* Charles takes Mary to dinner at Simpson’s-in-the-Strand, a high-class restaurant in London that began in 1828 as a smoking room.

Maggie Smithism of the week: Violet uses some forced bonhemmie when Isobel twists her ankle slightly: “Lord Merton will have you on the table before you can say knife.”

Mary’s men: She heads to London to meet Charles Blake for dinner and he surprises her by also inviting her love rival Mabel Lane Fox. Charles wants Mary’s help in convincing her to give Tony Gillingham another chance.

Review: It’s a shame Richard E Grant’s stint on the show comes to an end with this episode. He’s been good value.

Next episode…

Die Hard (1988, John McTiernan)

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Spoiler alert: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Police officer John McClane visits his estranged wife during her office’s Christmas party. But when terrorists enter the building and take hostages, John finds himself the only person free…

Source material: Die Hard is an adaptation of Nothing Lasts Forever (1979), an enjoyable-enough potboiler by Roderick Thorp. Because the novel was a sequel to a book that had been turned into a film starring Frank Sinatra, Sinatra was asked to headline Die Hard too. But he had just passed 70 and retired from acting, so turned it down. The script was then retooled as a standalone story, and middle-aged Detective Joe Leland became the thirtysomething Officer John McClane. (It’s often been said that, at one point, Die Hard was going to be a sequel to the 1985 action film Commando and would therefore have starred Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, Steven E de Souza – the writer of Commando and co-writer of Die Hard – has denied this. He says the ultimately unmade Commando 2 was a completely separate script.)

John McClane: Die Hard’s hero is a dry, droll, cynical cop from New York. For overseas viewers who might not understand, it’s spelt out that he doesn’t have any jurisdiction in LA,  but he still leaps into action when trapped in a skyscraper with gun-totting terrorists. Cast in the role was Bruce Willis, an actor who was hot from witty TV drama Moonlighting, and he’s *perfect*. He gives McClane a wry smirk, plenty of sarcasm and bags of attitude. One of the key reasons why the character is such a success is that he’s not a Schwarzenegger-type Special Forces vet who can kill a platoon with his little finger; he’s just an everyday guy (albeit one who knows how to fire guns). He even gets an instant all-time-great catchphrase: the villain likens him to a cowboy, so he replies, “Yippie ki-yay, motherfucker.” A good indicator of what an amazing performance Willis gives is the fact he often talks to himself and yet the device never feels clunky or forced. That’s a difficult trick to pull off.

Regulars:
* Holly Gennaro (Bonnie Bedelia) is John’s wife. Six months earlier she moved across country for a new job; she’s been using her maiden name, which doesn’t please John when he arrives at her office at Nakatomi Plaza. Once the terrorists take over, she becomes the leader of the hostages and shares a couple of excellently frosty scenes with bad guy Hans. (In Nothing Lasts Forever, the lead character was visiting his daughter not his wife. But then they cast 33-year-old Bruce Willis.)
* We briefly see John and Holly’s young children, Lucy (Taylor Fry) and John Jnr (Noah Land). They’re at home being looked after by a maid called Paulina (Betty Carvalho).
* When John finds a two-way radio and contacts the outside world, he strikes up a connection with local policeman Sgt Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson). Unlike his LAPD superiors, the likeable Powell quickly recognises the severity of the hostage situation and also figures out that John must be a cop. Their friendship as they talk over the radio has real charm.
* Once it becomes clear that something is going on at Nakatomi Plaza, a news reporter called Dick Thornburg (William Atherton, efficiently slimy) starts covering the story. He’s an amoral shit who thinks nothing of manipulating children for his report.   

Villain: The story’s bad guys show up primed and ready. They move into the building stealthily and with little dialogue, killing security guards and making their way up to the floor hosting the Christmas party. The group has distinctive, memorable members – which always helps in a film with a crime gang – but the standout is still its leader. Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) is an icy-cool yet charismatic German in a Savile Row suit. There’s a great reversal of expectations when we learn that he’s not the political terrorist we all assumed him to be: he’s just after the loot stored in the building’s vault. However, when Holly accuses him of being just a common thief, he sharply replies. “I am an exception thief, Mrs McClane, and since I’m moving up to kidnapping you should be more polite.” Rickman gives a sensational performance of guile and confidence and poise in what was, remarkably, his first ever film. Actually, it’s difficult to think of a better-played, more entertaining villain in any movie.

Music: The near-constant incidental music was written by Michael Kamen, who’d previously provided great scores for Brazil (1985), Highlander (1986), Lethal Weapon (1987) and TV magnum opus Edge of Darkness (1985). It’s an excellent piece of work, creating tension and supporting action with aplomb. It’s especially good at taking us by the hand and guiding us through moments where we’re crosscutting between different scenes. Kamen also quotes Beethoven’s Ode to Joy when Gruber and the others finally open the vault.

Review: Like a million-pound sports car or a shiny new iPhone, this movie appears so effortless and elegant and pristine, but it’s powered by some extraordinary complex engineering. On the surface, Die Hard is an endlessly entertaining slice of popcorn cinema. There’s action, humour, drama, surprises, suspense and violence, and it’s all muscle, no flab. The film keeps opening up, starting relatively low-key as a group of criminals sneak into a Christmas party and ending up as an enormous action thriller involving helicopters, explosions and SWAT teams. It’s populated by vibrant, interesting, well-played supporting characters – cheeky young chauffeur Argyll (De’voreaux White), stoic company boss Takagi (James Shigeta), lairy businessman twat Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner), befuddled police chief Dwayne T Robinson (Paul Gleason), two arrogant FBI agents both called Johnson (Robert Davi and Grand L Bush). Everyone in this amazing cast gets line after line of acidic, colourful dialogue packed full of substance and swearing and wit. But look underneath and the film is even more impressive. A huge amount of skill, smartness and hard work has gone into making Die Hard seem so graceful. Narrative filmmaking is about the revelation of information – character details, plot developments, and so on – which must be drip-fed in a specific order and at specific times. Here, the pieces are moved around the chessboard with absolute precision, guaranteeing that we know exactly what we need to know at exactly the right time. We also learn about characters through their behaviour, while their choices drive the plot and action is always significant. Cinematographer Jan De Bont uses the anamorphic widescreen format for all its worth, throwing in extreme framings and telling the story through composition, lighting and purposeful camera moves. John McTiernan directs with a ballsy energy but also a light touch when needed. It’s simply a masterpiece. One of the very best action films ever made.

Ten machine guns (ho ho ho) out of 10