Top Ten Tuesdays – Bruce Willis

Greetings, glancers! Today’s TTT post unveils my favourite 10 films by Mr Bruce Willis, a man primarily known for his action movie work but who has had a massively varied career and is an accomplished comic and dramatic actor. Possibly this list will be the first to get a lot of varying opinions when compared with the previous actors and directors I have covered precisely because Willis has appeared in so many different genres. Willis has effectively towed the line between blockbuster and smaller/indie film perhaps better than any other actor, appearing in an incredible number of successes and of course contributing to those successes thanks to his ability. I won’t comment on his work as a musician (I haven’t heard any), though I will remind everyone of his Emmy-Award winning beginnings as a comic actor – he has returned to TV regularly over the years including memorable work in Friends and Bruno The Kid (as a voice actor). I will add that there are quite a few films I have not yet seen by Willis so if you add your favourites in the comments I will reply to let everyone know which ones I’ve missed.

10. Death Becomes Her

I’m going to cheat a little with this first one – it’s by no means the best film Willis has made, and I was torn between including this and any number of his other action or thriller oriented movies, but I felt that the list needed a little comedy so here we are. Death Becomes Her sees Willis at his most un-Willis – there is little of the world-weary wise-cracking hard-ass persona we know from his most famous features, instead he is a broken down, weak-willed husband who wants an easy way out of a loveless marriage. Turning the tables later though he refuses to consume the elixir of life as that would meaning spending an eternity with women he despises. Willis is very funny in the frustrated husband role, acting as a great foil to Streep and Hawn, and he picked up a Golden Globe nomination in the process.

9. Hostage

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I’m sure many of you will be surprised at this selection, and many of you may not have even heard of the movie. Indeed, when I first chose to watch it I assumed it was going to be an average thriller, Willis just cashing a cheque, so I was happily surprised at how good it actually is. I should say at the outset that while Willis is very good, it is Ben Foster who steals the film in an alarmingly good performance – why this man hasn’t won an Oscar yet is a mystery – I hear he is set to play Lance Armstrong in an upcoming film which has Oscar-bait written all over it. Back to Hostage, and we follow Willis as a former Hostage negotiator (Talley) who denies an order and sees a family slaughtered. Living as a small time police chief some time later, he again becomes embroiled in a hostage crisis as three teenagers hold a family at gunpoint during an apparent failed robbery. Talley is reluctant to get involved, but as the violence escalates he is forced into action.

The film is an effective action thriller with a few twists as we learn more about the motives of the hostages. Willis plays the tortured figure well, and his call to arms feels genuine, and while the surrounding cast is strong the film is owned by Foster, whose mysterious killer character is never truly revealed. With a less effective lead, or in the hands of one not as convincing as Willis the film would not have been as watchable – it’s a difficult one to describe to entice your typical action fan into watching, but there is a fair amount of tension and gun play which is both gripping and brutal. I would heartily recommend everyone giving this a shot.

8. Beavis And Butthead Do America.

Muddy

Given that the TV show which the movie was based on is one of my favourites of all time, it was a given that this be included in my list. While movies based on TV shows are rarely much good, this feels like an extended episode given the fact that the same main players are fully involved. The film follows our awkward teen pair across America in search of sluts and their stolen TV. Along the way they get mistaken for hitmen by Muddy (Willis) who wants them to ‘do’ his wife (Demi Moore). Believing they are getting paid to have sex with a hot woman, they pair accept not realizing that they are supposed to kill her. This kicks off a chain of events as every cop in the country chases them down, they meet the President, laugh at place names, drop peyote with possibly their own parents, annoy Mr Anderson etc etc. Willis plays the gruff, alcoholic Muddy well – the in-joke of Willis and Moore being married in reality is not overplayed – and he even manages to get a few laughs. The film is packed with stupid jokes and funny moments so it’s one to enjoy again and again.

7. Unbreakable.

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While not nearly as successful, critically or commercially, as their previous outing together – M.Night Shyamalan and Willis struck gold again with Unbreakable – a film which feels on the surface to be another supernatural thriller up until its closing moments when the classic Shyamalan twist comes in. The twist here isn’t as much of a shock as in The Sixth Sense, indeed most viewers should have worked it all out before the end of the film, but that isn’t what sets the movie apart. It’s a slow burning, gloom-riden, rain-soaked drama featuring two stellar turns from Willis and Samuel L Jackson. It’s also arguably the greatest origin story of a superhero ever told, with Willis as a downbeat, life-going-nowhere family man who realises his remarkable gifts and begins to slowly use them to save people, but also be drawn into a horrific good versus evil battle. As with such films, I don’t want to give too much away if you haven’t seen it, but Willis is superb as the man whose family is falling apart only to realize the power he has possessed and possibly ignored his whole life. Equally strong is Jackson as the man who finds and mentors Willis, a wheelchair bound comic book fan who has been bullied for much of his life and sees meeting Willis as a chance to give both of their lives purpose. There isn’t a load of action on show here, but in the same way The Sixth Sense weighed up its light number of scares to give the impression of an efficient whole, the films rumbles along as we hope to see Willis become the hero he was born to be.

6. Sin City

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The most visually impressive and stylized film on the list is also one which sees Willis play a smaller role in a much larger ensemble cast. Willis once again plays the downtrodden, battered cop – this time Hartigan – a man whose selfless, or couldn’t-give-a-damn-about-himself nature allows him to sacrifice himself multiple times to save the life of an innocent, tracking down a ruthless and untouchable killer and trying to bring an end to corruption in a city borne of it. It’s difficult for any single cast member to stand out in a film whose visual nature means that those characters with a certain look will instantly be the most memorable, but amidst Rourke, Wood, Alba, Stahl and the rest, Willis does stand out as one of the few good guys, a plain cop just trying to do his job in a world that couldn’t be less black or white.

5. Die Hard With A Vengeance

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One of the finest action sequels ever made, this third outing reunites Willis with the original’s director John McTiernan and reunites John McClane with the Gruber clan. The film sees McClane as a washed-up alcoholic shade of his former self, having lost his marriage to Holly and become estranged from everyone he cared about. Living on his past glories and pissing off everyone he meets, McClane is reluctantly forced back into the line of fire after a terrorist asks for him specifically. Sporting a delightfully racist sentiment in the middle of Harlem, McClane is ‘rescued’ by Zeus Carver (Samuel L Jackson) and the two find themselves in a deadly game of cat and mouse with a psychotic terrorist named Simon.

The film is split in two parts – the first focusing on the race through New York to foil Simon’s plans – and the second being the realization of who Simon really is and the plan to take him down. While the second half cannot maintain the frantic mayhem and momentum of the glorious first half, the wit of the main players and the stellar script from Jonathan Hensleigh. Willis is at his fast-talking, quick-thinking best once again and his interaction with both Jackson and Irons are a joy to watch. Taking the one-man army trope to the streets of NYC and giving it the full 90s makeover leaves DHWAV as one of the best action movies of the decade.

4. Pulp Fiction

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Similar to Sin City in that Willis has a smaller role in an ensemble cast, it proved again that he could branch out into areas unknown – his character in Pulp Fiction being different from both the comedy and action performances he was known for up to this point. It isn’t the first dramatic role or indie film Willis appeared it, but it was arguably the first that brought his talents to the attention of an up and coming breed of fans and filmmakers who saw that they could use him as more than just a gun-totting maniac. Here he is an opportunist, a man who decides to not take the easy way and instead try for once to be noble and heroic, even if it may cost him his life. Willis doesn’t get many lines, but does contribute to a few of the movie’s most memorable scenes.

3. Die Hard

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The film which made him a movie star, and one which is frequently cited as the best action movie ever made, Die Hard is as flawless a film as you are ever likely to see – a spectacle of carnage with gripping story, wonderful characters, timeless action, and a superb cast. I won’t spend too much time talking about this one as I assume everyone reading it has seen it, but it contains Willis in his most iconic role giving maybe his best all round performance. Alan Rickman does his best to steal every scene he is in, but Willis holds his own and cements his place as one of the best action performers ever.

2. The Last Boy Scout

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An all-time personal favourite of mine, and easily one of the best action movies of the 90s, The Last Boy Scout is a self-referential, ultra-violent, misogynistic riot – taking all of the elements, good and bad, of the 80s action movie and turning them inside out. Willis is excellent as Joe Hallenback, yet again a washed up version of former glory. He was a secret service agent who once saved the President’s life but has since become disgraced, bitter, and drunk, with a wife and daughter who despise him. Joe takes a job as Halle Berry’s bodyguard to the annoyance of former NFL star Jimmy Dix (Marlon Wayans). Berry is murdered shortly after, and Joe and Jimmy uncover a case of corruption and murder whilst trying to not get themselves killed.

The partnership of Wayans and Willis is superb, so much so that I’m annoyed that they haven’t starred together again. It seems like a match made in heaven here, and when you thrown Danielle Harris, Taylor Negron, and others into the mix we have one of the best acted films of its type. This would not be enough to make the film a classic – it takes the assured direction of Tony Scott, and the glorious screenplay by Shane Black – again one of the best of the decade – to ensure it reaches the highest level. It’s rare that such a violent film contains so many one-liners and hilarious moments, but this one is literally a laugh a minute with quotable dialogue from all quarters. If you can look past the nasty stuff, and of course the fact that almost all of the women are treated as fodder, then you should absolutely adore this. I’ve no idea why this isn’t as revered as Willis’ more famous action work – I implore all action fans to seek it out.

1. The Fifth Element

Fifth Element

Recalling any number of sci-fi films, from Blade Runner to Stargate, from Star Trek to Metropolis, The Fifth Element is nevertheless a triumphantly unique tour de force by Luc Besson. A stellar cast, a visionary director, and a brilliant story ensure that this is a feast for the eyes, mind, and heart – an endlessly entertaining, camp, futuristic film which is certain to be seen as both a cult film and a culturally significant one in decades to come.

Willis stars as Korben Dallas, a washed-up (even 200 years in the future Willis can’t get clean) 23rd Century former marine turned taxi driver whose life is interrupted by the literal dropping in of the perfect Milla Jovovich – an apparent alien who is being chased by all manner of cops and critters. After (and before) that the plot gets a little too convoluted to cover in a brief blog post, but basically Dallas has to protect Jovovich from Gary Oldman and The Great Evil and save the Universe. Along the way we meet Ian Holm, Chris Tucker, Luke Perry and others, and we learn that love is the key.

Aside from the strong action, great dialogue and performances, the film is one of the most visually stunning that I’ve seen – a detailed, realistic future world with all of the decay, pollution, vanity, and wealth/status gap we are familiar with today, just with more aliens and flying cars. Willis is playing his usual robust self with a little more heart, and while his own comic turn is dialled down a little, he is allowed to increase his manic everyman side and show some lighter emotions. It is a film which may polarize, but is a rampant, challenging, always brilliant dream brought to life.

This concludes my list of Top Ten Bruce Willis films – really I could have added a few more to this list to round it off, but I’m happy with the 10 above. What films do you think I’ve missed, and which Bruce Willis films are your favourites? Let us know in the comments!

Halloween 5

Halloween 5

Following on directly from number 4, Number 5 has both the flaws, and the good points of its prequel, making it a respectable horror movie, and superior to the other entries in the series. Like Halloween four, this should now be seen as a strong slasher film in a genre full of rubbish and cliche- it may not be the most original, and it may not have the cinematography, tension or atmosphere of the original, but it does manage some good scares and is one of the more involving knife and run films. And it has Danielle Harris in it.

After the shock ending of number 4, we find that Jamie is now extremely traumatised and expects Michael to appear all the time. She is under constant (though not constant enough) care and supervision, and has lost her ability to speak. Rachel, the other survivor from 4 is sympathetic at the start, but unfortunately conforms to the dumb teen status of her friends. Stupidity it seems, was an enjoyable hobby in the eighties. The various other friends, teens, victims vary from watchable to annoying, most of whom are simply there to satisfy the bloodlust of those people who watch these films. Of course Michael is still around, and the killings begin again. Luckily though (perhaps, as he seems to have got a little Michael Syndrome himself) Loomis is still in the town. He decides to use Jamie as bait to lure and catch Michael, but it now seems that like all good super-villians, Michael is completely indestructible. And he’s brought a few friends with him…

Again Harris is superb, so much so that the rest of the cast are made to look like amateurs, apart from Pleasance who descends further into madness. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly for a man of his talents, he seems to be getting tired with the series. There are enough shocks to prevent the film from becoming another stab flick, but there are the usual unsurprising elements-teens having sex then getting mutilated, characters there with the sole purpose of being killed etc. The scene in the old house where the police ‘guard’ Jamie is very good, with Jamie showing she may be the only one capable of protecting herself. We see a different side to Michael, just a glimpse, as Jamie tries to get through to him. Again the ending is a shock, though not entirely unexpected, but the man in black thing is intriguing, and the viewer is left wondering what has happened, and what is yet to happen.

The DVD has no real extras, but for fans of the series, or of the first movie who have not watched the rest, this is one to buy, along with number four. They’re cheap, but much better than most slashers around in the cinema these days.

As always, feel free to leave your thoughts on the movie and the review- is this one of the better slasher sequels or yet another average knife-fest? And don’t forget to check out my other Halloween reviews in the DVD section.

Halloween 4

Halloween 4

Michael Myers hears he has a niece and decides it is time for him to rise from his coma and begin his hunt again, having been burnt to a crisp 10 years earlier. He escapes from hospital and heads for Haddonfield, and for his niece Jamie, a pre teen girl. Unlike the previous 2 sequels, Halloween 4 has some effective scares and a decent plot. While it is still a cash in on the original, 4 (and 5) are the only other films in the series which can stand respectably with the original. Not as good, but not as terrible as you might expect. This is largely because of Danielle Harris’ performance, she outshines every other cast member, who admittedly are playing stupid teens ready to be slaughtered, but the range of emotions she shows at such a young age proves that she is among the best actresses of her generation. However, she can’t get a decent role these days and is content to do voices for The Wild Thornberries etc. (since this review was originally written Danielle has featured heavily in both of Rob Zombie’s Halloween movies and starred in Hatchet 2, hopefully carving her way into further big roles.

As with most slasher sequels, the kill count is very high and the death scenes more elaborate and ridiculous, with most of the central characters being wiped out. However, the gore level is low, and the deaths are not as gratuitous or set-piece like as other films. Unlike most slasher sequels though, the script is good, and the twist at the end is very effective, if a little strange. The director does well, creating a fair amount of tension, and we do not simply sigh as we wait for the inevitable next kill and final showdown. Pleasance returns as Loomis and is as good as ever, but he now is beginning to show signs of insanity, as Myers is taking over his life. This theme is explored further is the following film. It seems that only now, intelligent audiences, fans, and critics are realising that this is a decent film in its own right- that it should not be judged because it is not Halloween. Overall this does have a few of the expected flaws of a sequel, but it will surprise you by being better than you would think. The DVD does not have any real features, but for fans of the series, this should be a quick purchase.

As always, feel free to leave any comments- did you find this sequel better than you expected or is it just another cheesy teen-fest?

Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead

Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead

A brilliant look at early nineties family, and more importantly teen life. Firstly, teen movies of today all seem to be set in school, and involve getting a date or a shag. Usually every character is hollow except the main one who we are supposed to cheer for, but more often than not they are hollow too. The actors are chosen for their looks and although they mostly give competent performances, they give nothing special, the film offers no insight, and nothing much happens. This is why Buffy (series) shone so brightly-brilliant stories, brilliant acting, extremely well developed characters. But it probably isn’t fair to compare a long running TV show to a crappy film. However, DTMTBD proves that teen comedies do not have to be hollow and lack humour, but can have a good story, good performances, many funny moments, and offer a message about life other than the rubbish spouted nowadays.

DTMTBD is set in the summer holidays, far from school, just the way we like it. The Crandalls are a large, fatherless family, and their mom needs a break, going to Europe for the whole summer. The 5 children believe they are going to be left alone to party etc for 3 months, but of course that does not happen, and they each learn a lesson about life. It may sound cheesy, but the dark humour ensures that there is a balance. Sue Ellen is the oldest, but is only 17, and therefore mum hires a babysitter. At first it seems that the kids will still be able to do as they please, but it turns out that the babysitter has been sent from the deepest darkest depths of Hell. (met. speak) She sets down rules, chores and is going to prevent them from having any fun.

However, when she sees Kenny’s (oldest son) room she has a heart-attack and dies. They decide to get rid of the body in a good, respectful way, and continue with their lives-taking her car too of course. All goes well until the car, along with their money is stolen. Their summer allowance is gone 1 week in, but rather than give in to their mum they decide to struggle on. Sue Ellen gets a job, the rest mess about, and soon tensions arise. Melissa (danielle Harris) is annoyed because no-one came to her baseball match, while the others struggle with girls and personal injuries. Sue Ellen has no clue about her job, lying on her CVto get it, but the money is rolling in, and she has her own boy troubles. Sue-Ellen comes to the rescue of her boss, deciding to hold a fashion show at her house, where the rest of the family finally help out. Of course, nothing goes smoothly.

It is a light-hearted look at teen life, fear of the future, wanting responsibility but not knowing how to cope with it, trying to balance a job, friends, family, work, boyfriend etc, but the often dark humour is very funny. Kenny provides many funny moments, getting the dog stoned and shooting the dishes rather than cleaning them, while Danielle Harris gives another brilliant performance in a small role. Applegate is perfect, delivering her lines with smooth wit and sarcasm, and showing the pressure she is under with skill. Other funny moments involve Sue-Ellen’ antics with her boss’s lover, and there are plenty of one-liners. The one about the cucumber and the one about Santa Barbara are memorable. Kenny learns that he can still be cool if he goes to school, and that life is not for sitting around, while Sue-Ellen learns that trying to grow up too quick can be dangerous. The movie says that None of us really grow up, we just get older and while this happens we should never forget who we are. As silly and contrived as it sounds it is true none the less, and few films convey this better.

Unfortunately there is nothing extra on the DVD. A retrospective documentary would have been nice.

As always, feel free to share your comments/memories of the movie. Were you a fan of this growing up? Has it stood the test of time?

Daylight

Since everyone was making disaster movies in those days, and being trapped underground in the sewers wasn’t a subject that had been tackled yet, Daylight was made. Stallone is an ex fire fighter, trapped with a group of people in a big tunnel, under threat from fire, water, and an imminent explosion which would destroy the section they are in. The film follows the reactions of the different characters, as they struggle with the loss of family members and of each other, with panic, and with the attempt to escape.

Daylight

The stunts and effects are pretty good, the script and plot are adequate, but the characters are likable enough so that we want to know who gets out and who dies. It’s Stallone’s movie, and he does well in the role playing hero rather than action star, Danielle Harris is excellent as always but has little to do, and Viggo is wildly different from his LOTR character, being a self interested false hero. A decent soundtrack help the movie, but it’s just another attempted summer blockbuster. Not a bad film, and worth watching. The DVD has few extras, but snap this up if your a Stallone fan, or if you’re after some effective action at a cheap price

Feel free to leave any comments on the movie and review- is this one of Stallone’s better 90s movies? Is it one of the better disaster movies?

Urban Legend: Rural Myth

Urban Legend is yet another teen horror which comes off the success of Shriek and Buffy. Indeed it is almost like a hilarious screamer, but with less funny bits. It has the familiar story of a bunch of pretty (ugly) teens (30 somethings) being hunted down by a cloaked killer with some sort of vendetta. The main character is our lovely innocent heroine, but who is trying to kill her? Her boyfriend? Her crazy room mate? Her boyfriend’s freakshow friend? The spooky teacher who just happens to be Freddy Kruegger? The petrol pump guy? Her best friend? The bin man? The Fonz? A ghost? Bin Laden? The slut? The jock? The nerd? The Greaser? The head master? The campus cop? Someone else? Some Thing else? Who knows? The killer seems to kill his victims in a way that recalls spooky stories we tell as infants, known in America as Urban Legends for some reason. For example. A babysitter is phoned by a spooky man who says ‘I’m going to eat your babies!’ She hangs up and phones the police to say a weirdo has been phoning her. The police phone back to say that the caller is phoning from inside her own house! She tries to escape but is eaten by a bear. Ironically, the babies have also been eaten. Such is the way the killer kills in this film, except he/she/it uses and axe and a microwave. I wish they had used my favourite Urban Legend- A couple are driving at night and listening to the radio. An emergency news broadcast is broadcast about a local maniac escaping from a local asylum, and is believed to be local. The couple are also local. The man needs a dump so he decides to go into a nearby house. The girl is scared but has a gun, so waits in the car, in the dark, in the rain. She turns on the radio only to hear What A Wonderful World. The sheer awfulness of the song makes her implode. Meanwhile the husband has entered a nearby house. He thinks it is a bit strange that the residents keep cocking their eyes to and fro and cooing at him, but is busting so much he goes for his dump anyway. Afterwards he opens the toilet door and finds he is stuck up a tree. Terrified he almost falls, but hangs from the branch. He realises that the pressure on his bowels made him hallucinate and that the house was really a nest, and it’s occupants were pigeons. Just as he wonders if pigeons live in nests, a lighthouse which had recently collapsed on a nearby mountain rolls over the top of them, crushing them all. The car has been watching all this closely and decides to drive home by itself. On the way it sees a hitchhiker. He picks him up. Of course the hitchhiker is the local maniac. The maniac sees the girl’s wrecked corpse and cries as he was the one who should have murdered her. Suddenly, the man and the woman leap up from the back seat and eat the maniac’s brains, shouting ‘We only pretended!’ five times. On the fifth time they all vanish and several years later are found inside a mirror.

That is my favourite story. Why it wasn’t used I’ll never know.

Best Scene: When the killer chases the girl into a room of barbed wire, cuts off her leg with a pair of hedge clippers, puts a firework into the stump, lights it, and she flies up into the air exploding, and the sparks spell out the message ‘I’m coming for you next, Sydney!’

Halloween 5: Danielle Harris, Donald Pleasance

Halloween 5

Following on directly from number 4, Number 5 has both the flaws, and the good points of its prequel, making it a respectable horror movie, and superior to the other entries in the series. Like Halloween four, this should now be seen as a strong slasher film in a genre full of rubbish and cliche- it may not be the most original, and it may not have the cinematography, tension or atmosphere of the original, but it does manage some good scares and is one of the more involving knife and run films. And it has Danielle Harris in it.

After the shock ending of number 4, we find that Jamie is now extremely traumatised and expects Michael to appear all the time. She is under constant (though not constant enough) care and supervision, and has lost her ability to speak. Rachel, the other survivor from 4 is sympathetic at the start, but unfortunately conforms to the dumb teen status of her friends. Stupidity it seems, was an enjoyable hobby in the eighties. The various other friends, teens, victims vary from watchable to annoying, most of whom are simply there to satisfy the bloodlust of those people who watch these films. Of course Michael is still around, and the killings begin again. Luckily though (perhaps, as he seems to have got a little Michael Syndrome himself) Loomis is still in the town. He decides to use Jamie as bait to lure and catch Michael, but it now seems that like all good super-villians, Michael is completely indestructible. And he’s brought a few friends with him…

Again Harris is superb, so much so that the rest of the cast are made to look like amateurs, apart from Pleasance who descends further into madness. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly for a man of his talents, he seems to be getting tired with the series. There are enough shocks to prevent the film from becoming another stab flick, but there are the usual unsurprising elements-teens having sex then getting mutilated, characters there with the sole purpose of being killed etc. The scene in the old house where the police ‘guard’ Jamie is very good, with Jamie showing she may be the only one capable of protecting herself. We see a different side to Michael, just a glimpse, as Jamie tries to get through to him. Again the ending is a shock, though not entirely unexpected, but the man in black thing is intriguing, and the viewer is left wondering what has happened, and what is yet to happen.

The DVD has no real extras, but for fans of the series, or of the first movie who have not watched the rest, this is one to buy, along with number four. They’re cheap, but much better than most slashers around in the cinema these days.

Feel free to comment on the move and my review- Is this your favourite of the sequels or do you think it’s just another slasher in an over-populated swamp?