I’m a big admirer of Matt Singer‘s writing on film. Besides co-hosting the brilliantly titled Filmspotting SVU podcast — a streaming video-focused spinoff of Filmspotting, the long-running Chicago-based movies show I had the honor of appearing on a few times last year — he recently started Criticwire, a great blog about film criticism for Indiewire.
Each weekend, Matt sends a list of film critics a survey question and posts their responses the following Monday. I was thrilled to contribute for the first time to yesterday’s poll, on The Perfect Summer Movie. Almost every film I considered choosing for this honor did show up among the responses, suggesting strong generational (?) consensus on this issue. But I’m glad I went with a dark horse candidate. As always, I did a poor job of constraining my enthusiasm; Matt was kind to post an only slightly abridged version of my encomium — reproduced below in its breathless entirety — to Die Hard with a Vengeance.
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The phrase “summer movies” to me has always meant action films. Opening night of Terminator 2: Judgment Day in July 1991 remains my all-time most exciting summer event-movie experience, but that’s too great a sci-fi picture to leave in the summer movie ghetto, so I’m going to pick 1995’s infinitely less defensible but super-fun Die Hard with a Vengeance.
Yes, of course 1988’s original is a better movie, but everything about this third installment, starting with that gleefully dumb title, is as magical as a bottomless tub of popcorn. After sitting out Die Hard 2: Die Harder, which hasn’t aged nearly as well, John McTiernan brought his gift for tension and clean, thrilling easy-to-follow action sequences back to the franchise for this sprawling adventure set over the course of one very long, very hot day in New York City. The opening titles get through exactly one chorus of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” before shit starts blowing up. Samuel L. Jackson steps into the franchise as Bruce Willis’s best-ever foil, playing a pawn shop owner drawn reluctantly into the action via . . . you guessed it, a racially inflammatory sandwich board our hero, John McClane, is made to wear. Which makes this already one of the weirdest summer blockbusters ever and we’re only halfway through the first act.
I love the little-known actors (well, except for maybe Graham Greene) who play McClane’s fellow cops, who for once in this series are allowed to be competent and capable in their own right. The movie features great use of NYC locations, a very inspired planted payoff involving numbers, the greatest elevator car shootout in cinema history, and a beautifully executed bait-and-switch climax — even though it doesn’t actually end the film, which is something it’s fairly obvious no one had a very clear idea of how to do as they were making it. Oh, and the mostly forgotten female singer- songwriter Sam Phillips is cast against type, let us say, as a mute, knife-wielding assassin. So there’s that.
There are lots of reasons to be wary of the next installment in the apparently immortal Die Hard franchise, but the most dire sign is that it’s scheduled for release Valentine’s Day weekend instead of between May and July.