I’ve said it before – and it doesn’t matter who agrees: Bruce Willis knows what he’s doing. Unlike actors who could care less what we fans want (Zac Efron leaving high school, Denzel Washington becoming a crooked cop, Willis knows that no matter what he does, his career began with “Die Hard.” No, not “Moonlighting” (although what he did was take David Allison out of Maddie’s arms and into a New York precinct.
Willis has range. Some of his best roles came in films with great character and unusual names – 2003’s “Tears of the Sun” (when he was a special-ops commander rescuing a doctor and 70 unexpected refugees from a Nigerian jungle) and the brilliant “16 Blocks” (when he was a veteran cop escorting witness Mos Def to from a police precinct to a courthouse while bad guys tried to kill them in every block).
But no Willis character has endeared him to the public as much as John McClane, the gun-toting, fun-loving, whining hero who saves the world once a year.
So the moment I heard the release date for “Die Hard 5,” I marked my calendar. Yes, I’m among those awaiting “Die Hard 5” the way some kids are waiting for the next “Twilight” movie. I can’t get enough of John McClane – and I, for one, am thrilled that Wills, who could eschew action films, hasn’t forgotten his roots, appreciates action and has at least four shoot-em-ups coming down the pike. His fans appreciate it. No, we really appreciate it.
So for those actors who don’t get it, don’t care and think they’re too good to do popular films, they should learn a lesson from Liam Neeson, whose 2008 “Taken” was such an unexpected blockbuster that Liam Neeson gave us action fans new lexicon “I have a very particular set of skills.”
They should learn a lesson from Robert Downey Jr., perhaps America’s greatest actor under 50. (Morgan Freeman and Robert Duvall still rule the over 50 set.) Downey donned an “Iron Man” suit, and as I sat in the theater on opening day, I knew it would be huge, possibly the biggest film of the year, perhaps the decade.
And they can learn a thing or two from Willis, who puts his fans first and keeps doing “Die Hards” because we, his fans, want them. Because he works for us, he’ll be running the long race – and we’ll be right there beside him.
Or in the center row in the center of the theater, where I’ll be sitting for “Die Hard 10.”
Finally had time to see a movie and chose “Hope Springs,” the Meryl Streep-Tommy Lee Jones film I thought was a romantic comedy. It turned out to be a serious film about sex between older adults. Moments of hilarity dotted a slow, serious look at a couple who, after three decades of marriage, aren’t really married anymore. They, instead, are marching toward death in a routine that is so heartbreakingly predictable that it is hard to watch.
Meryl Streep, who buries herself in every role, is nearly perfect. And Tommy Lee Jones gets a chance to do something besides chase aliens, fugitives and bad guys. He’s a real guy, who felt he gave up the sexual freedom and adventure he might have had for the woman he loved. His performance would be a revelation, if it wasn’t someone that you expect that good from all the time.
The title is both the name of the town where the couple goes for sexual counseling and the idiom for hope in the face of hopelessness from Alexander Pope’s “An Essay on Man:”
Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
In the end, both find what they need. And it was sweet to walk out of the theatre with a lot of older couples holding hands and possibly going home to rediscover themselves as well.
Folks – you know, those people who determine pop culture – will say that the best moment of “The Muppets” is when Academy Award-winning actor Chris Cooper breaks out into rap, sort of like that moment when Tom Cruise, playing nasty studio exec Les Grossman, begins rapping in “Tropic Thunder.”
But there were two better and more important moments for me when I saw it Saturday evening in a theatre full of parents and kids – and one grumpy couple.
One, near the movie’s end, was when Kermit sat in a sliver of moon and began singing my favorite song . . .
“Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what’s on the other side? . . .
I couldn’t believe the lump that rose in my throat as I listened to a song that was more than three decades old.
“Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
and rainbows have nothing to hide.”
I had gone to see the movie for the same reason that I had dragged my daughter to “Aladdin” and “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King” and “Finding Nemo” – because I love fantasy and magic and the color of rainbows – even if she just tolerated them.
“So we’ve been told and some choose to believe it.
I know they’re wrong, wait and see.”
I wanted to connect her with the beauty of escape and to feel what I did as I’ve gone to the movies for so long: Film can take you anywhere you want to be and some places you didn’t even know you wanted to do.
“Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.”
The great Paul Williams and Kenny Asher co-wrote the “The Rainbow Connection” for the first “Muppet Movie.” It was nominated for an Academy Award in 1979 for Best Song. Williams later spoke with great reverence about the song, which opened and closed the film:
“It’s one of two favorite songs I’ve written in my life, and oddly, they’re both from The Muppet Movie. (The other is “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday.”) When we started working on the film, Kenny and I and Jim (Henson) and Jerry Juhl (the late Muppets head writer) all agreed that we had to establish Kermit’s soul from the very beginning. And to do that, he has to ponder some big questions. Kenny and I began to write this song — the song addresses that inner voice that tells Kermit he can try to do these big things. Then Jerry Juhl did this great thing in the script at the end, when the stage explodes and the end of the rainbow appears — the actual “rainbow connection.” That’s the proof of the whole Muppet philosophy.”
There is a Muppet philosophy, one that is endearing and has stood the test of time since Jim Henson created the puppets to delight children with the simplicity of niceness. Jason Segel, the 31-year-old “How I Met Your Mother” actor led the revival of the Muppets franchise, which lay dormant since the last film 12 years ago. He gets it.
“I wanted … this movie to bring them back where they belonged, back to the forefront of comedy,” he said in news reports. “They should have been making movies this whole time — grand, song and dance films with numbers like they had in the old MGM musicals.”
The movie’s premise is simple and won’t be revealed here. Something happens. The Muppets have to fix it. Mayhem ensues. All is well in the end.
Which brings me to that other great moment Saturday night: At movie’s end, after the songs and dancing and laughter and adult inside-jokes, in a theater filled with teary-eyed parents and happy children, the grumpy couple stood, and the guy, a tall-white haired version of Orson Bean with glasses, pronounced quite loudly: “That was the worst movie ever.”
Within seconds, a beautiful little brunette who appeared to be eight, or nine years old and who had been sitting one row in front of him, took him on. The little one, who had spent an afternoon reveling in magic and rainbows, turned around and said: That was the best movie ever!”
I was so proud of her. I wanted to give her a hug, but I didn’t want to be arrested. I wanted to give him a shake, but I didn’t want to be arrested.
It took everything in me not to ask him why he’d come to a feel-good movie for people who want to feel good and try to ruin it for everyone else.
It took everything in me not to chastise him (while walking away quickly), and say, “Shame on you for doing that!”
But then I realized that he probably wouldn’t get it. And most of the children – and their parents ignored him. They had just sung along with Kermit and a roomful of people. They had participated in a moment that has been happening for 30 years.
They had experienced joy.
That grouch will have to wait – and I hope it doesn’t come too late – to hear and feel the magic for himself. The children in the theater, all of them, of all ages, did:
“Have you been half asleep and have you heard voices?
I’ve heard them calling my name.
“Is this the sweet sound that called the young sailors. The voice might be one and the same.
“I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it. It’s something that I’m supposed to be.
“Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection. The lovers, the dreamers and me.”
Thank you, Jim – and Kermit and Miss Piggy and Animal and Camilla the Chicken and Fozzie and Gonzo and Oscar and Scooter and the newest Muppet, Walter, and everyone else.
Is it wrong to say that I haven’t seen the new Harry Potter films “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts I and II?”
I know why I haven’t seen it. My daughter has outgrown him. Yes, I was one of those parents standing in line with a child too young to be reading a book so dark, buying a book so dark and then watching her read it all night.
Publishing phenomenon or not, the entire set of Harry Potter books sits within three feet of me in my library (save “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” which I can’t seem to find anywhere), and I have yet to read any of them.
But I did see the films – glorious, nicely done fantasies – at least the first four.
Until I see “Order of the Phoenix,” I can’t head for the “Deathly Hallows.” But I don’t know whether I want to. The Harry Potter I knew was young and not in danger so much all the time. The older Harry Potter facing Ralph Fiennes in a body condom, seems to be facing hell.
I’m sure I’ll decide soon. I do so want to see the end of a 10-year journey for myself.
But more important, I plan to read the books and study the films and think about my own contribution to literature and cinema. What I want more than watching someone else’s story is creating one of my own. I want to create and then make a film about a character who will leave an indelible mark on those who meet her. I want to conjure up someone who – forever after – will need no introduction other than her name: Ferris Bueller, Forrest Gump, James Bond, Indiana Jones, Rocky Balboa – or Harry Potter.
Except, she’ll be a girl. Bolder than Annie Hall. Happier than Buffy. More serious than Holly Golightly. Less serious than Ripley in all her Alien forms.
Maybe the problem is: I need to write a book about her first. That not only will make recreation easier, but I’ll really know her, all about her, before everyone else does.
But first, I’ll have to read the “Harry Potter” books and see “Order of the Phoenix.” That’s where I last knew ye, Harry.