Die Hard on a…:Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Die Hard.

Die Hard is the best. 30 years later, no action movie has topped it – at least at doing great action and being an even better movie between the action scenes. If you haven’t seen it in a while, it won’t disappoint.

But say you’ve seen Die Hard a million times. Or you’re waiting to watch it at Christmas. (And to end the debate before it begins, Facebook readers, I’m not saying Die Hard is a Christmas movie – just that it can be if you want it.) With that in mind, I’ve put together some movies and TV shows that made no secret about ripping it off.

This list may not include the best imitators, though possibly the most interesting ones. And why these movies? Because pretty good movies are still, you know, pretty good.Die Hard

Die Hard 2 (1990)
One of the first imitators to not top Die Hard was Die Hard 2. It’s basically a remake with the setting moved to an airport during a blizzard. The similarities and callbacks are a bit much, and Bruce Willis goes from being a counterpoint to the ‘80s action hero to being yet another action hero.

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2001: A Reevaluation Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey is a masterpiece. But here’s the thing: masterpieces aren’t for everyone.

As the resident sci-fi nerd around here, I was asked to write something about 2001 for its 50th anniversary on April 2. At first, I had no idea what to say. I’ve always had an appreciation for the film, but I’ve never liked it. For me, it’s a painfully slow movie–all brains and no heart.

I also had trouble remembering anything but its most iconic moments; I’ve only seen it once or twice–and the last time was at least a decade ago. So here’s what I decided to do: I’d watch it again and take notes throughout. I was curious to see how my opinions changed (if at all) through the course of watching it. Were the boring parts still boring? Would I care for any of the characters this time? Would I know what the hell was going on?

This isn’t intended as an MST3K riff or anything–though you can tell where my attention started to wander. If you’re interested, there’s a time marker for my notes so you can play along at home. So without further ado, here’s my odyssey of revisiting 2001.

[0:21] Black screen and dissonant music. Stanley Kubrick knew how to put you on edge.

[1:24] Fun fact: if you start this movie with the sound off and play Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, they don’t sync up whatsoever.

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[2:33] And the dawn of the fast-forward button.

[4:13] I won’t skip the apes part…I won’t skip the apes part…

[7:38] Forgot there were two tribes of apes at odds with each other.

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An Adventure in Time and the Holidays

Doctor Who is all about change, about comings and goings. And few things mark the passage of time more than the holidays. Each year since the show relaunched in 2005, Who has done a Christmas special. These episodes tend to be big, dramatic and more than a little silly. They’ve also become the time each actor playing the Doctor bows out from the role. This year’s upcoming special is no different, with Peter Capaldi saying his farewells.

Now seems like a good time to look back and offer up my choices for the five best holiday specials. There were some difficult decisions here, but the five episodes selected highlight the many wonderful (and weird) aspects of Doctor Who.

The Time of the Doctor (2013)

An imperfect episode that gives Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor a fitting sendoff, The Time of the Doctor attempts to end a three-season story arc, tell a charming Christmas story and say goodbye to Smith in 60 minutes. It’s far too much for a single episode.

The premise, while confusing, is a good one. The Doctor is trapped on an alien world in a town called Christmas (a bit on the nose, yeah), which holds a secret that all of Who’s classic baddies want. Thanks to some sci-fi nonsense, a force field (mostly) keeps the monsters out, but it means the Doctor can never leave or tell a lie. The Doctor is forced to live out his own personal hell of putting down roots and living an honest life.

The Doctor resigns himself to fighting the last battle of what he believes is his last life. Of course, that doesn’t happen, but there are some surprises – and Matt Smith is particularly good throughout. Time works best when viewed immediately after the far better 50th anniversary special. Together, the two episodes celebrate the show’s history while setting up its future.

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The Island of Misfit Horror Sequels

Sequels are always a mixed bag – especially sequels to horror movies. Even if a horror movie doesn’t scare you, it should at least surprise you. And how do you get something that surprised you once to surprise you again?

I’ve selected some horror sequels that attempt – and mostly succeed – at being something other than just more of the same. Most of these movies aren’t the equal of the classics they’re based on, but they’re worth watching because they try to surprise you again. So if you’re looking for something new or different to watch this Halloween, I recommend giving these sequels a chance (or second chance).

So without further ado, I welcome you to <insert spooky voice here> the Island of Misfit Horror Sequels…

Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives
Well, we have to start with a Friday the 13th movie on Friday the 13th. I won’t lie, this series has never been my thing (sorry, Friday fans), but Jason Lives is a ton of fun.

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Why? The people who made it acknowledged how silly this series is and leaned into it. The end result is a charmingly self-aware horror-comedy that’s funny while still letting Jason do what he does to anyone who gets near Camp Crystal Lake. If this isn’t the best Friday movie, it’s right up there. Now let’s move on to something that takes itself more seriously…

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HPB Geek 101 Class

July 13 is Embrace Your Geekness Day, but you know what I say? Let’s keep the spirit of Geekness alive all year long and make every day Embrace Your Geekness Day.

With that in mind, I’ve created a sort of 101 class for hardcore geeks and those with geek tendencies alike. Keep in mind, this is a survey course – with a focus on science fiction and horror. It was hard narrowing down to ten items, and there are plenty of great things that could’ve made the list. Sorry if your favorite geek obsession didn’t make the cut.

There’s a good chance you’ve read or watched at least some of these recommendations on this list, but here are ten essential books, movies and TV shows to boost your geek knowledge.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
I first read Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in the third or fourth grade. To say it changed my life is probably an exaggeration. At the same time, the world made more sense after reading it – which is odd, because little in this series makes sense on the surface.hitch

A hapless everyman, Arthur Dent, manages to escape our planet right before it’s blown up to create an intergalactic highway. Things get weirder from there, as Arthur Dent goes on many adventures he’s not suited for, including the successful (and disappointing) search for the meaning of life.

To begin with, stick to the first two books in the series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Together, the two books tell a complete story, and they have the best balance between Adams’ passion for science and his pessimism that we’re often far too dim to appreciate the world around us. Continue reading

10 Movies that Inspired Stranger Things

In an era where there are hundreds of new shows and movies to stream each month, it’s amazing we’re still talking about Stranger Things three months after it debuted on Netflix. There’s a good chance it may end up the biggest pop culture landmark of 2016. And I couldn’t be happier about that.

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Yes, it leans on the past a little too much, but Stranger Things isn’t just a remix of early ‘80s nostalgia. I don’t want to build the show up too much for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, except to say I think you’ll like what you find.

For those who have watched it and can’t wait for the second season, here is a list of movies that most likely inspired the show’s creators, the Duffer Brothers. They’ll help tide you over till next year, and most of them will fit perfectly into your rotation of scary movies. I hope you pick at least one of them to enjoy/laugh at/patiently sit through for your friend or spouse this Halloween season.

**Oh – and some minor spoilers for Stranger Things.** Continue reading

These Are a Few of the Voyages…: Celebrating 50 Years of Star Trek

Half Price Books would like to take a moment to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek and look back at its long history of stories that inspired generations of fans. And for some reason, they tapped the guy with a U.S.S. Enterprise model on his desk to write it.

I’ve decided to share some of my favorite Trek episodes with you. Please keep in mind: this is not intended as a definitive top-ten list, but it is a list of all the things that make Trek great – adventure, humor, allegory and the belief that tomorrow will be better than today.

So without further ado, here are some of the voyages of the U.S.S. Enterprise and its spin-offs.

The Original Series (1966 – 1969)

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1. Balance of Terror (1966)
“Balance of Terror” is an homage to World War II submarine thrillers like Run Silent, Run Deep. The Enterprise hunts down a cloaked Romulan ship that’s committed surprise attacks against the Federation. What follows is a tense thriller as Captain Kirk and the captain of the Romulan ship attempt to outthink and outmaneuver each other. In the process of doing so, they each realize that the other is a man of duty and honor.

It’s a notion that Trek would come back to again and again: that we are all, to some degree, creatures of circumstance. And that our enemies are often our enemies because of the walls we create. Continue reading

5 Sci-Fi Films to Show a Little More Love

May 25th, 1977: Star Wars premieres in theaters and takes the world by storm.

May 25th, 1979: Alien premieres in theaters and terrifies audiences senseless.

This makes May 25th just about the coolest day of the year in my book. I thought about writing something about both films for this Memorial Day weekend. But you know what? They get enough love.

Don’t get me wrong. Star Wars and Alien are great – they’re classics for a reason. But they both have their own celebration days now, for goodness’ sake. They’re good. So let’s instead talk about a few sci-fi films that could use a little love. These movies are all from the 70s and 80s. Keep in mind, these films are all products of their time. Some moments may not have aged gracefully – and I don’t just mean their special effects. Still, they’re a fun time capsule of who we were and what we thought the future might look like.

If you’re looking for something new or different to watch this Memorial Day weekend, give one of these movies a chance.

Silent Running (1972)

In the future, all plant life on Earth is dead. A few vestiges of vegetation still exist far away from Earth, in biodomes being hauled through our solar system by commercial freighters. When the powers that be decide that keeping these biodomes is an unprofitable frivolity, the freighters are recalled back into commercial service. A crewmember on one of these ships, played by Bruce Dern, fakes the destruction of his ship and sets off into deep space alone, with only the companionship of three robots, hoping to preserve the last forests known to mankind. Continue reading

So Human: Remembering Leonard Nimoy

Most people who get to know me – and all of my nerdy obsessions – are surprised to hear that I’ve never been to a sci-fi convention. One of the reasons why is because I’ve never had an interest in meeting the people who gave life to my childhood heroes. I avoid following celebrities on social media or reading behind-the-scenes gossip for the same reason: to keep art separate from the artist, to avoid knowing that these people are just as flawed and human as the rest of us.

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I regret, though, never meeting Leonard Nimoy, despite having several opportunities to see him in person. If I had met him, I would’ve only taken a few seconds of his time. No autographs, no pictures, no questions – just an opportunity to say “Thanks for everything” and be on my way.

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10 Movies to NOT Celebrate Valentine’s Day With

I’ve got nothing against Valentine’s Day, but most of us have had a February 14th where the last thing we wanted to do is celebrate this holiday. Hollywood knows this and offers some counter-programming each year for people who need anything but a romantic comedy or family drama or cute talking animals.

With that in mind, here are ten movies designed to help you avoid Valentine’s Day. We’re talking action, horror and camp films. The movies on this list were all playing in theaters on Valentine’s Day in the years listed. They most likely helped someone enjoy that year’s holiday a little more. I hope you enjoy them as well. Oh, and keep in mind that some of these films are for mature audiences only!

1) John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980)

The Fog is the cinematic equivalent of a ghost story being told around the campfire, and what a ghost story it is. While often viewed as a minor classic next to Halloween and The Thing, this is still John Carpenter working at the height of his powers – with atmospheric locations, great character actors, and a synthesizer film score that shouldn’t work but totally does.

It’s also notable for being the least misanthropic of Carpenter’s horror films, featuring a group of ordinary, small-town people who pull together once things start going bump in the night. If you like horror movies and haven’t seen The Fog, track it down immediately.

2) Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Despite being released in the summer of 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark still came in 6th at the box office on Valentine’s Day weekend in 1982. In fact, it was playing in almost as many theaters as that weekend’s new releases.

What else is there to say about Raiders of the Lost Ark? It’s the best – possibly the greatest adventure movie ever made. Even though I enjoy all the Indiana Jones films (Crystal Skull isn’t that bad), there’s no denying Steven Spielberg captured lightning in a bottle with Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s thrilling, scary and subversive in a way its sequels never quite manage.

3) Over the Top (1987)

Creed is a reminder that Sylvester Stallone can be utterly fantastic in the right role. It’s no surprise that he’s up for so many acting awards. Stallone’s always been a great performer. He’s just, well, not always so hot at picking great movies to be in.

Take Over the Top, for example. It’s basically the Rocky formula with arm wrestling subbing in for boxing. And arm wrestling is just the tip of the crazy iceberg that is this movie. If you’re a fan of Stallone as the underdog getting in the ring to take on a cartoonish supervillain of an opponent, Over the Top may be for you.

4) Tango & Cash (1990)

Stallone again. What can I say? The guy entertains me.

Tango & Cash is ridiculous and ridiculously amazing. It’s a film where no one seemed to agree on what movie they were making, which led to Tango & Cash coming off more like a parody of action films and their tropes. It’s a movie that felt dated and out-of-touch even in 1990, but it’s terrific entertainment if you go into it with a “How did this get made?” attitude.

And Kurt Russell is in it. That man is a national treasure.

5) The Quick and the Dead (1995)

While nowhere near as ridiculous as Tango & Cash, The Quick and the Dead is still pretty out there. It’s a mostly forgotten film from a time when Hollywood wasn’t really making westerns. For those unfamiliar with the plot, Sharon Stone plays a mysterious stranger who rides into town to take part in a to-the-death quick-draw tournament run by Gene Hackman (who would be twirling a moustache if he had one).

It’s a film full of frantic action and crazy camerawork. While certainly a fun watch on its own terms, the most notable thing about the movie is all the before-they-were-famous talent involved – including director Sam Raimi (Spider-Man) plus actors Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio.

6) Pulp Fiction (1995)

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another surprise hit that’s more surprising than Pulp Fiction. Like Raiders of the Lost Ark, there’s little left to say about this one – except it’s a cultural landmark for a reason. While Quentin Tarantino has grown considerably as a writer and director, he’s never had more fun making a movie. It shows in every frame of this film.

And while we’re avoiding romantic movies for this article, Pulp Fiction technically does feature two characters going on a date. I think we can all agree it didn’t end well.

7) Galaxy Quest (2000)

Galaxy Quest is on a lot people’s minds at the moment due to the recent passing of Alan Rickman, who we lost far too soon. The above clip proves just how great he was. He’s one of the best things in a movie that gets as close to perfection as humanly possible.

Incredibly funny, clever and sweet, it’s a film way ahead of its time. I’m glad it now gets the respect it deserves. I don’t know how they did it – but Galaxy Quest somehow both sends up and extols Star Trek and its fans, proving that you can love something by poking fun at it.

8) Brotherhood of the Wolf (2002)

Please answer the following question: Brotherhood of the Wolf is a ____

  1. Foreign film
  2. Period drama
  3. Political thriller
  4. Love story
  5. Monster movie
  6. Martial arts movie
  7. All of the above

If you chose “7”, you are correct. Brotherhood is a crazy genre mash-up that never feels stitched together. I won’t say anymore in the interest of not spoiling its surprises. If you don’t mind subtitles, you are in for one heck of a movie.

9) Coraline (2009)

I wanted to include at least one family movie on this list. While not suitable for very young viewers, Coraline is an absolute delight for anyone else. Adapted from Neil Gaiman’s young adult novel, the story follows a young girl who moves to a new town and finds a secret doorway that leads to a macabre world that mirrors her own. Needless to say, the inhabitants of said macabre world do not have Coraline’s best interests at heart.

Like last year’s Inside Out, it taps into the alienation any child/teen goes through when moving to a new place just as they were finding themselves. Coraline features an excellent protagonist and supporting characters – and while not too scary, it’s just scary enough for kids and adults to enjoy together.

10) The Book of Eli (2010)

A lot of critics accused The Book of Eli, an apocalyptic action movie, of having nothing new to say. Whether that’s true or not, it’s made so well that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Everyone’s working at 100% here – especially Denzel Washington, who is fantastic as always.

The Book of Eli doesn’t land with the same impact as, say, Mad Max: Fury Road – but it’s a welcome addition to a genre that’s currently having a resurgence at the moment. The two films together make an excellent double-feature.

So, what movies will you be watching this weekend?

Jeremy is Customer Service Specialist at HPB Corporate