Talking Movies

February 14, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard

Bruce Willis returns as NYPD’s finest terrorist/master-thief-killing  Detective John McClane, once again in the wrong place at the wrong time; this  time with his son.

mother-russia_ew

McClane is horrified to find his estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney) has been  arrested in Moscow for killing a man in a nightclub. He flies to Russia, heeding  the warning of his daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) not to make a bad  situation worse. He then, of course, proceeds to make it catastrophic. Jack is  actually an undercover CIA operative trying to protect Komarov (Sebastian Koch),  an oligarch become political prisoner. Komarov has incriminating evidence on  ex-business partner Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov), a man sympathetic to terrorism  and on the point of becoming Defence Minister. Jack’s cover comprehensively  blown by dad he retreats to the safe house run by his Agency handler, Collins  (Cole Hauser). But the unstoppable killers Alick (Radivoje Bukvic) and Irina  (Yuliya Snigir) seem to be one step ahead of the McClanes, and Jack mulishly  refuses John’s advice…

Director (and Dundalk native) John  Moore proved with Behind Enemy Lines  that he could deploy every weapon in the stylistic arsenal, but since then he’s  been serving time putting a glossy sheen on mediocre material. This is his shot  at the big time, but you suspect, despite his unwarranted criticisms of Die Hard 4.0, that he’s still putting a glossy  sheen on sub-par material. The spectacular car-chase following John pursuing  Alick tracking Jack and Komarov doesn’t stint on the vehicular destruction and  Alick’s beast of a machine is a joy to watch. Moore also has a lot of fun with  the thudding ballistics of a helicopter gunship tracking the McClanes down the  façade of a hotel. But, this film is half an hour shorter than all previous  instalments, and that missing 30 minutes would’ve usefully housed humour and  character moments.

Skip Woods’ script shares with his Wolverine plot a terribly disguised  early twist that vitiates a later great twist, and despite being written as a Die Hard it really only latterly feels  like one. There is a glaring reference that cleverly transforms into a traumatic  character death, but while there’re nice moments of musical homage by Marco  Beltrami to Michael Kamen’s iconic score and its appropriation of Beethoven,  frequently we’re treated to Zimmer/Howard Bat-rumblings, and Moore’s hand-held  direction lacks the geographic clarity of McTiernan’s template; something which  Len Wiseman wisely amended his style to synch with in Die Hard 4.0. Acting wise MEW’s bookending  cameo is delightful, while Snigir may (and I say this as a Nikita fan) actually be better than Maggie Q’s 4.0 villainess; her nihilistic rage in  the finale is astonishing. Courtney is physically imposing but he lacks the  endearing charm of Bruce Willis past and present.

This lacks the gleefulness that ‘Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Russia’ teased, but  it’s an entertaining outing that doesn’t disgrace the franchise.

3/5

April 16, 2012

Lockout

Writer/producer Luc Besson’s one-man studio continues with an entertaining sci-fi actioner starring Guy Pearce attempting to rescue Maggie Grace from 500 scumbags.

Pearce is Snow, an ex-CIA agent in 2079. Snow is arrested by Secret Service supremo Langral (a wonderfully ambiguous Peter Stormare) when Snow’s mentor is killed after requesting him as back-up on an undercover operation. Snow is unable to retrieve vital exculpating evidence in a briefcase he passed to his partner Mace (Tim Plester) just before his arrest. Meanwhile First Daughter Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace) is visiting new maximum security prison space station MS1 to ensure humane treatment of the sedated convicts. Some joyfully dumb coincidences see her taken hostage along with the crew by the newly awakened prisoners, headed by Scottish brothers Alex (Vincent Regan) and Hydell (Joseph Gilgun); who have different ideas about how to bargain their way home. Snow’s CIA friend Shaw (Lennie James) persuades Langral to send Snow to MS1 as an implausible one-man army to rescue Emilie, and only Emilie…

Lockout wastes absolutely no time in setting up its plot. Indeed it features one of the most arresting openings this year as a handcuffed to a chair Pearce is repeatedly punched out of frame to allow the credits to pop up, before he sits back up to deliver another witticism and get punched out of frame again. He even delivers a wonderful gag about why punch-lines are so titled. It’s odd to see Pearce rather than Statham in a role like this, but, following sparkling supporting turns in Animal Kingdom, The King’s Speech and Justice, it’s great to see him headlining. Pearce swaggers his way thru this film with sardonic wisecracking gusto. Grace improves once she starts to act opposite him, especially with short, dark hair; which she gets courtesy of the application by Snow of scissors and a mix of engine grease and coffee.

This is a knowing genre piece. The basic concept is a riff on Escape from New York, the friction between Snow and Emilie the girl he wished he hadn’t rescued pure Han Solo and Leia, and the sympathetic Shaw talking Snow thru the operation on MS1 obviously Die Hard. This is silly action with a wink. The ‘spectacular’ CGI motorbike chase at the start is hilariously poor, as Pearce runs from the Secret Service on what is the Bat-pod, even down to lifting the crashing thru a shopping mall shot from The Dark Knight. Such entertaining hokum is derailed by Mancunian Gilgun’s quickly irritating turn as Hydell. A cross between twitchy-twitchy Jeremy Davies as Trainspotting’s Begbie and Andy Serkis as Gollum at his most self-pitying it’s just too much for a cipher; the violent loose cannon ruining Alex’s negotiating plans.

Irish directors and co-writers Stephen Saint-Leger and James Mather got Besson’s attention with their short film Prey Alone. Lockout should get Hollywood’s.

2.5/5

December 20, 2011

On Doubting The Avengers

I can’t get excited about The Avengers, allegedly the biggest or second biggest film of 2012 depending on who you talk to, even though it should be catnip to me.

The Avengers consists of one successful film franchise, Iron Man, two newly launched franchises (that with their Norse Gods magic as opposed to super-science technology don’t really synch with the interior logic of the successful franchise), Thor and Captain America, and one franchise that has failed to launch, twice, Hulk. That mixture just does not cry out for a super-team-up super-franchise. If in 1991 John McClane and Riggs & Murtagh had joined forces for a super-team-up action-movie buddy-cops super-franchise, Die Hard with a Lethal Weapon, it would have made far more commercial sense than Marvel foisting The Avengers on us.

Commercial sense (and interior logic) aside I have grave screenwriting concerns about the movie. Does anyone really think that one film can successfully contain so many characters? Think about it. Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, Thor, Nick Fury, Black Widow, Pepper Potts, Agent Coulson, Loki and The Krulls. What exactly can be done in 2 hours in terms of actual story once you’ve finished establishing ground rules for all those characters (in case some people, as is highly likely, missed some of their cinematic instalments), introduced Hawkeye and somehow not made him ridiculous, and given the stars ego-balanced arcs?

If by some miracle you manage to synch all the fictive micro-universes together into one coherent macro-universe, and massage all the egos involved in juggling several franchise characters, what villains are you left with after the customary slaughter of bad guys in the denouements of the existing franchises? The Krulls. Oh, great. What works well in comics doesn’t necessarily work well in cinema. The Krulls immediately invoke the Mission: Impossible 2 peril. If everyone in every scene could really be someone else wearing a mask then you cease to emotionally invest in anything that happens because it mightn’t be real.

Given these problems does anyone really think that co-writer/director Joss Whedon has it in him to pull this off? Whedon has after all directed only one two film, which had a fraction of the budget and star power of The Avengers, while his most recent filmed screenplay has been sitting on a shelf for over a year, allegedly while the studio debates whether to convert it into 3-D because all horror films have to be in 3-D now. Paranormal Activitys rake in the money without being in 3-D which leads to the suspicion the studio thinks The Cabin in the Woods sucks just as much as Buffy Season 8. Whedon apologised for that arc (so awful that Wolves at the Gate, the largely stand-alone volume written by his Cabin co-writer Drew Goddard, is the only remnant worth salvaging) citing unlimited VFX giddiness…

Thus giving Whedon an unlimited special-effects budget, without Goddard’s counter-weight, may be as counterproductive as giving Richard Kelly the money he always needed to ramble on about aliens, time-travel, philosophy, and water.

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