Sunday, 12 May 2013
As I was watching Terrence Malick's latest film To The Wonder the other night, it occurred to me that, love him or hate, Malick is among the handful of directors, past and present, that has completely infused himself in to every fibre of his films. It's not just that he has a particular style, but that's there not a single moment in this film, or his previous few films, that he's not present. He's there in every image, camera movement, line of dialogue and even performance. Wes Anderson is similar in that regard, and maybe even Stanley Kubrick but I can't think of many directors that have become so much part of their films. I think it's hard to review a Malick film, particularly now, since his films exist outside any typical narrative structure- so this will be more of a "thoughts on" piece rather than a "good or bad" summary. Overall, I liked the film and maybe even loved it. While it's not as monumental a work as his previous film, The Tree of Life, it's a lovely and often beautiful film, telling a simple but universal film about finding and losing love.
The film tells the story of Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko) who meet in France and move to Oklahoma to start their life together. Complications in their relationship leads to Neil and reconnecting with his childhood sweetheart Jane (Rachel McAdams). A parallel storyline focuses on Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), a priest struggling with his faith.
Malick tells these stories, as to be expected, through impressionistic imagery and hushed voiceovers. But in this film I found that Malick was moving even further away from dialogue, crafting something focused very much on the physicality and movements of the actors- particularly with Kurylenko and McAdams. I don't think either of these women have ever looked more gorgeous. By just looking at them, watching them move, their beauty really shines through in a pure way.
Journalist and filmmaker Bilge Ebiri wrote a piece interpreting the film as a dance, a ballet. All one has to do is look at Kurylenko and her movements in the film and it becomes clear what Ebiri is talking about and what Malick is trying to achieve. Moreover, I feel that Malick isn't just trying to create a ballet but he's fascinated in taking actors we recognize and using them in a fashion where their usual stature as an actor is stripped down to something quite simple. Think of Sean Penn in The Tree of Life. In this film, Affleck is just a normal man, not the hero of Argo or complicate bank robber of The Town.
This is the shortest gap between movies for Malick, who's taken up to 20 years between films. While it's exciting to get a new Malick film so soon after The Tree of Life, that film was such a bold and visionary piece of work, a film which could possibly be deemed a landmark film, that To The Wonder seems somewhat anti-climatic in comparison. Even if there was a bigger gap between the films, I didn't sense the level of ambition in this film that was present in The Tree of Life. But one has to take the film as what it is. To The Wonder is not as towering an achievement as some of Malick's other films but it's still a film in which we find Malick striving for pure visual poetry, which I think he achieves.
Malick has always had a fascination with exploring America's past- the late 1950s that gave birth to one of America's first serial killers, Charles Starkweather, in Badlands, the turn-of-the-century labor in Days of Heaven, the physical an existential conflict soldiers face during WWII in The Thin Red Line, and the founding of the Jamestown, Virginia settlement in 1607 in The New World. He returned to the 1950s in The Tree of Life- an course in that film Malick went beyond just exploring America's past- he literally dramatized the creation of the universe itself. To The Wonder is Malick's first film set entirely in the present day. I may have to see the film again but I didn't feel Malick was too preoccupied with modern day America- the story could've taken place in nearly any time. But then again, Malick's eye always seems to exist outside of time, showing us not the way things actually were in a given time period- but how they exist in the memory or dreams.
I'm still not sure how the Quintana storyline relates to the love triangle. His struggle with his faith reminds us of The Tree of Life, and also Ingmar Bergman, but it didn't feel directly tied to what has happening between Neil, Marina an Jane. 34444444444I've heard that Quintana's story is also a love story- one between him an God. I assume the relationship between Quintana an God is a spiritual relationship that's falling apart much like the physical relationships between Neil and the two women. I'll have to keep this in mind the next time I see the film.
The way Malick moved the camera in certain scenes reminded me of The Tree of Life- as well as the houses, which brought to mind the O'Brien home. Also, every thing seems bigger through Malick's camera- faces, places, it's a recognizable world but one that seems larger than life.
Those are my initial thoughts on the film. I wasn't as overwhelmed as I was the first time I saw The Tree of Life, but the film, like all of Malick's works, it'll require at least another viewing to completely take every thing in. It'll be interesting to see what To The Wonder's critical standing will be as time goes on, particularly in relation to how it's ranked amongst Malick's other films. The initial reviews have been mixed and maybe the reaction towards the film will always be divided. But for Malick enthusiasts, it's worth seeing and becoming part of Malick's singular world.
Tuesday, 16 April 2013
I've been a little behind lately in regards to writing here, so I'm going to try to get back on track. I'm going to make my return on writing out my thoughts on the new The Evil Dead remake, which I saw on opening day. Evil Dead does what a good remake should do, which is take the basic components of the original- in this case a an abandoned cabin, five college students and a book that unleashes demons which possess those around them- and finds a new angle from which to approach it. The original The Evil Dead launched the career of director Sam Raimi, who would go on to direct of the biggest Super hero films of the the last decade with the Spider-Man Trilogy, and part of The Evil Dead's success was the personality that Raimi injected in to the film. While I'm not ready to call this new film's director, Fede Alvarez, the next Sam Raimi, he brings his own sense of style and tone to this film, never falling in to the trap of trying too hard to be Raimi. The new film is raw and brutal- don't go in expecting the slapstick humour of The Evil Dead's two sequels, Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness. It's more in line with the straightforward, go for the throat approach of the original. But even saying that undersells the gruesomeness and near humourlessness of this new film, which makes the gore of the original film seem tame by comparison. This film is definitely not for the faint of heart, but it gets the job done and I think it offers Evil Dead fans what they want in an update of the classic original.
The film focuses on the character of Mia (Jane Levy), whose four friends, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Olivia (Jessica Lucas), Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), and Mia's brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) take Mia to an abandoned cabin in the woods in order to put her through drug detox. And of course, Eric finds and reads from the a book in the basement, unleashing human possessing demons, one which attaches itself to Mia. All that fun stuff. I liked the drug detox take on the cabin in the woods setup since in other cabin movies, including the original film, the reason the main characters come to the cabin is to have a party. Here, the film establishes a dark reality that's present even before the really horrific stuff begins to happen. Combining the supernatural horror with the real life horror of a drug addict going cold turkey, while it can be argued makes the film one note, for me, raised the tension quite a bit.
I also think it makes Mia's possession a metaphorical representation of her drug withdrawal. This is emphasized verbally when at first the others think Mia is going through a panic attack. She burns herself in the shower (the demons get off on inflicting pain on themseves in this version) and they think it's her way of getting them to take her away from the cabin. Like The Exorcist this is a film where people try to rationalize the horrific things happening, even though the situation reaches a point where no rational explanation can suffice.
Levy gives a real star making performace in this film. Levy, most known for her work on the sitcom Suburgatory, gives a much darker performance here, convincingly playing a young woman who has reached the point where she can't survive without drugs, an unadulterated evil demon, and finally a woman who becomes a real badass in the face of evil. I was surprised that the film did strive for dramatic weight regarding Mia's situation and her relationship with David. That's why I wish there was little more development for the characters- the film seems to be leaning towards fleshing these people out but doesn't go all the way. In regards to the other females, Olivia and Natalie, they seem underwritten. I liked Eric but he also felt he needed a little more focus. Mia and David definitely feel like they're the heart of the film. I also admit that despite wanting a little more development for the other characters, I did feel for them during some crucial moments.
I like the look of the cabin in this film. It's not inviting at all, which is apporpriate for the tone the filmmakers are going for. I feel in other cabin based horror films, the cabin isn't dingy enough. Here you really feel the creakiness, dampness and death within the cabin d I also admire Alvarez's staging of the set pieces. He's not afraid to dwell on the grisly details. Some may say Alvarez is overcompensating by making the film so gory but I think that when updating a film like The Evil Dead, you have to go big or go home. I also feel that the extreme use of gore makes the situation all the more nightmarish, as well as making you sympathethic to what these people are going through,
The film ends with an obligatory hint that things aren't over yet. This is to be expected in a film like this but I actually am looking forward to seeing where this new line of films is going, as well as if it's secretly part of the original Evil Dead universe. There's been talk of Raimi and Evil Dead Trilogy star Bruce Campbell doing another Evil Dead film, with Cmpbell's character of Ash makng his way in to the new series of films. I don't know if the Ash persona can fit with the new tone of this series- but hey, if they could find some way of reintroducing Ash, it'd be pretty groovy.
PS: Here's a link to my audio review of the film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tM_ZWhfj_RA and a retrospective I did on the original trilogy for Scene Creek: http://scenecreek.com/features/retrospective-a-look-back-at-the-evil-dead-trilogy/
Wednesday, 20 February 2013
When Live Free or Die Hard was about to come out, it was a pretty big deal for me. I had seen the three previous Die Hards numerous times and loved them - and this would be the first Die Hard I was old enough to see in theatres. Admittedly, for me, Live Free or Die Hard couldn't quite live up to the original trilogy, largely because a Die Hard film made in 2007 is a completely different animal than a Die Hard film made in the late 80s or early to mid- 90s, when the first three films where made. Of the Die Hard sequels I've seen (haven't seen A Good Day to Die Hard), it's my least favourite, though I feel number 5 will take that spot soon enough. The film suffers from a villain that's interesting in concept but not executed as effectively as he could've been, especially with a solid actor in the role. It's reconciliation story between father and daughter needed more development as well- since it comes across as more a plot device. Still, I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy this film. It's actually a pretty good action film. Director Len Wiseman stages some memorable action sequences. The film also has some nice emotional beats and an intriguing plot.
The film begins with John McClane (Bruce Willis) being sent to pick up a computer hacker named Matt Farrell (Justin Long) and bring him to DC. A computer outage at the FBI has led the FBI to seek out known computer hackers, finding them dead. Farrell is being taken in to protective custody. McClane finds out Matt was a pawn in a scheme by a man named Thomas Gabriel (tImothy Olyphant) to start what is known as a "fire sale," in which America's computer controls are hacked, meaning "every thing must go." Gabriel is a former expert for the US Defense Department. After 9/11 he tried to convince the higher ups that America was vulnerable. When he used his laptop to hack in to the the defense system, he was fired. The fire sale is Gabriel's way of proving he was right, as well a way to steal a lot of money.
I like the concept of Gabriel. He basically threatens the security of the United States in order to prove how vulnerable it really is. I wished they had devloped Gabriel's character a little more and expanded upon the theme of terrorism in a post 9/11 age and what that means for a series like Die Hard and the character of John McClane. Gabriel calls out McClane for being out of date- which is an interesting idea for the Die Hard series to confront- what happens when McClane gets older and his past glories are behind him. Unfortunately, the series doesn't seem to ever want to become a melancholy, introspective look at the decline of the 80s action hero, an ironic concept in regards to John McClane, who was the antithesis to that kind of hero- but he more or less became part of that group of guys as he slowly, or maybe not so slowly, evolved in to one of those iconic bad asses. The franchise just seems content to blow stuff up real good, as Roger Ebert would say. And on that level, it works pretty well. At this point in the franchise, they're not aiming for much semblance to the real world- so you basically have McClane drive a car in to a helicoptor only about half an hour in. You just killed a helicoptor with a car" Matt says. "I was out of bullets'' McClane replies. It's a nice punchline to the scene, letting us know the filmmakers, and McClane, know how ridiculous this stuff is.
A big criticism of this film revolves how McClane seems more like a super hero than the regular cop he was in the first film. And that's true. But there is one scene in this film that I think really nails McClane. It's when Matt tells him McClane that's he's not like McClane, not the hero type. McClane then tells Matt that while he doesn't want to be a hero, some one has to do the right thing. If someone else could, he'd let them. This scene really encompasses what John McClane is all about- the reluctant hero who rather not have go through these crazy adventures but has to because, ultimately, he's a good guy, and no one else will. "That's what makes you that guy," Matt says- John's speech has proved Matt's point.
Back to the action! The fight between McClane and Gabriel's lover/henchwoman Mai (Maggie Q) in an SUV hanging in an elevator shaft is really well executed, and the climax involving McClane in a truck facing down a fighter jet, while ridiculous, is spectacular. The henchman Emerson, who's jumping around like Spider-Man, still feels out of place for me in a Die Hard film, but the stunt choreography in his scenes is pretty great.
The subplot involving McClane's attempt at reconciling with his daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), felt like it needed to be a bigger part of the film. At the heart of the first film was McClane trying to save his marriage- it was the metaphor of the first film. In this film, when Lucy is kidnapped, it feels more like a plot device then something that becomes an organic part of the film. I like Winstead and am glad they gave Lucy an assertiveness that becomes an amusing running gag in the third act- like father like daughter.
Overall, I don't have too much more to say about Live Free or Die Hard. I enjoy it, but I wish it felt a little more like the previous films. It still has the relentless pacing, the face-offs over the phone between McClane and the villain, but it feels a little too detached from the universe of the first three films. Still, I like Willis in this film, and his chemistry with Long. Olyphant is pretty solid and director Wiseman stages the action pretty coherently and with aplomb. I enjoy the film, but I think it'll always be somewhat of an outlier for me.
So, the retrospective is done. My ranking goes like this: Die Hard, Die Hard With a Vengeance, Die Hard 2, Live Free or Die Hard. Even without seeing A Good Day to Die Hard, I feel it'll probably come in dead last, due to what I've heard. It's been fun looking back at this franchise. I love it, and hope that when there's a sixth film, it's the last and takes the franchise out with a bang.
Monday, 18 February 2013
While rewatching Die Hard 2 I found myself liking the film more than I had before. Still, Die Hard With a Vengeance has a special place in my heart as my favourite of the Die Hard sequels- mostly because it gives itself more breathing room than Die Hard 2 did to be its own film. While Die Hard 2 is its own film, sometimes it does feel a little too sel-conscious of the original film, especially with its meta references to the "same shit happening to the same guy twice." Die Hard With A Vengeance definitely feels like the first Die Hard sequel that could've gotten by as another Bruce Willis action film (It was based off an original script that almost became Lethal Weapon 3) but this is what actually makes the film feel a lot fresher and inventive than most third installments. I think it's the funniest of the Die Hard films and also an interesting experiment in playing with audiences' franchise expectations.
The film begins with The Lovin' Spoonfuls' "Summer in the City" playing over images of a New York City day. This intro automatically sets the first apart from the Christmas settings of the first two films and also establishes that we're finally going to see John McClane (Bruce Willis) in his usual stomping grounds, whereas he was a fish out of water in the previou films. I love when the song is cut off by a store exploding- setting up the relentless pacing of this film. A man calling himself Simon (Jeremy Irons) calls Inspector Walter Cobb and tells him that he'll strike again unless the suspended McClane stands in the streets of Harlem with a sandwich board that says "I hate N-----s." McClane is spotted by a shop owner named Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson), who saves him from a gang. Simon then makes Zeus part of his game as he makes him and McClane solve riddles in order to stop more bombings.
The beginning of this film plays mostly like a psychological thriller and the film itself is psychologically playing with the audience's expectations of what a Die Hard film is like. We know ths franchise is a lot more than John McClane solving riddles- so we wonder what Simon and the film's endgame is, as well as how the scope scale of this film will expand. Of course, before long, McClane is jumping on the top of subway train that has a bomb in it. It's eventually revealed that Simon is Hans Gruber's (Alan Rickman) brother, which in itself is also a red herring. We begin to think that Simon wants revenge against McClane but a big joke near the end is that Simon didn't really like his brother. Of course, as Simon says, "There's a difference between not liking your brother and not caring when some Irish flatfoot throws him off a building." The whole riddle nonsense, the supposed bomb at an elementary school, the idea that Simon wants revenge on McClane- it's all a cover for Simon to steal gold from the New York federal reserve. While a big criticism of this film could be that it has too much bait-and-switch going on, I think it's this quality that makes it such a fascinating action film- as well as sequel. For the first time, it really feels like the villain gets the better of John McClane. In the first two films, McClane took th bad guys by surprise- this time the tables are turned.
While much of the film is a ruse, what I think will keep me coming back to the film is the throughline of McClane and Zeus' relationship. Zeus is somewhat of a racist- something that's both played for laughs but it also disquieting in its own way. Zeus' arc through the film involves get past his prejudices and learn to work with McClane. He's a fascinating character and I think this stands as one of Jackson's most vivid performances. The chemistry between him and Willis is sharp and funny- I love when McClane calls him "Jesus" because he thinks that what the gang was calling him. "They weren't saying 'Jesus,' they were saying "Hey, Zeus," Zeus tells him. "Father of Apollo. Don't fuck with me or I'll shove a lightning bolt up your ass." It's one of thos great details that's always brought this franchise to life. While a lot of people seem to hate the water jug riddle scene, I like how it brings to head the tensions between McClane and Zeus, with McClane finally calling him out as a rascist.
Who's awesome enough to play Alan Rickman's brother? Jeremy Irons of course. Just hearing his voice over the phone in the first act of this film gives me pleasure. It's fascinating how our impression of Simon changes over the course of the film- from a smart but random psychopath to a vengeful brother- to something else entirely. Like his brother Hans and Colonel Stuart from Die Hard 2, he's an extremely smart villain- one who we know is a formidable foe for McClane.
Admittedly, I don't like the action in this film as much as I do the the second film, but having John McTiernan, who directed the first film, back behind the camera is great. He brings a ruthless intensity to the staging of the action. I love the elevator fight between McClane and Simon's men who are pretending to be police officers- especially that final shot, the close-up of McClane as he fires his gun and blood sprays all over his face. The race to get to the subway- with McClane and Zeus driving a cab through Central Park is also pretty fun. The ending of the film does feel a little abrupt and not quite as memorable as the first two- the alternate ending is more interesting- but tonally I remember it not fitting with the rest of the film.
Die Hard With a Vengeance stands for me as one of the better third installments in cinema. While it's not as lean as its prequels, it's a consistently entertaining, very funny and structurally interesting take on the Die Hard franchise. And as an end to the original "trilogy," it's a good capper. Of course, while it would take 12 years, this wouldn't be the end of the Die Hard franchise, not by a long shot. Next up: Live Free or Die Hard.
Saturday, 16 February 2013
For better or worse, of all the Die Hard sequels, Die Hard 2 feels the most like a sequel to the original film, in terms of its tone, atmosphere, and returning characters. With this sequel we begin to see the problem, further highlighted by the next two installments, of making a sequel to Die Hard. Make a film too close to the formula of the original film, like Die Hard 2, and it makes the audience conscious of watching a sequel that's similar but not as great as the original. Make a sequel that's tonally and structurally different from the original, with Die Hard With a Vengeance and Live Free or Die Hard, and it feels like the series is departing too far from the original premise. All that being said, Die Hard 2, while sometimes feeling too conscious of being a sequel, and repeating several of the elements from the first film, manages to balance those formula elements while still feeling like its own film. It's as rock solid as a sequel can get and is one of the most entertaining action films of the 1990s.
The plot of the film revolves around General Ramon Esperanza (Franco Nero), drug lord and dictator, who is being extradited to the United States to stand trial for drug trafficking charges. Colonel Stuart (William Sadler), of the US Army Special Forces, and his men take over Washington's airport systems from a church and demand that Esperanza's plane not be met by anyone and also demand a plane so they can all escape to another country. Of course, guess who's also at the airport. That's right- John McClane (Bruce Willis). It's Christmas Eve again and his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) is on one of the planes that can't land wiithout landing lights and is running low on fuel. Once again McClane is "up to his ass in terrorists" and has to use his wits, and his gun, to save his wife and the other people up in the air as well.
This is where one of the problems of Die Hard 2 comes in. As I said earliier, the film is very conscious of being a sequel, particularly in McClane's reaction to the situtation. It's not a completely bad thing. We hear, in the confrontation between McClane and Carmine Lorenzo (Dennis Franz), captain of airport police, that McClane became famous for a while after the situation at Nakatomi. And Colonel Stuart tells McClane he thought he was out of his element while being interviewed on Nightline. These references give some nice texture to the Die Hard universe and grounds the film in reality- of course people would know who McClane was, even if they didn't respect him. On the other hand, when McClane says the line Oh man, I can't fucking believe this. Another basement, another elevator. How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?" It feels like the screenplay is laying it on a little too thick, and being a little too meta. While the line suits the everyman quality McClane posseses, it lends itself too much to parody and plays up the absurdity of the situation that would best be left unsaid.
I think Die Hard 2 is the most unnerving and terrifying of the Die Hard films, which is largely due to the scene is which Stuart, in response to McClane interfering, makes a plane crash by talking to its pilots. It's a harrowing and devastating scene, particularly in how McClane tries to make it pull up but fails. It's actually surprising that this scene made it in to the film- and in our post 9/11 age, it's even more unsettling. It's also in this scene where we see how ruthless Stuart can be. Sadler is utterly convincing as the calculated Stuart. He makes you really hate him, and as an aspiring actor myself, I admire him not being afraid to play such an unlikable character. He also has one of the most memorable introductions I've ever seen for a villain (nakes ti-chi!). He's not as great a villain as Alan Rickman's Hans but he's very memorable.
This film has some pretty strong action scenes, such as the catwalk ambush and the snowmobile chase. I love the scene where McClane has to eject himself from a plane cockpit to escape the villains' grenades. It provides the most memorable shots from the film. Renny Harlin, the finnish director who almost directed Alien 3 and would go on to direct the Sylvester Stallone film Cliffhanger, handles the action pretty well for his first big budget action film.
An essential component of the first Die Hard was the claustrophic surrounding that also allowed enough movement to create thrilling action. I like how this feel generates claustrophobia for McClane by having his wife stuck in the air- an interesting twist on the situation from the first film. McClane can leave the airport but he still needs to see this adventure through to the end. He also has to clash with Lorenzo, who wants nothing more than to kick McClane out of his airport. Franz is perfect as the arrogant blowhard Lorenzo but the character is pretty monotonous. I do like that when McClane finally makes Lorenzo take him seriously- via the blanks the supposedly "good guys" led by Major Grant (John Amos) were using against Stuart (Grant and his men are in cahoots with Stuart)- Lorenzo simply says "It's time to kick ass." It's a nice and simple way to show Lorenzo finally trusting McClane as well as ready to show he's not just a bureuacrat.
The film isn't quite as soulful as the first film, which at its heart was about a guy trying to fix his marriage. That was the metpahor for the entire film. In this film, Holly and McClane's marriage is doing well so having Holly being on board one of the planes is more of a plot device-albeit a relatable and emotional one for McClane. The movie isn't entirely soulless- McClane not being able to save the plane shows how McClane isn't the perfect action hero who can save everyone- and the reunion between Holly and McClane is touching. I do wish Richard "Dick" Thornburg (William Atherton) went through an arch of redemption rather than just be the same slimy reporter he was in the first film but I'm glad Holly is portrayed as an assertive woman rather than a damsel in distress.
Die Hard 2 is a very entertaining and well paced action film that's very lean and brutal- as well as unpretentious about what it wants to be. It's also arguably the only Die Hard sequel that feels like a sequel to Die Hard. It doesn't match the greatness of the first film but it's still a damn good film. Next up, probably my favourite of the Die Hard sequels: Die Hard With a Vengeance.
Wednesday, 13 February 2013
As a franchise goes along, it's sometimes hard to look at the first film in a series without thinking about the franchise's legacy and its evolution. Die Hard is one of those franchises that has gone so far past its initial premise and tone that one really has to put the first film in its proper context to fully appreciate what it was doing in regards to its central character, New York city detective John McClane, and the casting of Bruce Willis in the part. When Willis was first cast in the role, he was not the iconic action star we see him as now. He wasn't an action star at all back then- he was mostly known for his work on the TV show Moonlighting. Willis wasn't made in the Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone mold, both who defined the macho, unstoppable action hero of the 1980s. He was just a regular joe who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is what the original Die Hard was all about, a regular guy who has to step up and be a hero. And, after rewatching it, it's a great antithesis to the over the top action movies of the 80s as well as the James Bond films which had made Ian Fleming's creation more superhero than spy. Though, to be fair, by time Die Hard came out, Timothy Dalton was bringing Bond back down to Earth with his underrated portrayal of the character. But I digress. Die Hard is arguably the definitve action movie of the 80s, in that, as I said before, it subverted audience expectations of what an action movie could be .
The plot is simple. John McClane is a New York City detective who is visting L.A. on Christmas Eve to visit his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), who works at Nakatomi Plazza under her maiden name, Gennarro-due to it being a Japanese company for which she works. After they get in a fight over her using her maiden name and leaving New York with their two children, a group of terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) takes over the building to break in to its vault. McClane hides while hostages are being rounded up and precedes to start a one man war against the terrorists.
The Nakatomi building is a great one-location setting for the film, in that it allows for a claustophobic, grounded environment to stage the action, but is also big enough for the action to build as the LAPD and the FBI arrive and try to solve the situation. Over the past several films there's been a lot of talk about the realism injected in to the Batman and James Bond franchises, as well as the new Spider-Man film. And while it's true that Nolan's Batman trilogy and the Daniel Craig Bond film feel more grounded in reality than many of their predeceding films, I think Die Hard pre-dates those films in terms of creating an action film and hero that feels grounded in reality. I'm not saying everything in the film is completely realistic- McClane jumps from the rooftop just as it's rigged to explode with a fire hose wrapped around his waist- then it supports him even as the rooftop is on fire. But the thing is, it feels grounded in reality- which I think is largely due to Willis' performance- the way he says "God please don't let me die" before he makes the jump. It's an incredibly human moment and makes the jump/explosion all the more spectacular. This is a real guy escaping death by the skin of his teeth- and Willis sells that. Willis balances the wisecracks and one liners, his confidence in facing Hans, as well McClane's vulnerbility, his unsurety that he will survive this ordeal. It's a performance that I would argue was worthy of an Oscar nomination.
And speaking of Oscar snubs, where was the nomination for Alan Rickman's performance as Hans? Part of why Die Hard will always be the best of the Die Hard films is that Hans is still the best villain of the series. Rickman makes Hans surprisingly likable, despite being very ruthless. Much of this is due to his dry sense of humour. I think my favourite scene with Rickman is when one of the hostages, Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner) tries to negotiate with Hans by telling him he can get him McClane. In this scene, while Ellis is putting on a show for Hans, Rickman has a "Is this guy for real?" look on his face which is priceless. What I also like about Hans is he's pretty smart- he doesn't really do anything in the film that stupid, which makes him a formidable foe for McClane. And just how McClane isn't a superhero, Hans isn't a super villain like some of the James Bond villains, he feels grounded in reality.
I also think Die Hard is actually one of the great unsung buddy cop films. Throughout most of the film, McClane communicates via cb radio with Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), the only one outside the building who supports McClane and knows he's trying to help.While they don't meet face to face until the end, they form a connection and we learn about Powell's tragic past- he shot and killed a kid at night whose toy gun looked real. After that, he tells, John, he could bring himself to pull his gun on anyone. At the end of the film, when the last remaining terrorist Karl (Alexander Godunov), who we believed was killed by McClane, reappears, Al is finally able to fire his gun again. It's a great character payoff and is enough to give you goosebumps.
While Die Hard is a pure action movie, it's also a lot about the build up to the action, and suspense is expertly handled by director John McTiernan. The concept of "chaos cinema," meaning action films that have incoherent action, is one that's prevalent in our discussion of modern action films. With Die Hard, the action is coherent and classically staged. There's a great overhead shot early on while McClane is shooting at terrorists on the roof. We see where everyone is and the shot is fascinatlingly detached, particulalry in this era of action film where the acton is so hetic and has no breathing room.
Die Hard is pretty much a perfect action film- and just film in general- It blends intense action with genunine poignancy- McClane and Al's face to face meeting is beautiful, as well as McClane telling Al to tell Holly he's sorry- and is intelligently staged in terms of its action. While I enjoy the sequels, none has been able to completely recapture the original's magic. Those are my thoughts for part 1. Next time: Die Hard 2: Die Harder
Monday, 4 February 2013
Last week, some big casting news was announced regarding the sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man. Paul Giamatti is in talks to play one of Spider-Man's villains, the Rhino. For those who don't know the Rhino, here's a brief summary via The Hollywood Reporter:
"The Rhino first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #41 in 1966 as a thug from a Soviet Block country who wore a superhuman suit that made him invulnerable while giving him super-strength and super-speed. It also had a deadly horn
on top. In more recent comics, he became a sympathetic figure who found himself allying with Spider-Man."
What's fascinating about the inclusion of the Rhino in the film is certainly the casting of Giamatti, not a psychically intimidating actor. With Giamatti in the role, the film will probably emphasize the suit's ability to give him super strength, providing a contrast between the ordinary man Giamatti starts out as and the unstoppable force he becomes.
Giamatti will be joining Jamie Foxx as Electro, another of Spider-Man's rogues gallery. With two villains, along with the inclusion of Dan DeHaan as Harry Osborn and Shailene Woodley as Mary Jane Watson, as well as Felicity Jones in talks for an undisclosed role, it's starting to feel that the film may be juggling too many balls. And the idea of a Spider-Man film cramming in too many characters and subplots brings to mind Spider-Man 3, which suffered from not being able to weave its multiple plotlines together coherently. Now, I'm not trying to be an alarmist- it's just that I felt The Amazing Spider-Man script didn't quite flow narratively or click together thematically as well as it should have. I hope the script for the next film is tighter and works really well as a stand alone film.
For one thing, it's important to know how to use your villains. One needs to be the central villain, which I presume will be Electro. It's apparent that Harry's father, Norman Osborn, is the one pulling the strings in this new franchise, so it's important to keep that villain structure in mind while still having Electro be a fully developed character rather than just a henchman. Foxx has talked about Electro's origins, saying at the beginning of the film that Max Dillon, Electro's real name, will be a Spider-Man fan:
"You'll see that in his whole life, no one is talking to him. People have stolen his ideas at the big company. He's a nobody. At a certain point, Spider-Man bumps into him and says, 'You're my guy. You're my eyes and ears on the street.' And he says his name - no one has ever said [Max] Dillon's name. He goes, 'Wow' and, when Spider-Man leaves, he sort of thinks that, 'I am Spider-Man's partner!' He's cutting out Spider-Man's face and pasting it on all his boards..."
Could Rhino be an established villain at the beginning of the film, with Electro getting the main villain origin? Possibly, especially since, judging from Foxx's comments, Max will have an emotional connection to Spider-Man that will put his orgin front and centre. Then again, if Rhino has any connection to Oscorp and Curt Connor's cross species genetics work, we could definitely be seeing an origin on screen for him as well. Will there be a team up between Electro and Rhino?- if director Marc Webb is leading up his version of the Sinister Six, then a relationship between Electro and Rhino could be planting the seeds for a future installment also featuring the return of Curt Connors/the Lizard. Critic Sean O'Connell recently wrote an article about the possible universe Marc Webb is mapping out: http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Opinion-Marc-Webb-Isn-t-Making-Sequel-He-Mapping-Out-Massive-Spider-Man-Universe-35385-p2.html. While I have disagreed with O'Connell regarding certain aspects of The Amazing Spider-Man, his article is definitely worth checking out.
So, who will Felicity Jones play? People are throwing around two big names-Felicia Hardy, aka the Black Cat, the Marvel Universe's version of Catwoman and Betty Brant, who in the comics works at the Daily Bugle. While I kind of love the idea of Andrew Garfield's Spider-Man interacting with Black Cat, I wonder if Black Cat fits in with what this franchise is doing right now. It may also be a little too soon after The Dark Knight Rises and Anne Hathaway's performace as Catwoman to bring in another cat burglar character. And finally, the romantic dynamic of this new film already seems to be set up as a love triangle involving Peter Parker, Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy and Shailene Woodley's Mary Jane. Felicia/Black Cat was one of Peter' romantic interests in the comics, so the filmmakers may want to avoid putting in another possible love interest. This isn't to say that Felicia is only defined by a romantic relationship with a man.
I'm leaning a little towards Betty Brant. The Daily Bugle will probably feature in some compacity in the next film, which would lead to Betty having a role. Elizabeth Banks played Betty in Sam Raimi's trilogy and the character may have a larger role in this film. In the comics, Betty was actually Peter's first love, even before Gwen. It wasn't essential to Raimi's trilogy and it may not be of importance in this trilogy, since as I mentioned earlier, the romantic triangle centres around Peter, Gwen, and Mary Jane. And like Felicia, Betty doesn't need to be defined by a romantic relationship with Peter.
So, those are pretty much my thoughts as of now. Despite my issues with the first film, I'm very intrigued by what direction this sequel, and franchise, is going.