Damn Terrorists, Get Off My Lawn! – A Good Day To Die Hard (2013)

A Good Day To Die Hard (2013)
Director: John Moore
Stars: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch

A Good Day To Die Hard is the fifth film in the Die Hard franchise. The original Die Hard premiered all the way back in 1988 and quickly became a classic action movie, launching Bruce Willis’s career as an action star. The series slowly went downhill from there with Die Hard 2: Die Harder and Die Hard With A Vengeance receiving lower and lower reviews. Live Free or Die Hard came out in 2007 after a 12-year series hiatus and was widely praised as being on par with the original. 20th Century Fox probably should have left well enough alone.

AGDTDH opens with a pair of Russians being corrupt at each other, then an apparently Russian guy shooting another Russian, and then John McClane in an NYPD shooting range chatting with a friend who gives him a file on his long-lost son (who until this moment was only a picture on Holly Generro’s desk in the first movie) who *gasp* is the apparently Russian shooter. That’s about as surprising as the plot twists get.

Is Moscow always this loud?From there we see Daddy McClane fly to Moscow, meet a stereotypical quirky cabbie, then get caught in the chaos that’s the hallmark of the Die Hard series. He’s supposedly flown to Moscow to see his son get his day in court, but when everything starts blowing up and going to hell he doesn’t turn into the man of action we expect to see in a Die Hard movie. Instead McClane just sort of stands around, squinting this way and that as if wondering where all that noise and smoke is coming from. When he finds his son escaping from the courthouse with another Russian in tow and other guys shooting at them, he doesn’t try to hustle them to cover or fight the shooters or offer to drive the getaway vehicle. Instead he stops and yells at him like he’s ten years old. Cue the car chase through morning rush hour traffic as McClane Jr and friend try to escape from the bad guys with John McClane chasing them both, all the while whining and complaining.

Eventually father and son are reunited and escape the bad guys and find some shelter only to have more bad guys show up and get things moving again. There’s a meeting to get an Important Thing with a double cross you can see coming a kilometer away. There’s more shooting, this time including a Hind attack chopper. The McClanes steal a car full of firearms and then hightail it to Chernobyl for a climax that involves sneaking around, questionable radiation problems, another double cross, a lot more shooting, and more helicopter hijinks. In the end, father and son fly back to the US and they and daughter Lucy (from Live Free or Die Hard) all walk off into the sunset.

Honk honk!The action scenes were decent enough, though I’m not sure they deserved the Die Hard name. The car chase in the beginning had tons of rapid-fire cutaways and camera zooms, but that didn’t help disguise the fact that it was just slow. There was a delivery van, a wheeled APC, and a flatbed truck. The chase was less about “drive fast and try to not hit things” and all about “hit all the things.” I’m pretty sure a sizable chunk of the movie’s budget was spent on cars to wreck just in the opening act.

John McClane’s entire reason for going to Russia in the first place never really gels either. At first he goes because his estranged son’s in jail, but when he gets there he just keeps pissing and moaning about how he’s supposed to be on vacation. Jai Courtney does a decent job as Jack McClane but Bruce Willis just seems like a grumpy old man who just wants all the shooting and fuss to stop so he can get back to his pudding cup. Don’t get me wrong; he can still run-and-gun just fine, but I lost track of all the times he whined about something or grunted, “Jesus!” when the bullets were flying. Even his trademark “yippee kai-yay motherfucker” line is delivered with all the vigor of a man who just woke up from a post-Thanksgiving dinner nap.

It's Chernobyl, who's going to notice?The movie is almost 30 minutes shorter than any of the other four movies, and it didn’t really wrap things up so much as just run out of stuff to do. After the big pie fight at the end we’re simply treated to a slow-motion reunion of father, son, and daughter on American soil, as if the McClanes said, “Welp, we’ve pretty much blown the shit out of everyone and everything. Guess we’ll head home now.” I think Bruce Willis is still a fine action star, but after AGDTDH I think the Die Hard franchise has pretty much run its course.

It's OK - 3 stars out of 5

+12 Years And Still Waiting – 2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey (film)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had the good fortune to catch “2001: A Space Odyssey” in the theater a few weeks ago. I’d gone to see “The Hobbit” and they just so happened to be showing “2001” in XD Digital projection as a special one-day engagement. I’ve seen it before, of course. I think most nerds my age have. But it was always on cable, or VHS, or DVD, never in an actual theater. Cinemark‘s XD Digital presentations are pretty good, so switching movies wasn’t a hard decision to make. “The Hobbit” wasn’t going anywhere.

It was really something else to see Kubrick’s vision of the future again. The movie was released in 1968, a year before we’d put a man on the Moon, and here it was presenting a world where space travel was common enough that airlines (Pan Am, which doesn’t even exist anymore) had their own spaceplanes and hotel chains (a Hilton in the movie) were on space stations. It was all the more striking given the current state of spaceflight. The Space Shuttle, the “space truck” that was supposed to herald a bold new future of cheap space travel, is history now. There’s only been a handful of space stations since Apollo and certainly nothing that had anything like a Hilton onboard. With the demise of the shuttle program we’re going back to capsules with Orion. We’re still a long, long way from moonbuses.

Kubrick went to great lengths to make it as realistic as possible, but of course it’s all based on what was thought possible in the 60’s. Again, this is really interesting to see today because, in a way, this is a bit of a time capsule. We were going to the Moon and nothing was going to stop us! We had high hopes and high expectations; it was this mindset that prompted an integrated space plan that would culminate with a man on Mars by 1982 (it was in fact this plan that helped shepherd in the Space Shuttle). Heady times indeed.

Arguably the most successful space endeavor right now is Space X, an entirely private company, and it’s looking more and more likely that serious future space exploration will be primarily driven by private enterprise. There are companies with designs on mining near-Earth asteroids and more than one company that’s talking about putting people on Mars. Maybe, in this sense, Kubrick got it right. He was just a few decades early.

2001's Discovery miniature

2001’s “Discovery One,” shown launching a workpod. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was great to see Discovery One sailing past, thirty feet long on the big screen and stark white against the blackness of space, and to hear Also sprach Zarathustra thundering in true surround sound. There’s a reason “2001” is on so many “best movies of all time” lists. Kubrick went the extra mile with its special effects, with some taking more than a year to execute on film. The results can still stand toe-to-toe with some of the CGI effects of today, over 40 years later.

It’s a movie you experience as much as watch. There are long stretches at the beginning and end where there’s no dialogue at all, where we’re watching things happen in front of us without anyone talking or even (except in two cases) any sort of musical accompaniment to tell us how to feel. We’re dropped into this story with very little background and things are presented as status quo. Travel to the Moon for a meeting is as remarkable as catching a flight from New York to Miami, with in-flight meals and a movie. And once you’re there everyone’s wearing regular clothes, suits and ties, having a regular meeting where a guy stands at a podium to address people. Kubrick didn’t want flashy spaceships and uniforms and all the sci-fi trappings that were common in movies back then. He didn’t want to make fun of the future. He wanted to show it for what it was, or what it could be. Maybe people really will visit Jupiter one day. “2001” is still a great movie, but with the passage of time its sense of “what could be” has turned into “what could have been,” and that makes it a little bittersweet for me.