Day: February 14, 2013

A Good Day To Die Hard

A-Good-Day-to-Die-Hard-2013-Movie-Banner-Poster

2013

20th Century Fox

Directed by John Moore

Produced by Alex Young

Screenplay by Skip Woods

Based on characters created by Roderick Thorp

I come by my love of the “Die Hard” franchise honestly. I saw the original “Die Hard” during its original theatrical run in the summer of 1988 at least half a dozen times. It’s a movie that did a lot of amazing things: it launched the career of Bruce Willis who up until then had been known as the star of a comedic private eye show called “Moonlighting.” It created an entire sub-genre of action movie. For years afterwards movie theaters were flooded with copycat movies about a lone hero, isolated from any help having to fight off an army of well-armed opponents. But “Die Hard” remains at the top of the pyramid. Many people consider it the greatest action movie ever made. For me it’s the second greatest (sorry, folks, but for me nothing beats John Woo’s “Hard Boiled”) and it is certainly one of my favorite Christmas movies.

Naturally a movie as extraordinarily successful as “Die Hard” has to have sequels. “Die Hard 2: Die Harder” is almost as good as the first but for me “Die Hard With A Vengeance” is my favorite and in some ways I think it’s a better movie than the original. “Live Free or Die Hard” came under a lot of heat from fans of the series as well as critics as now John McClane wasn’t just a New York cop with a stubborn streak that can’t be broken. He got elevated to superhero status, saving the entire country from a cyber-terrorist attack. I’m not as hard on “Live Free or Die Hard” as I’m going to be on A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD because the one thing “Live Free or Die Hard” has in common with all the other movies in the series that A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD doesn’t have is that it’s fun to watch.

NYPD detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) learns that his son Jack (Jai Courtney) is imprisoned in Russia for a multitude of crimes, including murder. John heads to Russia to help his son out, despite the fact that they haven’t spoken in years. John arrives at the courthouse just in time to see Jack escape with Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch) a whistleblower who has a secret file containing damning evidence against Komarov’s former partner Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov) The evidence concerns secret sales of weapon grade plutonium that could put Chagarin behind bars for life. It turns out that Jack McClane is a CIA agent who has been undercover for three years, working to get close to Komarov so that the CIA can get their hands on the file and the plutonium. Jack’s partner is killed and his cover compromised. The only ally he can now rely on is the father he can’t stand. Lucky for him his father has been doing this kind of thing for 25 years. Being outnumbered and outgunned is nothing new for John McClane and his son is a quick learner.

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My main problem with A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD is this: John McClane in his previous movies is a regular guy. He’s just a cop who has the misfortune every so often to find himself in opposition against enemies who are better equipped and yes, smarter than he is. The main thing John McClane has going for him is his never-say-die-never-give-up Die Hard spirit that pulls him through his harrowing, bloody adventures. John McClane is a reluctant hero who gets involved in thwarting the grandiose schemes of the bad guys simply because there is nobody else around to do so. Remove that element from the character and there’s something really vital and essential missing from the character’s makeup.

We don’t get that John McClane here. There’s a part in the movie where it’s made pretty clear that there’s nothing left to be done and John can take his son and go home. His decision at that point in the movie is pretty arbitrary to me. But we’ll argue about that after you see the movie.

What else didn’t I like? The “Die Hard” movies all had memorable, entertaining supporting characters and villains. Not so here. In fact the villain’s plan in this movie is so unnecessarily complicated that I get a headache thinking about it. McClane doesn’t have a sidekick anywhere near the level of Sgt. Al Powell, Zeus Carver or Matt Farrell. The relationship with his son didn’t convince me at all. Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney have no chemistry together and certainly they ain’t no Sean Connery and Harrison Ford. I heard that at one point there was consideration that the mother of the Gruber brothers would be the villain in this movie. Anything would be better than the villains we get in A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD. There’s nothing remarkable or flamboyant or memorable about them. But there are a whole lot of ‘em to kill off, I’ll say that for ‘em.

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What did I like? There are some really eye-popping action sequences. But they’re so eye-popping that they make the stunts in the original “Die Hard” seem downright realistic. Remember in that one, John McClane ran over broken glass with bare feet and through the rest of the movie they bled? In this movie McClane jumps through at least three plate glass windows without a scratch. If you’re looking for nothing but action, you will be more than satisfied. I got no complaints with that aspect of the movie.

But I just didn’t get the same feeling of fun and excitement from A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD I get when I watch the previous “Die Hard” movies,  It’s a solid, professionally made action movie that delivers the goods. But it’s a disappointing “Die Hard” movie.

Rated R

97 minutes

Same Time, Next Year

Same Time Next Year

 

 

1978                           

Universal Pictures

Directed by Robert Mulligan

Produced by Walter Mirisch and Morton Gottlieb

Written by Bernard Slade based on his play

Romantic comedies are most definitely not my favorite genre of movie when I sit down to be entertained by a movie.  I’d rather go get a tooth pulled than have to sit through anything resembling a romantic comedy because when you talk about predictable story and overwrought acting, that’s the genre that specializes in that kinda stuff.  But even a stone-hearted boor such as myself has to admit that there have been a couple of movies in the genre that I have managed to sit through mainly because they’re somewhat different from the usual romantic comedy in terms of story and acting I submit for your approval SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR

George (Alan Alda) and Doris (Ellen Burstyn) are staying separately at the same California resort inn on the Monterey coast one weekend in 1951.  He’s there on business to do the taxes for a client who owns a winery and she’s there because her husband and her kids are visiting her mother-in-law and the mother-in-law cannot stand Doris who she thinks tricked her son into getting married. So Doris tells her husband she’s going to a Catholic retreat so he won’t worry about her being alone.  One night George and Doris are the only ones having dinner in the inn’s main dining room.  They look up, their eyes meet, they smile and before they know it, they’re having dessert and coffee and they talk.  And talk.  And talk.  And before they know it, it’s the next day, they’re waking up in each other’s arms and they’re in love.

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Neither one of them wants to leave their spouses.  They both have responsibilities to their children and the people they have back home.  So they hit on a novel arraignment: every year on the same weekend they’ll stay at the same inn in the same room and spend a weekend together.  And it’s an arraignment that lasts for 26 years through laughter, tragedy, good times and bad.

Now some might question the morality of this arraignment and see it as an endorsement of adultery.  And certainly George and Doris never even bring up the question of not starting the affair or breaking it up at any time during the movie.  And as we never see their spouses (we get to know them through the stories George and Doris tell) we can’t judge how those relationships are.  George and Doris appear to be happy and secure in their marriages and they don’t have a reason to be cheating.  But I think the movie is trying to show two people who if they had met under the right circumstances could have married and had an extremely happy and satisfying life together.  It’s like that old song says: “It’s sad to belong to someone else when the right one comes along.”

During the course of the movie we see how the couple grow and develop along with the changing attitudes of the country.  Doris goes from being a somewhat naïve suburban housewife to anti-Vietnam War protestor /middle-aged college student to sharp and confident businesswoman.  George starts out as a high strung, neurotic accountant who is comically unsure of himself, goes to 70’s therapy addict and finally ends up as a mature adult man who is able to see himself for what he is, deal with it and be happy.   It’s quite a range for both of the actors as they’re on screen every minute of the movie.  It was based on a play and the movie is virtually like a play since except for a few brief scenes that take place in the inn’s dining room and outside the cabin they stay in, the whole movie takes place indoors with just the two characters talking.

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Alan Alda’s performance at the beginning of the movie is the one thing that might make you want to stop watching the movie.  He really overacts badly during the scenes where Doris is having a baby and (no, it’s not his) and for a brief few minutes turns the movie from light romantic comedy to almost Jerry Lewis style nuttiness.  He’s much better in the later scenes where he’s playing an older, more sedate George, especially during a painful scene where George has to tell Doris why he has changed from a happy-go-lucky liberal democrat to an almost fascist, bitter Republican.

Ellen Burstyn is clearly the better actor of the two and she knows how to play this material for all it’s worth due to her experience in Neil Simon comedies as well as having done this play on Broadway and one of the best things about the movie is watching her character grow and develop.  It’s almost a history lesson on the woman’s movement from the 1950’s to the 1970’s watching Doris change fashions and attitudes.

SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR doesn’t have what I would call a conclusion.  Instead it has a resolution that some might find unbearably corny but I thought fitted the tone of the movie just right and was the only way that these two characters could have ended up.  It’s a sweet little movie that I think is probably closer in realism to how a lot of married people conduct affairs rather than the cutesy-poo convoluted over plotting of most romantic comedies.  The actors are good, the characters are likeable and I have to admit that by the ending credits when the theme song by Johnny Mathis and Jane Oliver swelled into full sentimental mode I found myself pretending I had something in my eye.

Rated PG

119 minutes