Bruce Willis

Better In The Dark #83: Since No One Else Is Around: The DIE HARD Series

john-mcclane-die-hard-poster_100315402_l

 

The Guys Outta Brooklyn welcome Tennessee’s own Donovan Morgan Grant to pay tribute to the Action Movie Everyman, John McClane. The trio cover all four films in the series, from the trendsetting DIE HARD to the befuddlingly superheroic LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD. Plus, because we never stay on point when we’ve got a guest star, the guys get to talking about scripted “reality shows,” the massive ego of Steven Seagal, and why moviemakers don’t know jack about cyber-terrorists. Plus, we announce a new contest where you can win some cool books and plot the next installment of McClane’s adventures! Welcome to the party, pal – and get to clicking!

http://www.betterinthedarksite.com/episode-archives/episodes-81-90/

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.

a-good-day-to-die-hard-movie-still

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.

A-Good-Day-to-Die-Hard

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

Sunset

1988

TriStar Pictures

Directed by Blake Edwards

Produced by Tony Adams

Screenplay by Blake Edwards

Story by Rod Amateau

Some movies I can just never figure out why they become major hits at the box office while a movie like SUNSET goes virtually ignored. It’s a movie that deserves more of an audience than it’s enjoyed, especially now that there’s such an interest in pulp adventure because that’s exactly what SUNSET is. Pure pulp from start to finish and starring two of the most likable actors in Hollywood history and they know how to play this material the way Liberace knew how to play the piano.

It’s Hollywood, 1929 and the movie industry is making the transition from silent to sound films. Movie producer and studio boss Alfie Alperin  (Malcolm McDowell) wants to make a big epic about legendary United States Marshall Wyatt Earp. Alperin pressures the equally legendary western actor Tom Mix (Bruce Willis) to star in the movie and mostly as a publicity stunt hires Wyatt Earp himself (James Garner) as technical advisor. Now, I’m pretty sure you know something about Wyatt Earp but I don’t know how much you know about Tom Mix. In short, let’s just say that he pretty much defined the image of the Western Hero in movies during the 20th Century. He’s a guy worth doing your homework on as he’s had such an influence on pop culture he’s been featured in novels written by Philip Jose Farmer, mentioned in an episode of “Doctor Who” and has been a supporting character in the DC Elseworlds one-shot “Batman/Houdini: The Devil’s Worskhop.”

Wyatt Earp and Tom Mix actually get along quite well together and that comes in handy because they’ve hardly started working on the movie before they have to start working on a case of murder involving an old girlfriend of Earp’s who’s now married to Alfie Alperin. The case leads them to a high-class brothel owned by Cheryl King (Mariel Hemingway) who makes it clear to Earp right from the start that she’s got a thing for older men. Nudge nudge wink wink. Mix has got his hands full with his own girlfriend Nancy (Kathleen Quinlan) who, like any good girlfriend in a movie of this sort knows a little too much than she should and gets captured one to many times but that’s okay because then we get to see Our Heroes rescue her.

I have a hunch why SUNSET wasn’t a hit in theaters. Given that Bruce Willis was mostly known for his hit TV show “Moonlighting” at the time and James Garner is regarded mostly as a light comedic actor, audiences were probably expecting a comedy romp. SUNSET does have its humorous moments but it’s a straight-up murder mystery that I think Raymond Chandler would be proud of to have written. And it’s as complicated as a Chandler mystery as well. Earp and Mix have to navigate their way through crooked cops and the even more crooked studio executives who pay them off. It’s a pretty dark depiction of Hollywood and a story you have to pay attention to between the fistfights and wisecracks.

Both James Garner and Bruce Willis are plain, flat-out fun to watch. This is the second time James Garner has played Wyatt Earp and he’s great. His Earp is a guy who’s been around and he knows how things work. Especially in a town as corrupt as Hollywood. People see James Garner as mostly a light comedic actor but he can play just as tough as he demonstrates several times in this movie. Bruce Willis as Tom Mix holds his own with his far more experienced co-star and I think it’s because Willis as Mix probably did the same thing Willis in real-life did: he didn’t try to bullshit his co-star. Willis as Mix knows he’s a movie cowboy and doesn’t try to pretend he’s anything other than that. But during the course of their adventure he more than earns the respect of Garner as Earp and I strongly suspect he did so in real life as they worked on this movie.

Only thing I didn’t like about this movie? Malcolm McDowell plays a character that’s blatantly based on Charlie Chaplin and given the horrendously monstrous nature of Alfie Alperin the performance leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But he does make for a terrific bad guy, along with E. Emmet Walsh as a crooked studio cop, Richard Bradford as a corrupt police captain and Joe Dallesandro as a mobster.

What else did I like about SUNSET? It’s got two of my favorite and most beautiful actresses of the 1980’s: Mariel Hemingway and Kathleen Quinlan. ‘Nuff said. And there’s terrific music provided by Henry Mancini. Bruce Willis wears this all black outfit with roses that I wish I could wear. But I think he and I are equal in doing the tango. The comradeship of Wyatt Earp and Tom Mix as two genuinely tough guys having an adventure and enjoying it while they build a friendship. The scene of them riding to rescue Nancy. Their gunfight with a bunch of thugs that causes Wyatt Earp to have flashbacks to the O.K. Corral.

So should you see SUNSET? Absolutely. If you’re a fan of pulp adventure then I’d put this on your must see of movies along with “The Phantom” “Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow” The Indiana Jones Movies and “The Rocketeer.” The period flavor is perfect, the performances are marvelous and yes, the story takes liberties with historical fact but who gives a damn? As far as you’re concerned, it’s all true.

Give or take a lie or two.

102 minutes

Rated R

Looper

2012

Film District/TriStar Pictures

Written and Directed by Rian Johnson

Produced by Ram Bergman and James D. Stern

It wasn’t until I got back home and was able to look up information on LOOPER that I realized that the director of this movie also wrote and directed “Brick.” Now that really threw me for a loop (sorry, couldn’t resist) because I loved “Brick” and thought it highly original and couldn’t take my eyes off the screen while watching it. But in the case of LOOPER I kept thinking of other movies such as “The Terminator” and “The Fury”and looking at my watch wondering when it was going to be over with.

Joe Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works as a Looper in the year 2044. His job is a simple and extremely lucrative one. In the year 2074 time travel has been invented and then promptly outlawed. Organized crime bosses get hold of the technology and use it to send people they want killed back in time to 2044 where a Looper waits to dispose of them. The job comes with one hell of a retirement clause. When a Looper’s time is up in 2074 he’s sent back in time to be killed by his younger self in 2044.

This is the dilemma that faces Joe when his older self (Bruce Willis) is sent back in time. But Old Joe manages to escape being killed at the hands of his younger self. He explains to Young Joe that in 2074 there’s a criminal mastermind called The Rainmaker who is closing all Looper contracts. Old Joe sent himself back in time and intends to find The Rainmaker who in 2044 is a ten year old child. Old Joe intends to kill him, thereby changing the future and preventing the murder of Old Joe’s wife.  Young Joe really doesn’t care. He’s happy with his life the way it is and as long as Old Joe is still alive he’s on the run from his boss Abe (Jeff Daniels) who himself is from future and manages the Loopers. Abe has his elite crew of enforcers, The Gat Men who are hunting both Young and Old Joe.

Thanks to a piece of a map he manages to get from Old Joe, Joe has the location of one of Old Joe’s targets, a boy named Cid (Pierce Gagnon) who lives on a farm with his mother Sara (Emily Blunt.) Sara isn’t inclined to let Joe stay at all but he’s able to persuade her that they need his protection. Turns out that they may all need protection from Cid who possesses incredibly powerful telekinetic powers that enable him to strip flesh from bone with just a thought.  Will Cid’s power tip the scales in Joe’s favor when it comes time for the showdown between Old Joe and Young Joe? And can Cid’s power protect him from Old Joe who is convinced he will grow up to become The Rainmaker?

LOOPER has gotten wonderful reviews and I can’t help but think that maybe it’s me that’s got it wrong as plenty of reviewers see something in the movie that simply escapes me. The movie takes itself far too seriously for my taste. It sets up a wonderful situation but takes it into a dour and dark direction that I really didn’t like. I was looking forward to a lot more between Old and Young Joe and didn’t get it. Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt have a surprisingly short amount of screen time together.

And maybe it’s just me but it seemed to me that certainly there must be more efficient ways of killing people and disposing of their bodies than sending them back in time. I also didn’t like how the movie abruptly changes gears halfway through and almost becomes a brand new movie with all new characters by the time we get to the farmhouse. Then we have to be dragged back to the movie that we started watching forty-five minutes ago so that everything can be rushed to the conclusion. It’s not even exhilarating to see Bruce Willis mowing down hoards of Gat Men with a pair of machine guns as you would think it would be. And that’s because I got the impression that somebody just up and thought there should be a scene of Bruce Willis with machine guns in each hand because it’s expected. And don’t get me started on the ‘romance’ between Joe and Sara which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

As does the whole subplot of Cid having telekinetic abilities. Early on in the movie we’re told that due to some random mutation, 10% of the population has telekinetic powers. Most people can barely lift a quarter or a Zippo lighter but Cid can destroy whole houses if he gets pissed off enough.

Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt I’m willing to give a pass on this one because I’ve enjoyed their work so much in past movies. But I’m still disappointed in both of their performances. The wonderfully named Piper Perabo is wasted in her miniscule role as Young Joe’s showgirl girlfriend. Pierce Gagnan is actually quite good as Cid and he’s got a really nice scene with Gordon-Levitt where he explains his family background while tinkering with electronic gizmos he’s built himself. What little humor there is in the movie comes from Jeff Daniels. He kept me chuckling with his sly hints to people on a course of action that they should take and when they question him on why they should do that, he sighs wearily and says, “I’m from the future, remember?”

So should you see LOOPER? I’m going to give it a grudging recommendation. It could just be that I was looking for a different type of movie and didn’t get it which accounts for my disappointment. I will say that this isn’t simply an action movie in sci-fi drag so if you are in the mood for a serious piece of science fiction in your current movie diet then LOOPER may be just your main course.

118 minutes

Rated R

The Expendables 2

Directed by Simon West

Produced by Avi Lerner

Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone and Richard Wenk

Story by Ken Kaufman, David Agosto and Richard Wenk

Based on characters created by David Callaham

If they continue on making them this entertaining and this much fun, they can make Expendables movies from now until the lid is slammed shut on me. They last time I had this much fun watching a movie was when I saw “The Avengers” and for a lot of the same reason: I felt like I was watching a lot of old friends that I’ve known for years together at last. And like “The Avengers” which put together a bunch of classic Marvel superheroes on screen at the same time for the first time, THE EXPENDABLES 2 finally gives up what the first “Expendables” only teased us with. At last The Holy Trinity of Action Heroes (Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis) standing shoulder to shoulder blasting the hell outta the bad guys.  It’s a stand-up and cheer moment for sure and it only gets better when none other than Chuck Norris joins the party.

But before that we get an absolutely outlandishly kick-ass pre-credits sequence where The Expendables invade Nepal to rescue a Chinese businessman. The old crew is back together: leader Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) knife specialist Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) martial artist Yin Yang (Jet Li) demolitions expert Toll Road (Randy Couture) weapons specialist Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) and sniper Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren.) They also have a new member: Billy The Kid (Liam Hemsworth) because you can never have enough snipers.

After the Nepal rescue, Barney is approached by CIA spook Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) who still is not happy about the way the Vilena mission The Expendables undertook for him went down. He proposes a new mission to clean the slate. Barney will take on another new member, technical expert Maggie (Yu Nan) and fly to Albania to recover an item from a crashed airplane. The Expendables do so, only to have the item stolen from them by Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his private terrorist army, The Sangs. Maggie reveals that the item is a computer that contains the blueprints for an abandoned Soviet Cold War era mine being used to store five tons of plutonium. Vilain and his right hand man Hector (Scott Adkins) have some really wicked plans for this plutonium.   It’s up to The Expendables to stop Vilain and if they have to blow up the country to save the world…well, that’s just what they’ll do.

And at times it does seem as if they’re going to blow up the country with all the explosions going off. Not to mention the horrendously high body count they rack up in their pursuit of Vilain. And that’s before The Expendables are joined by Mr. Church, the mysterious lone wolf commando Booker (Chuck Norris) and Barney’s rival Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who comes along for the ride. You can imagine the carnage that ensues with that kind of extra firepower added to the team.

And what a ride it is. Watching THE EXPENDABLES 2 for me is like stepping into a time machine and going back to the heyday of Action Movies: the 1980’s. I suspect that those of you, like me, who remember going to the theaters back then when it seemed like every week there was a new movie starring one of these guys playing will get more of a thrill just out of seeing these guys on screen together than anything else. Seeing them all together and obviously having so much fun is nothing less than a blast. And there’s a lot of inside jokes that I chuckled at but I suspect went right over the heads of most of the people in the theater I was watching the movie with.  My favorite one is when Barney casually mentions that Gunner has a degree in chemical engineering and threw away a promising career in that field for a girl. Google Dolph Lundgren and you’ll see why I found that funny. I also got a big grin out of Chuck Norris’ character being named Booker and being described as a lone wolf. Again, Google Chuck Norris and check out the synopses for “Lone Wolf McQuade” and “Good Guys Wear Black” and you’ll get the joke.

With the new members of the team on board as well as Willis and Schwarzenegger having bigger roles in this one that means that Toll Road and Hale Caesar don’t have as much to say but they get just as much of their share of the mayhem. And I like how Randy Couture quietly reminds us that his character is the team’s intellectual by having Toll Road simply reading a book in the background while plot exposition is going on in the foreground. And while Hale Caesar does not have a show-stopping moment in this one as he did in “The Expendables” (but let’s face it…taking down an attack helicopter by throwing a missile at it is a tough act to beat) Terry Crews makes sure that when Hale Caesar does have something to do, it’s memorable.

I also liked the action sequences in THE EXPENDABLES 2 better than the first one. The editing on the first movie was way too choppy in several fight scenes and during the final assault. That’s not the problem here. The action scenes are wonderfully and cleanly shot, full of noise and energy and gloriously blood-drenched with plenty of really impressive practical stunts.

That’s not to say I liked everything about the movie. I didn’t like how one of my favorite characters from the first movie has what amounts to a glorified cameo and simply drops out of the movie. And I’m not merely being descriptive. The character actually does drop.  Charisma Carpenter is totally unnecessary in this movie.  Even more so than in the first one and really, there’s no reason for her character to be in either one of them. The subplot dealing with the relationship between her character and Statham’s Lee Christmas is even more ridiculous considering that Lee spends more time talking to Barney about it than he does to his supposed girlfriend. I’m a big fan of Charisma Carpenter and hey, if the movie wants to give me gratuitous shots of her in a scandalously skimpy dress wiggling and jiggling in a bar, I’m not gonna complain. But she’s too good an actress to be wasted on a three-minute scene that any actress could have played.

So should you see THE EXPENDABLES 2? If you saw the first one, absolutely. Even if you didn’t see the first one, go see THE EXPENDABLES 2. The action is spectacular, especially the Nepal rescue and the final showdown in an airport where Couture, Crews, Lundgren, Norris, Schwarzenegger and Willis decimate the Sangs while Stallone and Van Damme have their mano-a-mano deathmatch. The jokes are as fast as plentiful as the bullets and it’s just such a pleasure to see a good old fashioned Action Movie made by and starring talent who know what they’re doing and do it supremely well. THE EXPENDABLES 2 gets my highest recommendation.

103 minutes

Rated R

The Fifth Element

Columbia Pictures

1997

Directed and Written by Luc Besson

Produced by Patrice Ledoux

Is there any doubt that whenever a list of the coolest guys on the planet is compiled, Bruce Willis is somewhere on it?  Right from when he made his big splash on the TV series ‘Moonlighting’ and then hit box office gold with “Die Hard” and it’s sequels, Bruce Willis has been not only one of our most likeable and favorite action heroes he also just comes across a really cool guy.  Bruce Willis has never appeared remote or distant to us.  He’s approachable.  One gets the impression that if you met Bruce Willis on the street and asked him if he wanted to go get a beer he’d say; “sure” and you’d spend the night with him kicking the willy bobo.  Maybe that’s the real charm of his appeal: Bruce acts and feels like one of us: a regular guy who made good and lucked into a brilliant Hollywood career but never forgot his New Jersey roots.  I like him and I like most of his movies.  And one of his best movies is the science fantasy action/satire/romp THE FIFTH ELEMENT.

Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) is a cab driver living and working in 23erd Century New York where vehicles fly along skyways.  He’s a retired Federation Special Forces major who’s just trying to keep his head down and live as quiet a life as possible.  And he’s been doing that until a beautiful red-haired woman named Leeloo (Mila Jovavich) literally drops out of the sky into his cab.

Leeloo is “the perfect being” who has been genetically created to save the human race from a Great Evil that has taken the form of a living planet and is heading straight at Earth.  The only way to stop this Great Evil is to find four stones that embody the characteristics of the Four Elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water.  When combined they will give their power to The Fifth Element which is The Perfect Being and give this entity the power to destroy The Great Evil.  However the problem is to find the four stones.  Especially since they’re being hunted by kazillionaire industrialist/munitions dealer Zorg (Gary Oldman) who has allied himself with The Mangalores, a reptilian warrior race that is hilariously bent on destruction at all costs.  Zorg is an agent of The Great Evil and he’s just as single-minded to find the stones as is Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm) who is the latest in a long line of human priests who have served another alien race, The Mondoshawan who have been the keepers of the stones for millennia.  Korben is recruited by his old boss General Munro (Brion James) on orders of The President (Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister) to secure the stones.  This means that Korben has to agree to a rigged contest to meet his contact: the blue skinned alien opera diva Plavalagunan (Maiwenn Le Besco) who is appearing on the pleasure starliner ‘Fholston Paradise’.  But the Mangalores find out about the meet and they have their own plans for the stones…as does Zorg…

Korben has to secure the stones from The Diva Plavalagunan, save the starliner when The Mangalores hijack it in true ‘Die Hard’ fashion, do an interstellar radio show with the bizarre Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker) and after all that still figure out a way to save the world from The Great Evil.

I love THE FIFTH ELEMENT to death for a number of reasons.  First off, it’s one of the most original and imaginative fictional worlds I’ve ever seen on screen.  There’s an entire universe here that is a visual treat.  The production design of the movie was created by French comic artists/creators Jean Giraud who is more popularly known as ‘Moebius’ and Jean-Claude Mezieries.  The costumes were created by a French fashion designer: Jean-Paul Gaultier.  All of which contributes to the unique look of the movie.  THE FIFTH ELEMENT looks like no other science fiction film you’ve seen.  Unless you’re a fan of the American magazine “Heavy Metal” which in itself reprinted stories from the French magazine “Metal Hurlant” which was a graphic magazine of science fiction and fantasy stories.   There was a “Heavy Metal” movie made in 1981 and a respectable argument could be made that THE FIFTH ELEMENT could be considered as an unofficial remake of the ‘Harry Canyon’ segment of that anthology movie as it has a lot of similarities.   All of which sums up like this: THE FIFTH ELEMENT has a unique flavor to its look, tone and style that is quite refreshingly different from conventional science fiction movies.

Second, I love the humor in this movie.  Most science fiction movies are so deadly serious it’s fun to see one that doesn’t take itself so seriously.  The group that eventually gets together to say the world is so goofy that you figure the world might be better off if they failed.  But they come together as a team in a way I found really charming and surprising. And even the soundtrack is different.  It’s got a decidedly Middle Eastern flavor, especially during a wild car chase where Korben is outrunning the cops.  A car chase with flying cars, remember.  It’s as wild as it sounds.

Third, the performances.  Bruce Willis does something really surprising in THE FIFTH ELEMENT.  He doesn’t play ‘John McClane In Space’ as I think a lot of people expected him to do.  Korben Dallas is a totally different character and some of the best scenes in the movie is how Korben Dallas reacts to the events he’s involved in.  Bruce Willis knows the effectiveness of how a single look can enhance a scene and he does it to great advantage in this movie.   This was Mila Jovavich’s first big role and she does a great job conveying the charm and grace of a “Perfect Being” (whatever that is).  She’s got a lot of terrific scenes with Ian Holm as his character is the only one who can understand her “perfect language”

And now we come to Chris Tucker.  Sigh.  I really don’t understand my brother.  I’ve seen him in interviews and in the remarkable PBS series “African American Lives” and he talks and behaves nothing like the way he does he does in those horribly embarrassing “Rush Hour” movies.  However, I have to say that I can accept his wildly over-the-top performance in THE FIFTH ELEMENT because that’s the nature of the movie.   It’s that kind of movie where you either have to go along with what’s on the screen or not.

I do have to say that as much as I enjoyed Gary Oldman’s hilariously bizarre performance as the intergalactic industrialist/arms dealer Zorg I have no idea why or how he came to be working for The Great Evil or what he hoped to gain from that arraignment.  I mean, The Great Evil is coming to destroy all life on Earth, right?  So wouldn’t that mean Zorg as well?  And for that matter The Great Evil is never really explained.  Why does it want to wipe out Humanity?  Why do The Mondoshawan care so much about why Humanity survives?  Why do they establish a sect of human worshippers on Earth?

Even after all the questions and doubts I still say watch THE FIFTH ELEMENT.  Chances are you’ve seen it already.  Good for you.  It’s not only a great Bruce Willis movie it’s a great fun movie as well.  It’s got terrific visuals, outstanding productions values and special effects that hold up amazingly well 15 years later.  Enjoy.

Rated: PG-13

126 minutes

Planet Terror

2007

Dimension Films/Rodriguez International Pictures/Troublemaker Studios

Written and Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Produced by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Elizabeth Avellan

Once upon a time there was this street in Manhattan.  42end Street.  Now before you jump up and say; “It’s still there!” Let me say that no.  It’s not.  Oh, 42end Street is there.  But it’s not there.  Give me a minute to explain.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s you could go to 42end Street between 7th and 8th Avenue and on both sides on the street there were nothing but movie theaters.  Cheap movie theaters that showed double and even triple features.  And when I say cheap I mean $2 or $3 bucks.  That’s right.  You could go see two movies for three lousy dollars and stay in the theater until it closed.  There was this one theater that showed nothing but a triple bill of kung fu movies.  The theater that was home to “The Lion King” for many years used to be the raunchiest XXX movie theater in Times Square.  These theaters opened early and closed late.  Real late.  If you had $20 bucks in your pocket you could stay on 42end Street all day long and most of the night cruising from one theater to another until you were all movie-ed out.  Of course you shared the theater with potheads, drunks, bottom feeder drug dealers, prostitutes, unemployed men hiding out from the world, teenagers cutting school and their ilk.  But if you didn’t mess with anybody they generally didn’t mess with you.  Back in the day the rule of thumb was: “don’t start no static, there won’t be none”.   The movie theater staff had the same policy.  Folks would light up their joints, pass around 40s of malt liquor, pints of cheap booze, smoke cigarettes openly and put their feet up on the backs of the seat in front of them.  But as long as they were cool, the management was cool.   In short, the environment was as saturated with depravity as the movies shown.

The movies that were shown in these theaters, which we now popularly and affectionately refer to as ‘grindhouses’ were far from Academy Award winning films.  They were Grade B, C, D and more oftentimes than not, Z exploitation flicks.  Blaxplotation.  Kung fu flicks.  Spaghetti westerns.  Horror.  Italian ‘giallo’ thrillers.  Splatter.  Made on the cheap and designed to be nothing more than sensational pulp entertainment that you forgot the day after you saw them.  Oh, there were exceptions, to be sure and a lot of those movies transcended the trash and are still highly regarded to this day.  But the 42end Street of those bad old days is gone forever.  I know, I know…people go on and on about it’s ‘safer’ now.  It’s ‘cleaner’.  It’s more ‘family orientated’ and I’m all for that.  I still think it was more fun back then.

Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez collaborated on a project called “Grindhouse” where they attempted to give modern day movie goers a taste of what the movie going experience was like back then.  “Grindhouse” was made up of two complete and separate films on a double bill along with a handful of fake trailers for equally fake films.  The two movies, “Death Proof” and PLANET TERROR were aged and battered to replicate the way films looked back then since those prints were shipped all over the country from theater to theater and not handled with the best of care.   So when they were shown on the screen you had all these scratches and more often than not whole sections of film missing and spliced together.  “Grindhouse” even made use of vintage 70’s/80’s advertisements and theater announcements.   It was all designed to be a Valentine to that entire movie era of gleeful sex, violence and gore.

The problem was that a lot of moviegoers didn’t get the joke.  I remember reading that audience members were confused by the sections of the movie that had ‘missing reels’ and demanded that they see the missing parts or else they wanted their money refunded.  Supposedly there were complaints from theater owners about the 3 hr+ running time of “Grindhouse” Whatever the reason; “Grindhouse” was an ambitious experiment that failed at the box office.  Too bad.

PLANET TERROR begins with go-go dancer Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) quitting her job and hitting the road to pursue her dream of being a stand-up comedian.  She herself doesn’t think she’s very funny but since everybody she knows says she’s hilarious she figures what the hell.  Cherry literally hits the road when she’s almost run over by a convoy of Army trucks heading for a military base outside of Austin, Texas led by the smirkingly sinister Abby (Naveen Andrews) and Lt. Muldoon (Bruce Willis) who are looking for canisters of a top secret biological weapon hidden at the base.  In a movie like this it’s almost a given that things go wrong.  They do and the biological weapon is unleashed in the form of a sick-looking green mist that infects the townspeople, turning most of them into flesh-eating mutant zombies and leaving only a handful of desperate characters who must band together to stay alive during the hellish night.

Let me say right off the bat that if you’ve got a sensitive stomach and really don’t enjoy the sight of bodies being Swiss-cheesed by thousands of rounds of machine-gun fire or pulled apart like fried chicken and devoured then this isn’t the movie for you.  Robert Rodriguez doesn’t hold back on anything in this one and the sheer exhilaration of the violence in this movie might freak out some people.  There’s stabbings with hypodermic needles, zombies are doused with gasoline and incinerated, zombies are blown up, run over, decapitated and that’s the light stuff.  After seeing this movie my wife Patricia was speechless.  Seriously.   Depraved souls like myself are going to have a great time with this one.

You really have to throw out everything you thought you knew about movies to appreciate PLANET TERROR especially if you’re someone who’s never seen a movie that’s less than ten years old.  That’s because in terms of acting, cinematography, special effects and story, PLANET TERROR scores as being a successful throwback to the 70’s/80’s style of movie.  It looks, sounds and feels like somebody was rummaging around in a long forgotten storage room somewhere and found a lost John Carpenter flick from the 70’s.

A lot of the fun comes from the eclectic cast, all of whom look as if they’re having an absolute blast because they throw themselves in the ridiculously loopy story with gusto, energy.   While they’re all having fun with the material they respect it and make even the most bizarrely outrageous plots twists seem logical.  Freddy Rodriguez is really good as the mysterious badass El Wray who apparently can do anything and do it with a James Coburn-ish cool I found tremendously appealing.  And it adds to his mystique and badass status that El Wray is an average sized, average looking guy.  He certainly doesn’t look like a cat who can walk through a wall of zombies with nothing but a pair of switchblades and take ‘em all out.  Josh Brolin’s performance was one that struck me as oddly familiar for some reason and I couldn’t put my finger on it until the second time I watched the movie: he’s doing Nick Nolte.  In appearance, voice and mannerisms he’s a dead ringer for Nick Nolte in his younger days.  Michael Biehn and Jeff Fahey are a lot of fun as brothers.  Biehn is the local law while Fahey runs the best BBQ shack in Texas.  They brothers have spent years feuding over the family BBQ recipe but put their differences aside to fight zombies.  There’s some nice cameos and small but memorable supporting bits courtesy of Stacy Ferguson (of The Black Eyed Peas) Bruce Willis, Nicky Katt, Tom Savini, the Original El Mariachi himself: Carlos Gallardo, Q.T. and Robert Rodriguez’s patch encrusted leather motorcycle jacket.

But the movie belongs to Rose McGowan and she knows it.  From her opening scene to the closing she owns the movie and strides through it with a confidence and sly smile that seems to be communicating something private to those of us watching it.  She’s beautiful, funny, serious, droll and best of all; she plays Cherry Darling with respect.  It can’t be easy playing a zombie fighting go-go dancer with an M-16 for a leg but she plays it straight enough with just the right shadings of humor that we go along with it.  I’d like to see Meryl Streep or Nicole Kidman try to play the same character half as well.

So should you see PLANET TERROR?  Absolutely.  I applaud Robert Rodriguez for saying “the hell with it” and just going all out crazy with this one.  I mean, if you’re gonna make a movie then dammit make a movie as if you’ll never make another one in your life and that’s how PLANET TERROR plays.  It’s a wonderful homage to a  style of filmmaking we don’t see anymore and it’s done with such brilliant energy and imaginative power that I was truly sorry when it ended and I can’t say that about too many movies I see these days.

But again I have to warn those of you who are sensitive to violence to steer clear of this one.  Especially since there’s a scene involving a little boy and a handgun.  I realize that even though it’s a movie there are those who take such scenes as that one very seriously and would rather not see scenes such as that one even though you don’t actually see anything.   And if you decide to Netflix both PLANET TERROR and “Death Proof” to watch on the same night (which is really the best way to see ‘em) let me make a suggestion: Watch “Death Proof” first then PLANET TERROR.  Even though in the theaters they were shown in the opposite order trust me on this one.  I think you’ll enjoy it a lot more.  Then go email Robert Rodriguez and demand a movie starring The Crazy Babysitter Twins.

105 minutes

Unrated