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- Alabaster, AL
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- #1 - Fight Club; #2 - Almost Famous; #3 - Benjamin Button
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- Fresh or Rotten
Posted on 12/09/13 05:05 PM
"Here in Jayne Mansfield's car, I feel safest of all; I can lock all my doors; it's the only way to live, if you can get past the Satanism, in Jayne Mansfield's car!" By no means am I a religious man, but if cars are supposed to be so safe, then Mansfield must have earned herself some fury from above, because I've seen the pictures, and that car wreck wasn't even remotely as pretty as he was, you know, before she flew under that tractor-trailer. Yeah, they don't talk about it much, but Mansfield was so into Satanism that she dated Anton LaVey and everything, which, of course, makes her even more irrelevant to the central themes of this film, because where she was more of a Bible burner, we have a whole lot of Bible thumpers here in my beloved sweet home, Alabama (Curse you, Lynyrd Skynyrd, for making that description annoying, at least around here). Yup, this flick is set in Alabama, and you know what, it doesn't exactly help fight the rumors that if it's not racist and dumb here, then there's nothing interesting, not necessarily because this film isn't interesting, but because they shot this thing in various parts of Georgia, ostensibly so they wouldn't grace this fine soil with the presence of a cast full of celebrities, including a certain Albertville celebrity. Yeah, people, I don't want to sound like I'm showing off or anything, but my father knew a guy... who knew a guy who drummed in Billy Bob Thornton's band, The Boxmasters, and actually has an... uncredited extra role in this... extremely low-profile film... I think. Okay, maybe I'm not the best showoff in Alabama, but just by ostensibly being somewhere in this film, Mike Bruce is one degree away from Kevin Bacon, which would be great and all if he didn't recently get into a terrible motorcycle accident (Maybe Gary Numan is right when he says that it's safer being in a car, unless, of course, you're Jayne Mansfield). In all seriousness, folks, try to give some support to good ol' Bubba Bruce, at least more so than you're showing support for this film, for I believe the reason why Billy Bob Thornton decided to get back into filmmaking after over ten years was to prove that he can, in fact, make a film that is less successful than "Daddy and Them", which is alright with me, because as one of the few people who is actually seeing this, I can tell you that it's pretty decent, though not without some serious problems, kind of like Jayne Mansfield.
There are a few refreshing elements here, and at any rate, at this point, it's hard to do something all that new with a film like this, yet there's no completely forgiving familiarity, you know, when material actually kicks in without Billy Bob Thornton, as filmmaker, trying to change things up with almost surrealistically strange occasions of storytelling overstylization. Really, the overstylized moments aren't too serious, but they're questionable enough when you take out of account their being underused, leaving the most recurring questionable attribute to Thornton's direction to be his almost trademark atmospheric dryness, whose thoughtfulness is effective at times, but generally bland, if not kind of dull. If nothing else, the atmospheric dryness stiffens pacing, making it hard to not notice how overdrawn length gets to be in this film, which, at about two hours, is not too terribly long, and certainly devotes a good bit of time of fleshing things out, but all too often fleshes things out too much with repetitiously excessive filler, if not excess material. Just about all of the layers to this plot are well-handled enough to be worthy, though when you step back and take things in, it's hard to not feel that this narrative is bloated, perhaps to the point of being convoluted, which makes it pretty ironic that the plot is ultimately still too thin for its own good. Now, with all of my complaints about familiar or excessive material, the biggest problems with this film is easily a lack of material, or at least a lack of focused material, for although this narrative is intentionally meditative, it's too aimless in subtle dramatic progression, resulting in a wealth of natural shortcomings that thin out potential and, with it, engagement value, in spite of inspiration. There aren't a whole lot of problems with this film, and in a moment, I will go into how well-done the film is in so many places, but at the end of the day, the final product falls short of rewarding, not necessarily because of pacing problems and the occasional piece of overambition to stylization, but because of mere limitations to narrative meat that faulty storytelling make all the clearer. I wish that this film could have been more, but as it stands, it hardly deserves the heat it's been receiving, having limitations to material that, upon rising, goes tainted, but enough inspiration to endear, and even sell a pretty enjoyable environment.
The film is pretty sharply presented from a visual standpoint, as Barry Markowitz's subtly handsome cinematography and Nicole LeBlanc's subtly convincing art direction go a long way in building an effective visual style, with broad, well-defined shots that give you a firm grip on a 1960s Alabama setting. Subtle style certainly looks might fine when you take it for what it is as mighty handsome, and quite frankly, it plays a pretty big part in selling this environment, which in turn plays a pretty big part in selling important themes dealing with shifts in society and differences between generations, although that's not to say that style is the only attribute to Billy Bob Thornton's direction. Thornton's directorial storytelling is characterized by a dry approach that dulls plenty of elements down, but almost just as often has a thoughtful aura that captures the humble tone of this aimless, but genuine narrative, and carries some subtly piercing bite when material really does kick in. The slow-burn heart at the core of Thornton's directorial performance endears, but what really keeps this thing going is Thornton's and Tom Epperson's script, which is flawed and with limited material, yet is not simply about as strong as it can be with a story concept this thin, but arguably outstanding, not just with its sharp dialogue and humorous moments, but very genuine characterization, which could have easily gotten stereotypical, but is believable and thorough well-realized, drawing colorfully well-rounded and deeply human characters with interesting background information and deep range that drive a layered, if aimless narrative which captures both the era and, to a certain extent, depths of this important time for society in principle-driven parts of America. Alas, storytelling is generally too draggy to compel all that much, but there are some very moving moments to break up a consistent degree of engagement value that I'm surprised is being overlooked by critics, no matter how tainted it may be, and if there is potential to this thin plot concept, decent direction and strong writing shed enough light on it to endear, perhaps as much as one talented cast. As I've been saying time and again, plotting material is mighty limited, but I don't fully grasp why Rotten Tomatoes' consensus would boast that Thornton's script "never gives [this cast] much of anything to do", for although there's not enough acting material to deliver on truly outstanding performances, most everyone delivers, even in the supporting cast, with Ron White being underused, but almost show-stealingly outstanding as comic relief who delivers on his trademark raspy whitetrash hilarity, while John Hurt, Ray Stevenson, Marshall Allman and Kevin Bacon deliver on their own show-stealing moments on a dramatic level, which is dominated by worthy leads Robert Duvall - who captures the estranged father role with his trademark stern, but somewhat vulnerable presence - and Billy Bob Thornton, who captures the dynamic Skip Caldwell character as the middleman between old-fashioned southern principles and '60s movements into the future, as well as a flawed human by his own right who is trying to find a path in his life. Outside of handsome visual style, acting is pretty much the only consistently strong element to this drama, and even then, it too goes held back by some serious limitations to the material within this thin story concept, yet there's still enough heart to the performances, both onscreen and off, to engage as quite decent, maybe even underappreciated, in spite of some loss in potential.
Overall, material is tainted with familiarity, if not overstylization, and delivered with a bland atmospheric dryness that emphasizes the aimlessness of draggy plotting, which is itself emphatic of natural shortcomings that are so considerable in this thin narrative concept that they ultimately drive the final product just short of rewarding, in spite of the handsome, era-capturing visual style, thoughtful direction, strong and well-characterized writing and inspired acting that make "Jayne Mansfield's Car" a certainly improvable, but endearing meditation upon family dysfunction and mending in the midst of change in society and principles.
2.75/5 - Decent
Posted on 12/08/13 01:18 PM
Man, that's a generic title, but "Un 32 août sur terre" is literally translated as "August 32nd on Earth", "Incendies" is literally translated as "Fire", and "Maelström" is literally translated as "Maelstrom", so even in French, Denis Villeneuve developed some experience in underwhelming titles. Well, it is Canadian French, so whatever sophistication people think is entitled to French films was always to be kind of half-baked, and that's especially the case with this, Villeneuve's American debut. Quite frankly, I'm glad that this doesn't carry the stench of French artistry... or at least French-Canadian artistry, because it's draggy enough when it's not being overtly padded out by questionable meditations upon nothing and, well, musical numbers. No, I dug "Les Misérables" and all, but with this, yet another English-language, two-and-a-half-hour-long drama that is associated with the French in some way, it would appear as though Hugh Jackman has recently gotten into spending as much time as he can on taking in the French culture without actually learning French, seeing as how people are making enough gay jokes as it is. ...Nah, I can't even joke about that, because I for one wouldn't want to crack on Wolverine like that, and this hardcore vengeance thriller doesn't exactly help, no matter how much I want to say something about seeing Jake Gyllenhaal with yet another handsome Australian man who claimed fame through a superhero film. There are enough jokes surrounding Jake Gyllynhaal's tastes in slow-burn investigative thrillers that are more draggy than thrilling, and for two-and-a-half hours, no less. ...No, there's no joking about how awesome "Zodiac" is, and it's almost offensive to try to compare it with this film, which is good and all, but most certainly not directed by David Fincher, which isn't to say that its problems end there.
With all of my jokingly comparing this film to "Zodiac", or at least films like "Zodiac", this is hardly anything new, and while it's hard to bring originality to a portrayal of this type of subject matter, storytelling is not quite sharp enough to completely overshadow predictability. Well, I suppose the final product's path is kind of hard to fully figure out, but due to all of the familiar characterization and plotting beats, detecting where things are heading isn't exactly a tremendous challenge, no matter how much unevenness make it hard to keep up with things, awkwardly underusing certain major characters for the sake of additional attention to other subplots and plot layers that actually could have been empowered by more organically dynamic characterization exploration, at least up to a point. This is a layered drama, as the runtime will tell you, and it relies on the interaction of its unevenly handled layers to keep things going, and yet, with that said, this film is not so layered that a whopping length of two-and-a-half hours is necessary, though writer Aaron Guzikowski still tries to get this thing there, struggling to pad out material so much that he ends up pushing certain layers too far to the side to keep consistency with focus, which often simply thins out in the midst of all of this excessive padding, perhaps into dissipation. After a while, focus is lose, resulting in an aimlessness that undercuts much of the intensity and dramatic momentum of a pretty promising narrative concept, yet could have been settled much more than it is if direction challenged written pacing problems with more atmospheric momentum. Director Denis Villeneuve backs all of these long stretches of meditativeness with dry, almost quiet thoughtfulness, which is often effective, but just as often detrimental to engagement value, because as much as they try to keep material up, when bite to meditate upon settles, Villeneuve's subtle atmosphere fails to bite, leading to a considerable bit of blandness that makes the length, as well as other shortcomings palpable. There are a lot of strong elements to this film, with one of the more notable strong factors being its potential, yet there are also plenty of missteps, or at least questionable and ambitious storytelling moves that betray potential, certainly not to where reward value is lost, but decidedly to where I found myself asking for less for the sake of more. This film isn't quite what I was hoping it would be, and yet, what it ultimately is is a pretty potent drama, with plenty of flaws, to be sure, but even more strengths, including stylistic ones.
Ambitious even when it comes to visual style, this film calls in the great Roger Deakins to turn in a cinematographical performance that is far from one of his best in recent memory, but still brings some life to this gritty drama, providing little stylish dynamicity to coloring and lighting, yet nonetheless delivering on a rich emphasis on well-defined bleakness that is not only strikingly handsome, if not truly beautiful, but borderline instrumental as a factor in the selling of this drama's harsh tone. There may not be too much style to this film, but Deakins' visual style, while not great, raises a pretty fair standard in aesthetic appeal, and even compliments to storytelling, something that substance of this nature is deserving of. Again, this story is hardly anything new, and the interpretation of it carries plenty of other problems, but it's still quite intriguing, with layers of emotional kick and thorough intensity that establish a good bit of potential for writer Aaron Guzikowski to both betray with his dragging and unevenness, and bring to life, to a certain extent, with extensive, if excessive meditations upon the fleshing out of depths to this narrative and the characters, whose depth are most brought to life by the acting. Plenty of members of this talented, arguably star-studded cast are unevenly used, but most everyone is mighty strong, with Maria Bello and Viola Davis being very unevenly used, but powerful in their emotionally stressed portrayals of mothers facing a traumatic period when they are actually utilized, while Paul Dano puts his trademark whininess to good use in his convincing portrayal of an awkward and mentally handicapped suspect in an intense case that leads to suffering even for him, and Terrence Howard puts his trademark whininess to good use in his emotional portrayal of a father who is nervous both about the fate of his child and about the harsh deeds he is driven to do to recover who he has lost. As for the leads, Jake Gyllenhaal is consistently engaging in his charismatic portrayal of a solid detective faced with yet another heavy case, but it's not until after a while when the plot thickens and presents Gyllenhaal with dramatic material that he nails with a steady, but powerful dramatic range that sells the human layers of a strong, but still humanly flawed detective, and ultimately proves to be enough to make Gyllenhaal one of the better lead performances of the year, though hardly up to par with the real powerhouse of this acting vehicle, Hugh Jackman, who turns in not just one of the best performances of the year, but one of the best performances of his career, nailing an American accent, as always, even when he charges against with an overwhelming emotional range whose more subdued moments are penetratingly atmospheric, and whose heavier moments are crushing in their particularly reflecting the anguish, fury and overall layered depths of a man who must abandon his principles, if not his stability, to right the wrongs that have been done against him. Jackman is absolutely remarkable as a key reason to see this drama, as well as a key influence in this effort's emotional resonance, which, of course, couldn't be complimented if it wasn't fist established by Denis Villeneuve's directorial performance whose meditative approach to things is often blanding, but just as, if not more often effective in subtly, but surely drawing an intense heart that keeps the thriller from getting too dull, and is punctuated by subtly biting emotional kick that may be few and far between, but is recurring enough to particularly reflect the meat of this effort. Were the final product tighter and more consistent, and were Villeneuve more realized in his efforts, this could have been a very strong effort, at the very least, yet as things stand, through all of the many missteps, there is enough inspiration to style, acting and storytelling to make the final product a rewarding dramatic thriller.
When the trail has gone cold, the final product falls just short of its full potential under the weight of familiarity, unevenness and, most of all, aimless dragging to a script that is interpreted with a certain bland dryness which challenges your investment, which is ultimately sustained by the sharp cinematography, intriguing story concept, extensive writing, strong acting, - especially from the outstanding Hugh Jackman - and reasonably inspired direction that make Denis Villeneuve's "Prisoners" an improvable, biting, sometimes dramatically piercing and all around rewarding meditation upon the intricate professional and human layers to the investigation of a terrible crime.
3/5 - Good
Posted on 12/08/13 12:23 AM
"Hanna 2: Back in Action"! Jokes aside, if you want someone to play a teenaged assassin in a surrealistic action film, then it would appear as though your best bet is Saoirse Ronan... and Alexis Bledel, apparently. Maybe slasher films should take some casting notes, because Bledel is in her 30s now, and you can still buy her as the contemporary of an 18-year-old... or 17-year-old... or however old Ronan was when they made this film. Man, it took them forever to release this, although I doubt anyone will notice the almost two-year delay, because Ronan is 19 now and still looks the same as she has for a while now, and Bledel certainly isn't going to age anytime soon. Shoot, with all of my talk of Bledel and Ronan not seeming to age beyond their teen years, this is starting to sound less like a sequel to "Hanna" and more like a sequel to "Tuck Everlasting", but make no mistake people, this is film indeed about teenagers who do some sorry deeds to be so "precious", as Geoffrey S. Fletcher has experience dealing with films like those. As if his writing wasn't unsubtle enough, Fletcher is now a director who can milk his questionable visions for all their worth himself, but hey, I'll at least give the man credit for diversity, because with "Precious", he helped made quite the film about black people problems, and for his directorial debut, he makes quite the film for white people. This film is so white that the first and, for almost two years, only audience to see it was in Canada, and plus, it earns some Mexican points to get further away from the black audience just by having Danny Trejo present, so you know that this is going to be one over-the-top action flick to show that not everything at a major film festival in a country that has prominent French-speaking areas is sophisticated... and immune to criticism, as I'd imagine some people would say that there's a reason why it took them so long to release this film, which is fine and all, but most definitely not without some problems.
The refreshing elements of this film are undercut in a lot of ways by a considerable lack of exposition that not only keeps you from bonding with the material as much as you probably should, but thins out a sense of motivation and, with it, focus, thus leaving storytelling to slip into aimlessness, and characterization to dip its toes into inconsistency. Limitations in the fleshing out of character layers leave certain characterization shifts to jar, rather than flow with the currents of exposition, and yet, arguably most of the characterization layers keep consistent in obnoxiousness, if not unlikability that paints some problematic key figures in this somewhat character-driven thriller, even if such unlikability is thematic. The often inorganic layering of characterization also betrays such key themes as the one dealing with juvenility clashing with harshly adult situations, and such a blow to thematic depth waters down intrigue enough to further draw your attention to the other limitations, or at least the questionability of this narrative. I suppose this story is unique and well-handled enough to be intriguing, but there's still a good bit of, of all things, silliness, which holes in exposition make all the more glaring, not unlike other missteps in Geoffrey S. Fletcher's script, whose fall-flat moments in dialogue and humor further cheese things up, especially when backed by some serious lapses in subtlety. This film doesn't exactly carry the dramatic seriousness of "Precious", but Fletcher's written mishaps in subtlety remain problematic, and let me tell you, Fletcher's debut directorial performance doesn't soften blows to subtlety, turning in overbearing imagery, much of which is surrealistic to the point of distancing overstylization that drives inconsistencies into a generally traditionalist, if hole-filled plot structure. If nothing else, all of the overstylization to Fletcher's direction reflects ambition, which is understandable, but in turn reflects limitations in potential, in addition to other shortcomings, of which there are not just many, but enough to drive a less inspired effort into mediocrity. With all of its flaws, this is a very sensitive effort, yet in the end, mediocrity is overpowered by inspiration, - however limited it may be - which can even be found within the drawing of the basic story concept.
This story concept may be filled with holes and inconsistencies, as well as subtlety issues, but there's no taking uniqueness from this film, which isn't substantially new, but most certain refreshing as a dark comedy and offbeat coming-of-age drama, with interesting depths and themes that Geoffrey S. Fletcher's script often undercuts with developmental and subtlety problems, but just as often does justice to this subject matter with some sharp moments in dialogue and humor, as well as colorful set pieces. To tell you the truth, the film starts out kind of weak, and it's not like there aren't weak moments here and there throughout the final product's body, but once that body is reached, storytelling becomes about as realized as it can be with all of the natural and consequential shortcomings, at least on paper, and that does a lot to save the film, though not without the help of some directorial inspiration. Fletcher, as director, makes a lot of mistakes, but stylistically does better than plenty of first-time directors, delivering on fine plays with a lively soundtrack and outstandingly stylish shooting and editing in order to sustain entertainment value and provide a perk to, for thematic purposes, intentionally contradict with surrealistic and disturbing imagery that may often be too force or unsubtle to be effective, but engages on the whole. Of course, what might be the most engaging directorial element is the action, whose tight staging and dynamic choreography, backed by a biting attention to violence, thrills on both a visceral level and, to a certain extent, consequential level. At the very least, the film is stylistically outstanding, with some decent substance that is stronger in concept than it is in execution, but is still interpreted well enough to keep the final product from slipping too deeply into mediocrity, from which the effort is safely secured by the strength I was most hoping to see out of a film this driven by such a talented cast. Just about everyone delivers in this talented, but relatively small cast, yet it's all about the leads, and, boy, in spite of limitations in acting material, they really deliver, with James Gandolfini proving to be charming as a decent-seeming, deeply flawed man questioning many aspects of his life, including its worthiness, while the adorable dynamic duo of Saoirse Ronan and Alexis Bledel both share static chemistry, and prove to be more charming than Fletcher's obnoxious and undercooked material as spry teens with disturbing demons that are most sold when effective dramatic beats kick in. The more film unravels, the more it becomes kind of a moving, and while we can thank highlights in Fletcher's direction for setting up emotional resonance, it's Gandolfini, Bledel and Ronan who anchor it, maybe not to where they carry the final product too terribly far, but decidedly to where they rank among the greatest of many strengths that save the final product as decent, in spite of some glaring missteps.
When it's all said and done, a lack of development thins out both focus and consistency in sometimes obnoxious characterization, while reflecting natural shortcomings to this thin and somewhat silly premise about as much as glaring subtlety issues and overstylizing that place serious threats on the final product's decency, ultimately secured by a refreshing and intriguing story concept's being done enough justice by sharp moments in writing, directorial style and action, and consistently strong lead performances from Saoirse Ronan, Alexis Bledel and James Gandolfini that ultimately make "Violet & Daisy" a reasonably entertaining and sometimes moving dark comedy-drama, even with lost potential.
2.5/5 - Fair
Posted on 12/07/13 12:26 PM
"Pick up your feet, got to move to the trick of the beat; there is no elite, just take your place in the java heat!" I don't know why, but this film's title kind of makes me think of Sniff 'n' the Tears' "Driver's Seat", probably because somebody's got to remember that song. Well, at least that one-hit wonder pop-rock tune from the late '70s is getting more promotion than this film, though, to be fair, this is so much like a forgettable '80s action fluff piece that people must have forgotten about it over the course of about 30 years, even though it just came out. Okay, perhaps this film isn't that '80s, but it doesn't really perk you up quite as much as you expect out of a film about coffee doing battle... or whatever this is about. Like I said, they haven't been promoting this much, but I can tell you that Mickey Rourke looks like he could use some caffeine, or at least a better agent. Rourke and Kellan Lutz both need new agents, because Lutz is finally making his big break into the independent circuit after all of that "Twilight" nonsense, but he has to settle for some Indonesian action thriller that hardly anyone is seeing or liking. Well, I guess "barley" is more fitting than "hardly", because there's at least one jerk out there who likes this, even if I-I mean, he has some problems with it.
The film offers some thin, unsubtle characterization, and it could have potentially compensated for that if it at least spent more time drawing out the character types, yet as things stand, there's hardly any background to immediate development, while gradual exposition proves to be lacking, or least feels that way, due to some serious unevenness to character usage. Even the jumps between Kellan Lutz's and Ario Bayu's sides of the same central narrative that they lead jars, and yet, whatever the plot layer in focus may be, there's at least consistency in familiarity, as there are few, if any refreshing elements to the character types, as well as a "complex" thriller plot that is not intricate enough to keep you from predicting. This effort entertains just fine along the way, but you know this path, and whether you've seen it through certain '80s thrillers that seem to have some influence on storytelling or through a fall-flat modern thriller that takes itself too seriously, this storytelling is hardly anything new, going so far as to take subtlety issues that are practically trademark in films of this type. The lighter moments - some of which go so far as to incorporate all-out comic relief - are relatively rare, but are about as rarely organic as shifts in tone, breaking tension with some cheesiness, backed by a lack of subtlety that ironically also backs tension. The film is consistent in conventionalism and a lack of subtlety, yet it continues to be uneven in focus and tone, and that's challenging enough to your investment enough without all of pacing inconsistencies, which at least seem present when director Conor Allyn runs out of steam. This film is rarely too dull, but there are times in which dry meditations and other questionable directorial elements bring storytelling to a whiplash-inducing half that blands things up and distances, though not without retaining enough of your attention to direct it toward other flaws, which are considerable in quantity and severity. The final product comes pretty close to mediocrity, a point that many are saying it actually descends from, but for me, decency is ultimately achieved, by a hair, to be sure, but enough so for me to be engaged, at least on a visual level.
Shane Daly's cinematography is not quite unique enough to be all that striking, but it's still stronger than certain people are giving it credit for, being bleak enough to compliment the grit of this environment, while keeping up enough softness to carry a distinct handsomeness. Fine cinematography is pretty much the most recurring stylistic strength in this film, yet style is perhaps brought to light the most during brawls, shootouts and other assorted action goodness, backed by formulaic, but impressively harsh staging, whose intensity plays a big part in backing this thriller with a genuine sense of consequence. If tension is ever present, it's certainly quite prominent during the action sequences, as surely as other heights in engagement value go anchored by sharp style, yet, I must that is might be substance that ultimately saves the final product from mediocrity. Sure, this story is generic and thin, and the telling of it is not too much more biting, yet there is still a fair bit of bite, at least in concept, no matter how predictable this dramatic action thriller is, which isn't to say that the interpretation of this narrative isn't still commendable in plenty of areas, including the portrayal of thinly drawn characters. The particularly underused Mickey Rourke steals the show with both an excellent accent and an intimidating presence as an antagonist, but the leads keep things going, to a certain extent at least, with Kellan Lutz having bland moments, yet ultimately a decent amount of charisma, while Ario Bayu proves to be even more effective in his portrayal of a charmingly short-fused, but sharp and humanly flawed man of the law who gets in over his head. Really, every performance is pretty decent, including a key offscreen one by Conor Allyn, whose directorial efforts are more like Lutz's onscreen performance, in that they have their share of bland spells, yet are generally quite decent, playing with anything from an often atmospheric score by Justin Caine Burnett, to the aforementioned striking style and action in order to grip, or at least entertain. Yeah, there are bland spells, but at the end of the day, this is pretty entertaining stuff, and while I kind of wish that the final product was more than that, - say, a more refreshing and coherent thriller - that's enough to get it by as decent, even if it doesn't get things by as especially memorable.
When the heat has cooled down, the final product is chilled down too much by underdevelopment, genericisms, inconsistencies in focus and tone, and many an atmospheric cold spell to drift too far away from mediocrity, which it still manages to evade to a fair extent, as there is enough handsomeness to the cinematography, intensity to the action, intrigue to the thin narrative, charisma to the lead performances by Kellan Lutz and Ario Bayu, and effectiveness to Conor Allyn's direction to make "Java Heat" an adequately entertaining and often genuinely intense thriller, no matter how much thrills go limited.
2.5/5 - Fair
Posted on 12/07/13 12:48 AM
Yup, because Valentine's Day is the perfect day to die hard... for some poor saps. As depressed as some of the bums who watch films like this one get to be around Valentine's Day, this title probably upped the suicide rate somewhere, and not just among die-hard "Die Hard" fans, though that may have just been over the tagline, which would be kind of understandable. In the first and third "Die Hard" installments, John McClane was taking on German terrorists in a Japanese company's tower, and in the second, he took on Italians (I know they were pretending to be Spaniards, but Val Verde is not a real country, so I'm not counting it), so by taking on Russia, McClane is finally back to finishing where we left off against our enemies during WWII, yet might need to bring down the bomb on whoever came up with "Yippie ki-yay, Mother Russia". I think that tagline and, for that matter, the sheer forcefulness of this title should tell you why this was released, not necessarily as deprogramming during Valentine's Day, but during the first quarter of the year, when they dump all of the ostensibly lazily lame fluff pieces, rather than kick off the summer with a Father's Day release. Looking at this father-son action duo premise, the May-to-July release moth that this series usually guns for is as fitting as it's ever been, although that the only tradition broken with this installment, because, quite frankly, I don't know what's more momentous, the reminder that John McClane has a son, or the fact that this film runs around the 90-minute mark. I can think of some people out there who would say that it figures that we finally get a "Die Hard" installment that's under two hours, yet by existing in the first place, it's still way too long. I for one won't go nearly that far, but yeah, this is still mighty mediocre, and yet, decency certainly dies hard against mediocrity, as it puts up quite the challenge through style, alone.
Sure, all of the shaky cam provides a somewhat amateur feel to dilute visual style that is limited enough by conventionalism and little dynamicity to lighting plays, but this has to be the best-looking out of any of the "Die Hard" films, as cinematographer Jonathan Sela delivers on a certainly bleakly blue color palette that is both handsome and fitting for the thriller's gritty tone, which is most brought to life in the heat of battle. The action is often too over-the-top for its own good, yet it's still consistently strong, with broader action set pieces being elaborately well-staged, while tighter brawls prove to be well-choreographed and intense, especially when it pays attention to violence in a way that the PG-13 "Live Free or Die Hard" couldn't get away with, and reinforces a sense of consequence. The film is not quite as stylistically sharp as it perhaps could have been, yet if nothing else is strong here, then it is, in fact, the style, even when it overshadows substance that, I must admit, still has some room to poke its head through. When it comes to the story, or at least the telling of this story, messiness is plentiful, but there are still some intriguing attributes to this trite narrative, done justice by highlights in direction, whose constant momentum grows cold after a while, yet keeps pacing brisk enough to sustain a moderate degree of entertainment value, complimented either when tension really kicks in - often accompanied by the aforementioned action - or when the cast is given an opportunity to shine. Okay, co-leading man Jai Courtney, while not as bland as they say, has range limitations that water down his convincingness, but outside of him, most everyone is decent, with Bruce Willis once again nailing the iconic John McClane character with a potent action star charisma that plays a big part in almost saving this film. Really, as much as everyone complains about this film, and as much as I myself am about to complain about this film, if mediocrity is achieved, then it's by the thinnest of hairs, for although the fact of the matter is that decency is lost, sharp style, a degree of intrigue to substance, and an endearing lead performance by Willis do about as much as anything in bringing the final product to the brink of decency. Sadly, that brink is not quite passed, and while I am among a handful of non-fans of this film who can see what might attract fans, potential is lost in the overwhelming wake of messy and even formulaic storytelling.
There have been refreshing elements here and there throughout the series, yet no installment has escaped glaring genericisms, with this particular installment being about as generic as any, boasting trite dialogue and characterization to thin out bite to storytelling something fierce with hopeless predictability. Skip Woods' script certainly has plenty of problems, but among the most recurring is all of the blasted familiarity, which is a clear reflection of laziness, though arguably not the clearest. On top of bombarding most every element of storytelling with conventionalism, Woods bombards fluffy bits with particularly generically overblown, fall-flat material that drives unevenness into a generally intense tone more than relief, even though the "dramatic" writing even gets to be cheesy, due to the narrative concept's being questionable to begin with, without the shamelessly clichéd, maybe near-monotonous dialogue and character action pieces which beat you over the head with themes through histrionics that only leave a sense of weight to further suffer. Where "Live Free or Die Hard" took itself a little too seriously at times, this film all but consistently takes itself way too seriously, when it really shouldn't, not just because the narrative is questionable, and interpreted with blatantly unsubtle writing and direction, but because meat to this story concept is limited, no matter how much they try to bloat themes, which still don't bloat the final product so much that they compensate for, of all things, an unreasonably "short" runtime. With all of my joking about how glad I am to see a relatively short runtime applied to an installment out of a series that, at least up to this point, has been comprised of overlong action filler pieces, briefness is one of the final product's biggest problems, awkwardly rushing immediate the immediate development segment through slam-bang story editing, then leaving its body to dash from one set piece to another, which would be easier to forgive if Woods didn't struggle to work in dramatic elements that have no time to develop and only make the coldness of the pacing all of the more glaring. Even on paper, this narrative is cold and inconsistent, juggling constant visceral momentum and dramatic intensity, and slipping up with either storytelling extreme through anything from too much exhausting freneticism to dramatic laziness, yet director John Moore could have compensated enough to save the final product as decent, were it not for highlights in tension's being matched, if not outweighed by a prominent sense of laziness to challenging written cheesiness and exhausting plot structuring. Really, if nothing else is off about this film, it is a distinct lack of inspiration, at least on the whole, and while there are moments in which inspiration kicks in and drives the final product to the edge of decency, on the whole, Moore doesn't do anything special enough for you to stand a chance against all of the familiarity, unevenness and coldness that slowly, but surely eat away at the effort, until it collapses into mediocrity.
When the day is done, handsome cinematography and outstanding, if implausible action certainly provide plenty of style, but it's a reasonably intriguing premise's being brought to life by highlights in direction and a colorful cast - from which leading man Bruce Willis once again stands out - that bring the final product startlingly close to decency, ultimately lost in the wake of considerable genericism, a questionable and thin narrative concept, and bombastically overblown, uneven and exhaustingly slam-banged storytelling that, when backed by generally uninspired-feeling direction, drive "A Good Day to Die Hard" into mediocrity, no matter how close it comes to decency.
2.25/5 - Mediocre
Posted on 12/06/13 04:45 PM
I don't know who's saying that this film's title is lame, because I for one find it to be awesome... for a tagline or something. Hey, after "Die Hard 2: Die Harder", the standard fell harder than the deaths in this series, and at any rate, at least this film's official American title is more creative than the alternate title, "Die Hard 4.0". Well, that title is at least more fitting, because this film is all about computers and whatnot, so much so that they got the Mac guy to be Bruce Willis' sidekick, even though they sadly didn't take advantage of the opportunity to make John Hodgman the antagonist (I don't care how cool Timothy Olyphant is, I want "Mac vs. PC: The Movie"). Really, when this film showed up, it had been twelve years before we saw either hide or hai-... head of John McClane, so a lot of things have changed, and yet, even in this day and age, people still aren't so offended by everyone's favorite film series about terrorism in New York that the producers didn't fight to give this thing the R rating that the other installments had gotten. I like how Martin "Leon" Thomas of Spill.com put it when he said that the only villain that McClane hasn't been able to defeat is the ratings board, though I would like to disagree to a certain extent, because the biggest villain that McClane has not yet bested is hair loss. Boy, Michael Chiklis sure did lose a lot of weight for "The Shield: The Movie", or rather, a "Fantastic Four" spin-off about Ben "Thing" Grimm, seeing as how this film is so over-the-top that it may as well be Bruce Willis' second superhero film. Okay, I think it's official that "Unbreakable" was, in fact, the real fourth "Die Hard" installment, made to explain what happened to Sam Jackson's character after "Die Hard 3", and how Bruce Willis' iconic character got superpowers, or at least that's my attempt at trying to make sense out of this (This is directed by the guy who started up the "Underworld" films, so maybe he's implementing his tastes in supernatural action films), because as much as I found this film to be fun, it's a little "hard"-head, as well as flawed in other ways.
The film's somewhat less fluffy attitude to storytelling makes the final runtime of well over two hours feel a bit more reasonable than it has been in previous installments in the "Die Hard" saga, but if it's not excess filler that drags out this narrative, it's overcomplicated material that bloats plotting and, with it, length, often to a repetitious point, no matter how much the film shoves in moments in pacing gets too snappy for its own good. The action sequences are certainly noisier than ever, but there's a fair deal of freneticism throughout sometimes downright lame-brain storytelling to all but make up for all of the structural dragging with sudden, or rather, jarring jolts in pacing, which may not aggravate too much, but certainly add to unevenness in pacing, while playing a role in tonal unevenness. This film arguably takes itself more seriously than any of the "Die Hard" installment up to this point, yet that relative seriousness is still often broken by all of the aforementioned frantic comic relief, if not less directly humorous, more tongue-in-cheek moments that would be more effective if they weren't so inconsistent with tone or, for that matter, cheesy. Of course, it's not the film is rarely cheesy, because even without the fall-flat moments in humor, it's hard to not be a little annoyed by all of the over-the-top action, as well as a questionable narrative whose storytelling intrigue goes challenged by limitations in believability, made all the more glaring by bombastic direction, and even by familiarity. A very modern action blockbuster to be a revival of a classic action series, this film feels very different from its predecessor, although that is by no means to say that this film doesn't feel much too similar to many an effort of its type, being almost as formulaic as any "Die Hard" installment with all of the tropes and thin characterization. This may be new for a classic series, but outside of that, it's nothing new, and that familiarity makes it all the harder to disregard all of the inconsistencies in pacing and tone and cheesiness that make the final product not much more than just another action blockbuster, like its predecessors, only more modern. Of course, as surely as the predecessors were fun flicks fit for the '80s and '90s, this revival a plenty of fun as a modern action thriller, complete with an intriguing, if questionable story to break up with explosions and whatnot.
Yeah, this very modern thriller narrative about cyber terrorism and buddy coppery is pretty familiar, as well as pretty hard to buy in plenty of places, yet it remains intriguing, with nifty ideas as a race-against-time and over-the-top action blockbuster. Make no mistakes, there are plenty of things about this overblown story to question, especially when storytelling starts to take itself too seriously, but if you're willing to run with this story concept, it's pretty fun to unravel, even on paper, and when it comes to directorial interpretation, the entertainment value continues. As surely as the basic story concept carries questionable attributes, Len Wiseman's direction carries questionable attributes, particularly when it comes to bombasticism which leads to some pacing inconsistencies, maybe even tonal inconsistencies, yet the fast pace that is responsible for it all consistently delivers on entertainment value, and often compliments tension, especially when the action kicks in. The broader action set pieces are particularly dumb and over-the-top, as you can imagine, but it is still outstandingly grand in staging, as well as pumped up by excellent special effects, and when it comes to the tighter combat that this series has always been particularly well-known for, you can expect sharp choreography and about as much intensity as there can be with a PG-13 rating (I reckon the "unrated" cut - which is indeed rated R, no matter how much they try to deny it - is the definitive version, especially for R-lovin' "Die Hard" fans). Needless to say, the action particularly flavors up the fun factor, yet the final product keeps consistent with entertainment value, backed by an intriguing premise, briskly well-paced and stylish direction, and - last, but not least - a colorful cast. Serious material, or at least attempts at serious material, provide some dramatic opportunities that most everyone in this talented cast handles pretty well, but at the end of the day, charisma reigns supreme, especially within the leads, with Justin Long being charming and sometimes effective as a genius and smart-aleck hacker whose problematic skills place him in dangers well over his head, while Bruce Willis, as sharp as always as John McClane, charms just as much, if not more, but not without bonding with Long's charisma in a way that nails a sense of chemistry and building comradery between the leads which drive the protagonistic roles, or at least endear thoroughly. Either way, Willis and Long do a lot to carry this film, yet don't work alone, because as much as this film takes itself too seriously to be so formulaic, uneven and cheesy, fun never fails in making the final product a relatively worthy comeback for a series whose underwhelmingness is still retained, even with all of the entertainment value.
Bottom line, uneven pacing is bookended by draggy overcomplications to plotting and frantic elements that are mostly anchored by overtly fluffy elements which also inspire tonal unevenness, settled by consistency in cheesiness within the narrative, whose familiarity subtly, but surely, secures the final product as yet another underwhelming "Die Hard" installment and modern action thriller, complete with a still-reasonably intriguing, if questionable story concept that is driven enough by lively direction - highlighted by excellent action set pieces - and a colorful cast - headed by the charismatic duo of Bruce Willis and Justin Long - to make "Live Free or Die Hard" a fun action blockbuster, if you can get past the usual problems found within "Die Hard" and modern thriller flicks.
2.5/5 - Fair
Posted on 12/05/13 05:07 PM
"Christmas with the McClanes" came a little early in 1995, so much so that they just finally decided to scrap that whole Christmas theme, outside of a few cute, but somewhat forced winks at "Die Hard" and Christmas fans, either because these films are running together too much as it is without the Christmas theme, or because the "Christmas in July" novelty was old back in the '80s and '90s. I don't know about a Christmas theme, but this film is certainly bringing back John McTiernan, or at least I think they are, because, like I said, the first "Die Hard" and "Die Hard 2" ran into each other so much that I couldn't even tell the difference between direction. Well, if Renny Harlin was, by chance, key in their decision to give "Die Hard 2" the subtitle "Die Harder", then you can definitely feel his absence, as "Die Hard with a Vengeance" is a pretty cool title, even though I doubt the effectiveness of a vengeance exacted when you're dead, and in a hard fashion no less. You know what, I think this film's title gets a whole cooler when you see it on the poster, right above Samuel L. Jackson's name, which, of course, makes everything a little bit cooler. By that logic, this film's title, alone, was downright awesome five years later, when Jackson did a certain other cop film, because people could look back and think of this as the ultimate super-cop team-up between John McClane and John Shaft. Shoot, and on top of all of that, they're going up against Jeremy Irons, who was born to play a clichéd, intellectual terrorist mastermind, so they may as well have kept up the Christmas theme, as this is a Christmas present to action thriller fans if I've every heard of one. ...Nah, nevermind, because the filmmakers were right if they did, in fact, feel that, even without the Christmas theme, these films carried too many similar elements, including certain flaws that haven't gotten any less forgivable the third time around.
As much as I joke about how much this series' installments run together, seeing as how the first two entries were too close in content for comfort, this particular film is pretty distinguished from it predecessors, although it's hardly different from thrillers of its nature, and no matter how much the attempts at complexity work to settle predictability, it's pretty easy to tell where this trope-heavy path is leading, no matter how much it stretches on. Longer than the still draggy "Die Harder", this film runs around the same length of the original "Die Hard", which was, of course, by no means reasonable, so, as sure as sunshine, while there is a touch more eventfulness to this narrative than the ones, or rather, "one" followed by the predecessors, storytelling is still packed with draggy material and even some excessive filler. The final product is arguably not quite as overlong as one might think when comparing the layers of this story concept and the interpretation's final runtime, but this is still about as overdrawn as the first two films, as its story concept is still too thin to sustain a length of almost two hours and a quarter, no matter how many questionable paths they try to take. Sure, there are some cheesy moments in dialogue and comic relief, but it's the plot structure that is most questionably drawn by writer Jonathan Hensleigh, who all but convolutes the narrative with overblown set pieces, but not without placing some thinness to characterization. As one might expect, this script is hardly subtle, and it's hard to ignore this when director John McTiernan bloats his storytelling atmosphere with a momentum that may be fun in its tightness and all, but carries some sense of overambition that stresses problems, which are limited in quantity, but considerable in magnitude. What missteps there are in this perhaps intentionally flawed, over-the-top blockbuster are very recurring, and while I'm not asking for much out of this effort, this is still kind of an underwhelming thriller, like its predecessors. Of course, also like its predecessors, this film sure provides plenty of fun, enough so to succeed as an action thriller, complete with, well, some thrilling action.
Not quite as directly brawl-driven as the first two installments of this series, this film's action aspects even deliver on thrilling non-combat set pieces whose tight momentum reinforces a sense of race against time, while the hand-to-hand, or gun-to-gun, or explosion-to-explosion set pieces that we all know and love about this franchise prove to be well-staged and choreographed, with a certain intensity and slightly over-the-top grandness to both entertain and keep up some tension. What combat there is is as thrilling as it usually has been in the series, at least up to this point, and when we're looking at relatively simple chase sequences, you can also expect plenty of thrills, yet this is still a less action-oriented installment in the thriller saga, so don't expect too much biting action. Of course, that's not to say that the story, alone, doesn't have some bite to it, because even though meat is limited, partly due familiarity and largely due to this flick's being barely, if at all less minimalist than its relatively simple predecessors, the formula is distinguished from the formula followed by "Die Harder" and "Die Harder" for you to gain a particularly firm grip on intrigue, which is very present, thanks to riddle-driven complexities and other colorful, if questionably drawn attributes that trip up the mind in a fairly fun fashion, often complimented by tension, and near-consistently brought to life by John McTiernan. McTiernan is about as bombastic in his storytelling as he was when he worked with the first "Die Hard", but an overtly brisk pacing does more than just beat you over the head and flavor up thrilling action, sustaining a velocity that graces heights in conflict handling with tension, and never lets up on a colorful atmosphere to entertain thoroughly. McTiernan's storytelling is tense about as often as it is faulty, yet fun never abates, driving the film, at least as a fluff piece, complete with all of the thrilling action and "complexities" that I addressed earlier, as well as the colorful performances that you might expect from a cast like this. The supporting players are pretty decent and all, with Jeremy Irons being convincing and even morbidly charming in his portrayal of a flamboyant and dangerous intellectual antagonist, but it's the leads who really keep things going, with Bruce Willis not being given the dramatic material that he sometimes had to reinforce a sense of consequence in the first two films, but still delivering on that classic action star charisma, which Samuel L. Jackson all but matches with his trademark, over-the-top intense charm, whose bonding with the charm of Willis produces a delightful frenemy chemistry that does much justice to the buddy aspect which drives this particular "Die Hard" installment in a lot of ways. Willis and Jackson keep the momentum up about as much as anyone, and there are plenty of people and aspects to sustain a fun factor, which ultimately crafts quite the entertaining thriller, regardless of the shortcomings that we've come to expect out of films like this.
Overall, while this film is distinguished from its predecessors, by no means is it all that distinguished from formulaic thrillers of its type, featuring bloating in both unsubtle storytelling and length to only stress the natural shortcomings that secure the final product as underwhelming, yet are challenged enough by thrilling action, an intriguing narrative, thoroughly well-paced direction and a colorful cast - headed by the delightfully charismatic duo of Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson - that "Die Hard with a Vengeance" is able to stand as a fun, if overtly fluffy third round in a classic popcorn saga.
2.5/5 - Fair
Posted on 12/04/13 04:55 PM
The first "Die Hard" was inspired by the novel "Nothing Lasts Forever", and this one is inspired by "58 Minutes", neither of which are related to each other, let alone John McClane, so for a while there, this series seemed to be on a mission to rip off as many thriller novels as it could. Shoot, as many action flicks as these, or at least this film rip off, I doubt that most people care, while the people who might care, due to their being downright in love with these films, are probably not smart enough to be big readers. I understand that these films make no pretense about being inspired by the novels in question, but I say, "rip off", because they're disrespecting "Nothing Lasts Forever" author Roderick Thorp enough by spelling his surname "Thorpe" in the credits, and plus, I can think of a few people who would say that Walter Wager is being disrespected more just by their adapting "58 Minutes" to this in the first place. No, this film got fair reviews, and I subscribe to those sentiments, but come on, how bright can a film whose full title is "Die Hard 2: Die Harder" possibly be? They should have just said what everyone wants to hear: "Die Hard 2: John McClane vs. Django on a Plane Rigged With Explosives"! It's always nice to know that Franco Nero is alive, even if that reminder ironically comes in a film titled "Die Hard... 2: Die Harder" (That's such a lame subtitle, but boy, does it tell you just how hard people die in this film), and it's also nice when that film is entertaining. Yup, it's another fun little Christmas with the McClanes, but even though it's all fun and games when somebody's getting hurt, as surely as it was "hard" to ignore flaws out of the first "Die Hard" it is indeed "harder" to deny the flaws out of this follow-up (Are my puns lamer than this film's title yet?).
It's debatable whether or not this film is as sharp as its predecessors, - which was still not as intelligent on the whole as it was in certain places - but it's decisive that this narrative has plenty of the natural limitations that secured the predecessor as underwhelming in a lot of ways, and are perhaps greater here, thinning out meat something fierce, and making matters all the worse by joining limitations in genuine bite with limitations in subtlety. If Steven E. de Souza's writing with Doug Richardson is more cartoonish and trite than de Souza's collaboration with Jeb Stuart on the predecessor's script, then it's just barely dumber, but the fact of the matter is that this effort has more than a few lame-brain elements in dialogue, characterization and overall storytelling that, on top of being kind of cheesy, are generic. Needless to say, there's plenty of laziness here, and it is most reflect in hopelessly predictable plotting that does very little, if anything at all to change up the traditional formula of action fluff pieces of this type and era, or even change up the formula from the previous film. In ways that are both good and bad, this film is way too similar to the original, only with less of what freshness there was in 1988's "Die Hard", in addition to an arguably less meaty story concept, though is at least sure to keep faithful to dragging. Almost ten minutes shorter than "Die Hard", this film is not as long, and therefore not as overdrawn as its predecessor, - whose potential for relatively extensive flesh-out is barely greater - but at just over two hours, it still takes longer than it should to tell a simple and even familiar story, and that does hardly anything outside of provide you with plenty of time to meditate upon the aforementioned shortcomings, both natural and consequential. The film subtly, but surely falls behind its predecessor, and let me tell you, I was still pretty underwhelmed by the original "Die Hard" that everyone remembers most, ostensibly because this film, being less meaty and fresh, is hardly memorable as anything more than a fun, but somewhat lazy piece of '80s/early '90s action thriller filler. Don't expect to walk out of this film remembering it all that clearly, but don't expect to walk into a totally fall-flat feature either, because in spite of many a limitation, the final product delivers on a fun factor that can even be detected in the thin story concept.
As I've been saying time and again, this film's story concept is formulaic, as well as thin to begin with, and yet, this is still a fun premise, having only so much of the weight that was still lacking in the predecessor, but never losing so much momentum that it can't draw an entertaining narrative, with the fair bit of colorful intrigue that primarily powered predecessor. Of course, just as '88's "Die Hard" couldn't retain decency without director John McTiernan's reasonably inspired efforts, this film owes a lot of credit to director Renny Harlin for his bombastic, but well-paced storytelling, which sustains entertainment value through all of the aimlessness, especially when action kicks in. The action is hardly anything new, but it's ripe with explosive practical special effects to compliment tight staging, whose great deal of attention to damage done on the environment and even the lead, as well as some violence (Now that's what I call an "eye-cicle"; Ha-ha, ouch), reinforce a sense of consequence. Most all of the shootouts, brawls and, of course, plane threats carry quite a bit of tension, but in this thriller whose substance is limited, the action is mostly simply fun, and that really pumps up the entertainment value which drives the final product about as much as anything, including a worthy lead. I reckon most everyone is decent, but as surely as you can't see the original "Die Hard" with Frank Sinatra-I mean, without Bruce Willis, Willis delivers yet again as the driving onscreen force for this film, bringing back that classic action star charisma and presence, occasionally broken up by some effective dramatic beats to further build tension. Quite frankly, there is just not that much to compliment here, and what strengths there are seem to the exact same elements that you could compliment out of the predecessor, except here, the strengths aren't as fresh, if they were even all that fresh in the first place, resulting in a softening of bite. However, with that said, while the strengths in this film are diluted by their being so familiar, they were strong enough to give the predecessor a fair bit of momentum that carried it to decency, and no matter how much this effort treads familiar ground, it still carries that entertainment value with it, and while that's not enough to make a memorable thriller, it certainly gets the final product by as, at the very least, kind of fun, if you can get past all of the problems.
When it's all said and done, more-or-less in the same way it was done and said before, natural shortcomings are stressed in concept by some lame-brain narrative elements, and in execution by a bombastic directorial atmosphere, genericisms and dragging, until the final product finally sputters out as underwhelming, yet not without being stabilized as entertaining by the lively direction, solid action and strong lead performance - courtesy of Bruce Willis - that prove to be enough to make "Die Hard 2: Die Harder" (Seriously, why?) a flawed, but fun follow-up.
2.5/5 - Fair
Posted on 12/03/13 04:57 PM
Man, that's a hardcore title, and the irony of it is that this film has earned some notoriety for being one of the first major action blockbusters to show the awesome main character sustain some serious injuries. They probably should have stuck with the title of the novel that inspired it, "Nothing Lasts Forever", because the John McClane character does take a beating, or at least seems to up until he beats back and makes his injuries look almost as severe as the ones sustained by, like, Arnold Schwarzenegger or something. I say, "almost", because that insinuates that Schwarzenegger gets hurt at all when he's killing off chumps who, you know, aren't advanced alien hunters, so yeah, forget John McClane... I say now. Yeah, let's not tell Bruce Willis these jokes, because we've had a long time after 1988 to get used to his action star status, even though I'd imagine plenty of people were questioning the action star potential of the guy who had just gotten off of the show "Moonlighting" and was almost a year away from starring in a drama about some wimp who couldn't suck it up after little things like, oh, the horribly scarring, traumatic events of the Vietnam War. Shoot, I think some people were hoping that this would be Willis' dramatic break, because at almost two hours and a quarter, this thing better have some emotional weight to it, like it probably would have had if they did really go with a 73-year-old Frank Sinatra and depressed most everyone in the theater. Yeah, I guess Willis wasn't the most questionable casting choice made at the time, and in retrospect, we all know that he was by no means the wrong way to go, because the man makes for quite the action star, even when he's getting beaten up. Okay, calm down, over-the-top Schwarzenegger flick fans, because McClane doesn't take that big of a beating, and even if he did, well, that would hardly be the final product's only issue.
The film has a few refreshing elements, some of which were are audacious at the time and remain respectable to this day, yet there are still some lazy areas in storytelling, and that is particularly reflected within conventional beats, because at the end of the day, this was hardly anything all that new, and that fact is especially problematic when familiar subtlety issues kick in. Within Steven E. de Souza's and Jeb Stuart's script, there are some dialogue faults, as well as some comic relief that thins out meat, which is limited to begin with by some near-cartoonishly unsubtle characterization and set piece establishment, all backed by bombastic moments in atmosphere. Bombasticism to director John McTiernan's direction carries a lively pacing that keeps entertainment value up, but it also reduces bite in a lot of ways, and that would be easier to forgive if the film didn't try to be sharper, at least in concept, you know, up to a point. Again, there are some refreshing approaches to this blockbuster subject matter, and yet, the fact of the matter is that this subject matter is suited for a piece of expendable '80s action filler, carrying a certain minimalism to its scope and weight that is emphasized by the aforementioned subtlety and familiarity, in addition to a questionable runtime. The film is more tightly told than I feared, but, at 132 minutes, it's still draggy, almost to an aimless degree, struggling to find material to build tension, only to ironically water down momentum the more it is sustained past a reasonable point. As I said earlier, there's enough velocity to McTiernan's pacing to drive entertainment value consistently, but the degree of that entertainment value is shaken by structural pacing problems, backed by many an issue in uniqueness and subtlety that secure the final product as hardly anything that much more memorable than your usual '80s cult action vehicle. Of course, the series couldn't be too forgotten, as it continues to be recognized as a fun action flick classic to this day, and understandably so, because in spite of all of the shortcomings, it still entertains thoroughly, at least with its action.
While it's hardly firmly set down to earth, this film's action aspects don't quite flaunt the over-the-top fun of the usual action blockbuster of the 1980s, yet the brawls more-or-less compensate with a reasonably realistic intensity, anchored by tight choreography and an attention to violence, and complimented in certain places by slight over-the-top touches. If director John McTiernan delivers on nothing else, it is some pretty strong action, and yet, his strengths don't end there, for although McTiernan's storytelling gets to be bombastic, it has some inspiration to its crafting a thriller, placing some extensive attention on a somewhat gritty situation that gives a moderate sense of bite, no matter how limited it may be by natural shortcomings. At the very least, McTiernan keeps up momentum lively enough to hold entertainment value through all of the dragging, as well as other distancing elements that he may very well have inspired with his uneven, but fair direction, which does some intriguing justice to a story concept that was always to have a fair deal of intrigue. Again, this film's story concept is nothing too new, nor is it even anything all that meaty, juggling '80s action fluff piece superficiality and biting intensity somewhat sloppily, but not so sloppily that you can't get a grip on some intelligence to the approach to character motivation and happenings, regardless of some trite expository moments. Yeah, there really isn't all that much depth here, but there is some, and that's pretty much all you need to reinforce a fair degree of the tension, which is done further justice by McTiernan's generally adequately inspired direction, as well as by inspiration within the cast. Hart Bochner, when actually used, is not particularly good, ostensibly because his sleazy Harry Ellis character is too cheesily written to sell, but outside of that, most everyone is decent, if not kind of strong, with Alan Rickman making his somewhat thinly written, maybe even clichéd antagonist character reasonably buyable with his near-trademark sly charisma, while leading man Bruce Willis truly powers the film, not just with the action star presence and charisma that they weren't expecting him to nail in 1988, but with some dramatic touches that provide glimpses into the vulnerability of the iconic John McClane character, as well as yet more range in the talented actor. Willis had to have been key in making this an iconic action film, just as this film certainly made Willis an iconic action star, because outside of him, there's only so much that's special, which isn't to say that there isn't enough to either respect as refreshing or enjoy as entertaining to make the final product a worthy watch, even though it's not all that worth remembering.
In conclusion, the story's meat is almost as limited as its originality, and subtlety issues and a draggy runtime reflect this thoroughly enough for the final product to collapse into underwhelmingness, maybe even forgetability, at least to a certain degree, as there is ultimately enough intrigue to the narrative, intensity to the action, momentum to the direction and strength to the performances of Alan Rickman and leading man Bruce Willis to make "Die Hard" a fun and sometimes gripping thriller, even though it's "hard" to really recommend (I'm sorry for that, but whatever).
2.5/5 - Fair
Posted on 12/02/13 05:04 PM
Where London had an American werewolf to deal with, this is "Australian as an American Wolverine in Japan", but no, this film's title isn't quite that clever. This is "The Wolverine", as in the definitive Wolverine film, so y'all can forget about "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", like I'd imagine plenty of you do. In case you haven't quite figured it out yet, superhero nerds, when I say that I'd imagine plenty of people feel a certain way, I am typically insinuating that I do not fall under the consensus when it comes to opinions on something. Yeah, forget you guys, I liked "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", although it did get mighty cheesy at times, even for a superhero film, but you people can rest assured that this subject matter will be treated with some blasted respect and seriousness, as it is directed by James Mangold, the man behind "Copland", "Girl, Interrupted", "Walk the Line", "Identity", "3:10 to Yuma" and... "Knight and Day". Well, it would appear as though the last film that Mangold has done was also an over-the-top comic book film, - only without comic book source material, just a comic book level of groundedness (That's a real word, right?) - and on top of that, the last film that he's done with Hugh Jackman was "Kate & Leopold", a romantic-comedy, so just by association with Mangold's filmography, as well as Hugh Jackman's dance-musical-riddled resume, this film has some cheesiness to it. Well, it was either that or Darren Aronofsky, and you wouldn't want to get too far deep into the bleak, brutally graphic depths of a character as scarred and violent as Wolverine... as opposed to a dark drama freak like me, who thinks that that's an awesome idea for an "X-Men" film. Of course, I am the jerk who loved "Watchmen", and at any rate, Aronofsky must not have a great amount of luck with Jackman, because "The Fountain", while decent, kind of broke Aronofsky's streak of really good dramas, which, if sorry luck didn't strike, would continue with this film, which, as it stands, still isn't without some problems.
Usually I wouldn't ask for that much uniqueness out of a film like this, but on top of taking itself more serious than plenty of its peers in plenty of places, this film hits conventions particularly too hard to be fully forgiven, falling into many a trope that has been done near-dead by superhero flicks like this, and even retreading dramatic themes surrounding the titular lead and his mythology that have been exhausted. I understand the importance of really playing up the mythology of Wolverine that we all know and could very well love, but there's something about the way this effort really gets into exploring familiar ground that makes this installment in the "X-Men" saga feel, well, somewhat unnecessary, and no matter how good it is to have this rewarding film at the end of the day, bite is limited, and an ambitious feel to James Mangold's direction only augments your awareness of that, especially when the studio interfere with his vision. This may be a nitpick, but the problem with this ultimately very commercial film's superficial struggle to tap-dance around graphic violence and very thorough dramatic depth is that it clashes with storytelling generally serious tone, and director James Mangold, ostensibly realizing that the studio would work to haze his deeper vision, works to compensate, perhaps too much at times. Mangold's directorial approach to this narrative is certainly more thoughtful than the commercial studio heads, though it's sure to keep pacing smooth enough for the final product to never slip into all-out dullness, and yet, there are still moments where quiet blandness kicks when once material for Mangold to meditate on either runs out or gradually dries up, as it often does, due to fat around the edges' giving material kick plenty of time to sputter out. Running a somewhat reasonable, but also somewhat questionable length that exceeds two hours, this film features dragginess that is subtle, but ultimately prominent enough to drive the final product into repetition, if not aimlessness that leaves an initially considerable bit of momentum to compellingness to gradually die down, especially when backed by aforementioned other storytelling problems. To tell you the truth, against my expectations, the film starts out very well, promising to not only be the best installment in the "X-Men" film franchise, but a very strong effort by its own right, yet as things drag along, that strength gradually dies down under the weight of subtle, but definite issues in originality, kick consistency and pacing that ultimately prevent the final product to fulfilling its surprisingly hefty deal of potential. Of course, the effort doesn't fall as far short as I was fearing, making promises that it couldn't entirely fulfill, to be sure, but rewarding as both a meaty drama and a well-produced, or at least well-located blockbuster.
The production value in Ian Gracie's, Rika Nakanishi's and Michael Turner's art direction is subtle, but lovely, celebrating the unique architectural tastes of the Japanese culture, while incorporating some unique futuristic beats to further distinguish visual style that receives yet more polish from stylishly slick effects that convince a whole lot more than the hit-or-miss digital touches in "Origins" and, to a lesser extent, "First Class". The effects enhance style, and, as you can imagine, that's especially the case during the action sequences, for although a combination of overstylizing and a superficial approach to graphic imagery that could potentially reinforce a sense of consequence leave frantic editing and filming to confuse you as to what's going on, staging and choreography are thrillingly dynamic enough to compensate for some questionable directorial moves with slickness and a fair bit of intensity. Just as expected, the film excels stylistically and technically, and that sustains a fair bit of entertainment value through slow spells in substance, which, as irony would have it, is what really powers a compellingness that is unevenly seen in blockbusters, maybe even the cinematic "X-Men" saga itself. The "X-Men" film series might not be given enough credit for its maturity, at least in comparison to other Marvel properties in the live-action film industry, but when Martin "Leon" Thomas of Spill.com boasted that this is the "least comic book of all the 'X-Men' movies", he may very well have been right, as this installment does not simply bring the tone of the series back to the grown-up point that the prequels - particularly "Origins" - didn't quite reach, but is particularly celebratory of a layered, human core as a dramatic character study, even with all of the visceral blockbuster color, and writers Mark Bomback and Scott Frank handle subject matter like this as best they can with well-rounded characterization and intelligently subtle, yet firm thematic bite, while director James Mangold delivers on his own inspiration as a dramatic and blockbuster storyteller. Sometimes stylistically questionable, at least when it comes to the arguably over-editing action, Mangold's directorial efforts generally do a fine job of showcasing the atmospheric intensity and dynamic, viscerally sharp style that Mangold has picked up since his relatively recent self-reinvention as an action filmmaker, but not without forgetting Mangold's roots as a dramatic storyteller, backed by thoughtful storytelling that may get a little too steady at times, but is mostly very effective in bonding you with the human core of this drama. Of course, Mangold doesn't pull off such a compelling dramatic storytelling job without help from a worthy cast of memorable talents, headed by the show-stealing Hugh Jackman, who nails his iconic role about as well as he ever has, with a smoothly charismatic and subtly intense presence, punctuated by some moving dramatic notes which help Jackman in carrying film. Jackman, like Mangold, has only so much deeply compelling material to work with, so he doesn't exactly carry the film very far, but he stands of one of the more notable of many strengths which carry the final product past its subtle shortcomings and into a rewarding state that this series hasn't touched so firmly in a long while.
Overall, trope-heavy storytelling and some superficiality to the studio's interpretation of graphic imagery that could have reinforced a sense of consequence retard momentum about as much as bland directorial cold spells behind draggy plot structuring, to the point of driving the final product shy of strong, but not so shy that fine art direction and effects, thrilling action sequences, and a compelling story - brought to life by well-rounded writing, inspired direction and strong acting, particularly from Hugh Jackman - don't prove to be enough to make James Mangold's "The Wolverine" a genuinely rewarding continuation of the viscerally and dramatically intriguing saga of one of everyone's favorite hardcore Marvel heroes.
3/5 - Good