A Good Day to Die Hard

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013), directed by John Moore

How so many people, with so much talent and credit to their names, could get together and spend all this time making a sequel of an established, fan-favourite action franchise, and end up with a movie as bad as A Good Day to Die Hard boggles the mind.

I mean, at no point did anyone speak up and ask “is this really the way we want to go with this one?”

A Good Day to Die Hard has to be one of the laziest, most incoherent, incompetent, insulting messes of a movie I have seen in some time.

Now, I’m a Die Hard fan but I’m not a die hard Die Hard fan, if you know what I mean. The first one is, naturally, one of my favourite action movies. I’m sure we can all agree on that. The sequels vary in quality, and I might be alone in believing the fourth one is the best. But that’s not saying much.

As they’ve come along they’ve generally decreased in quality as they’ve increased in scope and a reliance on modern action movie pitfalls. You can appreciate them as fun cheesy action movies but none of them touch the legitimate quality of the original. Kind of like Rambo.

And that’s OK, it is what it is, but this latest one, part five over here, fails terribly in even that department.

There are a number of reasons. Broken record time here, but one of the main reasons is the action sequences are so horribly incoherent and obviously CGI-riddled that they’re impossible to follow and the exact opposite of fun. The fun of outrageous stunts is, well, for one thing, understanding what’s happening, but also having that “I can’t believe they did that!” reaction as an audience member.

I don’t care if it’s stunt doubles and fancy camera work, having some textile sense that in some way what you are watching actually happened is essential to enjoying a stunt. A blurry John McClane avatar hanging off a video game-looking helicopter, all in two-second cuts so you can’t tell how crappy it all looks, just doesn’t do it for me.

I don’t want to get all “it’s not like it used to be” but I re-watched Terminator 2: Judgement Day this weekend, and damn yo, that’s how you stage action scenes. Tripods, proper choreography, sensible editing, real-world stunts, all used to drive the story line forward and develop characters.

Hell, an action movie can even give viewers a thought or two to chew on. Imagine that. Something beyond cliches and tropes we are just meant to observe, ingest and then forget about as we get back to senseless action scenes.

And this shaky camera thing has just gone too far. About one scene into the film we get McClane talking to another cop in cliched old-age cop dialogue. Whatever, I don’t expect David Mamet here, but can we at least see this exchange without feeling like I’m going to get seasick? Use a damn tripod already. Using handheld adds nothing to the scene and is a pathetic attempt to add “immediacy” and something, anything interesting to a crap scene.

Remember when craftsmanship meant something in an action film? When a filmmaker was expected to have a coherent story, characters you care about, building action leading to an emotional climax and then the technical prowess and cinematic ingenuity to pull it all together? Me too, but barely.

Can we please take A Good Day to Die Hard and use it as an example of the worst it can get? Can we all watch this and realize we’ve gone to far and it’s time to rethink how we approach action movies? As moviegoers, can we demand more than this and quit putting up with action scenes that only deliver a sense of action, as opposed to actual coherent activity? Can we demand dialogue and characters that actually appeal to audiences and are not just references to action movies of days done by?

I mean, let’s work at this a little folks, put a little effort into our movies.

Because we deserve better than this.

A Good Day to Die Hard is in cinemas now. Don’t go see it.

Looper

Looper (2012), directed by Rian Johnson

Imagine for a moment if you had to kill yourself. But not really yourself, but like, yourself in the future. Only in the present. Because the older version of you has come back in time for the sole purpose to be killed by you (the younger, now you). Got it?

Time travel movies obviously don’t make a lot of sense. There are always gaping holes (or loops, if you will) in them. Looper realizes this and just runs with it anyway, which I like. In fact, one of my favourite moments in the movie is when Bruce Willis’ character, the older Joe, says he doesn’t want to talk about time travel because they’ll “be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws.”

It’s a funny, telling moment that really speaks to Johnson’s love of style over sense. Take his first feature, for instance, the neo-noir high school flick Brick which had teenagers talking like Sam Spade while their mums serve them juice. Did it make any logical, reality-based sense? Of course not. Was it delicious to watch as a piece of cinematic candy? Absolutely.

(I’m going to pretend Johnson never made The Brothers Bloom.)

Looper is enjoyable in a similar way, as a purely cinematic experience, a rich, rough, textured one at that. It doesn’t necessarily make perfect sense, but who cares? It’s a sci-fi flick, as in it has floating motorcycles and strange looking weapons, but it’s also a crime movie, complete with kingpins and shootouts, and a time-travel movie, of course. And all mashed together with a dark, tough edge to keep it interesting.

The fun part is watching it work on all those levels. As Willis storms into the lair of henchmen taking them out one by one with two machine guns to get at the big cheese, it’s a great action crime movie. The whole time travel plot is a perfect setup. The weird drug, solar panel car future schtick works too. And it all gels together, which can’t be easy to pull off.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is becoming quite the little star. We’re already all talking about him like he’s the new Ryan Gosling, and maybe the comparison is apt, but this is a fun time because JGL is in the midst of getting himself to that level. He’s a good actor and it will be interesting to see where he goes from here. But with 50/50 and Dark Knight Rises to his name now people are talking, and for good reason. The guy has charisma.

In this one he’s done up in some prosthetic face gear to make him look slightly more like Bruce Willis. It looks slightly ridiculous, but again, I almost enjoyed that because it really works with Johnson’s whole thing. We’re already willingly suspending our disbelief anyway, so asking us to believe that this slightly plastic-y looking JGL is a young Bruce Willis just adds to the fun of it.

I saw Looper in a packed theatre and had a heck of a good time just going along with the ride. It seemed like everyone else did too. It’s inventive, but makes sure to throw in enough genre staples to seem familiar and fun. And all with a little welcome grit to it.

Just don’t try to make any sense out of it.

Looper is in theatres now.

Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom (2012), directed by Wes Anderson

Wow, is this film ever stirring up a lot of debate. Those who can’t stand Anderson seem to have had enough and are drawing the line, while those who love him are fighting back with their quirky opinions and quirky arguments. And it’s all being set to an obscure Rolling Stones 45 from the ’60s.

Personally, I’m a huge Anderson fan but Moonrise Kingdom honestly isn’t my favourite film of his. That’s not to say I didn’t like it. I did. But it’s certainly no great departure from the typical Anderson film, nor even the culmination of the Anderson style. Rushmore is still the peak in my opinion, but I even enjoyed Fantastic Mr. Fox more than this one.

What is the Anderson style? ’60s music. Well spoken, overly confident characters. Isolated universes. Some degree of magic realism. Earnest heartache. Lush, but somehow old fashioned colour schemes. Shots from above (as made notorious via this YouTube video).

In a more general sense Anderson’s films are small in scope, heavy in quirk, but always made with heart and a real sense of style. They are quirky but rarely post-modern, aside from The Life Aquatic, which is in my opinion Anderson’s worst film. They have a certain sense of surrealism to them at times. They focus on isolated locations full of isolated characters (a school, a house, a train, a farm, a submarine), yet find a way to feel universal and personal.

Moonrise Kingdom follows along these lines. It takes place on an island, completely isolated from the world. It takes place in the 1960s, so it’s the first Anderson film that looks appropriate for its time (note: rash generalization for a joke). It has a great cast of children that talk like adults. It’s all set to a Hank Williams soundtrack, with some French pop and instructional classical records thrown in for good measure.

Really, for me, the film is a pleasant, highly enjoyable lark, but not much more. The kids are cute, the movie is fun to watch, it’s really a pure pleasure, but I don’t see in it the things that make me think Anderson is something more than a highly capable director of candy movies for hipsters. At times he has made me think that, or has made me think he is an even better candy movie director, but Moonrise Kingdom really didn’t strike me as anything more than a romp.

I feel like a grump. Or at the very least, a fence sitter. Hear me out, I really enjoyed the movie. The acting is great, especially Norton, Willis and the kids. There are some genuinely hilarious moments, as well as some honestly sweet ones. As a whole the film is stylistically lush and detailed and a pleasure to the senses. It’s a wonderful movie, probably one of the best of the year so far.

But something still held me back. While I can appreciate that Anderson is refining his style, even pushing it, I can’t help but wish that he might do something a little different with it, mix it up a little. You go into this movie knowing what to expect and you get exactly that.

That’s a horrible criticism of a film really, because movies that succeed at what they’re trying to accomplish should generally be praised. But in the case of Anderson, who I have so much respect and admiration for, I really want to see him get outside of his comfort zone. I want him to stretch a little. I want him to show other filmmakers how to do it, not just cut himself off in his own little world. It’s a wonderful world, and probably living in it is what keeps him alive, but I long for a glimmer of ambition.

Maybe that’s not fair, but that’s how I felt as I watched Moonrise Kingdom. Go see it, it’s simply lovely. But that’s the extent of it.

Moonrise Kingdom is in theatres now.