Saturday, June 30, 2007

Die Hard 4: Live Free and Die Hard (2007)

The Die Hard series is probably my second favorite series of movies. My favorite series is Terminator -- yes, including the third one.

That's a different discussion for another time, but these revelations may confuse people out there who know my favorite film of all time is Raiders of the Lost Ark. They'll wonder, "Why isn't the Indiana Jones series his favorite?" Very simple: Temple of Doom is shit. Absolute unwatchable shit. That was the movie where Spielberg first really started making crap movies. He didn't get back to reasonable form until 8 years later, when he made Jurassic Park.

In any case, Die Hard is awesome for two reasons. First reason is because it is the quintessential action movie: the bad guys get shot once and drop off screen, the good guys never die. There are lots of explosions and the bad guys are after money, not political gain. Die Hard 2, the weakest in the series so far, was weak because it strayed a bit from these two basic premises. In that film, they killed a bunch of innocent people in a jetliner, and I think the guys in it were trying to free some political prisoner dude. Die Hard works when the guys don't care anything about that, they just care about the money.

The second reason Die Hard movies kick ass is very simple: Willis. Has he ever been in a bad movie? The John McClane character is perfect for him -- a wise-ass cop who thinks everyone's an asshole and gets stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time -- and the only action character that can make these kinds of sequels work.

Die Hard 4, also known as the much weaker title of Live Free and Die Hard, again manages to trip on the mistake of being politically motivated. It tries to have a post-9/11 message of some sort, and it's just kinda weak as a result.

The movie is too long, of course. Some of the overlong scenes that are simply agonizing because they're obvious setups for later. It's like a screenwriter decided they needed to insert another page back at the beginning or else the end wouldn't make sense. The very first time we see Willis in the movie, it's because he is stalking his college aged daughter while she's on a date. This whole scene was cliche and forced, just to introduce us to this daughter... and I'm sure you see where that goes in an action movie with bad guys.

This is again another mistake they made that's similar to the second movie: McClane doesn't need his family involved to care. Why force the issue?

Second problem of Die Hard 4 is that it's a buddy film where the buddy is annoying naive guy. Die Hard 1 and 3 both had buddies that worked: the LA cop in 1 and Samuel Jackson in 3. Die Hard 2 didn't really have a single buddy, but there were some decent supporting buddy like characters. This movie has the Mac guy as McClane's buddy. He runs around with a laptop and hacks stuff into shape, but otherwise is just a tool while McClane saves the day.

Which brings me to my third point... the hacking around with a laptop. Yes, this is another mainstream movie that tries to use tech in its plot. This makes it very, very hard to watch for anyone who knows the first thing about technology:
  • Cell phones do not use satellites. It's 2007 and people still get that wrong? Unreal.
  • I like when they are "downloading" 500 TB of data remotely to their semi truck full of computers and the first 20% of that is done within minutes. That amount of data, downloaded over the fastest wireless link available today (2.1 mbs EV-DO), would take 80 years to transfer.
And many more.

The action scenes in the movie are ridiculous, much more so than the other Die Hard movies except for 2. McTiernan, who directed Die Hards 1 and 3, always kept some semblance of
reality in the action for the most part, then had one over the top action sequence at the end of the movie. Die Hard 4 has about ten over the top action sequences. Not that they aren't entertaining, but at one point, one of the audience members mock-clapped after a big explosion and everyone laughed. That pretty much sums up the movie overall. It has some good laughs, good action, and you leave feeling pretty good rather than depressed... but I think the spirit of the Die Hard series is probably lost again. Bring back McTiernan to direct the 5th one!

JSS Rating: Good/Good. It's supposed to be a good movie and it is. Clearly, being an action film, seeing on the big screen with an audience is fun. The audience I saw it with wasn't that into it. HD HBO will probably suffice if you're on the fence.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Flight of the Conchords (TV)

In a word, "horrendous."

This show barely gets the needle to the level of "amusing" at times, but then settles back down to "unwatchable" at the 20 minute mark. I think one or two scenes I almost -- not quite -- cracked a smile. Their band's "one fan" in the show ran the two main guys off of the screen in level of humor. Maybe HBO should spin-off a show about the stalker fan.

On IMDB, there was some obvious comparison to Tenacious D. The difference is that Tenacious D taps into the rock-angst-hipster-humor of 1970s/80s American adolesence. They connect to us because we all remember loving Ozzy or AC/DC or whatever in 1979. The Conchords don't have that, and the schtick not funny as a result.

I bet most people like this only because of the network this is on. HBO, or HBO fans, have convinced people that anything on their network is good. If this was on NBC or Fox, it would be off the air before the first commercial break. It's about on the level of "Good Morning Miami", though somehow that show made it two seasons.

Speaking of comedy and NZ, I can't wait to see Black Sheep. The trailer for that cracks me up an order of magnitude more than the 20 minutes of Conchords I was able to bear.

Here's the Black Sheep trailer for your true comedy enjoyment:

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Munich (2005)

Before this movie was released, Kathleen Kennedy (I think) said that it was Spielberg's best movie ever, a great film of the ages, yada yada yada.

One thing could have tipped you off that all of this was empty hype: Eric Roth co-wrote it.

I can't speak much to the facts in this particular Docu-Drama™, but given the what Spielberg put together, it wouldn't surprise me if very little of this is based in fact.... other than the Munich events themselves, and that many of those responsible were later assassinated. Slate goes into this a little bit.

One of the tipoffs that this is another work of fiction "based on fact" by Roth is that these characters are the lamest assassins ever. On their first shooting, they hemmed and hawed about pulling the trigger. You're telling me that Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency traditionally known as bad asses, recruited hitmen who would get cold feet right when they had a gun drawn on one of the Black September terrorists who killed their countrymen? Not only that, their crack bombmaker is a toymaker who was trained to defuse bombs and their bookkeeper was some guy who ran an antique store. That's exactly who I would recruit for this if I was the Prime Minister of Israel (who they connect to this plot at the beginning).

This movie is a mess. Spielberg tells us about the Munich massacre through a bunch of scenes as told on television. Later, he fills in the missing details through flashbacks that Eric Bana has at dramatic times: flying to his first assassination mission, as he hides in the closet on night from assassin paranoia, and while he has sex with his wife. None of this is at all meaningful, or symbolic. It's just that Roth, Michael Kahn, or Spielberg, or whoever, realized that this movie would duller if they had just laid out the Munich story as it should have been: at the beginning.

Spielberg at his worst puts in cool filmmaking tricks for no reason, and this movie has a few of those, like the TV clips at the beginning. The second one is the reveal of the prime minister, Golda Meir. She's hidden behind a file folder they pass down a row of people and then gets revealed when the folder is flipped down. It looks cool on film until you realize how awkward it was.. and for no reason. This is what happens when a good director makes a film with very little story substance.

The only decent parts of the film are the actual plots for assassination, which attempt to be spy-movie-like. However some of these were so poorly executed, in film terms, that the FX crew should be embarrassed. One scene had guns pointed the wrong way out of a car, yet those bullets hit their target (blood packs went off). In the same scene, there was at least one blood pack that went off prematurely to a gunshot as well. I have no eye for practical effects, but even I was able to catch these.

One criticism I had heard of the movie was it was sympathetic to the Munich terrorists. I didn't really feel that way, except for one scene where some Palestinian guys end up at the same "safe house" as the Israeli hit squad. That scene was so forced that it could have been there to alleviate the concern that the movie is too pro-Israel. Well, I'm sure that scene alone has people are lining up to see the film in Damascus. Right.

As always, the movie is too long. Spielberg seems big on scripts that have the old wise person show up halfway through to guide the protagonist. Munich is no exception, however the relationship between those characters is fleeting (except in screen time) and has no bearing on the real story. Even Minority Report, which had a ghastly instance of the Old Wise Person appearance (the lady with the plants), had more relevant story in that meeting. Removing the Old Wise One from Munich could have easily stripped an hour from this movie and not lost a thing.

JSS Rating: Yet another Bad Good™ rating for an Eric Roth movie. However, unlike The Good Shepherd, this film is watchable. HBO HD is where I saw it, and that's where I'd recommend seeing it if you ever have 3 absolutely free hours of time.