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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Mira Nair's remarkable "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" opens with the
swift kidnapping of an American professor at a university in Lahore,
Pakistan, then shifts its attention to another professor, American-
educated Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed), who proceeds to tell his life story
to American journalist Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber). Khan's ordeal is
the basis for Nair's intelligent and intriguing thriller, which poses
many questions that easily pop up but are difficult to answer.
What is fascinating about the movie is how Nair makes the audience involved and invested in the main character Changez. The first half of the film depicts him as a striving youth who wants to make it in the big leagues of 2001 Wall Street financing, complete with a boss to impress and a love interest. Changez is a likable fellow in the first half - earnest, do-gooder and all-in-all an average Joe trying to make it like the rest of us. Then came that unfortunate day. He is transformed into a brooding, contemplating young adult, questioning where he stands and what he represents. He then returns to Lahore as a university professor, where he uses his lectures to condemn the American policies. A radical, albeit a subtle and rational one - he becomes very popular and respected at the university to the point where students are willing to put themselves before him.
It is quite the challenge for lead Riz Ahmed, yet he remarkably carries the whole movie on his shoulders without diminishing its core virtues. Ahmed has a certain charisma in his speech and mannerisms that makes it difficult for anyone to dislike him disagree with him. He is wise to perform Changez as a outwardly humble person, but with raging flames in his eyes. If the powers that be are right, he has high potential to become a leading man in the near future.
That's not to say almost everyone else in the film are saints or sinners as well. There are no heroes and villains in the movie, just normal, sometimes misguided people shaped by some very unfortunate circumstances. Take Changez's artist love interest Erica (kate Hudson) for example. In one scene she expresses conflicts with her relationship to Changez, but reveals surprising depths rather than being predictable given the film's topic. Even the reporter interviewing him has his fair share of problems. They're only human after all.
I am admittedly not familiar with Mira Nair's filmography, the only film of hers that I have seen prior to this was "The Namesake" a great film about the son of Indian immigrants who has a culture clash between his family's culture and that of the land he was born in. Nair sort of revisits this theme for this movie, but this time she makes it darker, and throws in American prejudice and hostility post-9/11 into the mix to complicate things further. This is not a film where matters are solved easily and wounds heal fast. It also ends as it should, should the audience choose their perspective of what Nair shot.
Nair, along with her screenwriters (including the original novelist on whose book this was based on), her cinematographer, and her composer Michael Andrews, all not only provides an emotional yet unglamorous depth to Changez but also that of his environments as he progresses year by year - director and crew have transformed the locations into more than just a backdrop, they are characters by themselves, they live and breathe among the troublesome paths that lay ahead.
A key theme for the movie is exploring the fundamentals. Changez's boss (Kiefer Sutherland) believes in those financial principles to make money. A suspected terrorist leader later mentions to Changez somewhere along the lines of "to live based on the fundamentals" of their religion. Changez is visibly upset by both men's statements and his stance is never resolved. Perhaps that is why he is "The Reluctant Fundamentalist". A movie's title has rarely been more apt than this.
This topical and important film shows that there is no good nor bad side. People just do bad things when they get caught up in unfortunate events. Nair shows the film from one perspective that the major audience is not used to, but doesn't overtly forsake the other side. Nair, an Indian-born filmmaker, is to be commended for showing a respectful yet somewhat honest portrayal of Pakistan during these times of real-life conflict between the two. It's clear that she crafts the film with care for both content and characters.
Halfway through the movie, Changez tells Lincoln "You picked your side, mine was chosen for me." People either have a firm stand, buckle under the pressure of authority and emotion, or is forced to take it without options. Where do we stand on this issue as a whole?
Michael Bay's "Pain and Gain" is a very bleak, very dark comedy about
three knucklehead bodybuilders in pursuit of their own American dream,
even if the road there is paved with sex, drugs, torture, humiliation,
and even murder.
Bay is shamelessly reputed for huge explosions, choppy editing, excessively flashy/glitzy cinematography, sexy women, fancy cars and (recently) giant robots. With "Pain and Gain" he returns to low-budget territory since his debut "Bad Boys" in 1995. The result - the film is a debauchery in style - it's all over the film. Although Bay cuts back on the explosions and robots (mercifully), everything else has Bay written all over it, and considering how morbidly ridiculous the film's subject matter is, Bay tackles it in such a head-on and energetic manner that the audience is whisked off for the insane ride ahead.
For this movie, he has assembled together Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie as the three bumble-heads who have their hearts set in the right goal but clearly lack the intellect to do so. All three men look jacked up, and play their parts as ridiculous as the part goes for it, especially Johnson, who clearly is having a blast showing off a completely different side of him as opposed to what we've been seeing him of late. Wahlberg plays a character so dangerously goofy and dumb one will wonder whether such a person exists in real life. Tony Shalhoub's unfortunate but still jerk-ish character sets the tone for most of the movie as his predicament grows from one spectrum of ridiculousness to another. By the time we've reached sexy Bar Paly's and hilarious Rebel Wilson's love interest characters, the audience have probably seen enough.
Then in comes Ed Harris as Detective Du Bois. Just when I thought the film was about to careen off the rails into insanity. He's the only sane person in the whole movie, and his presence helps bring balance and clarity to what was a ludicrous first half.
Comic relief is key in Bay's action films, but here he's going all out at comedy, and he sure does pull of the stops. The film is simply put, hysterical. The fact that it was indeed a true story makes it all the more hilarious to watch, who honestly can think of some story like this and pull if off straight?
I am aware that since this is a film, some liberties had to be made to the story and characters. Some scenes were undoubtedly exaggerated, but which one? Every scene looked and felt so surreal, every major character ridiculous, every line of dialogue inducing a chortle from the audience. But it was a dementedly fun ride, and Bay, after making two bloated sequels about giant robots, finally returns to his stride.
No sooner pass the one-hour mark, does Joseph Kosinski's "Oblivion"
turns from an intriguing sci-fi premise into a "guess the other sci-fi
movie winks" game. It was a bit of a letdown, having so much potential
and then letting the screenplay take the easy way out, by catering to
the audience. A superior screenwriter would have explored some of the
interesting idea to its extent. Here we are treated to a slick, slam-
bang futuristic actionier that treads on familiar territory but looks
and sounds fantastic.
If you got something, go for broke. This is only Kosinski's second feature film after the equally visually spectacular "TRON: Legacy", and he goes for broke with the visual effects and design of the movie. There is an awesome sense of scale and sights of breathtaking spectacle throughout the movie, and I'm not just talking about the action sequences - most of the film's establishing shots will make some hairs stand in awe. And unlike today's CGI-laden films from MTV directors, with choppy editing and all; Kosinski wants his audience to appreciate and savor the effects, so we get them in long, wide shots with a patient duration.
If there ever was a director as visually creative and epic in his use of effects, Kosinski may be the go-to guy for such a movie, seeing that James Cameron or George Lucas may be busy with other projects. Hell, it's clear Kosinski cares about how his movie looks, and basically you get more than the price of the IMAX admission. Yes, the IMAX version is the way to go for this one. I simply cannot imagine seeing this movie again on a smaller screen. The visually stunning world Kosinski has created is worth more than the price of the IMAX edition alone.
Alas, if only the script were as daring as its visual scale. It's based on Kosinski's own graphic novel, and I've counted major influences from "Total Recall", Tarkovsky's "Solaris" and Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey", among a few others. Yes, the ending is simplified Hollywood pap, but the visual journey to there has been nothing short of amazing. Hell, at least Kosinski has the gall to put in references to Kubrick and Tarkovsky, so it's all good. And Tom Cruise as the engineer Jack Harper, reminds me of those good-looking, manly heroes from the golden years of science fiction - handsome, intelligent, and ready to act when necessary, with Olga Kurylenko supplying enough weight for her obligatory love interest role. Even Morgan Freeman shows up to prove he ain't just wise, he can kick ass too.
It appears the trailers have revealed far too much of the visuals. I simply do not understand the marketing for films today. Do they want to market the movie, or show you most of it just so you can pay 11 bucks to see the ending? I wisely avoided watching the trailer (although I heard them) and it allowed me to imagine what kind of visuals that may come up on the screen. Needless to say, I was not disappointed with what I saw.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An extended one-take tracking shot of local daredevil Luke Glanton
(Ryan Gosling) heading towards and performing one of his motorcycle
stunts opens the film. The camera then frames Glanton and two other
bikers spinning around in a metal globe dangerously - perhaps
recklessly and unpredictably - a prophetic symbol of things to come.
Derek Cianfrance's "The Place Beyond the Pines" then throws the audience in for an unpredictable journey between the lives of four characters. This is not a movie which will fulfill your guesses if you think you've seen them all. A wide range of strong character and plot development pulls the film together when it looked like the film could burst apart at the seams. Great cinematography by Sean Bobbitt and an ambitious music score by Mike Patton (with a shade of Morricone, I think?) compliment the film's uneasiness and unpredictability perfectly.
In three acts encompassing a time period of 15 years, the audience follows the lives of Glanton, police officer Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), and their respective sons Jason (Dane DeHaan) and A.J. (Emory Cohen). Gosling continues his strong streak of portraying violent, moody and solemnly stoic lead heroes as the loner Luke, who reawakens his paternal instinct after he discovers he has a kid with an old flame, Romina (a very good Eva Mendes). His decision to rob banks to support them quickly collides with the life of Officer Cross, who is having his own problems with police corruption (you gotta love Ray Liotta as the sneaky corrupt cop). Cooper surprises with a solid, no-nonsense performance displaying a wide range of emotions, evolving from naive to guilt-ridden - proving he could do much more than comedy or romance. It is a good enough performance for the second act of the film to live on. The third act, and this is where the film falters a bit - takes place 15 years after Gosling's and Cooper's segments, and focuses on their character's sons in high school who happen to meet by chance. Both young actors seem natural in their roles, especially DeHaan, fresh off of "Chronicle", and again portraying the lonely, painful soul very well.
A lot of "blue collar dramas" (as some call it) seem to focus on the tough life aspects and "struggling to make it out of here" kind of story lines. Some are great, some are good, but make them once, and you've probably make most of them. This film, although you can call it a "blue collar epic", doesn't really focus on the "tough life" aspect as it does with it's characters. Rather, it focuses on the more philosophical and poetic aspects of storytelling - the circle of of fate and destiny, karma, retribution; all the while balancing it out with other dramatic aspects such as police corruption, crime as a ways of finance and teenage father-son angst, among others. It's a massive juggling act, and Cianfrance and his writers are superb in fleshing these characters within a running time of 140 minutes, and not one character feels like they have worn out their welcome. Cianfrance's ambitious direction perhaps makes the film feel as whole as possible, with the three acts flowing steadily and the switch from the current act to the next feels operatic instead of sudden and rushed. I am reminded of certain mob classics like "GoodFellas" and "The Godfather" when it comes to this flow, and even though this film by no means is as brilliant as both, it certainly is refreshing and delightful to see a new generation filmmaker be this ambitious and taking risks with his audience.
Is this film great? It could be. Just because the plot is something we've seen before, it certainly does not mean the filmmaker cannot do something different with it. Cianfrance and his talented cast and crew certainly have made something different with familiar plot material. It is strongly plotted and acted, and it feels like an opera unfolding itself toward the audience. The film is worth watching, perhaps more than once. I truly haven't seen an American director this hugely ambitious since Darren Aronofsky. One thing is for sure: Cianfrance will be a name to look out for.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Funny, I was the only one in the theater hall watching this. There were
two people who entered late, but they left after about 10 minutes
through. They were probably offended by what they saw, and I cannot
blame them for that: Even the film's opening scene involves gratuitous
shots of the female flesh for a lingering amount of time, dragging on
until the scene transforms from glamorously into disgustingly
If the film does indeed make you offended and shocked, then Harmony Korine's "Spring Breakers" has succeeded. Right after the opening scene we are introduced to four college girls desperate to have the ultimate Spring Break. One of them is devoutly religious and even thinks about the break as a lifelong goal and nirvana to attain. Two of them are downright sociopathic, and (in a beautifully shot scene) rob a diner to get the money needed for their trip. Beneath those gorgeous faces and bodies lie twisted, dark depths, but Korine shoots straight for the bottom, nearing depravity.
After a series of lurid mishaps, the girls find themselves in the presence of rapper and criminal 'Alien', who takes over the scene once he enters it. This Alien, he's something. Making a name all by himself, living "The American Dream" his way ("Scarface" is referenced to), trying to get his music career of the ground, getting at odds with his enemy, and enchanting most of the girls to his charm.
I assure you, I found most of "Spring Breakers" to be disgusting, perverted, and gratuitous in its portrayal of women and the criminal lifestyle. The lurid cinematography, hyper editing, and music by both Cliff Martinez and Skrillex seem to make the experience feel like a psychotic party-goer's acid trip. Hell, the use of a Britney Spears song has a John Woo-like contrast to it.
However, I'm not condemning the movie for it. This was what Korine intended, and he succeeded thoroughly. The film is a scathing attack on the American youth culture today. Korine's cohesive yet high-energy direction depicts an exaggerated "American dream" for the new generation, where their ultimate goal amounts to nothing more than endless nights of fun, partying, getting rich and getting made. More like the American nightmare. I can sense most older audience members hating this movie to shreds.
The four girls and Alien showcase these through there Malick-like monologues interspersed between the mayhem. Call it pretentious, but I find it much better than leaving them as two-dimensional youths. In those aspects, James Franco and Selena Gomez are very good in their performances, and Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson completely shed their teeny-bop images to portray some of the most depraved youths I've seen in the movies in a while. Rachel Korine is alright but I sense it is just a chance for her husband the director to showcase his wife in a bout of nepotism. Still, her presence doesn't detract from the film.
The film's ending, which seemed to good to be true, also brings up a similar discussion to the classic "Taxi Driver" - is it all real? Did everything happen in the movie, or is it one giant acid trip for one (or all) of the characters? Where does reality stop and (nightmarish) fantasy begin? I leave you to answer that.
This film will probably be one of the most controversial and provocative films of the year. It's high and glamorized sexual and criminal content, coupled with hyper-kinetic camera-work, music, editing, and directing - will definitely turn some heads in the audience. But this film does indeed have something to say - about the American youth, about the American dream. And for some strange reason, the film may stay with you for a while. I know it has with me.
P.S. Parents, no matter how big of a fan your child/teen is of Gomez, Hudgens, Benson and even Franco, DO NOT under any circumstances let them see this movie unless you feel that they are ready and prepared to handle this kind of content. You have been warned.
I find it ironic that Gerard Butler, a Scotsman, as disgraced Secret
Agent Mike Banning, embodies the spirit of John McClane much more than
Bruce Willis did in that last dreadful outing. If anything, Butler has
done nothing more than to cement his reputation as a bankable and
likable action hero for the new generation in this old-school action
movie. He has a commanding presence on-screen, quips wisecracks, bleeds
when it's crucial, and dispatches the bad guys in a methodical cross
between Jason Bourne and John Rambo. Not even the fine supporting cast
(Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Melissa
Leo, Dylan McDermott) can take away Butler's limelight.
Indeed, Antoine Fuqua's "Olympus Has Fallen" is not only terrific entertainment but a terrific throwback to the pivotal 90's action movie, the Die Hard clone - and this film ("Die Hard" in the White House) is another reminder of why the trusted formula works, even if it has been dormant for nearly two decades (the last good big one being Peter Hyams' "Sudden Death").
From the moment the film's main action start, the film doesn't stop running. The bad guys, hoo boy do they mean business. Rarely, if at all, have I seen this much brutal collateral damage in an American action film. Americans citizens get mowed down by bullets from ground and air forces. The all-American (Scottish) hero represents freedom and justice, and the bad guys represent every American's worst nightmare. I haven't seen this much political incorrectness since "The Delta Force". Having said that, Rick Yune surprisingly makes for an effective and nasty villain, who is relentlessly cold, smug and procedural in his mission, following the formula perfectly. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
It's fast, it's loud, it's preposterous, and yet I enjoyed every minute of it. The film is chock-full of sensational and well-shot action sequences/special effects, but its biggest strength is its cohesion. From start to finish the plot moves smoothly, and you can tell who the good guys and the bad guys are. The characters are established, their motives clear, and that's that. The action sequences do not simply skip to each other, they flow perfectly like a stream, thanks to crisp editing. Simplicity is key here, and convoluted plots do not fit in the formula (hear that, "Die Hard 5"?)
Fuqua is no stranger to action, having helmed the solid "Shooter" six years ago. Here he ratchets up the action up to a 10 (CGI is present but used reasonably), and he remarkably doesn't hold back on the tension. It's no "Training Day", but it more or less hearkens back to an Antoine Fuqua who made "The Replacement Killers". Just thrilling fun.
Of course the plot isn't original. It's a genre picture, and what I pay to see in a genre picture is its skillful craft and cohesive plot. This film has both, and resurrects the Die Hard clone from the grave. Here I thought I was getting bored of action movies. The genre is dying, you say? Here's a solid kicker.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
He looks out the window in the night sky after a long day's work,
thinking of what has become of himself. Across his apartment balcony,
in the window of the building opposite his, stares a woman, solemn,
pained. Their eyes meet, and, slowly, they wave at each other. Not a
word was spoken.
Subtle scenes like these evoke memories of the raw power of film - it is emotion, not words or sometimes action - that drive a motion picture. Thing is, Vic is a thug working for a ruthless mobster; and Beatrice is a traumatized victim of a car accident. The subtlety will not last long, but it does make healthy re-appearances.
Niels Arden Oplev's "Dead Man Down" is the English-language debut (third this year overall following two Korean efforts) of the Swedish filmmaker famous for the original "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" film. He even brought along his star Noomi Rapace for the ride. It is a joy to see a modern filmmaker who cares for and loves his characters as much as the audience expects themselves to, that we are invested in them strongly and want to see them succeed. He crafts the film with love, as the cinematography gracefully dances around the characters, as if it was a complex ballet intrigue and hidden motives. Do we really want to right that wrong? Will it be worth it in the end? For us and for our loved ones?
The movie is, first and foremost, a revenge thriller. But surprisingly, it is also a compelling love story. From the moment the film opens we are thrust into the urban jungle of New York City (accentuated with a moody and atmospheric score by Jacob Groth, composer of the original "Millennium" trilogy), but with a poignant yet meaningful statement by Vic's friend Darcy (Cooper). Writer J.H. Wyman uses strands of earlier revenge films, twisty film-noirs and the classic melodramatic romance of earlier Hollywood films and incorporated them into his screenplay. Oplev transforms the screenplay, with such passionate energy and inventiveness, that the whole film somehow resembles a classic romantic European fable - sort of like this big tough warrior who falls in love with a wounded soul in a far-away and dangerous land, and both become kindred spirits. It is engrossing and captivating to watch the characters actually become real human beings, instead of being caricatures. This is a film where the characters' decisions affects what happens next.
The film would not succeed had it not been for the two leads, Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace, followed by a strong and diverse supporting cast. Farrell is strong as Vic, big, tough but withdrawn and solemn, slowly hiding away his anguish and rage towards his real enemy. Rapace, an actress whom I'm starting to grow fond of, is quite wonderful as Beatrice, who is traumatized but is still capable of captivating the lonely Vic. She walks and talks with unease, but there are times where she switches gears and becomes intensely aggressive in her true goal, where it will reveal is eating her up slowly but surely. The strong chemistry between the duo make the movie much, much better than it was intended.
The rest of the cast consists of Terrence Howard as a deliciously ruthless and intimidating as the villain Alphonse (watch the scene where he confronts Vic in a dark apartment room, with backlighting in Paul Cameron's cinematography brilliantly capturing the essence of noir), Dominic Cooper giving Darcy a human and realistic portrayal of a stock crime film character, and brief but warmly welcome appearances of F. Murray Abraham and Isabelle Huppert.
This is a movie which has something for both guys and gals. Guys will go for the gritty story and the obligatory "Colin Farrell kicks ass" scenes, especially the violent climax. Women would go just to see Farrell the romantic, and the compelling chemistry between the two leads are enough to make them swoon over. But the film is so well made, the characters and story strongly developed and very compelling enough to hold my attention for two hours, that really, you couldn't ask for a more well rounded revenge thriller of late. This is a movie which actually is a real movie, instead of feeling like a movie or being a commercial/stunt/SFX reel. Kudos to especially Oplev, Farrell and Rapace for making a strong, real film about lovable characters.
No doubt the marketing for the film is way off (as an action thriller, as usual) and reveals quite too much. Doesn't matter. "Dead Man Down" is the finest and most meaningful revenge film in years.
Weeks ago we saw the release of two movies: the Arnold Schwarzenegger
actionier "The Last Stand" and the Steven Soderbergh-directed "Side
Effects", which were hugely entertaining by their own rights. The
former was the English-language debut of South Korean filmmaker Kim
Ji-Woon, and the latter was a faithful homage to Alfred Hitchcock and
his techniques for suspense.
Now comes Park Chan-Wook's "Stoker", the second South Korean director this year to make his English-language debut, and a delicious tribute to Hitchcock. Using Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt" as a blueprint, Park and writer Wentworth Miller (yes, that very one) weaves their way through many suspense pastiches, and yet, it is a stunningly effective watch.
Miller's characters are, from the moment we first see them, are not what they seem. Tensions are boiling under the surface. India (Mia Wasikowska) looks completely pale, stares into space chillingly, and is so withdrawn towards certain people after her father dies, that you wish she has a pet.. oh wait, no. Her mother (Nicole Kidman) wonders about her predicament as to why her daughter, close to her father but not her, is so distant away from her that she seeks affection for herself to ease her grief, subtly, desperately. Then into the mix comes India's long lost uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode) who charms his way into both women's hearts, and his smile and chilling eyes have quite some stories to tell.
The audience today is used to thriller pastiches. They think they know what's going to happen, and they play a guessing game with each other. Park and Miller knows that they think they know, and they turn the tables on the audience, forcing them to think and guess for themselves what exactly will the outcome be. We think we know the characters, but something else is missing. Just when you think you know the shortcut, a detour appears from nowhere. Like a spider weaving a web around its prey, Park and Miller go for the kill.
Wasikowska is good in a departure from her previous roles, as a silent, distant, mysteriously creepy, and yet sombre girl who drifts around looking aimlessly for people to trust, and looking cold while distrusting others. Nicole Kidman is also good as the grieving, desperate mother who looks like she is simmering to a boil. The show belongs to Matthew Goode. His charisma and deliciously creepy performance nails the role. As his "Uncle" Charlie character seduces his way around both mom and daughter, twists and dark plots began to unravel between the trio.
Miller's screenplay is good but not great. It is written well enough, has affection for his characters, and plays a good guessing game with the audience. The film's best aspect is the brilliant direction by Park Chan-Wook, famous for his "Vengeance" trilogy. Park complements the twists and deceit with strikingly beautiful, haunting camera-work and visuals. He even brought his usual cinematographer, Chung Chung-Hoon on this film, and it works wonders. Every frame is beautifully and lovingly crafted, from blood splatter onto white flowes, to flickering lights in the basement, to the meticulous editing by Nicolas De Toth that brings the film to an aesthetic, more sensual level. Complementing these is the music. Oh the music. Clint Mansell, always an interesting composer, again works his way with Miller's material and Park's style and blends the two together with his ominous, brooding and atmospheric score. Credit should also go to the great Philip Glass for composing that beautiful piano solo. Vintage Park Chan-Wook, turning moments of horror and violence into images of stark beauty. On a technical level, the film is brilliant, and gives the film much credit then it initially has.
This is a film that makes you guess what's gonna happen. However, it gives you more than the satisfaction by actually making you think harder. It isn't mind-blowing, but it is supreme, intelligent entertainment, to make your brain do some work. All due praise to Park Chan-Wook for a stunning Hollywood debut and a promise for better things to come.
Stuntmen-turned-filmmakers can only go so far. Just ask Mic Rodgers,
who made the dreadful "Universal Soldier: The Return". The late David
R. Ellis at least had the gripping "Cellular" and the wild "Snakes on a
Plane" to his name, but they certainly relied on gimmick more than
actual plot itself.
Now comes Ric Roman Waugh's "Snitch", mismarketed as a Dwayne Johnson action thriller towards the masses. It is not. It's actually a compelling crime drama about a father who risks it all to save his son. There's hardly any action sequences in the movie save for the final 10 minutes of the movie, of which I'm sure the trailers made full use of to bring in the unsuspecting audience.
After the disappointing "A Good Day to Die Hard", here was a refreshing film to watch. It had a proper plot, it had proper characters, and it had a proper flow. It was clear Waugh and co-writer Justin Haythe clearly show care and concern for their characters, and instead of turning the hero into a wise-cracking superhuman, they turn him into an everyday guy the average Joe can relate to and root for.
Which brings to the question whether Dwayne Johnson, an action hero for the new generation, can pull it off as a normal, vulnerable and believable human being. He does. Granted, it's not great acting, but he is more than competent enough, and that is just about what this movie needs. It's startling to see, the previews before the movie showing two of Johnson's upcoming films "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" and "Fast and Furious 6" showing him as a bad-assed tough guy, where here he subtly shows worry, desperation, and thus gets beaten up by punks within 20 minutes of the movie. A gun is pointed at him and he flinches. He's only human like the rest of us. Scenes where Johnson's character John Matthews is talking to his son is prison is startlingly absorbing and effective, as both father and son exchange their regrets and worries painfully. The film is bolstered by a fine supporting cast that includes Barry Pepper, Susan Sarandon, and Melina Kanakaredes, but a substantial amount of screen time is given to Jon Bernthal's character who seems to parallel John's son, and he does a more than commendable effort in his performance and character arc.
This isn't a perfect film. The main father-protecting-son story has been told before in different movies. The shaky cinematography can be rather distracting at times. But for all it's minor flaws, it's amazingly well rounded, and thus it becomes a real movie. There's not too much, too little character, plot, and drama. The plot is realistic and believable enough, and it will definitely get you thinking about the laws imposed on drug possession. It's just about right, like a well-rounded machine. Waugh certainly knew what he was doing here. The gritty cinematography and the beautifully moody music by Antonio Pinto hits the right notes and makes the film much more grounded in reality.
The film is rated PG-13. I think this is a good thing, seeing that teens who walk into this movie can actually learn and think about something for once. I didn't even realize that this was a PG-13 movie from start to finish.
This is also Ric Roman Waugh's third film, following "In the Shadows" (2001), and "Felon" (2008), another prison drama. Here is a director with potential to create more well-rounded films and make a name for himself as a solid director who directs entertaining yet thoughtful films. As for Dwayne Johnson, things are looking up for him, and it's great to see him do something completely different from his forte for a change.
I am heartbroken.
It's a sad day to say this, but it has to be said: "A Good Day to Die Hard" is a dud. The fifth instalment in the beloved "Die Hard" saga ends up as the worst of the series so far; it falters thanks to a weak characterization, even weaker screen writing, lack of worthy villains, absurd action sequences and incoherent direction. You can bet this movie will be mentioned in the same sentence with "Rocky V", "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace", "Speed 2: Cruise Control", "Die Another Day" and "Batman & Robin". Not even the R-rating and the return of the famous "Yippie ki yay" line in full can save this one.
As much as I love action movies, I like mine with a side of plot and character, of which this film fails at. John McClane, one of my favorite film characters of all time, is given a horrendous treatment no beloved character should ever be given: relegated to a sidekick. This is HIS movie, not his son's! From the start he is inexplicably thrust into Russia with no back story of how the previous films over the years have shaped his character now - a key trait that was visible in the previous four films. He is reduced to a wise-cracking action supercop, and even his wisecracks are weak. However, Bruce Willis, bless him, is still McClane without a doubt, as he dishes out the bad guys with weathered-out cynicism in his eyes. He still has it in him, and in no way it is his fault that this movie turned out to be near-crap.
Rather, writer Skip Woods and director John Moore are to blame. Woods clearly missed the whole point of McClane's essence and likability - he is a vulnerable human - an everyday Joe who only stops the bad guys when "there's no one else that can do it". He is a reluctant hero in the first four films, he can get seriously wounded, as he is up against worthy adversaries that are cool, calculative and almost one step ahead of him. Here, McClane, in the opening car chase, and immediately causes mass vehicular damage just to stop thugs from attacking his son, shows no signs of vulnerability (after TWO major car crashes), and has no qualms about killing the bad guys wherever they pop up here. His son Jack (Jai Courtney), filling in for McClane's sidekick, has certain charisma and shows a few glimpses of character development in McClane but it is cut short by the merciless and absurd action sequences.
A good action movie has to have a good villain. "Die Hard 5" has none. It has three primary villains, all of them forgettable. Nothing with the likes of even Thomas Gabriel or Colonel Stuart (the Gruber Brothers must be smirking right now in hell). They're not intelligent, not menacing, not memorable. They're just dumb, die, and that's it. What was their evil plot? What dastardly deeds do they have? Weapons dealing. Oh the humanity!
The film runs at 97 minutes - the shortest in the series. Why the film was released at this length I don't want to know. Nobody complained about the 2 hour running time for each of the previous four movies. Imagine what a better movie this could've been with those cut scenes added back in.
John Moore directs with the subtlety of a car crash. He smash cuts every scene, puts heavy use of slow motion in the excruciatingly absurd climax, and relies heavily on CGI for most of the action sequences. But like all Die Hard movies, there has to be at least one sensational action sequence, and that is at the film's beginning. The only thing I really enjoyed (in a guilty pleasure sort of way) about the whole movie was a massive, destructive stunt-filled car chase throughout the streets of Moscow. It was an intense and exciting scene. Pity the rest of the movie can't hold up to this sensational chase scene alone, especially the end which essentially turns McClane into The Terminator. If you think the F-35 scene in "Die Hard 4" was absurd, hoo boy, wait until you get a load of this one.
At the very least, there's some competent cinematography from Jonathan Sela and a good, riveting music score from Marco Beltrami, who really knows his stuff when it comes to action, as well as incorporating Michael Kamen's themes into this one. If anything, the music is better than the movie.
There is a 6th (and according to Bruce, final) movie in the works. Here's a no brainer - bring back John McTiernan or Renny Harlin (hell, even Len Wiseman for all I care), and hire a good screenwriter who really delivers the old school action goods. I strongly believe Bruce and McClane can deliver the goods still and ride off into the sunset, instead of falling off his horse here. They just need a better story, better direction, and a more than worthy villain with a respected British actor in the role. The franchise doesn't deserve to die with this. It's too good for that.
Shame on you, John Moore and Skip Woods.
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