Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The Cannonball Run Review

The last time I saw this movie I was probably about 10 years old.  So I didn't know any of the actors except Burt Reynolds and Jamie Farr.  And I certainly had no clue who James Bond was.  But it was a delightful movie with fast cars and a little bit of cleavage so I liked it.  I felt a little nostalgic and decided to watch it again.  Now, I can see all of the satire and ironic jokes that they placed in there.  That gives me a much better appreciation for the movie as a whole.  But on the flip side, I can also see the numerous flaws and potential to have made it a better movie.

I should probably stop and acknowledge that this was never intended to be anything deep.  It's main characters are played by Burt Reynolds and Dom Deluise after all.  It's supposed to be an ensemble comedy where everyone is a screwball.  The problem is that they made the ensemble too big.  Rather than focusing on just four or five quirky duos that are rivals in the race, they bump the number up and give each team its own quirks.  While each one had potential to be very funny with its own character, there is simply not enough screen time that can be devoted to any one to really hold the viewers' interest.  There is also very little interaction between the teams thus hurting any conflict that could have been created.  Everything becomes a self-contained one-off gag that has no bearing on the rest of the movie.

That being said, the one-off gags are usually funny.  The best bits come from the doctor that Deluise finds and the guys in the computerized Subaru (I was surprised when I saw that one of them is Jackie Chan).  Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr are also really good when they get to be on screen.  And Roger Moore's satire of himself as James Bond was funny even if it was a bit familiar.  The rest of the quirky teams could have been scrapped altogether.  Well, except for the girls in the Lamborghini.  We do need cleavage in an 80s screwball comedy after all.

If all you want is a few laughs, you may want to see it because you can likely find it for free somewhere.  Because of its nostalgia value for me, it does get a see recommendation.  But just barely.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard Review

I've come to expect a certain standard from a Die Hard movie.  There are some elements that just need to be incorporated.  There's the obligatory yippee-ki-yay catchphrase (which does appear).  John McClane must be thrust into an extraordinarily violent situation (which he is).  McClane needs to seem non-chalant about the whole situation while still being aware of the fact that he could die (which he is). Why, then, did I come away from this movie disappointed?  Because McClane was more sad than badass throughout the whole thing.

The basic premise is that McClane goes to Moscow to be with his son, Jack, who is in a lot of trouble with Russian law enforcement.  Violent antics ensue and many things are not as they appear - just like all of the other Die Hard movies.  The problem is that it does not focus on McClane being the only one who can save the situation.  Instead, McClane forces himself into helping Jack and is almost like Abe Simpson in being largely a nuisance to the situation.  Even though he does a few things that are a help along the way (stealing car keys and bribing hotel employees), they are largely minor and you wind up feeling that Jack would be better off without him being there.  In this one, he's become a sideshow that is holding on to past glory.  It's something that just did not have to happen.

But what bugs me the most about the McClane character is the desperation to give him the "this s**t can't happen to me again" and devil may care attitude.  The best example of this is that he is in Moscow for one reason: to help his son and bring him home.  But throughout the movie, whenever his life is in danger he screams, "I'm on vacation!"  His reason for being in Russia is far from a vacation.  But the writer just badly wanted a new little quirky catchphrase that could be used and it became laughable.

Another problem is the filming.  All of the action has that crappy, shaky camera work that is supposed to make it more realistic but just winds up being nauseating to watch.  Then, they added in hard zooms and panning that actually made the action difficult to watch.  It's sad because the action is quite good and well choreographed.  It's over the top and unrealistic which is what we want when we go to a Die Hard movie.  And they completely ruined it.

I'm not upset for having seen it.  But I'm glad I redeemed Scene points to do so.  I'll probably buy it on Blu-Ray simply because it's a Die Hard movie and I'm a fan of the franchise.  But I can't recommend it.  Don't see it.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Live Free or Die Hard Review

Just as Die Hard With a Vengeance is an example of current technology not hindering the aging of a film, Live Free or Die Hard is the exact opposite.  This one really is handcuffed by the technology used throughout.  The problem stems from the fact that the entire story is based on technology.  While it was all very thrilling when it was released in the theatre, watch the movie six years later and everything is very out of date.  This would be OK if the technology used was more of an accessory for the characters.  But, it is so pervasive that the viewer spends a lot of time noticing its obsolescence.  I can see it going the same route as Sneakers in this sense.

It isn't just that though.  The writing is a bit lackluster.  The one-liners that Die Hard is famous for are not as strong as in the previous installments.  Bruce Willis will always be a great John "Everyman" McClane.  But Justin Long is no Samuel L Jackson when it comes to pushing McClane's buttons while they try to save the world.  Instead of anticipating the next great exchange, I found myself just wanting to remove Long from the equation.

But, all in all, this is an action movie and, as an action movie, it delivers the adrenaline.  All of the action sequences are well shot and edited.  They often feel real even though they are very over the top and unrealistic.  The SUV in the elevator and the fight with the F-35 border on laughable.  But they're still tense and fun to watch.  Willis' reaction after the fighter plane crash is priceless.

The cheesy factor is higher than Vengeance.  The story is weak.  But the action is strong.  Overall, this one's really a wash but does barely pass.  See it.  But you may not want to see it again if you already have.

Die Hard With a Vengeance Review

Action movies tend to suffer the most from advances in technology.  They rely so much on communication limitations and technological advances that are being used for evil and must be thwarted.  So, when you come back to one almost 20 years after it was released, you know that you're going to see some things that wouldn't happen today.  The reliance on pay phones to engage in psychological games with John McClane is a prime example.  This doesn't diminish the quality of Die Hard With a Vengeance as an action movie.  It does mean that the viewer is always going to have to remember the context when watching the movie though.  While some of these limitations are present in the movie, the movie does not rely on them to be integral to the plot.  Instead, most of the story progresses through the tried and true action movie methods of explosions, car chases and a strong dynamic between two conflicting personalities.

If you've seen The Last Boy Scout, you know that Bruce Willis is a master of smart ass comments when interacting with a person that doesn't share his character's "Joe Blow" view of the world.  So, when you give him a sidekick that is more than twice the actor of Damon Wayans (I like Wayans.  But I'm not naive enough to think he's a good actor.), you get interactions and dialogue that are absolutely top notch.  Samuel L Jackson plays the angry black man with a chip on his shoulder perfectly against Bruce Willis' "I just want to survive the day and don't care about anyone's politics" John McClane.

Combine that great duo with some very good action sequences and a story that is actually pretty tight and you have an action movie that can be watched over and over.  The action in Vengeance is top notch as well. Having the heroes run through Simon's games as a diversion creates an element of tension that the first two didn't have as much of.  So, even when there are no chases or explosions, the viewer remains interested.

It isn't the best Die Hard.  That title still belongs to the original.  But it is far from the worst.  It's a great action movie with a terrific pace.  See it.