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A Good Day to Die Hard – Review

20 Feb

Since 1988, John McClane has saved what must be hundreds of thousands of lives. He stopped Hans Gruber at Nakatomi Plaza, saved the lives of Col. Stuart’s airborne hostages, hunted Simon all over New York, and successfully put a stop to Thomas Gabriel’s fire sale. All four of these movies have excellent qualities, yet of course not all of them are perfect. Now we have A Good Day to Die Hard, a film that brings the series back into the R-rating. Where do I begin?

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After hearing that his son is in some sort of trouble in Russia, John McClane (Bruce Willis) takes to the skies for yet another adventure, this time in Moscow. It doesn’t take long to find his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney), who is an agent for the CIA working with a government whistleblower, Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch), to find a file that would incriminate high ranking Russian officials. Viktor Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov), an official who risks exposure, hires Alik (Radivoje Bukvić) and his team of mercenaries, to find and kill Jack and Yuri. They didn’t count on John, however, who turns Moscow into a war zone and will do anything and kill anyone to protect his son.

This is most certainly one of the weakest entries in the Die Hard franchise. There are so many weaknesses that jump off the screen and do their best to make the viewer disappointed. A Good Day to Die Hard has been receiving terrible reviews from both critics and audiences alike. Me? I didn’t hate the movie, in fact, I was entertained for most of it. Is it an action classic? Does it make the character of John McClane even more of a hero than he already is? Not particularly. But, it still does feel like a Die Hard film, despite all of its glaring weaknesses.

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Let’s start with what bothered me. First of all, the plot was pretty hard to follow, and not because it was a complicated web of intrigue. It was hard to follow because it was so muddled with the need for action that it just seemed out of place. A plot that has to do with exposing foreign government secrets that have to do with major historical events is great for a political thriller, not for something where John McClane has to run around killing bad guys. Along with the plot, there are characters. The characters are so uninteresting, save for John. Jack is stoic and boring and the villains are the worst that this series has to offer. Remember Hans Gruber? He was awesome, if not, the best villain ever. These guys are just boring. There’s also a weird revelation towards the end that has to do with the bad guys that threw me off and made me with they were more characterized.

Second of all, the dialogue at times made me cringe. If I had to hear one more snarky remark from Jack about how much John sucked as a father, I was going to somehow transport myself into the movie and shoot him myself. Having the theme of family issues is fine, especially when the idea of law enforcement and service is thrown in, but it got way too overbearing. We get it, Jack. Thanks.

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But come on. There has to have some good stuff. Of course there was! The action in this movie is awesome. Cars go flying, buildings are torn to shreds, helicopters explode, guns, fists, knives, the works. This is where I felt best. It had the same over the top insanity that Live Free or Die Hard had. The sky’s the limit with this movie. I already talked about the bad dialogue, but there was also some really good dialogue in that cheesy, sarcastic Die Hard way. In fact, there’s one scene involving a particular hand gesture that I consider to be one of the funniest moments of the whole series. I feel like John McClane is back and better than ever, character wise. The last film made him seem like a fish out of water and nothing else. In A Good Day to Die Hard, he’s back in his element.

So yeah, A Good Day to Die Hard is definitely one of the weakest entries in the series, but I don’t consider it the weakest. That award goes to Die Hard 2: Die Harder. I’m sure there are many, many people who would disagree, and they can if they want to. I was a little disappointed with this movie, but not enough to make me hate it altogether. Don’t go into this expecting a fantastic entry into the series. Instead, just be happy to be part of another one of John McClane’s adventures.

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Dead Man – Review

30 May

Westerns are certainly not my favorite genre of film. For the most part, I find them boring with some exceptions like the remake 3:10 to Yuma and Appaloosa. These two films are very different from Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, a strange, dreamlike Western that explores the themes of death and how we can prepare for it, and through that preparation find out who we really are and what we are capable of.

William Blake (Johnny Depp) is an accountant from Cleveland who is offered a job in the town of Machine, despite warnings from the fireman (Crispin Glover) on the train he is traveling on. Upon arrival, Blake discovers that the job is no longer available. No out of work and only a few cents to his name, William decides to drown his sorrows in alcohol and meets a former prostitute, Thel. (Mili Avital). When Thel’s fiance (and son to the man who promised Blake a job) walks in on William and Thel, a shootout occurs resulting in the death of Thel and her fiancé. Now, William is wounded and on the run until he is found by a Native American named Nobody (Gary Farmer). While William travels with Nobody, a group of killers (Lance Henriksen, Michael Wincott, and Eugene Byrd)  are on their trail to bring Blake in dead or alive.

This isn’t a Western about good guys and bad guys, although the film does have its fair share of both. What really is at the core of this film is a philosophy on death and society. As the title states, William Blake is dying, making him the walking dead. This intense newfound version of mortality brings upon a strange change in William Blake’s character. He goes from being a push over accountant to a gunslinging man on the run who has found peace with himself. It made me think how I would handle myself in that situation. Would I be as accepting as William Blake?

There is a commentary, albeit a bizarre one, on society. Machine is a lawless city where bounty hunters are brought in to take care of the murderers and other criminals. Essentially, this is just killers chasing down other killers and getting paid for it. I don’t’ know if I would go so far as to say that Jarmusch is saying using this as a metaphor for police officers, but I wouldn’t discount that theory. The Native Americans portrayed also celebrate killing as something honorable. This served as a reminder that murder is purely a societal condemnation, and humans would kill each other in nature. I’m not saying that the Native Americans are portrayed as cold blooded killers; they merely have different views on the act of killing.

This movie is full of stars. Johnny Depp is really in charge of pushing the movie forward and it was cool to see him in one of his earlier roles. Gary Farmer was fantastic as Nobody and brought a lot of sympathy and understanding not only to his character, but to the Native American people. There’s so many other great roles in this with fine actors playing them. Dead Man features the likes of Crispin Glover, Gabriel Byrne, Lance Henriksen, John Hurt, Robert Mitchum (in his last role), Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton, Jared Harris, and Alfred Molina. This film is a performance powerhouse.

As a word of warning to casual film goers: Dead Man is very, very slow. There are times where I didn’t think the story could move any slower and then it did! This is the way to tell the story though. With the overlying theme of preparing for death by discovering your inner oneness with nature is a powerful message. This slow pace perfectly accentuates the arc that William Blake travels. The opening scene where Blake is on the train keeps cutting from the inside of the train, to the mechanics of the train, to the desert. This perfectly shows just how long this trip is taking and it sets up the feeling for the rest of the movie.

I also feel the need to mention the cinematography and soundtrack. Robert Müller creates a beautifully bleak atmosphere with his flowing camera work and black and white photography. Neil Young’s music also is a big contribution to the film, and is just as minimal as Jarmusch’s storytelling. These combined are all very important to the atmosphere of the film and immersing the viewer into its unsettling hold.

If you feel like you have the patience to sit through Dead Man and think about it long afterwards, as it is inevitable, then this is a phenomenal experience. I call it an experience because I never felt the pulse pounding entertainment that you would feel in a typical Western or thriller. This is a quiet storm that hits the viewer hard with its messages, scenery, and mood. I’d go so far as to call Dead Man a masterpiece.