Monday, February 18, 2013

A Not-So-Good Day to Die Hard

Let me start off by saying that 'Die Hard' is one of my favorite action franchises of all time.  Ever since Bruce Willis stopped a bunch of bad guys at Nakatomi Plaza in LA 25 years ago and made vacationing NYPD cop John McClane into one of Hollywood's biggest one-man-army badasses of all time, the 'Die Hard' formula has been followed in movies such as 'Air Force One,' 'Broken Arrow,' 'Under Siege,' 'Passenger 57,' and more recent efforts like 'The Raid,' 'Lockout,' 'Dredd' and two upcoming White House-takeover movies, 'Olympus Has Fallen' and the less imaginatively titled 'White House Down.'  As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

As you might have expected, there is a big 'but....' in this instance.  While I loved 'Die Hard,' enjoyed 'Die Hard 2: Die Harder,' found 'Die Hard with a Vengeance' to be mildly disappointing, and once again loved 'Live Free or Die Hard,' this fifth installment just didn't do it for me.  And I was so looking forward to this after watching the action-packed trailer set in Russia. 

So what went wrong?  I think the main thing is that 'A Good Day to Die Hard' lacked the 'soul' of its predecessors.  This movie is just one continuous, over-the-top, mind-numbing action scene after another, going through the motions of a 'Die Hard' movie but not really going anywhere.  There is no sense of urgency or peril at any point in the movie, even though John and his son Jack were constantly 'fighting for their lives.'  Trading 'father-and-son' quips while Russian helicopter gunships are shooting at them just makes it appear like this is all 'fun and games' to them, as much as they are indestructible macho men.  In one scene near the end of the movie, when a Russian Mil Mi-26 heavy transport helicopter piloted by the villain's daughter kamikazes into their building and they dropped through something like twenty floors though into water, even my near infinite patience finally gave out.  Laziness in plotting like this is just inexcusable.

I sincerely hope, if there will be a sixth installment in this franchise, that they put in a much better effort next time around and don't just 'phone it in.'  Otherwise, it will be time for John McClane to finally retire for good.

Grade: C

Warning: Side effects of watching this movie may include a sense of vertigo due to the movie's mind-numbing and soul-sucking action scenes.
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Depression Confession, What's Your Prescription?

'Side Effects,' Steven Soderbergh's fourth movie in the past two years following 'Contagion,' 'Haywire' (my debut review on this blog!) and 'Magic Mike,' is a psychiatric thriller of the first order, an intense, suspense-filled humdinger that toys with our minds as much as it entertains us.  Since his breakthrough 'Sex, Lies and Videotape,' Soderbergh had proven again and again that he is very good indeed when it comes to developing characters with depth and putting them through complex, often morally questionable situations.  He is once again in top form with 'Side Effects,' reportedly his last movie before entering retirement (though I sure hope not).

Like a master magician, Soderbergh pulls a sleight-of-hand with the unsuspecting audience in 'Side Effects.'  The movie first comes off as an examination and indictment of our reliance on pills to make us feel happy, thanks to the ease with which prescription drugs can be obtained due to the reprehensible marriage between the medical community and the pharmaceutical industry a la' 'Prozac Nation.'  Then it segues into a labyrinthine, multi-layered Hitchkockian suspense thriller with enough convoluted twists and "who's playing who?" deceptions to make Keyser Soze's head spin.  "Who is Keyser Soze?" you ask?  Google it, I say.

A movie like 'Side Effects' requires characters that would suck us in, to totally engross us in their actions and motivations. Rooney Mara ('The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo') and Jude Law provided strong performances as the movie's central characters, Emily Taylor and Dr. Jonathan Banks.  Much of what makes the movie so riveting was due to their ability to make their characters so believably intense.

Enough said.  I will not give anything else away.  Go see this movie already.  What are you waiting for?
Grade: A

Warning: Side effects of watching this movie may include a sense of vertigo due to the movie's various plot twists.
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