Tag Archives: Die Hard

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

This doesn't even "look" like a Die Hard picture.

This doesn’t even “look” like a Die Hard picture.

Zero stars.

When a film inspires an audience to fall asleep, it usually is because of one of two reasons. One: that said audience is very tired and at a late show. Two: Because the film is so mundane that it induces sleep.

The supposed fifth film in the Die Hard franchise follows one of those two principles. It also has no reason for being. Produced a far too long six years after the relatively successful fourth entry that had infused some new blood into a previously thought dead franchise,  A Good Day is so unbelievably stupid that you wouldn’t even select it from amongst direct to video garbage.

The plot is forgettable and the film itself frequently does just this in order to have dozens of overly dense offerings to the holy lord of CGI. The cartoon aspect of John McClane’s continual survival becomes a cartoon in and of itself.

The villain is merely a plot mover, there is a pointless female role that only grates on the nerves due to knowing the exact character arc almost immediately, the pointless and endless forced father-son banter that never quite works, the uninspired locations sitting in for Russia, the horrid constant use of terrible incoherent camerawork amidst a CGI landscape and lastly the fact that you no longer give a damn about John McClane.

Bruce Willis made his career with the original film and his portrayal of the burned out reluctant cop has matured through the years to become an action legend. He can be at once brutish and charming as McClane but always in a believable way as to always maintain that sense of being an off-duty NYC cop. Not here. In A Good Day, McClane is ineffectual, unfocused, uncharming and generally uninteresting. Even the one liners are terrible.

What can you expect from a team most notably responsible for the insipid Omen remake and the absolute filth of Swordfish? The original Die Hard wasn’t the biggest production, but what it had was both quality and originality. This is what made the film stand out and become such an unexpected hit with audiences. It acknowledged reality while still being innovative as an action film by refusing to bow down to what the limited production indicated. And the crew made a remarkably assured film that only served to better support the action narrative. The sequel maintained this and the necessary gritty element of danger that is completely gone from the later films. The first two films occupy their own world, exactly as is the case with Lethal Weapon  1 and 2, and the sequels are always going to have that sense of being several generations removed from their original source.

But this is something else entirely. This is a film by numbers, by studio marketing, where any script can be manhandled into production and slapped with a coat of enticement to draw in audiences. They just so happened to choose the Die Hard moniker this time around, and people on both sides fell for it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Die Hard, Film, Film Review, Zero stars

Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

Yay Photoshop!

3 stars out of 4. Closer but still no twinkie.

Twelve years after the fact, John McClane returned to say “yippee-ki-yay mother”gunshot.

Yeah, this is a PG-13 Die Hard. Much has been made of this controversial rating for a beloved franchise but it actually isn’t too distracting…until you see DH4 a second time.

The first time around in the theater it actually felt like McClane was back. You didn’t question it, for fear of it all tumbling down in front of you like Die Hard with a Hangover did. Of course, this was now the 21st century, and the man who struggled with faxes would be out of his depth in a computerized world, right?

But they went overboard with making McClane feel alienated and seem like like an ancient dinosaur. In fact, with his typical energizer bunny determination he clambers about more like a Terminator than a significantly older NYC cop. This time McClane faces Thomas Gabriel, a disgruntled defense programmer who has decided to strike back at the government which casually destroyed him once his theories became too far reaching.

His method of attack is a “fire sale”, involving the systematic control and shutdown of the nation’s infrastructure. And of course, only one man stands in his way…well actually two.

McClane is once again saddled with a sidekick, this time his unfortunate companion is ace computer hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long). While you may have seen the nerdy hacker bit done to death, this pairing actually works in the context provided. McClane and Farrell argue about nearly everything under the sun, and McClane seems flabbergasted at how ineffective this kid is. Their relationship underlines the way the writers decided to age McClane for this fourth outing. Since it is now 2007, the hero cop of the 80’s is out of his depth in everything save for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Why is Kevin Smith in this movie? He’s as extraneous as Lucy McClane!! Yes, McClane’s daughter who was briefly featured in the first film is now all grown up so that she can be kidnapped by the villain in the last act! What a lovely surprise! I don’t think it was that necessary to give McClane another reason to kill the bad guy. It’s not like he hasn’t already spent the entire film trying to take him down! And then we come to the sticks out like a sore thumb Kevin Smith. The whole film just comes to a screeching halt so that he can have his extended cameo. It serves no purpose!

Of course, the villain is completely one note, monotonous and becomes grating in his sheer blandness. Criticize Col. Stuart from Die Harder if you must, but at least that guy did something of interest! all Gabriel wants to do is stand around in various bare rooms and order his hacker minions around. Oh, that’s so very villainous..so compelling…so boring. In addition, the CGI employed gets a bit too out of hand at times. Since this is a 2007 film it is a necessary crutch and yes even a Die Hard sequel cannot be done out of the digital domain. And then there is that jet sequence. In the last major action sequence, McClane must fight off a army fighter jet while driving an eighteen wheeler rig on the interstate. And of course he survives, but not by his sheer stupid luck or the skin of his teeth or anything at all feasible. He survives this so obviously faked sequence by the magic of some pointing and clicking. Woo.

It’s not great, it’s not bad, but it gets the job done as it would have had you believe, but no! In the end Live Free or Die Hard cannot even accomplish this small feat. There are just too many modern gimmicks, shortcomings and way too many scenes that rely on a computer to have the simple human element of the first two entries.

All of this is a shame because it should have worked better for a Die Hard. Bruce Willis seems to have grown into the role and he actually looks like he’s enjoying himself this time around.

But at least some of the one liners worked. There was a glimmer of energy in this commercial product.

And the bald McClane worked. It actually worked so bring on Die Hard 5! (set for release in 2013) And since you’re setting it in Russia, in honor of getting McClane out of the States let’s do something really special. Let’s get him back into a single confined space again with no sidekicks! Oh wait, he’s supposed to rescue his son or something. What happened to Lucy?

EDITIONS: Live Free or Die Hard looks and sounds excellent both on DVD and Blu-ray. It’s status as a system workout is still upheld. However the Unrated edition is really a faked rush job to try and create a hybrid version between the original conceived film and the compromised PG-13 theatrical edition. The Unrated cut feels more rushed than the PG-13 cut and lacks the sweep of the theatrical edition. There are numerous errors, obvious ADR, line changes and even dropouts in video and audio. to further the case of a rush job this cut wasn’t even released on Blu-ray because that disc was being produced simultaneously by another team!

The Blu-ray is a great demo disc for video and sound. So unless Fox finally puts out an actual unrated version by the director, skip the “Unrated” version and enjoy this bit of modern fluff.

“Creedence?”

Leave a comment

Filed under 3 stars, Die Hard, Film Review

Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)

2.5 stars out of 4. Forgettable with a vengeance.

This film simply does not work.

This is a film where the script was tweaked to milk a franchise a third time. It lacks the drive of the first two films and often gets bogged down in scenes that are only present as plot exposition.

A mad bomber has stuck New York, and requested for John McClane to play his little game of Simon Says. Of course, Lieutenant McClane is currently suspended (Haven’t seen that before) and is obviously not in the greatest shape.

He gets stuck with a Harlem shopkeeper with a low opinion of white people, who intercedes on what will likely be McClane’s death warrant. this leads Simon the mad bomber to force Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson) to accompany McClane and the police all around the city looking for more bombs.

Why does McClane need a sidekick? McClane is a lone wolf who relies primarily on his wits to overcome insurmountable odds. It is a completely unnecessary move then, to add in another secondary character except as an attempt for comic relief. That said, Jackson does provide some great moments of exasperation at McClane’s seemingly inane  rhetoric.

Of course, Simon does not really care about blowing up the city.That is merely a diversion so that he may achieve his true goal: robbing the Federal Reserve of billions in gold bullion. Now, just who does that remind you of? Yes this is brother Gruber and he wants revenge.

Sort of. Action films are typically made or broken by their primary antagonist, and Jeremy Irons jsut isn’t given anything to really so as Simon Gruber. He has this wonderful dark dramatic flair for violence that is highly entertaining but the plot has him do nothing! This wasted opportunity is multiplied by the pointless lifeless henchmen who serve no actual purpose.

Even with another Gruber the plot seems like an afterthought.

All of the major problems stem from the fact that a script entitled Simon Says was retrofitted into a Die Hard property. Change the character’s names and it’s another movie again. (Although the point where this script was the next Lethal Weapon 4 should be obvious.)

This film notably has some of the worst CGI I’ve ever seen in the water pipe sequence. It’s just plain bad and quite obvious.

What ultimately hurts the film is its overall reliance on drabness. There is no drive, no spark, no real creativity, and the switch to New York might have seemed like a good idea on paper but it never really translates to anything onscreen. McClane on his home turf should have been something special, but then again when has a Die Hard film been about wide open spaces? When will they learn to isolate and confine our favorite Energizer Bunny again?

Bringing back the original director was an inspired choice. But for a John McTiernan helmed Die Hard sequel, I quite honestly expected a lot more than what this  film is. DH3 never overcomes its debilitating drabness and this even begins to affect the action sequences. The ending is clearly hastily tacked on, and even McClane’s signature line is thrown away. That adequately reflects on the staying power for this romp.

If the intent was to make a film that accurately reflected McClane’s hangover, then they sure nailed it.

For that’s what this is: Die Hard with a Hangover.

EDITIONS: The “THX mastered” Special Edition is, short of the GOUT (George’s Official Unaltered Trilogy) 2006 non-anamorphic Laserdisc master of the Star Wars Trilogy, one of the absolute worst DVD transfers I’ve ever seen. In fact it is so bad that I initially wanted to turn off the film. The big issue is the extreme over reliance on edge enhancement. There is no depth, no detail and everyone looks like a plastic doll. Just an awful disc.

The Blu-ray fixes all of this. Simple transfer, detailed, has actual film grain and a port of the original 5.1 to a DTS HD-ma 5.1 mix that is quite punchy.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2.5 stars, Die Hard, Film Review

Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)

3.5 stars out of 4. Underrated fun night out at the movies.

Typically seen as the lowest point in the the Die Hard series, Die Harder is little more than a carbon copy of the original film. All of the elements that were seen as successful with audiences are reprised with very little new material. So that should be it right? There can’t be anything else to say about a lower grade action flick from the midpoint of the 80’s to 90’s period action crossover…or can there?

Let me go ahead and get this out there: I really enjoy Die Harder for what it is-an action film. In fact, on the sheer amount of glee and action alone, I rate it equally with the original film and in most cases actually prefer it. (Yes, I know, this is blasphemy to most.) This is one of those Temple of Doom-esque moments where the much maligned sequel is darker and heavier on the action but still holds up to the original.

It’s a year after the Nakatomi incident. John McClane is waiting in Dulles International Airport for his wife’s plane to land so then they can go spend a not so wonderful Christmas with her in-laws. Needless to say, McClane is caught in the wrong place at the wrong time as terrorists seize control of the airport’s control and hold the incoming planes hostage in exchange for an arriving drug lord.

McClane is thrust into it all over again, and no one wants him there, least of all himself. This leads to my favorite line in the entire series: “Oh man, I can’t fucking believe this. Another basement, another elevator. How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” Then begins an elaborate series of action sequences that seem to have been designed to top the previous sequence and keep the audience in constant enthrallment more so than the first Die Hard.

Many have criticized the one note dimension of the villains and the lack of plot detail given. If you really get nitpicky, this is true just as the idea of the planes continuing to circle above Dulles instead of diverting to another airport is plain stupid. Putting McClane’s wife on one of the plane’s gives John his primary motivation, but placing the annoying reporter Thorburg from the first film on the exact same plane by sheer coincidence is a bit much. The leader of this treacherous band of ex-army operatives is Col. Stuart who is wonderfully direct and evil, but lacks any of the sly foxiness of Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber. This is much more of a villain you want to see get his just desserts if only for the evil deeds he performs-because we never really get told why these former soldiers want to rescue this South American drug kingpin in the first place.

The directing reins are handed over to Renny Harlin, who ramps up the action scenes to a feverish pace. The original film featured many breather bits where McClane would gather his thoughts and try to prepare for the next onslaught of enemy waves and thankfully these are maintained. But for sheer amount of action, very few films can claim to be in the same league. What is not lost is the same overall style and tone of the original film. This is still a gritty world, where McClane hates every single minute of what he is doing. He bleeds, curses, gets beaten up and barely survives most every encounter. God, this is fun. Die Harder  is really the last in the series that feels like a Die Hard film. The later two sequels feel quite removed from the established universe and more like standalone everyday action potboilers.

There is a workprint version of Die Harder floating around that gives a glimpse at a few dropped scenes, dialogue bits and alternate action shots that are in fact even harder. It’s a interesting curio to finally see, but the quality is awful and the WP seems to have been sourced from a degraded bootleg VHS tape.

It’s a 2 hour action ride, don’t question it and you’ll get the best yippie-ki-yay scene in the series. What’s not to like?

And yes…I like the exploding plane shot.

EDITIONS: Die Harder shares roughly the same fate on home video as it’s predecessor: weak washed out video with older grade audio with both being limited by the production values of their time. That being said, both seem slightly stronger on the sequel simply due to everything being two years newer.

The first DVD was fine, but simply a Laserdisc port and not much to write home about. The Special Edition gave a whole second disc of bonus features but most importantly a cleaned 16:9 anamorphic transfer with 5.1 remixes in both Dolby and DTS. And for once they actually included the original Dolby Surround 2.0!

The Blu-ray release still has these issues, but since they can be attributed to the production and not transfer meddling I think this is about as good as we can ever get for a 1990 film. Detail is nice, grain is present, and the DTS HD-ma mix is representative of the original track. Still, I wish they could have just added the 2.0 surround in a lossless track. They just can’t ever be complete can they?

1 Comment

Filed under 3.5 stars, Die Hard, Film, Film Review

Die Hard (1988)

The key word on this poster is Panavision

3.5 stars out of 4. Action classic, but you already knew that.

Terrorists seize a business tower on Christmas Eve. Employees are still at their Christmas party, where one off duty NYC cop has just come to meet his estranged wife.

The best line in the film:"Come out out to the coast we'll get together have a few laughs."

The core of Die Hard’s success with audiences is this human element of exasperation. Det.  John McClane is not a movie action hero. There is no polish, no oozing charm, no feats of incredible unbelievability. This is a guy who does a 9 to 5, drinks beer and gets jet lag. In fact, he spends the entire film barefoot because of one fellow traveler’s advice on how to lose jet lag. The extensive wardrobe consists of one tank top that grows increasingly bloody as the building is systematically taken apart from the inside.

We like this guy. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be any sequels. Not only does he come across as one of us, but he reacts in ways that audiences can relate to. Instead of coolly walking away from a fight unscathed, McClane will barely survive and then give a blessed yell of relief that he is even still breathing. This is not a superman-this is “a regular Energizer Bunny” who becomes increasingly worn down so that by the end of one of these adventures he shouldn’t even be walking at all. The energizer bunny reference is perfect, because like that titular advertising legend McClane simply keeps going and going and going and going without any notion of stopping.

Had anyone else been cast as John McClane this film would not have worked. The entire thing just rests on Bruce Willis’s shoulders. His bruised laconic gaze speaks volumes about how much we lost out on when humanity went out of commercial filmmaking. He can go from a marital dispute to dodging bullets to rigging an improvised explosive to witty one liners to that phenomenal bug eyed look McClane gets in the midst of fights throughout all four films. And then the magnificent monologues of McClane-isms.  Oh boy, how I do enjoy characters chewing themselves out in the midst of extreme peril.

The plot sounds simple enough doesn’t it? What more could possibly be there in the plot that isn’t the obvious? Aside from Bruce Willis’s characterization this is the film’s other secret weapon. For such a simple premise, the plot weaves in new twists with such alacrity that one often wonders what could possibly be thrown in next.

The leader of the “terrorists” is Hans Gruber who sidelines in his enjoyment of men’s fashion and politics. Why is it that nearly everything Alan Rickman is in winds up being so deliciously watchable? Gruber’s real objective is the horde of money hidden in the corporation’s vault. So what is simply a case of petty theft is so elaborately dressed up in theatricality that the tangled web of its construction is something to marvel at. Now if only they had borrowed an idea from the Bond producers and had Rickman return in a sequel as Gruber’s twin brother. None of the succeeding villains have had any of Rickman’s impact.

The action is handled in a way so that the believability remains in a sea of fantastic overkill. Upon release in 1988, many claimed that the level of violence was overkill, but this has since been downplayed by both time and the sheer number of imitators on the film’s premise.

The way John McTiernan allows for the building to an element in the story is remarkable. It is this visual flair combined with Jan DeBont’s in your face cinematography that makes things really come alive. For a 2.35:1 frame to bob and weave into the fray with such reckless abandon in a studio film is really refreshing. Bright lights flare in your vision just as they would to weary McClane. But there is also a composure in this freedom. Swirling movement combines with tracking to create a foundation of composure.

The surroundings are an office tower that is till under varying stages of construction. Needless to say the builders are about to have a major setback in their completion date. The confinement of a single building actually serves to heighten the tension which for this kind of action film is essential. (And a point that the two later sequels missed entirely.) The events that take place outside the Nakatomi Plaza are confined to the grounds outside as the LAPD attempt to maintain a base of communications to work down the terrorists and their “demands”. It’s nice to see some negative reaction to McClane’s unauthorized aid and the extent to which he is unappreciated gives much weight to his exasperation.

Unfortunately, once things are over you find yourself asking what really mattered in the end. While this may certainly be remembered as a landmark in the action sub-genre, what does one really take away from it all? The small human elements we like combined with the use of real locations make the ride feel a bit more natural but these great 80’s action films can never really be considered classics. The 80’s action film is washed out looking today, has a nice balanced Dolby SR sound mix, fresh dialogue for the first film of a franchise, but is always firmly centered in the slick corporate dominance of 1980’s American cinema. To get something truly different, you have to also attack the society that creates these situations (William Friedkin’s masterful To Live and Die in LA (1985) ) or build a poetic balance between action and drama  as found in John Woo’s doubleshot of action mastery, The Killer (1987) and Hard Boiled (1990).  Even with the human energizer bunny, Die Hard never reaches the level of balance between action and drama contained in the greatest of action cinema. For all of its innovations and benchmarks the film never gets too far away from its pulp novel framework  when you really look at it. (especially the death of Hans.)

So crank it loud and enjoy being blown through the back of the room. Yippie-ki-yay.

EDITIONS:

Die Hard has never looked spectacular on home video due to it’s late-80’s production. The film has always looked washed out and very contrasty and lacking fine detail. The original DVD was rather dark and was little more than a port of the Laserdisc transfer.

The 5 Star Collection edition is 16:9 anamorphic with 5.1 mixes in Dolby and DTS. The transfer is much brighter and representative of the original film. However, the image has some fluctuation issues in the opening scenes and is rather washed out. The audio is a nice bump from the original Dolby Surround,but seeing the original mix included would have been nice. The Dolby remix is tinny and the DTS is much more robust. Both have little use of the LFE channel. These seem to be the same as the earlier LD multichannel mixes.

The Blu-ray release fixes most of the image issues with the increased resolution, but there is still a lack of detail and overall graininess. However, this can’t really be faulted as the image represents the original production and Fox has literally done a straight transfer with little to no manipulation. Sound is a good 5.1 DTS hd-master audio mix, but I still want the original Dolby Surround mix in lossless quality included .Sounds like I’ll need to track down an older Laserdisc for the PCM track.

Die Hard was one of the last films to really get a 70mm blow-up run, so there might have been a 6-track master made for 70mm’s superior 6-track magnetic stereo or a Dolby 70mm mix. These would be the basis for all of the modern 5.1 mixes, but to my ears it sounds a bit like the Batman (1989) mix where none of the 5.1 mixes sounded right to me until I heard the original Dolby SR mix on the Laserdisc which absolutely dominated.

In any case, Die Hard should be played loud. The film originally came with disclaimers to be played loud, because it was mixed that way.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

Leave a comment

Filed under 3.5 stars, Die Hard, Film Review