Friday, February 22, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard - 1 star

A Good Day to Die Hard, the 5th Die Hard movie, is awful.  There is no other way to put it.  Just awful.  It was made by people who think they know what a Die Hard movie is, but have never actually seen one. 

The original Die Hard is one of the best action movies of all time, possibly the best.  There are several reasons for this.  For one thing, John McClane was a normal guy.  Yes, he was a cop, but he was human.  In the first movie, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  When the bad guys show up and start shooting, he doesn't grab a gun a start shooting back.  Instead, he hides and calls the police.  Only when he has no other choice does he start fighting back. 

The character was well written.  He had a back story (he and his wife were 'separated'), and he was trying to rescue his wife.  The thiefs don't know she's his wife, and he is terrified they will find out.  The last time he and his wife spoke, they fought, so he is also concerned that if he is killed, he didn't get a chance to apologize. 

There are also other well written characters:  his wife Holly, Ellis, Sgt. Al Powell, the police chief, Dick Thornburg, and one of the all time best villains, Hans Gruber.  These characters are so well written and have such interesting dialogue that we never miss McClane much when he's off screen.

The action is great, but more importantly, it's believable.  Ok, maybe not 100% believable, but almost.  You know it's taking place in the real world.  McClane is beat to hell by the end of the movie, and he experiences pain (especially when he walks on broken glass).  There is also a lot of humor which feels like it organically comes from the characters, as opposed to forced humor.

Ok, enough about how great Die Hard is.  This new movie has none of those traits.  For one thing, John McClane is now an action hero.  He may be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but never for a second do we feel like he's in any danger.  When he's kneeling on the ground, hands tied behind his back with the bad guys sticking their guns in his face, he doesn't even flinch.  He says witty things to them like he's Arnold Schwartzenegger.  The real McClane would be scared for his life.  He would find a way out, but we'd be afraid for him. 

He's also a superman in this movie.  Several times he falls through windows and down several stories, and only walks away with a few more scratches.  This isn't uncommon in modern action movies unfortunately, but McClane's no longer a real guy.

The biggest problem is the movie is no fun.  There are very few laughs, and they feel forced.  The story is complicated and not very interesting, and there is no clear villain.  There are a few villains, but none of them are memorable.  The big action set piece early in the movie is a car chase with John's son Jack in one car, the bad guys in the second car, and McClane bringing up the rear, trying to help his son.  The problem with the car chase is it's filmed so badly that we have no idea where anyone is.  There is no sense of geography and I lost track of who was who. 

Oh, and his catch phrase is tossed in there so badly that I groaned when he uttered it.

The only thing I enjoyed about this movie is the way the last bad guy meets his death.  It involves a helicopter propeller.  That moment almost made me cheer, not just because it was actually done well, but because it was the first time in the entire movie I smiled. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Sundance - Magic Magic - 3 1/2 stars

From imdb.com:  In remote Chile, a vacationing young woman begins to mentally unravel; meanwhile, her friends ignore her claim until it's too late.

Juno Temple plays Alicia.  She is visiting Chile to stay with her cousin, Sarah (Emily Browning) and  Sarah's friends.  As soon as she arrives, Sarah tells Alicia that she has to stay in the city until the next day.  This upsets Alicia, since it means she will be alone with Sarah's friends, who she doesn't know.  

Sarah's friends aren't exactly thrilled to have Alicia tagging along with them, and they try to be nice as much as they can.  As time goes on, the trip gets worse and worse for Alicia, especially when Brink (Michael Cera) starts developing an interest in her.

This is a very unusual movie.  It's kind of a thriller, but with no supernatural elements.  There is no killer or even a villain in the movie.  Alicia is having a harder and harder time, slowing going crazy, while Sarah's friends are putting up with this whiny annoying girl as best as they can.  

There is also a lot of humor in the movie thanks to Michael Cera.  Cera has a way of delivering a boring, straight line and making it hilarious.  I think this is my favorite Michael Cera performance since Superbad.

Going in, I had no idea where this story would take me.  And even at the hour mark, I still wasn't sure where the story would end up.  It isn't a conventional thriller and it was really a nice surprise.  I'm not even sure I would call the movie a thriller.  Maybe an unsettling drama would be a better description.  Anyway, it's awesome.

Sundance - The Way, Way Back - 4 stars

This is the best movie I saw at Sundance this year.  Duncan (Liam James) is a shy, quiet teenager with no self esteem.  As the movie begins, he and his mom (Toni Collette) are driving with her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carrell) and his daughter.  They are on their way to Trent's summer house by a lake in a small lakeside town (think Martha's Vineyard).

Trent is encouraging Duncan to be more outgoing, but in the most insulting ways possible.  And Trent's daughter acts like Duncan is a 5 year old kid she is forced to babysit.  His mom has no idea that Duncan is being treated so bad, or she is turning a blind eye so she can make her relationship with Trent work.

Duncan eventually meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), a fun guy who manages a water park.  Owen befriends Duncan and starts watching out for him.  He's like the perfect big brother.  He gives Duncan a job at the water park, and Duncan starts to come out of his shell.

This is a really nice movie.  I felt a lot of empathy for Duncan, and it was a real joy to watch his transformation over the course of the movie.  Sam Rockwell is entertaining as always, and this is some of his best work.  Owen is the type of character who is always 'on', always quick with a joke and entertaining everyone in the room.

Allison Janney is a lot of fun as the divorced, sassy neighbor who always seems to have a drink in her hand.  And Steve Carrell gives a performance that is a lot different from his comedy roles.  He really isn't a nice guy here, and he is very convincing in the role.

AnnaSophia Robb plays Susanna, the cute girl next door who develops a crush on Duncan, and this story line is the one that the movie short changes.  There is a little bit of a nice, innocent young romance between the two, and I would have liked the movie to show a bit more of that.  Early in the movie, Duncan has so little confidence that when Susanna practically asks to hang out with him, he can't even say yes.  By the time Duncan has come out of his shell and is showing some interest, the movie is almost over.

I really enjoyed this movie and the performances.  This is one of those movies that could have gone on for another hour and I wouldn't have minded.  Highly recommended.

Sundance - Hell Baby - 1/2 star

From imdb.com:  An expectant couple who moves into the most haunted house in New Orleans call upon the services of the Vatican's elite exorcism team to save them from a demonic baby.

This is supposed to be a comedy, a spoof of haunted house / possession movies.  I didn't laugh much.  Rob Corddry is the star, and he can usually make me laugh.  He isn't the best leading man though.  I think he works much better in a supporting role.

Tom Lennon I usually find very funny, but he didn't make me laugh either.  The movie was just dumb.  It's like they improvised a lot of the movie and they didn't edit out the parts that didn't work.  

The only part of the movie I enjoyed was the final 15 minutes when the wife gives birth to the demon baby.  It crawls around the room killing everyone one by one, and that sequence was fun in a twisted sort of way.  But for most of the running time, I was looking at my watch waiting for the movie to end.  Don't bother with this one.

Sundance - Lovelace - 3 1/2 stars

Amanda Seyfried stars as Linda Lovelace, the star of the 70s porn movie Deep Throat.  It's hard not to be reminded of Boogie Nights, since both films are about the porn industry and set in the 70s.

As the movie begins, Lovelace and her friend are typical teenagers.  They meet an older man, Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) who Linda starts to date and eventually marries.  Chuck owns a bar and is involved in some illegal activities, and when the IRS comes after him, he needs to make some money.  He convinces Linda to audition for a porn movie.

She gets the job, and the movie Deep Throat becomes the highest grossing porn movie in history.  The movie and its star become so popular that everyone from Bob Hope to Johnny Carson make jokes about them.

One thing interesting about the movie is the way it seems to rush through the story so quickly.  By the time Lovelace is hanging around with Hugh Hefner, I was feeling like the movie was just giving us the cliffs notes.  But then, the movie jumps back to the beginning of Linda's porn career.  We learn how she didn't want to do it, and how her abusive husband forced her to do whatever he wanted.  We see what a tragic story this really is.

At the post-screening Q&A, the directors explained the reason for the structure of the movie.  They said that when everyone learned about Linda Lovelace, it was just the happy, fun stuff.  It wasn't until years later when her autobiography came out and she went on talk shows that we learned the ugly side of her story.  The movie mirrors that.  We as the audience experience Lovelace's stardom the way the rest of the country did.

The structure works and the acting is really, really good.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Amanda Seyfried nominated for some acting awards at the end of the year.

The movie is tough to watch in places, but it isn't depressing.  In the end, I believe it's actually empowering to women.  Linda Lovelace had no support in her life.  Her husband treated her horribly and her parents were no help at all.  Eventually she had to find the strength to leave her husband and reclaim her life.  She did this all on her own, and I think it's a really moving story.  I really enjoyed the movie.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters - 3 stars

From imdb.com:  In this spin on the fairy tale, Hansel & Gretel are now bounty hunters who track and kill witches all over the world. As the fabled Blood Moon approaches, the siblings encounter a new form of evil that might hold a secret to their past.

To be honest, from the trailers I thought this looked like it would be terrible.  But I was pleasantly surprised.  The movie has a fun sense of humor about itself and I was never bored.  It also helped that the movie was rated 'R', which meant it didn't have to hold back with the language, nudity, and blood and guts.  Ok, there isn't much nudity.

But there are plenty of blood and guts.  And the movie makes great use of 3D, with body parts flying at the camera.  There were a few times I actually ducked because of the things coming at me.  I can't remember the last time a 3D movie made me duck.

The acting is pretty good, not great but no one embarrasses themselves.  This isn't a particularly good movie, but it is entertaining.