A Good Day to Die Hard

Director: John Moore

Cast: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Mary Elzabeth Winstead, Yulia Snigir

Synopsis: John McClane is off to Moscow after tracking down his estranged son Jack, whom is facing a prison sentence due to various nefarious dealings.   John is outside the courthouse when a major escape is attempted.   Unfortunately, John intervenes and ruins Jack’s attempt to extricate another political prisoner, given that he is actually working for the CIA.

Diehard121314poster

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The Expendables 2

Director: Simon West

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lungdren, Jet Li, Liam Hemsworth, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis

Synopsis: Church (Willis) blackmails The Expendables into another job, this time to retrieve data concerning a mine full of plutonium.   Unfortunately, they are beaten to the target by Villain (Van Damme).   Barney Ross (Stallone) and the gang set after him with a vengeance, with a few new friends along the way.

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The Expendables – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Sylvester Stallone

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, David Zayas, Giselle Itie, Charisma Carpenter, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mickey Rourke

Synopsis: A group of old army pros take on missions for cash requiring their unique brand of high skill.   The plot however is not really important, this is a film about seeing some of the recent pasts great action stars together in one movie.   Even the budget for California could not keep Arnie away from a cameo appearance, just as any action fan should give in to temptation and watch this film!!

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“Grindhouse” on BluRay

Directors: Robert Rodriguez (Planet Terror) and Quentin Tarantino (Death Proof)

Cast: Planet Terror – Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Naveen Andrews, Bruce Willis, Quentin Tarantino, Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson, Electra and Elise “The Crazy Babysitter Twins”  Avellan

Death Proof – Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Sydney Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Eli Roth, Monica Staggs, Rose McGowan, Marley Shelton, Quentin Tarantino

Machete Trailer – Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, Jeff Fahey

Synopsis: Finally, Grindhouse is released in Australia as it was always intended.   A collaborative project between Rodriguez and Tarantino, this two-for-the-price-of-one double feature is a tribute to the B grade exploitation films that played mainly in American cinemas in the ’70s and 80’s.   We are talking guns, girls, gears, and gore galore.   The experiment also included scratching up the print and having missing film reels as was often the case back in the day.   Unfortunately, the experiment failed in the US, so Australia only got to see the two films individually.   An error corrected with the BluRay release, with fake trailers also inserted back in where they belong.

If you did not get the idea from the synopsis, it is almost with a sense of relief that Grindhouse has been released as originally intended.   That is something I have been waiting for, and have done so for many years now.   I refused to see the films at the cinema because I was not going to pay twice for what should be a single feature.   I only bought the individual films on DVD when the price had dropped low enough for them to equal two-for-the-price-of-one.   Yet being separate I think damages both films, as it is now clear that in separating them a good part of the magic and tone was lost.

Individually, they are not brilliant films.   They have paper-thin plot, a cast bursting with some of the most attractive women on-screen today, and with over-the-top production values and way much more gore than can possibly exist in a human body… and that is the whole point of the experiment.   The films were never meant to be taken seriously.   They are all about popcorn.   They are about teenage boys ogling fine female forms.   They are about seeing images you do not get elsewhere (for instance, an amputee go-go dancer with a machine gun for a prosthetic leg), and they are about real stunts, edge of your seat action in the absence of CGI.   Bringing the films together with over-the-top trailers, including Machete which was later made into its own feature which I have reviewed previously, Grindhouse sings in all of its exploitation glory.

Planet Terror is a zombie movie, with McGowan as the aforementioned amputee go-go dancer Cherry, and one that is actually an entertaining character as well as a punchline, Rodriguez is the classic outlaw hero type El Wray whom has a history with Cherry, Brolin is a doctor whom terrorises his anaesthetist wife, played by Marley Shelton, and there are a number of great cameos, including Willis and Tarantino.   As for plot, we have a group of survivors trying to escape a zombie outbreak… that’s it!

Death Proof is Tarantino’s homage to the classic car chase movie, with a focus on real stunts as opposed to CGI.   The impact of this approach is breath-taking (pardon the pun).   There is a clear difference to the action on display here than there is in any CGI car chase filmed in recent years.   Russel is Stuntman Mike, a psycho with a car that he has manufactured to be death proof… for him anyway.   He gets his rocks off causing attractive girls to get into horrendous accidents.   Ans that is the role most of the females in this film play, except when he meets real-life Kiwi stuntwoman Zoe Bell (playing herself) and her friends Kim (Thom) and Abernathy (Dawson).   Russell really gets the joke in this film, and hams it up delightfully.   Being from south of the equator myself, it was great hearing Zoe’s native Kiwi accent up there, as well as seeing her play a classically delightful Kiwi personality type.   She lights up the scenes she is in, even when playing being in danger.   But the film in the end is not about actors, it is about cars, and the chase scenes really kick arse.

I can acknowledge how Grindhouse did not find success on its initial release.   If you went in not knowing what to expect, just wanting a traditional film with a Tarantino or Rodriguez bent, then this film may have exceeded many people’s sensibilities.   In the end, if you are reading this review and are thinking “this sounds so cool, get a copy of Grindhouse at the earliest convenience.   If you are not convinced yet though, chances are you never will be, so I advise you save your money!!

4.5 stars out of 5
Grindhouse on IMDB

Grindhouse on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0AaVUs3-Pw]

Die Hard 4.0 – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Len Wiseman

Cast: Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant, Maggie Q, Kevin Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Synopsis: Many years after the last instalment, Die Hard returns.    McClane gets drawn into a terrorist attack that is targeting the realm of information technology.    Given his previously well established technophobe status, the side-kick duties go to Long’s Matt Farrell, a hacker whose activities unwittingly contributed to the initiation of the chaos.

A review by Film Nerd.

There was a mix of dread and anticipation when this film was originally announced.   Sure, Die Hard is a great franchise and ripe for a fresh instalment.   But Bruce Willis has aged considerably, so could he still pull off the big scale action blockbuster.   The naysayers need not have feared, as not only is Willis still convincing in an action role, the other important half of the equation, the laconic wit, is 100% in tact.

Making technology the enemy was an inspired choice.    If anything has been evident in this films predecessors, it is that McClane has never been a fan of all the mod cons.   As such, he is placed out of his depth immediately.   Without someone guiding him through, chances are him being successful would have been implausible.    Enter hacker Matt Farrell, another great big geek boy for Long to add to his long list of similar roles.   Before even seeing the film, I realised this partnership would determine the success of the film.   Thankfully, Farrell is not just a whiney inept tag-along type.   Yes, the director does exploit the fact that these two guys are from completely different realms, but Farrell becomes a worthy companion to McClane, and steps up to the plate when it is required of him.

Olyphant also is deserving of mention.   His villain actually has some pretty interesting motives, subverting the classic terrorism or bank heist macguffins of the previous films.    His history is shrouded to begin with, but as the layers are peeled back, matters do get more interesting.   Maggie Q has little to do overall, except be an arse-kicking vixen, a role she has also played in Mission: Impossible III.   I believe she is next to appear in a renewed television series Nikita, one of the many American rip-offs of Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita.    She does have the potential as a good actress, so this may not be a bad thing.   I would have liked to have seen her character here developed more though.   The other major cast member is Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as McClane’s daughter Lucy.   She does achieve a lot in a relatively small role, and as mentioned in my review of Scott Pilgrim, she is an actress I intend to keep watching from this point on.

From a drama perspective, the film does achieve some brief moments of depth.   More so than any of the other films to date, the script explores the implications of what it is for McClane to be a “hero”.   It is not all roses and cotton candy, that is for sure.   That said, it simultaneously explores his motivation to step up when needed.   It is an interesting angle for a franchise born in the ’80s, but it was perhaps a vital link that connects this films with the expectations of modern audiences.

On the flip side of the coin, the other important thing to mention is the action.   It is regularly over the top, and scenes of McClane hanging on to a fighter jet to avoid falling from a destroyed bridge do stretch credibility to breaking point.   If you are going to criticise the film for this though, you are clearly missing the point.   Simple fact is, Wiseman has recognised that what propelled the action in the previous films is a constant sense of fun, and the action here delivers just that.

This is a perfect film for already established fans of the film franchise, as well as being a good introduction to the uninitiated (I can see Bride of Film Nerd reading that line with a bit of trepidation… not without reason as I think I will introduce her to this film at some point).   My personal recommendation is to sit back and enjoy the ride.

4 stars (out of a possible 5)

Die Hard 4.0 on IMDB

Die Hard 4.0 on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EUJYh32KVw]

Die Hard: With a Vengeance – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: John McTiernan

Cast: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Irons

Synopsis: John McClane’s past comes back to haunt him as a mysterious figure specifically leads him on a race against time before fulfilling his threat of blowing up an elementary school.   He is assisted throughout by Zeus, a man he meets in Harlem on his first challenge.

A review by Film Nerd.

The Die Hard Franchise continues, however this film is much more than a repeat of the first two instalments.   The plot eschews the plot line of McClane meeting his wife Holly at Christmas before a whole lot of bad stuff happens, and as such the mounting co-incidences element is lost, much to the film’s benefit.   Rather, it is clear from very early on that at some point in the past, our hero has really pissed somebody off, and this person is targeting him for revenge.    Given McClane’s history, this plot line is immediately plausible.

This film also gets rid of the restricted setting option (previously a high-rise building and an airport), and allows McClane the chance to play ion an entire city.   As such we get car chases, subway drama, flooding tunnels, the works.    The intelligence of villain “Simon”  (Irons) is also a welcome addition, providing a villain more in the style of Hans Gruber, and as such requiring McClane to use a great deal of resourcefulness to complete each challenge set for him while simultaneously trying to bring the bad guy down.

The other perfect addition to the plot is having McClane not be alone this time, with side-kick duties provided by Jackson’s Zeus, a character that is somewhat playing against type for the professional move bad-ass.   He is a side-kick that is drawn into the spectacle against his will, and his more thoughtful approach to the scenarios creates the perfect foil to McClane’s making everything up as he goes along.   That said, he may be unwilling, but he is far from a hindrance.   The character may not be a natural bad-ass, but this is Samuel L. Jackson… when his character stands up he holds his own!!

This is a film that proves that when it comes to Die Hard, it is McClane that is the key, and not the scenario.   As long as the plot has him being” the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time”, then the magic is still there.   Christmas was a good gimmick for the first film, but that trend need not continue.   Having McTiernan back at the helm has a very clear impact too… the quips are still there, but dialled back so that the drama and action can take front seat when required.    At the time this was scene as a good end to the trilogy, but boy am I glad there was another outing for Willis and McClane yet!!

4 stars (out of a possible 5)

Die Hard: With a Vengeance on IMDB

Die Hard: With a Vengeance on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=866yr_Oj5IA]

Die Hard 2 – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Renny Harlin

Cast: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, William Atherton, William Sadler, Dennis Franz

Synopsis: Two years after the release of the original film, John McClane returns to, well, basically do exactly the same thing he did in the first film!!

A review by Film Nerd

I have decided to continue through with my reviews of the Die Hard franchise, so doing this in  order, I hear comment on the first sequel, and perhaps the entry in the franchise that is the least spectacular.   Yes, there is great action and great character moments, but there is really nothing to set it apart from the original film.   You could feasibly just replace wherever it says high-rise building in the original with the word airport, and that is Die Hard 2.

This does not mean that it is a bad film, it just often feels repetitive, and we have seen it all before.   Another terrorist, another christmas, McClane’s wife is in trouble, McClane himself becomes a one man army because the authorities are incompetent and will do nothing.    At least the film does comment itself on how unlikely this scenario is, McClane quipping “How can the same thing happen to the same guy twice?”   But the quipping is also the problem.   It made him that little bit different from the action heroes at the time in the original, his running commentary bringing levity to proceedings.   In DH2, however, the jokes often feel forced, and even worse, it is clearly at times overdubbed, almost criminally so when McClane’s voice is not muffled by the parachute he is buried in.

One doesn’t watch these films though to pick apart plot, they are watched purely for action.   On this front, the film delivers, with punch ups, explosions, and McClane progressively getting bloodier, dirtier, and sweatier throughout.   For a sit back and watch it is great, and those who have not seen the original perhaps will not have the gripes with the film that I mentioned above.   But the other main problem is that the lead villain cannot match Alan Rickman’s charisma in the original, and none of the supporting players are quite as memorable as those in the first outing either.

Yes it is a good film, that suffers by comparison.   It was an intelligent decision by the producers to get original director John McTiernan in to direct the next chapter.

3 stars (out of a possible 5)

Die Hard 2 on IMDB

Die Hard 2 on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUg4gWjOgXs]

Die Hard – Alan Rickman Week

Director: John McTiernan

Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Alexander Godunov, Reginald VelJohnson, William Atherton

Synopsis: New York cop John McClane has taken a trip to LA for Christmas to visit with his estranged wife and children.   After arriving at her office building, a well organised, armed group of men  takes the employees remaining in the building for Christmas drinks hostage.   McClane eludes capture, and starts a one man war to bring these law-breakers to justice.

A review by Film Nerd.

The original Die Hard is a film that I don’t imagine we will see anything similar to it again, at least in the near future of this post-9/11 world.    A group of suspected international terrorists and high-rise buildings being shaken with massive explosions is not the type of project many major studios will now be jumping to give the green light.   A sentiment I certainly respect, but a reflection that in the modern era, movies have now lost some of their innocence.

As this is certainly to this day a very fun, action packed film.   Now having spawned 3 sequels of varying quality, with a fifth apparently now pending, there is no denying its popularity.    In addition, at the time of writing, the films holds spot 110 on the IMDB Top 250 films list.   The plot is pretty basic, and the film knows it.   It delights in putting McClane in to increasingly improbable and proportionately enjoyable (for the viewer) levels of danger… and all this with our star wearing no shoes!

There are three clear elements to the success of this film.   The first is director John McTiernan.   His presence was certainly missed in Die Hard 2, so much so that he was called in for the top job again by the time Die Hard: With a Vengeance was to come into being.   McTiernan’s two offerings are arguably the best in the franchise, with Die Hard 2 to this day proving the weakest link.   The next element was of course the man  of the week, Alan Rickman.   His villain, Hans Gruber, presented a new type of criminal to your classical actioner of the ’80s.   He is a man of style, substance, and intellect, with an initially unclear agenda.   Watching him unravel as McClane’s antics increasingly interfere with his goals is an absolute delight, in what was clearly a star making performance.   The final element is of course Bruce Willis, the one constant of the franchise.   His “every man” is out of place in the world of the Hans Gruber’s, but his pragmatic approach and sense of humour are what the film relies on.   It is like he is in on the “you have got to be kidding me” joke of the film, and with this presence guiding us through, the story never gets too bogged down or dour.

Most readers would have already seen the film, so I invite you to revisit it, and spend two hours forgetting reality and all the consequences and real life politics it entails.   To those who haven’t seen it, shame on you!!!   It is time you did something about that!!

Die Hard on IMDB

Die Hard on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qxBXm7ZUTM]