Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Joie' De Vivre On Celluloid: Live Free Or Die Hard

Bruce Willis isn't exactly old, and Justin Long isn't exactly a kid either, but they both have different experiences between themselves that define age in the best way. That's why they crack inapplicable jokes on each other involving age. And it's a well played game between them. It elevates the movie into Character A and Character B territory. That is--in the sense of actual portrayals from gifted actors--to each his own. Bravo. Which is exactly the kind of creativity you need to inject into your summer blockbusters to make them stronger then most. Then you have a real movie, and not just some popcorn selling marketing and advertising machine.

(Silly announcer voice) But wait! There's more!

The follow up to '95's Die Hard Vengeance took it's time until 2001, where a terrorist plot just wasn't the option, as was with a lot of films that were scheduled actually. A few to shelved indefinitely that still haven't seen the light of day, a few got re-worked or pushed waaaaay back to '02 or even '03. But 2005 was the magical year Willis got his ball rolling with the movie again. Based off a Wired articled entitled, "Farewell To Arms" by John Carlin, it talks about the possibilities of a virtual terrorist attack on the United States. Called a Firesale, (because everything must go) it's a systematic 3 step coordinated attack attack country's transportation, telecommunications, financial, and utilities infrastructure systems. Enemy Of The State screenwriter David Marconi took that as his, more interesting, approach to a screenplay. Especially because the usual terror consists of foreign bodies and not denizens of it's own.

I'm not sure how or why, Len Wiseman was hired after the dubious--but still well shot--Underworld Evolution, but he steps up his game in this. When we see a piece of action, most people doing amazing things, he holds the shot, without blinking his camera and follows, turns, twist and keeps rolling. Nice. Very Goodfellas restaurant walk-through of you. He opted to use as little CG as he could, and did what he could with the ridiculousness of the picture. A One VFX producer is quoted saying, "Len was insisting on the fact that, because we’ve got Transformers and other big CG movies coming out, this one has to feel more real. It has to be embedded in some kind of practical reality in order to give it that edge of being a Die Hard."  A wise choice in deed. It adds weight to the plot. Not unlike a Nolan film for (a great) example, we feel worried for the characters when things bad happen, because half the time, there really happening to them. Bravo. 

Speaking of the characters and plot, the story is about, well, the Firesale I talked about. The movie finds McClane fighting a gang of cyber-terrorists who hack the country's most valuable systems in an attempt to show them that no one is safe from a pissed person with a keyboard. It's all run by the quietly benevolent, Thomas Gabriel, played unqiuely and wonderfully by the underrated Timothy Olyphant.

Things happen in this movie I saw I liked a lot on the first time and with repeated views too (maybe more). Like the seamlessly cut sequence where the car flips in the tunnel and almost crushes the two heroes, only to be stopped by landing on the hood on two other cars very close by. Or where Maggi Q and Willis have a fight hand to hand, and Willis has her on the ground and pounds the shit out of her, in true John McClane colors. Or how when something big happens, all the government goons' cell phones go off at once in a mass of chaotic panic for the state of the country. Or the thugs. Frenchmen are employed in this movie as henchman, they only speak French, but understand English as well. I loved that. One particular, Rand (Cyril Raffaelli) is a parkour runner and has appeared in plenty of films, most notably Luc Besson productions. He leaps jumps runs and fights; and Wiseman holds the shots without giving to cuts unless necessary. Is his last name fitting or what?

Long's Matt Farrell is young, he has the facial hair a pre-thirty man develops, but he barely earns it. He'll get out of a car when the lights in the tunnel turn off, simply because he's scared. He shakes and rattles and spits out all sorts of sentences after his first gun fight when we meet him. "I am really scared! Oh my God! Like.. I'm shaking... Is that you being scared? Are you scared?! You seem, so overly calm, I'm not sure!" I love Justin Long, ever since the underrated and forgot Jeepers Creepers (as creepy as the title suggest) Not every movie he does do I feel the need to see, but the ones I root out, I always like. Just like this one. He is supposed to play a geek, a techie. He accomplishes this with blazing fingertips and eyes that miss nothing on a computer screen. But with all his geekdom banter and quips and one-liners, he actually comes across with a unintentional charisma. He has total control over something this world needs to survive: a computer. He's worth every penny, and especially because he goes toe-to-toe with Willis, one this generations best when he allows himself. 

After the action in the picture I featured to start this review off subsides, they exchange this dialogue:
Matt: "You just killed a helicopter with a car!"
McClane: "I was outa bullets... How 'bout you? You okay?" [McClane's face is covered his own blood and he's aching from every bone]
Matt: "I skinned my knee and my asthma's actin' up a little bit but..."
Willis is getting older and wiser. He's still quick, but doesn't need to movie fast all the time to remind us. He knows what he can do. He brings that sense of dreariness and tired old cop career-ness to McClane. This McClane has been through three action pictures already, he's still trigger happy, but now it's just a pain in the ass (and still a little fun for him too). I liked that, no, loved that. His John McClane is evolving. John is tired, years on the job, the last thing he wants to do is grab a kid from Jersey. He doesn't drink anymore that we know of, his ex-wife and kids do not speak to him at all. Willis gives us all the John McClane you can want and I still keep wanting more. 

At first, I was disappointed with the Gabriel character.But that didn't last long. Because the more the movie progresses, the more we get to see of him, and how he unwinds in the pressure of McClane on his heels the whole time. I mean, we're talking about a guy who keeps his voice at church decibels and then without warning (short of the burning evil slowly emptying out of his eyes) can smack a bitch square in the face with large walkie talkie. Olyphant is also, just a naturally funny dude. So once we really get to see the charm of Thomas Gabriel, everything he does can be seen in a context as funny. I was fuckin' laughin' the whole 3rd act 'cuz of him. Mary Elizabeth Winstead was also every inch her father's daughter, tough, witty, and unforgiving. It was almost Rumer Willis, but I guess it didn't exactly work out. Either way, the daughter part could have been botched by an over-acter. Or as I like to say, they could have Shia Labeoufed it. I sense, Mary has a little bit of natural angst in her daily lifestyle, or maybe, she could be just that well trained of a performer. I don't much care which one, she ca give you something cool on screen.

I liked this movie, start to finish. It was an efficient way to film a summer tent-pole. No filler or unnecessary plot points. The actors are well chosen for what they cane bring. The production is large and intense and the PG-13 rating was a near joke. Awesome. 

So for the Yippi-Ky-Yay (I won't say when), Tim and Justin being hilarious and for the awesome improvisation when running out of ammo, 3 even. This whole thing is awesome. Now stop reading and go see if you haven't already.

Munki out.

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