Christmas reflections and things…

Since Christmas is almost behind us and we’re definitely headed towards the end of the year, I think it’s as good time as any to sit down and have ‘a think’ about what’s going on with this blog. Sure, I could save it for the New Year’s or something, because resolutions and related promises-to-be-broken-sooner-or-later are what make New Year’s Day, but nevertheless… I’m extremely glad to be back typing away, as the things in life are starting to take shape, and as a result I get to save up some more free time. To me, this means more or less that I will get to watch more films again and get back to writing about them. Continue reading

“Olympus Has Fallen” – and it got right back up…

A solid actioner is truly a rare sighting these days. With all the “G.I.Joe’s”, “Fast & Furious” and various comic book adaptations being proliferated ad infinitum vomitum, it would seem that action films that do not overdose on adrenaline (and in its stead rely on the characters’ charisma and interesting story) are all but extinct. On top of that, after a raging disaster “A good day to die hard” turned out to be, it was only logical of me to be somewhat sceptical when I rolled up into the cinema to see “Olympus Has Fallen”.

This new baby of Antoine Fuqua’s (“Training Day”, “Tears of the Sun”, “Shooter”) is a film depiction of Bin Laden’s wet dreams – a day when The White House with its precious contents get taken hostage by bloodthirsty terrorists.  It may seem a bit inappropriate for some to be watching films like that in the wake of the Boston Bombings; however I don’t share that belief. In fact, “Olympus Has Fallen” is a fantastic example of how powerful Hollywood can be in conveying the ideas of Uplifting American Patriotism (I believe that it deserves its own little place in the dictionaries, because no other nation on Earth can display affection to their homeland in such an unhindered and positively proud manner). Maybe even a bit too powerful, but I will get to that later on.

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Anyhow, in “Olympus Has Fallen” we meet Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), a Secret Service agent who used to work as security detail to the American President Ben Asher (Aaron Eckhart). After a horrifying accident that claimed the life of The First Lady (Ashley Judd) Mike was relieved from the Secret Service, and the next 1.5 years he spent riding the desk in the Treasury Department (some sort of purgatory for the seemingly disgraced pariahs of the US officials). Then, the unthinkable happened. A bunch of North-Korean-looking baddies launched a full-frontal assault on The White House exactly on the day when The US and South Korea were supposed to discuss security measures against the growing threat from the North. The terrorists succeeded in taking over the White House and were holding The President with his entourage hostage in a bunker underneath it. It also turned out that the only person left alive in the building was our man Mike Banning, who – although he wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place – dashed towards The White House the minute the attack started to help defend it. You can figure out the rest. One man to face them all and all that jazz…

I don’t really understand the whole idea of calling “Olympus Has Fallen” the ‘Die Hard in the White House’. I mean, I do see where those who claim that are coming from, but I think they are simply wrong. If anything, “Olympus Has Fallen” would be a successful mash-up of “Commando” meets “Die Hard” in the White House, but this is as far as I can go. First of all, it’s not Christmas. Secondly, Mike Banning is not your every-man caught with his pants down in a crisis situation. He’s a well-trained killing machine ex-special ops bad-ass who knew exactly what he was getting into. But… On the other hand, he bled like a human would and as the old adage goes: ‘If it bleeds, we can kill it’. He also had a wildly inappropriate sense of humor that he displayed in a good amount of one-liners and, holding John McClane as example, he had a thing for displaying all manners of disrespect towards his superiors. So take it as you want it, I don’t see this film as “Die Hard” in the White House. “Olympus Has Fallen” is good enough to stand on its own two feet, thank you very much.

Now, don’t get any stupid ideas that this movie is genre-redefining or anything to that effect. If you go to the cinema with that in mind, you’ll leave seriously disappointed. What it is, is just a solid no-bulls**t action movie. It’s got almost everything a fella could need in an action flick: a charismatic protagonist (Gerard Butler really did his job here), good amount of violence, strong language and one-liners, Morgan Freeman, explosions, rapid pacing, and did I mention Morgan Freeman? It was simply pleasant to watch. Of course, I have my usual set of drawbacks to point out, most important of which would be the lack of boss fights. Normally in an actioner (especially from the 80’s and early 90’s) the protagonist would have to plow through a sea of thrash opponents and defeat a couple of bosses – usually main baddie’s lieutenants (the blondie from “Die Hard”, the let-off-some-steam-guy from “Commando”) – in order to face the final guy. Each of the boss-characters would have some sort of special trait that preferably exploits some of our hero’s weaknesses, but not the biggest one. The biggest weakness is always reserved for the main baddie to use. Not in here though. Maybe if I squinted my eyes, I could point out one such boss fight… but not really. Not to worry though, this little drawback didn’t really spoil the show for me, because Banning kept me busy in different ways.

 

Staying on the subject of drawbacks, you can spot the usual lapses in logic, i.e. the cowboy general and his decision-making fiascoes  the attention to detail when it comes to programming the user interface for military software, or the ease with which protocol is breached in critical situations (taking extra people to panic room structures in places like The White House would most likely never happen). But those are always present in action movies and in some weird way are responsible for the specific atmosphere commonly associated with an action flick.

All in all, “Olympus Has Fallen” managed to maybe not as much as reinstate my hope for action movies in this day and age, but at least give me a glimmer of hope that there are people in Hollywood who want to make action movies ‘the old way’. Well, ish… It’s nearly two hours of high-octane entertainment filled with blood and f-words. If anything, the movie would have been a tad better had it not been for the very ending. If you leave the cinema 45 seconds before the end, then “Olympus Has Fallen” ends with a cheesy one-liner. If you stay, you’re in for some patriotic flag-waving. It’s OK if that’s your cup of tea, but I would personally prefer the one-liner and fade to black. But you can’t have it all.

A wife that refused to die hard – the story of Holly Gennero

Has anyone ever thought what it was like to be married to a man like John McClane? Well… Marriage, like most things, has at least two ways of looking at it. And I’m sure as hell no-one has even bothered to listen to Holly’s side of things.

With the newest installment of the “Die Hard” series, came a poop storm of reviews. I should know, I shared my two cents on what I think of diluting and desecrating the best action movie ever made by over-extending it into a pointless franchise. I don’t want to reiterate here, how destructive to the series was endowing its protagonist with superhuman powers, so a shocking rotten tomatoes score of 16% is almost self-explanatory here.

However, some time ago whilst sitting at work on a Friday afternoon and contemplating the notion of moving certain responsibilities for the following Monday, a thought lit up inside my head. That thought instigated some sort of a mild schizophrenic episode on my part wherein I had a conversation with myself on the subject of ‘why Die Hard ended up being a pathetic excuse for what it used to be’. Apart from the obvious ‘money, money, money’ reason, I dare say herein, in the geekiest manner possible, that John McClane has brought it on himself and from a point of view of character development it was simply inevitable.

In order to provide evidence for such bold claims of mine (yeah, I know – nobody cares, what I’m doing here is pointless) I gleefully proceeded to re-watch the original “Die Hard”… and the sequel… and the third one… and even the fourth one, even though it was a bit of a struggle, and after a bit of consideration I have to say that the key to understanding the inevitability of Die Hard’s demise is John McClane’s wife – Holly Gennero.

Holly

Interesting piece of trivia – I think nobody knows how to spell Holly’s name properly – even the guys that made the first Die Hard. Bonnie Bedelia (the actress portraying her) was credited as ‘Gennaro’ at the end of the film; however the name on her office door said ‘Gennero’. The computer touchscreen in the lobby of the Nakatomi Plaza didn’t really clarify anything because it showed ‘Gennaro’ at first, which changed into ‘Gennero’ upon being touched by John. Plus, Holly’s driving licence that the baddie in the fourth Die Hard had on his screen showed ‘Gennero’ yet again. There.

Right, to cut a long story short, Holly and John were not exactly your textbook couple. John – a devoted police officer whose Irish-blood-pumping heart was too big for his own good, and Holly – an overly ambitious lady hell-bent on proving everyone (herself included) that she could accomplish anything, even at the expense of her relationship and children. That’s how it looks at first glance, doesn’t it? John’s the guy who follows his workaholic wife to LA and makes sacrifices for her, rescues her time and again from the grips of death and in the end she still gives him the finger and leaves him. Not only that, she also uses their children and puts them against their own father (which is a big no-no when you are a parent, right?), so that poor John was left alone, divorced, unable to connect with his children, on the verge of alcoholism, cynical and depressed. Wrong.

What if I told you that we’ve been led astray by the film makers who wanted us to believe this pathetic story of a good guy that always found himself in a wrong place at a wrong time? What if it was not the trouble that found McClane, but it was McClane who looked for trouble and his wife was the first who noticed it and decided to make a run for it?

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Let’s back up all the way to 1987. Holly just about took a highly powerful executive job in Nakatomi Corporation and had to relocate from NY to LA. She took her kids with her and pretty much left her hubbie to his own devices. What could possibly be the reason for it? Surely, she couldn’t just pack up and leave the father of her children without a valid reason, otherwise it would make her look like a mean little ice queen. If you read between the lines you’d notice that John was far from a perfect husband. He sure looked like a lovable nice fella, a cliché cop carrying his family photos around with him, but he did have a dark side, which Holly did imply in her conversations with John. These would point towards John being a very strong figure in their relationship, too strong even. What if John McClane was abusive and controlling and Holly was just not having it after so many years? Is that at all possible? I’d say – very.

In my opinion, John McClane was a violent and controlling husband who tried at all cost to tie down his wife to a role of a child-bearing housewife, because it was the only way he knew how to form and run a family. That kind of ‘macho’ attitude could not have simply grown on him, so it was most likely inherited from his own father. Anyway, John grew up to be a father and a husband you are not allowed to say ‘no’ to and obedience is the only way to survive in a relationship with him. Therefore, Holly – being a smart woman – decided she would not spend the rest of her life in shackles, so she got up and left. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if her landing a job on the other side of the country was planned from the get-go.

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I would even go a step further than that. I dare say that John McClane’s dictatorial way of life was not confined to the family, but it spilled over to his job. The way he spoke to high-ranking police officers outside Nakatomi, or the way he spoke of his own superiors back in NY is the best evidence for it. In short, already then John McClane was a character that always knew best, did not respond to authority and took pleasure from being in charge. But that was only the beginning…

Even though the traumatic events at Nakatomi Plaza made him understand that his family could not be handled in an authoritative manner, things have gotten way worse in “Die Harder”. Although we saw John make amends to his wife – after all, he made the sacrifice of moving to LA with her in order to let her fulfil her professional dreams whilst saving their marriage – I think John’s sudden emergence as a national hero only hardened his belief that he was always right and that he was always surrounded by idiots.

I’m sorry, but there’s no other explanation for that, than an early onset of god complex and the events at Dulles Airport are a testament to that claim. The guy walked into an airport, parked illegally, had a problem with his car being towed, demanded his parking ticket to be voided, violated security protocol by forcing a janitor to let him into the restricted area, engaged in a gunfight, shot and killed two people, disrupted the departure service and topped it all off with calling the police incompetent (all in 20 minutes). However right he might have been, he was still out of place, but he was having none of it. Seriously, how do you argue with a guy who barges into your place of work, takes orders only from himself, brings an entire airport to a standstill, calls you an idiot and acts like he owns the place? You can’t. And how would you call a person like that? I think ‘an asshole’ would be an appropriate definition.

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The question remains: would you want to have anything to do with a guy like that? I sure wouldn’t  I think John McClane grew so confident that the only thing he needed to be Superman was a red cape that it became near impossible to live with him. As a result, his authoritarian character eventually spilled back into his family. He was just a mess, because in the end, everyone around him grew tired of it. Holly finally said that enough was enough and moved out, John moved back to New York (or maybe he was forced to leave, because no-one wanted to work with him) and his marriage slowly dissolved. Then, “Die Hard 3” happened.

John – a full-blown alcoholic still living in denial of his shortcomings – got involved in a game orchestrated with a sole purpose of making him the center of the world. As much as I admire the poetic justice, the timing could not have been worse, because by the time Simon bit the dust, John was certain he was in fact the center of the universe. After all, he saved the day – again – and he was the only person who could do it. Without him none of it would have worked. Without him people would have died. He was not only a hero – he was a messiah.

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And that was the end of Die Hard. The minute John McClane realized that nothing and no-one could stop him, there was no turning back and the series was headed for disaster. He ceased to be the every-man caught with his pants down, but he became a superhero. From that point onward, he genuinely believed that any crisis demanded his attention. Otherwise, he would have just delivered Matt Farrell to the authorities as promised and gone about his day (in Die Hard 4). He wouldn’t also have gone to Russia with a sole purpose of stirring up trouble. Normal people would probably go through diplomatic channels, but not John. He knows best, he doesn’t trust anyone; therefore it is imperative for him to take matters into his own hands.

The saddest part of it all is that his messiah complex is most likely going to spread onto Lucy and John Jr. – his children – and if no-one intervenes they will follow suit down the path of self-destruction. They will never be able to form normal families and will surely develop the same arrogant attitude towards everyone and everything. Hence, I cannot anticipate anything good coming out of continuing the Die Hard saga. If anything, someone else will join the club of ‘The Victims of the McClane clan’. We’ve got Holly, we’ve got Matt Farrell. Who else will become prey of this dysfunctional family?

Dear John, why don’t you go and die hard somewhere else?

There comes a time in every man’s life when he can no longer call himself a child and becomes a grown man. It happens to everyone, sooner or later, but inevitably we all go through this important transition into adulthood. What triggers that metamorphosis is usually very personal and unique to all of us. Most often we can’t pinpoint the exact moment in our lives where this fine line lies, but what we can do – by looking back – is to make sure on which side we were at a given point in time.

This is what I had hoped would happen to me upon watching the newest installment of the franchise that has my adolescence written all over it. What I’m referring to is “A Good Day to Die Hard” or simply “Die Hard 5”. I had hoped for a travel back in time.

I don’t really have to reiterate that even though I was born in the eighties (in the Orwellian year, to be exact), the 80’s action cinema had a profound influence on how I perceive the days of my youth. Yes, I remember referring to Steven Seagal as ‘Nico’ while discussing movies with my peers. I remember Robocop being the ultimate crime-fighter as well as I remember trying to master his cow-boyish manner of holstering the gun (with a toy gun, of course). I remember tying a bandana across my forehead and pretending to be John Rambo while playing with my friends outside. I remember Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger being my childhood role models (with the latter still having his special spot in my heart). And how could I not remember John McClane – the badass who didn’t want to be a badass.

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Oh my, if I could tell you how many times I watched the original “Die Hard” before I turned 18… If I throw “Die Harder” and “Die Hard with a Vengeance” to the pile, we’d easily be in three-digit numbers here. I remember being so in love with this (at that time rather fresh) idea of a man like you or me, with problems, vices, addictions and all that, being put up against professional scumbags with little chance of survival, let alone victory. That concept swept me off my feet. I recall that discomfort of not having a protagonist who is proficient in aikido, a former marine, a super-cop, or Arnie. John McClane was just a wrong guy in a wrong place at a wrong time. He bled (and everyone knows ‘that if it bleeds, we can kill it’), swore horribly, kept running out of ammo or kept finding himself in deeper trouble that he had possibly anticipated. I loved him in the original, I loved him in the sequel, I loved him in the third one… Hell, I even liked him in the fourth one, but for a whole another reason.

This was what I expected this morning before the opening credits to “A good day to die hard” rolled in the cinema. This was what I wanted. And I couldn’t be more disappointed. Seriously: what the <bleep> was all that?

The whole idea behind Die Hard and John McClane was his relatability (is that even a word?). The fact that it could be anybody was the key factor to get a Die Hard right. It’s a regular cop stranded with terrorists in a skyscraper. It’s a regular cop that happened to be at an airport when poop hit the fan. Well, in the third one it was a bit different because it was Sam L. Jackson who became the every-man there. But still, McClane was an alcoholic cliché of a cop with no special skills or anything. Even in the fourth one – for crying out loud – he just happened to be that cop who was sent to pick a guy up for questioning. Why would you go, break the cycle and show me a John McClane who specifically went to Russia to stir some trouble? Why? It’s against all that’s good and holy in this world!

What I got was old, hard-boiled John McClane who miraculously got his hands on a Russian arrest report pertaining to his son (don’t worry about the spoilers – it’s all in the trailer) – he didn’t have problems reading in Russian by the way – and decided he needed to take a plane to a country that he had never visited before in order to help him. And, of course, he had no problem whatsoever stealing cars, wreaking havoc and committing all sorts of crime in a foreign country. Whilst he was doing all that he kept reminding himself out loud that he was on vacation and didn’t need all that, which was obviously a lie, because he deliberately chose to be there in the first place. So the whole notion of what Die Hard is all about got ruined within the first 10 minutes. Super…

 

I don’t really want to pick on the realism of this movie, because after all it’s an actioner and things are not supposed to make sense at times, but there are things in Die Hard 5 that are difficult to swallow even with the absurd threshold put really high. I’d say, it’s rather unlikely for the US Intelligence to deploy a drone to fly over Moscow without causing a major international conflict. I’d also say, it’s rather unlikely for the main character to go on a 1000 km long road trip at dusk and get to the destination before dawn – especially on Russian roads. I don’t even want to get into the technicalities of neutralizing radiation and such, therefore I shall stuff it under the collective umbrella of poetic licence, but there’s far too much absurd in “Die Hard 5” for me to swallow without choking.

There’s nothing in the newest Die Hard that was done right. What I think bothers me the most is the baddie. In the history of the franchise, it was the villains that stood out. The idea of an every-man McClane taking on a professional scumbag, who exuded confidence, emanated cold and was always one step ahead, was the soul of Die Hard. From Alan Rickman, through Jeremy Irons even to Tim Olyphant, the Die Hard bad guys were the ones with super powers. Moreover, those characters were so charismatic that I physically hated them. I just wanted McClane to do something about them. Here – not so much. I was given a baddie who’s not even there half the time. Even with the twist (yes, there’s a twist) nothing really changed. I couldn’t give a rat’s furry behind about it. The villain was just ‘meh’.

To sum up, there’s too many instances I’d have to turn my blind eye on things in the film, the baddie is flat and couldn’t even shine Alan Rickman’s shoes, McClane is a super hero now and he seems like he’s on some sort of medication but he hasn’t got the dosage right. None of what he says makes sense and even the witty remarks McClane was known for sound stale and inappropriate. Two-word review: just terrible.

What “A good day to die hard” proved to me today is that the genre I knew and loved has all but disappeared. I can’t really count on Die Hard any more to live up to what it used to be back in the day. I know it might be my pink-tinted-glasses-wearing nostalgia-ridden memories that are partially responsible for how horribly I was disappointed today, but now I don’t even want to know what the sixth installment would bring (and there’s going to be one). It seems to me that John McClane I loved is dead. The only thing he lacks now is a spandex uniform. Wearing underwear over the uniform wouldn’t hurt him either.

I really understand the need to do something new with the franchise, because it’s impossible to make five films about John McClane without being repetitive. The character needs to develop as he goes along and the first three parts showed some sort of progression in that regard. For the record, I actually liked the direction that the fourth Die Hard took. I loved the concept of showing old and grumpy McClane who doesn’t fit modern criteria for an action hero. However, even then he already started to be too powerful for my liking Sadly, it only escalated from there to completely overwhelm the character in the newest Die Hard.

Is it the abundance of comic book actioners in the modern cinema that’s responsible for the sad state of Die Hard? Is it really necessary for the action movie to have an invincible superhero as the main character? Can’t we preserve some of the sanctity of the 80’s? If we can’t, maybe there shouldn’t be any more Die Hard movies. Maybe certain things belong in the past…

I’m a bit worried for the younger generations, that cannot possibly remember Bruce Willis in his prime. What they’ll know is the John McClane that cannot be shot, will always cushion his landing one way or another, will happily bring a large city to a standstill and walk away unscathed and he will never show us that he is, after all, a human being. I fear that if I showed the original Die Hard to modern 16-year-olds, they would prefer the new one. Modern action films need to be flashy and overwhelming; otherwise the young audiences will lose focus and go somewhere else to be entertained. I find this realization quite frightening as it would seem that every aspect of action film needs to be dumbed down and cut to size in order to please the facebook generation. So go ahead and make more Iron Man movies, go and make the next Avengers. You can even dig up Batman, even though his corpse is still warm and try to breathe life into him. People will take it. But maybe we shouldn’t take the icons of the past and tarnish them with modern colors  Maybe some things need to be left alone.

Should I call the time of death yet?