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Entries in Bruce Willis (7)

Friday
Jul192013

Red 2

It was a great year for movies in 2010. Pixar put out their most mature film to date with “Toy Story 3,” David Fincher blew us all away with his masterful Facebook movie, “The Social Network,” we saw a completely different side of Natalie Portman in the haunting “Black Swan” and Colin Firth gave an unforgettable performance in the Best Picture Academy Award winner, “The King’s Speech.” But the year was also full of perplexing oddities, movies that gained a surprisingly large fanbase and a warm critical reception when they hardly did anything special. “Red” was one of those movies. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t particularly interesting either and, despite some minor improvements, “Red 2” is just more of the same, for better or worse.

Much like the previous film, ex-black ops CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is on the run, deemed a domestic terrorist by his own government, and, through some complicated plot structuring, on the hunt for a dangerous portable nuclear device that was previously thought to be nothing more than a Cold War myth. To help him, he enlists the help of his old buddies, Marvin (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren). It gets more complicated, however, when he learns that the world’s greatest contract killer, Han (Byung-hun Lee), is out to kill him, all while a former fling and Russian counter intelligence agent, Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), attempts to seduce him to fulfill her own ulterior motives, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker).

The best part of the original “Red” was not the action scenes, but rather the banter between the group. Watching these veteran actors play off each other is an absolute joy, but it was bogged down in the first film by what can only be described as pseudo-hipster dialogue, a lame attempt to spice the film up and cater to a younger demographic, despite the older cast. Thankfully, much of that is gone here while the witty banter remains. Malkovich is at the top of his game, eliciting laughs with the slightest of facial cues and many of the one-liners are undeniably amusing.

But the film never goes past that amusing state. “Red 2” is humorous, but it’s never really funny. It’s clever, but it’s never really smart. It’s lighthearted, but it merely teeters on the edge of being fun. The movie plays out almost like something that’s surprised it exists in the first place, rarely venturing beyond what barely worked in its predecessor and rehashing the same pleasant, yet unimpressive, style and tone. Where the film steps it up is in its get-to-the-point dialogue that does away with needless filler (like in the first movie when Morgan Freeman revealed he had stage four level cancer and then completely drops it, not unlike the breast cancer line in Tommy Wiseau’s infamous “The Room”) and in its varied action.

The first film was boring. It moved slowly and its action took place in some of the most clichéd places imaginable. Locations like a shipping container yard and parking garages were its highlights, giving it a feeling of a generic shoot ‘em up video game. Due to the nature of its story, “Red 2” jet sets all around the world (sometimes to an annoying and confusing degree), but it gives way to a number of various locales that were all but missing in the original. There’s a great hand-to-hand battle in an airport hangar, a suspenseful infiltration of the Moscow Kremlin and a terrific finale that takes place in the Iranian embassy in London. While much of the action is far-fetched (and if you want to see aging movie stars wielding giant weapons, you’re better off checking out the far more entertaining “Expendables” movies), it’s this diversity that keeps it interesting.

Although “Red” wasn’t an unpleasant movie, it was too bland and generic to stand out. “Red 2” has many of the same problems, but it fixes enough of them to make it the easy choice among the two. Certain scenes are so good, particularly the interesting new take on interrogations—turns out there’s no need for torture; just get the victim all hot and bothered by a beautiful woman and he’ll tell you everything—that they’re almost worth the price of admission alone. Luckily, there’s a bit more here than just random scenes that work. You still won’t care about what ultimately happens, but you’ll have a pleasant enough trip getting there.

Red 2 receives 3/5

Thursday
Feb142013

A Good Day to Die Hard

In the twelve year span it took for the third and fourth entries in the Die Hard franchise to be released, movies changed. Action films became less confined and more bombastic, spanning the globe and destroying it in the process. It got to the point where an action movie was considered slow if there wasn’t an explosion or gunshot for a ten minute stretch. Naturally, fans of the franchise were wary about the way it would go, especially after Die Hard with a Vengeance had already upped the ante to the brink of absurdity. For better or worse, Live Free or Die Hard went in a new direction, as far away as possible from the elements that made the original movie great, yet it was still fun, though it was so over-the-top it didn’t necessarily feel like a Die Hard film. As a critic friend of mine pointed out, it wasn’t a very good Die Hard movie, but it was a great action movie. Well, this week’s A Good Day to Die Hard is neither. It sullies the franchise with poorly staged action, a thin story, ridiculous twists and obnoxious daddy issues that would be more suitable in a tween angst film. If this is an indication of where this franchise is heading, I hope it lives up to its title and spares us from future calamities.

Bruce Willis once again plays John McClane and this time, he’s in Russia to find his son, Jack, played by Jai Courtney. Jack is on a multi-year mission for the CIA, who is hoping to prevent a nuclear weapons heist, when John shows up and throws a kink in his operation. Unable to extract his mission, Yuri Komarov, played by Sebastian Koch, he finds himself on the run from both his father and the Russian underworld. Eventually, Komarov is kidnapped, so he teams up with John to get him back.

The basic plot structure goes like this: John shows up in Russia, car chase, helicopter shootout, final action scene at Chernobyl. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that my plot synopsis is more detailed than the actual pitch for the film was; the story exists as little more than an excuse to get John McClane back into the action and throwing out one-liners. Perhaps because American knowledge of all things Russia is so low, A Good Day to Die Hard takes the country’s one familiarity, Chernobyl, and structures its plot around it and it doesn’t work. Although an interesting setting in and of itself, it’s out of place here and one quickly starts to fear that the franchise has become so ridiculous it’s going to start introducing hideously mutated creatures for McClane to shoot down.

It never actually gets to that point, but you’ll likely wish it had. The action that is here is so slapdash and overlong that it becomes an assault on the senses. If Transformers was loud and stupid, at least the action was competent. A Good Day to Die Hard gets it all wrong. Aside from the occasional thrilling moment, like a helicopter blade slicing a man to little bits or the equivalent of a parachute-less base jump down the side of a building, the action is bland, predictable and sloppy. The time and place of the opening car chase, in particular, change from shot to shot. While some cool ideas are implemented, the part of the brain that deals with logic makes the film easy to dismiss. Director John Moore, the man behind the horrific The Omen remake and the visually stylish, but mostly empty Max Payne adaptation, simply doesn’t know how to stage action scenes. For a movie that relies almost entirely on things going boom, that’s not good.

When A Good Day to Die Hard does quiet down for its brief moments of dialogue, it tries to build a meaningful relationship between John and Jack, the latter angry at the former for being a negligent father. These annoying daddy issues pervade the entire movie and their eventual bond is built on the enjoyment they have of killing other people. Meaning is forced in through sequences that aren’t tailored for such and it results in enough eye rolling to cause a strain and produce a migraine. The Die Hard series has had its ups and downs, for sure, but all have been enjoyable in their own way, until now. A Good Day to Die Hard is the beginning of the end for this franchise.

A Good Day to Die Hard receives 2/5

Friday
Sep282012

Looper

Writer/director Rian Johnson is one of the most creative and talented filmmakers working today. He changed the way film noirs were looked at with 2005’s Brick and in 2008, he made the wonderful and underrated The Brothers Bloom. His latest, Looper, reunites him with his Brick star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the results are astounding. It’s the biggest mind-trip to hit movie theaters since 2010’s Inception, but whereas that film nailed its own internal logic, but failed emotionally, Looper nails both. It’s never confusing, it never seems to contradict itself (though, admittedly, repeat viewings may lead to plot holes) and it toys with your emotions, culminating in a satisfying ending that will send chills down your spine.

The year is 2044 and time travel hasn’t been invented yet, but it will be in 30 years. Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper. His job is to kill people sent back in time, people that his mysterious employers don’t want around anymore. It’s a cushy job that pays well, but it has one huge drawback. Because time travel is illegal in the future, his employers want to leave no trace of their Loopers, so when they decide a Looper’s contract is up, they send their future self back in time to be disposed of. After the younger Looper kills his older self, his contract is over and he has 30 years to live before his time comes. This is called “closing the loop.” However, if you fail to kill your future self, the powers that be, led by Abe (Jeff Daniels), a future man sent back in time to run things, come after you. Joe makes that unfortunate failure and now, along with his future self (Bruce Willis), he is on the run and trying to survive.

Looper is as uncommon as movies come. Sure, it borrows some things from other movies and occasionally relies on screenwriting coincidences (as all movies do), but it does something so special with them that it feels completely different. Despite all the action, gunfire and explosions, Looper gives off a unique feeling, an extremely rare one makes you feel both compassion and resentment simultaneously, causing your inner emotions to tug back and forth between what you deem right and wrong. Through a brilliant turn of events (that I’ve deliberately avoided describing), the film sets up Joe to be both the good and the bad guy, though, at certain times, it’s hard to tell which version is which. Both have their reasons to do what they do and even though we know them to be selfish or immoral, we understand. It’s a strange feeling to have, especially when those feelings are polar opposite of each other and, really, about the same man.

The only real downside to this otherwise captivating plot turn is that it spoils a portion of what is to come. Gordon-Levitt and Willis play the same character, the former from the present and the latter from the future. That means that if something happens to Gordon-Levitt, Willis disappears, but the nature of the story dictates that Willis must be around. If you take away future Joe, the story doesn’t happen. This leads to a few tensionless scenes where the young Joe is fighting, hiding or running for his life. Despite the danger around him, it’s a foregone conclusion he’ll escape unscathed. Any type of suspense that could have been around otherwise vanishes.

But that’s the only big complaint in an otherwise incredibly exciting futuristic film noir. Looper redefines the way we think of science fiction, fantasy, action, screenwriting and even make-up, thanks to the flawless prosthetics placed on Gordon-Levitt’s face during shooting to ensure he resembled his older counterpart. It keeps you on your toes and once it introduces telekinesis to the equation, all bets are off. Paradoxical implications aside, Looper is flat out terrific. If Rian Johnson continues on this path of well above average filmmaking, he could turn out to be one of the best to ever do it.

Looper receives 4.5/5

Friday
Sep072012

The Cold Light of Day

The Cold Light of Day isn’t so much a terrible film as it is a terribly bland one. It’s a thriller that thinks it’s enough to have a few pretty people and locations in it to be good and doesn’t bother with things like plot or characterizations. It runs through its quick 93 minute runtime without ever doing much of anything, despite numerous chases, shootouts and fistfights. It’s one of those movies that somehow manages to gather up a decent cast, but doesn’t know what to do with them. By the time it ends, your mind will have done one of two things: wandered off into non-movie related thoughts or drifted to sleep.

The film takes place in Madrid, where Will (Henry Cavill) is meeting up with his family for a vacation. He’s picked up at the airport by his hardened dad, Martin (Bruce Willis), who he doesn’t get along with too well, while the rest of his family, including his mother, brother and his brother’s girlfriend are waiting for him on their boat. After a brief fight and inconsequential plot turns, like Will’s business going bankrupt back home, Will decides to jump off the boat, swim to shore and go into town to buy a few things. When he returns to the beach he emerged from, the boat is gone. When he finds it down shore some time later, he discovers it has been rummaged through and his family is missing. He eventually runs into his dad who admits to him that he’s actually a CIA agent and someone is after him for a briefcase with mysterious contents that he doesn’t have anymore. Unless he can get these people that briefcase, their family is going to die. Martin eventually meets up with his partner, Carrack (Sigourney Weaver), hoping she’ll have it, but he is suddenly murdered by someone off in the distance. All of a sudden, Will is on his own and on a mission to find that briefcase and save his family.

The Cold Light of Day, just to put it into perspective, is the worst thriller to come out since last year’s awful Abduction, which managed to make it to my Worst of the Year list. This isn’t quite that bad and its flaws don’t shine through so noticeably. Most aspects of the film don’t work, but they generally aren’t terrible; the problem is all of those flaws add up to make a mostly dismal film. Bruce Willis, for instance, isn’t necessarily a bad actor, but he’s usually called upon to do little more than smirk and shoot guns, which he does as competently as anyone working in the movies today, but even he looks bored here. He delivers his lines as dryly as he ever has, with so little enthusiasm that when his character is killed off, it’s somewhat of a small relief, in that we won’t have to witness his half-hearted approach to an already underdeveloped character. Henry Cavill, similarly, doesn’t do much to make us care, failing to prove he’s worthy of carrying an entire movie, which doesn’t bode well for next year’s highly anticipated Man of Steel. Cavill is the type of actor, at least as suggested by this movie and last year’s underwhelming Immortals, that thinks speaking louder equates to anger emoting, which isn’t always the case. Hopefully under the guide of visionary and unique director Zack Snyder, he’ll do more than he does here, which is close to nothing.

To be fair, not all of the blame can be placed on him. The direction by Mabrouk El Mechri, whose only other notable film is JCVD, is lost behind the camera, failing to bring forth any sense of excitement or momentum, and the script is a complete mess, putting our hero into so many outlandish situations, it becomes far too unbelievable to follow with any sense of interest. Will is little more than a mild mannered Wall Street trader, but he survives jumping off a building and slamming into the concrete, multiple car and motorcycle crashes, some severe beatings and even a bullet in the back. James Bond wouldn’t have survived this guy’s adventure. To make matters worse, the film builds a mystery around the contents of the briefcase that you want to solve, but then never provides a payoff. When Will asks at the end what was in it, a random government agent answers in a cryptic I’ll-have-to-kill-you-if-I-tell-you sort of way.

When thinking back upon it, it’s an amazing accomplishment to manage to keep the viewer interested in what’s in that briefcase despite their general disinterest in nearly everything that’s happening, yet they still blow it in the end. Here’s a film that shows its cards early on (and whatever it doesn’t show is extremely easy to figure out), but keeps one hidden only to never reveal it. With such a disappointing ending and nothing going on before it, one can’t help but wonder what the point of it all is. The Cold Light of Day is such a jumble of dull action platitudes and listless goings-ons that even its extras are unconvincing—who knew it was so hard to stand idly by a bar?

The Cold Light of Day receives 1/5

Friday
Oct152010

Red

It’s not everyday you get to see Helen Mirren wield an Uzi. It’s with this thought that I found myself so excited for Red, the latest graphic novel to be given the Hollywood treatment. Unfortunately, it’s a movie that can only be described as a polished mess. It takes more than some decent hand-to-hand fighting choreography and an A-list cast of actors to make a riveting action movie.

Bruce Willis plays Frank Moses, an ex CIA black op agent who has little interaction with the outside world apart from his phone calls to Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), a government pension administrator. Although they have never met, there’s a connection and when he tells her he is about to visit her area, they decide to meet up. But before he leaves, he is nearly killed, discovering he is now on the government's hit list and unsure why. After discussing it with former partners Joe (Morgan Freeman), Marvin (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Mirren), he and his gang head out in search of some answers.

There’s no shortage of comic book movies, or on an even broader scale action movies, in Hollywood. Red is merely another in a long line of mediocrity, but it tries real hard to be something different. It tries to make interesting the action by giving loud weapons to actors that are aged well into their 60’s and 70’s and by including poorly written pseudo-hipster dialogue that is laughable coming out of their mouths.

The fact of the matter is that compared to recent comic book movies, this isn’t as funny as Kick Ass or as original as Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and when it comes to action, it’s not as exciting as something like The Expendables or The A-Team. It’s a third rate combination of all of those films.

What’s disappointing, outside of its lack of originality and misappropriation of its stars, is that for an action flick, it moves slow. It wastes its time with needless conversations that contribute so little to the plot that their inclusion is nebulous at best. Take for instance an early scene where Joe tells Frank he has stage four level cancer. This little anecdote is brought up and dropped so quickly it recalls memories of the breast cancer line in Tommy Wiseau’s The Room.

When Red finally does take time for some action, it’s generic fare, with gun battles in a maze of shipping containers and parking garages. The most interesting scenarios in the whole film are sidestepped by the most convenient placement of characters I’ve seen in a while. Whenever somebody was in peril, a distant friend would show up at the exact right moment and snatch them away from harm. This tactic is repeated a number of times, further crippling its already crumbling structure.

I didn’t hate Red, however, despite my criticisms. Bruce Willis oozes cool in the film and never breaks a sweat, even when surrounded on all sides and facing a hail of bullets, and although Mirren and Freeman aren’t given much to do, it was interesting seeing them at their age as the main stars of a comic book action movie. The fun the actors had making Red comes across onscreen, but that fun never reaches us.

Red receives 2/5