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I’ve been meaning to write up a couple of these for a few weeks now, but my last couple of weeks have been busy and stressful. So, here are my reviews for Die Hard, Transformers, and Harry Potter.

Live Free or Die Hard

I really wanted to like this movie. I love the Die Hard franchise. The Die Hard movies, even the weaker second film, are better than your typical action movie. They are the high end of the genre. Like how the man with no name trilogy is thehigh end of the western genre, the Die Hard films transcend your typical action movie. At least they did until this year’s Live Free or Die Hard.

Now, the new Die Hard movie isn’t all bad. In fact, there is plenty of things that are really good about the movie. First of all the casting of our heroes is great. Justin Long and Bruce Willis have a solid chemistry, the characters are pretty much polar opposites, but we don’t get a ridiculous odd couple scenario, we get a believable interaction between a middle-aged traditional cop and a mid-twenties computer nerd. The nerd, Matt Farrell,  is completely out of place in McClane’s world and McClane never has any clue as to what Farrell is talking about. That relationship works and is really well done in the movie. Also, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is perfect as Lucy McClane and I love the character they built here. In fact, if the franchise is continued I would like to see it continued with Lucy McClane (played by Winstead) as the lead. The problems with the movie outweigh those positives, unfortunately.

First, the plot is weakly executed. We’re having a national crisis, and are really only getting very vague hints as to how bad things are. Power and communications have been shut down across much of the country and it’s treated as an occasional aside. It comes up as “oh, yeah you remember how the terrorists were shutting down the entire country? Yeah. Just wanted to throw in a reminder.” It also fails as a Die Hard movie because it does things that are supposed to look cool that really aren’t well tied to the plot. It was obvious the writers were just sitting around a table trying to flesh out some extra cool scenes and said: “Dude! John McClane needs to fight a jet!” Then, they wrote the scene and just inserted it into the movie. It very loosely ties into the overall film and in the end is pretty dull.  Fighting a jet was cool 13 years ago when James Cameron did it in True Lies.

Second, the villain is weak. Timothy Olyphant doesn’t do a bad job in the movie. The problem is his character isn’t menacing. When he says “you have no idea what I am capable of” it comes off more like some guy being pissed off while playing World of Warcraft, than someone who just shutdown the entire country and who is willing to kill anyone in his way. He sounds pretty pathetic. Now, he would’ve made a great second-in-command type character. We’ve had those in the other Die Hard movies, solid second-in-command villains who McClane has to get through before taking on the mastermind. Also, I just didn’t believe Olyphant’s Thomas Gabriel was the mastermind, I kept expecting an actor who can convey real menace to emerge from the shadows, a Ben Kingsley or an Anthony Hopkins. Someone who had manipulated or somehow recruited Gabriel into his cause. In the end the Die Hard Movies (at least the first and third) had really solid villains played by actors who know how to do a great villain (Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons) and this film falls short.

Live Free or Die Hard is disappointing because despite plenty of positives it falls flat in the areas the Die Hard movies have always managed to be stronger than most Action flicks. If you haven’t gone to see it yet, wait until it hits a cheap second-run theater or wait for DVD.

Transformers 

Transformers is the first good summer movie we’ve had this season. It is the first movie that I saw this summer that I will tell people to pay full price to go and see. It is a beautifully made movie.

First,  we should talk about the special effects. That’s what the movie is is a special effect treat and the movie is incredible, the effects are about as seamless as you can get and after a few minutes of watching the robots in disguise duke it out in the streets you aren’t thinking about this as a great special effects movie or that these are great special effects shots. You’re just enjoying a really well shot movie with effects seamless enough that you may have to remind yourself later that so much of the movie was done with CGI.

Second, let’s review the plot. There is one. I didn’t even expect that they would spend the time on building a plot for this movie. I figured we would get something weakly cobbled together that would ignore important points, completely change the history of the characters, or would explain too much and just be a silly kids movie. They did the right thing with this movie. They made it about the people and they made it about how human beings end up dealing with meeting giant robots from space. The movie is mostly following Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky as he discovers that his new car is a transforming alien robot and that his great grandfather discovered one such robot in the arctic and was given a map to a power source being pursued by both the good robots, like his new car, and the bad robots, like the one found in the arctic. It’s the focus on the people that makes this movie work. You can relate to Sam and his quirky family and I certainly could never fault him for his love of Megan Fox’s, Mikaela (she looks a bit like a younger tanner Jennifer Connelly). The movie was in danger of falling into predictable patterns and characters more than once, but it managed to stay just above it. It dipped it’s toe in the obvious just enough to give us a sense of the characters but not so much as to overwhelm us with the same old same old.

In addition to the live actors I have to commend the producers for bringing in Peter Cullen to voice Optimus Prime again, the voice is so distinctive I don’t think the movie would have worked without him. On the same note I’d like to admonish them for not bringing in Frank Welker to do Megatron, because as good as Hugo Weaving is, he just didn’t sound right. Still, the movie is worth full price on a big screen and has earned every dollar it’s made. If you haven’t see it, get to it, and if you have seen it, go see it again.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The fifth installment in the Harry Potter film series is definitely my favorite thus far. I haven’t read the books, so when it comes to the movies I don’t have that background. I don’t know what they left out or what they changed and frankly, I don’t care. As movies they need to stand up on their own, and as far as I’m concerned, they don’t.

The second through fourth Harry Potter movies were pretty much rehashes of the plot of the first film. There is a new teacher with a secret, someone is out to get Harry, and we get hints at a plot to revive the evil Voldemort. Yawn.  Not bad, but come on, time to get to the interesting part, which is what the Order of the Phoenix finally does. It is arguably the first real sequel of the movies in that it follows up and builds on the plot threads from the previous movie. Voldemort is loose and out to get Harry and is doing it in a way that is actually rather clever.

I particularly enjoyed that the plot of this film seems to center on the dangers of fear-mongering and bureaucracy gone mad. It points out the inherent paranoia of those who gain power and fear losing it and what they do to try and protect their position without beating you over the head with it. In fact, I was particularly impressed with how the movie’s visuals helped convey this. The banner in the Ministry of Magic with Minister Fudge on it was eerily reminiscent of the sort of thing you would expect to see in some form of fascist state.

Overall, the movie is by far the most solid of the films, I didn’t feel like they’d dropped any parts of the story, nor did I feel that the story was just a rehash of what we’d already seen. Finally, I feel like the movies have picked up and we’re going somewhere with the plot rather than just doing the same thing over and over again. This is another that is worth a full-price ticket.

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2 Comments

  1. The only part of your post I read was about the Transformers because I haven’t seen the others yet. I LOVED it! I actually thought of you when I saw it and wondered what you’d think of it. You have much more detailed taste in such matters. 🙂

  2. I thought you’d like to know that I was in Transformers. The main character’s name is “Sam”, right? And the actor playing the main marine is “Josh Duhamel”. Just add an ‘n’ and subtract an ‘el’ and you’ve got Dunham! This seems close enough to qualify as at least a cameo appearance from yours truely.


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