Aneesh Chaganty

Archive for February, 2013|Monthly archive page

A Good Day to Die Hard | MAD Review

In Uncategorized on February 17, 2013 at 12:46 AM

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A Good Day to Die Hard

(2013, US, d. John Moore)

Brisk, action-packed and more enjoyable than its predecessor, A Good Day to Die Hard marks a surprisingly forward step for the franchise, even though it continues to milk the audience’s love for the original. 

Sure, it removes a lot of the self-conscious humor regarding it’s often over-the-top and flamboyant action scenes that its predecessor possessed. But what it loses in that department, it makes up for in the story of John McClane (Bruce Willis) and his son Jack (newcomer Jai Courtney). 

A Good Day to Die Hard begins as McClane’s son is arrested in Moscow for an assassination of a high power figure. Back in America, John McClane hears about his son’s whereabouts and sets off to Mother Russia to help him out. Little does he know how much crap he’s about to get involved in. Just as he’s about to get dropped off by his daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead of Live Free or Die Hard fame), at the airport, Lucy looks to John. “Try not to make an even bigger mess of things”, she says. John looks over at her, smiles, and gets out the car. Here we go again. 

A lot of people have a lot of problems with this film, and maybe it was because I was so conscious of them that they didn’t bother me as much. The previous Die Hard film almost knew it was a movie and never missed a moment to poke fun at itself. Most people expected the same thing out of this movie and were disappointed by the result. I, however, enjoyed the fact that it took itself a little more seriously, even considering the fact that its plot was no less outrageous or overly complicated. 

You have to hand it over to the filmmakers. If they see any sign of the franchise coming to a close, it’s not visible on the screen. Rather, this looks and feels like a series they plan on keeping alive, even if it involves injecting high amounts of generic adrenaline into the set pieces and into its aging star. But speaking of Bruce Willis, this is the role he’s meant to play. Even if every other action hero he portrays in other films seems similar, John McClane is where those characters draw their inspiration from. Straight from the original film.

What makes A Good Day to Die Hard so appealing was that it felt like the reboot that Live Free or Die Hard should’ve been (I’m getting tired of these sentence titles, too). It pays homage to the original film in many, many ways and has fun subverting itself as well.

Like the original film, this new installment sees New York City cop McClane on the journey to a foreign land to enjoy what should be an interesting vacation. Like the original film, McClane finds himself on a mission to reconnect with a member of his family. And like the original film, our “antagonist” (though it really is hard to identify a single antagonist with this film) is quirky and sympathetic. Granted, it is impossible to reach the levels of genius Alan Rickman easily did with Hans Gruber in the first Die Hard.

Maybe it was the presence of a long-missed sentimentality that got me. After all, no Die Hard since the original really felt like the family-affirming affair that they should’ve been. Maybe it was the breath of fresh air with the inventive, explosive, and engaging action sequences that so contrasted the cliched and formulaic ones of recent (SEE: Parker). But that’s another disagreement I have with critics.

But mostly, I think the film just surprised me. Surprised me with its legitimacy. Surprised me with the fact that I got over how much of a “bad guy” Courtney looks like and accepted him as the “hero” of the story and potential successor to the franchise. Surprised me with its envelope-pushing and interesting action extravagances.

Even if it was forced, there was an emotional core to this film. Regardless of its theatrics, A Good Day to Die Hard is exactly what it aims to be: fun at the movie theaters. And if you look at the palette of “fun” movies of late, you’ll realize it’s actually a harder feat to pull off than you’d think.

 

Parker | MAD Review

In Uncategorized on February 10, 2013 at 7:54 PM

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Parker

(2013, US, d. Taylor Hackford)

There’s not much to say about this film. Rather, there’s not much thought I would like to put into the writing of the review, simply because there really wasn’t much thought put into the writing of the script for Parker, the new film from director Taylor Hackford.

Hackford is a talented director. Three of his films of recent have garnered much critical attention, including Ray, Proof of Life, and The Devil’s Advocate. And as an Academy Award winner and President of the DGA, you’d think he would’ve been a little more selective in his next project. But alas, perhaps it was the money that proved to be the tipping point.

Parker had me laughing from the opening frames. And this is coming from someone who likes Hollywood action films. The movie opens to a “heist-gone-wrong” sequence that is very reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s heist in The Killing (in my opinion, the best caper film of all time)We’re at a busy carnival, people are everywhere, and betting is rampant. Of course, this would be the perfect time for a conman to dress up like a priest to gain access to the money room.

Meet Parker. As the title of the film flashes in big, bold, red lettering across the screen as we are introduced to Jason Statham’s titular character, it’s clear to see where this film is going. That was Laugh #1.

As Parker continues a successful stick-up, Hackford introduces us to the other members of the crew. We have the look-out: a hefty, black guy disguised as a cop (Wendell Pierce from The Wire). I only mention his skin color because it’s clear writer John J. McLaughlin (Laugh #2, I guess) never had any intention with the guy apart from crafting him into the stereotypical black guy. It’s almost painful to watch. Next, we have Melander (Michael Chiklis, of The Shield fame), the tough guy being set up to play the antagonist for the rest of the film. There’s a few other people I can’t really remember, but that’s only because they’re not worth remembering. 

McLaughlin almost forces us to sympathize with Parker in the opening 2 minutes. Rather than letting his actions explain his character, McLaughlin goes a different route: as Parker is transferring butt-loads of cash into his bags, he tells everyone on the ground that he would never steal from a poor person or an innocent person. Furthermore, just to stamp his “good guy” image, Parker is backstabbed, shot, and left to die by the rest of his own crew members after he refuses to invest his earnings into the next heist, which would pay out in millions. 

Seriously, what happened to really good guys who just steal cash from folks at carnivals? 

Of course, when you’re in a movie in which Jason Statham plays Jason Statham, we can expect him to act like Jason Statham. Pretty soon, we’re caught up in a tale of revenge and high-octane action, as Parker tries to track down Melander and his nameless crew (plus the black guy) on their next heist in Palm Beach, Florida. 

Of course, what would a film like this be without a woman written in for no other reason apart from looking really good? Meet Leslie Rogers (Jennifer Lopez), a divorced real estate agent without much going for her (apart from the beauty light that reinvigorates her face on every shot of her, even if it doesn’t match the preceding shot). Leslie soon meets Parker, this time disguised as a Texas oil-man. Of course, the audience doesn’t question the plausibility of this new disguise. After all, Statham did just dress up like a priest. Faking account histories, personal histories, and bank statements would just be a simple next step. 

From there, it’s Statham and Lopez versus the World. For the rest of the film (which seems far longer than 118 minute running time), we have running, chasing, hiding, shooting, searching, stealing, and everything in between. Of course, we even have the contractually-obligated “Jennifer Lopez has to strip down to nothing so audiences can see how fit, hot, and relevant she still is” scene. That was one of my favorites. 

Oh, I lost count of my Laugh Track. That was #507. 

My only regret in the film was that it wasted Statham, who I really believe to be an actor who commits to every line he’s given, regardless of its idiocies. As much crap as he gets, he merits a lot of respect for his ethic, dedication, and commitment to telling the stories he tells. But hey, everyone makes mistakes. 

Parker is a waste of time. Stupid, easy, and not even much fun, it’s the kind of film you should only consider watching it’s it’s free on Netflix, you’re not paying for Netflix, and you’re in the possession of some sort of time machine that allows you to go back 118 minutes after the film is over.

In that sense at least, there is some hope for the film, for Parker‘s market may expand eventually. Way, way, way in the future. 

 

Side Effects | MAD Review

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2013 at 11:34 PM

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Side Effects

(2013, US, d. Steven Soderbergh)

The best film I’ve seen in 2013 so far, Side Effects is a confident and unsettling thriller fueled by complex and unhinged performances from its lead actors.

Side Effects is one of those films that works best the less you know about it. And as much as I enjoy people reading my reviews, this will be a rare instance where knowing even a little bit about the plot may actually lessen the experience you get out of it. I’m certainly glad I stayed away from others’ reviews of the film. But there’s my warning. Continue with your own discretion.

Side Effects tells the story of Emily Taylor (played by Rooney Mara), whose husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is recently released from prison on charges of insider trading. It’s difficult to pin point what exactly is tearing at Emily, but it’s clear to see that something is. And it’s doing so quite heavily.

When Martin returns to the real world and embraces his wife outside the prison gates, we are introduced to Emily at the happiest we will ever see her. Even if it’s just for a few minutes in the film, it’s a touching moment. From then on, things start to get a little weird.

Emily suffers from – what I presume to be – an extreme case of depression. We’re never told where exactly this depression comes from – whether it’s something that’s always been inside her – but the audience assumes it’s catalyzed by the years she’s been alone and without her husband. And though a few of my friends questioned whether that depression would realistically live on after her husband returned, I had no trouble believing her behaviors. This is due partly to my own intense experiences regarding the illness and partly to Mara’s earth-shatteringly impressive performance.

Mara, singlehandedly, anchors the film whilst portraying an unstable character we love to hate and hate to love. In its 105 minute running time, she’s able to take the audience on a carousel of emotions that include, but are not limited to: hate, love, pity, shock, fear, more fear, empathy, sympathy, bewilderment, sadness, and a chronic questioning of the truth. Whatever that may be.

Side Effects is an effective film that borrows a lot from Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanksi (particularly from the paranoia instilled in every frame of Rosemary’s Baby). However, it’s really the assured direction from Steven Soderbergh that gets the movie soaring. A fearless independent filmmaker, Soderbergh is never afraid to experiment with his shots, sound designs, narrative structures, editing styles, and even musical accompaniments to create the pervasive sense of unease, fear, and mystery that surrounds this film. In a way, it’s the perfect story to end his career with.

I’ll glaze over the plot that gets us there, but once we are introduced to psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (a nice return to form by Jude Law) and Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the movie puts the pedal to the metal and never lets go. Based on a screenplay by Scott Z. Burns, Side Effects takes more turns than any film I’ve seen in the past year. Seriously, I couldn’t count the number of times this film employed paradigm shifts and switched protagonists if I tried. We’d be here a lot longer if I even attempted to tell you how many plot twists there were.

But best of all, Side Effects makes you think. An adult thriller that doesn’t let the audience off the hook until it’s closing moments, Steven Soderbergh’s directorial “swan song” (as sad as it may be for the moment, I have a feeling he’ll be back at it in a few years) is one movie that’s worth the price of admission. Right now.