“A Good Day to Die Hard”
It takes many elements to build a great action franchise – a sense of cohesion, a cast of returning characters and upping the ante with each film. Somehow the “Die Hard” franchise has existed only on the sustenance of Bruce Willis one-liners, crazy-ass car chases and machine gun fire. But the equation is simple – take one man and stack him against heavy odds. Willis’ character of John McClane is America’s everyman, a flawed guy, somehow surviving on instinct, guile and sheer stubbornness. The only element of the franchise the newest installment has is Willis. It depends on his weary inflections to carry the heard-it-before script. It expects his aging body to hold up the seen-it-before action. The villains are stock. The direction is standard issue. And the addition of actor Jai Courtney as McClane’s gun-toting son does nothing to give audiences hope for the future of the franchise. It’s such a hum-drum whimper of a way for the “Die Hard” franchise to go out – pass.
“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”
First, it needs to be said that this was James Gandolfini’s last film before a tragic heart attack took his life last week. Gandolfini was an entertainment icon who, by all reports, actually gave a shit about the world around him and he will be missed. Now, on to the film – it’s a reteaming of Steve Carell with his previous co-stars Jim Carrey and Alan Arkin. Steve Buscemi is also reunited with Gandolfini. Olivia Wilde joins the cast as the one actress with more than one line. In a film about the evolution of Las Vegas magicians, it’s a gentle lampooning of the likes of David Copperfield and Siegfried and Roy. And Carrey plays a not so exaggerated version of Criss Angel. The end result is a sort of magic – the audience is flooded with information to cause misdirection. In this case, the misdirection is sappy drama hiding the comedy. But in the end, these actors pull enough laughs out of their asses to make Gandolfini’s last film worth a watch.
It was only a matter of time before the zombie phenomena was incorporated into a teen love story. Authors and filmmakers are chomping at the bit to morph hundreds of years of folklore about vampires, werewolves and witches into tween mush. But this may be the first zombie rom-com ever. And it could’ve fallen into a real campy mess. But writer/director Jonathan Levine handles the zombie fare with humanness and homage. The film is essentially Romeo and Juliet, only Romeo is a brain-eating zombie and Juliet is a member of a zombie-slaying militia. Levine likes loners and love stories where the characters are unconventional. His previous films, “The Wackness” and “50/50,” all deal with outsiders and you can’t get more outside than zombies. It’s fun, interesting and the actors make the characters full of more than just internal organs. It’s a movie that uses its heart and brains for more than zombie food – worth a watch.
Derrick Bracey, for Weekly Surge