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February 2013

Yipee-ki-yay Mother Russia

Yip-ee-ki-yay Mother Russia. At least, that's what CultureGeek Jr. said on the way to the theater. I nearly smacked him (because of course I never swear), but then I saw it was actually on on the movie poster.

Unfortunately, that tagline was most of the fun in A Good Day to Die Hard, the most humorless and bland outing for the unlucky Det. John McClane as yet. It's not like action movies have to be comedies, and there's some seriously dark stuff in the first one (and prototype for all action movies to come thereafter).

But John McClane is a wiseass, and his best villains have been the ones who can snark back at him - not to mention the sidekicks. The first and third movies are the best not because of the increasingly-elaborate plots, but because McClane needs someone to trade wisecracks with - whether sidekick or villain, it really matters not.

Die Hard, original flavor: Awesome villain, embodied by the richly disdainful Alan Rickman (or, as my son yelped, "It's Snape!"). Brilliant, snarky, cool and evil, first inspired McClane's signature line. Sidekick: smart cop suffering from PTSD, snarky but focused on the job, the only one in the LAPD with two brain cells to rub together - if there was a flaw in Die Hard, it was that everyone on the ground was a moron and the FBI was run by a pair of lunatics escaped from a Rambo movie.

Die Harder: Yawner of a villain, notable mostly for a spellbinding nude-martial arts scene in the beginning that was unceremoniously slashed from every TV rerun. Hey, I found it spellbinding, at least. Other than that, charisma-free and not much of a twist. No sidekick to speak of, unless you count the tech nerd he rescues or the janitor who lends him a coat. Yawn. But McClane was in top form, had plenty of idiots to yell at (Dennis Franz!), and driven by the extra impetus to save his wife again, whom he truly loved. We were invested in these two! This is important later.

Die Hard With a Vengeance: Best outing of the series (stop those tomatoes, I'm serious) with a fun villain and the best sidekick ever. Jeremy Irons happily gnaws the scenery as Alan Rickman's brother - figure out that gene pool, if you can - and gave the late-90s mad-bomber craze a fun twist as McClane and Samuel L. Jackson jumped through his hoops. Jackson was at his snarkiest, firing off one-liners with McClane with terrific timing. It should be no surprise that this movie began life as a Lethal Weapon script, and was adapted to the Die Hard franchise - the dialogue shows. Good pacing, fun stunts and shot in a pre-911 New York so it didn't smack us with too much reality.

Live Free and Die Hard: At least the villain was smart. Not even close to Rickman or Irons, but Timothy Olyphant at least had a slight point to his thievery and it addressed the fact that the world changed a lot between 1995 and 2007. Villainous taunting was light, but Justin Long (a.k.a. The MacGuy) made up for it by snarking McClane with great panache. Rumor has it Long's hacker sidekick was supposed to be McClane's son in earlier drafts, but then they changed their minds. So they wrote in daughter Lucy to keep the trend of McClane's family always being in jeopardy. I guess the thought of Lucy BEING a hacker never occurred to any of them (grr feminist growl) but at least she knows how to fight. Which leads me to...

A Good Day to Die Hard: Oh my, what a missed opportunity. They made much of the fact that McClane is a fish way, way out of water in Russia, caught up in a CIA-vs.-bad-Russians plot that was left on somebody's desk blotter in 1986. Set aside the tackiness of using Chernobyl as a plot device and final showdown setting. Set aside that our villain(s) are about as well-characterized as Boris and Natasha, the plot is a muddled mess and the CIA appears to be far less competent than the last movie (and only a step above the crazed FBI agents of the first one).

Here the sidekick is McClane's son, who is about as fond of dear old Dad as Lucy was at the beginning of the last movie. At least Lucy had personality. Jai Courtney may be able to act, but he does not appear to have done so in this movie. No humor, no warmth, no personality - just a paint-by-numbers spy action flick that was less engaging than some of the lesser Bond movies or the occasional Mission Impossible outing (you know, the ones that sucked).

Partway through the film, I realized this did not have to be a Die Hard movie. You could have taken any estranged father and son and it would be the same movie. Someone called it the Superman IV or Jaws: The Revenge of the series, and I think that's too harsh. Bruce Willis still pulls off McClane's bafflement with the world and his unerring ability to find loud, explosive, supremely silly trouble in any city unfortunate enough for him to visit. It's not his fault he was playing opposite a carved-wood statue in Jai Courtney, or that the villain(s) stepped whole and breathing out of a Rocky-n-Bullwinkle cartoon.

SPOILERS!! It was not until the final moment that I realized exactly how this movie could have been fixed, and it's giant spoilers so STOP READING if you haven't seen it. Not that you were expecting differently, but McClane and son get off the plane at the end of the movie and are greeted by Lucy, who was last seen dropping Dad off at the airport and gently snarking him as she gives him the Idiot's Guide to Russia. I liked Lucy the first time I saw her, and hoped she'd show up in this movie.

That's how this movie could have been saved. I would have taken the script home for a weekend and rewritten it so Lucy goes with McClane to Russia. Bingo! Someone for McClane to snark at, someone who gives as good as she gets. Someone who knows how to fight, too. And when they meet up with Wood McClane, he can be as sullen and pouty as he wants - she's going to needle him the way any sister needles her brother, and watch McClane turn into Dad as peacemaker, or maybe they'll all be interrupted by gunfire.

See? In that structure, the movie is about a McClane family reunion. The supreme idiocy and inconsequence of the plot fades into the background (though improving the villains certainly couldn't hurt), and it doesn't matter how much of Moscow we destroy. We've always loved the Die Hard movies because we're all about the McClanes. And I'd have ended my version of the movie with Bonnie Bedelia meeting them at the airport, because she needs to come back one more time - as Willis himself has repeatedly said.

Unlike other reviewers, I don't think Bruce Willis is too old and I don't think they should stop making Die Hard movies. On the contrary, they need to make at least one more to redeem the franchise - and Willis has said he'd do one more before retiring John McClane's battered badge forever. I think it's time the younger McClanes take up the family business, perhaps with a recasting for Jack Jr. and definitely with the former Mrs. McClane dropping by again, as the best thing that ever happened to a bum like him.

But you can safely skip A Good Day to Die Hard. Wait for the next - and probably final - installment, which I'm writing in my head as we speak. Hey Hollywood: I work cheap.

 

Side note: Leverage star Aldis Hodge is one of the few actors to appear in more than one Die Hard movie. He was one of Zeus' adorable nephews in Die Hard With a Vengeance, and he appears in this latest installment as "Foxy." Now, I am wracking my brains, but I cannot remember seeing him in this movie. No internet search has come up with a screenshot or other reference to his appearance. Anyone? Bueller?


Super Rundown: Damned With Faint Praise

Look, nothing will ever top that Super Bowl a few years ago that barraged us with whiny loser men and the women who nagged them endlessly. So to say this year was an improvement is damning the Bowl with faint praise.

First, the fun stuff: Blessings be upon Oreo, with the fastest ad response in history. A full ad gone viral across Twitter within moments of the lights going out in the SuperDome, reminding us "you can still dunk in the dark." Hee! And extra credit both to Beyonce for a kickass performance, albeit in lingerie, and to Neil DeGrasse Tyson's wry commentary on same.

Sure, there was plenty to make my teeth hurt, even setting aside the usual nausea-inducing GoDaddy ad. One thing I love about GoDaddy ads: they inspire viral blog posts detailing instructions for moving your domains the hell of GoDaddy, something I am planning this week.

And I'm going to pass on the Audi ad, because opinions seem seriously divided. About half the people I heard from believed that Audi was basically condoning sexual assault, as the nerdy kid gets the car, drives to the prom, kisses the prom queen, gets beaten up by the prom king and decides it was worth it.

Sure, it implies that the Queen is property to be fought over by King and Nerd. We're used to that. I still thought it was funny, and it sure didn't look like an unwelcome advance to me, just a surprise. But others read it as endorsing a sexual advance without consent. Audi said in a statement that they meant the Queen's reaction to imply a history between them, and was in no way intended to be non-consensual. In this case, I'm including to take them at their word; your mileage may vary.

Can we read too much into these things? Maybe. But the whole premise of this blog is that popular culture is a reflection of our times. If news is the first rough draft of history, our popular culture is the measure by which our cultural value will be judged by history. If that combines with Psy riding a giant pistachio nut to send chills down your spine, so be it.

I took a decidedly unofficial poll, therefore, among the people at the party that foolishly invited me (thanks, Spud!) and the denizens of my Facebook page. It's amazing that HarrisPoll doesn't hire me.

And the top choice was, "God made a farmer." That was a Dodge Ram ad, but you had to look fast to figure that out: just a glimpse at the end. It was the only time in the entire evening that the room fell silent and everyone was transfixed by the screen. I am the first to yell when a company tries to pull the heartstrings and commandeers some social or political issue to look "deep." For an example, see how Jeep showed soldiers - a lovely ad, co-sponsored with the USO, that shoved Jeep product placement so obviously that it hurt my teeth.

On the heels of that, though, was an ad I thought was heading straight for the sexist hall of fame. An idiot spills on his 49ers jersey in the shape of Joe Montana, and naturally it becomes a cult hero. Of course the clueless woman later washes it, removing the "lucky" stain. I was ready to classify it with the ongoing theme of "the wife who doesn't get it," until she looks at the camera and says, "Go Ravens." Ha!

Runners-up included the Skechers man rescuing the antelope from the cheetah, the Coke showgirls glitterbombing some cowboys, the partying Taco Bell senior citizens (that got top marks from my friends of more advanced years *ducks*) and "Where do babies come from?" One person said that just implied that parenting is about lying, and every parent replied, "Parenting IS about lying." Ahem. Don't read this, CultureGeek Jr.

Other lessons learned by this year's Not-So-Bad-As-They-Used-To-Be Parade:

• Doritos will make you fight a goat to eat your own damn chips.

• Buying a VW will make you obnoxious, and Jamaican.

• Women will ditch the handsome lifeguard who saved their lives for an astronaut, because astronauts are awesome. Which would be cool, except women can be astronauts too, yanno. That one's extra frustrating, since it is coupled with a contest to send winners to space... apparently open to men only. Excuse me? Also: Axe stinks. Literally.

• The Clydesdales are always adorable, and we still don't want to drink Budweiser.

Two Broke Girls has such a poor sense of comedy that even when trying to mock the sexism of the Super Bowl, they just end up underlining it, which doesn't make me want to watch the show.

• Girls = dumb and sexy, boys = ugly, smart computer programmers, sayeth GoDaddy. Also, if a girl kisses an unattractive guy, it will be gross and smacky. Also also, women are never webmasters and thus we can risk offending 50 percent of our potential customer base by never, ever, EVER getting the hint that the only publicity we get for these commercials is negative. Believe it or not, the network rejected two previous attempts at that spot for being too racy. Unfortunately, CNN reports that GoDaddy had its biggest sales day in its history the day after the Super Bowl. Head, meet desk.

Disagreeing with just about every blogger out there... Amy Poehler was not a breath of fresh air, she was the typical clueless woman bugging a Best Buy salesman by talking incessantly and not understanding any of this crazy technology, because again: women aren't technically minded. Welcome to the 19th century.

• Daryl is still the best thing about The Walking Dead, even when he's cleaning up the living room. "Yes ma'am."

• Psy's 15 minutes are up.

• As always, the best humor of the Super Bowl is not in the commercials, the advertised sitcoms (ha) or the commentators (shudder). It is on Twitter. I was in stitches, laughing myself into tears as the snark rolled in on the SuperBlackout. The average American can come up with one-liners funnier than a roomful of Madison Avenue executives paid more than the value of my house per year to come up with a 30-second spot that doesn't make me want to throw the remote across the room.

Maybe next year they should read Twitter to see what funny can be.