Monday, August 27, 2007

The Week in Review

[Update: I've added a review for Die Hard 4.0, which I've just seen as part of a family outing]

While I had a quiet week with film viewings, I did get to interview Alkinos Tsilimidos, my favourite Australian film-maker on the weekend. This was something I alluded to in my overview of 2006, but have been keeping quietly to myself. I'd been wondering whether I would ever find the time to carry through with it. Now I have the ball rolling.

I am trying to work out how to use Dragon NaturallySpeaking, to automate some of the transcribing. I didn't get to record the entirety of the interview due to teething problems with my new digital voice recorder (my fault, not the technology). I'm hoping to have another meeting with Alkinos soon, to continue the discussion we started. The subject I'm covering with him relates to his work but ultimately is bigger than him and bigger than Melbourne Film Blog. I'm hoping to write an article for Senses of Cinema in relation to his films and the type of film-making that constitutes. My inspiration has been Michael Guillen, with his many interviews at The Evening Class. More later.

  • Dr. Plonk (Rolf de Heer, Australia, 2006)
  • Sunset Blvd. (Billy Wilder, USA, 1950)
  • Die Hard 4.0 (Live Free or Die Hard, Len Wiseman, USA, 2007)
  • Poets Against the War (The Age Melbourne Writer's Festival, Beckett Theatre, CUB Malthouse)

Sunset Blvd.

Sharp dialogue, clever self- and cross-references, various cameos and a knowing cynicism of Hollywood celebrity mark this classic film that I finally got to see for the first time at Melbourne Cinémathèque. While the film is widely known, I'm told the print we viewed is the only one in Australia, from the National Film and Sound Archives. This is only the second Wilder film I have seen, the other being Irma La Douce, which was nowhere near as gripping and intelligent as this. Great stuff!

Die Hard 4.0
One expects the latest installment of a franchise like Die Hard to be derivative, predictable and unbelievable, so there's no point seeing it without cutting it some slack. Despite some aspects that bothered me, Die Hard 4.0 initially surprised me how engaging and suspenseful it is. Well, at least for the first third of the film. Then, oh dear, there was much to cringe at.

I will say here, though, that in spite of the many, many flaws that unfolded, if you like the earlier Die Hard films, as I do, you're sure to like this. I just think it's a pity there wasn't a bit more thought to make this a more satisfying experience.

So let me mention some of the things that bothered me:
  • Hackneyed racial stereotyping that could be offensive to some. French terrorists? The French are the enemy of the US? Sounds like a right-wing US perspective that bothered me. And a part-Asian kick-ass female bad-gal was similarly potentially offensive to some. There's two aspects to this: one the cross-racial aspect, and two, the depiction of Asians in US films. To the film's credit, it went against the unwritten (politically correct) code that you never beat up a woman. I thought it was great that McClane (Bruce Willis) gave this 'chick' as good as he got. But then his repetitive references to her as an Asian bitch was unnecessary.
  • Hackneyed film and editing style from the MTV school of music video that seems to have swamped US television and blockbuster film-making. You know? Digital photography, accentuated contrast, unnecessarily dark, bleached look, rapid intercutting, unnecessarily shaky camera, even when a car is travelling unrushed. The same old stupid devices that have been done a million times and are so tired and distracting.
  • Derivations that border on plagiarism:
    • A Keannu Reeves-like character (á la The Matrix) who looks like - wait for it - Keannu Reeves in The Matrix (but 15 years younger)
    • An action sequence that manages to borrow/steal from not one, not two, but three films: Speed, True Lies and Terminator 2
  • The film felt the need to spell out what was going to happen about three times
  • A hostage scenario that was predictable from the very beginning, that ended in such a predictable and cringe-worthy way
  • At 130 minutes, the film was way too long. It needed to be edited to 90 minutes max
  • Gratuitous references to terrorism, 9/11 and homeland security
  • A relatively minor point, but people's teeth were too white - I always find that distracting
I will say that I didn't have a problem with the unbelievability of the stunts, most of which I found exciting and well done. I also didn't have a problem with McClane's getting beat up beyond all plausibility. Again, you know this is coming with this franchise. It's kinda funny, and Willis does this quite well, along with his wise-guy humour.

Basically, the first third of the film is exciting, the second third is flat and the end is embarrassingly trying to find a way out of a mess, and relying on ridiculous contrivances and derivations to get there. It's a shame, because if the film had stayed on the track it started on, many of the flaws could easily have been overlooked, and it would easily have been a four or more star film (for the genre). It's still good fun for what it is, and vastly superior to that other franchise, James Bond. Good as a time-filler or a break from all those bleak and slow films at MIFF.

Poets Against the War
While I'm not particularly interested in poetry, I am vehemently opposed to the war in Iraq (and war in general) and wanted to show my support. I was alerted to this event by Alison Croggon, who was one of the speakers at the event, the others being J.S Harry and Barry Hill.

I can honestly say I am a poetry philistine and that I got more out of the Q&A afterwards. In answer to to questions from the audience at the end, the three speakers were in agreement that there is no difference in approach to writing poetry about war or any other subject. The other stand-out point made was that writing about political matters generally needs to be discreet rather than overt. Quotes were made from Orwell, that I can't recall in enough detail to try to paraphrase here.


Phillip Kelly said...

I'm glad you enjoyed 4.0 regardless of the fact that it had flawed. No one could have made this film work but Bruce Willis.

A few interesting things to think about, a lot of the editing seemed jumpy at times I think because they were cutting around coarse language and gratuitous violence. There's the scene in particular when he's trapped in the kids apartment, against the refrigerator, and it cuts in such a way that it seems like 10 seconds of film suddenly went missing. There were other moments like this as well.

The other thing that didn't drive me crazy, but which merely makes me chuckle, is that because they are dealing with technology they can do whatever the hell they want to. Oh, they won't know a computer can't do that, seems to be the mentality of a lot of the segments.

Die Hard was the first R rated film I saw as a youth, and Bruce Willis was the first hero that really connected with me, so it's difficult for me to not love the film. Even so, it's surprisingly sharp for a part 4, and stands up to the rest of them (1 still being the ultimate.)

Paul Martin said...

Hi Phil, yeah Willis hasn't lost his pizzazz and he plays the role well. It's a pity he had such an inconsistent script to work with.

Re: the jumpiness, I'm obvlivious to the 10 seconds you mention; I'm talking about the film in general.

I think we're pretty much in agreement - I also think it stands up the the rest of them, and that #1 is #1. I just find it disappointing that it wasn't a more satisfying experience. It started with much promise but couldn't or didn't maintain it.

Phillip Kelly said...


That 10 seconds was one of the glaring examples, but it happens many more times throughout.

They're already talking part 5. I'm already buying a ticket.