Friday, July 06, 2018

Tonight's Movies: Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), The Bank Job (2008), and Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

Our oldest daughter visited for a few days this week, and we spent yesterday enjoying an "action movie" marathon. This was a follow-up to last year's Memorial Day Weekend marathon and our 2016 Independence Day Weekend marathon.

On these "marathon days" our focus has been on catching up with relatively recent action-type movies, and that remained the purpose here. It's a fun change of pace from my typical viewing, though I do occasionally enjoy action movies, such as the FAST AND FURIOUS series, which I was introduced to two summers ago.

Here's a quick roundup of reviews for this weekend's action films:

...DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE (1995) is the third in the series, following DIE HARD (1988), which I watched on Christmas a couple years ago, and DIE HARD 2 (1990), which was part of last year's action marathon.

DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE was more of the same, which means it's great fun, with Bruce Willis's John McClane stuck in an endless loop of PERILS OF PAULINE action crises -- this time aided by Samuel L. Jackson, who looks so young I did a double-take at first to make sure it was him.

This time around McClane is back in NYC. It transpires that Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), the villain of the very first film, has a brother named Simon (Jeremy Irons), who wants to get back at McClane...while also robbing the Federal Reserve Bank of gold bars.

The pre-9/11 NYC of this film is "so near and yet so far," with pay phones a major plot point. The plentiful action set pieces even include a bit that could have been inspired by the serial DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE (1939), with McClane racing out of a tunnel ahead of a huge wave of water. Anyone who liked the first two DIE HARD movies will like this one. A good time was had by all.

DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE was directed by John McTiernan and filmed by Peter Menzies. It runs 126 minutes. Larry Bryggman, Colleen Camp, Anthony Peck, and Nick Wyman costar.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated R for language and violence. I probably heard the "F" word more in this film than I will in a couple of years of real life -- if I don't include the language I see on Twitter, which constantly disappoints.

DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Amazon Instant Video.

...Next up was the Oscar-winning CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000), which took home statuettes for Best Foreign Language Film, Cinematography, Art Direction, and Original Score (which includes lovely cello solos by Yo-Yo Ma).

A fantasy of sorts set in 18th-century China, the film features "flying" martial arts experts yet is a more intimate story than I'd expected. Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat) returns abruptly from his martial arts training, disturbed by a vision. He gives his legendary sword, Green Destiny, to the woman he loves, Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), who delivers it to Sir Te (Sihung Lung) as a gift.

Almost immediately, the sword is stolen by a mysterious warrior, who turns out to be a young girl, Jen Yu (Ziyi Zhang). Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien work to retrieve the sword while also avenging the death of Li Mu Bai's master.

A lengthy flashback depicting Jen's love affair with the bandit Lo (Chen Chang) slows down the film, but on the whole I enjoyed it fairly well until the ending, which one might say was poetic but I honestly found disappointing on multiple levels. The story kind of collapsed for me at that point; too, too sad! The film is worth seeing but I would have ended it differently.

I especially liked Yeoh in this one as a smart, courageous, and physically skilled woman. It's a great role, and she makes the most of it.

This film was directed by Ang Lee (SENSE AND SENSIBILITY) and filmed by Peter Pau. It runs 120 minutes.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13. There are some relatively adult love scenes and the ending may disturb younger viewers, but the violence is not particularly graphic, despite the swordplay.

CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Amazon Instant Video.

...THE BANK JOB (2008) is based on a true story. In the early '70s Martine (Saffron Burrows, Agent Hand on AGENTS OF SHIELD) needs to work off a drug sentence, and M15's Tim Everett (Richard Lintern) has just the plan for her: Retrieve compromising photos of MPs and a member of the British royal family from a safe deposit box and her problems will go away.

To accomplish this, Martine presents a plan to Terry (Jason Statham), who owns a small auto business and needs money in a hurry: The Lloyds Bank vault alarm will be off for a couple of weeks, and they can tunnel in from the out-of-business luggage store next door. (Shades of LARCENY, INC.!) The safe deposit boxes hold an untold fortune in cash and jewels.

Terry rounds up a gang of experts and off they go. The movie also calls to mind RIFIFI (1955), as while the heist itself goes fine, things start to unravel in the aftermath. Terry and his team have more than they bargained for thanks to lifting compromising material involving a Black Panther type criminal (Peter De Jersey) and a pornographer (David Suchet).

I had mixed feelings about this one. I loved Jason Statham, the '70s London setting (orange, brown, and green seem to have been as popular there as they were in the U.S. back then), and the "based on a true story" aspect. There's even an appearance by Lord Mountbatten (Christopher Owen)! I also loved the location filming, including Paddington Station and the Chicken Inn next to the bank, and the echoes of other classic heist films; the "stealing dynamite" theme also echoes CHARLEY VARRICK (1973).

On the other hand, I had trouble with it being a very edgy "R," which ironically imitates actual '70s movies like FAREWELL, MY LOVELY (1975). (Both films have bordello scenes I could have done without.) The violence was also pretty hard-edged; I skipped past one late scene with a murder which was telegraphed far in advance. If about 10 minutes of R-rated material had been shed I would liked the film more than I did, as the "good stuff" is quite good.

Postscript: One of the great details shared at the end of the film is that after the real-life heist 100 people refused to identify the contents of their safe deposit boxes!

THE BANK JOB was directed by Roger Donaldson and filmed by Michael Coulter. It runs 111 minutes.

Parental Advisory: This is a very hard R which is definitely not for kids and maybe not for some adults (grin).

THE BANK JOB is available on DVD and Amazon Instant Video.

...After THE BANK JOB we decided to wrap up our viewing of the DIE HARD series with LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (2007). (I say this knowing there's a fifth film, but I'm advised to ignore it!) LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD is more of the same, as Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) and his girlfriend Mai Linh (Maggie Q) take over critical government computer systems based in Washington, D.C.

Unfortunately the location filming was a big "fail" in this; for instance, Lucy McClane (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is said to be attending Rutgers University, but it was actually filmed at the University of Southern California. (As a matter of fact, my daughter was a student there when the movie was filmed on campus!) Some of the action sequences are clearly filmed on Los Angeles freeways; they try their best to hide Downtown L.A. in the framing of the shots, but anyone who lives here will recognize the buildings.

Otherwise, the movie was the usual fun, as McClane and a young hacker named Matt (Justin Long) try to stop a computer-generated Armageddon of sorts. I had to laugh wondering if McClane ever wonders why everything happens to him, and there's actually a conversation with Matt about McClane being "that guy" who ends up doing what must be done...over and over and over again.

LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD was directed by Len Wiseman and filmed by Simon Duggan. It runs 128 minutes.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13 for language and violence. The language is way, way toned down from DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, so that was appreciated.

The violence is mostly non-graphic but I did find it disturbing how little any of the bad guys, especially Mai Linh, cared about killing people. Her attitude is to shoot someone who's in your way and get on with what you want to do.

I was also musing how none of the bad guys, in this and many other films, including DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, stop to think that if the people they're working with are willing to kill with abandon, that they might get killed as well when they're no longer of any value.

LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Amazon Instant Video.

This was a very enjoyable movie day! Even with my reservations, I found each of the films worth seeing, and I especially enjoyed seeing more of the DIE HARD series.


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