Sunday, 16 March 2014

Die Hard. In a building

This is a post about movies in which a person or persons are trapped in a building by other persons. Kinda. Read on!


Not really an action movie, but in many ways, the forerunner of every claustrophobic thriller from WAIT UNTIL DARK to DIE HARD. Enough has already been written about the virtues of this masterpiece. Go watch it. NOW.


I have not seen this movie in 12 years. It might be shit. But from what I remember it was about a lone farmer protecting a watering hole from a gang of unpleasant reprobates with only an immigrant woman and her little son to help. It also boasts one of my favorite genre cliches - the main villain who initiates the plot is taken out early and his place is taken by his insane and depraved subordinate. Thus a tense standoff is turned into a bloodbath. Or in this case, a dustup. Surprisingly dark for a mid 50s western, it boasts a memorably ironic climax. 


Maybe the first proto-slasher movie, the climax to this tense thriller works just as well as a mini-action movie, with its disabled heroine using all her wits to MacGyver the baddies' attempts to break into her basement apartment.

Audrey Hepburn makes for an unlikely badass and Alan Arkin makes an equally strong impression as  her terrifying antagonist. Director Terrence Young, a veteran of the Bond films, earns his stripes with a cruel, ironic touch which turns a hoary premise into a truly hair-raising ride.


Scary as hell, this movie gets LA in a way I can relate to. It's the movie that put John Carpenter on the map, and it serves as an inspiration to low budget filmmakers everywhere on how to turn out a memorable genre film on limited resources.

DIE HARD (1988)

The macdaddy of 'people stuck in a something' action films. While movies like SPEED and THE RAID come close, DIE HARD's clockwork plotting, sense of verisimilitude and a cast of memorable characters elevate it beyond the realm of mere genre classic.

THE RAID (2011)

This movie is great. I'm not as high on it as a lot of other people, but it is great to see someone pick up the bloody mantle of John Carpenter and John McTiernan to deliver an action movie that feels like a genuine roller coaster ride. 

Some people say it's better than DIE HARD. It isn't. But on its own terms, it's excellent and boasts a final fight that stands with the best of them. 

DREDD (2012)

This feels like the kind of movie Walter Hill used to dash off in his late 70s/early 80s heyday. A stripped down vehicle for Mega City One's resident badass, every aspect of this film is pared to the bone, from the terse dialogue, action-speaks-louder character moments and the economical choice to keep the story contained to one mega-block.

While not as imaginative in its set pieces as THE RAID, DREDD is far from the poor second cousin some critics shrugged it off as. Like ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, DREDD is a tribute to the work of a talented group of filmmakers overcoming the economic constraints imposed by a low budget.


Okay, so this movie is Die Hard. And it's set in the White House. But it is awesome.

If OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN felt like an 80s throwback (earnest, R rated, kinda racist), WHITE HOUSE DOWN feels like it just fell out of a time warp from 1996, sharing the same ironic bluster of Roland Emmerich's INDEPENDENCE DAY, the heavy hitter of that year's blockbusters.

Fast and funny, the makers of White House Down know exactly what kind of movie they are making. The kind where Channing Tatum threatens a squirrel with his gun, the President fires a rocket launcher and someone wears a necklace of hand grenades.

A breath of fresh air in a summer of grim'n'gritty misery (MAN OF STEEL, WORLD WAR Z), WHITE HOUSE DOWN did not get the love it deserved. But that love starts here, dammit! Go see it now!

Random post to show I am not dead

Rocket, SUCKER PUNCH [22-8-2011]

Jena Malone is a fine actress, with street cred up the wazoo, and a chin that remains an endless fascination to me. Which makes it all the more interesting when she takes on a more commercial project.

Sadly her instincts in these cases can be hit-and-miss. CONTACT was cool, apart from the crazy ending. STEP MOM was hokey, mawkish nonsense that'll make your grannie cry. Her last fling with Hollywood was jungle horror THE RUINS. She was pretty good in it, turning a token 'final girl' into an untrustworthy, mixed up twenty-something. THE RUINS  could have been great, but it was about killer weeds. So I laughed at it.

However, just as her performance in THE RUINS was rather better than it deserved, so it goes with Zack Snyder's idontknowhathehellitsabout movie.  

Now I'm not suggesting her performance is Oscar calibre, but she certainly made me care a damn sight more about Rocket than Emily Browning's Babydoll. A part of this is in the writing. Generally speaking, it sucks. HOWEVER, intentional or not (hey we can hope), Malone is considerably better served by the script (okay stop laughing) than most of the other actors. Her characterization and backstory are also better served by the fact that writer-director extraordinaire Sack, I mean, Zack Snyder does not show said backstory in flashback, thus allowing the viewer to imagine what could have landed her in a brothel/madhouse/whateverthehellitis, without the ridiculously over-stylized aesthetic he brings to Babydoll's "tragic" past (although I can understand how she's so traumatized. I'd be pretty screwed up too if the first twenty years of my life were telescoped into a music video).

Another factor is looks. Without meaning to sound cruel, Malone is not traditionally good-looking. Which is not to say she is not good-looking or sexy, she is just not as idealized. She stands out from the other actresses, who are a little more along the lines of classical notions of feminine beauty (certainly the kind you find in a brothel/comic book/video game/whathefuckisthispos). For this rather superficial reason (hey remember what we're dealing with here) Rocket comes off as a little bit more relatable. 

The final factor is the performance itself. As I said before, it ain't perfect. There are (quite) a few moments where she seems to strain with the "dire-logue" Snyder gives her. While I may be suffering from the delayed effects of some forgotten hallucinogen, here's my take on why Rocket works and the rest of the movie doesn't:

As I said before, while the script is poor, it does give Malone's character the barest pieces of an arc (or at least more of an arc than Browning), and the actress does manage, however inconsistently, to produce a more solid characterization than her peers. 

At first, Malone plays her as a sarcastic and less tough version of her sister Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish). However, as the story progresses (READER: What story?) there are several key moments in which our perceptions of Rocket are forced to change. The moment after Babydoll rescues her from being raped is a great little character moment. She attempts to laugh it off and resume her sarcastic veneer, yet in the following scene we see her lose the fake smile as she turns to get a glass of water with deadened eyes. When she tells her sister that she can't "take much more of this", Malone utters the line with a tremulous voice, as though she fighting the mother of all panic attacks. There is a sense of fragility about Rocket which is lacking from the other girls. Rocket seems to be the only character with a believable reaction to being stuck in a brothel/WTFdontcarenomore - and that makes us (or me, at least) care.

I don't want to overburden Malone with too much praise. If the other actresses had been better served with more developed characters, and the whole fantasy action crap ripped out, I'm sure they would have delivered proper performances, instead of striking manga poses. However, as it stands, her performance makes SUCKER PUNCH just a mite more tolerable.