Tag Archives: action

A Good Day… to watch Bruce Willis

Wellllll… let’s be honest here. Pretty much any day is a good day to watch Bruce Willis. But to be specific, I finally watched A Good Day to Die Hard.

UnknownIt seems to me that the Die Hard franchise is much like the early Star Trek movies; the odd-numbered ones are the good one (I do have a soft spot for #2, but it is not as good as 1 or 3). This outing for old-man-McLean is definitely a more enjoyable film than the fourth one was. And I think there’s a really significant reason for that: he’s with his son, rather than his daughter.

SPOILERS ahoy!

The story: Our McLean finds out his son is in a Russian prison. He goes to see what’s happening. He arrives as his son is breaking a Russian political prisoner out. It is revealed that the son is in fact working for the CIA… and then things continue to Not Be As They Seem. And Chernobyl is involved.

Firstly, the good bits: there are some awesome chase scenes. There are helicopters doing mad things. One of the villains regrets that he did not become a dancer, and does a shuffle to prove it while also kicking away McLeanx2’s guns. Some great banter ensues, especially between father and son, and there are two (that I counted) delightful references to early Die Hard which I think is probably perfect – they were very good and appropriate references, and it doesn’t overdo the call-back which is always a threat in such films.

And then… well, I did have a couple of issues. As mentioned above, I enjoyed this film more than the fourth because of the interaction between the father and child, in this case the son. The daughter is not wholly lacking in awesome in the fourth, but she is a captive and therefore lacking in real agency. And the dude/son-replacement that McLean goes along with just got annoying. Whereas here, father and son are totally equal; their skills complement each other, in every fight they’re equally awesome, etc. So that made me a little bit sad for the daughter. Interestingly, there is a daughter character in this film too (actually two, since the McLean daughter gets a look-in as well, but she is largely irrelevant), who is also interacting with her father – she first appears to be working against him, but then it turns out she is actually working with him. So that’s an interesting inversion of what’s going on with the McLeans. I was a bit worried that the two youngsters would end up getting it on, but that wasn’t a problem because she ended up being Evil, as did Pa, and there wasn’t even time for flutter-eyes between the two Hot Young Things (thus, bonus: no romance!). Good Family have issues but work together despite them; Bad Family are sneaky and always working together even when it doesn’t look like it.

Very watchable, but not re-watchable. I really hope this is the end of the franchise, because the only place to go from here is McLean and grandchildren – which he’s already done in Look Who’s Talking – or McLean in retirement village, which he’s already done in RED (and eeee so excited for RED 2).

Unstoppable

Unstoppable is close to being the perfect action flick, even though it doesn’t have Bruce Willis in it.

  • It’s “inspired” by true events, which gives it a slightly more gripping and horrifying feel than your generic action-adventure.
  • There are trains going to high speed.
  • There are helicopters getting close to trains going at high speed.
  • There’s a little bit of family drama: just enough to give the viewer an investment in the main characters, not enough that I started to fall asleep and/or expected Elijah Wood to turn up.
  • It has Denzel Washington to make up for the lack of Bruce Willis.
  • There are trains going at high speed.
  • There’s a mad dude with a pony tail who drives a red pick-up really, really fast.
  • There’s conflict between a (black, female) subordinate and a (fat, white, male) superior.
  • It’s a rooky/retiree buddy flick, but the conflict between them is neither overplayed to tragic Greek proportions nor downplayed to non-existence.
  • It’s less than 100 minutes in duration.
  • It knows when to end.

Seriously, I loved this film. It has highs, it has lows, it has comedic and blood-draining-from-the-face moments. Chris Pine is quite good, and Washington is… Washington. I could watch that man even if he was acting as a football coach. (Oh wait, I have. Numerous times.) It’s no Oscar contender, but for excitement and entertainment it’s a winner.

Brightness Falls from the Air

One of the most interesting things about this book as an object is that nowhere (that I could find) does it mention that James Tiptree Jr is actually Alice Sheldon. Neither, though, is there any personal pronoun used for the author. This is really only interesting when you know something about the history of Tiptree, I guess, but it is revealing. It came out in 1985, which puts it only a couple of years before Tiptree’s death and several after s/he had been ‘outed’ as Alice Sheldon. So was the publisher trying to cash in on the Tiptree name and people now knowing the ‘truth’? Was it Sheldon/Tiptree’s decision? I’d be fascinated to know.

Going in, I thought this would have some of the terribly interesting gender discussions that many of Tiptree’s short stories have, and that – combined of course with the reality of Tiptree’s life – led to the Wiscon award for  gender-bending in SF/fantasy being named after her. However, it’s not there. This isn’t to say anything against the story itself, which I’ll get to, but it was something of a surprise for me. There are awesome female characters; a female in command of a base, who is never questioned by the males under her, and a bunch of other women playing vastly different roles from one another – very few of the female characters or their dialogue had me cringing, which is laudable. There’s a homosexual relationship that’s neither more nor less obvious than the hetero ones… and everyone is referred to by the same honorific…. hmm. Ok. Maybe it actually is quite gender-subversive, or at least was for 1985.

Mild spoilers

There is a certain attitude in books and films that I – no doubt derivatively – refer to as the Agatha Christie Vibe. A group of people get together somewhere nice, mostly unknown to each other, and you just know that something very bad is going to happen. Brightness Falls from the Air, by James Tiptree Jr, is strong in that vibe. A planet where few humans live in order to monitor (in a good way) the indigenous sentients is about to experience a phenomenal cosmic event, and a select few tourists get to land for the show. Hello, sinister vibe.

I’ll admit, somewhat guiltily now, that I went into this book not entirely sure that I was going to enjoy it, but figuring it would be worthwhile because yo, it’s Tiptree, right? Yes, well. This is one of the best action-SF books I’ve read in a long, long time. The characters are awesome, the plot is skilfully drawn and brilliantly brought together, the worldbuilding is exquisite, and the issues it addresses – because there are some – are relevant and not overdone. Also, the writing: I could Not. Put. It. Down.

Whoever would have thought that a book which includes kiddie p0rn could have me waxing so lyrical?

Yeh. Kiddie p0rn. When I realised what was going on I was initially horrified – and, honestly, still am. It’s not a major focus of the book, but I have to put it out there, as I imagine it was picked up by contemporary reviewers. So: there’s a group of four teenagers who, with their manager, are among the tourists who arrive on the planet. It’s clear from the outset that they are TV-equivalent stars. But it’s only maybe a third of the way through that you discover there’s a sexual element to their stardom, and that there has been for a number of years. There are a number of fascinating things about this element, which account for why it didn’t immediately make me want to throw the book across the room. For a start, the manager is not the one exploiting them – he’s sympathetic, and looks after them as well as he can. For another, they’re mostly doing p0rn with each other; there’s a vague suggestion that they have been in such situations with adults, but it’s unclear. The main thing that makes this… not acceptable, because it is still horrendous, and Tiptree never suggests that it’s a good thing, but… easier to read about, is the adolescents themselves. They don’t suggest it’s a wonderful life; they’re pragmatic about their careers; and it’s never actually a central element of the story. I don’t think I’ve explained this at all well, to be honest, but all I can say is: despite its presence, I am not hesitating to recommend the book.

So, the characters. They’re marvellously entertaining. There’s an aloof one, a slightly crazy one, the teens, an on-the-surface pleasant one, sensible and earnest ones – and all of them, basically, are given interesting backgrounds, sound motives for all of their actions, complex and intriguing interactions with everyone else, and individuality. Seriously, Tiptree was a master at characterisation. There’s maybe one character who doesn’t get much explanation overall, but that’s not bad in such a large ensemble.

The plot? As I said, there’s an Agatha Christie vibe: something is clearly going to go disastrously wrong. And it does… in fact, several things do. I anticipated one of them, but the other major plot point was totally unexpected – in a good way: it made perfect sense, and upon revelation I could see where Tiptree had been leading up to it by stealth. And the two disasters weave around one another, without tripping the other up. One is an intensely personal disaster, while the other is on a more mercenary level, which is really nice; they deal with different issues and allow Tiptree to explore different reactions, emotions, and all that stuff.

Finally, there’s a really interesting element of, essentially, post-colonial critique, particularly at the very end. I have no idea whether Tiptree was into literary theory – I should hurry up and read that bio I guess – but I know post-colonialism was starting to be discussed at around the time the book was published. There are aliens on this planet, and they were terribly abused by humans in the past. Now, humans have taken it on themselves to try and rectify that… but of course, that’s still a colonial, paternalistic attitude, assuming the aliens are completely incapable of looking after themselves. Towards the end, then, there’s a suggestion of how this could change. It’s neat.

It should be clear that I adored this book, of course. It’s brilliantly paced, full of awesome characters, deals with meaty issues without getting moralistic, ponderous, or annoying, and the plot is just wonderful.

The Evolution of Ellen Ripley, take 2

I have no idea what happened last time I tried to post this – only half my post appeared! So hopefully my memory is good enough to remember what I wrote…

I love Aliens. I love the action, the characters, and the look. We recently bought the the Alien Anthology, complete with 3D facehugger:

Gross, eh?

So, we watched Alien, and J is convinced he’s never seen it before. Side note here (with spoiler): we met a guy in the UK who had a friend working as Ridley Scott’s PA while this was being shot. Apparently, That Scene where the alien bursts out of Hurt’s chest? No one knew that was going to happen. And I mean no one: not the cameramen, not the actors, not even Hurt himself apparently. They were all told that if they stuffed it up, they’d be looking for new jobs…

Anyway. We re-watched Aliens, and then skipped to Alien Resurrection, having seen Alien3 not so long ago on TV. And it got me thinking about Ripley.

I’d forgotten that, in the first movie, she’s nothing special. That is, she’s a competent third officer, and although Parker and Brett give her crap they still do what she says. But there’s nothing about her that stands out, and watching the movie for the first time I reckon you’d be hard pressed to guess who might survive (except for Lambert. No way was she going to live).

I love Ripley in Aliens the most, perhaps because I’ve seen it so often. She’s a complete wreck at the start, and the loss of her daughter is gut-wrenching. But she hardens up out of compassion for the colonists, and a conviction that she has to destroy the alien, and goes back to the source of her nightmares. There, of course, she adopts Newt, a daughter-substitute, and discovers the alien queen, having children of her own. I don’t remember where, but I read a really interesting analysis once talking about visions of motherhood in this movie – and the fact that Ripley becomes a monstrous mother, like the queen, in defending her daughter-substitute. She becomes a technological monster – a cyborg – so it’s something of a culture/nature clash. She ends the movie having found some semblance of peace, and you’re left believing that perhaps she can have something of a life, now.

Alien3 is, therefore, a gut-wrenchingly awful movie. That they killed Newt (and Hicks! poor Hicks!), and that Ripley then had to an autopsy – so destructive to Ripley’s soul. I enjoyed it enough when I saw it, but listening to Grant’s Bad Film Diaries made me appreciate it all the more; he devoted an entire episode to the movie. It was interesting that in this movie Ripley got to have a ‘love interest’ (she came close, I think, with Hicks, since she was basically Sarah Connor and he Kyle Reese). Not that it’s exactly a loveydovey romance; it’s mutually beneficial, and mutually agreed on, as a comfort. So she’s never distracted from the main task at hand. And then she’s called on to make that ultimate sacrifice, going out in a rather Terminator-esque blaze of glory… and it makes sense; it almost feels right that this should be the culmination of Ripley’s journey.

Except, of course, that it’s not. And bizarrely, the creation that is Ripley in Alien Resurrection feels even more right, in a twisted sort of way. She becomes part of what she fears and hates most, with the memories of that fear and hate. Perhaps the most poignant and chilling moment in the whole film is when she identifies herself as the monster’s mother: after the angst of losing one and saving another, she ‘gives birth’ to a final, loathsome daughter. Ripley herself has actually become a monster, unwillingly, unlike when she took on cyborg monstrosity for just a limited time in Aliens. But ultimately she uses that monstrosity for good… well, we hope so, anyway. I don’t really know what to think about the end of this film. Staring out over the ruins of Paris with Call doesn’t feel like a satisfying conclusion to Ripley’s saga.

The one thing I think could have made the development of Ripley as a character more interesting would have been an ongoing relationship, that adapts and changes with Ripley’s development as a person. I guess she sort of has this with the androids: working well with Ash and then getting shafted by him; fearing Bishop and then appreciating him, before getting shafted by Bishop#2, and then finally making peace with Call. But it’s not the same as watching one relationship change over time. And I don’t count Ripley’s relationship with the aliens here, either, because that’s really always based on hate.

So. I like Ripley. I like that we get the story of a woman in four films, over 18 years. I like that she changes and develops and evolves, that she was one of the early role models of kick-ass women that seem to have proliferated recently (maybe someone should write a comparative essay on Ripley, Sarah Connor, and River Tam? Probably it’s been done). I really like that although in the popular consciousness she might be defined by the action – and especially “get away from her you bitch” – there is more depth to her than that.

She is so very awesome.

Pitch Black

I’m fairly sure that we watched Chronicles of Riddick at the movies one summer when it was unbearably hot outside. It looked exactly like our sort of thing: futuristic sets, awesome action/fighting sequences… excellent. Then we discovered that Riddick had had a previous outing, so of course it was a no-brainer: we had to find Pitch Black.

They are, of course, remarkably different movies. Pitch Black was made on a very tight budget, with a limited amount of time, in the Australian outback, and falls squarely into the SF/horror bracket. Chronicles had way more money and time – Diesel was a much bigger name three years later – and it is a much more lavish, grandiose film, that’s far more mainstream SF. And you can watch Chronicles without the benefit of Pitch Black, which is a remarkable achievement in a sequel.

But I’m not here to talk about Chronicles; that can wait. We re-watched Pitch Black a couple of days ago, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to muse on a couple of points.

Spoilers ahoy!

I love the anti-hero, and Riddick is close to the ultimate anti-hero. You really don’t know whether he’ll help the other survivors; the only reason I didn’t think he’d go for Johns’ plan is because he loathes Johns more than anyone else. I like that he is just human – frighteningly fast, strong, and quick-thinking, but he has no superpowers. Diesel sure knows how to deliver a line, too, which is one of the things that stops this film being way too grim for my liking.

The supporting cast is largely enjoyable. I love Claudia Black, so I’m always sad when she dies way too early. Radha Mitchell is nicely complex as the navigator trying to redeem herself, and it’s totally gutting that she doesn’t get to leave. Riddick’s one human moment comes with that stricken “not for me”. Paris P. Ogilvie is hilarious, and allows for a nice lightening of the mood; the Imam is an interesting choice for moral compass/unintimidated person. I wonder if he was only possible before the Sept 11 attacks? Perhaps becoming more feasible now…. I love Johns’ character because he alone has any real development – from apparent hero through to junkie bounty hunter, willing to sacrifice companions to save his own sorry butt. Plus, Cole Hauser is cool. And Jack – well, the kid certainly adds an interesting twist when he’s revealed to be a she. The implication that it’s bad enough that a boy would shave his head and enthuse about being a killer, but that for a girl to do so is that much more troubling, is fascinating.

I enjoy the cinematography and setting every time I watch it. There are just enough weird-ass camera shots that it has a less-than-mainstream feel to it, but not enough that I actually feel queasy. And the lighting is immensely effective. It’s overdone, but I think that’s part of its effectiveness. It’s so other, so alien, that the three suns thing feels like it fits right in. The whole eclipse-every-22-years thing? Totally terrifying. And I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this movie, but those damned monsters manage to scare me every single time: I forget when they’re going to appear, and then BAM – shriek! They’re utterly absurd, but they’re very clever.

Pitch Black remains a movie I will always enjoy re-watching.

I [heart] disaster movies

I avoided 2012 when it was at the cinema, because I figured it wasn’t going to be worth wasting my money on it there. However, if you saw it at the cinema and haven’t bothered to rewatch, let me suggest that you get the DVD and watch the special features, especially the one about the ‘science’ behind the movie: it is so, so worth it.

The scare-quotes around ‘science’ in that last sentence ought to tell you a bit about what I thought of this movie.

I have gradually come to the realisation that I am a total sucker for disaster movies. Natural or manmade, it’s all good: from Poseidon Adventure to Dante’s Peak, Inferno to Core, I just love them. Consequently, I really enjoyed 2012. But there’s no way I’m going to pretend that it was actually a good movie.

Some spoilers ahead!

For a start, I really enjoyed Chiwetel Ejiofor. I liked having a smart black man as a lead character, I liked having a sensible geography geek as a lead character, and I always enjoy a good moral scientist v immoral politician stoush. On which note, Oliver Platt was excellent as the politician, and his development from fairly sensible if somewhat (and necessarily) ruthless through to being entirely obsessed with his plan was very well played.

From my memory of the ads, I had thought that John Cusack was the main character, so I was surprised that Ejiofor’s character got quite so much play. I quite like Cusack as an actor, although this role was very different for him – and the whole SF-author-as-character thing generally has me rolling my eyes. His relationship with his family developed in somewhat unexpected ways, for which i was grateful; I had been anticipating a typical overblown Hollywood family – the reason why I won’t watch Deep Impact again, but watch Armageddon frequently. There was a bit of the divorced-parents stereotype playing out with the kids, but actually I thought the son in particular was quite a complex little character, with his angst towards the dad and love of the step-dad and wanting his dad to actually like the step-dad. I figured that someone would end up being sacrificed, one of the men, and I honestly wasn’t quite sure which it would be – and I was a little disappointed when it was step-dad. It would have been a much more interesting movie if they’d allowed step-dad to stay with the family, and also made it much more poignant that Ejiofor had brought Cusack’s book with him. But, you know, they didn’t. (Of course the much edgier version would have seen the two blokes get it on, but that was never going to happen.)

The plot… yeh. It actually had one, which was fun. I thought that the time jumps needed to be done a bit more obviously, because I was confused when they were talking about having prepared for this over years when it was only 10 minutes ago! I liked the split between national response and family response – I thought it was a pretty good split, time-wise. Having read Stephen Baxter’s Flood, when they first started talking about arks I was expecting spaceships, which would have been very, very interesting – and much more complex about how many people they could save. When I finally (eventually, much later than I ought to have) realised they were talking about floating ships… well, ok. It meant they could save more people, which was all nice and touchy-feely. And I had had several thoughts about how the movie could end, and managed to be a little surprised by the conclusion. It was something of a cop-out – especially Our Hero’s dad still being alive on the resort ship – but it was a nice (if admittedly tacky) touch to have them go back to Africa.

I enjoyed the effects. Some nice, utterly ridiculous scenes with the cars and the planes escaping from various encroaching disasters – they actually managed to be engrossing! I was gripped! One or two of the waves managed to not be entirely CGI-looking, which is an achievement.

So. 2012. Glad I didn’t see it at the movies, thoroughly enjoyable on a Saturday afternoon.

The Sentinel

We went to see this movie yesterday – Michael Douglas and Kiefer Sutherland are always good (and for the latter, I have just one word: Stereotype). It was fun to watch, but I don’t reckon I’ll ever bother watching it again. It was pretty predictable – down to the twist at the end, even.

Basically, a fairly standard action flick. Didn’t particularly have me wondering what would happen next, didnt surprise me at all, but still kept me entertained for 2 hours or so. Kim Basinger and Eva Longaria were both quite good, too, when they had screen time.