Opening this week are two films that each are bookends of sorts. One is a franchise that is running out of steam but not before it supernovas and obliterates the box office and the other is a nascent franchise hoping to thrive.
A Good Day To Die Hard has some of the panache of the original three films and maintains the use of giant action set pieces. Beautiful Creatures launches a series based on four books known as the Caster Chronicles, set in the Deep South, in which the main character is a teen witch.
BC has been compared to the Twilight series but to me that’s grasping at the straw of genre similarities. Although Beautiful Creatures also takes place with characters in high school the tone is somewhat more tongue-in-cheek humor wise while also casting dark clouds of occult mystery.
BC’s adult characters are expert hambones chewing up scenery at least if one is to believe the first encounter between head warlock and top witch Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson. Irons can stop time or freeze eternity or something like that because the two go at it verbally while everything else around them has frozen and slipped into blackness. By the way, the use of Southern accents seems to be voluntary rather than mandatory.
BC stars Alice Englert (Jane Campion’s daughter) as a lass who will turn 16, and when she does her fate to go white or black (in the parlance of the witches) will be decided by her karma. Of course she falls in love with the local jock, which puts a fly in the ointment. Even though the setting is a very small town the students all seem to dress like big city mall fashion slaves. Beautiful Creatures certainly deserves a sequel or two if only to see the continuation of the main romance. But for the most part BC seems to prefer setting and costume to character. For instance the stately Southern mansion Irons lives in has a really cool circular staircase in the center of the main room that always changes colors according to the character’s moods but it’s definitely not Southern nor really Gothic. Likewise as we watch Englert mature from a girl to a, well, more mature girl (she’s still a teen and not a femme) we see her progress from lighter make-up and clothes to heavy eye make-up and Emo clothes. Now that is Gothic.
The best thing about A Good Day To Die Hard is that 20th Century Fox also released the other films in the Die Hard series for a daylong marathon. Seeing the first two films, Die Hard and Die Hard 2, on a big screen was one of my cinematic thrills of the year so far. No one can doubt that John McTiernan (Die Hard and Die Hard With a Vengeance) and Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2) had a superior visual sense and ability to bring off action sequences that eludes contempo helmers like John Moore (AGDTDH) or Len Wiseman (Live Free or Die Hard). McTiernan is currently literally in federal prison for a one year sentence for lying to FBI agents under oath in a recent illegal wiretap court case that was a sensation in the Hollywood community; ouch.
Oddly the new Die Hard takes place in Russia and at one point Bruce Willis meets his son Jack McClane (Jai Courtney) who, unbeknownst to Dad but the audience is in on the secret, is himself working undercover for the CIA. (In the first Die Hard it’s established that the senior McClane has a son and daughter.) The McClane duo then travels to Chernobyl, which is actually as far away from Moscow in one direction as the recent meteor impact in the Urals is from Moscow in the other direction. Imagine if the Die Hard series had the practically psychic ability to put that in the script.
The new Die Hard is like an episode of one of your favorite television shows that you like well enough but isn’t in the same league with the first few movies. There’s a pretty spectacular car chase in the first act that pulls out the stops. Director Moore even uses some clever imagery of helicopters and jumping out of buildings that give the film some bite. At the end of the film you have to realize that today’s action films are hammered out with CGI and that old school films like Die Hard were as much about character and charm and filmmaking acumen as they were about explosions.
Make no mistake the first Die Hard, which incidentally came out in 1988, changed the face of actioners and utilized special effects from Star Wars wizard Richard Edlund for its brand of explosions. Only in that template film John McClane spent the first half of the movie trying to contact the police for help and hide from the terrorists. Nowadays McClane shoots first and asks questions later.
– Michael Bergeron