Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Retrospective: Die Hard (1988)

Welcome back good readers to the beginning of a new retrospectives series! If you need to get caught up on the last series, then you can read about the Planet of the Apes franchise by clicking on the link. The series that we're going to be focusing on for the next few weeks is the venerable Die Hard franchise. Since this is the first entry in this retrospective, we're going to examine the one that started it all: 1988's Die Hard.

A bit of a mish-mash of design, but I like it. Classic.

Die Hard had a bit of a convoluted inception. In 1966, Roderick Thorp published a novel called The Detective, which was adapted to film in 1968 starring Frank Sinatra as detective Joseph Leland. Thorp's novel attempted to pursue a more "adult" outlook on police work, depicting topics such as homosexuality, police politics and moral ambiguity. In 1979, Thorp wrote a sequel titled Nothing Lasts Forever, which saw the retired Leland trying to rescue his daughter from German terrorists who have seized control of the American Klaxon Oil Corporation building. The novel maintained the moral ambiguity and mature politics which had punctuated The Detective, but injected them with a good ol' dose of ass kicking as well. When work started on adapting Nothing Lasts Forever to film, Frank Sinatra was contractually obligated to be offered the role (despite now being 73 years old). He turned it down, and so the producers attempted to retool the novel as the basis for another story.

After the success of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Commando (the quintessential generic 80's action movie), the retooled Nothing Lasts Forever was put forth as a potential sequel written by Steven de Souza and Frank Darabont. However, Schwarzenegger was uninterested in reprising his role and so the script was retooled yet again by de Souza, this time as a stand-alone movie called Die Hard. In spite of all the changes it had undergone, much of the details of Thorp's original novel remain, including a number of the supporting characters' names and the plot basics, as well as most of the key action sequences. However, by the time Die Hard was underway, most of the politics and moral ambiguity had been excised in favour of a fun actioner (in part because Fox saw the script as the basis of a summer blockbuster).


Many actors were approached to play the film's lead, John McClane, including Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Don Johnson, Richard Gere, Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds, but they all turned it down. Apparently desperate to find someone to fill the role, Fox signed Bruce Willis for $5 million, a figure which was considered extremely high for a (at the time) low profile actor. Willis only had a single moderately successful film and TV show to his name at the time, and was seen as a comedic actor rather than an action star (oh the irony). Villain Hans Gruber was played by Alan Rickman, his first major film appearance. Also cast was McClane's wife, Holly, played by Bonnie Bedelia. John McTiernan was brought on to direct, after having just completed Predator with producer Joel Silver. However, the script wasn't entirely finished when things got underway, with entire scenes being added on after shooting started. Also surprisingly, McClane's character wasn't even figured out until half way through shooting, so reshoots of previous scenes had to be done to make him fit coherently. Fox rushing a major blockbuster through production to meet a release date? Never!


Luckily, Die Hard ended up being an extremely badass, financial and critical success of epic proportions. Seriously, who doesn't like this movie? It's one of my mother's favourites, and she's not exactly the sort who's into uber-violent action movies. The film follows down on his luck NYPD cop, John McClane, who travels down to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve to try to reconcile with his estranged wife who has taken on an important job in the Nakatomi Corporation. During the Christmas party at Nakatomi Plaza, terrorists led by the evil genius, Hans Gruber, seize control of the building and set about orchestrating an elaborate heist. However, McClane slips away and then begins taking down the terrorists one at a time to try to save his wife and the hostages. If you haven't seen the movie yet for some reason, suffice to say that the story is thrilling and revolutionary. The film is nothing like the typical 80's Commando/Rambo-model where a single man marches into a military base and somehow manages to kill an entire private army with his machine gun. Instead, we get a single, desperate, ordinary man, a confined location, a finite number of villains and extremely high stakes which just keep mounting until the explosive climax. McClane spends half the movie in hiding, runs away in nearly every fight he gets in, gets badly wounded and improvises his way through situations. As a result, when McClane does get into a fight or goes on the offensive, it makes the film far more exciting and tense, because we don't know what's going to happen.

Bruce Willis must have been a revelation as John McClane - he's fantastic and it really feels like he is an unhinged every man who is capable of becoming an ass-kicker in a pinch. Alan Rickman is also fantastic as Hans Gruber, and is easily the standout performance in the film. He's mostly cool and collected in his performance, but there's a palpable menace as well, especially when he discovers that McClane has stolen the detonators he needs to make his plan work. Of course, Bonnie Bedelia is also a convincing Holly Gennaro, displaying both fear at the situation, but a sense of strength and leadership for the hostages. Even the supporting characters are memorable. Everyone loves (or loves to hate) Al Powell, Argyle, Karl, the FBI agents Johnson and Johnson, Dwayne Robinson and Richard Thornburg. Hell, even each terrorist is given at least a couple lines and some screen time, making their eventual deaths have a bit more resonance than the faceless mooks that get gunned down in your typical action movie. The only annoying character is Ellis, although he's supposed to be a douche bag, so he gets a pass.


Also contributing to the movie's success is its great sense of humour. Bruce Willis' comedic past plays a part here, but there's a lot of hilarious one-liners and sight gags which go a long way to making Die Hard a hell of a lot of fun. I've seen the movie at least a half dozen times now, but there's still scenes which never fail to make me laugh out loud - the exasperated comment about ordering a pizza and the C4 down the elevator shaft especially...

Umm since this is Die Hard, clip contains language...

Of course, the movie isn't all just fun and games. There is actually quite a bit of social commentary present in the film. There's the really overt messages about responsibility in news media, overbearing police and state authority interfering with saving lives and the government viewing its citizens as little more than statistics. However, there are less-obvious references which are there for people who want to look a little deeper. For one thing, Nakatomi Plaza itself represents the increasing globalization of industrialization which was occurring at the time of the film's release. The film is also comments on second-wave feminism, embodied by Holly's position in the Nakatomi Corporation and the cause of her estrangement from John. The only reason they had become separated was because she wanted to pursue her career, but John didn't support her moving away to Los Angeles. During the course of the movie, John hates himself for being such an ass and wants to make amends. However, the status quo isn't entirely rocked - at the conclusion, Holly reinforces that her name is "McClane", not "Gennaro", suggesting a level of macho backlash against feminism. That said, the film doesn't become outright misogynistic or act as an anti-feminist parable, but there does seem to be a certain level of backlash present.


Anyway, there's not all that much to say about it: Die Hard is an action classic. It revolutionized the genre, created its own sub-genre and started a franchise which continues to this day. If nothing else, it's a kick-ass film in its own right. There's a good chance you've already seen it, and if you haven't then I heartily recommend that you do. Yippee ki yay indeed.

9/10

Be sure to come back soon for part 2 of this retrospective series with Die Hard 2: Die Harder!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

7 Ways AVP Inspired Recent Alien and Predator Movies

So when I wasn't playing the shit out of Battlefield 4 on PS4, the AVP Miniatures Game I've been talking about the last two weeks inspired me to go back and revisit Paul W.S. Anderson's much-maligned 2004 Alien vs Predator movie. It was actually worse than I remember it being, but while watching it I noticed something a bit... odd. Considering that Predators and Prometheus, the most recent Predator and Alien movies respectively seem to draw plot points and details from AVP liberally. This is especially surprising considering that they have done their damnedest to distance themselves from the AVP films. I've compiled seven examples of these instances here for examination.

As a note before we begin, I would like to mention that Prometheus and Predators are much better films than either AVP. I also figure that most of these similarities are coincidental, but find the links interesting enough to warrant mentioning. Oh and it should probably go without saying that SPOILERS ARE IN EFFECT.

Honourable Mention: Two expendable goofballs get separated from the main group and have very bad things befall them... (Prometheus)



I didn't include this one because it seems more like a genre trope than anything, but in AVP... uhhh gimme a second to look up the names of the "characters" in this movie... umm so Miller and Verheiden get separated from the main characters and begin bumbling and freaking out. Neither have really done anything so far but they try to buddy up to get through things since they're both "dads" and therefore can't give up. If only they knew they were in a horror film they might have just turned the guns on themselves... Anyway, both end up getting captured by the Aliens and impregnated.

Meanwhile, in Prometheus, scientists Fifield and Milburn have had enough scary alien crap and so head back to the ship... but get lost like dumbasses despite having a digital map on them. They basically scream and hold each other until Milburn tries to pet a hissing serpent (no homo). They are mysteriously killed and/or weaponized soon after.

7) Predators Hunt in Threes (Predators)



I think there's some precedence for this development in the Predator and AVP comics, hence why I rank it so lowly. However, to be fair, how often do films series respect extended universe stories? Just look at Alien 3, which took a dump on all the Alien comics which had been written as sequels to Aliens. I imagine that the new Star Wars movies will invalidate all the post-ROTJ fiction as well. In that regard, considering that all prior Predator films featured only a single hunter, this is a pretty interesting correlation.

In AVP a trio of Predator teenagers head off to their ritual hunting grounds to kill some xenomorphs (and any foolish humans who get in their way). In Predators, a trio of Super Predators hunt aliens and humans on their game preserve planet. In either case, three isn't the magic number as they all get killed.

6) Mysterious Temple of Bad Things (aka Human Killing Grounds) (Prometheus)



Considering that both AVP and Prometheus are horror films, it makes sense that the mysterious, alien-built temple of doom that the protagonists come across would turn out to be something bad in the end. However, I think it's more than a little odd that Prometheus features this trope at all, considering that it is trying to do something unlike the AVP films. If you really wanted to stretch it you could probably try to make an argument that both structures are pyramids, although the Engineer's weapon facility looks more like a mound to me. There's other similarities as well, such as the fact that the protagonists are able to conveniently read and translate the glyphs on the walls which are written in an unknown language. The owners of the temples also end up getting defeated by Xenomorphs/proto-Xenomorphs, both during and prior to the events of the films.

In AVP, the humans discover a temple 2000ft beneath Antarctica. It turns out that it is an ancient Predator hunting ground where humans are sacrificed to create Xenomorphs. In Prometheus, the humans travel to the Engineer's planet to trace back to the origin of life. They end up discovering a weapon's facility where the Engineers destroyed themselves with biological weapons before they could purge humanity from the stars.

5) Aliens Are Responsible for Civilization on Earth (Prometheus)


What's with the recent fascination with the belief that humans were created/improved by aliens? I mean, they have a bloody TV show on "The History Channel" for goodness sake. Oh and of course there are people who think that Prometheus is a true story, but covered-up to look fictionalized (because as we all know, the best way to hide the truth is to give it a $130 million dollar budget and a wide release and then expect that absolutely no one will be crazy enough to believe it). Anyway, both AVP and Prometheus have this idea as a central plot point, even if it doesn't make all that much sense.

In AVP, the Predators established the early civilizations and taught them to build pyramids so they could hunt Xenomorphs in them. They also apparently did a whole Tower of Babel thing too, because apparently the temple in Antarctica has all of the ancient cultures in its architecture and language, but somehow this singular origin didn't muddy their own cultures, since they still remain unique (...AVP is really dumb). In Prometheus, the Engineers were the origin of life on Earth through a Christ-like sacrifice. They also came back later and helped civilize humanity, being worshiped as gods by us and leaving behind star maps for us to follow.

4) People Inexplicably Bring Weapons on a Scientific Expedition (Prometheus)


Scientific research is to the Alien franchise as archaeology is to Indiana Jones - if it can't be shot at then it isn't worth investigating. Supposed "scientists" in both films don't do their jobs at all, generally acting like stupid tourists gawking about on their field trip. Also worth noting is the fact that the female protagonist in both AVP and Prometheus says that weapons aren't needed, but are dismissed offhand. Guns are cool, but seriously... they aren't really justified in either film very well at all. Of course, the weapons end up being useless anyways. In AVP I think a grand total of... two Aliens end up getting shot by the humans (and one of them was with some sort of sci-fi gun which just showed up out of nowhere). In Prometheus, only one creature gets killed by guns, but to be fair it was more because he ended up getting backed over by a huge-ass car.

As for justifications, AVP takes the cake for being more inexcusable. It's a scientific expedition to a temple 2000ft beneath Antarctica... there's not going to be anything alive down there. You could argue that they have the guns in case another team comes to investigate the site, but doesn't that sound excessive? Obviously the only reason they have the guns is so that Paul W.S. Anderson can have his stupid action movie. At least in Prometheus they are venturing into the unknown to meet a potentially hostile alien species face-to-face... but still, considering that they had no reason to believe they harboured us ill-will (considering the Engineers created us and all that), it's a tad tenuous.

3) The Hero Teams Up With a Predator (Who Gets Killed for His Troubles) (Predators)


LittleJimmy hates this trope, but I don't have a huge problem with it myself. That said, Predators should not be seen as good guys, but rather as lawfully evil figures. Predators fits that criteria, while AVP ventures too close to making the Predator a hero. Oh and I could have swore to God that Paul W.S. Anderson was going to make Lex and the Predator kiss, it's probably the most "WTF!?!!" moment in the whole movie. In any case, both Predators end up getting killed shortly after (is it too much to ask that a Predator actually survive a damn Predator film for once? They must have a ridiculous mortality rate).

In AVP, the humans steal the Predators' weapons, which makes them get picked off easily by the Aliens. In the end, the last remaining human and Predator team up to bring down the temple and kill the escaped Queen. However, right at the end the Predator gets impaled by the Queen's tail and dies. In Predators, Royce frees a captured Predator who begrudgingly directs Royce to a Predator shuttle in exchange. The Predator ends up getting killed by a Super Predator shortly after though.

2) Weyland (Prometheus)


This is another odd similarity for a series that was trying to move away from the AVP movies. Why is an aged and terminally ill founder of Weyland enterprises a commonality between the two? Even if you dismiss the rest of this article, this one's pretty damn compelling to me because we get a really similar character and motivation in both films.

In AVP, Charles Bishop Weyland discovers the temple in Antarctica and wants to lay claim to the find. He is dying and wants to leave his mark on history by making the greatest discovery in human history (read: he wants to become immortal in a metaphorical sense). He also seems to have secret agendas and doesn't heed warnings that he should let go of his hubris. He gets killed for his troubles of course. In Prometheus, Peter Weyland wants to lay claim to Elizabeth Shaw's discovery of the Engineers. His crew have a secret agenda which hangs over the entire expedition. It turns out that Weyland was secretly in stasis aboard their ship and is close to death. He wants to meet the Engineers and have them make him literally immortal, even though Shaw warns him that they will kill him instead. Predictably, he ends up getting bitch slapped to death by an Engineer.

1) The Opening Briefings are Nearly Identical (Prometheus)



This is the plot point which really kicked off this article because when I watched it in AVP I thought "wait a minute... didn't I already see this...?" Both scenes follow the same purpose and structure, they're at similar points in the film, hell even the details are similar. They're basically the early exposition dump to get the audience up to speed and set up what's going to happen. Both scenes open with Weyland's right hand man/woman beginning the presentation before giving the floor to Weyland himself (or a hologram of Weyland at least) to explain the finer details. The briefings are occurring in a wide-open chamber aboard their respective ships, while the attendees are sitting in cheap folding chairs (!).

The nature of the briefing scenes also create their own problems, because from what we're shown all of these people apparently didn't know where the hell they were going or doing until this briefing started (especially egregious in Prometheus). At least in AVP they try to create a sense of urgency, in Prometheus it's just lazy. The whole scientific angle also gets thrown out the window in Prometheus because Shaw says that they're on this expedition for Engineers is because "that's what she chooses to believe". Umm, good thing for you that Weyland's a crackpot then I guess. Oh and then there's another problem - why send a manned team at all? Why not send an unmanned drone to investigate first instead of pouring a trillion dollars into searching for Engineers who probably aren't there in the first place (as the characters state on many occasions)?

Anyway, despite everyone hating AVP, it seems that it has managed to spread its influence to subsequent Alien and Predator films. Sure, it's probably entirely coincidental, but the connections are interesting at the very least. I hope you enjoyed. Retrospectives should be beginning next week so stay tuned for that!

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Quick Fix: Follow-up + Current Events

Okay, due to the nature of last week's quick fix, we've got a bit of follow-up on some of the "top stories" which were in that post. First of all, I caved in and got that Elgato Game Capture HD I had been looking at and it seems to work quite well. I suggest that you see the results for yourself if you don't believe me. Currently I'm stuck with PS3 footage, but I'll be getting a PS4 before the next blog post is up so expect footage at some point soon thereafter. In fact, you can always reach my Youtube channel by clicking the link in the sidebar near the top of the page - now that I've got this Elgato, updates should be fairly regular.


Also as follow-up, the AVP miniatures game has been announced and has already gotten underway on Kickstarter! I'm a bit torn on it to be honest... on the one hand, the minis are amazing and it looks like it'll be a pretty fun game. Plus it's FREAKING ALIENS AND PREDATORS (if that wasn't clear enough)!!! On the other hand though, the game company's communication has been lackluster and it's rather expensive... even more-so with the stretch goals getting unlocked which are largely paid expansions. I mean, I'd LOVE Alien Warriors and Predator Hounds, but the notion of paying 30GBP on top of my 75GBP pledge isn't particularly appealing. On the plus side though, the freebies are starting to pour in (at present, pretty much everyone's getting free Facehuggers, a 10GBP add-on, a Berserker Predator [SQUEE!!!!] and almost certainly a model on a 40mm base once we hit 2000 backers). On the whole, I'm still happy about the project and will probably even increase my pledge, although I hope that the news is only positive from here on out. If you're interested in checking it out, the Kickstarter is underway here. You can also check out the awesome minis on their Facebook page.


Now, onto current events. It's been a little while since I last tackled a recent news story, but this one's a doozy which I just can't escape when I turn on the TV. I'm talking of course about Rob Ford, the crack smoking mayor of Toronto. Honestly, I wish he'd just step down because then I wouldn't have to listen to the media drag this thing on indefinitely. In all seriousness though, Ford really does need to bow out - he has become an international embarrassment to himself, his city and his country. Saying that he's going to keep working just makes no sense - does he think that no one else can run his job as well as him? Obviously there's something up there.

Now I hate conspiracy theorizing, but I'm going to do some speculation so take the rest of this paragraph with a huge grain of salt. An acquaintence on Facebook made a post after the confession came out, suggesting that Ford might have called out a hit on gang members he had been famously photographed with (in front of a suspected crack house), one of whom was murdered recently. Now while I didn't think there was much to back up this statement, it was certainly an interesting take on the situation. In any case, it is likely that Ford knew more than he was willing to admit to the press leading up to his confession. For one thing, there's a story going around that his office hired a hacker to try to destroy the tape before it could fall into police custody. I can't exactly verify it, but based on the information and evidence it presents, I'm willing to believe it. If it's true, then there's probably some seriously illegal and corrupt actions going on in the highest levels of the Toronto government. In a lot of ways, this reminds me of a film I watched called Tycoon: A New Russian, where a gangster funds a politician, but keeps a sex tape to blackmail him with (according to the story, it is thought that the Dixon City Bloods have a Ford sex tape as well) in case he ever turns on them. I wonder if a similar sort of situation is going on here which will be revealed in due time... Again though, this is almost entirely speculation and unverified information, so don't take this as anything more than that.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Quick Fix: Battlefields, Retrospectives, Aliens and Novels

A bit of a quick post this week on, coincidentally, the 5th of November. Not that I'm an anarchist or even a huge fan of V For Vendetta, but the date has a bit of pop culture significance so it's notable in itself.


Anyway as you probably know, Battlefield 4 was released a week ago and (predictably) I've been playing the shit out of it. Actually, I rented it for 4 days and have since had to return it, but I'm already jonesing to play again. I've only gotten ahold of the PS3 version so far, but I'm stoked to see it in action on the PS4. I'm actually surprised at how BF4 turned out on PS3, the beta had tempered my expectations, but it's fully-featured and functional. Graphically, it's muddier and has worse textures than BF3, and I think the maps might have been shrunk, but overall if you can't get any other platform then the current-gen versions of the game are certainly a lot of fun. When I'm a bit more acclimatized to it I'll probably make a new "Battlefield Tips" post, but in the meantime you can check out my Battlelog profile. I'm also seriously considering buying an Elgato Game Capture HD to record in-game footage, so keep an eye out for that - my Youtube page might be getting updates in the near future... On the negative side though, the netcode needs some retooling, at the moment it's extremely frustrating getting killed in what seems like a single shot by everyone. I probably need a bit more practice (it took me about 30 hours to acclimatize to Battlefield 3 from Battlefield: Bad Company 2), but hopefully this issue is rectified in the PS4 version, or a patch comes along soon.


I think I've also got the next Retrospective lined up, partially out of convenience since one of my brothers owns the whole series on DVD. I don't have a firm date on when I'll begin the series, but it should be before the end of the month... actually, now that I think about it, that's pretty much perfect and should coincide well with future events... and I won't say anymore than that. Ho ho ho. In any case, I'm thinking of doing something unconventional for the Retrospective after this one, so be sure to keep an eye on the blog in the new year!


This is a bit of personal excitement here, but there's an AVP miniatures game coming soon, and based on the sculpts it looks FANTASTIC. I'm seriously stoked beyond belief for this. It's coming to Kickstarter and traditional retail methods soon, so I'll post up a link when it becomes available and when more info is released. In the meantime, I need some people to play it with on release...


Finally, a bit of exciting news. I have begun writing a sci-fi novel, which will expand into a series at some point. Of course, this is assuming I finish it - I already have an unfinished manuscript sitting on my computer from an abandoned project so I don't like to count my chickens before they're hatched. The novel is largely in the conceptual stage at the moment, but I've got the basic trajectory of the story developed and have written first drafts of the prologue and about half of the first chapter already. All-in-all I'm pretty excited about it and sincerely hope I actually take the effort to finish the damn thing!