Archive for August, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard: how forgettable

August 11th, 2007

live_free_or_die_hard.jpgAs we all know, Die Hard with a vengeance was probably the best action movie of all time. So it's a lot to live up to. Unfortunately, Die Hard 4 falls at the first fence.

As I'm watching the opening sequence I can't even believe that it *is* Die Hard, thought maybe it was trailer. But then the title comes up. Basically, this is not a Die Hard movie. These people have no idea what they're doing. Die Hard is about a band of armed robbers with an ingenious plot to steal a ton of money. It's not a disaster movie, and it's not a computer cracker movie. Half an hour into it I was thinking enough with the computer crap, already!

And I wasn't the only one, every 15 minutes John McClane was asking wtf is going on, he had no idea. I mean the whole point of Die Hard is for John McClane, a clever cop cut way above the dumb-cops stereotype to overturn the plot. But he had no clue what was going on here. If McClane can't figure it out, there's something very wrong with the story.

This movie is a story about computer crime retrofitted with John McClane.

The story isn't terrible, it has its merits. I think it's a quite acceptable computer-terrorist-takeover plot as they come. But since they call it Die Hard I'm going to continue discussing it on that premise. So let's focus on the bright points, cause we need to savor them.

Bruce Willis is indeed a bit gray haired for this role. But considering how estranged he is from the plot, he does a decent job. Basically he's the best feature this movie has. His cracker/stoner companion starts off very lame, but he comes along.

But now let me ask this. Did they not have any money for this movie? The casting is like a who's who of bad actors. Bowman is the worst FBI director of any movie ever. He's completely clueless, gutless, and worthless. He has no idea what's going on, and absolutely no concept of what to do. Then there's the villain Thomas Gabriel. Now if you know anything about Die Hard, you know that the whole success of the story is predicated upon a great bad guy. Simon Guber (Jeremy Irons) was a *genius* in Die Hard with a vengeance, he made the story a success. Thomas Gabriel, meanwhile, is a puny security expert gone loco with a plot to steal billions of dollars. If Bowman is the least convincing character, Gabriel Thomas is a close second. Guber was a psycho, Gabriel cries on the phone when he finds out his girlfriend is dead. This is supposed to be a Die Hard villain? He looks more like an insurance salesman.

Then there's Mai, Gabriel's right hand. How relieved was I when she was killed. It's like a contest of who can make the worst fit for their role. Then there's Gabriel's squad of French/Italian terrorists/crackers/soldiers. This is a very odd mix of outsourced personnel, they don't even speak English. Consequently they don't have any terrible lines either, so perhaps that's a plus. Cyril Raffaelli does a decent job with the parkour, but frankly if you want to see coolass parkour, you'll go see Banlieue 13, which is much better at that.

The action sequences are for the most part terribly misguided. Here's the thing: if you want to do an action sequence, you have to build up the plot first, so that it culminates into the action. In Die Hard 4 you just have a lot of very random action bits. Like the car falling into the elevator shaft - Jurassic Park already did that several times with a bus, enough already. Then there's the helicopter-assassinated-by-car idea, which is beyond ludicrous. Apparently a speeding car hitting a toll booth is supposed to elevate some 30m right into a chopper of killers. Can't you at least try to make it believable? The most complicated action sequence must be the fighter-jet-hunting-a-semitrailer. And it's not really that bad, it's just that you have to somehow buy the story to enjoy it, which is unlikely. Also, it's high time for Hollywood to stop telling us that you can drive a car at high speed and come to an instant stop without a scratch. No one is buying it.

I also don't buy the soldier/cracker idea. We've all seen so many action movies with terrorists where you have these really big chunks of muscles, expert with weapons and combat. But in this movie, they try to make them computer experts too, which isn't convincing.

Also, why are crackers always so shy and timid? Trey is Gabriel's geek-who-makes-it-all-possible friend, and he's like every cracker in every terrorist movie, full of scruples and hesitation. Theo, from the first Die Hard, was much better - he was actually evil. Sure he didn't kill anyone, but it didn't deter him either. He even tried to make away with the money when everyone else was taken out of action.

Saving grace that he is, John McClane struggles to fit into this plot. In Die Hard with a vengeance, he fought the bad guys, but he was just trying to catch them. In Die Hard 4 he actually announces his intention to "kill them all". This is not the John McClane we know.

A surprisingly well kept secret is that it's the story that drives a good action movie. That is why Die Hard with a vengeance was a masterpiece. If not, it's just boring combat and shooting. A fact lost on this guy and the 44,517 people on This review gets it right:

Boring characters, crappy script, interesting fight scenes. But fight scenes never make a movie. The worst die hard in my opinion, even worse than die hard 2. At least die hard 1 and 3 had interesting tutonic villianry.

At the end of the day, it's not such a terrible movie, it's just not Die Hard. Which is a shame, considering what they advertise on the movie poster. If they didn't do that, it would be a much quieter movie, with a fraction of the people come to see it, and they'd probably be more satisfied than those of us who wanted a Die Hard movie.

parking authorities can kiss my ass

August 8th, 2007

There was a time when you could park for free in the city. Obviously not in the main street, but there were areas that if you knew about them you could still park pretty close to the center. But today it's basically impossible. They've covered every cm2.

It's not even that parking costs money. Because sometimes it costs an arm and a leg, but let's leave that aside for the moment. It's how incredibly redundant it is. What exactly are we paying for? It's a completely pointless tax. People have cars so obviously they need to park. Do we park less because it costs money? I doubt it, I don't see rows of free parking spaces. In fact, often it's hard to find a spot even when you're paying. And it's getting worse. So what is it for? No one is prevented from buying a car, so what the hell do they expect us to do with them? If they want to reduce traffic then have some guts and actually make inner cities pedestrian-only.

And paid parking is an incredible annoyance, because it's not enforced either. It's an idiotic system. Basically you park and it's up to you. If you don't buy a ticket, there's every possibility that you will get away with it. Or you could be slapped with a fine. And the fines are obscene amounts of money. So people speculate - they don't pay when they're parking for a short time, or they only pay for as much as they think they need. Of course, the second your ticket expires the humble civil servant of a parking attendant is in his right to slap that insane fine on you.

I could understand paid parking if it were a fee for something, like some expense they had to cover. Some of those things do make sense, like a toll to pay for a new bridge or tunnel. But parking fees are completely pointless. And to realize that, you only have to see how it works. First of all, they have never ever said that the fees go to some special important cause. It is merely money into the city coffers. And just how sensibly cities spend their money I think we've all witnessed. Secondly, it's not enforced at all. You can get away with not paying if you're lucky or you know a certain place isn't monitored as much. In fact, some places are crawling with parking attendants while some aren't. Again this says that it's not an organized process, it's just a contest to write the most fines they possibly can.

And finally, there is no regulation as to how much you pay, how much parking costs or what exactly it is you pay for. Parking fees vary wildly, and without any semblance of order. There is never a reason given as to why the fee has to be increased, it just goes up. And if you ask yourself what it is you're paying for, there is no obvious answer. If you park for 10 minutes and you pay for 5, you pay half price. But if you park for 30 minutes and it turns out you only need 10, you're royally ripped off. The whole system is rigged so that they get as much as they can from you. To be safe, you should pay for more than you need, just in case you need more time. So you end up with a spare 20 minutes. Now someone else comes around and takes your spot. If parking fees were some kind of real estate payment, that person would now get 20 minutes free parking. Because the spot has already been paid for. But no, it doesn't work that way, the new guy has to pay for the time I've already covered. So the payment isn't actually for anything, a product or service that costs a certain amount, it's just paying for the sake of paying.

It would make a lot more sense if you were somehow charged when pulling out (like in a parking garage). And then just paying for the time you parked. But you can't do this, can you? If you didn't pay and the parking attendant is writing you a ticket just as you get back, he won't accept that you pay for the time you used (which would be sensible), he will give you the fine anyway. Why? Because it's only paying for the sake of paying, and the more they can squeeze you for the happier the leeches are.

And what about parking attendants? This is the definition of redundant. It almost sounds like a scheme the government introduced to lower unemployment. An utterly pointless job that is entirely self serving. Think how depressed those people must be on the weekends. Here they landed a job and there isn't a single person in the world who thinks what they're doing is even a tiny bit useful. And yet it's our taxes that are paying their wages, isn't that amazing?

The Bourne Supremacy

August 6th, 2007

bourne_supremacy.jpgRobert Ludlum is just really good at these spy tales. Intriguing, complex, coherent plots that hold together. With plenty of skill and some gadgets thrown in. A touch of combat, but not all that much, it's all about the hunt, and about finding the truth. About messing with their heads. :D

Dare I say Matt Damon is quite good in this role. I like him a lot better than in The Bourne Identity. He's not an awkward lost kid, that just didn't fit well for a spy. He's a resolute character who doesn't hesitate or "need to think". The trench coat may be a bit much, he never takes it off.

It's the classical agency-that-lost-the-agent plot. But he's found, and he has to find out who and what. It's a neat story, and in less than two hours they wrap it up. I do wonder if there isn't more to the story, though. If Ludlum didn't in fact craft a more complicated tale. As far as I can see, there's nothing missing from the movie, everything fits. What is a bit unsettling is just how many consecutive car crashes Bourne [and his car!] can survive without a scratch. :/

I must say that these intelligence operatives do sound more impressive in a book than they do in a movie like this. That scene in the Berlin square with the tram, they looked rather disoriented and helpless as he blends into the crowd and goes unnoticed. And with all that CIA surveillance not much help tssk.

John Powell did more than a good job on the score, it is very compelling. :thumbup:

The Prometheus Deception

August 3rd, 2007

Robert Ludlum, author of the Jason Bourne trilogy (of Bourne Identity fame) authors this spy novel in 2000. It seems to have been, although I was not aware, his last novel, at least the last one published in his lifetime.

I don't read much of these stories, but I do like them. Ludlum bears resemblance to Frederick Forsyth, of whom I've read two books in the past, but his style is different. Forsyth is more meticulous, Ludlum prefers to be direct. He will describe a hand-to-hand combat scene in great detail, greater in fact than I care to witness. For precisely where the punches land isn't awfully interesting. But unlike Forsyth, the plot is more to do with intelligence and espionage, which is an angle I generally enjoy.

The Prometheus Deception is an elegantly crafted story, but may I suggest it could use a better ending. Nick Bryson narrates an intricate conspiracy on several levels, whose unraveling is both timely and interesting. He is the classic retired-spy-brought-back character, and basically indestructible. The scenes are described well, with good pacing and lots of suspense. Ludlum is good at setting the scene so that you know that potentially there is a lot you don't know, but all the same there is always one thing you know exists that you strive to discover, which imbues the plot with urgent purpose.

The Bryson character is sharp in combat and sensual perception, he can detect the slightest sound, sense subtle movement and so on, playing on the old super-attune-to-his-senses idea. What does seem strange at times is that despite this, he isn't all that bright about the greater pictures and the powers that be. The structure of power in the story is very complex, and Bryson is not the kind to question or doubt what he supposedly knows, where you would expect him to. At times this is almost a little embarrassing, how far he is led astray before he stumbles upon the truth. This is basically his only weakness, but it's not altogether convincing. Ted Waller, his mentor, plays the classic role of the-one-who-always-is-a-step-ahead, whose maneuvering is not explained to the reader.

The plot is very contentious, and the expediency with which Ludlum introduces new foes, and their relative positioning is well crafted. Ted Waller is Bryson's boss, and in many ways they're on the same side, but in many ways they are also enemies. It is enjoyable how characters are not created as traffic cones around which the main character must swerve; their interests migrate, which evolves their relationship to Bryson.

The ending is a problem. Ludlum's plot ascends a steep hill to what appears to be a powerful climax. But somewhere before the end he falters and the pattern of the plot shifts uncharacteristically into what appears to be trouble at tying it all together. What I mentioned as a clear intention in every scene is now missing, and after London, Bryson and Elena (his long lost wife) reunited do a lot of brainstorming, traveling from place to place, picking up tidbits of information that lead them to the final scene. This seems too random in an otherwise watertight story.

As for the final plot resolution, it doesn't quite come. It isn't actually said how "power would be shifted" at all. All we know is that all or virtually all the high rollers of the conspiracy die in a giant fire, but just what they were about to do isn't at all said. Nor is the purpose very clear at all. Right at the end, I'm not even sure what Bryson is fighting against, nor am I convinced of his values. The conspiracy is a plot to abolish national intelligence agencies and deliver all power to an international agency with infinitely superior surveillance power, centered around the single company that provides all this equipment. But is that really so much worse than a CIA acting in national rather than personal/corporate interests? I don't see how. A big stain on an otherwise slick story.

Of course, the valor of a story like this isn't in how it ends, but in how it moves. And with that I'm very satisfied. Ludlum also amuses me in how he insists on using real technical terms. Most authors conceal supposed hi-tec in empty phrases and foggy terminology, but Ludlum actually uses the real words. All the stuff about weapons I wouldn't know, but most of the computer terminology is correct. One head scratcher is his insistence on mentioning software all the time, where software rarely is presented as exciting technology in stories like this. He slips when he says that Elena had brought along specially written software "just for this occasion", written in supposedly a few hours.

Anyway, it's a good story. :)