Archives for posts with tag: Skyfall

A good day to die hard poster

The Die Hard franchise, like the James Bond films that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, comprise a record of Hollywood’s search for the new enemy that would confront the free world or at least provide fear fodder for the moviegoing public.  A product of the years that witnessed the Cold War’s ragged, anticlimactic end, Die Hard points to terrorism and asymmetric conflict as the coming trend, with ostensibly idealistic but actually greedy German terrorists taking hostages in an L.A. high-rise.  Inspired by the Iran-Contra controversy, Die Hard 2 finds a threat in the Cold War residue of the mercenary anticommunist armies created to aid dictators in America’s proxy wars in the Third World, and Die Hard with a Vengeance also features directionless mercenaries as a terrorist danger.  With the rise of the internet, 9/11, the War on Terror, and the domestic police state having intervened in the decade separating the third film from the next installment in the series, the superlative Live Free or Die Hard milks suspenseful chaos from the double-edged sword of the omnipresent cyber-surveillance state, but (like the more recent Skyfall) targets hackers rather than statists as the biggest threat to America.

Now, with its latest entry, A Good Day to Die Hard, the venerable action franchise finally appears to be out of compelling ideas and steam.  Set in Russia, where John McClane (Bruce Willis) hopes to reconcile with his CIA assassin son (Jai Courtney, an uninteresting actor with an unappealing face, inexplicably being pushed in high-profile films), A Good Day to Die Hard is an undisciplined, moody, murky, disorienting, and sometimes boring whirl of mostly meaningless action sequences that sweep McClane into an international espionage imbroglio that neither he nor the audience completely understands.  Apart from the familial drama, this story lacks the immediate stakes of the previous Die Hard films, which find McClane reluctantly playing the hero to protect his fellow citizens; now the character appears content to machine-gun foreigners in their own country and wreak massive havoc on their freeways for a lark and without any insight into what he is doing apart from his hope that it will somehow impress his rogue son and restore their damaged rapport.  Astronomical destruction of property, a genocidal body count, and forced sentimentality ensue, much of it filmed with a shaky, erratic pseudodocumentary headache-inducement approach, with the result that A Good Day to Die Hard is easily the most obnoxious and least worthy of the films to bear the prestigious Die Hard banner – and, if anything, perhaps an unfortunate indicator that it is at last a good day for this series of films to just die.

3 out of 5 stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that A Good Day to Die Hard is:

3. Xenophobic and specifically anti-Russian.  Slavs are secretive, dishonest, violent, eccentric, treacherous, and lust after their parents.

2. Family-ambivalent.  The film celebrates the father-son bond, with McClane regretful of not having played a greater role in his children’s lives.  His marriage to their mother, however, was apparently unsalvageable.

1. Statist and specifically neoconservative.  The Die Hard franchise becomes progressively more accepting of the federal government over the years.  In the first film, representative NYPD and LAPD officers are subject to human frailty and poor judgment, but are also admirable in their toughness and obvious concern for the public.  Their bureaucratic superiors are mostly worthless, however, and the FBI is depicted as incompetent and counterproductive, with one of their snipers a Vietnam veteran and death enthusiast who remembers Saigon fondly.  Bureaucrats and elements of the military are still antagonistic in Die Hard 2, and law enforcement at the local level is the most trustworthy.  This is also the case in Die Hard with a Vengeance, with federal agents depicted as conspiratorial and dopey.

Live Free or Die Hard accepts the posited benevolence of the FBI, but harbors reservations about the competence of newer federal rackets like the Department of Homeland Security.  The principal villain is a former government cyber-security expert run amuck, and the Pentagon is censured as clumsy for underestimating the vulnerability of America’s cyber-infrastructure, but the implication is that more and not less federal might is required.  At the end of that film, McClane is shown wearing an FBI jacket, signifying the oneness of his mission as a police officer with theirs at the national level.

Though the original Die Hard is distinctly Jewish in its perspective, the series has not until now embraced outright neoconservatism.  In A Good Day to Die Hard, McClane at first appears to be skeptical about the usefulness of the spy business, but is quickly persuaded to join the game when he sees what fun it offers with its license to ravage foreign lands with impunity.  The villains here are America’s old enemies, the Russians, still totalitarians at heart (as indicated by the Aeroflot airline’s hammer-and-sickle logo and the “CCCP” tattoo on one brutish thug’s back) and more dangerous than ever since criminal elements among them are peddling those dreaded and demonic “WMDs”, including the material for nuclear bombs.  (The prospective buyers, presumably, are Iran or the highest Islamic jihadist bidder.)  The home defense of previous films is no longer sufficient, and proactive overseas CIA adventurism is now the order of the day.  Early in A Good Day to Die Hard, a framed photograph of Barack Hussein Obama seems to smile on McClane from the wall behind him, bestowing on the loose cannon officer and the film itself a sort of enigmatic blessing (?).

dredd-poster

After the nuclear holocaust, the ruins of America’s eastern seaboard are united under police state rule as Mega City One, a sprawling urban squalor infested with crime, with “only one thing fighting for order in the chaos: judges.”  One such judge is Dredd (Karl Urban), a man whose passionate dedication to law enforcement is so profound that his mouth is permanently frozen into a psychotic pout as he zooms around the city righteously blasting tattooed dopeheads.

In Dredd, the titular hero has an especially rough day on the job when, along with rookie partner Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), he finds himself locked into a ghetto megastructure (the overgrown futuristic equivalent of a housing project) and pitted against its masters, drug queenpin Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) and her minions.  The resulting adventure approximates The Running Man meets Escape from New York meets Assault on Precinct 13, with police woefully outnumbered against frightening futuristic odds.

With its charismatically grim avenger and pulsing electronic music, Dredd makes for a fairly slick glorification of authoritarian skull-cracking and high-tech fascism.  There remains in the public’s imagination a fascination and a seduction in quasi-vigilante cops after the Dirty Harry mold; Dredd, likewise, in its more macho moments, almost succeeds in lulling its audience into idiotic obedience in slavishly licking the iron heel.

An irony of Dredd‘s dangerous indulgence toward the police state, however, is its desire to depict iron-fisted government brutality as the solution to social problems which, though the script seems oblivious of the fact, are actually caused by the policies of precisely that glorious fascistic leviathan.  Manufacture and sale of drugs appear to be the major generators of wealth for the ghetto dwellers; but the state, through its prohibition of the people’s livelihoods and pastimes, has only succeeded in creating hellholes of systemic violence in which only the most vicious criminals and corrupt police are allowed to profit and thrive.  The exorbitant level of unemployment indicates that Mega City One’s Hall of Justice is probably doing its enlightened utmost to strangle other potentially productive areas of commerce, as well.

Dredd‘s budgetary constrictions rarely interfere with its considerable entertainment value.  The action scenes are adequate, the pace is consistently brisk, and the evocation of a grimy, dystopian future is sordidly picturesque and amusing if also somewhat half-baked.  Urban is quite watchable in the lead and Dredd lays a workable foundation for a potentially fun series of films down the road.

4 of 5 possible stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Dredd is:

7. Antiwar.  Nuclear conflict has destroyed most of America.

6. Pro-miscegenation.  It’s the progressive future, so it’s casual.

5. Torture-friendly.  Psychic interrogation may be more efficient, but an old-fashioned beating is also acceptable.

4. Multiculturalist.  The Chief Judge (Rakie Ayola) is black, as are representative medical professionals.  As in 80s vigilante films, street gangs, or at least the Ma-Ma Clan, are a multiracial affair (but one gang, the “Red Dragons”, is all Asian, apparently, and another group identified as “the Judged” is represented by a brown face).  In progressive acknowledgment of multiple intelligences, affirmative action is in effect in Hall of Justice human resources decisions.  Anderson, who has failed her qualification examination by a margin of three points, is given a chance because she is psychic.

3. Feminist/pro-castration.  Tough-as-nails Ma-Ma, formerly exploited by an abusive pimp, “feminized the guy with her teeth”, took over his business, and built a successful drug empire.  Humor is more than once milked from the idea of damaged or destroyed male sexual organs.  A thug is doomed from the moment he taunts Anderson, “Got any last words, bitch?”

2. Anti-drug.  Slow-mo, the illegal drug of choice in the futuristic ghetto, creates an experience of reality that moves at 1% normal speed.  It is evil for postponing the user’s inevitable progress into the glorious future.  Thus, conservatism or resistance to change is reimagined in Dredd as a narcotic addiction and an obstacle to big government new world order progressivism.

1. Statist/fascist.  Society, breaking under its own weight, needs to be protected from itself.  Search warrants, Miranda rights, habeas corpus, right to trial, and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment are annoyances that have, conveniently for the state, been discarded in Mega City One.  Statism gives itself the ultimate pat on the back with Anderson, the psychic judge who proves that the benevolently omniscient and omnipresent state, like Santa Claus before it, knows who is naughty and who is nice.  Gun control, too, receives an endorsement when, as with Bond in Skyfall, Dredd is shown at a disadvantage against lawbreakers’ superguns with high ammunition capacity and rapid fire action.  Citizens live in fear of “the gun, [and] the gang” (presumably with reference to the private and not the public varieties).

Director Sam Mendes made his fortune with American Beauty, one of the most overrated films of the 1990s.  He did something to begin redeeming himself with Road to Perdition and now continues his foray into legitimately earned accolades with Skyfall, a solid entry in the Daniel Craig James Bond series.  The action set pieces are top-notch or close, with the opening sequence being a particular doozy; and the writing team has injected a valuable uncertainty into the story by presenting a battle-damaged Bond somewhat past his prime and perhaps in over his head in confronting a foe of similar background and prowess.

Javier Bardem has fun as Silva, a quirky, almost Batman-style supervillain and hacker extraordinaire with a private army.  Silva, a former MI6 agent, has a bone to pick with M (Judi Dench), holding his ex-boss responsible for torture he endured at enemy hands.  She is also the subject of his unhealthy mother fixation, so that 007’s current favor with her irks Silva as a kind of sibling rivalry.  M is closer to the action than usual in Skyfall and gets to play with the boys a little.

Packed with lovely ladies, unusual perils, and several exotic locations, Skyfall is a film that should satisfy spy action fans.  It also functions as an interesting character study, with Bond’s psychology and backstory receiving more attention than in most of the films.  Unfortunately, this is where Skyfall strikes its few false notes, with the masculine mystique of the character done something of a disservice in overly generous revelation.  Have any Bond fans been clamoring, for instance, to see 007’s childhood home or to meet his parents’ old groundskeeper?  Happily, Skyfall‘s many merits more than make up for the few missteps, and build solidly on the previous groundwork, ensuring future adventures.

4.5 stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Skyfall is:

8. Anti-family.  “Orphans always make the best recruits,” M confides (cf. no. 1).

7. Drug-ambivalent.  Bond has become an alcoholic and pill addict, but cigarette smoke retains its sexiness as blown by Severine.

6. Mildly xenophobic.  The Orient and the Middle East are, as always, the lands of mystery, danger, and intrigue.  (The Turkish government must be offering discounts on licenses for filmmakers to run roughshod over Istanbul rooftops, as Skyfall is, along with Taken 2, one of two recent movies to enjoy that privilege.  Not one, but two Third World produce stands are overturned during the opening chase.)

5. Pro-slut/pro-miscegenation – a James Bond tradition.  007’s new girlfriend, fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris), is black.  In addition to some lucky Turkish babe (Tonia Sotiropoulou), Bond’s other conquest of note is sultry Eurasian maneater Severine (winner of Tastiest, Scariest Seductress of Year 2012, Berenice Marlohe), who, particularly as costumed and colored in the Floating Dragon sequence, is exquisite.

4. Pro-gay.  Computer genius Silva is a mean one, admittedly; but gays have come a long way when they can give James Bond a run for his money.  Skyfall thus has its cake and eats it as well with regard to glorification and vilification of homosexuality.

3. Macho minus.  Craig plays Bond as the alpha male who can outrun a fireball, but the screenplay occasionally seems to want to undermine this familiar characterization, implying that Bond may have dabbled in homosexuality and that he is motivated partly by unresolved childhood trauma.  Oy vey . . .

2. Multiculturalist.  Skyfall acknowledges the contributions to international security of minorities, women, the elderly, and the nearsighted.  Javier Bardem’s hair has been dyed blonde (blonde being the color of evil) to mitigate the insensitivity of portraying a Hispanic homosexual as a villain.  London appears as a representative orderly multiracial society.

1. Statist.  After MI6’s headquarters are attacked, their operations move into the underground command center from which Winston Churchill’s war effort was directed, thus establishing a parallel between the “good war” and superpower intelligence agencies’ struggle with fourth generation adversaries today.  Now terrorists and hackers, not the Soviet Union or SPECTRE, are the primary threats to civilization, so that Julian Assange replaces Blofeld or Goldfinger as governments’ primier bogeyman.

State enterprise and covert intelligence agencies bring mankind salvation.  MI6 achieves its apotheosis when one of its worthies is martyred in a Scottish church, effecting a spook-as-self-sacrificing-savior conceit.  Bond has earlier referred to his own “resurrection”.

Gun control gets an endorsement when Bond is shown at a disadvantage in having to change clips when pitted against a terrorist’s high-capacity magazine.  Also, MI6 has invented for Bond a handgun that is palm-programmed so that only he can fire it – unlike the common firearm or “random killing machine”.  (Are mandatory consumer models next?)  The government-media complex receives a nod when we see that Bond gets his news from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.  Picturesque Shanghai, meanwhile, puts in a good word for state capitalism, depicting in its futuristic architecture and technology the new type of society on the rise.

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