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Weekend Movie Preview: ‘A Good Day To Die Hard,’ & ‘Beautiful Creatures’

February 16th, 2013 4:30pm EST

A Good Day to Die Hard Poster Hello readers! Hope everyone had a Happy Valentine’s Day. First off, what did you think of last week’s films “Side Effects” and “Identity Thief?” Leave me a comment and share your thoughts.
My column this week features reviews of the Bruce Willis action flick “A Good Day to Die Hard,” and the young-adult romance “Beautiful Creatures.”
A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD

Tough-as-nails New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) travels to Russia to bail out his estranged son, but learns that Jack (Jai Courtney) is actually a CIA agent trying to protect a political prisoner with valuable intelligence. With the Russian underworld in hot pursuit, father and son join forces to save the day.
Director: John Moore (“Max Payne,” “The Omen”)
Writer: Skip Woods (“The A-Team,” “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”)
Notable Supporting Actors: Sebastian Koch, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
MY TAKE: After a henchman captures John McClane and his son in John Moore's action flick "A Good Day to Die Hard," he scoffs "This isn't 1986." Really? Because it sure seems like it. Not only does the latest “Die Hard” take a trip to Russia which is totally 80s, but the villain traces his power back to the Cold War days. Plus "A Good Day to Die Hard" represents yet another film in 2013 with an 80s action star doing old tricks.
Like the other movies, this one is in denial about the lead actor's age and eager to completely push the believability envelope. In fact, this “Die Hard” drives your suspension of disbelief past the point of no return by constantly trying to one-up its predecessor “Live Free or Die Hard.” Car chases are longer, explosions are bigger, physical peril is greater, property damage is higher, and there are more McClanes. The last film had his daughter? Well this one has his son AND his daughter with focus on the father/son dynamic. Speaking of McClane’s progeny, isn't scary that he is old enough to have a grown-ass son? Their team up strangely reminds me of “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade,” except the weird part is that we've been slowly been watching McClane’s transformation from Indy into a wisecracking, less nerdy dad (Connery) character on screen over the years.
I can't get completely bent out of shape about the outlandish elements in “A Good Day to Die Hard,” since all of the films in the series include some fantastic elements. Although I could more easily forgive “Live Free or Die Hard” because the story was immensely entertaining. That movie had some great one-liners, non-stop action, and a diabolical villain. This film’s best moments come from ludicrous action scenes like the excessively long car chase through Moscow and the helicopter attack which sends both McClanes plummeting several stories through scaffolding. But it doesn’t have a strong plot or characters because it deviates too much (both intentionally and unintentionally) from the classic “Die Hard” formula.
First, trademark witty exchanges are almost non-existent between the characters. There’s a whole scene which literally involves people yelling at each other to “shut up” like sixth graders. Bruce Willis also seems to be muttering many of his lines, so that you can barely even hear his signature catchphrase by the time he gets to it. Several times during the movie he complains “I’m on vacation!” which doesn’t make sense considering the whole point of his trip is to find and help his son. Second, the villains are weak characters who barely have any kind of rapport with John McClane. Part of the problem is that their motives aren’t well explained and the other is that the film spends too much time trying to throw in twists involving their shifting loyalties. Third, and finally, the flick takes all these bizarre dramatic breaks in the action for characters to talk about their feelings and their past. These moments slow down the pace dramatically and make the 97 minute film feel so much longer.
As a Bruce Willis fan, I was initially excited to see John McClane back in action because he’s one of my favorite characters, however I should have suspected something would go awry teaming the director of the crap sandwich known as “Max Payne” and the writer of that dog turd “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” There were a few fun bits in “A Good Day to Die Hard,” but I wish the franchise left well enough alone after the fourth installment.
My Grade: D+

BEAUTIFUL CREATURES

Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) is a thoughtful loner who is anxious to escape his small Southern town. His quiet existence is turned upside down after he falls for a mysterious girl named Lena (Alice Englert). Together they discover dark secrets about their families and their town.
Director/Writer: Richard LaGravenese (“P.S. I Love You,” “Freedom Writers”)
Based On: The novel Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Notable Supporting Actors: Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emma Thompson, Emmy Rossum, Thomas Mann
MY TAKE: I went into into Richard LaGravenese's "Beautiful Creatures," with almost no expectations. I didn't know who was cast in it, and just like “The Hunger Games,” and “Warm Bodies,” I hadn't read the young-adult novel it's based on. Heck, I barely even watched trailers for it. This turned out to be a good thing because my mind was open about a movie I might not normally be interested in.
I was instantly disarmed by how charming and humorous Ethan’s opening narration is. It helps establish this bookish teen as a dreamer who longs for adventure outside his tiny Southern town of Gatlin, South Carolina. According to Ethan, Gatlin is the kind of place with quaint sayings that start with “There are only two kinds of people in Gatlin...” So it comes as no surprise that the closed-minded people there fear what they don’t understand.
That’s immediately why the citizens of Gatlin are suspicious of the quiet, dark haired Lena Duchannes and her reclusive uncle Macon Ravenwood (Irons). Of course it’s also the reason that Ethan is so drawn to Lena; she’s deep and thoughtful unlike the other airheads in his class. The townspeople unwittingly have just cause to be distrustful of Lena however. She comes from a family of sorcerers known as “casters,” who are part of an ancient race of beings.
There are two types of casters: light ones who use their magic for good and dark ones who use their magic for evil. At the outset of the film, Lena is approaching her 16th birthday, the time when female casters are chosen to be light or dark. Thus there are family members like Lena’s mother Sarafine (Thompson) and her cousin Ridley (Rossum) fighting for her to join the dark casters, and those like her uncle who want her to become a member of the light side. Logically, everything becomes complicated after Lena and Ethan fall for one another. Ethan becomes caught in her family’s crossfire, a target for attack because of Lena’s affections. She must not only try to protect him, but to avoid turning to the dark side at the same time.
“Beautiful Creatures” is your typical sappy, young-adult romance that centers on the stereotypical causes for adolescent angst. Despite its tired themes, it’s surprisingly witty at points. A large part of that has to do with Alden Ehrenreich’s excellent timing and delivery. For every hilarious line in the script though, there are at least two cringe-worthy ones that throw off the comedic rhythm. Ehrenreich and Englert have decent chemistry as the two young lovers, but Englert brings much less charisma to her character. What she lacks in personality though, is more than compensated for by hammy performances by Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, and Emmy Rossum. All three, especially Irons are wickedly amusing while they chew scenery. I might also add that Rossum is incredibly seductive as the manipulative Ridley. I know I’d certainly have a hard time resisting her spell just like the men in the film.
Unfortunately the fun acting and cheeky dialogue cannot makeup for the movie’s shortcomings in storytelling. The limited explanation of the caster mythology is incredibly confusing, the film’s pacing is uneven, and the ending is anticlimactic. After its bloated 2 hour running time, I was pretty relieved that it was finally over.
My Grade: C

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