Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Last Good Day to Die Hard at the White House

This relatively unknown actor is in talks to takeover the role of John McLane
In the past month I've seen The Last Stand starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, A Good Day to Die Hard with Bruce Willis, and White House Down with Channing Tatum. Yes, I admit it, I'm a slut when it comes to big, noisy action pictures, especially the ones that promise loads o' gunfire. After seeing that trio of films I've decided to become more chaste in my love for the genre, because based on those films Hollywood has lost the ability to make an action movie not involving robots or comic book superheroes.

What's stunning about all three films is their absolute ineptitude in choreographing action sequences. I don't expect a lot from this kind of film when it comes to plot and dialogue, but can't they at least manage to put together a competent shootout? The three films are quite busy with with the shooting and the running and the baddies dropping like flies, but it's all done so unimaginatively. The guiding principle for these films is that more bullets and explosions equals more entertainment. Call it the John Woo syndrome. Woo's films have a cultish appeal based on their giddy enthusiasm for unrelenting and improbable gunfights, but their charm, as it were, lessens as each lead-filled sequence is spun out longer and longer. The father of all this is Sam Peckinpah, who created the epic, Grand Guignol shootout in The Wild Bunch. What makes that film exceptional is that the big shootout comes as the finale, and by today's standards it's relatively short. More importantly, the editing and shot selection in the sequence is brilliant: it puts us right in the action and keeps things visually clear, there's no confusion over what's happening or who it's happening to.

It's depressing that Hollywood seems content to make blockbusters that don't have a hint of craft or artistry or wit. That might be asking a lot of a "popcorn" movie, but it wasn't always so. The first Die Hard film, for example, succeeded because it was clever and well made, not due to a high body count or the massive expenditure of cinematic firepower. Today's action films have become two and a half-hour action-movie  GIFs; akin to the compilation videos on YouTube of "epic fails" and Russian car crashes. This isn't really filmmaking, these are just expensive fireworks show that start big, stay big, end big, and make sane people start to look at their watches. To see how an action sequence should be done, check out the finale of The Wild Bunch below:

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