This Week in Movies & TV, June 4, 2013: Dead & Deader

A Good Day to Die Hard

The latest chapter of the popular, 25-year-old franchise is a Die Hard film with subtitles. But, fear not, ardent fans, it's just for a scene or two at the start and that's as arty as it gets. The rest of the film is standard slam-bam, big-boom, non-stop adrenaline-filled, Yippie-Kai-Yay thrill seeking. However, even in its simple-minded simplicity, the plot and action still manage to sometimes be confusing.

After a slow, start explaining that John McClane (Bruce Willis) is off to Russia to find his estranged son who's gotten himself into some kind of trouble, followed by a long, meaningless comic conversational scene in a taxi cab, the film finally takes off and rarely stops for breath thereafter. The plot concerns a political prisoner, Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch), snatched from a courthouse before an assassination squad can silence his testimony about the Russian Defense Minister. And there's a secret (read McGuffin) file that only Komarov knows the whereabouts of that can expose the corrupt politician's involvement in the Chernobyl meltdown. It's the mission of one tough CIA agent - who happens to be McClane's son, Jack (Jai Courtney) - to rescue both Komarov and his file to prevent the sinister minister from coming to supreme power.

The film has an odd, highly processed appearance with tints that reduce everything to just greens or blues and blacks. Certain other tones are exaggerated while others are ruthlessly suppressed. But contrast is nonetheless good - those blacks are deep and McClane's t-shirt a bright white - although sometimes it can be a bit overpumped. There are occasional spots of rich color, such as that taxi, a saturated yellow amongst a sea of black and blue vehicles, army fatigues, and police uniforms. There's an overall darkness - even in brightly lit scenes it's somehow gloomy and in the final helicopter-attack action scene little can be made out. All this combined with heavy grain gives the film a gritty, down-and-dirty look.

There's plenty of detail, though, heads revealing individual strands of hair - those that have any - and Willis's face reveals pores,webs of lines, and blood-and-smudge-smeared textures. There's volume to some scenes (when things slow down long enough to notice), such as one interior where the head henchman suddenly appears - tap-dancing and chewing on a carrot in an attempt to be a colorful villain - along with his stooges who fill the room with layers of muscle-bound, Armani-clad Eurotrash villainy, all sharp throughout the depth of the image.

Marco Beltrami's orchestral score, with pounding drums in every action scene - which is most of the film - attacks from all sides aided by electronica instruments and rumbling noises to add menace. The rear channels, though, are kept in reserve for the courtroom rescue scene where the death squad set off a series of car bombs that explode all in a row across the soundstage finally combining into one big room-filling boom. Automatic gunfire blast with a bassy thump and a high-pitched snap all around, while rattling shell casings, creaking wreckage, and falling debris come at you from behind, all clear with no break-up at all.

This goes straight into a hard-to-follow fifteen-minute hyperactive, rapid-edit car chase that crashes hundreds of vehicles as an armored personnel carrier ploughs through the streets of Moscow demolishing all in its path. At one point it flies from one highway level to another, crushing a truck load of sewage piping below while another van goes several blocks across the top of the traffic mashing all along the way.

It's machine mayhem, a demolition derby of tumbling trucks and every crunch and slam is crisp and bone-crushingly loud and deep. I can't say how accurately these effects are panned because there's so much happening at the same time and the cutting is so frantic, but there is one cool moment when a car is sent flying straight at you slamming into the side of a bridge seemingly overhead. Initially it, and all the set-piece battles that follow are exciting at times, laughable at others, but after a while the spectacle becomes a numbing, overwhelming, overloading of the senses. Dialogue is sometimes hard to make out, but that's probably because of action-hero mumble and bad Russian accents more than lack of soundtrack clarity and most of the traditional McClane one-liners get through. In the odd quiet moment you can actually hear atmospherics - if you can still hear - but a scene driving in a rainstorm fooled me enough that I went to the window to check.

A Good Day to Die Hard is directed byJohn Moore (Max Payne, The Omen, Behind Enemy Lines) and co-stars Cole Hauser, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Yuliya Snigir.

The film is presented here in the theatrical cut and a four-minute longer extended edition. A Good Day to Die Hard is also available in the Die Hard Legacy Collection, which brings it together with the four other movies including Die Hard, Die Hard 2: Die Harder, Die Hard with a Vengeance, and Live Free or Die Hard.

Video: 1.85:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Extras: commentary by Moore and first assistant director Mark Cotone, deleted scenes, making-of documentary made up of "Introduction," "Stunts," "Helicopters and Aerial," "Special Effects," "Motion Base," "Armory," "Russia and Budapest," "The Look of the Movie," "Chernobyl," "Camera Work," "Editorial Los Angeles," "Color Grading," "Visual Effects," "Film Scoring," and "Wrap Up," segments, "Anatomy of a Car Chase," "Two of a Kind," "Back in Action," "The New Face of Evil," and "Maximum McClane" featurettes, 3 pre-vis, VFX sequences, stills gallery, storyboards, concept art; DVD and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: 20th Century Fox.

Sensurrounders: Midway & Earthquake

Midway

This epic WWII war drama, with a screenplay from Donald S. Sanford (Mosquito Squadron) directed by Jack Smight (Harper, The Illustrated Man, Airport 1975) is set in the summer of 1942 when the Pacific Naval War reached a stalemate since the American and Japanese fleets stood at even numbers. Each side was waiting for the other to begin a renewed offensive and Midway (1976) tells the story of how that attack finally went down.

The film starts with the Doolittle Raid and then depicts the creation of a complicated battle plan. Events are followed from both the perspective of chief Japanese strategist Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (Toshirô Mifune), and that of fictional American naval officer Captain Matt Garth (Charlton Heston), who's involved in the planning of the US's battle strategies.

The historical Battle of Midway, which could turn the tide of the Pacific War, began in June when a Japanese carrier force, in an attempt to occupy Midway Island and lure the American forces in the area into a trap where they'd be outnumbered four to one by the Imperial Japanese Navy which had never been defeated in battle.

Fortunately - for the Americans - US Signals Intelligence, unbeknownst to the Japanese, has broken the enemy's naval encryption codes and so is aware of the ambush awaiting American forces at Midway Island. American Admiral Chester Nimitz (Henry Fonda) takes a great gambles by sending his last remaining aircraft carriers in ahead of the Japanese to set up a Midway trap of his own.

Midway all-star cast includes James Coburn, Glenn Ford, Hal Holbrook, Robert Mitchum, Cliff Robertson, Robert Wagner, Tom Selleck, Dabney Coleman, James Shigeta, Pat Morita, Robert Ito, and Christina Kokubo.

It was shot in Technicolor by cinematographer by Harry Stradling, Jr.

The music score was by John Williams and the soundtrack also included Sensurround (which had also already been used in Earthquake) to augment the audio experience with the physical sensation of explosions, engine noises of military vehicles, and gunfire. The increased awareness of extended low-frequency sound reproduction that Sensurround offered helped in the rise of the subwoofer design industry in the late 1970s and 1980s and the increase in subwoofer sales, bringing wider recognition to loudspeaker manufacturer Cerwin-Vega and helping establish the reputation of new audio amplifier company BGW Systems.

Earthquake

Earthquake (1974) was the first film whose mix included Sensurround, which required special speakers to be installed in movie theatres. The regular mono soundtrack of dialog, music, and background was augmented by a second optical track devoted to low frequency rumble added to earth tremors, building collapses, and car crashes. Due to the problems of installing the extra speakers, the only other Sensurround films were MidwayRollercoaster (1977), and Battlestar Galactica (1978).

This 1970s disaster movie, from a screenplay by George Fox and Mario Puzo (The Godfather Parts I-III, SupermanI-II, Christopher Columbus: The Discovery) directed by Mark Robson (The Ghost Ship, The Seventh Victim, Hell Below Zero, Peyton Place, The Prize) centers on the repercussions, in both senses of the word, of a massive and catastrophic earthquake that tears through Southern California, completely leveling Los Angeles.

Amongst those caught up in the turmoil are construction engineer Stewart Graff (Charlton Heston), his faux-suicidal wife (Ava Gardner), and the population struggling for survival while waiting for the terrifying possibility of aftershocks ensemble-played by George Kennedy, Lorne Greene, Victoria Principal, Geneviève Bujold, Barry Sullivan, Lloyd Nolan, Walter Matthau, and Richard Roundtree. The film combined their individual stories with Oscar-winning sound and then-groundbreaking (literally) special effects to produce outstanding box office returns. Earthquake was also nominated for four Oscars including Best Cinematography, Editing, Production Design, and Sound Mixing.

At a test-run screening in Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California, the Sensurround audio cracked the plaster in the ceiling creating convincing falling debris for the audience.

Midway, Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio Mono. Extras: "The Making of Midway," "The Score of Midway," "Sensurround: The Sounds of Midway," "Scenes Shot for the TV Version," and "They Were There" (hosted by Heston) featurettes, photograph montage. Earthquake,Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: None. Studio: Universal.

Warm Bodies

Based on the novel by Isaac Marion and adapted by writer-director Jonathan Levine (50/50, The Wackness, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane), Warm Bodies tells of the charming romance between a flesh-eating zombie, R (Nicholas Hoult), and a pretty human survivor of the zombie epidemic, Julie (Teresa Palmer). The story is narrated by R (who can't remember the rest of his name or his previous life) and he explains how the sudden, strange feeling R has for Julie prevents him from feasting on her brains as he has just done to her boyfriend, Perry (Dave Franco) since Perry's grey matter gives R access to Perry's memories and feelings. R then sweeps Julie off her feet by rescuing her from his zombie clan and taking her back to his lair on a disused jetliner.

Julie - daughter of Colonel Grigio (John Malkovich), the leader of the surviving humans - had previously snuck out from the huge walled compound they live in to retrieve much needed medical supplies. Now she's stuck outside with R. But as the two struggle for survival from rampaging undead creatures, hostile humans, and her overprotective father, the star-crossed pair grow ever closer, leading R to become ever more human and giving hope for the survival of humanity.

Warm Bodies cast includes Rob Corddry, Analeigh Tipton, and Cory Hardrict.

Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Extras: commentary with Levine and actors Hoult and Palmer, "Boy Meets, Er, Doesn't Eat Girl," "R&J," "A Little Less Dead," "Extreme Zombie Make-Over," "A Wreck in Progress," "Bustin' Caps," "Beware the Boneys," Whimsical Sweetness -Teresa Palmer's production home movies, "Zombie Acting Tips with Rob Corddry" snippet from Screen Junkies, deleted scenes with optional director commentary, Shrug & Groan gag reel; iTunes digital copy and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Summit Entertainment.

Falling Skies: Season 2

In the aftermath of a zombie . . . no, alien invasion, once again most of the world is left completely screwed. The first season of the science fiction TV series created by Robert Rodat (writer of Saving Private Ryan, The Patriot, and Fly Away Home) and produced by Steven Spielberg, was set six months after the initial global attack by mechanical attack drones ("mechs") controlled by green-skinned six-legged creatures ("skitters"), in turn controlled by The Overlords. Ninety percent of mankind has been killed off, the power grid destroyed, and the armies of the world wiped out. Remaining post-apocalyptic survivors have fled the urban centers and banded together to set up bases outside major cities following the traumatizing loss of the world. The story centers on the 2nd Massachusetts Militia Regiment, a civilian resistance group made up of those who've fled Boston, particularly on one of their commanders, former University history professor Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) and his family.

Season 2 picks up three months after Tom went with some of the aliens onto their ship to attempt to free one of his three sons, Ben (Connor Jessup), and to learn the enemy's plans. During his absence, his other two sons, oldest Hal (Drew Roy) and youngest Matt (Maxim Knight), survive as best they can while engaging in fighting in an insurgency campaign against the occupying alien force. The 10 episodes of Season 2 on this 2-disc set bring mysterious new creatures ("crawlies") and Ben comes back from the spaceship with enhanced strength and durability allowing him to become a badass skitter killer allowing him, like his older brother, to prove himself as a willing fighter. However, this leads the brothers to compete to become leaders of the rebellion. All these developments help up the pace and firepower of the story, creating a meaner, more dangerous world.

Falling Skies co-stars Moon Bloodgood, Will Patton, Colin Cunningham, and Brandon Jay McLaren.

Video: 1.78:1. Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1. Extras: commentaries for four episodes, Season 3 preview, "One Page at a Time: Writing the 2nd American Revolution," "The Skitter Evolution," "A Fan's Perspective: Touring the set of Falling Skies" "Terry O'Quinn Is Manchester," "2nd Watch: Episode 20 A More Perfect Union" "Designing The Spaceship" "Team Skitter," and "Creating The Crawlies" featurettes, Falling Skies trading card from Rittenhouse. Studio: Warner.

The Odd Couple

Two divorced men decide to share a New York apartment. From this simple premise writer Neil Simon created the 1965 hit Broadway play, The Odd Couple. The great humor of the play comes from the extreme polarity of the opposite natures of the two characters. Uptight Felix Ungar is fastidiously clean and tidy, fussily organizing both the apartment and every other aspect of their lives. Easygoing Oscar Madison is messy in thought and deed, sloppy and slobby, and only feels comfortable amongst clutter and chaos.

Director Gene Saks (Brighton Beach Memoirs, Barefoot in the Park, Cactus Flower) made this 1968 film adaptation. In the beautifully telling opening, Felix (Jack Lemmon), in a state of despair, checks into a flea-bit hotel room and tries to jump out the window. Unfortunately, the window's painted shut and when he tries to open it, he puts his back out. And on attempting to drown his sorrows at a bar down the road, he pinches a neck muscle while throwing back the first drink.

He does all this because the marriage of neurotic, hypochondriac, and annoyingly hypercritical Felix, a news writer for CBS, is coming to an end and he's been thrown out of his house. Oscar (Walter Matthau), a lecherous, slovenly, fun-loving gambling sportswriter who's in the process of being divorced himself, on learning that Felix is suicidal and seeing him break down and cry, suggests that Felix move in with him. And the rest - due to the skills, timing, and chemistry of veteran funnymen Lemmon and Matthau - is comedy history.

The Odd Coupleco-stars include John Fiedler, Herb Edelman, David Sheiner, Larry Haines, Monica Evans, and Carole Shelley.

Video: 2.35:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: none. Studio: Paramount/Warner.

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