Film Review: A Good Day To Die Hard

This is a pocket review of Die Hard 5: A Good Day To Die Hard.  Starting this I realized I’ve only ever done one other film review in blog form, and that was for Looper, another Bruce Willis film.  (For my 140 character reviews check out my Twitter look for #FilmReview.)  I’ve never thought of myself as a Bruce Willis fan, looking back at his filmography there are some amazing hits, as well as some spectacular bombs.  I’ll present my observations, and let you decide where this film falls.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61UqRmDjwgc&w=560&h=315]

You can’t talk about a sequel without mentioning the film that started the franchise, in this case, 1988’s Die Hard.  Die Hard took a television actor (personally I never got into Moonlighting), and made him a bankable movie star.  What’s remarkable is that Bruce Willis was allegedly the seventh choice for the role – and it made his film career.  Nowadays it’s far more frequent for actors to drift between television and film, but at the time it was considered a big move (up).  What made the original Die Hard’s John McClane live so strongly in my imagination was his mortality.  He got hurt, felt pain, he didn’t go looking for trouble but he didn’t back down from doing the right thing.  He was a hero that all of us hope we are deep down.  And he did it with a sense of humour.

 [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIOX44m8ktc&w=560&h=315]

Now is the time to start talking about Die Hard 5: A Good Day To Die Hard.  I’ll leave a warning for spoilers and and obvious extro at spoilers end, just prior to my summation.

The Die Hard franchise has had it’s ups and downs, but has always delivered somewhat in the same style: tongue in cheek humour, darkest before the dawn and one or two major stunt set pieces and a strong nod to family.  This one is not majorly different.  Yet the start felt very different, more akin to a Daniel Craig Bond, or a Bourne film.  With the popularity of those ‘thinking man’ action films evolving the genre (and the fact that Willis’ own Red fits into that category) it would make sense to reinvent the franchise.  Without seeing any promotional material I probably would have felt very confused by the action, the location…  pretty much everything – even having a general idea of what the film was about and seeing the title credits I wondered if I walked into the wrong theatre.

Spoilers

The opening action scene was filled with quick cuts, an avoidance of faces (for the most part), obviously showed an Eastern European city and a set up to some brief unexplained violence.  Finally we get a glimpse of John McClane, and he seems different.  He’s respected, low key and maybe even a bit broken by life, or hurt in a way we’ve not seen before, because of his fractured relationship with his son.  It’s only because I read an article about the film prior to going in that I knew that Jack McClane was dishonourably discharged from American special forces – which was just a cover for his move to the C.I.A.

After a cameo from Lucy Gennaro we get a taste of the old John McClane, his charm, his ability to relate to different people and finally his wit.  It almost feels like I’m watching a mashup of two movies.  After much hijinx, explosions and generalized mayhem father finally comes face to face with son, and neither is happy with it.  This makes me feel that Valentine’s Day was not a good weekend for this film’s release, as Father’s Day would obviously be more appropriate.  This quickly devolves (thanks to some gunfire) into the first major action piece of the film.

The car chase.  You’ve seen bits of it in the trailer, and trailers are famous for showing all the good stuff from a film, but I was not disappointed.  Car chase is a serious misnomer, cars are minor annoyances to the vehicles involved – it’s only called a car chase because delivery van / armoured vehicle / flatbed truck / Mercedes SUV chase is too long.  Through this chase we meet the first villain who displays character and panache, Alik (aka the dancer).  This scene is why I go to Die Hard films, explosions, comic book over the top violence, very real world danger and pithy retorts shouted between characters who couldn’t possibly hear one another.  The chase came a hair’s breadth from being too long and any belief in real world physics was completely thrown out the window by the end – but ended beautifully, barely forwarding the plot.

Unfortunately this was the last interesting thing in the film.  After losing their way out of Moscow / Russia (they never explained how far they needed to go), they end up at a safe house where Cole Hauser quickly gives exposition and is deleted from the film as quickly as he entered – so much for 7th billing.  More father / son moaning goes on (and by now, it’s moaning – hug already) as they try to rescue their asset, gain his key and daughter and make for safety.  But it’s a Die Hard film, and nothing is that easy.

A face to face stand-off with Alik (and I’m beginning to like this guy).  He makes references to 1986 causing John and Jack McClane to laugh; which at first made me think he was referencing the events of Die Hard 1 – but that was set in 1988, after getting home and researching I realized it was the year of the Chernobyl disaster…  Way to earn sensitivity points.  We glimpse shadowy men running things in the background, an air of ‘bigger than you can imagine’ badness, helicopter shooting up a building (Die Hard 1 meets True Lies) and then a strangely quiet road trip where a car travels as fast as a helicopter over what seems half a day (or longer) travel.  For some reason, when it’s not cloaked in cartoony violence logical stretches like this lose their appeal.

[googlemaps https://maps.google.com/maps?f=d&source=s_d&saddr=Russia,+Moscow&daddr=Russia,+chernobyl&geocode=FQ6sUgMdgBc-AinJsNRz_Eq1RjFMz1dXzNZEPQ%3BFeYxDgMdjV3NASnPq5joAI8qRzEsXf3bq868FA&aq=&sll=53.166785,33.748114&sspn=8.869179,16.940918&t=h&hl=en&mra=ls&ie=UTF8&ll=53.166785,33.748114&spn=5.1658,7.751099&output=embed&w=425&h=350]

Seriously, how do you hide around a city until nightfall, steal a gangster’s car and then make a nearly 12 hour drive faster than a Hind.  Plus, it was night when you stole the car – and 12 hours later it’s still night?  Russia, what a country!

Father and son patch their relationship, and finally decide to be a team just in time for the final action set piece.  And it is a piece, a piece of crap.  After so much real world, “can’t be CGI” amazing that was the car chase scene we’re treated to a green screen nightmare version that would fit better as a 2009 music video.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yw1Tgj9-VU&w=560&h=315]

Even the insides of the building felt like a douchebag nightclub, not the leftover ruins of one of the worst nuclear disasters on the planet.

Major spoiler

Then Alik, a flunky but became the fun villain, was unceremoniously killed.  The true villain was finally revealed, and you know what – huge twist that it was meant to be, I didn’t care.  Much more explosions, some pain, bloodshed and a walk off into the sunrise leaving the world a much safer place.  Yawn.  It’s a Die Hard film, that’s what’s supposed to happen.

End of spoilers

Was this film worthy of the Die Hard franchise.  Yes, barely…  It’s greatest weakness is that it lacks any true villain.  Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) didn’t need to tell everyone he was brilliant and evil because he WAS brilliant and evil.  To have a great hero, you need to challenge him with a great villain.  Reading their C.V.’s I could see how someone would mistake DH5’s bad guys as villains.  Yes, they are bad men (and women) who’ve done horrible things and they want to have it all swept under the rug.  But it didn’t come across on the screen.  Even posturing seemed weak, their plans held together by weirdly implausible coincidences.  Hans Gruber didn’t count on coincidences, he anticipated the law’s response and included them in his plans.  If John McClane hadn’t been there, he would have gotten away free and clear.  If only ‘the dancer’ could have truly cut lose with his sociopathic tendencies could we have seen a good villain.

I understand that they wanted to make this film a cross generational McClane saga – maybe take the franchise to a new level, being able to survive different incarnations of the lead (an American Bond?).  With so many shadowy background players, and so many locations (I tried to not enter the ‘Die Hard is best contained’ debate) traveled to so illogically, I felt the film was muddied.  No clear enemy.  Even the launch date seemed wrong – Valentine’s Day?  This film screams Father’s Day, and it just seemed another poor choice in a string meant to undermine my enjoyment of this film.  The first set piece did put me on the edge of my seat… but the rest of the film made my ass a bit numb.

Will I look forward to the next Die Hard?  Yes, like any (sucker) fan, but I hope they don’t try to shine any lights on shadowy players again.  Or if they do, that these are the Shadowy Men in question.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrkvAU7-AGA&w=420&h=315]

Yours,
Ash

How To Stand-up Comedy Contest (part III)

Kick Ash November 2009 CJ WaterhouseIn this, part three about stand-up comedy contests, I’ll explain how I run my monthly comedy competition, Kick Ashiest, as part of the weekly open mic The Kick Ash Comedy Show.  Again I’ll be explaining the reasons for the choices I make. The Kick Ash Comedy Show is a weekly open mic starting 9pm every Tuesday in Andrews Pub, located at 1239 Guy, Montreal, Canada.  Acts either get asked to perform by me, or book with me by sending a message to the Kick Ash facebook fanpage. The monthly competition is Kick Ashiest, a play on the show’s name, which is a play on my name.

KAshiestFKick Ashiest

Kick Ashiest (Kick Ash’s monthly competition) runs every 5th week.  From the previous 4 King of the Mountain shows I pick my favorite two performers each week.  I occasionally ask for feedback from friends who attend the show but generally I try to take note of those that make a special connection with the audience.  It’s my choice, but hey, it’s my name on the show.  I never tell anyone that they are auditioning for me, and I’ve not corrected anyone who thinks the audience vote for King of the Mountain selects the Kick Ashiest participants (well, until now).

The goals of this competition are:
1) to show my confidence in new acts
2) to put together the best show of the month, and let people know it is the best of the month.

How it works

The show is set up with a host (most often me), an opening act, followed by those in the competition (in a predetermined, random order) and ending with a closing act while scores are tabulated.  The show ends with me naming and awarding the cash prize to the winner.

Expert Judges

Expert Judges

Scoring works on two points.  An audience vote and judges.  Yep, judges.  Most comedians who dislike ‘contests’ top three peeves are: judges, judges and vomit on their shoes.

“I’m a comic’s comic.”
“Judges don’t understand the craft.”
“Comedy is subjective, if they don’t like what I do – how can I win?”

What many comedians forget, is that every time we go onstage we’re judged.  Every joke we tell, audience members judge, if they like the joke, they laugh.  If they don’t, we get silence.  Selecting two specific people to be judges doesn’t change that, it just makes it two specific people.  That said, I ask certain people to be judges.  People I know, or who are recommended to me, as involved in the arts or even specifically comedy.  I’ve had pro comics, comedy bloggers, news host, burlesque performers and musicians all work as judges.

Judges judge on two attributes:
1) Material: how well written are the jokes?  How original and unique a take does the performer have?  Does the material flow from one subject to the other in a seamless fashion?
2) Stagecraft: how comfortable is the performer onstage?  Do they interact well with the audience, are they natural onstage or awkward?  Do they know how to use a microphone?  How professional do they seem, have they taken notes onstage?

Each attribute is scored out of 5, each judge adds the totals for each performer together for a potential of 10.  The two judges’ scores are added together for a total out of 20.

Audience vote:
The audience, via ballot, vote for their two favorite acts.  The reason behind voting for two was covered in Part II of this article.  As the closing act performs, I quickly tabulate the audience votes. Bonus points are added to the judges’ scores:
most votes: +5
second most: +4
third most: +3

So, if someone so wows the judges to get a perfect score, as well as wows the audience to get the most votes – the highest score attainable is 25.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen that happen.

Tuesday 9pm at Andrews Pub

Tuesday 9pm at Andrews Pub

Why?

I chose the acts, because I like the acts.  I get to see the show I want to see.  I show confidence in the acts I like.  I want them to know I believe in them.

There are two judges, to account for differing tastes in comedy.  Just like every audience member, each judge will view each competitor based on their own merits.

Audience bonus points enter an element of wild card.  If someone can bring the entire audience behind them, they have a better chance of winning.

Added to the show are an opening act and a closing act.  The opening act prevents anyone from feeling like they are first up.  The closing act gives us time to tabulate the scores so we can award the winner the prize.

Did we say prize?  Maybe this is people’s why; $50!  Yep, living the dream.

The Kick Ash Comedy Show is every Tuesday, at Andrews Pub, 1239 Guy in Montreal.  Show time is 9pm sharp, doors open at 11am.

How To Stand-up Comedy Contest (part II)

Tuesday 9pm at Andrews Pub

Tuesday 9pm at Andrews Pub

In this, part two about stand-up comedy contests, I’ll explain how I run one of the two different competitions which are part of  The Kick Ash Comedy Show.  I’ll also explain the reasons for the choices I make.

The Kick Ash Comedy Show is a weekly open mic starting 9pm every Tuesday in Andrews Pub, located at 1239 Guy, Montreal, Canada.  Acts either get asked to perform by me, or book by sending a message to the Kick Ash facebook fanpage.

The two competitions are Kick Ashiest and the subject of this article, The King of the Mountain.

King of the MountainKing of the Mountain

King of the Mountain runs each week that isn’t the Kick Ashiest (the show’s monthly competition).  In a nutshell, the audience votes for the favorite two acts to come back the following week to act as host and closer (and earn a little cash).  This competition started because I was beginning to feel host burnout.  Each week, with the same regulars I found it hard to keep it fresh 52 times a year.  Rather the continually asking others to host a show with my name on it I turned it into a competition. Occasionally winners selected cannot perform the following week so I step in to fill their role and I act as the defacto replacement guy.  Also, I sometimes schedule myself a spot and get voted in as a King of the Mountain too.

The two primary goals of this competition are:
1) to have acts advertise to their networks (friends, family and fans), raising awareness of the show brand, getting a few more butts in seats.
2) have the winners feel recognized, and given a chance for advancement.
3) encourage audience members to remember the names of performers they like

A game of king of the hill in progress

a group of 3rd graders enjoying a game of king of the hill

The competition’s name comes from two sources., the city of Montreal’s name and a sadistic kids game.  Montreal is a contraction from French “Mont Royale” or “Royal Mountain”, the city’s most prominent landmark (next to Chez Paris Gentlemen’s Club).  King of the hill, for people who grew up with protective parents, is a “game” where children would pick a high spot (such as a hill or the top of the monkey bars) and whoever  held that spot at the end or the longest, by pushing down and tripping their competition, was the king.  (Losers could be identified by needing to wear hockey equipment and eating via straws).  By combining those two things we have King of the Mountain.  Every performer who goes onstage is eligible, including those who won the week before – so it is possible to build a streak.  King of the Mountain thus refers to comedy king of Montreal.

How It Works

Every nonperforming member of the audience receives a ballot through the show. (Other comics are encouraged to come support their friends).  The host is tasked with reminding the audience about the competition throughout the show and the names of those competing.  On each ballot, the audience members are asked to write down their favorite two acts, the order doesn’t matter, the spelling doesn’t matter – but it has to be two.  After the show, I collect the ballots, and within the next few days contact the two acts that received the top most amount of votes.  They have the option of returning the following week for a paid spot, either as host or to close the show.

Strengths

Why do I run it this way?  Having an open ballot encourages the performers to bring out people to the show, more friends = more votes (unless your friends don’t vote for you because the all secretly hate you).  Choosing a second performer means they’ll have to honestly pick someone alongside their friend.  A written ballot is hidden, so there is no public “clap off” or humiliation to the acts.

 Weaknesses

vote-ballot-boxThe main weaknesses to this format are related to the ballots.
1) Ballot stuffing has occurred, but generally has been easy to recognize when one person has dropped in a number of extra ballots.
2) Booking two comedians who share a social circle, is a little dangerous.  If their friends decide to preselect who’ll they’ll vote for and not judge it on the performances they see that night – it’s a bit dishonest and unfair.
3) A comic could potentially suggest to his friends to use their second vote on the worst act of the night.  To my knowledge, this has never happened, and would be hard to co-ordinate to have a large enough impact.
4) Trust.  I’m the sole person counting votes.  If people don’t trust me to be fair and honest, then why participate?

Impact On The Show

Currently, I would say this format has been a positive impact on the show.  Generally new performers are more excited to perform, audiences have seen an elevated level of quality from the comedians, so word of mouth advertising has increased.  Newer performers who win are given the opportunity to stretch themselves by closing the show or hosting for the first time.

Most of all, people are paying attention to who’s had the longest streak.  The current streak record is 4 shows…  Who’s going to beat that?

Yours,
Ash

Battle-COM Tonight in Montreal

February 8th at the Comedy Nest in Montreal

10:30 February 8th at the Comedy Nest

Tonight at The Comedy Nest on the 3rd floor of the Pepsi Forum (corner of Atwater and St-Catherine) is the second Comedy Nest Presents Battle-COM.

Battle-COM is part stand-up, part improv, part theatre, part gladiator games and all fun.

 

 

 

 

Returning

Sandiford CCG Dan Derkson CCG

Chris Sandiford and Dan Derkson survived the first Comedy Nest presents Battle-COM

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqFqVL5_kVg&w=560&h=315]

They’ll be facing off against new competitors Ryan Stick, Jason Yearow, Emma Wilkie, Tessa J Brown and Michael Lifshitz

Ryan Stick CCG Jason Yearow Emma Wilkie CCG Tessa Brown CCG Michael Lifshitz CCG

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guzwaMsfDb4&w=560&h=315]

The Battlefields

Romantic Comic Book Couple Black Role Model Sexiest Action Hero

The Comedy Nest, Pepsi Forum, Montreal.

10:30pm start time, doors at 10pm

$6 for the unwaged / $10

Underground parking and next to Metro Atwater.

See you there!

Battle-COM (v2.02)

The Geek Battle of Comedy Shows

The Geek Battle of Comedy Shows

Take a large dose of “The Big Bang Theory”, a wallop of an “8 Mile” rap battle and stir in a dash of “Let’s Make a Deal” and you have an idea of what “Battle-COM” is.

Battle-Com sees two performers skewer pop culture and each other in the name of entertainment.  Paul Ash stands between these forces playing the role of Battle Marshal, introducing the topics (Battle Fields) and players (Battlers).  The crew of Battlers fight for the right to be called a Battle Master and Battle Champion.  That’s right – they use the word Battle a lot.

This is a mental blood-sport, an ego bruiser that is judged by the audience.  When you enter the Battle Dome you know it’s not a typical comedy show.  Both sides of the stage are draped with a Battle Banner, each in a colour which matches either side of the Battle Flag you were handed as you entered.  A podium with a silver bar sits in the middle of the stage.

February 8th at the Comedy Nest in Montreal

February 8th at the Comedy Nest in Montreal

The show starts with a reverse curtain call, introducing you to the Battlers – for the audience judges their fate.  All leave the Battle Arena (stage) except the Battle Marshal and two Battlers.  A Battle is a quick affair; it’s a best 2 out of 3 (with ties gaining no points).  First round the Battlers are to be positive about their position on the Battle Field (topic).  Each Battler has approximately 90 seconds.  The Battle Marshal calls for a vote and the spectators raise their flags – colour coded to the Battler whose position they liked best.  Second round, they are to be negative about their opponent’s position – a position that was only revealed as the opponent went on stage.  If it gets to a third round, the Battlers can choose to be negative or positive – it’s a free-for-all round.  When a winner is declared, the loser exits the stage and a new Battler is called to challenge.  If a Battler manages to defeat two opponents in a row they are retired as a Battle Master and two new Battlers take the stage.  After all Battlers have had a turn a Battle Champion is determined.  In the case of no Battle Masters, the Last Battler Standing (the final Battler with only one win) is declared the Battle Champion.  If two Battle Masters have been declared, they face off against one another for the title of Battle Champion.  If there is only one Battle Master they’ll face off against the Last Battler Standing, but they’ll begin the match with a win already awarded.  The Battle Champion claims his prize, leaves the stage as the Battle Marshal declares the next Battle Field and it begins anew.

The Next Battle-COM is 10:30pm Friday February 8th at The Comedy Nest in the Pepsi Forum (Atwater / St-Catherine).

Battle-COM

  • The Battle Fields:
  • – Most romantic comic book couple
    – Most inspiring Black role-model from sci-fi or fantasy
    – Sexiest action hero from film or video games

 

 

Your Battlers:
Ryan Stick – Season Xero
Jason Yearow – Village Idiot Comedy
Dan Derkson – On The Spot, Rocky Horror Live
Emma Wilkie – There’s Something Funny
Tessa Brown – (writer)
Chris Sandiford – Try a Variety Show, Nurse Jackie
Michael Lifshitz – Conquer Your Mountains

Looking forward to seeing you there!

How to Stand-up Comedy Contest

Ask Ash: What’s the best way to run a comedy contest that everyone will agree is fair and balanced?

Judges small

Quick Answer: It’s impossible.

Now for the long answer… (Part I of II)

2011 Montreal Contest

2011 Montreal Contest

A lot of performers hate comedy contests; “they’re unfair”, “they’re rigged”, “it’s a popularity contest”, “they’re judged by people who know nothing about the craft of comedy”, “it’s an artistic medium, so personal taste is being judged – not skill”, “the zombies are attacking”, “I never win”…  many many complaints.

It’s good to recognize comedy contests for what most of them are; publicity opportunities.  Most contests can be divided into two types: regular advancement ritual, or one-off awareness event.  Both of these types of contests are attempting to raise awareness of not only their brand (club, festival or charity) but also for the performers involved.

Many working pros today list amoung their credits appearances at Seattle International Comedy Competition, The Great Canadian Laugh Off, San Francisco Comedy Competition, Just For Laughs Homegrown Competition and Last Comic Standing – it’s a way to elevate and legitimize your work.  These major contests draw press as well as industry scouts and usually have someone to manage press interactions, arrange interviews and make sure that information is going out – not only to advertise their event but to help promote those performing (and doing well).

Regular advancement rituals usually (but not always) are limited to local comedy clubs, and open mics.  Generally, new comics (or long time open miccers) are given the chance to strut their stuff in an effort to move up to guest spots, pro gigs, weekend work and a small bit of cash.  Yuk Yuks’ Great Canadian Laugh Off final week is open to international acts but the contest runs months prior in their clubs around the country with finalists from various cities coming together to compete in the semi-finals and a chance to make it onto the finale ‘winner take all’ show.  Winners are presented with a contract, cash and a chance to tour the country.  That’s way cooler than going into your boss’s office for a performance review.

One-off awareness events tend to be either fundraisers, part of an awareness campaign or on the business side, a bit of a cash grab.  When an organization wants to raise funds for a project or charity BUT can’t afford a single large name comic (or can afford only a single comic of status) they sometimes decide to fill the night with up and comers / open miccers who’ll work for free (or the chance winning a prize).  This benefits the organization in keeping their costs / outlay down, and it benefits the comedians in a chance to be seen by an audience that may not typically go out to open mic shows, and for the winner – a small press bump or at least a credit to assist them getting bit of paid work.  Even when a smart business savvy person (or organization) decides to run such an event in an effort to earn personal cash, they have to arrange press, sponsors and raise the profile of the event to make it worthwhile for the comedians to come out.

Annual competitions like Just For Laughs Homegrown or the Seattle Comedy Competition draw performers from around the world who compete mainly for the bragging rights – pitting themselves against the best who are selected to perform. The three things to remember with both of these types of contests is judging is subjective, no one forces you to participate and like any opportunity, it’s only as good for you as you make it. When you are part of a contest it’s important to take advantage of any resources they give you.

  • Volunteer for press access.
  • Make sure you have a package ready for interested parties (the more upscale the competition, the more you should put into your package).  For small competitions, usually a business card is okay.  For international competitions with representatives from prouduction companies, networks and agencies present, have a DVD show reel, resume, headshot and a spec script(s) (both printed and pdf) prepared to hand out.
  • Work your offstage skills, showing that you’re good at handling self promotion and are an asset to the competition (and any future bookers)

Part II will focus on how I run two small competitions at my little open mic in Montreal

Yours, Ash