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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



After the Great Canadian Laugh Off 2007

Please forgive any semblence of immodesty, this was written just after I placed third in a 2007 Great Canadian Laugh Off Semi-Final.

perplexed as to why a stranger has my camera

perplexed as to why a stranger has my camera

I arrived on Thursday, one day before my time in the “ring”. I flew in early, and really hadn’t slept but ended staying up all day catching up with friends and then going to McVeighs to do a guest spot. Having been up for 40 hours (with about an hour’s nap) I wondered if I’d pull it off. It went well and added to my confidence. I guess it also helped being in a city where people hadn’t seen me for a long while, so my material was all new. That and sleep deprivation. Andrew Evans closed the show, and we closed the bar.

I knew going in that there was only one other Canadian on my night. Kinda my fault as I requested a weekend spot (so I’d not go to Toronto too early) and the other out of towners (country-ers?) would also need to limit their travel time. Getting there I got to feel the caliber of the comics I was going to have to compete with. Though it was daunting, the green room had a feeling of brotherhood. It was a great feeling. We got to talk, joke, ask each other about where we’re from, what comedy is like there. It was a meeting of peers.

But competition is competition, Shannon and Beth came in to do the draw for the order. Before they began they asked us if anyone would like to volunteer to go first. We all looked around, skirting eye contact and looking down. Nobody wanted to just “give up” and accept, perhaps, the hardest spot of the night. As they started to make the draw I joked that I’d probably be first anyhow, but the named pulled out was Geoff Brousseau of Seattle Washington. Other positions of note, Al Prodgers of South Africa drew fifth (out of eight). Still my name didn’t come out of the can. Al was followed by Andrea Henry from Boston and then only the two Canadians were left. Mark Casey’s (the winner from Barrie Ontario’s Yuks) name was drawn. I was to go on last.

The crowd had been pouring in, the room almost full. Dana Alexander got the crowd going and we were off. Geoff Brousseau did very well, what you’d expect from someone who was here because he’d previously competed with Dylan Mandhlsohn and Paul Myrehaug at the Seattle Comedy Contest. He claims he flubbed his first joke, but I couldn’t tell. The crowd loved it. I had to keep dipping downstairs as the TV in the green room kept going out. Katie Riffey, a pro from Washington, DC, kept it going. Tony Gaud from Florida did another killer set. I began to feel the butterflies rise. I don’t like the pressure of competitions, I find that I choke or try desperately too hard.

Not all the comics hit, but the show was going well.

I walked down and watched Al Prodgers. He was calm, not over exagerated. He had a cool sounding accent, and spoke slow enough so we could understand it. He was older than most in the contest, maybe in his 50’s, and had charm. His brand new “fish out of water” material helped exploit his exotic appeal. Watching him I felt the butterflies go away. Why was I worried about competing, he would obviously win. I congratulated him as he came off stage.

I now felt all I really had to worry about was making the crowd laugh. Just my 8 minutes, the contest was over. And I trusted my eight was good.

Andrea Henry is from Boston, a city of comedy legends. She works primarily out of “The Comedy Studio“, an artist run collective who’s philosophies I looked at when starting the Comedy Dawgs. She was an incredible writer, low key dry jokes that tore into the crowd.

Just before me went Mark Casey, the winner from Barrie. Mark’s green-ness showed somewhat, especially after following such a strong act.

from David Kemp's going away party

from David Kemp’s going away party

Then it was my turn. Just before my introduction, I made eye contact with Dave Kemp. He made me smile, a little taste of home. I approached the stage so my foot was on it as Dana said my name. My set went off just as I planned it, with the exception of one “helpful” heckle. I was able to take the crowd where I wanted to go and they laughed everywhere I wanted them to. I walked onstage without any “contest” nervousness and was thus able to do what I wanted – make people laugh. It was liberating.


As I got offstage, Al met me at the base of the stairs “You F u cker! You undersold yourself to me.” It was teasing between comrades. It felt good.

Finally after a wonderful guest spot by Simon Cotter, Dana reclaimed the stage to announce the winners. When she called my name, I was a little shocked, and had to be directed to get up there. I placed third! Andrea Henry received second place and Al Prodgers took first place and moved on to the finals. Later, though they don’t reveal the actual numbers, I was told the top three were very close – as they were on Tuesday, the night Peter White won third as well.

If anyone hasn’t looked to Halifax as the new hotspot for comedy in Canada yet, I think that has changed.


PS: again, please forgive me if this has come off as immodest.

Ask Ash: How to write a (comedy) review

“I saw that show and give it three stars.”  How frustrating is it to read a show review like that.  How do I know I agree with the reviewer?  No Sergio Aragones

I’ve had only a few frustrated writers, reviewers, audience members ask me how to write a review for a comedy show, but I’ve heard way more artists complain about a bad, inaccurate or vague review.  So, for both sides of the fence I’d like to outline some of the best facets of a good review.

How do you write an effective comedy review?  What do you need elements should you identify.  How descriptive of a comedian’s set should you be?  What were the atmosphere and venue like and did it affect the show.  Let’s examine some guidelines (again, this is just my opinion, but I do believe you’ll find it helpful) to writing a good (comedy) review.

  1. Set the stage.  Describe the location, the atmosphere.  Name who you are reviewing and your expectations from past work.  This could be as simple as saying “I went to see comedy veteran Jim McDonald at the Comedy Vault.”  It depends on who you think your audience is, if you think they are familiar with the ‘Comedy Vault’, and if ‘Jim McDonald’ has a widely known reputation.  It is sometimes best to act as if your audience will be unfamiliar with your references.  Put in emotional references and descriptors.  If a venue makes you feel a certain way each time you go there, if it reminds you of anything that may put you (the reviewer) in a certain frame of mind, it is good to mention.  If you’re familiar with the comedian’s work, what you’re expecting, their style – even references.  If you only know them from word of mouth, how long it’s been since you’ve seen them.  All of these factors can affect your state of mind, and how you will report on the show, they also will allow a reader to judge how you’re approaching the show compared to how they’d approach it.
  2. Describe the work.  Here you should describe the meat of the show.  Did the comedian(s) meet your expectation?  What sort of atmosphere did they create?  What was the material subject matter?  It is important to note that you should never, ever, put a punchline in a review.  Glossing over subject matters yet stating how you reacted is much better; “Jim McDonald let loose with a story on tricycles that blew me and the audience away.  Laughter rippled through the crowd as his simple charm and rural witticism reminded us all what it was like to be three.”
  3. Criticism is more than complaint.  If something in the show is not to your liking, don’t be afraid to express it – but explain why.  It is possible that something you disliked would be a reason someone else would like to go.  “I was disappointed to not hear Jim’s great joke about etch-a-sketches, in total I don’t think he did any of the jokes from his first album.”
  4. Summary.  Summarize what you thought of the show as a whole, if you’d recommend it, if there were caveats to those recommendations.  This is to be your opinion, know why you made it and be able to express it.
  5. Be accurate, nothing spoils a good (or bad) review more then misspelling the name of the artist (or venue) involved.  Dates, showtimes, names – all these things can easily be verified IF you didn’t take notes the first time through.
  6. If you’re reviewing an ensemble show (showcase, open mic, sketch) it sometimes can be overwhelming to review everyone.  Watch the entire show, but pick out only two or three acts who you think deserve the individual attention (for good or ill).

Now review some shows, doing so is a great practice in writing, plus you’ll also get a better grasp of how to pace your own sets and who knows, maybe you’ll encourage someone to go see something live.


Film Review: Looper


Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt and Pierce Gagnon, directed by Rian Johnson.

Okay, I’m a bit of a sci-fi nerd and a movie fan. That said, I usually find time travel based stories to be simplistic and / or gimmicky. Looking at Looper, I was on the fence; a dual lead film, two good actors (one rising star, one… more of a skilled entertainer than master thespian) and a relatively new director with a small (but good) body of work. Add to that mix, $30million budget, 1.5x the budget of The Brothers Bloom (Johnson’s previous film) and much higher than any of the TV episodes he directed since that film’s release. I tense up when I see wads of cash handed over to a ‘newer’ director, as it leads to self indulgent film making, sometimes, even in seasoned directors.J. Gordon-Levitt

Add to this trepidation the big ‘gimmick’ of the film, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis will be playing the same character, just at different ages, who actually meet thank to the main ‘gimmick’ of time travel – and the much touted prosthetics that JG-L would be wearing. Seeing some of the early poster art, my immediate thought was that he looked more like a young Sean Connery than a young Bruce Willis – this could be really bad. If the technology existed for Eddie Murphy to play 8 characters who interact with each other in The Klumps in 2000, couldn’t they have casted a single actor to play both roles? Surely they could find an actor that could play young and old – Matt Smith’s Doctor Who does so on television without tons of makeup, sometimes in the same monologue cutting from youthful enthusiasm to the weight of age. Maybe they were afraid of the logistics, even in the age of CGI, of getting the shots with eye lines and emotive context, that the constant reshoots necessary to secure a scene with one actor playing two roles would inflate the budget even further.

More likely, Gordon-Levitt is still too new a name to carry a film with this budget, so he needed to be paired with an established (bankable) property, Willis. Willis’ everyman hero, established so well in the Die Hard franchise (great films) was easy to identify with, like Harrison Ford’s Han Solo; just more bad ass, like we all wish we could be. Variations on this archetype has cemented Willis as the star he is, evolving as he aged, Fifth Element, 16 Blocks, Red. In Expendables, he seemed like the only actor who got it that he was to parody himself. But does Willis have the emotional range to recapture that youthful swagger needed by the young hitman, could he convincingly pull it off? His Planet Terror character definitely had layers, including a smoldering menace. Maybe he could have, maybe I’m only saying that after seeing the dynamic job he did in Looper. This film is more like a passing of the torch to the next generation of thinking everyman action stars, which seems to be a niche JGL is fitting into nicely (Inception).

But a friend won a free pass, so I could see it with no risk. The movie tag line seemed less than inspired:

“In 2072, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past, where a hired gun awaits.”

Sigh, gangsters with time travel. But the cast is solid. Shortly into the film, it’s obvious – care was taken with this production. The set design is solid. The dystopian world, the looper contract, the various mob roles are all explained with very little exposition, most can actually be gleaned in the interactions and the world that’s shown. From the little things, such as currency, old vehicles that have been retrofitted for electric power, to the masses of homeless, people scrounging and thieving to survive living in old office towers and sewers contrasted by the high life of a looper, or a person with connections, the sparkling skyline, access to pleasures and above the law it is obvious that this story is part of a much richer and fuller world. As the film rolled, it became easier and easier to immerse myself in the story. The prosthetics on JGL were still noticeable, but it was his impression of a young BW that shone through.

My recommendation is that you go see this film

Minor SPOILERS may follow

Little things really helped flesh out the world. The Economic disparity, the references to the hobo wars, that so few vehicles were new (mainly converted to run on solar power), reference to the TK gene, even drug use being most fashionable via eye drops all paint a plausible world, futuristic but still with ties to our world.  Such dedication to world building made me wish Rian Johnson had been at the helm of In Time, a film that suffered from an incohesive world view.

The looper contract, and the criminal organization it spawned (in the now, run by Jeff Daniels) appears simple but works on many levels. The looper contract itself “doesn’t attract many forward thinking individual”. “Loopers are well paid, they lead a good life…” and they do, up until 30 years after their retirement. Loopers kill people sent back in time, because disposing of a body in the future is now incredibly difficult. So they send them back, to the time of the movie, so they can be killed and disposed of. Loopers are contracted to do this until the person they kill are their future self, closing the ‘loop’, hence the job title looper. Then they are then retired to live life on their savings for 30 years at which point they are captured and sent back to be killed. Hence not “forward thinking”. Loopers are provided with a weapon, a single shot blunderbuss, with a range of 15 yards, impossible to miss at short range, impossible to hit beyond 15 strides. Loopers also have to check this weapon when they visit the ‘office’. Policing the loopers were the gats, goons with a slow firing pistol (of the ones shown in the movie, some seemed single shot, some were revolvers). The gats’ guns have a longer range and more accuracy than a blunderbuss but are still archaic by today’s weapon standards. Why did the organization use such obviously flawed and outdated weapons? The film does go to show that the ‘organization’ does have access to better quality weapons (P90s were being used at one point), but in a way it acts a policing of the organizations underlings. The loopers, such as Joe (played by JGL / BW) are not really being hired for their intelligence; they are not ‘forward thinkers’. They are selected for their lose morals, hunger for a better life and a willingness to sell out their future for a better today. Such people may be prone to voice displeasure at management with an ill advised takeover attempt, attempts made difficult with the limitations of the tools available to them. Same goes for gats, who seem to chafe at the good life that loopers lead, but lord their ability to police the loopers over them.

Most of the problems in the film seem to come from the fact that Joe was the youngest looper ever recruited, and proved to be much more intelligent than most of his peers. Something realized by Abe (Jeff Daniels), but not immediately recognized as dangerous.

Major SPOILERS alert

The early example of Seth (played by Paul Dano)went to demonstrate not only the danger of not closing your loop, but also the nature of time travel. Choices made affect the future, but only when they’re made, so when future Seth made the choice to sing a childhood song that made now Seth pause, and prevent killing him, all the bad things that followed did not immediately catch up with future Seth, they only happened once the actions were taken by and upon now Seth. If future Seth hadn’t been removed from his timeline, the actions taken against young Seth would have appeared instantaneous to him, but since the actions taken were after he travelled to the now, their affects only appeared as they were done to young Seth, to gruesome effect. Bruce Willis’ Joe described it as foggily remembering the actions of now Joe (JGL) but only as, or after, now Joe had done them. He maintained many of his memories, even after he had changed the past (as shown in the fast forward dreamlike sequence of his life after he had ‘originally’ killed himself). One thing to note, and something I’m not clear on (and a reason to see the film again), the woman future Joe loved and married, the woman who managed to get him of ‘drops’ (Joe’s drug of choice) face morphed in Joe’s memory into a blend of the original (Qing Xu) and Sara’s (Emily Blunt) after Sara took the time to ease now Joe’s withdrawal, winning his affection. It is after this scene that old Joe is very protective of his picture of his dead / future wife, and it’s not seen on screen again, potentially, because it’s been changed.

In marketing the film, they glossed over, almost failed to mention the TK element in the film. This greatly reduced my (as a film goer) expectation of its importance. I was very happy to see this, as too many films (even TV shows) give away too much information in the trailers that make it impossible to not figure out the major plot points – the tendency to ‘show all the good parts’. They could’ve even cut a trailer showing the film as a sort of ‘reverse terminator’ – a looper sent back to the past to prevent the takeover of the mob by a blood thirsty, brutal maniac known simply as “The Rainmaker”. If I was to continue this list of ‘what they did right’ – this review would be even longer. I will switch gears to little things that could have been done better. Much was done to show that vehicles had been converted to run on solar power, and electricity in general BUT in several scenes as these trucks rumbled past, they rumbled with the sound of a combustion engine. Bruce Willis’ delay in getting into the time machine (to face his death) somehow caused a delay in his exiting – wouldn’t the time machine be set for a certain time and place? If bodies were so hard to get rid of in the future, how come Bruce Willis, a hit man again, in the future, wasn’t in jail? What was done with his wife’s body to prevent authorities looking for her? And for that matter, why risk sending live bodies back at all? Why not kill someone then zap them back in time to a volcano, to dispose of the body?

Most of these questions are minor at the least, and I’m sure they could be relatively explained in a satisfactory manner with a greater fleshing out of the world – which isn’t necessarily needed. All it boils down to is this: Rian Johnson’s directorial style seems like a blend of Martin Scorsese and Terry Gilliam. Great characters and great set pieces lead to a great escapist movie. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance (almost impersonation) of a young Bruce Willis, overcame the limits imposed on him by the prosthetics.

An interesting subtext to the movie is consequence, most time travel movies deal with that (Butterfly Effect), but one obvious question comes up – what is the difference between young Joe and old Joe that would make it reasonable to old Joe to kill a child. For young Joe, it’s repugnant. For old Joe, it does seem unpleasant but something that he feels he has no choice but to do. It comes to that old theoretical question, if you were able to go back in time, would you go back and kill Hitler as a child? Theoretically, you’d be killing an innocent, would his future crimes justify the killing of that child?

Everything else being said, the performance put in by Pierce Gagnon as Cid was lynchpin in pulling the story together. As a child actor, his ability to convey both innocence and menace is amazing, and I’ll not take from Rian Johnson’s ability as a director by saying so. This child, introduced so innocently midway through the second act of the film becomes the line in the sand and the impetus to all that happens. Watching him at such a young age you can see the life choices as they’ll become laid out for him, and the influences on his future decision process that the other characters (will) play.

This film is a win, it’s a good bet you’ll enjoy it if you’re a scifi fan, or a good story fan, even as a romance (Blunt’s performance as an ex addict dealing with guilt and an extraordinary burden is very good) it’s a win. I think anyone wanting quick answers and simplistic plot may (and that’s just may) be disappointed in this film – and I, as one, am glad films are still being made for people who enjoy being challenged.