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Friday, July 13, 2007

Stranger Than Fiction — DVD Review

I wanted to see Stranger Than Fiction more for the concept that the film played with more so than the promised comedy. As someone that at least attempts to pursue writing, I was intrigued by the idea of a fictional character actually being alive. I’m not really a Will Ferrell fan, and was happy to find the idea really did carry the film as opposed to his usual brand of humor.

Harold Crick (Ferrell) is an IRS auditor that begins hearing narration of his life as its happening. It turns out that author Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) is writing a novel in which Crick is the protagonist. The bigger problem, it turns out, is that Eiffel always kills off her main characters, and Crick quickly realizes he’s not about to be an exception.

With a very slight nod toward Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, the film’s less-serious look at the relationship between an author and character was darker than I expected. Not that the film doesn’t pull off some decent laughs, but in the end this was still a man that had to live in fear that he was going to die rather soon.

I would have liked just a touch more on how Crick came to be. That might have been impossible to do, and certainly the film wasn’t striving for realism, but even the simplest of explanation would have helped. Obviously, the woman wasn’t writing this one novel her entire life — or his — so I just wanted some “bridge” to why he was suddenly aware of her. I’ll freely admit this may be nothing more than my anal side kicking in.

I really liked Thompson’s portrayal of Eiffel. Considered a modern literary giant, she is battling years of writer’s block, and is suddenly faced with a physical manifestation of the fact that she kills off all of her protagonists. Thompson pulls off a frumpy, depressed author without losing sight of the character having exceptional talent. A scene in which she explores the possibility of killing Crick in a traffic accident was particularly interesting just to see the depth of her devotion to her craft.

Dustin Hoffman as literary professor Jules hilbert and Queen Latifah as Penny Escher were decent, but I expected more from the characters considering the names in the roles. Along with Eiffel, the characters also seemed a bit too ready to accept to accept Crick’s presence. Maggie Gyllenhaal as Ana Pascal was solid, and her character helped add depth to Crick.

Overall, this certainly wasn’t a must-see, but if you watch it for fun while looking for something better you won’t be too disappointed.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard — Movie Review

John McClain (Bruce Willis) is back fighting terrorists in Live Free or Die Hard, the most over-the-top chapter of the action series of films that doesn’t exactly strive for realism in the first place. McClain’s wit and sarcasm are securely in place, but the fourth Die Hard left at least this fan of the films yearning for the days of McClain single-handedly taking out 20 bad guys.

Assigned to bring one of the nation’s most watched computer hackers, Matt Farrell (Justin Long), to Washington for questioning after a breach of security at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, McClain is quickly thrust into the race to catch the mastermind of a plot to steal most of the country’s wealth. At various times fighting to save the hacker’s life, as well as that of his daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and, of course, his own, McClain teams up with the hacker to pursue a former member of the FBI out for revenge after his warnings about the vulnerability of the nation’s computer systems were ignored.

Far too much of the film is spent trying to figure out what the criminals are truly after. Reminiscent of the third Die Hard, an attack on the country’s infrastructure eventually proves to be nothing more than a ruse to steal money. Of the many stretches in the film, the attempt to play on current fears of foreign terrorism was at least a little questionable in terms of taste. It also made the ease with which even the “good guy” hackers circumvented government security less than palatable. But maybe I’m the only one that’s done being enthralled watching some computer geek go tap-tap-tap on a keyboard and break into the supposed most secure systems in the world.

Another problem was that John McClain just isn’t made to fight high-tech crime. Having McClain tote around a computer hacker to handle (and explain) the techy side of things was a bit contrived, and lowered the action quotient the series has thrived on. At times McClain is reduced to doing little more than offer funny quips.

That’s not to suggest Live Free or Die Hard doesn’t have plenty of action. In fact, it pretty much gets rolling within minutes and never stops. But the previous films earned some of the over the top action, whereas by the time McClain is balancing on the wing of an Air Force bomber that’s chased him (mistakenly) down a highway I was rolling my eyes.

Long and Winstead were decent as side characters, but, whether it was the actors or the script, they could have been better. Willis turned in his usual fun performance, and avoided my fear that he might seem old in an action role.

Live Free or Die Hard won’t disappoint fans of the series, but certainly doesn’t rival the original or first sequel. For the rest of moviegoers, it’s still not too bad.