Skip to main content

Review: A Good Day to Die Hard, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, This is 40 and Safe Haven

By February 20, 2013April 6th, 2013No Comments

A Good Day to Die Hard posterThe first thing you need to under­stand about A Good Day to Die Hard is that it isn’t really a Die Hard movie. In the same way that instant cof­fee and espresso cof­fee share a name but are in fact entirely dif­fer­ent bever­ages, you’d be wise to go to a Good Day screen­ing with mod­est expect­a­tions – expect­a­tions that would already have been lowered if you’d seen 2007’s dis­mal Die Hard 4.0 (aka Live Free and Die Hard).

Bruce Willis plays Detective John McClane for the fifth time since 1988 but this time there’s no smirk, no glint in his eye and none of the recog­nis­able human frailties that made the ori­gin­al char­ac­ter so appeal­ing. Instead, he’s just what every­body always said he was – an asshole. When his son is arres­ted by Moscow author­it­ies for what looks like a mob hit, McClane heads to Eastern Europe to try and save a boy he hardly knows. As usu­al, McClane becomes “the fly in the oint­ment, the mon­key in the wrench” and he imme­di­ately lands in the middle of a CIA oper­a­tion to extract a rebel olig­arch hid­ing inform­a­tion that could bring down the gov­ern­ment, his untimely inter­ven­tion des­troy­ing most of Moscow’s traffic in the process.

The son is played by buff Australian act­or Jai Courtney, last seen as a vil­lain in Jack Reacher, and I’d like to report that he’s a decent act­or except he’s giv­en so little to work with here, you’d nev­er know. The plan does appear to be to hand over the fran­chise to the kid, thereby enabling a few more years of ever-diminishing returns as a great brand con­tin­ues to tarnish.

But, if you take Die Hard off the label, does it become a decent action flick? How does it com­pare to the mod­ern examples of the genre like Fast & Furious? Still not great, sadly. The first big set-piece on the streets of Moscow does a great job of crash­ing lots of what look like non-CGI cars but the rest is rel­at­ively witless.

Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters posterTommy Wirkola could give Die Hard’s John Moore some tips in how to make inco­her­ent action more enter­tain­ing (hint: get a great edit­or). His Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is anoth­er example of his abil­ity to take a splen­did single idea and execute it with energy and focus – he is prob­ably best known here for his Nazi zom­bies movie Dead Snow from 2009. H&G dis­cov­er they are res­ist­ant to witch spells when they sur­vive the candy house they have been temp­ted into as kids (although Hansel suf­fers long-term dia­bet­ic com­plic­a­tions). As adults, played by Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, they par­lay this abil­ity into bounty hunt­ing, trav­el­ling the back­roads of dark ages cent­ral Europe execut­ing witches.

I’m still not con­vinced by Renner as an action hero – he still seems bet­ter suited to second banana or “best mate gone bad” roles – but it’s actu­ally more Gretel’s story than his and the film as a whole is big dumb bloody fun.

This is 40 posterJudd Apatow’s This is 40 starts off as a high­er qual­ity ver­sion of the gross sketch com­edy Movie 43 from last week – sex and fart jokes abound – but evolves into quite an affect­ing por­trait of a fam­ily strug­gling with life regard­less that it seems to have every middle class advant­age. It helps that Apatow gives his char­ac­ters time to get under our skins. Leslie Mann (Mrs Apatow in real life) and Paul Rudd play Debbie and Pete, two sup­port­ing char­ac­ters from the hit Knocked Up, over-extended in life and in business.

The film cli­maxes with Rudd’s 40th birth­day party – an event that has been under threat all movie – and sure enough, fam­ily frus­tra­tions boil over in an amus­ing but not inau­thent­ic way. As always, John Lithgow elev­ates every scene he is in and the great Albert Brooks steals what’s left over. I liked this a lot and I think Apatow suc­ceeds at some­thing that’s actu­ally pretty dif­fi­cult to pull off.

Safe Haven posterArriving in cinemas in time for Valentine’s Day, Safe Haven looks like the res­ult of a com­pei­tion to write a Nicholas Sparks nov­el – mys­ter­i­ous stranger arrives in small south­ern town, strikes up rela­tion­ship with loc­al wid­ow and things go along swim­mingly until a dark secret from their past threatens the new-found hap­pi­ness. The twist this time around is that the mys­ter­i­ous stranger is female (Julianne Hough from Rock of Ages) and the film is immeas­ur­ably improved from the usu­al Sparks fare by not fea­tur­ing Zac Efron.

Hough plays “Katie”, on the run from a Javert-like Boston cop (David Lyons) and holed-up in the sleepy North Carolina sea­side town of Southport. There she meets loc­al wid­ower and shop­keep­er Josh Duhamel and his cute kids. Even though things seem to be look­ing up, fate and film logic dic­tate that even­tu­ally she’ll have to face up to her past. A couple of twists (one straight­for­ward and one slightly batty) elev­ate the mater­i­al and Oscar-nominee Lasse Hallström (My Life as a Dog, The Cider House Rules) dir­ects with more respect for his audi­ence than you might nor­mally get in a Sparks pic­ture. Not horrible.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 20 February, 2013.