While original Die Hard director John McTiernan languishes in minimum security federal prison his heirs are keeping the action movie flame alive. Most recently, Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen might as well be called Die Hard at the White House as one man attempts to rescue the hostages held captive in the impregnable bunker beneath the most famous Palladian mansion in the world. North Korean terrorists have managed to take control of the building and the President (Aaron Eckhart), Secretary of Defence (Melissa Leo) — and some extras playing the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs etc. — are all cable-tied to a railing while acting-President Morgan Freeman and Chief of the Secret Service Angela Bassett are powerless at the Pentagon.
What the bad guys don’t know is that disgraced former Secret Service (and Special Forces, natch) dude Gerard Butler heard the shooting and crossed town from his low level security job at Treasury to sneak in to the building before total lockdown. Now, he’s taking out the trash one by one but can he rescue the President’s son (Finley Jacobsen) and save the free world before every nuke in the American arsenal goes “boom”.
It’s a question that has been burning away inside all of us for nearly 75 years — how did the Wizard (who wasn’t really a wizard at all but a carnival showman with a knack for gadgets) get to Oz in the first place? You neither, huh? Ah well, this least essential question has now been answered by Spider-Man (and Evil Dead) director Sam Raimi and his team of pixel-wielding minions. As a prequel to the beloved 1939 film starring Judy Garland and a dog called Toto, Oz the Great and Powerful is not without risk. Other attempts to recreate L. Frank Baum’s magical world have been either commercial or artistic failures — The Wiz, for example, or Return to Oz.
Casting the human smirk, James Franco, as the carnival magician transported to the land of the yellow brick road by a hot air balloon (via tornado) is also a risk but it eventually pays off, even though Franco’s boyish features are starting to look a bit ragged. Escaping various romantic and financial pressures back home in black and white Kansas, Franco’s Oz finds himself blown off course to a technicolor(ish) fantastical land where a prophecy suggests he will protect the peace-loving citizens from wicked witches but also gain control of the palace fortune. Guess which one appeals more.
While the Film Festival continues to deliver untold pleasures to Wellington cinephiles, the commercial distributors dump (shall we say) less-heralded product at our currently very quiet multiplexes and arthouses.
My Life in Ruins is a belated follow-up to the international smash hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding. That film was produced by Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson as a favour to their friend Nia Vardalos and, to the surprise of everyone, it went on to make squillions at the box office and promised to make comedienne Vardalos a romantic comedy star. Things didn’t quite work out like that and it’s taken seven years for a follow-up to hit the screens, also supported by Hanks and Wilson.
Sadly, My Life in Ruins is likely to disappoint those that remember MBFGW fondly — the warmth and good humour of that film has been replaced by cheap laughs at the expense of international stereotypes and there’s a flatness to the execution that Vardalos’ mugging can’t hide.