Review: Inglourious Basterds (dir. Quentin Tarantino, 2009)

Seventeen years after he burst onto the scene with the talky, violent crime flick Reservoir Dogs, the films of Quentin Tarantino continue to generate intense debate, even in theological circles.

Just the other day, I heard a prominent Christian professor assert that the hit men played by John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction make evil look attractive, and that those two characters remain “sociopaths” right to the end of the movie.

Many other Christians, however, have argued that Fiction does reflect a moral sensibility of some sort: the Jackson character abandons his criminal ways in the end, after he experiences something he believes to have been a “miracle,” while the Travolta character, who remains a criminal, is eventually killed with his own gun.

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Die Hard 4 to come out in ten months

The Hollywood Reporter, via Reuters, reports that 20th Century Fox announced yesterday that Live Free or Die Hard — yes, that’s the name, and it’s dumb, but then, so was Die Hard, if you think about it — will open June 29. The new film will be directed by Len Wiseman, director of the Underworld movies (2003-2006), and it just might be filmed in Vancouver. Reports the Reporter:

The story centers on an attack on America’s computer infrastructure that begins to shut the country down. The mysterious figure behind the scheme has figured out every digital angle but never counts on Willis’ old-fashioned, “analog” character, John McClane.

Sounds interesting, I guess. But it must be asked: Does the world really need, or even want, a new Die Hard movie?

The first film, based on Roderick Thorp’s Nothing Lasts Forever (my comments) and released in 1988, is a classic, and it virtually saved the action-movie genre. At a time when flops like Stallone’s Rambo III and Schwarzenegger’s Red Heat were causing some pundits to predict the demise of the action hero, Bruce Willis, then a mere TV star, came along to show how great an action movie could be — indeed, how much an action movie could matter — if the hero was given a strong dose of humanity.

Brief personal tangent: Since the first film came out when I was 17 — over half a lifetime ago! — it was one of the very, very few movies that I “snuck into” before I was old enough to see anything I liked without adult accompaniment. Though I didn’t really “sneak” into it, per se; the woman at the counter just didn’t bother to ask me how old I was. I had already seen a number of films that were rated R in the United States, because they were rated 14-A in British Columbia; Die Hard, however, was a solid 18-A.

Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990) was almost exactly like the first film — thanks to a few unlikely narrative coincidences, it brought back almost all the surviving characters from the first film, who once again find themselves dealing with terrorists on Christmas Eve — but in a bigger, badder, and grimmer sort of way. It’s more of a mutated clone of the original than a sequel, but at least it showed that the filmmakers were trying to keep as many ingredients as possible of what had been a highly successful recipe.

For those who found the first sequel kind of embarrassing, Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) was originally billed as a return to form — look, it even had the same director as the first film! — but it has never really worked for me, not least because it loses the family-guy aspect that made John McClane so interesting in the first place, and its few fumbling attempts to keep that element in the script just make the absence even more annoying. Quite frankly, if it doesn’t have Bonnie Bedelia, then it ain’t a Die Hard movie. Plus, this movie eschewed the unity of time and place that marked the first two movies, though possibly as a reaction against all the other films that had imitated it — Speed (1994) had been “Die Hard on a bus”, Under Siege (1992) had been “Die Hard on a boat”, etc. In hindsight, this film looks like one of the earlier mis-steps in director John McTiernan‘s slide to irrelevance, and the Pulp Fiction (1994) in-jokes also feel kind of dated, now.

And now, there will be a fourth film. The first three films were produced over a span of seven years. The gap between the third and fourth films will be almost twice that, at twelve years. Does anyone really want to see John McClane again? Was it the character, all by himself, who was so interesting the first time, or was it the larger matrix in which that character found himself?

Suffice to say my hopes aren’t too high for this new movie.

The Revenger’s Tragedy / Vengeance is ours, saith Hollywood.

Vengeance is ours, saith Hollywood. This message came through particularly loud and clear during a single week in April, in which the studios released three films about grim, determined vigilantes who seek brutal revenge against their enemies. While those who take the law into their own hands are usually anything but heroic in real life, the protagonists in Kill Bill, The Punisher, and Man on Fire are all presented in more or less sympathetic terms. All of their violent vendettas are portrayed as at least somewhat justified, and there even seems to be a hint of divine sanction hanging over their efforts. All three of them have lost a child, and sometimes other friends and family too, and all three of them have been shot and left for dead by the villains who deprived them of their loved ones. Thus, when all three of them recuperate and set out on their quests for vengeance, it is as though they have risen from the dead to set wrongs right.

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