DVD Tuesday: ‘Live Free or Die Hard’, ‘Hairspray’

by W. Andrew Powell

Live Free or Die HardIn stores this week, John McClane fights to survive a new villain, a quirky musical casts John Travolta as a woman, an angel comes to earth to save a troubled man, and a drama paints a vivid tale of real-life survival.

Live Free or Die Hard
When I think of the quintessential action movie, one film pops into my head: Die Hard. It is by far one of the best action films, and all of the sequels managed to wow audiences again and again. After a twelve-year wait, Bruce Willis returns to the role of John McClane with Live Free or Die Hard, one of the few great action films of the year. In it, McClane has to protect a hacker (Justin Long) from legions of goons and killers as they stumble into a villain’s (played by Timothy Olyphant) plot to wreck havoc. On the bright side the action is amazing, Long and Willis play off each other perfectly, and the movie speeds along at a merry pace. The only problem with Live Free is that the script wastes Olyphant’s talents with a trivial role, but the film still destroys its imitators.

If you’re a fan of lively, quirky musicals, have I got the film for you. Based on John Waters original campy musical, Hairspray is the story of a chubby, effervescent teen who dreams of being on the biggest show in town: the Corny Collins Show. Starring Nikki Blonski as Tracy Turnblad, Michelle Pfeiffer as the menacing producer Velma Von Tussle, and John Travolta as Tracy’s equally chubby mother (I’m not kidding), Hairspray is a knock-out comedy with a great message. It’s also equally worth it for the knock-out cast that includes James Marsden, Brittany Snow, and Christopher Walken dancing up a storm. As Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times put it, “Hairspray is just plain fun.”

Luc Besson has a knack for out of the ordinary movies that just stand head and shoulders above the crowd of other filmmakers. Between La Femme Nikita and The Fifth Element, I’m a huge fan of his work, even if he has also had a few duds along the way. In his latest film, Angel-A, Besson happily nabs the plot of It’s A Wonderful Life and sets it in Paris with a terminal loser who has every thug in the city on his back. Jamel Debbouze plays the loser Andre, a liar who is about to kill himself when he meets Angela (Rie Rasmussen) and saves her life. As payback, Angela pledges herself to Andre and sets out to help him make a better life. Oh yeah, and she might be an angel. While the film is sexy, and fun, it’s also a stunning black and white postcard for Paris, and both Debbouze and Rasmussen are fantastic together. My only complaint would be with Besson’s usual paper-thin story, but Angel-A is still a treat.

Rescue Dawn
Director Werner Herzog is best known for his documentaries, including 2005’s Grizzly Man, but in his latest film Herzog moves into the dramatic realm with a real-life story. Following up on his documentary, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Herzog’s Rescue Dawn stars the incredible Christian Bale as Dieter Dengler, a pilot who is captured during the Vietnam war. The two-hour film explores his life before the event, the conditions he faced as a prisoner, and how he managed to escape. Bale and co-star Steve Zahn, make the story horrifically realistic, and Herzog enforces that realism throughout the film. It’s a rough story, as you might expect, but it’s one of the best dramas this year.

Also out this week: celebrate the greatest Canadian hosers with Bob and Doug Mckenzie Two-Four, a look back at CBC’s McKenzie Brothers. Plus, for a troubling view of the way humanity has changed the planet, take a look at Manufactured Landscapes, which captures a vivid portrait of destruction.

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