Jeremy Irons

Watchmen (2019) s01e09 – See How They Fly

I’ve been trying to gin up enthusiasm to write about this “Watchmen” finale all day. Though, if I think hard enough, I’m sure I’ll be able to come up with a compliment. Something like… thanks to “Watchmen: The Series,” Robert Wisdom’s most… unappreciative recent casting is no longer “The Alienist.” Wisdom shows up in this episode as the newspaper vendor who gets to do a newspaper vendor stand-in for the end of the world (again), though this time he gets paired with Ozymandias (Jeremy Irons).

And, I guess if I’m continuing on the qualified compliments… Irons is a lot better this episode than expected. Sure, it’s because Hong Chau is not, but it’s not like Chau is James Wolk or something. Wolk is truly godawful. Chau’s just disappointing.

Jolie Hoang-Rappaport’s still good as Chau’s assistant though. “Watchmen: The HBO Event Mini-Series”’s successes are few and few between. Cherish them. Even if they don’t make the viewing experience any less ponderous. Though, yeah, if you’re willing to let “Watchmen” get away with a lousy Clair de Lune accompaniment, maybe you’re going to let it get away with a 2001 rip-off. I mean, after the Schindler’s List thing, doing an obvious 2001 callback… well, no, the former is just an excruciatingly cynical eye-roll, the latter is actually comically godawful.

But if you’re willing to cut “Watchmen” that amount of slack already… who cares if the ending is an intentional cop-out, but before that cop-out lazy and trite. I mean, at least the original score functions like an old John Carpenter score again?

I do like how little respect the show has for its audience, when it draws attention to things and tells the viewer to pay attention, then does a flashback anyway because it doesn’t trust them to pay attention. Just like Watchmen the comic. As well as short-changing the entire cast. Because Watchmen the comic did the… oops, no. No, it did not.

The show uses some cheap tricks to get things done in the episode, which “corrects” the ending of the original series. Or something.

If Damon Lindelof had any gumption, he would’ve done a show about trying to adapt Watchmen and why everyone fails at it and sequelizing it. Or do something about how DC and Warner Bros. screwed Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, lying to them for years. Not to mention propping up the Watchmen trade sales while waiting for Hollywood to figure out how to exploit the property.

But he doesn’t. Because Lindelof’s got no gumption. No spoilers but he’s a lot more Return of the Jedi-era George Lucas than anything else… which makes him perfect for a “Disney Star Wars” show.

I think the most disappointing thing is I really thought the show was going to give Lou Gossett Jr. a great mainstream role.

It does not. But it gives him even less of one than expected. And expectations have been dwindling for a while.

As for Regina King… she doesn’t make it worth watching, which is a travesty. It wastes her. Completely.

Back when the Watchmen movie came out a friend who I don’t think had read the comic said it (the movie) proved you could do a different kind of superhero narrative, even if Watchmen didn’t do it successfully. The TV show doesn’t even reach that level; it doesn’t prove its conceptual case, much less do it successfully. It really does make me wonder how people experience reading the comic book, because clearly they’re getting something very different from it than I ever do.

All that said, I really hope I remember not to get roped into Season Two in a few years after they say they’re not doing another season then do another season a little later than expected; maybe an HBO Max exclusive.

A sellout’s adaptation of Watchmen needs the sellout Alan Moore and Damon Lindelof is not the sellout Alan Moore. I mean, have you ever read a Damon Lindelof comic book? They’re terrible. Like his TV shows. Sellouts can make good sellout product, which Lindelof utterly fails at doing here.

Watchmen (2019) s01e08 – A God Walks into Abar

This episode of “Watchmen” gets, quite nicely, to the heart of the matter. As the episode goes through its meme-ification of Dr. Manhattan (albeit prestige HBO series starring recent Academy Award-winner Regina King memes), where King and Dr. Manhattan—who’s always visibly obscured when he’s not assuming the appearance of his surprise reveal identity—sit and talk (he walks into a bar to find her, her name’s Abar, it’s… really dumb writing) and there’s not just no chemistry between King and the disembodied voice in the performances, there’s none in the direction or the script. More on Nicole Kassell’s direction in a bit.

But in general, the episode reveals that great conundrum of Watchmen, i.e., what the hell do people who like terrible things like “Watchmen: The HBO Event Series” like about Watchmen the comic book and is it the same thing as people who don’t have terrible taste and, if so, where’s the disconnect. I get the show is mimicking Alan Moore’s narrative devices for Dr. Manhattan only doing them shitty and nonsensically on television but so what. Damon Lindelof’s story for the show is basically the same as what they did in Star Wars: The Force Awakens; you, fanboy turned show runner, can’t imagine what comes next so you just regurgitate the source material and package it in a new shiny, then stir the vomit for nine episodes.

“Watchmen” goes the extra mile of adding the racial subtext so it can claim some indisputable seriousness but… no. Really no.

This episode reveals not just the inevitable creative bankruptcy of the project, which—frankly—has already been laid bare (so I guess this episode just revels in that shiny bucket of puke), but also how little scope Lindelof had for it. Less, arguably, than any other Watchmen spin-off. Insert eye-roll emoji.

Oh, right, Kassell. So besides the not great direction between King and Dr. Manhattan on their various encounters, there’s also the Regina King with an automatic weapon taking out white supremacists action sequence, which the show sets up—in dialogue—to be some spectacular action sequence.

It is not. It’s not incompetent, but it’s also not any good. It’s long enough to get boring, boring enough to wonder why it isn’t better directed, better choreographed, better written. “Watchmen” manages to stay out of the incompetent—the actor playing Dr. Manhattan does way better than he should, all things considered (his scene with Jeremy Irons presents the first sympathetic Irons in a while, because the show reveals the bad Irons ideas aren’t Irons’s), even if it comes at the expense of King, who just got the show taken away from her permanently (she’s now an entirely unreliable narrator)—but it’s always in the inept.

At least since the third episode or whatever.

I’m so glad no one listened to me when I said watch the show after the first episode. I’d be so embarrassed.

Watchmen (2019) s01e07 – An Almost Religious Awe

Seriously, they couldn’t come up with anything better? This episode has a bunch of reveals and every time it’s… really, this reveal is the best thing presumably well-paid writers could come up with. Worse, it starts like it’s going to be a Regina King episode and therefore safe but… no. King doesn’t get her own memory flashback episode to herself, she has to share it with the regular cast because… it’s unclear. I don’t think I’ve used this many ellipses for effect in the same paragraph in a long time. Because, I suppose, nothing’s deserved it. But “Watchmen: The HBO Event Series?” Seriously… they couldn’t come up with anything better?

Why even bother.

King doesn’t even get the biggest shaft it turns out. Jean Smart’s experienced vigilante turned experienced FBI agent is a numbskull who walks into very obvious traps. It was already a pointlessly thin part in a vanity series but it gets even worse this episode. Pretty much everyone gets worse this episode.

Like Hong Chau; she’s not good this episode, partially because it all hinges on a mystery involving Lou Gossett Jr. but also because she’s being super-secretive with impromptu patient King. See, even though Gossett was helping Chau bring about whatever end of the world type thing she’s planning on, he didn’t have a timeline for King taking his memory pills so they were unprepared for her to need medical help.

“Watchmen” is full of logic holes, narrative shortcuts, and all sorts of storytelling laziness. It’s exactly what it appears to be.

The best part of the episode is how Jeremy Irons, now on trial by his clones, only gets a line. He doesn’t deliver it well—Irons’s gruff American thing is a wee tiring after thirty years of it—but at least it’s only one line.

The episode ends on what could be considered a big cliffhanger but only if there were any reason to be invested in the show other than morbid curiosity or intellectual self-loathing.

It’s nowhere near as offensive as last episode—though the scene of older white women Smart and Francis Fisher sitting around and talking about being a Black man who has to become a white superhero to find justice is a little ick, especially with how poorly the scene’s executed—but it’s still pretty bad. The waste of King, the waste of Faithe Herman as young King… at least the show’s almost over. Soon it’ll just be a remembered viewing regret.

Really good performances in the supporting cast—Valeri Ross, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Jolie Hoang-Rappaport—just make you sorry for them, not happy they got screen time.

Though I’m finally curious why Jessica Camacho is in so little of the series. Did her part get cut before or after they shot it….

Watchmen (2019) s01e05 – Little Fear of Lightning

Everyone gets everything they want. I wanted a Tim Blake Nelson “Watchmen” episode. And for my sins, they gave me one.

Turns out Nelson was in New York for the giant squid attack; as a youth he looked like a cheaper, slightly nerdier Tom Holland and was a Jehovah’s Witness out to preach last minute Jesus to the sinners in New Jersey. He’s in a funhouse when the squid teleports in, covering him in mirrors… which contributed to his origin story because “Watchmen” origin stories are really, really obvious. Though maybe we’ve just gone past where origin stories are going to be any good. “Seeing” the squid attack is all right, for a moment I wondered if Watchmen: The Movie would play any better with it cut in but no because the movie’s still shit and it’s just a faked CG shot pulling back from screaming teen Nelson in Jersey to New York City and the squid.

Turns out the squid attack becomes the subject matter for a 1993 Steven Spielberg film shot in black and white with a girl in a red coat being the only color element because, sure, fuck Schindler’s List, let’s just assume Spielberg’s actually as craven as Damon Lindelof. The Schindler’s List thing will be probably be “Watchmen”’s cheapest moment just because it’s not an Easter egg, they go in hard on explaining it because Lindelof doesn’t do subtle. Even when it seems like he’s going to do subtle, he turns it around and does obvious. In this episode too, at the end, when I was regretting saying nice things about the first couple episodes in particular how well they were directed, because this episode is terribly directed. Steph Green takes the obvious script and somehow makes it even more obvious, which is particularly bad since there are a handful of elements feigning subtly and she really doesn’t want to do anything subtle.

Nelson’s got a life changing experience as he uncovers some of the conspiracy… the pedestrian, contrived conspiracy (again, talking to Lindelof about comic books and what’s good about them must be a mind-numbing experience, doubtlessly even worse than reading one of his terrible comic books) so it ought to—theoretically—give Nelson some fodder as for his performance. Only it doesn’t because it’s so poorly handled. They do the thing where they refer to the opening flashback as one of Nelson’s memories, because the target audience is too stupid to remember forty minutes ago. It’s not condescending though; “Watchmen” isn’t technically superlative enough (anymore) to condescend.

Oh. And Jeremy Irons. So richest man in the world Jeremy Irons used shitty half-inch VHS to record his monologues to the future back in the eighties, making him the eighties equivalent of, you guessed it, a Republic serial villain. Also, for the flashback, they do light makeup on Irons, so he like a fit sixty year-old instead of his usual fit seventy year-old. Because… no de-aging budget? Unless it was a creative decision, which would make sense as there aren’t any good ones this episode.

Also what is the point in making Jean Smart such a useless character. It was always going to waste the character but it also wastes Smart. Though I suppose the only person who manages not to be wasted is Regina King, because she’s able to act past the writing and direction.

Though her writing is really bad this episode.

Watchmen (2019) s01e04 – If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own

I’m not sure what would be a more unpleasant way to spend an hour, listening to “Watchmen”… “creator” Damon Lindelof talk about Alan Moore or listening to him talk about way too influential screenwriting professor Robert McKee. McKee has some profoundly insipid advice on writing and the creative process in general, which Lindelof seems to have imprinted on his DNA, if this show is any indication. Because this episode is all about the show’s “stakes.” Turns out they’re really low.

It starts with the reveal last episode’s OMG moment with the space junk falling out of the sky is actually a message for Regina King and not Dr. Manhattan still caring about vigilante turned Fed Jean Smart, which just teams up King and Smart, who have even less chemistry as strong women working together than they did as strong women not working together—most of it is the writing (starting last episode and continuing into this one, “Watchmen: The HBO Event Series” is shaping up to be far more what one would expect than the first couple episodes). But then there’s also a draining of the import of Don Johnson’s secret Klan history. Of course he’s a racist in the Klan, he’s a white man in Oklahoma. What did King actually expect? It seems like it should be a problematic plot point but… it’s not. It also seems like it’d piss off the Oklahoma film office and the tax breaks but maybe they demanded any white man in Oklahoma be shown to be in the Klan.

Anyway. There’s a scene with Tim Blake Nelson, because all he gets are single scenes. It’s nice to see him out of costume since you can’t see him act in the costume. And he and King do have some solid rapport.

Much of the episode involves new player Lady Trieu (played by Hong Chau, and named liked Lindelof telling you how he’s better than Alan Moore would be worse than the McKee mansplain); she’s building some mysterious giant clock in rural Oklahoma because it’s all connected. She also knows Lou Gossett Jr., who it’s still nice to see in such a big production but it’s wasting his time. In some ways, wasting Gossett’s time is worse than wasting King’s time, since King will go on to good projects after this one. “Watchmen” could be it for Gossett and non-Christian movie projects.

What else… oh, Jeremy Irons. We get more about his situation. Lindelof and co-writer Christal Henry are all about revealing the weird stuff in Irons’s life, which is all just for shock value. Steampunk-y shock value. Eh.

At least Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is still good. And it’s not like King is ever not going to be excellent, she’s just wasting her time. Also… does Lindelof really think the tick tock clock motif is the most important thing from Watchmen? He did go to NYU film school back before it was clear NYU film school wasn’t actually going to produce many good, much less great, filmmakers… so… yes?

Watchmen (2019) s01e03 – She Was Killed by Space Junk

So the first couple episodes of “Watchmen” have only hinted at having an actual Watchmen character in it; it took until this episode for the show to confirm, in fact, Jeremy Irons is playing architect of the end of the world and therefor its savior, Ozymandias. He even puts on the costume. And, you know what, he’s not great. He gives a very standard Jeremy Irons performance. You get a little Claus von Bülow in there, maybe a little Simon Gruber, but you don’t get anything special. Some of it’s the part, which is juxtaposed like a subplot but really just escalating asides. What could he be building? Will it be interesting? Blah. Nope. Because you can only get away not being a Republic Serial villain once and “Watchmen” is devoted to its faithful sequel status.

Then the A plot is Jean Smart as Laurie Blake, formerly Laurie Juspeczyk but has since taken rapist dad’s name because… anti-mask pride, also formerly Silk Spectre but now FBI agent, and formerly Dr. Manhattan’s squeeze but now he’s on Mars and she sends him voice mail messages because everyone hopes the god cares but she knows he doesn’t. She’s also got a Dr. Manhattan dildo because

Damon Lindelof does, in fact, suck. Even if “Watchmen: The TV Show” ends up being all right, it could have been better. And it’s a long way from home plate at this point and Smart’s not a good sign. She’s good, but her part’s real thin. There’s some implied subplot about Laurie’s rebound from Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, being in prison and presidential candidate James Wolk saying he’ll pardon him out if Smart will go to Tulsa and look into the situation there.

Once she’s in Tulsa, she starts butting heads with ostensible series regulars Tim Blake Nelson and, thought-she-was-the-lead, Regina King. Smart and King’s big blowout scene is good for King, not for Smart, worse for the narrative so therefor not a win for King. King has to suffer through the scene, while Smart’s resignedly all in on her character. “Watchmen: The TV Show”’s Achilles heel is, no surprise, Watchmen. No wonder the first two episodes were Lindelof telling Alan Moore to “fuck off;” because when it actually comes to sequel fan fic, Lindelof’s just as uninspired, obvious, and insipid as everyone else. You can lie all you want Dave Gibbons or Len Wein making Watchmen; the fundamental point of spinning off or sequeling Watchmen is it means Alan Moore doesn’t think you got it.

Lindelof didn’t get it. What’s a shock is how much potential the non-Watchmen: 30 Years Later has going, mostly thanks to King. But also that music, which is excellent again this episode. But mostly King, who gets wasted this episode.

Oh, and Lindelof’s attempt at the Moore-esque anecdote interspersed with the present action?

Well-acted (by Smart) but an utter writing and emphasis fail. Stephen Williams’s direction is not on par with the other two episodes.

With this episode, “Watchmen: The TV Show” shows its hand, potential-wise, which is good for establishing expectations but also disappointing because they could’ve just skipped it and not lost the King, Don Johnson, Nelson momentum.

Eh.

Watchmen (2019) s01e02 – Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship

As good as “Watchmen” gets at dissecting the comic book, learning from its anatomy, figuring out how to adapt it to live action—though this episode is nowhere near as uncanny as the previous one with composition—the show, pardon my French, fucks with the viewer. Alan Moore comics don’t fuck with the reader, they explore and they reveal (without ever being about the reveals). “Watchmen: The TV Show” is all about narratively cheap but big budget cliffhangers. It’s not exactly frustrating or disappointing—because it’s HBO after all—but means whatever the show creatives learned from the comic… they didn’t learn enough. And “Watchmen: The TV Show” is going to suffer from it. This episode, written by Nick Cuse and show creator Damon Lindelof, is all about surprises, even when they should be obvious to the characters if not the audience.

“Watchmen: The TV Show,” like a TV show, is going all in on the money shot reveals, where it’s stage play Dr. Manhattan’s junk or the clone reveal or… the flashbacks to the cops getting attacked by the white supremacists. Turns out Regina King and husband Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (he’s really the guy from Aquaman, I can’t believe it, he’s good in this show) didn’t adopt some white kids because it’s a better reality but because the kids are her dead partner’s kids. It’s One Good Cop. But without Michael Keaton and Rene Russo.

Makes you wonder how their Batman Forever would’ve been.

Anyway.

The show also reveals—again, the show’s exposition is all about the reveals too, whether it’s DNA tests or tough talking cops—the reparations are for victims of hate crimes or descendants of hate crimes. The show opens with a newsreel about the destruction of Black Wall Street. It’s not clear how Black Wall Street is going to figure in to the Watchmen aspect of the show, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s a good plot device and, actually, completely reasonable for big budget Watchmen fanfic. I don’t think Moore would’ve ever done it because Lindelof’s exploiting the idea whereas Moore never exploits things. So Tulsa because White people in Oklahoma are racist who aren’t ever going to take responsibility for their great-grandparents’ murderous racism so they Klan up to take on the federal government only with Rorschach masks. Kind of a big deal, but also something the show is happy to keep as ground situation, which is concerning. How seriously is “Watchmen” going to take this aspect of the story, which is the whole point of Regina King so don’t end up giving her a shit part.

Like Tim Blake Nelson. He’s maybe going to have a shit part. Or not even enough of a part to have a shit part. Don Johnson’s got some “say it isn’t so” reveals in this episode but you know he’s going to come out of it fine because Don Johnson can do amusing shit-stain.

All of a sudden I really want to watch Tin Cup, which isn’t out on Blu-ray, which is dumb.

Yeah, Nelson… Nelson’s either going to really pay off or he’s going to be a waste. He can be a waste in a few ways, but so far it’s unclear how he could pay off. “Watchmen: The Limited TV Series” is nine episodes; we’re almost a quarter done. There’s only so much time; the longer the show goes on more concerned with turning Easter eggs into plot points… the less it seems likely the show’s going to add up to anything. And there’s a very low bar here. “Watchmen” just has to not screw up its actors’ performances, it just can’t screw up the production design as far as the adaptation, it never actually has to be good. It just can’t be embarrassing. DC and Warner Bros. have been humiliating themselves on Watchmen adaptations for what seems like decades but really has only been eleven years.

King is shouldering the globe, but it’s far from steady.

It also doesn’t hurt, despite not great material, Lou Gossett Jr. is awesome.

Watchmen (2019) s01e01 – It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice

The only times “Watchmen” doesn’t feel calculated are when you can’t imagine the shot as a David Gibbons comic panel. Every couple minutes you can feel how the sequence of shots would feel as a Watchmen comic, showing how just because DC Comics could never figure out how to do it without the original creators doesn’t mean episode director Nicole Kassell and show creator Damon Lindelof can’t figure out how to do it while adapting it to another medium. Though, to be fair, the secret might be in adapting it. Especially since the show creators don’t just have decades of comic book adaptation tropes to avoid they’ve also got the actual Watchmen: The Movie as one hell of an example of terrible Watchmen adapting.

The show figures out what the movie couldn’t, primarily in terms of acting (get good actors and then get good performances out of them) and come up with a sound design not focused around selling a soundtrack album. “Watchmen: Episode 1” often sounds a little like an eighties John Carpenter movie, just with less synth. It’s disquieting in all the right ways.

In fact, there’s nothing the show does wrong but only because it’s positioned itself rather securely. Its ambitions are only in delivering itself as a product. “Watchmen” doesn’t allow itself performance anxiety, just a base execution anxiety. The show doesn’t worry about giving stars Regina King and Don Johnson great parts, it just worries about never giving them bad ones. It also gives Johnson Frances Fisher for a wife, which does a lot of immediate character development. Everyone else is background, even Tim Blake Nelson who seems like he’ll be great as the thing progress. So far Yahya Abdul-Mateen II—as King’s homemaker husband—is perfectly fine, which I was initially worried about because he was so bad in Aquaman. But, no, having a director who cares about acting helps.

The only Watchmen comic character to show up so far is probably Jeremy Irons as Ozymandias. Probably because they’re teasing it. “Watchmen: The TV Show” might try to get away with not explaining all the pertinent history. Lindelof has utterly changed the context—the show’s set in 2019 in the Watchmen: The Comic Book universe, some thirty years after the events, with Robert Redford being president for thirty years (vs. Nixon) and having gotten reparations through, which has led to a Rorschach-inspired white supremacist organization. So in “Watchmen: The TV Show” universe it takes actual reparations (and Black people apparently not having to pay taxes) to get white men so steamed up but in reality it only took a Black president, which would make for great, pseudo-intellectual water cooler talk, which is what “Watchmen” is sort of all about.

Lindelof, Kassell, and everyone else do their corporate overlords great service with the show… they’ve finally turned Watchmen into a crossover property, something not a single DC Comics creator could do.

Also, given the Black Wall Street massacre finally getting mainstream coverage… can we stop listening to white centrists from Oklahoma yet?

Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995, John McTiernan)

Until the tacked on finish, Die Hard with a Vengeance can do little wrong. It doesn’t aim particularly high, just high enough–it’s a symphony of action movie action (and violence) set in New York City; the city’s geography (at least movie familiar geography) plays less and less of a part as the runtime progresses, but director McTiernan and his crew are doing a large scale action movie over a wide setting and a constrained time period. The film takes place, without the tack on, in maybe nine hours. With the tack on, a few more.

Most of the city in crisis action happens in the first forty minutes or so. New York wakes up to a bombing in a department store. The unidentified terrorist (Jeremy Irons) calls the cops to demand Bruce Willis perform various tasks to prevent further bombings. On his first assignment, Willis involves local shopkeeper Sam Jackson. Irons likes the idea of Willis having a sidekick, so Jackson stays on. Larry Bryggman is Willis’s disapproving boss, Graham Greene, Colleen Camp, and Anthony Peck are his disapproving coworkers. Willis, separated from his wife since the last Die Hard, is failing about to be fired. Much of the first half of the movie is Willis complaining about his hangover; whoever’s job it was to make his eyes blood shot did great work.

Once they’re teamed up, Irons changes from tasks to riddles, giving Willis and Jackson this amount of time to get to this New York location and solve this riddle. Along the way, Willis and Jackson bicker. Despite it being Willis’s franchise, Jackson is there to be the audience’s anchor. For a while, McTiernan wants Vengeance to seem reasonable… plausible… not entirely unrealistic. Soon after Irons finally shows up on screen–with mostly silent flunkies Nick Wyman and Sam Phillips (the third tier East German guys make more of an impression–Vengeance doesn’t care about its supporting villains)–Willis finally catches on to what’s going on and starts shooting people. Only, even though there were a bunch of cops around, he and Jackson are on their own now. It’s just their action movie. Albeit one with a very wide setting.

The first stunning action sequence is when Willis has to jump on a subway train. Vengeance has been pretty up until this point. Lovely photography from Peter Menzies Jr.–the film takes the passage of the sun through the day rather seriously–fine editing from John Wright, excellent production design from Jackson De Govia. But it’s not until half an hour in and Willis pulling up a subway grate and jumping down does Vengeance show off its technical expertise. Once it does, however, the floodgates are open. The scale of the subsequent action varies, but McTiernan and his crew are always executing these grandiose, complication sequences with utter success. It’s a breathtaking ride. And a lot of fun, because Willis and Jackson are a fun pair. Sure, Jonathan Hensleigh’s attempts at solving racial prejudice through male action movie bonding is exceptionally naive and occasionally way too pat, but Willis and Jackson do manage to sell it. Their performances, even when the material’s thin–like the tack on finale–are outstanding.

Ditto Irons. Irons gets to relish though. Neither Willis or Jackson have relish-worthy material. Irons just gets to run wild. He’s the action movie villain in the “realistic” action movie. Only since he’s got all these henchmen doing the action villainry (for the most part), Menzies and McTiernan just have to make sure he never looks out of place and he’s fine.

McTiernan and editor Wright do well no matter what kind of action is going on. Willis surviving a flooded tunnel has just the right amount of tension, a bomb detonating in a middle school has just the right amount of tension. McTiernan toggles between the small scale Willis in a Die Hard movie getting out a situation with the very real terror involved in the school evacuation and so on. Though, in some ways, by keeping Willis (and Jackson) separate from that impending tragedy, Vengeance is able to cop out of having Willis in a “realistic” thriller. The real stuff is juxtaposed against his adventure with missing gold and fake accented Germans and whatever else.

Besides Willis, Jackson, and Irons, the rest of the cast is similarly superb. Bryggman especially. But also Greene and Camp, who slow burn throughout the film before getting their own big sequence. Peck’s good. Kevin Chamberlin’s fun as the bomb guy. Robert Sedgwick’s one of Irons’s thugs who makes more impression than Wyman or Phillips. Heck so does Joe Zaloom as the contrived action movie flunky Willis gets late in the film. Vengeance isn’t about the supporting villains.

Most of the Willis vs. thugs action is just bridging stuff between him and Jackson moving on to their next set piece, which is fine. It distinguishes Vengeance, especially since McTiernan and his crew excel more during the set pieces. The execution of Vengeance is just as important as the content executed, which is another reason the finale is such a disappointment. It’s an exterior night sequence, which–given any thought–fails all credibility tests (even for Die Hard with a Vengeance, though especially given the work put into the film’s procedural constraints). It’s a shame the finish doesn’t live up to the rest of the film, both in terms of narrative (it’s thoughtless) and execution (the big foil is a spotlight distracting Willis).

Not a worthy finish to the previous, sublime two hours.

But Vengeance is still a success. It can’t not be, not with the heights McTiernan and Wright reach; you can’t fault an action movie too much for having a perfunctory action movie finish. To be fair, the first ending–before the tack on–is phenomenal even in its absurd grandiosity.

Good score from Michael Kamen. Great production values. Excellent performances.

In five-dollar words, Die Hard with a Vengeance is so elegantly executed, it transcends the very tropes it functions on (as well as the script’s faults). Just not through the very end.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John McTiernan; screenplay by Jonathan Hensleigh, based on characters created by Roderick Thorp; director of photography, Peter Menzies Jr.; edited by John Wright; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, Jackson De Govia; produced by McTiernan and Michael Tadross; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Bruce Willis (John McClane), Samuel L. Jackson (Zeus Carver), Jeremy Irons (Simon Gruber), Larry Bryggman (Insp. Walter Cobb), Graham Greene (Joe Lambert), Colleen Camp (Connie Kowalski), Anthony Peck (Ricky Walsh), Nick Wyman (Mathias Targo), Sam Phillips (Katya), Kevin Chamberlin (Charles Weiss), and Joe Zaloom (Jerry Parks).


Moonlighting (1982, Jerzy Skolimowski)

I’ve been trying to see Moonlighting for ten or eleven years… first forgetting about it, then putting it off for a widescreen DVD (remember the excitement, back in 1999, when all of a sudden… films were going to come out OAR? No longer a question of if, just of when?), and finally further putting it off, worried the content was going to require near infinite attention. The film does not require infinite attention, in fact it’s very straightforward and self-explanatory (that self-explanatory tag might have something to do with Jeremy Irons narrating the whole thing). It’s definite letdown after so long, but it’s also a letdown after the film’s first fifteen or twenty minutes. Moonlighting is more about tone than anything else–it creates a sense of dread and propels the viewer through it; the film cuts off during the most important scene and ends, in hindsight, it’s a predictable close, but still unexpected. Besides some third act red herrings, Skolimowski spends minutes twenty through ninety-five telling the viewer he’s not going to have some predictable ending. But he’s in a corner–either a resolution to the ominous dread or the predictable finish.

The big problem is the film opens with Irons and four other men–he’s the only one who speaks English (film’s about Polish workers illegally renovating a London flat) and he doesn’t just become the film’s focus, he’s the whole show. And Irons is up to it. His performance is outstanding, but his character isn’t believable. Skolimowski holds back valuable information–for example, say he introduces a totally illogical response or thought from the character at minute thirty, then explains it at minute seventy. I suppose if Irons’s character was really a British guy doing his best with a reserved accent or he was fleeing Poland, the wait might be all right… certainly if the film were building toward the reveal. But it isn’t. That little thing at minute thirty is a line in the narration or an expression. It means absolutely nothing, but it just doesn’t work for a half hour. And the last shot–I forgot about the last shot… the last shot is fine. Maybe the third to last shot. Skolimowski sets it up in neon to be one of the last shots when it gets set up fifteen minutes earlier.

Moonlighting would work as a novel, as a short story, maybe even as a comic book… but as a film… no. I kept wondering if there were no narration, would I be able to follow it? The film would definitely be more interesting–the content living up to the visuals (Skolimowski does a great job with composition and editing). A movie is a short-term investment. This one is ninety-five minutes. The majority of the middle section is spent judging Irons or is supposed to be spent judging Irons, with Skolimowski tossing information up every five minutes to try to change whatever opinion has already formed.

I’m glad I saw the film–Skolimowski’s a fantastic director and Irons is great–but I probably could have waited another ten years no problem.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jerzy Skolimowski; director of photography, Tony Pierce-Roberts; edited by Barrie Vince; music by Stanley Myers; production designer, Tony Woollard; produced by Skolimowski, Mark Shivas and Michael White; released by Miracle Films.

Starring Jeremy Irons (Nowak), Eugene Lipinski (Banaszak), Jirí Stanislav (Wolski), Eugeniusz Haczkiewicz (Kudaj), Dorothy Zienciowska (Lot Airline Girl), Edward Arthur (Immigration Officer), Denis Holmes (Neighbor), Renu Setna (Junk Shop Owner), David Calder (Supermarket Manager), Judy Gridley (Supermarket Supervisor), Claire Toeman (Supermarket Cashier) and Catherine Harding (Lady Shoplifter).


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