Saturday, 8 September 2007

Movie Review: Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

Let's get this out of the way: there is a scene towards the end of Live Free or Die Hard that involves a large truck, a military fighter jet, and a freeway. It's giving away nothing to announce that the scene ends with all three being totally destroyed. To say that this scene is over-the-top does not start to do it justice. Over-the-highest-peaks-of-groan-inducing-special-effects-that-destroy-all-credibility is more like it. This is not to pretend that the rest of the action scenes in this film are actually realistic. But there is an invisible thin line between escapism and cartoons; once crossed, the viewer is just left embarrased.

Which is a shame. Because until that point, Live Free or Die Hard is a pretty entertaining romp, with very well-directed action sequences, interesting characters (both good and evil), and a modern update on the Die Hard theme.

This time around, a team of techno-nerds, with a suitably evil leader, launches a melt-down of the computer systems of the United States. Everything from traffic lights, to the power and utility grid, to the civil and military centres of intelligence, are electronically infiltrated, manipulated and corrupted. Director Len Wiseman manages very well to make computers, monitors and manical typing on keyboards actually exciting.

A team of heavily armed mercenaries, complete with fully-equipped vans and helicopters, is out there assisting the bad guys, mainly by eliminating anyone who can unravel their plot, and this includes a group of young computer hackers.

Of course, John McClane (Bruce Willis) is unwittingly assigned to protect one of these hackers, played by Justin Long (Mac in all the Mac v/s PC commercials). That is it as far as the plot goes. The action never lags, and Willis and Long form a decent combo as they evade the bad guys while trying to rescue the world.

The characters are nicely rounded out by McClane's daughter, an FBI agent in over his head, and a hacker guru who is recruited to help the good guys.

The action sequences are sharply edited with an emphasis on maintaining comprehension and highlighting McClane's attitude and wit. Willis is excellent and comfortable playing the older, wiser, and more weathered McClane. Also prominent and impressive is Maggie Q as one of the conspiracy's co-leaders; she presents a suitably challenging and athletic foe.

It all moves well and hits all the right notes until that freeway scene, at which point the best response is to roll your eyes and longingly remember the days when special effects could enhance a movie, but not destroy it.

Book Review: Once in a Lifetime, by Gavin Newsham (2006)

Beyond easily-dismissable player biographies, there are precious few serious books about football out there. Once in a Lifetime is quite a refreshing and engrossing read. British writer Gavin Newsham chronicles the rise and fall of the New York Cosmos, from obscurity to world-wide fame to disappearance, all in a matter of less than two decades.

The strength of the book is weaving events on the field with the actions and motivations of the men (and they are all men) behind the scenes. Personalities like Warner Bros. executives Steve Ross and Jay Emmett; League Executive Clive Toye; and Coach Gordon Bradley play as large a part in the book as players like Pele and Beckenbauer. Towering above them all is Giorgio Chinaglia, the legendary Italian scoring machine who, the book reveals, had at least as much influence off-the-field as his astonishing strike rate had on-the-field.

Newsham keeps the story moving briskly, from the football fields of the North American Soccer League (NASL) to the boardrooms at Warner Bros. (the owner of the Cosmos) to the home countries of the many foreigners recruited to star for the Cosmos.

Where the book does stumble, somewhat, is in the very weak attempt to introduce overall societal and political events as a backdrop against which the Cosmos story unfolds. This is such a half-baked effort that it comes across as almost childish. However, these sections of the book are short and barely interfere with the narrative flow.

This is a useful and entertaining addition to the accessible library of knowledge on world football, and specifically the colourful but brief chapter written by the NASL, when glamour, money, entertainment and football collided to create the bright shooting star called the New York Cosmos.

Paperback published by Grove Press, 260 pages.

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