Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The X-Files: "Home Again" (February 8, 2016)

In “Home Again,” Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigate the brutal murder of a HUD official, Joseph Cutler (Alessandro Juliani) who was attempting to forcibly relocate a group of homeless people in Philadelphia. 

His body was discovered… pulled apart…with his head discarded in a trash can.

While Mulder pursues a lead involving a street artist, Scully is called back to Washington D.C. because of terrible personal news.

Her mother, Margaret (Sheila Larken), has suffered a devastating heart attack and is near death. But efore slipping into unconsciousness, Margaret asks for Charlie, her estranged son, and Scully’s brother. This request mystifies Scully.

While Mulder attempts to console Scully, the murders in Philadelphia continue unabated. Those who have sought to exploit the homeless for their own gain are dying in gruesome, bloody ways.

Margaret’s final words to Scully and Mulder remind Scully of their absent son, William, and their parental responsibility to care for him; a life they brought into this world together.

While she considers that idea, Scully and Mulder confront the artist, Trash Man (Tim Armstrong), who has created from his own rage a work of art that may have come to life…

This 2016 X-Files revival is proving itself a “dark wizard” of sorts, again striking pay-dirt this week with writer/director Glen Morgan’s creepy and emotionally-affecting installment: “Home Again.” 

This tale beautifully resurrects a classic series institution -- murder-to-pop-music montage -- at the same time that it develops significantly the major character arc of these six new episodes: Scully’s crushing regret and guilt over giving up her son with Mulder, William, all those years ago.

Beyond these remarkable touches, “Home Again” reaches for and attains greatness via its careful and even-handed social commentary.

Once you pry away all the violence and pathos, Morgan’s episode concerns something quite significant: the role and responsibility of the artist in the public square.

Specifically, no one in “Home Again” will help the homeless of Philadelphia out of the goodness of their hearts. There are safety concerns and profit concerns about the homeless, but no real caring or empathy for them. We glean this understanding not only from the dialogue, but from a powerful image captured in the teaser.

After being in the proximity of the homeless, the first victim uses hand-sanitizer, washing off “the germs” he associates with those who live on the streets. The image is perfectly disdainful, and perfectly apt.  You can’t “sanitize” away a lack of conscience, can you?

Just about the only person who does see the truth about the homeless is a street artist called The Trash Man. He understands that the homeless are largely powerless to help themselves, yet are judged a problem, not people to help.

In this case, however, the artist’s indignation at the heartlessness he views in his society proves so powerful that the emotion manifests a violent life of its own. Trash Man creates a thought-form, or “tulpa” (a Tibetan word for “phantom” or “conjured thing”) that carries out his agenda of rage.

To describe it bluntly, “Home Again” gazes at art, and considers both how it can enact social change, and -- frightfully -- must simultaneously be responsible for the change it enacts. 

This is not a small or inconsequential idea. 

Indeed, I have had many interviewers in the last few weeks ask me if The X-Files “created” the culture of conspiracy and is, therefore, somehow responsible for birthers, truthers, and so on.

My answer is always negative. I accept as an axiom the notion that art reflects life, and that The X-Files simply comments on and reflects those things detectable in the culture by the artists involved. 

What this episode seems to remind audiences is that works of art such as Star Trek, The X-Files, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead must not only address social concerns, but -- in shaping the culture -- showcase a sense of responsibility for the ideas they introduce.

I have never had any concern about The X-Files walking that fine line, because it never mindlessly espouses one point of view or another. The series mantra has always been “The Truth is Out There,” not “I Know What the Truth is, and it is Liberal and/or Conservative.”

“Home Again” re-affirms the series’ long-term commitment to gazing at issues through various filters, or lenses, and asking audiences to consider -- with an open mind -- all possibilities.

Here, we understand and sympathize with the artist’s rage at what he sees as the selfishness of the culture at large. He sees the terrible people who live in their McMansions, and don’t want their precious children going to school anywhere near “riff raff” like the homeless.

But at the same time, we see that the artist’s “anger” as a point of creative inspiration boasts murderous drawbacks.

Perhaps just that anger is a legitimate response to injustice, yes, but it is not a strategy for making things better.

Instead, it is an emotional response. It is not an answer in and of itself.

Once more, The X-Files appears to have captured the national moment in which we live, both acknowledging the rage that so many people feel, and noting, simultaneously, that it isn’t a productive emotion. 

As Scully trenchantly notes in “Home Again:” “we’re all responsible” for that which we create; that which we stoke; that which we put out into the world. 

Even the yellow notices posted on the streets of Philadelphia reinforce this idea: “You are responsible,” they read.

There are some politicians out there who are running for President right now and might very well learn this idea of responsibility the hard way if they continue to play to the anger and resentment of an embittered population instead of the better angels of our country’s nature. 

Anger isn’t a strategy for governance, nor one for tightening frayed national bonds.

“Home Again” thus considers how art -- and even speech -- takes on a life of its own once it has entered the world.  

And because this is The X-Files and not some run-of-the-mill horror show, Morgan’s script also boasts the wisdom to tie the idea of societal responsibility to Scully and her sense of personal responsibility.

Morgan's direction also makes it clear that this is Scully's story; her journey. When she flees a crime scene to see her sick mother, the camera gazes at her from inside her personal "bubble," and we get a close-up, jittery look at her anxiety. It's the perfect technique to make us understand what she is going through, and that her feelings are paramount.

Before long, Scully's mother helps Scully to understand that she made a mistake when she gave up William.  He is still out there, and even if she is not with him, she is responsible for bringing him into the world.

Even “Home Again’s” murder set-piece is a comment, in a way, on responsibility, or lack of responsibility. The Band-Aid Nosed Killer (the aforementioned tulpa or phantom) stalks an obnoxious lawyer to her suburban McMansion to the tune of “Downtown,” a 1964 song performed by Petula Clark and written by Tony Hatch.

Now, The X-Files possesses a long history of coupling music with horror.  In Morgan’s “Home,” we had the Peacocks attack to the tune “Wonderful.”  The song “Twilight Time” was utilized ironically in “Kill Switch,” and “The Hokey Pokey” informed brutal murder sequences in “Chinga.”

So this approach -- like the long, personal soliloquy of the voice over narration -- is a legitimate X-Files technique. I'm happy to see it resurrected in such style.

But more importantly, the tune “Downtown” is an ode or paean to not talking responsibility. The singer urges the listener to “forget all your troubles,” “forget all your cares” and visit “downtown.”  

There, you can enjoy “the music of the city” and feel all right, ostensibly.  But -- here's the rub -- Morgan's teleplay also refers to the homeless, euphemistically as "Downtown People."   

If you say it that way, it doesn't sound like you're such an awful person, right?

Of course, the city as depicted in “Home Again” is a heartless, caustic place, where the homeless are pawns to be moved around, hidden away, and “handled.” So “Downtown” knowingly pushes up against the episode’s depiction of the modern metropolis and its callous vibe.  The city is not a place to forget troubles or cares. It’s not a place where the music is happy. 

It’s a place where bad people are harming other people, and now a monster is murdering those bad people for their trespasses.

As an aficionado of the horror genre, the “Downtown” sequence in “Home Again” is everything that I would have hoped for and dreamed about regarding an X-Files revival. It’s a ghoulish, wicked scene, that generates scares and rights the scales of cosmic justice. I love when The X-Files hits such notes of irony and humor, with plenty of blood and guts to go along. These montages are scary and cerebral at the time, and "Home Again" lives up to that tradition.

For those who aren’t in The X-Files for the horror, or the social commentary, “Home Again” works superbly in terms of its fidelity to series history and its commitment to growing the characters, particularly Scully.  

Morgan and partner Wong gave us such early episodes of the series as “Beyond the Sea” and “One Breath,” both of which went a long way towards informing our understanding of Scully’s family of origin. It’s appropriate that Morgan should return to that terrain here, and use imagery from various episodes (including “One Breath”) to help us recall what Dana and the family have endured.

Also, I must confess, I love that “Home Again” -- and indeed, episodes such as “Founder’s Mutation” -- are operating on the belief that the last two seasons of the original series are also, legitimately, The X-Files.  

Some creators or writers run away from material that didn’t meet total fan approval. The X-Files, by bringing up William, and the events of the last two seasons, reminds fans that William’s story is The X-Files too. The revived X-Files doesn’t try to shake off those last two years (which I loved).  

Instead, it embraces those years, those characters, and those stories, and has weaved one of the most heartbreaking character arcs imaginable for Scully.  She grieves, throughout these episodes, for what she has lost; for what she has given away. Her mother’s words in this episode help her to understand her responsibility, vis-à-vis William, and I hope we will see her doing everything in her power to find him, in upcoming episodes and in upcoming seasons.

Again, this dynamic, heart-felt arc for Scully -- which has left my wife bereft and in tears on at least two occasions -- would not be possible without those last two seasons. 

I am so glad the creators of the series decided to embrace series history and not run away from it, just because of stupid conventional wisdom.

“Home Again” is -- like the three preceding episodes of this revival -- a triumph in terms of its literacy, its social commentary, and its character arc. Beautifully filmed, and emotionally resonant, "Home Again" brings the revival to a four-for-four tally.

Next Week: "Babylon."

Trading Card Close-up: Tron

Action Figures of the Week: Tron

Tron Storybook

Tron Yo-Yo (Duncan)

Tron GAF Viewmaster

Board Game of the Week: Tron (Ideal)

Movie Trailer: Tron (1982)

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Blogging: "The Enemy Within" (October 6, 1966)

Stardate: 1672.1

The U.S.S. Enterprise crew conducts a “specimen gathering mission” on the surface of planet Alfa 177. The inhospitable planet turns deadly at night, when the temperature drops to “120 below zero.”

A crewman, Fisher, beams up to the Enterprise after taking a fall. Unfortunately, the technician’s uniform is contaminated with a strange metallic ore, and the ore damages the ship’s transporter.

When Captain Kirk (William Shatner) beams up to the ship, the damaged device splits him into two individuals. One is savage and avaricious. The other is weak and diffident.  The violent, “dark” Captain Kirk assaults Yeoman Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) and demands Saurian brandy from Bones (De Forest Kelley), while the other must cope with his dwindling ability to command a starship.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sulu (George Takei) and his landing party on Alfa 177 must remain the night on the frozen world, pending the repair of the transporter.

While Kirk is disgusted by the sight and thought of a vicious, barbaric double, Mr. Spock sees an opportunity for study, to understand the qualities that make a person a great commander…

Penned by the great Richard Matheson (1926-2013), “The Enemy Within” is a classic episode of Star Trek (1966-1969). Matheson’s teleplay examines -- through the use of a transporter malfunction -- the dual nature of humanity. 

Inspired in art by the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Matheson has penned a story about Captain Kirk which reminds the audience that strength, leadership, decisiveness, even, may stem from a negative or dark part of the psyche.  This is a powerful revelation, and Kirk’s final, sad musing that he has “seen a part of” himself “that no man should ever see” is powerful, even haunting.

“The Enemy Within” has for a long time been esteemed as a great episode of Star Trek, but I wonder, after my recent viewing, if it hasn’t aged poorly to some degree.

For example, Spock’s joke to Yeoman Rand at the end of the episode (about the evil, assaulting Kirk having some interesting qualities) is in bad taste and insensitive, for example. What a terrible thing to say to someone who has suffered an assault from someone she cares for. Knowing what Whitney suffered on the set of Star Trek makes the remark even worse.

Furthermore, the last act is drawn out, with the two Kirks being forced to embrace each other at great length, and with great emotionality.

Much worse, in my estimation, “The Enemy Within” is an absolute mess from a visual standpoint. The editing is sloppy in some crucial instances. 

For example, early in the episode, Kirk’s uniform is missing an insignia.  In the very next scene, it has returned to its proper placement.

And in the episodes final confrontation, the bridge’s view-screen is a big white board…with no image projected upon it in post-production. This really sticks out. It’s not like we’ve ever seen the screen in “off” mode before.

Then, of course, there are all the compositions that have been printed in reverse, meaning that haircuts are parted on the wrong side and insignias appear placed the wrong side.

In toto, this is a sloppy episode of Star Trek from a visual standpoint, and the mistakes are jarring, repetitive, and frequent. The alien dog with the antennae and electronic bark is also one of the sillier aliens to make an appearance on the program.

If I were William Shatner, I would certainly have cause for complaint about the production values, editing, and shooting of this story. 

After all, he delivers not one but two phenomenal performances in this episode, and his efforts are under-cut frequently by the pervasive mistakes. When he takes center stage, however, Shatner is indeed a commanding presence.  His “dark” Kirk is a ferocious, feral presence.

Even the threat of the week -- crew members trapped on a frozen planet -- doesn’t hold up well today because in 2016 we all know that the Enterprise houses shuttlecrafts.  They should be used to rescue Sulu and his cohorts, but of course, in terms of production, a shuttle didn’t yet exist, either practically or in the imagination of the writers and producers.  

But looking back, it’s a glaring omission, and adds to the sense that the episode is sloppy, or ill-considered.

The qualities that make “The Enemy Within” stand out involve the clever observations about human nature, particularly from Spock.

Although I believe it is a mistake that he would note his “alien” rather than Vulcan half, specifically, his point is nonetheless well-taken.  He has two sides fighting a war inside of him, every single day. 

But Spock’s observation that what makes a man a leader is “his negative side,” properly controlled, is unforgettable. That’s a pretty daring observation for a young TV show, and one in the mainstream.  

It says, essentially, we derive or power and strength from dark or negative impulses. We aren’t altruistic beings. We don’t seek power for noble reasons.  But, if even tempered, we can still do good things with that power.

In terms of overall structure -- as I wrote about in regards to “Where No Man Has Gone Before” two weeks ago -- it is good to have McCoy arguing the other side of the debate.  He doesn’t see a dark side or a negative side here. “It’s not really ugly, it’s human,” he says, and that’s a good point too.

“The Enemy Within” is an important episode to Star Trek not merely for its dissection of Kirk’s leadership, but because it gives us a number of important series firsts. This is the first episode in which Spock uses the famous Vulcan nerve pinch.  It is also the first time we hear McCoy say his immortal line, “He’s dead Jim.”  We saw some of Engineering in “The Naked Time,” but this is the first episode that features an extended sequence set there, if memory serves.

I’ve always loved and admired “The Enemy Within,” but this time, while I watched, I wondered if time had finally passed it by. There is a legitimately great episode of Voyager (1995-2001), for example, called “Tuvix,” wherein Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) must examine the moral case for separating two life forms who have been blended by transporter (Tuvok and Nuvix). 

That episode works on a stronger, more advanced philosophical level, and has fewer unforced visual errors.

Of course, at the same time, I’ll be the first to admit that “Tuvix” couldn’t exist had “The Enemy Within” not arrived first.

For me, the reason to watch this episode remains William Shatner’s gonzo, totally-committed performance. Also, I love the Rand/Kirk scenes.  That is a fascinating relationship that I wished had been given the opportunity to develop more fully.

Next week: “Mudd’s Women.”

Die Hard on a Blog: Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)

The biggest problem with Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990), perhaps, is that it follows on the heels of a legitimately great movie in its franchise.  

John McTiernan’s Die Hard (1988) is brilliantly constructed in terms of its character dynamics, its camera-work, and even its primal male fantasy sub-text. It's the gold standard in terms of the action genre, at least for its era.

Die Hard 2 is good enough to merit a positive review, and proved an even bigger success at the box office than Die Hard did. But watching Die Hard 2 today, one cannot help but feel that virtually every ingredient featured this time around is a bit less artfully calibrated.

The villains are a huge step-down from Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, for one thing. Similarly, McClane begins the slippery descent from Every Man to Super Man in this movie, and the supporting characters who make a return appearance -- like narcissistic Dick Thornburg (William Atherton) -- feel shoe-horned into the plot. 

When the movie culminates with the first Die Hard’s R-rated catchphrase, and the same closing song  too -- “Let it Snow” -- the impression of not a sequel, but a rehash, is firmly cemented.

By contrast, the next film in the cycle, Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) throws out enough standards (the isolated location, the man-alone syndrome, and the Christmas Day setting) to transmit as a more legitimately original follow-up to a masterful action classic.

This first sequel, however, expertly solidifies some intriguing elements that, perhaps, aren’t always considered in regards to the Die Hard formula. I admire here, for example, McClane’s pattern of cooperating with other Every Men (and Women) such as Marvin (Tom Bower) the janitor, Barnes (Art Evans)  the airport engineer, and non-narcissistic journalist, "Sam" Coleman (Sheila McCarthy)  

They are all real people, working real jobs, often going up against the bureaucracy -- or Establishment --  a key obstacle, if not outright villain, of the overarching Die Hard saga.

Undeniably, Die Hard 2: Die Harder is impressively-made and boasts moments of pure exhilaration. It is also superior to some of the franchise’s later entries, so it has that going for it. Yet -- to quote again  Roger Ebert and his review of Halloween II (1981) --  this sequel is still a “fall from greatness.”

Perhaps this sequel is not a steep fall, or a crash on the runway, but Die Hard 2 nonetheless begins showing the incipient symptoms of franchise-itis.

“You’re the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

L.A. cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) waits in Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. for the arrival of his wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) from California.

Unfortunately, the renegade Colonel Stuart (William Sadler) and his team of special forces troops take over the air-port, stop all incoming flights, and attempt to rescue an incoming American hostage, deposed strong man General Esperanza (Franco Nero).

McClane must now get Holly’s plane safely to the ground before it runs out of fuel, and defeat Stuart, Esperanza, and a fiendish double agent, Major Grant (John Amos).

“Another basement, another elevator…how can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?”

Die Hard 2: Die Harder is based on the 1987 novel 58 Minutes by Walter Wager, which concerns a retired police detective fighting to defeat terrorists who have seized an airport, and get his daughter --trapped on a plane overhead --  down to the ground safely.

So if Die Hard was a dynamic extension of The Towering Inferno (1974) paradigm, Die Hard adopts its setting from not only a novel (like Thorp’s Nothing Lasts Forever), but from the disaster genre too, namely Arthur Hailey’s Airport.  

In the Airport movies -- which were released from 1970 to 1979, approximately -- a plane in flight is jeopardized, and intrigue occurs at an airport. Die Harder adds to this common scenario seem key real life "current events."

Colonel Stuart, for example, is a clear corollary for convicted felon (and failed senate candidate), Lt. Colonel Oliver North, who lied to Congress, and was a “functionary” in the Iran-Contra Scandal, which was still big news in 1989, when Die Hard 2 was conceived.  

The film also recreates the international conspiracy angle of that illegal operation with the presence of Esperanza and Grant as shadowy colleagues. In other words, the villains in this piece are American soldiers who don’t view the rule of law as an obstacle to them. They pursue their illegal and so-called patriotic agenda anyway, which actually involves propping up right wing dictators in third world nations. American lives mean nothing to these vainglorious scoundrels.

The James Bond franchise also featured an Oliver North-like criminal -- Joe Don Baker's Whitaker -- in 1987, in The Living Daylights.But despite the intentional resemblance to such real-life malfeasants, Stuart, Eperanza and Amos -- three villains for the price of one -- still can’t match Rickman’s urbane, self-aware Gruber in terms of menace. 

There’s even an unnecessary scene here in which Stuart apes a fake accent (Southern) to trick a British plane into crashing. The whole attempt comes off as a pale imitation of the “Bill Clay” scene in Die Hard.  

All three actors are fine in their roles, I should hasten to add, and I’m a big fan of Sadler (see: Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.) But three lesser-villains just don’t make up for one guy who is, essentially, the perfect bad guy. I believe it was a mistake dividing the villain role across three individuals, as not one of them offers the same kind of intricacy or three-dimensional personality as Rickman projected.  They don't have enough screen time, for one thing.

Renny Harlin achieves much directing Die Hard: Die Harder, but some of the core visual conceits here are quite different, and inferior to the original strategy. McTiernan’s furtive, desperate, rolling, tilting, panning camera is gone, and a consequence of that absence is that the action doesn’t feel quite as immediate. 

As I wrote in my review last week, Die Hard’s photography aped the man-alone desperation of McClane.  No such technique informs the action here.

Also, the camera-work and narrative details made it truly seem that McClane was in mortal danger throughout Die Hard.  He had to run across broken glass in one scene, and paid the price in blood. He was scared and desperate, and often won battles on the basis of pure grit and luck. In Die Hard 2, he has much greater -- and perhaps -- super-heroic luck.

For instance, there’s a silly scene set at the under-construction Skyway Annex. McClane is seen rolling across the floor -- in plain sight -- and terrorists bracket him. 

He rolls and pivots, in clear view, picking off the terrorists, and they don’t get in even one clear shot.  Not even a flesh wound!  Again, McClane is an obvious, slow-moving target.  

Even an Imperial stormtrooper would graze him!

The shot looks awesome, of course. McClane looks bad-ass slowly rolling across the floor, expertly picking off his nemeses, but the sense of furtive desperation is gone.

Similarly, in a later scene, McClane is trapped inside a grounded plane, as Stuart lobs a half-dozen or so grenades into the cockpit with him. The devices land next to his face, at his feet, and around the cabin. Yet McClane still gets ample time to strap himself into a chair, pull an eject lever, and escape the cabin before even one grenade detonates.

At most he would have 3-5 seconds, once the grenade lands.

He gets a lot more time than that to achieve his spectacular escape. 

Again -- mea culpa -- I love this scene in terms of the special effects presented, and Willis's spirited performance. It is fantastic and delightful to see the chair (with McClane strapped to it...) hurtle right towards the camera (taking up a position high in the sky), as an explosion blossoms below him. 

 But Harlin doesn’t get us to that great visual punch-line without cheating the set-up.

One is left to conclude that McClane has begun the journey from determined, gritty, human cop to Rambo-like super-hero. The slide is reversed a bit in the next film, which gives McClane a hang-over, and restores the furtive camera-work. 

But then the slide continues, unabated in the franchise.

Still, I appreciate how Die Hard 2: Die Harder sets out to establish or fully-cement some aspects of the so-called Die Hard paradigm. 

Here, McClane allies with people who, if not outright blue collar in terms of their jobs, are either cultural/gender minorities, or out of power, to achieve his ends.  

He befriends a reporter named Samantha, for instance, who comes through for him right when he needs her.  McClane treats her with respect (or at least more respect than Stuart does...), and Samantha gets him access to a helicopter when he needs it.

Engineer Barnes, largely ignored and considered unimportant by his superiors and Carmine, demonstrates ingenuity and initiative in finding the terrorists’ headquarters at a nearby church.  

And Marvin the janitor is crucial in leading McClane from one part of the airport complex to another. These three friends -- disdained, disciplined, and lacking privilege and/or authority -- are crucial to John’s success.

By contrast, Die Harder also diagrams the idea that there are two kinds of bad guys in these films.  

First, there are the terrorists who actually attempt to do evil, with finely-crafted strategies and brute force.  

And then there is the establishment, or bureaucracy, which prevents John from doing his job successfully.  

Representing the latter category, we meet two police officers, Carmine Lorenzo (Dennis Franz) and his brother, Vito (Robert Constanzo), who make one wrong-headed decision after the other, thoroughly gumming up the works and making it easier for the terrorists to complete their anti-social tasks.  

Trudeau (Fred Thompson) is a more neutral “establishment” figure, one who must be persuaded to trust McClane, but who then qualifies an ally of sorts.

Part of the Die Hard franchise’s Every Man appeal involves this “Fighting City Hall” story angle. John makes friends and enemies as he fights the good fight. And he has a perfect barometer in choosing his friends. They are are usually lower-level, disenfranchised people who nonetheless know their jobs, and clearly see right from wrong.  

Yet the nearer the distance to power someone becomes, these movies tell us, the harder it is for people to embody that kind of clear-headed thought. They are bogged down in red tape, and lose their clear moral compass.

Die Hard 2: Die Harder succeeds as much as it does because the location/setting -- a snowed in airport -- is unique and intriguing, and the danger to the planes overhead is palpable. It is a horrific scene, indeed, when the terrorists trick a plane into landing…and it blows up on the tarmac. 

We all harbor a fear of flying, at least at some level, and Die Hard 2 absolutely taps into that universal dread.

Yet still, by the end of the film, I felt that the sequel had failed to tread boldly enough into new territory. Having John note “how can the same shit happen to the same guy twice” is meta and funny, I suppose, but  the in-joke doesn’t cure the film of its particular deficit: repeating too many of the ideas that informed John McTiernan’s original.  It tells the same jokes, in other words, but tells them less effectively and artfully.

For purposes of franchise building, I absolutely believe that McClane can -- and indeed, must -- get himself into danger again.  

I have more trouble believing it would occur again on Christmas Eve, and so intimately involve his wife Holly and journalist Thornburg. The movie’s choice to end again with fire and “Let it Snow” is also a sign of creative exhaustion.  

Too many notes are, literally, repeated.

Clearly, Die Hard 2: Die Harder got the job done, both at the box office and in terms of fan expectations. I can second-guess it all I want, and the facts don't change.

It’s a solid sequel. But at the same time, some of Die Hard’s inspiration clearly didn’t make the flight with the rest of the luggage.

Next Week for Die Hard on a Blog: Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995).