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SWAGGER, NOT STYLE

The worldwide headquarters and hindquarters of freelance writer Chris Klimek

Wrestling Guys

Chris Klimek

My review of Woolly Mammoth's production of Kristoffer Diaz's very funny wrestling play The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity ran in the City Paper last Friday, while I was busy cavorting abroad.

Her name? None of your business!

. . .

That was a little joke. Very. Sorry. I was in airports and on planes for 25 hours yesterday, which is yesterday-plus. Cut me some slack, willya?

Upgrade

Chris Klimek

My typical Cliff Bar:

And the Cliff Bar to which I am presently en route:

In other urgent programming news, I'll have a review of Woolly Mammoth's production of Kristoffer Diaz's The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity in Thursday's City Paper. It's pretty great. The play, not my notice, though I have hopes for that, too. But that'll be it for the next couple of weeks, most likely.

I Think About Autism, Therefore I'm Not: Theater J's Body Awareness, reviewed

Chris Klimek

[caption id="attachment_8919" align="alignleft" width="500"] Bedroom cries: MaryBeth Wise, Susan Lynskey & Adi Stein[/caption]I reviewed Theater J's production of Annie Baker's breakout play, Body Awareness, in today's City Paper. Two years ago I reviewed Baker's follow-up, Circle Mirror Transformation, for the Examiner.

A Man's Got to Know His Limitations: On "Go ahead, make my day."

Chris Klimek

Too much sugar in his coffee. From 1983's Sudden Impact.

Too much sugar in his coffee. From 1983's Sudden Impact.

Clint Eastwood's dotty speech at the Republican National Convention was depressing on a number of levels. The least of them being that he croaked out the wrong Dirty Harry catchphrase. I plead my case in the City Paper.

Faux REALS: On the Longevity of the Longjohn-Wearing Hero

Chris Klimek

“…but brother, there are days when I wish I was Plastic Man or the Flash or one of those happy-go-lucky bozos.”

“…but brother, there are days when I wish I was Plastic Man or the Flash or one of those happy-go-lucky bozos.”

I wrote about Gwydion Suilebhan's new superhero play REALS this week, taking his provocation that "Superhero films are bad for you" as a jumping off point for talking about, well, superhero films. Not quite 10 years ago, I spent the better part of a year trying to write one. It was called Hero Complex, and it was about a guy who becomes convinced he's the illegitimate son of The Gryphon, the mightiest hero around. I was aiming for a bittersweet comedy with touches of doomed romance and magical realism. I pitched it to my professor and fellow students in my screenwriting program as "a Wes Anderson superhero movie."

I wrote two full drafts and many more first acts. I had a version where my hero was in his early 20s and unattached, and a version where he was 40 and married with kids. Neither was very good, but there was a scene here, a line there, that I thought might be worth saving.

Then The Incredibles came out. That's not a film that bears much resemblance to my description of the one I was trying to sweat into existence, but at the time it felt close enough to make me throw up my hands. I loved The Incredibles. I felt certain my screenplay would never get to be that good, no matter how many night and weekends I sacrificed to it on the altar of my crumb-covered, coffee-stained keyboard.

Lots more superhero films have come out since then, including a handful that don't fit squarely into the simple, square, unironic superhero peg: Hancock. Kick-Ass. I don't love those movies, but seeing them did make me feel like maybe the problems of my long-abandoned superhero script were not insoluble. Perhaps one day I'll break my leg on an irradiated square of pavement, and be mysteriously imbued with the power of... patience, as I'm laid up waiting to be healed, to maybe take another crack at it.

Looted

Chris Klimek

It's nice to be liked, but it's better by far to get paid. -- Liz Phair, "Shitloads of Money"

'Tis better to give than to receive, goes the bromide. But gift-giving occasions are often stressful for me because I really, really want to pick something good; something that shows the recipient of the gift how much I understand them and respect their taste (secondary objective) and also, if I'm being honest, that they will forevermore remember came from me (PRIMARY objective).

I never give someone a book to keep without inscribing it, for example. I take something the author of the book spent months or years on, then spend maybe 10 minutes thinking of something to write in the flyleaf and sign my name to it. Admittedly, this sounds kind of obnoxious. I used to find the notion of wedding registries and requested gifts kind of gross, but maybe they take that narcissistic element out of gift-giving. Then again, if I really want to to give someone a present, as opposed to feeling obligated to, is it really so terrible if I want that gift to serve as a symbol for our relationship?

Anyway. I had a birthday earlier this month. While I'm way past the point of feeling delighted about packing on another treetrunk-ring, I was moved by the gifts I received, particularly from people I've only met in the last few years. They seem to understand me! And respect my taste!

These presents shall forevermore remind me of them.

[caption id="attachment_8826" align="alignright" width="500"] New graphic novel from Eddie Campbell, the FROM HELL and ALEC cartoonist whose work I've admired for years.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_8829" align="alignright" width="500"] New graphic novel from Jeff Lemire, whose work I do not know but comes highly recommended from the gift-giver.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_8830" align="alignright" width="500"] Transcripts of filmmaker interviews conducted at the American Film Institute.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_8828" align="alignright" width="500"] Taxonomy of super-powers poster. Helpful.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_8845" align="alignright" width="500"] An original painting![/caption] [caption id="attachment_8846" align="alignright" width="500"] Self-articulating, battery-operated James Brown doll that shakes his hips and sings "I Feel Good." My attempts to reprogram it to sing "Licking Stick" have thus far proven unsuccessful.[/caption]

Emmylou Harris and John Prine at Wolf Trap, reviewed

Chris Klimek

Wow. It appears that the last time Emmylou Harris played at Wolf Trap, in 2008, I tried to corner the market, penning a a review of her then-most-recent album for the Washington Post as well as a Post review of the concert and a profile for The Examiner that I can't find a link to now. I used to have it on this site as a PDF, but then Apple discontinued its .Mac service. It's the circle of life, I suppose. Anyway. Emmylou was at Wolf Trap again this week, co-headlining with her fellow 65-year-old John Prine. Once again, she invited her pal and (she said) favorite singer, John Starling of the Seldom Scene, to perform with her. And once again, I covered the show for the Post.

I Haven't Been on Vacation

Chris Klimek

[caption id="attachment_8801" align="aligncenter" width="500"] With two of my trusted Fringe & Purge Action News and Commentary Squad colleagues, Rachel Manteuffel and Derek Hills. I'm on the right.[/caption]A laughable suggestion, HA HA HA! I wouldn't know a vacation if one punched me in the face and then told me my flight was cancelled! I spent most of July running the City Paper's coverage of the seventh Capital Fringe Festival, archived here if you're curious. I started a Fringe podcast this year, which took more time to produce at an acceptable level of quality than I wanted it to, but that's how it goes. The episodes I think came out the best are here and here and here and here.

And now we've got a Mini Cooper-sized robot trawling around on Mars looking for signs of life and Fringe is over and I'm another year older and because it is August, I am severely questioning my decision to return to DC from glorious, low-humidity coastal Southern California. But I'm back. Semi-regular programming shall resume shortly.

Him Again: Mike Daisey, Unreliable Narrator.

Chris Klimek

Mike Daisey is done with penance and on to atonement.

Mike Daisey is done with penance and on to atonement.

I've already written at length about my reaction to the news that Mike Daisey -- a stage storyteller whose work I've admired for years -- fabricated the most emotionally resonant elements of his tech-manufacturing expose monologue The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. He's bringing the show back to the place of its birth, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, for a three-week engagement starting next week.

I spent a vacation week from my day job writing about him again. It was not at all restful. It did not help that my usual and customary stress valves -- running and boxing -- were both severely impaired by a record-pummeling 11-day heatwave here in Our Nation's Capital that included the hottest day ever recorded in Washington, DC: 105 degrees Fahrenheit on July 7, if you care. On the plus side, my electricity stayed on.

But I digress! My cover story in this week's Washington City Paper does some chin-scratching about Woolly's decision to stage Daisey's controversial show again, and attempts to explain why I think Daisey remains an important artist despite the poor decisions he made during his perilous crossing of the artist-activist Rubicon. I'll take what he says on stage from now on with a grain of salt, but then I always did. The main thing is I'll keep showing up to hear what he says.

Read all about it here, or pick yourself up a dead-tree copy wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away for free.

AIDS Crisis on Infinite Earths: On The History of Invulnerability and The Normal Heart

Chris Klimek

SUPERFAMILIAS: David Deblinger and Tim Getman (Stan Barouh/Theater J)

SUPERFAMILIAS: David Deblinger and Tim Getman (Stan Barouh/Theater J)

Any honest critic will occasionally find himself out on a lonely limb, and this week it's my turn. To me and apparently no one else, Arena Stage's The Normal Heart -- a historically vital play about the early years of the AIDS epidemic in New York City -- is morally worthy but artistically wanting. I am girding myself for hate mail.

People sometimes make fun of Ford's Theatre's presidential history plays for being dowdy and pedantic; for being more interested in teaching us A Very Important Lesson than in taking us somewhere. That's how The Normal Heart felt to me, albeit with a lot more crying. (Also, I tend to like the musty presidential histories.) I happen to agree with the play's politics, as I understand them -- though that really shouldn't matter at all -- and I acknowledge in my review that activist/playwright Larry Kramer was writing in a time and place when subtlety would not have been an appropriate or effective response to the nightmare he and his peers were living through.

I just don't think the preachy, shouty play he wrote holds up, removed from that urgent context. Your mileage may, and probably will, vary.

Tim Getman, David Raphaely and David Deblinger. (Stan Barouh/Theater J)

Tim Getman, David Raphaely and David Deblinger. (Stan Barouh/Theater J)

But I lurrrved Theater J's The History of Invulnerability, which ties in the sad tale of Jerry Siegel getting rooked out of the rights to his wildly lucrative creation, Superman, with an exponentially sadder one, and mostly gets away with it. Ironically, it too makes liberal use of the direct-address lecture format, but it works better here because the characters acknowledge they're speaking to the audience when speaking to the audience instead of being forced to pass off their diatribes as dialogue, like in some plays I could name and already have.

Read all about it in today Daily Pla -- er, Washington City Paper, available (all together now) wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away for free.

Hat tip to my City Paper editor, Jon Fischer, for the title of this post. We thought it a little too inside to use in the paper.

The Beach Boys at Merriweather

Chris Klimek

[caption id="attachment_8649" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Three out of five original Beach Boys are still kicking.[/caption]My review of Friday's night's Beach Boys concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion is in today's Washington Post. I thought it was odd that the 14-piece band played along to the recorded vocal track of Dennis Wilson (d. 1983) singing "Forever" and then to a recording of Carl Wilson (d. 1998) singing "God Only Knows," but the fact that "Heroes and Villains" made the setlist inclines me to forgive them anything. Here's my favorite cover of "God Only Knows," performed by Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet in I think 1995.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MWepEpW3Ls&w=420&h=315]

SILVERDOCS: On Joe Papp in Five Acts

Chris Klimek

[caption id="attachment_8749" align="alignright" width="300"] Joseph Papp, 1921-1991[/caption]Man, I really miss going to SILVERDOCS. I don't think I've been since 2009, maybe 2008. Late June has always been a crunch for me since I started handling the City Paper's coverage of the Capital Fringe Festival, which runs the last three weeks of July, back in 2010. I did review a screener of one doc, Joe Papp in Five Acts, about the much beloved founder of New York's Shakespeare in the Park and then The Public Theater.

Blame It on Cain: Round House's Double Indemnity, reviewed

Chris Klimek

Here's my City Paper review of Round House Theatre's production of the stage adaptation of Double Indemnity, based on James M. Cain's Depression-era serialized novel. Some plot developments may seem unfamiliar to those of us who only know the story from Billy Wilder's iconic 1944 film noir, which departs from Cain's structure in ways that're all to the good. There's nothing wrong with this play, really, but it's hardly an essential document the way Wilder's movie is.

There Will Be Acid-Blood: Musing on Prometheus

Chris Klimek

I owned this.

I owned this.

Over at NPR Monkey See today, I write about about the Sisyphean task Ridley Scott has taken on in trying to make his breathlessly-awaited, origins-of-life epic Prometheus compelling enough to compete with my adolescent obsession with the seminal films of the ALIEN franchise. (Ongoing, sadly. My fascination, not the franchise. But that's ongoing too, obviously.) I had fun writing it. I hope you like it. Prometheus is the sort of problem film where you know that diagnosing its failings and parsing its mysteries is the greater, more lasting pleasure than actually watching it (though I did enjoy watching it), a trait it shares with the latter two ALIEN joints. The best I can hope for is to go to my grave having purchased only one home-video version. If you're interested in used VHS copies of the original release cuts or extended special editions of ALIEN or ALIENS, or the ALIEN Quadrilogy DVD set, I will totally give you a deal.

The Full Monty: Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play, reivewed

Chris Klimek

mr-burns-picture

However precipitous its decline, The Simpsons remains the only TV show my entire family will sit in the same room and watch together. (Mom, I suspect, might just be going along to get along.) But one needn't have so intimate an association with TV's longest-lived comedy to appreciate the grim genius of Anne Washburn's Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play. I review Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company's world-premiere production in today's Washington City Paper, available wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away for free. Sorry about the ugly split infinitive that crept in there, you guys. Oh, and I should find out tomorrow whether of not I won the AltWeekly Award that I'm up for. I'd be honored to take third place behind the other two finalists in my category -- arts criticism, circulation 50,000 and up -- but upon reflection I would rather take second. Or first, even. Please cross all six fingers for me.

That's a little Simpsons joke, there. Very.

They Want Their Money Back If You're Alive at 33: WSC Avant Bard's The Tooth of Crime

Chris Klimek

John Tweel sits atop a throne of guitars as Hoss.

John Tweel sits atop a throne of guitars as Hoss.

I struggled with Kathleen Akerley's production of Sam Shepard's The Tooth of Crime after I saw it last weekend. The play is a fascinating time capsule of how much danger and possibility pop music, and rock and roll specifically, must've still had when Shepard wrote it back in 1972. That gives it a charm that partially compensates for the fact the (apparently) postapocalyptic world it's set in is so cryptic and thinly drawn.

If you're going to see it -- and Tom Carman's performance is a good reason to, though you'll have to stick around past intermission to see him -- you'll want to glance at the synopsis on Shepard's official site or the play's Wikipedia page first. I almost always do advance reconnaissance on a show I'm reviewing anyway, because you know, I'm a stone pro over here. But generally speaking, one shouldn't need a synopsis just to be able to follow what's happening.

(Irrelevant thing I learned: A 2006 revival of Shepard's original version of the play -- that is, not the revised mid-90s script that the production I reviewed uses -- starred Ray Wise, who I actually had lunch with once. He treated me to his impression of Paul Verhoeven, who directed him in RoboCop, saying now I suppose that we are fucked! Nice guy, Ray Wise.)

Tom Carman is Crow, the reason to go.

Tom Carman is Crow, the reason to go.

Anyway. I'm still thinking about The Tooth of Crime a week after I saw it. So in a strange way I'm more grateful for this -- a flawed production of a flawed play -- than I am for the Shakepeare Theater Company's The Servant of Two Masters, a completely successful, crowd-pleasing revival of an 18th century comedy that many of my colleagues at the City Paper and elsewhere loved. Me? I liked it well enough but would have forgotten it entirely on the four-stop Metro ride home if I hadn't had to write about it. Different strokes for different folks.

On Criticism

Chris Klimek

Critic/profilie writer par excellence Ken Tynan in 1966. Item No. 11 on my list should've been "Don't smoke."

Critic/profilie writer par excellence Ken Tynan in 1966. Item No. 11 on my list should've been "Don't smoke."

On Sunday evening I had the pleasure of talking with a dozen or so very smart high schoolers enrolled in the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Young Critics Program. They've seen and written about every show in the STC's season this year, and heard from several other guest speakers. The invitation suggested a few topics and said I should be ready with material enough to speak for 30 minutes, with some additional time after that for questions and discussion. They wanted some basic biographical stuff and some inside-baseball stuff about writing for newspapers, but the part I was most interested in talking about is the basic set of principles I try to use when I write criticism. I made notes. Since I already went to the trouble of typing them, I'd like to share them here.

I should acknowledge I've lifted at least a few of these from a talk my pal the great film critic Michael Phillips, currently of the Chicago Tribune, gave during an NEA fellowship I took part in in Los Angeles in 2009. Hail and thank you, Michael Phillips.

Also, please bear in mind I was trying to make my comments appropriate for an audience of precocious ninth-through-12th-graders. So people much smarter than I am, in other words.

Here's what I said to them.{C}

. . .

When you’re writing criticism, you’re interrogating your knee-jerk impressions. We know what what we like when we see it, and we know when we instantly dislike something, but often we don’t know why. Criticism is about figuring out the why for yourself, and then explaining that in a way that also gives your reader some useful information about the play or book or film or whatever it is.

That continual process of asking youself “Why do I feel this way?” will broaden your taste. You may find yourself more open to experiencing different kinds of art that hadn’t appealed to you previously. That's a great reason to try writing criticism. But first, let’s talk about why to read it.

1. What is criticism for? A few things, actually.

(In sequence from least-interesting to most:)

A review can help your readers decide whether the thing you’re reviewing is worth their time and money. This is sometimes called the “consumer guide” function. I think this is the least interesting thing criticism does, but theaters and newspapers will remain invested in it, I expect. You guys have grown up with blogs and Twitter accounts and all these ways for people who don’t write for a living to share their opinions with a mass audience. But a few professional critics can still influence the commercial fate of a show.

A review creates a record for posterity of what this ephemeral thing -- a play or a concert or an art exhibit -- was, or of how an non-ephemeral document, like a book or a movie, was received in its time. Some great art is instantly recognizeable as great, but a lot of it isn’t fully appreciated until much later. A review will almost always have been written within 72 hours of seeing a play, and usually much sooner than that, so it will document a fairly fresh reaction to what the critic saw.

Reviews can help you keep tabs on what’s going on. You can’t see every play performed in DC, or read every book published or hear every album released in a given year. If keeping up with art is important to you, reading criticism can help you stay informed.

A review can offer your readers a surrogate experience of seeing or reading or hearing something you don’t have the opportunity to witness firsthand -- or a surrogate experience of experiencing a piece of art through someone else’ eyes. This function is what I personally am most interested in as a reader. Everything I experience in the world is framed by my personal history, my education, my emotional state. A good writer can make me see what he saw.

It is possible to do all of these things in one piece.

2. Objectivity? Fuggedaboudit.

Yes, of course you have to go into everything you see with an open mind. But I still want you to review the show as you. We all have our prejudices -- a more polite word would be preferences -- so write in a way that lets your reader know what those are. That’s more honest and more interesting than pretending you don’t have any. Some of the critics I read the most faithfully are the ones I tend to disagree with more often than not. Personally, I want to read vivid, expressive writing more than than I want to read that someone agrees with me.

3. Research Will Save You Time.

Know something about what you’re about to see. Is it a new play? If so, what else has that playwright written? Has this director worked at this theater before? If it’s a new production of a classic, think about why this company is choosing to do this play now. Is is just a popular seat-filler, or is there something about what’s happening in the world that makes this play seem particularly relevant? Are they doing something new with an old play, changing the setting or the gender or race of its main character, for example?

You don’t need to be a scholar in this play or this playwright, but you should try to know more than the person sitting next to you. (Unless the person next to you is someone you chose to bring for their knowledge on the subject, which is often a good idea.)

4. The Three Questions.

Your review should let your reader know these three things: What is this production trying to achieve? Was it successful? Is the thing that it succeeded or failed at something that’s worth doing at all?

If you answer these questions and show your work, you won’t have to say “I like this” or “I didn’t like this,” because those sentences are boring to write and boring to read, and your reader will already understand whether you liked it or didn’t because of how you chose to answer those three questions.

5. It’s a Big Language. Learn It and Use It.

We all like to read copy that flows easily and feels conversational. But writing is different from speaking. Even if you’re writing on deadline, by which I mean you need to write your review immediately after the show ends, you still have more time to turn your thoughts into language than you do when you’re just talking. So take some time to find the words that most specifically express your meaning. More words won’t necessarily make your review stronger, but making your words more precise will, every time.

6. Be Funny...

...because your readers will appreciate it, and it will make them remember you and look for your byline...

7. ...But NEVER Be Mean.

The performers you’re watching are exposing themselves to you emotionally. The results might be brilliant and might be terrible. Most of the time, they’ll be neither of those. But show them the respect of giving them your full attention, and of doing everything you can to understand what they’re trying to do. Then be honest about what worked for you and what didn’t.

8. Show Your Work.

Don’t say, “The acting is fantastic. The costumes are beautiful. The sets are astonishing.” Those are abstractions. None of those sentences put a picture the reader’s mind. I want you to tell me what you saw, what you experienced, as specifically as possible. “I like the suspicious, feral quality Liam Hemsworth brings to the role of Prince Hamlet,” is better than “Liam Hemsworth’s acting as Hamlet is truly outstanding.”

9. Anything Is More Interesting Than a Plot Summary.

Sometimes you can’t get away without a sentence or three about the story, but make it as short as possible. This is the one area where it’s okay to be vague.

10. That Marker Is Permanent.

Assume that what you write for publication is going to outlive you, so make sure to write something you can live with. And take pride in your work. Anyone who takes an interest in you will be able to find it if they want to. Your review will always be around, and your name will always be on it, so make it as thoughtful and funny and expressive as you can. And once you’ve done that, don’t forget to sweat the little stuff: Check the spelling of names, and make sure your reporting about prior productions, etc., is sound. BLACKOUT. End of play.

. . .

As the class was discussing item no. 3, specifically, that part about considering how a new production of an old play might recontextualize the piece, one girl mentioned how much she'd liked the STC's The Two Gentlemen of Verona from back in January. When I reviewed it, I said the production's attempts to appeal to an audience the age of its principal characters by incorporating text messaging and U2 songs felt desperate. I mean, I like U2. Love them, actually. But then I'm vintage enough that I was several years out of college before I ever sent a text message, or even had a cell phone. Is there a 17-year-old in the world in 2012 who cares about U2?

Well, this girl said it all felt relevant to her. That's the word she used. I was grateful to be reminded that as with so many things in life, you can apply these tools sincerely and you might still end up sincerely wrong.

Here beginneth the lesson.

Unnecessary Tributes: Die Hard with a Vengeance Is the Ultimate Summer Movie

Chris Klimek

die-hard-vengeance_2

I'm a big admirer of Matt Singer's writing on film. Besides co-hosting the brilliantly titled Filmspotting SVU podcast -- a streaming video-focused spinoff of Filmspotting, the long-running Chicago-based movies show I had the honor of appearing on a few times last year -- he recently started Criticwire, a great blog about film criticism for Indiewire.

Each weekend, Matt sends a list of film critics a survey question and posts their responses the following Monday. I was thrilled to contribute for the first time to yesterday's poll, on The Perfect Summer Movie. Almost every film I considered choosing for this honor did show up among the responses, suggesting strong generational (?) consensus on this issue. But I'm glad I went with a dark horse candidate. As always, I did a poor job of constraining my enthusiasm; Matt was kind to post an only slightly abridged version of my encomium -- reproduced below in its breathless entirety -- to Die Hard with a Vengeance. . . .

The phrase “summer movies” to me has always meant action films. Opening night of Terminator 2: Judgment Day in July 1991 remains my all-time most exciting summer event-movie experience, but that’s too great a sci-fi picture to leave in the summer movie ghetto, so I’m going to pick 1995’s infinitely less defensible but super-fun Die Hard with a Vengeance. Yes, of course 1988’s original is a better movie, but everything about this third installment, starting with that gleefully dumb title, is as magical as a bottomless tub of popcorn. After sitting out Die Hard 2: Die Harder, which hasn’t aged nearly as well, John McTiernan brought his gift for tension and clean, thrilling easy-to-follow action sequences back to the franchise for this sprawling adventure set over the course of one very long, very hot day in New York City. The opening titles get through exactly one chorus of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” before shit starts blowing up. Samuel L. Jackson steps into the franchise as Bruce Willis’ best-ever foil, playing a pawn shop owner drawn reluctantly into the action via . . . you guessed it, a racially inflammatory sandwich board our hero, John McClane, is made to wear. Which makes this already one of the weirdest summer blockbusters ever and we’re only halfway through the first act.

I love the little-known actors (well, except for maybe Graham Greene) who play McClane’s fellow cops, who for once in this series are allowed to be competent and capable in their own right. The movie features great use of NYC locations, a very inspired planted payoff involving numbers, the greatest elevator car shootout in cinema history, and a beautifully executed bait-and-switch climax -- even though it doesn’t actually end the film, which is something it’s fairly obvious no one had a very clear idea of how to do as they were making it. Oh, and the mostly forgotten female singer- songwriter Sam Phillips is cast against type, let us say, as a mute, knife-wielding assassin. So there’s that.

There are lots of reasons to be wary of the next installment in the apparently immortal Die Hard franchise, but the most dire sign is that it’s scheduled for release Valentine’s Day weekend instead of between May and July.