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Simple Solutions to Complicated Movie Problems: Die Hard 2 Edition (Or, Why I Hate Die Hard 2)

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The Die Hard movies.  The series that created Bruce Willis, the movie star.

As a series, it’s 2-2.  The first one is an action classic, filled with memorable sequences, quotable lines, and a great protagonist in John McClane. The third, Die Hard with a Vengeance, is nearly on par with the original.  In the third movie, John McClane is fighting a memorable and complex villain, Jeremy Irons’s Simon Gruber, and through most of the movie McClane is losing that fight. That’s an essential element to the McClane character: he’s not invulnerable. Unlike most 80s actions stars, McClane was fallible. He got hurt — a lot.  He was aware of his mortality and afraid of it, but that fear never stopped him from fighting on. Die Hard with a Vengeance goes away from that a little, but it’s still there, which is why I think the movie works.

The other two?  Die Hard 2 sort of sucks (and I’ll explain why in a bit) and you should avoid Die Hard 4 like the plague. In fact, Die Hard 4 is so bad, I’m not even going to discuss it.  Let’s just all agree to never talk about Live Free or Die Hard again.

Yeah, I know it's not a current release, but it's been on TV lately so...

Before diving into my problems with Die Hard 2, let’s recap the basic plot and situation.  On Christmas Eve, during a massive blizzard, John McClane is visiting his in-laws somewhere in the DC area.  His wife is flying into Dulles airport from California to meet him there. At the same time, a man called General Esperanza is flying into DC to stand trial for drug trafficking.  While all that is happening, Colonel Stuart, who leads a group of highly skilled mercenaries, is plotting to rescue Gen. Esperanza from the evil clutches of the DOJ.  Stuart’s plan is simple: he’ll take control of the Dulles tower and prevent the incoming planes from landing there, which gives him effective control of the airport because if anyone tries to stop his nefarious plans he’ll crash planes, and that’s just plain inconvenient for an airport. After he has de facto control he’ll rescue Esperanza.

Stuart executes his plan and takes control of the airport.  Now, McClane’s wife is circling above DC in a plane that’s quickly using up fuel.  Unless McClane and the plucky, scratchy voiced engineer guy can come up with a plan, McClane’s wife will die.

On paper, it’s not a bad plot idea.  It has all the necessary elements for good story: lives in danger, a race against the clock, and a series of impossible challenges to solve.

Here’s why it’s fucking stupid.

First, the fuel idea.  Commercial aviation is not like driving to Vegas with your buddies after a night of drinking.  The pilots don’t get into the cockpit and say, “How much fuel we got?  Half a tank?  Eh, that should get us to Iceland.  We can stop there if we need to.”  The FAA requires enough fuel to 1) get to your destination, 2) to get to an alternate airport, and 3) to fly for 45 minutes after that.  Therefore, if for some reason the plane cannot land at its primary destination, the pilot can go to another airport.  The conversation might go something like this.

Tower: Hey, pilot, we’re having problems here.  You can’t land here.

Pilot: Well, no problem, we’ll contact another airport and en route traffic control and go to our alternate airport.

Tower: Very good, pilot.  Oh hey, while I got you on the line, I want you to quit sleeping with my wife.

Pilot: Crap.

My second problem with Die Hard 2 is that the villain’s scheme relies on a condition that he has no control over: the weather.

The movie establishes early on that a severe blizzard shut down the eastern seaboard of the US.  Airports are closing and diverting traffic to Dulles, which itself is slammed by the weather. According to the movie, Dulles cannot hand its traffic over to other airports due to the bad weather (never mind that this information is invalidated by subsequent dialog…but we’ll get to that). So, at this point in the movie, there is a severe weather problem and lots of planes that can only land at Dulles.  A perfect situation for Colonel Stuart.  He can take control of the tower and hold the planes hostage, forcing the Dulles airport to allow him to rescue Esperanza without interference.  Huzzah!  Evil and villainy win the day!

One problem though: what if there was no blizzard?

If there was no blizzard, then the other airports would be open.  Dulles could then send the planes to their alternate airports and everything would be great.  This foils Colonel Stuart’s plans since he’d have no leverage.  The conversation might go something like this:

Stuart: Dulles Tower?

Fred Thompson (F.T.): Yes, this is Dulles tower.

Stuart: Ah-ha!  I have taken over your flight operations.  You now have to do as I say or I’ll start crashing planes! You have five minutes to inform your planes to hold over the outer marker and not to land.

F.T.: That’s what you think, limp dick.  During those five minutes, I’ll tell them some lunatic took over our airport and they should go to their alternate airports.  Then you won’t have any planes. Sit and spin, tough guy.

Stuart: Well…then I won’t let you talk to them. Ha!

This guy could never be President. He couldn't even figure out that picking up a phone would beat William Sadler.

F.T.: Fine. Then I’ll go downstairs, go to a pay phone, call the FAA and tell them what’s happening here.  Then another control tower, probably National’s since it’s just down the street, will call the planes, tell them what’s happening, and then they’ll go to their alternate airport.  Then you won’t have any planes and then you can go sit and spin, tough guy.

Stuart: Crap.

However, that plot hole is not my main problem with Die Hard 2.  My main problem with Die Hard 2 is that it follows certain physical rules but then it ignores those rules completely. To recap, in Die Hard 2, John McClane has to beat the villain before his wife’s plane runs out of fuel.  McClane’s main motivation — saving his wife — is driven by three physical rules: 1) that planes need fuel to fly, 2) the longer that planes are in the air, the more fuel they consume, and 3) planes without fuel crash.  Those rules are a good plot device.  There’s nothing quite like the immutable laws of physics to create jeopardy for the lead character to deal with. Of course, the fact that this scenario is completely implausible ruins it, but ignoring how commercial aviation works this could be good plot device.  Could be. Then, in a stupid attempt to deal with the fuel issue plot-hole discussed above, we have a random air traffic controller guy say this line:

“The planes with enough fuel have already been diverted to Atlanta, Nashville and National.”

Which means, as the scratchy-voice engineer says, there are 13 planes left in the air that cannot reach Atlanta, Nashville, or National airport.  This statement, taken at face value, destroys the airplane plot device completely.

For those of you who don’t know the geography out east, Dulles and National airports are about 40 miles away from each other.  Now, assuming that a plane circling above Dulles is going about 150 mph (established by Colm Meany in the movie), that plane travels 2.5 miles per minute (150 / 60).  At that rate, the plane will travel 40 miles in 16 minutes (40/2.5). Still with me?  Good.

The random air traffic controller establishes that the 13 planes above Dulles do not have enough fuel to go 40 miles down the road.  Therefore, according to the rules of physics and rules the screenwriters are using, those planes will be on the ground in less than 16 minutes. On the ground and big fiery wrecks.

Of course, this doesn’t happen.  The movie goes on for almost another hour and no planes fall out of the sky.That irritates me to no end.

I don’t necessarily care if movies and stories aren’t completely realistic.  I’m not worried about that.  However, what bothers me and insults my intelligence, are stories that violate the rules that were already agreed upon.  In Die Hard 2’s case, it’s just a case of lazy writing.  The screenwriters (or someone) added what they thought was a throwaway line to deal with the alternate airpot plot-hole, but which destroyed their larger scenario when confronted with physical reality.

This guy aint exactly Sun Tzu

And yes, I know this is only a summer blockbuster.  I’m supposed to turn my mind off and just enjoy the ride.  But you know what?  I can’t.  I can’t just turn my brain off. Unfortunately, I demand a little more from the professional screenwriters that brought us this film.  Like I wrote above, the basic conceit of the movie is a decent one: John McClane has to beat the villain before his wife’s plane goes down.  That works.  It forces him into action in a situation where the correct decision would be to let the professionals handle it.  However, the larger scenario falls apart once any scrutiny is applied.  The fuel issue is ham-fisted into reality and that bugs me. Especially when you consider there are better ways to achieve the same scenario.

For instance, what if Stuart and his men got a few bombs on some random planes heading to Dulles?  Not many; let’s just say five. That’s 1250 people in jeopardy (assuming 250 on each flight, which I don’t think is unreasonable), one of which would be McClane’s wife.  The tower doesn’t know which ones, and there’s not a lot of time to search for the bombs. Stuart can still monitor communications, and if the Tower tries to inform the planes about what’s going on, Stuart blows  up a plane.

My fan fic wank aside, I think that it is far more plausible (especially pre-9/11) that an elite commando unit could pick five planes and hide bombs on them at their origin airports.  At least it asks the audience for a reasonable suspension of disbelief rather than asking them to believe a pilot wouldn’t try landing at another airport when there’s trouble.  Especially if that pilot has enough fuel to circle DC for 2 hours or so.

Anyway, enough with my crankiness. How does this create a simple solution?  Easy.  Without the planes, Colonel Stuart has no leverage.  He cannot coerce compliance with his demands with threats of crashing planes if the planes have already crashed.  So, in about 14 minutes, all of his hostages will be dead, and he’ll have nothing to threaten anyone with anymore. Problem solved.

Alternatively, someone could call over to National’s air tower and tell the planes what’s going on.  In the movie, Colonel Stuart cuts off Dulles Tower’s ability to communicate with their planes.  Then he mimics the tower and crashes Colm Meaney’s plane.  According to Scratchy Voice Engineer Guy, there is no way for the planes to determine if Stuart is actually speaking from the tower or not.  That’s a problem, and the good guys spend a lot of time trying to solve it.  So here’s what you do.

Pick up a damn phone and call the FAA and National airport.  One of those two bodies will have the ability to communicate with the planes.  In fact, the conversation will go something like this:

This guy needs to gargle with salt water.

Scratchy Voice Engineer Guy (SVEG): Hey, FAA, how’s it going?

FAA: Going well.  Hey…what’s wrong with your voice?

SVEG: I blew it out at a Lynyrd Skynyrd show.  But never mind that shit.  We need you to contact the planes circling above Dulles and tell them a maniac has hijacked our equipment.

FAA:  Wow.  That’s a problem.  We’ll get right on it.

SVEG: Thanks. And hey, while you’re doing that, would you mind calling National and tell them about the planes?  Maybe they could land them at National, since it’s only 40 miles down the road.

FAA: Sure.  Okay… But why can’t you call National?

SVEG: Oh hey…now that’s a great idea.  In fact, it’s a rather simple solution to this whole mess. Tell you what, you notify the planes and I’ll call National.  With a little hard work, we could have this whole mess wrapped up in half an hour.

FAA: This is a horrible situation, but it’s taught me a valuable lesson about teamwork.

SVEG: Fuck teamwork, this taught me a valuable lesson about using the goddamn phone.

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Written by B. Michael Krol

March 10, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Simple Solutions to Complicated Movie Problems: Harry Potter Edition

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Okay, I, like most of the civilized world, checked out Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One this last weekend.  In fact, I saw it twice.   On the whole it worked better for me the second time than it did the first, and for that I am grateful, since I seem to be the only person in the free world that doesn’t think it’s all that.  And I hate being the odd man out on cultural touchstones.

Anyway, to lead up to the premier, I watched the previous six films in order.  Not all in one day of course (though I did attend The Harry Potter Adventure at my local AMC, where I saw 5 and 6 before the midnight premier of 7).  As I was watching the flicks, it occurred to me that there was a very simple way to avoid the entire rigmarole that Harry was going through.  We’ll call it the Cameron solution.

So what’s the solution?  Easy: go back in time and fuck Voldemort up.

This guy would've killed Tom Riddle as soon as he saw him...

You see, time travel is firmly established for the Harry Potter universe in book three.  In that book, Hermione has a locket that lets her go back in time.  The teachers allow a thirteen year old girl this potentially planet wrecking power because she wants to take a bunch of extra classes.  And it occurred to me during the Godric’s Hollow sequence in film 7, that if everyone in the wizard world wanted to get rid of this no nose bastard, it would be very easy.  As an example, all Dumbledore has to do is go back in time and line Harry Potter’s house with C4.  When Voldemort walks in to kill Lilly and James, blow the house, and Voldemort, the fuck up. Hell, if Dumbledore was feeling nice, he could even warn Lilly and James Potter before he does this.  Or not.  Dumbledore can be something of a prick.  Just ask Aberforth.

Or, if that’s too subtle for you, go back in time and ice the little bastard when he’s just molesting kids at the orphanage.  It would be very easy. I imagine it would go something like this:

Dumbledore: Tom Riddle?

Tom Riddle/Voldemore: Yes.

Dumbledore: Avada Kadevera!

Tom Riddle/Voldemort: Arrrghh!

Dumbledore: (looks at watch) Sweet, it aint even tea time yet. Time for a 40 of Butterbeer and some sweet witch poon. I’m audi!

And don’t give me any of this garbage that Dumbledore didn’t know that Tom Riddle would be such a problem.  His future self could warn his past self.  Like so:

Old Dumbledore (O.D.): (appears in young Dumbledore’s office): Hey!

Young Dumbledore (Y.D.): Dude, you look just like me.  But older.

O.D.: That’s cause I am you, genius.  And speaking of which, you know that kid you just let into Hogwarts? You know, the one from the orphanage who used to steal and molest the kids?

Y.D.: You mean the creepy looking one?

O.D.: That’s him.  Turns out that decision won’t make our highlight reel.

Y.D.: It was a bad move then?

O.D.: You could say that.  So, here, take your wand and go waste the little prick before he becomes a full blown a-hole.  Capisce?

Y.D.: Got it.  After that I’ll go get a 40 of Butterbeer and some sweet witch poon.

O.D.: Yeah, about that…turns out we’re gay.

Y.D.:  Really?  Guess I should start dressing better, huh..

See?  It’s simple and spares everyone in the Potterverse a bunch of nonsense.  Just kill the jerk before he gets into any trouble and then go have a 40 of Butterbeer and some sweet witch poon.   Easy as pie.

Written by B. Michael Krol

November 22, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Simple Solutions to Movie Problems: Predator Edition

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Welcome to the latest in my Simple Solutions feature.  This one discusses Predator, a movie whose plot I should not have to recap.  However, I will, since the plot is simple: a bunch of commandos go in the jungle to kick ass and flex their muscles, and while doing so, run into an alien creature who is in the jungle to kick ass an flex its muscles.   Only one of them has time to bleed.  I’ll let you guess which one.

They don't have time to bleed

Odd trivia time: Predator features two Governors, one weirdo Libertarian, and a pretty awesome screenwriter.   Pretty cool cast, huh!

Before we get into my solution for this movie, let me say something about the alien species in these flicks.  There is no way that their entire culture revolves around hunting and killing. Think about it: they have advanced technology and are capable of interstellar travel. That kind of technology requires a lot of resources to achieve, and if everyone was out killing their to their heart’s content, they wouldn’t have the time or the desire to create it.

Now, I have no doubt that the culture is really, really into hunting and violence, and that the desire to be violent may even drive the technological achievements the aliens utilize in their hunting trips (like in our culture, where many technological achievements are driven by military research). However, I doubt very much that all these guys do is run around hunting things for “sport.”  I mean, wouldn’t that get boring after awhile? Especially since the movies indicate they’re not really interested in a fair fight. Think about it, most intelligent species require a challenge to avoid boredom. For example, I like playing Grand Theft Auto too, but after awhile the non-stop slaughter gets old and I want to do something else.  Like work on my books for children.

He might have time to bleed...

No, these guys are not the ultimate bad-asses.  They’re more like dentists who go on big game safaris.  Or like those manly men in Pennsylvania who wear Ghillie suits and use laser scopes on their rifles in order to kill a docile creature whose brain stopped evolving thousands of years ago.  (In comparison to the hunters themselves, whose brains stopped evolving when Ted Nugent released Wango Tango).

Now — on to the fun!

At the end of Predator, the future Governor of California, a Guerrilla Grrl, and the dude that got fired from the War of the Worlds series, are running towards a rescue helicopter.  The Predator is coming after them, but stops to bump off Sonny Landham.  Something most people would approve of, since the guy’s a goddamn lunatic.

While they’re running, Arnie figures out the Predator will only kill you if you’re holding a weapon.  He kicks the gun out the Guerilla Grrl’s hand and starts firing at the invisible Predator.  He gets hit and yells to the Guerilla Grrl to “Get to tha choppa!” She does.  Arnie sticks around to go mano a mano with an alien creature that possesses superior strength and weapons. Smart.

Eventually, using his bare fists, Arnie defeats the alien and makes the choppa, where he is flown out of the Predator movies for ever.

Here’s what he should have done.  Ready?

Drop. The. Damn. Gun.

All three of them. When they were running in the forest to get to the choppa.  If you know some alien is hunting you, but only wants to kill you when you’re carrying a gun, drop the damn gun and survive.  Easy, right?

I know, I know, the point of the movie is to see Arnie kick the crap out of the alien like he does to California Democrats (ZING!), but, in reality, it makes more sense to drop the gun, get the cannolis, and get to the choppa.

In closing, I’d like to point out that the alien uses my preferred method of solving movie problems.  When he’s defeated at the end, he just blows everything the fuck up.  Awesome.

Written by B. Michael Krol

July 15, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Simple Solutions to Complicated Movie Problems: The Usual Suspects Edition

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Back when I was in a barbershop quartet in Skokie, Illinois, we used to watch the Usual Suspects all the time.  And again, one thing always bothered me: there was a more simple solution to their problems with the boat at the end of the movie.

For those of you who haven’t seen this movie, stop reading and go rent it.  It’s way too complicated for me to summarize, and this article assumes a lot of basic knowledge of the movie. I know, I know… I’m mean.  Well, it’s not my fault you haven’t seen this classic of neo-noir.  Don’t get in my face because you have a problem!

Have I alienated enough readers yet? Okay. Enough of this gristle!  On to the meat!

You call this a solution, Krol?

So here’s the situation: four guys need to kill a bunch of Argentinians on a boat in San Pedro harbor or they’re all dead. To sweeten the deal, a pack of Hungarians are showing up with 90 million dollars to buy some coke from the Argentinians on the boat.  If the four guys can kill everybody, they get the money.

Not a bad deal right?  Kill a bunch of people and get 90 million clams to split four ways.  Cool. I’m in.

What follows in the movie is a completely boneheaded plan and they all end up dead.  Except for one guy,  Kevin Spacey.  (I mean the character Kevin Spacey plays.  Not, you know, Kevin Spacey himself.  Though what would be really cool and meta.)

Okay, first things first.  I really like this movie.  Despite starting the unfortunate trend in movies where the final scene is a twist (a shtick M. Night beat into the ground), it’s a well paced and well constructed thriller.  So this is not a case of me just hating on a movie.

And yeah, I know that the movie is being told to us by an unreliable narrator, and everything we know about the boat, money, etc, could be wrong.  Yeah, I’ll grant you, Kevin Spacey in the movie is an unreliable narrator (unlike Jason Statham in Snatch, who always pays the rent on time, is never late, and will always pick you from the airport, making him a reliable narrator), but we do know there is some truth to the matter.  For instance, the movie, outside of Spacey’s narration, establishes that there was a boat in San Pedro harbor that was attacked the night before.  This shows there could be some truth to what Spacey is telling us.

So my solution is based on a few assumptions.  Sue me. If you don’t like it, there’s always LOLCats for you to read.

Anyway, Gabriel Byrne and the boys decide to attack the boat directly.  This after he determines the task  cannot be done.   You know what I do after I find I’m in an impossible task?  Yeah that’s right, I attempt the hardest possible solution.

What they should have done was hire a bunch of guys.   Easy solution right?  Take 10% off the top — 9 million — and offer it to a bunch of killers.  Like 30 of them.  Set them loose in the harbor.  And once everyone’s dead, drive the cash away.

How DARE you call me a right-wing hack! Oh...yeah...

Of course Spacey and the boys now have the problem of a bunch of killers knowing that you have 90 million in your possession .  That’s when they hire another set of killers to get the original set of killers.  Brilliant, huh?  With problem solving skills like these I could be the Mayor of Springfield.

Or, how about this: get some scuba gear, get close to the boat in the San Pedro harbor and put explosives all over the boat, right by the water line.  And I’m talking lots of explosives. Enough C4 to take out Poughkeepsie, at least.  Swim away, radio to Kevin Pollack that you’re clear, and blow the boat the fuck up.  Easy.  All the guys in the boat are dead.  Now, with two machine gun nests strategically placed, make the van into Swiss cheese.  Drive away with the money and blow it on coke and whores. Assuming you hired some additional guys to help, there are extra points if you double cross the guys you hired by shooting all of them after blowing the hell out of the van.

So there you have it.  Another instance in life where you can blow the fuck out of your problems.  And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to indulge in a triumphant cocktail for a job well done.

Written by B. Michael Krol

July 7, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Simple Solutions to Complicated Movie Problems: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Edition

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Okay, so last night I was watching Buffy season 7 episode 18 (Dirty Girls) and a thought occurred to me: Buffy was screwing up strategically.

This will be Dick Cheney's favorite post of mine...

For those of you who don’t know, this is the episode where Buffy goes after Caleb for the first time.  She gets her ass kicked, several potential slayers die, and Xander loses an eye.  Oh yeah —  there were spoilers in that last sentence.

Caleb and these weird guys without eyes (the “Bringers”) are holed up in some weird barn looking thing on a vineyard.  Buffy decides she needs to take them out so she gets her army and heads over there.  At that point the whole thing goes kerplooey. Afterwards, she wants to go back and everyone bails on her. Her own sister kicks her out of the house.  Harsh bud, bro.

The problem was Buffy attempted a frontal assault and got defeated, handily, by her enemy.  Caleb is stronger than her and the Slayer potentials are just weak.   Buffy’s main strategy in combat — close quarters hand-to-hand — is an effective one in this case.

Here’s what she should’ve done.

Get some machine guns.  A lot of them.  Aim them at all the doors from fixed points pretty far away. When the Bringers and Caleb come out, shoot them. A lot.  Shoot them in the face. Shoot them in the chest, in the legs, in the junk, etc.  These guys aren’t that tough.  Knives can bring down the Bringers, and Caleb is only tough in close quarters. Solution: shoot them in the face. Dick Cheney them, as it were.

How should Buffy get them to leave the barn?  I’m glad you asked.  The barn is made out of wood and stone.   So here’s what you do: when the machine guns are in place, fire bomb the shit out of it.  Just start throwing Maltovs like you were playing GTA IV.  Eventually, the jackasses inside the barn will get the picture and leave. When they do, they get shot in the face.  Done.  Caleb is killed, the First needs a whole mess of Bringers, and Xander still has both eyes.

What’s really irritating is Buffy has used this strategy before.  When she went up against the Judge, another devastating hand-to-hand opponent, home girl used a goddamned rocket launcher.  That’s forward thinking.  That’s being pro-active and getting shit done.

He got blowed the F up...

In conclusion, when in doubt, shoot people in the face.

Oh, and about that Seal in the basement of the school. You know the one — it’s where all the killer Uber Vamps come from.  Here’s a solution: concrete.  Lots and lots of concrete. Fill the damn room full of concrete and then go have a shake.  Easy, right?  Somehow the idea of using a lot concrete to seal up a room eluded a crew that includes a dude that works in construction.

Anyway, still a great show and a good episode.

Written by B. Michael Krol

June 25, 2010 at 1:46 pm