“OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN” (2013) Review

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“OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN” (2013) Review

During the late winter/early spring of 2013, the American public found itself bombarded with constant media coverage of militaristic chest thumping from North Korea. By some strange coincidence, Hollywood released two movies featuring the North Koreans as the main villains between September 2012 and March 2013. One of those movies turned out to be the recent action thriller called “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN”

Directed by Antoine Fuqua, “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN” told the story of a disgraced U.S. Secret Service agent forced to rescue the President of the United from North Korean terrorists that have infiltrated and taken over the White House. I might as well start from the beginning. The movie begins with former Army Ranger-turned-Secret Service Agent Mike Banning is serving as lead agent for the Presidential Detail that guards President Benjamin Asher and the latter’s wife and son. During a drive from Camp David, the car conveying President Asher and First Lady Margaret Asher crashes against a bridge railing. Banning manages to save the President, but the vehicle falls into the river before he and the rest of the detail can save the First Lady and two other agents. Because the sight of Banning triggers President Asher’s memories of his wife’s death, Banning is taken off the Presidential Detail.

Eighteen months later, President Asher finds himself facing a state visit from South Korea’s Prime Minister Lee Tae-Woo. Korean-led guerilla forces launch a combined air and ground attack upon Washington D.C. and more specifically, the White House. The attack, led by an ex-North Korean terrorist named Kang Yeonsak, results in the murder of Prime Minister Lee and the capture of President Asher, Vice-President Charlie Rodriguez and Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan. Kang wants the U.S. forces in South Korea to withdraw from the Korean Pennisula and the access codes to the Cerberus system: a fail-safe device that self-detonates any U.S. nuclear missiles during an abort. Meanwhile, Banning was on his way to the White House to ask the President to allow him back on the detail, when he gets caught up in the attack. Banning participates in the defense of the White House led by fellow Agent Roma, but nearly all of the defenders are killed. However Banning manages to get inside the White House and establish contact with Head of the Secret Service Lynne Jacobs, Speaker of the House Allan Trumball, and Chief of Staff General Edward Clegg. Then proceeds to find a way to save the President and other hostages.

The plot for “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN” sounds very exciting. It also sounds very familiar. Some critic or blogger once compared it to some other movie I have never seen. But “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN” reminded me of the 1997 Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman movie, “AIR FORCE ONE”. Let me be frank. I despised “AIR FORCE ONE” when I first saw it in the theaters. I still despise it. There is nothing more ludicrous than the President of the United States as an action hero.“OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN” has its own share of flaws. But I am so relieved that screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt did not transform President Asher into an action hero. But the two movies do share a good number of similarities:

*Both movies feature the U.S. President and personnel being held hostage.
*The hostage situation in both movies are in the presidential settings of either the White House or Air Force One.
*The Vice-President becomes head of state in the 1997 movie. The Speaker of the House becomes head of state in the 2013 film.
*Kazakhstan terrorists disguised as foreign press infiltrate Air Force One. North Korean terrorists disguised as South Korean diplomats infiltrate the White House.
*A Secret Service agent is a mole for the Kazakh terrorists in the 1997 film. A former Secret Service agent is a mole for the North Korean terrorists.

But despite these similarities, I still liked “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN”. Somewhat. For me, the movie’s major virtue proved to be its more plausible hero. Instead of using the President of the United States as the main hero, the leading man for “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN” turned out to be a former Army Ranger-turned-Secret Service agent. And the movie’s action struck me as very exciting and well directed by Antoine Fuqua. I was especially impressed by the long sequence that featured the North Korean terrorists’ attack upon and takeover of the White House. The movie also benefitted from the emotional connection between Banning and President Asher, thanks to Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart’s performances. The pair’s connection reminded me of the Jack Bauer/President David Palmer relationship from FOX-TV’s“24”. What made the Banning/Asher’s relationship more interesting is that it was nearly severed by the First Lady’s death in the film’s first twenty minutes. Rothenberger and Benedikt’s screenplay proved to be somewhat decent. But I do feel it may have been somewhat undermined by certain sequences and plotlines.

While watching the first half of “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN”, I assumed that the North Koreans’ takeover of the White House would prove to be a plot for something bigger – to generate a war between the U.S. and North Korea, resulting in the fall of Communism on the Korean Pennisula. The reason I had made such assumptions was due to my misguided belief that the Hollywood studios had learned to overcome such one-dimensional demonization of another country – especially one that did not harbor Western or non-Communist beliefs. I really should have known better, considering the release of the 2012 remake, “RED DAWN” and the media’s continuing penchant for villifying all Muslims – regardless of whether or not they are terrorists. As much as I had enjoyed the action and relationships in “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN”, a part of me felt disappointed by the realization that Kang and his followers were behind the attack and the hostage situation all along. I also felt somewhat perplexed.

Think of it. Two (or three) of Kang’s people managed to steal a U.S. military plane for an aerial attack on the White House. The theft of the plane was never discovered or reported by the U.S. military. Nor was the plane detected, until it was flying over the capital’s airspace. And the U.S. sent only one fighter jet to force it down. And all of this happened in a story set in the post-9/11 world. Are you kidding me? It gets worse. During the movie’s last half hour, Kang’s surviving men post a stolen advanced anti-aircraft called Hydra 6 on the White House roof to kill approaching teams of U.S. Navy SEALs being conveyed to the presidential home by helicopters. Once again, the terrorists managed to steal advanced U.S. military weaponry in the country’s post-9/11 era. No wonder I had originally assumed that some kind of high-level American conspiracy was involved with the terrorists.

Some of the performances in “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN” struck me as first-rate. Gerard Butler made an excellent and likable action hero in his portrayal of Secret Service Agent Mike Banning. And if I must be honest, I have not really enjoyed a performance of his in four years. Considering that Aaron Eckhart is ten years younger than Harrison Ford was when the latter portrayed a U.S. president in “AIR FORCE ONE”, I am surprised that the screenwriters and Fuqua did not allow him to indulge in some kind of heroic action. But I must admit that he conveyed his usual intensity and top-notch acting skills in portraying a head-of-state in a dangerous and vulnerable state. Angela Bassett proved to be equally intense and entertaining as Banning’s immediate supervisor and head of Secret Service Lynne Jacobs. Actually, I enjoyed her performance in this film a lot more than I did her take on a C.I.A. station chief in “THIS MEANS WAR”. Rick Yune gave a subtle, yet menacing performance as leader of the North Korean terrorists, Kang Yeonsak. It is a pity that he has been limited to portraying villains most of his career. With his looks and presence, he should be garnering “good guys” roles by now. Ashley Judd had a brief role as First Lady Margaret Asher and did a very nice job with it. Cole Hauser, whom I last saw in “A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD”, portrayed Banning’s Secret Service colleague, Agent Roma. Fortunately, he managed to last a bit longer on screen than he did in the former movie. And even more fortunate, his Agent Roma died at the hands of the terrorists with style and balls. I can only hope that his next screen appearance will last even longer.

And there were the performances that did not exactly impress me. Some of them came from actors and actresses for whom I usually have a high regard. I love Morgan Freeman, but his performance as Speaker of the House Allan Trumball struck me as somewhat . . . tired. He spent a good deal of the movie either looking tired or reacting to someone else’s dialogue with a stare of disbelief. I am also a fan of Melissa Leo, but her portrayal of Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan seemed a little hammy or frantic at times. I realize that her character was trying to be tough in the face of the terrorists, but . . . well . . . she struck me as a bit hammy. Speaking of hammy, Robert Forster’s performance as Chief of Staff General Edward Clegg was in danger of going far beyond over-the-top. Perhaps his performance seemed unusually aggressive in comparison to Freeman’s tiredness. Then again . . . who knows? Radha Mitchell gave a nice performance as Banning’s wife, Leah. But if I must be honest, she came off as a second-rate Cathy Ryan from the Tom Clancy movies – especially since her character was a nurse. Worst of all, she did not have enough screen time, as far as I am concerned. And finally, there was Dylan McDermott, who portrayed ex-Secret Service Agent Dave Forbes, who became a private bodyguard and mole within the South Korean detail. Hmmm . . . how can I say this? McDermott did not exactly put much effort in hiding his villainy from the audience in the movie’s first half. One glance at his shifty expressions led me to correctly guess that he would be working for the terrorists. And McDermott is usually more subtle than this.

I realize that in the end, “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN” came off as a somewhat strident message against North Korea, leading me to compare it to one of those old anti-Communist films from the 1950s or even the 1980s. So . . . why do I still like it? One, screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt wrote a decent story, despite some flaws. Two, Antoine Fuqua handled the movie’s action, pacing and a good number of performances with great skill. Three, there were some pretty good performances in the movie – especially from Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Angela Bassett and Rick Yune. But most importantly, “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN” did not follow the ludicrous example of “AIR FORCE ONE” by allowing its Presidential character engage in heroic actions. For that I am truly grateful to the screenwriters and Fuqua.

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“A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD” (2013) Review

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“A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD” (2013) Review

Five-and-a-half years following the successful release of the fourth movie in the DIE HARD movie franchise – 2007’s“LIVE FREE AND DIE HARD”, 20th Century Fox Studios release a fifth movie about the adventures of New York Police detective John McClane called “A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD”

A high-ranking, yet corrupt official in Moscow, Russia named Viktor Chagarin plans on incriminating political prisoner/government whistleblower and former billionaire Yuri Komarov without a fair trial when Komarov refuses to hand over a secret file believed to have convicting evidence against Chagarin. A young man assassinates a colleague of Chagarin’s and agrees to testify against Komarov for a shorter sentence. He turns out to be John “Jack” McClane Jr., Detective McClane’s estranged only son. The NYPD police officer, who has not been in touch with his son for years, learns of Jack’s situation and travels to Russia to help.

But when John arrives and approaches the courthouse that holds Jack and Komarov on trial, an explosion orchestrated by Chagarin and his henchmen disrupts the courthouse, and Jack breaks free with Komarov. After spotting Jack, John confronts him, but their dispute is cut short when Chagarin’s henchmen, led by main enforcer Alik, chase them throughout the streets of Moscow. John learns that Jack is a CIA agent and has been on a three-year mission to rescue Komarov from Chagarin’s clutches and retrieve a file that can link Chagarin and Komarov to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The file will enable the U.S. government to bring down Chagarin, who has proven to be an obstacle to U.S.-Russian relations. But the McClane men not only learn to heal long-standing family rifts, but also discover there is more to this mission than evidence against Chagarin.

“A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD” received negative reviews from movie critics. In fact, their response to the movie strongly reminded me of the negative press that the James Bond movie, “QUANTUM OF SOLACE” had received in 2008. In a way, I could see why. Both movies share two negative traits that prevented them from becoming even better films.“A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD”, like the Bond film, suffered from what I liked to call the “Paul Greengrass film editing style”. I realize that this editing style has been popular with recent filmmakers who use it to trim a movie’s running time. But I can do without it. I disliked in the second and third JASON BOURNE movies. I disliked it in “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”. And I also disliked it in “A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD”. Director John Moore and editor Dan Zimmerman used it with strong effect during the Moscow car chase, making the latter one of the most confusing car chases since the one featured in 2007’s “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”.

Moore and Zimmerman’s use of this fast speed editing style also enabled them to give “A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD” the shortest running time in the franchise’s fifteen year history . . . one of 97 minutes. The idea of a DIE HARD movie running slightly over 90 minutes makes me shake my head in disbelief. Also, the plot for this latest film, penned by Skip Woods, is too complicated and quite frankly, too good to be wasted on a 90-something minutes running time. If “A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD” had possessed a longer running time, Woods story could have been told with greater detail. For instance, the movie could have revealed how John learned of Jack’s arrest with greater detail. And the situation regarding Chagarin, Komarov and Jack could have been told with greater detail with a longer running time. Also, Cole Hauser could have enjoyed more screen time as Jack’s CIA partner, Mike Collins. Instead, Hauser was barely on screen for five minutes tops.

Before one begins to think I share the critics’ dislike of “A GOOD DAY TO DIE”, you will be mistaken. Because I do not share their opinion. Despite the Paul Greengrass editing style and the shorter running time, I still enjoyed the movie very much . . . in fact, more than I thought possible. As I had stated earlier, Skip Woods penned a very strong story for the movie. Yes, it featured the usual over-the-top action that has been a hallmark of the franchise for years. One of my favorite scenes proved to be John, Jack and Komarov’s escape from the CIA safe house in Moscow. It not only gave Bruce Willis (or his stunt man) another chance to prove how great he can be as on-screen badass, it gave Jai Courtney, who portrayed Jack McClane, a chance to show that his character is a badass, as well. In fact, another scene provided more great moments for both Willis and Courtney – namely the McClane men’s escape from death after they and Komarov were captured by Alix.

One of the best aspects of Woods’ screenplay proved to be the complicated story surrounding the strained relationship between Chagarin and Komarov. This storyline provided audiences an interesting peek into Russian politics – if it is somewhat accurate. I suspect that it is not completely accurate, but this is a work of fiction we are talking about, not a documentary. More importantly, Woods’ story added the Chernobyl disaster as a catalyst to the former colleagues’ estrangement . . . enabling audiences a chilling peek at the infamous Chernobyl site in the Ukraine, during the movie’s final action scene. This sequence also provided a plot twist that brought back a memories of the 1990 film, “DIE HARD 2”. The best aspect of “A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD” is that the movie allowed a more satisfying portrayal of the relationship between John and Jack than “LIVE FREE AND DIE HARD” did for John and Lucy, five years ago.

Speaking of the relationship between the two McClane men, it would not have worked without the chemistry between Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney. I understand that the movie’s casting director considered a good number of actors – including Liam Hemsworth and James Badge Dale – before Australian actor Jai Courtney was chosen. Willis was in top form, as usual. I found Willis very effective in portraying McClane’s desire to reconcile with his son in conflict with the NYPD cop’s penchant for butting into situations where he is not wanted. And he formed a top-notch chemistry with Courtney. The latter did an excellent job in portraying Jack’s initial resentment toward John, his growing regard for the latter and intense fixation on his mission. German actor Sebastian Koch (whom I last saw in 2011’s “UNKNOWN”, gave a subtle, yet complex portrayal of Yuri Komarov, the former billionaire and criminal who found a conscious and exposed his former partner. Sergei Kolesnikov gave a solid performance as the corrupt politician Viktor Chagarin. But I found Yuliya Snigir very impressive as Komarov’s daughter Irina, who proved to be more than meets the eye. I wish I could say the same about Radivoje Bukvić, who portrayed Chagarin’s main henchman. But I found his performance a little over-the-top. It was nice to see Mary Elizabeth Winstead reprise her portrayal of Lucy McClane, and she proved to be as spunky as ever. But Cole Hauser was really effective as Mike Collins, Jack’s CIA partner. He was subtle, brutal and slightly scary. And his performance made me wish he had more scenes.

I can understand the critics’ disappointment with the shorter running time and quick flash editing in “A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD”. But despite these flaws, the movie still proved to be very entertaining, thanks to solid, yet slightly flawed direction by John Moore, an interesting story penned by Skip Woods and a first rate cast led by Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney.

Favorite Movies Set in MIAMI

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Below is a list of my favorite movies set in Miami, Florida: 

FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN MIAMI

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1. “Bad Boys II” (2003) – Martin Lawrence and Will Smith starred in this hilarious sequel to their 1995 hit film about two Miami cops who, this time, battle a Cuban drug dealer. Directed by Michael Bay, the movie co-starred Gabrielle Union, Jordi Mollà and Joe Pantoliano.

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2. “Miami Vice” (2006) – Michael Mann directed this remake of the 1980s television crime drama about two undercover cops for the Miami-Dade Police, who investigate a Columbian drug lord on behalf of the F.B.I. Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell starred.

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3. “Absence of Malice” (1981) – Paul Newman and Sally Field starred in this high-powered drama about a liquor warehouse owner, whose life begins to unravel when a prosecutor leaks a false story about him being involved in the murder of a union leader. Sydney Pollack directed.

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4. “2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003) – Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson starred in this exciting second film in the FAST AND FUIROUS franchise about former cop Brian O’Conner and childhood friend Roman Pearce forced to help the Feds arrest a local Miami drug importer in order to clear their names. Directed by John Singleton, Eva Mendes, Chris Bridges and Cole Hauser co-starred.

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5. “The Crew” (2000) – Richard Dreyfuss, Burt Reynolds, Seymour Cassel and Dan Hedaya starred as four retired mobsters who decide to make one last score to save their apartment at a South Beach retirement home. Directed by Michael Dinner, the movie co-starred Carrie-Anne Moss, Jeremy Piven and Jennifer Tilly.

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6. “Bad Boys” (1995) – Martin Lawrence and Will Smith first starred together in this funny movie as Miami-Dade cops Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowrey; protect a witness to a murder, while investigating a case of missing heroin. Directed by Michael Bay, the movie co-starred Tea Leoni, Tchéky Karyo, Joe Pantoliano and Theresa Randle.

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7. “The Birdcage” (1996) – Mike Nichols directed Robin Williams and Nathan Lane in this funny remake of the 1978 movie “La Cage aux Folles” about a gay couple who pretends to be straight for the conservative parents of their son’s fiancée. Gene Hackman, Dianne Weist, and Dan Futterman co-starred.

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8. “Marley & Me” (2008) – Owen Wilson and Jennifer Anniston starred in this heartwarming adaptation of John Grogan’s 2005 book about the experiences of a journalist and his family with their incorrigible Labrador Retriever. The movie was directed by David Frankel.

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9. “A Hole in the Head” (1959) – Frank Capra directed this engaging comedy about a womanizing widower who struggles to raise his son and hang on to his small Miami Beach hotel. The movie starred Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Parker, and Edward G. Robinson.

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10. “Moon Over Miami” (1941) – Betty Grable and Carole Landis starred in this charming musical about two Texas sisters who move to Miami in order to meet and marry millionaires. Directed by Walter Lang, the movie also starred Don Ameche and Robert Cummings.