Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

or “Someone call John McClane! He’ll know what to do!”

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Cole Hauser, Finley Jacobsen, Ashley Judd, Melissa Leo, Dylan McDermott, Radha Mitchell, Rick Yune

Screenplay: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt

119 mins. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout.

 

I’m finally getting around to watching the Fallen trilogy (that’s what I’m calling it, deal with it) now with the third film hitting theaters. When Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down both released in the same year, I felt like the friend of a couple breaking up who had to choose sides, and I chose neither, so now here I am, years later, finally catching this one.

When terrorists capture the White House and take President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart, The Dark Knight, Bleed for This) hostage along with several high-ranking members of his cabinet, it becomes up to former Secret Service lead Mike Banning (Gerard Butler, The Phantom of the Opera, Den of Thieves) to rescue them before terrorist leader Kang (Rick Yune, Die Another Day, Alita: Battle Angel) dispatches them and gets the codes to a dangerous protocol labeled Cerberus. Banning teams up with Speaker of the House Trumbull (Morgan Freeman, Se7en, Alpha) who is acting President during the attack in order to safely rescue the cabinet members and Asher, but their allies might not all be on the same side.

Olympus Has Fallen is an action film which harkens back to a specific time period in the genre with Gerard Butler as the classic action hero a la Stallone and Schwarzenegger. He’ll never hit that level, but there’s a 80s/90s somewhat cheesy attitude about the film, but director Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer, American Dream/American Nightmare) mostly sticks the landing in this Die Hard-style thriller.

Butler is not winning any awards with his performance as Banning, nor is anyone else in the film, but there’s the sense that all performers, from Eckhard to Freeman to Angela Bassett (Strange Days, TV’s 9-1-1), who plays Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs, know exactly what film they are in and playing to the action and cheese instead of shying away from it.

The screenplay, from Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt (The Expendables 3) isn’t very layered, and some of the dialogue is overtly stupid, as if it was only written for a tagline or a trailer moment, but it’s successful enough under the capable direction of Fuqua, who, like his performers, understands what movie he is making.

There’s a lot of action and a considerable amount of CG, and very little of the CG has aged all that well. Some of the special effects are downright cringe-inducing in the film, and maybe that helps play up the B-action quality of the film. It’s just not very good use of special effects throughout, and some more practical effects work would have saved some of the silliness in the final product.

Olympus Has Fallen created an action superstar in Mike Banning. I’m not surprised the film sparked a franchise, and for all its cheese and stupidity, it was a rather enjoyable political siege thriller. Aided by top-notch performers having fun with the material, I was rather enthralled with the twists and turns of the film. It’s a good film. Not amazing, but sometimes good is enough.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer, click here.

The Equalizer (2014)

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Director: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo

Screenplay: Richard Wenk

132 mins. Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references.

 

I recently got into The Equalizer, a classic television series, after seeing it referenced in The Wolf of Wall Street. Good show, interesting structure and grit.

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When I heard that the series was getting the big-screen treatment in the form of a Denzel Washington (American Gangster, 2 Guns) vehicle from director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen), I was intrigued, but I felt like it wouldn’t get the attention it deserved because of the many revenge vigilante franchises abound today. As it turns out, I was right.

Robert McCall (Washington) works at Home Mart, and has a pretty simple life. Work followed by a nice calm read at a local diner where he usually sees Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz, Kick-Ass, If I Stay), a young prostitute. After Teri is brutally beaten by her pimp, McCall goes on the offensive, searching for vengeance against those responsible. Once he is involved, a Russian Mafia enforcer named Teddy (Marton Csokas, The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Sin City, A Dame to Kill For) hunts McCall, beginning a battle neither wants to lose.

I felt like the basic problem of The Equalizer is a simple one: oversaturation of the market. Too many other similar and better films exist and have been ingrained in popular culture. The Equalizer just isn’t as unique as it thinks it is.

Denzel does fine work, but the script feels lazy and Antione Fuqua’s style comes off as a ripped-off amalgam of Sherlock Holmes and The Bourne Identity. The film loses all traction the moment that Teri is removed from the story as she is tragically forgotten about thirty minutes in.

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If you want to see a movie like The Equalizer, you can definitely save money by picking up a better film with a similar story elsewhere. One can only hope that Washington can pick himself up from this recent tread of lackluster films. Hope.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2015oscardeathrace] How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

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Director: Dean DeBlois

Cast: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig, Djimon Hounsou, Kit Harington

Screenplay: Dean DeBlois

102 mins. Rated PG for adventure action and mild rude humor.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

 

How to Train Your Dragon was a film that needed to have a sequel. Two, in fact. The first film had a very SAGA-like feeling to it. It had some more story that needed to be told. And it was, in last year’s How to Train Your Dragon 2.

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Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, TV’s Man Seeking Woman, Million Dollar Baby) and his dragon Toothless have come a long way in their relationship, and their home Berk has changed along with them. Hiccup’s father, Stoick (Gerard Butler, 300, Olympus Has Fallen), has learned to respect him as a son and a man. Hiccup’s girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera, TV’s Ugly Betty, Cesar Chavez) has furthered her affection for him. Everything is going just great for Hiccup, until he discovers a dragon army led by the terrifying Drago (Djimon Hounsou, Gladiator, Seventh Son) and comes face-to-face with Valka (Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Knight of Cups), his missing mother in this sequel from director Dean DeBlois (Lilo & Stitch).

How to Train Your Dragon 2 excells in almost every way further than its predecessor. Visually, it is stunning. Emotionally, it resonates. The above developed relationships are tested further and further as the film progresses. Cate Blanchett, Djimon Hounsou, and Kit Harington (TV’s Game of Thrones, Pompeii) are great additions to the voice cast.

DeBlois’ sequel is a tightly-knit thrill-ride, with beautiful music, and gorgeous set-pieces. It also has the distinction of being the first animated film to contain an openly homosexual character (I won’t say who, but it shouldn’t really matter). For that alone, the film deserved praise.

The flaw, and there is a big one, comes at the end, when the film takes a fairly mediocre and cliché turn developing in an underwhelming finale. Hiccup and Toothless have a respect that is stretched to its lengths, yet the plotholes near the end make one question what it was all for.

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The ending aside, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is still a massively successful sequel and well worth the viewing. I only hope the open threads are continued throughout the future installments.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders’ How to Train Your Dragon, click here.

[Oscar Madness] How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

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Director: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders

Cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig

Screenplay: William Davies, Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders

98 mins. Rated PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

 

How to Train Your Dragon was doomed in the Oscar race by the basic fact that it was nominated next to Toy Story 3. Damn comparative Oscars!

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How to Train Your Dragon is the story of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, TV’s Man Seeking Woman, Million Dollar Baby), a Viking who cannot live up to the image his father Stoick (Gerard Butler, 300, Olympus Has Fallen) has built up. He can’t win over the love of Astrid (America Ferrera, TV’s Ugly Betty, Cesar Chavez). He has no friends, until a rare shot during a dragon raid on his home island of Berk causes him to meet a Night Fury dragon he calls Toothless. The bond they create begins to change the way Hiccup sees dragons and their motives for attacking.

The voice work here is nice, but not great. The big flaw of the voices is that we have Vikings that don’t sound like Vikings. The performers are comedic nonetheless.

The story, although vastly different from the one in Cressida Cowell’s book of the same name, but the changes all seek to create a more compelling story, and they do.

The animation is gorgeous and the characters well-designed. Sometimes, in movies with monsters or aliens, the characters and species don’t feel different, but in How to Train Your Dragon, they are dynamically different. Toothless’ design, based on cats, dogs, and horses, is quirky and cute.

Lastly, the music is everything I wanted it to be. It engaged me and kept me involved throughout and it’s the kind you keep humming after you leave the theater.

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How to Train Your Dragon isn’t the strongest Dreamworks Animation film and it definitely wasn’t stealing the Best Animated Feature Oscar from Toy Story 3, but it is still a pretty strong piece of animation that compels audiences of all ages and is well worth a viewing.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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