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.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

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Director: George Miller

Cast: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence

Screenplay: Terry Hayes, George Miller, Brian Hannant

95 mins. Rated R.

 

Back when Ozploitation was making its way to America, a property known as Mad Max went with it, but many Americans hadn’t seen the original film. So the American distributors decided to drop the Mad Max 2 title and go with an original title, The Road Warrior. It helped to create a modern day post-apocalyptic classic.

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Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson, Braveheart, The Expendables 3) has been drifting across the wasteland of the remnants of the Earth for five years since the loss of his family. When he comes across a Gyrocopter Captain (Bruce Spence, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, I, Frankenstein) and meets a group of survivors being terrorized by the villainous Humungus and his team of gas-hunting murderers. Now, its up to Max to help the survivors get to refuge and protect their gasoline.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior takes the best parts of the original film and elevates them to a new level while simultaneously fixing the flaws of the first film. Mel Gibson absolutely kills it at this role in his second film of the series. We also get the terrific inclusion of character actor Bruce Spence.

The best parts of the film are the tonal shifts and the mood of the film. The sparingly used dialogue allows for the carnage to be fully realized and displayed.

Now apparently some have questioned the real identity of Humungus that was originally a large part of the story. I’ll let you know about it some time.

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Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is one of the greatest post-apocalyptic spectacles of all time. The notable chase sequence with the gas truck is a fantastic sequence that left me breathless. It would be nearly impossible to top this film (although Mad Max: Fury Road was able to accomplish the feat decades later). You don’t have to see The Road Warrior to fully appreciate this year’s reboot to the Mad Max franchise, but it is a film that demands respect.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of George Miller’s Mad Max, click here.

 

Mad Max (1979)

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Director: George Miller

Cast: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Steve Bisley, Tim Burns, Roger Ward

Screenplay: James McCausland, George Miller

88 mins. Rated R.

 

Legends get passed down from generation to generation, but a legend is only as good as the storyteller who tells it. The storyteller can make a legend. The storyteller can break a legend. Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson, Braveheart, The Expendables 3) is the stuff of legends, as is the series that defined his status.

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In Mad Max, the first in the series created by George Miller (Happy Feet Two, Babe: Pig in the City), we meet Max Rockatansky as a normal man. In the later films, he is presented as a myth, but here we see Max as a vengeful and angry man looking for justice in a world that no longer contains it. He plays cat-and-mouse and mouse-and-cat with the malicious Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne, Moby Dick, Sleeping Beauty) as he loses everything close to him.

It’s hard to discuss Mad Max without spoilering a lot, but I’m going to try to get through it. George Miller absolutely commands this film and creates a wild and wily experience with some truly incredible action sequences. He also creates a likable flawed hero and a disturbed monstrous villain in Toecutter.

What sets Mad Max apart from the later films in the series is that the sequels are told from someone else’s perspective, whereas Mad Max is an origin story to a legend. It creates a character that is relatable as he slowly becomes larger than life.

Mel Gibson isn’t at his best here, but his skills develop as his performance progresses. George Miller gives him plenty to play with, though.

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Mad Max is worth seeing for its insanity. This film is pure insanity. It is the weakest of the franchise to this point, but it works as an origin story and a story of revenge very well. No one will tell you it is perfect, but it is the strangest cheese that sometimes tastes the best.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

[12 Days of Christmas] On the Fifth Day… Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas (1999)

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Director: Jun Falkenstein, Alex Mann, Bradley Raymond, Toby Shelton, Bill Speers

Cast: Wayne Allwine, Tony Anselmo, Tress MacNeille, Corey Burton, Diane Michelle, Russi Taylor, Jeff Bennett, Alan Young, Shaun Fleming, Jim Cummings, Frank Welker, Bill Farmer, Kelsey Grammer

Screenplay: Charlie Cohen, Scott Gorden, Tom Nance, Carter Crocker, Richard Cray, Temple Mathews, Thomas Hart, Eddie Guzelian, Alex Mann

66 mins. Not Rated.

 

Well, today we are going to look at Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas, a collection of three holiday-themed tales narrated by the wonderful Kelsey Grammer (TV’s Cheers, The Expendables 3). We will look at each separately.

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In “Donald Duck Stuck on Christmas,” the three young ducklings, Huey, Duey, and Louie wish Christmas could be all year. Their wish becomes true in a “Groundhog Day”-style tale about two much of a good thing. This tale is the second best of the three.

In “A Very Goofy Christmas,” Goofy tries to teach his son Max about Santa Claus, but after a disappointing Christmas Eve, Max doesn’t believe anymore, and in trying to convince his son, Goofy loses faith as well. Who can save them? This is the lesser of the stories.

In “Mickey and Minnie’s The Gift of the Magi,” Mickey really wants to get a great gift for Minnie, but can’t afford it, so he trades his harmonica for the money and discovers the true importance in gift-giving.

I really liked the first story, but I found the far-too-many duck characters to be rather an annoyance. Goofy’s tale became rather tragic and had a tone very dissimilar to its fellow stories. As for the finale, it was easily the best capper to this triad of family fun.

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All in all, the animation is rather sketchy, or unsketchy (I’m not sure how sketchiness matches up on the animation scale). What I mean to say is, not great animation. The voice work (minus the aforementioned quacks) is good enough, and Kelsey Grammer’s enchanted narration holds the whole thing together, mostly. Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas is a nice little holiday excursion, but not something I feel I need to see in order to properly celebrate during the season. It is pretty okay, and I can see young children liking it, but it doesn’t have that staying power.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

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Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Titus Welliver, Bingbing Li, T.J. Miller

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger

165 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo.

 

It has been seven years since Transformers came out. I can’t believe I’m sitting here writing a review of the fourth film in this series, Transformers: Age of Extinction. This film is a bit of a departure in that it takes place five years after The Battle of Chicago, as it is referred to (which took place in Dark of the Moon) and features an entirely new cast of characters. Literally, nobody returns to this franchise for the fourth film except some of the voice actors for the Transformers.

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This installment introduces us to Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg, Boogie Nights, Ted 2), a novice inventor, and his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz, TV’s Bates Motel, The Last Airbender). Cade is a picker who scavenges for parts to use in his various inventions. He and his assistant Lucas (T.J. Miller, Cloverfield, Big Hero 6) come across a truck in an old abandoned theater and take it home to discover it is Optimus Prime in hiding. A government official named Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer, TV’s Cheers, The Expendables 3) has hired a human hitman (Titus Welliver, The Town, Promised Land) and a bounty hunter Decepticon named Lockdown to hunt down and destroy the remaining Transformers. Meanwhile, a big-time business named Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci, The Hunger Games, Muppets Most Wanted) is developing new technology incorporating Autobot tech and using it to build his own Transformers.

The plot is at least a new direction for this series. I was getting tired of the limited character development of Shia LaBeouf. This film isn’t great, but it certainly epitomizes the Michael Bay promise: likable trash. I had a lot of fun watching this movie. It just felt newer, and it had a lot more in terms of acting prowess (from Wahlberg, Tucci, Grammer, and Miller). The plot runs on for damn near forever, but I’ve come to expect that from this series and I didn’t feel as restless as I had from the last few movies.

I also absolutely love the design of the new Transformers in this installment. Hound (voiced by John Goodman) is a new Autobot who plays off like an old army colonel. He is an absolutely fantastic and angry beast who actually transforms to have a cigar in his mouth, too. Drift (voiced by Ken Watanabe) is a samurai who has blades that come from his transformation into an Apache helicopter. The faces are so well-defined that this is the first Transformers movie where I know all the Transformers based on looks. These are different characters.

And then there’s Lockdown. This is a complex character who is joining the US government to take on the Autobots and also has plans of his own.

I enjoyed this movie more so than I thought, and perhaps that comes from hearing all these bad reviews coming out of this movie’s initial release. I guess I had my hopes down.

One major flaw came from Galvatron, who is one of the new lead villains, a man-made Decepticon who feels so underdeveloped that it becomes really tough to fear him.

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All in all, this was more fun than expected. Make sure you have a comfortable chair, because you will be here awhile, and non-Transformers fans need not apply.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction? Did it transform into a masterpiece or did you “Roll Out” of the theater? Let me know!

 

For my review of Transformers, click here.

For my review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, click here.

For my review of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, click here.

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