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.

[Happy 30th Birthday!] Cat’s Eye (1985)

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Director: Lewis Teague

Cast: Drew Barrymore, James Woods, Alan King, Kenneth McMillan, Robert Hays, Candy Clark

Screenplay: Stephen King

94 mins. Rated PG-13.

 

A cat named General is on a mission in this adaptation of two Stephen King stories with an all new tale from the master of horror. The three stories are linked by General making his way to a little girl named Amanda (Drew Barrymore, Donnie Darko, Blended). In the first story, “Quitters, Inc.”, Dick Morrison (James Woods, Once Upon a Time in America, White House Down) has a problem: smoking. He needs to quit and he needs to do it now. Quitters, Inc. is the place to go, though the man in charge, Dr. Vinny Donatti (Alan King, Casino, Rush Hour 2), has some very unique methods in ensuring that his clientele quit for good. In “The Ledge”, Johnny Norris (Robert Hays, Airplane!, Sharknado 2: The Second One) has been kidnapped by Cressner (Kenneth McMillan, Amadeus, Dune), a wealthy gambler who has discovered Norris sleeping with his wife. Cressner challenges Norris to a bet: walk around the ledge outside Cressner’s penthouse or die trying. Finally, in “General”, our cat has made it to the home of Amanda, who is being hunter by a troll who wants to kill her in her sleep, and only General can stop it. Lewis Teague (The Jewel of the Nile, Navy Seals) directs and Stephen King (A Good Marriage, Desperation) himself writes in this heightened reality collection of stories which celebrates thirty years today, but is it good?

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I say yes. Cat’s Eye is quirky and goofy and classic King. Few films choose to display King’s twisted sense of humor the right way like this one. I saw a lot of dreamlike sequences like one where Dick has been without cigarettes long enough to be seeing them in the mouths of everyone he encounters at a party. James Rebhorn plays Morrison’s work partner as he lights up a dozen cigarettes all at once while dancing packs of smokes encircle the struggling addict. It is chilling and a little silly and amazing. Any fan of King’s work should be sold on this film.

It doesn’t help to have some great performances from genre actors like James Woods and Robert Hays. Teague knows his target audience here as well, and he crafted what could be construed as an early attempt at a shared universe with references to Cujo and Christine. More than anything, it’s a lot of fun.

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Cat’s Eye is a mostly enjoyable experience with callbacks to some of King’s more iconic work. With a tonally perfect screenplay from the master of horror himself, some of King’s stranger work makes it to the screen in one piece, mostly. Now it isn’t perhaps as scary as it could be, but it still works. I would like to see this film immortalized as part of a possible Stephen King shared universe (and yes, there is currently one being worked out with the impending Dark Tower adaptations). Enjoy this film for what it is: a piece of 80s candy.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Independence Day (1996)

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Director: Roland Emmerich

Cast: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Maragert Colin, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein

Screenplay: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich

145 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi destruction and violence.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound

In the annals of film history, it would be a tough time attempting to find a movie that depicts the destruction of all mankind better than Independence Day from director Roland Emmerich (The Day After Tomorrow, White House Down).

On July 2nd, the world discovers that we are not alone in the universe as massive spaceships make their way to every major city. Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith, Men in Black, Focus) has to cancel his 4th of July plans and head back to base. President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman, Lost Highway, The Equalizer) has to deal with the floods of looting and scared citizens while also trying to reunite with the First Lady (Mary McDonnell, TV’s Major Crimes, Donnie Darko). David (Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park, Mortdecai) has figured out a pattern in the signals of the alien ships, and thinks he is seeing a countdown to something big. As the world is cripple in fear of the alien menace, mankind is about to re-earn their independence.

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Independence Day is one of those movies that seems perfect when at first glance, but after multiple viewings, the plot-holes become more apparent. There are severe issues with this plot, but the film is still a culty pleasure (see what I did there?).

The performances from our stars (Smith, Pullman, Goldblum) are all serviceable to keep the hype up throughout the action set pieces. The only issue with the characters portrayed is that they aren’t written to experience catharsis. Their “catharsis” is only due to the impending death of the human race. Goldblum’s David is my personal favorite as the man who has tremendous potential but chooses to waste it. His character represents an interesting dilemma: should a man use his full potential even if he likes things the way they are? Hmmm. James Rebhorn (Scent of a Woman, The Game) also turns in some fine work as Albert Nimzki, who has specific thoughts and secrets which make President Whitmore’s decisions all the more difficult.

The cinematography focuses a lot on spectacle. It is meant to show us just how screwed we are, and it works well enough.

The score is another important piece of this puzzle, something haunting and rhythmic while empowering the American ideals of freedom and military superiority.

There are some great uses of miniature work in Independence Day. Some of the explosions do seem extremely dated, but the grandiose visual effects were well worth the Oscar win.

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Independence Day is returning to the big screens soon with a sequel (perhaps two). As far as the first film goes, Independence Day is a lot of fun. Not a particularly great film, but a classic nonetheless.

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Roland Emmerich’s 2012, click here.

[#2015oscardeathrace] Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

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Director: Matt Reeves

Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee

Screenplay: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

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

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects (Awards Not Yet Announced)

 

Matt Reeves (Let Me In, Cloverfield) seems like the kind of guy I could have a beer with. I’ve watched interviews and it just seems like he gets the craft because he has such a passion for it. That passion shines through in his new film.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is set ten years after the previous installment, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In that time, over 90% of the world’s population has been depleted by the so-called Alzheimer’s cure that gave Caesar (Andy Serkis, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Arthur Christmas) and his apes advanced intelligence. Caesar and his fellow apes, including military commander Koba (Toby Kebbell, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, The Counselor), have created a utopia outside of San Francisco. They haven’t seen a human in two years, but then one day, his apes run into Malcolm (Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty, White House Down) and his people, who is able to come to an agreement with Caesar and the apes to rebuild the power grid. This alliance is short-lived, as there are some on both sides who do not believe in peace, and it just might be Caesar and Malcolm that pay for the sins.

Film Summer Preview

If Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a great example on how to reboot a franchise, then Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a lesson on how to create an incredible sequel. This film takes everything that was good about its predecessor and makes it better. Director Reeves has a passion for the Planet of the Apes franchise and that shines through here. The plot here is something that I thought I had seen before, but the beautiful screenplay veers into territory I didn’t expect and, when combined with Reeves’ choice to linger on the emotional beats longer than another director might, create a powerful film about the nature of humanity.

Andy Serkis finally receives the top billing he is owed. Caesar truly is the star of this film, and the incredible CGI work is just better than I thought it could get. The film starts out with a nearly silent opening, not even introducing the humans until at least 20 minutes in. This gives us a chance to catch up with Caesar and his apes. Caesar is welcoming his second child, but his mate has been ill since birthing. His relationship with Koba is central to us, as he has known this ape for over ten years. They have grown together. It is interesting to see the lessons that are being taught, rudimentary though they may be, things like Apes Do Not Kill Apes.

When the central conflict of introducing the humans occurs, we officially understand Caesar’s need to protect his group.

Even though Caesar is the star, Toby Kebbell’s portrayal of Koba is a definite scene-stealer. This menacing creature has been scarred from the tests performed on him back at GEN SYS. His distrust for humans causes a rift in his friendship with Caesar. And he is just terrifying.

Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight Rises, RoboCop) is very much a smaller character with a major impact on the plot, and he is one of the most interesting humans in the film. He is a tortured man who has lost everything, and his scenes linger on total breakdown. I was constantly tormented by my position on his character.

There is another great relationship between Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Road, ParNorman) and the ape Maurice. The two bond over a book and serve as a parallel to some of the more angry confrontations.

I loved that, rather than do a complete sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes that takes place immediately after, this film stands alone while also giving subtle nods to its predecessor. We see how Caesar feels about his past, and his provides the momentum he needs to further develop.

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In essence, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a lot in common with the opening to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Matt Reeves gives us perhaps the best Planet of the Apes film in the entire canon (not to mention one of the best films of the year) this go around, and it excites me for where this series is headed.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, click here.

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