Olympus Has Fallen, a Partial Un-Biased Review

I will preface this review by stating that I am a bit biased. Mind you, I am completely aware of the inconvenience I am placing on the very nature and rules of critical assessments, but, as it were, I don’t care. Furthermore, I think a biased review is sometimes entirely necessary. For you see, whether a movie, book, or song proves brilliant or not, certain audience members are going to dislike it; likewise, even if a movie is a steaming pile of wretched poo, certain citizens of society will find great entertainment in it. Thusly, I think it is important to classify some reviews based on audiences. Ergo this review.  Also, I’ve never claimed to be a movie critic.

How’s that for argument?

Olympus Has Fallen opens just as every other movie involving the safety of the President and the first family does: with a charming, heartwarming look into their “real” lives and love of one another.

And then things go wrong.

And then other things go wrong.

And then the whole country is in deep doo doo.

But the president is in really deep doo doo.

And then there’s the hero guy who somehow misses every gun shot and bomb; he knows things that nobody else in the world seems to know; he’s always one step ahead of the bad guy; always in the right place at the right time; and always spewing out the best one-liners.

Of course, there’s also the round table of other major political US players arguing over what to do, chatting with the bad guy via whatever the latest technological advancement in communication may be, and refusing to “negotiate with terrorists.”

So where am I going with this? Well, simply, this is a political action thriller as political action thriller fan’s love them; exciting, fast, explosive, violent, and completely outlandish. But directed by Training Day’s Antione Fuqua, who was less concerned about making a movie to compare to his former classics and more focused on creating a great movie to stand on it’s own,  any action fan could expect nothing but the best in terms of visual suspense.

Additionally, new comer screen writers Creighton Rothenburger and Katrin Benedikt were able to stay alarmingly true to the intricate details of what would enable a terrorist group to take over the White House. So much so that the attack scene reads as a bit of a “how to” book. Or maybe I’m just paranoid. Regardless, for the sake of entertainment, these details make this movie one hell of a ride.

An incredible cast rounds up this movie complete with Gerard Butler, Angela Basset, Aaron Eckhart, Melissa Leo, and of course, Morgan Freeman. Also starring in this film is the immaculate reconstruction of the White House as this movie was shot in Shreveport, Louisiana.

 

If you are confused as to whether or not this is a positive movie review, I assure you, I am too. But mostly it is. For you see, as a die hard action movie fan myself, I was less preoccupied and concerned with the predictable formula of the script and more so captivated and enthralled by the action unfolding on the screen.

And isn’t that what every action lover goes to see an action movie for?

I think so.

  

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Hidden Netflix Gems – Red State

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

I am always excited to see my favorite filmmakers stretch beyond what they normally produce and explore other genres. For that reason, I applaud Kevin Smith for stepping away from the talky, visually underwhelming comedies for which he is known with his latest film, Red State, a nasty, tense, visceral thriller that, while satirical and occasionally funny, is miles away from a comedy.

Red State is a cinematic middle finger to the vicious, hateful Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, an organization best known for the highly tasteful and respectable practice of protesting funerals in order to garner controversy. Though Phelps is eventually mentioned by name in the film’s narrative, his overt fictional surrogate is one Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), a malevolent, fire-and-brimstone preacher who looks a bit like a more diminutive Kris Kristofferson with eyeglasses. Cooper and his followers regularly hold demonstrations in which they hold up signs offering such charming sentiments as “Anal Penetration = Eternal Damnation.”

As the film begins, it tricks the audience into expecting the kind of lame teen sex comedy that detractors of Smith’s Mallrats or Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back might expect from him. High school students Travis (Michael Angarano), Jarod (Kyle Gallner) and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) receive an invitation for group sex from a mysterious woman Jarod met on a sex chat site. Being the horny teen boys that they are, they borrow a car from Travis’s parents and head out to the trailer home of the woman, whose name just so happens to be Sarah Cooper (Melissa Leo). Of course, Cooper is a common name and the boys are way too horny to think twice about it, nor do they seem disturbed by her insistence that they chug a couple of beers before getting down to the “devil’s business,” so of course they are quickly drugged into unconsciousness and wake up in a world of horror. The boys soon find out the hard way that the Coopers hate not only homosexuals, but any type of “deviant” sexuality or immorality, which includes teen boys curious about group sex with an older woman.

One of the things that works so well about Smith veering so sharply away from the type of film for which he is known is how unpredictable the film quickly becomes. We assume from the start of the film that Travis is the main protagonist, but quickly find that no one is safe in this nasty, uncompromising movie. Likewise, ATF agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) doesn’t show up until the beginning of the film’s second act, at which point he becomes the main protagonist. Goodman is excellent in the film, but the true star of the show is undoubtedly Michael Parks as Abin. He manages to be hateful enough to boil the viewer’s blood while simultaneously displaying the kind of natural charisma that makes his followers’ hero-worship all too believable.

Throughout his career, Smith has been criticized for a lack of visual style as a director, and he seems to have taken this particular criticism to heart. In some of his later period films, he seems to have been actively trying to step up to this challenge, but this is the first film I’ve seen from him that really knocks the visual style out of the park. This is easily my favorite Smith film since Chasing Amy, a film that Smith claims he made for his gay brother to make up for a shortage of gay characters in romantic comedies, and that same sympathy for issues of civil rights for homosexuals is at the heart of this one. Part torture-porn, part action movie and part satire, Red State is a very mature work for Smith, a film that shows his tremendous growth as a writer and filmmaker without being pretentious about it.

  

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Five 2011 Academy Award Upsets We’d Like to See

It should be stated for the record that while the editorial ‘we’ was used for the title of this column, the truth is that these are my picks and solely my picks. Let the first person speak begin.

The Academy Awards have become a bit of a bore in the last few years. There have been next to no surprises in the major categories, except for perhaps Marion Cotillard winning Best Actress in 2008 for “La Vie en Rose” or Alan Arkin winning Best Supporting actor in 2007 for “Little Miss Sunshine.” For the most part, it’s decided pretty early who’s going to win, which totally sucks, if you ask me. Of course, there are categories where there is a performance that clearly stands out above the others, but in many instances, people win their Oscars not because they’ve delivered something otherworldly, but because it’s their time, and they’re due, or other such nonsense. These aren’t lifetime achievement awards, and this isn’t a welfare system. If you give the award to the worthy party the first time around, there will be no need to “pay them back” later (cough, Al Pacino and Denzel Washington).

Take Tilda Swinton, for example. Do you know why she won the Academy Award for Supporting Actress? It’s because the voters knew that “Michael Clayton” was going to be shut out in every other category, so they threw Swinton a bone just so the movie walked away with at least one award. What the hell kind of logic is that? Did she really give the best performance or not? She was perfectly fine in the movie, but there was nothing extraordinary about it, certainly not compared to her hilariously stone-hearted harpy in “Burn After Reading.” Needless to say, the Academy’s predictability of late has led me to rebel, which is why on Sunday, I’d love nothing more than to hear the following five names be read instead of what we will probably hear.

Best Original Screenplay: Christopher Nolan, “Inception

Current Frontrunner: David Seidler, “The King’s Speech”

“The King’s Speech” is a wonderful little film. It was #7 on my list of top movies of 2010. But that story has been done many, many times before, while “Inception” was so layered that it took 10 years for Christopher Nolan to finish it. Small stories are good stories, but when someone dares to, pardon the pun, dream like Nolan did here – and better yet, pull it off, which he does in spades – that should be rewarded. It would also serve as a warning shot across the bows of every action movie director that story matters, damn it, and to get rid of the jive-talking robots.

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Academy nominations stay truer to form even than usual

In a funny way, the most surprising thing about this year’s batch of Academy Award nominations was how strongly they stayed true to Oscar’s long-held habits — even a Film Drunk could see it this year. At least in terms of sheer numbers of nominations, the Academy was most generous to a historical/inspirational costume drama from England over a somewhat edgier and less traditionally fashioned tale ripped from today’s business headlines.

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The King’s Speech” led the nominations with 12, followed by “True Grit” with 10, and just eight for “The Social Network” — still very much the front-runner in my opinion — and “Inception.” Though Anne Thompson sees the momentum shifting in a more royal direction, I think it’s a big mistake this time around to read too much into sheer quantity. For example, I would be surprised to see a huge number of non-“technical” awards for “True Grit” or “Inception.” (Roger Deakins’ “True Grit” cinematography and the amazing effects of Christopher Nolan’s team being very likely winners).

Considering where most of the awards have gone so far, the only thing really going for “The King’s Speech” and against the previously prohibitive favorite, “The Social Network,” is aforementioned traditional Oscar genre prejudices and the inevitable backlash most highly acclaimed and award winnings films get. However, outside of infantile attention-hog critic Armond White, I actually haven’t noticed a huge anti-“Network” backlash though there were some off-target feminist complaints. (A movie about an almost literal boys’ club is going to depict a boys’ club atmosphere.) In any case, the rather enormous and still ongoing on- and off-line backlashes against “American Beauty,” “Crash” and “Titanic” clearly didn’t hurt those films’ Oscar prospects one bit.

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L.A., New York online, and Boston Critics speak and “The Social Network” is the word + the AFI’s Top 10 (updated)

Jessie Eisenberg in

Three major critics groups gave out their awards on Sunday and, while there were differences, the common thread isn’t going to give Facebook boy billionaire Mark Zuckerberg any relief for his PR agita. The awards also have some good news for Best Actress contender Natalie Portman and possible Best Supporting Actor shoo-in Christian Bale. Among the Best Actor possibilities, however, it was a split with between actors portraying Zuckerberg and his fellow real-life guys turned movie characters, Aron Ralston, and King George VI.

Simply because of geography, the Los Angeles Film Critics is probably the most influential group. The awards here, however, were the quirkiest of the three, with a split of sorts between “The Social Network” and this year’s cinephile cause celebre, “Carlos,” which may well be shut out of the Oscars altogether for a number of reasons. Though a shorter cut of the reportedly action-packed-yet-thoughtful multi-lingual French film about the real-life left-wing terrorist of the 1970s has been playing to general plaudits, a 5.5 hour television version of the film by Olivier Assayas has had shorter but successful engagements here at the American Cinematheque and is much on the mind of many of us film geeks (I just blew another chance to watch it all in a theater and I’m not happy about it.)

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Assayas and “Network” director David Fincher tied while Fincher’s movie won Best Picture with “Carlos” as the runner up and also the Best Foreign Film winner. Aaron Sorkin won for his “Social” screenplay while Colin Firth won best actor for “The King’s Speech,” the first runner-up in the category was Edgar Rameriz for playing Carlos, yet another real life person.  Kim Hye-Ja from the cinephile-approved Korean thriller “Mother” and Niels Arestrup from France’s violent “A Prophet” won in the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor categories. While those awards are unlikely to be replicated by the Oscars, Jacki Weaver’s hopes for a possible Oscar nomination and even a win for the Australian critical and festival hit, “Animal Kingdom,” are looking up ever more with another Best Supporting Actress award. The LAFC site has the complete list of winners.

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