Friday, March 22, 2013

Is Olympus Has Fallen Worth Seeing?

Posted By on Fri, Mar 22, 2013 at 3:38 PM

Olympus Has Fallen Gerard Butler
Here are a few stray thoughts I had while sitting and watching Olympus Has Fallen, an also-ran action movie about the White House under (literal) attack.

(1.) Oh, man, this is pretty much the Die Hard formula, where terrorists attack a particular location and it's all up to one man hiding in the vents/walls/etc. to stop them! Remember the 90s, when everyone was doing their own Die Hard-on-a-whatever? Especially given the late-90s success of Die Hard on the president's airplane, how did they not get to Die Hard in the White House until this year, when there are two such movies coming out in the space of six months? (More on that in a moment.) On one hand, it's kind of refreshing to see someone actually employ the Die Hard formula, because A Good Day to Die Hard inexplicably did not do this at all. But I could almost hear the passes some people will give this movie in my head as I was watching it: the Die Hard sequel may have let you down, but at least this one gets it right! But it really doesn't! The movie cuts around so much outside of the White House, in an apparent attempt to give the story more scope, that it loses that one-man-against-all-odds tension. Also, that one man is Gerard Butler, and he sucks. I mean, it's possible someone could someday use him in a way that wouldn't suck, but he is super unappealing and coarse, and not coarse in that charming Bruce Willis way. He just seems like kind of a pill. He is not much fun to watch onscreen. So yeah, this movie uses the Die Hard formula better than A Good Day to Die Hard but I'm not so certain it's actually a better movie.

(2.) In this movie, the North Koreans invade the White House during a visit from the prime minister of South Korea, who the president (Aaron Eckhart) insists on bringing along to his secure bunker. At this point, I got super-psyched for a movie I was pretty sure would never actually happen: an action buddy comedy movie about the prime minister of South Korea and the president of the United States fighting off terrorists! That's just one of a dozen ways Olympus Has Fallen could have been modified to break its punishing adherence to formula, executed in the most solemn, pseudopatriotic manner possible (slow-mo American flags; military drums; subtitling everyone's cabinet title like they're real).

(3.) As it happens, the Roland Emmerich take on this same premise (terrorists take down the White House) is apparently some manner of buddy comedy, although not with the prime minister of South Korea, just your standard black/white combo of Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum. But it's very strange that the square version of this story with plenty of disaster-movie overtones (the Washington Monument falls and squishes people for no real reason) comes from supposed purveyor of grit Antoine Fuqua, rather than Emmerich. As teenagers, my friends and I always pictured the dopey comedy in Roland Emmerich movies coming straight from his then-collaborator Dean Devlin; now I'll just imagine Devlin doing script punch-ups on White House Down, the Secret Service-versus-terrorists action movie that will have to work pretty hard to be worse than Olympus Has Fallen.

The Croods Dreamworks movie
The Croods: You can read more about the specifics of The Croods in my review; what occurred to me after I watched it was that it might well be my favorite DreamWorks cartoon so far, especially if you treat the DW-distributed Aardman productions separately. At first, this didn't seem right—even for someone like me (or, I assume, you) who vastly prefers most Pixar movies to almost all DreamWorks movies, there were probably at least a handful of movies that could beat this enjoyable, somewhat slight, beautifully animated caveman picture. Then I looked at their filmography, and here's what I came up with: How to Train Your Dragon, from Croods codirector Chris Sanders, might be better, but if it is, it's mostly because of the animation on the central dragon, and frankly, the supporting characters in that one have a bit of that chattering-yammering thing that too many DreamWorks movies go to for dialogue, and as fine as the movie is I've always been a bit puzzled by its almost-as-good-as-Pixar rep. And Kung Fu Panda is a lot less stupid than it sounds. That's two, because even my bizarre affection for Bee Movie can't really make a serious case for it being great or even near-great. So yeah, animation aficionados: The Croods is easily one of the best DreamWorks cartoons ever, and could make a run for the top spot. The lesson here is that Disney's loss was DreamWorks' gain; they ought to keep Chris Sanders on the payroll for as long as possible, because he's probably doing more to boost the studio's output than their ongoing consultations with Roger Deakins and Guillermo del Toro.

Admission Paul Rudd Tina Fey movie
Admission: It's odd, really, that Tina Fey would have about as strong a movie career as any NBC Thursday comedy participant of the last decade outside of Steve Carell; even at its ratings peak, 30 Rock was never really a hit like The Office (or even My Name is Earl!) was a hit. Yet all three of her starring vehicles (one of which, granted, was more of a writing vehicle and came out before 30 Rock)—Mean Girls, Baby Mama, and Date Night—have been solid hits. Maybe the key is her selectivity: not that either of the comedies she didn't write are the cream of the crop, but by only starring in a movie ever couple of years, she hasn't saturated the market, or diluted her record by trying out lots of different stuff in her (presumably minimal) 30 Rock downtime. In fact, for someone with huge comedy connections whose show also hosted movie people Matt Damon, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Jim Carrey, Julianne Moore, James Franco, Jennifer Aniston, Salma Hayek, and Steve Martin as guest stars and, for that matter, Alec Baldwin as a series regular, Fey has appeared in relatively few movies at all, with only a handful of voiceover gigs and cameos padding out her filmography.

Admission feels right in that Baby Mama/Date Night wheelhouse, though perhaps less broad: a mainstream movie dealing with the stresses and pressures of a 40ish professional woman. I'm sure there are hardcore fans who find these movies intolerably wan and light for such a sharp comic mind, but at the same time, Fey brings an intelligence and sweetness that these sorts of lady-issue comedies and dramedies often lack. 30 Rock has so much wild satire that I don't particularly crave more of the same in Fey's movie vehicles. Also, even though she's only done a few movies, it's kind of crazy that Fey hasn't been paired with Paul Rudd before now: it's exactly the kind of too-rare paring that makes me say, yes, I would like to watch those two people pretend to fall in love, even if it's kind of lame. No wonder the faintly desperate TV ads for this movie have included talking-heads of the pair basically just saying, "come on, it's the two of us in a movie; who wouldn't enjoy that?"

Sapphires Chris ODowd
The Sapphires: I'm all for a movie about Chris O'Dowd playing gregarious manager to an Australian girl-group in the 60s. But to be honest, the true story and Vietnam elements of this story make it sound like sort of a drag in that Weinstein Company we're-making-something-important-yet-crowd-pleasing sort of way. But in those terms, I'll take this movie about singers over Quartet, certainly.

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