Movie Review: Olympus Has Fallen (Another Straw Drawn for Director Fuqua)

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“Olympus Has Fallen” feels like an episode of “24” meets “Air Force One.”  The film looks decent, is well-acted, but lacks the intensity and emotional force brought about by modern action films.  When the bar has been set so high in recent years by films such as the “Bourne” trilogy and “Inception,”  “Olympus Has Fallen” is weighed down by predictable writing and contrived plot points.  More importantly, for me, this represents another straw drawn by director Antoine Fuqua, as he was unable to take this huge budget and strong cast and turn it into a stand out film.

Since making “Training Day,” Fuqua’s films have been treading the line just above mediocrity.  “Training Day” was followed by “Tears of the Sun,” which was pretty good, but largely carried by one of Bruce Willis’ better performances.  “King Arthur” and “Shooter” were ‘okay’ at best.  Fuqua made “Brooklyn’s Finest” after “Shooter,” which I view as his best film since “Training Day.”  But that film’s ending was disappointing compared to the rest.  Similarly, “Shooter,”  which starred Mark Wahlberg, was not bad until the last fifteen minutes, which made no sense compared to the rest of the movie.

The lack of a payoff from the build up in “Shooter” was unfortunately also the case in “Olympus Has Fallen,” where Fuqua establishes a strong antagonism between Gerard Butler’s character and the main villain.  There was even a scene involving Butler practicing boxing with Aaron Eckhart, who plays the President of the United States, that could have been used as a foreshadow into the film’s climax in the final act.  But nope, the final act was as formulaic as it gets.

The film also feels slightly out of date.  The days of  ‘stop the bomb from blowing up’ story lines are passed, and I even felt slightly nostalgic when I saw that a bomb device in this film has a digital ticker that sets the bomb off when it reaches zero.  But I don’t think nostalgia is the feeling the film wants the audience to have, it being a modern action picture.

“Olympus Has Fallen” isn’t bad at all; in fact, I’d recommend it for people who are just looking for a simple story with some well-staged action sequences.  The performances by Butler and Eckhart were as good as the script allowed.  Morgan Freeman cashes in another good pay check doing what he does best.  But when a director has made so many films after “Training Day” and the posters for “Olympus Has Fallen” still tags the line “From the director of Training Day,” I for one am out of patience in hoping to see Fuqua return to his “Training Day”… days.

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Movie Review: Flight

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“Flight” taps into the mind of  William “Whip” Whitaker, a commercial jet pilot who saves almost everyone by expertly landing a plane that was falling apart.  He is also an alcoholic and an occasional user of cocaine, which complicates things in the crash’s subsequent investigations.

Denzel Washington was nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards for his role as Whip.  I’ve always been a fan of his; he makes uninteresting characters interesting, and carries on his back what would’ve been very mediocre films.  For an example of that, look no further than “Safe House,” where he turned a film with a predictable and weak script into a box office smash.  I don’t think this was his best performance, and it certainly wasn’t as good as the other best actor nominees, especially Hugh Jackman (“Les Miserables”) and Daniel Day Lewis (“Lincoln”).

I found that the story parallels very closely to the “Five Stages of Loss and Grief.”  Although the “5 Stages” refers mostly to mourning or someone diagnosed with terminal illness, we know early on in the film that Whip has dealt with some problems in the period before the film, namely a nasty divorce with his wife.  Each of the 5 Stages, ‘Denial & Isolation’, ‘Anger’, ‘Bargaining’, ‘Depression’, and ‘Acceptance’, were displayed by Whip, almost in that order.

“Flight” falls short of being great because it wasn’t able to arouse enough emotions from the audience through Whip.  It was especially difficult because Whip was an antihero and while director Zemeckis did create a conflict for the audience to both root for Whip for saving lives and be disgusted as he crumbles under the effects of his alcohol addiction, the intensity was somewhat misplaced.

The supporting cast was effective in making Whip’s story more compelling.  The role that stood out to me was Kelly Reilly’s (middle bottom of the picture) magnetic performance as Nicole, a recovering drug addict who becomes Whip’s love interest.  I was captivated by the clash between her vulnerability and determination (and also her beauty).  Reilly has not been in many Hollywood films, notably appearing as Mary Watson in the new “Sherlock Holmes” films.  After this performance, I will definitely look out for her in future films.

“Flight” is a really solid drama that provide flashes of brilliance and some let-downs, I recommend it for Reilly’s performance and fans of Denzel Washington.

Movie Review: Lincoln (The One Movie that brought Tears to my Eyes)

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I don’t cry in movies.  The only time I had to fight back tears during a movie was “The Last Samurai.”  There have been a few others where I’ve gotten close, most recently during “Les Miserables”; unless your heart is made of cold hard steel, you’re bound to get emotional during Anne Hathaway’s rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream.”

I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into “Lincoln”, Steven Spielberg’s latest film depicting President Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to pass the 13th Amendment towards the end of the American Civil War.  The Amendment effectively abolishes slavery for all of the United States.

Little did I know, this would be the film that would bring a tear to my eye.

I will spare you the plot summary, and just say that it’s typical Spielberg:  crisp dialogue, smooth writing, flawless tone and atmosphere, and a fantastic huge ensemble cast (I kept on trying to tell my friend “hey this is the guy from “Mad Men” (Jared Harris) / “24” (Gregory Itzin)  / “Watchmen” (Jackie Earle Haley) / “Boardwalk Empire” (Michael Stuhlberg) !)  headed by the amazing Daniel Day Lewis.  I rooted for Hugh Jackman to win the best actor Oscar for his role in “Les Miserables” before watching “Lincoln”.  Sorry, Hugh.  This was Daniel’s year (again).  His portrayal of someone who is burdened by war, politics, family, and his vision of a country freed of slavery, is uncanny.  In the midst of so much adversity, we can see past his wearied aging figure and find undying optimism.

I want to label this film as ‘selectively brilliant’.  I have encountered a few people who said that they found the film boring, and didn’t know what went on.  But when I asked, they knew very little about American politics and the legacy of Lincoln.  Personally, I love history, but more importantly, I am fascinated by American politics.  So for me, having a little bit of knowledge of how American politics works today, the film connected with me on an emotional level.

The way in which the Republican party had to procure enough votes to secure passage of the 13th Amendment, plus the implications of its passage, was highlighted in a variety of ways.  We see the opposing parties yell at each other in Congress; we see the President’s African-American helper plead with him; we see turmoil within the President’s own party.  All of it built up to immerse the audience into feeling just how important it was, for Lincoln and for America, to pass that Amendment.  That is why, when the climax of the film concluded, I cheered with the Republican congressmen, and I cried with them.

I definitely believe that “Lincoln” should have won Best Picture (I’ve seen all of the nominees except “Life of Pi” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild”).  I loved “Argo”, but it didn’t make me cry!  But like I said, I especially love this film because of my passion for history and American politics, and I fear that many do not share the same sentiment.