Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Olympus Has Fallen

I do not own the above image. For entertainment purposes only.  Copyright Millennium Films.  All rights reserved.

                Pro-American patriotism in movies has existed for about as long as movies have existed.  At first, most were war propaganda movies but over time the subtlety slightly dropped until the Reagan years when moved more towards individual non- or former-military American superiority.  OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN continues in this tradition, even adding a new, hypocritical layer to the system.
                Mike Banning (Butler) was at one time President Benjamin Asher’s (Eckhart) Secret Service right hand man.  Eighteen months after a tragic accident, Banning is behind a desk, relegated to the sidelines of the sidelines.  While Banning receives a little respect from his fellow agents, his marriage is falling apart.  Everything changes when the Prime Minister of South Korea arrives in town.  Soon after arriving, the President, the VP, Cabinet members, the PM and his security detail are all trapped in the White House’s (or is it Whitehouse?) underground bunker.
                Director Antoine Fuqua’s most ambitious project to date, OLYMPUS features a terrorist plot that makes the heist in OCEAN’S ELEVEN look like a the robbery at the end of FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH.  First-time screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt go all out, sometimes needlessly so, throwing in double-crosses, aircraft w/ anti-anti-aircraft flares and even armed & armored garbage trucks.  This operation would make the IRA blush and say, “Whoa, guys!  Tone it down a little.”
                The star-studded cast didn’t disappoint, least of all, star/producer Gerard Butler as Agent Banning.  Butler takes the second half of the movie and has his way with it.  To paraphrase my best college friend, “The last half is like DIE HARD and RAMBO had a kid.  Then that kid started taking drugs at age five.”  Aaron Eckhart is a great President of the United States, playing cool confidence better than most.  The rest of the cast including Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett and an (at least to me) unrecognizable Melissa Leo are solid.
                But OLYMPUS has a few glaring issues.  First, there is what I would like to call “written exposition”.  And what I mean by that is that many places and people are introduced to us by medium-sized white text in the bottom left corner of the screen.  For instance, the first time we meet many members of the executive & legislative branches, such as Freeman & Leo, we see “Speaker Trumbull” or “Defense Secretary Ruth McMillan” in said text.  Even the obvious stuff is labeled, such as a scene where the enemy’s plane veers left and we see beautiful Washington D.C.  But do we know this because we recognize the Washington Monument & the U.S. Capitol Building or because of the “Washington D.C.” text on the screen?  The filmmakers assume you and I are complete morons! 
                But what really bugged me was something I would like to call faux-patriotism.  I understand that the power & ingenuity of individual Americans is what makes America great.  But do we really need the obligatory “stupid police/military officer”, especially since the General never showed any of this trait until the helicopter rescue attempt.  Showing a man who dedicated his life to his country acting like a fool when his country needs him most?  And yes, the Secret Service is selfless and heroic.  But why is one of the enemies an ex-Agent who shows little to no signs of animosity towards the President or his colleagues?  Greed is the American way nowadays, but to cash in by selling out your country?  God bless America indeed.
                But two elements really ground my gears.  First, no respect to Mr. Butler, but why is the hero played by a Scotsman?!?!  I know that many heroes have been played by foreigners, but if a similar movie coming out this summer can get Channing Tatum, surely Fuqua could have gotten a fellow American?  To paraphrase Chris Rock: if Denzel isn’t available, wait!
Second, and more egregious offense, the visual effects.  It’s bad enough that the effects work is awful.  It took everything I had not to howl when the enemy plane crashed into the cheap looking Washington Monument, whose collapse momentarily resembled one of the Twin Towers.  The CGI flag left me Did I say cheap effects?  That’s because they were created by a company in BULGARIA!  Seriously!  Check the credits.  Sofia, Bulgaria!
Those are just the large issues.  OLYMPUS contains some truly ridiculous things.  Like anti-aircraft weapons THAT RISE FROM THE ROOF OF THE WHITE HOUSE!  South Koreans are able to crack anything, even the President’s nuclear code, despite the fact that they couldn't crack the codes of two lower officials.  And did you know the White House is able to track whether or not a Secret Service Agent is alive or not?
I could go on forever but 800 words is 775 too many for this mediocre, at best, action movie.  OLYMPUS wears its patriotism on its sleeve but constantly wipes its filthy hands with it.  As thrilling as the last half is at times, there are too many things to ruin the fun.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Second Time's the Charm?: Precious, Based on the Novel "Push" by Saphire, Queen of the Desert: Part II, The Quickening

I do not own the above image.  Copyright Lionsgate.  All rights reserved.  For entertainment purposes only.

                Every year, there is usually a Best Picture nominee I disagree with.  Some disagreements are small, like LIFE OF PI this year.  A few are huge, like BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD.  In 2009, PRECIOUS, BASED ON THE NOVEL “PUSH” BY SAPHIRE (pretentious much?) took Sundance by storm, followed by the rest of the country in November.  It came to my neck of the woods on the first weekend of December.  You would be hard pressed to find someone who hated the movie more.
                PRECIOUS is a movie about a brutally beaten, abused and lonely teenager Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) living with her mother Mary (Mo’Nique), the welfare queen Ronald Reagan warned us about.  Precious is pregnant (again), raped by her father, sent to an alternative school, is the butt of all jokes about her obesity and will be diagnosed with HIV.  How could this movie be anything but depressing?
                I saw the movie for a second time about three weeks.  And it really is two different movies: one where Mary Jones runs rampant and one where she doesn’t exist.  The latter is just marvelous.  We find out who Precious is.  She is fairly intelligent and loving.  Precious is the type of young lady who would thrive under normal circumstances.  Alas, Precious lives a depressing and torturous life.  All because of her mother.
Just to cut the chase, Mary Jones is a reprehensible thing.  To call her a human is an insult to the bacteria that causes the common cold in human beings.  She runs her household & family like a tyrant.  Mary is the worst kind of villain: one who has no redeeming quality.  No matter how terrible a villain is, we can really say something positive about them.  Hannibal Lector, Dr. Strangelove & Col. Hans Landa all have one thing in common: they are all geniuses.  Mary Jones is a fat, fugly, rude, egotistical bitch.  She is the kind of character, and I use that term loosely for this one note wench, who deserves nothing.  Which makes the final scene even more reprehensible.
Mary meets with Precious and their social worker in the office in order to get her assistance back.  In the scene, Mary spills her guts, talking about everything from the relationship she had with Precious’ father/baby daddy.  She goes into detail about when the bond between herself & Precious, which is only barely covered by pictures during one of the numerous beatings of her daughter, went sour.  In short, Precious was first abused at two or three while Mary & Precious’ father were in the middle of lovemaking.  And Mary, after unsuccessfully (half-assedly) trying to stop it, Mary GETS JEALOUS OF HER DAUGHTER GETTING HER MAN’S ATTENTION!!!  Instead of stopping the discussion, the social worker weakly allows Satan to finish.  And boy, does she finish!  Mary asks for SYMPATHY.  Specifically, she asks “Who’s going to love me?”  With all the truly reprehensible things she has done, including throwing a TV at her daughter and grandson, she gets a chance at redemption.  We all know she wasn’t going to get redeemed, but the fact that the novelist Saphire, screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher & director Lee Daniels would have the audacity of having this monologue and that final line is a joke.  A truly unfunny, worthless, time-wasting joke.
Needless to say, PRECIOUS is not a movie I will ever love.  It has elements and the potential to be loved.  But when I discover a character that is so pathetic & worthless, I regret wasting time and bytes talking about her.  I hope never to think about Mary Jones, or any woman like her who supposedly exists in the real world, ever again.