Skip to main content

I want to speak to the Russians, the Chinese, the British and the French, in that order.


Olympus Has Fallen
(2013)

Gerald Butler looks like he should be propping up the bar in EastEnders. And yet, he has a fairly tidy Hollywood career going for him. One enormous hit can carry you only so far, particularly when it’s debatable how vital you were to that success. Mind you, following up 300 with a series of forgettable romcoms and trashy action movies probably isn’t the best way to verify one’s appeal. I suspect the key to Butler’s star turn in that film wasn’t his finely toned abs. Rather, it was his impressively pointy beard. Have we seen it since? No. Has he appeared in anything approaching 300’s popularity since? No.


Here, Gerald plays Secret Service agent Mike Banning, detailed to President Aaron Eckhart’s personal protection. He is reassigned to a dull desk job at the Treasury Department following a tragic incident requiring him to make the most difficult of judgement calls (this, the opening sequence, is possibly the best in the film; it’s certainly the only one showing any degree of restraint or verisimilitude). Banning and the President were best buds, of course; they boxed together, he was like a slightly mid-Atlantic uncle to the President’s son, and he even advised the President’s wife on what earrings to wear.  How can he possibly “redeem” himself? Fortunately, a whacky terrorist incident is just round the corner. It’s exactly what he needs!

This time it’s those dastardly Koreans who are up to no good. But don't worry if you’re Korean, and feel as if you are being unfairly maligned; these particularly Korean terrorists are an ill-defined breakaway faction and should not be seen as damning an entire nation (or nations)! This, of course, is in the Hollywood rulebook for the depiction of terrorists in movies; it’s okay to vilify a nation as long as you go out of your way to say that you aren’t really doing any such thing.


Their leader (Rick Yune) is North Korean, but he is not directly affiliated to North Korea (the ones we're supposed to dislike, and who don’t provide sufficiently high cinema attendance, so it’s okay to make them villains in a Hollywood movie right now). So, when he attempts to initiate nuclear holocaust, we shouldn’t assume that this is what North Korea wants. Right?  Additionally, we shouldn’t assume that all Koreans are equally undesirable, even though those stupid South Koreans enabled one of the world’s most prolific terrorists to infiltrate their cabinet (Wiki says that he’s posing as a ministerial aide, but I’m sure that’s not what I heard; either way, these South Koreans are slack). We are told this is because no photos of Kang exist, but in Hollywood speak we know this means its because all foreigners look alike (even unto each other). If you’re offended by any of this, it’s your own fault; the script makes it quite clear that all bases are covered and no one could possibly be aggrieved.

If the special effects in Olympus Has Fallen are frequently not-so-special, one still can’t fail to be impressed by the credulity writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt expect of the viewer. Our terrorists mount their attack on the White House in the most ridiculously insane manner imaginable. But you know, it takes an insane plan to make a difference in America today.


As to Rick Yune’s bad guy, it suggests someone has been watching Die Another Day. Where he also plays a North Korean super-villain. Credit where it's due, Yune seems to be enjoying himself immensely. As usual in such set-ups, the security measures our hero would take are not followed by others; the new head of the President’s detail, Cole Hauser (who must have resigned himself to a career of supporting roles) says that they are following standard procedures. Why should he do otherwise, unless you’re the type who instantly assumes that a delegation of South Korean government officials (our friends, remember) will be a nest bed of North Korean extremists? Also as per the norm, there's an inside man who is identifiable in about ten seconds and has motivation so half-hearted and garbled one can only assume the writers were on a caffeine high when they thrashed him out.

Radha Mitchell plays Banning's Leah. Leah works at a nearby hospital, which is useful when the filmmakers need to show just how horrific these terrorist acts can be. This kind of incident has consequences, you know! Consequences more than justifying Banning’s use of interrogation methods, the like of which would make even Jack Bauer blanch. The set up also allows Banning a mid-carnage phone call to his missus, where he expresses his love without really saying what he’s up to;  kind of like the Sergeant Al Powell scene in Die Hard but not very good.


I seem to be watching only films with Morgan Freeman in at the cinema this year. Here he is again, the Speaker of the House (a step down from the halcyon days of his Deep Impact presidency). There's Dylan McDermott in another crappy supporting role. And there’s Melissa Leo; I seem to be watching only films with Melissa Leo in at the cinema this year. Poor Melissa’s Secretary of Defence becomes a human punchbag. Hey, she can take it. There are a number of very good actors in minor or forgettable parts (Angela Bassett, Ashley Judd, Robert Forster), but it’s that kind of film. I don’t know what Eckhart thinks he’s doing with his career, but this and Battle: Los Angeles probably aren’t the best way to go.

Olympus follows the Die Hard template scrupulously, but it lacks the wit or finesse of that (the original, at any rate) film. Actually, saving the President is probably the only place John McClane could go now, so they missed a trick not adapting this for him. But the first Die Hard had the veneer of a screenplay that actively sought to plug plot holes or make a virtue of them. Olympus definitely doesn’t do that.


Any film that has a terrorist takeover of the Oval Office as its premise is unlikely to hold up to much scrutiny, but there seems to be an active contempt for internal logic here.  It’s understandable to an extent, because if the party line of non-negotiation were adhered to you wouldn’t have a movie (it’s rather quaint that Hollywood still wheels out the “terrorists with hostages making demands” premise, as it seems entirely antiquated in the today’s world). But it would be refreshing if a movie like this found a way to surprise in its choices, rather than going the usual clichéd route of stalling while the hero takes out more bad guys.

Especially as the ultimatums in this film are so ludicrously large that there’d never be any question of bending to them for the sake of a few lives. In particular, the Cerberus sub-plot makes not a jot of sense; surely if the terrorists could do what they can do with only one code, the President wouldn’t even conceive of his staff surrendering them. It’s also very considerate, and inefficient, of Kang to leave great gaps of time between demanding each code. The whole idea would be more suited to Colossus: The Forbin Project.


Antoine Fuqua stages the action coherently and effectively, occasionally let down by a scale his budget will not allow. Brooklyn’s Finest suggested Fuqua was intent on finding material with a bit more meat to it, but this indicates he has forsaken such lofty aims for B-movie pulp. It should also be noted that, despite only carrying a “15” certificate, this is a relentlessly, graphically, violent film. I’m not going to be hypocritical and suggest it isn’t enjoyable, but there’s a point where you do start to wonder if less might not be more; by the time of the bloody, ticking clock showdown it’s all become a bit wearisome.


Fuqua’s never been the most ironic of directors and, for a stupid film, Olympus Has Fallen takes itself much too seriously (just watch that tattered American flag falling in slow motion!). Butler occasionally gets a bit quippy, but it’s more on the level of Jason Statham than prime Willis. The closest you get is the realisation, when Butler says he's gong to stick a knife in someone's brain, that is exactly what will happen. That, and stoving in a terrorist’s head with a bust of Abraham Lincoln. It’s not exactly Noel Coward. Perhaps Fuqua could have achieved the status of a minor classic with a polish by Shane Black (and the self-consciousness of his script for Last Boy Scout). Instead, this is two hours of mindless but diverting mayhem; instantly gratifying but unlikely to demand a repeat performance.

***

Popular posts from this blog

I’m smarter than a beaver.

Prey (2022) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, I have to respect Dan Trachtenberg’s cynical pragmatism. How do I not only get a project off the ground, but fast-tracked as well? I know, a woke Predator movie! Woke Disney won’t be able to resist! And so, it comes to pass. Luckily for Prey , it gets to bypass cinemas and so the same sorry fate of Lightyear . Less fortunately, it’s a patience-testing snook cocking at historicity (or at least, assumed historicity), in which a young, pint-sized Comanche girl who wishes to hunt and fish – and doubtless shoot to boot – with the big boys gets to take on a Predator and make mincemeat of him. Well, of course , she does. She’s a girl, innit?

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) (SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron ’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison. Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War , Infinity Wars I & II , Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok . It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions ( Iron Man II ), but there are points in Age of Ultron whe

If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) (SPOILERS) There’s something daringly perverse about the attempt to weave a serious-minded, generation-spanning saga from the hare-brained premise of The Place Beyond the Pines . When he learns he is a daddy, a fairground stunt biker turns bank robber in order to provide for his family. It’s the kind of “only-in-Hollywood” fantasy premise you might expect from a system that unleashed Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Point Break on the world. But this is an indie-minded movie from the director of the acclaimed Blue Valentine ; it demands respect and earnest appraisal. Unfortunately it never recovers from the abject silliness of the set-up. The picture is littered with piecemeal characters and scenarios. There’s a hope that maybe the big themes will even out the rocky terrain but in the end it’s because of this overreaching ambition that the film ends up so undernourished. The inspiration for the movie

This entire edifice you see around you, built on jute.

Jeeves and Wooster 3.3: Cyril and the Broadway Musical  (aka Introduction on Broadway) Well, that’s a relief. After a couple of middling episodes, the third season bounces right back, and that's despite Bertie continuing his transatlantic trip. Clive Exton once again plunders  Carry On, Jeeves  but this time blends it with a tale from  The Inimitable Jeeves  for the brightest spots, as Cyril Basington-Basington (a sublimely drippy Nicholas Hewetson) pursues his stage career against Aunt Agatha's wishes.

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993) (SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

I think it’s pretty clear whose side the Lord’s on, Barrington.

Monte Carlo or Bust aka  Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969) (SPOILERS) Ken Annakin’s semi-sequel to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines tends to be rather maligned, usually compared negatively to its more famous predecessor. Which makes me rather wonder if those expressing said opinion have ever taken the time to scrutinise them side by side. Or watch them back to back (which would be more sensible). Because Monte Carlo or Bust is by far the superior movie. Indeed, for all its imperfections and foibles (not least a performance from Tony Curtis requiring a taste for comic ham), I adore it. It’s probably the best wacky race movie there is, simply because each set of competitors, shamelessly exemplifying a different national stereotype (albeit there are two pairs of Brits, and a damsel in distress), are vibrant and cartoonish in the best sense. Albeit, it has to be admitted that, as far as said stereotypes go, Annakin’s home side win

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) (SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell , as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick. Evil Bill : First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted : Then we take over their lives. My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reev

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994) (SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction ’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump . And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.

Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.

Paterson (2016) (SPOILERS) Spoiling a movie where nothing much happens is difficult, but I tend to put the tag on in a cautionary sense much of the time. Paterson is Jim Jarmusch at his most inert and ambient but also his most rewardingly meditative. Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver and modest poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, is a stoic in a fundamental sense, and if he has a character arc of any description, which he doesn’t really, it’s the realisation that is what he is. Jarmusch’s picture is absent major conflict or drama; the most significant episodes feature Paterson’s bus breaking down, the English bull terrier Marvin – whom Paterson doesn’t care for but girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) dotes on – destroying his book of poetry, and an altercation at the local bar involving a gun that turns out to be a water pistol. And Paterson takes it all in his stride, genial to the last, even the ruination of his most earnest, devoted work (the only disappoint

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.