Category Archives: 2010s

Revenge (2017)

*. When Revenge came out it was greeted as a stylish, feminist rape-revenge movie, and I think people were using those adjectives to suggest ways it was different. But much as I like Revenge, I don’t think it’s new in either regard.
*. Is it feminist? Yes, but even within the rape-revenge genre there had previously been movies where the woman had exacted her own rough justice. As long ago as the ’70s there’d been Madeleine in Thriller: A Cruel Picture and Jennifer (note the name) in I Spit on Your Grave (which Zeir Merhi had originally titled Day of the Woman, as evidence of his feminist bona fides).
*. Is it stylish? Yes, definitely. It immediately made me think of the work of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani (Amer, Let the Corpses Tan) with all of its bright colours and crazy edits. You get the feeling director Coralie Fargeat wanted to make a statement with her feature debut, and she does. Even the symbolism — the apple of discord, Jen being impaled on the very phallic tree branch and then sprouting an erection from her own midsection — comes with exclamation points. But is there more symbolism here than in Bergman’s The Virgin Spring? Probably not.

*. Where I think it could be credited is in being so fantastic. Most people who disliked Revenge complained about how it broke all canons of plausibility. Could Jen have survived that fall? Was that really a likely way for her to get off the tree? Could anyone, among the many victims in the movie, survive the loss of so much blood? Why does Jen only cauterize the wound in her front, and not in her back? Indeed, where did the wound in her back go? And how did that beer can leave a tattoo? That wasn’t reversed? How is Stan firing so many shots out of that bolt-action rifle without reloading?
*. All good questions, with no good answers. But they just go to show that Fargeat isn’t interested in making a realistic movie at all. That really should be clear from Jen (Matilda Lutz) going on the rampage like a Barbie of Death, dressed in bra and booty-shorts with a hunting knife, shotgun and bandolier of ammo.
*. Does the sexualization of Jen go too far? Kevin Maher: “Can a movie be feminist and misogynist at the same time? Can a female director make a cheap and tacky piece of exploitation perv-bait without actually knowing it? Does regularly filling the frame with the lead actress’s barely covered buttocks qualify as an act of female empowerment?”
*. I don’t think the point is female empowerment. That was more what those movies in the ’70s (might have) had in mind. I think Fargeat is sending up the genre by being so over-the-top. I mean, just look at that bloodbath at the end. Apparently they splashed so much blood around that the prop department was running out of it.

*. You even have to laugh at some of the dialogue. Does Jen, who knows she’s in trouble, think that she’s going to placate Stan (Vincent Colombe, looking a lot like a young Eli Wallach) by telling him that he’s not her type because he’s “too small.” Hm. Kind of the wrong answer in such a situation. And does Richard (a perfectly heel Kevin Janssens) think he’s going to buy off Jen by telling her he got her a job in Canada, which is “practically Los Angeles”? Good luck with that.
*. Luckily there isn’t much dialogue after the first act plays out, and literally no more lines for Jen. This is a double bonus because Lutz is left only having to look good in the part, and the camera spends as much time looking at her ass as her face. Which I say is fortunate not because she has such a nice bum but because her face doesn’t register the kind of toughness that seems required. Or maybe she’s really supposed to have that doll-like quality all the way through.
*. I take it there’s a joke, and perhaps a feminist message too, in the way the girly-girl turns out to be so much tougher and more resourceful than the bros out on their expensive hunting expedition. That dangling giant pink star earring is a great touch.

*. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this movie so much. But it’s more than just a flashy spin on rape-revenge films. It’s actually very well put together. Fargeat doesn’t miss a trick in artfully composing frames that seem like they should be more static than they are. Even in the most formal of them there’s a sense of dynamism. Maybe it’s a trick of the sun, or the way the camera moves. Speaking of which, I love the long take following Richard out of the shower, and I thought the whole merry-go-round at the end was wonderful.
*. I understand people despising the rape-revenge genre. I’m not a big fan of these movies myself. Nevertheless, there are a number of standouts, or at least movies that have gone on to develop cults. Think of The Last House on the Left and Ms. 45. Or all of the sequels there have been to I Spit on Your Grave (five, I think, starting from the 2010 remake). There are even people who find something in Baise-moi (not me).
*. That said, having seen most of these I’d have to say Revenge is my new favourite rape-revenge movie and the only one I feel like I could recommend to pretty much anyone. Whether it should have been this much fun is another question.

Mission Impossible – Fallout (2018)

*. The Mission: Impossible franchise began with a pair of films that very much bore the signature of their directors, Brian De Palma and John Woo. In Mission Impossible III J. J. Abrams took the reins and I thought there was a noticeable turn toward the generic. This isn’t to say things got worse. In fact, this series of films has maintained a relatively high level of quality throughout, if what you want is big-screen action. But it does mean that after the first couple of movies I have trouble keeping the different episodes straight in my head. Which was the one with the Rabbit’s Foot? Or the one with Tom Cruise holding on to the outside of a plane while it was taking off?
*. When Fallout was released it was met with near universal praise and heralded by many as the best Mission: Impossible yet. It’s certainly the biggest, clocking in at two-and-a-half hours and filled with all of the trademark spectacular stunts you’ve come to expect as well as such franchise stand-bys as Cruise sprinting for very long distances, climbing cliffs without a rope, and (most dangerous of all) riding a motorcycle like a maniac without a helmet.
*. That said, and perhaps because of all that I’ve just said, I found this to be the first of these movies that bored me. Not all of it, but at times. As far as plots go I felt like they’d completely run out of ideas. Basically this is the back half of a two-parter that started with Rogue Nation, and much of it seemed a little too familiar. There’s the kidnapping of a bad guy in a washroom at a swank event so that the team can duplicate him (that was in Mission Impossible III). There’s the fake hospital interrogation (used on Brendan Gleeson in Mission: Impossible II). Having been here before it was easy to stay out ahead of the plot. I don’t think there are any twists here that came as a surprise, and I thought there should have been.
*. In short, I didn’t care for the script. It’s not interesting on any level. The plot revolves, again, around the recovery of some small, portable item (in this case balls of plutonium). Ethan Hunt’s wife is dragged back into the picture for no good reason at all. Just imagine the movie without her. It’s very easy to do. Jeremy Renner’s character has disappeared without explanation (Renner had another two-part franchise blockbuster to star in at the time). Poor Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) is little more than a piece of luggage for most of the movie, and I still couldn’t figure out just what his evil plan was. Henry Cavill looks like he’s making an honest effort to get this material work, but really it’s beyond even his brawn and rugged good looks. Everything here takes a back seat to the action.
*. If there’s nothing new here, at least what there is is very well done. Meaning expensive and totally state of the art. There’s a helicopter chase scene at the end that must have blown audiences away on a big screen. It’s truly spectacular, and set against some awesome natural backdrops. The photography is marvelous. Aside from that, there’s a chase through the streets of Paris and a scene where Cruise and Cavill jump out of an airplane at high altitude. None of this makes a single lick of sense. Apparently Hunt doesn’t even know how to fly a helicopter and still manages to make out like a stunt pilot extraordinaire. But the whole series has waved its hand at probabilities.
*. It was very successful, and plans were announced for (at least) a couple more films. Which should take Tom Cruise into his 60s. I hope he keeps training and eating healthy meals because I don’t see how they can affort to let things get any easier for Ethan Hunt. I do hope they try to do something new though. As I began by saying, the last four movies all just stick together in my head in a blur and I can no longer remember what any of them were about. But I don’t think that generic, formula quality is the secret of the franchise’s success, or at least the main part of it. It’s worth putting that to the test anyway. I hope I’m not wrong. I mean, people don’t just want more of the same, do they?

Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

*. Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation. Also known as “the one where Tom Cruise holds on to the side of a plane that’s taking off.” Here we go!
*. In my notes on Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol I mentioned how the series had hit its stride and was now smoothly going through the motions of an established formula. That’s the case again here, as Ethan Hunt once again gets captured, escapes, goes jumping from great heights, piles up frequent flier points jetting around exotic locales, and runs like mad. I don’t remember him having to climb any cliffs, walls, or tall buildings, though the business with the plane is something kind of similar.
*. The plot is nearly identical to earlier instalments. Hunt has to steal something that the bad guy then steals from him and that Hunt has to get back. I think that covers everything. The bad guy here goes by the name of Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) and he heads up an organization called the Syndicate, which is an “anti-IMF” (which stands for Impossible Mission Force, not International Monetary Fund). The Syndicate is made up of ex-spies who now want to kill all spies. So basically it’s SMERSH reborn. As in all the earlier instalments I was never entirely sure what their mission was, but who cares? They want the dingus so Hunt has to get the dingus for them and then get it back or keep it away from them somehow.
*. Part of fitting into the groove is the sense that we really are in serial country now, which means a lot of this film felt like a set-up for the next movie, Fallout. So much so that I was sure there was going to be a mid-credit or post-credit teaser as with the Marvel movies. There isn’t, but you still could be sure you hadn’t seen the last of Solomon Lane.
*. Pretty much everything I said about Ghost Protocol goes for this one. It looks really good. There are a bunch of impressive set-piece scenes. You get more Simon Pegg as Benjy than we really need. Hunt has a female counterpart in the shapely form of Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). The camera has a bit of a booty fixation on her. There are big chunks of material that aren’t very important that I could have lived without. The blockbuster sequences come at the beginning and the middle, which leaves the end feeling a bit anticlimactic. The first two movies were more traditional in saving those scenes for the end.
*. My only problem with Rogue Nation is that by this time I’d been down this road so many times (with Hunt, and Bond, and Bourne) that I was well out ahead of the plot and I started to get a little bored even while admiring how slickly it was all put together. The assassination at the opera has been done before, and working in three assassins only spiced things up a little bit. The face mask business this time out seemed obvious to me. The car chases, as always, are totally gratuitous. But I guess they have enough fresh material to keep things interesting, if you find car chases interesting (crushing the bikers up against the walls of an alley, the car doing a whole end-over-end tumbling roll down an arcade).
*. The need to one-up the challenge level or degree of difficulty on the impossible missions is starting to strain credulity. The only place they can get the computer file they need is on a server in Morocco, that Hunt has to enter an underwater cooling system to access the security codes for? Come on. That just felt like a leap too far.
*. Bottom line: Well done, but now just more of the same. Mission Impossible II is felt by many to be the weakest film in the series, but to be honest I was starting to miss John Woo a little by the end of this one. Not the pigeons, just something a little more invested with a personal sense of style. But of course that’s not how the money’s made. Audiences wanted more of the same and that’s exactly what they were going to get.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

*. With this, the fourth film in the Mission Impossible series, one can clearly see the formula that has now been established. As far at the action goes, Ethan Hunt and his background team break into places that are impossible to break into and then break out of places (sometimes the same place) that they end up being trapped in. Ethan will climb up cliffs and tall buildings and he will leap from cliffs and tall buildings. A car will race through traffic. Cars will be blown up. And Ethan will run. A lot. Sprints even. Given how many takes he must do for even the simplest of these shots I’d say Tom Cruise really is in great shape.
*. In terms of plot there is also some consistency. That consistency being inconsistency. As this movie begins we learn that Ethan’s wife has disappeared (only to be picked up somewhat mysteriously at the end). This is good because we don’t have to waste any time watching Tom Cruise trying to be a ladies’ man. Another discontinuity has Cruise jumping back into field work, as well as having a new boss. I think in every movie thus far he’s had a new boss.
*. Again we have a villain who is a throwaway. Little explanation was given of Davian’s plot in Mission: Impossible III (what the Rabbit’s Foot actually was even becomes the punchline to a joke), and in this movie I had no idea what Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) was up to. He wants to blow the world up because it’s part of a natural process? What good will his directing that process do? How is he going to profit from it? For a while I thought he might have been someone like Zobrist in Inferno, pursuing a kind of environmental agenda, but that doesn’t seem to be it. I think these movies just don’t want us to think about these things too much. How many lines does Hendricks even have in this movie, aside from the ones in the recording Hunt and the gang watch?
*. As with the Bond franchise, each new Mission: Impossible movie has to up the game by taking us to more exotic locations and giving us bigger effects. I give Ghost Protocol high marks for its inventiveness and production values. Climbing the outside of the Burj Khalifa was spectacular. The dust storm in Dubai and the parking garage fight in Mumbai were both well concieved and executed. It’s an odd mix of technical cleverness and invention with total indifference to logic and coherence that is the Mission: Impossible signature.
*. Director Brad Bird was doing his first live action film and he handles it well as comic book adventure. The days of De Palma and Woo aren’t even memories any more, handing off to pure generic thrills. But it all turns out nicely. The structure of the story is hopelessly clunky and I didn’t understand why they had to include any of the stuff with the Indian media tycoon, as it wasn’t very interesting and didn’t end up having any necessary part to play. But as I’ve said, these movies don’t care very much about the story. Big chunks of irrelevant material are par for the course. They just want to move you along to the next big moment and they don’t worry about connecting the dots.
*. It took a while, but with this movie you really got the sense that the franchise was hitting its stride. Critics approved and audiences ate it up. So there would be more.

The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

*. As these things go, the Cloverfield universe (or “Cloververse”) is a small place. It’s also a surprisingly slapdash construction.
*. The first film, 2008’s Cloverfield was crap: a late entry in the shaky-cam sweepstakes with a bunch of unlikeable characters running around New York City as it’s being attacked by aliens. Who said we needed more of that?
*. But there would be more to the Cloververse, coming by way of random instalments. Next up would be 10 Cloverfield Lane, which was an unrelated script (titled The Cellar) tweaked to line-up, vaguely, with Cloverfield. A Quiet Place was apparently first conceived as another Cloverfield picture but later developed independently. Then we have this movie, which was based on a spec script (titled God Particle) that, as with The Cellar, was retrofitted to be part of the Cloververse. But again the connecting links are slight, to the point where if “Cloverfield” hadn’t been put in the title I’m not sure many people would have made the connection.
*. Even without this background you’d be forgiven for thinking The Cloverfield Paradox slapdash. It went way over budget, the release was pushed back on a couple of occasions, and Paramount was so pessimistic of its chances that it was sold to Netflix, who released it on demand after a surprise reveal in a Super Bowl commercial.
*. Critics were hostile and ratings underwhelming. It is not, however, a terrible movie. The premise held promise. A space station operating a particle accelerator in orbit accidentally rips a hole in spacetime, leading to the chaotic intrusion of one universe into another.
*. Unfortunately, aside from giving us the captain’s wonderful line “This dimension is eating us alive,” the story never goes anywhere. It is also wrapped up in a farfetched way that brings us back to the Cloverfield Earth, now under attack by ginormous monsters. I had supposed that returning to the original universe would not be as simple as turning the particle accelerator back on, but the film was running out of time.
*. So it’s not that bad. It’s just not that good. Despite nods to various SF-horror tropes there are no standout scenes of suspense or horror, nor any of the loopiness of Event Horizon or Pandorum to bail it out. The laugh lines all fall flat. The twist is so obvious it doesn’t deserve the name. It’s clear they didn’t know where they wanted to go with this and so ended up nowhere. The lack of confidence Paramount showed in it was deserved, but given the looseness of the franchise it’s hard to see this episode as being much of a setback. In addition to all its different media platforms, the Cloververse would now have multiple dimensions to expand into.

The Other Side of the Door (2016)

*. A young couple lose their child in a tragic accident. Later, they learn of a secret temple where the line between the living and the dead is thin. They are warned of the dangers: “No matter what you do, you must not open the door.” They open the door. This “upsets the balance between life and death.” Shit happens.
*. No, it’s not Pet Sematary. Or really any one of a number of horror movies with the same plot going back to “The Monkey’s Paw.” But it’s something very similar.
*. At this point you may be expecting me to write The Other Side of the Door off as just another horror film mining various other horror films, from classics to J-horror and the neo-haunted house genre. This it is, but there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Now I’ll admit I went in with very low expectations, but still.
*. The main wrinkle to the story this time out is that it’s set in Mumbai, and the door is located in this spooky abandoned temple. When Maria opens the door (oh yes she does!) she not only gets her dead kid back from the underworld but also unleashes a god of the dead known as Myrtu.
*. I wish there were more to Myrtu, but he or she (I missed the gender) is just the usual disjointed, clattering figure we saw crawling up and down the stairs in such films as The Grudge. He’s even played by Javier Botet, who was the emaciated Medeiros at the end of Rec and the Crooked Man in The Conjuring 2. He has what has become a very popular look.
*. Critics complained about the stereotypical depiction of modern India, and that is a problem. The film almost seems set in nineteenth-century Bombay, and it’s sad the only local we meet is the wise woman Piki. This, in turn, is another conventional horror role: the ethnic figure who has a special knowledge of black magic, voodoo, or some other exotic belief system that threatens the bourgeois domesticity of the White World.
*. Not that she is recognized as such. Maria believes Piki’s story about the temple that acts as a gateway to the land of the dead, and later has this verified when Oliver comes back, but when she starts seeing demons and other bad things happening she brushes off Piki’s advice about what she has to do as so much crazy talk. Huh?
*. Of course it’s Piki who has to pay the ultimate price for Maria’s pigheadedness. And of course that is racist. But it’s a racist convention. Like the black guy always gets it. Or those coloured people I mention who always seem to know what’s going on but whose knowledge doesn’t help them in the slightest.
*. So, no, there isn’t much new going on here. The ghost moves things around the house. It plays piano by itself. The family dog knows something is wrong but is about as good at communicating this as the Hindi help. Still, it’s not a bad little ghost story in the usual vein. Director Alexandre Aja is a competent genre technician even at his least inspired (which I think he was here). And Sofia Rosinsky is excellent as Lucy, singlehandedly taking the whole film up a notch. My advice: keep your expectations low, don’t expect any surprises, and you should find it adequate.

Angel Has Fallen (2019)

*. The Mike Banning movies, identified less readily by their hero’s generic, forgettable name than by the increasingly strained presence of Has Fallen in their titles, constitute one of those unanticipated if not accidental franchises where they had to keep repeating themselves because they never had much to say in the first place. Reminiscent, in other words, of the Pitch Black and Taken trilogies. And since I actually thought Riddick and Taken 3 to be he best entries in those two series (a minority view), I thought that perhaps Angel Has Fallen would be OK.
*. It’s not, though it’s not a disastrous drop off from Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen. It’s really just more of the same (as if you were expecting something different). Apparently Vice-President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) has inherited Aaron Eckhart’s job as president, as well as Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) as his all-star Secret Service hero. Banning is the kind of burly bro who grits his teeth and growls “fuck” a lot. He’s also suffering the fallout from too many concussions and is popping a lot of pills as things get started. A condition one can only imagine getting worse as the series continues.
*. Anyhow, the story here has Banning getting framed for an assassination attempt on Trumbull. The rest of the movie then has him trying to clear himself, save the president, and kill the bad guys.
*. There really are no surprises. We start off with Mike fighting his way out of a bad situation that you can tell right away is a training simulation. Then when the head of the private security company shows up and it’s Danny Huston, and the name of the company is revealed to be Salient Global . . . well, there’s your bad guys. And one sight of the creepy Veep (Tim Blake Nelson) and you know he’s the one behind it all. None of this was hard to figure out.
*. About five minutes in I was saying to myself that it looked like it had been directed by an ex-stunt man. It was. I’m not saying this, by the way, to pat myself on the back but just to point out how generic it is. Also to note how, for movies of this nature, ex-stunt men are obvious choices to direct. Chad Stahelski’s management of the John Wick franchise comes to mind.
*. What’s to like? There’s a drone strike sequence that plays as something a bit fresh and different, though it’s hard to believe. Also Nick Nolte shows up as Banning’s cantankerous dad, living off-the-grid on Booby Trap Mountain, which is somewhere in West Virginia. He’s fun, though not funny.
*. I’d like to say this was the end of the line, but plans were immediately announced not just for a sequel, but for a fourth, fifth, and sixth film as well as a television spin-off. I don’t see the point though in my watching any more. It’s not often that I give up on a franchise, but I’ve had enough of this stocky, charmless Bond (or Bourne, or John Wick). This is a series that doesn’t introduce any original ideas, or have anything much to say or new way to say it. So I’m signing off.

London Has Fallen (2016)

*. Olympus Has Fallen was a dumb action film with lots of fist fights and knife fights and gun fights and explosions. It was an obvious Die Hard clone but was reasonably well done and well received. London Has Fallen is more of the same but was not well received at all. Critics hated it and audiences were slightly cooler too. Why? Did they miss the Die Hard formula that much?
*. Well, for one thing, if Olympus Has Fallen was dumb than London Has Fallen is dumberer. An intro shows an American missile strike taking out the wedding of a promiment Pakistani arms dealer’s daughter. This means it’s personal. And, as the arms dealer (his name is Barkawi) has already told his sons, “Vengeance must always be profound and absolute.” So a plan is hatched to kill the British Prime Minister and then, with all the most powerful heads of state gathered together in London for the funeral, kill all of them too.
*. If you thought the terrorists launching a frontal assault on the White House was stupid, well you hadn’t seen anything yet. Apparently the terrorists here have assembled a crack team of several hundred individuals to blow up a bunch of famous landmarks, shut the City down, and kill the various world leaders in a sequence that had me thinking of Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? The Italian president is actually named Antonio Gusto, and he’s making out with his young mistress when he gets taken out. Forza Italia!
*. There’s a great moment when the American president is being escorted to safety by his burly bodyguard Mike Banning (Aaron Eckhart and Gerard Butler, respectively) and he remarks that the terrorists must have someone inside. Someone? They haven’t just infiltrated, they’ve taken over the entire London police force, and even the Queen’s guards at Buckingham Palace as well. All in just a couple of years!
*. In my notes on Olympus Has Fallen I didn’t mention the names of Morgan Freeman and Angela Bassett. He plays the Speaker of the House who becomes acting president during the kidnapping but he’s advanced (is that the right word?) to being Vice President here. She’s the head of the Secret Service and gets killed in the initial attack. So Freeman gets to man the war room, again, and face off with the terrorist heads floating on the big screen, again, while Bassett provides a bit of extra sauce for Butler’s profound and absolute revenge.
*. Melissa Leo is also back as the Secretary of Defense, after getting the crap beaten out of her in the first film. Does she even have any lines though? Or is she just here for continuity?
*. Antoine Fuqua didn’t come back to direct because he apparently didn’t care for the script. Let that sink in.
*. I get that Butler’s Banning is the typical hard target in an action film. Meaning he can walk through a hail of bullets and not be hit. But he also walks away from a helicopter crash, along with the president. Just before they crash he manages to yell out “Brace yourselves!” Advice which does not include putting on a seatbelt. I guess they just got lucky.
*. Because once again all the players are in contact with each other via cellphones (or whatever they’re using) they get to talk smack at each other. This isn’t very witty or a lot of fun. One feels things weighing down with hyperbole. When Barkawi is identified as being the brains behind the London operation Freeman says that he’s “killed more people than the plague.” I was just pondering that, and figuring it couldn’t be literally true, when Banning kills a fake policeman and, finding him armed with an automatic weapon, a grenade, and a smoke bomb, declares that he has “more ammunition than the entire U.S. Army.” Which made even less sense, but it’s the kind of thing that people say in this movie.
*. Most of the plot is just an excuse to drag us through a bunch of different action scenes, which I thought were reasonably well done but nothing original. There were a lot of complaints about the CGI, but at this point I feel like if I’ve seen one city being destroyed I’ve seen them all. The depopulated London (which doesn’t make a lot of sense) reminded me of 28 Days Later, as did thee descent into the subway (which I think used the same location). Terrorists, zombies . . . it’s all pretty much the same.
*. The jingoism, which was already pretty heavy in Olympus Has Fallen, is dialed up even louder here. The ridiculous scene in the earlier film where Leo recites the pledge of allegiance while being beaten is returned to here with the president reciting his oath of office as he’s about to be killed. Then Butler gets to deliver a rah-rah speech about the indestructibility of the American spirit as he beats one of the chief terrorists around a room. Boo-yah.
*. The wrap-up is exactly what you’d expect. Everyone watching the rescue of the president (apparently being streamed live, preposterously, around the world, including in Times Square) gets to cheer. That’s the cue for the audience to cheer as well. The mole is discovered, and he’s exactly who you thought he was the first time he appeared on screen. His execution is a formality. Banning decides to delete his resignation letter and continue to make the world safe . . . for the children. A third film was soon announced.

White House Down (2013)

*. I spent a lot of time in my notes on Olympus Has Fallen talking about how that film was basically one of a long line of Die Hard clones. Since White House Down is nearly the same movie with a different title the best way to start may be to just compare it to Olympus Has Fallen.
*. The balance sheets make an interesting study in Hollywood accounting. White House Down cost twice as much to make ($150 million to $70 million), but also did slightly better in terms of box office ($205 million to $170 million). Despite this, Olympus Has Fallen was considered a hit and spawned an immediate sequel while White House Down was written off as a bomb for Sony.
*. It was reported that the script alone for White House Down cost $3 million, which was a waste since it is total garbage. All it had was the proverbial high concept, but in the wake of Olympus Has Fallen even that became a drag. Hadn’t we just seen all this?
*. On balance, and it is a close call, I think I prefer Olympus Has Fallen. It moves at a sprightlier pace and has a goofier attitude toward the material. I don’t want to be mistaken as saying that White House Down is any more realistic though. Sure a frontal assault on the White House by a bunch of terrorists was dumb, but at least the guys in that movie had a plan. I’m not sure what was going on here. There’s a loose alliance of types involved who seem to have different agendas. How they all managed to work together is beyond me. I wasn’t even sure who was supposed to be in charge of the conspiracy.
*. Chyrons and talking heads have become our new spinning newspaper headlines for advancing the plot and giving the audience information. They do heavy duty filling in the background here. It seems the president (Jamie Foxx) is behind a peace initiative that the usual suspects are up against. Cue the coup.
*. Christopher Orr found something incongruous in director Roland Emmerich’s “peculiar blend of pacifistic piety and wanton violence.” I think it would be more jarring if the piety weren’t so overplayed. As it is, it’s hard to credit that part of the script as being serious.
*. Channing Tatum as the Hero and Foxx as the president both play well. James Woods doesn’t even seem to be trying at this point, but in such a role he doesn’t have to do more than the bare minimum. The real weak links are the characters played by Maggie Gyllenhaal and Joey King (a Secret Service agent and Tatum’s daughter respectively). It’s been noted before that Emmerich doesn’t have much time for female characters, but these two are so annoying they’re positively damaging.
*. What was the point of Gyllenhaal even calling Cale (Tatum) in for an interview anyway when it’s clear right from the get-go that he’s not going to get the job based on his record? I mean, that wasn’t a real job interview, was it? Still, it lets his final plea to “Just give me a chance!” hang in the air. Oh, he’ll get his chance. Just like that Lincoln pocketwatch will come back into play.
*. As for Emily (King), are we supposed to feel good that her YouTube channel is now going to go viral? Is that what all her flag-waving was really about?
*. Things blow up and many rounds of ammunition are expended. There are lots of fights. The rescue attempt, a helicopter attack identical to that in Olympus Has Fallen, suffers the identical fate. At the end of the movie the live and television/Internet audience erupts into cheers. Truth, justice, family, the flag, and the American way of life are triumphantly affirmed.
*. I mentioned earlier how the heavy-handed messaging is undercut by the fact that it’s so hard to take seriously. I had the same feeling watching Olympus Had Fallen, where the more jingoistic scenes seemed to me as though they must have been intended tongue-in-cheek or as a joke. But I don’t think satire is ever the intent. You can be cynical about such matters but you’re not allowed to laugh.

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

*. Of course I haven’t read every review of Olympus Has Fallen, but I wonder if there were any that didn’t mention Die Hard.
*. Is this because critics are just lazy, or because Die Hard is so well known and was such a seminal film? It’s worth remembering that the Die Hard imitations, and comparisons, began right away. Before we knew the word, the title morphed into a meme. Under Siege (1992) was Die Hard on a Boat, Passenger 57 was Die Hard on a Plane, and Under Siege 2 (1995) was not, as you might expect, Under Siege on a Train but rather Die Hard on a Train.
*. All of these comparisons were fair. Die Hard wasn’t just shorthand for any old action movie. It was a formula. The problem with its offspring would be that they would often follow that formula so strictly they became almost a running joke, turning the resulting products into “just too much of a pale Die Hard ripoff” (from Richard Roeper’s review of this film).
*. Which brings us to Olympus Has Fallen, or Die Hard in the White House. I don’t want to belabour this point, but among the essential elements to this cinematic bloodline in evidence are: (1) the resourceful hero who becomes the sole man left inside some place that has been taken over by terrorists, (2) the supposed good guy who is actually playing for the other team, (3) the secret phone connection to the outside, and (4) the attempt by the proper authorities to restore order that fails in an epic fashion.
*. Olympus Has Fallen doubles and even triples down on the Die Hard template, to a point where I felt I could almost recite the dialogue on a first viewing. Not to pat myself on the back, but I had Dylan McDermott pegged as the traitor right away, even before his character turned. I naturally assumed there’d be a scene where he’d confront our hero Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) and reveal himself in  some unconscious way. I even figured that the giveaway would be his mentioning Kang’s name. It’s hard not to stay out in front of this movie.
*. As I said, the risk here is to turn the formula into a joke. I think Peter Bradshaw was on to something when he thought the material ripe for parody, along the lines of Jerry Zucker’s Airplane! When the villainous Kang’s giant head fills the big screen overlooking the assembled leaders of the free world he might as well be Dr. Evil. The way the forces of order are so easily disposed of, both in the initial assault (running out of the White House pistols blazing to be cut down by machine gun fire) and in the failed helicopter assault (flying directly into anti-aircraft batteries) could have been very funny. And yet I think we’re supposed to see all these mooks as fallen heroes.
*. Olympus Has Fallen is not meant as a joke. It wears its heart on its lapel pin. There is an overload of patriotic rah-rah stuff, including a shot-up American flag falling in slow motion after the White House is taken, a Secretary of Defense (Melissa Leo) reciting the pledge of allegiance as she’s being beaten up (my mouth fell open at this), and a speech at the end where the president (Aaron Eckhart) talks about the sacredness of the American way of life.
*. But, to give Die Hard its credit, the old formula holds up pretty well even under this kind of heavy fire. I actually enjoyed most of Olympus Has Fallen. It’s loud, and silly, and filled with action. Too dark (visually), but Antoine Fuqua hits his marks and doesn’t drop the ball. Rick Yune is a good villain. Gerard Butler is a gruff he-man who reminds me for some reason of a sheepdog. His girlfriend is a nurse. Because all he-men are warriors with girlfriends who are nurses. The roles complement each other.
*. Wesley Morris: “Butler is more than serviceable, even though his American accent is like water in a dirty glass. (All you can taste is the residue of whatever was in it before.)” Good one, Wesley. I wish I’d written that.
*. Is it ever explained if Kang is actually working for the North Korean government or if he’s just freelancing? Does it make a difference? Probably not.
*. I’m afraid the president doesn’t come out of things looking very good. Indeed he seems to cave pretty quickly, ordering his subordinates to give up their codes after only being slapped around a bit. Then his own code is simply hacked so that he doesn’t have to be tortured. Which made me wonder why the terrorists didn’t just do that in the first place. Jamie Foxx acquitted himself somewhat better in White House Down.
*. Well, there would be a sequel (or two, or maybe three), which would allow for some redemption for Aaron Eckhart. Though even with Donald Trump in the real White House they would stick with playing everything straight. You have to wonder when we’re going to get that Airplane!