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Entries in Aaron Eckhart (4)

Thursday
Mar212013

Olympus Has Fallen

This week’s new film, "Olympus Has Fallen," is not going to be for everyone because it brings out feelings that many know all too well. Although it’s perhaps a strange comparison to make, the film will undoubtedly remind many Americans of what they felt on September 11th, 2001. The story revolves around an extremist terrorist group that infiltrates the White House and takes the President hostage, killing dozens in the process. It’s an unwarranted attack, much like that sad day in American history, and the group’s motive is nothing but one of hate, though they hide it under the veil of their skewed ideologies. Some will find the feeling too much to bear and perhaps even find the premise itself despicable while others will swell with patriotic pride at the way the characters onscreen handle themselves in such an extreme situation. Being an inhabitant of the Washington DC area (and having watched the movie mere miles from the actual White House), I felt a strange mixture of both, but the latter outweighed the former. Olympus Has Fallen knocked me down and drained me emotionally, but those initial feelings just made the back half of the film that much sweeter, when I had to fight my urges to stand up in the middle of the theater and cheer.

Gerard Butler plays our hero, Mike Banning, a former Presidential bodyguard who was demoted after allowing the President’s wife, played by Ashley Judd, to perish in an automobile accident, even though it was the right call to make and it saved the President’s life. A year and a half later, those aforementioned terrorists overtake the White House, codenamed “Olympus,” so Banning, not too far from the building itself, springs into action. With the White House’s staff all dead and the terrorists holding the President, played by Aaron Eckhart, hostage, it’s up to him alone to save the day.

If you strip away the setting, Olympus Has Fallen tells a well-worn story. From the “last action hero” set-up to the “ticking clock” conclusion, it’s nothing we haven’t seen a hundred times over. Luckily for the movie, it’s that setting that makes it so intense and, ultimately, rewarding. Because of its sensitive subject matter, it will surely sadden some and anger others, while forcing them to ask that one question one always asks when they witness such senseless violence: why? But that’s what gives the film its bite and when that good old fashioned American bravado comes into play, it’s immensely satisfying.

Of course, this is all assuming you can get past the fact that the story itself is so outlandishly absurd. The background of these terrorists and the extensive preparation they must have undertaken are absent from the overall narrative, most likely because there is no convincing way to make their actions seem legitimate. To be fair, this isn’t the film’s focus, but one can’t help but wonder how they were able to pull this mission off with such accurate precision, which included in-depth knowledge of highly confidential information, American nuclear weapons systems and “next generation weaponry” that, for some reason, is mounted on the White House’s roof.

The story is indeed ridiculous and its poor CGI doesn’t help in pulling off the illusion of plausibility, but it’s nevertheless gripping. Where it lacks is in its side story revolving around Banning’s wife, Leah, played by Radha Mitchell, which is embarrassingly underwritten and exists solely for some late movie cheese that should have been cut out altogether. It also tends to dumb things down a bit, constantly flashing names and places onscreen, as if it thinks its audience isn’t smart enough to realize the characters are standing in the middle of the Oval Office. But what Olympus Has Fallen lacks in intellectualism, it makes up for with pure visceral thrills and optimistic pride and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t work, even if it is a little too obvious for its own good.

Olympus Has Fallen receives 3.5/5

Friday
Oct282011

The Rum Diary

If you look at Johnny Depp’s filmography, it’s full of weird movies and eccentric characters, like the ones in Pirates of the Caribbean, Edward Scissorhands, Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, to name a few. It’s like he’s drawn to weird. That theory is only further strengthened by The Rum Diary, a movie that includes hallucinogenic drug trips, hermaphroditic voodoo witch doctors and a dozen other scenes of absolute randomness. For a while, the wonder of where it will go next is charming, but eventually it becomes tiresome and by the end of its two hour runtime, you’ll have completely checked out.

Based on the novel of the same name by Hunter S. Thompson, the film follows Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) as he takes on a job at a newspaper in Puerto Rico in 1960. During his attempts at what one might call journalism, he runs into a beautiful socialite named Chenault (Amber Heard) whom he begins to fall for. Unfortunately, she’s married to Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), who is trying to get Paul to write misleading newspaper articles to rally public support for the building of hotels on an isolated island.

Things eventually go haywire, of course. Paul teams up with two bumbling alcoholics, Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi) and Sala (Michael Rispoli), and they find themselves in precarious situations one would never expect. They end up on the dangerous end of a car chase, negotiating shady business deals, hanging out at posh parties, gambling on cockfights and arguing their innocence in a court of law, along with the aforementioned witch doctor visit and trip on “the most powerful drug in the history of narcotics.” So much of it is so unnecessary to what minimal story this film manages to create that you soon forget what Paul is doing and why.

But it never matters. Story points could be dropped and reintroduced at any point and it wouldn’t make up for the disjointed narrative. The romance that develops between Paul and Chenault isn’t even followed through and is instead quickly dropped with a few simple lines of dialogue. I suppose the nonsensical placement of certain scenes is supposed to heighten the humor, but the simple fact of the matter is that the film just isn’t that funny. At times, it’s too dry or understated, almost like a British comedy, and so far from being in your face, it’s practically non-existent. Other times, it’s too zany, which eventually leads to Paul and Sala essentially dry humping in the car.

The exception is Ribisi, who acts like you’ve never seen him act before, and he manages to squeeze out whatever humor he can, though much of it has to do with his alcoholism, which is no laughing matter even in a movie as silly as this. What it lacks in laughs, however, it makes up for with truly terrific performances. Depp is as good as ever as another charismatic, crazy, cunning man of words, but it’s Heard who manages to shine here, breaking free from ridiculous horror thrillers like The Ward, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane and Drive Angry and showing us some true potential.

But The Rum Diary nevertheless feels incomplete. Its story is fragmented and no emotional arc is ever created, despite an early moment where the score slows down and Paul photographs a poverty stricken area where a child is playing in a broken down car. With all the quirkiness on display, I suppose writer/director Bruce Robinson decided not to bother. “Best to stick to the comedy,” he must have thought. I wonder if he ever thought that perhaps the comedy wasn’t working.

The Rum Diary receives 2/5

Friday
Mar112011

Battle: Los Angeles

If you thought a Michael Bay movie had a lot of explosions, wait until you see this. Loud, crazy and ridiculous are the only ways to describe Battle: Los Angeles, an escapist film that has zero substance, but manages to make up for it with little downtime and non-stop action. By normal movie making standards, it’s not what one would call “good” (the script, quite frankly, is garbage), but my job is to say whether or not the film is worth seeing and based on pure fun factor alone, I have to conclude that it is.

The movie takes place in the not-too-distant future, August 2011, and Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) has just signed his release papers after 20 years in the Marines and a tour in Iraq where he lost his platoon of soldiers. Recent reports on the news have been saying that meteors have been falling from the sky, landing near coasts all around the world. The strange thing, however, is that they’re slowing down before impact. The world quickly finds out these are no ordinary meteors and that aliens have landed and are planning to wipe out all human existence. In light of this, Nantz is pulled back into the Marines and is tasked, along with a new platoon of soldiers, with defending Los Angeles.

Before the attack, things are running normal at the California Marine base where we are introduced to a host of faces. Each character has their own story. Some are comedic, but not funny, while others are dramatic, but emotionless. It jumps so frantically from character to character that none really work. Rather than develop these plot points and show why certain people act the way they do, they’re quickly said through expositional dialogue and brushed over in favor of getting to the action. Because of this, there’s nobody to care about, so when characters get killed off, you won’t bat an eye.

Still, the feeling of war in one of the country’s largest cities is expertly realized. The streets are lined with fire and give off the feeling that the enemy could be anywhere. Cars sit desolate near gas stations while buildings house dozens of corpses of folks unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Aside from some occasionally sketchy special effects, all of this is brought to convincing life with the help of an effective handheld shooting style that gives the film a sense of realism.

Of course, that realism is lost on such a ridiculous science fiction film, as is the horrors of war message, which is forced into the film through corny dialogue filled scenes where Nantz sadly reminisces about the men he lost in Iraq. In addition, the non-diegetic musical score is out-of-place, serving only to further cripple a movie that desires to be authentic.

Regardless of the lack of character development and other flaws, the acting is good and somehow manages to keep you distracted enough to focus on what’s important: having fun. Eckhart is terrific as usual, as is the rest of the cast, even when they are throwing out stupid one-liners, of which none are funny. Essentially, Battle: Los Angeles is a mixture of Independence Day, Cloverfield and the recent Skyline and its quality rests somewhere between the two latter films. It’s not as strikingly original as Cloverfield, but it’s not as bland as Skyline either. Although most will surely be disappointed that it’s not as good as the trailers suggest, it’s still worth a look.

Battle: Los Angeles receives 3/5

Saturday
Dec252010

Rabbit Hole

The end of the year is the busiest time for film critics. To ensure their movies get consideration for awards voting, studios send out DVD screeners and plan theatrical screenings for what they think deserves credit. I mention this because Rabbit Hole is only one of literally dozens of films I’ve watched within the last week. The post date above the review says December, but I’m writing this in November, mere days before I dole out my votes for my critics organization’s end of the year awards and, well, I don't suspect Rabbit Hole will be winning much of anything.

Adapted from David Lindsay-Abaire’s stage play of the same name, the film follows a grieving couple as they attempt to deal with the loss of their son who died eight months earlier after running out into the street and getting hit by a car. Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie Corbett (Aaron Eckhart) are dealing with the tragedy in their own separate ways. Howie wishes to attend group meetings with other parents who have suffered such a loss while Becca takes comfort in meeting up and discussing what happened with Jason (Miles Teller), the kid who accidentally killed her son.

The buzz regarding Rabbit Hole, and presumably why we were shown it so early, surrounds Nicole Kidman’s performance and, indeed, if it is to receive accolades for anything, it will be for that. The movie itself is slow, boring, tedious and more than a little manipulative. So yes, Kidman is better than that, but her performance is not award worthy. It isn’t as nuanced as a grieving mother should be and her Australian accent seeps through unintentionally in heightened moments. She nails the side of her character that is angry, but she comes too light with the sadness.

I would argue that her character isn’t even particularly likable. Her rage is understandable given the circumstances and as she says at one point, she isn’t receiving any comfort anywhere, but that doesn’t excuse her rude and sometimes violent behavior. In one scene, as she peruses the rows of a grocery store, she spots a kid who asks his mother if she will buy him some Fruit Roll-Ups, to which she says no, a reasonable parental decision. But Becca becomes so angered by the woman not giving her son what he wants that she tosses some verbal hatred her way before physically assaulting her. I wanted to feel for her plight, but events like this gave me plenty of reasons not to.

Outliving your child and having to watch him or her die must be one of the most unbearable things to carry and I hope I never have to, but Rabbit Hole doesn’t go into enough detail to show just exactly what the experience is like. Instead of exploring certain topics, like Becca’s lack of faith in God (besides, what kind of God could do that to her baby?), it brushes them by with little to no interest. It hits core concepts like bullet points when they should be explored like paragraphs.

Rabbit Hole is a movie that wants you to feel a certain way, but I felt emotionally indifferent. Every time something effective happens, something ineffective offsets it, like a scene where Howie and a friend get high and begin to laugh when a parent details his daughter’s battle with, and eventual death from, leukemia. It’s in poor taste and in a movie that wishes to win us over as badly as Rabbit Hole, things like that are inexcusable.

Rabbit Hole receives 2/5