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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


The Crazies

When one thinks of horror master George Romero, it's only natural to recall films like Night of the Living Dead and its sequels Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. He practically invented the zombie sub-genre by mixing gore with brilliant political and societal commentary. You may not, however, be aware of his lesser known directorial endeavors, including his 1973 turd bomb The Crazies. Now, nearly 30 years later, a remake has emerged and rightfully so. This is the type of movie that should be remade, one that had potential and an intriguing set-up, but failed to capitalize on it in any way. This 2010 version of The Crazies does indeed improve on its predecessor, yet it's still not good. You can polish crap all you want. In the end, it's still crap.

The film is set in a small Iowa town, a relatively quiet place that has never really had to deal with criminals, so much so that the sheriff, David (Timothy Olyphant), spends his days at local baseball games. One day at one of those games, a strange man walks in from the outfield with a shotgun and David shoots him dead. He assumes this was a one time thing, but odd actions begin to plague the citizens of the town and before he knows it, him and his wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell) are being quarantined off by the government. It turns out a plane carrying a biological weapon has crashed into their reservoir polluting their drinking water and turning everybody who drinks it stark raving mad. David and Judy are eventually separated because Judy is suspected of being infected, but instead of leaving quietly, David goes back to find her as the crazies break out of their camps and begin to wreak havoc on the town.

The Crazies is one of those movies that you walk out of in a state of bewilderment, impressed by its expertly crafted look, but baffled at the unstructured mess it became. What I mean to say is that this thing is shot with panache. In its own dark, macabre sort of way, the film is quite beautiful. The cinematography is second to none in the horror genre and each shot is bursting with creativity.

But all of that is wasted on a bare bones script and poorly executed jump tactics. Much like the majority of so called "horror" movies these days, The Crazies implements these jump scares like they're going out of style, each one more predictable than the last. I barely flinched, let alone jumped out of my seat. If I were wearing a heart monitor during my screening, I feel confident that it would have maintained a steady beat.

But what this thing really needed above all else was a decent script. It does nothing but move from horror set piece to horror set piece with little narrative arc. It moves so quickly from the morgue to the big empty house to the diner down the street and to the creepy, darkened shed with plenty of pointy objects just waiting to be impaled into somebody that it didn't feel so much like a movie as it did a haunted carnival ride.

This might not have been a bad thing had the film known how to carry itself. Look at Zombieland, for instance. That movie, much like this one, went from horror set piece to horror set piece with minimal narrative flow, but it knew what it was. It didn't care about story or scares, but rather on simply providing a damn fun time to its audience and it succeeded. The Crazies takes itself far too seriously and in its attempt to be scary, it falls face first to the ground, denying itself a chance to get back up again.

Like the original film, director Breck Eisner includes a commentary on biological warfare and the use of the military, but it's surrounded by so much useless bloodshed and idiocy that none of it seeps through. The only redeeming factor in all of The Crazies is the excellent visual style. With that style, which provides the appropriate tone for the movie, it's shocking to see how utterly void of scares this thing is. It may be more entertaining than the exposition filled snooze fest that was Romero's original, but that's kind of like saying a punch in the gut is better than one to the face. I'd rather not have either.

The Crazies receives 2/5