Olympus Has Fallen Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

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Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

Starring Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Dylan McDermott, Ashley Judd, Radha Mitchell, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Robert Forster, Morgan Freeman and Ricky Yune

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Olympus Has Fallen is not just an action movie as much as it is one about a president, and because of that we, the audience, begin this experience with a score that seems derivative of a mid-90’s Sorkin movie. The rest of the movie has Antoine Fuqua’s muscular film-making but the score is one of many details that give away this feeling that he palpably does not have full control of it.

In Camp David, the virile US President Benjamin Asher (Eckhart) and his wife (Judd) prepare for an event that doubles as a Christmas celebration and a reelection push. Asher’s Secret Service handler Banning (Butler) reminds them how much time they have left, and the fictional FLOTUS asks Banning which earrings she should wear. She chooses a different pair, and because of this she has to die. Actually what happens is a bridge accident that forces Banning to choose to either save Asher or his wife.

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Eighteen months later Banning gets demoted – doing the right thing means that he still reminds Asher of the tragedy. The latter tries to move on with his second term, going through the routines after the Fourth of July. He talks policy with a selected few, and we know that someone within his inner circle (Leo) is his Defense Secretary because of the inter-titles, one for every major character.

This adds a layer of plausibility to the movie, which it shall desperately need when one considers what happens next. A North Korean paramilitary troop, led by a man who has infiltrated the high levels of the South’s government, invades of the White House – Secret Service Code: Olympus – the first invasion of its kind since we did it in 1812. The troop has wiped away most of America’s defenses except for Banning, who wants to rescue Asher, the latter held hostage by the North Koreans in the White House bunker. The troop’s attractive leader Kang (Yune) has political and personal history driving him to this point. He takes Olympus so he can demand the removal of American vessels and weapons within the international waters near North Korean territory. Living after 9/11 I kept reminding myself that again, all of this is plausible, but the CGI work here is so blatant and unseamless that it makes the premise seem like an insult to video games.

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What seems like the surface of a big budget action movie is really what could be the year’s best half-unintentional comedy. The movie earns big points for casting over-actors and putting them in the same bunker. Leo stretches out her words and suffering more than Shatner could, showing off as much of her imperfect skin as decently possible, reminding her audience that she won an Oscar. Eckhart, going through that frat-bro phase in his career that began with Battle LA, twitchily turns his head in all directions, constantly looking like he’s trying to pass stool. Bassett – who is outside the bunker as Banning’s friend and right hand woman to the Speaker and Acting President (Freeman) – punctuates every sentence with the word ‘dammit’ as she has done for the past few years. And McDermott’s lines and deliveries seem like we might as well be watching another episode of American Horror Story. Some of you might know that I like my actors. And they bring laughs but they are so ironically bad here that they deserve ironic applause, too. Their uproarious performances have a way of making us feel something special in what could have been a boring Gerard Butler shoot ’em up movie.

 

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American Horror Story Review (The First Six Episodes)

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As usual, I was a bit late to catch onto the latest hit TV show, American Horror Story. I seem to have my finger on the pulse of the movie and video game scene, but TV releases require such a large time investment, so I tend to wait for a few seasons to be released and then watch them en masse. However, the insane amount of buzz that has accompanied American Horror Story, combined with the genre of the show, a modern haunted house story of sorts, has made it impossible for me to postpone my viewing of the show. After the first six episodes, I’m not quite sure what to think. I adore the subject matter, and there is a ton of creativity and talent evident in the series, but some risky and lazy writing choices have left me wondering if I will even continue with the rest of the series.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I sat through Harper’s Island every week, up to and including its nonsensical and intellectually insulting finale. I thought the idea of a weekly slasher series was amazing, and I wanted the show to succeed, much like I want American Horror Story to succeed. Well, as a whole, Harper’s Island turned out to be a massive pile of garbage, and I’m still strongly considering contacting the creators to try and get the 13 hours of my life back that I invested in it. This experience has no doubt affected how I view other horror TV shows. I will try my best not to let this attitude seep into this review of the first six episodes of American Horror Story.

The storyline of the series follows the Harmon family as they move into an old suburban home with a bloody history. Vivien (Connie Britton) and Ben (Dylan McDermott) have had their fair share of marriage problems, but are hoping that the change of scenery will help them repair past emotional damage, while their daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) seems to be your typical angst ridden teenager. The mysterious supporting characters, in the form a deceptive neighbour (Jessica Lange), a two-faced stranger (Denis O’Hare), and an age-shifting maid (Frances Conroy and Alexandra Breckenridge), bolster the unsettling atmosphere of American Horror Story. In addition to the present-day storyline, most episodes of the series also feature flashbacks to ghastly murders that are a part of the house’s sordid past.

I have a lot of positive things to say about the series. For starters, the technical aspects are quite refreshing, as the cinematography and the editing remind me of the jump-cuts and crash-zooms found in The Lincoln Lawyer. This may not be my favourite camera or editing style, but it is always nice to see something different in a TV show, which are so often technical bores.

The strongest point of the series has to be the exceptional performances by the majority of the cast. Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott do an excellent job of alternating between compassionate and loving scenes, to those in which it looks like their marriage might end there and then. Taissa Farmiga’s performance seemed a little ho-hum for a while, however around episode four or five she really begins to evolve, as her character starts to get fleshed out a bit. In my opinion, the strongest performance is delivered by Jessica Lange, who absolutely owns every scene she appears in.

Minor SPOILERS

The negative aspects of American Horror Story largely stem from the quality of the writing, which see-saws violently throughout the first six episodes. Larry Harvey (Denis O’Hare), a burn victim that seems interested in helping Ben (McDermott), has a few memorable moments, but for the most part feels like an inane paper-thin character who is simply a plot device or a time filler. An episode called Piggy, Piggy had the potential to be extremely scary, but goes out with a whimper. Did the writer quit before the episode was finished? Finally, a very questionable school-shooting storyline is the focus of the sixth episode. I am not here to pass moral judgment, and every topic should be open to art and entertainment, but when you are writing a haunted house series where the focus is entertaining horror, it is a large risk to utilize such an emotionally upsetting topic and treat it as a vehicle for thrills. Also, it may be unwise to make a supporting ‘good guy’ character the perpetrator of these shootings, as the audience will likely never forgive him. In all fairness, the story arc is not entirely explained at this point, and the show may have some incredible plot twists to explain these shootings, however I doubt it.

As I said at the beginning, I really don’t know what to think of this series. There has been a lot of good and a fair share of bad to be found in the first six episodes. Unfortunately, I don’t think that I have the time to invest in any future episodes, as TV shows really have to win me over early. However, I encourage horror fans to check out American Horror Story for themselves, they may find some redeeming qualities that I’ve missed. You can catch American Horror Story on the FX Network.

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