REVIEW: Olympus Has Fallen

3 03 2015

Lest we forget, the sight of the White House, the very icon of the American Presidency, in flames could have been a non-fiction tale (or a Paul Greengrass film). On September 11, 2001, United Flight 93 was likely headed to Washington, D.C. to take out the beloved building. So given that history, a modicum of respect – not even Christopher Nolan levels of seriousness – and reverence seems due for the landmark.

None of this registered with the makers of “Olympus Has Fallen,” however. Director Antoine Fuqua seeks to inspire anger by focusing on the sight of the edifice under siege, yet the film just feels too cartoonish in its destruction for any real emotions to register. (This is a movie where someone gets killed by trauma to the head inflicted by a bust of Abraham Lincoln, after all.)

Furthermore, the trigger-happy festival of gore devalues innocent lives taken by terrorists – NOT a smart move when trying to invoke the legacy of 9/11. As Gerard Butler’s Mike Banning seeks to rescue the prisoners of the North Korean attackers who take over the White House, the stakes feel rather low. In terms of hostage movies, this feels about on the level of a bank robbery.

“Olympus Has Fallen” will not even leave you chanting “USA! USA!” And, keep in mind, this is a movie that stars Morgan Freeman. What a squandered opportunity. C2stars

REVIEW: Divergent

20 11 2014

Roger Ebert once wrote, “Look at a movie that a lot of people love, and you will find something profound, no matter how silly the film may seem.”  Keeping that in mind, I approached “Divergent,” the latest in a series of hit YA series adapted for the screen, less as a reviewer and more as a phenomenologist.  What exactly is it that this movie is tapping into?  What function is it fulfilling for viewers?

This was actually a great way to watch the film because otherwise, it provided very little entertainment or enjoyment.  “The Hunger Games” somehow manages to maintain a vague sense of artistic integrity; the assembly of “Divergent,” meanwhile, seems the result of focus groups and marketing executives.  Everything from its color-by-numbers plot to its Top 40-friendly soundtrack feels calculated and inauthentic.

But a deeper look into the heart of Veronica Roth’s story (as adapted for the screen by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor) actually reveals some intriguing thematic strands.  “Divergent” follows Shailene Woodley’s Tris, a teenager in a dystopian Chicago, as she attempts to find her place amongst the rigidly divided factions in her society.  Struggles with belonging and discovering one’s developing identity?  Sounds a lot like high school…

“Divergent” stands out in my mind as being the most directly applicable YA series for its target audience in everything from the frightfulness of not fitting completely into a single neat box or having to earn your place in anything.  Unlike “The Hunger Games,” which casts teenagers in very adult situations, this story speaks directly to teenage concerns.  Regrettably, however, it clouds these messages by involving stereotypical oppressive authoritarian entities like Kate Winslet’s Jeanine.

As “Divergent” moves from the personal from the political in its second half, any momentum it had built up dissipates rather quickly.  The bloated length of 140 minutes certainly does not help matters, quickly converting excitement into boredom.  I remain unsure as to whether or not I will bother to see any of the sequels to the film.  I seem to at least have some understanding of its appeal now, and I feel pretty content with just that.  C2stars

REVIEW: Tooth Fairy

7 06 2010

Dwayne Johnson (aka “The Rock”) has become quite good at using his physical strength as an asset in kid’s movies. He managed to turn Disney’s “The Game Plan” into something actually quite disarming and fairly entertaining. But now, after doing “Tooth Fairy” for Fox, we can clearly see that charm doesn’t follow the star. Perhaps it’s strictly Disney’s property, this movie seems to suggest.

The movie deals in the mythical, offering a different and ultimately disconcerting take on the Tooth Fairy. There isn’t one tooth fairy but multiple, many of whom are swapping money for teeth not out of their benevolent spirits but as an act of penance. That’s the case for aging hockey star Derek Thompson (Johnson) who is apparently incredible yet still in the minor leagues. He kills dreams not just by ruining the myth of the Tooth Fairy but by pessimistically offering his take on the future to crush idealism.

So he receives a summons from the “Department of Dissemination of Disbelief,” led by a fairy played by the always graceful Julie Andrews.  This is just a wannabe of the Council of Legendary Figures in “The Santa Clause 2,” which included Mother Nature, Father Time, Cupid, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, Santa Claus, and a self-conscious Tooth Fairy seeking a less emasculating title.  But there’s more to the movie’s demise than just the fact that the premise has been used before.  “Tooth Fairy” is critically deficient in creativity and energy, both of which are needed to power a movie of such mythical magnitude.  Johnson here merely dials it in, absent of all the fun and compassion he showed in “The Game Plan.”  It’s almost as if he’s as tired of acting the same tired message as we are of receiving it.

The real question the movie raises is where on earth has Billy Crystal been the past decade. And why on earth did he choose “Tooth Fairy” to come back with? That’s not exactly a triumphant return with a blaze of glory. He makes two small appearances and manages to get a few small chuckles out of us, although one has to wonder if they are pity laughs for a man that once could consistently leave us in stitches.

I will give “Tooth Fairy” that it does have one great strength: puns.  Clever wordplay involving teeth and fairies pops up all throughout the film and in great quantities.  Depending on your sense of humor, you’ll let out either a mild chuckle or you’ll roll your eyes.  But puns are no replacement for good comedy and imagination.  C /