Olympus Has Fallen Falls And Falls Hard

Courtesy:  Sony Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Sony Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Dumb.  Dumb.  Dumb.  There is no other word that so aptly describes Sony Pictures’ new action thriller Olympus Has Fallen.  There is little to nothing redeeming about this roughly two-hour turn-off-your-brain action flick.  From the moment this forgettable travesty starts, it is so rife with problems that it’s nearly impossible to know where exactly to start.  Perhaps the best place to start would be from the beginning.  So let’s begin from the beginning.  Gerard Butler’s moody Mike Banning is the all too stereotypical anti-hero who is haunted by the past and trying to make amends for something for which he blames himself.  Of course, when everyone else is killed by a Korean paramilitary group in a surprise attack, Banning is the only one that can come in and save the day.  Of course.  On top of that, he is having relationship issues with his girlfriend, too.  Sound familiar yet?  It should.  This just sounds like an updated take of the one true action classic, Die Hard.  The only difference is that instead of being set in Los Angeles, this one is set inside the White House with a few other minor changes.

The general lack of originality isn’t the only problem from which this movie suffers.  As noted, there is also a major issue with the story’s plot holes, which begin from early on.  How exactly a foreign paramilitary group managed to get their hands on fully armed and equipped C-130 Hercules is never explained at any one point in the story.  That’s just the beginning of the problems.  Writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt never fully give any background on how the paramilitary group managed to infiltrate a group of South Korean diplomats, either.  The only background that’s given is on the group’s leader late in the story.  Here audiences get yet another massive plot hole.  It is at least revealed that he’s a South Korean who held a grudge against America for the death of his mother when he was a child.  But even that is a problem.  Yet again, audiences get another clichéd story element.  The leader of the bad guys is a madman out for revenge for something that happened when he was a child.  This has been done to death.  And now it’s been buried with its use here.  These are rather key issues that seriously hurt this story.  At least the pair took the time to explain the group’s motivations.  That’s about all that can be said in their defense, though.  That being the case, it only gets worse from there.  It gets worse thanks to the references to 9/11.

At the time that Olympus Has Fallen premiered, America was nearly twelve years removed from the tragedy of September 11th, 2001.  But for so many families across the country, that horrible day was still fresh in their minds.  That being the case, it could very easily be argued that having a giant, fully armed C-130 fly over the nation’s capital mowing down innocent civilians  was little more than a pair of writers capitalizing on a national tragedy.  And that is just abhorrent.  It’s one thing to have a group of bad guys taking on Americans and Americans winning.  But to touch on a nerve that is still so sensitive to this day is entirely thoughtless.  It’s not the end of the movie’s problems, either.

Olympus Has Fallen has so many problems that it drowns in them.  It only gets worse.  In their attempts to make up for all of the problems that plague this movie, Rothenberger and Benedikt have front loaded it with more than enough over the top explosions and blood shed to make any college frat boy scream with delight like a little schoolgirl.  It’s the finishing touch on a movie that hardly lives up to the standard set by much better action flicks that have come before.  All things considered, Olympus Has Fallen  has made itself one of the worst action flicks of 2013 and one of the worst movies of the year, too.

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Little White Lies A Powerful, Emotionally Charged Drama

Courtesy:  EuropaCorp Distribution/mpi Pictures/Films Caneo/M6/W9/Canal+/Cine Cinema

Courtesy: EuropaCorp Distribution/mpi Pictures/Films Caneo/M6/W9/Canal+/Cine Cinema

Little White Lies is a very emotionally powerful and moving story.  As powerful as it is, it is not a movie for anyone.  The reason for this is that it is a direct reflection of life.  Just because it is a French film doesn’t mean that the characters only reflect the French.  Rather, it reflects humans in general.  Whereas the BBC’s Keeping Up Appearances does this in a full on comical nature, this roughly two and a half-hour long allegory about the lies that we tell ourselves and others every day takes a far more dramatic turn on this subject.

Little White Lies was marketed as a dramedy of sorts.  And while there are some humorous moments, the humor of those moments is slight at best.  So it would be safer to consider this movie as leaning more in the direction of a drama than a dramedy.  The movie’s drama rises from the central theme that the group of friends have to put their annual vacation plans on hold when Ludo (Jean DuJardin—The Artist) is hit by a box truck while leaving a bar one day.  The drama starts right from the moment the group of friends leaves Ludo’s room at the hospital, their actions speak volumes.  They all agree to cut their annual vacation short by two weeks so as to be able to see Ludo, thinking that he will be okay.  The way that they act is almost that of people who feel inconvenienced by Ludo being in the hospital.  It is so subtle.  But it is there.  So it’s evident from early on just how much this story reflects real life.

The reflection of life doesn’t end with the moment the friends leave the hospital.  Throughout the time that the friends are together on their vacation, the lives that they live and that they use to impress one another are revealed.  From an unhappy couple to a gay man that is in the closet to lies about their own situation in life, each member of the group mirrors people in everyday life.  This ugly truth is eventually revealed in the story’s bittersweet ending.  The story’s end is its most powerful moment, too.  It leaves viewers to question what is really important in life.  Is it one’s own reputation or one’s own family and friends that are the most important?  Given, it is a foreign film.  But the message is one that will resonate among all audiences.  And because of that, it is worth at least one watch as emotionally charged as it is.

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Hope Springs A Funny, Heartfelt Rom-Com For Every Married Couple

Courtesy:  MGM/Escape Artists/Mandate Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: MGM/Escape Artists/Mandate Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Hope Springs is one of Meryl Streep’s most heartfelt, moving performances of her entire career.  Despite what many might want to believe, it isn’t just another chick flick.  It’s a movie that every married couple should see no matter how long they have been married.  Co-star Tommy Lee Jones has been typecast once again as another gruff personality in a power of authority.  Typically, he stars as a police officer or another similar authority figure in his movies.  This time, he stars as a high powered businessman.  Ironically enough, while he has been typecast yet again, his character Arnold is a fitting counterpoint to Streep’s Kay.  The couple has gotten far too comfortable in its marriage, and has completely grown apart.  It’s a simple story.  Yet it’s such a realistic story, unlike so many rom-coms that Hollywood has churned out over the years.

Many audiences seem to have had a belief that Hope Springs was aimed largely at older audiences.  But the reality of the story is that it mirrors life for younger married couples just as much as for those with years of experience.  The story is less about Kay and Arnold’s sex life or lack thereof than it is about simply how the pair has forgotten who the other is.  As a result Kay and Arnold are more strangers to each other than a married couple.  Again, this is something that is just as easy for younger couples to have happen as for those who have been marred for decades.  Maybe that is why the audiences and critics that panned it did so.  Perhaps, just perhaps, those that panned it didn’t like seeing the reality of their own lives playing out on screen.  This sort of denial and rejection is exemplified through Arnold’s own refusal and denial to talk to Doctor Feld (played here by Steve Carell in what is one of his most impressive roles yet, too).  No one likes to have to admit when things aren’t the way they are in life.  This is especially the case when it comes to relationships and marriages.  If viewers can get past their own pride—as Arnold was forced to do—they will see just how much value this story has, even if watched just once and that it is okay to admit that no one’s marriage is perfect.  It’s something that couples have to work at throughout their lives.  As John Lennon and his band mates in The Beatles sang, “All you need is love.”

The central story of Hope Springs is one to which any married couple can relate.  For all of its deep, heartfelt moments, audiences can’t possibly ignore the story’s funnier moments.  The way in which Doctor Feld candidly talks about Kay and Arnold’s sexual relationship and the couple’s reaction to his candid discussion.  This is just one more factor that makes Hope Springs so enjoyable for any married couple.  The very thought of discussing what goes on behind closed doors or in the deepest recesses of a person’s mind is still considered very taboo by most Americans.  Keeping this in mind in seeing the reaction of both Kay and Arnold will leave any viewer laughing.  It’s obvious how uncomfortable both Kay and Arnold felt in discussing their sex life…or in their case, the lack thereof.  For all of the comic elements of these moments, the deeper more emotional root of the couple’s lack of intimacy reminds audiences how serious this can be on a marriage.  It’s just one more aspect of the near two hour movie that makes it surprisingly enjoyable.

The acting and the writing of Hope Springs are both important to the movie’s success.  There is one more factor that should be given note here in the story’s success.  That factor is the work of the movie’s makeup department.  In so many of the movies in which Streep has starred, she has managed to look different from her previous role.  This movie is one more of those cases.  This movie’s makeup department is to be highly commended for making Meryl look so believable as an older woman.  From the makeup to the hair, there was something about her look that was completely different from her previous roles.  It was done so expertly that one can’t help but wonder, is this perhaps what she would look like off-screen without her makeup?  In other words, the hair and makeup looked natural.  And to look natural is a success.  It makes Kay that much more believable as a character.  And along with the acting of both Streep and Jones, and the story’s writing, Hope Springs turns out as a whole, to be a movie that any married couple should see at least once in their marriage.  It is available now in stores and online.

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Top 10 Major Motion Pictures Of 2012

Top 10 Movies of 2012

 

Courtesy:  Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

1.  The Artist:  While it originally made its debut overseas in 2011, it wasn’t until January 20th of this year that The Artist actually made its nationwide debut in theaters across the U.S.  Before then, only the lucky few at the big festivals got to see it.  That being the case, it should be considered a 2012 release.  So what makes it 2012’s best?  So much could be said.  At a time when so much of what Hollywood churns out is prequels, sequels, and remakes, this story—distributed by Sony Pictures—went the total opposite.  How simple and ingenious is it to make a silent film in a movie of major flash-bang-boom films?  Because the movie’s only sound is its music, viewers are forced to watch.  And the cast was force to really put on its best possible performance, rather than rely on everything else that most movies use to distract audiences from poor performances.  The music is quite enjoyable, too.  And of course, the general cinematography is just as impressive.  It all combines to make for a movie that any movie lover should see at least once.

Mirror Mirror BD2.  Mirror, Mirror:  Some of you might shake your heads at this pick.  But the reality is that this is really a fun and family friendly movie.  Both boys and girls will enjoy it as will parents.  While young Lily Collins (the daughter of superstar Phil Collins) is billed as the lead star here, it’s the dwarves who are really the story’s stars.  Their antics make for more than their share of laughs.  Though watching Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer—The Lone Ranger) put under the evil queen’s puppy love spell is pretty funny, too.  It’s obvious that this spoof of the classic fairy tale was aimed both at boys and girls.  With its mix of wit and charm, it will always be one of the best takes on the old Snow White story.

Courtesy:  Disney Studios

Courtesy: Disney Studios

3.  The Odd Life of Timothy Green:  This is another truly enjoyable family movie.  The general story is one to which any parent can relate and will enjoy because of that.  Though the concept of what happens with Timothy might be a little bit tough to discuss with younger viewers.  The beautiful backdrop adds even more warmth to the story.  And the cast’s acting makes suspension of disbelief so easy.  Sure it’s sappy, emotional, and all that jazz.  But that can be forgiven as it’s such an original and heartwarming story.       

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox

4.  Skyfall:  This is where things begin to get a little bit touchy.  Skyfall is by far the best Bond flick to come along in a very long time.  That’s not to say that the previous two were bad.  But this one brought back memories of the old school James Bond that everybody knows.  It’s got the gadgets and the humor and none of the melodrama that weighed down the previous two Bond flicks.  The only downside to the movie is that it tends to drag in the final act.  Other than that, it is a nice return to form for the Bond franchise and gives hope for any future Bond films….that is at least if Christopher Nolan doesn’t get his hands on the franchise.

Courtesy:  Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Video

Courtesy: Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Video

5.  The Avengers:  The Avengers was a very nice way to cap off the build-up created by Marvel Studios with the recent bevy of comic book based movies.  It had great special effects.  Its story was simple and solid.  And the shooting was equally impressive.  Considering all the action going on, audiences weren’t left feeling dizzy to the point of wanting to walk out (or in the case of home release, just turn it off).  But like so many ensemble cast movies, it suffered from a common problem.  That problem was the movie’s run time.  Most of the characters in The Avengers had already been introduced through their own separate movies.  So there was no reason to re-introduce them all over again this time.  A lot of that extra time could have been spared.  Hopefully those involved have learned from that and will present viewers with a shorter movie in the second of the Avengers movies.

Courtesy:  Warner Brothers Home Video

Courtesy: Warner Brothers Home Video

6.  The Dark Knight Rises:  I am just as much a comic book fan as anyone else out there.  So it goes without saying that I was excited to see this movie.  It did a good job of wrapping up the trilogy.  The problem is that it did too much of a good job, as David Goyer and the Nolans tried too hard to cram everything into one movie.  Word is that this latest installment of the Batman franchise left many people checking their watches when it was in theaters.  It might have been better served to have been split up into at least one more movie because of everything added into the mix.  And having what seems to be a lack of commentary on the new home release, fans can only guess what the logic was in cramming so much into one story.  Much like The Avengers, the shooting and the special effects were great.  So it has that going for it.  But the writing was the story’s big problem.  Here’s to hoping that whoever takes over the Batman franchise next (whenever it’s re-launched) won’t make the same mistake as Christopher Nolan and company.

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox

7.  Prometheus:  This semi-prequel to Ridley Scott’s hit Alien franchise was met with mixed reviews.  There seemed to be no gray area here.  Audiences either loved it or hated it.  Truth be told, it worked quite well as both a prequel and as its very own stand-alone movie.  Sure the special effects are different from those used in the original movies.  But times are different.  So viewers should take that into account.  And the shooting was just as impressive.  While it may not be as memorable as Scott’s previous works, at least audiences can agree that it’s better than the movies in the AvP franchise.

Courtesy:  Universal Pictures

Courtesy: Universal Pictures

8.  Les Miserables:  This latest reboot of Victor Hugo’s classic story of love and redemption in one of history’s darkest eras is not bad.  But it’s not great, either.  Audiences who know the stage play will thrill at how director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and his staff of writers paid tribute to the stage play both in its writing and its shooting.  At the same time, Hooper tried so hard to pay tribute with his shooting style and the transitions that the whole movie felt dizzying to say the least.  The shooting and transitions felt like nothing more than a bunch of cuts from one shot to the next.  There was never a total sense of fluidity anywhere in the story.  It was almost as if despite staying true to the stage play, the script for this latest big screen adaptation was written by someone with ADHD.  Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway did a superior job with their performances.  But despite that, odds are that the movie will sadly be remembered more for its flawed shooting and transitions than for its award-worthy performances.  Nonetheless, it’s still a good movie for any fan of Les Miserables or for fans of musicals in general to see at least once.

Courtesy:  CBS Films/CBS Home Entertainment/UK Film Council/BBC Films/Lionsgate/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: CBS Films/CBS Home Entertainment/UK Film Council/BBC Films/Lionsgate/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

9.  Salmon Fishing in the YemenSalmon Fishing in the Yemen is without a doubt an original story.  It’s next to impossible to find anything like it out there or present.  But it suffers greatly from an identity crisis.  It doesn’t know whether it wants to be a drama, a romance, or a little bit of both.  It’s nice to see the simple message of something as simple as fishing being able to bring the world’s people together peacefully.  But it really seemed to let the romance factor get too much involved.  As a result, it got bogged down in itself.  Had it not had the romance subplot, it might have been better.

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

10. Arbitrage:  It was once noted that three factors more than any other are the causes of crime.  Those factors are:  money, power, and sex.  Arbitrage has all three of these.  It’s an interesting movie.  And it definitely wastes no time noting the latter of the trio of factors, as it lets audiences know that Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is having an affair with another woman.  And also, Miller’s boss has a very firm talk with him early on letting him know that he knows about the financial inaccuracies that he’s causing.  It doesn’t take long to know where this story goes.  It’s something of a tried and true story.  Add in this critic’s pet peeve of movies, the “whisper scenes” and it makes for a movie that as good as it is it could have been better.  For those wondering, the “whisper scene” is exactly as it sounds (bad pun there).  The “whisper scene” is one in which actors essentially whisper throughout the scene against overpowering music to make the scene more emotional and powerful.  But put against the sudden transition to normal volume scenes (and above normal volume scenes), it becomes rather annoying as one has to constantly change the volume on one’s TV as a result of that.  It’ll be interesting to see if it gets the Golden Globe for which it was nominated.

There you have it folks.  That is my personalist of the year’s ten best major motion pictures.  You are more than welcome to share whether you agree or disagree and what your top 10 list would look like.  2013’s already shaping up to be an interesting year.  As the movies start to come out, I’ll have reviews of them, too.  To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Sony’s MIB Franchise Returns To Form In Its Latest Release

 

Courtesy:  Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Sony Pictures’ Men in Black franchise has finally returned to form with the release of the third movie in its franchise.  Whereas the franchise’s second movie dropped flat with audiences, this second sequel has brought the movie’s fun and action back.  Given, the whole time travel/alternate timeline bit has been done far too many times in both movies and television.  And there are far too many sequels, prequels, and remakes out there today.  But this is one of those rare sequels that can be forgiven.  It has brought the MIB franchise back to where it should be.

MIB 3’s bonus “Making of” featurette does a good job of explaining what exactly it is that made this movie at least somewhat successful.  Director Barry Sonnenfeld explains that the movie isn’t so much about the time travel, but about the secrets of the relationship between Agents “Jay” and “Kay.”  Having an understanding of this helps to be more accepting of the time travel/alternate timeline bit that is otherwise far too overdone in the science fiction genre.  Audiences will find the relationship especially heartwarming in the story’s final moments in understanding this, too.  It’s those final moments that really bring the entire trilogy full circle and hopefully will mark the end of this movie property.

The story of the relationship between “Jay” and “Kay” makes up for the otherwise dull and done to death time travel plot.  It’s only part of what makes this movie bearable.  This movie gets everything right that the second movie in the trilogy got wrong.  Whereas the second of the MIB movies was simply not believable and focused far too much on melodrama, MIB 3 brings back all the aliens, gadgets, and action that made the first of the MIB franchise so fun.  Also, since it does everything that MIB did, it is also much easier to suspend disbelief.  That is the center of everything.  The gadgets, aliens, special effects and action were fun.  But it’s that believable storyline between “Jay” and “Kay” that makes MIB 3 what it is.  Instead of a standard romance subplot, this story evolves the partnership/relationship between “Jay” and “Kay” and this makes them as characters more believable.  By the story’s end, audiences who allow themselves to believe the relationship between “Jay” and “Kay” will see that while it may not be the most memorable of movies, it is still one that’s fun and funny for everyone.

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Salmon Fishing Will “Hook” Audiences

Courtesy: CBS Films/CBS Home Entertainment/UK Film Council/BBC Films/Lionsgate/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

For a movie that is one more piece based on a book, one can only hope that the paper take on this story is better than the movie.  Salmon Fishing in The Yemen isn’t the worst movie of the year.  That *honor* belongs to Nichols Cage’s Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance.  But it isn’t the best, either.  It manages to sort of linger somewhere in the middle.  That’s because it can’t seem to decide if it wants to be a romance or a satire on foreign policy by the British government.  The plot of this movie starts off after the bombing of a mosque in a Middle East nation.  Upon seeing it on the news, Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas) sets out on a PR campaign of sorts, in order to try and maintain ties between the Yemeni and British governing bodies.  In looking for a way to build some sort of good will between the two bodies, Patricia stumbles on the salmon fishing idea proposed by Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked).  Thus ensues what comes across as the seeming satire on the absurdity of political inner workings.

Had the story maintained its seeming political roots, it would have been a much stronger work.  The problem is that it continued to tie in a romance story between Alfred (Ewan McGregor) and Harriet (Emily Blunt).  The constant romantic interludes throw off the story’s pacing and do little to really advance the primary story any.  It’s another classic boy meets girl-loses her-gets her back in the end romance.  The addition of this storyline almost makes the story feel as if it’s suffering from an identity crisis.  Though through all the romance, there is at least one bright moment.  That moment comes as Alfred comes across as a little bit neurotic.  He tells Harriet at lunch one day that he only drinks on the weekend, and he only drinks certain drinks.  That makes him come across as at least slightly neurotic.  Audiences who pay close enough attention will get a kick out of that.

Courtesy: CBS Films/CBS Home Entertainment/UK Film Council/BBC Films/Lionsgate/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

For all the problems caused by the interweaving romance subplot, Salmon Fishing’s main political storyline is both moving and worth its own share of laughs.  While the main story may not center on American issues, it’s one to which even American audiences can relate.  The absurdity of political pandering is something that’s obviously universal.  By contrast though, that something as simple as fishing could bring two men from two entirely different ethnic backgrounds and two entirely different sides of the world is a bold statement.  It serves that much more to make all the political maneuvering of the world’s governments that much more pathetic. Sheikh Muhammed’s statement to Alfred makes that maneuvering that much more pathetic.  He says to Alfred, “For fishermen, the only virtues are patience, tolerance, and humility.”  He is saying in simple terms that a man can learn more of the world from fishing than all the political lessons combined.  Sure, it’s a metaphor.  But anyone who has ever gone fishing can vouch for this statement’s truth.

When it’s all said and done, Salmon Fishing in The Yemen proves to be anything but the year’s best movie.  However, neither is it the year’s worst.  But at a time when so many movie studios are relying increasingly on prequels, sequels, and remakes, all involved with this story get bonus points for taking the old school road and adapting a book to the big screen.  For that matter, all involved get even more points for adapting a book with a largely original story, save for the romance.  That being said, this is definitely one of the year’s most underrated movies.  And it’s one that’s worth at least one watch.

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