Friday, January 16, 2015

#DoubleFeature - Olympus Has Fallen/White House Down

This is certainly not the first nor the last time Hollywood produced twice the same movie back to back.

Sometimes I feel like America already forgot 9/11.

I didn't mean to open this review with such a downer, but a decade ago it felt like we wouldn't get anymore of these big budget explosive Roland Emmerich-style action films that love destroying a lot of American landmarks, Michael Bay aside (anyways, he's always been basically a poor man's Roland Emmerich in my eyes).

And then Roland Emmerich was back, destroying the White House once more like nothing had changed.

In 2013 we didn't get but one "terrorist attack on the White House, while destroying most of Washington" film, but two of them back to back!

The first one was Olympus Has Fallen, released on March 2013 and directed by Antoine Fuqua.

The other was Roland Emmerich's White House Down in June 2013.

Heck, they even have basically the same title!

Movie: Olympus has Fallen: White House Under Siege aka simply Olympus has Fallen
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Release date 2013
Genre Action thriller/disaster film
Country USA

Directed by rising action director Antoine Fuqua, the man that gave us great new classics such as Training Day in 2001 and the 2007 Shooter.

Olympus Has Fallen sees guerrilla-style North Korean terrorists attacking the White House.

The story is mostly seen from the point of view of our protagonist, Mike Banning, a former Secret Service agent.

The film stars Gerard Butler (until recently, mostly known for a lot of small roles including in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies) as our main protagonist Mike Banning, as well as Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Cole Hauser, Finley Jacobsen, Ashley Judd, Melissa Leo, Dylan McDermott, Radha Mitchell, Rick Yune and with Aaron Eckhart in the role of our US president (why not use a contemporary African-American president in this film?!? I don't get it... Oh! They probably were trying to have something different from that other White House film, right!).

Olympus Has Fallen is very much a typical Die Hard clone like we used to see a lot in the 90s. (Basically, "Die Hard in the White House").

While this script was already around Hollywood around march 2012, the idea was finally put into motion in order to directly compete with White House Down that had just started a bit earlier (and which was getting higher attention thanks to the return of Emmerich to the disaster genre which he had really done since the 2009 film "2012").

Mike Banning used to be a US soldier and a Ranger, but he is now working for the secret services as the head security of the US Presidential Detail. Over the time he has been on this job, he has even actually developed a pretty close friendship with the Presidential Family, President Benjamin Asher  and the First Lady, and their son Connor. One Christmas night, on the road to a fundraiser event they had an accident.. The President's car went out of control and crashed into the cold icy river below. During this accident he was only able to save the President and his son, but the First Lady died along two other agents... 

18 months have passed since the incident. Mike is now working at the Treasury Department (still within sight of the White House). 

There's a political meeting between the US President and the South Korean Prime Minister at the White House... When suddenly North Korean terrorists disguised amongst the crowd being an assault on the White House!... 

Turns out the Prime Minister was actually one of them! It's a calculated coup to reunify Korea! They want Americans to remove their troops and opposition from Korea to allow them to regain control of their "former country". All thanks to the help of one treasonous former Secret Service agent now working with the bad guys! They held these politicians hostage in the White House's underground nuclear shelter from which they start a video conference with the Pentagon, making their demands on live national TV.

"Olympus has fallen". 

These NK terrorists also want to destroy (or launch) all of the USA nuclear weapons and disperse them across the country, to take revenge for their families killed by American landmines.

Meanwhile on the ground, Mike joins forces with the local US soldiers. He is able to enter the White House and quickly finds the President's son. He starts helping defend the building and cleaning it off its terrorists. He tries to reach the President located in the White House bunker. 

Speaker Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) is declared Acting President and has to make all the big decisions during this situation. All the while buying time for the Army to move in. But these terrorists are highly prepared and even equipped with the latest technology in anti-aircraft weapons and all...

Most of Olympus Has Fallen was actually filmed in Louisiana acting for Washington, D.C. Which means they couldn't use the actual Washington city as a setting. And therefore much of the background has to rely on CGi effects here. The film is loaded with lots of greenscreen exterior scenes, which kinda shows several times (specially in the entire snowy introduction).

Olympus Has Fallen aims for the big spectacular. The film cram in as many American fears as possible. From homeland security issues in a post-9/11 America, to the nuclear fear, witnessing the destruction of iconic landmarks and even flags burning

Bullets start flying as soon as the bad guys infiltrate the impenetrable homeland security. But don't worry, in the end the world is saved thanks to this Scotsman. 

The cast is generally pretty decent, despite his quirks Aaron Eckhart does a pretty good job. Morgan Freeman seems almost wasted in this role as "Acting President" (really... couldn't they have simply made him the actual President right from the start??) Butler plays a John McClane that never smirks, played straight (it's almost too much at times).

It's a pretty fun action-filled thriller, if one is willing to suspend his disbelief as usual. For one the US Army or the FBI barely seem to be doing anything through the film except camping outside the White House.

And you have to forgive and forget the pretty silly premise. I mean, did anyone even screen the South Korean President's entourage before letting them in? There's even an unidentified flying plane above Washington!  

There are loads of collateral damages. It's loud. The action scenes are huge, yet not entirely memorable either. Our hero is no wisecracking smartass but a more methodical Rambo/Jason Bourne-style protagonist.

Olympus Has Fallen's score was composed by television and action thriller-specialist Trevor Morris. It has a pretty good tone, if a bit generic at times.

Overall: Olympus Has Fallen is fun, trying its best to get our entire attention by upping the blood on the screen to leave a mark as much possible. 

Compared to its "follow-up" White House Down, it has a ton of silly exciting action and a more serious tone.

People didn't like the film much at the time, the film received a certain mixed reception. But despite that it easily broke its budged back. You gotta recognize, once the story kicks in the film gets pretty tense thanks to its good direction. Gerard Butler does pretty good, if he doesn't bring anything new to the genre. At worst it just feels like one of those countless Die Hard ripoffs from the 1990s, it's the same style of film we saw countless times and using the same type of plot. It's a bit violent (more so than expected). The President's kid is kinda annoying to be honest, but at least they didn't give him much screentime.

Recommended for fans of the genre mostly! Check it out! 

If one thing surprised me with this film it's how quickly they announced a sequel for it! I mean we're already getting the sequel, London Has Fallen, this October directed now by Babak Najafi. I can't see this series making past another generic terrorist attack on a large-scale capital in a different country each episode... Why are they making another?! And not only are we getting the duo Mike Banning/Gerard Butler and President Aaron Eckhart back but also Morgan Freeman, the US vice president played by Angela Bassett and Radha Mitchell as well! Despite it taking place in an entirely different country!

I give it:
2 / 3 Films!

Movie: White House Down 
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Release date 2013
Genre Action thriller/disaster film
Country USA

Following a fairly discrete reaction on his historical drama Anonymous in 2011 and apparently only a TV movie (Dark Horse) since then around 2012, White House Down is the return of Roland Emmerich to big epic action-thriller that made most of his career in the 1990s. Emmerich will always be mostly forever known for his work on Stargate, Independence Day, the 1998 American Godzilla film, The Day After Tomorrow or even his second take on Day After Tomorrow (come on, admit it!) in 2009, 2012.

The story follows another assault on the White House by vindictive terrorists - only 3 months apart from that last time above. Can't these guys give Washington a break?

The movie stars Channing Tatum, Joey King, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Woods, Jason Clarke, Richard Jenkins and Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained!) as our American President this time.

The film wants itself in between the original Die Hard films (particularly the 2nd's storyline) and Air Force One.

The story is about this Capitol Police officer John Cale (Channing Tatum), yet another former US Soldier as well. John has some troubles with his relationship with his daughter Emily, who appears to be a huge fan of politics (kids these days.. don't they have Nintendos or whatever to focus on instead?). And she's specially angry at her father "John" who missed the school talent show (because of a change of his work shift). He's now trying to make up for it. Since he's trying to get a new job at the Capitol, he has a interview for a Secret Service position, he decided to impress his daughter by bringing her along for a tour of the White House.

He's interviewed by a former college friend Carol Finnerty who finds him unqualified for the position. He then lies to Emily, so they can proceed with the tour.

At the same time President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) is trying to have a peace treaty signed to remove allied military forces from the Middle East. That's when everything goes boom as terrorist disguised as a janitor detonates a bomb right in the middle of the Capitol, collapsing the White House's main dome! The Vice President is taken to Air Force One and the White House is locked down!

Cale gets separated from his daughter Emily (she had left the tour group to go to the toilets). The terrorists start killing the Secret Service guys and take the tour group as hostages. But John Cale won't rest as long as he doesn't get Emily to safety, he's able to take down one of the henchmen and takes a gun from him. He then escapes to look for his daughter.

Meanwhile the President's taken to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center by his Head of Security...who turns out to be allied with these so-called terrorists! Another treason story, where have I seen this before *glimpses above*. Actually they're not really "terrorists", but more like "true patriots". This Head of the Presidential Detail Martin Walker is the leader behind the attack, he wants revenge for his son, killed in a botched black op mission. And he blames the President for this. Americans are too soft nowadays. He wants to see his country take a position of force again, and decimate all of these "terrorist countries" out there in a pointless war.

Cale grabs the radio of one of the bad guys. He's able to locate and save the President. On her side, Emily is able to upload a video of the terrorists on Youtube, but gets quickly captured. The bad guys ask for $400 million USD from the Federal Reserve as a ransom. John tries to get the President out via the secret underground tunnels. Emily's video is used to identify the terrorists. They're identified as former radical extremists, Delta Force and CIA. Our villain actually has a brain tumor, and is about to die. For him this is one last suicide mission. He doesn't care for the ransom really.

Our heroes find the tunnels trapped, rigged with explosives. People think the President presumed   dead in the commotion... but they survived in fact.

All forms of aerial assault are stopped and shot down by the bad guy mercenaries. Air Force One is destroyed using one of the Secret Services missiles. Our protagonists end up held hostage in the Oval Office. The villain reveals how he made all of this actually because he thinks this President was too weak to lead America (and the reason why his son was killed). He wants to force a nuclear attack on those other countries to force the USA in a new war. A war to regain America's strength. And he really was against the President's peace treaty with Middle East all along (one huge conspiracy coup d'état).

How will this takeover of the White House go down...

For all its worth, White House Down seems to love stomping iconic monuments and American symbols to the ground. Hollywood does really seem to love destroy the symbols of the US' power. And Roland Emmerich's no stranger to blowing up the White House in almost all of his films.

Emmerich always knowns how to shoot his action scenes. White House Down comes as a pretty impressive popcorn flick. It's a fairly decent summer blockbuster, an old school good ol' fashioned action film. It doesn't insult the audience like most blockbuster directors nowadays (*cough*Michael Bay*cough*).

Making a great use of Washington DC, fantastic shots of the city.

Unlike Olympus Has Fallen, we get to see here the President do something (well... it's not Air Force One exactly). He even grabs a rocket launcher at one point!

Fun escapism, lots of little humor notes that really help the film breath.

Lots of strong actors as supporting cast. Joey King, who playing our hero’s daughter is pretty good in her role as this strong little girl that even gets to do her own part to help save the day in her own way.

All in all, it's easily the best non-Die Hard Die Hard movie in two decades! Playing with classic tropes of the genre, our hero even manages two classic action film cliché fights, one at a huge height and the other in the rain (actually under a defective sprinkler system). It's fun in an over-the-top kind of way rarely seen in today's "more realistic" overblown CGi-fest blockbusters.

The film even follows the typical Die Hard structure, something never seen in the last couple modern new Die Hard episodes. We have our hero, divorced, who has some issues with the authority.. He has a father role kinda similar to John McClane's (usually in regards to his strained relationship with his ex-wife, but it's the same idea). Then bad timing sees him locked up with terrorists that seize the place. During the tour with his daughter, our cop has to turn into a one-man army to become a hero. It feels pretty typical of 80s action flicks. A couple of fun memorable scenes certainly help the narrative leave an impression.

The idea of a German film director destroying American monuments as never been as this fun! The film does embrace a certain sense of humor in the face of the absurdity of this situation.

The music was composed here by action film veterans Harald Kloser and Thomas Wanker, both familiar with the genre and Roland Emmerich. It sounds fairly typical and hits all the usual notes, but it works well with the film. There's a couple of lighter funnier pieces to lighten the mood amongst the more intense action cues. They even seem to actually borrow a few notes from Die Hard!

Overall: White House Down is a pretty badass action thriller blockbuster film. Really entertaining. Both of these films follow a pretty similar Die Hard premise, but the real differences are in the execution.

White House Down is certainly the more fun lighter film of the two. It has a sort of tone and charm I haven't seen since the likes of Speed! Highly Recommended!

It's kinda cheesy at times... but that's expected from this sort of story.

White House Down received similar mixed reception at first, but word of mouth really brought people back and everyone fell in love with Roland Emmerich's pretty good direction all over again. The film plays up familiar ground, playing on purpose with the usual clichés and action scenes. And it's certainly helped by the lead actors' great chemistry on screen. It's such a fun film! 

It reminded me of the best old school action films. Great action scenes, great tone and decent dialogues. The film feels like one those best exploitation action films of old, but it does so in the true sense and fashion of the genre. It went on to become the biggest earner of the two films.

And it's one of those rare modern blockbuster action films I think that would have made a much better Die Hard entry than A Good Day to Die Hard. This is exactly what a modern Die Hard film should have aimed to be like! If they actually focused on making a good action movie instead of simply amping up the action over what had come in past films (and Die Hard 3). A good example how you make a great movie about a guy stuck at the wrong place at the wrong time. In fact, a lot of things seem drawn from Die Hard entirely (with a few tweaks to the screenplay, this could have easily been the plot of a new Die Hard film). Both heroes are named John (although Cale and McClane is also pretty darn close), they're caught in the wrong place when things start to go sideways, they both wear white tank tops, are off-duty police officers that have to rescue loved ones from the villains, McClane was in the bathroom when the hostage situation erupted while Cale's daughter is the one here in the bathroom, McClane loses both his shoes at the beginning and Jamie Foxx's president is the one only losing one shoe in White House Down. And there seems to be several of these nods like that through the film. They even use a Beethoven's symphony!

Without John McTiernan available, Roland Emmerich should have been the one behind the camera on these last few new Die Hard films...

I give it:
3 / 3 Films!

And that is it for today's DoubleFeature!

Both looked pretty similar on the paper (and the first few trailers), but they ended up pretty different takes action thrillers. Almost complementary takes on White House assaults. One slightly more grim and gritty, the other fun, charming and epic.

Clearly the much better film of the two is White House Down, really fun, highly rewatchable and reminding me of the best 80s/90s action films of old. But this doesn't mean Olympus Has Fallen is in any way a bad film. It tries to take itself way too seriously, despite its shaky premise and outlandish catastrophe scenario, but the action is really well done.

If anything, White House Down comes off naturally as a modern successor of the likes of Die Hard, but both contain so many clichés and classic tropes. White House Down even pulls off the mistaking one bad guy for a good guy and radio taunts at the enemies. It's a modern Die Hard film done right, if anything it just goes to show Roland Emmerich was the perfect man for the job (but for some reason 20th Century Fox keeps hiring these cheaper hacks instead..sigh..).

Watched back to back, they make for a perfect movie night-double feature!

That's all for this time's DoubleFeature!

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