Thursday, August 22, 2013

Recent Viewings: 8/22/2013.

My fellow Americans...what can I say? At least this isn't "Deep Impact".

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)
Starring: Gerard Butler; Aaron Eckhart; Finley Jacobsen; Dylan McDermott; Rick Yune; Morgan Freeman; Angela Bassett; Melissa Leo; Robert Forster.
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua.
Colour/120 Minutes/R

Gerard Butler plays a disgraced secret service agent who let the first lady die on his watch. However he finds a chance to redeem himself when a North Korean guerrilla assault on the White House results in the President (Aaron Eckhart) and some of his top staff taken hostage and the President's son missing somewhere in the building. Butler, in contact with the acting President (Morgan Freeman, who really needs to stop playing these roles) wages a one-man war against the Koreans. But of course, it's not just that simple, there's also secret codes to detonate all American nuclear warheads at stake, so it's a race against time. This is without a doubt a distillation of just about every good and bad action film you can recall in popular culture from about the last thirty years or so. With a lesser director and actors this would be direct-to-video fodder. But here everyone is surprisingly game for making this stuff work somehow. It is Under Siege mixed with Die Hard, without the charm, and it's just as brutally violent as any action film from that period, which isn't automatically a negative thing, mind you. The film is briskly-paced, and it doesn't allow you to think too hard about how stupid it is. I mean, really, this film is pretty dumb and pretty silly as it is ugly. Still, it's an enjoyable rental if you like stuff like this, because it actually has some talent involved.

The Reef (2010)
Starring: Damian Walshe-Howling; Gyton Grantley; Adrienne Pickering; Zoe Naylor; Kieran Darcy-Smith.
Directed by: Andrew Traucki.
Colour/94 Minutes/R

Five friends on a pleasure trip to Indonesia end up hitting a reef and capsizing their boat. Four of them decide to swim the ten or so miles to the closest bit of land in hopes of getting rescued. However, unknown to them, there is a great white shark on their trail, seemingly content to pick them off one-by-one. Stranded in the shark's natural element with no way to defend themselves, and hunger and dehydration setting in, all they can do is swim. Essentially this is the Australian version of Open Water, and like that film, it's based on a real event. This actually turns out to be a very well done survival horror that keeps itself grounded in brutal realism, and mounting suspense, rather than gore and unbelievably huge animals jumping out at them and chowing down. The close-ups of the group in the water, and the POV shots where one of the main characters uses diving goggles to look underwater for the shark (essentially their only defense of any sort) makes it feel like the viewer is right in the water with them. This is a nice change from the over-saturation of Sharknado-like silliness. That is not to say that all of those movies are crap -- some are quite fun. For my money the Australians do these beautiful-looking minimalist survival horror films better than everyone else. I guess that sort of thing comes with living in a part of the world that's both awesome to behold and deadly to exist in if you don't watch where you step...or in this case swim. Rent this one.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)
Starring: Ryan Gosling; Bradley Cooper; Eva Mendes; Ray Liotta; Ben Mendelsohn; Rose Byrne; Mahershala Ali; Bruce Greenwood; Dane DeHaan; Emory Cohen.
Directed by: Derek Cianfrance.
Colour/140 Minutes/R

Ryan Gosling is a circus motorcycle stunt driver who learns that an ex-lover of his ( Eva Mendes) has given birth to his son. This prompts him to try and be a dad and support the mother and child. However, having no real education or skills, he falls in with a local low life (Ben Mendelsohn) and becomes a bank robber. At first he's a success at it, but as he realizes there's no hope in having a relationship between mother, son and himself, he gets reckless and starts to push his luck a bit too much. A confrontation with the police, who finally catch up with him, sends out ripples that will effect everyone involved. A bit over-hyped, but it's generally one of the brisker-paced two and a half hour crime epics I've seen. It's broken up into three different stories involving different generations of families on both sides of the law, how those lines between right and wrong often blur, and how buried secrets can come back to haunt people. Gosling's story, in an interesting surprise, is only the catalyst for the rest of the film. Honestly, the three stories here could have been three feature-length films, but sometimes less is more. Overall, the film's structure reminds me of Crash (2005), yet slightly less contrived. It doesn't really reinvent the wheel, but it's got some great performances. Good rental for a lazy night.

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