There’s irony to be found in the recognition that the best Die Hard to be released in 2013 isn’t the franchise’s official entry, A Good Day to Die Hard, but the White House-based copycat, Olympus Has Fallen.
And, while Gerard Butler is no Bruce Willis, his Mike Banning is a better facsimile of John McClane than the guy Willis is pretending to play these days. There’s also an element of 24 to be found here, although Butler’s Banning, unfettered by TV ratings, is considerably more homicidal than Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer.
Despite being released in March, Olympus Has Fallen offers all the staples of a big summer movie: destruction on an epic scale, plenty of shoot-outs and battle sequences, and a kick-ass hero who, despite being battered and bloodied, never gives up. Although the film’s real-world credibility is shaky, it works on its own terms. The suspension of disbelief bar isn’t that difficult to clamber over. 9/11 shifted it down considerably for this sort of motion picture.
As if it wasn’t bad enough that Twilight defanged vampires, turning them into whiny emo Harlequin romance heroes, now Warm Bodies has done something similar for zombies.
Granted, that latter evisceration is more challenging than the former. After all, sexuality has often been associated with vampires. But zombies? Mindless, shuffling corpses that reek of rotting flesh? Warm Bodies has found a way to make them sexy. One might be willing to acknowledge the Herculean achievement if the movie wasn’t so hopelessly mediocre. It wants to be funny, charming, scary, and dramatic. It ends up being a little of each but not successful as any one.
This is Dawn of the Dead meets Romeo & Juliet with an Army of Darkness sensibility. Admittedly, that sounds like a great premise and I’m sure it got everyone all lathered up in the pitch meeting. But the tone is all over the place, the script is vacillates between witty and brain-dead, and the PG-13 sensibility neuters anything resembling edginess. At least the lead actors are capable and engaging and there’s some nice chemistry in place. But Warm Bodies left me more frustrated than satisfied because the film is content to underwhelm with fertile material and rarely attempts anything interesting.
Hyde Park on Hudson represents the odd marriage of an uninteresting, borderline-creepy “romance” and a peek behind the scenes of a notable but unsung historical event. 2012 has seen dramatizations of eras from the administrations of two of America’s greatest leaders.
However, while Lincoln more than did justice to the sixteenth president, Hyde Park on Hudson is a less-than-successful representation of the thirty-second. Instead of focusing on FDR as a president, this movie gives up half its length to tawdry soap opera.
Bill Murray is an interesting choice to play the only man to live in the White House for more than two full terms. Physically, the resemblance is no better than passing. Murray doesn’t attempt an imitation either in mannerisms or voice. The performance is solid but it’s difficult to “see” FDR in Murray’s portrayal. This might not be as obvious an issue if the amazing work of Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln wasn’t so fresh in the memory. Murray has some nice scenes – most when paired with either Samuel West, who plays King George VI, or Olivia Williams, who plays Eleanor. Murray’s scenes with Laura Linney’s Daisy are stillborn. Daisy isn’t interesting and the relationship isn’t worthy of a cinematic accounting, even semi-fictionalized as it is.
When Rust and Bone tells a story of a woman’s recovery from a devastating injury, it hits all the right notes, traveling a path that is poignant without being mawkish and triumphant without being saccharine.
However, when it chronicles the life of a self-absorbed drifter and petty boxer, it stumbles on more than one occasion. Of course, these two tales intersect, sometimes for the better and sometimes not so. The most disappointing and ultimately least satisfying aspect of Rust and Bone is the understated ending which offers closure in such a perfunctory fashion that it leaves one feeling that something profound is missing once the end credits begin rolling.
I have a great deal of respect for French writer/director Jacques Audiard, whose previous outings include Read My Lips and A Prophet. Taken as a whole, Rust and Bone isn’t as good as either of those movies; it’s easy to feel a little frustrated with Audiard’s latest precisely because certain scenes and extended passages are damn near perfect in their depiction of human emotions and states of mind. Unfortunately, the production as a whole doesn’t maintain that same high level. It’s a case of the whole being less than the sum of its parts.
There’s an old multiplex proverb that goes something like this: “Beware ye movies opening in January that star A-list actors.” Broken City illustrates the wisdom of those words. This mess of a motion picture was accorded a mid-January release date because it was too high profile to jettison directly to home video. So the producers elected to go the landfill route: dump it into the cinematic trash heap that represents the post-Oscar bait landscape and then move it quietly to DVD a few months later. Along the way, a quote whore might even be impressed enough to give up a line or two for the jacket.