Catching Up Before We Find Olympus Has Fallen

The last Gerard Butler movie that I discussed at this address was Coriolanus. There wasn’t a lot to talk about in the Land of Butler for many moons, but after a long drought, last fall we were given Chasing Mavericks and then in short order, Playing for Keeps, both of which I championed prior to their theatrical runs, elsewhere. It’s fitting that we talk about them here, now, as they’re both due to be released on dvd within the next few weeks.

Let’s start with Chasing Mavericks in which newcomer Jonny Weston played real-life surfing legend Jay Moriarty and Gerard Butler played his mentor, Rick “Frosty” Hesson.

By now, even if you haven’t seen the film, you’ve seen myriad interviews and reviews. Once again I’m struck by the disconnect between what those who are paid to view and review movies think and what the movie-going public actually likes. While I don’t always agree with public sentiment, on this film I do. 77% of the Rotten Tomatoes crowd liked this movie a lot, while only 32% of critics did.

Let me offer my completely biased opinion on this one. As far as inspirational stories go, despite the fact that you may think you know the tale (and cynics will tell you that is the case), this one has managed to sidestep a lot, not all, of the usual hackneyed, movie-of-the-week, traps. Of course it does tick some of those boxes – Absent father: check, Neglectful mother: check, Girl-Next-Door: check, etc.

But, instead of focusing on the fact that it contains a lot of clichés found in other inspirational sports movies (Is it cliché if it’s true? The fact that certain elements are part of the true story is the reason someone wanted to film it in the first place) or Butler’s accent (although to be fair, a lot of critics who didn’t like the film overall have praised his performance, some calling it his best), why not focus on what the movie is really about: relationships.

While the film is set in the insular world of big-wave surfing, both Frosty and Jay have strong growth arcs as their “surrogate father/son” relationship forms, grows and then reverses. Chasing Mavericks isn’t just about Jay Moriarty becoming a world-class surfer, it’s also about his personal growth from misfit kid into a confident man, as well as Frosty’s growth as a husband and more importantly, as a father.

What you get is an emotionally stirring story set against some of the most incredible surf footage on film, made all the more poignant knowing that everything that Frosty warns Jay about, as well as providing him with the wisdom to survive it, is real.

It’s a true story so yes, people are born and people die within the course of the film. The overall message though is simple: live life every day, every minute. Live like Jay.

Playing for Keeps is more problematic.

What started as a story about a little league dad besieged by desperate housewives called “Slide”, morphed into a soccer movie (about pretty much the same thing) when producer Gerard Butler optioned the script. The title was changed to Playing the Field and the plot would seem to support that title. Butler’s character is a pro-soccer (even though I’m American, I so want to call it football as the rest of the world does) player whose career is at an end. Apparently it was all downhill from there and since nothing else has gone right in his life, he decides it’s time to reconnect with his son and his ex-wife (Noah Lomax and Jessica Biel respectively) who are living in a small town somewhere in Virginia. The trouble of course, arrives in the form of those infamous “soccer moms” who can’t keep their hands off of him. (Why anyone had a problem believing this part of the story is beyond me. C’mon!) These women are played by Catherine Zeta Jones, Uma Thurman and Judy Greer, so it’s not as if it would have been a hardship for George (Butler) either.

Okay, so that’s all well and good. I would have liked to have known a little bit more about George and why his career ended, but frankly that was the least of this film’s problems. The trouble really began when someone somewhere along the line decided to shift the focus of the film from George and the ladies in what could have been a funny, sexy romp, finally taking advantage of its star's appeal, to a family melodrama about George and Stacy and Lewis. With the tonal shift came a title change as well, to Playing for Keeps. (My theory is that the producers, Butler among them, heard the universe groaning under the weight of another bad rom-com and took a different tack.)

But having decided that they were now going for warm and fuzzy as opposed to hot and sexy, both elements of the story remained. Women still pursued George and he still accepted their favors, conflicted about his attraction to them and his desire to “play the field” vs nurturing a renewed relationship with his wife and son, but the comedy had been bled out of it.

Here’s the thing, either element could have worked on its own and I even believe both elements could have worked in the same movie, but they had to GO FOR IT. The director, Gabriele Muccino, is Italian. Italians appreciate romance, drama and farce all in one movie (and the fact that this one opened HUGE in Italy, not to mention Roberto Benigni’s entire career, bear that out). I think Muccino pulled his punches for an American audience.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot to like about Playing for Keeps. (Despite what you may have heard, I don’t think it was in any way misogynistic. But then again I don’t ascribe hidden motives or darker meaning to it in any way.) For one, the star hasn’t looked this good in a long time. (In both Chasing Mavericks and Playing for Keeps, Butler's hair deserved its own credit. In PFK he got to keep his accent! Bonus! And then there was that towel…) Okay all of that aside, in PFK, Gerard Butler gives one of his finest, most subtle performances since Dear Frankie (when the script allowed him to be subtle and vulnerable and emotionally engaged that is).

I’ve never been much of a Jessica Biel fan, but then I haven’t seen a lot of her work. I caught a film version of Noel Coward's Easy Virtue with Biel, Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas and she held her own in some pretty good company. I think she was equally good here.

Catherine Zeta Jones looked like she was having a blast playing the vixen in a small but crucial role. Perpetual second-fiddle Judy Greer (who really needs a starring role) also looked like she was having fun. The woman who nearly stole The Descendants from George Clooney got to put the moves on Gerard Butler and had some nice comic moments as well. Uma Thurman’s character, I believe, fared the worst. There was nothing wrong with her performance, but her scenes were cut to make her look a tad nuts. Crying in one scene, then the next time we see her she’s rolling around in a bed lying in wait for George and giggling like she’s on Lithium.

I believe that the stories of each of these characters, as well as that of Dennis Quaid, were more fleshed out in the original and a lot was left on the cutting room floor.

The best part of Playing for Keeps, at least the version we got to see, was George’s relationship with his son Lewis. The young actor who played him, Noah Lomax, was a revelation. He’s adorable, but he’s also talented. There was nothing “kid actor” with its attendant mugging and stiffness about him, there was only a natural kid. Noah next appears in Safe Haven with Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough, out next weekend. I hope he goes far.

I’ve mentioned the disconnect between critic and Joe Ticketbuyer, but I also wonder about the gap between what an actor promoting a film says that his or her experience in making that film was, as compared to what the critics have to say about the finished product.

If an actor really doesn’t believe in the product they’re trying to sell you, I think it’s obvious, just as it’s obvious when they do. I realize they are “actors,” but I look for non-verbal cues like body language, which are usually dead giveaways, to me anyway.

One of the things I have always liked about Gerard Butler is how passionate he gets about his work and how committed and tireless he is when it comes time to promote it and get it out there. During interviews answering the same questions over and over, he manages to sound enthusiastic and respond in a slightly nuanced way each time. My obvious soft spot for Butler notwithstanding, (I’ll be the first to say that he needs to choose his projects better) but if that’s “acting”, give the man a break, a good role and an Oscar.

“A movie has to be really bad for me not to like it. If a movie entertains
me and/or makes me laugh {or cry} then I will like it. A movie’s number one job
is to make sure the audience is having a good time…”*

Can we talk about Olympus Has Fallen now?

Here’s the official synopsis:

When the White House (Secret Service Code: “Olympus”) is captured by a terrorist mastermind and the President is kidnapped, disgraced former Presidential guard Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) finds himself trapped within the building. As our national security team scrambles to respond, they are forced to rely on Banning’s inside knowledge to help retake the White House, save the President (Aaron Eckhart) and avert an even bigger disaster. Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) directs an all-star cast featuring Butler, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Ashley Judd and Rick Yune.

This one has been through a few title changes as well. First it was Olympus Has Fallen, then it during the Cannes Film Market it was changed to White House Taken then, so as not to be confused with Roland Emmerich’s White House Down, it was changed back to Olympus Has Fallen. Personally, I like that title a lot better.

Film District (which also released Playing for Keeps) has decided to move UP the release date for Antoine Fuqua’s action flick, from its April date to March 22. One theory is the move is an attempt to put even more distance between OHF and that other similarly themed flick starring our favorite tater, Channing Tatum-tot. (It’s a tag team match folks! Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart vs Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx! Who will win? We may have to have Antoine Fuqua take on Roland Emmerich as the tie-breaker. Secret weapon: Morgan Freeman vs. James Woods. Advantage: Olympus Has Fallen.)

Personally, I really don’t get the assumption that Olympus Has Fallen is somehow the “low rent version" of Tot’s pic. OHF was announced first, cast first, rolled into production first and finished first. It has a better cast and purportedly a better script. How does that make it the “Hydrox version” to WHD’s “Oreo”? WHD did get a series of stills published in Entertainment Weekly back in November. That is the kind of thing that signals the upper hand to the average movie-goer. As it is, you can’t read or hear about one movie without the other being mentioned.

We now have two trailers out for OHF, both a domestic and UK edition. The UK version is slightly shorter, tighter. The differences are very subtle. (I've included both below) Director Antoine Fuqua has admitted working on the trailer up until about three days before it was dropped. Think maybe the earlier release date caught him by surprise?

Personally, I think the move had something to do with getting a “quality” product with Butler’s name on it before the viewing public ASAP. It’s all about perception. And the perception is, G needs a hit.

White House Down is currently scheduled for June 28. We’ll see if it stays that way. As Deadline (and countless others have) pointed out, the theory is it’s usually better to be first ie: Capote did much better than Infamous. BUT just last year, after a spirited game of leap frog, Relativity put Mirror Mirror out first, yet Universal’s Snow White And The Huntsman did far better. Of course they were apples and oranges. And it’s still all about the execution.

Olympus Has Fallen also stars Robert Forster, Cole Hauser, Dylan McDermott and Radha Mitchell and will be released in the US on March 22 and in the UK on 19th April. My hopes remain high.

*Eriq Martin/IGN

Parts of this post have appeared on INeedMyFix.com

Domestic Trailer:


UK version:


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