London Has Fallen (2016)

or “I’ve Fallen, and I Can’t Get Up: The Movie”

Director: Babak Najafi

Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell, Jackie Earle Haley, Sean O’Bryan, Waleed Zuaiter

Screenplay: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Christian Gudegast, Chad St. John

99 mins. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout.

 

Someone should always be keeping an eye on Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, Bleed for This). Dude keeps getting attacked or kidnapped.

It’s been six years since the attack on the White House, and Mike Banning (Gerard Butler, The Phantom of the Opera, Den of Thieves) is still in the Secret Service, keeping a protective eye on President Benjamin Asher (Eckhart). Soon, though, Mike is going to be a father, and he’s thinking about giving the job up. But when a funeral for the UK Prime Minister turns into a series of coordinated attack intended to assassinate the Western leaders, Mike is forced to ensure the safety of the President once again as they are pursued through the streets of London, being hunted by a terrorist out for revenge.

Just about everything in this sequel is a step down in quality from the previous film. The visual effects are very hit-or-miss, with some of them being passable while still others, especially the sequence with the helicopter from the trailer, being downright atrocious. The writing is choppier, the dialogue somehow even cheesier and goofier than the original, and the direction is mostly simplistic.

The action is a lot more kinetic this time around as we aren’t forced into the confines of a singular setting. London is the playground here and it’s fun to see Eckhart’s character as he gets a lot more to do this time around. His bro-chemistry is pretty strong with Butler. Again, many of the performances work passably enough within the confines of this B-action thriller, but many of our returning characters have nothing to do in this sequel. You’d be forgiven if you didn’t remember Robert Forster (Jackie Brown, Bigger) returning as General Clegg.

Sadly, though, for all the action set pieces within the film, most of the action is quickly forgettable save for the terrific assault shootout near the end of the film with Banning and a team of Delta Force/SAS squad moving through the streets of London toward the terrorist hideout. It’s exciting, flashy, and an all-around stellar set piece.

I feel like the one thing this sequel does better than the original is the pacing. Most of the film keeps swiftly moving with the shorter run time and a more intensive mission for Banning and the President. The scenes with Morgan Freeman (Se7en, Alpha) and the rest of the intelligence staff don’t have the same intensity, but the film isn’t really focused on them.

London Has Fallen is a significantly weaker film than its predecessor, taking a familiar and straightforward action film over something with a stronger premise. It’s fine for the most part, but it’s also largely forgettable and loses a lot of the intensity of the first film save for one phenomenal sequence. Butler’s Banning is still kick-ass, but he’s given a thicker layer of cheese due to some really shabby writing. For the most part, if you really enjoyed the first film, I think you can like this one just fine, but this will do nothing to attract newer audiences.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen, click here.

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

or “Someone call John McClane! He’ll know what to do!”

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Cole Hauser, Finley Jacobsen, Ashley Judd, Melissa Leo, Dylan McDermott, Radha Mitchell, Rick Yune

Screenplay: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt

119 mins. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout.

 

I’m finally getting around to watching the Fallen trilogy (that’s what I’m calling it, deal with it) now with the third film hitting theaters. When Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down both released in the same year, I felt like the friend of a couple breaking up who had to choose sides, and I chose neither, so now here I am, years later, finally catching this one.

When terrorists capture the White House and take President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart, The Dark Knight, Bleed for This) hostage along with several high-ranking members of his cabinet, it becomes up to former Secret Service lead Mike Banning (Gerard Butler, The Phantom of the Opera, Den of Thieves) to rescue them before terrorist leader Kang (Rick Yune, Die Another Day, Alita: Battle Angel) dispatches them and gets the codes to a dangerous protocol labeled Cerberus. Banning teams up with Speaker of the House Trumbull (Morgan Freeman, Se7en, Alpha) who is acting President during the attack in order to safely rescue the cabinet members and Asher, but their allies might not all be on the same side.

Olympus Has Fallen is an action film which harkens back to a specific time period in the genre with Gerard Butler as the classic action hero a la Stallone and Schwarzenegger. He’ll never hit that level, but there’s a 80s/90s somewhat cheesy attitude about the film, but director Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer, American Dream/American Nightmare) mostly sticks the landing in this Die Hard-style thriller.

Butler is not winning any awards with his performance as Banning, nor is anyone else in the film, but there’s the sense that all performers, from Eckhard to Freeman to Angela Bassett (Strange Days, TV’s 9-1-1), who plays Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs, know exactly what film they are in and playing to the action and cheese instead of shying away from it.

The screenplay, from Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt (The Expendables 3) isn’t very layered, and some of the dialogue is overtly stupid, as if it was only written for a tagline or a trailer moment, but it’s successful enough under the capable direction of Fuqua, who, like his performers, understands what movie he is making.

There’s a lot of action and a considerable amount of CG, and very little of the CG has aged all that well. Some of the special effects are downright cringe-inducing in the film, and maybe that helps play up the B-action quality of the film. It’s just not very good use of special effects throughout, and some more practical effects work would have saved some of the silliness in the final product.

Olympus Has Fallen created an action superstar in Mike Banning. I’m not surprised the film sparked a franchise, and for all its cheese and stupidity, it was a rather enjoyable political siege thriller. Aided by top-notch performers having fun with the material, I was rather enthralled with the twists and turns of the film. It’s a good film. Not amazing, but sometimes good is enough.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer, click here.

All the Way (2016)

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Director: Jay Roach

Cast: Bryan Cranston, Anthony Mackie, Melissa Leo, Frank Langella, Stephen Root

Screenplay: Robert Schenkkan

132 mins. Rated TV-14.

 

In the newest film from HBO, Bryan Cranston (TV’s Breaking Bad, Get a Job) takes his award-winning performance from the stage to the screen. But does the play become a movie? Let’s find out.

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All the Way, from director Jay Roach (Meet the Parents, Trumbo), covers the role that Lyndon B. Johnson (Cranston) played as President after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Events from Johnson’s work with Martin Luther King Jr (Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker, Captain America: Civil War) are shown as well as Johnson’s bid for reelection during the following campaign.

All the Way has so many great performances. In fact, it’s what holds the entire film together. Led by the powerhouse work from Bryan Cranston and the incredible makeup work done to bring the President to life is stunning. He is nearly matched by Melissa Leo (TV’s Wayward Pines, The Fighter) as Lady Bird Johnson. I also liked Frank Langella (TV’s The Americans, Frost/Nixon) as Senator Richard Russell and Stephen Root (TV’s King of the Hill, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates) as J. Edgar Hoover.

For flaws, All the Way suffers one of the most common issues of translating a play to the screen. It loses a lot of momentum as it moves. Jay Roach, an extremely capable director, struggles to keep the pacing up and moving throughout, and it shows near the final act of the film.

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Overall, All the Way is a perfect showcase for its cast (I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Bradley Whitford’s work as well), but it just can’t stand on its own legs as a true film. Not enough was done to properly adapt the work as Robert Schenkkan (TV’s The Andromeda Strain, The Quiet American) adapted his own work. Thankfully, the performances keep the film strong and evocative for most of the film. Still worthy of viewing? Most definite.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

The Equalizer (2014)

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Director: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo

Screenplay: Richard Wenk

132 mins. Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references.

 

I recently got into The Equalizer, a classic television series, after seeing it referenced in The Wolf of Wall Street. Good show, interesting structure and grit.

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When I heard that the series was getting the big-screen treatment in the form of a Denzel Washington (American Gangster, 2 Guns) vehicle from director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen), I was intrigued, but I felt like it wouldn’t get the attention it deserved because of the many revenge vigilante franchises abound today. As it turns out, I was right.

Robert McCall (Washington) works at Home Mart, and has a pretty simple life. Work followed by a nice calm read at a local diner where he usually sees Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz, Kick-Ass, If I Stay), a young prostitute. After Teri is brutally beaten by her pimp, McCall goes on the offensive, searching for vengeance against those responsible. Once he is involved, a Russian Mafia enforcer named Teddy (Marton Csokas, The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Sin City, A Dame to Kill For) hunts McCall, beginning a battle neither wants to lose.

I felt like the basic problem of The Equalizer is a simple one: oversaturation of the market. Too many other similar and better films exist and have been ingrained in popular culture. The Equalizer just isn’t as unique as it thinks it is.

Denzel does fine work, but the script feels lazy and Antione Fuqua’s style comes off as a ripped-off amalgam of Sherlock Holmes and The Bourne Identity. The film loses all traction the moment that Teri is removed from the story as she is tragically forgotten about thirty minutes in.

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If you want to see a movie like The Equalizer, you can definitely save money by picking up a better film with a similar story elsewhere. One can only hope that Washington can pick himself up from this recent tread of lackluster films. Hope.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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