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Olympus Has Fallen

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Olympus has FallenReviewer: Philip Price

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Stars: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart and Morgan Freeman

Released: 17th April 2013

It is about time Gerard Butler went back to doing what he does best. After his breakout role in 2006’s 300 the charismatic Scotsman resorted to taking every major script he was handed that unfortunately ended in a string of bad romantic comedies (The Bounty Hunter, The Ugly Truth) while venturing back into the action game with results that ranged from horrible (Gamer) to entertaining but empty (Law Abiding Citizen). It has been a good six years since Butler has made an entertaining and successful mainstream film (RocknRolla and Coriolanus serve as indie cred, but were never afforded the chances to reach as wide an audience). These thoughts come to mind after realizing just how numbingly entertaining his latest effort, Olympus Has Fallen turns out to be. It doesn’t help thatChasing Mavericks and Playing for Keeps both of which opened late in 2012 and both of which flopped massively (the latter being absolutely trashed by critics) are still fresh on most avid movie-goers minds and that this was some kind of shot at redemption. Even with his track record against him and the current box office climate that has not seen early 2013 be too kind to R-rated action flicks, this new film from Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) has managed to capture that charm, that silliness, and that zeal present in so many action flicks of old that is as cliche-riddled as it is a solid, tense thriller with a plot only the movies could see fit to pull off. I like Butler and I liked his character of Mike Banning, but it didn’t hurt the star has a good director and an outstanding supporting cast behind him helping make Olympus Has Fallen the best action flick of 2013 thus far.

Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) gets back in on the action in Olympus Has Fallen.

It would be just as simple to say that the film is about a group of terrorists breaking into the white house and how one man is determined to stop them. It would truly be that easy and any audience member would have no problem walking into the film with that brief synopsis in mind. Still, with that synopsis one could also think it was the upcoming Roland Emmerich film titled White House Down that concerns a Capitol policeman (Channing Tatum) called to protect the white house and the President (Jamie Foxx) when it comes under attack from a paramilitary group. Yes, there is another film coming out in a mere four months that will hue very closely to Olympus and so I will give credit where credit is due as the master of disaster Emmerich and his more appealing leading men will likely go down with the bigger success, but Fuqua and Butler have at least assembled a fun action film (even if it ends up being the lesser of the two) that was out first and will at least have that to say for it. Like last years Snow White showdown that had a lighter, more fun release in March and a more serious, adult take released in the middle of Summer, Olympus Has Fallen is the less hyped, less credible, more cheesy version we will see this year, but that doesn’t mean it will take away the fun of the experience I had watching the standard story and bombastic action sequences unfold in front of me on the big screen. If you’ve seen the trailer for this film though you pretty much know every beat of it. Secret Service Agent Banning is forced into a desk job after choosing to save the President over the first lady (Ashley Judd), he witnesses the attack on the white house from afar and naturally jumps into action to save the day. I’m sure you can see where it all goes from there.

What director Fuqua does to inject some energy into the film though is really quite simple: he sticks to his guns. I mean that both figuratively and literally. Yes, the twists and turns of the script can be seen coming from a mile away and yes the performances and specifically the one liners are delivered with a wink and a smile at times, but in all of this there is a throughline of trying to push the limit on what the audience may or may not be able to handle. In the wake of September 11th the main source of America’s grandiose entertainment was carefully watched over, specifically in the action genre, so as not to test the sensitivities of the movie-going public. Almost twelve years have passed and it seems that is enough time for the movies to show no regard for what might still arouse a few bad memories. In the scenes where the white house is taken under siege most of the surrounding areas, including several other monuments, are laid to waste by the invaders as well as including several graphic shots of machine guns being fired on innocent bystanders and the soldiers attempting to protect them. It is not only cringe inducing but it made me personally feel that maybe we weren’t ready for it, at least not in the context of terrorists actually attacking the innocent in an attempt to make a bigger point about America and our government. No matter how patriotic the film might seem by shoving Butler’s bad-assery down our throats, there is still that underlying fear that this could actually happen and the regard for human life, no matter what position they hold, should be greater than what is ultimately recognized here. This may seem off base or out of touch with the main point of the film being as it means to do nothing more than entertain and satisfy a thrill-seeking audience, but critical analysis is a channel to figure out the way movies or any art form make us feel and why. Olympus Has Fallen, as fun as it is, made me feel threatened, which added to the tension, but on the edge of my seat in an almost uncomfortable manner.

Angela Bassett and Morgan Freeman do their thing and help save the day.

What is the underlying charm of the film and what rescues it from being one bad reminder are the presence of so many well known faces and effortless albeit phoned in performances. Let’s face it, Morgan Freeman is here to play the acting President because there is no one in the world who would mind if Morgan Freeman was actually President. Angela Bassett shows up because she is good at playing the strong woman who is in control and doesn’t take any crap and that is exactly the type of personality she provides here. Then we have people like Melissa Leo and Dylan McDermott serving in smaller supporting roles that have critical bits but could have just as easily been played by an unknown. Radha Mitchell even shows up for what feels like less than five minutes of screen time as Butler’s wife who works at the hospital and doesn’t even know the kind of day her husband is having until after the debacle comes to a crashing end. Then there is Aaron Eckhart who looks like the epitome of what you think of when you say American President. His square jaw, his intense gaze, it all encompasses what made him so perfect to play the sleazy tobacco salesman in Thank You For Smokingbut serving the complete opposite purpose here. Eckhart spends the majority of the film chained to a rail, but he actually has more screen time than I initially imagined he would at all which is a plus as the guy is a solid presence and helps bring a certain gravitas to the scenes in the white house bunker that might have otherwise been lost in the tongue and cheek tone. This is a film many have compared to the Die Hard series and most proclaiming this to be better than the lackluster A Good Day to Die Hard released last month (which I won’t argue with) but also brings up the reason this film likely succeeds so much in the eyes of the mass audience; it is full of nostalgia; mankinds greatest weakness. Yet it works in the favor of Fuqua and his gang here as they feed off the action flicks of the 90’s and have the audience yearning for more while reminiscing on the countless moments that inspired the ones they are currently watching.

Editor-in-Chief of Movie Marker. Likes: Scorsese, Spielberg and Tarantino Dislikes: The film 'Open Water' I mean, what was that all about?

DVD/Blu-ray

God’s Own Country (DVD/Blu-Ray Review)

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Released: 29th January 2018

Directed By: Francis Lee

Starring: Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu

Reviewed By: Barry Levitt

Last year may have been unbearable in many facets, but for queer cinema, 2017 was a landmark year. Starting the year with Moonlight winning Best Picture, a number of LGBT films were released around the world including the critically acclaimed Call Me By Your Name, A Fantastic Woman and Princess Cyd. But perhaps the finest of them all was Francis Lee’s debut feature God’s Own Country, a story of a young farmer in Yorkshire whose way of living is permanently altered when a Romanian worker comes to work at the farm for lambing season. The film is out via Picturehouse Entertainment on DVD, Blu-Ray and VOD on the 29th January.

Johnny (Josh O’Connor) spends his evenings drinking and searching for casual sex with other men in an effort to escape his own mundane existence. He lives and works with his father and grandmother on a quiet Yorkshire farm, though due to his father’s ailing health, Johnny is forced to take care of the day to day operations. As lambing season approaches, the farm is in need of extra help as Johnny’s drinking has prevented him from doing the work necessary to keep the farm afloat. Johnny’s father Martin (Ian Hart) hires a Romanian worker named Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) during the busy lambing season to help keep the farm going.

God’s Own Country has been often described as a British Brokeback Mountain, and while the film’s similarities are worth noting, they are remarkably different in approach. The main romance in question in Francis Lee’s film is warmly embraced. The sex scenes in particular are dealt with beautifully: free of mystery and shame, the scenes are explicit without being pornographic, and bursting with passion. Sure, the resistance is there – Johnny is deeply frustrated sexually, and his sexuality is kept secret from almost everyone, and he does not exactly instantly warm to Gheorghe’s presence. The film’s power comes from Lee’s excellent script and calm, patient direction. As a viewer, Johnny’s loneliness is almost palpable, making his motivations clear and as a result it is easy to empathise with him.

Lee also does a tremendous job bringing the Yorkshire farmlands to life. His camera evokes an almost tactile response, and it is as if you could feel the grass and the mud; this film is simply full of raw and unflinching moments. There is a particularly touching sequence which Gheorghe tends to a newborn lamb that wonderfully evokes everything that God’s Own Country represents, things that seem broken can be reborn and renewed with tender love and care.

The film’s beauty also comes down to tremendous performances from the principal cast. O’Connor and Secareanu bring a wonderful vulnerability that is vital to the film’s beating heart. Ian Hart and Gemma Jones, who plays Johnny’s grandmother, are both utterly exceptional. God’s Own Country is a tender, quiet and moving meditation on love and loneliness, and wouldn’t be half as powerful without these great performances.

The home entertainment release of God’s Own Country comes with a series of deleted and extended scenes. Though it is easy to see why they were cut down or removed entirely, there is some interesting stuff here that fleshes out some of their characters. The film looks and sounds great, but it is a shame that such an excellent film wasn’t given more bonus material. Still, for fans of the film and for those who have yet to see it, one of the best films of 2017 absolutely deserves a home in your collection.

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The Small World Of Sammy Lee – DVD Review

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Reviewer:  Freda Cooper

Director:  Ken Hughes

Stars:  Anthony Newley, Julia Foster, Robert Stephens, Wilfrid Brambell, Warren Mitchell, Roy Kinnear

Certificate: 12

Released 14th November 2016

 

In 1958, Ken Hughes’ half hour play, ‘Sammy’ appeared on British television.  It attracted huge acclaim and turned its solidary actor, Anthony Newley, into a star.  Several years later, he returned to the same part, this time in the much-expanded ‘The Small World Of Sammy Lee’, written and directed by Hughes and released in cinemas in 1963.  The response wasn’t so warm.

Now described by some as a lost gem of British cinema, it returned to the big screen in a newly restored version at the London Film Festival and is released on DVD and Blu-Ray this week.  Time for a re-assessment.

The Sammy Lee of the title (Newley) is the compere at a Soho strip joint and a fast talking chancer.  He’s also up to his neck in debt with the local bookie and has just five hours to raise the cash that will prevent paying up in a more painful way.  It’s a race against the clock for him to find the money, through all manner of dodgy deals.  At the same time, he has to cope with a major complication in his life, the young Patsy (Julia Foster) who fell for his showy offer of a job and has left home to pursue him. 

Right from the opening shot, this is a period piece and a large chunk of nostalgia for anybody familiar with the London of the 60s, Soho especially.  The early moments show streets that are empty, except for the bin men collecting the remains of the night before.  Them aside, there’s hardly anybody around, but all that changes as the day progresses.  You find yourself picking out street names and locations – Berwick Street market for one – while the black and white photography introduces the inherent seediness of the area, such as the strip club interior both back stage and front of house, the snooker halls, the pokey bed-sits.  It extends to the characters as well, from Sammy with his stock of hackneyed, vaguely smutty gags straight out of the Archie Rice joke book to the pathetic Harry (Wilfrid Brambell) who runs his errands and, inevitably, falls down on the job.

All of which makes the more law-abiding characters stand out.  There’s a one-scene portrait of Sammy’s family, his hard working brother Lou (Warren Mitchell) who runs a Whitechapel delicatessen and wife Milly (Miriam Karlin), dripping in costume jewellery and lacking any sympathy for Sammy when he arrives on the scrounge.  So much so, that you suspect there may have been something between the two before she settled for his brother.  And there’s the naïve Patsy who sees him for what he is but still adores him and finds promotion from waitress to “dancer” in the club upsetting and humiliating.

The scenes in the club give away the film’s 30 minute original, there’s one too many scene of Sammy running through the Soho streets and the Patsy love interest feels like padding, but why should a film with so much in the way of character and location fall so flat when it was released?  One reason could be timing.  It didn’t fit with the move towards “kitchen sink dramas” – it came out in the same year as ‘The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner’ and ‘This Sporting Life’, while ‘A Kind Of Loving’ had been released in 1962.  Sammy’s story isn’t a thriller either and doesn’t make the most of the dramatic potential of his limited time for raising that money.  Nor is it a comment on society.

But, despite its shortcomings, there is much to enjoy, particularly among the performances.  Newley is suitably nervy to the point of hyper as Sammy, while the oil positively drips off Robert Stephens’ club owner.  And it’s littered with cameos from other familiar faces, like Derek Nimmo, Roy Kinnear and even Linda Baron (Nurse Gladys Emmanuel from ‘Open All Hours’).  The street scenes in Soho are so evocative you can almost smell the garbage and the club interior is always viewed through a fug of cigarette smoke.

It adds up to a film rich in curiosity value for today’s audience, something of a love letter to the Soho of the 60s, but one that misses the dramatic target by a whisker.  Second time round, it seems destined to appeal to a limited audience all over again, one that treasures older, unsung British films.

 

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One Million Years BC – DVD Review

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Reviewer:  Freda Cooper

Director:  Don Chaffey

Stars:  Raquel Welch, John Richardson, Martine Beswick

Certificate: PG

Released: 24th October 2016

 

Cinema history may be littered with bikini moments, but only a few have achieved true iconic status.  Ursula Andress in ‘Dr No’ (1962) for one, followed by numerous other Bond girls who tried to re-create the moment, most notably Halle Berry in ‘Die Another Day’ (2002).  And there was Bo Derek in ‘10’ (1979).  But only one actress had the dubious honour of sporting a fur bikini.  She was the almost-unknown Raquel Welch in ‘One Million Years BC’ (1966) and the garment, with its remarkable adhesive properties, made her an international star. 

The film makes its return in a newly restored version on DVD to mark its 50th anniversary.  And, while Welch in her bikini is easily its best known image, it also overshadows the film’s other achievement.  Not only was it the most successful film ever to come out of Hammer Studios, it was also the big screen’s most famous dinosaur epic until the arrival of ‘Jurassic Park’ some 26 years later.  And much of that was down to the creations of the legendary Ray Harryhausen.  While some of them aren’t up to his usual standard – little more than enlarged versions of a lizard and a turtle – there’s a great dinosaur battle which shows the maestro at his best.

The audiences queuing to see the film in ’66 certainly didn’t go along for the plot.  It’s pretty basic stuff, all about two tribes.  The Stone People are a vicious lot, living in the mountains and regularly knocking seven bells out of each other.  They kick out Tumak (John Richardson), one of their leader’s sons, and he finds his way to the coast where he discovers the Shell People, who show him a different, more peaceful way of life.  It’s not long before the two tribes come into conflict, but then they eventually have to come together in a battle for survival.

Unsurprisingly, the dialogue isn’t up to much – the occasional word and a few grunts – so the demands on the cast are more physical than anything.  And, once director Don Chaffey has exhausted the appeal of Harryhausen’s dinosaurs, he throws the kitchen sink at the film in the shape of the final sequence, a volcanic eruption and earthquake, all of which is pretty spectacular for its day.

The restoration has certainly sharpened up the look of the film and the DVD comes complete with a variety of extras, including interviews with Welch and her co-star, Martine Beswick.  But comparisons with today’s special effects are inevitable and, while Harryhausen’s monsters are seriously impressive for their day, both they and the film are more of a period piece, laden with nostalgia for fans of the 60s.

 

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