FlixChatter Review: ANGEL HAS FALLEN (2019)

I’m not the biggest fan of the FALLEN franchise. In fact, I hated the first one and I thought the second was tolerable but still not very good. Both weren’t huge box office hits yet somehow Gerard Butler was able to convince a studio to produce another adventure of his mean-spirited hero character Mike Bannon.

After a battle simulation at his old army pal Wade Jennings’ (Danny Huston) private military facility, Mike Bannon (Gerard Butler) starts having migraine and almost passed out. As it turns out, his heroic antics from saving the President and the world have consequences. He’s constantly popping pain killer pills because of the migraines and has aches all over his body. Yet he’s still thinks he can be a field agent and was hesitant to accept the role of Director of Secret Services when President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) offered him the job.

When Bannon and his team took the President on a fishing trip, they were attacked with drones equipped with explosives. The ambush killed everyone on Bannon’s team except him and the President. Now in the hospital and being handcuffed, Bannon is being accused of attempting to assassinate the President and he’s being interviewed by FBI agent Thompson (Jada Pinkett Smith). Thompson wants to know why he’s the only survivor during the attack and why his bank account now contains $10mil. Of course, Bannon denies being involved in the attack but since Trumbull is in a coma, no one can back up his innocence plea. When the FBI decided to move Bannon to jail, they were attacked by the people who’s behind the assassination attempt and Bannon was able to escape during the chaos.

Now on the run, Bannon needs to use not only his physical skills but also his wits in order to save the President and prove his innocent. He can’t do it alone, so he decided to visit his long-lost father Clay (Nick Nolte) who’s been living in the forest to avoid being monitored by the government. While back in DC, Vice President Kirby (Tim Blake Nelson) is being sworn in as a temporary President and wants to avenge Trumbull’s assassination attempt by starting a war with Russia. Kirby believes the Russians is behind the attack and that Bannon is their secret agent.

The screenplay is credited to three writers, Matt Cook, Robert Mark Kamen and Ric Roman Waugh who’s also the film’s director. Their story is pretty simple and has been seen in other films before like THE FUGITIVE & AIR FORCE ONE. The audience can pretty much figure out what’s going on before the hero does. I mentioned earlier that Bannon is mean spirited in the previous films but I’m glad the writers tone down his love of violence and he seemed to not enjoy killing the bad guys so much in this film. Maybe because of our current political climate, they decided to make him more likable and not some jerk who loves killing people.

With a reported budget of $80mil, the highest in the series, the film looked like it’s super low budget. I’m not sure what sort of look cinematographer Jules O’Loughlin was going for, but the film looks like it’s a 90s direct-to-video movie. It’s inexcusable for any film to look this cheap from a major studio in today’s world of filmmaking. It’s full of bad compositions and I don’t think they even give much thoughts to color corrections during post production. I’ve seen films that looked great with half the budget. Director Waugh didn’t do much better, the action scenes were underwhelmed and very generic. Compared to the first two films, this one lacks the big action set pieces. With a bigger budget, I would assume it’s going be non-stop action, but the biggest action took place in the film’s climax at a hospital.

Performances by the actors were pretty decent. Butler decided to give a more “realistic” take on his character. He’s worn down and actually didn’t look like a super-agent killer like the previous films. Nolte’s character somehow became the comedic sidekick, which is a welcome in this series that takes itself too seriously. I’ve always like Danny Huston but his antagonist role here is pretty one dimensional and his motivation towards the end of the film is kind of moronic; that’s not his fault of course since it’s written that way. Jada Pinkett Smith’s FBI agent role could’ve been played by an unknown actor, not sure why she even accepted this role since she didn’t have much to do and hardly has any screen time. I can only assume her role was bigger in the script but was trimmed down during the editing process.

Despite my not-so-great review, I still think this one is the “best” in the series. But then again, the first two films set a pretty low bar and I actually enjoyed this one and the story kept my attention. While the last two films, I only wanted to see the shootouts and explosions. If you’re a fan of the series, then you might enjoy it, or you might be turned off by the lighter tone and less violence on Mike Bannon’s latest adventure.

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So have you seen ANGEL HAS FALLEN? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: STAN & OLLIE (2019)

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Review by Vitali Gueron

You don’t have to be a Laurel and Hardy expert to appreciate Jon S. Baird’s latest movie Stan & Ollie. The Laurel and Hardy biopic (released in late 2018 to qualify for OSCAR contention) is currently out at the Landmark Edina Theater in the Minneapolis area and further expanding in the coming weeks. The “picture” stars Stan Laurel (played by Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (played by John C. Reilly) as their careers have started to fade, and are being overshadowed by other acts i.e. Abbott and Costello, they embark on a music hall tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland in 1953.

We first get a glimpse of Laurel and Hardy when they are making the 1937 Hal Roach picture Way Out West. Hal Roach (played by Danny Huston) refuses to give a fair contract to Laurel while Hardy remains tied to the studio on a contract that the studio refuses to terminate, forcing Hardy to make “pictures” without Stan Laurel but rather with other actors/comedians. Laurel calls Roach a “parvenu” meaning a person who got rich off others and has no class. As Laurel tells Roach in the movie; “look it up in the dictionary, Hall. There’s a picture of you!” Oliver Hardy is made to shoot the “elephant” film Zenobia with another comedian and Stan Laurel signs a new contract with Fox Studios, but without Hardy’s signature, the contact becomes null and void and leaves Laurel feeling betrayed by Hardy. Their bitter feelings would linger for years.

When we next see Laurel and Hardy in 1953, they are back together but are struggling to shoot another film together. The promise of the new film – a comedic adaptation of the classic Robin Hood made by a director impossible to get on the phone or find in person – is what gets the comedic duo in contract with producer Bernard Delfont (played by Rufus Jones). But Delfont’s poor pre-publicity means that their tour begins in almost empty theaters, ones that surely weren’t meant for the likes of Laurel and Hardy. Bernard Delfont was preoccupied with the publicity of his up and coming star Norman Wisdom, which caused Laurel and Hardy to have to create their own publicity while on tour. They made serval public appearances, which included judging a beauty contest in the UK seaside resort of Worthing. It is at this public appearance that Hardy collapses from a heart attack and is forced into bed rest.

The duo, having recently been reunited with their respective wives, Ida (played by Nina Arianda) and Lucille (played by Shirley Henderson), are set back with Hardy’s bed rest and Laurel’s refusal to perform the act with any other comedian. With the exception of all of the Lauren and Hardy scenes, the movie’s scenes with Ida Laurel, Lucille Hardy and Bernard Delfont are some of the most comedic scenes, pitting Ida and Lucille against each other and then Ida against Delfont whom she refuses to sit next to during shows and has to remind; “no touching!”

With Ollie Hardy having gotten some much needed rest, he decides that he must do one last show with Stan Laurel and the duo, along with their wives and Delfont, set sail for Ireland. As they arrive at the Irish harbor, they are arrived to great cheers and thunderous applause. Their show in Ireland is completely is sold out and their show is met by great appreciation and hailed as a triumph. While their Robin Hood movie is not meant to be, Laurel continues working on its script, even after Hardy’s death in 1957. As the “picture” reminds us at during the end credits, Stan continued to write sketches for Laurel and Hardy past Hardy’s death and also during the last eight years of his life.

The movie, even though a comedy, is full of bittersweet moments. They never get their happy ending by making one last “picture” and their lukewarm personal relationship is enough for the movie to end on a sorrowing note. While the acting of both Steve Coogan and especially John C. Reilly is masterful, the “what could have been” movements at the end of their careers make the movie much more dramatic than comedic. Both actors deserve to be recognized for their acting, but if there was any justice, Reilly should’ve been nominated for best actor by The Academy. Overall, this was a delightful “picture” of two comedic superstars in the sunset of their careers, filled with brilliant performances by the two leading actors.


Have you seen STAN & OLLIE? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Wonder Woman (2017)

I started writing this review just a day after seeing it. It has become a rarity for me to be able to write reviews so soon after I saw it but I felt… compelled, yeah that’s the right word, to get my thoughts out as the film opens. Thankfully the embargo ends Wednesday night!

I’m not going to lie. Like many people who care and support gender equality in Hollywood and want female filmmakers, or just women in film in general, to succeed. We all want Wonder Woman to succeed. It’s no hyperbole that much is riding on this film, even if it’s not exactly the first big-budget superhero film, though really we should perhaps forget those who came before this because well, let’s face it, they’re not any good. No doubt there’s an unfair amount of pressure put on director Patty Jenkins, whose last film Monster, was 13 years ago. (Wow, seriously?? I had to double check on IMDb on that fact).

There’s also a sizable amount of pressure on relatively unknown Gal Gadot. I have to admit, I wasn’t crazy with her casting initially. But like my qualms with Daniel Craig as Bond, it was quickly squashed when I first saw the first trailer. I was immediately on board with Gadot’s portrayal. The fact that she was part of the Israeli army, no doubt she looked the part. But more than sheer athleticism, she is also extremely charismatic and has such a genuine ‘goodness’ the way Christopher Reeve was as  the first cinematic Superman. It’s perhaps no surprise that the scene of Diana saving Steve in a London alley is reminiscent of Clark saving Lois in a NYC alley in Superman The Movie.

Superhero films can live and die by casting… it is extremely crucial that we believe in the person playing the role. Gal Gadot absolutely rocks as the mighty Wonder Woman as well as the sweet and compassionate Diana. More so than her two fellow DC boys Ben Affleck as Batman and Henry Cavill as Superman combined. That’s why she’s the best thing about Batman V Superman despite her less-than-10-minutes running time. She’s also got a pretty effortless comic timing that works in the film’s many lighter touches. Plus she’s got such an earnest quality that made lines such as ‘I can not stand by while innocent lives are lost!’ works, instead of coming off lame or corny.

It’s superb casting all around. The Amazonian women. Diana’s mother Hippolyta is played with such grace by Connie Nielsen (I so miss her since Gladiator) and Robin Wright as Diana’s aunt Antiope is in phenomenally bad-ass form here (man she deserves her own superhero franchise!) I truly enjoyed the scenes in the paradise island Themyscira. The production design in Greece is absolutely beautiful, I’d love to see more scenes set here perhaps in the sequels? I also love the first big action scene on the island between the Amazonians and the German army set in WWI. It was so much fun to watch these fierce women looking amazingly cool in various acrobatics… on a horse, leaping in the air, etc. I would rewind that scene over and over when I get the Blu-ray!

Now, I’m not saying I love every action scene in this movie. In fact, I gotta say the slo-mo stuff gets overwhelming after a while as the movie goes on. Towards the end the pyrotechnics of the final battle dull my senses, though nowhere near as bad as all the bombastic blasts at the end of Man of Steel. I quite like the music though, and I’m glad they use the main theme by Hanz Zimmer and Junkie XL sparingly to make a real impact.

As for the villains, I’m not too fond of Danny Huston’s rather over-the-top performance and he’s basically forgettable. SPOILER ALERT [highlight text to read] I don’t think it’s that huge of a surprise that Ares God of War takes the form of a British cabinet member (David Thewlis), I didn’t think that part and the subsequent battle between him and Diana are all that interesting.

In any case, there are plenty to like in this movie that offset my quibbles. The always-watchable Chris Pine is charming and sweet as Steve Trevor, Diana’s love interest. He’s got that rogue-but-sensitive sensibilities down pat, and his attempt at a German accent is hilarious! Plus he’s nice eye candy and we got to see quite a lot of him in a particular scene, ehm. The tentative romance is handled well, akin to Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter in Captain America movies in that you immediately want them to be together.

Right from the trailer, I also love his secretary, played with such glee by Lucy Davis. My only complaint is that she’s not on screen enough. The rest of Diana’s earth-bound rag tag team are a hoot as well, played by Saïd TaghmaouiEwen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock.

I enjoyed the fact that the movie isn’t as dark as previous DC installments but it’s also not all fluff and style over substance. There’s an emotional scene between Diana and her mother as they part ways, and Diana’s compassion and heartbreak at seeing people injured from the war is palpable. That’s what makes the first earthly action scene, Wonder Woman vs the German Army, is so powerful to watch. She’s driven by compassion and love for humanity, and she doesn’t have a chip on her shoulder like many of her male superhero counterparts.

Overall it’s a terrific start to what I hope will launch more and more female-led comic-book films. For me, any female-led films is a great thing in my book, regardless of genre. It helps to actually have an actual comic book writer, Allan Heinberg, amongst a team of writers that also include Zack Snyder. But mainly, kudos to Patty Jenkins for being a capable captain of the ship and Gal Gadot for portraying a symbol of female empowerment with such strength and grace. It’s not just the best DCEU film so far, it’s a solid and hugely entertaining film, period.


So have you seen WONDER WOMAN? Well, I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: The Congress (2013)

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An aging, out-of-work actress accepts one last job, though the consequences of her decision affect her in ways she didn’t consider.

I’ve been wanting to check this movie out of sheer curiosity. The idea of mixing animation with live-action is tricky, and I always wonder how a filmmaker would pull this off. This is from the same filmmaker who brought the Oscar-nominated Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman, and I must say The Congress is an ambitious and absolutely bizarre film. Whether or not the film works for you depends on how much the eccentricities bothers you, plus the structure of the film is also not straightforward to make it digestible. But the way I see it, I’m glad I saw it and the thing with certain art form is, one can still appreciate it even if we don’t fully comprehend it.

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The story is loosely based on Stanislaw Lem’s sci-fi novel The Futurological Congress. In the film, Robin Wright plays a fictionalized version of herself as an aging actress and single mother of two, and her son’s hearing and eyesight are slowly deteriorating. A Hollywood mogul from Miramount (Miramax & Paramount) offered to buy the film rights of her digital image so in the future studios could make films using only CGI versions of her, provided that she’d never act again anywhere.

It’s twenty years later when her contract’s about to expire that the animated adventure came alive. At the entrance of Abrahama City, where Robin is to attend Miramount’s “Futurological Congress,” she’s given a chemical so she transform into an avatar of herself in order to enter the strict animated zone. Trippy is the word I would use here and I can’t even begin to explain what the plot is about.

TheCongressStill3In fact, when the movie’s over, I thought ‘what the heck was it that I just watched??’ Part of the film seems to be a commentary or satire on the mercenary nature of Hollywood, but other times it’s a mother-son story, and then there’s a love story between Robin and Dylan (voiced by Jon Hamm), who claims to be her animator. It’s hard to tell what it’s about, it’s really quite discombobulating as things get more colorful and more surreal. You’ll notice a bunch of famous people in the animated world, from deity, famous entertainers, sports figures, etc.

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The fact that the film somehow still retains my interest is Wright’s heartfelt performance, even in her animated format she’s always engaging and sympathetic. The supporting cast are excellent too, Harvey Keitel as Robin’s agent, Kodi Smit-McPhee as her son, and Danny Huston as the studio mogul. The most emotionally engaging moments are between Robin and Paul Giamatti who plays the kind doctor who treats her son.

The altered sense of realism is to be expected in a live-action/animation hybrid format, but messy structure of the film highlights the narrative problems. I kind of knew going in this film would not be an easy watch however, but still it can be frustrating. I think some people would have serious issues with the film, much like they would with say, Holy Motors, and I can’t say I blame them. But there are some enjoyable and funny moments, I always appreciate originality even if it’s a little on the bizarre side. I’d love to connect more with it and the characters, but overall it’s got enough going for it to warrant a recommendation from me.

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Have you seen this film? Well, what do you think?