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Review – London Has Fallen (15) [2016]

London Has Fallen - title banner

Star Rating: 1.5/5

Director:

  • Babak Najafi – Sebbe, Easy Money II: Hard To Kill

Cast:

  • Gerard Butler – 300, Coriolanus, Olympus Has Fallen, Hunter Killer
  • Aaron Eckhart – Paycheck, The Dark Knight, Olympus Has Fallen, Bleed For This
  • Morgan Freeman – Conan The Barbarian, The Dark Knight I-III, Transcendence, Olympus Has Fallen, Ben-Hur
  • Alon Aboutboul – Rambo II, Body of Lies, The Dark Knight Rises, Harmonia
  • Waleed Zuaiter – Sex And The City II, The Men Who Stare At Goats, The Free World, Billionaire Boys Club
  • Shivani Ghai – Bride & Prejudice, Cleanskin, Eastenders, London Life
  • Radha Mitchell – Finding Neverland, The Crazies, Olympus Has Fallen, Fugly, The Darkness

Music Composer:

  • Trevor Morris – The Tudors, Immortals, Olympus Has Fallen, The Borgias, Goon: Last of the Enforcers

2013’s Olympus Has Fallen was the (laughable) rehash of Die Hard, just in the White House and with North Koreans as the villains. It was loud, shouty, clichéd, and full of explosions and shoot-outs to save the President, with Gerard Butler playing the role John McClane. London Has Fallen is exactly the same, but in London instead of the White House.

The London Eye, one of the capital's known landmarks, is blown up in the terror attacks.

The London Eye, one of the capital’s known landmarks, is blown up in the terror attacks.

The British Prime Minister, James Wilson, has died. US President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) feels obliged to go to the funeral in London, along with all the other leading dignitaries of the world. But Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), the President’s top secret serviceman, is apprehensive about the President going to London. He fears that terrorists will spring a surprise or two.

(And wouldn’t you know it?) Banning is right. During the funeral, terrorists start shooting at the world leaders and blowing up London’s known landmarks. (Forget the unknown ones: they’re not worth blowing up.) President Asher is in the thick of the attacks and it is up to Banning to get him out of London and save him again.

London Has Fallen is exactly what one would expect, and enjoyable for it. The plot has all the (laughable) pros of its prequel, just with more swearing, more (nauseating) self-references to how great America is, no White House, and Muslim fundamentalists instead of North Koreans. What’s more, the special effects crank up the enjoyment factor to eleven as they are as good as the N64 game Goldeneye (which came out in 1997).

Vice President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) watching in horror as the known landmarks of London going up in smoke.

Vice President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) watching in horror as the known landmarks of London going up in smoke.

With a plot so clichéd and special effects so pitifully bad, it is hard to believe that the main cast members could take this film seriously. Yet, it appears they do. No-one looks embarrassed to be on-screen (unlike Charles Dance in Ali G: In Da House and in Your Highness, or the entire cast of Seventh Son). In fact, they all look like they are taking the film as seriously as if London really had been hit by multiple terror attacks.

Morgan Freeman plays his usual, charming self as the safe-handed stand-in President. (It helps when one has played the President in Deep Impact and God in Bruce Almighty). Aaron Eckhart is giving everything he’s got to play his first credible role since Harvey Dent in 2008’s The Dark Knight. And Gerard Butler is… well, doing what Gerard Butler does best. Since 300 came out in 2007, Mr. Butler has forged a (preposterous) career out of being an immortal, warrior king (300); a Hollywood hunk who ladies swoon over, and who all men want to be like (PS I Love You, The Bounty Hunter, and especially Playing For Keeps); and now an action hero (Olympus Has Fallen). In short, Mr. Butler is trying again to be all things for all peoples to add to his magazine of self-aggrandisement. (When is Mr. Butler going to say that enough is enough of this absurd self-propaganda? When is he going to do a proper role where he is not the flawless envy of the world?)

Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) running through the evacuated London underground trying to get President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) to safety.

Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) running through the evacuated London underground trying to get President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) to safety.

As for the villains and their performances… yeah, there is really not much to say about them. The villains are one-dimensional, bad, anti-Western Jihadis. That’s all there is to them and the sooner they are forgotten the better. Much like the film they’re in, really.

All-in-all, London Has Fallen is a laughably entertaining film for all the wrong reasons. It is loud, sweary, clichéd, and full of explosions and shoot-outs to save the President from Jihadis, with Gerard Butler playing the role John McClane. The special effects are contemptible. Then again, so is the serious nature of the acting and Gerard Butler’s insatiable need to be loved on screen.

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Review – Coriolanus (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 4/5

<<guest review by KJF>>

William Shakespeare and the filmed medium have an uneasy relationship. Over the years many film-makers have attempted to bring his plays to the silver screen but not all have been successful, with some versions feeling staid and flat. For all the glories of Laurence Olivier’s trilogy of adaptations, in more recent years there have been Kenneth Branagh’s Love Labour’s Lost (2000) and As You like it (2006), which were both poorly received. Ralph’s Fiennes’ Coriolanus bucks the trend, providing an inventive, violent and gripping take on one of the Bard’s later tragedies.

Coriolanus, blood-soaked, in the heat of battle.

The original play is set in the ancient world, during one of the Roman Republic’s endless wars against a neighbouring tribe. Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes – Schindler’s List, Harry Potter VII(ii), Wrath of the Titans), is Rome’s greatest general. Having just scored a bloody victory against the rebellious Volscians, he returns to his home city and is given the honorific name ‘Coriolanus’, in recognition of his battle prowess at the Volscian city of Corioles. At Rome the populace are starving due to a grain shortage. He tends to hold the people in contempt, and when his election to the consulship collapses, and he gets exiled, the disgruntled general defects to the Volcians and plots his revenge.

Here the story is updated to a modern Balkan setting which is very effective, recalling the wars in the 1990s following the collapse of Yugoslavia. The battles between Romans and Volscians are fought on bomb blasted streets, strewn with the wrecks of cars and buildings with terrified civilians being caught in the crossfire-scenes so reminiscent of modern urban warfare. The bleak, withered, Balkan landscape is a particularly effective back-drop to the bleakness of Coriolanus’ fate in the latter part of the film.

Fiennes in directing mode with Gerard Butler, playing Tullus Aufidius

All the events of the story are told through the prism of rolling news footage, with newscasters and pundits (naturally) spinning everything. (Even Jon Snow gets a look in!) When the grain protests in Rome are depicted, this allows for some fortuitous contemporary resonance as we cannot but think of the Arab Uprisings, particularly all the protesters massing on Tahrir Square. That all the political debating on show is done in the glare of television cameras instantly broadcasting into countless households feels particularly right. In Republican Rome, many political debates were held in public in the Forum.

Fiennes is following in the grand tradition of both Olivier and Branagh as both actor-director, and this is very much his film. The camera likes to linger on his battle-scarred, shaven, bullet-shaped head, which in the heat of battle gets spattered in blood. One needs no convincing that this is a serious warrior. When faced with dealing the people of Rome he so despises, his icy contempt for them is tangible. Fiennes is supported by a fine cast. Vanessa Redgrave (Mary, Queen of Scots, Letters to Juliet, Song For Marion) as Volumnia, Coriolanus’ formidable mother, is truly magnificent. She is a civilian but her martial bearing and control she exudes over her son is emphasised by the military dress she mostly wears. The seemingly ubiquitous Jessica Chastain (The Help, Take Shelter, Zero Dark Thirty) acquits herself admirably as the other woman in Coriolanus’ life, his doting wife, Virgilia. Gerard Butler (300, P.S. I Love You, London Has Fallen) plays a brooding Tullus Aufidius, the leader of the Volscians and nemesis of Coriolanus. There is, perhaps inescapably a touch of Leonidas about his performance but he very much proves the match and the mirror to the Roman general. The Roman politicos here are a conniving bunch, all decked out in slick, expensive suits and Brian Cox (Troy, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dog Fight) brings much style to his portrayal of the loquacious, fawning senator Menenius Agrippa, supporter of Coriolanus’ family.

Virgilia (Jessica Chastain) pleading with Coriolanus not to go back to war.

The faults with the film reflect back to the play itself. Coriolanus is the most unsympathetic of Shakespearean ‘heroes.’ He is no Hamlet or King Lear to draw much pathos. We rarely see behind his front of arrogance and hauteur and his loathing of people power, to what makes him a human being. The play itself can be heavy-going at points, punctuated with very long-winded speeches. Thankfully here, Fiennes in collaboration with his screenwriter, John Logan, has done some merciful pruning, to make everything more palatable.

Thus, Fiennes should be commended for bringing a less popular and less well-known Shakespearean play to a much wider audience. Indeed the vigour and imagination on display makes the film a rewarding and thought-provoking experience.

KJF