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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 – Transcendence (12a) [2014]

Transcendence - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Wally Pfister

Executive Producer:

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Mychael Danna – Girl,Interrupted, Fracture, Capote, Moneyball, The Captive

In 1948, George Orwell wrote the classic 1984 in which he (implicitly) warned of the dangers of a country using technology to the full to create a totalitarian state. Many of Orwell’s ideas are now part of everyday life. States can monitor an individual’s movements by CCTV surveillance, by their mobile phone activities, by their credit card history, etc… and with a computer database at the tip of the state’s fingers to bring such information when required.

Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) with the swagger of a scientist on the verge of something special, and after his shooting before his consciousness is wired up into the computer.

Left, Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp), with the swagger of a scientist on the verge of something special; and, right, sickly after being shot, just prior to his consciousness being wired up to the computer.

The above may be very worrying. But the saving grace is that a person is still needed to activate such technology; for technology cannot operate on its own. However, what if technology could operate on its own? Or, rather, what if a human being’s self-awareness were put into a computer? This is the territory that Wally Pfister’s directorial debut film, Transcendence, deals with.

Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is a scientist intent on creating a conscious computer. His research is at an advanced stage, when he is shot by anti-tech terrorists. With his mind fully functional but his body dying, Evelyn Caster (Rebecca Hall), desperate to save her husband and against the advice of Will’s friend Max (Paul Bettany), uploads Will’s consciousness to a computer to keep him alive.

But as soon as Will’s conscience has been uploaded, the question arises as to whether it really is Will in the computer, or if it is something else, especially as transcendent-Will becomes hungry for power. And with all surveillance systems, the internet, and data-records within his control, as well as the ability to advance at a logarithmic rate, what can stop transcendent-Will bending the world to his will?

Transcendence has a complex yet stimulating plot, almost entirely devoid of (headache inducing) action scenes. The film’s language might be tough to follow (although not a prerequisite, it certainly helps to have some knowledge of computer- and nano-science to understand the dialogue). But the idea of whether a soul, in general, can be uploaded into a computer, and the moral risks of technology (possibly) going too far ensure that viewers can appreciate the movie all the same.

Bree (Kate Mara, older sister of Rooney Mara), one of the anti-tech terrorists behind the shooting of Dr. Will Caster.

Bree (Kate Mara, older sister of Rooney Mara), one of the anti-tech terrorists behind the shooting of Dr. Will Caster.

The idea of technology going too far is not a new one, per se. After-all, Orwell spoke of the matter in 1948, and countless science fiction films, like The Terminator franchise, The Matrix Trilogy, i,Robot, and Prometheus have dealt with the subject since (mostly dragging it through the sewers in the process). Yet, Transcendence handles the subject with maturity, and delivers it in quite an original way. The movie may seem far-fetched at first. But the documentary series Through The Wormhole, narrated by (Transcendence’s and Hollywood’s moral compass) Morgan Freeman, shows us the (disconcerting) capabilities of present-day technology. This, in turn, suggests that what happens in Transcendence is not as implausible as it may ostensibly appear.

But to focus solely on the technological angle of Transcendence would be to miss the point of the film. In a twopart interview, Wally Pfister spoke of how Transcendence is a human story at its core. Due to the film’s mature handling of the subject of artificial intelligence, and due to Paul Bettany’s passionate performance, viewers can understand what the director wanted to convey.

However, Pfister’s casting of Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall in the lead roles almost loses him the human element of the tale. Depp and Hall have little chemistry between them and neither look like they understand the scientific language they engage with throughout the film. At least, Hall believes in her character and puts effort into her role. Depp, on the other hand, (in a non-Captain Jack Sparrow-like role for a change) looks disinterested and half-asleep throughout the movie.

Depp and Hall might be Transcendence’s most noteworthy problems. But the dialogue is not great either (irrespective of the difficult language used). In addition, parts of the plot are given away daftly, and are contrived, and are unexplained; then again, it should be noted that Inception suffered from similar unexplained-plot problems, so maybe such issues are to be expected when a film deals with inexplicable elements.

FBI agents, Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman) and Buchanen (Cillian Murphy) giving Evelyn Caster (Rebecca Hall) sage advice on her husband's transcendence plans.

FBI agents, Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman) and Buchanen (Cillian Murphy) giving Evelyn Caster (Rebecca Hall) sage advice on her husband’s transcendence plans.

Nevertheless, like Inception, the cinematography in Transcendence is first-rate. From Transcendence, one can see why Christopher Nolan employed Pfister as his cinematographer for many of his movies, including The Prestige, The Dark Knight I-III, and Inception (in which Pfister won his Oscar). Indeed, if Transcendence’s script and acting would have been as good as its cinematography, Pfister would be in line for a directorial Oscar-nomination in 2015.

Over-all, Transcendence is a brave film for a director to make his debut. It is an interesting and thought-provoking movie, with phenomenal visuals and cinematography. Transcendence has its flaws, not least with its plot, its dialogue and its two lead actors. But to some extent, one should overlook these problems and concentrate on the film’s treatment of the possible dangers of modern day/near-future technology. For, like Orwell in 1948, these matters are handled in an ambitious, innovative and refreshingly adult way.

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