Gerard Butler Week, Part 5: Angel Has Fallen

As a huge fan of the Has Fallen movies, I jumped for joy with a solid fist pump in the air when the third film in the series, titled Angel Has Fallen, was announced. Mike Banning had become my new favorite badass action hero and I couldn’t wait for his further adventures. Initially, it was said that AHF would take place on Air Force One. Ok, so now they’re ripping off Air Force One, which already was a ripoff of Passenger 57, which was a ripoff of Die Hard. Nice to see they’re keeping it squarely in the Die Hard ripoff vein. But then it was announced that that was not the case, and that the movie would be more grounded and more inspired by The Fugitive.

That last part worried me. Thinking like that is what sunk other third entries like Transporter 3 and Taken 3. Taken 3 even went with The Fugitive gimmick, and look how that turned out. Even more worrisome was the fact that Robert Mark Kamen was a credited writer on the movie. Now, I know what y’all are thinking: Kamen is a good writer. He wrote Taken, The Transporter, and The Karate Kid, among other great movies. And that is true, I’m not taking that away from him. But he also wrote Transporter 3, Taken 3, Karate Kid 3, and even Lethal Weapon 3. Notice something there? What do all those movies have in common, besides Kamen? They’re all the 3rd film in their respective franchises… and they all suck (Well, I do love KK3, but for all the wrong reasons). Would AHF suffer a similar fate? Let’s find out…

Angel Has Fallen sees the return of Gerard Butler as the unkillable badass himself, secret service agent Mike Banning. While on a fishing trip with the new president, Allan Trumbull (this time played by Morgan Freeman), they are attacked by a swarm of drones. Only Banning and Trumbull survive, although Trumbull goes into a coma. Banning is then shocked to find out that he’s being charged as the prime suspect in the assassination attempt. Realizing he’s being framed, he goes on the run to clear his name, find the real perpetrators, and save the president before they can strike again…

So, to answer my question right off the bat: No. I am happy to report that AHF does NOT follow the trend of diminishing returns on the 3rd entry that befell those movies previously mentioned. In fact, the movie was AWESOME! I LOVED IT! I think this may be the best one yet! But not just because of the action. In my opinion, this one has the best story and acting out of the 3. Butler stated that this one would be darker and character driven than the previous ones, and he was absolutely right. This one is really a character piece about Banning. Quite frankly, he is the whole show here. Like it doesn’t just follow Banning as he kicks all the ass, but it shows us how all of this action and time has truly affected him.

When we are reintroduced to Banning, he is more weary and beaten. Now suffering from sudden headaches and nightly insomnia, our boy Banning is nearing the end of the line, and realizing that it might be time to call it quits. So when he’s thrust into this new plot, we’re more worried now. Like “what if he doesn’t pull it off this time?” These are the thoughts as Mike tries to stay one step ahead of not only the bad guys, but also his own government. And it’s truly compelling stuff. Like this is the best Gerard Butler has ever been throughout the series. He is phenomenal in this. He gave this role everything he had and it shows.

And even though the movie is primarily the Mike Banning show, the cast gets to shine just as brightly. Morgan Freeman may have limited screen time as the president, but when he’s up there, he’s great, as usual. The rest of the cast are all newcomers to the franchise though, such as Jada Pinkett Smith, Lance Reddick, Tim Blake Nelson, Danny Huston, and Piper Perabo (replacing Radha Mitchell from the previous two as Mike’s wife). And they’re all pitch perfect in their roles.

But the true shining star in all of this is a scene stealing turn from hollywood great Nick Nolte as Mike’s dad Clay. A Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSD, he abandoned Mike & his mother when he was just a boy, and became a paranoid recluse residing in the forest. An extremely well prepared recluse, at that. Nolte is just so great here. He injects pathos and humor into his role as the elder Banning, and the screen lights up every time he’s on it! Bravo, Mr. Nolte. Bravo.

And speaking of things lighting up, let’s talk about the action now. Director Ric Roman Waugh brings some new energy to the series, going for the grittier handheld aesthetic that was most prominent in the Jason Bourne movies, and I think it works for this story. Banning goes through pretty impressive scraps with the bad guys, with the initial drone attack, the attack on Clay’s cabin, and the climax being my favorite sequences of the movie. Waugh also focuses more on the stunt work, because there are some awesome stunts on display here! Guys getting blown up literally right in front of you, going flying through the air while on fire. Just awesome stuff. Waugh also injects a lot of tension into the set pieces, the climax being particularly arm chair gripping. Great work, Mr. Waugh!

Any issues? Some of the nighttime scenes were a tad too dark in spots. Like, I could make out was happening, but I was borderline almost squinting at times. Also, I don’t know if I would consider this an issue, or more of a nitpick, but there are 2 “twists” in here that I was surprised to see be played as a twist. Like “Wait, was that supposed to be a surprise? Because I figured that out already.”

But all in all, this was just as much awesome fun as the previous two, but a bit more heart and character thrown into the mix. And I can’t praise them enough for that. Also, I read that Butler wants this to be the final installment of the series. And if that’s true, and this is the last one: Godspeed, Mr. Banning. It’s been one hell of a fun ride.

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Gerard Butler Week, Part 4: London Has Fallen

So every year on my birthday, I go to the movies. It’s my own personal tradition. And March 31, 2016 was no different. I had a choice of 3 movies to see that day: Batman v. Superman in IMAX 3D, Deadpool, or London Has Fallen. I chose London Has Fallen. Why that one? Well for starters, I was a huge fan of the first one, I had already seen BvS (the standard version though, which is why the IMAX 3D version was a choice) and I figured I had enough time to see Deadpool, since it was making a killing at the box office and would be in theaters for a while.

I never did get to see Deadpool in theaters. But you know something? I do not regret my decision… because London Has Fallen was AWESOME!!!

London Has Fallen stars Gerard Butler as SuperMegaUltra Secret Service badass Mike Banning, who once again must save the president, played once again by Aaron Eckhart, from terrorists after they launch a surprise attack against him and other world leaders who were in town to attend the funeral of the prime minister of london.

I have a 2 top 10 all time favorite movies list. One for movies I grew up on, and the other for more recent stuff that I’ve seen and loved. And I must say, London Has Fallen is definitely top 5 on the second list, because I loved this movie so much! I definitely feel that if LHF had come out during the 80s or 90s, it would’ve went on the first list. Maybe it still could, because it encapsulates that old school action movie feel even better than the first one did.

Like this truly felt like a 90’s version of an 80’s action flick. Like it was a script developed for Chuck Norris by The Cannon Group in 1985 but wasn’t made until 1996 by Nu Image (funny enough statement, because it actually was made by Nu Image, under their more prestige label Millennium Films) and it had Mark Roper as director and starred Bryan Genesse as Banning and Roy Scheider as the president. Damn. Now that I mention it, I kinda wish they had actually made that version. But no biggie, because LHF is fine just the way it is!

If I must be perfectly honest, the action scenes weren’t genre revitalizing like John Wick, but they were well staged, and executed competently, and that’s all I ask for. So salute to new director Babak Najafi for keeping things fast paced, explosive, and highly entertaining. Shame Antoine Fuqua was unable to return, but Najafi handles things very well. Especially when it comes to showcasing Banning’s badassery. Seriously, Banning kicks sooo much ass in here. I believe the character of Mike Banning deserves a place among new age badass action heroes like John Wick and Robert McCall.

As for the supporting cast, Eckhart got to do a lot more than he did in the first one, which was awesome. He basically became Banning’s sidekick, where even got to do some badass stuff himself. Fighting, shooting guns, killing bad guys. The norm. While Harrison Ford remains the most badass movie president ever, Eckhart comes a very close second. And Freeman is very good as usual, but that should go without saying at this point. The man can read PB&J ingredients and make it compelling.

Angela Bassett returns from the first one as well as Melissa Leo, but both are kinda wasted, which leads me to my nitpicks. There was that, plus the CGI did leave a lot to be desired. Now, I’m not expert, but If you’re gonna have sequences that are wholly dependent on the realism of your CGI, you might want to spend a bit more to get better VFX guys. Just saying.

Also, Banning has a moment where he was actually so badass, he became stupid. Like *SPOILERS* he loses the president toward the end, and is trying to extract info from a bad guy about his whereabouts, so he stabs him… repeatedly. Banning, how are you supposed to get information from a guy when you’re stabbing him to death?? *END SPOILERS* And speaking of stabbings, there was noticeably less head stabbings in this than the first one. Damnit I want all the head stabbings! Honestly I wouldn’t mind another Has Fallen where Banning stabs all the bad guys in the head. You can call it ” A Knife Has Fallen… Into The Brain.” I’d pay rent money for that.

But other than that, I kiss the ground this movie walks on! It was one of the best birthday movies I’ve ever seen, and I wholeheartedly wish they will continue this series until at least part 5. Give us more Banning!!

Gerard Butler Week, Part 3: Olympus Has Fallen

Every so often, we get a pair of dueling plot movies. What’s that, you ask? Its when 2 movies come out in the same year with the exact same plot. For example, In 1997, we had 2 Volcano movies in Dante’s Peak & Volcano. And the very next year, we had 2 asteroids hitting earth in Deep Impact & Armageddon. There are a lot more others, but I don’t feel like naming them all, so those 2 examples will have to do.

I bring that up, because in 2013, we were besieged by 2 “Die Hard in a ____” movies that were set in the white house. The first one released was Olympus has Fallen, directed by Training Day’s Antoine Fuqua. And the second was White House Down, directed by disaster porn auteur Roland Emmerich. A lot of people had expected WHD to be the victor of this duel. I mean… how could you not think that? It starred Channing Tatum & Jamie Foxx, who were red hot at the time, and it had the more family friendly PG-13 rating, against OHF’s hard R rating. And when all was said and done?

Does anybody even remember White House Down?

Olympus Has Fallen stars Gerard Butler as Mike Banning, a top flight secret service agent who was removed from the president’s detail after the unfortunate accidental death of the first lady. When the white house is taken over & the president is taken hostage by extremist north korean terrorists, it’s up to Mike to save the day, and find his redemption…

Man, do you know how refreshing it feels to watch a guy declare he’s gonna shove a knife into the bad guy’s brain, then do exactly that, in this day and age?? As someone raised on the violent, comic book aesthetic of 80s action movies, it feels so damn refreshing. And that’s what Olympus Has Fallen is: a violent, comic booky breath of fresh air for the action crowd that misses that kind of thing. I know I do.

Gerard Butler is at his best as the unstoppable force Mike Banning. Banning is ex-special forces. Ranger Battalion. He will move mountains or die trying, according to secret service director (& personal friend) Lynn Jacobs, played by the always incredible Angela Bassett. And, over the course of the movie’s running time, those words will prove to be 100% accurate.

Seriously, Banning brutally shoots, stabs, bludgeons and neck snaps 25 people total throughout the movie without so much as blinking. A pure, emotionless killing machine. Well, to be fair, Banning isn’t completely emotionless. He does have a sense of humor that shines through every now and then. Like this part:

See? The man’s got jokes.

The rest of the cast is just as splendid as Butler. I mean, how could they not be? Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, the aforementioned Bassett, Dylan McDermott, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, Rick Yune, and Academy Award winner Melissa Leo all come together to form one of the most perfect ensembles ever seen in an action movie.

But ultimately, the success of this movie wouldn’t be possible without the surefire direction of Mr. Antoine Fuqua. His handling of not just the actors but the awesome and suspenseful action sequences needs to be thoroughly commended. The man steers a tight ship, I tell ya. Salute.

But all in all, this is one of the best Die Hard knockoffs ever made. Right up there with Sudden Death and Under Siege 2. It just amazes me that no one else thought to make a Die Hard in the White House movie besides this one. No one else…

That was petty of me. I’m sorry. Please forgive me, cast & crew of… what was the name of the other one again??

Gerard Butler Week, Part 2: Gamer

I’m not a gamer by any means. I mean, I like video games, but they’re not really a big deal to me. Hell, my 13 year old nephew has been kicking my ass thoroughly in Call of Duty since he was 10 (he thinks that shit is funny too. Little shit. Tio loves you, buddy!). So gamer culture is not something I’m really synonymous with. So imagine my shock when I was immediately smitten by the subtle, but chaotically brilliant look into the future of gamer culture that is Gamer.

Gamer stars Gerard Butler as John Tillman, a death row inmate who has become affectionately known to the world as Kable through his appearances in the First Person Shooter game Slayers. Run by computer programmer Ken Castle using nanotechnology, Slayers takes real life inmates and puts them in battle arenas, where they’re controlled by gamers from all around the world. If a slayer survives 30 battles, they will be set free. As Tillman/Kable comes close to reaching the 30 mark, and getting to see his wife and daughter, he begins to suspect Castle is going to renege on the deal. So with the help of some unlikely allies, he must find a way to escape and save his family…

Wow. Who would’ve thought we’d get this level of crazy but interesting introspection from the Crank guys? Yep, you heard me right. The writing/directing duo of Mark Neveldine and Brian Tyler, the creative team behind the 2 Crank movies are the ones behind Gamer. And like the Crank movies, Gamer is 100% NOT for everyone. Hell, I don’t think it’s even for everyone who liked Crank 1&2. Gamer features all the hallmarks of those movies (lewd, crude, and absolutely batshit insane), but in my opinion, it’s something more.

For example: The movie opens up with an all out combat scene. Kable is killing bad guys left and right. Blood, guts, limbs and even whole bodies are flying all over the place. He then goes up to a vantage point to get the drop on more bad guys. But then, he hears someone coming behind him.

See, the players completely control the movements of the slayers, but the slayers are also 100% completely aware of their surroundings. And while Kable knows someone is coming up behind him, his controlling player, 17 year old Simon (Logan Lerman) doesn’t yet. So Kable can do nothing until Simon notices. Also, Slayers are further hampered by the “ping”, a lag between the commands of the player, and the reaction of the slayer. A small lag, but during battle? Absolutely deadly.

So right off the bat, we get the crazy, gory action of Crank, but with an extra bit of character and tension in there as well. Watching Kable say “Turn me around.”, then begin to subtly but uncontrollably shake as he waits for the command to come in, all the while hoping the lag passes fast enough to react is really mesmerizing stuff.

And the fact that it is mesmerizing is all due to Gerard Butler’s performance as Tillman/Kable. He really is this movie’s anchor. Just the image of his sorrowful, bewildered face trying to make some semblance of sense out of all the insanity while his body mindlessly goes around gunning people down is incredibly powerful and haunting. He knows this is all crazy, but there isn’t a damn thing he can do to stop it, and I feel Butler portrays that exceptionally.

He’s not the only one though, as the amazing cast really back him up. Actors like the aforementioned Lerman, Kyra Sedgwick, Alison Lohman, John Leguizamo, Terry Crews, Ludacris, Amber Valletta, and scene stealer Michael C. Hall as Castle all give fantastic performances to make this a great ensemble of performers… especially for this kind of movie.

Now, let’s touch on the story for a second. Like I said before, if you seen the Crank movies, then you know what to expect. But also added is a sense of horror in the future that the filmmakers are showing us. Basically, the more connected we become to technology, the more disconnected we become to humanity. Nothing we haven’t heard before, but I found this take to be a refreshing look at a world like that, especially in comparison to the heavy handed nature of almost exactly the same message in The Condemned with Stone Cold Steve Austin. But I know a lot of people don’t like feeling like they’re being preached to by movies. So how you take it is entirely up to you.

But, if you feel like you’d be into that sort of stuff, with a huge dash of lunacy and gory as hell, badass action added in, give Gamer a look. But, you’ve been warned. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go listen to my nephew repeatedly call me trash as he kills me another 80 times in Call of Duty. Isn’t that fun??

Gerard Butler Week, Part 1: Hunter Killer

Hunter Killer stars Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman, Common, Linda Cardellini Toby Stephens and the late Michael Nyqvist in this military action thriller about a race against time to stop World War 3.

Butler plays Joe Glass, the newly designated submarine captain of the USS Arkansas, who is given the mission to investigate the disappearance of 2 subs; one American, one Russian. While investigating, it is discovered that the Russian sub was sabotaged from within, and the American sub was sunk by another Russian sub in an effort to start a conflict between the 2 governments.

The plan’s orchestrator is revealed to be Russian prime minister Durov, after taking the Russian president hostage. The American government, in an attempt to avoid going to war, devise a plan to have a SEAL team rescue the Russian president and rendezvous with Glass and the Arkansas. Glass, in the meantime, forms an unlikely alliance with the captain of the sabotaged Russian sub, who survived the attack, and agrees to be the navigator as the wade through the dangers that lie beneath Russian waters…

To tell you the truth, I’m not the biggest fan of submarine movies. I like The Hunt for Red October, Crimson Tide and U-571, but that’s about it. The reason I rushed out to see this one was purely off the strength of Gerard Butler. I’m a fan of the guy. I especially love how he’s coming into his own as seemingly the heir apparent to 80s jingoistic action movies popularized by Chuck Norris and Cannon films. It’s those type of movies that he seems to work best in. And this one is no different.

The character of Joe Glass is the most badass ‘murican to ever ‘murican in ‘murica. And Butler plays him with ease. He’s got this thing down to a science. I was a little disappointed that he didn’t get to break a neck or stab someone in the brain, but he still got to say some badass lines, like this one, as he’s having a disagreement with his second in command about the Russian captain acting as navigator, being my favorite:

SiC: Sir, you will be court martialed!

Glass: Then it is my job to keep you alive long enough so you can testify.

Badass.

The supporting cast is good, for the most part. Oldman is fine as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Donnegan, whose whole part is to be either slightly agitated or greatly agitated, which leads to a lot of yelling. I get the feeling that casting for the role came down to either Oldman or Samuel L. Jackson, but Jackson was busy, so Oldman got it.

Common and Cardellini are basically wasted in thankless roles as Rear Admiral Fisk and NSA Analyst Norquist. Their parts consist of just watching a big screen and looking nervous. Toby Stephens more or less repackages his performance from 13 Hours as Lt. Beaman, leader of SEAL team tasked with rescuing the Russian president, although he does give it a southern twist, so all is ok, I guess.

Besides Butler, the best performance in the movie comes from the late Nyqvist, who plays the captain of the sabotaged russian sub. The man conveys such a strength and courage as well as pain and sorrow while being completely silent at times. Great performance. Great actor. Great loss. He will be missed.

Now, onto the action portion. Director Donovan Marsh handles the action sequences very well for this being his first big movie. All sequences have a considerable amount of tension to them, especially the sequence where the Arkansas has to travel through an underwater minefield. Very exciting stuff.

All in all, I enjoyed this one. It doesn’t quite reach the levels of Butler’s “has Fallen” movies, but it does the job it came to do, and that’s entertain. Job well done, sir.

The Predator: Black & Decker bring the Schlock

“The Predator” is the newest entry in the long running franchise about a race of aliens who come to earth to hunt humans for sport. This entry is directed by Shane Black, creator of the original “Lethal Weapon”, and Hawkins from the original “Predator”. He also co-wrote it with Fred Dekker, his co-writer on “The Monster Squad” and that film’s director.

Right off the bat, let me clarify some things: This is a silly movie. Another thing: It’s meant to be silly. This is a gloriously, unapologetically silly Sci-Fi Action Comedy. And that’s just fine with me. Although I can see why people would greatly dislike that. But I feel that people are ragging on it because they were expecting it to be like the first film. Let’s be real here, people: Trying to mirror what worked about the first film is not the way to do it. Just look at “Predators”.

So Shane said to hell with it and went his own way. And god bless him for that. Because he goes super saiyan with the over the top schlockiness. No kidding. Shane Black goes full Steven De Souza. And I don’t mean “Die Hard” De Souza. I’m talking “Street Fighter” De Souza. Its as if Steven De Souza and David Twohy joined forces to write a low budget Predator knock off for Roger Corman to be directed by Jim Wynorksi, but it somehow got a big budget investment and was directed by Renny Harlin instead.

This was a fun ride, guys. The comedy in the film is laugh out loud funny. There were a few “heh” moments, but most of the time I was dying laughing. The action is great. Black shoots all sequences very well, with the climax in the woods being my particular favorite. The Carnage is abound considerably in this entry. This movie is blood splatter heaven. And the cast is great, with my favorites being Keegan Michael Key and Thomas Jane. Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, and Sterling K. Brown also acquit themselves very nicely. Jacob Trembley is also very good as the young autistic son of Holbrook’s character and, thankfully, not annoying, as most little kids tend to be in this type of movie.

Issues I had with the film are the pacing and editing. Everything seems so rushed. It feels like the film had about 30 mins removed to move it along at a quicker pace, but all it did was leave it with gaping inconsistencies in its narrative. At times, it feels like the cinematic equivalent to having to go through the obstacle course at the end of “Double Dare” in only 30 seconds time.

But overall, I had a great time with this one. God, it was so refreshing to see a film embrace its silliness. It knows its audience and thoroughly plays to them. I just wish majority of the audience noticed that too. But hey, I noticed, and I appreciate you, Shane Black. Keep that silliness rolling.