’71 Review – Worst. Day. Ever.


Director: Yann Demange

Writer: Gregory Burke

Stars: Jack O’Connell, Sean Harris, Sam Reid, Paul Anderson


Release date: October 10th, 2014

Distributors: StudioCanal, Roadside Attractions

Country: UK

Running time: 99 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Jack O’Connell.

Worst part: The generic villains.

Each cinema industry has its share of touchy topics used to puzzle history buffs, attract film buffs, and educate mass audiences. These subjects – marked by historical events and/or societal, cultural, political, and economic issues – make for haunting stories. Vying for Oscar contention, Hollywood’s offerings depict shocking accounts of harrowing stories. Utilising their resources, other countries – no matter which side of the western/eastern hemisphere their on – seek to primarily inform viewers.

Jack O’Connell.

Surprisingly, groundbreaking British feature ’71, despite the controversial road taken, never focuses specifically on its subject. Despite the inconceivable issues effecting Northern Ireland, the movie side-steps anything remotely distressing or subjective. Overlooking the anger, tyranny, and sadness, the movie instead tackles action-thriller tropes to tell a simple yet effective tale. This 1971-set feature, presenting itself like prime film-festival material, starts off like most military dramas. Training for warfare, British soldier Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) believes he can help change war-torn Northern Ireland. Shifting comfortably between tests, the heroic grunt is chosen for a dangerous and life-altering mission. The soldier follows orders and delivers impressive results without breaking a sweat. Beyond this, Hook continually visits his former children’s home to see his younger brother – and remaining loved one – Derren (Henry Verity). One day, as his base is transported to Belfast, the conflict reaches its most vicious and distressing point yet. Arriving the night before, the unit’s optimistic leader, Lt. Armitage (Sam Reid), expects absolute perfection from his fresh-faced recruits. However, as the unit descends upon Falls Road, their inclusion is met with urine-and-faeces-filled balloons and bags thrown by local youths. Conducting house-by-house incursions, the unit is met with angry residents and hostile rioters.

O’Connell in action.

Of course, nothing goes according to plan. As the riot reaches breaking point, Hook and another soldier, Thommo (Jack Lowden), become from the group and left for dead during the retreat. From the first action sequence onwards, ’71, set one year before Bloody Sunday, depicts a vacuous war zone between several motivated, honour-starved factions. Like Hook, the narrative runs rampant through action clichés, visual metaphors, and tough characters. Unlike most IRA/Troubles movies, designed to discuss specific events in detail (Bloody Sunday, Hidden Agenda), the movie throws the geo-political/ethno-nationalist conflict into the background. Some may see ’71 as a gross misjudgment. Across the kinetic 99-minute run-time, whilst dodging the “too soon” argument, we follow our able-bodied lead throughout the worst day of his life. At first, he’s a confident soldier embracing the campaign’s many challenges. Lacking political or social viewpoints, the movie rests squarely on Hook’s shoulders. Focusing on rebellious children and adolescent soldiers, this action-thriller crafts a refreshing and prescient take on its resonant subject matter. Presenting hidden truths and notable viewpoints, ’71 objectively depicts each relevant faction. Delivering vital information through exposition, it depicts the Catholic Nationalists, Protestant Loyalists, Irish Republican Army, Military Reaction Force, and Royal Ulster Constabulary carefully and considerately.

“Posh c*nts telling thick c*unts to kill poor c*nts.” (Eamon (Richard Dormer), ’71)

Our tried-and-tested hero.

Aiming for ‘grey’, its realistic take depicts eery streets lit by torched cars and molotov cocktails. Stepping around bad blood and cruel motivations, ’71 becomes a survival-action flick similar to The Raid: Redemption, Assault on Precinct 13, and Die Hard. Unlike most copy-cats, it embraces each trope whilst elevating the tempo. Avoiding Behind Enemy Lines‘ jingoistic aftertaste, it balances style and substance succinctly. TV director Yann Demange handles his first feature’s £5 million budget effectively. Experimenting with unique camera, lighting, and sound techniques, his style fits the narrative like a uniform. Utilising shaky-cam and quick cuts, the chase sequences ratchet up the tension. As our factions track Hook down, Yemange heightens the grit and stakes. After locals Brigid (Charlie Murphy) and Eamon (Richard Dormer) rescue our hero, the last act turns their apartment block into a labyrinthine maze. Despite the thrills, its contrivances and implausibles spoil the fun. In addition, the over-the-top antagonists distort the narrative. However, the movie’s stellar performances outweigh the negatives. O’Connell – hitting the big-time in 2014 with this, 300: Rise of an Empire, Starred Up, and Unbroken – is revelatory as the out-of-his depth antagonist. Conveying a plethora of emotions, his performance bolsters the adrenaline-charged, man-against-the-world role. In addition, Sean Harris and Paul Anderson excel as two MRF officers teetering on the edge. Meanwhile, David Wilmot delivers several laughs as a slimy rebel leader.

Tackling this harrowing conflict with style and gusto, ’71 is a great first effort and brilliant slice of escapism. The movie – switching between war-drama, political-thriller, and hardcore action flick – is an exercise in controlled chaos. Refusing to take sides, this action-thriller never bogs itself down in Left or Right viewpoints. In fact, this modest and invigorating effort is summed up by one line: “Posh cnts telling thick cnts to kill poor c*nts”.

Verdict: A potent and intensifying action-thriller.

White House Down Review – Roland’s Roller-coaster Ride!


Director: Roland Emmerich

Writer: James Vanderbilt

Stars: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Woods


Release date: June 28th, 2013

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 131 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Tatum and Foxx’ chemistry.

Worst part: The dodgy CGI.

Hollywood has become an industry that will recycle any concept for a quick profit. I know I’m repeating myself when I state this claim, but, for some reason, studios have no problem blatantly copying one another. Famous Hollywood double-ups such as Deep Impact/Armageddon, Dante’s Peak/Volcano and Mirror Mirror/Snow White and the Huntsman are frequently mentioned whenever someone goes on a tirade against big-budget movies. This year, Olympus has Fallen and White House Down have formed the paranoia inducing and jingoistic double-up to end them all.

Channing Tatum.

These blockbusters have stretched the bonds of societal comfort and plausibility by destroying one of the world’s most important landmarks. White House Down may cause fatigue, primarily because it was released after Olympus has Fallen, but it’s a popcorn flick with brawn, laughs, and gusto. This extravaganza starts out with a comparison between two commendable and ambitious characters. Washington D.C. Capitol officer and single father John Cale (Channing Tatum) achingly wants to impress his precocious, politically motivated, tech-savvy daughter Emily (Joey King). Taking her on a White House tour, Cale hopes his corresponding job interview with the Secret Service will go as smoothly. Meanwhile, US President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) is pushing world leaders to sign a peace treaty which could pull all troops out of the Middle East. This controversial plan runs into resistance from Speaker of the House Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins), the military, and the media. While these events take place, suspicious figures, led by Stenz (Jason Clarke), waltz around the White House and Capitol Building dressed as janitors. These figures, of course, turn out to be psychopathic mercenaries with a reckless distain for Sawyer’s time in office.

Jamie Foxx.

You can pretty much guess what happens next. In fact, this entire movie is based around plot-points, character arcs, and clichés from other, more inventive, action-dramas. Its ‘Die Hard in the White House’ premise has been trodden on tirelessly throughout modern action movie history. Thankfully, this mash up of Air Force One, The Rock, The Siege, and Taken is nowhere near as bad as it sounds. Despite the tired narrative, White House Down‘s many zippy and unique aspects make for an enjoyable explosion fest. Director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012), gladly, avoids the tropes and ticks that make several of his previous efforts nigh unwatchable (God knows how both he and Michel Bay made tolerable movies within the same year!). Known for blowing up monuments and wiping out large populations on screen, Emmerich’s work is normally drowned in cartoonish humour and nonsensical plot strands. Here, despite the film’s exhaustive run-time and cheesiness, he applies a more subtle yet enrapturing approach to silly material. It was baffling to see the first 30 minutes of an Emmerich film being based around witty banter and noticeable character development. I was enjoying each interaction and plot strand before the inevitable shoot outs and explosions kicked in. To begin the necessary comparisons with Olympus has Fallen, I’ll state that the Gerard Butler-led action flick works better as a whole. However, White House Down does contain many awe inspiring and applaudable moments. Thanks to the brisk pace and baffling twists, this slightly satirical and excessive action flick is one of 2013’s biggest surprises (ironic, given its disappointing box office performance).

Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Emmerich, however, doesn’t pull back from making preposterously stupid links between the plot and the heavy-handed messages. It’s right wing, fascist agenda is glaringly obvious and beyond inappropriate. Despite the shout outs to republican craziness, NRA, military injustice, Government conspiracies and preachy journalists, Emmerich can’t pull anything together to say something meaningful. Thankfully, the terrorists aren’t defined by race or ‘religious’ creeds. I know I’m asking too much of an action-disaster flick, but Emmerich should’ve stuck to the courage of his convictions. Where he does excel, however, is in the explosive action set pieces. From destroying New York with a mutant lizard (Godzilla) to obliterating Earth with freak winds and intelligent tornados (The Day After Tomorrow), Emmerich continually puts the pedal to the metal. His video game-esque apocalyptic-disaster movies push the boundaries of believability and filmmaking technology. Here, we go room by room as the world’s safest residence is torn apart. He finds inventive and baffling ways to tare chunks out of famous buildings and American ideals. Though lacking the grit and intensity of Olympus has Fallen’s invasion sequence, the White House takeover here is gleefully swift. The camera moves from one kill to the next as the punchy and kinetic action set pieces thrill and spill. Emmerich delivers one stupefying moment after another. I threw my hands up when Cale and Sawyer pulled donuts on the White House lawn with the President’s suped-up limo (aptly titled ‘Ground Force One’).

“Can you not hit me in the head with rocket launcher when I’m trying to drive?” (John Cale (Channing Tatum), White House Down).

Our underdogs.

James Vanderbilt(Zodiac)’s screenplay elevates a movie packed with tension inducing set pieces and brutal murders. The hilarious dialogue and zany winks and nudges come thick and fast. A White House tour turns into a pacy back-and-fourth between several wacky individuals. These moments, gladly, boost the archetypal characters. Cale, fit with a white singlet and point to prove, is a pretty yet emotionally damaged John McClane clone. Despite the laughably predictable plot and character turns, Cale comes off as a sympathetic and courageous hero. Butler may be a more charismatic presence, but Tatum still establishes himself as a charming and beguiling action star. His physicality and snappy delivery push him through each set piece and conquering speech. His rapport with Foxx highlights the sheer talent flowing between these popular performers. Foxx, though miscast, delivers an enjoyable and intriguing turn. Whilst bringing out his inner Barack Obama, Foxx urbanises the all important Leader-of-the-Free-World role. With his can-do attitude and Air Jordans in tow, Sawyer is a Political character by way of youth marketing and focus groups. Unfortunately, the supporting cast members, though talented, are stuck in bland, two dimensional roles. Gyllenhaal, though effective in her early scenes with Tatum, is left to simply yell orders over the phone and look mildly concerned. Jenkins can only draw a mild shade of life from his tiresome role. Meanwhile, Clarke, James Woods, and Jimmi Simpson go overboard as the sociopathic and vengeful villains.

With its talented cast and punchy action set pieces, White House Down is a surprisingly engaging action flick. Emmerich, thankfully, has crated a ludicrous, explosive, and funny extravaganza. I’m now trying to figure out what the next blockbuster double-up will be. ‘Taken on a cargo ship’, anyone?

Verdict: A fun, noisy and excessive action-disaster movie. 

Olympus Has Fallen Review – USA/North Korea Smackdown!


Director: Antoine Fuqua

Writer: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt

Stars: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Rick Yune


Release date: March 22nd, 2013

Distributor: FilmDistrict

Country: USA

Running time: 120 minutes


4/5

Best part: Butler as an action hero.

Worst part: The poor CGI.

In the 80s, the Soviet Union (Russia) was seen as a crippling nuclear threat. In the 2000s, the Middle East was seen as a dangerous and chaotic region. Today, North Korea is seen as the most villainous country on Earth. The Red Dawn remake and Olympus Has Fallen contain intelligent and dangerous North Korean villains. Olympus Has Fallen is an ultra-fun B-movie with a taste for violence, patriotism, and theatrics.

Gerard Butler.

It’s a film that goes far beyond its ridiculous and cheap premise. It’s insanely silly in more ways than one, but it relishes its opportunities. The film starts off with four American flags waving proudly within the first 30 seconds. Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) and President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) share a close bond. However, their lives are drastically altered by a car crash that kills two Secret Service agents and the first lady. 18 months on, Banning fails to adjust to his new life as a Treasury Department worker. One day, Washington D.C. is attacked by an army of North Korean Paramilitary trained terrorists. Led by Kang (Rick Yune), the terrorists hold President Asher hostage and threaten to destroy America. With the help of Speaker of the House Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) and Secret Service leader Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett), Banning must tip-toe through the white house to save both his friends and the country.

Morgan Freeman.

Morgan Freeman.

Similarly to G.I. Joe: Retaliation and A Good Day to Die Hard, Olympus Has Fallen is a jingoistic and excessive action extravaganza. It’s another actioner that revels in both nostalgia and explosions. The movie is the best ‘Die Hard‘ flick of 2013 so far. This film has the ridiculousness and epic scale of a Die Hard sequel. However, unlike AGDTDH, the movie knows how to entertain both Die Hard fans and the average cinema-goer. I love this film despite its inconsistencies. The film is much more than just its right-wing and fascist agenda. It’s a heart-thumping action flick in the vein of Air Force One and Escape from New York. Many modern action flicks aren’t violent. They use the M15+ rating to capture the largest possible audience. Olympus Has Fallen willingly pushes its MA15+ rating to the max. The film’s introduction contains a tragic event. It’s an emotionally affecting and tense sequence that establishes bonds between important characters. Soon after, the film becomes even more unsettling with the grotesque and ridiculous terrorist attack. Every step of the terrorist’s plan is both implausible and gratuitous. However, this meticulous attack takes out famous monuments, Secret Service agents, and innocent civilians. Given the recent events in Boston, It’s a sequence that may be too difficult for some people to watch.

Rick Yune.

Rick Yune.

Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter) is one of the best action-drama directors working today. He builds character and tension before the spectacular set-pieces take place. His film moves at a cracking pace as the clock ticks down. However, many of the action sequences are let down by poor CGI. These sequences look like video-game cut scenes. Set-pieces that should be thrilling are void of emotional pay-off. This film is a subjective look at recent events. The feud between North and South Korea, and the west, is intensifying. The film gives you a preposterous yet dangerous interpretation of this conflict. This cliché-ridden script is uncomfortably xenophobic and jingoistic. There are many scenes in which the American flag is proudly raised, riddled by bullets, or thrown from the White House roof in slow motion. Major plot-holes and confusing character motivations aside, there are many scenes which heavy-handedly depict American pride and valour. For example, the scene in which the Secretary of Defense (Melissa Leo) is reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, whilst being dragged along the floor, is unintentionally laughable. There are also many silly one-liners which inappropriately end important scenes.

“Why don’t you and I play a game of f*ck off. You go first.” (Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), Olympus Has Fallen).

Butler & Aaron Eckhart.

Likeable action-movie characters are difficult to find nowadays. In the 80s, they were either skilled tough guys (any character played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) or average Joes (John McClane). In Olympus Has Fallen, Banning is as charming and threatening as an 80s action hero. He struggles to adjust to his new life as a desk jockey. This damaged hero must complete his new mission in order to redeem himself. Much like McClane, he is both charming and vile whilst dealing with one henchman after another. The torture sequence is both shocking and enjoyable; establishing how far he is willing to go. Butler convincingly fits into the action hero role. His physicality and charisma turn an otherwise generic lead character into someone to root for. There are many esteemed character actors peppered throughout the movie. Eckhart is underused as the President. Freeman’s performances in Olympus Has Fallen and Oblivion prove that he is still one of Hollywood’s greatest actors. Yune is charming as the slimy villain while Dylan McDermott, Robert Forster and Radha Mitchell are charismatic in underwritten roles.

Despite its inconsistencies, Olympus Has Fallen is a rollicking action flick that isn’t afraid to be exploitative. It may be too much for some, but action movie fans will have a great time watching landmarks being destroyed and Butler kicking ass. Fuqua has created an enjoyable and inventive action flick.

Verdict: A visceral and intensifying action flick.

A Good Day to Die Hard Review – Please Die Quickly!


Director: John Moore

Writer: Skip Woods

Stars: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yuliya Snigir


Release date: February 14th, 2013

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 97 minutes


2/5

Best part: Willis and Courtney.

Worst part: The incomprehensible plot.

Remember Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Rocky Balboa and Rambo? These films were sequels that brought their respected series’s back into the spotlight. 80s-era franchises are loved by the masses. Today, studios are milking series’s dry for nostalgia’s sake. Even looking at contemporary film franchises, we currently have six Fast and Furious films, four Terminator films and, now, five Die Hard films. Having watched A Good Day to Die Hard, I believe that this series should follow its title’s own advice.

Bruce Willis.

It’s by far the worst in the series and a waste of time in more ways than one. It’s a cynical exercise in Hollywood politics that completely forgets what made the original the classic that it is. Watching this film, you can see how Hollywood has fallen from where it was in the 80s. The plot of AGDTDH is not important or interesting in any way, but I’m still going to describe it. The seemingly immortal John McClane (Bruce Willis) is back in action. This time around, he must travel to Russia to get his son Jack (Jai Courtney) out of trouble. Jack, a CIA agent, is arrested over a catastrophic assassination attempt. His mission is to set political prisoner Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch) free. Komarov is set to stand trial, but must retrieve a file containing incriminating evidence against corrupt politician Viktor Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov). Before you can say “Yippee Ki-Yay, Mother Russia”, The McClanes, Komarov, and Komarov’s daughter Irina (Yuliya Snigir) must travel to Chernobyl to retrieve the file before Chagarin’s henchmen catch up to them.

Jai Courtney.

This film is somehow much dumber than its already pathetic title. It seems that hack writer Skip Woods (Hitman, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and hack director John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines, Max Payne) have failed to grasp any understanding of this series. It has bigger issues to contend with than just a clichéd narrative. Many action flicks have predictable plots, yet can survive on other strengths. When analysing it as a mindless action flick, AGDTDH is terrible. But when judging it as a Die Hard instalment, it’s even worse. What makes Die Hard one of the best action flicks in history is its basic elements. It contains a simple story aided by many fun and jaw-dropping moments. With the fifth instalment, everything is pumped up to a cartoonish extent. The action set-pieces have an epic sense of scale, yet fail to convince. They stretch both plausibility and patience to breaking point. It’s awkward watching the many distracting and unnecessary visual flourishes at Moore’s disposal. The excessive use of CGI destroys action scenes that should be tangible and enjoyable. However, the stunts, noisy explosions and gunfights are fun. The leaps and bounds made by certain characters are positively baffling and add to this otherwise empty experience.

Yuliya Snigir.

This film provides a rather uninteresting and inaccurate interpretation of the John McClane character. In the first three films, John McClane was a relatable citizen. He was essentially the action hero version of the ‘Hitchcockian’ lead character; always in the wrong place at the wrong time. When Die Hard 4.0 hit cinemas, that vulnerable side of John McClane vanished and suddenly he was launching cop cars into helicopters. In AGDTDH, he is essentially a superhero. He can jump through windows, crash cars and dodge bullets without receiving any broken bones or concussions. I’m looking forward to seeing him in The Avengers 2. Where the film lost me was in its insanely bombastic car chase. John, Jack and the slimy European baddies use three large vehicles to destroy half of Moscow. They obliterate hundreds of cars and structures in a 10 minute sequence, without receiving disabling injuries or police interference. In fact, the police are strangely vacant throughout this film. John and Jack must fight helicopters, terrorists and bad one-liners by themselves. John also becomes an unlikable and angry tourist. At one point, he knocks out an innocent Russian man for not speaking English. From then on, I found it difficult to care about his struggle.

“The sh*t we do for our kids. Yippie-kai-yay, motherf*cker.” (John McClane (Bruce Willis), A Good Day to Die Hard).

The A Good Day to Die Hard gang.

Willis is still charming. He overcomes his putrid dialogue whilst injecting some life into his beloved character for a fifth time. Willis reminds me of my dad- tough, hard-working and bald. He and Courtney have significant chemistry. Courtney, fresh off of his villainous role in Jack Reacher, is charismatic. He does what he can with the inept material here. The relationship between John and Jack fails to ignite. Like the conflict in Die Hard 4.0, the McClanes face-off with both the bad guys and each other. The father-son shouting matches never stop and soon become sitcom-like. John saves Jack’s life, only to be treated with distain. At the same time, John’s comments about Jack’s CIA work are condescending (“The 007 of Plainfield, New Jersey”). The only charming character in AGDTDH is a Frank Sinatra-loving cabbie. Every Die Hard flick should, at the very least, have a strong villain. Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons brought charm and prickly demeanours to their immaculate roles as Hans and Simon Gruber respectively. Even Timothy Olyphant shined as Die Hard 4.0’s computer whiz baddie. Here, there are too many inferior villains. None of them stand out beyond the film’s confusing political espionage sub-plot.

AGDTDH is an example of how not to make an action film. With Die Hard 6 on the horizon, everyone associated should go back to the drawing board. Hollywood’s worst ideas and impulses have been injected into this dumb action flick with the Die Hard name slapped on it. If they are looking for an even stupider title for the next instalment, may I suggest ‘A Die Hard Day’s Night’?

Verdict: A vapid and disappointing fifth instalment.