New Release Movie Reviews April-19
This week Jim reviews Olympus has fallen, The company you keep, No, Scary Movie and Jurassic Park 3D.
OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN ***1/2 (119 minutes) MA
Anyone familiar with the work of action director Antoine Fuqua - Training Day; Tears of the Sun; Shooter; Brooklyn's Finest - will know him as America's leading exponent of Blood Pudding cinema.
Unlike the action-crammed GI Joe: Retaliation, which doesn't show a single drop of blood, Fuqua like staging his fantasy mayhem with plenty of exploding squibs; every gun fight and stabbing is accompanied by streams, spurts and bursts of blood.
Provided you can handle such deliberate over-kill in the chaotic swirl that goes on here, Olympus Has Fallen offers a super-sized serving of grit-tinged fantasy action guaranteed to satisfy those who don't mind splatter over style.
With surprising ease - and obvious nods to America's pre-9/11 vulnerability and post-9/11 paranoia - terrorists use planes, guns and garbage trucks to take over the White House in an elaborate and elongated attack. It's an impressive set piece that includes the obligatory shot of the American flag being riddled by machine gun fire.
Taking the President (Aaron Eckhart) and his staff (including Melissa Leo) hostage in the nuclear-proof bunker, the terrorist leader, played by Rick Yune (Die Another Day), brings the world ever closer to nuclear Armageddon.
He's a smart guy, and topically North Korean, though the film is very careful to make clear that this group of North Koreans are acting on their own and not on behalf of official North Korean foreign policy.
This lends the film a small measure of short-term believability, as few would credit the real North Korea with the resources or ingenuity to take over America. (This was the big mistake the Red Dawn remake made, but we digress).
As acting prez Morgan Freeman sweats out his impotent rage with the rest of the uniformed clods at the Pentagon, they discover that an ex-secret service man has survived the carnage on the front lawn and is now stalking the White House corridors with guns in hand and the fate of the world on his shoulders.
This role is played by noted Scot Gerard Butler, best known for his lead role in the epic 300 and for co-starring with Jennifer Aniston in the horror movie The Bounty Hunter.
Playing an American, Butler hides his accent very poorly, but that hardly matters in a role that demands more of his ability to shoot, punch, kick and stab than it does his flair for delivering exposition. And he acquits himself very well as an action hero who shows he has heart when he's not otherwise occupied stabbing people in the heart.
Borrowing heavily from the premise of Die Hard I and the dialogue from Die Hard 4, Olympus Has Fallen is unashamedly derivative empty-calories cinema designed to go in one eye and out the other.
It's also got the jump on Roland Emmerich's impending, similarly themed White House Down, starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, one of whom plays the president.
THE COMPANY YOU KEEP ***1/2 (122 minutes) M
In director Robert Redford's absorbing, emotionally-driven thriller, small-time lawyer Jim Grant (Redford) has his life turned upside down when value-lite journalist Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) turns up trying to link him to a violent anti-Vietnam war movement.
Shepard needs the story to keep his ailing paper relevant and Grant needs to get to the truth before he does.
With veterans Susan Sarandon, Brendan Gleeson, Nick Nolte and Julie Christie offering heavyweight support alongside rising stars such as Brit Marling (Arbitrage) and Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect), Redford redeems himself here after the boring liberal lecture of 2010's The Conspirator.
He deftly articulates the moral morass that can arise when idealism gives way to reality; he also has some very definite things to say about the way today's sensation-hungry, click-addicted media operates.
The key climactic scene where Shepard has to choose between doing what's ethical and doing what's moral shows that Redford has lost none of his ability to nail a point without pushing it.
But perhaps the best measure of Redford's nous as a director is that he draws such a strong lead performance out of Shia LaBeouf. After three Transformers films, Wall Street 2 and Indiana Jones 4, LaBeouf was in danger of becoming the one-note actor of his generation. This clears him of that.
NO ** (117 minutes) M
Nominated for a best foreign film Oscar this year, No tells the rather plodding story of the 1988 ad campaign to end the 15-year dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Gael Garcia Bernal plays the adman at the centre of all the agency discussions about image and appeal and direction. Shooting the entire film on video equipment of the era gives No some visual snap but it is very much a pedestrian, by-the-numbers docu-drama tale, with the emphasis on the former rather than the latter.
SCARY MOVIE V ** (86 minutes) M
The fifth, and hopefully final, film in this tired horror spoof franchise is more scatter-gun than usual, yet still contains a few laughs. Riffing mostly off Paranormal Activity and Mama, Ashley Tisdale (High School Musical) has a funny bit where her nocturnal movements keep knocking her partner out of bed. Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan send themselves up in the intro, a nifty comment on how celebrities are uniquely positioned to reprocess their misbehaviour into money. The film was written, under studio pressure, by Scary Movie 3 & 4 director David Zucker (Flying High; Top Secret; Ruthless People). It shows. It was a good run, but they're just not trying any more. Enough. Please. Wait for the DVD.
JURASSIC PARK 3D **** (127 minutes) M
To celebrate its 20th anniversary and warm us up for the impending Jurassic Park 4 (due June next year), Steven Spielberg's original, game-changing classic has been retro-fitted for 3D. Not that it needed it, of course, and though some scenes have that pop-up book feel, the process does make those magnificent, marauding dinosaurs even more vivid.
Some things have dated - Sam Jackson wouldn't be allowed to smoke in the office; everyone would have mobiles; Google Earth would have kept the island from being kept a secret - but the power of the film's pioneering CGI (computer-generated imagery) remain strangely undiminished.
The T-Rex sequence, where the growling beast terrorises the kids in the car, stands alongside the first appearance of the liquid metal cyborg in 1991's Terminator 2 as a milestone in the evolution of photo-realistic digital animation.