Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

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“10 Cloverfield Lane” makes you wonder how studio execs come up with film concepts…


SCENE: The Production Office at Bad Robot. JJ Abrams and Bryan Burk are sat in front of a hat full of torn up bits of a Maltin’s Film Guide.


ABRAMS: “I’ve got Bambi”
BURK: “I’ve got Schindler’s List. No, that’s never going to work.”
ABRAMS: “OK, this time I’ve got The Iron Lady”
BURK: “I’ve got 50 Shades of Grey. Hmm… tempting, but not really our target audience. Again I think”
ABRAMS: “OK, I’ve got Room.”
BURK: “Huh.. I’ve got Independence Day. Let’s go again”


Abrams pauses and stares at the Cloverfield poster above his desk.

ABRAMS: “No, wait a minute Bryan.. I have an idea…”

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12 weeks filming inside the bunker and Winstead was starting to go stir crazy.

Since much of the joy of “10 Cloverfield Lane” is in not knowing where the story will lead, this review will be spoiler free. By necessity it will therefore also be shorter than usual.

The film certainly grabs the attention from the get go, with some of the most dramatic opening titles ever. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“A Good Day to Die Hard”) plays Rebecca who after a car crash wakes to find herself in a cell room of an underground bunker, accompanied by unstable and unpredictable disaster-nut Howard (John Goodman) and his builder friend Emmett (John Gallagher Jnr). The bunker is stocked with many year’s worth of provisions, to outstay the natural disaster that Howard claims is raging above them.

Is there really anything happening? And are Rebecca’s fears about Howard’s true intentions towards her founded?

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Rebecca had moved her cell contract to Vodacom and had immediately regretted the decision.

I entered this film with high expectations, and for most of the running time I was not disappointed. The early scenes play out like a claustrophobic and tense three-hander stage play: a bit like the Hateful 8, but without as much gratuitous violence. Whilst there are also similarities here to another of Abram’s properties – series 2 of “Lost” – the set up in Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken’s story is both ingenious and innovative. But (as happened in the equally innovative “Looper” from 2012) the clever build-up is wasted on a frankly ridiculous and unnecessary ending. There were many better ways that this story could have been wrapped up, but the writers didn’t choose any of them.

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The 200,000 piece jigsaw might just see the 2 year wait out for Howard.

John Goodman – a highly underrated actor – delivers a chilling performance as the troubled Howard. Mary Elizabeth Winstead received mixed reviews in this household: my wife found her acting overly mannered and distracting, whereas I came away with the opinion that she was quite a find, and this could be a breakout movie for her. Time will tell. For fans of the UK TV’s “Pointless”, the film is also a good ‘pointless answer’ for a ‘Bradley Cooper film’: he plays (vocally) Rebecca’s estranged husband Ben.

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Sorry Rebecca – Howard needed the chimneys cleaning and no Victorian children were available.

New to me as a film composer is Bear McCreary, who turns in a highly appropriate and tense score to complement the action, spiced up by some much needed and well-chosen jukebox hits.

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PLEH? Nope, no idea.

The first-time director is Dan Trachtenberg, and he nearly has a classic on his hands. What a shame. I was four and a half to five ‘Fads’ for the first half of the film, but the ending left me annoyed and frustrated at a great opportunity missed.

Fad Rating: FFFf.

(BTW, I don’t normally praise trailers… but this is a good one. Relatively spoiler-free and a true teaser).

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Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Eddie the Eagle (2016)

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The British love a plucky loser. “Eddie the Eagle” tells the astonishing but true story of everyman plasterer Eddie Edwards who qualified for, and then competed in, the Calgary Olympics in 1988 (probably most famous for those other plucky losers – the Jamaican bobsleigh team of Disney’s “Cool Runnings” fame). I have absolutely no idea how the traditionally more success-driven and competitive American audience will see it, but the packed English showing I attended all clearly loved this film as a feel-good classic.

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A ski-field of dreams. Tom Costello – really excellent as the 10 year old Eddie

The film starts with Eddie’s childhood, struggling out of leg braces to try to pursue his Olympic dream with no success whatsoever. (Excellent performances here by  brothers Tom and Jack Costello who set-up the tone for the film).  His battle is not just against his lack of skill:  whilst his mother (Jo Hartley) is quietly supportive, his father Terry (Keith Allen) is – not unreasonably it must be said – hugely frustrated at his son’s fanciful ideas, wanting him to follow in the family plastering tradition with the same zeal.  (The gulf in ambition is vast – Eddie: “Didn’t you have a dream when you were younger Dad?”; Terry: “Yes, plastering”.)

Eventually Eddie finds a sport he is half decent in (by British standards!): downhill skiing, but is thwarted in following his Olympic dreams by smarmy and sneering Olympic selector Dustin Target, played by Tim McInnerny (from “Black Adder” and “Notting Hill”… someone who has rather cornered the market on ‘smarmy and sneering’). It is then that he exploits ancient rules in the UK Olympic playbook to try to qualify in the discipline of ski-jumping: something noone has done since the 1920’s.  Linking up in Austria with an alcohol-infused coach and ex-jumper Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), Eddie faces the terrors of the 40m and then 70m jumps to try to learn the sport (16 years too late).

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Eddie is in – or rather on – Transit.

This film has been long in gestation, with both Steve Coogan and Rupert Grint originally earmarked for the role.  But Matthew Vaughn’s involvement in the current project probably contributed to Taron Egerton getting the job following their work together on last year’s “Kingsman”.  And a great choice he is too.  Almost unrecognizable from the sharp-suited Eggsy in “Kingsman” and gangster-sidekick Teddy in “Legend”, Egerton switches effortlessly between clueless goofball and steely determined sportsman. 

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Explaining the finer points of Norwegian model making. Jackman and Egerton deep in training mode.

The film’s emotional heart though is with Hugh Jackman’s side-story, battling with drink after throwing his own chance away with US-coach Warren Sharp (a nice cameo by Christopher Walken). Although going a little OTT at times (we see for example that he is no Meg Ryan!), Jackman provides a solid acting foundation that the rest of the cast can play off.

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Jackman getting value from his studio dental plan.

Rounding out the cast are solid performances from Jo Hartley (“This is England”) as Eddie’s Mum, Mark Benton (“Waterloo Road”) as a BOA official, Rune Temte as a bear of a Norwegian coach and the ever-warming Jim Broadbent as a BBC commentator.

An ‘attaboy’ should also go to the special effects crew headed up by Marty McLaughlin for making believe a man can fly.  Whilst – you understand – not in any way doubting Jackman’s ability to risk his pretty face on a 90m jump, the nighttime sequence of him doing that jump is really nicely executed (with cinematography by George Richmond).

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Not a good place to be if you are afraid of a) height or b) public performances. Eddie rocking Calgary.

A quick browse at Wikipedia will make it clear that there has been a lot of license taken with this as a “true story”, and to be fair the prefix “based on a..” was used!  And the film is not without irritations:  Terry’s negativity to his son’s actions is about 25% overplayed in Simon Kelton’s story, and the coach/protégé sub-plot has been overused in the past.  The soundtrack (music) by Matthew Margeson is also rather grating particularly early on in the film:  it is presumably going for ‘period’ in its use of Hammond organ cheesiness, but that music was tiresome in the 80’s too!  Fortunately Margeson redeems himself with some kick-ass (no pun intended) classic 80’s tracks neatly edited into the action.

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The real deal: Eddie Edwards

These criticisms aside, I dare you to come out of this film without a silly grin on your face.  I certainly did. Directed by Dexter Fletcher (“Sunshine on Leith”) it’s not likely to win any Oscars, but in setting out to deliver what it said on the can it succeeded in all respects.

Fad Rating: FFFF.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Allegiant (2016)

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Shailene Woodley is one of my favourite young actresses.  Ever since she did that dramatic ‘crying-underwater’ scene in “The Descendents” she’s been someone to watch.  And, while it was another “Hunger Games” wannabe – “Divergent” was a good story, well acted and with good visual effects. 

Unfortunately the series has progressively gone downhill: “Insurgent” was poor but coherent; and now “Allegiant” is both poor and mind-numbing.

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Superman and Batman had done the usual with the city’s skyscrapers, but glazing contractor Four has time for one last snog before getting back to work.

After the revelations at the end of “Insurgent” Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Christina (Zoë Kravitz), Peter (Miles Teller), Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and Tori (Maggie Q) defy Chicago leader Evelyn (Naomi Watts) and make a dash for escape beyond the Chicago walls to find those living beyond in the alleged wilderness. There they meet ‘Pure’ leader David (the ever-busy Jeff Daniels) and his acolytes. According to David, Tris is key to the world’s recovery.  But can he be trusted?  

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Tris and Four were keen on practising safe sex, but it was difficult to see how the extra safe condoms were ever going to work.

It is telling that every screenwriter in this series has been different, and this time Noah Oppenheim (from the similar “Maze Runner”) with Adam Cooper and Bill Collage (from “Exodus: God and Kings”) have the pen, but do little positive with it. Much of the dialog clunks onto the ground much like the leaden transports featured in the film. And some of the plot points are obvious beyond belief. No real spoilers here, but when one of the lead characters gets shot it was so blindingly obvious that it was about to happen that I audibly groaned with disbelief that the writers had so little respect for the audience.

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The dynamic team O’Haring it out of Chicago (geddit?).

As another example of bone-headed writing a nerve gas used in the film is so much heavier than air that it sits on the floor for minutes at a time. How will they ever escape in Chicago?  (Erm – climb up to a second floor perhaps?). Presumably everyone was OK since they only got a small dose… so were just ‘a bit’ brain damaged?  

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Miles Teller as the ever-reliable Peter.

The special effects are pretty ropey in places. Some of the green screen work (an early shot with Miles Teller in particular) is really poor. Just about nothing looks real.

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They’d been walking down Weston-Super-Mare beach for three days now but had still not reached the sea.

The director is Robert Schwentke (“Insurgent”; “Flightplan”; “The Time Traveller’s Wife”) but this doesn’t extend his reputation (apart from presumably with the studios, since poor as it is it’ll no doubt still attract an audience).

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Eyes down gents for a gratuitous cleavage shot. Fans of the shapely Woodley will be pleased to hear she has her own Ursula Andress/Dr No detox scene to enjoy.

Shailene Woodley does herself credit with the material she has and has chemistry with the hunk of the piece, Oxford-born Theo James. But she is far better than this stuff. Unfortunately, this series doesn’t end as a trilogy: she will be back again as Tris is “Ascendent” in 2017. But before then she has a starring role in Oliver Stone’s Edward Snowden biopic, so hopefully can prove herself there.

Fad Rating: FF.

 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies DVD Review: Black Mass (2016)

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The name James Bulger brings a chill to many older British people. For James was the little boy abducted from a shopping centre in 1993 by two older boys, murdered and left on a railway line. But the subject of “Black Mass” is real-life hoodlum James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) who grew to be the kingpin in the Boston underworld.

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Under Depp’s sights – not a good place to be.

Heavily protected by an old friend and FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Egerton, “The Great Gatsby”) who is running him as an informant, Bulger ruthlessly destroys his Boston Italian rivals and tries to keep one step ahead of sceptical FBI boss Charles McGuire (Kevin Bacon) and CIA investigator Fred Wyshak (Corey Stoll from “House of Cards”). Told in flashback form, the film charts Bulger’s career and his relationship with his brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch) who (amazing but true!) was the State Senator for Massachusetts.

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Having your Bacon well done. Another degree of Kevin.

Depp is a chameleon-like actor. Unlike someone like Tom Hanks (who is always ‘Tom Hanks’), Depp transforms himself physically to inhabit his roles: Jack Sparrow; Willy Wonka; The Mad Hatter; Edward Scissorhands – it is sometimes difficult to equate the roles to the same actor. In “Black Mass” he does it again, being almost unrecognisable in the role. But he delivers in the acting stakes and turns in a chilling performance as the psychopathic mob leader. 

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We’re not in the Wonka factory any more. Depp in troll-like mood dishing out punishment.

In supporting roles are Jesse Plemons (“The Program”) and W. Earl Brown (“There’s Something About Mary”) as his right (and left) arm men and the talented Dakota Johnson as the concerned mother to his son.

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Jesse Plemons in a dark mood.

Although it’s good as a simple gangster film, the film is a little two-dimensional to be great.The treatment of the relationship between the brothers – surely one of the most dramatic and surprising parts of the story – is perfunctory, with Cumberbatch (sporting a good Bostonian accent) having relatively few minutes on the screen.

It’s also almost impossible to form any emotional connection with Depp’s character. Most screen villains have at least some sense of dark and shade (see Tom Hardy’s recent portrayal of Reggie Kray in “Legend”). In contrast, Depp’s Bulger is as uniformly dark as the title suggests.

Directed by Scott Cooper it’s a workmanlike film, with many inevitably violent scenes. It’s certainly watchable…. but won’t be memorable.

Fad Rating: FFF.

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Hail Caesar! (2016)

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In the Coen Brothers latest “Hail Caesar!” we have exactly the same Hollywood-based mix of communist writers and Hedda Hopper-style gossip columnists as recently seem in “Trumbo”:  but the films could hardly be more different.

“Hail Caesar!” is the film within the film: the latest Victor Mature style ‘God and Sandals’ epic for Capitol Pictures, starring the megastar Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). Trying to keep this movie on track – together with all the other movies being concurrently filmed – is tough no-nonsense fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). These other movies include an Esther William’s style water ballet starring gal-in-trouble DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson); an Anchor’s Aweigh-style musical starring Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum); and a pot-boiling drama featuring non-acting singing-cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich). 

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“Aw, surely this was the son of God” (old John Wayne joke).

To add to Mannix’s tension, Whitlock is drugged and kidnapped before the final climactic Crucifixion scene can be filmed. Who’s behind the plot and why, and can Mannix restore order while keeping the story out of the eye of voracious journalist twins Thora and Thessaly Thacker (both Tilda Swinton)?

The film plays out as a series of loosely connected vignettes, some much more successful than others. Johansson’s water ballet, and indeed her entire sub-plot, is all rather dull and irrelevant and in my opinion could happily have been ditched.

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Unnecessary moistness.

Channing Tatum however is a revelation as a song and dance man in a Gene Kelly tribute. His song and dance number was for me the best part of the film and I could watch this stuff all day: I would personally LOVE IT if someone would make a complete retro-feature film in this ilk. Watch out too for Christopher Lambert (“Highlander”) as his almost incomprehensible Swiss director.

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More please! The ghost of Gene Kelly returns for seconds in the Anchors Aweigh parody.

Capturing the most attention though is young Ehrenreich as the upcoming star without a clue. Many of his scenes, especially those with classical director Laurence Laurentz (a brilliant Ralph Fiennes) are hilarious.

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Would that it were so simple?

Popping up in cameos are Jonah Hill (as the fixer’s well paid ‘man to take the rap’); Frances McDormand (“Fargo”) as a dottie film editor who really shouldn’t wear scarves; and Robert Picardo (“Star Trek Voyager”) as the Jewish representative in a contentious meeting of religious representatives discussing Christ’s portrayal in the film (“So, a priest, a Protestant, a Greek Orthodox and a Jew walked into a studio…”).

Having last year enormously enjoyed the studio tour at Warner Brother’s studios in LA (HIGHLY recommended if you can book ahead for when you are in town) it was great to see the studios making an actual film there again (as opposed to TV). Cinematographer Roger Deakin has great fun suffusing the studio and everything else with a 50’s glow, an effect extending to the old 4:3 screen format (which I can see generating some “my DVD is defective” returns in a few months!)

Is it any good? I think it’s fair to say that this is a ‘Marmite’ movie (which if you are non-British is a way of saying that the film will massively divide opinion). I’ve not seen as many people walk out of a film at the cinema in recent years. 

I personally found it a light-hearted and nostalgic trip into a golden age of studio-management, show-casing again the comic gurning talents of Clooney (particularly prevalent in the scene where he gets slapped around a bit and which demonstrates his range – as if we needed reminding after “The Descendants”). Brolin is great as the straight-guy Mannix and most of the rest of the cast add value, though Johansson seems Ill at ease with her role. I’m also afraid 2 x Swinton is not equal to 1 x Mirren in “Trumbo”.  But it is Alden Ehrenreich that is the real acting find of the film – a breakout role for him after more minor roles in films like “Stoker” and “Blue Jasmine”. 

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Mannix and one of the Thackers.

This is not the best Coen brothers film, being patchy and spasmodic and, in places, rather too clever for its own good. I got the same feeling watching bits of this (for example, the writer’s meeting scene) as I do in many Woody Allen films: that I am not politically / philosophically intelligent enough to understand the niceties of the script (and I’m considered quite bright!). This can be a bit alienating for an audience.

If I think back to all its numerous sub-parts it was often in 4-Fad+ territory…. but overall it’s lack of cohesive story arc brings the overall confection down a notch or two.

Fad Rating: FFFf.

But What Did You Think?  Comments and opinions are always welcome below! 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Trumbo (2016)

Trumbo-posterMost countries have dark parts in their history, and America is no exception. Did you know for example that eugenics was actively practiced in the US during the 1920’s and 30’s?  Not going as far as the gas chambers of Nazi Germany, but getting pretty close in some institutions where “imbeciles and defectives” were allegedly quietly euthanased or forcibly sterilised to cleanse the gene pool. 

Another equally dark period of history were the McCarthy witch hunts in the post WW2 period, and that is the topic that “Trumbo” focuses on.

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Dalton as a bit old to join the scouts, but the induction went without a hitch.

In a true story, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was a successful Hollywood screenwriter  (including “Roman Holiday”, “Exodus” and “Spartacus”) who was also a communist. Together with nine other colleagues, this “Hollywood Ten” collectively decide to take a First Amendment stand against the questioning, under subpoena, of the ‘House Committee on Un-American Activities’. This lack of cooperation gets them black-listed from working in Hollywood, which removes their livelihoods. 

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Frank King sense and more (‘B’ movies). John Goodman as the movie churner.

Stoking the fire is bile-filled journalist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirran), trying her best at every opportunity to subvert their own subversion of working around the blacklisting.

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Helen Mirren as the vicious pap Hedda Hopper. Bile at the bar.

The film is a fascinating insight into a period of movie history I knew nothing about.  Famous actors such as John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Edward G Robinson and Kirk Douglas pop up on different sides of the fence, sometimes as impersonations (the best one being Dean O’Gorman’s uncanny impersonation of Kirk Douglas) and sometimes from original stock footage.

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“No, I’m Spartacus!” – Dean O’Gorman, dimple and all, as the spit of Kirk Douglas.

Cranston was Oscar nominated for the role of Trumbo, and he is very good indeed as the larger than life character. But there are a number of other very compelling performances worthy of note:  Michael Stuhlbarg (“A Serious Man”) is great as the conflicted Edward G Robinson;  and Elle Fanning (“Super 8”), younger sister of Dakota, is once again fantastic as Trumbo’s eldest daughter – having more to put up with than just the teenage hormones.

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“Hey, how do you get an Oscar nomination Bryan”. “Just keep doing what you’re doing kid”. The talented Elle Fanning.

Overall though, while it is an educational piece, the film is rather stodgy in places and lacks passion for its subject. The only point for me when the film reached its dramatic potential was the angry bathroom scene between Cranston and Fanning. Rather disappointing, given my expectations.

Fad Rating: FFF

But What Did You Think?  Do You Agree With My Rating And Comments?  Please Let Me Know By Commenting Below! 

Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: London Has Fallen (2016)

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We’re barely into March, and already I think we’ve found Donald Trump’s favourite film of the year. 

In “London Has Fallen” the British Prime Minister has died suddenly and world leaders are converging on St Paul’s Cathedral in London for the state funeral. A quiet, solemn and dignified affair. At least, that’s until international arms dealer and terrorist Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul) and his murderous and vengeful family have other plans. Soon-to-be father Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) has the job of leading the protection team for the US president (Aaron Eckhart) and its fair to say he has his hands full. Barkawi has inserted an army of comrades into the city and his intent is to execute the president live on the internet. Can Banning stop him?

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Not sure I would necessarily agree that this video conference call was “Unclassified”.

“London Has Fallen” is the sequel to “Olympus Has Fallen”; the more entertaining of two virtually identical 2013 movies with terrorists seizing the White House (the other being “White House Down” aka ‘the one with the black president’). “Olympus Has Fallen” had the same mixture of Taken-style violence, but had a more coherent and realistic plot. In the sequel, every VNALI (Vaguely Non-American Looking Individual) is assumed to be a terrorist and promptly slaughtered. VNALI’s are wily creatures, dressing as police officers and promptly undoing years of ethnic diversity recruitment by the Met Police. 

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No ticket on the Jubilee Line?

The script sinks to similar depths. “F*** You” shouts a VNALI to Banning, half through the side window of his SUV. “No, F*** You” replies Banning as he swerves the car into a pillar. You get the idea. The action is pretty non-stop but when it does stop it stops with a bump, with some pretty banal scenes and clunky lines for ‘character development’.

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Tailgaters on the M25 beware – Gerry is in no mood for messing about.

The count of machine-gun wielding VNALI corpses vs unscathed hero reaches ludicrous proportions in the absurd finale. A big case of more is less.

Whilst a lot of the film is actually filmed in Sofia in Bulgaria, many of the London shots are all over the place continuity wise. Turning left out of Somerset House to get to St Pauls?  No, I don’t think so!

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Barkawi doing what Guy Fawkes couldn’t. Dodgy special effects in “London Has Fallen”.

The film is not totally without merit. Morgan Freeman, as Vice President Trumbell delivers his lines like a honey poured over a large blueberry muffin. And the always watchable Angela Bassett is class as Banning’s friend and presidential aide.

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The overall feeling of the film however is one of overt xenophobia that leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Trump Rating: FFFFF.

Fad Rating: Ff

But What Did You Think?  Do You Agree With My Rating And Comments?  Please Let Me Know By Commenting Below!