Tag Archives: morgan freeman

Review: ‘London Has Fallen’

dfn-london_has_fallen-poster-300The unluckiest U.S. President in history stumbles into another life or death situation in London Has Fallen, which feeds on populist fears about terrorism and celebrates wanton murder and other violent acts with wild abandon.

None of this will be any surprise to those who saw Olympus Has Fallen (2013), a rabble-rousing action movie directed by Antoine Fuqua with elegant brute force. The sequel is again penned by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, this time with the collaboration of Christian Gudegast and Chad St. John. Fuqua has been replaced in the director’s chair by Babak Najafi, who follows the pattern set by Fuqua.

Most surviving characters from Olympus Has Fallen reprise their roles, led by secret service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), whose friendship with President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) has only deepened. Mike’s character description reads as though it were written by an 8-year-old child: he’s the bestest, toughest, and smartest agent in the world.

Mike suspects something suspicious is up when the British Prime Minister dies and nearly all the world’s leaders head to London to attend the funeral. It’s almost as though Mike is a cowboy in the Old West, gazing upon an empty landscape and intoning: ‘It’s quiet, too quiet,’ just before a tribe of Native Americans suddenly appear and kill everyone.

Sure enough, Mike’s suspicions prove true as a massive, unbelievably well-coordinated attack is launched across London, killing all the world leaders save for President Asher, who survives only because of Mike, who is impervious to bullets and explosions. Even Mike’s boss, secret service chief Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett), crumples under the pressure, but not Mike! Nothing gets him down.

As established in the first film, Mike is a superhero of sorts, and having that in mind makes it much easier to swallow all the ridiculous actions that unfold on screen. As a superhero in a business suit, protected only by kevlar body armor, he is able to dodge nearly all those flying bullets. And it’s a good thing he’s insisted President Asher run every day for “exercise,” we presume, because President Asher is very good at running when Mike tells him to run, and is pretty accurate when he’s handed a firearm, which is either something I forgot from the original or that Mike taught him on the side.

The terrorist activity is masterminded by Aamir Barkawi (Alon Moni Aboutboul), whose particular motivation for the attack is laid out in the opening sequence of the movie, as his daughter’s wedding is bombed by a U.S. military drone. That allow Barkawi to express his righteous indignation, but gains him no sympathy, or even empathy, from anyone.

The scale of the attack is extreme and the filmmakers are careful to show the widespread destruction of nearly ‘every recognizable landmark’ as a news report details. Terrorists somehow managed to infiltrate every branch of the British military and local law enforcement, thereby delaying any actionable response by U.S. government officials and leaving Mike to battle it out for the soul of the free world.

Or something like that. As a political drama, London Has Fallen sticks pretty close to a reactionary position, as in ‘kill them all and let God sort it out later.’ Everyone is a suspected terrorist, enabling Mike to kill them all and ask questions never. It makes for an invigorating cinematic experience for those with a taste for dumb, violent, 1980s-style action movies. Yet it’s a distinctly uncomfortable and possibly offensive movie for anyone opposed to the idea of violence replacing thoughtful discussion.

The film opens wide in theaters throughout Dallas on Friday, March 4.

Review: ‘5 Flights Up’

'5 Flights Up' (Focus World)
‘5 Flights Up’ (Focus World)
In Richard Loncraine’s 5 Flights Up (originally titled Ruth and Alex when it played at the Toronto Film Festival in the fall of last year), the story of a couple aging gracefully is far from its main objective, especially since the couple in question are played by spunky pros like Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman.

Instead of choosing to focus on the troubling or venerable aspects of the autumn years (i.e. Alzheimer’s or a debilitating sickness), the film navigates the simple but highly displeasurable vagaries of selling and buying within the modern day real estate market. In New York City no less. From that streamlined idea, 5 Flights Up manages to spin a warm, lived-in narrative supported by the effortless performances of Keaton and Freeman.

And since Freeman is in the film, we understand that means his majestic, stony voice will serve as the omniscient narrator. Out for a sunny morning walk with his dog, Dorothy, ageing painter Alex (Freeman) explains the shifting dynamics of his Brooklyn neighborhood. Replete with “hipsters” and Wall Street hotshots now, it’s a place that feels as if it’s passing him and his wife Ruth (Keaton) by the wayside. Sadly, what older neighborhood doesn’t seem to be self-imploding and restructuring itself lately, partly out of economic boom or bust but mostly due to any city’s inherent lack of self preservation? Just look at my own downtown Dallas for veritable proof.

And even more demanding on Alex is the flight of steps he traverses every day to reach his apartment. From that humble (but oh so true) set of obstacles, the couple have decided to place their home on the market, led by niece and go-getter real estate agent Lilly (Cynthia Nixon).

From there, 5 Flights Up devotes itself to presenting the ebb and flow of potential buyers, bidding wars, urgent cell phone conversations and Ruth and Alex’s own desire to acquire their own new home. It becomes a head-spinning charade, never losing sight of the sheer vapidity of most real estate surfers and agents.

Interspersed among this hectic 24 hours, Alex begins to think back on his relationship to Ruth, including their first day in the apartment, her own family’s outright hesitancy about the possible mixed-race marriage, and their first meeting as students when she arrived to be his portrait model. As the younger version of themselves, Korey Jackson and Alanna Blair emit wonderful chemistry together, which only serves to strengthen our attachment to them in the present tense.

Despite its at times cloy characterizations of other people around Ruth and Alex, and one subplot that feels a bit forced in its attempt to serve as a dramatic counterpoint, 5 Flights Up never loses its amiable charm or grace about this couple we care about. There are no great emotional upheavals (unless you’re a dog lover) and it underlines the basic tenants of feel-good older adult cinema with ease. It also proves that watching great actors like Keaton and Freeman still producing terrific work means Hollywood hasn’t quite bought into their own version of self-implosion just yet.

The film opens in Dallas at LOOK Cinemas on Friday, May 8.

Review: Tom Cruise Can’t Lift ‘Oblivion’ Into Orbit

Tom Cruise and Olga Kurylenko in Joseph Kosinski's 'Oblivion' (Universal Pictures)
Tom Cruise and Olga Kurylenko in Joseph Kosinski’s ‘Oblivion’ (Universal Pictures)

Joseph Kosinski and an army of talented technicians have buffed and polished Oblivion to a high-gloss sheen. The film looks and sounds spectacular in true, giant-sized IMAX, as at the Cinemark 17 IMAX Theatre, and is briskly paced so as to allow little time for dawdling. And the lead performance by Tom Cruise bolsters the visuals with gut-level sincerity.

Indeed, Oblivion takes off with much sound and fury, establishing a future in which the Earth repelled an alien invasion, thus “winning” the war, but losing because the planet was irredeemably damaged. Most of surviving mankind has been successfully transplanted over the past 50 years to a distant moon, where water is badly needed. Thus, special machines have been installed, sucking up the oceans for transfer to mankind’s new home. Automated and fully weaponized drones guard the machines from Scavengers, as the remants of the alien invasion force are known. Sometimes the drones need repairs and maintenance, requiring a skeleton crew of drone repairmen to do mop-up duty on Earth.

Jack (Tom Cruise) is one of the repairmen, teamed with Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). They are stationed at a mile-high sky tower; Jack heads off every day to make his rounds in a bubble ship — a cross between a helicopter and a jet fighter — while Victoria remains behind at the sky tower, manning a bank of computers and displays to keep him apprised of any potential dangers, and maintain communication with Sally (Melissa Leo), their supervisor at the space station that overseas the final operations before Earth is permanently abandoned.

With only two weeks left on their assignment, Jack and Victoria are eager to finish up their service and join the rest of mankind, but Jack is plagued by dreams of a distant Earth, before the alien invasion, recurring dreams in which a lovely young woman plays a starring role. One day a spacecraft crashes to Earth, bringing the drones to destroy it, but Jack arrives just in time to realize that humans were in the spacecraft and to rescue one survivor, who looks very much like the lovely young woman in his dreams.

Soon enough, the young woman, Julia (Olga Kurylenko), reveals her true identity to Jack, a shock to his system that is compounded by a meeting with a mysterious “Scavenger” known as Beech (Morgan Freeman). Jack must wrestle with issues of love, romance, identity, and the fate of mankind, and quickly! Because time is running out.

Taking place in a desolate, post-apocalyptic Earth where, nonetheless, many iconic buildings appear, Oblivion presents a sun-bleached future, one that is perhaps explained by the aliens’ destruction of the Moon, but which doesn’t begin to comment on the design of the super-cool weapons, ships, and sky towers. Powered by a rumbling musical score by M83, Oblivion races through sequences with a facile agility, anchored by Cruise’s rock-solid foundation.

While the set-up is sufficiently engaging, perplexing questions start to accumulate quickly as to character motivations, delineations, and narrative destinations. The questions venture too far into spoiler territory for discussion in a review of this sort, but they are pushed aside and then never resolved. This means that the film as a whole is disappointing because Kosinski and multiple screenwriters (of whom only Karl Gajdusek and Michael DeBruyn receive credit for the screenplay, with Kosinski credited for original story) do not bring anything particularly new or startling to the familiar ingredients that they have borrowed from many other science-fiction books and movies.

To mention one aspect that is not a spoiler, Jack goes “off communications” to visit a hidden valley that is a verdant paradise, where he has plenty of water — a commodity we’re led to believe is in short supply on the Earth because it’s being siphoned off to replenish makind on that distant moon — and has built a cabin, filled with mementos that he has salvaged from the ruins of the planet. No explanation is given as to how he has created this water-filled paradise, nor are we informed how he manages to keep it from being detected by the all-knowing drone ships and their networked information from the orbiting space station. It exists as a rather obvious plot device, outside of common sense and reason.

Beyond Cruise, the other members of the cast, which includes Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Zoe Bell, are given only a small range in which to play, which they handle ably. Claudio Miranda, who just won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography for Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, brings a similar bright look to the film, which has a relatively small amount of green-screen work. Kosinski and Miranda previously made Tron: Legacy together, which was a similar visual treat.

In only his outing as a feature film director, Joseph Kosinski proves that is more than capable as a world-builder. But he has yet to demonstrate a commensurate vision as far as his characters or stories are concerned. Oblivion is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go as far as it thinks it does.

Oblivion opens April 19, wide across the Metroplex. The only giant-sized, true IMAX location where it is playing is at the Cinemark 17 in Dallas.