Angel Has Fallen 2019 ****

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Mike Banning (Gerry Butler) is a burnt-out case. His health is failing, his emotional range is narrowing, he barely recognises his own wife. Of course, that could be because she’s not played by the same actress (Radha Mitchell) as in the first two films, Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen, but Banning’s loyalty to the President is unshakable. Aaron Eckhart clearly didn’t fancy a third outing either, so Morgan Freeman is hurriedly sworn in as Commander In Chief Allan Trumbull for Ric Roman Waugh’s cheeky and entertaining film. Trumbull comes under attack from an airborne army of explosive drones, and in the eyes of the authorities, Banning is linked to this treasonous act of terrorism. Fleeing the scene, Banning hides out with his estranged dad, played by Nick Nolte in a full Yosemite Sam/Dirty Santa/prospector peeing–through-his-knee length beard get-up (‘I don’t do medication,’ says Nolte, in a knowing wink to the audience). Banning and his dad set out to find out who was responsible, while FBI agent Jada Pinkett Smith is in hot pursuit in the style of The Fugitive. Although various personnel have jumped ship, Angel Has Fallen is easily the best of the trilogy, and arguably Butler’s best action film yet. Decent support (Danny Huston, Tim Blake Nelson) and improved action scenes including a truck chase through a forest, and a slam-bang shoot-out in a high-tech hospital climax that really deliver the goods. And hewn-from-granite leading man Butler is the happy centre that a straight-forward action movie requires; lily-livered liberal film critics may scoff, but a big man, a big gun and instant justice will make Angel Has Fallen a guilty pleasure for all sides of the political spectrum.

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Race With The Devil 1975 ***

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A film-loving friend suggested trying to imagine the definitive 70’s movie; The Great Smokey Mountain Carquake and Orangutan In a Trans-am were the (fictional) winning entries. Race with the Devil would do just as well; Jack Starrett’s 1975 horror-action hybrid attempts to capture the mid-70’s angst by fusing demonology with hard driving; the late Peter Fonda was the ideal centre for this film. Roger Marsh (Fonda) and his pal Frank (Warren Oates) grab their girls (Loretta Swit and Lara Parker) and head into the desert with their RV and motorbikes, only to come across Satanists; the result is, quite literally, a race with the devil. There’s a few staples of 70’s cinema here, from distrust of authorities to a downbeat ending, but there’s also a sense of fun; if you mash up Deliverance, Easy Rider and The Exorcist, this is exactly what you get.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/race-with-the-devil/id759908747

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry **** 1974

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(This review renosed and updated after the death of Peter Fonda in August 2019). On the back of his Easy Rider success, Hollywood didn’t know what to do with Peter Fonda, and he was shoe-horned into a number of vehicles in the hope of capturing a youth audience. Some of them, notably Race With The Devil, are great fun, and probably the best of Fonda’s work in this period is Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. Finding a sweet spot between the road-hippie odyssey of Easy Rider and the sunny automotive destruction of Smokey and the Bandit, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry cast Peter Fonda and Susan George as the titular ex-NASCAR driver and his girl as they evade the attentions of a corrupt sheriff and somehow strike a blow for all-American freedom by causing pile-ups and car smashes. The final helicopter chase is a high-water-mark of stunt-work, well handled by John Hough, and the ending is a absolute one-off that sticks in your mind forever. Simultaneously sociopathic and patriotic, it’s an anti-establishment drama without the politics, and shows Fonda’s free-wheeling charisma and anti-hero styling at its best.

Stick 1985 ***

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For a man who turned down the roles of Han Solo, James Bond and Terms of Endearment, Burt Reynolds sure could pick a loser, but he made periodic attempts to reclaim his status as a box-office draw. Stick should have been a back-to-basics hit, with a good Elmore Leonard script adapted from his own novel, plus strong support for Candice Bergen, Charles During and George Segal. Reynolds directs himself, and that’s no bad thing either; his Sharkey’s Machine was one of the best vehicles for his charm, and he even adopts a sleeveless blouson much like the one he had in Deliverance here. The result opened at number one at the American box-office, one of the last Reynolds films to do so; it’s not great, but it’s better than its reputation suggests.

Stick (Reynolds) gets out of jail, and teams up with an old friend for a drug deal that goes south. Stick needs somewhere to hide, and takes a job working for a millionaire (Segal) and his wife (Bergen), while plotting revenge on the cartel boss who wronged him. Stick climaxes with a dull burst of machine gun action that reeks of studio interference, and which both Reynolds and Leonard disowned. But there’s some smart dialogue here, plus some strong stunt-work, Durning and Segal both do nice character turns, and Reynolds isn’t awful the way most of his 80’s films find him. He plays slow and laconic; perhaps audiences couldn’t get over the smarmy cameos, fourth-wall breaking grins and other affectations Reynolds had previously self-sabotaged himself with, but his Stick goes through the gears effectively enough.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw *** 2019

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There’s never been a Fast & Furious film that wasn’t likeable in some way; there have been genuine rewards those hardly souls who gathered round the flaming dumpster fire of 2 Fast 2 Furious, complete with it’s interactive DVD opening, allowing you to join the story has various characters. For the record, the best are probably the decidedly untypically small-scale Tokyo Drift and the epic Rio Heist, but there’s decent action scenes in them all. These are old-fashioned popcorn movies, self-contained, drawing in fading stars like magnets, leavened with crude humour and stereotypes, topped off with doses of sentiment about family; this latest has a speech about how machines are not important that’s about as hypocritical as Rocky IV’s focus on Russian technology vs spartan American training techniques; ie the picture is completely inverted.

Fast and Furious is largely about the toys, but there need to be men to drive them, and with Paul Walker’s demise, these men must be bald and middle aged. Vin Diesel presumably has other things to do, so The Rock and Jason Stratham are drafted in to fuel the testosterone. Both have charisma and a great comic touch, but Hobbs and Shaw doesn’t make much of these natural resources, nor do much with Idris Elba’s superhuman villain. Taking the family theme from the last few Fast movies, the focus is on Shaw’s sister (Vanessa Kirkby) who has injected herself with some kind of plague virus that might end all human life. Hobbs and Shaw put aside their differences to save her, turning to Hobbs’s mother and brother in Samoa. The climax involves a clutch of vehicles attached to a helicopter over a cliff-edge; in the days of CGI screen-work, there’s no sense of danger involved, just excess. Other set pieces, on the side of a London building, a chase around the streets of Glasgow (doubling for London), a disused factory in Moscow, are impressive without offering anything unique.

Ryan Reynolds, presumably as a favour to director Deadpool director David Leitch, gets dragged into the ongoing action, as does Helen Mirren. It would be nice to think that a few of Hobbs and Shaw’s audience might feel inspired to see Mirren’s earlier work, like Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man or Age of Consent. She’s here, one supposes, as a sop to older audiences dragged along by their kids, and puts on a ridiculous accent as some kind of gangster fairy godmother. She’s having a laugh, which is probably the only thing to do in such ridiculous circumstances.

Dragged Across Concrete 2018 ****

Dragged-Across-Concrete-TrailerThere’s a large section of the worldwide film-going audience who have no idea that S Craig Zahler exists. Bone Tomahawk, Riot in Cell Block 99 and Dragged Across Concrete all made an impact on critics and cult movie fans alike, but that mainstream breakthrough has proved elusive. But it will come; if you know anyone who claims to be bored with CGI, feels that modern films are not tough or realistic, and yearns for the days of Sam Peckinpah or Don Siegel, then advise them to buckle up, because S. Craig Zahler is going to be right up their alley. Dragged Across Concrete is a heist-gone-wrong movie that should leave viewers feeling as if they’ve been dragged across concrete; that 159 minute run-time is gruelling, but also exhilarating. Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn are two cops who get suspended by boss Lt Calvert (Don Johnson) for police brutality. Ridgeman (Gibson) has financial difficulties, and an armoured car robbery is mooted as one way out of the hole. Meanwhile Henry Johns (Tory Kittles) exits the slammer to find a changed world; unwisely, he signs up to be part of Ridgeman’s crew. Although Dragged Across Concrete is deliberately slow, it locates most of the drama within the action of the heist itself, making the action absorbing and frequently painful to watch; Zahler is clearly fascinated by violence, but he’s alert to the moral decay around it, and links each character in a series of death-grips that extend to the final scene. Udo Kier, Thomas Kretschmann and Fred Melamed contribute some short but telling cameos, and the whole vibe has a bleak, early 70’s vibe. Dragged Across Concrete is a tough, nasty crime-story, a jet-black shot of urban mayhem that should thrill even the most jaded thrill-seeker.

On digital download in the UK from Aug 12th, on DVD from Aug 19th 2019.

Prisioners of the Lost Universe 1982 ***

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Terry Marcel is an unheralded figure, but his unique comic book sensibilities seemed probably out of step with both the 70’s and 80’s. He went from first and second AD on projects as diverse as Straw Dogs and Pink Panther films to taking the directorial reigns on cult classic Hawk the Slayer and comic-strip revival Jane and the Lost City. He’s got a certain swashbuckling style that was never matched by his budgets; together with producer and musical maestro Harry Robertson, they wrote the script for Prisoners of the Universe, a very 1982 project involving time-travelling portals; HG Wells’ The Time Machine, or at least George Pal’s version, seems to be a jumping-off point. And what a jump; Battlestar Galactica’s Richard Hatch is Dan, a man in a truck involved in a highway crash with Carrie (Kay Lenz) during a series of earth tremors. She visits the home of Dr Hartmann (Kenneth Hendel) a scientist who has constructed a portal to another dimension, and doesn’t see any reason by an earthquake might hinder his experiment, The three of them are transported a lost universe that looks exactly like a South African scrubland with some trees with paper plates attached, ruled with an iron fist by Kleel (John Saxon), who makes General Zod look like a social worker. There’s a giant who looks a lot like the late Greek singer Demis Roussos, talking geese, a midget thief and a number of the oddities which marked Hawk the Slayer, plus the kind of chat that grabs the attention; ‘This may only work on snakes who like music’ and ‘What am I supposed to do with a mad scientist for an hour?’ both rack up the points on the bad dialogue scoreboard in the first five minutes. Saxon, looking like Sean Connery’s stunt double and enjoying himself as usual, is something of a blast here, with plentiful catch-phrases and uncertain horse-manship; the actor had his fans in the US, but in the UK, John Saxon’s popularity dictates that his face appears on coins and stamps, and lucrative government grants are available to film theorists who can prove they’ve seen over fifty of his films. That’s not actually true, but it should be; meanwhile in a parallel universe that looks at lot like ours, Marcel’s daughter Rosie wrote the screenplay for Fifty Shades of Grey; fans of bad movie dialogue can connect the dots themselves.