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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French Connection II 1975 ****

French-Connection-IIAlthough it was released as The French Connection Number 2 in the UK, one of the claims to fame of John Frankenheimer’s sequel is that it started the trend of Roman numerals after the title. Otherwise, French Connection II is not exactly a classic sequel; it doesn’t have the NYC setting, only a couple of returning characters, no car chase, and offers a very different mood to William Friedkin’s scuzzy Oscar-winner. Friedkin wasn’t interested either, but Hackman presumably liked the idea of retuning to the role of cop Popeye Doyle, arriving in Marseilles without any French and falling foul of hoods and police alike on the trail of Frog One (Fernando Rey). Most reviewers focus on a lengthy rehab scene after Doyle is shot full of heroin, and while Hackman’s commitment and performance levels are admirable, it derails the energy of the movie  without upping the stakes and is probably the reason that it’s not as fondly remembered. But The French Connection’s ambiguous ending left room for a satisfying sequel, and there’s lots of vigorous cops and robbers action to enjoy here, including a big-scale docklands shoot-out, a raid on a drug-packaging and distribution plant, and some great bits of business with Doyle; expressing remorse after blowing a fellow cops cover, forming a wordless bond with a barman, or hitching a ride on a garbage truck to avoid a tail, Hackman inhabits this signature role so well that, even if it’s not quite the original, Frankenheimer’s thriller has a weather-beaten style of its own.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters ***

GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERSThe third entry in Legendary’s constantly creaking MonsterVerse franchise is a somewhat turgid affair, lit by a few bright moments and performances. With Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla offering action but little to remember in terms of cast or character, Michael Dougherty’s sequel pulls a new family to the fore, with Godzilla-experts and concerned parents Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga struggling with a marriage in free-fall and their daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) caught in the middle. Meanwhile the Monarch group featured in the first two films has plans to revive over a dozen sleeping monsters from various locations, with Godzilla assigned to sweep up the mess when things get out of hand. King of the Monsters has a better cast than it deserves, including Sally Hawkins and Charles Dance, but it’s Millie Bobby Brown that really makes an impact and provides an original through-line for an otherwise rote monster-movie. With Ken Wantanabe regularly popping up to solemnly intone platitudes about Godzilla being our friend, King of the Monsters never convincingly marries the large-scale carnage with the human drama; a pity, because Madison’s character is considerably more compelling than Godzilla himself.

The Bride of Frankenstein 1935 ****

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Striking as the appearance of Boris Karloff in the original 1931 Frankenstein film is, the film itself is pretty hard going; the camera barely moves, and early scenes are like a filmed play, stiff as a board. Allowed to revisit his creation in 1935, James Whale’s sequel is a much jollier affair, with Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) goaded by rival Dr Pretorius (a rampant Ernest Thesiger) to create a mate in the iconic form of Elsa Lanchester. Whale plays things for dry but genuine laughs, and there’s fascinating special effects when Dr Pretorius unveils the tiny bottled creatures he’s been nurturing. A sequel that’s not cut from the same cloth as the original, The Bride of Frankenstein is probably an improvement.

 

Airport 80: The Concorde ***

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A camp classic from the ‘so-bad-its-good’ file, David Lowell Rich’s franchise killer can now be enjoyed as a comedy classic. It’s a indication of the idiocy involved that George Kennedy’s Joe Patrioni, responsible for clearing the runway in the first film, is now promoted to flying to Concorde from Washington DC to Paris, and then to Moscow, while Robert Wagner attempts to shoot it down with guided missiles. The cast is random rather than eclectic, featuring Sylvia Kristel, Charo, David Warner, Mercedes McCambridge and Alain Delon as Patrioni’s co-pilot, and the scenes in which the pilots shoot down missiles with flare gun through open cockpit windows while flying at supersonic speeds defy logic, invention and the woeful blue-screen work of the special effect team.

Amityville 3D 1983 ***

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When a horror franchise ‘jumps the shark’, it’s usually because they’ve moved away from whatever made the original formula work; After two reasonably sober entries, claiming to be based on real life experiences, veteran director Richard Fleischer took the franchise into hokey new territory with Amityville 3D. No longer confined to flies and bumps in the night, Amityville 3D goes for bug-eyed monsters and literally blows the house to pieces as a gateway to hell opens up beneath the house. Tony Roberts, from Stardust Memories, plays the non-believer who is quickly convinced of the house’s powers, with a youthful Meg Ryan amongst those caught in the trap. The 3D is used for amusingly cheap effects, as Frisbees, construction poles and more are thrust towards the camera, making for a enjoyably daffy romp.

Psycho II 1983 ***

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One of the few sequels that merit comparison with the original, Richard Franklin’s 1983 thriller returns to the Bates Motel with Anthony Perkins returning after 22 years in a mental institution and Vera Miles returning as Lila Loomis, and Meg Tilly as her daughter. Norman’s troubled mind is immediately disturbed by the surroundings, but Tom Holland’s script ingenuously reworks many of the tropes of the original Hitchcock film, with the local people keen to knock Norman off his stride by driving him mad. Jerry Goldsmith contributes an excellent score, and Psycho II’s twists and turns make for a stylish entry in the series, strong on suspense and light on gore.