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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Mission Impossible: Fallout 2018 *****

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The Mission Impossible formula has improved with each film, to the point where Rogue Nation was a franchise high. About the only problem with Fallout is that it replicates the elements of the previous film so specifically, but that’s hardly a problem when a perfect summer blockbuster is the result. Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is once again thrown into the action against Solomon Lane (Sean Ellis, last seen being dropped into a glass cube in the previous film). For reasons that are deliberately confusing to explain, Hunt inveigles his way into a terrorist organisation and win the contract to burst his nemesis out of jail. The heist scene, set in Paris, is brilliantly foreshadowed by a scene in which Hunt imagines the consequences of failure; unlike most blockbusters, Fallout sets the stakes, personal and political, at a high level, and all the action, including grandstanding foot, motorbike and helicopter chases, is more intense as a result. The spy-games keep you guessing until a lavish denouement set in the mountains, with rapid toggling between ratios reflecting the influence of Chris Nolan. Chris McQuarrie does a great job here, mixing intrigue, suspense and humour with the deftness of a classic Hollywood film.

Nighthawks 1980 ***

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Riding high on the back of Rocky, Sylvester Stallone didn’t find a second franchise until First Blood; Nighthawks was originally planned as a French Connection sequel until it was tailored to Stallone’s tough guy persona. Directed by Bruce Malmuth, Nighthawks sees NYC cop Deke DaSilva tracking down ruthless terrorist Wulfgar (Rutger Hauer), with assistance from Billy Dee Williams and the late Nigel Davenport. Nighthawks is a good little action film, not overblown and with some tense sequences, including a nightclub shootout and a memorably efficient ending. Wulfgar’s character is particularly interesting with a clinical rationale for his actions and a belief that his brand of terrorism equals liberation in the long run. He gets short shrift from a bearded Stallone, making for a gripping, involving cat and mouse game.

Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry 2001 ***

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If the title is strange, the remainder of Peter Tickel’s 2000 film is equally bizarre, adapted from the cult novel by BS Johnson to shocking, often amusing affect. Nick Moran is Christy Malry, a mild-mannered mother’s boy who makes his living in London as an accountant. He devises a book-keeping trope in which he attempts to balance the wrongs and rights of society, and takes things into his own hands with explosive results in the style of Fight Club. Shirley Ann Field plays Christy’s mother, and the whole thing has a prescient, pre September 11th feel, with Tickel’s film quite ambivalent about Malry’s destructive plans. An unconventional, visionary work, there are obvious reasons why this film was not seen by mainstream audiences, but lovers of the arcane will be fully rewarded for seeking it out. Music by Luke Haines.

Wrong Is Right 1982 ***

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Also known as The Man With The Deadly Lens, writer/director Richard Brooks adapts a novel by Charles McCarry called The Better Angels. Sean Connery stars as TV newsman Patrick Hale, who discovers that two stolen nuclear bombs in suitcase are the catalyst for an exploration of late 70’s geopolitics that eerily predates the Iraq war; even the World Trade Centre finds itself under threat. The intention of Brooks’ film is satirical, but amidst the escalating absurdity, Wrong Is Right does a good job in nailing sociological tends in both media and politics, presumably the reason this film is so rarely seen.

Rosebud 1975 ***

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Director Otto Preminger’s star was on the wane by the mid-seventies, with debacles like Hurry Sundown and Skidoo following on from classics like Laura and Exodus. But 1975 thriller Rosebud has an unusual premise, as terrorists board a yacht and kidnap a group of teenage girls who fathers are rich industrialists. Rosebod has an even more unusual hero in a milk-drinking reporter (Peter O’Toole) who is engaged to track the terrorists down, with the clues pointing to British Muslim (Sir Richard Attenborough). Preminger’s film takes its time to meander through some local colour, but the final raid sequence is ingeniously thought out, and the geo-political landscape of 1975 will seem familiar to modern audiences. Early roles for Isabelle Huppert, Kim Cattrall and Dr Who companion Lalla Ward complete the garnish for this neglected film.

Black Sunday 1977 ***

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Despite testing better than Star Wars and Jaws, Black Sunday didn’t become the late 70’s sensation that producer Robert Evans anticipated on the back of his hits Chinatown and Marathon Man. But Black Sunday is a thrillingly chilling trackdown thriller with Robert Shaw as an Israeli agent knows as The Final Solution. He’s on the trail of Bruce Dern as a disillusioned Vietnam vet who plans to load a Goodyear blimp full of explosives and crashing in into the Super-bowl during play.  A pre Hannibal Lecter Thomas Harris’s novel provides some tense scenes, including a pre-Scanners exploding head, and tight screenwriting with North By Northwest’s Ernest Lehman. The variable effects in the grandstanding final sequence, shot during a real Superbowl, let the film down, but it’s easy to see why Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan saw that influenced Kill Bill and The Dark Knight Rises.