Monthly Archives: July 2013

A Week In Film #245: Fan down

Olympus Has Fallen title screen

Olympus Has Fallen
Po-faced and leaden action adventure about a Secret Service agent weighed down by guilt having to step up and rescue the day when the White House is attacked by terrorists and the President endangered.

Gerard Butler as the hero is alright, but hardly in the John McClane liveability league. A shame, seeing as it blatantly borrows from the Die Hard concept. Well, that and Air Force One, In The Line Of Fire, 24 etc. That said, the actual storming of the White House was very effectively handled.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua, so about par for the course. Aaron Eckhart is irritatingly square-jawed as the Commander in Chief, though nice to see Homicide alumna Melissa Leo in a fairly decent role. Having North Koreans as the bad guys was a bit lazy.

White House Down title screen

White House Down
Now, this was the film Olympus Has Fallen should have tried to be – you know, action but also humour.

Channing Tatum is the slightly rubbish DC cop who tries to become a Secret Service agent to impress his estranged daughter, who is obsessed by the President (Jamie Foxx) and all things White House-related. In the course of attending his interview – with none other than his old schoolmate Maggie Gyllenhaal, who of course remembers him as a slacker – terrorists attack, place the President in jeopardy, separate cop from his daughter etc.

And that’s how you do it. Likeable reluctant hero with human goals, not a superhuman super agent whose idea of a bon mot is to threaten to stick a knife in your head.

Amusingly, despite not going the North Koreans-as-the-enemy route, White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen both share some key plot points – the importance of the PEOC bunker, reliance on traitors, authority being passed to the Speaker after the Vice President, women Secret Service agents being in charge (Gyllenhaal here, Angela Bassett in the other one), that sort of thing.

The steals from Die Hard are impressive: here our main man sports a McClane-ish white vest; there’s a great team of oddball terrorists; there’s a lift scene; jolly quips; a feisty family member; and a twisty bit right at the end (though massively signposted).

Directed by Roland Emmerich, and probably the first of his I’ve ever actually liked. Well orchestrated, except for the aftermath scenes with masses of uniformed extras wandering around like they’re at a county fair rather than securing the area around the site of the world’s most spectacular terrorist incident. Small quibble, though.

Joh's Jury title screen

Joh’s Jury
I had for some considerable time been trying to get hold of a copy of this film, which dramatises the deliberations of twelve men good and true in the 1991 perjury trial of former Queensland premier, Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen.

An Australian TV movie, with all the limitations that implies, about a somewhat obscure (in the global scheme of things) political footnote, I found it to be an absorbing drama. My viewing companion thought otherwise (“The most boring thing you’ve ever made me watch”). The familiar tropes – arguments in a small room – of a jury panel picture were all there, but so too was a unique sense of tension, where there were no miraculous conversions, no sudden epiphanies over the evidence, no magic bullets. Instead, a dozen pretty ordinary people, none amazing orators, none Machiavellian geniuses, none heroes or villains, squabble and shout and argue and go round and round in circles.

Written with panache by Ian David, who also penned the seminal Aussie inspired-by-true-events crime drama Blue Murder, as well as Police State and Police Crop, two more teleplays in a similar vein also apparently well-regarded. More recently he wrote the Killing Time series based on crims’ lawyer-of-choice Andrew Fraser.

In the director’s chair – and this is not a movie of great visual flair – is Ken Cameron, who also worked with David on Police Crop, but is probably better known to UK audiences from such imported series such as Brides Of Christ and Bangkok Hilton. On top of those, I also enjoyed his The Clean Machine, a fictionalised film about a new squad of police ‘untouchables’ rooted in the real life corruption scandals that rocked Queensland in the 1980s and which inform the background of Joh’s Jury.

In terms of actors, there are some familiar faces: an early turn for Noah Taylor as irritable younger juror Brad; Norman Yemm – an Aussie TV exemplar of the values of mateship in shows as diverse as The Sullivans, Prisoner and Neighbours; John Jarratt (Wolf Creek); Malcolm Kennard (Matrix Reloaded; and so on.

 Skyfall title screen

Very happily surprised at this – with the usual caveats. The nice rebooting-the-reboot touches were not overly signalled. The action scenes were well managed (and thankfully the stuff that was in the trailer appeared mostly to be top loaded into the first third of the film). Excellent villain. Less turning for the camera. Not gadget-heavy. And beautifully staged and photographed – the Shanghai wet job punch up, the Scottish night time finale, the deserted island all looked particularly splendid – by director Sam Mendes and DP Roger Deakins.

On the downside – and yes, it is a Bond movie – Mallory chairing the ISC despite apparently not being a Parliamentarian grated, as did the very public holding of the hearing, the crap security and all that. Given the clear efforts to build up the part of Silva into more than just a cut-out baddie, one would hope that the rest of the script could also have been tightened up to be less cartoonish.

Enjoyed Bond (mostly) keeping his trousers on, M being a bit crap, Bardem owning the screen, and both Fiennes and Whishaw laying down his marker.

A Week In Film #244: A couple more

Dr. No title screen
Dr. No
The first James Bond film, and the first time ever I’ve seen it. Rather plodding compared to modern films, but absolutely sharing DNA with more recent, incessantly episodic and nonsensical 007 efforts. Something about SPECTRE blocking American missiles or something.

Red Dawn (2012) title screen
Red Dawn (2012)
The troubled remake of the silly 1980s John Milius flag-waver, and it’s pretty decent for what it is, with a bunch of small-town American teens going maverick when faced with an invasion of evil North Koreans(!). Much less unenjoyable than I’d been led to believe, but perhaps not as good overall as the Aussie Tomorrow When The War Began.

Le Chagrin Et La Pitié title screen
Le Chagrin Et La Pitié AKA The Sorrow And The Pity
Impressive 1969 documentary about occupation and collaboration in France during World War Two, featuring extensive interviews with surviving Vichystes, resistants, functionaries, civilians and soldiers on all sides. Apparently not broadcast until 1981.

A Week In Film #242: First time in ages

World War Z title screen

World War Z
First time in a picture palace for some time, so a big blockbustery slice of shock-and-awe seemed in order. Brad Pitt is a clever dude of some description who must go on a global mission to find stuff out and halt the zombie apocalypse. The odd nice big set piece, but hardly great. Distasteful bit about the apartheid wall in Israel/Palestine jarred, too.