Tag Archives: Gerard Butler

London Has Fallen (2016)

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I don’t care what anyone says; Olympus Has Fallen is an awesome action movie, warts and all. It may be outrageous, egregious, preposterous, but it’s still a damn exciting, all guns blazing, all balls baring popcorn thrill ride that deserves its nickname, “Die Hard in the White House.” Die Hard, by the way, is in my opinion the best action movie of all time.

And so I ignored the naysayers and forked out my money on the sequel, London Has Fallen, notwithstanding its 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 28% score on Metacritic. I’m telling ya, there are people out there like me who enjoy these kind of stupid movies, or else they wouldn’t have made a sequel for US$60 million. Oh, and for those who say White House Down was better, where’s the sequel for that?

Okay, first the bad news. London Has Fallen treks perilously close to the edge. There will no doubt be people offended by this movie, and I don’t doubt there are those who call it racist, xenophobic and fear-mongering. It doesn’t take anyone’s feelings into consideration for the sake of  cheap entertainment, nor does it apologise for having the fall to kill hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent people, including major world leaders.

Secondly, if you thought the first film was ridiculous, then you are in for a real treat. London Has Fallen takes the insanity to a whole new level, and there are no words I can conjure up from my shitty vocabulary that can do it justice. Suffice it to say it won’t be winning any awards for realism, adherence to gravity, and lack of plot holes.

Thirdly, the special effects, I’m afraid to say, aren’t first class. There’s no shortage of destruction and explosions in this film,   though a good chunk of it looks too fake for a movie made in 2016. I’m not talking Sharknado territory, but for a moderate Hollywood budget it’s a little on the weak side. While I can let some of the architectural collapses slide, the billows of black smoke are obviously CGI. Hey, at least they’re eco-friendly.

Now that I’ve gotten the negatives out of the way, I’m going to come out and admit that I also enjoyed this sequel a lot. It’s actually refreshing to see an action film these days that doesn’t give a crap what anyone thinks, that doesn’t bow down to political correctness or sensitivities of the modern world. While it goes contrary to my personal feelings on terrorism (to be fair, it does touch the surface of the complexities on the subject but remains unapologetically Team America), I applaud how it doesn’t let such considerations get in the way of delivering some of the most batshit crazy action I’ve ever witnessed on the big screen.

The premise is delicious: the British Prime Minister carks it, prompting leaders from around the world to congregate in London for the funeral. And what’d ya know, terrorists unleash absolute mayhem on the city, hell bent on revenge against the US President (Aaron Eckhart). The only man who can save him? Of course, the dude who did it last time, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), a one-man wrecking crew who is basically Jack Bauer, Jason Bourne, Liam Neeson and King Leonidas all rolled into one.

Returning to reprise their roles include Morgan Freeman as the US Vice-President, Radha Mitchell as Banning’s poor wife, Angela Bassett as the director of the US Secret Service, Robert Forster as the head of the Joint Chief of Staff, and Melissa Leo as the Secretary of Defense. That’s a heavy duty lineup right there, and I haven’t even mentioned the welcome additions of Jackie Earle Haley and Charlotte Riley. However, most of them don’t get to do much and are just there to bear witness to Banning’s epic rampage.

After the initial set-up, London Has Fallen speeds up and never takes its foot off the accelerator. It’s one car chase after another, one shootout after another, one hand-to-hand combat scene after another, one explosion after another, and one totally impossible situation after another. It’s basically two climatic episodes of 24 rolled into one (after the writers all had 10 beers each and just went “f&@$ it”).

Stylistically, the execution by Iranian-Swedish director Babak Najafi is pretty good. He’s not as well known as Antoine Fuqua from the first film, but I do like that he prefers to use moderately long cuts as opposed to rapid ones so we can actually see what’s going on. Despite all the mayhem on screen, I never once lost track of who was who or what was what.

If it’s a sin to find enjoyment in that sort of reckless entertainment then I’m guilty as charged. And it’s not like the film was taking itself that seriously — there are plenty of cheesy one-liners to remind us that they just want us to go along with them on this ludicrous escapist adventure. If audiences can accept the over-the-topness (that’s a word now) of say the Fast & Furious franchise then I don’t see why they can’t do so here.

My top qualm apart from the CGI is that, despite upping the ante from American politics into a global affair and escalating the stakes to go along with it, London Has Fallen doesn’t have quite the same amount of tension or intrigue as its predecessor. This is largely because Banning is rarely alone left to fend for himself and therefore we don’t get that same feeling of isolation and vulnerability. In Olympus Has Fallen he was doing his best John McClane impersonation, whereas this time he’s almost always got someone alongside him, whether it is the President or some MI6 operatives. That lone wolf quality we’ve seen with Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer and Bryan Mills and even John Wick just isn’t there this time, and it takes away one of the main reasons that made the original so awesome.

That said, while London doesn’t quite reach the heights of Olympus, it’s nonetheless a damn fun time at the cinema. Let go and embrace it for what it is. There’s no way anyone who goes in to see this film expects some kind of slick, intelligent action thriller that delves deep into the consequences of America’s war on terror. What you’re going to get is copious loads of crazy action, big stars, a healthy dose of cheese, and a movie experience that does the opposite of make you think. And we all need movies like that sometimes.

3.75 stars out of 5

Gods of Egypt (2016)

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The things parents do for their children.

When I first saw the trailer for Gods of Egypt, I thought to myself that the film looked like a total disaster. My eldest son, however, also saw the trailer, and he started obsessing over it because of all the crazy monsters the film seemed to feature.

And so after he finally proved himself last night by accumulating 20 good-boy stickers, I made good on my promise to take him to see the movie today.

You know what? I didn’t think it was that bad. At least my four-year-old still thinks it’s the best thing ever.

The story is taken from Egyptian mythology and imagines a flat world in which the gods live among the humans (they’re just bigger — like Yao Ming height — and can have superpowers such as morphing into powerful creatures with metal armour for some reason). I know how it sounds, but stay with me here.

Angry god Set (Gerard Butler doing his best bad King Leonidas impersonation), is pissed off that his brother Osiris (Bryan Brown) is turning the throne over to son Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and decides to take the crown by force, stealing something valuable from poor Horus in the process (yes, I also thought it was weird that Butler plays Coster-Waldau’s uncle). And the only person who can return the stolen item to Horus is a young thief named Bek (Brenton Thwaites), who happens to have a hot young girlfriend name Zaya (Courtney Eaton). Cue the adventure music.

Gods of Egypt has been more or less universally panned by critics, with a score of 13% on Rotten Tomatoes and 23% on Metacritic. Yes, it features copious amounts of CGI and some very fantastical character/monster designs. And yes, it is silly and campy and conventional in terms of plot. Having said that, I agree with Aussie director Alex Proyas (Dark City, I Robot, Knowing) in his scathing Facebook retort that audiences should see it for themselves and not write it off just because of what some critics are saying (I think that goes for all films). I think it’s unfortunate that there’s now a sort of peer pressure to agree with critics and it’s become “cool” to trash a film even when you haven’t seen it.

That applies especially in this case because, if you’ve seen the posters and/or the trailer, you should know what you’re in for: a whimsical adventure that doesn’t take itself seriously; a popcorn action flick that knows what it is trying to be; a CGI fest with lots of preposterous action, one-liners and corniness. And as great men once said: not that there’s anything wrong with that. If you like this kind of really far-fetched fantasy world stuff with magical monsters and talismans and all that crap, Gods of Egypt could be right up your alley.

That said, Gods of Egypt wasn’t really up my alley. I said it wasn’t that bad, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. I’m probably more predisposed to enjoy this movie than others because I do like stories based on ancient mythology. I’m one of the only people I know who liked Clash of the Titans and Wrath of the Titans. However, Gods of Egypt isn’t just a Titans clone wrapped around in Egyptian mythology instead of Greek — it’s a completely different type of film. It’s much less grounded plot-wise and a lot more vibrant and colourful visually. It’s even more reliant on CGI and impossible feats to tell its story. The comparison is akin to the contrast between The Da Vinci Code and National Treasure.

So theoretically, Gods of Egypt is a film that can be enjoyed, whitewashed casting notwithstanding. Admittedly, I had fun with the premise and thought some of the adventure sequences and fight scenes were executed quite well, making good use of terrain and cool creature designs to generate excitement and cheap thrills. It wasn’t as funny as I hoped it would be, though there are a few good one-liners in there. I wasn’t captivated, but I wasn’t bored either.

As it turned out, my problems with the movie are far more fundamental. The script is clunky as, with a storyline that jumps all over the place without ever getting a good grasp on the narrative thread. As simple as the story is supposed to be, it feels convoluted and filled with exposition (especially in the dialogue), though the biggest flaw is all the contrivances that are squeezed in to make the plot work. I remember multiple instances where I told myself, “Well that’s convenient!”

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The other Achilles heel of the film is the special effects. Due to the kind of bright, clear look that Proyas was aiming for (as opposed to dark and gritty, which would have made it easier to hide the CGI), everything in the movie looks rather fake. The shots of the city from afar look obviously animated, and the size difference between the humans and the gods feels much more awkward than it did (for elves, dwarves, hobbits, etc) in The Lord of the Rings. And those movies were was made more than a decade ago. The worst still has to be the metallic transformations of the gods, which look like they were taken straight out of a PS2 video game. All these flaws are accentuated on the big screen, and it’s hard to focus on the story and characters when you’re constantly distracted by how fake it looks.

Taking all this into account, it’s amazing that the performances aren’t horrible. Considering they must have been acting against green screens and inanimate objects most of the time, everyone on the cast gives it their best shot. Brenton Thwaites has a terrible wig on his head, but he does what he needs to do as the stereotypical humble human hero who accomplishes miraculous things. The same goes for Coster-Waldau, who channels “good” Jamie Lannister for the most part, as well as Butler, who tries to add some more layers to his otherwise conventional villain. It was good to see Elodie Yung (the new Elektra on Netflix’s Daredevil) show off her acting range as goddess Hathor, and Aussie starlet Courtney Eaton (last seen in Mad Max: Fury Road) serves her purpose as the love interest and cleavage supplier. The only weak link in my opinion was Chadwick Boseman, the future Black Panther, who seems to be exerting most of his effort on his British accent. Amazingly, the great Geoffrey Rush, who plays the Sun God Ra, manages to deliver his role with a completely straight face, when any other great actor probably would have given us yet another Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending.

Speaking of which, I’ve heard some label Gods of Egypt as this year’s Jupiter Ascending in that it’s a crazy mess of an action flick overwhelmed by CGI and flopped badly against a massive budget. I think it’s an apt analogy, though I was also one of those people who didn’t think Jupiter Ascending wasn’t as atrocious as critics made it out to be. Both are ambitious failures, but I applaud Proyas for having the balls to at least go for it and try something different. I like the vision he had for the film, but I think he just went a little (or a lot) overboard. A tighter script with more humour, less reliance on CGI, and none of that metallic monsters business, and Gods of Egypt might have been pretty good. Sadly, it will end up being remembered for all the wrong reasons, much like Clash and Wrath of the Titans, though that’s arguably still better than being completely forgotten, like Immortals (remember the Greek mythology film with Henry Cavill and Freida Pinto?).

As we stepped out of the cinema, my son started asking me about when they’re going to make a sequel to Gods of Egypt. He really enjoyed it that much. With a dumbfounding budget of US$140 million (plus much more on marketing) and current box office returns of just US$43 million, it breaks my heart to have to tell him that it’s probably not going to happen.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

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Little boys just love training their dragons. Following the relatively successful How To Train Your Dragon from 2010, Dreamworks is back to milk that cash cow, or more accurately, that cash dragon, with the sequel, How To Train Your Dragon 2.

I actually really enjoyed the original (review here), which was an entertaining, sweet little story about the friendship between a kid viking called Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his cute but powerful dragon Toothless. It’s not one of the more memorable animated features in recent years, but it’s in the upper echelons in terms of quality, excitement and fun.

In the sequel, Hiccup and Toothless are back, five years older and closer than ever. Pretty much all the old cast is back too, with Gerard Butler playing Hiccup’s father, Craig Ferguson as Butler’s right hand man, America Ferrera as Hiccup’s girlfriend and Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as fellow viking friends. Cate Blanchett also joins the cast as a female viking whom I won’t spoil.

Since learning about prejudice and making peace with the dragons in the first film, everyone in Hiccup’s village of Berk has changed for the better. But of course there is a brand new villain (Djimon Hounsou) hell bent on conquering all dragons for his own benefit, and it is up to Hiccup and Toothless to try and stop him with the help of their family and friends.

I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by How To Train Your Dragon 2, which is as good as its predecessor when it comes to visual thrills and tugging the heart strings. The story itself is relatively stock standard, predictable even, so film’s biggest strength lies in the stunning visuals from all the dragon-riding action sequences that make fine use of some creative and skilled camera work. The dragon designs, and especially all the beautiful mix of colours, really added to the visual feast the film provides.

It’s more or less a continuation of both Hiccup and Toothless’s coming of age, and I’m glad to say that the title is not misleading because there actually is more legitimate dragon training in the film. Like its predecessor, it’s not the funniest animated film out there, but How To Train Your Dragon 2 more than makes up for the dearth of laughs with the exciting action sequences and emotional resonance.

Last word: A good film for the family that builds upon the solid foundations of the original by taking things to a new level.

4 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: 300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

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Hard to believe, but Zack Snyder’s 300 was released in 2006. It came out to mixed reviews, but personally I found it to be a revelation, a campy, delightful bloodbath of stylized action and popcorn fun of the purest kind, the closest thing we have to a direct translation of a graphic novel to the big screen. There is also no other film that makes people want to work out more than this one.

There was talk of a sequel almost immediately after it became a big hit, but it has taken nearly 8 years for 300: Rise of an Empire to be made. Any time it takes that long for a sequel to be made (I even remember seeing posters and trailers as long as two years ago), you have to be concerned — is there a reason? Was it a troubled production? Were there financial difficulties?

I have no idea, frankly, but what I do know is that much of the goodwill leftover from the original had just about dissipated by the time this film came out. They left it too long, and fans of the first film had either forgotten how much they enjoyed it or hyped it up so much that the sequel was doomed to unrealistic expectations.

Directed by Noam Murro, 300: Rise of an Empire is not a direct sequel but rather a companion piece that examines events before, during and after the events in 300. There’s no Gerard Butler screaming “This. Is. Sparta!!!” this time, but his wife, played by Lena Headey, is still around looking like she just stepped off the set of Game of Thrones. The two central characters are General Themistocles, played by Aussie Sullivan Stapleton (who was brilliant in Animal Kingdom), and the ruthless naval commander Artemesia, played by the sultry Eva Green. Rodrigo Santoro returns as the God-King Xerxes (the man who killed Butler in the first film) and David Wenham also makes a cameo as Dilios, a survivor from the 300 (the one with bandages around one eye).

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The story is more convoluted that necessary, but essentially it’s all about Themistocles leading the Greeks against Artemesia’s Persian forces. The action is, like its predecessor, bloody and stylistic, with plenty of flying fluids and severed limbs interspersed with rapid and slow-mo mass battle sequences. The distinctive colour tone is again grey with splashes of red and this time blue, and the special effects, though not noticeably improved since 2008, are as good as any blockbuster made in 2014.

The biggest positive about the film, apart from it being ab absolute visual feast, is that it feels like part of the 300 universe without being exactly the same. The films look similar but there are also plenty of differences, with the most obvious being that most of the battle scenes are on the sea, whereas in 300 they are all on the mountains and in the plains. It doesn’t come close to regenerating that freshness of its predecessor but still stands firm on its own.

The cheesy lines are harder to find this time, which is a shame, because it takes a lot of fun out of the film. As for the performances, Eva Green dominates and shines through the gloomy greys. She takes what is otherwise a fairly pedestrian script with a typical baddie and turns Artemesia into a memorable villain; a wild, vengeful nutjob who makes Stapleton’s Themistocles seem boring by comparison. Not to crap on Stapleton, who has already proven to me he can carry a role, but here his character feels sorely lacking in charisma.

At the end of the day, 300: Rise of an Empire is still a fairly enjoyable romp. It lacks the awe factor from the first film but the action sequences are still impressive and Eva Green is fantastic as the psycho villain. It’s a solid companion piece to the original but will likely be remembered as yet another sequel that didn’t really have to be made. Perhaps when another sequel is made (it’s being planned) to extend the series into a trilogy it will be viewed upon more favorably in hindsight.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

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Olympus Has Fallen has been called “Die Hard in the White House”, and for once this description is apt. Of course, it’s nowhere near as good as (what I believe is) the greatest action movie of all time, but all things considered it’s about as good as you could reasonably hope for given the insanity of its central idea — the White House getting taken over by terrorists.

Gerard Butler plays Mike Banning, a former Secret Service agent who gets reassigned to a desk job after a tragic accident. The South Korean president visits and somehow the White House gets overrun by a mysterious terrorist. The US president, played by Aaron Eckhart, is held hostage, and Banning becomes the only man who can save him — and the world!

The premise is as corny as described, but to be honest I didn’t find it all that hard to swallow, thanks to director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter), the man with the coolest surname in Hollywood. Fuqua doesn’t make Olympus Has Fallen realistic (that’s impossible), but he allows us to sufficiently suspend disbelief through clever misdirection and never giving the audience time to think about the plot’s deficiencies by bombarding them with non-stop, blazing action. I just kept thinking, “Yeah, that could happen,” and went along for the ride.

Contrast that with another film I reviewed recently, Red Dawn, also about a foreign invasion of the United States (and one of the worst movies of 2012), and you too will appreciate Fuqua’s supreme filmmaking skills. Though both films have lots of guns and explosions and Americanism, Red Dawn bored me to tears, whereas Olympus Has Fallen had me mesmerised.

The film essentially copies the Die Hard template but ups the stakes about a hundred fold. A capable dude caught in a situation he didn’t expect to be in — but instead of a commercial building you have the White-freaking-House. One man against a whole army of badasses. A mysterious and brutal villain determined to weed him out. Epic gun fights, skilful hand-to-hand combat, exploding helicopters, falling from high places, sceptical allies on the outside, no friends on the inside. Awesomeness.

I’ve never really liked Butler outside of 300,  but here he makes an excellent Secret Service guy because he looks the part. Aaron Eckhart won’t be remembered as one of the best on-screen presidents, but he’s certainly not one of the worst either. He doesn’t get to do a whole lot in this film but he makes the best of what he’s got.

The rest of the supporting cast is stellar. As usual, there is the omnipresent Morgan Freeman in the type of role we have seen too many times; Angela Bassett and Robert Forster as anxious government officials; Aussie Radha Mitchell as the wife; Ashley Judd as the First Lady; and Melissa Leo — the standout — as the feisty secretary of defense.

The weak link was Dylan McDermott, another ex-Secret Service guy. It was probably more how the character was written than his acting, but he came across as totally unconvincing and lacking in personality. His story arc was also poorly conceived and concluded. Just crap.

Also crap is some of the pitfalls of the action film that Fuqua just couldn’t avoid, such as blessing our hero with obvious insights that somehow escape the common man (and all of the president’s staff), the usual America “f*%k yeah” moments, as well as the the odd annoying cliche. I also found it strange that a number of the more interesting plot points were either not explored or wrapped up prematurely. I can’t go into details without divulging them, but those who have seen the film will have an idea.

Nonetheless, Olympus Has Fallen turned out to be far better than I expected. Stylish, explosive and rarely a dull moment, it’s the action film that Die Hard 5 could have and should have been (instead of that silly Russian story). Actually, it would have been a pretty good premise for a 24 movie too, if they ever decide to make one. This is a movie I would definitely keep watching if I happen to stumble across it on TV in a couple of years.

4 stars out of 5!

PS: One of the best decisions the producers made was to make this a R-rated film (MA15+ in Australia), which allowed all the violence it needed to be effective. It will be interesting to see what type of film White House Down (which looks like exactly the same film except with Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx), set for release in the summer, will be with what is expected to be a tamer PG-13 rating. My guess is it won’t be as good, but you never know with Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) at the helm.

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

When I first heard about the film How to Train Your Dragon, I thought it was the name of a penile enlargement instructional video.  Little did I know it was actually the new DreamWorks Animation feature featuring an amazing voice cast including Jay Baruchel (She’s Out of My League), Gerard Butler (300, The Bounty Hunter), Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera (TV’s Ugly Betty), Jonah Hill (Superbad) and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Kick-Ass).

I usually like animated films, but rarely do I see one that I really love.  I don’t know why, but that’s just the way it has been.  Well, How to Train Your Dragon is definitely one of the better animated films I have seen over the last few years, but it still doesn’t quite get me over the hump.

The story is based loosely on the 2003 book of the same title by Cressida Cowell.  It’s about a weak little Viking boy by the name of Hiccup (Baruchel) who lives in a world where people live to slay dragons.  All Hiccup does is try to please his father, the Viking Chief (Butler), by capturing a killing a dragon of his own.  But of course, as the title suggests, Hiccup eventually befriends and trains one, turning the world as they know it upside down.

In terms of pure laughs, How to Train Your Dragon is not as strong as a lot of the other animated films out there — that’s not to say it isn’t still very funny.  But where the film stood out for me was its heart.  The relationships between Hiccup and his dragon, his father (Butler), his mentor (Ferguson) and the girl of his dreams (Ferrera) are all extremely well developed and more poignant than you would have expected from a cartoon about dragons.  The story itself is actually pretty good too.

And of course there’s the excellent voice cast.  Apart from Butler and Ferguson, I don’t think any of the others are immediately recognisable, but they all sound strangely familiar.  One way or the other, they manage the bring the quirky characters to life.

I think it’s definitely a film that can be enjoyed equally by children (for the dragons and the action) and the adults (for the laughs, the characters and the storyline).

4 out of 5 stars!

Movie Review: The Bounty Hunter (2010)

I was telling a friend the other day that when I watch a film, it usually inspires me to write.  Amazingly, The Bounty Hunter, an action romantic-comedy starring Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler, had the complete opposite effect on me.

The Bounty Hunter (directed by Andy Tennant and written by Sarah Thorp) actually has an interesting premise — Milo (Butler) is an ex-cop turned bounty hunter who has the task of bringing in his bail-jumping reporter ex-wife Nicole (Aniston).  There’s more to just that, of course, with several less-than-brilliant subplots, but the core of the film lies with the relationship between ex-husband and wife.

My main gripe with The Bounty Hunter is that it’s a film that thinks its so much funnier than it actually is.  It milks an originally interesting premise with a cheekiness that comes off as obnoxious; as though they had come up with the most intelligent idea ever and that everything that happens is just sooo hilarious, even though it was far from it.

And that’s the problem.  The movie had maybe a couple of good lines, but for the most part, the comedy felt incredibly stale, unoriginal, and unfunny.  Lame might be too strong a word, but it was certainly uninspiring.

Further, apart from the two leads, everyone else was reduced to caricature.  That wouldn’t have been such a huge thing with a film like this, but it does matter when the two central characters are so incredibly unlikable, especially Milo.  I’ve been a fan of Butler since 300, but honestly in this film he was just an annoying dick.  And Aniston (whom I’ve never really liked), may look nice in a figure-hugging dress, but her character Nicole exhibited zero charm.

In the end, it was just two annoying people getting at each other for 106 minutes.  And there are no prizes for guessing the ending, which, to be honest, was almost sickening to watch.

1 star out of 5

The reason why (some) movie reviews suck

Last year, I lamented the tendency of movie reviews to reveal too much about the plot (see here), to the extent to which you wonder whether there is a point in watching the movie at all.

Below is a classic example why so many movie reviews these days suck dogs balls.  It’s from a reviewer at the Sydney Morning Herald, just one of the most respected papers in the land.

The movie reviewed is Law Abiding Citizen (which I recently reviewed here).  If you don’t want to know everything about the movie, stop reading NOW!

Here are the fourth and fifth paragraphs of the review:

“His wife and young daughter are murdered during a brutal home invasion that opens the film. The killers are quickly caught but Jamie Foxx’s Nick Rice, a gung-ho young assistant district attorney obsessed with maintaining his 95 per cent conviction rate, isn’t convinced he has enough evidence to see the case through. As a result, he makes a deal. The cockiest of the two killers gleefully consents to testify against his accomplice in return for a reduced sentence.”

“Ten years pass and we pick up the story as the less-fortunate crim is being executed by lethal injection. It’s an inordinately grisly scene, since the drugs don’t work as they should and he dies in agony. The other killer, however, is already basking in his freedom – but not for long. Clyde is waiting for him.”

These two paragraphs are enough to ruin the film, but the reviewer doesn’t stop there.   This is then followed by stuff like:

“Clyde arranges a DVD of the operation to be sent to Rice’s home, where his unsuspecting young daughter happens to see it.”

“…Clyde is incarcerated for his act of revenge. Not that he calls it revenge. In his view, he’s on a crusade aimed at the legal system itself. Consequently, he’s determined to kill everyone who’s had anything to do with his family’s murder case.”

“The casualties are now mounting at a steady rate as Rice and Irish actor Colm Meaney – cast as a strangely laid-back detective – try to work out how Clyde is managing these multiple murders from his cell, deep in solitary.”

“At one point, the forceful African-American actress Viola Davis ( Doubt) storms in to do a cameo as the mayor, a political powerhouse with a firm belief in the motivational effectiveness of verbal abuse. She’s entrusted with the film’s silliest line.”

That’s like 90% of the movie, right there.  And about half of the review.  I understand the need to give a bit of background, but what is the point of a review like this?  And why is the Herald hiring writers who basically ruin the entire movie for potential viewers?

Dogs balls.

[PS: for the record, the reviewer gave the film 1 star]

Movie Review: Law Abiding Citizen (2009)

Law Abiding Citizen (the film not the citizen) is one of those films that could be enjoyable if in the right frame of mind.  Don’t think about the plot holes or the political slant.  Forget the self-righteousness and accept it for what it is – an above-average thriller with big-name actors and a few solid moments, but at the end of the day, a pretty forgettable affair.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I was in the right frame of mind.  To me, Law Abiding Citizen came off like a film that believed it was much better than it actually was.  With a few tweaks and in the right hands, I think it could have been pretty special.

It’s hard to describe this movie without giving away the plot.  Oscar winner Jamie Foxx plays prosecutor Nick Rice, and Gerard Butler plays engineer Clyde Shelton.  Law Abiding Citizen is part revenge-movie, part battle-of-wits.  There’s definitely a bit of Saw in there as well.  It feels like the type of film you’ve seen many times before, but you can’t quite put your finger on when or where (just off the top of my head I can sense fragments of Public Enemies and Fracture in it).

Anyway, I really liked the premise of Law Abiding Citizen, though the impact of the introductory scenes weren’t as strong as I thought it would be.  I then had to block the whole spiel on the injustice of the legal system out of my mind because it was waaay over-simplified, and more importantly, it was handled with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.  If I had let that get to me, then the whole film would have gone down the drain right there.  When it comes to the law, I think most viewers are too savvy to buy into this kind of manipulative stuff so easily these days.

Then came the first couple of notable ‘incidents’, which I thought panned out pretty well.  The two big stars were beginning to stand toe-to-toe and the film was starting to get interesting.  Their exchanges were full of tension and it made me wonder what improbable thing would happen next.

However, at some point, the excitement simply dried up.  Big problem – because once you have some time to think about it all, the holes start appearing and you realise how trite the whole thing is.  The sad way the film fizzled in the end didn’t exactly help its cause either.

So ultimately, I was a bit disappointed with Law Abiding Citizen.  Not because of its political messages or its over-simplification of some very complicated issues, but because it didn’t feel nearly as good as it should have been.  Which is a surprise because director F Gary Gray was at the helm of The Negotiator (a classic in my opinion) and the solid The Italian Job.  Writer Kurt Wimmer is no slouch either, having worked on Sphere, The Recruit and Street Kings (none of which were terrific but by no means horrible).  Even Gerard Butler and (especially) Jamie Foxx, who are both usually excellent, didn’t quite click into full gear for some reason.

I can’t explain why the pieces didn’t fall together like they should have, but Law Abiding Citizen made me wish it was much better than it really was.

2.5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: The Ugly Truth (2009)

ugly_truth_ver2

Expectation can be a funny thing.  When I first saw the poster for ‘The Ugly Truth’ directed by Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde and 21), I had zero interest.  None whatsoever.  Sure, it had King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and the pretty girl who starred in and then trashed Knocked Up, the film that made her a star (Katherine Heigl), but I couldn’t even care to find out what it was about.

But then a friend told me his wife watched it and thought it was pretty good.  My brother-in-law then recommended it.  A third person (who I can’t recall) suggested I should watch it.  And so I found myself watching ‘The Ugly Truth’, all of a sudden expecting it to actually be a great film!

Well, I came out of the cinema perplexed.  The film wasn’t as terrible as I had expected when I saw the poster for the first time, but it was miles off the superior romantic comedy I had anticipated when I stepped into the theatre.

I don’t like giving away the plot of any film, so I’ll keep it brief.  ‘The Ugly Truth’ (about male-female relationships) is what Gerard Butler’s character spews out unashamedly on his TV show, and Katherine Heigl is a TV producer who tries to prove that his theories are untrue.  Think He’s Just Not That Into You but with only 2 characters (yes, I watched that too…).

The film’s biggest problem is predictability.  Anyone who has seen more than a couple of rom-coms will be able to guess exactly what happens in ‘The Ugly Truth’ several scenes in advance.  Think of the most cliched situations possible and chances are you will see them in this film.  There were definitely a few ‘this better not happen next’ moments, followed by ‘I can’t believe it really happened!’ moments.

It does, of course, attempt to separate itself from other rom-coms with the vulgarity and political-incorrectness of the conversations and jokes.  More sensitive viewers may be turned off, but the younger generation that grew up on American Pie, Superbad and The 40 Year Old Virgin may find the jokes more down their alley.  However, most of the jokes didn’t elicit more than a subdued chuckle from me.  It was no more or less funny than your typical rom-com starring Katherine Heigl (eg Knocked Up, 27 Dresses).

Cheryl Hines and John Michael Higgins
Cheryl Hines and John Michael Higgins

So in the end, a bit of a disappointment.  I do like the leads and I am a  fan of John Michael Higgins (everybody’s second favourite lawyer on Arrested Development, Wayne Jarvis).  Some of the ‘wisdoms’ espoused by Butler’s character also ring true to me, as I am sure they will to many other male viewers (and I believe this is probably where the film’s charm lies).  But at the end of the day, ‘The Ugly Truth’ is an average, somewhat forgettable film with just a passable laugh quotient.

2.5 stars out of 5

[PS: I kept waiting for the moment where Butler would scream ‘THIS – IS – THE UGLY TRUTH!!’ and then kick Heigl down an endless black pit.  Then flex his abs.  That alone would have been worthy of 2.5 stars.]