Magnum Farce

MCDCOPS EC004

Copshop, 2021, 107 mins, Amazon Prime

I’ll cut Joe Carnahan some slack, as I’ve enjoyed many of his films, like Narc (2002) and I adored his darkly meditative The Grey (2011), and even rather liked Boss Level (2020) -so much so that I’ve already watched it twice|- and there’s much to like in Copshop. Indeed, the film starts with such a brazen sense of attitude, using Lalo Schifrin’s theme from Magnum Force over its opening, that I dared think this might turn out to be great… but alas, it turns out its a bit of a dud, the use of that music just hinting at how much this film is an exercise of style over substance. Some people will love it, no doubt, but it just wasn’t for me, really.

Which is such a pity, because the film features a pretty great cast. Gerard Butler plays Gerard Butler as usual, but Frank Grillo is pretty great, demonstrating again that he surely deserves better projects. Alexis Louder is very good but the script is so preposterous regards her character she has an uphill battle (more of which below), but the star performance of the film is that of the great Toby Huss, largely a tv actor who was so good in the (probably largely forgotten) tv series Carnivale back in 2003/2005, and more recently Glow (2019)- here he plays a psychotic killer and he enlivens the film tremendously, indeed almost saves it.

Copshop is a largely derivative… well, okay, its Carnahan, so lets play nice- Copshop is an affectionate nod to 1970s thrillers and exploitation films, hence its use of the Magnum Force theme and 70s funk songs on its soundtrack. Its indebted to John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, clearly, in its isolated police-station under siege, and it has a lot of mileage from that sense of 1970’s ‘cool’ that provides much of the fun of the film. Its the kind of film I’m quite inclined towards, but like so many thrillers and action films these days, it just doesn’t know when to stop. I’m not sure when it happens, but at some point it moves from being fun to being silly. Maybe its when Louder’s Valerie Young is bleeding out from a gunshot one minute, is strapped up the next, and then survives a brutal gunfight in spite of a shotgun blast to the chest (yo for Kevlar!), and after being quickly ‘fixed’ by paramedics steals their ambulance to go chase after Gerard Butler’s assassin as if she’s fresh as a daisy.

Okay, okay, maybe it is just the daft fun of the film but the appeal of the 1970s films which this film so craves is that they felt grounded and real, even while they were cool- but films like Copshop just don’t know where to stop. Its like those excesses of Marvel films leak into every bloody film these days, and the days of genuine realistic human characters with natural physical limits are plain gone, and its spoiling so many films now, I’m no longer surprised anymore, I’m appalled.

Angel Has Fallen

angelfCan we talk about casting? I ask because, while I expected very little, really, from this film (London Has Fallen was almost a parody of the first film, it was so bad), I had at least hoped for a few hours mindless diversion from everything going on in the Real World- alas, right from the start it proceeded to derail itself at breakneck speed. As soon as Danny Huston turned up as Mike Banning’s old friend seeking a favour, it was clear that this so-called good guy was going to do the dirty on old Mike and prove to be a double-crossing bastard. I like Huston, he’s a very good actor, but he’s gotten so typecast now its working against the films he features in. Forget any twist, it ensures the viewers are about thirty minutes ahead of our hero.

A film like Angel Has Fallen has enough trouble with originality and predictability- expecting the screenwriters to create something novel and surprising is clearly far too much anyway, and I suppose it could be argued that the fans of these films actually enjoy being ahead of things anyway. Keep ’em simple, keep ’em predictable seems to be the order of the day with action flicks like this- Tales of the Expected, I suppose, fits pretty well. But its really done no favours with such routine and unimaginative casting. I suppose the casting directors are doing whats asked of them (find a good ‘bad guy’ actor, and sure, Huston’s one of the best, no doubt) but its damned infuriating to me.

Its not as if there is anything unique regards Angel Has Fallen in this, its getting pretty commonplace in both film and television. Its such a pity that they can’t be more imaginative and surprising with casting. Ever since Henry Fonda turned out to be such a shockingly surprising villain in Leone’s classic Once Upon a Time in the West in 1968 (I’m sure there will be earlier examples, its just one that immediately springs to mind) it was proven how powerful such daring casting can prove to be. I’ve remarked several times on this blog over the years that Tom Hanks would make a fantastic Bond villain someday, if only someone would write it with the mother of all twists.

Instead the casting of someone like Danny Huston just deepens the sense of formula and routine that permeates Angel Has Fallen. To be clear, Huston is very good and is perfectly capable as the villain, but we’ve seen him do it before and the film just continues to tick the boxes, so to speak. There is no surprise, we always feel ahead of the plot, and I hate that in film- I prefer to be hoodwinked, surprised by the creative teams sleight of hand, so to speak, but its clear that with films such as this that is no priority, or that the team behind it aren’t capable, or just don’t care. The cynic in me suspects that with this third film in this franchise, its all about making money by not upsetting the proverbial apple cart, regards what the target audience expects. Quite what Morgan Freeman is doing still slumming in these films is quite beyond me- its like everyone’s just in it for the money.

Angel Has Fallen is currently streaming on Amazon Prime

 

Hotel Mumbai

Hotel MumbaiHotel Mumbai is a very harrowing, suspenseful dramatisation of the 2008 attack on the city’s Taj Mahal Palace Hotel during which the city was attacked by a ten-strong group of heavily armed Islamic terrorists. Its riveting stuff- as a thriller its effective indeed, and its very similarity to Gerard Butler’s Olympus Has Fallen etc makes uncomfortable viewing as we know, as disturbing as things are, this time around its based on true events. Tragedy as entertainment always has an uncomfortable feeling about it, but it makes everything seem more intense, too. The comic book heroics of Butler’s films, and others like it (I suppose, after all, you’d possibly include ‘classics’ like Die Hard in that list) have to be stripped out because these are just normal people in unusual situations and really, in the real world there’s no place for wisecracks or fisticuffs in the face of grenades and assault rifles.

So we have this weird dichotomy going on, in that as the outrage progresses, we have the misguided expectation that Armie Hammer’s tall handsome American architect or Jason Isaac’s obnoxious Russian with a military background will step up with some heroics like a typical thriller would have it, but as this film is based on a true event and such Hollywood nonsense never happened, there is a weird frustration through the film. The heroism of this film is of a different kind entirely- its one of simply surviving, and mostly of the staff protecting its guests. Perhaps you could call it civilisation versus barbarism. Perhaps we have been so used to those Hollywood action films where Willis, Butler or Neeson step up with their own brand of justice to right the violent wrongs that we struggle with their absence.

I suppose my point is, this film should possibly be a horror film, and this films only failure, really, is that its indeed ostensibly a thriller. Mans inhumanity to man is always a depressing subject but what I found most distressing was the familiarity of it all. Terrorist incidents such as this frequently seem to be in the news – bombings in foreign countries, shootings etc in which the victims almost inevitably become just numbers, statistics, and we’ve seen films simplify such events in action-thrillers of the past.

Partly this itself becomes a problem for the film- the statistics of this attack are incomprehensible, really. Over the three days that the event lasted, 174 people died, including 9 of the 10 attackers, and over 300 people were wounded. To its credit, the film shy’s away from sensationalising the events and attempts to show the simple heroism of staff trying to protect the hotels guests and those guests trying to survive and protect their loved ones. Its a human story but inevitably because of the numbers involved the film is limited to showing events from the perspective of the few, and possibly over-simplifies things.

hotel3I suppose my issue with this film -that perhaps it is ‘only’ a thriller is wholly unfair. But the polarisation of the world today, of good and evil and the fevered hysterics of both national and international politics of our day… this week alone in the UK we have witnessed our Parliament reduced to heated arguments more suited to a drunken rabble in a pub than the distinguished statesmen those elected representatives should be. I hold modern news media to blame for this (personality politics is a very modern 24-hour news thing, as journalists turn news into entertainment with viewing figures in mind) as much as social media. My contention is that perhaps film should do more than just dramatise events such as this, perhaps it should add some commentary somehow. How you do this without inflaming peoples viewpoints or world-beliefs I don’t know- maybe you can’t, hence my consideration that my issue is likely unfair.

So the terrorists are monsters, and the film only makes a perfunctory attempt to get into their reasoning, their mindset. The film suggests that they are victims themselves, coerced into the carnage by shadowy figures back in Pakistan who have masterminded the attack.  The awful inhumanity of killing innocent civilians, and how the terrorists have justified it in their minds so those civilians are perceived as infidels and indeed as sub-human, is something too large for a thriller such as this to encompass really. Maybe no film could. The fascination in films about serial-killers for example, is partly that ‘thing’ about getting into their minds, how they reason, function, see other people as victims/prey. How do you get into the minds of terrorists without being charged with rationalising their atrocities?  And if you don’t try, isn’t that over-simplification demonising them? Failing to get to the reasons why the world is as polarised as it is? Is it East vs West, Poor vs. Rich, is it national power-brokering or religious jihad?

Hotel Mumbai necessarily skirts around such issues as it just presents what happened within the perimeters of a thriller. It doesn’t make it a bad film, but it does leave it a strangely frustrating, albeit riveting film that likely could have been something more.

The Vanishing

vanishingThe Vanishing is based upon a real-life mystery, in which three lighthouse keepers out in the Flannan Islands, stationed at the lighthouse on Eilean Mor twenty miles west of the Outer Hebrides island of Lewis, in Scotland, disappeared sometime around December 15th 1900. A relief crew found the island deserted, the logs in the building recounting a terrible storm but otherwise not indicating what might have happened to the three men, no trace of whom was ever found.

Well, I’ll state it now- ‘Gerard Butler in fine performance in decent movie’, something I was beginning to think I’d never write. Having taken the money and run as he slummed in too many action b-movies, it’s actually something of a surprise to see him demonstrating a low-key, underplayed performance such as this with some genuine warmth and sensitivity. Ably supported by the ever-dependable Peter Mullan and newcomer Connor Swindells, at its best this film is structured like a play, and makes for a fine character piece.Where it falls down is in the depressingly predictable melodrama that ensues as the film offers its own suggestion for what may have happened to the three men- and when I state that there’s a box of gold involved, I guess groans are inevitable. Maybe I would have preferred Aliens or some kind of vaguely supernatural maritime threat. Yeah, maybe the latter. Greed and gold and smugglers/criminals… I don’t know. It somehow failed to live up to the mystery, to me,

Ultimately the film could have been a slow-burn character piece about men slowly disintegrating on a lonely barren island as cut off from humanity as would be an astronaut on the moon decades later. With no boat of their own, they were dependant on a boat from the mainland some six weeks later with its relief crew, and had no working radio to contact anyone. Imagine the loneliness, the desolation of the unforgiving barren landscape cut off from their fellow men. Its a great premise for a psychological thriller, perhaps, and there’s some of that, here, but it’s betrayed by a simplistic plot of lost treasure and antagonists coming to the island looking for it. I don’t think the film is ever entirely predictable, it’s better than that, but some of its ensuing melodrama feels disappointing. Possibly its quite unfair of me to expect something as dark a journey into darkness as Apocalypse Now, but this film could have been that. It could have been darker, denser… maybe a little like Angel Heart or Jacobs Ladder.

Which is, again, me criticising a film for what it isn’t, rather than what it is.

I will just mention the film’s score by Benjamin Wallfisch- well, describing it as a ‘score’ possibly isn’t quite right. Its really an ambient drone of a likely small orchestra augmented by an electronic soundscape, and really just functions to establish mood. As such it serves the film well enough but I doubt it would be a pleasant listening experience in its own right, and so is sadly typical of so many scores today. Wallfisch of course is famous for replacing Johann Johannsson on the scoring duties of Blade Runner 2049, and this connection interested me because a lot of The Vanishing music recalls the wintry electronic soundscapes in some of Johannsson’s albums and soundtracks. Particularly, here, the strange sounds of his Arrival score. I did wonder whether Johansson’s music was used as a temp score for this film, or even if he had been possibly chosen to score this film prior to his untimely passing. That’s all conjecture on my part and possibly ill-founded, but it was remarkable, some of the similarities here.

Hunter Killer

hunter2Gerard Butler’s finest gift is appearing in daft tosh such as this and yet acting as if he’s in some classic serious arthouse flick. Its as if winking to the audience like Arnie always did is beneath him- no small feat considering the lines of dialogue he delivers and the preposterous plots of the films he so frequently stars in (and produces, no less).

And we have a winner here- 31 producer credits listed to this film! I thought the 23 I noticed last week while watching Final Score would take some beating but I was obviously mistaken. There’s a few films I could name with less actors than the number of producers for this one (there’s just something that feels wrong when the number of producers outnumbers the cast).

The sets are magnificent though- it’s clear the production design was a huge undertaking and the submarine sets really are quite convincing (although I’m not sure about all those flat panel screens, it wouldn’t surprise me if that turned out accurate). It would appear that the production tried to cement the film in some sort of physical reality before launching into its crazy Tom Clancy-on-steroids plot.

Anyway, not much else I can mention regards this nonsense, except that perhaps someone should reign in Gary Oldman before he does himself an injury chewing up the scenery with his ludicrous over-acting. He’s much better than this kind of film, and he knows it, but he should keep it to himself instead of hamming it up onscreen. Just take the paycheque Gary and don’t draw attention to yourself.

Sadly, I should think this was likely one of the very last films that Michael Nyqvist made before his death in 2017. It was quite a jolt seeing him appear onscreen, and it’s quite a good, albeit subdued performance. Pity he and Gary couldn’t have had a scene together- that would have been nuts.

London Has Fallen (2016)

lf12016.81: London Has Fallen (DVD)

“Whats wrong?” 

“Nothing. Bugs the shit out of me.”

“Fuck. They’re not real cops.”

“God damn it, Mike.”

“Fuck. Comms are down.”

“How bad is it?”

“Its pretty goddam bad, sir.”

“Its a fucking bloodbath. How did they do it, Mike?”

“They only have to get it right once. Today they got it right way more than that.”

“I never thought you would outlive me.”

“Me neither.”

“Do me a favour? Stay alive. You gotta see your kid. Make the fuckers pay.”

“I will.”

“Aamir Barkawi. This man is responsible for more deaths than the plague.”

“I’ve never seen a man suffocate before.”

“I didn’t have a knife.”

“How many you think died?”

“I don’t know. A lot.”

“All those innocent people. Dead. Because of me.”

“No, not because of you. Because of them. They’re trying to kill you, sir. And they’ve killed all of those people just to make everyone else a little more afraid. Well, fuck that and fuck them!”

“What if you don’t come back?”

“You’re fucked!”

“Where we going next, Mike?”

“Embassy.”

“Embassy? You said they’re expecting that.”

“They are. But we are shit out of options.”

“Central London. Right under our bloody noses. Tell SAS that we’re gonna make a house call.”

“Look, we can’t let you come with us, mate.”

“How many times have you saved this man’s ass? Now, I’m gonna go get him, and you can either kill me, or you can come with me, but it ain’t gonna go any other way.”

“You don’t understand. Its their base of operations. There are nearly a hundred terrorists in there.”

“Yeah? Well, they should have brought more men.”

“Things are going to get sporty. Watch your balls.”

“Are you fucking crazy?”

“Yeah. Wish me luck.”

“I won’t justify your insanity to make you feel better about yourself.”

I don’t know if this film has the worst dialogue of any film I have ever seen, or if its deliriously brilliant action movie gibberish. Either the film is the worst thing I have seen in weeks, or the towering summation of where the action movie has been going for the past decade. Or maybe both. I don’t know. I’m frankly in a daze. Astonishingly stupid nonsense.

Then again, in the real world we are currently facing an imminent election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and one of those two is soon going to be the president of the United States. No wonder people enjoy the comparative safety and reassurance of films like Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen. At least in the movies, the president is an honest heroic good guy with principles who is handsome, handy with a machine gun and not averse to shooting the bad guys himself. People enjoy the fairy tale more, I think. No wonder a third film in this franchise is in the offing.