Jailhouse Glock

Copshop

by George Wolf

Man, did I hear about it last week when I argued that the first two acts of Malignant weren’t nearly strong enough to support the all out lunacy of the finale. I stand by that, but moving on…

Copshop also delivers a balls-out third act, but the self-aware setup by director/co-writer Joe Carnahan ensures we’re plenty ready to surrender to the shoot-em-up fun.

Mob “fixer” Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo) punches Nevada rookie cop Valerie Young (Alexis Louder) on purpose, looking for the safety of a jail cell. He gets one, but he’s soon followed by hitman Bob Viddick (Gerard Butler, also a producer), who wants to get close enough to Teddy to take him out.

Plenty more bad guys get involved – including a scene-stealing Toby Huss (Seinfeld‘s “The Wiz”) as a psycho who likes to spray bullets and sing soul classics – and before long it seems Val’s only chance of getting out of work alive is deciding which one of these locked up bad guys is worth trusting.

Grillo and Butler are both on tough-guy autopilot, charismatic and menacing with a smidge of possible empathy. But Louder (TV’s Watchmen) is the standout, finding the layers of a character that’s real, smart and savvy enough to holster this movie and claim it for her own.

The dialog often snaps with wit, the banter touching on everything from Chris Hemsworth’s beach getaway to the benefits of cole slaw. But this is an action flick first, and Carnahan (Boss Level, The Grey, Smokin’ Aces) rolls out well-staged and satisfying set pieces that strike a nice balance between tense and preposterous.

The grindhouse Western opening not only introduces us to the setting of Gun Creek, Nevada (subtle!), but also a playful and purposeful tone that Carnahan steers with impressive craftsmanship.

Are you gonna remember Copshop much past closing time? Probably not, but you’re gonna have a bloody good time before you clock out.

Stay Down

Angel Has Fallen

by George Wolf

Olympus, then London, now Angel. They keep Fallen, must they keep getting up?

To be fair, Angel isn’t nearly the dumpster dive we took in London. It sports comic relief from Nick Nolte, a fun mid-credits stinger and a truly impressive performance from a baby.

Surrounding all that, though, is a pedestrian and all too often obvious gotta -clear-my-name frameup that underdelivers on the action front.

Gerard Butler is back as Secret Service hero Mike Banning, with Morgan Freeman returning to the franchise as now-President Trumbull.

Mike has headaches and insomnia after years of action, but debates leaving the field for a desk promotion. He is still great at knocking out all the baddies who are nice enough to walk blindly past a corner he’s hiding behind, but when there’s a drone attempt on the President’s life, Mike can’t keep his entire team from being wiped out.

Suddenly, mounds of incriminating evidence point to Mike as the would-be assassin, who then must leave his wife (Piper Perabo) and child (that baby is good, I’m telling you) and go full Bourne fugitive guy to root out the real villains.

Who wants the President dead? And why?

If the answers are supposed to be surprises, someone forgot to tell director Ric Roman Waugh (Snitch) and his co-writers, asAngel is telegraphed from many preposterous angles with all manner of heavy handed exposition.

And once Banning takes refuge with his long lost, off the grid, battle scarred Dad (Nolte), the attempts at debating the morality of war land with a thud of pandering afterthoughts.

Hey, if your just here for some mindless action highs, that’s fine, but Angel skirts them, curiously settling for repetitive shootouts and nods to first-person gaming enthusiasts.

Like Mike, this Fallen seems mostly tired. Even if it can get up, maybe it should reconsider.

Dragon Ball 3

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

by George Wolf

I usually like to steer clear of spoilers, but I really need to warn you…this film contains gratuitous dragon flirting.

And full-on nuzzling.

It’s cute, but The Hidden World offers so much more than just cute, and more than enough substance to solidify the entire Dragon saga as a top tier film trilogy.

Writer/director Dean DeBlois is back to finish what he started in 2010, and continued in 2014. He picks up the tale one year after the close of HTTYD 2, when our hero Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) finds that his pal Toothless isn’t the only Night Fury dragon, after all.

This new one is a Light Fury, she’s a charmer, and Toothless is in love.

But all of Hiccup’s dragon friends are in danger, none more than Toothless, thanks to the bloodthirsty Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) and his batallion of dragon hunters. To continue living in peace, Hiccup and his entire village must find mythical dragon birthplace The Hidden World before Grimmel does.

This franchise has delivered true visual wonder since the original film’s opening frame, and part 3, taking natural advantage of enhanced technology, ups the ante. The aerial gymnastics and high seas swashbuckling are propelled by animation that is deep and rich, while new details in the dragons’ faces bring wonderful nuance and expression.

There is real tension here, along with warm humor, thrilling action pieces and resonant themes backed by genuine emotion.

As you realize Hiccup is leading a group of wartime refugees, the bittersweet coming-of-age tale moves to the forefront. We’ve watched Hiccup move from losing his father (Gerard Buter) to finding his mother (Cate Blanchett) to becoming a father figure for the orphaned Toothless. Now, he may have to let his best friend go and remember that “with love comes loss, it’s part of the deal.”

These themes may not be new, but DeBlois handles them with an understated poignancy that hits the feels, leading to a breathless emotional high point reminiscent of Toy Story 3‘s classic “holding hands” throat-lumper.

Packed with excitement, sincerity and visual amazeballs, The Hidden World ties a can’t-miss ribbon on a wonderful trilogy.

 





Gerard Has the Con

Hunter Killer

by Hope Madden

On a scale from Gerard Butler to 10, how bad is Hunter Killer?

It’s not London Has Fallen bad. Or Gods of Egypt bad. It’s not Geostorm bad, but what is, really?

But is it any good?

Well, no. Don’t get loony. I’m just saying, it could be worse. You know, because Gerard Butler stars.

That doesn’t make him the worst actor in history. It’s just that he’s not especially talented and he makes impressively awful films. And yet, the king of January inexplicably gets a prime October release with this one, playing Captain Joe Glass.

He’s not an Annapolis guy, but that doesn’t mean he can’t successfully lead his first crew through Arctic waters to save the President of Russia from a botched coups attempt.

If you’re worried about subtitles—well, you’re clearly not familiar with the work of Mr. Butler. No, fortunately the Russians only speak Russian when it doesn’t matter if we understand what they say. The moment the dialog is important they switch (sometimes mid-scene) to English. How lucky is that?

I’m sure we’d never be able to follow this plot otherwise. It’s not like every scene is telegraphed in advanced.

Director Donovan Marsh’s film is not unwatchable. It’s shallowly packaged derivative entertainment, boasting passable water scenes and hand-to-hand action choreography that’s entirely adequate. It’s the drama that will make you wince.

There are three primary focal points. Firstly, the drama back in DC, where level heads try to outmaneuver war mongers. Gary Oldman plays a monger.

Everybody follows up their Oscar with garbage. Don’t fret for Gary.

Common plays one of those level heads. This is literally Common’s third film in three weeks. The prior two—The Hate U Give and All About Nina—were both very good. Nobody bats 1000.

The second dramatic focus takes place on the ground—thank God, because honestly, without the small military unit landing covertly on Russian soil with their drones, swagger and witty banter, this movie would never leave a confined area and you would feel even more trapped by it.

The highest drama is, of course, hundreds of feet underwater with noble everyman Cap. Glass. You know what he has? A level head.

Just not, you know, a ton of talent.





End the Fed

Den of Thieves

by George Wolf

They’re back, baby! The star and one of the five writers from London Has Fallen are reunited, and it feels…so much better than you are thinking right now.

This time, writer Christian Gudegast also takes the director’s chair for his debut feature, an ambitious mix of Heat and The Town and maybe a few other heist flicks I’ll bring up later.

Gerard Butler is Big Nick, an L.A. County sheriff who’s a very bad lieutenant. Some cops just got killed in an armored car job, and Nick is pretty sure it’s the work of Merriman (Pablo Schreiber).

He’s right, but the big score is still to come: a master plan to rob the L.A. branch of the Federal Reserve. Amid some surprisingly engaging dialog, Gudegast effectively contrasts the good bad guys and the bad bad guys, slowly laying the groundwork for a final confrontation while getaway driver Donnie (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) openly works both sides.

At 140 minutes, it’s at least half an hour too long, bloated with some futile attempts at character development, and a bit tone deaf on police brutality and some other current events. But there is well-plotted tension, some inventive turns among gaps in logic and an Ocean’s/Logan Lucky inspired wrap-up that will bring a chuckle.

 





Falling Hard

London Has Fallen

by Hope Madden

If Antoine Fuqua’s 2013 “Die Hard in the White House” effort Olympus Has Fallen felt too PC, too artistic, too restrained, too competent for you, you are in luck! The cinematic dumpster fire of a sequel that is London Has Fallen has arrived.

Gone are the ludicrous but gorgeously choreographed set pieces Fuqua is known for, replaced by generically brown villains, incompetently choreographed action, and jarringly stock footage stitched together with badly mismatched sound stage shots.

But Gerard Butler and his super convincing bad ass act are back!

Butler’s secret service agent Mike Banning – torn between the dangerous job he loves and the unborn baby he wants to spend more time with – must travel to London with BFF/President Benjamin Asher (granite jawed Aaron Eckhart) for a state funeral.

But wait! Some poorly explained, amazingly convenient, ridiculously performed terrorist attack kills the world’s heads of state while decimating props that almost look just like the stock footage of London landmarks we were seeing moments ago!

Jesus, this film is incompetently made. Set aside, for a moment, the irredeemable bloodlust and jingoism at the heart of the screenplay. Forgive, if you will, the heinous dialog spilling from the mouths of talented actors like Angela Basset, Melisa Leo, and Morgan Freeman. Let’s focus, for a laugh, on the wild lack of directorial skill behind this action epic.

London Has Fallen looks like something you’d see on SyFy network on any given Saturday afternoon. Director Babak Najafi’s one set piece really meant to wow – a single-take shoot out in a London alley – has the feel of a video game recreated by high school kids on a gym auditorium set made of paper mache.

But maybe that’s OK with you. Maybe you’re in it for the knife fights. Hope you’re OK with all talk and no blood, though. For all of Banning’s overtly racist sadism with that big ol’ knife, the wounding itself is always conveniently out of frame.

But at least you’ll never get lost trying to follow the story because, luckily, every so often Najafi cuts back to a group of far-too-talented actors sitting in a room together, watching the action on a screen and explaining the entire plot to each other. Whew!

You have to give Butler credit, though. It is hard to put out two films in back to back weekends that are so memorably awful. Between Gods of Egypt and London has Fallen, he’s made quite a mark.

Bravo, sir.

Verdict-1-0-Star
 





Something Special in the Air

 

How to Train Your Dragon 2

by George Wolf

They had me at “Drago Bloodfist.”

Actually, they had me four years ago, when the original How to Train Your Dragon was not only one of the best films of 2010, but one of the most visually stunning 3D films ever.

Part 2 may fall a hair short of those original lofty heights, but you can still expect an exhilarating, often eye-popping family adventure.

Writer/director Dean DeBlois returns to catch us up with Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his dragon, Toothless, five years after they showed their village that dragons and Vikings can be buddies after all.

Things aren’t so harmonious in neighboring villages, as the evil pirate Bloodfist (Djimon Hounsou) has his henchmen always on the hunt, looking to capture new additions for a growing dragon army. Hiccup favors reasoning with the pirates but his father, Chief Stoick the Vast, (Gerard Butler) prefers a pre-emptive strike.

With obvious parallels to current global terrorism, HTTYD2 offers more mature, darker themes, but wisely doesn’t overplay this hand. The franchise, with part 3 already on the way, continues to be anchored by the bonds of family and friends, and the special relationship that can develop between man and beast.

What may make the younger viewers start to fidget are two backstory sequences, one involving Bloodfist and another featuring Hiccup’s mother Valka (Cate Blanchett). Though hardly fatal flaws, the compelling nature of the story begins to wander away, safely returning when Hiccup and Toothless get back into focus.

As the showdown between pirates and Vikings draws near, the visual elements continue to impress. With an assist from esteemed cinematographer Roger Deakins, the effects department again illustrates the glorious possibilities of 3D animation. The in-flight sequences make the heart race, and when Valka runs to the edge of a cliff to grasp the size of the approaching armada below, the aerial shot is simply breathtaking.

Boasting inspired storytelling, magical visuals and enough subtle, real world sensibility to give it resonance, HTTYD2 keeps this franchise crackling with vitality.

 Verdict-3-5-Stars

 





A New Grecian Formula

 

3oo: RISE OF AN EMPIRE

by Hope Madden

Back in 2006, director Zach Snyder paired a Frank Miller graphic novel with a mostly naked, very beefy Gerard Butler, and ancient Greek history was born. The visually arresting 300 was a stylistic breakthrough, if nothing else. Eight years later, though, it’s tough to understand the point of a sequel.

And yet, 300: Rise of an Empire picks up where 300 left off. It’s less a sequel or a prequel and more of a …meanwhile. That is to say that, while Leonidas (Butler) and his 300 Spartans battle Persian god-king Xerxes on the ground (the previous film’s climax), Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) and the rest of Greece takes on Xerxes’s navy, led by the angry Grecian ex-pat Artemisia (Eva Green).

Gone is the painterly quality of the original, an artistic choice that often pays off as it gives the sea battles a little more life. Don’t look for authenticity or gritty realism here, though; the sequel is very definitely cut from the same CGI-laden cloth as Snyder’s epic, but director Noam Murro (Smart People) makes some stylistic alterations here and there.

The sequel is bloodier and rape-ier than its original, all the lurid detail captured in vivid splatter-cam glory. There’s far less exposition and nearly no character development this time around. Murro’s plan of attack seemed to be action sequence followed by rousing speech followed by action sequence overdubbed with rousing speech, and so on.

Given the sheer volume of action (and speechifying), it’s surprising the film becomes so tedious so quickly. To enjoy the full 102 minutes, you might need to have a real itch to see beefcake in battle. (No to shirts, yes to capes in the military uniform? Really?).  That is, except for the ferocious presence of Eva Green.

Playing the bloodthirsty naval commander with a grudge against Greece, Green steals every scene and commands rapt attention. She delivers more badass per square inch than the entire Greek and Persian navy combined in a performance that entertains, but also exposes the blandness of the balance of the cast. Even without their shirts.

It’s not the worst waste of time onscreen right now, thanks to Green, but it’s nothing you’ll remember tomorrow, either.

Verdict-2-5-Stars