Angel Has Fallen

Much of the following will appear as if I don’t like this film. But despite the ludicrous plot devices used to tell the story, it was exciting, fast paced and engaging almost from beginning to end. But let’s start with my gripes.
If you haven’t noticed, technology has become a ubiquitous virtual character in many productions for TV and film. Cell phones go without saying. But another example is the omnipresent vital function monitor next to hospital beds, bigger than life and in your face, bleeping away in vivid colors and large enough for a Superbowl party. Way sexier than the real world’s beige box with green and white tracings. On TV’s The Good Doctor you can count on one hysterical staff reaction after another, usually preceded by a lull in the action, a calm before the storm that makes it an effective drinking game if you’re into that. Ok, here it comes—sure enough, time for a full screen shot of the monitor, alarms sound, colored lines spike and numbers plummet. Time to do something medical and yell orders for tests without doing any paperwork.
So it’s not surprising that in fact there is a scene in Angel Has Fallen where the President of the United States, played by Morgan Freeman, lays comatose in an Intensive Care Unit, monitored to the hilt following an assassination attempt. But do they use this new standard? No, they rely on the close-up finger-twitch signal that a patient is about to come out of a coma. They follow this with the not so subtle blink of the closed eyes, followed by full consciousness within seconds. Mind you, he’s been comatose for days, but he’s instantly able to shout orders and demand that Secret Service stop doing their job long enough for a suspected assassin to have his say.
Next we have drones. These are very trendy, but not at all the dumb Norelco triple-header that your nephew is flying over the neighbor’s pool. These are genuinely scary, able to do evil things and hard to defend against. In this case, we have a team of highly skilled assassins operating a vehicle-mounted launching battery, a large egg carton of short, black, steel tubes. Like a fireworks finale, it spews hundreds of tiny bat-like flying monkeys into the sky above a tranquil lake where the President is trying to have a brief fishing respite from the stresses of Washington. They swarm and dive onto targets, erupting with fireballs out of proportion to their ability to carry explosives, and with a precision determined by a monstrous video gaming bad guy in a truck who is pinpointing enemies with – wait for it – facial recognition, from cloud height.
That brings us to the guy in the truck or several guys later in a control center, literally a sleek, darkened war room, filled with huge video displays and computer terminals. Of course, these computer geniuses can hack into everything from car engines to a hospital’s oxygen delivery system, all at the behest of an unseen digitally disguised voice. You know, the one that’s altered to sound like a monster from X-men. And boy, is he angry if things don’t go his way. So the killer geeks start hacking like crazy, and you can tell they’re busy because a small black terminal window opens on their computer monitor. It is scrolling through hundreds of lines of green text command lines, and somewhere in that jumble they can tell that everything is at its sinister best, or going horribly wrong. That’s right, they have been reduced to frantically typing DOS programmers from 1988.
And then there’s the human element. How do you know that your best friend Wade (Danny Huston), bonded with you in the heat of battle in Iraq, is about to betray you, frame you, take your family hostage and blow up a whole wing of a hospital? Well, just have him over for dinner and give him a nice glass of wine. You can almost hear the sinister chuckle as he pats your toddler on the head and calls her “cutie-pie.” That same guy, far too old and gray-haired to be leaping around a rooftop and engaging in hand-to-hand combat, should be wincing at the pain in his arthritic knees. Instead, he takes a plunging knife wound to his heart. It’s the kind of wound that lets him rapidly bleed to death while remaining dramatically conscious so he can thank his friend/killer, “I’m glad it was you.”
After Banning is framed for the Presidential attack, it becomes predictably clear that the weenie of a Vice-President who assumes acting capacity as Commander in Chief, is up to no good. We can only hope that he gets caught.
So, yeah, I’ve made Angel Has Fallen sound dumb. But the reality is that they use all of these corny devices to great success. Gerard Butler, as Secret Service agent Mike Banning, has not become the Dwayne Johnson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone comic book action hero we’re used to seeing in this type of film. He’s a more relatable tough guy who doesn’t smile much, kind of resembling Russell Crowe. He is most known for his role as King Leonides in 300, and starred in the Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical version of Phantom of the Opera.
Morgan Freeman is certainly a draw for this film. Who doesn’t love Morgan? His gentle wisdom and soothing voice adapt him to just about any role, from God to Glory, with an insanely prolific career that began in the late 1960s.
A nice surprise is Clay Banning, played by, wait, is that Nick Nolte!? Sure enough, appearing to be “one step above the Unabomber” as his son describes him, he brings a strangely human element to Mike Banning’s personal history, and some humor when he starts blowing up the countryside surrounding his off-the-grid bunker in Virginia. A final scene in which the two of them indulge in some father/son therapeutic time leaves you laughing as you exit the theater. Nolte may be reason enough to see this movie.
Some of the action scenes are filmed so tight that it’s hard to tell what’s happening. The viewer is left to assume that the hero is winning, until it’s made painfully clear that he’s not. There are lots of explosions, including the reduction of a building to dust, filmed nicely from above. Perhaps a real demolition?
A silly little subplot has Banning suffering from post-concussive headaches. He keeps this a secret from his wife and the President. It’s hardly a big deal that he sees doctors but the President makes him promise, “no more secrets.”
If you’re in the mood for tons of military style action, predictable but believable characters and some really buttery popcorn, this movie feels much shorter than its two-hour length. The big screen draws you in, but your own living room might be just as good.
Angel Has Fallen (2019) runs 2 hours, 1 minute and is rated R.

Should I see this movie? 

The Peanut Butter Falcon

Sometimes we go to school for our education. Other times life tosses learning opportunities right in our path and hopes we do more than stumble over them. But we all take turns as student and teacher, and ultimately we choose whether to learn from life’s lessons or to simply become the victim of them. There’s a lot to learn from The Peanut Butter Falcon, a surprising little film that Mark Twain might enjoy. Judging by the applause from the small audience we joined, this film works at a personal and emotional level. Or perhaps we just sat with a really good group of people late on a Sunday evening.
There are more than passing similarities to “Huckleberry Finn” at work here. This is a modern buddy story with an unlikely pairing of two outcasts on the lam, each with their own destination, a raft and a bond that strengthens along their journey.
Bruce Dern is showing up in movies a lot lately. He has settled into his old age nicely, playing edgy characters with wild gray hair in over twenty roles since the beginning of last year. Here he is Carl, the nursing home roommate to twenty-two year old Zak, an aspiring professional wrestler who happens to have Down syndrome. Identified as a flight risk by his caseworker Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) following several botched escape attempts, he eventually succeeds with a little help from Carl.
Thus begins Zak’s quest to attend a wrestling school somewhere near the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Professional wrestler and pitchman “The Saltwater Redneck,” played by Thomas Hayden Church, is Zak’s hero. Church is a familiar face from TV (Cheers, Wings), with a career going back to the late 1980s. His role in Sideways appears to be his segue into a film career that’s kept him busy since 2004.
Newcomer Zach Gottsagen becomes “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” an alter ego wrestler identity that evolves around a beach bonfire with the help of some moonshine and his new mentor Tyler (Shia LaBeouf.) Tyler’s struggle to support himself as a crab fisherman is hampered by his guilt over an auto accident that killed his beloved older brother. Although not directly resolved, Zak may be the surrogate brother he needs to begin healing that wound. Along the way, he teaches Zak to swim and shoot a gun, provides some frolicking training and saves his life while crossing a river. Redemption is complicated with their pursuit by two vengeful fishermen and Zak’s caseworker, all of whom eventual catch up with the two outlaws.
Shia LaBoeuf, best known for his Transformer series, Disturbia and early work for The Disney Channel’s Even Stevens (and some outrageous behavior around 2008) is at the top of his game in this film. At age 33, he’s got a long career ahead of him. As Tyler, he shows heart, vulnerability and strength. His is a hard-won cunning earned on the Carolina backwaters with a skiff and stolen crab pots. His innate wisdom reveals that there’s a lot more to this scruffy mongrel than meets the eye. He eventually helps Zak to fulfill his dream and wins the attention of Eleanor, who reluctantly joins them on their journey. She tackles her own disillusionment with a health care system that left Zak dumped by his family in a nursing home without rights, dignity or concern about what he wants from life.
Eventually, the initial adventure ends as a new one begins, and the three become a family of sorts, learning from each other as they head off together to Florida.
The cast, locations and music in The Peanut Butter Falcon are sweaty, salty and deeply Southern, reminiscent of DeliveranceSouthern Comfort or O Brother Where Art Thou. The topic of Down syndrome is handled frankly, at times in Zak’s own words, and at others with comeuppance for those who utter the word “retard.” Zak’s limitations are less a hindrance than a springboard to his unique effect on those who open their hearts to him. His honesty and genuineness are keys to expediting that process.
This is a very different feel good movie. Retaining the PG-13 rating despite some profanity will be important in reaching a wider audience. Parents should bring kids to see this one. It’s a good catalyst for continued conversation about potentially uncomfortable interactions with those who seem different. And rest assured we are all different, each in our own way.
The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019) runs 1 hour, 33 minutes and is rated PG-13.
Should I see this movie? 


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