Frank Grillo with gun

More tightly controlled chaos from Joe Carnahan with Copshop. Following hard on the heels of Boss Level, it’s another display of post-Tarantino buzzsaw brilliance, and again it has Frank Grillo – late to the action party but most welcome – as a badass lead.

Most Carnahan films – The Grey and The A Team being notable exceptions – are like Copshop. The action starts out with a couple of characters doing something fairly preposterous, and then Carnahan widens his net with real skill to incorporate more and more characters, all also doing preposterous, or bad, or mad things, before he finally gets everyone together for a gonzo finale usually involving excessive gunplay and suicidal bravado (cartoon variety). See Narc, Smokin’ Aces and Boss Level for other thoroughly enjoyable instances of the same.

Frank Grillo plays sleek, long-haired mob fixer Teddy Murretto, so in trouble with his paymasters that he’s engineered his way into a prison holding cell by punching a cop. Soon, he’s been joined over the way in another cell by Bob Viddick (Gerard Butler), a hitman who’s used a similar ruse, having passed himself off as a stumbling drunk he’s now close to Teddy, the better to end Teddy’s life asap.

Our eyes and ears on this situation are principled, smart and competent cop Valerie Young, the still centre (it’s all relative) around which Carnahan constructs his interlocking Jenga of mayhem with a choreographer’s skill – a wounded sergeant, a drunk in need of a tracheostomy, a dead DA, a bent cop trying to spirit drugs out of the building, another assassin, more deaths out in the desert at the hands of yet another bad cop, all building towards an Assault on Precinct 13-style finale, except this time the bad guys are inside the cop shop too.

There are fantastic performances here, most notably Alexis Louder as the hero cop – Carnahan had her watch Clint Eastwood movies, and it shows – holding her own against more obviously attention-grabbing turns by Grillo, Butler and, when he eventually turns up for a film-stealing turn as a loquacious psychopath, Toby Huss as Hitman No. 2, Anthony Lamb. “One of male grooming’s greatest misfires,” Lamb quips when he sees Teddy’s hair. Huss also gets the film’s standout action sequence, which involves a 9mm snub-nosed machine gun, some very resistant bulletproof glass and an incredible number of bullets.

Toby Huss as Anthony Lamb
Enter a scene-stealing Toby Huss

This is a movie that goes to bed at night and dreams of the action movies of the 1990s, and DP Juanmi Azpiroz (who also did Boss Level with Carnahan) shoots it full of haze and smoke and blue light whenever there is the slightest excuse, while Clinton Shorter’s soundtrack itches to get out the military snare drums and the “banging door” sound familiar from all those Arnie movies.

Carnahan, Grillo and Butler are all also producers but Butler graciously cedes the star’s limelight to Grillo, who gives it his all as the utterly untrustworthy charmer Teddy, in a role you could also imagine Mickey Rourke in. Maybe it’s the hair.

You absolutely have seen it all before but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, particularly those beautifully concentrated moments when Carnahan distills the movie down to a glistening essence – like when cop Valerie Young puts a single bullet into her gun, gives the chamber a spin and aims it at Teddy, via a big plate glass window. Truth be told, Carnahan is better at these moments – you might call them a blood-soaked variation on Ozu’s “pillow shots” – than the big action sequences.

Running through it all, well below the surface and not in anyone’s way, is a discussion about who’s the real bad guy here. Mob fixer Teddy. Or hitman Bob. All of which is put into proper perspective once Toby Huss arrives on the scene. Do we need subtext? Not really. The joys of Carnahan’s movies are the joys of the surface. He’s now remaking Gareth Evans’s The Raid. Rubs hands.

Copshop – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021


The family driving to save their lives

Gerard Butler is a fine actor capable of great nuance, a line usually guaranteed to get a laugh. No, but he is. It’s just that he’s chosen the action-guy route in films like the (Olympus, London, Angel) Has Fallen series rather than the sensitive thespian path he could have taken after 2004’s Frankie (plenty of nuanced Butler there). Greenland gives us a lot of one sort of Butler and enough of the other to suggest that the actor is weighing up a return to actual acting, rather than continuing exclusively to pull Action Man poses.

Because Greenland is a movie with nuance and some psychological depth wrapped up in a very familiar disaster epic of boombastic proportions.

Butler plays John, the familiar Butler hero – a meat-and-potatoes family man at the white-collar end of a blue-collar industry (building). Manly yet monied, in other words, but with a stain on his blotter, as per. John’s wife Allison (Morena Baccarin) wants to leave him over some unspecified indiscretion. It probably isn’t a closeted gay affair.

On top of this mild threat is dropped a massive one. A comet is hurtling towards Earth. It isn’t expected to do too much damage, John’s sparky diabetic son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd) tells his dad. And then John gets an automated phone call telling him he and his family have been “selected” and they’re to report to an air force base immediately for evacuation.

From here things move quickly into an unfamiliar disaster-movie scenario – there are the “saved” elite and the “damned” who haven’t been “chosen” and there is a fair bit of dealing with the fallout of that, from long-standing friendships between neighbours shattering to the feelings of guilt associated with having been chosen. And then, choppy uncharted waters having been crossed, we’re into proper disaster-movie territory: the might of the US military, chaos, panic, hysteria, explosions, fireballs, lives lost on a massive scale, but not (phew) the lives of our heroes.

Whether the government have been lying to the populace and whether the media have gone along with that are boxes ticked very lightly as John, Allison and Nathan get repeatedly separated while heading first for an airforce base, then for Canada (so often a safe haven in US disaster movies) and finally for Greenland. For reasons which are left unexplained the insensate lumps of fragmenting comet are targeting population centres – the US is getting it bad but “Western Europe” is getting it worse. Western Europe. Is that someone’s Cold War upbringing poking out?

The comet rains down on a freeway
A hard rain

If you saw 2010’s Buried – Ryan Reynolds trapped in a box underground – you’ll already be familiar with the work of Greenland writer Chris Sparling. Jeopardy and its psychological impact are his forté and we get plenty of it here. It’s also interesting that Neil Blomkamp was originally slated to direct, the “chosen” and “damned” being the theme he’s dealt with in every feature film he’s made to date, District 9, Elysium and Chappie.

Instead it’s former stuntman Ric Roman Waugh calling the shots and he does an excellent job, shooting Greenland like it’s one of those terrible nightmares where just as you’re about to get hold of something it slips further from your grasp. Camera shake and panic, disorientating edits and hysteria, panoramas of massive destruction.

In many ways it’s a grungier re-reun of the 2012 disaster movie The Impossible – nice holidaying family Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami – the big-bang epic with a human face, but given Greenland’s 2020 release it’s also tempting to see the whole thing as a metaphor for the covid pandemic.

It’s a lovely idea except the film was made before even a squeak had been heard from Wuhan, so no dice. Enjoy the mayhem.

Greenland – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

I am an Amazon affiliate

© Steve Morrissey 2021

How to Train Your Dragon

Hiccup rides Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



8 March


Raymonde de Laroche is first woman with a pilot’s licence, 1910

On this day in 1910, Raymonde de Laroche became the first woman in the world to receive a pilot’s licence. The Wright brothers had only invented the heavier than air machine seven years earlier, and Louis Blériot had flown the 21 miles across the English Channel, thus proving that long-distance flight was possible, only the year before. De Laroche had learnt to fly after visiting the factory of the Voisin brothers, who manufactured planes in their factory in Chalons, France, in October 1909, where by force of character and a little chicanery she persuaded them to teach her. The following March she was issued with pilot’s licence number 36 by the Aero-Club of France. In July 1910 her plane crashed at a display of flying and she was severely injured. After two years of convalescence she recovered and resumed flying. In 1912 she and Charles Voisin were involved in a car crash, which killed Voisin. Denied the chance to fly in the First World War, she spent the years in service as a military driver. She herself died in 1919 while in training to become a test pilot, after the plane she was in nose-dived into the ground. Women of Aviation Worldwide Week is held around 8 March every year, in her honour.




How to Train Your Dragon (2010, dir: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders)

This CG animation is about a pasty young Viking who just wants to be to be one of the guys – in spite of the fact that he patently isn’t. Our guy is called Hiccup and his life is changed, as is the film, when he finds himself in a Daniel-in-the-lion’s-den situation – finds wounded dragon, frees wounded dragon. The dragon, believe it, is just a big softie who loves having his tummy tickled, is a misunderstood beast, in other words, and Hiccup and the winged creature are soon firm friends, Hiccup feeding Toothless fish. But, guess what, Hiccup’s mother and father, all Vikings in fact, want all dragons dead. Uh oh. If this sounds like the sort of film that makes you want to spew, that’s exactly how I felt about it at the start too. It had all the signs of the “be yourself” movie that Hollywood churns out with such regularity that you can’t help feel that they’re protesting too much. It also tries to post a metrosexual 21st century character back into the Viking era, rather than present us with a film about Vikings, and how different they are from us (which would be really interesting). And in addition it features a carnivorous dragon being fed on fish when what he probably wants is a chicken or goat – no animals, not even an animated one, was harmed in the making of this film etc etc. And yet there’s a reason why it’s spawned two sequels (so far). Two reasons, in fact. The first is the awesome flying sequences, clearly storyboarded and masterminded by somebody with a sense of the aerodynamic possibilities of dragon flight. The second is the way that animation’s powers of exaggeration and caricature are used in a way that’s refreshing these days when so many animation houses slave long into the night to make hair obey the laws of physics – so, more Bug’s Bunny than Pixar. There is a third reason, actually, and it’s the voice work by a team of famous names – Jay Baruchel, Craig Ferguson, Gerard Butler and more – who really rise to the challenge. They actually sound like they’re having fun rather than just taking the money and running.



Why Watch?


  • The great voice talent
  • The flight sequences – in 3D if you can be bothered
  • Because the great cinematographer Roger Deakins is a visual consultant
  • So you can work out why Vikings have Scottish accents


© Steve Morrissey 2014



How to Train Your Dragon – at Amazon






Gerard Butler and Idris Elba in RocknRolla


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



06 September



Idris Elba born, 1972

On this day in 1972, Eve Elba gave birth to Idrissa Akuna Elba, who shortened his name to Idris after starting school in London’s Canning Town. A big kid at school, Idris had the status that went with it, was good at sport, interested in music, keen on acting, where he found he had the self-confidence to “disappear into the character”. At 14 he was a pirate DJ. At 16 he was a theatre stagehand and also did night shifts at Ford’s Dagenham factory. In his early 20s the acting took off and he went from playing the rogue in Crimewatch reconstructions, to picking up regular bit roles in long-running British TV series such as The Bill and The Ruth Rendell Mysteries before moving to New York. In 2002 he got cast in The Wire, as Stringer Bell, and his life changed. Since then he has played Luther in the BBC series – TV’s angriest cop – and has worked in film with directors such as Tyler Perry, Danny Boyle, Guillermo Del Toro and Ridley Scott. He is about to play Nelson Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom. With Elba, you suspect his best work is still to come.



RocknRolla (2008, dir: Guy Ritchie)

It’s not big, but it is clever, Guy Ritchie’s film about London gangsters and Russian mobsters getting in a lather about a painting is an exercise in straight-faced hard-boiled laughs. Not unlike his other films in fact. But this time out Ritchie has the confidence to more or less dispense with trivial detail such as believable plot or character. Rocknrolla is the sort of film where you know the cut of a man’s jib from the style of his syrup (that’s wig, in rhyming slang), or his dress sense, where the aforementioned painting is introduced as the most transparent of Macguffins, and has just enough presence to compress the many characters together into something resembling a story. This is an exercise in preposterous characterisation, with Idris Elba and fellow Brit contingent Tom Wilkinson, Gerard Butler, Thandie Newton and Tom Hardy doing the majority of the work. Meanwhile the US contingent – the likes of Jeremy Piven and Ludacris – are stapled in, the most obvious of “one morning’s work, honest” contributions which Ritchie, again, does nothing to hide. Can you make a coherent film like this? No, but you can make one that’s a lot of fun.



Why Watch?


  • Mark Strong’s ridiculous hair
  • Another great criminal mastermind role for Tom Wilkinson
  • Thandie Newton playing an accountant
  • Ritchie’s best cockney, mockney, whatever film since… possibly ever


© Steve Morrissey 2013



RocknRolla – at Amazon





The Phantom of the Opera

Emmy Rossum and Gerard Butler in The Phantom of the Opera




It’s something of a minor industry to make fun of Andrew Lloyd Webber. But with this film version of his stage phenomenon (billions of dollars at box offices worldwide, and counting) it looks like the musical lord is once more going to be having the last laugh.

It’s a story we all know – a hideously disfugured creature, endowed with a gift for music, yearns for the love of a pretty, young singer. He tutors her and turns her into a star. But could she ever love him?

It’s often said that the story is a coded version of the relationship between Lloyd Webber and his ex-wife, Sarah Brightman. Brightman was the original Christine when the show opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London’s West End in 1986. And along with fellow stage star Michael Crawford she had been ready to start work on the film version way back then. But divorce, the intervening years and the southerly tug of gravity made these first choices redundant.

Through all that time Lloyd Webber had only one choice of director – so he says – Joel Schumacher. Schumacher is a director with no visual signature, but he’s a slick operator who can turn out a real stinker (remember Batman And Robin?) but he can also hit the odd,  perhaps accidental, bullseye (Phone Booth).

He turns out to be the appropriate choice here. In bombastic mode Schumacher opens out Lloyd Webber’s original production to include more backstage action. This injects cinematic energy into what might have been a lifeless theatrical retread. It’s loud, very loud in parts, and lively, with chorus girls, stagehands, dressers, dance mistresses, impresarios, all the elements of a proper backstage musical. The whole thing looks ravishing too – all candle- and gas-lit, as befits its 1870s setting.

Big names bring with them big expectations. Who can forget Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman caterwauling through Moulin Rouge! or Gere, Zellweger and Zeta-Jones in Chicago dancing like they were trying to stamp out burning newspaper? Schumacher and Lloyd Webber instead opt for relative nobodies Emmy Rossum as the starry eyed ingenue Christine and Gerard Butler as the Phantom. The film stands or falls on their performances. It’s once again a clever choice – both are technically up to the task, if a touch bland. Is there a sense that Lloyd Webber actually doesn’t want the film to eclipse the Brightman/Crawford original?

Decorating the edges are more famous names – Miranda Richardson sporting a very strange French accent, Minnie Driver insanely over the top as a diva who is not only extremely highly strung but should be. And Ciaran Hinds and Simon Callow as the owners of the ill-fated Paris opera. Both are clearly in their element as a pair of very ripe fruits – they even get their own Danny Kaye-style number, one of the film’s highlights.

Less successful is Christine’s suitor, the Opera’s patron, wealthy Raoul. This is no comment on Patrick Wilson, the poor actor charged with bringing this prize drip to life. In a film/show like this, there’s only room for one alpha male. And in Phantom, it’s the phantom.

And the music? Well, two show stoppers, some cod Gilbert And Sullivan and a handful of those aimless Lloyd Webber arias might not add up to a classic in everyone’s eyes, but this non-believer was kept entertained. Bottom line: Phantom fans will flock to it, non-believers won’t feel like they’re missing out by staying home.

© Steve Morrissey 2004


The Phantom of the Opera – at Amazon