Beowulf & Grendel 2005 ****

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Didn’t I review Beowulf a few weeks ago? Aha, well spotted, but that that was Beowulf, and this is Beowulf & Grendel; yes, as you survey months ahead without a single cinema release circa 2020, over a decade ago there was such a glut of cinema around that there were competing films based around Old English epic poetry. Millennials might find it hard to believe but there was a worldwide mania for Old English epic poetry in the first years of this century; you couldn’t sit down in a Seattle coffee shop for grungy West Saxon scholars. Alas, Robert Zemekis’s Beowulf was not a hit, and neither was Sturla Gunnarsson’s earlier effort as viewed here, and the focus moved to Marvel now that the vogue for Hrothgar interpretation has faded.

Critic Nathan Rabin, always a good canary-in-the-coalmine when it comes to this kind of film, described it as going ‘entertainingly awry’, but while the director admitted that pretty much every aspect of this film went ‘awry’ in a feature length documentary Wrath of Gods (2006), the result is defiantly entertaining. Firstly, it’s got a much better Beowulf in Gerry Butler, freshly graduated from Strathclyde University’s law department and in his absolute prime here. The warrior fights the monster Grendel, and his mother, but strangely the events that provide the inciting incident for Zemekis’s film are the climax here, with ensuing pacing issues. In fact, Beowulf and Grendel has quite a different take on the source material, humanising Grendel, who we see playing 10-pin bowling with human heads and passing the time before revenging the death of his father. Much more is made of the tribal issues that Beowulf, pumped-up on herring and egg, solves, notably Eddie Marsan as a religious leader. ‘Christ? I’ve heard of him,’ muses an unconverted heathen. ‘Did you ever have much luck with trolls?’ Such anachronistic dialogue promises and delivers laughs for sure, but it’s clear that everyone is in one the joke; everyone mumbles about ‘f**king trolls’ and Stellan Skarsgaard’s boozy king curses ‘No-one eve tells me anything!’ He’s a king who bemoans ‘I’m a king whose balls are ground up on Instagram’ although I may have mis-transcribed that line; no subtitles were available.

‘Where there is superstition, there is practice,’ is a more stimulating line that sticks in the mind here, suggestive of the film’s demythologising of the subject without removing the magic; this Beowulf isn’t given to CGI, but stunningly shot locations in and around which tiny figures run, a unique look that, from all accounts, exhausted cast and crew. More information on the trials and tribulations of the shoot can be gleaned from the detailed EPK interview with Butler on the last day on the shoot, sitting in his Winnebago in full costume looking like every inch a football star giving a post-match interview.

Beowulf & Grendel made $100,000 on a sixteen million dollar budget, quite a feat, and yet it is, by Rabin’s terminology, a secret success. It has a unique, authentic look, a striking take on superstition and religion as non-exclusive, and big, big performances from Butler and Sarah Polley, red of hair, lustrous of make-up and relishing every second as an Irish soothsayer. It’s no surprise this whole enterprise was caviar to the general; the two box quotes on the DVD offer the faintest of faint praise ‘Gerald Butler is perfectly cast,’ gushes cinematical.com while reel.com dishes out the superlatives with ‘the movie is better than the book’. Neither cinematical.com or reel.com exist now, even if they existed back then, so questions might be asked about the authenticity of these pull quotes; bizarrely, it’s easier to trace Old Norse epics than identifying reviewing websites of 15 years ago. Beowulf & Grendel is a knowing, underrated, revisionist take on a legend that comes up fresh, funny and far better than it’s reputation suggests. Much like the title character.

99p on Amazon Prime in the UK, go on, you know you want to…

The Bounty Hunter 2010 ***

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It’s hard to believe, but we are currently approaching the ten year anniversary of the release of The Bounty Hunter; how are you planning to celebrate? Taking a second look at this widely maligned rom-com, it’s something of a time capsule; yes, everyone has mobile phones, and the internet exists, but Andy Tennants’s film seems to hark back to screwball comedies of the 1930’s, or even road movies from the 1970’s.

Andy Tennant is something of a secret success; between 1995 and 2010, he made a series of rom-coms which made a billion dollars worldwide, despite the fact you could sit next to the director in an airport lounge and be unaware of his presence. And yet his films are not anonymous, and somewhere between Sweet Home Alabama and Fools Gold, there’s an emerging interest in character and story that serves him well. Working from a script by Sarah Thorp, he mines a scuzzy yet homespun appeal from two popular leads here.

Gerry Butler, of course, is bounty hunter Milo Boyd, seen interrupting a Fourth-of July parade in an all-action opening that sees him at work, chasing down a perp just as he used to do when he was a cop. But that was a while ago, when he was married to Nicole (Jennifer Aniston), who has divorced him with extreme prejudice. She’s got some traffic violations and has neglected to lawyer-up appropriately, so Milo is delighted to have the fun of tracking down his ex-wife. But he doesn’t reckon of the case she’s investigating as a journalist, which involves her with all kind of nefarious characters.

And of course, Milo and Nicole fall in love, while bullets fly and SUV’s coast through the air. There’s old school support from Carol Kane and Christine Baranski, and an early, creepy turn from SNL’s Jason Sudeikis. Butler hasn’t yet developed his gruff exoskeleton, and plays vulnerable to good effect, but Aniston is the wheel the whole operation pivots on. With her TV smarts, a film career has seemed somewhat effortless, and yet films liken The Good Girl and Cake demonstrated that she could push the Americas sweetheart act in diverse ways.

The Bounty Hunter is the kind of film cineastes reject and audiences lap up without a thought. The thriller mechanics are nothing new, and the film relies of the slippery exchanges between Butler and Aniston, who both have a good measure of the material. Sometime you just need to chill while a movie does the work for you; The Bounty Hunter aims for the low-hanging fruit and doesn’t miss.

Hunter Killer 2018 ****

There’s not much hunting, but a whole lot of killing in Hunter Killer; the subject is submarines in modern warfare, and Gerry Butler is the man with the answers. He’s Commander Joe Glass, a maverick who doesn’t play by the rules; he does things HIS way! Pretty much everything about Joe is a cliché, but Donovan Marsh’s thriller attempts to make up for in incident what it lacks in originality. Glass takes command of the American USS Arkansas at the Faslane nuclear base in Scotland; he’s sent on a secret mission deep into the Arctic where another submarine has gone missing. Glass ends up teaming up with Russian sub Konek and it’s captain Sergei Andropov (Michael Nvqvist) to foil a Russian coup d’etat and rescue the deposed Russian president, while back in the US, weasely Admiral Charles Donnegan (Gary Oldman) watches as the action escalates. Oldman is playing a character who ducks responsibility, but he seems to take the role quite literally, rarely clearly in shot and usually scurrying out of frame; rarely has an actor looked like they didn’t actually want to be in a film. Given the manliness on show, that’s no surprise; Hunter Killer is a big, beefy Tom Clancy-type thriller that takes no prisoners. The action is decent, but unfortunately the star is stuck in a tin can for most of it. It’s becoming a modern phenomena that big, reality based action movies (Mile 22, Patriot’s Day, Deepwater Horizon) are struggling to find an audience; Hunter Killer’s straightforward, gung-ho action should pick up a few fans on streaming, with Butler a gruff centre and plenty of entertainment to be drained from the hair-trigger plotline.

Angel Has Fallen 2019 ****

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Mike Banning (Gerry Butler) is a burnt-out case. His health is failing, his emotional range is narrowing, he barely recognises his own wife. Of course, that could be because she’s not played by the same actress (Radha Mitchell) as in the first two films, Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen, but Banning’s loyalty to the President is unshakable. Aaron Eckhart clearly didn’t fancy a third outing either, so Morgan Freeman is hurriedly sworn in as Commander In Chief Allan Trumbull for Ric Roman Waugh’s cheeky and entertaining film. Trumbull comes under attack from an airborne army of explosive drones, and in the eyes of the authorities, Banning is linked to this treasonous act of terrorism. Fleeing the scene, Banning hides out with his estranged dad, played by Nick Nolte in a full Yosemite Sam/Dirty Santa/prospector peeing–through-his-knee length beard get-up (‘I don’t do medication,’ says Nolte, in a knowing wink to the audience). Banning and his dad set out to find out who was responsible, while FBI agent Jada Pinkett Smith is in hot pursuit in the style of The Fugitive. Although various personnel have jumped ship, Angel Has Fallen is easily the best of the trilogy, and arguably Butler’s best action film yet. Decent support (Danny Huston, Tim Blake Nelson) and improved action scenes including a truck chase through a forest, and a slam-bang shoot-out in a high-tech hospital climax that really deliver the goods. And hewn-from-granite leading man Butler is the happy centre that a straight-forward action movie requires; lily-livered liberal film critics may scoff, but a big man, a big gun and instant justice will make Angel Has Fallen a guilty pleasure for all sides of the political spectrum.

Geostorm 2017 ***

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Gerry Butler’s name is so synonymous with so-bad-it’s good films that he’s likely to gain a cult status alongside his status as a box office draw. Dean Devlin’s Geostorm made over $220 million at the box-office worldwide, despite being identified by pretty much everyone as a turkey. But what a greased and freshly basted turkey it is; Butler plays Jake Lawson a satellite designer who has created ‘Dutch Boy’, a climate control system which protects the world from the potential ravages of climate change. A farcical exposition dump establishing this unlikely scenario ends with Jake being hauled before the U.S. Senate and getting his knuckles rapped for his fly-by-the-seat-of your-pants attitude. But Jake has no chance to sulk, because his brother Max (bad movie eminence grise Jim Sturgess) gets wind that someone is sabotaging Dutch Boy, creating abnormal weather conditions. Jake heads straight to the International Space Station to sort things out in a whodunit scenario, while Max stays on earth to wrestle with his boss (Ed Harris) and the President (Andy Garcia). Geostorm bears evidence of multiple reshoots, rewrites and a general lack of confidence in paper-thin material; an Independence Day-style spectacle is the intention, but Devlin’s film works best as a comedy, which several notably silly scenes particularly the risible limo vs rocket launcher action scene and Jake and Max creating secret school-boy conversational codes to avoid surveillance-camera attention. Geostorm feels more like a parody than a real movie; all concerned would rather you forgot it, but it finally crept out on DVD and VOD last year.

Gods of Egypt 2015 ***

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The mother lode for fans of movies that are so-bad-they’re good, Alex Proyas’s high-minded, low-achieving epic is a model of everything going wrong at the same time, to comical effect. The concept is good; why not bring Transformers-style effects to Egyptian mythology? There’s plenty of scope for spectacle, and Gods of Egypt certainly looks amazing. But when the cast are anything but Egyptian, ranging from Bryan Brown to Gerald Butler, any claims to ethnic authenticity go straight out the window. And the ambition of Proyas’s film falls well short due to slipshod technique; the idea that the gods are all bigger than mortals means that eye-lines are all over the place, and characters are constantly addressing thin air. God Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is double-crossed by his brother Set (Butler) and banished; a simple thief Bek (Brenthon Thwaites) agrees to help Horus if the god will fix the release of his girlfriend from the underworld. Meanwhile Geoffrey Rush orbits the earth on a flying boat, Chadwick Boseman tries to figure out riddles and Rufus Sewell lurks in the background, seemingly the only one in on the joke. Gods of Egypt was universally panned on release, but anyone seeking a silly spectacle will find plenty to enjoy.

Dear Frankie 2004 ***

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A pre-300 Gerald Butler demonstrates his considerable charisma in this sensitive, lively family drama. Directed by Shona Auerbach and written by Andrea Gibb, Dear Frankie is about Lizzie(Emily Mortimer), a young mother who is concerned for the well-being of her son (Jack McElhone). She’[s concocted a fabricated story to explain to Frankie that his father is constantly busy at sea, but when his ship is die to comes to port in Greenock, Lizzie offers a stranger (Butler) money to pretend to be Frankie’s father. Gibb’s script focuses tightly on Frankie’s understanding of adult relationships, leading to a twist that plays cleverly on audience expectations. Dear Frankie is a tear-jerker, but one that engages the audience in an honest, genuinely moving way.