Angel Has Fallen

⋆½ out of four stars

Rated: R for violence and crude language.

 

This is a freak: an action movie with half a brain but no fun whatsoever. Most action flicks would settle for thrilling violence and mayhem in service of a utilitarian plot. But the third installment of this series — following “Olympus Has Fallen” and “London Has Fallen” — flips the formula, delivering a surprisingly coherent story but no excitement.

Mike Banning, a Secret Service agent code-named Angel and played by Gerard Butler as an indiscriminate macho man, is back.

During an assassination attempt by drone that leaves the president (Morgan Freeman) in a coma, every member of the presidential security detail is killed — except Banning, who then is accused of planning the attack.

In a nod to the current political climate, the FBI has found evidence on the dark web suggesting a link between Banning and the Kremlin. What follows are the sort of perfunctory twists and turns that any attentive viewer will spot from a mile away. But the way the movie shapes its plot into a kind of social commentary is worth chewing on. Who is to blame for our national panic? There is no simple answer.

Several exterior shots look like a soundstage. Action set pieces are laughably choreographed. And some of CGI effects are way too obvious.

That leads us to the real mystery: How does an $80 million movie end up looking so low-rent?

hau Chu, Washington Post

 

One Child Nation

⋆⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rated: R for disturbing images and brief profanity; in English and subtitled Mandarin.

Theater: Lagoon.

 

In 1979, when the Chinese government decreed that couples could have only one child, no exception was made for twins. This riveting film, which won Sundance’s Documentary Grand Prize, explains what would happen: One twin, most likely female, would be torn from her parents and sent to an orphanage, the first stop in a process that often led to overseas adoption.

If that sounds abhorrent — and, of course, it was — those children were the lucky ones. Before such adoptions became common, the movie reveals, infant girls were often abandoned or killed.

This is personal for co-director and narrator Nanfu Wang. Born in a rural area in 1985, Wang grew up in a two-child family — a rarity permitted in rural areas under certain circumstances. Now based in the United States, the filmmaker visited China after the birth of her first child. Although the one-child policy has been abolished, she encountered few apologies and a continued preference for boys over girls.

Wang had a lot of questions for her parents, who chose to educate her brother rather than her. Her aunt and uncle have disturbing stories to tell, underscored by the harrowing remembrances of workers who regularly discovered abandoned babies (more often dead than alive) and discarded fetuses.

The movie covers a lot of a territory, and many of its topics need to be explored in more depth. But Wang and co-director Jialing Zhang (who’s billed in the American credits as Zhang Lynn) structure the narrative effectively, and they deftly expand from the personal to the historical. This is an important film, if often a difficult one to watch.

Mark Jenkins, Washington Post

Jay Myself

⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Not rated

Theater: Uptown.

 

The career of 88-year-old American photographer Jay Maisel has been blessed both by his individual talent, which is vast, and by some very good fortune. That latter component manifested itself most generously in the early 1960s, when Maisel signed a purchase agreement for a six-story, 36,000-square-foot former bank building in New York City even though he didn’t have the money for down payment.

But, as he recalls in this energetic documentary directed by Stephen Wilkes (his former intern), luck was on his side. A magazine assignment fee turned out to be a per-page deal, not a flat rate, and the pages were many. Voilà, a down payment.

Not only did Maisel move his family into the former bank, but the space enabled him to become a hoarder — albeit a hoarder of genius.

In addition to warehousing his work, he also invented gizmos and collected objects of various attractive colors. “He’s completely oblivious to all the things in the world that are relevant and important,” his daughter, Amanda, notes, matter-of-factly but with a smile.

The making of the film was occasioned by Maisel’s sale of the place a couple of years ago. He had to part with much of his idiosyncratic stuff, a process that looks both fascinating and exhausting. And it gave Wilkes an avenue to explore Maisel’s career. It’s a fun journey.

Glenn Kenny, New York Times