White House Down (2013)

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Directed By: Roland Emmerich

Written By: James Vanderbilt

Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal,  Joey King, James Woods, Jason Clarke, and Richard Jenkins

The White House is under attack. And no… It’s not Arabs, which the movie takes a couple pokes at. Readers might be thinking: Didn’t this movie come out in March? Well, yes it kind of did. The March release was Olympus Has Fallen, but the differences between the two do not outweigh the overwhelming similarities. Regardless of the remarkable similarities between the two, they are two of the action movies that Hollywood has thrown at us during the first half of this year. The premise does not need to stretch much beyond that; however, as the simple storyline is that a bunch of  (white) American haters have attacked the White House seeking revenge on the entire nation.

Writer James Vanderbilt (writer of The Amazing Spiderman) did one thing very right with White House Down, he did not allow the story to take itself too seriously. With a very touchy subject such as terrorism, it is very difficult to find a balance between what is acceptable and what is not. Many would argue that a movie that involves a terrorist attack on the president should never be made. This reviewer’s argument would be that it can be made, but only as long as it takes itself with a punch in the should now and again. The film is full of cheesy one-liners and unrealistic scenarios, which would be a flaw for most films, but it actually adds to the entertainment value of White House Down. The script even takes pokes at some classic White House legends, which is highly comical in and of itself. The unrealistic action scenes and the remarkably convenient timing also adds to the fun of the film. My hat goes off to Mr. Vanderbilt for taking a nearly impossible topic, and making it immensely entertaining.

Let's see how much fun the CGI guys over at Sony can have with this bad boy...

Let’s see how much fun the CGI guys over at Sony can have with this bad boy…

The key thing that viewers need to see with White House Down was that it was never trying to get your vote for best action story or most realistic action thriller. It knew its place, which was what I seemed to struggle with when I reviewed Fast & Furious 6 on Tuesday. I think some action movies try too hard to please everyone. White House Down knew what it was going for, and it achieved its goal quite well.

Director, Ronald Emmerich, does a great job of continuing James Vanderbilt’s vision. He crafts the action scenes, and leaves it to his visual effects buddies to make the magic happen. He takes a liberty in showing viewers the inside of the White House, while not allowing the artifacts to conflict with his vision.

White House Down might be the movie that officially establishes Channing Tatum as an A-Lister. His name is quickly going around worldwide, and I have to be honest in saying that he’s not half bad. Jamie Foxx is completely unconvincing as the leader of a nation, but he manages to have fun with his role. The villan’s are pretty spot on with their performances, and present a hatable very well.

Perhaps I’m being overly generous to White House Down because I walked into it, and expected the worst. I was genuinely entertained by an action movie with a decent length running time (131 min), and did not check my watch once.

Overall, viewers need to enter White House Down with one goal: to be entertained. If viewers begin to attempt to think through all the illogical plot point in the story, they will not have a good time. Take it for the fun ride that it is, and accept it for what it is. White House Down did all that I could have expected for a mid-summer release, but nothing more.

Rotten Tomatoes: 49%

Metacritic: 52/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 65/100

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

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Directed By: Justin Lin 

Written By: Chris Morgan and Gary Scott Thompson

Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Luke Evans, and other various supporting actors

Well that was realistic…

They’re back and they’re the good guys. That’s right. Leave it to Hobbs (Johnson), a special forces cop, to get Toretto (Johnson) and his crew back to work. They are working to capture Shaw (Evans), a military-trained criminal, that is out to steal a chip that is capable of shutting down an entire country for 24 hours. This chip would be capable of essentially destroying that respective country. The stakes are high, the muscles are big, and the cars go fast.. What could go wrong, right?

To answer the previous question, a lot more than viewers would think. I’m struggling to tell the difference between action movies anymore. Just about everyone has begun to feel the same. Fast & Furious 6 is no exemption. The storyline is washed out and utterly disappointing. The attempt to differentiate itself by switching the setting (again) backfires on them (again). While I like watching big guys kick each others asses as much as everyone else, I can simply not get over the redundancy of the series.

The first Fast & Furious is a good-watch and one of the better action movies of 2001. The second, third, and fourth installments were very disappointing (especially three). I take my hat off to them for their perseverance for sticking with a series that had three consecutive disappointing efforts. Fast Five brought back viewers interest in the series. The Rio setting was appealing and people were  again drawn in by the badass thieves.

Unfortunately, the only aspect of the fast & furious series that was even somewhat original was removed in Fast & Furious 6. They are now the good guys. It’s human nature to want to be a badass, so when the protagonist(s) are bad guys, the movie instantly becomes more exhilarating. Take that aspect away, and it might as well be  Mission Impossible 5: Fast Cars.

The action scenes make no effort to be the slightest bit realistic. In fact, it is just the opposite: It is almost as if the writers made an effort to be unrealistic. I mean, didn’t we already see the ending of this movie in Toy Story? And Argo? In what would be taken by many as the most climatic scene, my theater began to laugh uncontrollably. The writing of the story is embarrassing and the directing could not save it. Just Lin’s direction is perfectly good. He does the best he could with what he had, but he didn’t have much.

The acting is typical action crap. Don’t Worry! Dwayne Johnson is just as awful at acting as he is at hiding his steroid use (nothing new). Paul Walker continues to do his best with a series that seems especially exhausted. Jordana Brewster is still a babe, but we don’t see her much in her relatively minor role. The acting is simply nothing to speak of.

Overall, Fast & Furious 6 can not successfully follow in Fast Five’s foot steps. Bad decisions with the characters mixed with general poor writing made the film just another mediocre summer action flick.

IMDb: 76/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 70/100

Metacritic: 61/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 63/100

Series Roundup: With every new addition, I like to rank every film in the series from Best to Worst:

1. Fast Five (2011)

2. The Fast and the Furious (2001)

3. Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

4. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

5. Fast & Furious (2009)

6. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

Iron Man 3 (2013)

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Directed By: Shane Black

Written By: Drew Pearce and Shane Black

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Guy Pearce, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Don Cheadle

He’s back.. and with a heart (pun intended).

The third installment in the Iron Man series does not provide much variation from the other two. Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) is all over the place in this one. At one point he is the same, cocky, arrogant, lovable guy that we’ve seen in the previous films (especially the first), but in the very next scene he is breaking into full on anxiety attacks. Stark and Pepper Potts (Paltrow) are now in a committed relationship, which takes away from any random Tony Stark one-night-stands (unless there’s a flashback..). Who’s the villan? Well, there’s a new terrorist in town that fans of the comic book will know that goes by The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), and viewers will be shocked when they get to meet him. There’s also an unappreciated villainous mastermind in Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) that comes in to shake things up. Iron Man 3 has one of the better superhero plots, but its lack of execution is where the problem lies.

Would you really trust a relatively unknown director with your $200 million? Marvel did, and it did not pay off. There are moments in Iron Man 3 that had great written potential (i.e. plane rescue scene), but the execution was flawed. The only fault that can attribute to this is the director. My only advice to Marvel can be to get some more experienced people working on their projects. Or is it possible that no acclaimed director wants to take up a film with so much hype surrounding it? Is that why The Dark Knight trilogy was so successful? This is the only reason this reviewer can provide for Marvel’s decision.

With that being said, the writing was far from perfect. Can someone please explain to me why for two movies in a row, the Iron Man movies have not featured very much Iron Man? Until viewers meet The Mandarin, he is a fascinating character, but his comical entrance is ultimately disappointing. Writers Drew Pearce and Shane Black rely too heavily on cheesy one-liners. At the end (or during) every “exciting” scene there is an unnecessary one-liner given by Tony Stark or sometimes Pepper Potts.

Stark and Potts (Downey Jr. and Paltrow) at the Paris premiere of Iron Man 3.

Stark and Potts (Downey Jr. and Paltrow) at the Paris premiere of Iron Man 3.

Stark is not the same cocky piece of shit that we’re used to, and I miss that. I have no problem with character advancement, but we’d be lying if we said we didn’t miss the old Stark. The Stark from this scene is what I crave, and while you get glimpses of him, I wonder if he will ever return. Robert Downey Jr. delivers another steller performance as always, but he fits the repetitive feel of the movie. He does not add anything new to Stark, and simply delivers his lines in the way he always had. The performances in this action flick are all up to par, but one new man must be noted. Guy Pearce adds so much to Iron Man 3. Perhaps I like him because he is the only taste of variation found in Iron Man 3. Whatever the reason, his performance in Iron Man 3 is the highlight of the film, and it is good to see Guy Pearce back in a leading role.

I might just be overly harsh on Iron Man 3. It was light years better than the second film, so maybe I’m just sick of it. Not just Tony Stark. Maybe I’m sick of Marvel. The Avengers (great film) might have just been the end for me. Whether it is Iron Man, Thor, or Captain America infront of the camera, every scene begins to feel the same. Is it overkill? At the end of the day, every movie will entertain viewers and everyone will keep seeing them. And if we all keep seeing them… they’ll just keep throwing them out there. Whether or not that is a bad thing depends on the viewer.

Overall, I’m not dying to see Stark or his suit(s) anytime soon. Iron Man 3 does not hurt the marvel series in any way, but it does not add anything new to it either.

IMDb: 7.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 77/100

Metacritic: 62/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 71/100 (Expectation: 75/100)

Series Roundup: With every new addition, I like to rank every film in the series from Best to Worst:

1. Iron Man

2. Iron Man 3

3. Iron Man 2

District 9 (2009)

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Directed By: Neil Blomkamp 

Written By: Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell 

Starring: Sharlto Copley 

Nominated for 4 (won 0) Academy Awards (Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, and Visual Effects)

As I was going through the list of every Best Picture nominee, I stumbled upon a film that has been towards the top of my watch list for a long time.. District 9.

20 years ago, an alien ship came to a stop over the city of Johannesburg. Different from most alien related films, District 9 does not take place during the invasion. For a change, the humans are actually in control of the aliens. Just those two points previously mentioned already set District 9 far apart from just about every other alien movie, but just because they like being different, part of the film is done as a mockumentary. I will not go into farther detail about the film because the best thing about District 9 is the constant twists and turns throughout the film.

Chances are that you do not recognize any of the names listed under the poster (neither did I); therefore, one of the key goals of the creator, Neill Blomkamp, was to get a “big name” on board with the project. That “big name” ended up being the one and only Peter Jackson. I am a big fan of just about anything that Mr. Peter Jackson touches, and District 9 is not an exception. Peter Jackson’s name on the poster is an instant money maker, but the person that made this film great was not Jackson himself. It was writer/director Neill Blomkamp. District 9 has apparently been his baby ever since he graduated from film school in 1998, and that reflects clearly in the film. Every detail in District 9 seems like it was clearly thought out. District 9 has established Neill Blomkamp, at least in my opinion, as one of the best new writer/directors.

The performances in District 9 are decent at best, but this is a film that does not require strong acting. After all, since when do we go see sci-fi movies for the performances? The effects were some of the most convincing that I’ve ever seen, and the beauty of those effects take your mind off of the acting. Sharlto Copley was solid in his role, but the supporting cast was extremely mediocre.

My main issue with District 9 was the dialogue. This is tricky because its writing is both its strength and weakness. The basic premise behind District 9 is fantastic; however, the dialogue is remarkably cliche. I found myself knowing what the character would say before he said it. With that being said, do we really go to see a sci-fi movie if we’re expecting extremely well-written dialogue? The Best Adapted Screenplay nomination must have been for the idea behind the movie, and not the dialogue itself.

The racism undertone that the movie has is a great touch to the film. Also, it was a welcoming change to cinema seeing a film set in Johannesburg and hearing a different accent than we’re used to. Blomkamp does a great job of paying homage to the city that he grew up in. The mockumentary style of filmmaking will be disliked by some viewers, but to me it was once again a pleasant change to the sci-fi genre.

Overall, District 9 is a modern science fiction classic that will not be soon forgotten.

IMDb: 8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 91/100

Metacritic: 81/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 81/100

Later this year will be Elysium starring Matt Damon and directed by Neill Blomkamp. Mark your calendars for August 9th because this is a film that viewers should get very excited about.