White House Down (2013)

White House DownRelease Date: June 28, 2013. Director: Roland Emmerich. Stars: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal. Runtime: 131 min.

Apparently infiltrating the White House is so easy, everyone’s doing it! (And they just finished re-building it, too!) All you have to do is rally up a bunch of people who are angry at the government, spend a day planning, synchronize your watches, and go to town. But be careful, there’s going to be a highly-decorated police officer of some kind standing in your way.

John Cale (Channing Tatum) is a Capitol police officer on tour of the White House with his daughter Emily (Joey King). He is also interviewing for a spot on the Secret Service, protecting President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). On that very day, because the President issued an international Peace Treaty, a paramilitary group invades the White House; now John must save his daughter, the President, and the country.

Whether it be Channing Tatum vs. a 25-person paramilitary group or Gerard Butler vs. North Korea’s entire 300 person army, both action guys are forces to be reckoned with. “Olympus Has Fallen” had to face comparisons to “Die Hard” back in March, so compared to this, it is living on easy street. Now, this has to face comparisons to both “Die Hard” and “Olympus.” Will it stand strong through all of it? Probably not.

“White House Down” is the better movie in some ways – but “Olympus” has the benefit of being released first. The former is superior to the latter in the CGI-effects department, the higher-profile director, and the cast. Even against the likes of Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart and Melissa Leo; once you have Tatum, Foxx and Maggie Gyllenhaal and then add the extra oomph of James Woods, Richard Jenkins and Jason Clarke; there’s no competition. But “Olympus” wins in many other aspects.

“Olympus” embraces its over-the-top brutality and the insane premise of a terrorist group taking down the most heavily protected house on Earth in a matter of minutes. That movie is a lot of fun. This is only mildly fun. It has fun with the premise, but its aspirations of becoming a great buddy action comedy feel forced. This feels too serious at times, which doesn’t work to the film’s benefit with so many frustrating “Okay, that’ll never happen!” moments. Granted, this premise will never happen – but if it does ever happen, we should all hope that the actual John McClane is taking a tour of the White House that day.

The antagonists’ motives are explained well for the most part. Cale’s motivations to stay at the White House to save his daughter are evident as well, even if those motivations are cookie-cutter. But that isn’t bad for this type of movie, because audiences are there for the action. There just isn’t enough of it.

The build-up takes too long, and this type of movie needs to have tension building that doesn’t take forever. There’s a lot of drama there, and we just want the action. And the bits of humour. Thankfully, there’s quite a lot of that, too. One of the members of the paramilitary group (the amusing hacker, Jimmi Simpson) has a lot of charisma, so he is the best antagonist in the movie – even better than the boss man (who I won’t reveal, even if (s)he’ll be blatantly obvious). There’s a prominent buddy comedy aspect, and even if the jokes aren’t so memorable, they provide big laughs at the time.

“White House Down” is familiar and forgettable, but it’s not a horrible way to pass 131 minutes. It just doesn’t bring enough to the table to be noteworthy. Since it’s so familiar, there are few surprises hiding away, and the antagonists are obvious from the get go. Apparently, if you’ve seen one Die Hard in the White House movie; you’ve seen them all.

Score: 58/100

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The Great Gatsby (2013)

The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby

Release Date: May 10, 2013

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joel Edgerton, Tobey Maguire

Runtime: 143 min

An astounding adaptation of a novel is rare. Some notable greats include The Silence of the Lambs, Fight Club, and recently, Life of Pi. There are bad ones, like every other Stephen King adaptation (that isn’t handled by acclaimed directors or starring great actors). The newest book-to-movie adaptation is of The Great Gatsby, where Baz Luhrmann decides to stay faithful to the source material, and this turns out to be a great adaptation of a highly-acclaimed book.

Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is a Midwestern war veteran who moves to Long Island, and he soon becomes attracted to the past and lifestyle of his millionaire neighbour, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Luhrmann takes a unique stylish approach to the source material, and there’s enough substance to keep movie-goers satisfied. The odd scene feels empty and rings dull. This is most notably the interaction at the barbershop between Wolfsheim, Gatsby and Carraway. The audience does the feel the emotions they’re supposed to feel, and they become invested in the few characters (Gatsby, Carraway) that are actually likeable.  The symbols of the Green Light and the Eyes of of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg are significant enough to the story, that they begin to become characters in themselves; and they begin to feel more likeable than some of the characters. Luhrmann achieves his fantastic vision, while still keeping Fitzgerald’s classic themes – love, hope, dreams, the past, wealth, prosperity, the American dream – intact.

Simultaneously, he achieves the Fitzgerald-like vision, and I think F. Scott Fitzgerald would approve of this if he were alive. I like to think I comprehend the cultural significance of the source novel, even if it is a boring book. I’d rather re-visit this movie and not the book, and that might be because I think listening to big words is easier than reading them. The movie is just as slow as the book itself, but if it were any quicker, it would feel rushed. A rushed movie wouldn’t leave such a lasting impression. It’s a great adaptation because the viewer feels the same way as if they were actually reading the novel. The thought-provoking feature is handled so well and it is very well-made. It’s always intelligent and rarely boring. If one reads the novel, there’s no way they could imagine set pieces so lavish and magnificent as this. I think this is quite the great achievement.

The extravagant set pieces, production design and costume design truly capture the essence of the 1920’s. This movie will make you fall in love with the time period all over again. The contemporary music surprisingly fits the amazing parties that are thrown, as well as the movie’s style. The contrast between the rich lifestyle of Long Island and the slum-like lifestyle of the Valley of Ashes is fascinating.

The introduction of each character is refreshing, and each star captures the significance and mystery of each character. The cast is a great ensemble. Joel Edgerton brings some fine intensity and spot-on arrogance to the despicable Tom Buchanan. If there’s any role to make Edgerton a household name, it’s this one. Jason Clarke and Isla Fisher are the right choices to capture the poor, paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle of the 1920s, as George and Myrtle Wilson, respectively. Elizabeth Debicki rocks her big feature film debut as Jordan Baker. Carey Mulligan (who is almost always fantastic) is delicate and stunning as the irritating Daisy Buchanan, but she really embraces the foolishness of the character, and she performs superbly.

Tobey Maguire is adequate as Nick Carraway. He’s the character that has to keep everyone’s secrets. Maguire’s range of emotions isn’t wide. There’s some obvious emotions of regret, contempt and anxiety when he’s writing about Gatsby; and he always seems intrigued and in awe in Gatsby’s presence. He’s a better presence when he is narrating. The pairing of Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio reminds me of the Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman pair of The Shawshank Redemption. Everyone will praise the latter, and the former will get the shorter end of the stick. Every person who walks out of the theatre will be discussing the latter performer first.

DiCaprio truly captures the essence of Gatsby, a man of hope, of mystery, and delicacy, a man who rose from ashes to be, like Jack Dawson of Titanic, “king of the world”. He is an intriguing character, it just feels right to hear DiCaprio say “old sport” so much in one movie. After watching this great man portray Gatsby, it’s hard to imagine anyone other actor in the role. He gives one hell of a performance, and he is one of the best things about the film. He draws the viewers into the picture more; and the movie truly takes flight right when the essential introduction of the mystery host comes about. It’s really a refreshing introduction to an intriguing character.

Luhrmann surprisingly stays faithful to the novel. He maintains the intelligent themes, takes some really boring material out, and throws some fresh material in. The movie is long and it feels that way, but everything unfolds in a visually compelling way. It’s rarely boring, and Luhrmann truly makes classic literature feel sexy. The utilization of 3D makes the sets even cooler, and it feels like it adds a whole new layer. This is a very good adaptation of a novel hailed as one of literature’s greatest books and tragedies; but sadly, and unsurprisingly, it doesn’t translate into one of cinema’s greatest films.

82/100

Lawless (2012)

LawlessLawless

Release Date: August 29, 2012

Director: John Hillcoat

Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce

Runtime: 116 min

Tagline: When the law became corrupt, outlaws became heroes.

Lawless is probably the most fun you’ll have not understanding half the words that come out of the actors’ mouths. They don’t exactly master Southern accents; especially, Tom Hardy. The guy’s a fantastic actor, but he’s no Christian Bale in mastering any kind-of American accent. The actors are fantastic in their roles, but you might have to put on the subtitles when the Bondurant’s are on-screen. And that’s almost the whole time. The ensemble cast is one of the more memorable of 2012; composed of Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain (she gets nude!), Dane DeHaan, Jason Clarke, Mia Wasikowska, and a very small role from the always-fantastic Gary Oldman.

The story follows a bootlegging gang (the Bondurant family) who get threatened by a new deputy and other authorities who want a cut of their profits. It’s a slow story at that, but it’s gruesomely violent and one heck of a gangster feature. It’s set in the fascinating Prohibition era in Franklin County, Virginia, and it’s essentially a story of standing up for oneself. Especially for the youngest Bondurant, Jack (LaBeouf), whose innocence is heavily contrasted by the incredibly tough Howard (Clarke) and the brain and brawn, Forrest (Hardy). They’re not the type to give away a cent of their profits, and it’s usually entertaining to watch the violent brawls and how they defend what’s right. If you like Prohibition era gangster movies, Guy Pearce playing a major nance, shoot-outs, great ensemble casts but a fairly forgettable story, and well-developed characters; check this out. Prepare to use subtitles whenever Tom Hardy speaks.

74/100