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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Jack Reacher (2012)

Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher

Release Date: December 21, 2012

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Stars: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins

Runtime: 130 min

Tagline: The law has limits. He does not.

A homicide investigator, Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise), digs deeper into a case involving a trained military sniper who shot five random victims.

Yes, the plot is as simple as it sounds. But it’s effectively simple. It seems that McQuarrie adapts the novel, ‘One Shot’ by Lee Child, very well. While the story is as simple as mystery/thrillers get, it is exciting, and it’s a mystery that often keeps you guessing who is innocent, and who is guilty.

Unfortunately, the simple plot can get silly, and there are a few holes in the story telling. The motive of the baddies is stated, but it is never explored or even fully explained. They’re just up against Mr. Reacher.

Initially, there was some skepticism behind the casting of Tom Cruise, a miniature 5-foot-7 man, playing the 6-foot-5 brute from the novels. There’s a pretty large difference between the two statures. Because, hell, if Reacher is 6-foot-5, I’m Michael Jordan playing basketball poorly. It’s just not something you’re going to believe. Anyway, the end product is superb. Cruise kicks major ass, and after seeing him do it so well, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the shoes of a not-so-over-bearing Reacher.

This is a mystery/thriller that should be treasured during this century. It’s an incredible simple mystery that has some real old-fashioned action sequences that hold you by the throat. Cruise’s undeniable charisma and the helpings of funny lines make it that much more enjoyable, and it holds one’s attention even more. If you ever start to find yourself uninterested, don’t worry, there’s probably a chase scene or a fight scene just around the bend. Hang in there!

The supporting cast help out with carrying the flick, too. Pike is just mighty sexy, and she’s a great British actress to watch. Richard Jenkins is great in just about everything he does, also. Robert Duvall offers more than a few funny lines, and his role is great for that. There are many other performers there, but this is very much Cruise’s show – and no one steals that from him.

If there’s anything better than Cruise himself, it is probably the interesting cinematography or the more-than-unsettling opening scene. The camerawork and there are some nice angles worked into the feature. In the opening scene, the viewer sees all the victims get shot. Right through the scope of the man’s sniper rifle. It goes over everyone the man is planning to kill, and it does it to the sound of his heavy breathing. It is mostly suspenseful because you do not know who he is going to choose. It is one of the most grippingly suspenseful scenes of the feature, and there are only a few other scenes that are better than it.

In a nutshell: Jack Reacher is a very fun mystery action/thriller that offers solid entertainment and more than a few memorable action scenes. The plot is effective and there may be some holes in its story, but that really doesn’t get in the way of enjoyment during. The surprising bites of humour make it that much more and enjoyable, and I am pleased to welcome this old-fashioned-lives-by-his-own-rules investigator to action cinema.

75/100

Killing Them Softly (2012)

Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly

Release Date: November 30, 2012

Director: Andrew Dominik

Stars: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins

Runtime: 97 min

Tagline: In America, you’re on your own

Note: I love the idea of a good mob flick. I have a large list of ones I have to check out, including ‘Goodfellas’ (cue the gasp); and in all honesty, this is my second mafia related film (I think). The first being ‘Road to Perdition’. But I loved this. Enjoy the review. 

Ah. Hitmen meet the economy; they go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is an enforcer hired to restore order after three dumb guys, who think they’re smart, rob a mob-protected card game, causing the local criminal economy to collapse.

Johnny Amato (a.k.a., Squirrel; portrayed by Vincent Curatola) is the so-called mastermind behind the heist of a mob-protected card game. He enlists the assistance of Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), and the plan is seemingly golden. The host of this card game is Markie Trattman, a man who hosted another card game in the past, and he then robbed his own card game. Due to that, card games went away for a little while. Now they’re back. The local criminal bosses believe that if this one gets robbed, Markie will have to be behind it. That’s what makes these three dumb guys believe that this is a foolproof plan.

Because of all this, Jackie Cogan gets called in to restore a little order to this imperfect local economy.

The film opens with Frankie (Scoot McNairy) walking down a rundown street, and the film cuts between a politician speaking (Obama or George W., possibly) and him. The wording constantly gets off. This is both stylish and artistic, but it will get irritating to the impatient viewer. It becomes known that this film is set when George W. Bush was still leader of the free world, and America was in an economic crisis. The card game being robbed doesn’t particularly assist the local criminal economy in any way.

In that way, this is both a story of violence and despair, and a compelling and complex social commentary of 2008 America in the midst of one of the worst financial situations since the Great Depression. The concepts in Killing Them Softly are complex, but they aren’t hard to comprehend. The film suggests that America is not a place where one could easily raise their kids. It is not a community, it is a business. However, these concepts of economics and capitalism are not subtly explored. The political voice-over speeches are practically right in your face, as if they’re 3D. Though, this barely bothered me.

Jackie Cogan is an awesome character who is filled with philosophy and mystery. Though, he isn’t the only interesting character in this. There is also Frankie and Russell, who may be a little dim-witted, but they are nonetheless good characters. Russell is often really there just for comedic relief, and he is also a representation of the stupid people of America. Frankie may be sort of dumb, but he is much smarter than Russell. Both the characters are good enough to carry the film for their scenes. In fact, they practically carry the film for the first twenty minutes – with a little help from Curatola and Liotta. These actors remind us that a film can be good, even when Pitt isn’t onscreen. Also, Brad Pitt entering the screen to the sound of Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” is the perfect touch.

Brad Pitt, as usual, is a booming screen presence. Put him next to Richard Jenkins’ character, he’s cool and he has a mysterious bravado. Speaking of Richard Jenkins’ character, his name is never revealed. He is just the middle man of crime who pays Cogan. Though the question of who Jenkins works for is left unanswered. That is one of the pleasant ambiguities and mysteries of the film.

Though, put Pitt next to James Gandolfini’s character of Mickey (another hit man called in by Cogan to help out with killing the twerps), he’s nothing special. Only because he’s listening to Mickey talk his ear off. Mickey’s character hardly fascinated me.  He talks too much, and he doesn’t kill enough. Don’t get me wrong, Gandolfini’s a great screen presence. I just wasn’t digging the character. So don’t you tell Gandolfini to put out a contract on my head. I don’t want to die, man. I’m just telling it how it is.

Scoot McNairy has proved to audiences that he is a solid supporting presence (Exhibit A: this; and Exhibit B: Argo) and also a good leading man presence (as shown in 2010’s Monsters). I look forward to more performances by this promising actor.

The story, the cinematography and the editing are the real highlights of the film. There are a few other vividly cool editing sequences, that leave me feeling impressed. There’s one scene where Pitt is firing a gun in the rain in a slow-motion sequence, that is stunning. It’s vividly cool, and is worth the watch simply for that. Don’t stay for just that, though. This is one of the best films of the year!

There is a whole load of killing, but not as much as it seems to promise. In that way, the advertising is sort of deceiving. That’s okay, though, the other things that it never promises make up for it. There’s a fair share of soft, but brutal, killing to satisfy all, even though the kills are far between each other. The social commentary it offers is also profound. Sometimes it gets talky, but it is never uninteresting. The film has its fair share of intensity. The soundtrack is great and the atmosphere it offers is one of the most unique of the year. The writing is great, and the actors are great. They don’t disappoint one bit. There’s enough violence, and enough politics and economics to leave both crime movie lovers and scholars with a smile on their faces by the time the end credits roll. Just don’t expect non-stop carnage, and you’ll be good.

90/100

Let Me In – Quite the remake of a great Swedish film.

Let Me In

Release Date: October 1, 2010

Director: Matt Reeves

Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloë Grace Moretz, Richard Jenkins

Runtime: 116 min

Tagline: Innocence dies. Abby doesn’t.

 Let Me In is a remake of the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In, and is based on the Swedish novel, Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist.

Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a lonely twelve-year old boy, with a wicked sense of voyeurism, and has been constantly bullied at school. When a mysterious girl, Abby (Chloë Moretz), and her father (Richard Jenkins) move in next door to him, he hopes he has the chance to find a companion in her. Abby’s no ordinary girl, though; the cold doesn’t seem to phase her, and she even walks around in the snow in her bare feet. Also, coinciding with the sudden appearance of this young and mysterious supposed twelve-year old girl, are a string of mysterious murders that are believed to be a cult thing, where the victim’s blood is drained and taken. Owen may find courage he’s been looking for in this small, but ever-so strong, girl. All the while, a police investigator (Elias Koteas) is getting close on the case, but what he doesn’t know is that he’s actually hunting a savage young vampire.

This remake is a worthy substitute for a great foreign horror film. While it does seem to lack some of the emotional appeal as the original, it is fairly well done – and the wintery Sweden location is well relocated to a winter in New Mexico.

Rather than the original, it seems like it tried much harder to be a horror film, rather than a more emotional ride with many horrific elements.

Chloë Grace Moretz really does deliver a great performance, especially for such a young actress. I did prefer it [her performance] rather than that of the young girl from the original film. The film lacks the same great atmospheric style as the original, unfortunately. It isn’t nearly as well directed, but a comparison between Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) and Tomas Alfredson (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) isn’t exactly fair. This remake does jump into the story much quicker than the original though, and I liked it for that.

Comparisons aside: Standing alone, it offers a fairly good experience that is one of my favourite vampire flicks. The cast does a great job and the film can be quite twisted and some of the themes are pretty interesting.

Both Owen and Abby are monsters on their own terms, but Owen is too weak to stand up for himself – and must learn lessons from Abby.

The climactic scene is pretty good, but not amazing. The atmosphere is pretty stylish, and can offer a unique experience for those of you [strictly] mainstreamers. It is a film worth checking out.

This film stars Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloë Grace Moretz as the real show stealer Abby, Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas as the Policeman (and as the voice of Owen’s Father) and the voice and some body of (I say that because the woman’s face is actually never shown) of Cara Buono as Owen’s Mother.

Let Me In is a worthy substitution of a great Swedish film. It lacks the same great atmosphere and emotional appeal as the original, and goes more for the scares, but is an interesting and well-paced film that offers a good and memorable experience.  

75/100

– Daniel Prinn

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

The Cabin in the Woods

Release Date: April 13, 2012

Director: Drew Goddard

Stars: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison

Runtime: 95 min

Tagline: You think you know the story.

As I’m not very experienced at reviewing films just yet, I thought the best way for not spoiling that much of the film is by keeping it kind of short and sweet.

A group of young adults go for a getaway vacation to a, you guessed it, cabin in the woods; where things start out alright, but they soon turn into a wicked nightmare.

It’s quite admirable that this has some reminiscent themes of two extremely different films: Scream and The Truman Show.

It does have some delightful twists and turns and was a real pleasant and fresh surprise, and is the greatest horror gem of 2012 I’ve seen thus far. It’s one of those films where I walked out of the theatre and wanted to watch it again, and told all of my friends to see it, and searched the DVD release date (which by the way is September 18). If I had to pick a flaw I guess I’d saw the pacing was a bit off. All of the cast fitted their roles perfectly, so the casting director shall get a gold star from me. This film was filmed in 2009 and was put on the shelf because of budgetary issues and the studio wanted to convert it to 3D, but I’m so glad they didn’t do that because I would have hated to see this great horror flick to have potentially bad 3D effects.

The film stars Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford (that schmuck from Billy Madison) and a sweet cameo from a horror icon (seriously, don’t even do research, you’ll want to be surprised when you watch it).

You don’t want to miss this horror treat from the minds of Drew Goddard (Cloverfield) and Joss Whedon (The Avengers), and is Goddard’s directorial debut. It’s a must-see, has big scares can be really funny at times, and is the most original horror film I have seen since Scream.

90/100