Richard Jenkins

July 6, 2013

White House Down

NO

Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.  In this case, however, what we are washing is the previously TERRIBLE White House take over movie that came out only months ago in Olympus Has Fallen.  What we are rinsing it with is water more akin to the foul waste that made The Toxic Avenger and Emil from Robocop what they are today.  And what we are repeating is an idea that would only work for an easy to please audience perpetually living in the year 1992.  White House Down, surprisingly isn’t the worst movie to come out this year. (Hi Lone Ranger)  But boy oh boy it misses that mark by only an ant hair.  I honestly had to go back and reread my previous review of Olympus Has Fallen just so I wouldn’t duplicate it here.  White House Down makes all of the same ridiculous, clichéd, laughable, absurd mistakes as Olympus Has Fallen, but does it with a smile on it’s face.  Because…that’s…better?  Because director Roland Emmerich winks at us as he slips money out of our wallets, we should accept it?  NO.  And I don’t want to hear how we should really lower our expectations when watching such a film.  I did.  What I ended up witnessing was even lower than my already low expectations.

For those who didn’t watch the thousand and one ads run during the NBA playoffs, or…well…didn’t see Olympus Has Fallen, White House Down is about a terrorist attack and take over of the aforementioned White House by a highly trained, highly committed paramilitary group.  A lone, not supposed to be there, regular joe/cop/bodyguard must rescue the President and take back the building.  To follow the lazy, insultingly daft parlance used by most…it is Die Hard…in the White House…again.  That is to say, it is Die Hard in the White House if Die Hard was a comedically awful film with brainless, horribly shot set pieces and bland, underwhelming performance AND NOT…THE BEST ACTION FILM EVER MADE.  Yeah, just like Die Hard.  Watching White House Down is not a popcorn flick experience.  It is merely a test of patience.  How long can you sit there and take stupidity masqueraded as brillance?  How long does the parent who knows their child has begun lying to them let their child continue?  How long do you let that strange and jittery pamphlet guy at the mall talk to you before you tell him you’re not interested?  Not to get too political, but this would be a more Geneva Convention friendly, yet, still effective means of torture to inflict on the prisoners at Guantanamo Mr. President.   Perhaps you think I’m being too harsh?  NO.  This is me bitting my tongue.  It is that bad.

Hey remember when we saw Jamie Foxx win an Oscar for Ray…then we immediately saw him in the horrid Rob Cohen movie Stealth and were like, “Why the hell did Jamie Foxx do this?  He’s better than this.”  Then the sobering realization washed over us as that even celebrities like easy money too?  Well, yeah.  Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.  Jamie is coming off of Django Unchained for crying out loud.  A terrific and under-appreciated performance that wonderfully captured the stoic and quiet hero of the Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns.  What does Roland Emmerich have him do here?  A two hour Obama impersonation.  NO.  I’m not sh%tting you.  The difference between Jamie’s performance in White House Down as The President and a performance on SNL as President Obama is a studio audience.  You are better than this Jamie.  Damn!  I did it again.

My dislike of Channing Tatum stopped somewhere in between Haywire and 21 Jump Street.  He began not taking himself so seriously, stopped making Step Up movies, started working with really talented people, and found his niche as a performer.  However, his name in White House Down might as well be Channing Tatum because there is nothing here for him personality or character-wise.  Father and estranged daughter stuff you say?  NO.  It is a two minute, go through the motions, plot contrivance.  Good rapport with President Obama/Foxx?  NO.  The two of them displayed better chemistry in a mock rap video making fun of Channing’s name.  It is funny and a bit disappointing that the best action vehicles Tatum has managed to star in either have him in it for less then ten minutes or is clearly a comedy.

The rest of the actors hopping on this paycheck train may not be as well-known as the inexplicably star studded cast of Olympus Has Fallen.  However, you’ll still scratch your head wondering how Emmerich managed to cast them.  The always great Richard Jenkins, the undervalued Maggie Gllyennhaal, James Woods, Jason Clarke, Lance Reddick.  All of them seem so out of place here.  My only solace after seeing this was knowing that their 4th of July was probably spent on a newly bought boat instead of inside a quaint and quiet apartment.

To ask me what is better between Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down is like asking me is it better to be shot in the dick or to be shot in the dick.  They are both bad.  Both films try to force feed you bile while pretending it’s caviare.  However, one just plays itself seriously while the other has a lousier poker face about it.  If I can offer an olive branch to these two films, I’d say this.   There is NO way to make a film about a White House take over in modern day and it not be ridiculous.  Solution?  STOP MAKING THEM!  NO more money shots of D.C. buildings blowing up.  NO more lax security at the most SECURED BUILDING IN THE WORLD.  I don’t care how many inside men you have.  NO more poor attempts to portray the president as Rambo.  NO more misunderstandings and misuse of the constitution for plot convenience.   NO more dumb converting of famous quotes from our forefathers into groan inducing one liners.  NO more ripping off Die Hard.  Hell, Die Hard can’t even rip off Die Hard anymore, so stop trying to do friggin’ Die Hard!  Just…NO.  DON’T watch it…DON’T compare it to Die Hard…DON’T make anymore…and DON’T even bother telling me I’m wrong.

December 29, 2012

Crappy Holidays: Killing Them Softly

FRUSTRATING

Hey, have you ever watched a film that has great characters, great performances, great dialogue, and creative visuals, but still ends up being a totally FRUSTRATING mess?  If not and if that is your cup of tea, go ahead and watch Killing Them Softly.  A crime noir film by Andrew Dominik based on the George V. Higgins novel Cogan’s Trade.  I haven’t been this FRUSTRATED after seeing a film in a while.  FRUSTRATED because it is a good film that seems to do everything in it’s power to be a bad one

The film stars Brad Pitt as a ‘Fixer’ of problems for an organized crime organizationWhen two petty criminals hold up an illegal card game, Pitt is brought in to make sure the right people pay and clean up the damage.  It is a simple premise that is drawn out by terribly slow pacing.  Killing Them Softly plays out more like a play than a novel.  With little to no surprises to be had throughout, you will find yourself wondering why it took so long to get to their payoff.  However, the largest criticism of the film, for me, is it‘s methods in attempting to deliver a message. 

This film is about the realistic methods of capitalism in our society today.  How we actually fight and claw to make a dollar in this world, and what consequences we suffer for our efforts However, Aaron Sorkin himself would blush at the heavyhanded way this allegory is forced down our throats.  From beginning to end, while the plot of the story tries to play out, we are audibly and sometimes visually interrupted by speeches from Barack Obama and George W. Bush talking about American society, the American dream, and the separations between the rich and the poor.  No, really.  A gangster film that doubles as a documentary for MSNBC.  The clumsy way they place these clips in the film completely took me out of the movie.  I might be stereotyping here, but I didn’t think many mafia thugs listen to NPR right before tuning up a guy.  They don’t make their message the elephant in the room.  They make it the animated flying elephant in the room, complete with magic feather and racially insensitive talking crows to boot.  It is a distraction, not a backdrop that hurts the picture through its unsubtly.

I threw up my hands many times while watching Killing Them Softly because it is very good when it isn’t preaching to you.  Performance wise, Pitt is excellent.  James Gandolfini delivers one of the better performances you’ll ever see him do.  Richard Jenkins puts me at ease, performance wise, like a confident pilot on the intercom of a turbulent flight.  His scenes with Pitt are great, but belong in a better movie.  Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn round out a cast that all seem to have brought their A game.  Unfortunately, I feel that they’re all wasted on a film that I could only recommend to 1980s republicans and wannabe cinematographers. 

Director Andrew Dominik’s visual style is one of the most underrated in Hollywood.  He can make you exclaim “That was cool!” with a scene as simple as someone getting out of a car.  His camera trickery, however, never gets too overbearing.  He brings a richness to the dreary city environments and an intimacy to every setup.  The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford put him on the map.  However, I’d love to see him do something even more ambitious than an indie and get him more exposure.  This film definitely won’t help matters.

Killing Them Softly proves that even the perfect arrangement of film circumstances can still produce a lackluster movie.  A result that FRUSTRATES the person anticipating the the film for months and the oblivious audience member equally.  Watch it…reevaluate your political outlook on society…pay me…then tell me I’m wrong.

December 28, 2012

Happy Holidays: Jack Reacher

GRITTY

All my cards on the table.  Christopher McQuarrie is my favorite writer in the business.  He is responsible for creating Keyser Soze and all the other Usual Suspects.  He is responsible for writing and directing my favorite film of all time, The Way Of The Gun.  He is responsible for uncredited rewrites of films that range from the first two X-Men films to The Aviator.  He wrote the new Wolverine film for James Mangold and Hugh Jackman, assisted on Jack The Giant Killer for Bryan Singer, probably gonna do Mission: Impossible 5 for Tom Cruise, and all of this for good reason.  McQuarrie’s dialogue, his storytelling technique, his characters all just sing to me.  He makes modern atypical stories feel GRITTY, pulpy and classic.  So, I was very excited when I heard he was adapting Lee Childs’s best selling novel One Shot.  A story about an Ex Military Investigator trying to solve a brutal mass murder.  After watching, I felt completely satisfied.  However, my biases are clearly noted and I knew what I was getting into.  I can see where someone not on the McQuarrie bandwagon and unaware of the actual plot of the film going in could complain.  However, love or hate Jack Reacher, its GRITTINESS is without question.

Advertising can make or break a film.  Done right and you can break opening day records with a film that has Sam Jackson yelling at snakes while on a commercial flight.  Done wrong and you can alienate and mislead your audience with unfulfilled expectations of what they think your film will be.  I personally think the advertising for this film was done wrong.  Watching the trailer for Jack Reacher  makes you think that it is a balls to the wall action film.  It isn’t.  Jack Reacher is a mystery thriller with some very GRITTY action scenes seasoned in.  A crappier version of this concept was attempted a few months back with the abismal Alex Cross.  A who-done-it missing the who part and boring us with the done it.  The slightly false advertising is a tough thing to criticize because how do you exactly promote subtlety?  How do you draw in audiences with the promise of fleshed out characters and a gripping story as opposed to fantastic visuals and explosions?  It is kind of the conundrum of the film industry in how to properly bring attention to films like Drive or The American or Jack Reacher.   Needless to say, Jack Reacher has a pretty tight mystery, a believably creepy adversary, a quick pace, and an awesome hero.

The character of Jack Reacher is built up in such a way throughout this film, he begins to supersede even the story itself.  You just want to see what he’ll do next.  He’s clever, he’s uncompromising, he’s cold.  He is a ‘shortest distance between two points’ type of guy like Bourne but comfortable in his own skin like Bond.  The purists of the books point to the casting of Tom Cruise as a huge problem they have with the film before even seeing it.  In the novels, Reacher is supposed to be this hulkingly huge, intimidating guy.  In other words, the opposite physical build of a Tom Cruise.  As a guy who witnessed Michael Bay torch my nostalgic preconceptions in Transformers, I understand a One Shot fan’s hesitance at Cruise.  However, if you’re worried if Cruise delivers the intimidation, rest easy.  Cruise can play a scary badass.  Or have you not seen Collateral?  His performance is solid and his intensity makes up for any height inadequacies he may have.  Sure the casting of a Thomas Jane or a Jeffrey Dean Morgan might have been better visually for the character.  However, the film would probably not have been made with them attached.  I’m just grateful Tom Cruise is still interested in getting films like these made and still giving it his all in these roles.  Along with Cruise, there are some polished performances from Robert Duvall, Rosamund Pike, and Richard Jenkins.  Werner Herzog, for his tiny amount of screen time, will make your skin crawl.

The action that is in Jack Reacher, is painful to watch.  Not because it is bad, but because McQuarrie makes you feel every punch, kick, crash, and bullet.  McQuarrie has ties to the Navy Seals and has shot probably the most realistic gun fight in cinema history already.  So, he knows his way around an action scene.  The great thing about his action scenes, however, is that there seems to always be a story in them.  It isn’t just mindless violence.  Each blow or shot has a reason behind it and an arc to get there.  And in light of recent events in Connecticut, the opening scene provides perhaps the most gasp worthy suspenseful moment in the film.

Jack Reacher will probably get lost in the holiday shuffle with Hobbits and Djangos roaming about.  However, if you want some suspense and GRIT to top off your egg nog…hop on a bus…pack light…real light…Get Jack Reacher…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

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