Film Review: White House Down (2013)

White House Down (2013)
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: James Vanderbilt
Rated: PG-13

Rating: 3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

White House Down (2013) posterI’m pretty sure that Roland Emmerich made this movie because he wanted to revisit the White House after blowing the crap out of it in Independence Day. I’m glad he did – I had a blast watching this mindless (but not mind-numbing) movie. The plot and it’s details are, of course, ridiculous. Just suspend your disbelief and enjoy the action.

Tatum plays Cale, a Capitol policeman who is trying to land a Secret Service job, not just for the career move but to also impress his otherwise unimpressed daughter. She is very much into politics and is thrilled to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the White House. It’s naturally a fateful day – it’s the day that the head of the Secret Service (played by James Woods) decides to take over the White House and start killing people. (My only real complaint with the plot is the reason for the takeover, which felt far too much like The Rock to me. Though now that I type this, the ending is pretty similar too with the fighter jets …)

Through what ultimately comes down to sheer luck, Cale finds himself in a position to take out one of the bad guys, steal his gun, and go Die Hard in the White House. There’s climbing through an elevator, there’s a mad car chase across the White House lawns, there’s giant explosions for no real good reason. It’s dumb, and it’s fun.

Cale’s daughter was in the restroom at the time that the attack began, and actually uses her cell phone, which I so rarely see in movies like this. The video makes it out to the internet before the gunmen can capture her and toss her in with the rest of the hostages. Cale, meanwhile, is simultaneously searching for his daughter while trying to protect the President. The head of the VP’s detail (Gyllenhaal) made it out of the White House before the attack and manages to get in touch with Cale to help see things through.

Wow. The more I think about this as I type, I’m realizing this movie is a mash up of The Rock and Die Hard. There’s really nothing else to it – it’s those two movies. I’m a little annoyed that I didn’t realize it until just now but there it is. There’s a guy (McClane/Cale) as the sole hero in a hostage situation who manages to evade the gunmen over and over again despite not having the same level of training, who is in touch with another “colleague” (Al the cop/Gyllenhaal’s character) who is fighting for that person against a system that wants to approach the situation differently … and that hero is up against an ex-military crew who is feigning a move for a lot of money but really there’s something else going on (The Rock).

I have to keep my rating at 3 stars – I did have a fun time watching it – even if it is a subpar version of two far superior action films.


Film Review: Escape Plan (2013)

Escape Plan (2013)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger
Directed by: Mikael Håfström
Written by: Miles Chapman and Arnell Jesko
Rated: R

Rating: 1.0 Stars (1.0 / 5)

Escape Plan (2013) posterI never thought I’d see Sylvester Stallone build a sextant out of a paper plate, a pair of glasses, and some other unidentified garbage. I guess that’s one thing Escape Plan has going for it.

There’s little for me to write. I’ve had a hard time starting a review of this movie. I just don’t know where to begin or what to say. It wasn’t complete garbage but it really wasn’t good. I’d rather go watch The Expendables again, that movie was at least a blast to watch and was aware enough of itself that it was in on it’s own jokes. Escape Plan tried far too hard to be serious and realistic. Hell, I’d go watch Fortress  again before this. That movie at least knew it wasn’t reality and had fun with some sci-fi elements.

Basically the story is this: Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a prison specialist who has, quite literally, written the book on prison security the methods prisoners use to escape. He works for (maybe runs, it’s not quite clear) a company that is hired by prisons to test their security. They place Breslin in the prison, just like a normal inmate, then he works to break out. We see this happen once. Then a CIA agent enters and explains that they have this amazing new prison that they are keeping terrorists in, and they need someone to prove out their security.

Of course Breslin is in. Of course it’s not what it seems. When he’s “captured” he’s given a drug and beaten; in a helicopter ride to this mysterious prison he witnesses the guards murdering another man; once in the prison, he finds out he’s actually been abducted. Not long after he realizes things aren’t what they seem, he meets Arnold … I mean, he meets Rottmayer. He’s the ex-bodyguard for one of the most wanted men in the world, and he just won’t give up the location of his boss. Rottmayer has an immediate obsession with Breslin. It appears almost unhealthy.

Of course they team up to try to break out. Of course the warden is a sadistic, unrelenting man who has designed his system after the very book that Breslin wrote. Of course the warden pushes Breslin and Rottmayer to a point where most men would have broken, but the two men keep fighting on.

Of course they escape in the end, though I won’t give away any details on how or who does. And of course there’s a twist. Of course, in the middle of all this, Breslin builds a sextant out of some garbage to find out where they are located in the world.

Of course I expected all this, but it just couldn’t overcome any of it. It tried to stay too close to the realm of possibility instead of going out on a limb with some extreme action or super crazy prison contraptions. It throws in a twist just for the sake of having a twist; the movie wasn’t served at all by it, other than it allowed Stallone and Schwarzenegger to star in a movie. Nothing was remarkable or memorable.

There’s a host of minor characters – a doctor played by Sam Neill, Breslin’s co-workers (50 Cent and Amy Ryan), a sadistic guard played by Vinnie Jones – that are sadly tossed to the sidelines when they could have really added something to the story. There’s a few scenes with Breslin’s co-workers trying to locate him, but they never do, and they don’t help in any way, and the scenes are just bad. They could have, they should have, but they didn’t. It’s just choppy and poorly done.

I think I’ll go rent Fortress now.


Film Review: Carrie (2013)

Carrie (2013)
Starring: Chloe Grace Mortiz, Julianne Moore
Directed by: Kimberly Peirce
Written by: Lawrence D. Cohen and Robert Aguirre-Sacasa, based on the book by Stephen King
Rated: R

Rating: 2.0 Stars (2.0 / 5)

Carrie (2013) Poster

It’s been a long time since I’ve watched the original Carrie (1978) or read the book. I was never really a fan of either. I came to both too late, with too many spoilers, and after having read and seen far better horror movies/books. Either way I remember little of either, so I cannot provide any meaningful comparison in this review. I have to imagine the two movies are very similar, as Lawrence D. Cohen is credited on both – many scenes are verbatim from the original script, according to various sources online.

At this point most people know the story – a young girl, raised in an extremely conservative religious household, experiences nothing but embarrassment at high school, and the bully’s continue to torment her until a bunch of really terrible things happen. All the terrible things involve blood of some kind.

The movie starts with Carries mother (Moore) giving birth, alone. The pain is excruciating and the birth is bloody – as birth tends to be – and she takes this as a sign that her newborn daughter is a demon. She slept with a man when she knew it was ungodly and this was her punishment. Fast forward to high school where Carrie (Moritz) gets her first period during showers in gym class. Carrie knows nothing about her body, her mother (and apparently the public school system, presumably by her mothers request) has left her completely ignorant. She thinks she’s dying and is immediately belittled by the other high schoolers.

Carrie quickly realizes that she’s been kept in the dark by her mother and that she cannot have the life she thinks she wants. She tries to confront her mother, but that goes rather poorly, resulting in Carrie discovering she can make things move without touching them. As Carrie tries experimenting with her new powers, the kids at school hatch a plan to torment her at prom.

Nothing in this movie made me feel really uncomfortable or particularly sympathetic towards any character. Mortiz did a good job in her innocent portrayal of Carrie, but I never really felt connected. Moore did a frightening job as Carrie’s mother, but I still felt disconnected. I wanted to know more about Carrie at home and wanted to know less about the other girls at school. I don’t remember what the book or previously movie had, but that’s what I was hoping for. I wanted to feel so badly for Carrie that I was rooting for her to destroy the world.

The final scenes of destruction were somewhat fun. I did enjoy the difference in the physical characterization; in the original film, Carrie just stands there and things happen, but in this film, Carrie uses her hands to direct things to happen and you can see the anguish and power and terror in her face. That was a nice touch.

The rest just didn’t grab me. I should have been more scared of Moore’s religious-to-the-point-of-insanity mother; I should have felt terrible for Carrie. Instead I only felt a small touch of terrible for one girl who tries to help Carrie out.

I should have been, but I wasn’t.