Thursday, January 30, 2014

Movie Review - Mud

Mud (2013)
Starring Tye Sheridan, Matthew McConaughey, Jacob Lofland, Sam Shepard, Ray McKinnon, Sarah Paulson, Michael Shannon, and Reese Witherspoon
Directed by Jeff Nichols

Mud is a tale of two movies for me.  One film details the coming-of-age story of a kid named Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and his buddy Neckbone (Jacob Lofland).  The fourteen year-olds are struggling to deal with their strive for independence from their families as well as attempting to navigate the choppy waters of teenage love.  The other film deals with these two teens meeting a mysterious man named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) who befriends them, but seems to be hiding more than a few secrets.

The first film focusing on the kids which takes place during the first hour works...and works incredibly well.  I found the normalcy of the everyday trials of these Southern teens oddly riveting despite the fact that there was perhaps a mundane aspect to it.  Part of the reason for this half's success are the great performances from Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland.  Together, these two young talents more than held their own and their relationship and repartee with one another was wonderfully natural and believable.

Unfortunately, the second half of the film shifts much of its focus to the character of Mud and despite McConaughey's charm and charisma (coupled with a fine performance), I just found myself not caring about his plight of trying to win back his girl Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) and the chaos that surrounds his shady character's secrets.  Rather oddly, whenever Mud places its attention on its title character, it becomes much more bland.  The film's final moments (including a very oddly staged "action" sequence) prove to be more laughable than anything else and stand in stark contrast to the "reality" that the script provides for its two teen characters.

This is the second film I've seen from writer-director Jeff Nichols (after Take Shelter) and I appreciate his development of characters.  He's also quite adept at culling nice performances from his actors who, considering the aforementioned development of characters, have a nice script to sink their teeth into.  However, I do think that as Nichols grows as a filmmaker, he needs to get a bit more of a discerning eye when it comes to his work as I found Mud a bit meandering and unfocused especially in its flawed second half.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Monday, January 27, 2014

Movie Review - Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station (2013)
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, and Ariana Neal
Directed by Ryan Coogler

Fruitvale Station isn't the most innovative or original film of 2013, but in its simplistic telling of a basic (though quite sad) story, first time feature director and screenwriter Ryan Coogler successfully encapsulates the true story of a tragic day in the life of California Bay Area resident Oscar Grant who was wrongly gunned down by a police officer on New Years Eve 2008.  While the movie could've easily turned into a "black story" (a term shunned by star Octavia Spencer in an interview regarding the film), Coogler and his performers instead make this a story about love -- a mother's love for her son, a father's love for his daughter, and a family's love for one another -- which makes the horrific ending to Oscar's tale all the more depressing.

Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) wasn't a perfect guy.  On New Years Eve in 2007, he was in jail, but now a year later, he's trying to right his wrongs despite the difficulty that brings.  Having been fired from his job at a supermarket, Oscar's shifted towards selling weed, but it doesn't make him happy as he wants to provide a better life for his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) and his daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal).  His mother Wanda (Octavia Spencer), though perhaps slightly overbearing, wants him to straighten himself up and Oscar desperately desires to make a better man out of himself.  After spending the day preparing for his mother's birthday party, Oscar and Sophina take the subway to San Francisco to ring in the New Year, but through a series of unfortunate events, Oscar finds himself in trouble with the law and things don't end well for him.

The unfortunate thing about Fruitvale Station is that knowing what happens at the end of the film -- the first scene "gives away" the ending and the rest of the film is essentially told in flashback -- makes us more anticipatory for the movie to get to that pivotal moment.  While it's all good to see Oscar's flaws and struggle to get better (the latter of which does come off as slightly "corny" as opposed to "inspirational"), we're waiting for the payoff and this makes the first half of the film a little draggy.  The second half of the movie, though, works and it actually makes the film's first half with its small moments focused on the mundane aspects of daily life really resonate more than I expected.

Although there was a lot of buzz around Michael B. Jordan's performance -- which is definitely good, though not particularly original or mindblowing -- the ladies in Fruitvale Station are where I found the story's heart.  Melanie Diaz takes a small, seemingly throwaway-type role as the beleaguered girlfriend and gives us a well-rounded picture of a young woman who sees potential in Oscar, but also feels the tiniest bit trapped because of the fact that she has a daughter with him.  She loves him and she loves his family, but she struggles with the fact that he's not living up to his best potential.  The same could be said for Oscar's mother, portrayed by Octavia Spencer.  Spencer absolutely mellows it down here from her Oscar-winning role in The Help and it's welcomed.  While her role is perhaps written a tiny bit too "saint-like," her interactions with Oscar and Sophina feel as natural as you can get.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Friday, January 24, 2014

Movie Review - The Conjuring

The Conjuring (2013)
Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, and Ron Livingston
Directed by James Wan

When Carolyn and Roger Perron (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) and their daughters move into a secluded farmhouse in the Northeast US, their hope is for a fresh start.  Little do they know that their house is haunted and the ghosts inside aren't exactly known for simply lurking.  No...these otherworldly beings are nasty creatures causing much havoc for the Perron family.  Desperate for help, Carolyn seeks out paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) who, upon entering the Perron home, realize that they've got quite a task ahead of them trying to exorcise these demons from the house.

Based on a true story (which you can believe or not depending on your predilections towards ghostly spirits), The Conjuring is a rather fantastic horror film.  Although rated R, I'm not sure there's a single curse word uttered throughout the movie and there's hardly any blood spewed either.  Instead, that "R" rating was garnered simply because of the mounting tension created by director James Wan.  Aided by a nice script from Chad and Carey Hayes, Wan keeps the film moving at a great pace, although he does allow the story to unfold naturally -- which some could read as meaning "slowly," but I felt was deliberately paced to increase the eerie mood of the piece as a whole.  Granted, there are moments towards the film's end when I felt the writers were getting a little "kitchen sink-y" in that they were seemingly throwing in quite a few classic horror clichés, but I still found myself on the edge of my seat for nearly the entirety of the final 45 minutes.

I've been a fan of Vera Farmiga for a while and she didn't disappoint here.  Farmiga along with her co-stars Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, and Ron Livingston all are much better than your typical "horror movie acting."  They're not acting in a horror movie -- they're acting in a movie.  There's a difference and their nuanced portrayals of admittedly not very complex roles is much appreciated.

Taking place in the early 1970s, The Conjuring certainly feels like an homage of sorts to some classic horror films of that era and I appreciated that it never oversold its somewhat simple story with bombastic special effects or outrageous gore.  Kudos to James Wan -- whose direction of the original Saw made me a little wary about checking this film out -- who's crafted a nice ghost story here that is well worth seeing.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Movie Review - Lee Daniels' The Butler

Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013)
Starring Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Terrence Howard, Robin Williams, John Cusack, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda, Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Redgrave, and Mariah Carey
Directed by Lee Daniels

Can someone please explain to me how Lee Daniels' The Butler was ever in the running for any category at the Oscars?  With an absolutely horrendous script by Danny Strong, pompously self-important direction by Lee Daniels, and overacting out the wazoo by nearly everyone involved, it's mind-boggling to me that people actually thought this movie was good in any way.  Incredibly heavy-handed in its way of trying to pigeonhole seemingly every important civil rights moment from the 1950s-80s into a two hour film, the film plays like a low-rent version of Forrest Gump as famous Hollywood celebrity after famous Hollywood celebrity pops up playing famous political figure after famous political figure.  And then, rather obnoxiously, the film ends with the triumphant crowning of Barack Obama as President signifying that "hope and change" have come and all is right in the world.  The final ten minutes of this movie had me so aggravated that they soured the entirety of the rest of the film (which, as stated, really wasn't that good to begin with).

Ugh.

Based on a true story (although changed DRASTICALLY in order to make things much more dramatic), The Butler centers around Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), a man who escaped Southern slavery in the 1920s and became well known around Washington, D.C., as a fantastic server/butler in local bars and lounges around the big city.  After catching the eye of someone who worked in the White House, Gaines snags a job as a butler where he stays on to serve eight presidents.  The film attempts to balance Gaines' workplace with his family life, but the transitions between the two are always awkward and oftentimes incredibly heavyhanded.  For, you see, while his professional life is moving along swimmingly, his home life leaves much to be desired.  His wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) is tired of her husband putting his focus on his job and abandoning her and their two sons so she fills the void she feels with alcohol and another man (Terrence Howard).  Meanwhile, Gaines' older son (David Oyelowo) is heading to college where he finds himself becoming involved in Woolworth counter sit-ins, Freedom Bus Riders, Martin Luther King's assassination, the Black Panthers, and rallies to free Nelson Mandela.  All this stuff -- and this son never even existed.  That's right.  It's simply the screenwriter's ploy to hammer home what they believe to be significant moments in the Civil Rights Movement.  There's certainly no denying each of these events' importance.  However, none of these moments are ever given anything more than snippets of attention.  Giving each of these pivotal aspects of the movement such short shrift is a disservice.

On Oscar morning, everyone was shocked that Oprah didn't garner a nomination, but her attempt at halfway channeling Mo'Nique's intense performance from Precious was laughable.  Forest Whitaker is as flat as could be, exuding an overwhelming sense of blandness.  Each and every presidential figure plays more like a really good impressionist you'd see on the Vegas strip than a person.  Lee Daniels really failed to reel in a good performance from anyone with the exception of Lenny Kravitz as another butler in the White House and David Oyelowo who, despite the horribly written role as Gaines' older son, does try his best with his ridiculous part.

Lee Daniels' The Butler begins with Cecil Gaines as a young child working on a cotton plantation and the film's first ten minutes echo similar sentiments espoused in Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave.  However, there's simply no comparison and to have even placed The Butler in the same ballpark as 12 Years a Slave in the lead-up to awards season is an indignation that I'm trying to right with this review.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Disney Discussion - One Hundred and One Dalmatians

Over the course of the year, we'll be spending our Wednesdays with Walt, having a discussion about each of Disney's animated films...

Movie #17 of The Disney Discussion
One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
Featuring the voice talents of Rod Taylor, Cate Baeur, Betty Lou Gerson, Ben Wright, Lisa Davis, 
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, Hamilton S. Luske, and Clyde Geronomi

Summary (in 150 words or less):
After their respective owners Roger and Anita fall in love, dalmatians Pongo and Perdita follow suit, fashioning a brood of fifteen puppies for themselves.  Problems arise, however, when Anita's childhood friend Cruella De Vil desires to purchase the puppies seemingly out of kindness.  When Anita and Roger deny her request, Cruella steals the puppies in an attempt to fashion a fur coat out of them.  The rescue mission then commences with Pongo and Perdita leading the charge!

Let the Discussion Begin...

One Hundred and One Dalmatians (which will heretofore be written as 101 Dalmatians) is the Walt Disney Company's seventeenth full-length animated feature film and as released on January 25, 1961.

The film was the tenth highest grossing film of 1961 and its current total gross stands at (an unadjusted for inflation) $215 million.

Although awards kudos weren't thrown its way, baddie Cruella De Vil took spot #39 on the American Film Institute's list of the Best Film Villains of All Time.

An interesting note -- the film was made possible thanks to a new development in the animation industry known as xerography which was essentially a Xerox system that allowed the animators to copy their drawings over so that they wouldn't need to draw 99 separate puppies.

The Characters
(The Best...The Worst...The Villains...)
The film cleverly opens up with a narrator talking about living in a flat in London with his pet.  However, as we quickly find out, our omniscient voice belongs to lovable dalmatian Pongo and his "pet" is actually his owner Roger.  Through an adorable meeting (which will be detailed later), Pongo and Roger meet the respective loves of their lives, Perdita and Anita.
To me, the characters of Pongo and Perdita are pleasant enough, but aren't really given any personality to latch onto.  While this doesn't necessarily harm the film in any major way, it does provide a little disappointment.  However, fortunately, the characters of Roger and Anita are so utterly charming that it makes up for the lack of development in their dogs.  There's an exuberance to the two human main characters that I simply adored.  I found myself wishing the film focused a bit more on them than the dogs.
But perhaps 101 Dalmatians is most remembered for its quintessential villain Cruella De Vil.  Seemingly a mash-up caricature of 1950s Hollywood talent like Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Crawford, and Bette Davis, Cruella is a hoot.  Her evil nature doesn't come from magic or dark powers, but instead simply from the tremendous desire to have a spotted fur coat made from dalmatians.  She's the comedic backbone of the film and thanks to a deliciously throaty and breathy turn from voice actor Betty Lou Gerson, the movie truly comes alive when she's onscreen.

The Music
Songs are essentially non-existent in 101 Dalmatians with the exception of a quick little ditty written by the character of Roger about the film's villain Cruella De Vil.  The number, titled "Cruella De Vil," is absolutely amusing and charming (just like the character of Roger, a struggling songwriter, himself) and it gives the audience an opinion of its title character before we even meet her.  While admittedly the film didn't really call for music, considering this lovely yet simple tune written by Mel Leven is such a hit, I wish Leven could've been given more room to shine.

My Favorite Scene
101 Dalmatians starts off so goshdarn charming that it's almost too difficult for the remainder of the film to live up to the fantastic beginning.  Pongo would love for his "pet" Roger to find the love of his life so he stares out the window of Roger's English flat looking at ladies and their dogs as they stroll by.  Upon seeing the gorgeous dalmatian Perdita, Pongo is thrilled when he discovers that that Perdita's "pet" is attractive as well.  Pongo manages to convince his master to take him for a walk during which, through a comedic turn of events, Roger meets Anita after they both fall into a murky pond in a park.  The charm on display in this "meet cute" between Roger and Anita is priceless and it's one of best moments I've seen yet in a Disney film during this Disney Discussion.

Random Thoughts
  • As the film opens and a bunch of spots come on the screen, there is absolutely a (not-so) Hidden Mickey.  Is this the company's first hidden reference to their main guy?
  • This has to contain one of the longest opening credit sequences for a Disney film clocking in at just under three minutes, forty seconds.  The jazzy music is a treat, though.
  • Cruella's red phone has a devil's head on it.
  • The pet store that is shown definitely contains two characters previously seen in Lady and the Tramp.
  • Did you know that this was the first Disney animated film to take place in the "present time?"

Final Analysis
(Does It Belong in the Revered Disney Pantheon and How Does It Stack Up to Past Films?)
I've got to say that I was expecting a bit more from 101 Dalmatians than I actually got.  Ultimately, as I said above, I think the main issue with the film is that its dog characters aren't exactly lighting up the screen.  Don't get me wrong -- the puppies are cute and they're well animated, but the trials and tribulations involved in their attempt to get back to Roger and Anita aren't as exciting as they really should be.  Fortunately, the human characters more than make up for any disappointment that stems from the canines.  I've mentioned that I adore Roger and Anita and that I found Cruella to be a near-perfect comedic villain.

It certainly helps that I truly enjoyed the way the film looked.  The animation is more roughly drawn, creating a less polished style, but making it seem more fitting to the modern era in which the story is taking place.  I actually loved it and found the work of the animators one of the finest aspects of the film.

I certainly didn't dislike 101 Dalmatians in any way, but it didn't register as fondly as I remembered it from my childhood.  Story-wise, the film is almost too simplistic and because of that, despite the decent rating I've given the film below, I wouldn't necessarily be elated or saddened if this had or didn't have a place in the revered Disney Pantheon.

The RyMickey Rating: B-

Join us two Wednesdays from now for The Sword and the Stone, the eighteenth film in The Disney Discussion.
***NOTE: THE SWORD AND THE STONE IS STREAMING ON NETFLIX.  
JOIN IN ON THE FUN!!!***

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Movie Review - Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
Starring Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Annie Rose Buckley, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, Jason Schwartzman, Kathy Baker, Melanie Paxson, and Rachel Griffiths
Directed by John Lee Hancock

Poor Saving Mr. Banks.  Hit with articles and speeches (thanks, Meryl Streep) saying that it's a whitewash of Walt Disney's "true" misogynistic and anti-Semitic leanings, intent on being a love letter for the cherished movie company, the family friendly film all but missed the boat on Oscar nomination day failing to earn a nod beyond Best Score.  Critics of the film will tell you that the movie sets up Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers as a put-upon lady who had to succumb to "Uncle Walt's" wishes in order to finally have a film version of her classic novel placed up on the screen.  Quite honestly, I can't help but think that's a bunch of baloney as that's not at all what I saw in this movie.  Travers' headstrong personality may have kowtowed in certain areas of production, but to call her an obsequious woman trampled on by a larger than life figure misses the boat completely.  Yes, Saving Mr. Banks is a film about letting things go, but Travers isn't "giving up" her beloved Mary Poppins.  Instead, she's giving up some long-standing guilt that's she's clung to since her childhood.  The story here isn't really about the making of a movie...it's about one woman's acceptance of the past and willingness to forgive herself for things beyond her control.

Saving Mr. Banks manages to take two separate storylines and weave them together rather seamlessly thanks to a lovely script by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith and nice (though perhaps a tiny touch heavyhanded) direction by John Lee Hancock.  First, we see an adult Pamela Travers (Emma Thompson) finding herself facing monetary trouble.  With her unwillingness to write any more novels and sales of her Mary Poppins series dwindling, London-based Travers is convinced by her agent/publisher to travel to California and meet with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) to discuss the making of Poppins into a feature film.  Upon her initial meeting with the Hollywood mogul, Travers agrees to see what Disney, screenwriter Don DeGradi (Bradley Whitford), and songwriters Robert and Richard Sherman (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) have crafted for her beloved nanny character.  Travers is not an easy woman to please.  While some may call her curmudgeonly, she simply has a vision as to what she believes Mary Poppins should be.

The reason for that vision is because, as much as she tried to suppress it for decades, Mary Poppins is really a re-imagined telling of what she longed for her childhood to be.  In the other half of Saving Mr. Banks, we bear witness to Travers' youth.  Young Ginty (Annie Rose Buckley) simply adores her father Travers Goff (Colin Farrell), a banker whose imaginative mind created a fantastical world for Ginty and her two siblings despite the family living on a dilapidated ranch in Australia.  Travers wanted nothing more than to provide for his family, however, he was dealing with his own personal demons in the form of alcohol and young Ginty carried around the guilt for decades of not being able to "save" her father from placing his lips to the bottle.

As we discover, Ginty is really Pamela Travers with Pamela changing her name in adulthood to honor her father.  The film bounces back and forth between the two storylines with each allowing the other to become richer and more well-rounded as layers are revealed.  We begin to realize that it's her childhood experiences that shaped Pamela Travers into the no-nonsense (perhaps even crotchety) woman that she became.  She used her novel to try and cope with the demons of her past, but rather than helping her let them go, the book made them cling to them even more.  Through the making of the film version of Mary Poppins, Travers is able to release them (even if just a little bit), but this doesn't come without an emotional toll for her.

Emma Thompson is fantastic as P.L. Travers.  Admittedly, she starts off rather one note, with Travers being a woman of clipped, precise words, showing little to no emotion behind a rock-hard exterior.  However, as the film progresses, we see glimpses of her ice queen nature being melted away.  It's this change that has many of the film's critics crying fowl with the critique being that through the "magic of Disney," all of her problems were solved.  That's just not the case.  Thompson's Travers can really be summed up in the film's final scene (of which, I guess, this could be considered a spoiler, so read on with that knowledge) in which Travers sits watching the Hollywood premiere of Mary Poppins.  Without a single word and only through facial expressions and the slightest of body movement, we see Travers initially disgraced with her selling out of her beloved character, angered by the addition of animation (which she was adamantly against), yet moved by the lovely depiction of family life and of a father who wanted nothing more than his children to flourish and grow beyond what he could provide for them.  John Lee Hancock stays focused on Thompson's face and it's a fantastic moment that carries so much more emotional impact than what we're seeing on the surface because of everything Thompson brings to the role.

Although Thompson is certainly the center of the film, she's surrounded by fantastic performances all around, including Tom Hanks as the equally opinionated Walt Disney.  Disney here is a nice guy who's willing to make concessions to Travers, but not willing to forgo his knowledge of what makes "quality" movies.  The back-and-forth between the two actors is oftentimes brilliant and was a treat to watch.  A very nice and subdued supporting turn from Paul Giamatti as Travers' driver was also a nice addition.  Really, though, there's not a bad performance here at all and that's certainly something worth recognizing.

I will admit that I come to Saving Mr. Banks with some inherent bias in that I'm the biggest Disney fan I know.  However, I also approached this film with a great level of fear and trepidation that it wouldn't even come close to living up to the bar I had set for it.  In fact, I avoided watching the film for nearly a month because I simply didn't want to have my hopes shattered.  I'm beyond pleased to state that my worries were unfounded.  Saving Mr. Banks is an absolutely lovely film that carries much more emotional depth than I ever could have expected.

As a side note, stay halfway through the credits.  There, you'll hear taped recordings of Travers duking it out with the Sherman brothers and screenwriter Don DeGradi over the script.  It shows that the film's depiction of Travers was certainly true-to-form.


The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Movie Review - The Heat

The Heat (2013)
Starring Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Demian Bichir, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rappaport, Jane Curtin, Spoken Reasons, Dan Bakkedahl, Michael McDonald, and Taran Killam
Directed by Paul Feig

I think I may be the one critic that thinks The Heat is worse than Identity Thief.  I compare the two simply because they were both released in 2013 and have Melissa McCarthy playing similarly tough broads.  Then again, does McCarthy ever play any other movie characters other than a tough broad?  The shtick is getting old and I'm not buying into it anymore.  Her characters from This Is 40, Identity Thief, and now The Heat are really indistinguishable and, quite frankly, she's ruined any good will she earned from the film that put her on the map -- Bridesmaids.  (I will note, however, that her Identity Thief character at least was given an opportunity to have a bit of an emotional heart at its core...if only that could continue carrying over...)

Here, McCarthy's Bridesmaids director Paul Feig returns to direct his newfound star who plays a Boston cop named Mullins who is forced to partner up with a more polished and well-mannered FBI agent named Ashburn (played by Sandra Bullock) in order to hunt down a drug kingpin.  With not much of a story stretched out to nearly two hours, The Heat wears out its welcome pretty quickly with seemingly every other joke gleaning its laughs from a curse word -- there's really only so many times the F-word can be used as a punchline before it becomes irritating.  There's also a tendency by McCarthy here to repeat something over and over again in order to emphasis to the audience that "This is supposed to be funny, so you better all be laughing!  Oh, you're not?  Let me say it again and maybe you will this time.  Still not?  Let's give it one more try!"  Ugh.

Honestly, it pained me to sit through this one and it pains me even more to try and come to grips with how this was a success.  Personally, I'm saying it was because of Sandra Bullock's charms because beyond her presence, there's nothing positive to say about this one.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Another Disney Discussion Delay

The Disney Discussion has not been abandoned in the slightest.  However, with awards season in full swing, I'm finding it a bit difficult to write up my thoughts on the films in the Disney animated canon since much of my free time has been spent trying to catch up on current releases.  (As an example, I've actually watched 101 Dalmatians -- the next film in the discussion -- but haven't had time to formulate a post about it.)  That being said, I'm still going to try my best to keep up with at least an "every other Wednesday" pace through March.  In the meantime, enjoy the seemingly daily posts on current films!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Movie Review - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Philip Seymour Hofman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, and Donald Sutherland
Directed by Francis Lawrence

Comparing The Hunger Games film series to the Twilight series is inevitably going to happen simply because both focus on female protagonists and both stem from extremely popular literary tomes.  The comparison isn't fair in the slightest, however, because there's simply no competition -- The Hunger Games beats the Twilight series to a pulp in all areas -- story, acting, and direction.

With the first film in the series ending with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) formulating a plan for herself and her good friend Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) to win the Hunger Games together, her success and intelligence doesn't sit too well with President Snow (Donald Sutherland).  Seeing his nation desiring to rebel against The Capitol and his presidency, Snow decides to throw a twist at Katniss -- for the 75th Hunger Games, previous winners will be forced to battle each other to the death again with only one winner taking the glory.

Admittedly, Catching Fire is really just a rehash of The Hunger Games, however, I think overall, the film plays better than its predecessor.  We've come to hate President Snow which makes his maniacal ways even more disturbing.  We've grown to care for Katniss and feel more empathy for her being forced to take part in a love triangle with herself, her public love Peeta, and her private love Gale (Liam Hemsworth).  The battle between the twelve districts against the Capitol holds more gravitas after we've seen what the government puts its citizens through during the Hunger Games.  It's because of this increased feeling of import that Catching Fire works better than the original film despite similar plots.

Unfortunately, this very thing that makes Catching Fire resonate more also doesn't allow it to feel remotely original.  We're given, for all intents and purposes, the same story again.  The actors across the board sell it, keeping up the good work we saw in the original, and director Francis Lawrence also keeps the film looking as nice as the first flick.  However, I found myself longing for less of the Hunger Games themselves and more of the battle between the government and its citizens.  Fortunately, I hear that the third installment will grant my wishes.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Monday, January 13, 2014

Movie Review - The Purge

The Purge (2013)
Starring Ethan Hawke, Lena Headley, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, and Rhys Wakefield
Directed by James DeMonaco

The concept behind The Purge is interesting enough.  As the opening credits state, we are transported to America 2022.  Unemployment is at 1%.  Crime is at an all low.  Violence barely exists.  With one exception.  Once a year, the government has enacted a twelve-hour period known as The Purge in which citizens can commit any crime they want and not be charged -- murder included -- in order to get out their aggressions and frustrations.  For the wealthy, elaborate alarm systems are an affordable option and many have had them installed in their homes in order to protect themselves on this one night a year when chaos runs rampant.  For the Sandin family, this should be just like all the other Purges that have come before seeing as how father James (Ethan Hawke) sells elaborate and expensive home protection systems and has had such a system installed in his family's home.  However, after his son allows a homeless man who was being pursued by a bunch of twentysomethings into their home in the midst of the Purge, chaos breaks out for the Sandin family.  When the group hunting down the man -- for no reason other than to simply to release their primal urges and frustrations -- discovers that the Sandins have given the man sanctuary, they'll stop at nothing to enact revenge.

The problem with The Purge is that despite a premise that offers appeal (on a horror movie level), the story itself is abysmally written.  Characters appear and disappear simply out of convenience.  Murderers stop and talk to their victims prior to attempting to kill them giving others ample time for someone to stop them.  There's a plot device in the film's opening act in which the Sandin daughter's boyfriend attempts to kill her father that's brushed by the wayside and forgotten about as the film progresses.  And the ending -- for anyone who's seen this, can they honestly explain the motivation behind the "twist" in the film's final minutes?  I just found myself laughing.  And therein is the film's problem.  It can't capitalize on an unique premise.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Movie Review - American Hustle

American Hustle (2013)
Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., Jack Huston, and Michael Peña
Directed by David O. Russell

Quite simply, American Hustle is the most overrated movie I've seen as of yet that's gained prevalence during this awards season.  (Captain Phillips is a close second.)  For a movie that is inherently about backstabbing and thievery, there wasn't a moment of tension or excitement and the characters failed to make any impact on me whatsoever.

David O. Russell who directed and co-wrote the picture was also behind the lens and put the pen to paper for last year's Silver Linings Playbook, another film I found to be incredibly overrated and undeserving of the heaps of praise thrown its way.  There's something about Russell's writing style that just doesn't grab me in the slightest (and would also explain why I enjoyed his previous film The Fighter seeing as how he didn't write it).  Silver Linings Playbook felt like two disparate halves that failed to come together.  Similarly, American Hustle is a mishmash of different genres, none of which resonate.  When the comedy is culled from jokes about people's perms or comb-overs or the sassiness of a "New Yawk" broad, it makes me wonder if Russell has any original ideas.

But perhaps Russell wasn't going for original.  Much has been said about American Hustle being Russell's ode to the 1970s films by Scorsese and while that very well be true, that doesn't make this worthwhile.  While the film itself is fictional, it has its basis in true events.  Back in the 1970s, Atlantic City was looking to rebuild its name as the gaming capital of the world.  In order to do so, Camden mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) tries to bribe other politicians to help the city flourish.  You'd think that'd be the basis of the film considering it's a story that could have some depth to it.  You'd be wrong.

Instead, Russell (and co-writer Eric Singer) place the emphasis on Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), a slimy owner of a collection of dry cleaning establishments who has a side business in offering fake loans to people.  At a swinging 1970s shindig, Irving meets Sydney (Amy Adams), a gal from New Mexico who moved to New York looking for a different lifestyle.  She immediately falls for Irving and shows him that she's quite game to help him with his "loan" business, willing to go so far as to create a new identity for herself -- Lady Edith Greensley whose English accent will instinctively make her seem more important to Irving's clients.  One of these clients just happens to be Richie DeMaso (Bradley Cooper), an undercover FBI agent, who manages to catch Irving and Sydney in the act of fraud.  After he arrests the couple, Richie agrees to free them only if they'll assist him in helping him track down even bigger folks committing fraudulent acts.

Throw in some love triangles, a brassy wife for Irving (played way too over-the-top by Jennifer Lawrence), and Robert DeNiro as a mafia kingpin, and American Hustle is just a mess in terms of story.  Much like Silver Linings Playbook, this film just doesn't know what it wants to be.  [I criticize Ms. Lawrence there, but her character's brashness was at least a breath of fresh air in this story, and her scenes, despite not having much to do in terms of advancing the film, were some of the film's best.  However, Lawrence is the one person that I felt you could "see" acting whereas the others embodied their characters more or less.]

Granted, I'll give Russell credit that he does manage to get some nice performances from his group of actors, but overall, the film is a mess.  The costumes were groovy, though!

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Movie Review - Philomena

Philomena (2013)
Starring Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Sean Mahon, Peter Hermann, and Mare Winningham
Directed by Stephen Frears

In the 1940s, a teenage girl named Philomena (Sophie Kennedy Clark) gets pregnant and is sent to live at the Roscrea Catholic convent where she gives birth to her son Anthony.  The nuns have Philomena sign away her parental rights and end up giving the baby up for adoption, much to Philomena's distress.  Cut to decades later and an elderly Philomena (now played by Judi Dench) still finds herself thinking of her Anthony and wondering what happened to him, particularly now -- the year he would've turned fifty.  Philomena meets up with former disgraced politician-turned journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) who, in an attempt to help his image with the public, agrees to help the old woman search for her son in hopes that it will provide a fantastic human interest story for his bosses.

Based on a true story, Philomena doesn't shy away from heavy subject matter, tackling both religious and political themes.  While I welcome this aspect of Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope's script, I also must comment on their creative license that paints several figures in the piece as morally repugnant.  The film's final scene -- a showdown between two parties -- in fact never happened.  Placed in the film simply to up the dramatic quotient of things, the entire scene actually rang a bit untrue -- it was written almost childlike in its angry dialog -- and, come to find out, it never actually occurred.  Coogan and Pope were specifically twisting their plot to buoy their anti-religious standpoint.

However, for all the anti-Catholicism that occurs in the film, there is also a reverence given to the religion as well through the eyes of Philomena.  Despite all that happened to her as a child and the pain she's suffered through as an adult because of the loss of her child, she still looks to God for guidance.  The Catholic Church is certainly not without reproach and I give this film credit for trying to create a balance between the believers and the non-believers.  While I think Coogan and Pope went a step too far, they get close to their goal.

Philomena's story is a sad one, but the woman herself was a trooper and Judi Dench brings her joyful and respectful ways of life to the screen with gusto.  This'll sound corny, but there's heart on display that immediately connects the audience to the title character, with Dench bringing dignity to the title character's plight.  Dench really is fantastic here, garnering the accolade that I typically churn out at least once or twice an awards season -- even the slightest eye movement from conveys all we need to know about her character's internal thoughts which, to me, is an admirable quality in an actor.  While we certainly feel sorry for her, Philomena is a strong woman and Dench never makes us pity her -- something that easily could've happened.  Countering Dench, Steve Coogan's bitterness plays well against her and the duo really do have nice chemistry with one another.

Overall, Philomena is a solid film.  Although the writers made the finale a bit too dramatic for its own good, Dench's performance alone makes this one worth seeing.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Friday, January 10, 2014

Movie Review - The Guilt Trip

The Guilt Trip (2012)
Starring Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand
Directed by Anne Fletcher
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Super Quick Review #2 for Today

No one is more surprised than me that I enjoyed The Guilt Trip.  The film is simple enough -- perhaps too simple -- with a mother and son traveling cross country getting on each other's last nerves, but predictably realizing their love for each other by the end.  Still, there's a surprising amount of heart that I found refreshing and comforting.

I'm not sure I've ever actually seen a movie with Barbara Streisand in it other than the Meet the Parents series, but she actually won me over here.  I may need to check out some of her other films to see if the Hollywood love affair with her stems from more than just her liberal politics.  Seth Rogen was also good, although admittedly I'm not quite sure this role was much of a stretch for him.

Still, The Guilt Trip is the kind of movie you can sit down and watch with your mom -- as I did -- and actually both enjoy.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Movie Review - Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher (2012)
Starring Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo, Richard Jenkins, Joseph Sikora, Jai Courtney, Werner Herzog, and Robert Duvall 
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
***This film is crrently streaming on Netflix***

Super Quick Review #1 of Today

Tom Cruise is the title character in Jack Reacher, a former military man who now finds himself investigating crimes back in the States.  The crime featured in what is now apparently the first of a series of Jack Reacher films involves a sniper who shot and killed five innocent people in Pittsburgh.  The shooter - a former military sniper - has no recollection of the crime and Reacher believes that he's likely innocent.

Cruise is solid and the film was enjoyable enough to watch, but the plot was rather convoluted.  The film's overarching "conspiracy" failed to resonate and I found myself not caring about the resolution all that much.  Still, Jack Reacher was decent...I'm just not sure I'd really care to see a sequel.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Thursday, January 09, 2014

The Disney Discussion - Sleeping Beauty

Over the course of the year, we'll be spending our Wednesdays with Walt, having a discussion about each of Disney's animated films...

Movie #16 of The Disney Discussion
Sleeping Beauty (1959)
Featuring the voice talents of Mary Costa, Eleanor Audley, Barbara Luddy, Taylor Holmes, Bill Shirley, Verna Felton, Barbara Jo Allen, and Bill Thompson
Directed by Clyde Geronimi (supervising director); 
Eric Larson, Wolfgang Reitherman, Les Clark (sequence directors)

Summary (in 150 words or less):
Upon the birth of Aurora to King Stefan and Queen Leah, the baby is set to be betrothed to Prince Philip, son of King Hubert.  However, at a celebration in which people in the kingdom brings gifts to the newly-born child, evil sorceress Maleficent places a spell on Aurora, stating that by her sixteenth birthday she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die.  Fortunately, three good witches -- Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather -- are able to change the curse slightly by having Aurora fall asleep (rather than die) and be given the opportunity to awaken by true love's kiss.  Still, in order to try and protect Aurora, the three fairies take the princess into the woods and raise her as a "normal girl" in an attempt to hide her from Maleficent (and all spinning wheels).  However, as her sixteenth birthday arrives, the forces of good and evil inevitably meet.

Let the Discussion Begin...
Sleeping Beauty is the Walt Disney Company's sixteenth full-length animated feature film and was released on January 29, 1959.

Sleeping Beauty was Disney's most expensive animated feature to date with production costs totaling $6 million, and while it brought in $7.7 million in its initial release, its disappointing returns (coupled with a disappointing 1959 film slate overall for the company) resulted in company-wide layoffs in 1960.  [It should be noted, I've also seen $5.3 million as Sleeping Beauty's initial gross...I'm unsure of which is the true total.]

It didn't help that upon its release, the critics didn't rally behind the film, with many finding it slowly paced and its characters not fully realized -- two criticisms that I couldn't disagree with more.  

Like Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty was released in a widescreen format, but Disney employed the super-wide Technirama format here which also provided the film the usage of fantastic stereophonic sound. 

The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Scoring of a Motion Picture, but it did not win.

The Characters
(The Best...The Worst...The Villains...)
Although I certainly didn't calculate it myself, I've read that the title character in Sleeping Beauty is onscreen for less than twenty minutes.  Despite the lack of screen time, the film is all about Princess Aurora.  Rather surprisingly, however, Aurora is the least detailed -- both animated and story-wise -- of all the main characters presented in the film.  Part of the reason for that, of course, is that she's got to fall asleep in order for the story to gain its momentum to its conclusion.  Admittedly, however, as you will see in sections further down, she plays a huge role in my favorite scenes in the film.  So, perhaps I'll just hold off speaking more about her until a bit later in the post.
Much of the film's humor and heart comes courtesy of the three fairies -- Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather -- who vow to protect young Aurora and see her through to her sixteenth birthday at which point the evil Maleficent's curse will become moot.  With Flora acting as the bossy know-it-all, Fauna's sweetly dim-witted demeanor, and poor Merryweather the smart though often overruled one, their different personalities are a refreshing treat, bouncing off of each other with ease and naturalness.
Considering the lightness of the fairies, Maleficent stands in huge contrast to their kind and gentle nature.  We're only sixteen movies into this Disney Discussion, but Maleficent will certainly find herself in the upper ranks of the "most evil" villains in the Disney pantheon.  Consider these two facts:
  1. Maleficent curses Princess Aurora to death simply because she wasn't invited to the ceremony introducing the baby to the public.  (Granted, I couldn't help but think there was some bigger "backstory" involving the evil witch's dealings with the King and the Queen of the kingdom that wasn't revealed.)
  2. When Maleficent catches Prince Philip, rather than kill him, she says he will keep him locked up for decades only to release him to lift the sleeping curse for Aurora.  However, with him in his eighties or nineties, his love for Aurora will never be permitted to be fully realized.
Just plain nasty...and devilishly smart.  Voiced by Eleanor Audley (who also voiced the evil stepmother in Cinderella and plays a prominent role in The Haunted Mansion attraction at Disney's theme parks), Maleficent is a return to the malevolence that we first saw from the Evil Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  

The Music
Sleeping Beauty really only has one song in it despite what its soundtrack would have you believe.  I'll hold off discussing that one song until the "My Favorite Scene" section, however, I will discuss briefly the decision to utilize the music of Tchaikovsky's ballet in both the score and the little snippets of songs -- typically only four to six lines -- sung by an omniscient choir.  The use of classical music gives a rather rich depth to the score itself, however, with the exception of what I'll discuss below, music doesn't play a huge role in the film.

My Favorite Scene
Although the scene in which Maleficent hypnotizes a sixteen year-old Aurora to prick her hand on a spinning wheel (all done in a green-tinted eeriness) is incredibly successful in its tenseness, the best moment in Sleeping Beauty is Aurora's one big show-stopper -- the song "So This Is Love" set to a lovely Tchaikovsky waltz.

On the day of her sixteenth birthday, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather resolve to throw a birthday bash for the girl -- whom they've named Briar Rose in order to try and hide her better from Maleficent -- so they tell her to head to the woods for a bit.  Upon arriving in the woods, the forest creatures hear of her longing for romance and conspire to do something to make her feel a bit better.  Fortunately for the woodland animals, Prince Philip happens to be riding by on his trusty steed at the same time.  After a little mishap lands Philip in a pond, Aurora's forest friends steal Philip's cape and hat and set off to dance with the lovely Aurora.  While singing the lovely song about her desire to fall in love, Philip overhears Aurora, runs to her, and begins to dance with her, falling in love seemingly at first sight, with neither knowing that they were set to be betrothed to each other from their childhoods.  

Not only is the song beautifully and simply written, the animation is witty (thanks to the animals) and charmingly romantic (thanks to the humans) at the same time, creating a lovely set piece that is truly memorable.

Random Thoughts
  • This one opens with the classic Disney storybook being omnipotently opened again.
  • The colors are just so vibrant right from the beginning.
  • I love that the animation style is so different -- very angular and not necessarily fluid in crowd scenes -- as if we're watching a painting come to life.
  • I didn't remember much of this movie, but what I did remember was Maleficent saying the word "hell" and me thinking that it was such a bad word as a little kid.
  • This is by far the most epic battle scene with a villain we've seen thus far in the Disney Discussion.

Final Analysis
(Does It Belong in the Revered Disney Pantheon and How Does It Stack Up to Past Films?)
Sleeping Beauty was never prominent in my childhood.  In fact, I'm not sure the VHS copy even had a place on a shelf in my home.  Viewings of the film likely came from screenings at school which were certainly few and far between.  Because of this, I was able to come to this film with a refreshingly blank slate...and I found the film to be a real treat.

The animation is gorgeous. Scenes -- particularly ones with large crowds or landscapes -- look as if they're out of a painting. Even the darker moments (look at the picture above with Maleficent as a dragon fighting Philip) are beautifully rendered. Admittedly, the characters beyond Maleficent and the fairies aren't given a whole lot of complexity in terms of their animation, but there's still a huge improvement here from the last princess tale of Cinderella.

The flick moves along at a rather brisk pace, however, there's still a bit too much borrowing from Snow White and Cinderella here for the film's own good.  We're always going to have talking and/or helpful animals in our Disney princess flicks, but as the decades progressed, the storytellers got a tad more inventive.  Similarly, there's no denying that the "sleeping princess awakened by a prince's kiss" storyline is something we've seen already.

However, despite the similarities to its predecessors, the film is just as successful as them and therein deserves its place in the revered Disney Pantheon of animated films.

The RyMickey Rating: B+

Join us next Wednesday for 101 Dalmatians, the seventeenth film in The Disney Discussion.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Movie Review - The Numbers Station

The Numbers Station (2013)
Starring John Cusack, Malin Akerman, and Liam Cunningham
Directed by Kasper Barfoed
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

When CIA agent Emerson Kent (John Cusack) screws up a black ops mission, he's relegated to protecting code operator Katherine (Malin Ackerman) at a remote CIA radio broadcast station in England.  At this numbers station, Katherine sits in a broadcast booth and spouts series upon series of numbers which are codes containing information regarding missions for agents in the field.  Emerson and Katherine share the station with two other folks just like themselves, working on opposite shifts.  However, one morning, upon Emerson and Katherine's arrival, they find themselves being shot at by a sniper in a radio tower.  Quickly hustling into the numbers station, the two discover that their predecessors have been compromised and that their last act was unknowingly dispensing codes that told CIA agents to commit some horrible acts.  With that sniper outside trying to make his way in and those field agents getting ready to carry out their treasonous acts, Emerson and Katherine are working against the clock to get things right and save themselves.

What's most interesting about The Numbers Station is that, for the most part, this is a two-actor affair.  John Cusack and Malin Ackerman are onscreen together for most of the film and, considering what some may consider the "B-levelness" of the two stars, they more than hold their own with Ackerman proving to be the big surprise to me.  Cusack is seemingly playing a guy we've seen him play before, showing very little emotion as is often the case with him and his roles in the past decade.  Ackerman, however, gets us to feel for her character's plight despite the under-developed role she's been given.

Ultimately, what holds The Numbers Station back from being really good is a script that truly intrigues. Yes, the premise is moderately unique and the concept of never leaving the numbers station once we're inside it is an added twist, the claustrophobia doesn't really add to the tension we should be feeling.  Fortunately (and smartly), the film clocks in at under ninety minutes, so we're never really bored by it, but we do find ourselves wishing for a bit more pizzazz.  (You can certainly tell it was made with a low budget mindset.)

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

On an unrelated note, if you haven't checked out Malin Ackerman's sitcom Trophy Wife on ABC, give it a look.  It started out rather unimpressive and I admittedly gave up on it, but its creative juices began flowing about four episodes in and it's definitely become one of the more underrated comedies on network tv at the moment. 

Friday, January 03, 2014

Movie Review - All the Boys Love Mandy Lane

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2013...or 2006?)
Starring Amber Heard, Michael Welch, Whitney Able, Edwin Hodge, Aaron Himelstein, Luke Grimes, Melissa Price, and Anson Mount
Directed by Jonathan Levine
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I think I've mentioned this before, but getting reviews of horror movies from AintItCool.com is probably the worst thing one can do.  Granted, I'm well aware that no one even looks at AintItCool.com anymore, but back in 2006 when All the Boys Love Mandy Lane was supposed to come out, it was still a de rigueur website.  Yes, that's right -- this film has been sitting on the shelf for seven years.  It was snatched up by the Weinsteins for over $3.5 million after a apparently stellar debut at a film festival, but the movie mogul brothers got cold feet about its prospects and sold it to another distribution company which went belly up before the film was able to be released.  So gathering dust it sat until director Jonathan Levine's 50/50 came out to rave reviews (deservedly so) and the Weinsteins decided to seek out this film again -- Levine's directorial debut.

Anyway, back to AintItCool.com -- the movie geeks at that site were saying that All the Boys Love Mandy Lane was a reinvention of the slasher genre.  A new Scream for a new generation.  Um...no.  Not even relatively close.  Instead, this is a low budget, rather humorless flick, filled with some obnoxious music video-esque lensing and nary a character we can rally behind and hope that they make it out alive.

Amber Heard is certainly gorgeous and the film wants us to know that right from the start.  The opening shot features Heard as the title character walking down a high school hallway with everyone -- boy and girl alike -- staring at everything Mandy has to offer (and thanks to slow motion, the glimpses linger).  Despite her beautiful appearance, Mandy Lane is not one to sleep around and she certainly doesn't hang out with the cool crowd.  Instead, she hangs out with her best buddy Emmett (Michael Welch) who's undoubtedly less popular than Mandy.  After an horrific accident at a high school party in which Emmett is held somewhat responsible for another student's death, Mandy disassociates herself from him and becomes a bit more intrigued with the popular crowd, five of whom invite her to a secluded ranch for a weekend getaway.  Little does the sextet know that someone will be picking them off one by one.

Quite simply, there's nothing original about All the Boys Love Mandy Lane.  The story is typical, the kills are uninspired, and the acting is simply average.  This is far from a reinvention of the slasher genre, instead feeling like another tired retread.  It's easy to see why this one sat on the shelf for so long and I'm not at all sure why it was so well-received upon its film festival debut.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Movie Review - White House Down

White House Down (2013)
Starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Joey King, Richard Jenkins, and James Woods
Directed by Roland Emmerich

I keep trying to tell myself that I shouldn't like Channing Tatum.  I keep telling myself that I should laugh off all of his movies.  I keep saying that since the ladies love him I should automatically carry some disdain towards him.  Because of this, it was easy to avoid Tatum's summer action picture White House Down.  Of course, that wasn't the only reason to scoff at this film.  I could certainly do without Jamie Foxx's irksome overacting and this was the second movie to come out within five months detailing a terroristic takeover of the White House following Olympus Has Fallen.  Plus, the trailer for Olympus seemed much better than this Roland Emmerich-directed "blockbuster."  Having watched Olympus Has Fallen a few months ago and finding it disappointing, when White House Down arrived in my mailbox last week, I was actually irritated that I hadn't reordered my Netflix queue.  Needless to say, White House Down proved to be surprisingly enjoyable -- a film that doesn't necessarily do a single thing we haven't seen before, but somehow manages to revel in its ridiculousness and keep things rocking and rolling for over two hours.

Like I said, White House Down doesn't reinvent the wheel.  Channing Tatum is Cale, a security officer for the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins).  Hoping for something more, he heads to the White House for an interview, bringing with him his precocious eleven year-old daughter (Joey King).  After being interviewed by Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), one of the President's high-ranking Secret Service officers and (of course) a former fling of Cale's, Cale and his daughter bogart their way into a White House tour.  While on the tour, the White House finds itself under attack, taken over by a crew of men headed by the leading Secret Service agent Walker (James Woods), a man upset by the President's foreign relations policies that caused Walker's military son to be killed in combat.  Naturally, Cale springs into action, doing what he can to protect the well-liked President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) along with his daughter.

Honestly, I could've written the basic story behind White House Down, but I must give credit to director Roland Emmerich and screenwriter James Vanderbilt who keep the flick moving along at a steady pace punctuating some of the most ridiculously over-the-top action sequences with humorous quips wherein the characters themselves admit the ridiculousness of said action sequences.  Tatum is certainly game for both the action scenes and he's already proven himself a charmingly sly comedian.  Jamie Foxx is shockingly understated -- I was pleasantly surprised by the way he allowed his presidential character to play second fiddle to Tatum.  The supporting cast from Woods to Jenkins to Gyllenhaal all give better performances than is to be expected in a movie like this.

So, I must say that no one is more shocked than me to say that White House Down is worth your time and better than it really should be.  I think I need to admit that Channing Tatum isn't nearly as bad as I want him to be.

The RyMickey Rating:  B