White House Down (2013)

whitehousedown_1Starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Richard Jenkins, Joey King, James Woods, Nicolas Wright, Lance Reddick, Jimmi Simpson, Kevin Rankin, Michael Murphy, Rachelle Lefevre

Directed by Roland Emmerich

Expectations: Pretty low, but I like the leads enough to watch them in a dumb action movie.

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To call White House Down a variation on Die Hard is an understatement. White House Down IS Die Hard in the White House, but while shameless rip-offs and recycling of storylines is usually a bad thing, White House Down is so much fun that I hardly cared that I had seen this same setup before. Besides… Die Hard is awesome. There are definitely times when the nods to Die Hard are too on-the-nose (such as using Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony instead of the Ninth, with no other context but as a Die Hard reference), but even these moments made me smile instead of groan. And that’s the key thing in a dumb action movie like this: the tone is light enough and the action is furious enough for all those little annoyances to simply roll off your back. White House Down is definitely a whole lot of dumb, but that never stopped ’80s action movies, and it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying one of the best modern “old school” action movies I’ve seen in a while.

As you might expect from the title and the poster, White House Down is about a terrorist capture of the White House and one man slinking around and messing up the bad guy’s plans. Doesn’t get much more simple than that. Unfortunately, because this is 2013 it takes a while to actually get to the plot that matters. Director Roland Emmerich spends nearly 40 minutes setting up the characters and the inevitable takeover of the President’s home. Modern films just can’t seem to get down to business so I expected this, but what I didn’t expect was that once the pin is pulled, this grenade of a movie explodes into pretty much non-stop action and thrills. It’s intense, ridiculous and incredibly enjoyable.

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The Players Club (1998)

the-players-club-movie-poster-1998-1020196466Starring LisaRaye, Bernie Mac, Monica Calhoun, Jamie Foxx, Chrystale Wilson, Adele Givens, Anthony Johnson, Faizon Love, John Amos, Charlie Murphy, Montae Russell, Ice Cube, Samuel Monroe Jr., Alex Thomas, Terrence Howard, Luther Campbell, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, Michael Clarke Duncan

Directed by Ice Cube

Expectations: Moderate. I know next to nothing about this.

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First and foremost, The Players Club is a movie by and for black people. I’m not trying to generalize and I don’t mean that in any way other than descriptive, but my mind kept returning to this fact while watching the film. It never congealed into a deep, coherent thought because I was always entertained with the brewing drama occurring between the characters, and there was never really a down moment to ponder this.

In today’s society we hear a lot about how racism is dead, or how we’re living in a post-racial world, but that’s all bullshit. One look at the popular entertainment produced by Hollywood will show you that actors of any color skin other than white better be ready for a whole lot of supporting roles. But for a long time, probably since the Blaxploitation movement in the ’70s, there has been a small but thriving black filmmaking community. The films very rarely crossover to mainstream audiences, but they’re out there doin’ their thang, producing films for a select audience of people.

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Django Unchained (2012)

django-unchained-movie-poster-teaserStarring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, Don Johnson, Laura Cayouette

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Expectations: Very high. Tarantino is a big western fan, so there’s no way this can’t be great, right?

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In a single word, Django Unchained is excessive. Excessive in every possible way. Some movies that trade in excess get by because the excess is fun, or in some way in service of the story, but in Django it’s neither (not that an unflinching slavery movie should be fun). Instead it feels more like Tarantino is simply throwing everything he has at the audience when he should be carefully crafting a tale worth telling. I’ve always had something of a love/hate relationship with Tarantino and his films, but coming off of the expertly crafted Inglourious Basterds I thought for sure he would deliver something truly memorable. And Django is memorable… for all the wrong reasons. Where the script for Basterds was honed over something like 10 years, Django Unchained was written in a few months and thrown into production soon after. This may be a three-hour “epic,” but it definitely feels a lot closer to Death Proof than I would have liked, at least in terms of the quality of the writing.

As the film opens, a couple of slave traders transport a small group of slaves across the rocky hills and the frozen fields “somewhere in Texas.” They are stopped by a jovial man named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), who is specifically looking for a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) in hopes that he can help him find a trio of wanted men. Thus begins the tale of Django, a freed slave on his way to becoming a fearsome bounty hunter. Or really, that should read: Thus begins the tale of King Schultz and how he frees Django, but not really.

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