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.

threehalfstar


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 Dark Knight (2008)

Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Ron Dean, Chin Han, Nestor Carbonell, Eric Roberts, Ritchie Coster, Anthony Michael Hall

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Expectations: High. Haven’t watched it since the theater.


[Editor’s note: I may spoil this movie, so if you’re one of the few who hasn’t seen it and you care, just watch it.]

Let’s just get this out of the way: Batman Begins is the better movie. I’m not trying to stir up controversy or anything, I’m just being realistic. Batman Begins sets up the world of Batman, sets up the character of Batman, sets up your attachment to this version of Batman. The Dark Knight plays off of that and builds on it, but the framework is already there. Also, The Dark Knight isn’t so much a Batman movie as it is a Gotham City movie, so with the focus shifted it allows for something completely different — and awesome — to occur, but I think it’s easy to be wowed by the machinations of The Dark Knight and forget how great that first Batman movie was. I know that’s what happened to me when I saw this in the theater, but watching them both at home in the space of a few days has allowed me to appraise them in a much more realistic way.

So as The Dark Knight is a movie about Gotham and its arc, it has a tendency to become detached from the things that made Batman Begins great. That character connection to Bruce Wayne/Batman is almost non-existent here, but it is replaced by the Joker’s wild brand of anarchy and the noble “White Knight” pursuits of Harvey Dent to finally clean up Gotham City once and for all. This makes The Dark Knight a harder movie to get inside of and feel connected to, but it doesn’t inherently make it a bad movie like it might in the hands of a different director. This is because Gotham and Batman are so closely tied together that in a way Gotham’s story is Batman’s story; Batman is an incorruptible symbol that will do anything necessary to help the city he lives in.

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Crazy Heart (2009)

Starring Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Jack Nation

Directed by Scott Cooper

Expectations: High.


Crazy Heart tells the story of Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges), an alcoholic country singer whose career is on the decline. We enter his life as he pulls into the parking lot of his next gig: a bowling alley. The last time I saw Bridges at a bowling alley were the final moments of The Big Lebowski, so this was a nice place to start the film for me. I’m sure it wasn’t lost on a lot of other viewers as well. He eventually meets up with a young reporter (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and strikes up a friendship. The heart of the film lies within this relationship. Maggie Gyllenhaal has never looked more beautiful on-screen than she does here and she displays a deep talent for creating a believable character.

I was shocked to learn that this is the debut feature from Scott Cooper. It is a very well-made film with crisp, beautiful cinematography. The film is set all across the American Southwest and it looks gorgeous. The wide, expansive landscapes made me long for a good road trip and the bar interiors perfectly captured the heartbroken neon feeling that local bars always gives me. I look forward to what he comes out with next, because if it’s as well shot as this was, it’ll be something special.

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