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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Jack Reacher (2012)

jackreacher_1Starring Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Werner Herzog, Jai Courtney, Vladimir Sizov, Joseph Sikora, Michael Raymond-James, Alexia Fast, Josh Helman, Robert Duvall

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

Expectations: Really low.

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The marketing for Jack Reacher — at least the one trailer I saw — did the film a disservice by playing up Tom Cruise’s badass character and completely avoiding the fact that the film is a mystery. Thankfully for me, I like mysteries and badass dudes so it was a win-win for me. But if I’m being completely honest, the main reason that I cared to see this one was Werner Herzog. My love for Herzog and his sweet, dulcet tones were enough to make me brave this movie for which the trailer instilled zero interest in me. Herzog is barely in the film and he’s only given one real standout scene, but that honestly didn’t matter so much as the film’s mystery is pretty fun to unravel.

But make no mistake: some of the stuff in this movie is flat-out preposterous. Like how Jack Reacher becomes involved in actively working on the case even though he’s a rogue loner with no agency affiliations. Sure, he used to be a military police officer, but “used to be” doesn’t usually cut it when it comes to investigating murder cases. If the movie wasn’t any good, you could really hinge a whole review on this moment as the point of no return. But the movie is pretty good, so we can overlook a couple of suspension of disbelief issues to get our guy into a few good movie situations.

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The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Brian White, Amy Acker

Directed by Drew Goddard

Expectations: Moderately high. Everyone’s great reviews have coerced me into seeing this, but it’s a modern American horror film, it can’t possibly be good.


Well… that was unexpected. I have to give The Cabin in the Woods credit for trying something different, and it is interesting to see how the film unfolds, but it never pulled me in. The whole film I felt like an outsider observing someone else watching a movie, and I was constantly aware of the filmmakers and their desire for me to recognize their cleverness. Not exactly the quickest way to my heart. It’s a weird, twisting in on itself kind of film, and I understand completely why so many people enjoyed it.

With that being said: Fuck this movie. I’m tempted to leave it at that, but that wouldn’t really be of service to anyone. I was sold a bill of goods, but instead it was the old bait and switch, and I even knew some sort of bait and switch was coming! This is the epitome of a movie that should be watched cold, so if you plan to see this, run far, far away (not physically, of course) by clicking one of the many links (or ads… yeah click those!) surrounding this content.

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The Rum Diary (2011)

Starring Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi, Amaury Nolasco, Marshall Bell, Bill Smitrovich, Julian Holloway, Karen Austin

Directed by Bruce Robinson

Expectations: Low. Heard bad things, but my love for Hunter S. Thompson is enough to get me to watch this.


I can now fully understand the negative backlash to The Rum Diary. When it released into theaters I decided against heading out to see it, despite a high interest. I did that because I’ve read Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary, and I enjoyed it, but when I finally saw the trailer for this adaptation it looked as if they had taken the rather different source material and gave it a heavy dose of Fear and Loathing’s manic energy. I called bullshit and said I’d catch it on DVD. Well here I am a few months later, DVD in hand, and damn if the movie isn’t pretty close to the book. What we have here is a case of poor marketing. The film was marketed as a non-stop rush of waggling devil tongues and slurred words, so obviously people who bought into that in the trailer were disappointed when they saw the subtly chaotic piece on the discovery of a journalist’s craft. And conversely, I am pleasantly surprised by the shift in tone and focus from the marketing. So in effect the marketing is specifically targeting non-fans by drawing them in with empty promises, but turning off fans who know the book in the same stroke. The film is quite reverent of Thompson and his ideals, so I can only imagine the shitstorm that went down between the marketing department and the filmmakers. Or perhaps I’d just like to imagine something similar to the events of The Rum Diary surrounding the production of The Rum Diary.

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Mini-Review: Friends With Benefits (2011)

Starring Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman, Bryan Greenberg, Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson, Nolan Gould

Directed by Will Gluck

Expectations: None, I just hope it’s not too painful.


Just to keep everyone guessing, I have to review a straight-up mainstream movie like this once in a while. Most of the time I have such an indifferent response to these films that I can’t muster the mental power needed to write a full review. Friends With Benefits is pretty much in the same category, but I do have a few thoughts to share. It’s better than No Strings Attached, let’s just get that out of the way. No Ashton Kutcher is a huge plus, but it’s really the R Rating that helps a lot here, allowing the characters freedom to curse as they naturally would and making the sex scenes adequately steamy.

Both Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis do a great job with the material they are given, giving us a believable on-screen relationship with a minimum of groan-worthy scenes. The supporting cast is also filled out with lots of good actors such as Woody Harrelson, Jenna Elfman and Patricia Clarkson (playing virtually the same character she played in Easy A). While I enjoyed Harrelson as the cock-obsessed gay man, I can’t help but wonder how intelligent gay men reacted to this character. They deserve better than to have broad stereotypes reinforced. And if we’re going down that rabbit hole, where were the people of color in this film? I think almost every one in the movie is white.

As a piece of art, it fails miserably. Director Will Gluck creates a textbook mainstream film with more ugly close-ups and over-the-shoulder shots than I care to think back on. I’m sure the paycheck was great though. He previously made Easy A, another poorly-shot mainstream comedy and one that I just couldn’t understand the hype for. It’s hard for me to watch these ugly, lazy films without losing my shit, but the charm of both Kunis and Timberlake surprisingly went a long way.

As a comedy, it fails less so, but it still contains far too little laughs. I especially enjoyed the fake romantic comedy they watch throughout the film, which features some incredibly funny lines within it, perfectly lampooning the tired genre. What’s unfortunate is that to make a romantic comedy, the story kind of has to follow that general path that they all follow and Friends With Benefits is no different. Oh, and the Barnes and Noble joke was my biggest laugh of the movie. Perhaps not the most clever line in the world, but seriously, buying full prices books really is dumb shit.

Friends With Benefits does a lot wrong, but it does just enough right to make it not as painful as it could have been. It’s way too fuckin’ long though, coming in at almost two hours. I’d only recommend it if you like the leads enough to see them get jiggy wit it.

Quick Takes: Hall Pass, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Hesher

Hall Pass (2011)

Starring Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate, Nicky Whelan, Richard Jenkins, Stephen Merchant
Directed by Peter & Bobby Farrelly

I wanted a hall pass from Hall Pass so I could cut class and watch a better movie. A comedy should be funny, and for the most part, the jokes in Hall Pass are too easy, too stupid, or just not there. There’s a great moment when Owen Wilson and Jason Sudiekis talk about their friend’s family painting of themselves as sea captains, but not much else worth remembering. Not to mention the fucking commercial for Applebee’s in the middle of the movie. Ugh.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010)

Starring Joan Rivers, Melissa Rivers
Directed by Ricki Stern & Anne Sundberg

Enjoyment dependent on your tolerance for Joan Rivers, this film is quite enlightening to her career and her dedication to her craft. I’m a huge comedy nerd so I enjoyed seeing the old footage when she skirted censorship with clever wordplay, and the new footage when she just lets it all out. I’ve never been much of a fan, but after this film, I respect and enjoy her work more than ever. The film drags a bit overall, but it’s much better than I expected it to be.

Hesher (2011)

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Devin Brochu, Rainn Wilson, Piper Laurie, Natalie Portman, Brendan Hill, John Carroll Lynch
Directed by Spencer Susser

The trailer made me think this was all about a hesher and the crazy shit he does, scored with kick-ass thrash metal of the 80s. It’s not. It’s actually a dreary, indie drama about a kid and his family dealing with some serious loss while the mysterious hesher moves into their house uninvited. It’s mostly an OK movie, but it’s heavy-handed and it gets really awful in spots. The end monologue by Hesher about losing one of his nuts is painful, but possibly deep if you’ve just knocked back a Pabst Blue Ribbon tall can like Hesher.

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