HANAJUN’S REVIEWS: White House Down is cliche’ done right

WHITE HOUSE DOWN is cliche´ done right

White House Down is film that contains an overabundance of action movie cliche´s. It hardly attempts to reinvent the genre and sticks to delivering the cues and moments that fans are used to seeing in similar films.

But Roland Emmerich’s direction actually relishes those exact moments, since many essentially derive from his earlier work. As a result, White House Down plays and feels like a classic action film from the 90′s but with filmmaking techniques that are more current.

One’s got to love that title, because that’s essentially what they’ll be getting. The story takes place in Washington DC, and is about a DC cop named John Cale (Channing Tatum) who takes his daughter to a tour of the White House when it is attacked and taken over by terrorists. Cale is separated from Emily during the attack, but instead runs into President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). Together, they must recover Emily and escape from the White House before it’s too late.

Now there is a bit more to the plot than a simple invasion/terror attack, but the fun of the film is discovering how Emmerich plays with the tropes of the action genre. For example, there’s the eccentric hacker, the hero’s troubled relationship with his family, or the many scenes of something counting down in suspense. It’s far from any realistic depiction of what would actually happen during that kind of situation. Instead, to fully enjoy experience is to just simply accept the film as it is, and just take the ride. By doing so, the White House Down actually starts to build toward an ending that’s satisfyingly simple.

As far as the leads go, Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx make an excellent duo. They handle the action well, but deliver a great amount of drama and/or comedy depending on the scene. Maggie Gyllenhaal also does a fine job as Secret Service agent Finnerty, who does a fine job playing a character who assists and informs our heroes from outside the action.

For Emmerich, this feels less like his films such as 10,0000 B.C. or 2012, but more along the lines of Independence Day. The action is wide-scale and appropriately epic, and is shot with great competence and understanding. Emmerich doesn’t opt for the fast, incoherent “shakiness” or modern action films, but instead takes a more constructed, methodical approach in those set-pieces. You could fault the story and script for possibly being the worst thing ever, but you can’t deny Emmerich’s skill and talent.

White House Down will probably not be remembered as well as films such as Die Hard or Lethal Weapon, but it’s currently the best film that plays like a modern version of the latter films. The story is incredibly preposterous and dumb to the core, but it’s still fun to watch it all unfold. I mean, by the time the commercials reveal the shot of President of the United States firing a rocket launcher, you should have already made up your mind.

The Good: The direction. The lead coupling of Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum.
The Bad: It doesn’t attempt much to impact the genre, even from someone like Emmerich. Drags on at some parts.
The Weird: Eventually we’re going to finally get the sequel to Independence Day. The title? ID Forever.

Overall: B-

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY still schools the competition!

Pixar’s great, many will agree. While their canon might not all be Oscar-winning films, their massive popularity is indicative of the care and quality put forth in their stories and characters. For Pixar, some worlds are just too big to be left without a sequel or spinoff. The Monster’s Inc. universe is not only big, but one that could produce as many stories as there are closet doors. But a prequel?

In Monsters University, the leap back in time not only provides a sufficient backstory for series leads Mike and Sully, but really differentiates itself from the original by being a completely different experience altogether. As a result, Monsters University is a great, funny film that should please all ages, while delivering the quality that fans are used to from Pixar.

In this film, Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) both meet at the eponymous Monsters University to find themselves on opposing ends. Mike – the one-eyed goof of the original – is the idealistic, wide-eyed (no pun intended) freshman who’s looking only to succeed the semester in the most optimal way.  Sully, on the other hand, is a large, lazy and dismissive beast, overplaying the stereotypical  frat boy. When both characters find themselves in jeopardy of failing together, they  join the lowest ranked fraternity and enter a campus-wide “scaring contest” in hope of some redemption.

While this film might share similar locations and characters, it’s quite different from its predecessor. The original is an adventure with very large stakes attached to their world. Monsters University is smaller and more intimate, telling a very focused story about school, friendship, and identity. The film pays more attention to the dilemas that are specific to that environment, so that anyone who’s either attending, or have attended college before,  should relate quite well. How the characters become friends –- even when they’re monsters –- feels real because the personalities and situation are relatable.

As serious as the film gets during the characters’ more emotional moments, it’s also incredibly fun and laugh-out-loud hilarious. The jokes about college –- while nothing new –- are pretty funny when seen through this film’s perspective. While the second act has a predictable plot mechanism that does make the rest seem predictable, the Monsters University has fun with audience expectations and delivers on all counts. Now there are quite a few jokes and gags that are clearly aimed for children, but the film is directed (by Dan Scanlon) well enough that it doesn’t grate or halt the pacing.

Fans of the comedy genre –- especially college comedies –- will have much to enjoy as it not only alludes, but plays homage to classics in the genre. To name some would potentially spoil the experience as some plot elements are lifted straight from those genre favorites.

Technically, Monsters University is a beautifully made film. The world and characters are so well realized that the film can introduce  many different elements that might not be important in the end, but help really shape the identity of the setting. People coming  to see different types of monster designs will not be disappointed, especially when each design is meant to portray a certain type of person that’s usually associated with college-life.

The main problem that this film faces is that it probably won’t surpass the original in terms of story and quality. Monsters University has a great story, but it’s still a story that’s been told quite frequently, only this time through a different world. Even understanding the outcome of Monster’s Inc. somewhat undercuts the entire point of watching the film. But it’s still a story that’s told well, and many other filmmakers struggle to match even the lowest quality-rated film that Pixar has produced.

Monsters University is a film that’ll entertain both adults and children, reaching either audience in its own unique way. A college degree, while important, is not required to enjoy this film. As one will learn at the end of the film, there are other legitimate ways in life that’ll happily make your dreams come true.

The Good: Monsters University
The Bad: Doesn’t aim big. Not that original.
The Weird: For a film about college, I was expecting to see how Pixar would handle some of the darker elements of that lifestyle. But they didn’t.

Overall: A-
Spread the word.

Now You See Me
A plot about bank-robbing magicians should sound ridiculous, but once that’s accepted, it has the potential to be quite fun.

Now You See Me really wins when it reveals the “tricks” behind the illusion involving the heists, making one feel the exhilaration after each little reveal. Simply put, when director Louis Leterrier and his cast are having fun, we’re having fun.

But unfortunately it can’t always be tricks, because the film, outside these spectacles, is  overindulgent, convoluting the story in more ways than it should.  The best moments are devalued when the reasons behind them are somewhat moronic.

Featuring an all-star cast, Now You See Me is set in a contemporary world of four different magicians, named “The Four Hoursemen” — Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt (Woody Harrelson), Henley (Isla Fischer), and Jack (Dave Franco) — who are suspects and running from the FBI after being accused of stealing millions during their ensemble live performances. Hunting them down is Federal Agent Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and his new French partner Alma (Melanie Laurent) as they struggle to keep up with their suspects who are seemingly always one step ahead of them.

Now the film is definitely watchable, and that’s mainly because of the highly talented cast. Everyone puts in decent performances that sustain the film’s smooth pacing. Special mention must go to actors Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman. While brief, they can’t help but  be mesmerizing when they’re onscreen alone or together. Harrelson brings quite a bit of laughter with his comedic character, and Eisenberg’s cocksure performance suits the young illusionist Daniel.

Leterrier’s direction during Horsemen’s performances and the heist themselves are quite thrilling to watch, especially when the secrets of both are revealed. The film looks good and the action is shot fairly competently.

But the weak story really hurts a premise that’s already quite absurd. The motivation behind the characters doesn’t really make much sense. The overall reason behind the heists and why it was done — by of all people — magicians doesn’t pack the emotional weight that film attempts to earn. Instead, the overall reveal is not only disappointing, but quite dumbfounding.

Still, Now You See Me isn’t a completely wasted time in the theater. It succeeds in delivering all the fun moments from the films that center around heists or magic performers. Just don’t be surprised when the truth trick feels less magical, but more dull.

The Good: The cast and direction. It has exciting scenes of magic performances, as well as action involving the heists.
The Bad: The motivation and reasoning behind the whole act of magicians stealing is completely baffling.
The Weird: It doesn’t try to be like The Prestige, but that’s a film about magic that will perform circles around this one.

Overall: C-

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS boldly goes to the familiar … in spectacular fashion!   (This is the first review…continue below for After Earth is an Uneven Mess)

by Hanajun Chung.

Star Trek Into Darkness is what a summer movie should be. It’s fun, exciting, emotional, and really just a fun ride from beginning to end.

There is one element that’s the potential poison to the film succeeding as a story, one that could determine the overall experience of the sequel. But more on that later.

Directed by J.J. Abrams, the sequel sees the  main cast returning for another space adventure that reignited the audiences love and imagination for the Star Trek franchise.  This time, a mysterious villain by the name of John Harrison attacks the Federation on Earth, prompting the crew from the U.S.S Enterprise to seek out and execute the attacker. What starts out as a revenge tale, soon turns into a deeper look  into leadership, responsibility, and sacrifice.

The emotional core of the film mainly works due to the impressive cast. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are great as Kirk and Spock, while the rest of the returning cast provides their absolute best in their respective roles. Simon Pegg’s Scotty gives a particularly inspired performance, drawing cheers and laughs from the audience whenever onscreen. The chemistry between the crew is overall great, providing much
enjoyment  when it’s characters banter about their situation. Veteran actor Peter Weller does a great job in another supporting role, but the real top honor belongs to Benedict Cumberbatch’s John Harrison. The actor famous for the titular role of Sherlock Holmes in BBC’s Sherlock brings a drawing intensity in his performance, captivating the attention of everyone both onscreen and off.

Channeling the spirit of Star Wars, the action here is big, fast, and beautifully shot. While the editing might detract at times,  it’s nonetheless impacting in the moment and as an overall spectacle. Seeing firefights in space never gets old, and Into Darkness throws in a few more inventive bits of space action in form of high dives and the manipulation of gravity. Shots of the Enterprise going into warp speed never gets dull, always finding ways to make the experience as intense as possible. In fact, the whole film is kind of in warp speed.

There is quite a bit to love about this movie. It’s gorgeously shot, colorful in ways that seem missing in modern epics. The music by Michael Giacchino is reused from the first film, but his additions and adjustments to certain pieces really add to the emotional impact of certain crucial scenes. The set and the world created is pretty gorgeously rendered, but not overdone. The CGI is quite good, making you believe that the future is all cracked up to be.

Yet, there is that one moment. The moment that will cause gasps of either genuine surprise or utter disapproval. When this moment happens, the films ceases to become “original.” Potential character development for many individuals ceases soon after, becoming the central focus and catalyst in driving towards the film’s conclusion. Fans who wanted something pure and original will be sorely disappointed.

And it’s not because of a simple retelling of any story, it’s a retelling of one particularly loved and coveted storyline within that genre. In agreement with many critics, it’s slightly lazy and almost heretical.

But in all honesty, the big reveal in the film was something that I’d expected based on earlier scenes, as well as my prior experiences with the franchise. As a result, it then became a matter of how the filmmakers were planning on telling their version of this story. I believed that the writers succeeded in their own retelling, and ultimately provided a satisfying experience for the whole family.

Aside from all that, set your phasers to stun and prepare for warp speed, because Star Trek Into Darkness is a fun thrill ride that’s entertaining and heartwarming until the very end. This isn’t your parents contemplative version of Star Trek, but that should’ve been evident in the first installment of the reboot. They might boldly go where one has gone before, but what the filmmakers do here is indeed bold and brash, setting the course for where the franchise seems to be heading.

The Good: Star Trek Into Darkness
The Bad: The big reveal might seriously alter the entire experience. LENS FLARE.
The Weird: J.J. Abrams will be directing Star Wars Episode VII. I’m hoping that the look and feel of that film is wildly different from this.
Overall: A-

AFTER EARTH IS AN UNEVEN MESS

“Danger is real. Fear is a Choice.”- Cypher Raige

Really, After Earth? Because you only delve into the first, non-compelling half of that quote. But that problem pretty much sums the experience altogether.  Let me explain.

Will Smith and M. Night Shyamalan have made a film that’s simply not that good. It’s inconsistent in many different ways, hurting what could’ve been a somewhat high-concept, yet intimate tale about a father and son’s relationship. Now, Smith actually fares quite well in his role as the producer and as the other main lead.  But it’s the other lead, coupled with Shyamalan’s direction and story, that ultimately pollutes the experience.

After Earth takes place 1000 years into the future in which humanity has left Earth and now lives on a habitable planet named Nova Prime. Smith plays a heralded and decorated General named Cypher Raige  (really? Cypher?!)  who’s Nova Prime’s true savior and secret weapon in protecting humans from a ravenous alien creature called the Ursas, creatures capable of sensing human fear.  While he and his son Kitai Raige  are on a routine trip aboard their space shuttle, their ride malfunctions, causing the ship to crash land on a now uninhabitable and very dangerous planet Earth. With the father and son being the only two survivors of the crew – along with the fact that the General is seriously injured – it’s up to a young, emotional Kitai to travel through incredibly hostile lands alone in order to retrieve the lost distress beacon while proving himself to his father.

To be fair, it’s actually Jaden Smith who’s the film’s main protagonist, but that’s where the problem starts. The actor himself fares decently in his delivery and action, but he still lacks the experience in truly delivering a leading performance. It’s wrong to compare him to his father, but since the film only relies on the only the two of them for the majority of the runtime, the distinction in skill becomes apparent. The role of Kitai is a challenging one, since it requires an actor to ostensibly perform alone.

At times it works, but for the most part, it’s stilted.

The story itself seems only half-committed as well. The film does a decent albeit cliched job in building the world and universe for the story, but does nothing to explain the present.  It’s one unanswered question after the next. We get why humans left, but why do they stay on Nova Prime when they’re constantly attacked? We understand that Earth has become incredibly dangerous, but how did that much change in a millenium? Most importantly, we get that film builds itself to the point in which our characters must engage and overcome fear in general, but is it through martial arts or just a fabrication
of the mind? And why the hell do they jump between southern and Caribbean accent, but then no accent at all?  It makes no sense! It might seem unfair that these criticisms are so specific and detail-oriented, but the film aims at complete realization through the details in the world and it’s characters.

Speaking of world, prepare to see Earth like you’ve already seen before. For a place that’s evolved to kill people, there isn’t much that’s different. Why are mammals such as gorillas and lions the same size, but the birds are somehow gigantic?

M Night Shyamalan could’ve saved this and his flailing career with After Earth, but that doesn’t seem likely due to the uneven nature of the entire film. Shyamalan was once a man who’s name and film’s carried a certain repute that would be sufficient enough to make money at the box office. Today, he’s become the butt of many jokes, and this film has moments that range between baffling and laugh-out-loud ludicrous.

One scene in particular is pulled straight out of a horror film – presumably a ghost story – being misplaced while hurting the film’s overall pacing.

Now while this film wasn’t the best, it does have a few pluses. Will Smith is always reliable as a performer and he does a convincing job here as well. The cinematography is quite beautiful at times, displaying beautiful landscapes along with the flora and fauna that inhabit the area. The score – comprised of mainly piano compositions – is a nice alternative to the more modern, electronic scores used in current science fiction. The score really puts focus on the emotion behind the father and son as opposed to only being used to build suspense. The action is pretty impressive in certain moments, one
scene in particular involving a squirrel-suit. Overall, it’s not a terrible film, just a mediocre and trite experience.

After Earth won’t lose viewers during it’s runtime, but it won’t engage further discussion once it’s over — unless it’s about the film’s shortcomings.

The Good: Will Smith. The film looks good. The score is good.
The Bad: Jaden Smith. M Night Shyamalan. The film doesn’t fully commit in any which way.
The Weird: After Earth could be seen as a metaphor for Jaden’s foray into Hollywood via his father.

Overall: C-

IRONMAN 3

“Phase 2” of Marvel’s release stratagem has begun with the third installment of the Iron Man franchise. The first film was a massive success, while the sequel did fine (but not as
well), with The Avengers solidifying the fact that fans want more of the Marvel Universe and their characters.

Iron Man 3 not only continues the story of the previous installments, but happens to be a fun action film that’s exciting, humorous, and an overall blast at the theater.

Following the events of The Avengers, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) suffers from post traumaticstress disorder due to the climactic battle from the end of that film.  Understanding that he’s no longer the alpha male that he once believed, Stark is reduced to a panic and a manic lifestyle of seclusion.

Meanwhile, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is running Stark Industries as CEO, and the world is falling victim to a terrorist attacks, by a mysterious man simply known as The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley).

While there is a more sizable cast that includes stars such as Guy Pierce and Rebecca Hall, it’s best to go into the film completely blind in regards to their characters. Especially Pierce’s Aldrich Killian, since his small role will eventually play a larger part as the plot develops.

Actor/Director John Favreau returns as the lovable Happy Hogan, providing much comic relief whenever his character is onscreen.  All the performers do a fantastic job in their roles, especially Downey Jr. and Paltrow. Downey Jr. plays Stark as a defeated, struggling individual that really builds his character interestingly enough to contrast the ego that’s prominent in the previous films with Iron
Man.

Paltrow is less submissive and her subtle acting choices let’s Pepper naturally become more human as the films progress, whereas   other films used her character
only in service to Stark.

But the real star of the film is writer/director Shane Black. Film geeks will know Black as a legend in action genre screenwriting, responsible for classics such as Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scouts. Once the highest paid screenwriter at the time, Black is now filling the director’s seat to direct one of Marvel’s highest-profile films. One could speculatethis is due to his first directorial debut in 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, also starring Robert Downey Jr. The dialogue and tone of that film closely resembles that of Iron Man 3.

If you like Iron Man 3 or clever action films, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a must watch.  As a director – especially from action – Black definitely delivers the goods. Fans wanting the Iron Man suit action will be pleased as there are several scenes with the suit that really feature the gear doing what it does best. But Black also provides action outside the suit, and those bits are far superior, because they have Downey Jr.’s charisma and personality to sell the emotion behind those moments. People tend to forget that it’s the man who made the suit, and not the other way around.

The film does have a few downsides, but nothing to ruin the experience. Most of theproblems stem from poor decision-making and problems with the logic. It’s one of those cases in which one asks something like, “Wait. If they can do that, why didn’t they do it earlier when they needed to?” or “Are you telling me they have the technology to do that, but can’t do something that requires a cellphone?” In hindsight, it becomes apparent that the film’s most exciting set-pieces would not have happened if things got resolved. These are small nitpicks, but nothing to bring down the film as a whole.

Iron Man 3 is going to make record-breaking amounts of money. Any title opening near this film’s release date will probably not gain the top slot due to continuing rising sales and positive word-of-mouth. It is dservingly so, as it works for many specific genre fans, but also  as a family, event-type film. Even though you might not be interested in seeing something like this, Iron Man 3’s presence in the local cinema is indicative of two things.

First, Marvel is showing no signs of slowing down. And the second? For everyone involved in school (students, staffs, parents):   summer is here.

The Good: Iron Man 3

The Bad: Questionable decisions in characters and logic.

The Weird: Halfway in the film, there is a MASSIVE plot twist that will either be brilliant or the worst thing ever. I thought the twist is clever and really added to experience.

Overall: B+

image courtesy:  Moyea PowerPoint E-Learning Center (http://www.dvd-ppt-slideshow.com/blog/)

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This entry was published on April 22, 2013 at 5:48 am. It’s filed under base line tales, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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