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Monday, July 6, 2015

Summer Not-Busters: White House Down (2013)

Director: Roland Emmerich
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx
Domestic Gross: $73,103,784

There probably isn't an easier or more overused logline in Hollywood than "It's like Die Hard but [fill in the blank]." Never mind that the Die Hard movies aren't even like Die Hard anymore, there's no easier way to describe a story about an ordinary guy who proves to be extraordinary capable when faced with a terrorist threat in an isolated location. Die Hard in the White House has such a ring to it that in 2013 Hollywood tried it twice, first with the Gerard Butler starring Olympus Has Fallen and then with the Channing Tatum starring White House Down. Yet, while smart money might have been on the Tatum version, seeing as Tatum was on a box office hot streak that saw him headlining 3 movies that broke $100 million in 2012, not to mention that White House Down tries so very, very hard to evoke Die Hard right down to the way Tatum is styled in the film's second half, White House Down fared so badly that it was name-checked by Sony as a key reason for its $197 million loss during the summer quarter. So where did it all go wrong? Where do we start?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Review: Minority Report (2002)

* * * 1/2

Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Cruise, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell

People don't seem to talk about Minority Report that much these days (though that may change when the TV series premieres this fall), which is odd because, aside from being a really good science fiction/action film, it's also a high point in star Tom Cruise's career since the 20th century gave way to the 21st (I'd say it's a high point in director Steven Spielberg's 21st century career, too, except that Lincoln, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Catch Me If You Can and War Horse are among the 10 films he's directed since 2000, so Minority Report falls more in the middle of his output). I hadn't seen Minority Report in years before sitting down to watch it recently, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well it has held up, the soft ending aside. It's a film very much worth revisiting.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

21st Century Essentials: Gomorra (2008)

All eras have works of art that are fundamental to our understanding of not only the craft itself, but the culture from which it was created. The 21st century is still nascent, but it isn't too early to start creating a canon that demonstrates the heights to which film as an artform has reached since the year 2000. These are the essential films:

Director: Matteo Garrone
Starring: Gianfelice Imperato, Salvatore Abruzzese, Carmine Paternoster, Toni Sevillo, Salvatore Cantalupo, Marco Macor, Ciro Petrone
Country: Italy

Movies about gangsters, even those which see the gangsters as villains rather than anti-heroes, almost inevitably end up glorifying the lifestyles of their protagonists, even when they make it clear that that life is destined to end in a hail of bullets. These films depict men attaining vast power, living lavishly (usually with a woman – or two – on his arm), and sometimes dying gloriously. As Henry Hill puts it in Goodfellas, “to be a gangster was to own the world,” and all the bad stuff that goes along with the life is worth it because the alternative is being an average nobody. Matteo Garrone’s Gomorra adopts a distinctly different perspective from most mob movies, in that his film is very much a movie about “average nobodies,” men who occupy the bottom rungs of a crime syndicate and struggle to achieve little more than survival as a vicious mob war cuts down men and women left, right, and center. It’s a brutal and unsentimental film, and a great one.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Summer Not-Busters: Jonah Hex (2010)

Director: Jimmy Hayward
Starring: Josh Brolin, John Malkovich
Domestic Gross: $10,547,117

If there's any one thing that I've learned since I began purposely seeking out the box office bombs of summers past, it's that more often than not those failed movies deserved to fail and that audiences' instincts to stay away were sounds. While there have been some hidden gems in this series, including last week's Down With Love, they represent the minority; most of these films are not merely box office failures, but in some fundamental way cinematic failures as well. Jonah Hex is most certainly a failure, a film that audiences rightly steered clear of in the summer of 2010, that failed to attract ticket buyers even with its comic book association, even with its relatively (compared to the bloated running times of most films these days) attractive short running time, and even as counter-programming to Toy Story 3, released on the same day, it couldn't manage to open to more than $5 million and change. If Jonah Hex has now been completely forgotten, it would only be fitting. The only interesting thing about it is that it features a still on-the-cusp Michael Fassbender in a supporting role.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Review: Young & Beautiful (2013)

* * *

Director: Francois Ozon
Starring: Marine Vacth

Writer/director Francois Ozon has made plenty of movies about women - very good movies about women - but watching Young & Beautiful, I couldn't help but wonder whether he actually understands women, as parts of it play thoroughly like male fantasy. For the most part, however, Young & Beautiful is an interesting, if opaque, coming of age story about a teenage girl discovering, and then trying to gain control of, her sexuality and sexual power. While far from the auteur's best film - I'd have to give that honor to either the hypnotic, Hitchcockian Swimming Pool or the purely entertaining, packed with French star power, 8 Women - it's still far better from many films of its type.