Cinema Review: White House Down

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DIR: Roland Emmerich WRI: James Vanderbilt PRO: Roland Emmerich, Brad Fischer, Larry J. Franco, Laeta Kalogridis, Harald Kloser, James Vanderbilt. DOP: Anna Foerster ED: Adam Wolfe DES: Kirk M. Petruccelli CAST: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke

It is one of the terrible beauties of Hollywood genre filmmaking that it remains committed to the cause of ideological equivocation, even while seeming to attempt to confront the Realities of Globalization, Extremism, and Socio-Political Anxiety in the Post-9/11 World: it is consistency amidst chaos, perpetuating chaos.

White House Down, the latest from disaster film director par excellence Roland Emmerich, performs such a dance of prevarication with all the outwardly liberal leanings of the 18-34 millennial demographic. The baddies (and this could not possibly spoil anything) are inside-job conservatives in the pocket of military armament providers; the president (Jamie Foxx) is Backbone Obama with a penchant for Air Jordans and a natural affinity for the rocket launcher; the hero (Channing Tatum) is tough on terrorists and gentle on squirrels.

…He is, of course, also white because of course he is. Tatum, who has been lauded for the past year and a bit as Hollywood’s next superstar leading man (always the “next”, never the “now”) takes top billing despite Foxx’s having won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe, and despite the film’s multiple protagonist scope that could just as easily have seen President Sawyer’s role listed first on cast and credits. It’s not Channing Tatum’s fault he’s white, male, and conventionally attractive; it is Hollywood’s fault that so is every other marketable male action star today (with the recent, ageing exception of Will Smith).

That said, Tatum is just Sylvester Stallone-vapid enough to function as the all-American hero who just wants to impress his daughter by landing a job with the Secret Service and gets caught up instead in a terrorist attack at the White House. Handy that he learned to fight and defend – for politically sanctioned reasons – while serving in Afghanistan. And handy that as a foil for the ex-servicemen-gone-rogue responsible for blowing up Capitol Hill, he offsets anxieties about the essential moral corruptibility of the individual soldier trained to kill for money. The noble one – in Emmerich, in Hollywood – excuses (or eliminates where he cannot redeem) the several corrupt. That’s how capitalism saves the day every evening from the problems it posed in the morning.

Ideological dissonances notwithstanding, Channing Tatum’s Bankability Down boasts an excellently devised car chase across the White House lawn and the requisite number of explosions. Its narrative economy is remarkable – Die Hard-esque even – despite running over two hours long: there is nothing superfluous, nothing wanting in its plot. And yet, as the film’s recent tanking at the American box office would suggest, there is something fundamentally lacking in its design.

Perhaps it’s because Antoine Fuqua already made the same movie earlier in the year with Olympus Has Fallen. Perhaps it’s because Roland Emmerich actually blew up the White House way back in 1996, when the scariest enemies were from outer space, and techie nerds like Jeff Goldblum were more sexy-exotic, less Julian Assange-anarchist. Maybe the myth of the Hollywood disaster-action flick has been exploded one too many times in real life on tv, YouTube and the video phone to function as cathartic of our repressed fears and internalized anxieties. Whatever the case may be, what worked twenty years ago doesn’t work today, even with massively improved CGI and cynically-politically correct casting.

Ciara Máirín Barrett

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details) 

131 mins

White House Down is released on 13th September 2013

White House Down  – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Anonymous

You can't get in. You're bard.

DIR: Roland Emmerich • WRI: John Orloff • PRO: Larry Franco, Roland Emmerich, Robert Leger, John Orloff, Marc Weigert • ED: Peter Adam • DOP: Anna Foerster • DES: Sebastian Krawinkel • CAST: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, David Thewlis, Sebastian Armesto

There are some directors whose work will always go before them. Whether it’s their visual effects, their style of direction, their output, it takes a certain courage to go completely in the opposite direction and defy what’s expected from them. Roland Emmerich is a director known for massive set-pieces with huge special effects and very little subtlety. Some may even describe him as a European Michael Bay. To take on a script that focuses on the final days of the Tudor dynasty and the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays is absolutely baffling – and yet here we are.

The story takes place, as mentioned, in Elizabethan England and follows the intrigue and political machinations surrounding the succession of Elizabeth I. However, parallel to this, is the story of the birth of modern theatre. The whole film is something of a love letter to ‘Shakespeare’s’ work and the film does a good job of making it seem relevant – both in terms of the story and for the audience watching. The cast is filled with notable Shakesperean actors such as Vanessa Redgrave, David Thewlis, Derek Jacobi and more and it’s them that give this film the weight it needs to be somewhat credible. The very idea of Roland Emmerich attempting something like this without these actors backing him up is laughable – and it’s them that deserve the most credit for this film.

Throughout the film, you can see that Emmerich is desperately restraining himself and trying to fit his visual style into what could have been something completely different in the hands of a director. Indeed, the film itself is a bit confused. In one respect, it’s trying to be a historical film – carefully laying out its viewpoints and backing them up with fact and so forth. In another, it’s trying to be a swashbuckler/period thriller – all court intrigue and muskets. In another breath still, it’s a melodrama. Unfortunately, it becomes muddled and can’t settle down to one particular train of thought. The screenplay is magnificent and Rhys Ifans does a spectacular job in his role, likewise Natasha Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave both display Elizabeth’s mercurial nature without giving in to the lure of playing her as a tempermental shrew.

If this screenplay was given to a different director who had more experience working with this kind of material, there’s a good chance this film would be more than what it is. The varying elements of the script could have done with more refinement by the director. In other words, he should have picked a style and focused on that, rather than trying to fit every aspect of what the script entailed. It’s a missed opportunity in that Roland Emmerich is so woefully unskilled at making films with this amount of depth and substance. He might be trying to for a new direction and that’s fine. This is a decent first attempt – however, this script feels like it could have been something spectacular in the hands of a more gifted director than he.

Brian Lloyd

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Anonymous released on 28th October 2011

Anonymous – Official Website

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Competition: Win a copy of ‘Anonymous’

To coincide with the release of the film Anonymous this Friday in cinemas across Ireland we have a copy of the beautiful coffee table book to accompany the film to give away thanks to the good people at Sony. There is an introduction by director Roland Emmerich and is filled with beautiful images as well as stills from the film.

To win a copy, simply answer the following question:

What famous playwright is Anonymous about?

Email your answer before 2pm Friday, 25th October along with your name and a contact phone number to

competitions@filmbase.ie

Good luck…

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2012

2012

DIR: Roland Emmerich • WRI: Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser • PRO: Roland Emmerich, Volker Engel, Larry J. Franco, Harald Kloser, Marc Weigert • DOP: Dean Semler • ED: David Brenner, Peter S. Elliot • DES: Barry Chusid • CAST: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover, Oliver Platt

2012 is a film in keeping with such formulaic disaster films as Independence Day, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow. As with these films, the emphasis of 2012 is on spectacle over other less important elements of cinema. Dialogue, realism and character development take a backseat to the computer-generated cataclysm that dominates this vehicle.

2012 is connected to the aforementioned big, dumb actioners by more than just their shared destruction of iconic buildings. All four of these big, dumb films are connected by their big, dumb director: Roland Emmerich. In this instance, my repetition of the words ‘big’ and ‘dumb’ is justified – if it’s okay for Emmerich to repeatedly direct the same film, then it must be okay to carry on describing them as big and dumb. The only apparent difference being that the global scale of this particular big, dumb disaster film makes it bigger and dumber than the previous manifestations.

The irrelevant plot of the film is based on the Mayan prophecy that the world will end in the year 2012. This prediction means that global warming is entirely overlooked and that blame for the end of the world is shifted away from the excesses of humankind and out into the cosmos instead. Blame safely and neatly averted, Emmerich can focus instead on his primary objective – the big and dumb destruction of the (computer-generated) world. Mercifully, New York sits this one out as Emmerich strives for a more global degree of annihilation (The White House, however, is not so lucky). In support of the globalisation of the world’s end in this instance, subtitles are employed on several occasions to add to the faux-realism.

2012 is film-by-numbers at its most predictable. Anyone familiar with the excellent South Park episode, ‘Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow’ will know exactly what to expect. The cast is composed of the usual suspects – including such genre staples as the broken family, complete with quirky daughter and absent but loving father (John Cusack); the humanitarian scientist (Chiwetel Ejiofor); and the Machiavellian government official (Oliver Platt). Also of note is the casting of Danny Glover as the President of the USA, a pitiful and vertically challenged incarnation of his real-life counterpart.

There is nothing original or noteworthy within this film. While its excessive running-time is predominantly filled with the destruction of the Earth, the cartoonlike special effects deny the film the substance afforded by reality. As with too many recent films, when the action promises the most it fails to excite because of its over-reliance on a rubbery videogame appearance. Directors should take note of the effect on audiences of Christopher Nolan flipping a truck for real in The Dark Knight. In a film which has nothing to recommend it other than the potential for spectacle, 2012 is a big, dumb failure.

Peter White
(See biog here)

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
2012
is released on 13 Nov 2009

2012 – Official Website

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