Review: White House Down Is Funnier than Most Summer Comedies

The Washington Monument would have been too obvious.
The Washington Monument would have been way too obvious.

It’s not immediately clear, but director Roland Emmerich -the German filmmaker known for blowing stuff up- is quite a liberal. Not only Emmerich has orchestrated the biggest climate change movies thus far (The Day After Tomorrow, 2012), he has taken on the military industrial complex several times since first ruffling a few feathers in Universal Soldier.

In White House Down, weapons manufacturers are the backers for an attack on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. President James Sawyer (James Foxx riffing on Barack Obama) is about to pull all military forces from the Middle East, as he pushes for a peace treaty with all the parts involved. Considering the economic side effects, many people in power have issues with the decision, enough to orchestrate a massive attack on the POTUS’ residence.

As it happens, Secret Service reject John Cale (Channing Tatum, bringing a welcome sense of levity to the proceedings) is in the premises, and becomes the Prez only hope for a second term when his entire security detail succumbs at hands of renegade commandos.

Never mind all the poignancy. This is a Roland Emmerich movie. If Olympus Has Fallen was preposterous, White House Down takes the cake. The villain super team includes a godless hacker, a Tea Party survivalist, a black-ops operative and inside men with serious pull. How excessive is White House Down? Three people are sworn as POTUS in two hours and a half. The film is a veritable compendium of badass catchphrases (“tour is over” takes the cake). Also, kudos for rescuing James Woods from Family Guy cameos for a meaty role as a heavy.

Even though the very serious Maggie Gyllenhaal is at hand to provide some gravitas, the movie is hilarious, both on purpose and inadvertently: If somebody says “the pen is mightier than the sword”, you can bet someone will get stabbed with one. An unexpectedly joyous subplot pits a fussy tour guide against a violent redneck. The payoff is memorable.

This film is relentless, after the opening twenty minutes there is no down time. The second act is genuinely gripping and even though the wheels end up falling off, the ride is remarkably entertaining. Most surprising of all, Emmerich doesn’t blow the entire US capital to accomplish this. White House Down is up there with Fast and Furious 6 as shameless entertainment goes.

Three and a half prairie dogs.

Sunday Matinee: Things To Come

Things to ComeThe Criterion Collection has just released the classic science fiction film Things to Come on Blu-ray. Based on H.G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come and written by Wells the film is notoriously known for predicting WW II.

Wells wrote the screenplay in 1935 and legendary film producer Alexander Korda (The Thief of Bagdad) made the film. The story is set in the fictional British town Everytown where in 1940 Britain is attacked by an enemy who uses planes to bomb the town. Soon the whole world has been thrown into war. By 1966 the fighting has gone on so long that a plague has started wiping out people. In 1970 the world has regressed to different tribes of people. A technologically advanced group of people called Wings Over the World has started taking over the world. The film moves throughout time towards the year 2036.

There were multiple cuts to this film. It started out 130 minutes and was edited down to 117 then 108 minutes. The U.S. release was at 96 minutes. After that more cuts came and the run time was cut to 92 minutes. Most of the cut footage has been lost. A few random scenes have been found over time and the recent Criterion edition runs at 96 minutes.

Wells’s original screenplay was published as book before the film was released and contains several scenes that aren’t in the film. Besides Wells’ uncanny prediction about the impending war his vision of the future also included giant TV screens in public, not groundbreaking but still kind of cool. Wells hated Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and wanted this film to be the opposite of it.

This film has fallen into public domain in the U.S. but not in the U.K. so it’s all over the net and in discount DVD cheap bins. The Criterion edition is a newly restored edition and it looks fantastic.

Review: World War Z Snatches Victory from the Jaws of Defeat

"Last one in the chopper is a zombie! Oh, wait..."
“Last one in the chopper is a zombie! Oh, wait…”

Considering how problematic was the shooting of World War Z (budget wildly out of control, third act scrapped and re-shot), the outcome is surprisingly strong, if not memorable.

Based on the excellent book by Max Brooks, World War Z only bears a passing resemblance to the text. Mostly gone are the sociopolitical undertones that gave the novel notoriety (although readers get to find out what happened to the North Koreans). Also absent, the gore: Director Marc Forster and producer/star Brad Pitt had to deliver a PG movie for Paramount to distribute, and gallons of blood and innards would have been counterproductive.

Despite the handicap, Forster and Pitt suck you into the movie and ramp up the tension effectively. Almost all set-pieces work remarkably, much like a video game (Stage one: Philadelphia. Stage two: South Korea. Stage three: Israel). The zombies are 28 Days Later-fast and are not as much into eating brains as in spreading the infection. Continue reading “Review: World War Z Snatches Victory from the Jaws of Defeat”

A Brief Dramatic Review Of This Is The End



[Sunday afternoon. The Ring Road. Thunderclouds knit their brows together in the terrible but beautiful face of the sky. STEVE, AMBER, PAUL K and AIDAN speed away from the Galaxy Cinema, where they’ve just watched the apocalyptic stoner comedy This Is The End.]

STEVE: So… not bad.

AIDAN: A lot of demon dick jokes, though.

STEVE: I don’t know if I’d say that. I only counted two demon dick jokes.

AIDAN: That’s a lot.

Sunday Matinee: Elysium

elysiumI was going to do something about Superman today because of the latest film opening this weekend but it seems that Prairie Dog has really, really covered Superman. Boy we must really like Superman. We’ve done reviews on the latest film, essays, reported on casting, had Steve complain about the lack of underpants here, here, here and here and I’ve already looked at the original serials. I think everything is covered and the man of steel could use a break.

So instead I’m going to show a couple of upcoming trailers for some sci-fi films. The first is director Neill Blomkamp’s (District 9) Elysium. It looks like Blomkamp borrowed a bit of the plot from the brilliant manga Battle Angel Alita. The poor live on Earth in squalor while the rich live above Earth in a crime free, disease free society called Elysium. Matt Damon is trying to break into Elysium. It looks pretty good.

Next is Joon-ho Bong’s (The Host) first English language film Snowpiercer. It too is about class struggle in the future. After a failed attempt to stop global warming has resulted in a massive ice age, the remaining human population all live on a train that constantly travels around the Earth. The elite live at the front of the train and the poor at the back. Naturally the poor decide to fight back. It’s opening in South Korea this summer. Unfortunately The Weinstein Company has the America distribution rights so who knows when the film will get released here. Hopefully sometime next year.

Man Of Shill: How Superman Promotes Products (By Punching Them)

man of steel publicity still

When the first image of Superman appeared for Man of Steel, Zack Snyder’s Krypton-to-Earth punch-a-thon, viewers originally assumed that the picture showed Superman emerging from a bank vault, or maybe picking himself up from an extremely motivated punch.

But now we know that Superman is straining to hold back a vault-busting amount of sponsorship money. In fact, Man of Steel took in $160 million from sponsorship tie-ins before a single ticket was sold. Here are some of the reportedly 100 sponsors (with products available at stores now!) that you can watch getting punched in Man of Steel. Spoilers below, of a sort.

Sponsor: 7-Eleven convenience stores
Prominent Appearance: Once, in an early meeting between Superman and Zod.
Method of Destruction: Superman punches Zod across several fields and into a 7-Eleven, which blows up.

Sponsor: Sears
Prominent Appearance: A major action sequence is set in front of a Sears; Ma Kent is a Sears employee, shown at home in her blue shirt and lanyard, which says more about the modern world than anything else in the film.
Method of Destruction: As far as I could tell, Sears seemed to survive. Its signage remained intact, at least.

Sponsor: IHoP
Prominent Appearance: A figure from Clark’s childhood appears as an IHoP employee in Smallville – a town which should be renamed “Home of Big Brand America.”
Method of Destruction: Faora punches Superman through the front window of one of America’s popular pancake houses. Or maybe Superman punches Faora? Or maybe it was that other guy who punches and throws things? I never learned his name.

Sponsor: Nikon
Prominent Appearance: Lois Lane is able to take revealing photographs at night, thanks to the D3s’ revolutionary FX-format CMOS sensor and EXPEED  image processor.
Method of Destruction: A weird-ass Kryptonian security bot smacks the hell out of the camera after being startled by its powerful Speedlight flash.

Sponsor: Nokia & Microsoft
Prominent Appearance: There’s only one phone in Man of Steel, and it’s the Nokia Lumia 920 running the Windows 8 Phone operating system. And it’s everywhere. I’m surprised that Jor-El wasn’t sharing his favourite apps and music with the High Council on Krypton.
Method of Destruction: Millions of people appear to die in the film, so it’s reasonable to assume that millions of phones went with them. But do you really want to live in a world where all the phones run Windows?

One day you’ll be able to select promotional items for purchase from the comfort of your seat, but for now we have to hold back until the movie’s over and we can feverishly summon them up on our mobile phones in the lobby. And once your products arrive, you can imitate your favourite superhero by punching them repeatedly until they break.

Sunday Matinee: Banned Films

MoebiusDespite the growth of world film market and the use of the internet to make the world feel like a smaller place, it’s always shocking to see censorship still run rampant. Vietnamese filmmaker Charlie Nguyen’s latest kung ku action film Cho Lon has been banned by the Vietnamese Censorship Board. This means that the film can not play in Vietnam or anyplace else in the world.

In a statement from the Vietnamese Central Board of Film Evaluation of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism they said:

Cho Lon violated the Law of Cinema when showing scenes of gangsters blatantly set in battle, chaotic fighting with knives, swords, machetes, with blood spilling everywhere … without the interference of government, polices, people or any other social forces.

Recently the producers sent the edited version of Cho Lon, which cut some violent scenes and inserted some appropriate scenes. But it’s still not repaired overall, so the Central Board of Film Evaluation of the Ministry of Culture Sports and Tourism shall not issue licenses for Cho Lon.”

Continue reading “Sunday Matinee: Banned Films”

Hnetflix: Tatiana Maslany Joins Captain Canuck Cartoon

HnetflixIt seems that the star of Orphan Black, Tatiana Maslany has signed on voice a character in the upcoming animated web series adaptation of Captain Canuck. According to the Hollywood Reporter Maslany is voicing an unspecified role. The role of Captain Canuck will be voiced by Kris Holden-Reid, who plays a werewolf on the Showcase television series Lost Girl.

The article also mentions that Mind’s Eye Entertainment is also working on a live action movie based on Captain Canuck. It seems that Mind’s Eye announced this back in 2011 and hasn’t made much progress since. That could be a good thing. There is a nostalgic cult following for the good captain. There isn’t a lot of Canadian superheros out there but I was never that interested in a Captain America knock-off. The comics weren’t very good either but that isn’t say that good cartoon or movie couldn’t be made about Captain Canuck, I just kind of doubt it.

Sunday Matinee: Rolling Thunder

Rolling ThunderNumber 10 on Gene Siskel’s best films list of 1977 and Quentin Tarantino has the movie on his Sight and Sound best film list for 2012 and 2002, Shout! Factory has just released Rolling Thunder on Blu-ray.

Released in 1977 from American International Pictures after Twentieth Century Fox produced the film and then bailed because of the violence. It’s 1973 Texas. William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones are a couple of Vietnam war veterans who come home after several years as prisoners of war. Devane gets a hero’s welcome but can’t adjust to normal life. His son doesn’t remember him and his wife has moved on to another man. Devane continues to have flashbacks about the prison camp and he still maintains the same daily regimen that he had while captive. He also seems emotional detached from everyone around him.

The town gives him a car and a case of silver dollars, one for each day he was imprisoned which comes to $2500. A couple of hoodlums see Devine on TV and decide to steal the silver coins. Lead by James Best (from Dukes of Hazzard) they attack Devine in his home. They torture him but he won’t give up the cash. They stick his hand in the garbage disposal and then threaten his wife and kid. The kid gives up the money and the thugs shoot them all. Devine survives and plots his revenge.

The film is directed by John Flynn who a few years earlier directed The Outfit, the third Parker novel with Robert Duvall in the Parker role. Paul Schrader of Taxi Driver fame came up with the story and co-wrote the screenplay although he has complained that the filmmakers completely changed his story. the film is excellent. It starts off slow, setting up Devine and his post-traumatic disorder and then casually building into a revenge film. I’m not sure I would have the film on a best of list but it’s entertaining enough.

Hnetflix: Movie Trailers

HnetflixMovie Theatre owners in the U.S. want to limit movie trailers to just two minutes from the two minute thirty seconds that they are currently allowed. The reasoning for this apparently is because moviegoers complained.

The complaints were that the trailers were too long and they gave away too much plot. Now I might be mistaken but I don’t think people are really complaining about the length of movie trailers. Now the commercials before the trailers is a whole other story. My best friend had a recent breakdown where he declared he was no longer going to movies in the theatre because of all the advertising. Between the crappy pre-show and the dozen or so commercials and the price of the ticket, he felt that he had enough. And the trailers were not the problem he said. He later rescinded his gripe and has resumed going to movies but he still doesn’t like all the commercials and I can’t imagine a person out there that does enjoy the commercials.

Trailers giving away too much plot has been a constant problem for decades and cutting them isn’t going to stop this practice. Shortening trailers by 30 seconds seems to me as a chance for theatre owners to squeeze in an extra commercial before the trailers. I can’t see the studios agreeing to this and I imagine that theatre owners might not get their way but you never know. Now here’s the three minute Man of Steel trailer.

Hnetflix: Studio 7 & UltraAVX

HnetflixIt’s been a interesting week for Regina movie theatres. Galaxy Cinemas opened an UltraAVX theatre at the Normanview Galaxy. For those who are unfamiliar with Cineplex’s UltraAVX plan, they take the one of the larger theatres, reduce the seating capacity but add larger rocker seats that recline, add a giant wall to wall screen, an immersive surround sound system and crystal clear digital projection. Seats are assigned seating and prices are higher for the experience. I reviewed the Saskatoon UltraAVX a couple of years ago when they first got theirs. It’s taken awhile for Regina to get this but its pretty cool.

Even more interesting Rainbow Cinemas have announced that the Regina Rainbow location now features a Studio 7. I was just discussing with some people why Regina doesn’t have a Roxy cinema like Saskatoon does. I guess I wasn’t the only person thinking that something like the Roxy could do well in Regina.

From the press release:

Studio 7 will be permanently located within Rainbow Cinemas Regina, and will be dedicated to bringing Regina quality firstrun limited releases, including art, alternative, independent, and foreign films. This will greatly expand the film choices available in Regina.
Continue reading “Hnetflix: Studio 7 & UltraAVX”

Sunday Matinee: The Dance Of Reality

Jodorowskys duneLa danza de la realidad aka The Dance of Reality is Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s return to the cinema after 23 years.

Jodorowsky’s last movie was The Rainbow Thief in 1990. I believe I have mentioned his brilliant Santa Sangre before in the movie listings. The Dance of Reality is based on Jodorowsky’s childhood, of growing up in Chile and like most of his movies stars his son Brontis Jodorowsky. The trailer looks fantastic, filled the usual fantastic wonder that Jodorowsky usually fills in his films with.

At the same time, American filmmaker Frank Pavich has made a documentary about Jodorowsky’s attempt to bring Dune to life in the late 1970’s. The doc interviews Jodorowsky and lets him tell the story of what almost was. Nicolas Winding Refn even chimes in his two cents. The film would have starred David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Udo Kier, Salvador Dali and Orson Welles. It would have been a cool movie.

Sunday Matinee: Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan

star_trek_ii_the_wrath_of_khan_ver2As the twelfth Star Trek film hits theatres this weekend, I feel compelled to write something about Star Trek. And the best of the twelve films has to be the second, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

After Gene Roddenberry and Paramount Studios decided to move Star Trek from a television show into a movie, the results left Paramount a little unhappy. Star Trek: The Motion Picture had a whopping $46 million budget at a time when that was a lot of money. And while the film did opening at number one at the box office and made a respectable $139 million worldwide (only $82 million domestically) Paramount was hoping for more. The critics weren’t too kind on the film either. The main complaints were that the movie was boring and talky. Paramount also felt that Gene Roddenberry’s interference during production drove up the film’s cost and created an inferior film. When it was decided that they should make a sequel, Roddenberry was removed from production. Harve Bennett was placed in charge of the franchise and Nicholas Meyer was tasked with directing the film.
Continue reading “Sunday Matinee: Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan”

Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

"I forgot to change the oil!"
“I forgot to change the oil!”

(It’s hard to write about Star Trek Into Darkness without revealing something. While I’ll stay away from the bigger reveals, beware of some mild spoilers ahead.)

The main difference between previous Star Trek incarnations and the current one is not content, but concentration. J.J. Abrams is extremely respectful of the material, to the point he hasn’t negated the existence of the original saga, but created a parallel timeline so he can develop his own.

Star Trek Into Darkness follows the same pattern established by the reboot from four years ago: Abrams takes a hefty portion of the mythology and repackages it into a tension-heavy rollicking good time.  Even though the action is front and center, the ethical and moral dilemmas that set the Star Trek universe apart (ahead of Star Wars, some would say) provide the poignant background.

True to form, the film kicks into high gear when Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) openly defies the Prime Directive that guides Starfleet operations to save Spock (Zachary Quinto): There can be no interference with the development of alien civilizations, even if that means to leave somebody behind. Kirk is demoted to First Officer, and Spock, reassigned to another ship.

The estrangement doesn’t last long. A disgruntled Starfleet officer named John Harrison (yeah, right) goes on a rampage and the hotheaded Kirk is conveniently appointed to catch him. The Enterprise tracks him down to enemy territory. While passions run high, any false move could cause a major conflict between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire. Will Kirk keep his cool? (maybe… if he was Shatner)

The villain du jour, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbach), is smarter and stronger than his pursuers, and his grudge is somewhat justifiable. For most of the movie he is three or four steps ahead of everyone else and that makes him a thrill to watch. He is also Kirk’s polar opposite, not a detrimental feature given the captain’s tendency to shoot first and ask questions later.

Star Trek Into Darkness is at its best whenever dealing with the formidable rival and his motivations. It takes a nosedive every time it focuses on Kirk and Spock’s friendship. The subject was dealt with adequately in the first movie, there is no need to revisit without something new to add. As any good Gene Roddenberry creation Kirk learns a lesson, over and over again, until it sticks. This doesn’t translate well and makes the captain of the Enterprise look like a fool.

Because of the time dedicated to John Harrison’s vendetta and all the new characters (Alice Eve, Kirk’s love interest, is the most superfluous), Sulu and Chekov get the short shrift. Also, as likable as Simon Pegg is, there is way too much Scotty. I get the feeling Pegg and Zoe Saldana (as Uhura) are using their higher profiles as leverage to increase their screen time.

While most of the old throwbacks work, at moments it seems as In Darkness doesn’t have any original ideas of its own. Even the extended climax, in which it seems the film may pull the ballsiest move ever attempted in a summer blockbuster, has a referent in Star Trek checkered backstory.

In Darkness is a handsome movie. The production design alone justifies a trip to the multiplex. Even the 3-D format is put to good use. Because J.J. Abrams never takes his foot off the accelerator, the audience may get the impression the film is better than it actually is. That said, this saga could be great if those involved were to serve the story and not the other way around.

Three and a half red-shirt prairie dogs.

Sunday Matinee: Ray Harryhausen

Early HarryhausenThe great Ray Harryhausen passed away this week. He was a master of stop motion animation and his influence was enormous on the film industry.

While he was known for all the great monsters that he brought to life in such films as Jason and the Argonauts, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Clash of the Titans when he was just starting out and in between jobs Harryhausen made five short animated films based on children’s fairy tales. The Storybook Review, The Story of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, The Story of ‘Rapunzel’, The Story of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and The Story of King Midas. A sixth one was started but never completed because Harryhausen moved on to a couple of Hollywood movies. The Story of ‘The Tortoise & the Hare’ was finally completed in 2002, almost fifty years later by a couple of fans with the help of Harryhausen, who still had most of the sets and miniatures in storage.

These shorts helped Ray Harryhausen polish his craft but they’re not as cool as his monsters. Still he will be missed.
Continue reading “Sunday Matinee: Ray Harryhausen”

Rest in Peace, Ray Harryhausen


Ray Harryhausen, special effects pioneer and stop-motion genius, died today at 92. Harryhausen capable handiwork provided his creations with character, if not a soul. His most remarkable achievements in animation are featured in the original Clash of the Titans, Jason and the Argonauts and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. His influence reaches even further. George Lucas singled Harryhausen as his most enduring influence and the reason he made Star Wars. Sad day.

Sunday Matinee: Nick Carter

Nick Carter 1His name isn’t as well known as it used to be but Nick Carter is a literary character who has been around for 127 years. He first appeared in 1886 in the Street & Smith’s dime novel The Old Detective’s Pupil. From there he starred in hundreds of stories till 1933 when he was reintroduced as pulp action hero.

Carter’s original stories featured young Nick Carter who was trained to be a detective by his father from an early age. His first case had him solving his own father’s murder. Nick was a master detective and a master of disguise. He also had a large group of assistants who helped him solve cases. Nick had several re-occurring villains most notable Dr. Jack Quartz who first appeared in 1891 beating Sherlock Holmes’ arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty by a couple of years. Quartz appeared 18 times throughout the years.
Continue reading “Sunday Matinee: Nick Carter”

Sunday Matinee: Only God Forgives

Only God ForgivesNicolas Winding Refn’s latest movie Only God Forgives will be out July 19, 2013. The latest trailer has hit the webs and it looks promising.

Nicolas Winding Refn reteams with his Drive star Ryan Gosling in this story about a man who is forced by his mother to find his brother’s killer in Thailand. I’ve discussed Winding Refn’s films in past Sunday Matinee columns. Pusher and Bronson along with his last film Drive. He has a style and pace all his own and his films are fantastic.

Only God Forgives is competing for the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. It looks like it has some stiff competition from the latest of fellow filmmakers Ozon, Polanski, the Coen Brothers, Miike, Soderbergh and Jarmusch just to name a few. Still I’m looking forward to the film.