The Silver Bullet ~ 22 Jump Street

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Synopsis: After making their way through high school (twice), big changes are in store for officers Schmidt and Jenko when they go deep undercover at a local college.

Release Date:  June 13, 2014

Thoughts: The follow-up to the surprise hit of 2012 moves the action across the street and onto a college campus for more hi-jinks courtesy of Jonah Hill (This Is the End) and Channing Tatum (The Vow, Magic Mike).  I thought the reboot of 21 Jump Street had its fair share of good moments and successfully introduced Tatum as a viable star with comedic chops to boot.  I’m a bit leery that this sequel was rushed into production as a quick cash grab and this first trailer looks to confirm that.  Hey, I’m all for a raunchy R-rated comedy but I question how effective (and funny) excessive profanity and sex talk can be when both lead actors have proven they don’t need that to make a slam dunk comedy.  Should be a welcome summer release but fingers crossed the spirit of the original stays true.

The Silver Bullet ~ Jupiter Ascending

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Synopsis: In a universe where humans are near the bottom of the evolutionary ladder, a young destitute human woman is targeted for assassination by the Queen of the Universe because her very existence threatens to end the Queen’s reign.

Release Date:  July 25, 2014

Thoughts: A whole lotta people didn’t get Cloud Atlas, the 2012 film directed by siblings Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer.  I found that epic to be quite ambitious in scope and idea and a film that resisted the urge to be classified in any one genre.  It was a haunting film that gave some very good actors the chance to do something different and signaled a nice return for the Wachowski’s who had seen their star fade with the lackluster sequels to The Matrix and the utter failure of the candy colored trippy Speed Racer.  Even though I wasn’t a fan of the Matrix follow-ups and I needed a week’s worth of Advil after seeing Speed Racer in IMAX, I’ve always appreciated the cinematic flair in which the brother and sister assemble their films.

That’s why it’s nice to see that a little more than two years after Cloud Atlas they’re back (sans Tykwer) for a new space odyssey.  Even if the movie looks a tad more standard that what Cloud Atlas had to offer, it’s still a helluva lot more intriguing than any number of summer movies with big robots and umpteenth sequels to fading franchises.  I’m not totally sold on the assembled cast but Channing Tatum (Magic Mike) and Mila Kunis (Oz The Great and Powerful) are hot stuff and Tatum at least is a huge draw.  Jury’s still out if this will continue the Wachowski’s ascent back into the A-List but this first look indicates they’re on their way.

Movie Review ~ White House Down

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The Facts:

Synopsis: While on a tour of the White House with his young daughter, a Capitol policeman springs into action to save his child and protect the president from a heavily armed group of paramilitary invaders.

Stars: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Richard Jenkins, James Woods

Director: Roland Emmerich

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 131 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Hollywood’s quirky concept of rival studios producing dueling pictures with the same subject matter has been around for quite some time. There’s the battle of the lava flick with 1997’s Volcano and Dante’s Peak, dueling doomsday comet movies with 1998’s Armageddon and Deep Impact, and most recently two different takes on a fairy princess legend with 2012’s Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and The Huntsman.

One would think that being the first to the theater would signify a clear winner but it’s almost always the case that the second film edges out the competition.  That general rule is true again in 2013 which has provided your local cinema with two movies centered around the hostile takeover of 1600 Penn Avenue…better known as The White House.

March’s Olympus Has Fallen was a gratuitously violent and shabbily made film, feeling like it was shot in the same two hallways and offices with the furniture simply re-organized to suggest a new location.  It also boasted a forgettable villain and supporting performances that ranged from serviceable to hysterically awful (I’m looking at you Melissa Leo).  It felt like an extended version of the television series 24 without any of the surprise that that show seemed to have in spades.

So I was modestly hopeful that White House Down would be a better film…but as more television spots were released and a final too-long trailer was plopped before every summer movie thus far, I started wondering if I’d even make an effort to see the film at all.  It didn’t help that there’s something about the subject matter that doesn’t sit quite right with me – maybe it’s because I find The White House to be a true symbol of the United States of America and I’ve not taken any pleasure in seeing it destroyed in films over the years.

Well, I wound up seeing White House Down opening weekend and my first thought was that the movie was better than it had any right to be.    What you have here is a true blue crowd pleaser that wisely avoids the missteps of Olympus Has Fallen by keeping things moving at such a rapid pace that you barely have time to catch your breath or let your brain do any dissecting of the fairly ludicrous material.

Though I like a well thought out action flick as much as the next person, there’s something satisfying in just letting a movie like this wash over you without having to worry too much about dots being connected or lessons being learned.  This is a hard muscled thrill ride of a film and it’s thanks to the unusually focused efforts of director Roland Emmerich  (2012, Independence Day, Universal Soldier) and star Channing Tatum (Side Effects, The Vow, Magic Mike, Haywire, 21 Jump Street) that the movie comes off as pleasing as it does.

With a script from James Vanderbilt (The Amazing Spider-Man) that is really just a re-working of the original Die Hard, White House Down takes a good 40 minutes of its 131 minute length to set-up the characters and plot points that will be used throughout the film.  Foreshadowing is a lost art and while most movies have such obvious moments that will be referenced later in the film, there are a few sequences near the end of White House Down that you don’t even realize were set-up in a halfway decent way an hour or more earlier.  I respect films that can divert you like that without going for a cheap ploy and White House Down, while derivative, never feels overtly sly in its approach.

The synopsis above is pretty perfect in setting up the goings-on of the film and I’m going to refrain from saying any more, lest I give away some of the turns the movie takes on its journey.  There’s no super secret twist awaiting audiences but I did find it admirable Vanderbilt and Emmerich didn’t take the trail most traveled in the midst of all the gunfire and explosions.

A movie of this ilk could easily have recessed into R-rated territory and it’s notable that the PG-13 rating leaves the movie relatively bloodless but doesn’t totally cut itself off at the knees either.  People do die but it’s not nearly as excruciating to watch as the deaths in Olympus Has Fallen or even Air Force One, Harrison Ford’s 1997 president in peril film.

Try as I might, I can’t continue to deny that Channing Tatum isn’t coming into his own as a perfectly fine actor and proven action star.  Though the script lightly sketches his war veteran turned security detail muscle man, Tatum convincingly makes the character flesh and bone and not just because he’s put in charge of saving the president (Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained) but his estranged 11 year old daughter (Joey King, Oz the Great and Powerful).

Foxx is someone I can either take or leave but his President James Sawyer is a nice role for the Oscar winning actor.  There’s not a lot of room for Foxx to do anything but what’s asked of him and his Obama-lite take on the president is nothing to roll your eyes at.  This is a president that doesn’t suddenly learn how to use a gun and take on all forms of bad ass-ery…he evolves as the situation changes around him.  There’s some nice chemistry between Foxx and Tatum, something that helps the film along on more than one occasion.

Another actor that I sometimes have mixed feelings about is the lone female star, Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Dark Knight, Won’t Back Down), and she wound up being one of the main reasons I liked the film so much.  As a confident Secret Service agent that isn’t butch-ed up or written as a doormat, Gyllenhaal is commanding and a solid presence in the war room that becomes the nerve center in helping Tatum and Foxx make it out of the attack alive.

Also turning in fine work as a villainous mercenary is Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty, The Great Gatsby, Lawless), Speaker of the House Richard Jenkins (Jack Reacher), and James Woods as the head of Secret Service detail assigned to protect the president.    Everyone else is merely filler comprised of character actors that probably bring their own military uniforms to the set with them.

Even with several well staged action sequences that take Tatum and Foxx on a tour of the White House grounds, the movie does start to feel the weight of its mission about 90 minutes in.  It’s yet another case of people making it out of danger but turning around and going back in to save someone the audience knows they shouldn’t.  The perfunctory ending is rushed…almost as if the last day of shooting arrived and the final ten pages were crammed into one.

For my money, the battle of the Presidential Palace has been won by White House Down thanks to some skilled work by players operating with a hefty budget and A-List talent.  It’s easy to see why the film could be written off quickly by audiences that didn’t care for Olympus Has Fallen but I’d suggest you give this one a go if you’re in the mood for something that goes down relatively easy with a nicely chiseled punch.

Movie Review ~ This Is The End

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The Facts:

Synopsis: While attending a party at James Franco’s house, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and many other celebrities are faced with the apocalypse.

Stars: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill

Director: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen

Rated: R

Running Length: 107 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  The Red-Band trailer for This Is The End was tough to get through – don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any problem with crude language or content but I always appreciate something of substance to back it up with and I wasn’t sure that the rest of This Is The End would be able to support the foul-mouthed tangents that would surely come with the film.  So I was pretty apprehensive going into a screening of the new film from Evan Goldberg and star Seth Rogen because I didn’t want to be the only one not laughing for two hours.

Turns out, I laughed a lot in the film though a day later I feel kinda bad about it.  Playing like the longest Funny or Die Video ever, This Is The End has moments of comedic glory that are pinned between vile nonsensical tangents (a two minute discussion over who defaced James Franco’s Penthouse Magazine  goes on precisely one minute and fifty-eight seconds too long),  questionable special effects, and an entire set-up that flames out long before the credits roll.

The first twenty minutes of the film are so very meta with Seth Rogen picking up visiting friend Jay Baruchel at the airport ready for a weekend together.  Seth brings Jay over to James Franco’s housewarming party where they meet Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and a host of other famous faces from the same circle these actors travel in (if you’re a fan of Freaks and Geeks you’ll be in heaven).  Everyone is playing themselves (or a movie version of themselves) and there’s some laughs to be had from seeing how certain actors behave when they aren’t in front of the camera.  Warning: fans of Michael Cera better brace themselves for a few visuals they won’t be able to un-see.  Another warning: if 90’s boy bands give you hives you’d better taken your allergy medicine because there’s a great cameo at the end that was pretty hysterical.

After those first twenty minutes, an apocalypse happens…literally.  Now, holed up in James Franco’s fortress of a house, Rogen, Baruchel, Robinson, Hill, and Danny McBride must band/bond together to face the end of days together.  Along the way they get a visit from Emma Watson (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), perform an exorcism on Hill, and wax poetic about everything from Milky Way’s to the trust between friends.

There’s a lot of big ideas and interesting moments in the film but it’s all covered with a frat-boy slime that starts to wear thin pretty fast.  Fans of the actors will find a lot to like here and any/all weed jokes are covered – including a home movie filmed sequel to Pineapple Express that for some may be worth the price of admission.

Still, there’s something to be said for a little bit of restraint and I couldn’t get over the notion that this would have been a lot funnier if it were a viral video making the rounds (not surprising this was based on a short viral video…go figure!) rather than a full length feature that can’t quite make it over the finish line.  That may all sound like I’m being a big ‘ole fuddy-duddy and I probably am.  Like I said, I guffawed with the best of them and found a lot of the more offensive material to be laughably over-the-top.  With The Hangover Part III releasing in May, June’s This Is The End may be exactly what Dr. Feelgood ordered for moviegoers that need some extra party time this summer.

The Silver Bullet ~ White House Down

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Synopsis: While on a tour of the White House with his young daughter, a Capitol policeman springs into action to save his child and protect the president from a heavily armed group of paramilitary invaders.

Release Date:  June 28, 2013

Thoughts: Hot on the heels of February’s Olympus Has Fallen is White House Down, another action-thriller involving the hostile take-over of the residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C.  June’s White House Down is directed by Roland Emmerich who started off with the campy and enjoyable Universal Solider/Stargate one-two punch and has gradually gone the Michael Bay route of heading up pictures that were full of sound of fury and signifying nothing.  The presence of in-demand star Channing Tatum (Magic Mike, Side Effects, The Vow) can’t hurt the chances of this taking down the competition at the box office in its first weekend – but let’s see if the film has any substance to go along with the explosions.

Movie Review ~ Side Effects

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A woman turns to prescription medication as a way of handling her anxiety concerning her husband’s upcoming release from prison

Stars: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum, Vinessa Shaw

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Rated: R

Running Length: 102 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  Lately, the side effects of a Steven Soderbergh film are usually indifference so it doesn’t come as a huge shock that Side Effects follows suit.  In 2012 Oscar winning director Soderbergh released two vastly different pictures.  The first was January’s Haywire, an action showcase for its star Gina Carano and I wound up liking it more than I probably should have.  The second film was the wildly popular and wholly awful Magic Mike (it made my worst of the year list) which may have set tongues a-waggin but left me a-gaggin.  Entering 2013, Soderbergh has delivered another peculiar puff of a movie featuring A-list stars in an agonizingly ordinary script.

Familiarity is the name of the game here with Soderbergh re-teaming with his Contagion screenwriter Scott Z. Burns for this iffy thriller with a plot ripped from any number of Law and Order episodes.  Contagion was an interesting film that played well in the moment but disintegrated if you really sat down and thought about it.  With Side Effects, no thinking is required.  There’s nothing original here so your enjoyment of the movie is entirely dependent on how much you like the stars that pass through the glossy world filmed (under his usual pseudonym Peter Andrews) by Soderbergh himself.

Though Tatum receives high billing, he’s more of a supporting player in the story of a psychiatrist (Law) put through the wringer by one of his patients (Mara) as she deals with a depression that remerges when her husband (Tatum) is released from prison after serving time for insider trading.  Yes friends, right off the bat we’re supposed to buy that Tatum is playing a character savvy enough to be a financial crook while living in a luxurious mansion in Greenwich.  Don’t get me wrong, Tatum is a better actor than we all first believed but a high level business executive?  I don’t think so. 

Mara employs the same wild eyed chilly detachment which made her Oscar nominated turn as the title character in 2012’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo so successful.  Here, though, that same approach comes off as sleepy…maybe it’s the fact that her eyebrows have grown back.  Though she has an interesting take on the character, she can’t really get to where she needs to be when the film requires it so she winds up as someone running after a train that’s taken off without her.

Ten years ago, Law may have played Tatum’s character but he’s an engaging centerpiece to the trivial plot twists the film employs.  Law plays his role pretty close to the chest for the first hour or so until he must give way to the script and hop in line with his heretofore ethical character suddenly changing his tune.  He’s married to a woman (Shaw, Hocus Pocus) that’s about as loyal as the day is long and soon he’s left to fend for himself against some increasingly unbelievable situations.

The best scenes are probably the scant few between Law and Zeta-Jones (Rock of Ages) as a previous therapist of Mara’s character.  The two actors crackle together and Zeta-Jones especially lets every dippy piece of dialogue coo out of her mouth with pleasure.  I especially liked a brief moment outside of a restaurant when Zeta-Jones goes after Law with unusual rage…it’s the most real moment in the whole picture that’s beneath the talents of all involved.

If I’m being deliberately cagey about what kind of film Side Effects breaks down into it’s because even though the plot is beyond also-ran it still is entertaining in a strange way.  It’s pretty much the perfect length and doesn’t overstay its welcome too much, although you may be tempted to glance at your watch occasionally.  Soderbergh and co. keep things zipping along at a nice jaunt so even though you can see the finish line halfway through the race, you still are involved enough to stick with it.

The Silver Bullet ~ G.I. Joe: Retaliation – Trailer #3

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Synopsis: The G.I. Joes are not only fighting their mortal enemy Cobra; they are forced to contend with threats from within the government that jeopardize their very existence

Release Date:  March 29, 2013

Thoughts: Arriving 9 months after its original release date of June 29 2012, this sequel to 2009’s brain dead but blockbuster G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra has released a new-ish trailer as it revs up to its late March release date.  The official reason for the move was that Paramount Pictures wanted to add 3D effects to the film (a tip…any movie converted to 3D is usually a total waste)…but the real reason turned out to be that the move allowed new scenes to be shot that kept Channing Tatum alive past the first 1/3 of the film.  With Tatum’s star taking off in a major way in 2012 (The Vow, 21 Jump Street, Magic Mike all being huge box office hits), this change of course makes sense.  I still think the film looks like something that would have been released in the mid 90’s but I’m hoping it’s not quite as insipid as its predecessor.

The Silver Bullet ~ Side Effects

Synopsis: A woman turns to prescription medication as a way of handling her anxiety concerning her husband’s upcoming release from prison.

Release Date:  February 8, 2013

Thoughts: Well, if there’s one thing that you can say about Steven Soderbergh it’s that he doesn’t like to pin himself down in any one genre.  That can be frustrating at times for fans of his work as he’s been on an interesting run of inconsistent films in the past few years.  I for one still think Magic Mike was a piece of crap but I did enjoy Haywire and Contagion.  Re-teaming with his Contagion writer, Soderbergh has assembled a familiar stable of actors including Channing Tatum (The Vow, Magic Mike), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Rock of Ages), Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and Jude Law (the upcoming Anna Karenina).  I get the feeling we’ll be in familiar territory with this film…so here’s hoping that the wobbly Soderbergh style doesn’t take over what looks to be a decent thriller.