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Entries in Maggie Gyllenhaal (3)

Friday
Jun282013

White House Down

It was only three months ago that we sat through “Olympus Has Fallen,” the Gerard Butler action picture where terrorists took over the White House to make a future that matched their skewed ideologies. For all intents and purposes, this week’s “White House Down” is a remake of that film. It’s more humorous and it changes a few things around, but it’s essentially the same movie. A comparison of the two is inevitable and their different tones will split many audiences, half of who will favor the more violent, grittier nature of “Olympus Has Fallen” over the toned down cheese-fest presented here, but they both have their merits and work independently of each other, despite similar premises.

Cale (Channing Tatum) is an ex-soldier who served over in Afghanistan and is now working as a Capital police officer assigned to protecting Speaker of the House, Raphelson (Richard Jenkins). He’s divorced and has a young daughter named Emily (Joey King) who doesn’t particularly like him, but is stuck with him for the weekend. Despite her age, she’s a political junkie and blogger and is a big fan of the current President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), so she’s thrilled when Cale tells her that they’re going to the White House and he’s going to be interviewed for a Secret Service position. Unfortunatley, he’s quickly rejected by Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal) due to his low school grades and unreliability, but before he even has time to process this, the White House is taken over by a group of mercenaries. He’s soon separated from his daughter, so he takes it upon himself to rescue not just her, but also the President and maybe even the country itself.

“White House Down” is a movie that’s so idiotic, it’s actually kind of enjoyable. That’s about the best outcome director Roland Emmerich, the man behind disasters like “10,000 BC,” “Godzilla” and “The Day After Tomorrow,” could have hoped for. His hackneyed approach to directing a movie, which includes his insistence on peppering humor throughout tonally dire moments, has made him a director to hate and with good reason. But given that the mostly straight faced and excessively violent “Olympus Has Fallen” has already delivered on the promise of a gritty White House invasion movie, Emmerich’s weaknesses become his strengths here. “White House Down” is so absurd, so monumentally silly, so preposterously ludicrous, that it proves itself to be wholly entertaining.

Every character in the film is a cliché or caricature and every moment is seemingly ripped from another movie. It mixes the action and humor of the “Lethal Weapon” movies with the concept and protagonist from “Die Hard” and the fearless, gung-ho president from “Air Force One.” One line, as the terrorists force Emily to tell Cale that they have a gun to her head, is even ripped shamelessly from that latter film. But in a weird way, combining all these elements, coupled with its drastic tonal shift from “Olympus Has Fallen,” gives it a unique identity, even as it (probably knowingly) rips dialogue from other movies.

President Sawyer is one of those presidents that doesn’t seem to have a single detractor, someone who makes everyone in the room smile when he walks in. He’s caring of others and puts them and the country above himself. He’s the type of guy who seems to constantly speak in “speech” and whose vocal tone can only be described as patriotic. The movie reinforces this by backing him with slowly swelling patriotic music nearly every time he begins to speak. It’s a manipulative ploy used by many amateurish filmmakers to manufacture the likability of their characters and it’s somewhat insulting to the discerning viewer, but in “White House Down,” it becomes just another dumb thing to laugh at.

And laughing is a big part of what makes the film so enjoyable. Despite the grave circumstances they’re in and the great loss of human life they’ve incurred during it, the film remains as goofy as can be. It’s not the intentionally placed jokes that work the most (though they do offer up the occasional guffaw); it’s the entire situation that is one can’t help but laugh at. A good example comes when the president loses his shoe in one scene and ends up in front of his closet in his room. Instead of grabbing the polished footwear one would expect a president to wear, he grabs his Air Jordans. While it admittedly makes sense given the situation (you’re going to need the flexibility of movement shoes like that will provide), it’s nevertheless endlessly amusing.

Even more amusing is the most worthless Secret Service agents ever assigned to guard a president. They hardly get any shots off at all as the terrorists pick them off one by one, tagging them all with one quick bullet to the head like they’re master arms men, that is unless they’re shooting at Cale or President Sawyer. Then it’s like they’ve been blindfolded and given a gun for the first time. This is standard action movie procedure, so it’s not so much a detriment to the film as it is a necessary element, yet the fact remains, this movie is blissfully stupid.

“White House Down” has stinted, inconsequential dialogue, complete with none-too-subtle foreshadowing bits (“It’s going to be a busy morning, boys,” the Speaker of the House says before everything goes to hell), and the CGI, particularly in the exterior scenes, is downright abysmal. Although fun, in terms of entertainment, it’s not quite as good as “Olympus Has Fallen.” The overrunning of the White House is a bit more believable here, but both are so outrageous that if you’re going to go for it, you might as well go all out. “White House Down” unfortunately plays it a bit closer to the chest than “Olympus Has Fallen,” no doubt to get that coveted PG-13 rating, but that doesn’t mean it’s without merit, even if in this case the merit is that it’s so bad, it’s good.

White House Down receives 2.5/5

Friday
Aug202010

Nanny McPhee Returns

It’s tough to beat Mary Poppins, the 1964 classic that showcased a nanny dealing with and teaching the children of a moderately uncouth family. In 2005, that film was basically remade in the form of Nanny McPhee, a charming, if slight picture that had a heart of gold and a type of energy that was undeniably endearing. While not enchanting enough for multiple viewings, it was nevertheless worth seeing once. Its sequel, Nanny McPhee Returns, unfortunately, is not.

If Nanny McPhee was a retread of Mary Poppins, consider Nanny McPhee Returns a retread of a retread. The story is largely the same as the original: a parent is overpowered by her naughty children when Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) comes along and teaches them five lessons. This time the parent is Isabel (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her three children, Vincent (Oscar Steer), Norman (Asa Butterfield) and Megsie (Lil Woods), are too much for her, or at least she’d like to think so. In the original film, the seven children were indeed rotten, spoiled brats that gave their father, played by Colin Firth, hell. He was in desperate need of a nanny. Here, Isabel’s kids are no naughtier than the usual similarly aged children. In fact, while she is off working, they keep up the farm, caring for the livestock, shoveling dung and finishing any other chores to ensure it runs like it should. Isabel’s acting out is childish and much ado about nothing.

Until her niece (Rosie Taylor-Ritson) and nephew (Eros Vlahos) show up, and even then they pale in comparison to the hellions from the film’s predecessor. Sure, they fight and run amuck, but they’re children. It’s what they do. Nevertheless, Nanny McPhee arrives and begins her lessons telling them that she has one final rule. When they need her, but do not want her, she must stay, but when they want her, but no longer need her, she has to go.

And so begins, for better or worse, the same movie set in a different time period. The biggest difference between Nanny McPhee Returns and the original film is that the title character is more prominent. She has become a showman since her last job, swirling barley in the air to create a parade of animals, and she is given a friend, a bird by the name of Mr. Edelweiss. Pieces of her mystical world seep through in the movie, thus lessening the mystery around her.

There’s also a more adult story revolving around Isabel’s brother-in-law (Rhys Ifans) who has fallen behind on gambling debts and is trying to persuade Isabel into selling the farm, of which he owns half, but cannot sell unless she agrees. Although she refuses, she does not have the money to keep up a productive farm, much like how this story doesn’t have enough originality to keep up an interesting movie.

With at least three times the amount of infantile poop jokes than the original, Nanny McPhee Returns is a downgrade. It has a limited amount of whimsy and charm and it’s certainly not terrible, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth seeing.

Nanny McPhee Returns receives 2/5

Friday
Jan082010

Crazy Heart

There are few actors working today who can captivate an audience like Jeff Briges can. No matter whether he's playing a quirky Army soldier (The Men Who Stare at Goats), an evil weapons manufacturer (Iron Man), a carefree bowling enthusiast (The Big Lebowski), or voicing a long thought dead surfer penguin (Surf's Up), he can come across in a big way, hitting a multitude of emotions and endearing himself to the viewers. He is a top notch talent and always hits a home run in his roles, even in movies that are fairly terrible (How to Lose Friends & Alienate People). This time, he tackles a film that is already worthy of consideration for an end of the year "best of" list and finds himself in a role guaranteed to include a few "Best Actor" nominations, including the already announced Golden Globes nod. Yes my friends, Crazy Heart is a special movie.

Though I love all genres of film, I'm a person who finds himself stubbornly staving off any type of music other than good old rock n' roll. Put some country music on around me and my ears start to bleed, so imagine my skepticism when it came to this film about a washed up country music performer. What Crazy Heart proves, even to this jaded head banger, is that music can be beautiful regardless of what genre it's in. I was tapping my toes to the music and reveling in the discovery of how each song came to be, all of which came from the singer's own life experiences. Jeff Bridges plays the singer in question who for years has gone by the moniker of Bad Blake and as he tells a seductive journalist named Jean, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, nobody will know his true name until the day he dies, where it will be written on his tombstone. She remarks, "That's a long time to wait," and he replies with what can essentially be paraphrased as, "Maybe not."

His response comes with a few caveats. Despite the humorous nature of it, we later find out that Bad is in trouble. He is in danger of having a stroke due to an unhealthy lifestyle, which includes excessive smoking and drinking. He used to be the biggest star around, but now he is a nobody and his former band mate, Tommy, played by Colin Farrell, has gone off on his own and wrangled his own fans. Naturally, Bad is depressed and bitter, finding himself playing small shows in worn down bars and bowling alleys just to make a buck.

After the aforementioned interview, Bad begins to fall in love with Jean and this is where the story really starts to take off. Bad has been miserable since his falling out an unspecified number of years ago and we assume it's all for legitimate reasons. Who wouldn't be miserable playing in small bars after your former band mate left you? Well, later we find out that Tommy didn't leave in hate and still respects Bad tremendously. He remarks to him how he'll never forget that it was him who gave him his start. Throughout the movie, Bad is heard spewing verbal hatred at Tommy and we simply take it as his way to deal with Tommy's crippling betrayal, but it simply isn't the case. He has no real reason to be mad at Tommy. He is merely confusing his jealousy for anger. After he reluctantly opens for him at a big gig, we finally discover this and realize there's something more brewing underneath Bad's seemingly hardened veneer.

The reason he takes the gig in the first place is because of Jean, not because she urges him to, but because he starts to find happiness in her and starts to dismiss those feelings of hate. However, when everything finally seems to be turning around for the better and he finds himself getting his love for Jean returned to him, he ruins it with bad decision making. His alcoholism controls him and although he is asked by Jean to not drink in front of her young son, he stops inside of a bar one day while out with the little tyke and loses him due to his drunkenness.

To continue on discussing this terrific story would be taking the pleasure of seeing it unfolding yourself away. However, it's the underlying message that really hits home and makes this movie something more than the sum of its parts. It shows a man emotionally and physically crippled from a number of problems, some external and some self inflicted, but finds hope in his cloud of depression. It says that it's never too late to turn your life around. No matter your age, your nasty habits or the turmoil you're going through, you can change yourself and become someone better, somebody who looks at life through a fresh perspective.

Much more is revealed about Bad in this nearly two hour movie, but my adulation for Crazy Heart has already kept me rambling for far too long. Bad is a multi-layered person, simple on the surface, but hiding secrets within him and he summarizes his entire character arc with one lyrical line from one of his country songs where he sings, "I used to be somebody, but now I'm somebody else."

Although there isn't much going on behind the camera, largely due to first-time director Scott Cooper, and the story is overly familiar—it's basically The Wrestler with more heart (as my friend Kevin "BDK" McCarthy put it)—it's done with such splendor and dedication that one can't help but be impressed with the finished product. It's a shame Crazy Heart wasn't released in DC a couple of weeks back so I could rightfully place it on my 2009 best of the year list. Oh well. I guess 2010 will have to do.

Crazy Heart receives 5/5