“The Karate Kid” (2010): a long and painful cinematic submission hold

(I originally posted this review on my Steemit blog)

kk1

I checked this movie out of the library, and as a courtesy to future patrons I’m going to scratch angry faces into the DVD with a penknife. I thought “The Karate Kid” (2010) would have some interesting fight scenes and Beijing city sequences—and it did, but these were sparsely scattered across 2 hours and 20 minutes of bad dialogue and lackluster acting.

Okay, a summary: Jadyn Smith, spawn of Will and Jada, stars as Dre Parker, a plucky tween from Detroit. His single mom (Taraji Henson) gets mysteriously transferred to China, so off they go. The mom only speaks English and has no discernible business skills—she dresses in a florescent pink halter dress to walk around their seedy new neighborhood in Beijing—but she’s so valuable to whatever company she supposedly works for that they moved her to China. If the whole production budget was one dollar, maybe a penny was spent on backstory. Half a penny went to continuity. Dre’s mom has no parenting skills either—she’s actually abusive. She smears ice cream on her grumpy kid’s face in a moment that was I guess was meant to be tender. From that awkward point on, I couldn’t care much about either of their fates.

Dre gets beat up by roving gangs of Kung Fu kids (there’s no karate in this “Karate Kid”, only Kung Fu) at his new school, but a beautiful young violin student falls for him anyway. Here again, there’s no plausible reason for the “relationship” plot point. The two have nothing in common and barely speak the same language, plus she’s got six inches on him. The first thing the girl asks Dre is if she can touch his braids, and the relationship stops evolving at that moment. As an actor, Jadyn Smith was a little better than the worst child actors I’ve ever seen (and I read that he did train for three months ahead of this film)—the phrase “Smith family franchise” kept running through my head.

Somewhere in the first half hour of this bloated Jerry Weintraub production, Jackie Chan is introduced as janitor/Kung Fu master Mr. Han. Unlike the original Karate Kid’s Mr. Miyagi, Mr. Han (which translates loosely to “everyman”) is somber, moody, alcoholic, and inexplicably wealthy. Despite being a lowly janitor he owns a huge house in Beijing with a courtyard/dojo. He steps in and saves Dre from the roaming neighborhood Kung Fu punks, and then decides to teach Dre Kung Fu and enter him into a major tournament (he’s actually coerced into this plan by an “evil” Kung Fu teacher, but why give the crappy plot any more of my cognitive abilities). I should mention here that Jackie Chan seems aware of his role as lender of martial arts credibility to a crappy American movie—he barely makes eye contact with the other characters and speaks just above a whisper.

Skipping ahead through a protracted mishmash of school concerts, arcades, Wudang Mountain, and sweeping panoramas of the Great Wall, we’re finally at that big match. The other kids in the Kung Fu tournament have been training since they were fetuses, but just two weeks with Jackie Chan turns “xiao Dre” into a contender. (Dre seems to have dropped out of school to spend all his time touring northern China with Mr. Han—just fine with his abusive smother mother).

kk2

With no tangible martial arts skills and minimal command of even his facial muscles, Dre beats out far stronger and highly skilled athletes. He faces his bully in the final round (see the above photo: who would logically win that fight?) and this kid breaks Dre’s leg. But, wait, xiao Dre has superhuman abilities! He lifts his broken leg up into a sloppy crane position and KO’s his opponent with a roundhouse. His mother opens her mouth wide enough to accommodate a grapefruit and cheers for her Kung Fu wunderkind, the losing team bows to Jackie Chan, and the director abruptly rolls the credits, his plotline long since spent.

Despite a budget of, I dunno, 500 million dollars, the best “The Karate Kid” (2010) is going to get from me is 1/5 stars. It was utterly predictable, poorly executed, and a classic example of Hollywood taking a poignant original movie and “restyling” it (read: hacking it to bits) for a new generation of consumers.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

hello friends

how are you this evening? I just wrote a new movie review on a new venue, Steemit. Trying out this new forum for a while, as you can actually make some cryptocurrency through writing and commenting. All best, raggedy shotgun ann.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”: a movie I regret not seeing in the theater

fb

Last night and again today I watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter prequel. It was just as good and maybe better ten hours later. What I like most about this movie is its mastery of contrast. Dark, rainy New York City in 1926 makes the sharpest possible contrast to a brilliant magic world hidden underneath and inside, stashed out of sight. There are going to be spoilers and excess verbiage in this review. Full disclosure: I have not read the book but I will now.

 

Newt Scamander, a British wizard played by Eddie Redmayne, disembarks from an Atlantic steamer with a dignified and well-worn suitcase that rattles suspiciously, with one broken and one good lock. He goes forth to New York City as a bumbling tourist, awkward scientist, and, most importantly to the plot, guardian of wild magic animals. I won’t drop too far into plot summary—please see this movie—because there’s much more I want to discuss, but a little background is necessary.

 

Mr. Scamander loses his first phantasmagoric charge in a giant bank, and as he tries to recover this creature (a marsupial blend of animal—platypus plus kangaroo plus crow) he crosses paths with Jacob Kowalski (a “nomag” played by Dan Fogel—Brits call them muggles) and Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson), an officer with MACUSA, the magical FBI—which is still hopelessly bureaucratic. Tina arrests Mr. Scamander for exposing magicians and leaving an outsider with his memory intact, and it’s revealed that Newt and Jacob have catastrophically swapped suitcases outside the bank. In the next scene, Kowalski opens the case inside his tenement and releases shimmering chimeras onto the streets of Manhattan.

fb3

I think he’s my favorite.

As with most movies set in old New York, I both wanted to be there and didn’t; it was so creepy and so cool. The director, David Yates, worked Gotham’s Art Deco stairways, cloche hats, Marcel waves, and angular fedoras to full advantage. Using a dark palette for the streets and underworld of New York gave the characters’ faces more weight somehow—it felt, at times, like film noir. But add to this the triumph of CGI, which is now able to make cartoon physics a reality. When the fantastic moments are really opened up—the first happens when Newt leads Jacob down into his space-bending suitcase, where he protects hunted and endangered fantastic beasts—I was knocked out, left speechless and gaping. Magic worlds that real? The illustrators have become magicians. Newt and Jacob’s faces are kept somewhere in the shot as the animals are revealed, so the reactions of humans (and magicians) to magic are not lost.

 

Eddie Redmayne has a difficult task in this movie; he is the foreigner in a town where everyone is out to grift him. And he must interact the most intimately with CGI, as he is the friend and guardian of the beasts—he nuzzles them, carries them, talks with them. It all feels real, never forced or choppy. On top of this, he’s awkward with humans and magicians, more comfortable with beasts—but he must rely on other two-leggeds to save his menagerie, he must soften towards humans and magicians, who usually reject him. Redmayne is flawless and so very British. When he curses “Merlin’s beard,” I remembered that yes, Newt Scamander the magician is of the tribe of Merlin, probably a direct descendant. His unselfconscious love of fantastic beasts made me joyful throughout the film and especially in the central park scene, where he performs a serious mating dance with an escaped glowing rhinomegasaurus (not its real name).

 

Redmayne has a strong ensemble cast backing him up. Katherine Waterson’s character, Tina Goldstein, has been demoted at MACUSA and so she must be tough but humbled, a bit. Tina initially pegs Newt as a criminal who breeds and sells beasts. She soon realizes his heart is good and he’s no animal trafficker, but events have been set into motion. Her actions lead to their mutual arrest and near execution. A visitor to magic realms, Kowalski (Dan Fogel) is an affable character actor. He quickly changes from bewildered observer to agent inside this circle, which also includes Tina’s beautiful sister Queenie (Alison Sudol). She can read minds, works at MACUSA, and falls for Jacob.

 

Ron Perlman makes a notable appearance as the two-timing underworld boss Narlac. He reigns at a speakeasy; Tina taps out the secret knock with her wand and her crew is admitted through a winking lady in a poster, swinging on the moon. A Josephine Baker elf sings the blues, the bar is stocked with bizarre-o potions in dusty bottles, and the leading ladies wear gorgeous ’20s evening gowns. Once Narlac rats them out, magical G-men appear with fedoras pulled low over trench coats and jet black ties. Just like a gangster movie.

fb2

The only supporting actor who was not up to the job was Colin Farrell, in the role of Mr. Graves, a shady upper agent at MACUSA who orders Tina and Newt to be executed for treason (which he knows is false). In the very last scene he is unmasked—Graves is actually Grindelwald, a renegade wizard who wants war with humans. The back of Grindewald’s head is the first shot of the movie—so many plot twists take us this final reveal—and lo and behold, Grindelwald is played by Johnny Depp. It was almost like: hiding inside this mediocre actor is a good actor, biding his time.

 

I have skipped whole parts of the plot—there’s an anti-witch group spreading terror, there’s a demonic force wrecking havoc in New York (Newt’s beasts are blamed for this at first, but we find it’s the storming psyche of an abused and repressed teenage wizard), there’s some chemistry between Newt and Tina. Too much to fit in one review, but the plot comes together beautifully. I liked this movie far more than any of the Harry Potter movies or books. I was working at a now-defunct Borders Books when they came out and had a lot of free time behind the register to read. The books are creative and well written, and I admire J.K. Rowling’s approach towards the publishing world; she uses pen names occasionally, so as not to ride on the Potter series. Fantasy is hard to get right—I’ve tried my hand and given up many times.

 

What I didn’t enjoy about the Harry Potter books was, well, Harry Potter. It’s hard for me to care about a nosy 12-year-old boy and his tween friends, no matter how cool their school is. That’s why I loved Fantastic Beasts; it has all of the layered enchantment of the Harry Potter movies but with a tighter, older cast. Everyone’s a little jaded, it’s New York in the 1920s. And there’s a suitcase with a supernatural petting zoo inside.

 

Five stars out of five for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I love the CGI artists and costumers that worked on this movie, I love Eddie Redmayne, I love the lead cinematographer, I even love the executive producers who said yes, I will put up the money for this.  Every single shot was beautiful to look at.

fb4

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

bon soir

That plus “c’est la vie” is truly all the French I know, and this despite listening to chattering Quebecoise for three summers running. (Something about “femme la bouche” I heard fairly often, and I think it’s a curse). Regarding raggedy shotgun ann, I’ll quote Charles Bradley: “I ain’t gonna give it up.” I really thought I would drop this blog, but then people I greatly respect contacted me and said they’d miss the reviews. The main reason I was going to hang it up was that it seemed too self promotional. If it’s bringing a little lightness, cool, I’ll keep going. On a related note, if you’re feeling stressed out by the near constant negativity and fear porn circulating through the electric grid right now, here’s something you can do. The Blue Medicine Buddha is all about cutting through illusions.

There’s a big mantra to the Medicine Buddha, to calm a worried mind and remove obstacles. There’s a visualization in which you imagine your own face on this Buddha, who lives in the pure land called Sukavati. The Medicine Buddha prayer:

TADYATA OM BHEKHANDZYE BHEKHANDZYE MAHA BHEKHANDZYE (BHEKHANDZYE) RAJA SAMUDGATE SVAHA

(bhekhandzye is pronounced like: beck and z.) If you’re interested in the translation, follow this link. Have a peaceful night folks, and thanks again for reading.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

adieu

After…six and a half years of (sort of) keeping up this blog, I’m signing off for good.  I deactivated my Facebook account today and will shut down Twitter soon. I’m going to spend less time in front of screens in coming months and more time meditating and painting. There’s only so much time to be a painter, and, while I love writing bad movie reviews, it’s not what I really want to pursue.  Maybe I’ll start crocheting again, while watching bad movies, instead of endlessly taking notes. Thank you to everyone who ever read my writing here, commented on it, or otherwise looked my way in this vast interweb.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The wanker’s journey: reviewing “Star Wars VII”

warning: full plot disclosure

untitled

Last night we watched Star Wars VII, on a DVD borrowed from our dear town library. Of all the Star Wars movies I have seen, well, this was one of them. JJ Abrams directed The Force Awakens, and he cast a slew of British actors, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and ten seconds of Mark Hamil. I’m going to do a plot analysis, primarily to point out the holes, then a little on the pathos of the franchise. Lucasfilms teamed up (sold out?) to Disney, so the budget was “epic.” I stopped counting after ten executive producers in the credits.

Per usual, the opening scene is total chaos: storm troopers raid a desert village, torch the whole encampment, villagers run in terror. The storm trooper with a flame-thrower was overdoing it a bit, but I guess but someone had to be that guy. Behind another tent, a cute little robot, BBX, is receiving instructions from his person, a rebel fighter pilot. BBX is to roll off into the desert with his precious cargo, a map to the last Jedi knight, Luke Skywalker. The map was just handed off to them by some white haired British stage actor, seconds before he gets shot. The pilot attempts to escape but is foiled by the main bad guy, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and dragged aboard the enemy ship. The dark side has been reborn in this episode as First Order, a blatant reference to the New World Order.

When Kylo Ren orders the storm troopers to slaughter the villagers, one soldier (who just got smeared with a fallen comrade’s blood) can’t do it, and his emerging PTSD facilitates the whole plot. The dark side needs to invest in trauma therapy, maybe with crayons. Not to mention target practice.

From here the action cuts to the desert, where foxy young Rey (Daisy Ridley) lives in a cavernous ghost ship, foraging other lost space crafts for parts to sell to a cruddy alien merchant with man boobs. BBX rolls right past her door, but is captured by a sand trader (remember those little guys?); she rescues him from a junkyard fate and he follows her home, smitten. It’s usually hard for me to assign robots a gender, but Star Wars robots seem to have enhanced personality chips. In the Japanese robot character Astro Boy, this is called kokoro, heart. BBX also has a mini-tazer for slowing down stupider characters.

So, up on the evil space ship, the deprogrammed storm trooper busts the rebel pilot out of jail and they make a smashtastic exit, blowing up a hangar bay and a few exterior cannons. The pilot’s name I forgot (I’ll call him Guapo Red Leader 1), the defecting storm trooper is FN 2571, but Guapo renames him Finn (played by John Boyega). They fly back to the desert planet–Jaka, I think—but get shot down. Finn is ejected before the crash, but Guapo Red Leader 1 goes down with the ship, right into a sand trap.

From here, Finn staggers across the desert for a while (I’ll assume he drank five gallons of water before defecting), and ends up in Rey’s village, where they cross paths just as bad desert traders and storm troopers close in. Ridley gives the best performance in the movie, because she’s consistent and looks like an elf. She’s also quite athletic, I believed she was doing her own stunts. Finn and Rey team up to escape in the Millennium Falcon, which was luckily left unlocked and gassed up. Apparently you don’t need keys or hot wiring ability to steal the Millennium Falcon, you just push the “up” button and take off.

Like a supernova turning into a black hole, the plot sort of collapses into itself at this point, and any attempt at logical storytelling breaks down. I’ll follow it a little, purely to point out the craters here and there. Rey, Finn, and BBX get sucked into the first space freighter they run into, piloted by (wait for it) Han Solo, and his trusty walking rug Chewbacca. An infinite universe, several republics worth of travelers, and the hijackers run right into the guy whose ship they just jacked.

Watching Harrison Ford revive Han Solo was like meeting an old flame twenty years later and discovering they’ve gained fifty pounds and a gouty toe. Sure, you’re older too, but at least you combed your hair before you left the house. He performed Han Solo like he was one week away from retirement; the phrase “dial it in” kept running through my mind.

Han Solo is transporting some giant scary squid monsters on the freighter, which Rey releases on two gangs of bounty hunters who appear simultaneously to trash-talk Han. The monsters instantly seize and digest the opposing teams in an orgy of tentacles and slurpy sounds. But when a monster grabs Finn, it decides to drag him around instead of swallowing him whole—guess that one filled up on extras. Rey rescues Finn, side wipe to the next shot.

Everyone escapes in the Millennium Falcon, off to find Luke Skywalker’s light saber, which is in the basement of a little old alien lady’s house. Her name is Maz Kanata, she’s 1,000 years old, and, despite being a computer-generated image, she’s the best actress in the movie. Shortly after Han’s crew shows up at Maz’s lively brewpub, Kylo Ren and a Star Wars happy meal full of storm troopers arrive to blow it up. In the ensuing melee, owly Maz’s fate is left undetermined, but her house and restaurant are destroyed. At this point, I was way more invested in her story than in Han Solo and his fan club’s. Oh, and somewhere in here it’s revealed that Kylo Ren is the evil spawn of Han Solo and Princess Leia (nice going, you two).

Watching the slo-mo destruction sequences, I thought no, this is not all there is to the universe. Somewhere else, there is peace, there’s no more samsaric bullshit. The hero’s bloody journey through this part of the galaxy’s getting a little old. Where are the planets where everyone communicates through heart-talk and the swords have been melted into singing bowls? I’d like to move there, before this upcoming presidential election.

All right, fine, team Han Solo is caught by storm troopers; cue incoming rebel air support, which makes the storm troopers spaz out and run away, allowing Han and his crew to make a bumbling escape. Harrison Ford splits the available male screen time with Finn, whose face is perpetually moist, like he just stepped out of a sauna. Finn and Rey make a good team, moving more naturally together as the action progresses. Somewhere in here they get separated and Rey is carried aboard the First Order ship by Kylo Ren, the whiny main bad guy.

A note about the whiny main bad guy’s outfit: it’s a cape and an Art Deco mask. The mask had some sweet silver curves though, kind of a Bauhaus design. When he takes off the helmet (pop! That’s for all you Lego Star Wars fans), instead of helmet hair he has a perfectly coiffed side-part wave. Call that plot hole #20, I stopped keeping track after 5. This guy must be Han Solo’s adopted son, because he looks nothing like Han or Leia. He can barely suppress his British accent, and his evil mentor is named “Snoak”(or “Snoakie,” as I called him). Snoakie is a CGI giant alien with a frightening halfway sewn shut mouth. This image was created to make people fear giant aliens. Here again, this Lucas/Abrams worldview grows old. I don’t fear aliens, I welcome them. They can’t be as war loving and blood thirsty as humans, no way.

About an hour and change into the film we get to see Princess Leia. I was confused about why she’s still a princess at age 70; shouldn’t she be queen by now? Her brother is definitely not king, and their dad is dead. Leia’s wearing an LL Bean winter vest and a new hairdo. Carrie Fisher aged better than Harrison Ford, but her face was still photoshopped hard on the DVD cover. I think they gave her extra hair and tighter cheekbones. She didn’t have much screen time, but she had far more than Mark Hamil, who had two minutes at the very end and no lines whatsoever—guess they didn’t want to pay him. Did he at least make day rate?

In the crowded rebel HQ scene—commanders planning the attack on First Order—everyone has fast, technical lines (“We need to hit the solar oscillator with rapid fire blah blah”), until Han Solo says, looking down at his shoes, “We can….uh…disable the uh, shields,” and JJ Abrams washes to the next scene. Of the cart-full of rotten gourds that make up this script, Han Solo’s line: “Escape now, hug later,” hurt me the most. And at least three times,  someone choked out a variation on:“Don’t look now, but we’ve got company.”

Inside the dark ship—Deathstar 2.0, or something—where Han, Chewy and Finn go to save Rey (who has started to develop Jedi abilities, forgot to mention that before), the color scheme is black and red, standard satanic palette. The final face off between Daddy Solo and his malevolent spawn happens on a bridge over a void, a nod to ROTJ. Harrison Ford mails it in from the parking lot as his evil sperm sticks a light saber into his chest. I thought death by light saber through the heart would be instantaneous, but Han does some prolonged facial contortion and flails his arms around. He falls off the bridge into outer space, to float forever in a maudlin death pose.

Finn, Rey, BBX, and Chewy make it out of the enemy ship as the no longer dead Guapo Red Leader 1 (he jovially re-emerged a few scenes earlier) takes out the oscillating power sucking unit of Deathstar 2.0. The weapon the dark side was charging was a world annihilator, drawing all the energy from a sun—they meant to redirect it and destroy the republic. As usual, Death Star command is manned by a slew of surly Brits, none of whom survive the movie. Maybe they do; once the ship starts imploding, their fate is left undetermined. Rey goes out to the woods for some alone time, and gets confronted by Kylo Ren. They have a light saber battle royale; she leaves him with one leg left, lying in the snow.

As the movie winds down, Chewy is injured, Finn goes into a medically induced coma, and Han Solo’s corpse starts drifting through deep space. Rey gives Princess Leia an awkwardly long hug, then she travels to Luke Skywalker’s secret hideout to deliver his light saber, thus setting the stage for the next episode, when possibly they’ll let Mark Hamil have a line. He picked a great hideout though, a beautiful green sloping island, with a monastery and stone staircase as old as dirt. I wanted to be there.

After three full pages of wandering prose, I still haven’t touched on most of the production values. The underworld costumes are cool, the alien masks and hairpieces feel true to the older Star Wars movies, the dark side’s aesthetic is creepy. The robots, BBX and R2D2 (who finally wakes up from a decades-long electronic funk) are lovable little AI sidekicks who taze your enemies and defend your stash. The musical score is pretty standard Star Wars fare  (classic themes for various chapters), and the CGI was impressive, especially one white and black highly contrasted mountain landscape. As a movie, it mostly entertained (distracted?), despite all the snark you’ve just read.  I didn’t even touch the facial expressions that happened when anyone used the Force, and you know they were smushy.

I acknowledge the work that went into this movie, especially costume design, makeup, and sets. But in the end, The Force Awakens left me low, wanting to down a shot of whisky and stare at the moon. These new Star Wars episodes drive home the loss of a certain kind of wonder. I was very young when The Empire Strikes back came out, too young to know what a bad line was. That year I dressed up like Princess Leia for Halloween, and my dad was Darth Vader. Both costumes were homemade. There was no disbelief to suspend. A gazillion dollar budget and a boatload of special effects can’t bring back that wonder.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Summer’s last camp: reviewing “Queen of Outer Space”

qos1

In the service of my craft, I watched this campy movie three times: once before writing the review, once while I was writing it, and then a third time to catch the commentary by Laurie Mitchell (she played the Queen of Outer Space, and also starred in “Attack of the Puppet People”) and some movie historian. This 1958 sci-fi cult flick stars Zsa Zsa Gabor, with a ton of slightly less attractive women populating scenes around her. The movie was based on a story by Ben Hecht, who wrote a lot of Hollywood screenplays (most of which were of a more serious nature).

 

The opening scene introduces three crew-cut astronauts and the bumbling Professor Conrad (Paul Birch). Captain Hamilton (Eric Fleming) is the male lead; lusty navigator Lieutenant Larry and an annoying, whinier lieutenant round out the crew. The year is 1983, and the astronauts’ mission is to ferry the professor to space station A. Apparently something funky is going on up there. Edward Bernds directed Queen of Outer Space, and the commentary tells me he was a workaholic, filming a fifth of the movie in one day.

 

On the rocket ship, the professor is about to light a cigarette until the captain reminds him he can’t smoke in a spaceship—liquid oxygen and all. There’s the first of many necking scenes: a nameless blonde moans “Larry!” as he smashes his face into hers on the landing pad. The crew loads the professor into an actual crib, strapped in with two seat belts, then tie themselves into leather reclining chairs, cranking levers until their recliners are fully horizontal. A few turns of various knobs at mission control and kaboom! stock footage of liftoff. Back on the ground, the despondent blonde is nearly knocked over by the blast, then jumps up and blows desperate kisses at the sky.

 

The astronauts’ outfits are futuristic unisuits with extra gray fabric in the rear and fat red buttons sewn into the shoulders. They fly near space station A, and a very painful special effect happens: a screaming beam of destruction races past, then blows up the poor model space station. Realizing they may be in trouble, the crew makes futile adjustments to the ship in an attempt to escape; the force of the impact knocks it off course, causing the men to make pained smushy faces. They grip the arms of their barca loungers and tense their neck flab for all they’re worth—except for the professor, who falls asleep in his crib. Everyone passes out, and the ship crash-lands on the planet Venus; the landing is extremely low budget, someone just tossed a model rocket ship into a pile of white confetti. The footage of the rocket madly racing towards the planet was taken from an earlier Allied Studios movie-directed by Ed Burns-World Without End (thanks, commentary reel).

The astromen come to and furiously push more knobs, but have no radio service back to mission control—they’re abandoned in a field of confetti. The men decamp onto a strange back lot that is Venus with their toy pistols and yoga mat bedrolls. It takes the four men just a few lines of distracted dialogue to get captured by the ruthless women of Venus, who wear low cut mini dresses with gold lamé belts, clear plastic heels and grumpy faces. These are the sour manhaters (“I hate them! I hate them!” a brunette wails, just to drive it home), waving their ray guys menacingly. The men are taken to the royal court or something; the evil queen of outer space enters, wearing a shiny mask and a headpiece that could be made from pipe cleaners. The queen and her ladies in waiting all wear masks, which make them look like sparkly Easter eggs cooking under stiff coiffures. One of the ladies in waiting was apparently Miss Yugoslavia in an early Miss World competition (thanks again, commentary)—the director wanted Amazonians on the queen’s guard.

 

The evil queen of outer space, Illiana, yells at the earth men, then sends them to prison—but she’s definitely into the captain. The next scene introduces Zsa Zsa Gabor, in the role of Talia (I’m going to keep calling her Zsa Zsa, it’s fun to write); as the most beautiful woman in the movie, Zsa Zsa naturally loves men. This is a main theme; the less attractive women are brutish and manlike, and hate men (lesbians? It’s sort of suggested), while the three most beautiful women are gentle and feminine, batting their eyes and parting their lips just so. The Amazonian palace guards move thuggishly and speak in low, staccato grunts: “Go! Man!”

qos3

Zsa Zsa is a member of the queen’s court, and her first outfit is a long red evening gown slit to the waist. She delivers a TV tray with ice tea and other refreshments to the captured earthmen, and tells them what’s  going on in her world. A war between Venus and some other planet happened a while ago; Illiana (then a rebel) won this war, freaked out, imprisoned all Venus’ men, and crowned herself queen. Zsa Zsa wants to get laid, so she’ll help the men escape (also, she wants to be queen of outer space). In this whole boring backstory scene, the focus is on Zsa Zsa Gabor’s leg jutting out of her long red gown—it’s actually the center of the shot. This low-grade technique is brought back throughout the movie; any time a scene is weighted down with “scientific” information or banal dialogue, the camera pans over a woman’s legs, breasts, or lips (but never ass; in the 50s, dresses were usually unflattering from behind). Fun fact: Zsa Zsa Gabor is Paris Hilton’s great-great aunt; Conrad Hilton was the sixth of her eight husbands.

Next follows a painful scene between Queen Illiana and the captain; she calls him to her chamber and they flounder around on a bed, with her football shaped mask in the way. He calls her out on “denying man’s love,” then rips off her mask; underneath, she is hideously deformed from radiation burns—men, men did this to her! So her plan to destroy the earth via giant ray gun is nothing more than a scorned woman’s vengeance. The “atomic radiation” burns appear to be blobs of finger paint applied directly to the actress’ face (but no, the commentary says it’s actually a molded mask, with many layers of paint).

By exposing the queen’s hideous face, the captain has botched his chance to overpower her with his secret weapon, male magnetism. He’s dragged back to the pink-walled prison cell, to rejoin his depressed comrades. Every interior castle scene has a pastel theme: the walls are pink or mauve, the space dolls’ gowns are periwinkle and champagne, and glittery coat hanger sculptures hang from the ceiling.

One of Zsa Zsa’s pro-men rebel girls busts the guys out of jail and brings them to her laboratory (a place for plastic plants, Bunsen burners, and pink triangles), where Zsa Zsa declares her intention to escape from the palace with the men, and help them destroy the Queen’s “beta-disintegrating ray gun,” before she blows up the earth with it. “I don’t vant to leev in a vorld vithout men,” coos Zsa Zsa.

Next is a goofy chase scene, with all the queen’s guards running awkwardly in gold high heels to frantic xylophone music; outside the palace, the men and rebel space girls hide behind bushes, and more barfy ’50s flirtation ensues. By this point, each astronaut is paired with a girl; only the poor professor is alone. It’s worth noting that blondes were clearly held in highest esteem by this director (or, possibly, by 1950s beauty standards); all the evil or stupid women are brunettes. Except for the queen of outer space, who is, appropriately, a blonde (but the script called for a black-haired evil queen; they went with blonde Laurie Mitchell because the queen’s hair had to match Zsa Zsa’s in a plot point).

The dialogue, naturally, is littered with 1950s A-bombs. Talking about the evil women’s ray gun, Lieutenant Larry says, “And even if they invented it, how could they aim it? You know how women drivers are.” A little later: “26 million miles from earth and the little dolls are just the same.” And, my favorite line in the whole cheddarfest: “What are we supposed to do, just sit here and wait for the space dolls with the ray guns to come back and zap us?!”

q0s2

Back to the plot line (I do recommend seeing this movie, it’s entertaining and like an hour and a quarter long). The escapees shake the palace guard (Zsa Zsa’s team is also wearing heels, so it’s a fair match) and take shelter in a very well lit cave. A giant rubber spider attacks Lieutenant Larry; it’s just like the rubber spiders in the toy aisle at the grocery store, only six feet long. Queen of Outer Space was the second of three roles for this particular fake spider (where is it now? Enjoying its retirement?). Larry’s comrades shoot the spider with a ray gun, then everyone immediately starts making out, turned on by the scent of smoking insect flesh.

qos8

The professor, who has no one to get to first base with, wanders out of the cave and spots the queen’s guards. He waddles back to the cave and disrupts the make-out session; instead of shooting the guards with their ray guns, Zsa Zsa and the other women march the men back to the palace, to sporty military music. So, they troop back to Queen Illiana’s chamber; the queen appears and all the rebels jump down her throat, explaining why society must contain both genders. She falls on the bed dramatically and retrieves a ray gun from under a pillow; luckily, she’s a woman and can’t aim, so she misses the captain standing four feet away. The men tie the queen up and throw her behind a room screen, while Zsa Zsa dresses in her clothes; this plan also fails and the rebels are recaptured. Further cookiness ensues in the next scene, at the destruct-o machine (which is housed in a room with wall-to-wall carpeting and faux-marble accents).qos4

The big, bad, beta-disintegrating ray is kept inside a tiny house with a propeller on top; this house is guarded by four giant silver dildos. The queen of outer space tries to blow up the earth (her gown here calls to mind Coco Chanel, it’s a belted black dress over gold short pants, with arm bracelets), but her ray gun is defunct; Zsa Zsa’s rebels effed it up. There’s one last “battle of the sexes” (so says the theatrical trailer), where the good, man-loving girls rush the bad, grumpy girls and half-heartedly paw at each other. Here, as everywhere else, the men are powerless; their presence has no effect on the outcome. The beta-disintegration ray explodes with loud pyrotechnics and stage smoke, there’s a shot of the charred remains of the evil queen, and everyone stops fighting and looks confused—that’s the problem with mixing comedy and death by immolation.

The last scene is set in the throne room; Zsa Zsa emerges as the new queen of outer space, in a fourth and final outfit: a strapless gold ball gown with a long, collared cape. There’s no shortage of chiffon, rhinestones, or Dippity-do on planet Venus. Lieutenant Larry shoves his tongue into his space doll one last time, and the men get ready to depart (lonely Professor Conrad hugs himself and shakes his head bitterly), only to learn the ladies have sabotaged their ship and they won’t be going home for at least a year. The second to last shot is the professor finally getting some; eight women smother him in an apparently improv moment—the script never let this poor tubby character actor get any, but the girls mobbed him anyway. Paul Birch’s face gets visibly red as they move in; he disappears under a pile of piled hair. The last shot is, of course, Captain Hamilton sucking Zsa Zsa Gabor’s face off.

There’s no way to rate a movie like this, I’m not going to try (though others have; it’s consistently ranked among the worst sci-fi movies of all time); Queen of Outer Space is entertaining, despite the technical limitations of 1958 and the director’s reliance on leggy women shuffling around in plastic heels. It’s a movie that sits so firmly in the early years of cinema; space travel was not convincing, the décor was clumsy, extras delivered their lines with their backs to the camera. Which doesn’t mean the movie is bad, per say; Queen of Outer Space was more than its production values, it had this compelling combination of schmaltz and science fiction. Kitchen glitter, maybe. That’s it, a four-page breakdown of a cult classic, for the last camp weekend of summer.

qos6

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Man on a Ledge”: a movie that should have jumped

 

mol

I accidentally ordered this movie from Netflix and paid heavily for my mistake—I meant to order the documentary Man on WireMan on a Ledge came out in 2012, and stars Sam Worthington as, well, a man on a ledge. This is an action movie (in theory), with a plot that made sense about twenty percent of the time. I’ll do my best to break it down, but the story line was so unbelievable I tossed my pen and paper at heaven ten different times, thus my notes are unreliable.

The movie opens with a guy walking through Manhattan, checking into a midtown hotel, going to sleep, waking up, eating a fancy breakfast, and then stepping out on the building’s ledge (his room’s on the 22nd floor). If that sentence was boring to read, just imagine watching it for ten minutes, accompanied by weird synthesizer music. Quick cut to the backstory, via flashback: the man is a disgraced and convicted but innocent cop, Nick Cassidy. He’s let out of jail for a day to attend to his father’s funeral. Standing next to his dad’s coffin, Nick easily takes down two armed guards and makes off in his brother’s SUV. With four other squad cars in hot pursuit (so, ten cops to escort one prisoner to a funeral), Nick drives in front of a train, crashes the SUV, and jumps the train, I guess—his actual escape is made off camera.

Flash-forward to the present, in a sloppy cut: three seconds after Nick steps out on the ledge, a pedestrian on the street starts yelling and waving (“Aah! There’s a man up there!). This initial plot hole sets off a chain reaction of dozens more. No one standing on a New York City street looks up that high. Actual studies have been done; there’s already too much to look at and process at street level, people don’t glance more than twenty or thirty feet over their heads when walking around. And then there’s smart phone oblivion. It’s hard to even see up to the 22nd floor from the street. So, right, hyper-aware pedestrians start shouting, someone calls 911 and the media, and the plot is off and limping.

A grumpy old dispatcher scratching his potbelly barks into his radio, “We got…a man on a ledge,” (I love it when a scriptwriter gently works the title in) and seconds later three or four hundred police officers arrive on the scene, along with fire trucks, paramedics, and a plucky young female detective nursing a hangover. Guess the budget cuts haven’t hit this parallel universe New York yet. Officer Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) is tasked with talking Nick off the ledge while standing her ground among a bunch of departmental swinging dicks. Other cops of importance to the storyline: gum-chewing prick who is “secretly” working for the main bad guy; suit-wearing wiseass who fumbles the ball every time; Nick’s former partner, also corrupt.

I can’t believe I’m going to do this, but since I’ve come this far, I’ll try to explain the rest of the plot, which is about as solid as a Jell-O mold. Before all the current drama in his life, Nick was moonlighting as a security guard for Mr. Englander (Ed Harris, in a role that marks the low point of his career); while escorting Mr. Englander and a giant blood diamond, Nick was knocked out by thugs and framed for the robbery. His former partner and Officer gum-wad set him up; neither of these B actors is able to play both sides credibly—as in most cop movies, they cover a lack of acting ability with a permanent stink eye.

So, um, plot summary…after his escape from Sing Sing, Nick plans his redemption with the help of his brother and supposedly dead dad. Other dark side plots were constructed to support all this backstory, but as crucial details were barked into police walkie-talkies, they only served to make my head ache.

Across the street at evil Mr. Englander’s building, Nick’s brother Joey and Joey’s smoking Latina gf Angie break in and try to find the “stolen” diamond. Nick coaches them through a tiny ear microphone, while chatting up Officer Mercer in a play for time. I would have paid more attention to the man on a ledge and the woman attempting to seduce him inside if they’d been deaf mutes miming out a relationship; their dialogue alternated between “I need you to trust me!”, “Are you going to trust me?!”, and “Dammit, you’ve got to trust me!” Officer Mercer is cocky to the point of unbearable, and also the movie never explains how she woke up from a bender sporting perfect hair and makeup. At some point a news chopper blasts by, ten feet from Nick’s head. Papers fly off desks inside and people cover their ears in pain while Nick and Mercer, now eight feet away from the helicopter, undergo no change in facial expression or hairdo integrity.

All right, dear reader, I’ll cut it short (unlike the movie, which ran on a half an hour too long). Police incompetence facilitates the latter half of the movie; despite 900 cops running around, including 3 SWAT teams, one crooked cop (Officer Gum-chewing Dickhead) manages to take down Joey and Angie (after they recover the diamond and pistol whip Ed Harris a few times), and corner them and Nick up on the roof—at some point, Nick had to flee his ledge (the SWAT team dangled a fishing hook) and scrambled up to the roof.

Meanwhile, the ex-partner locks himself in the ledge-adjacent hotel room; when Mercer and Suit-wearing Wiseass finally realize he’s no bueno and shoot out the lock, the guy hides behind the door. Mercer and Wiseass barge in and take a full minute to stumble around looking perplexed, which enables ex-partner to slip out the door. He races up to the roof and shoots Gum-chewing Dickhead (they had names, I just didn’t bother to write them down; neither did I remember to note the director or screenwriter—but they know who they are, and what they’ve done), who dies masticating the same wad of Juicy Fruit he’s had bunched in his cheek since scene 2.

Nick dives off the roof into a Mr. Bouncy Bounce crash pad to cheers from the huge crowd below—several hundred New Yorkers who don’t have anywhere else to be—and tackles Mr. Englander (I think he took the diamond back on the roof, it was all so crappily executed), then waves it over his head, proving his innocence seconds before New York’s semi-finest would have dragged him away. The tacked on last scene takes place in an Irish bar, where all the cops who were literally gunning for Nick minutes before convene to slap him on the back. Mercer drops her professional guard to flirt shamelessly and drunkenly with the hero, and the movie’s belittlement of women is complete.

Man on a Legde had a few chances to redeem itself; Sam Worthington is not a bad actor, some of the aerial views of NYC are interesting, and Angie has a great rack. But, as with so many other bloated action movies, an implausible script full of cardboard caricatures drags its bleeding carcass on into putrefaction. The end credit music, however—a spazy rock number shouting “What have I done?” over and over—was an inspired choice, as it mirrored my thoughts on sitting through this mess exactly. Star rating: one, for the occasionally cool shots of New York’s skyline. Next time movie, call me and I’ll give you a push.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

another bomb, reviewed for you

 

20160510_080659

Still life with “Predator 2” and a bag of week-old compost

Last night we watched an action movie from 1990, Predator 2. If I had seen the movie in 1990, when I was 10, it might have scared me; in the year 2016, Predator 2 gave me acute cranial pain, but that was it. A buffet table of mediocre actors appeared in this low budget affair—but the real star was Predator, the main and only bad guy. For the rest of this review, I’ll refer to Predator by the name Lt. Harrigan (Danny Glover) made up for him: “Pussyface”.

This movie takes place in L.A. of the future—1997—though the cars and haircuts are all from the mid-80s. The opening scene is a major shootout on a city street, betwixt L.A. cops and caricatures of Columbian drug lords. One of the first lines in Predator 2 is “You focking bandejos!” followed by grenade launched slo-mo explosions; this movie took stereotyping minorities to new lows.

The police are getting nowhere until the Columbianos run back inside their strong house to snort handfuls of flour and shriek like banshees, providing time for bad cop dialogue and modest recon. Lt. Harrigan arrives on the scene, along with his ragtag team of L.A.’s finest: Officer Danny (Reuben Blades), the token good Latino; and Officer Badass Female—I can’t remember her character’s name, the actress is Maria Conchita Alonso. Eventually they are joined by Rookie Cop With Shoulder Pads (Bill Paxton), and together this crew represents the city’s best hope against Pussyface. By the way, Predator 2 was directed by Stephen Hopkins, who yelled at Reuben Blades so badly on Good Morning America they made him return on a later show to apologize; that tidbit plus this soggy meatloaf of an action movie are all I know about him.

Lt. Harrigan and co. take out the Columbians, and then climb to the roof, wearing confused faces—everyone saw an invisible guy’s dotted outline up there…but where did he go? They walk back downstairs and are confronted by a pile of chopped up bodies and blood splatter from floor to ceiling. It seems most of Predator 2’s prop budget went to cheap mannequins, cardboard guns, and hundreds of gallons of red finger paint.

From here, the “action” shifts to HQ, where an angry mob of extras vies for camera time—every aspiring actor in Los Angeles has just been arrested. Enter Peter Keys, DEA agent (Gary Busey), in the role of oppressive federal agent sticking his nose in Harrigan’s business. Gary Busey is pretty much the worst actor in this movie, though it’s possible he was asked to constantly maintain the same expression, to make Danny Glover look like even more of a spas. Agent Keys has been secretly tracking Pussyface for 15 years; he took the DEA job as a cover, in yet another nonsensical piece of information.

Back to the script—which was possibly conceived by throwing The Creature from the Black Lagoon and a bad episode of Miami Vice into a blender, then handing the resulting mess to the cast two hours before shooting started. Bah, where was I…everyone thinks the gruesome killings striking L.A.’s drug gangs are just turf wars; everyone except Lt. Harrigan, who keeps showing up five minutes late to every crime. His tardiness offers a glimpse of Pussyface, who frolics up on the rooftops, chewing on a plastic leg. Pussyface has infrared vision, to sense the heat of his victims; this poorly executed effect gave me a terrible headache (but it was a break from cranking machine gun fire and lines like: “You’re cutting off my dick and sticking it up my ass!”). There’s another gangland scene, the Jamaicans vs. the Columbians, where twenty or thirty machine guns are emptied out in an apartment; the windows are completely shot out, but the couch in front of them is unscathed. Agent Danny sneaks back in later to look for clues (with a thoroughly misted face), and Pussyface kills him. Lt. Harrigan goes crazy with rage—now, it’s personal.

His first move is to enlist the help of the Jamaican gang, in a scene that manages to be more offensive than the one with Columbians snorting baking soda. The Jamaicans roll up in a zebra-top gold Cadillac, and when they open the car door vast clouds of smoke billow out. A minimum of four fog machines were used in this scene—or possibly all five actors really did smoke their ice-cream cone spliffs. They take Harrigan to another back alley (all the action in this movie takes place in different back alleys, filled with brand new cardboard boxes and the same three cars) to meet King Willie, the voodoo king of Los Angeles. This guy was dressed like a pirate, which told me he wouldn’t make it through the scene. Having known him for all of three minutes, King Willie’s gruesome death at the hands of Pussyface left me feeling low—another branch off a diseased plotline had ended, but how many more remained?

Cut to the subway, where Rookie Cop With Shoulder Pads and Officer Badass Female have their hands full with a bunch of bandana punks. Suddenly, the lights go out and guns blast: Pussyface is on the train! An extra shouted, “I can’t see!” to which I yelled back, “Me either!” Every other scene in Predator 2 is lit by a camping flashlight; possibly this was a cost-saving technique, or maybe the lighting guy was off getting toasted with the Jamaicans. The soundtrack is another example of fiscal prudence—ten, fifteen, twenty minutes went by with no music whatsoever. In the long, drawn-out final showdown between Harrigan and Pussyface, the only sound besides grunts and gunshots is the dainty plucking of violins, reminding me of my fifth grade orchestra concerts.

Oh yes, Rookie Cop With Shoulder Pads heroically stays behind in a doomed subway car to fight Pussyface; his last line, “C’mon motherfucker, let’s dance!” ensures he got a bad rebirth. Thin, trench-coat clad Officer Badass Female is maimed but not killed in the attack; in the ambulance an EMT glances at her once and says, “She’s pregnant.” I’ll assume he has x-ray vision and move on with the plot summary.

There follows a bewildering scene in a secret trailer (Agent Keys’ headquarters), where chunky men with highly gelled hair stomp around in shiny Mylar suits—it was like being in Devo’s trailer, but, alas, no one yelled “Whip it good!” (I believe one of these chunkheads was Alec Baldwin, rounding out the eighties B-roll). Finally, an hour and a half into the movie, Agent Keys explains what the hell Predator is doing on earth: hunting down humans on an interstellar safari. He lures Pussyface into a meat warehouse, but the trap soon goes awry, and ten more extras are sloppily sacrificed. Agent Keys gets chopped in half by Pussyface’s razor sharp Frisbee, so now it’s up to half-cocked Lt. Harrigan to save Los Angeles.

The final fight scene hangs on like a fart in a crowded elevator. Harrigan and Pussyface dangle from a rooftop; the much larger Pussyface claws deeply into Harrigan’s arm, but Harrigan dislodges him and suffers no blood loss at all, much less a fatal bleed-out from his brachial artery. After crashing through one more apartment, they end up in a flashy basement trophy room, where Pussyface keeps his neat-o alien skull collection. With the lethal Frisbee, Lt. Harrigan slices Pussyface in the chest; Pussyface stands three feet above the seated Harrigan, with two free sets of sharp claws next to Harrigan’s head—but after two hours of slaughtering people for a lark, Pussyface decides to just stand there and get killed. The only thing this movie knew how to do was make each stupid character consistent, and it even biffed this at the end. A solemn army of Pussyfaces drops in from elsewhere in the space-time continuum to lug their dead comrade’s body home. Danny Glover staggers out into the sunlight covered in baby powder, delivering his final bad line with resignation—kind of like, “Yes, it was a bad movie.”

The violence in this movie was constant, though unconvincing—it was all so fake, a big pile of ketchup blood and shredded shoulder pads. I felt bad for whoever had to clean the sets. Half-ass production values, a script unworthy of lining a hamster cage, and two hours of bad acting: ½ star and a bill for my ibuprofen, that’s what you get, Predator 2.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Two…thumbs…down!”

whdLast night I watched White House Down, and a mere 24 hours later the headache it induced is gone. I was led to believe that this would be an action thriller: the DVD cover shot features Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, giant guns, and a flame-engulfed White House. But this is flagrant false advertising: the first 45 minutes were totally action-free, and the remaining hour and a half was one long spaz attack.

This 2013 action spoogefest was directed by Roland Emmerich, the same man who blasted my ears off in Independence Day. Here’s the premise of White House Down (the title, I’m sorry to say, is also an actual line—as in, “Aaahhhh! White…House…down!”): a beefy DC cop, John Kale (Channing Tatum), takes his moody 11-year-old daughter Emily on a White House tour for some father-daughter bonding (did you guess he fought in Afghanistan, then returned home and couldn’t fit in, resulting in divorce and bad credit? Correct). But, they pick the exact morning that a group of highly elite and unbelievably stupid terrorists attack, so father and daughter find themselves trapped between smelly hijackers and priceless antiques. [Note to the screenwriters: it’s not a good idea to name the protagonist of your action movie after a vegetable. Every time someone yelled “Kale!” I yelled back: “Eat more!”]

Kale leaves his daughter on a bench outside the Secret Service office (where kids are most welcome, certainly) and heads in for a job interview—the tour was a front to drag her along. Agent Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is high up in the Secret Service and conducts the interview; apparently she and Kale had some brief, sexually unfulfilling relationship years before, so he doesn’t get the job. Standing in the background is a wimpier agent who smirks and guffaws at Kale’s pathetic responses; needless to say, that guy is the first to be gunned down by the hijackers. The top agent of the Secret Service, bodyguard to the President, is Martin Walker (James Wood), and he’s one week away from retirement. At this point, half an hour in, there’s only twenty minutes to go until something interesting happens.

The terrorists infiltrate the White House and Capital with ease; disguised as janitors and maintenance men, they bring duffel bags full of ammo inside without having to go through any security pat-downs or x-ray machines whatsoever.  Three bad guys manage to take down thirty or forty bumbling White House guards, all of whom obediently stand up from their desks to get shot in the chest.  The President (Jamie Foxx) is shocked to learn his personal bodyguard is behind it all; Walker, the inside man, forces President Stuart down to a basement vault at gunpoint, to begin a nuclear holocaust for reasons known only to him. Luckily, John (“leafy green”) Kale is able to outrun AK-47 fire, breaking away from the tour and rescuing President Stuart before the vault doors slam shut. Kale’s role for the rest of the movie is to protect the President using cartoon physics. Someone, I guess one of the writers, attempted to tie this President to Obama via a shared love of Abraham Lincoln and Nicorette—not so convincing.

Agent Finnerty, who’s over at the Pentagon for some reason, is able to call the President’s cell phone and direct the pair down into the secret tunnels below the White House. She’s the only adult female character with more than two minutes of screen time and is routinely shouted down by military brass.  In her first appearance onscreen, her boss, Walker, offers some free advice about improving her looks. But how does this movie really feel about women?

Emily, the moody preteen, left the tour to pee before the first major explosion; she cleverly hides behind a potted plant, videos the terrorists acting cocky, and uploads the file to Youtube. Instantly, news stations broadcast her brave footage, incensing the terrorists to set about tracking her down.  A bad guy finds Emily, puts a gun to her 11-year-old head, and forces her back to the tour group. Several guns are put to her head in the next two hours and she also sees people shot in the face, exploding car crashes, rockets taking down helicopters…and yet, at the end of the movie she skips across the White House lawn, smiling for the TV cameras. PTSD for life? Nah.

If it’s unclear from my review what the terrorists want, please blame the movie, not me—this rather important point was never addressed.  Agent Walker apparently has a brain tumor and a vendetta against the President, who he blames for the death of his marine son, but that’s it—the other twenty guys appear to have no motives for embarking on such a doomed mission. Except for Bill Gates’ doppleganger, who spends the whole movie hacking into government computers in the basement and listening to Mozart sonatas (yes, he was a child prodigy, got it)—his personal mission is to launch nuclear warheads at Apple headquarters.  This guy’s name is “Skip Tyler;” despite that hindrance (or because of it?) he grew up to be an evil genius.  His fate is left totally undetermined—does he escape? Get trapped in the sewer system? Just one of 2 or 300 plot holes. As for production values: every transition was abrupt and choppy, camera angles crowded faces out of frames, the lighting was poor—whole scenes were actually lit with an iPhone.

A note about the soundtrack: it goes away entirely once Kalishnakovs begin rapid-firing into early American textiles.  90% of this movie’s sounds are gunfire (hence my day-long headache), and the other 10% are bad dialogue (“You just killed the Secretary of Defense!” “Well, uh, he wasn’t doing a very good job”).  And some of the script is outright propaganda: Martin Walker says to the President, “On any given day, the Federal Reserve holds in excess of $400 million in cash.”  (Just in case you hadn’t heard, movie, the Fed’s broke).

Fighting off cold-blooded mercenaries with household objects (toasters, sneakers, hair dryers), Officer Kale and President Stuart make it to the White House garage, where they drive out in a giant black SUV. They’re followed out by two more giant black SUVs driven by the terrorists, setting off a rousing game of Mario Kart through the Rose Garden. Kale and the leader of the free world are thrown into the White House pool, they escape by blowing up the Presidential cabana.  Sloppy cut to the next scene: everyone crashing around a greenhouse, needlessly sacrificing rare orchids.  Kale and the worst bad guy (and actor) claw at each other with little garden rakes.  The 35–year-old, athletic President Stuart is taken down by his bodyguard, a flabby 65-year-old with terminal cancer.  Not to worry, Kale crashes a spare SUV into the Oval Office and runs over Walker, who strikes a maudlin death pose—one hand thrown over his head, tongue sticking out.

At some point the producers must have run out of money, because the movie ends with a few rooms of the White House still intact.  Some lame-ass side plot about the corrupt, sniveling Speaker of the House is patched on four minutes before the credits in a halfhearted attempt at continuity.  Speaking of continuity, despite fifty or sixty explosions and twenty minutes of sprinklers raining down, all the TVs and computers in every room of the White House are working just fine.

Burning helicopters hang from balconies, smoldering SUVs lie in piles around marble fountains, soldiers’ corpses rot in the sun: cue John Kale and his daughter strolling arm-in-arm, ready for a father-daughter picnic.  But wait! In one last bit of sheer impossibility, the President invites them both aboard his helicopter for an impromptu joyride over government center.  As the credits finally rolled I reached for another beer, having earned it.

So what’s my lasting impression of this movie…”Bureaucracy kills?” Perhaps: “Don’t get stuck in a video game.” I rate White House Down one star, and that’s only for the CGI artists and stunt men, who did all the heavy lifting in this rotting corpse of an action movie.  I hereby move to impeach Roland Emmerich from the Screen Director’s Guild…all those in favor?

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments