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That strange phenomena of two films arriving at once that deal with the same subject (think Dante’s Peak and VolcanoArmageddon and Deep ImpactCapote and Infamous) rears its head again in the mindless thriller genre, this time dealing with the oddly specific premise of the White House under siege.  There are dramatically different approaches to what amounts to the same story: terrorists in one form or another have taken over the iconic building, taken the President hostage (or are attempting to), and only One Man can save the day.  It’s Die Hard at 1600, and though I can’t think of a reason why they came along at the same time (other than the opposing views that the White House has been taken over by insurgents, a not unpopular opinion in this country), the Compare And Contrast element of me is tickled.   Read the rest of this entry »

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As surprise box office juggernauts go, you can do a lot worse than The Hunger Games franchise.  Though the first film was flimsy and mostly tacky, there was at least an interesting concept – brutal state repression to protect the wealthiest individuals and the moral backflips one has to do when forced to kill others, and the grotesquerie of Reality Television bloodsport.  None of this is particularly new, and as I wrote in my review of the first entry, it’s too hard to ignore the similarities to Battle Royale, a film which is in every far superior.  Still, a popular film about income inequality that is intent on sowing the seeds of revolution is timely and, for someone with my politics, nothing to be sniffed at.  That said, even though the broad strokes are good, there’s a trouble with the sequel Catching Fire, and though this may just be a symptom of “the middle book” syndrome, it’s hard to get too excited because of it.  Despite Jennifer Lawrence being more than capable in the role, and the fact that this film is an improvement over its predecessor in almost every way, the biggest sore spot is Katniss Everdeen herself.   Read the rest of this entry »

In some ways, I appreciate Oliver Stone’s turn from a confrontational rabble-rouser to a softer, more contemplative political director.  Not to say he’s terribly successful at the latter, but there’s something admirable in his ability not to turn his George W. Bush biopic into a polemic, and likewise in his Wall Street sequel to not go after banks and trading companies all-guns-blazing.  It’s as though he’s living out that old cliché of the once-raging lefty who gets worn down by time until he looks at the younger ‘rebels’ and smiles with knowing affection at their gumption and vigor, but knows somewhere inside knows it’s a fools game.  Unfortunately it hasn’t made him a very interesting director, and Wall Street: Money Never Sleep’s problems stem from an unfocused, unsure desire to be a decidedly populist yarn about conventional family issues and doing the ‘right’ (in a very broad, centrist way) thing.  I won’t take issue with the movie that could have been, because that’s not what’s here.  I think a gritty drama about money, greed, corporate desperation, and backroom dealings at The Fed could be interesting, but alas, that film has not been made yet. Read the rest of this entry »

After a safehouse is compromised, five would-be suicide bomber Jihadists in Sheffield must transport their explosives to an allotment. The car predictably breaks down (“Jewish sparkplugs”), and the most outspoken of the group, Barry (Nigel Lindsay), suggests everyone run ‘fast but smooth’, leading the men to run while squatting across a street. One of them, the peculiarly simple Fessal (Adeel Akhtar) gets lost and winds up running in staggered lines in a nearby field with some sheep. Three of the others film him as they laugh and mock him, encouraging him to leap a stone fence. He does, and in a long shot, we see him trip over on landing and, as the flock of sheep run away, turn instantly into a cloud of smoke. It’s a darkly funny moment, but only for a second, as when the shock wears off you’re left with the sad, tragedy of it all. Fessal was an idiot, to be sure, but aside from his desire to blow himself and civilians along with him, he was a not malevolent one. When the group’s leader, Omar (Riz Ahmed), berates the others, they attempt to shift the blame, and when they decide he is technically a martyr (for his death had to mean something, right?), Barry steps up and takes credit. It’s a martyrdom because he killed a sheep, and thus disrupted the ‘system’, he rationalizes. It’s the first moment the film truly jumps from broad, slapstick farce into something deeper and sadder, and that strange, awkward mood courses through the remainder. The mix of slapstick and idiotic discussions on semantics is all done very well throughout the running time of Chris Morris’ Four Lions, and there’s no doubt that it is a very funny movie. The audience I saw it with certainly laughed all the way through, so the poster which features fifteen quotes from critics that all say the one word “Funny” is not technically misleading. However, when the finale ramped up the sad, tragic nature of the story and the characters, it was somewhat uncomfortable to find how many people were still laughing. Read the rest of this entry »