White House Down: Who Let The Dogs In?


Channing

QUITE FRANKLY, IF I were POTUS (come on, guys, that’s the President of the United States. Work with me now), I’d be pretty damned scared, since my home has been bombed, most of my cabinet have been nastily killed, I’ve been shot at multiple times, and my cute little kids have been traumatized, probably for life ALL IN THE SPACE OF THE LAST THREE MONTHS! Not only has Olympus Fallen, but the White House is Down. This is a lot worse news than Justin Beiber and his damned monkey.

Thanks God for those brave, heroic, all-American super-heroes…those sweaty, ripped-shirted, muscular, strong-jawed, sensitive, child-loving, ass-kicking, commupance-dishing white guys; those strong, silent super-heroes without capes, who looked like Gerard Butler and Channing Tatum

GerardAnd thank God for those heroic black guys, who looked like Jamie Foxx and Morgan Freeman. Stoic. Resolute in the face of a crisis. Buoyed up by faith and stirring background anthems.

Morgan

If you think some two bit North Korean guerilla army half the size of the population of Pyongyang along with a crazy assed, wild-eyed, tattoo-flashing supremacy group, all with insider help and armed with every possible kind of small, medium and large arms Adnan Kashoggi could sell to them, could possibly keep our good men down, think again.

OK, so, they may have been clever enough to have figured out all the secret codes, been able to hack everything necessary, had accurate blue-prints of the white house, and may have been able to break in even easier than the Bling Ring. No problemo! You can blow up a house. You just can’t blow up an idea.

And it was such a good idea that two people had it at the same time: both Antoine Fuqua (“Olympus Has Fallen”) and Roland Emmerich (“White House Down”, who gave us so many just-missed-the-Oscar classics: “2012”, “10,000BC”, “The Day After Tomorrow”, “Independence Day”) must have had their brain waves in pure adrenaline pumped synergy to be able to make us all so blessed to be able to see not once but twice the same sort of explosions and slo-mo slaughter on Pennsylvania Ave.

Like “Live Free or Die Hard” (that’s the one where he saves the world from an evil hacker. No, not the NSA), Channing has to get back there and save his daughter in “White House Down”. There’s always an endangered daughter somewhere, as Liam Neeson knows. And the rumours that Roland Emmerich had an extra White House built when he shot “Independence Day” and needed to get rid of it, are untrue. Just bitter grapes from Antoine Fuqua (who has given us much more introspective, nuanced intellectual fare – “Shooter” “Tears of the Sun”, “The Replacement Killers”)

The great public service of these two attacks is that HR at the White House no longer has to rely on Linked-In or Interns (remember them? what would Monica have done in such an attack?) for great staff selection. Maggie Gyllenhall as Agent Finnery (WHD) beat Angela Basset (OHF) as the stern secret service, hands down.

maggieBut OHF had a much better House Speaker (Morgan Freeman as Speaker of the House won by a mile over that craven, double-dealing Richard Jenkins). As for the baddies, frankly nobody out-baddies James Woods (WHD). That man’s pock marked sneer identifies him as a ne’er do well from miles away. We all saw it, why didn’t Maggie?

jamesHe’s a lot meaner than OHD’s Rick Yuan whose life is filled with failure (he failed to kill Bond in “Die Another Day”).

And as for which of the two – Channing Tatum v Gerard Butler – I’d hire to protect me? Give me Jack Bauer any day.

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The Bling Ring: All that glitters…


Bling ring

USUALLY WHEN A movie boasts that it’s “based on a true story”, you can expect second-rate fodder that’s seeking to endear itself to its viewers by means of this cheap, dubious, ‘true-story’ trick. In the case of “The Bling Ring”, the fact that it really is based on a true story, call it the “actual events”, is its raison d’etre.

It tells the –true- story of a quintet of teenagers who easily profile the whereabouts of a number of fashion-obsessed Hollywood celebs (like Paris Hilton), identify their addresses and, with almost embarrassing ease (Paris keeps her keys under the mat; others don’t even bother to lock doors, probably because there are too many of them to count) slip into their homes and treat themselves to the delights within.

Director Sophia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”, “The Virgin Suicides”, “Marie Antoinette”) gives us a loose story-line that begins when Marc (Israel Boussard), a closet homosexual and (self-confessed) self-loathing young man enters a new school. His anomie is eased when he strikes up a friendship with Rebecca (Katie Chung), a serial petty thief. One thing leads to another and soon, there are five of them that regularly start helping themselves to the jeweled baubles, accessories and clothes of the likes of Orlando Bloom.

Under the cover of dark, the homes they enter – vast, soul-less palaces – are a King Solomon’s Mines of wealth. Paris Hilton’s home (it was filmed in her real home) is an homage to herself, covered as it is with images of herself – on the walls, on the cushions etc. And yet, despite the fact that they returned to this scene of the crime several times, even boasting of it to sundry friends, she, apparently never even knew that she’d been burgled.

Coppola brings an almost anthropological accuracy to her observation of this milieu – of rich, bored, spoilt kids stealing from richer, more bored, more spoilt celebs. Her ear for the flat, semi-articulate diction of this fame obsessed, pampered Angelino tribe, is spot on, and brilliantly captured by Emma Watson as Nicki in this her post-Potter break-out role.

Emma

But, beyond that, there’s not much else.

The quasi-documentary structure of the movie generates the verisimilitude that the director no doubt sought after, but it becomes a trap. The movie was based on an article –  “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” by Jo Sales – in Vanity Fair, and too often feels like a video version of the article. The movie never quite reaches a level of narrative drama, which would probably have felt false, and stays at the level of offering us a series of beautifully observed vignettes (In an interview after the event, Vicki soulfully confesses that she sees the whole experience as a stage in her life, destined, maybe, like preparing her to be a leader, like of a country or something. This is the emptiness we get from a Miss World interview, so delightfully satirized by Sandra Bullock in “Miss Congeniality”). But after thirty or so minutes of this, “The Bling Ring” becomes repetitive and flabby.

Far from being a deep, nuanced perspective of a shallow culture, it remains a shallow snapshot of the culture it portrays.

And more’s the pity. For the ideas that could have emerged from this frightening story of the rich stealing from the rich; of a society immersed in its own vacuous, glittering reflection needed a better writer…someone who could have used her inside nous, which Coppola clearly has, to offer greater interpretive depth.

 

Othello: The Play’s The Thing


O and I

What greater joy than to spend a couple of hours immersed in a brilliantly produced “Othello”! The National’s new production of Shakespeare’s tragedy features two masterful performances from Adrian Lester as Othello and Rory Kinnear as Iago. Adrian Lester, OBE, is the lesser known of the two, appearing mainly in some sub-standard TV shows: the mildly interesting and forgettable heist series, “Hustle”, and more recently in the deservedly well-lauded play, “Red Velvet”, the story of a nineteenth century African-American actor, Ira Aldridge who took over the role of Othello after actor Edmund Kean collapsed on stage.

Rory Kinnear, exuding ferocity and power as Iago, is, on the other hand, probably the more familiar of the two. We know him as the mild-mannered bureaucrat, Tanner, in the new Daniel Craig, Bond movies.

These two electrify the stage in what is essentially Shakespeare’s mano a mano showdown. Othello is the noble, regal leader; a man who stands above the prejudice and passions of the society in which he lives. But he is also so trusting in the honor of his fellow-man, that he is blind to the villainy in others. And it is this blindness that Iago, himself blinded by hate and jealousy, takes advantage of.

In none of the other tragedies do we see such a transformation, as is transformed from a man of stately dignity Othello (“If virtue no delighted beauty lack…is far more fair than black”) to one tormented by doubt and consuming passions. He becomes the embodiment of the horned man – “a monster and a beast”

Lester’s Othello pulls at the audience’s sympathies, shifting them from admiration to horror and revulsion, as he staggers around knocking over tables and collapsing in an epileptic fit, and then to our sense of the deep sadness of the loss, “Speak of me as I am: nothing extenuate…Of one that loved not wisely, but too well.”

Kinnear’s Iago is seductively revulsive from the onset. Shakespeare cleverly pulls the rug from any of the closet racists in his audience when he ensures that the articulation of racism is centered in what is an unambiguously evil character. It’s as though he were saying, if you have any issues with the idea of a black man with a white women (“…the gross clasps of a lascivious Moor”; “…an old black ram/ Is tupping your white ewe”) then you are of Iago’s mind-set.

O and D

As we see the slow (well, slow in Shakespeare’s theatrical time frame, where months pass in the course of a monologue) change in Othello, Kinnear gives us the almost moment by moment transformations of his Iago. One moment he is seemingly thoughtfully concerned as he hesitantly, reluctantly insinuates his faux suspicions into Othello’s trusting ears; and another he is aggressively dismissive of his foppish foil, Roderigo.

The overt narrative of racism is the engine that sets the tale in motion. But racism – judging someone by how they look rather than who they are – is only the outward shell of the play’s deeper exploration of the bigger fault-lines of how we judge each other. Roderigo sees or wants to see in Iago someone who will pursue his interests in Desdimona; Othello sees Iago as an honest man; Barbantio sees Othello as a deceiver; we – the audience – see Othello as a man above the fog of passion; Desdimona cannot see the changes taking place in her husband; even Iago, who of them all can best read character, can only judge Othello thru his own lens of hatred.

Director Nicholas Hynter, who is the director of the National (and who gave us “The History Boys and “One Man, Two Guvnors”) brings his movie making chops (he also directed “The History Boys” for the cinema) to the staging of the play. He keeps the action fast and uses a strong, dark musical score to enhance the drama onstage.

But it is his staging with designer Vicki Mortimer that delivers an exciting immediacy. The play is set in the modern times (accomplished by some clever editing: Othello’s initial words of peace, “Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them” are omitted; various characters are shot rather than stabbed). The story begins outside a pub as Iago and Roderigo, escaping the din inside, share a cigarette and set the action in motion. The pub morphs into the apartment of Barbantio, which then, via a series of clever moving sets, morphs into an army base where the rest of the play takes place. The modern day staging – Othello and the others are in army fatigues – never seems gimmicky and delivers the rich relevance Hynter no doubt sought after.

Othello

Some staging of Shakespeare, often centering on The Big Name can drag. Ian McKellan’s “Lear” was great as a showcase for his individual talent, but seemed to last for days.

This “Othello” though (not only as a result of the brilliance of Hynter’s directing – always such as joy to see the pauses, the shifts in mood, the movements on stage that, duh, you don’t get as a reader – but also from the richness of the acting where even some of the minor roles stand out) is not unlike a recent staging of “Twelfth Night” with Mark Rylance as Olivia, in that they whip past in no time.

“…Ay, that’s the way./Dull not device by coldness and delay”

BEFORE MIDNIGHT: All rom, no com


before-midnight-ethan-hawke-julie-delpy-11

“BEFORE MIDNIGHT” IS the completion (I think) of Richard Linklater’s charming, romantic trilogy that began eighteen years ago with “Before Sunrise”. The trilogy features by far the best of Ethan Hawke (as Jesse, an author) and Julie Delpy (as Celine, the French woman he falls in love with). You don’t need to have seen the other two ‘chapters’ in the story (“Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset”), but it helps.

To recap: in “Before Sunrise”, the young Jesse is on a trip to Europe when he meets the lovely Celine on a train from Budapest to Vienna. After a brief, almost real-time, wordy courtship, these two strangers fall in love and agree to meet again.

Before-Sunrise-001Well, the next time they meet again is in France (he never turned up), nine years later in “Before Sunset”. By now Jesse is an unhappily married father, and author of a book that recounted their chance, encounter. It is at a book reading that Celine re-engages him – her past, her youth, her brief encounter with love – and, as they stroll through the magic streets of Paris (many of the conversations are filmed in long, uninterrupted one-take sequences), the old flame is rekindled. We leave them as they fall in love all over again to the music of Nina Simone’s “Just in Time”.

before-sunset_1

“Before Sunset” is probably the best romantic movie of all time. It feels genuine and honest… manages to balance a joyful sense of the happiness of love with the reality that for this love to exist, it must destroy something – his own marriage and his relationship with his five year old son back in the US. We gain a real sense of these two characters: Jesse is the boyish, somewhat innocent American abroad; she’s the more obsessive, neurotic European.

“Before Midnight” re-introduces us to Jesse and Celine, now another nine years later. The movie begins in Messinia in Greece, with Jesse, bidding a fond farewell to his now grown (he’s fourteen) son. In the car waiting for him, is Celine and their twin daughters. The movie explores the idea of romance between these two older individuals. He looks pretty much the same – still the goofy, open American. She’s more mature, less gamine as she was when we first met her, more ‘ripe’ and beautifully rounded. She’s also more guarded, more wary, crazier than she was nine years ago.

As with the first two movies, there are long, one-take conversations as the two characters stroll amidst the beautiful Greek surroundings, expressing their hopes, fears and, inevitably, the contretemps that drive the narrative. In one scene, their love-making is interrupted by a phone call and as the moment sours from seduction to stress, her naked breasts almost morph from objects of desire to the indifferent nudity of any older ‘married’ couple.

And this is what the movie seeks to explore: faced with an almost cultural inevitability of separation and divorce (though Jesse Celine are unmarried parents), the distractions and demands of time and the responsibilities of parenthood, how does the energy and magnetism of love endure? For Jesse and Celine, it is his acceptance of everything about her – the good and the neurotic – and his on-going desire for her. And for her? I’m not sure. She’s ruthlessly unkind about him as a lover, and her independence of spirit seems less self-liberating, more threatened by his concerns as a father.

Which is either Linklater’s subtle suggestion than in the end the entropic pull toward separation will prevail, or one of many instances of sloppy writing.

For though it’s a pleasure to be reunited with Jesse and Celine and once again experience the almost eavesdropping intimacy of these two engagingly believable characters, “Before Midnight” confronts an essential problem that it doesn’t quite overcome. Whereas the first two movies existed pretty much in the present tense, this one now has a lot of back-story that it seeks to fill out via confessions, argument and sudden revelations. And these strike a series of false notes. You’re constantly struck with the feeling that there are things any couple would know about each other that this couple seemingly doesn’t.

There’s also a falseness to the resolution at the end, a sudden acquiescence by Celine to Jesse’s love that feels abrupt and dishonest.

The movie also introduces us to several new players: he’s staying at a writer’s retreat where they’re in the company of three other couples, but their interaction and – unexpectedly intimate – conversations disturb the felt life of the narrative and seem artificially inserted purely for thematic reasons. But, hey, maybe that’s how artists talk.

So, in the end, there’s much to delight in, in this final fling with Jesse and Celine – none to the least being the obvious chemistry between Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and Richard Linklater that creates such a spark and such a sense of warm humanity. But sadly, it’s the weakest of the trilogy and a slightly disappointing note to end this marvelous series with.