White House Down (2013)

It’s like waiting for a bus, right? You wait all year for a siege movie based in the White House and two come along at once… Albeit a few months apart… So, maybe not that similar to waiting for a bus…

Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen, starring Gerard Butler (the poor man’s Russell Crowe) met with the critical equivalent of a shrug. It seems the world just wasn’t ready for another propaganda film about the evils of North Korea.

So, with that in mind, what does White House Down have to offer? The story follows Channing Tatum, a US capital police officer, who takes his daughter with him to the White House for a job interview with Maggie Gyllenhaal’s secret service agent. When Capitol Hill is bombed, right-wing terrorists use the confusion to storm the White House and kidnap James Sawyer, the President of the United States of America. It’s up to Tatum’s abnormally thick neck and muscles to save the day.

If you liked Die Hard, Die Hard 2 and Die Hard with a Vengeance, then you are going to love White House Down. Really. Director Roland Emmerich and screenwriter, James Vanderbelt, must have had a late night marathon of Bruce Willis classics before they put their nose to the grindstone. Tatum berates himself constantly for getting involved, the terrorists aren’t all they seem, Foxx and Tatum bicker whilst driving at high-speed, and there is plenty of crawling through viaducts.

Not that being derivative in this case is a bad thing. White House Down is just big dumb fun and it knows it. If Foxx had ridden a T-rex though the corridors of power whilst clutching a laser gun, we would have accepted it and asked for seconds. Subtlety is not on the agenda. Nearly everything that will come into play in Act 3 is signposted with a neon Chekov’s gun. Like Q’s inventions in the Bond movies, if it’s not necessary to the plot, you don’t need to know.

Some of the dialogue crunches a little too loudly (‘You gotta get out there and be the President again.’), the patriotic allegories are a little too on the nose and a line uttered just as the credits roll will make you wince. However, it can all be forgiven by virtue of the fact, it sidesteps the grit that weighs down your usual modern-day blockbuster.

Finally, kudos for making the terrorists a little bit closer to home and, weirdly, throwing a couple of digs at that last Bastille of truth, Fox News. ‘Apparently we’re Arabs.’ Beams the terrorist team leader, when a news channel makes a leap of faith as to the ethnicity of the White House raiders. Whilst these little actions don’t make the film any more grounded, it is somewhat believable to think that a White House Aide would lament the crashing of the stock market to her superior as all around her burns.

We can’t be too mad at films that want you to have fun and whilst White House Down isn’t a shining beacon in filmmaking, it’s nonetheless an inoffensive way to spend a couple of hours at the cinema.

The Heat (2013)

A recent article in The New Statesman looked at the idea of the ‘strong woman’ in the media. A woman, the author Sophia McDougall argued, is just as flawed as a man. There are a million, needle sized pieces that make up the complete picture of womanhood. Just having a ‘strong woman’ in your cast is not enough. Yes, have a strong woman in your line up, but don’t let the Black Widow be the ONLY example of womanhood. What about women who ‘sometimes put up with other’s shit because in real life there’s often no practical alternative’? Could The Heat be the film that answers that call?

Directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) and written by Katie Dippold (Parks and Recreation), The Heat is an action comedy starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. Bullock is Sarah, a bookish, straight edge FBI agent who is ridiculously successful in her job but not so in her social life. McCarthy is Shannon, a hard as nails, Boston detective with very little time or patience for anything outside of her job and her jailbird brother. Both are held at arm’s length by their male counterparts, less because of their sex but because of their grating personalities.

Like Nicholas Angel in Hot Fuzz – a film which we were reminded of a lot during The Heat – Sarah’s brilliant detective skills, the arrogance that comes with them and her stringent following of ‘the book’ have made her blind to the fact that she is not liked in her department. Meanwhile, Shannon has made such a name for herself as a Dirty Harry-esque, shit-kicker that her department fear her more than respect her. We’re not fully entering the arena of the nuanced, but like Bridesmaids we’re not just dealing with women standing on the sidelines collectively rolling their eyes at the antics of Seth Rogan and his cult of man-child. Neither are we dealing with the Katherine Heigl school of ‘I just want a man to wuv me’. In fact, it’s to The Heat’s credit that any romance in the film is confined to about 5% of the story.

Like most mis-matched partner capers (48 Hours, the aforementioned Hot Fuzz, Another 48 Hours, Turner and Hooch, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), The Heat brings our two protagonists together to uphold a common good. In this case, bringing down a drug cartel. Sarah wants to approach the situation with almost Sherlock Holmes precision, whilst Shannon is happiest threatening to blow off people’s balls. If you’ve seen any comedy action films, you’ll be in familiar territory. Dippold’s script is more content with making you laugh than it is breaking any moulds. And on that front, it certainly delivers. Even if it does often stray too far down the path of ‘Imma gonna adlib here for about 15 minutes and it is going to be funny. Oooo, he he. I said a swear.’

McCarthy can play these kind of characters in her sleep, and it’s great to see her toy with a script that at least has a dab more intelligence than the shit bath that was Identity Thief. Bullock, meanwhile, has never been the strongest comic actor but is a perfect foil to McCarthy’s brand of potty mouth humour.

Does it answer McDougall’s prayers? Maybe not. But then we’re not sure the film even has an agenda. And whilst The Heat may not be the strongest contender for comedy of the year, in a year that gave us the spirit crushing Hangover Part III, we’re happy to see that there are people at least trying to be heard over the farting and belching of Frat Pack comedy.

Sherlock Holmes (The Ayslum Edition) (2010)

The Asylum are clever little buggers. Their ability to snap up screenplays of concepts similar to the next big blockbuster is almost the closest thing to being an evil genius as you can get.

That said, since their inception, I have spent most of my time trying to avoid them. It’s nothing with them per se, it’s just there’s only so many ‘Sharkzilla vs Prawn-Tiger vs Penguin-Kafka vs Animal-Monster’ movies starring whatever 80s star has recently become as relevant as pop tarts, that I can take.

However, as I’ve been in the throes of a Sherlock Holmes binge for the last two months, I thought it was about time that I got in on their interpretation of ‘Sherlock Holmes’; a film starring no one of any particular fame, except that bloke from Torchwood who has managed to prove that fan campaigns like ‘Save Ianto Jones’ really don’t work.

Sherlock Holmes takes the original stories, puts them in a blender, throws in a couple of things that people like (dinosaurs are cool, right?), puts them on liquidize for ten minutes and serves up to the public. It shouldn’t work. It really shouldn’t. They take massive liberties with Sherlock canon; Holmes suffers from an addiction to tabacco as opposed to his opium/cocaine binges and we discover his name is actually Paul.

Plus, the film makers have made no effort to disguise the fact that London is in fact Caenarfon in Wales. Well, unless I missed something and Baker street has always been next to a castle and Hyde Park has always been a forest near some mountains. I have been known to be wrong before.

Yet, that’s the film’s greatest asset is that despite all this, it is a genuinely good romp. The sort of affair one might watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon, with a box of Quality Street and a big mug of tea. If Doctor Who ever collapses under the weight of its own budget and internal politics, then it’s films like these that should be shown at Christmas.

Yes, it can be argued that this film is an insult to Conan Doyle’s original creation, but old Arthur was a spiritualist who believed that his friend Houdini had real magic powers, so who’s the bigger dick? Besides, is Sherlock Holmes piloting a hot air balloon chasing Spring Heeled Jack on a giant metal dragon any more offensive to Holmes canon than this…

Probably not… Good bye!