White House Down – A Review

Go into a dark room. Put on some soothing music, whether it is something New Age or Gregorian monks chanting. Close your eyes and relax your body. Repeat your mantra and feel your worries and troubles melt away. Go deeper and completely clear your mind of everything. You may have just reached a true state of Nirvana.

You are also now ready to watch White House Down, a movie that requires your mind to be a complete blank slate for you to truly enjoy. Because if you have not emptied your head of logic and reasonable thought, you’re just not going to be able to enjoy this movie. You will be far too bogged down by the preposterousness of the plot, the terrible dialogue and the overall ridiculousness of what you are witnessing.  White House Down is a really dumbed down version of Die Hard.

White House Down is the second movie this year that features the White House in peril (Olympus Has Fallen is the other) and is brought to you by Roland Emmerich, the guy who destroyed the White House over a decade ago in Independence Day. You get the sense while watching White House Down that Emmerich really is simply doing a second draft of the obliteration of the Oval Office and correcting whatever he felt he didn’t do right in Independence Day using the more advanced CGI technology that is now available.

The plot of White House Down is both straight forward and confusing – Channing Tatum stars as a Capitol policeman who is at the White House interviewing for a Secret Service job, a job he covets in order to impress his estranged 11 year old daughter who is obsessed with the White House and the president. While he and his daughter are on a White House tour, America’s most famous house is taken hostage. In his search for his daughter, Tatum comes across President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), who’s security detail has been killed. Tatum must now protect the president while also trying to find his missing child. Millions of dollars in property damage follows. Maggie Gyllenhaal runs around looking pensive; Jason Clarke sneers. Even after sitting through the movie, I couldn’t give you a coherent motive as to why the White House was taken; that’s not to say that they don’t offer up some explanation – it just simply is so muddles and complicated that it really made no sense.

I’ll give credit where credit is due – there are some cool looking action sequences and explosions in the film. Tatum is a more than serviceable action star, though I think that route would be a waste of his abilities. I’d much prefer to see him in serious dramas and comedies; if you read my review of 21 Jump Street you may remember that I am new to the Channing Tatum appreciation society, but he has impressed me with his last few movies. He is one of the few things that make White House Down really watchable, but he is capable of more than this movie (and don’t even get me started on how Jason Clarke is wasted). But he does make for a convincing invincible guy with a guy.

I’m not the world’s biggest Jamie Foxx fan – confidence and swagger can be good qualities to have, but I feel like he has just a bit too much of it and that some of it is undeserved. I won’t begrudge him that he was great in Ray, but giving him an Oscar has only heightened his annoyance factor to me. I actually didn’t mind him too much in White House Down; he did his best Obama (right down to the Nicorette gum) and played a pretty subdued president who mostly spouts out idealism and needs to be saved. He gets a few moments to be a tough guy, but mostly he is a guy in need of rescue. That part is at least a little bit realistic – I don’t know that any of our presidents would feel particularly comfortable suddenly picking up a rocket launcher (well – maybe Teddy Roosevelt; he was kind of a bad ass).

The dialogue in this movie is pretty tough to overcome; almost everything said is more exposition than conversation. People give a lot of unnecessary background information in a way that doesn’t feel at all organic. Upon meeting Tatum, President Sawyer immediately divulges a lot of info as to what he thinks in going on before he even find out who Tatum is or his name. The irony is where this kind of explanation is most needed are the scenes where it doesn’t occur; the movie is at its vaguest in the moments that require the most clarity and detail. The film also tries far too hard to be clever; one-liners are unfortunately a common component of action films these days, but White House Down tries to force them down your throat. Having the President of the United State say, as he is being attacked, “Keep your hands off my Air Jordans” is so ridiculous that it makes my head hurt. Almost every word feels calculated, either to force a laugh or explain what is happening and fill in the plot holes. White House Down does not subscribe to the old maxim “show, don’t tell” unless it applies to the wonton annihilation of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Then it is all in.

I understand that action films are full of plot holes and that some level of suspended reality is just a part of the genre. The problem with White House Down is that these qualities completely overpower the movie. Unless you shut your brain off, you will be far too distracted by the questions that the movie raises rather than the action on screen. How is there cell service during a terrorist attack? Why are civilians allowed to surround the White House while its occupants are being held hostage? How does the President seemingly have no staff? How are there endless weapons and ammunition scattered throughout the White House? How are the elevators in the White House still running after an attack? If you start pondering any of these issues, you are down the rationality rabbit hole and putting a level of scrutiny on this movie that it cannot withstand. I found that it was only when I simply gave up and just accepted whatever they told me that I enjoyed this film a lot more. I had to beat any inkling of “wait – this makes no sense” out of my brain. In short, once I gave myself over completely to White House Down, I had a much more enjoyable experience.

Some other thoughts:

  • I have been on the White House tour and I can assure you, you aren’t allowed to just wander off at any point. If you have to go to the bathroom, you best take care of business before the tour starts.
  • I couldn’t figure out where I recognized the actress that plays Tatum’s daughter from until I took a peek at IMDB. Among other things, she was the voice of China Doll in Oz the Great and Powerful.
  • For those of you that are interested in such things – it takes about an hour for Channing Tatum to strip down to his white tank top and approximately another hour for him to have a fight scene while sprinklers rain water down on him. You’re welcome.
  • Tatum’s Secret Service job interview amounted to “I knew you in college before you dropped out and your marriage failed. Therefore you don’t see things through and are unreliable. Good day.” I’m fairly certain that violated some sort of Federal law, but whatever.
  • While watching White House Down, I was reminded of my favorite quote from Wayne’s World (a movie I saw so many times I could once recite basically from memory):  “Aren’t we lucky we were there to get that information? It seemed extraneous at the time.” There is no extraneous info in this movie; if it seems like a useless tidbit, it isn’t.
  • The actor who plays the computer hacker (Jimmi Simpson) is familiar to me from his appearances on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as one of the McPoyle’s, but he also reminded me of Alexander Skarsgard in a recent episode of True Blood:

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  • To his credit, Simpson is the only person in White House Down that realizes a little camp in his performance is a good thing.
  • If nothing else, White House Down gives the American public a little refresher course on the presidential line of succession and the 25th Amendment.
  • Based on the reaction of my fellow theater goers to the trailer for Machete Kills, they are unaware that it is the sequel to Machete, which itself was the expansion of a fake trailer from Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse. The consensus I heard was “what the f*$k was that?” Amateurs.
  • Funniest thing overheard at the theater – after a trailer for the new Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Wolf of Wall Street someone behind me uttered “that is a total white guy movie.” Curious as to who said it, I turned around to see – a bunch of white guys. So I’m not really sure what that comment was supposed to mean. It reminded me of this Lewis Black joke.
  • If seeing a gun repeatedly put to a child’s head is upsetting to you, you might want to skip this film. Kids are in peril fairly frequently.
  • There is absolutely no way that this movie should be as long as it is; it has no business have a run time of over two hours.
  • Fallon is on vacation this week, giving me the opportunity to check in on what Kimmel is up to. This proposed sequel to White House Down is pretty funny:

Tatum is a good sport. Long live Waffle House!

White House Down is a ridiculous movie; there are a few semi-interesting action sequences but there are few too many distracting plot holes and coincidences within the story that prevent this film from being very good. Tatum does his best action hero impersonation and is fun to watch, but unless you can turn off your brain’s logical thought process for two hours you will find yourself focusing on the many problems with the film rather than the events unfolding on screen. White House Down isn’t completely dreadful, but it is mindless entertainment at its core. In the words of the musical group En Vogue, when it comes to White House Down “free your mind and the rest will follow.”

White House Down opens nationwide today.

Sneak Peek – Drunk History

I went to college. I was in a sorority and hung out with fraternity brothers and athletes. I’ve been to over 35 weddings. I’ve tailgated before professional sporting events. I spend 6 hours some Sundays at a bar watching football. I’ve helped many people celebrate their 21st birthday. I’ve gone out on New Year’s Eve. I’ve gone wine tasting in Napa Valley.

In other words, I have spent some time around intoxicated folks.

Now hanging out with people that are drunk when you are also drinking and/or intoxicated is usually pretty fun; sure there might be some misunderstandings and drama, hijinks may ensue and none of you may have a clear understanding of what actually happened the night before, but at least you are all on the same page. Hanging out with sloshed people when you are stone cold sober is a horse of a different color. News flash – drunk people can be really, really annoying, especially when you can’t participate in the festivities for pesky reasons like you’re pregnant, on antibiotics or have other grown up responsibilities. They talk too much and don’t make a ton of sense, get overly emotional (that would be me), act inappropriately and just generally can be difficult and irrational.

But if you know how to handle it right and channel their tendencies, drunk people can be endlessly entertaining. The comedy for the most part is unintentional on their part, but with the right attitude and seizing the right opportunities being the sober person in a sea of booze hounds can be awesome.

The people behind the new Comedy Central show Drunk History obviously know this. Based on a web series that appeared on the site Funny or Die, the program has a simple yet brilliant premise – ask drunk people to tell you about an important historical figures or events and then do recreations based on their versions of history with famous comedians. For example, one narrator may slam six vodka cranberries and then explain Ben Franklin’s kite experiment while Jack Black (in the role of Franklin) reenacts the rambling and usually inaccurate explanation of what occurs. The results are absolutely hilarious; while watching the web episodes and the episode of the new series, I was laughing a lot. It was all so ridiculous and yet so familiar; if you have ever listened to a friend who has one too many try and tell you a story, you know how amusing an unreliable narrator can be. This is that times a thousand.

The web series episodes are approximately five minutes long and they wisely decided to keep the short length for the new Comedy Central series. The short length helps keep the viewers’ attention – a rambling storyteller is only funny for so long before it becomes more annoying than amusing – and is probably a necessity given the premise of the show, as people who are trashed are not necessarily known for their attention span. The clock is also ticking on how long a person under the influence can semi-coherently ramble before they pass out or just people too much of a mess. You don’t want to cross over from funny to pitiful. The new episodes of Drunk History therefore “explain” three historical moments per episode; in the episode that I previewed, they covered the Lincoln assassination (John Wilkes Booth was played by Adam Scott), Watergate (Nixon was portrayed by Bob Odenkirk) and Elvis meeting Nixon (Jack Black as Elvis, with my dear pal Dave Grohl in a bit part). Every bit was tremendously comical and I found myself second guessing myself as to the historical accuracy of some of the tales. Some parts of their recounting are obviously wrong, but other parts made me think “wait, what DID happen?” When watching the web series, I was embarrassed that the always funny (and highly intoxicated) Jen Kirkman knew more about Oney Judge than I did; I actually didn’t know anything about Judge, which is a condemnation of my history teachers (or I just wasn’t paying attention – that is known to happen).

The historically questionable narrators are great, but the way that the actors reenact the drunk versions of history are what really make the show. The actors all mouth the dialogue that the tanked narrator provides, no matter how ridiculous and the actors’ commitment to playing it straight adds an additional layer of lunacy to the proceedings. They got some really outstanding people for the web series – John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, Michael Cera, Danny McBride, Will Ferrell, Jim Carrey, Ryan Gosling (!) – and I look forward to see who they line up for the Comedy Central show. Kristin Wiig is to appear as Patty Hearst in an upcoming episode, which I am looking forward to.

I’m not actually 100% sure that these people are necessarily drunk; if you told me that this was all an elaborate ruse, I wouldn’t be surprised. But it wouldn’t really matter – they all play a drunk very convincingly and the result is so funny that it doesn’t matter to me if these tales are in fact the organic ramblings of a drunken mind or a performance piece that was prewritten. If it is all fake, I give credit for their commitment – in the web series, one narrator gets spectacularly sick. If he’s faking or just made himself do that without being intoxicated, that’s impressive.

I highly recommend checking out Drunk History – the web series episodes are all available on YouTube and Funny or Die and Comedy Central has made an episode of their new series available on-line. I don’t know if I will eventually get tired of the premise – probably unlikely as I am a fan of history and alcohol – but last night was the hardest that I have laughed at a new series in a long time. It’s suck a clever idea that I am really bummed out that I didn’t think of it.

Cheers to the people behind Drunk History – learning about the past has never been quite so enjoyable!

Drunk History debuts on Comedy Central on Tuesday July 9th at 10 pm (ET). Set your DVRs!

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Epic Roundup edition

So it appears I went a little overboard this week with the links; I was freaking out that I was behind schedule on this post and just started plugging away in compiling links. Next thing you know, the document was nine pages long. I guess I just kind of lost track of what I was doing. So while you wade through all the pop culture goodness I’ve cultivated for you over the last two weeks, I’m going to consider taking a nap after a job well done.

  • Chris Brown is facing possible jail time after an alleged hit and run incident. That’s kind of like getting Al Capone on tax evasion.
  • Don Draper’s childhood home is a real place (and for sale), though it was heavily CGIed for Mad Men. Michael Jackson’s Thriller video and scenes from Chinatown were filmed in the same neighborhood.
  • Get off the ledge – Robert Downey, Jr. is confirmed for Avengers 2 and Avengers 3.
  • Breaking Bad is the latest TV show to get its own beer. Anyone in Albuquerque want to send me some?
  • Um….am I the only one that finds it odd that they are using an Eminem song in the trailer for Despicable Me 2?

 

  • Starz has officially announced a new series Outlander, based on the books by Diana Gabaldon. Not sure it is for me, but sounds interesting.
  • No shocker here – Dan Harmon finally watched the 4th season of Community and he wasn’t a fan.
  • Flavor Flav’s last chicken and ribs restaurant has closed. Fun fact – Flavor Flav is inexplicably one of my Twitter followers (Word up, Flavor FLAV!).
  • Stephen Colbert’s mother passed away last week. If you haven’t seen his touching tribute to her, it is a must watch. I bawled through the whole thing.

 

  • The national nightmare is over – Twinkies, Ho Hos and the rest of the Hostess cake family will return to shelves July 15. I’m guessing the people who dropped a ton of cash to stock up are feeling kind of foolish right now.
  • Someone (brave) got an Arrested Development inspired license plate:

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  • The Faceblock App from the new episodes of Arrested Development can now be downloaded.
  • Shark Week is coming in August – and if this promo is an indication, it’s going to be particularly twisted. RIP Snuffy.

 

  • CNN breaks down the accuracy of the recent Lifetime movie on Jodi Arias (which yes, I watched). Good job CNN – no worldwide crises you should be covering.
  • Nick Swisher and his actress wife Joanna Garcia have released the first picture of their baby daughter and she is just precious:

 

Welcome to the world, Emerson Jay!

Welcome to the world, Emerson Jay!

 

  • Finally! One of Taylor Swift’s (alleged) exes has (allegedly) written a song about her. Oh John Mayer – I knew you were the one that was douchey enough to do this and I love you for it.
  • Jon Stewart was on the Egyptian version of The Daily Show. It switches over to English about 2.5 minutes into the interview

 

I’m still reeling from the death of James Gandolfini and am touched with the various ways he has been honored:

  • The New York Yankees took a moment to observe his passing:

GTY 170957623 S BBA BBN BBO SPO USA NY

 

  • Holsten’s Ice Cream, the locale for the final scene of The Sopranos, saved a table in his honor:

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  • Sesame Street posted a clip of his 2002 appearance:

 

  • Gary David Goldberg, creator of Family Ties and Spin City, passed away. Michael J. Fox remembers him.
  • I’m regretting that I didn’t go to the Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival – it happened only a hop, skip and a jump away in North Adams, MA. I’m especially bummed I missed Wilco’s all cover set, but now I can listen to it online in its entirety.

 

  • Happy 50th birthday to Georgios Kyriacos Panagiòtou (George Michael to the uninitiated).  In honor of half a century, here’s one of my favorite songs:

 

  • A new poster has been released for the final season of Breaking Bad (did anyone else internally yell out Fame? Just me? Moving on….)

breaking bad poster

 

  • Men’s Wearhouse has fired their founder (and star of their commercials). I’m guessing they didn’t like the way he looks.
  • The Village Voice has an interview with my favorite member of The Roots, Questlove.
  • A Street Fighter parody – with cats. My Pumpkin would dominate in this.

 

  • Among the new Houseguest on this season of Big BrotherRachel’s sister (if you watched the show, you know what this means).
  • Late Night with Jimmy Fallon was really exceptional last week – great guests and fun bits – but this Super Mario Brother’s rap is really fantastic:

 

  • Speaking of…this photo makes me deliriously happy:

Rob Stringer Honored As UJA-Federation Music Visionary Of 2013

 

  • The first episode of the Stephen King miniseries Under the Dome did very well for CBS. The rich get richer.
  • An infographic of Leonardo DiCaprio movies.

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  • The first trailer for the upcoming Lego movie has been released:

 

  • This screencap pretty much sums up the 90s:

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  • Parks and Recreation will kick off its sixth season with an hour long episode that takes place outside Pawnee.
  • Disney has (thankfully) decided to change the name of the upcoming Muppets sequel from The Muppets…..Again! to Muppets Most Wanted.

 

  • Ridley Scott. Cormac McCarthy. Brad Pitt. Michael Fassbender. Penelope Cruz. Javier Bardem. Cameron Diaz. All associated with one movie – The Counselor

 

  • The actor in this character might look familiar – he was the awful Oliver on The O.C.

 

  • OK – I PROMISE this is the last Kanye-related thing this week. He made a terrible short film to promote his new album Yeezus that features fellow Kardashian baby daddy Scott Disick and Kim BFF Jonathan Cheban. They are not great actors, but this is kind of hilarious since Disick has always given off an American Psycho vibe. Glad to see he owns his sociopathic-ness.

 

  • This isn’t really pop culture related, but it’s far too crazy not to share (and it happened a few towns over from me).

As always, we end with the mashups and supercuts

  • Here’s montage of famous movie actresses, edited to make their heads explode

 

  • Wonder what it would be like if John Lennon auditioned for The Voice? Wonder no longer

 

  • I’m still not tired of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky;” listen to it performed by President Obama:

 

  •  A supercut of all of Troy McClure’s credits on The Simpsons

 

  • Jon Snow gets an 80’s style training montage, as it should be:

 

  • This supercut seems to indicate that David Letterman is kind of obsessed with drums:

 

  • A supercut of zombie headshots

 

  • And finally – Hannibal’s open credits get an Arrested Development make-over:

 

Have a great week!