Truth

November 3, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews, Uncategorized

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace
Directed by: James Vanderbilt (debut)
Written by: James Vanderbilt (“White House Down”)

In 2004, CBS aired a 60 Minutes report led by Dan Rather that investigated the military record of then president George W. Bush. When it was revealed that some of the facts may have not been entirely accurate, Rather and his producer Mary Mapes face a firestorm of criticism and are investigated journalistic political bias.

As an ensemble piece, performances are pretty solid across the board. As Mapes, Blanchett continues her streak of fiery performances with another dominant leading role. Since the film’s main focus is on Mapes, it gives Blanchett plenty of screentime to work with and create easily the most nuanced character in the film. Other supporting actors like Stacy Keach and perhaps most surprising, Topher Grace make fine contributions, with Keach especially adding a fantastic sense of vulnerability.

Any time you have a film that is based on “recent” history featuring people who are still in the consciousness of the general population, you run the risk of being thrown off by dissimilarities between the figure and the actor. Even though Robert Redford is solid as Rather, he strikes no physical resemblances to him, nor does he make an attempt to do a Rather impression, which can be distracting for those who are looking for that sort of thing.

The entire treatment of Rather, in fact, is a little odd. He’s essentially a background player, and mostly deified when he’s not on screen. It’s an interesting way to treat the character, especially considering his career was deeply affected by the investigation. It’s clear from the get-go that this is Mapes’ story, though one can’t help that Rather’s perspective may have been a more interesting one.

One of the main issues that plagues “Truth” is that it spends an enormous chunk of time in hero worship mode, almost as if it is trying to protect the legacy of Rather. While it isn’t doing that, it’s showing the investigation into Mapes, which somehow fails to strongly hammer the point that Mapes and her team (Rather included) are being investigated for allowing political bias to influence reporting, rather than just merely going to air too quickly.

“Truth” is at its best when it digs into the details, procedures and tough decisions that go into investigative TV journalism. The on-the-fly edits, the deal brokering, the mid-interview changes are all among the best moments of the film. Where the film falters, however, is keeping all of this interesting over the span of two hours. Losing much of its storytelling steam, “Truth” can’t quite make the grade, even with a very good Redford and Blanchett.

White House Down

June 28, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, James Woods
Directed by: Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day”)
Written by: James Vanderbilt (“The Amazing Spider-Man”)

From the get-go, “White House Down” has to overcome the fact that 2013 has already seen a movie with pretty much the exact same plot. Just three months ago, “Olympus Has Fallen” hit theaters with Gerard Butler as a disgraced Secret Service agent who find himself as the lone good guy inside the White House after it has been taken over by terrorists. As an R-rated macho cheese fest, “Olympus” was a stupid, fun ride with ham-sandwich performances from the likes of Morgan Freeman and Melissa Leo paired with the sheer glee of seeing Butler stab terrorist after terrorist in the brain.

“White House Down” ups the ante with a better lead actor in Channing Tatum and more of a buddy-cop vibe, teaming Tatum’s wannabe Secret Service agent with Jamie Foxx’s Obama-ish president for some executive branch ass-kicking. The thing is, we’ve seen it all before…and it was more fun the first time around.

Tatum stars as John Cale, a Capitol police officer with dreams of becoming a Secret Service agent. His current post involves escorting the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins) to and from his home, as well as keeping squirrels out of the Speaker’s bird feeder. Cashing in a favor, Cale scores a job interview with the Secret Service inside the White House. Looking for a chance to connect with his politically nerdy daughter Emily (Joey King), Cale brings her along. After bombing his interview with Agent Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Cale and Emily take a tour of the White House where a chance encounter with President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) leaves Emily starstruck. During this tour, however, a bomb destroys the dome at the Capitol Building, sending Washington and the nation into a panic. It’s just a diversion, however, as the real goal of the terrorists behind the attack is taking over the White House.

Directed by Roland Emmerich (the director behind “Independence Day,” a film that gets a groan-worthy name-check in this film), “White House Down” sputters out of the gate, taking too long setting up Tatum as a failed family man and cop instead of just getting straight to the explosions. Tatum regresses slightly into the bland beefcake he spent all of “Magic Mike” and “21 Jump Street” moving away from last year, while Foxx isn’t as miscast as the President of the United States as you might think (Garcelle Beauvais, who played Foxx’s love interest on the sitcom “The Jamie Foxx Show,” plays the First Lady here…a distraction to the maybe three people who will make that connection). Still, neither is given much to work with. Plot points hinge on played-out things like launch codes and genius hackers and not killing the good guys/bad guys when you have a chance early in the film’s running time. The PG-13 rating also keeps the action and violence relatively tame. There are flashes of fun, however, like a chase across the White House lawn in presidential limousines that features the president firing a rocket launcher. Those moments are all too rare, though – as rare as the opportunity to say, “You know, that Gerard Butler movie did it better.”

The Amazing Spider-Man

July 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans
Directed by: Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer”)
Written by: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves

With the first three Spider-Man movies raking in almost $2.5 billion worldwide at the box office from 2002 to 2007, there was no way Marvel Studios and Columbia Pictures were going to allow the franchise to fade away just because their lead actor and director didn’t want to return for a fourth go-’round. Instead, Marvel hit the reset button like they did with Ang Lee’s underappreciated “Hulk” and like DC Comics did for their inspired rebirth of Batman via the ingenious mind of director Christopher Nolan. What we’re left with is “The Amazing Spider-Man,” an unnecessary and extremely average reboot of the series that offers slight tweaks to the overall story but never commands the mythology as its own.

In the newest adaptation, Toby Maguire (“Spider-Man 1-3”) is replaced by Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”), a capable young actor cast well in the title role. He gives Spidey a bit more emotional depth based on a screenplay focused more on the mysterious disappearance and death of Peter Parker’s parents than the original 2002 film. Secret files and research related to cross-species genetics left behind by his father prompts Peter to investigate his work with fellow scientist Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Coincidentally, Peter’s love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) interns for Dr. Connors while her cop father (Denis Leary) and the NYPD want to bring the webslinger to justice.

At its core, the story is a rehash of what we already know about Peter and his transformation into the masked vigilante: laboratories, a spider bite, teen romance, masterful sewing skills, revenge on a schoolyard bully, schizoid CGI villain. To have to re-watch everything play out again doesn’t benefit anyone, especially if the purpose of a reboot to this franchise was to give audiences something fresh and exciting.

Marc Webb’s modern take on the rom-com with “500 Days of Summer” in 2009 was a much-needed change from the usual Kate Hudson schlock the genre delivers, so it was logical to think his take on the superhero movie could provide a similar resurgence. Unfortunately, Webb doesn’t stray from the original tone and does little to build on the familiar themes that make Spider-Man such an interesting character. Raimi’s versions were far from perfect themselves, but Webb’s own voice is quickly engulfed by the big-budget comic-book universe that came before him.