White House Down

Posted on June 27, 2013 at 6:00 pm

white-house-down-posterWhen the White House gets attacked, who better than SMA (Sexiest Man Alive) Channing Tatum and Django Unchained Jamie Foxx to save the day? And who better to blow stuff up than Roland Emmerich, who has his characters cheekily observe right at the beginning that the White House was already exploded by the aliens in his film “Independence Day?”

Like “Olympus Has Fallen” just months ago, this is essentially “Die Hard” in the White House, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  “Olympus” was R-rated, had Gerard Butler as a discredited member of the Secret Service who is the only one who can save the day, and Aaron Eckert as the President.  “White House Down” is PG-13, has Tatum as Cale, just turned down for a Secret Service job (in a process that is completely imaginary) and on a White House tour with his daughter (even more hilariously imaginary).  Let’s just stipulate that if you want to be in the Secret Service it takes more than a ten minute job interview even with Maggie Gyllenhaal giving you the third degree.  And, in case anyone is not clear on this, let me say that White House tours are not conducted by low-key history lovers, they do not go anywhere near the residence or the West Wing, the President doesn’t stop by to chat with the tourists, and you can be sure that if someone needs to use the bathroom, they never, ever, ever tell them to just run on along downstairs and meet up with the group afterward.

But what the heck, we just want to get to the bang bang, so as Cale’s daughter, Emily (Joey King) goes off to the bathroom, after intercepting the President (Foxx) for an impromptu interview for her YouTube channel, the bad guys attack.  And the equivalent of Hans Gruber (I don’t want to deprive you of the ten seconds it will take to figure out who it is) has everything planned perfectly and the goons and techies to carry it all out — except they did not know they’d have to deal with SMA Tatum, who has to save the President, democracy, and his daughter and (spoiler alert) is up to the task.

Yes, this is “Die Hard in the White House,” again, but Tatum has that rare Bruce Willis combination of self-deprecating charm and physical confidence to make this a popcorn pleasure. And the wild leaps of imagination are not as funny or gripping as the too-true elements like the jurisdictional squabbling in the face of attack. I don’t think we will ever unselfconsciously enjoy the massive destruction of iconic symbols of our democracy (I even winced hard seeing it in the pre-9/11 “Independence Day” and skip that part when it’s on TV). I don’t think we should. But Tatum and Foxx and Emmerich remind us that what the symbols stand for: courage, integrity, optimism to the point of irrationality, and, of course, summer popcorn movies.

Parents should know that this film has constant peril and violence, with many characters injured and killed, chases, explosions, guns, missiles, grenades, crashes, massive destruction of historic landmarks, and assassinations. Characters use strong language (s-words, one f-word) and there is a mild sexual reference.

Family discussion: Can we enjoy the fictional destruction of iconic landmarks in an era of terrorism? There are several different kinds of bad guys in this movie — which is the worst and why? Which surprised you the most?

If you like this, try: “Die Hard,” “Under Siege,” and “Air Force One”

It’s niftily done, a satisfying popcorn pleasure, largely due to Tatum and Foxx, who, like Bruce Willis, have just the charm and physicality to carry off the action sequences and the banter.

 

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Interview: “American Idol’s” Brooke White on Hallmark Channel’s “Banner 4th of July”

Posted on June 27, 2013 at 5:00 pm

American Idol star Brooke White talked to me about her role in “Banner 4th of July,” premiering on the Hallmark Channel this Saturday at 9/8c.  White plays Desiree Banner, who once was in a successful band called The Banner Project with her brothers Mitchell (Christian Campbell) and Johnny (Michael Barbuto).  She left the group, and had not seen them for ten years when she comes home to help care for her Rosalind (Mercedes Ruehl), who has had a heart attack.  Shortly after Desiree arrives in her hometown of Pinewood Hills, she learns that the town will face bankruptcy if it can’t make a bond repayment by the July 4th Holiday. As the Fourth of July approaches, it is up to Desiree and her siblings to put into action a plan that will save Pinewood Hills. If you think that will involve a performance by The Banner Project, you have the right idea.Banner4thOfJuly_0003G_1860

I talked to Ms. White about the movie and what Mercedes Ruehl has taught her about acting.  “I’m the rookie of the bunch. This is basically my second and both were lead character roles and I was fortunate to work with patient and kind and talented people who really helped me and were so generous with me.  They were really encouraging and made the whole experience really fun.

I would ask her things and she was just so kind and so open in sharing with me.  Vocal exercises, more even than acting.  Making sure that I enunciate things.  If you don’t enunciate things, then you have to record it again later.  When it comes to emotional scenes, getting to a place of crying.  That makes me nervous.  I’m a really emotional gal and my emotions are really close to the surface.  But when you have to do it — on demand — and movies are not shot in chronological order — you could have just done a funny scene and now you’re having a big fight with your brother and mourning the last ten years of your life — and the camera is on you — that is difficult.  She really helped me by being honest about how difficult it is.  And I have a really loud voice naturally, due to the anatomy of my vocal chords.  I have to really push to get the sound.  Long story long, this is sometimes a struggle when you’re making a movie because a little goes a long way on screen.  I had to find a tone that was not too loud or forceful.  The director was really helpful as well. She has such a high level of energy, you want to come back at her with the same level of energy.  She really elevated my performance and helped me to be more creative, to have fun with it, be free with it, try different things.  It’s helpful to have more experienced actors tell you — yes, this is fine, you can do this.”

Banner4thOfJuly_0001G_KeyArtShe wrote songs for the movie, which are now available on iTunes, including  “XYZ,” “Sun Up, Sun Down,” and “Fly Fly Fly.” One is the hit the band had when they were all still together, ten years ago.  It’s got a country, Americana feel.  I was really inspired.  I rarely sit down to write a song about a specific subject.  I let the song-writing process dictate itself.  It was a positive experience, so I’m going to start songwriting with more intentional ideas and concepts.  The other song is for a poignant moment in the movie, called “Fly Fly Fly.”  It was by far the most rewarding thing for me, to see the songs come to life in the story.  We had this whole audience of people singing along, the pinnacle of the movie, a really awesome thing for me.”

She said she is inspired by real life.  “I can’t say that every song is about me or comes from my life, but if it isn’t about it it comes from someone close to me.  Songs revolve around relationships, humanity and people and their imperfections.  There are conflicts but I like to have some kind of redemption or hope, or life.  You can’t experience joy without sorrow and music is one way to play with that notion of opposition and how it plays into our life.  And mu daughter, who is one, she really inspires me.  The whole time I was pregnant I was recording and on the road.  So I always had a guitar up against my belly and this kid came out with so much natural musicality!  She loves music.”

And she is very proud of the themes of the film.  “The music brings everyone back together and heals everyone and it’s a Hallmark movie so of course there is a little bit of romance happening, but overall it’s about the family mending their fences and coming back together.”

 

 

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Family Issues Music Musical Television

Classic Movie Bloggers Salute Great Movie Duos in July

Posted on June 27, 2013 at 8:00 am

fredandgingercloseup2c_colorI’m looking forward to participating in this classic movie blogathon about movie duos — romantic, adversarial, comic, and otherwise. My post will be up July 14, and I’ll also link to some of the best of the others.

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Interview: Greg ‘Freddy’ Camalier, Director of the Music Documentary “Muscle Shoals”

Posted on June 26, 2013 at 5:29 pm

I sat down to watch an early screener of “Muscle Shoals,” the new documentary about a tiny Alabama town and the two music studios that produced some of the biggest records of all time.  Ten minutes later, I stopped it to go get my husband.  “You’re going to want to see this,” I told him, and we watched it together, exclaiming over and over, as Aretha Franklin, Mac Davis, Tom Jones, Paul Anka, the Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, and Alicia Keyes came on screen, “and that song, too?”

I spoke to first-time director Greg ‘Freddy’ Camalier about the movie.  His plan was to direct a feature film, but “this one picked me.”  He fell in love with the story and the people.  It was a daunting task to shape decades of material into a linear narrative, and he assured me there will be much more of what was left over on the DVD.  The heart of the story is Rick Hall, a man whose life reads like a country song, or several country songs, with a series of devastating losses.  “It affected him on a molecular level,” Camalier told me, and was certainly a source of the gut-wrenching emotion he brought to the music he produced and engineered.  Even in comparison to the small town of Muscle Shoals, Evans grew up in isolation.  His mother left when he was young and his father moved where the jobs were.  He never saw an African-American until he was in his teens.  His only exposure to music was at local gatherings.  But he had an extraordinary ear and a passion for music.  As the movie shows, he invited a performer named Arthur Alexander to record in his new studio the first time he heard him and it became a nationwide hit that was later covered by the Rolling Stones.  Another of his songs was covered by the Beatles.

Camalier was a musician himself.  He smiled as he said he could recall exactly how Lynyrd Skynyrd’s cardboard album cover smelled — and how he memorized every line of the lyrics.  But he cannot explain the mysteries of Muscle Shoals: first, the apparently endless local musical talent and second the freedom from racial strife at the studios, even in the midst of the Civil Rights era, where the Alabama governor was insisting on “Segregation forever!”

I asked him how, after Hall’s first group of studio musicians, The Swampers, left to start their own studio, he was able to almost immediately replace them with an entirely new rhythm section of equally talented players.  He shook his head.  “I don’t know,” he said. “Music is a way of life there.”  And no matter what struggles were going on outside the studio, the inside was a space where only the music mattered.  He laughed as we recalled the exception noted in the film — the mixing of the races in the studio did not attract nearly the negative comments that “long-haired hippies” did — when Duane Allman joined in.

“Why didn’t they leave?” I asked.  “I am sure they could have had more opportunities and made more money in Los Angeles, New York, or Memphis.  “It is their home,” he said.  “They like it there.  Their families are there.  And the world came to them.”

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Directors Interview

Quiz: White House Movies

Posted on June 26, 2013 at 3:59 pm

The third movie of the year featuring an attack on the White House opens this week.  How many of these films featuring 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue do you know?

1. Jeff Bridges plays a President with a taste for sandwiches.

2. Jack Nicholson plays two roles in a movie that has aliens in the White House.

3. A look-alike takes over for the President but does not fool the First Lady.

4. This tense drama is the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

5. A widowed President dates a beautiful lobbyist.

6. A murder takes place in the White House and Wesley Snipes is called in to investigate.

7.  Name three movies with African-American Presidents.

8. Name two movies about the President’s children.

9. Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar for this portrayal of a President with many scenes in the residence of the White House.

10. Teenage girls get jobs in the White House in the midst of the Watergate era.

For detailed information about the accuracy of White House portrayals on screen, see the White House Museum website.

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Quiz
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