“WHITE HOUSE DOWN” (2013) Review

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“WHITE HOUSE DOWN” (2013) Review

When it first hit the movie theaters during the summer of 2013, “WHITE HOUSE DOWN” received a good deal of flak from movie critics determined to justified its failure to become a box office hit. But there were others who had offered another reason why the movie flopped in the U.S.  And that reason centered around the release of another film some three months earlier called “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN”.

Like the Gerard Butler film, “WHITE HOUSE DOWN” focused upon an assault and invasion of the White House by a group of paramilitary terrorists. The movie begins with U.S. President James Sawyer proposing a controversial peace treaty between allied countries to remove military forces from the Middle East. One of the opponents of the treaty is Speaker of the House, Congressman Eli Raphelson, who is guarded by U.S. Capitol police officer John Cale. Hoping to impress his estranged daughter Emily following his divorce, John attempts to apply for a job with the U.S. Secret Service. He takes Emily to the White House for an interview with his former college schoolmate, Secret Service schoolmate, Carol Finnerty. Unfortunately for John, Carol rejects his application, claiming that his lack of respect for authority and inability to follow through with official reports makes him unqualified for the job.

Following his interview, John joins Emily on a tour of the White House, a paramilitary terrorist sets off a bomb in the rotunda of the Capitol building. Both Congressman Raphelson and Vice-President Alvin Hammond are among those who manage to safely escape. However, the Capitol bombing proves to be a distraction for a more important mission for his colleagues – namely the takeover the White House. Although the latter is officially locked down by the Secret Service following the Capitol bombing, a paramilitary group consisting of ex-servicemen and a computer hacker that managed to infiltrate the White House as janitors, proceed to take over the White House. Their leader is a disavowed ex-Delta Force member named Emil Stenz, who proved to be a hot head. Not only do the terrorists take a group of tourists – including Emily – hostage; they nearly kidnap President Sawyer with the help of Secret Service Agent Martin Walker, Head of the Presidential Detail. Walker sought revenge for the death of a son who had died in an aborted black op mission for the U.S. Army. Fortunately, John manages to rescue President Sawyer before Walker and the terrorists can use him to access the nuclear football for nefarious means. Unfortunately for John and Sawyer, they are trapped inside the White House with no way to get out.

Unlike a good number of moviegoers, I did not readily accept the opinion that “WHITE HOUSE DOWN” was a bad movie. Yes, it had its flaws. After all, it is a Roland Emmerich film. And like other Emmerich films, it possessed the usual cliches – a divorced main character, an annoyingly precocious child character, and slightly cheesy dialogue. The biggest flaw in the movie proved to be a plot point that allowed John and his daughter to get swept into the action inside the White House – a tour of the latter. Apparently, screenwriter James Vanderbilt forgot that White House tours have been a thing of the past since the September 11 attacks, twelve years ago. And I found Carol Finnerty’s presence with the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Speaker of the House something of a stretch, considering that she is not the Secret Service’s Head of the Presidential Detail, let alone head of the agency. But despite these flaws, I still enjoyed the movie.

“WHITE HOUSE DOWN” had its virtues. First of all, it benefited from a strong chemistry between leads Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, who portrayed John Cale and President James Walker. Two, Vanderbilt’s script did not make the mistake of turning the President Walker character into a highly skilled action man, like Harrison Ford in “AIR FORCE ONE”. Although he managed to avoid spending most of the film as a hostage, Foxx’s Walker made mistakes that struck me as natural for one not to used to violent action. “WHITE HOUSE DOWN” also featured some first-rate action. My favorite scenes turned out to be the initial takeover of the White House by Stenz and his men; John’s rescue of President Walker; and the chase sequence on the White House lawn, with John and President Walker inside a Presidential limousine. The biggest virtue of “WHITE HOUSE DOWN” is that the terrorists managed to infiltrate the White House with inside help – namely Secret Service Agent Walker. In the post 9/11 world, I would have found it impossible to accept a terrorist takeover of the White House without such help.

Despite the occasionally cheesy dialogue that marred “WHITE HOUSE DOWN”, I was relieved to see that the cast managed to rise above such flaws. As I stated earlier, the movie did benefit from a strong chemistry between Tatum and Foxx. And both actors gave first-rate performances that blend good, solid comedy with well-acted drama. I also found the development of their on-screen relationship very satisfying. And Foxx managed to utter one of my favorite lines in the entire film. Maggie Gyllenhaal gave a strong performance as the no-nonsense Carol Finnerty. I could also say the same about Lance Reddick, who portrayed the equally no-nonsense Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman General Caufield. I do not recall ever seeing Jason Clarke in a villainous role before, but I must admit that he gave a scary performance as leader of the terrorist, Emil Stanz. Jimmi Simpson, on the other hand, was quite funny as computer hacker Skip Tyler. And Richard Jenkins struck me as very effective in his performance as Speaker of the House Eli Raphelson, who found himself with more authority than he was used to. There were a few performances that did rub me the wrong way. I think Zoey King, who portrayed Emily Cale, is a talented actress, but I feel that not even she was able to rise above the precocious dialogue and scenes that Vanderbilt dumped on her. Nicholas Wright’s performance as White House tour guide Donnie did not strike me as funny . . . only annoying. Kevin Rankin’s portrayal of the uber-aggressive terrorist Carl Killick seemed both hammy and wince-inducing to me.

When I saw “WHITE HOUSE DOWN” at the movie theater, the audience broke into an applause when the film ended. Minutes later, I found myself in one of the theater’s restrooms and overheard a woman claimed that although she liked the movie, she noticed that it bore a strong resemblance to “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN”. And she was right. Both movies were about terrorists taking over the White House in order to gain control of the President and his defense codes. Both movies featured female Secret Service personnel trying to help the hero. Both movies featured the Vice-President getting killed and the Speaker of the House becoming the new Head of State. And both featured American elite forces making a failed attempt to save the White House from terrorists. I liked “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN”, but I feel that it was marred by one major flaw – the North Korean terrorists lacked any real inside help and was able to acquire top-secret military technology on their own. This led the Gerard Butler movie resembling some one-note anti-Communist propaganda film. “WHITE HOUSE DOWN” managed to avoid this major trap by allowing the terrorists – who were American-born – receive some serious inside help from within the U.S. government. And this is why I rate “WHITE HOUSE DOWN” over “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN”.

“WHITE HOUSE DOWN” had its flaws. But it also possessed a decent story, first-rate action and some solid acting by a cast led by Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx; thanks to director Roland Emmerich. And although its virtues outweighed its flaw, I suspect that in the end, “WHITE HOUSE DOWN” became a victim of bad timing. Pity. I feel it deserved a better fate.

Top Ten Favorite HISTORY Documentaries

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Below is a list of my favorite history documentaries:

TOP TEN FAVORITE HISTORY DOCUMENTARIES

1 - Ken Burns The Civil War

1. “The Civil War” (1990) – Ken Burns produced this award-winning documentary about the U.S. Civil War. Narrated by David McCullough, the documentary was shown in eleven episodes.

2 - Supersizers Go-Eat

2. “The Supersizers Go/Eat” (2008-2009) – Food critic Giles Coren and comedian-broadcaster Sue Perkins co-hosted two entertaining series about the culinary history of Britain (with side trips to late 18th century France and Imperial Rome).

3 - MGM - When the Lion Roared

3. “MGM: When the Lion Roared” (1992) – Patrick Stewart narrated and hosted this three-part look into the history of one of the most famous Hollywood studios – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).

4 - Africans in America

4. “Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery” (1998) – Angela Bassett narrated this four-part documentary on the history of slavery in the United States, from the Colonial era to Reconstruction.

5 - Queen Victoria Empire

5. “Queen Victoria’s Empire” (2001) – This PBS documentary is a two-part look at the British Empire during the reign of Queen Victoria. Donald Sutherland narrated.

6 - Motown 40 - The Music Is Forever

6. “Motown 40: The Music Is Forever” (1998) – Diana Ross hosted and narrated this look into the history of Motown, from its inception in 1958 to the 1990s.

7 - Ken Burns The War

7. “The War” (2007) – Ken Burns created another critically acclaimed documentary for PBS. Narrated by Keith David, this seven-part documentary focused upon the United States’ participation in World War II.

8 - Manor House

8. “The Edwardian Manor House” (2002) – This five-episode documentary is also a reality television series in which a British family assume the identity of Edwardian aristocrats and live in an opulent Scottish manor with fifteen (15) people from all walks of life participating as their servants.

9 - Elegance and Decadence - The Age of Regency

9. “Elegance and Decadence: The Age of Regency” (2011) – Historian Dr. Lucy Worsley presented and hosted this three-part documentary about Britain’s Regency era between 1810 and 1820.

10 - Ken Burns The West

10. “The West” (1996) – Directed by Steven Ives and produced by Ken Burns, this eight-part documentary chronicled the history of the trans-Appalachian West in the United States. Peter Coyote narrated.

HM - Fahrenheit 9-11

Honorable Mention: “Fahrenheit 9/11” (2004) – Michael Moore co-produced and directed this Oscar winning documentary that took a critical look at the presidency of George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and its coverage in the news media.

Top Ten Favorite BRITISH EMPIRE Novels

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Below is a list of my current favorite novels set during the British Empire:

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE BRITISH EMPIRE NOVELS

1 - Flashman in the Great Game

1. “Flashman in the Great Game” (1975) by George MacDonald Fraser – Set between 1856 and 1858, this fifth novel in theFlashman Papers Series is about cowardly British Army officer Harry Flashman’s experiences during the Sepoy Rebellion.

 

2 - Shadow of the Moon

2. “Shadow of the Moon” (1957/1979) by M.M. Kaye – This is a love story between an Anglo-Spanish heiress and a British Army officer before and during the Sepoy Rebellion.

 

3 - The Bastard

3. “The Bastard” (1974) by John Jakes – Set during the final five years before the American Revolution, this tale is about Phillipe Charbaneau aka Philip Kent, the Anglo-French bastard of a nobleman forced to seek a new life in the American Colonies.

 

4 - Flashman and the Dragon

4. “Flashman and the Dragon” (1985) by George MacDonald Fraser – The eighth novel of the Flashman Papers reveals Harry Flashman’s experiences in China during the Taiping Rebellion and the British march to Peking during the Second Opium War.

 

5 - Noble House

5. “Noble House” (1981) by James Clavell – Set during two weeks in August 1963, this novel is about a British businessman in Hong Kong, who struggles to save his family’s company from financial ruin through a deal with an American corporate raider.

 

6 - Zemindar

6. “Zemindar” (1982) by Valerie Fitzgerald – This novel is about a young Englishwoman named Laura Hewitt, who accompanies her cousin and cousin-in-law to India to meet the latter’s wealthy half-brother. All three get caught up in the outbreak of the Sepoy Rebellion.

 

7 - Tai-pan

7. “Tai-Pan” (1966) by James Clavell – Set during the immediate aftermath of the First Opium War, this novel is about a British trader and his dealings with his family and enemies during the formation of Britain’s Hong Kong colony.

 

8 - Liberty Tavern

8. “Liberty Tavern” (1976) by Thomas Fleming – This novel is about a former British Army officer, who operates a New Jersey tavern and serves as guardian to his stepchildren during the American Revolution.

 

9 - The Far Pavilions

9. “The Far Pavilion” (1978) by M.M. Kaye – This bestseller is about a 19th century British Army officer, who had spent his childhood believing he was Indian. He experiences love with an Indian princess and war during the Second Anglo-Afghan War.

 

10 - Forget the Glory

10. “Forget the Glory” (1985) by Emma Drummond – This novel chronicled the experiences of an unhappily married British Army officer, who falls in love with wife’s maid during a long journey from India to the Ukraine during the Crimean War.

“THE FIFTH ESTATE” (2013) Review

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“THE FIFTH ESTATE” (2013) Review

The subject of WikiLeaks has been something of an conundrum for me. I have been aware of the series of news stories about the website and its founder and spokesperson, Julian Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg. But I must be honest . . . my thoughts on the whole matter tend to disappear at least a few minutes after hearing or reading about it. So when news of a film about WikiLeaks was announced, I found myself surprised by the online reaction to the news. 

“THE FIFTH ESTATE” drew its title from a term that describes a group that operates outside of the society’s normal groups, especially one that is considered beyond the restrictions or rules of those others. A “fifth estate” is strongly associated with journalists and media outlets viewed outside of or in opposition to the mainstream media or official press. This term could easily describe WikiLeaks, the Internet website and organization that publishes secret information, news leaks, and classified media from anonymous sources. The movie, which is directed by Bill Condon, is based upon Domscheit-Berg’s book “Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website” and“WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy” by journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding. Both were published in 2011. The movie follows the association between Assange and Domscheit-Berg, from their 2007 meeting at the Computer Chaos Club in Berlin to their estrangement over the Afghan War Logs. Judging from the movie’s source of material, it is easy to see that the story is mainly told from Domscheit-Berg’s point of view.

Is it a good movie? Many critics and filmgoers seem to believe otherwise. They directed their negative criticism toward Josh Singer’s screenplay and Bill Condon’s direction. In fact, many also believe it was a mistake for the movie to be told either from Domscheit-Berg’s point of view or those in the U.S. intelligence service. I now feel they were right in regard to the movie’s points-of-view. After all Assange proved to be the movie’s main topic in the end. I now feel that “THE FIFTH ESTATE” would have benefited from balanced viewpoints of both Domscheit-Berg and Assange. There were a few other aspects of “THE FIFTH ESTATE” I found a little troubling. There were moments when I could not ascertain some of the dialogue. I do not if this was due to the movie theater’s sound system or the performances in the film. “THE FIFTH ESTATE” also featured a set – an office space filled with desks – that served as a visual metaphor of the WikiLeaks website. Honestly, I found this so-called metaphor rather irrelevant and ham-fisted.

However, “THE FIFTH ESTATE” had its good points. I thought Bill Condon’s direction of the film to be solid and well-paced. He was ably assisted by Tobias Schliessler’s sharp cinematography and Virginia Katz’s skillful editing. Condon also did an excellent job of injecting suspension in a tale that focused on the Internet. I feel that he and screenwriter Josh Singer were right to include the consequences of the Afghan War Logs exposure in a few sequences featuring a Libyan doctor with political ties named Tarek Haliseh, who served as an informant for U.S. intelligence. Despite the film’s failure to focus some of its story from Assange’s viewpoint, I must admit that I found the movie’s plot very interesting. Thanks to“THE FIFTH ESTATE”, I managed to maintain my interest in WikiLeaks a lot longer than ten minutes or less. 

I cannot deny that “THE FIFTH ESTATE” greatly benefited from a talented cast. Benedict Cumberbatch gave a very interesting performance as colorful creator of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange. I have no idea if the latter was satisfied with Cumberbatch. And there is a good chance (or not) that the characterization was off. If it was off, then one must place the blame on Singer’s screenplay, not Cumberbatch’s skillful performance. A less skillful actor could have easily been overshadowed by Cumberbatch’s performance. Fortunately, Daniel Brühl was talented enough to make Daniel Domscheit-Berg a fascinating character in his own right – especially in scenes that conveyed the latter’s frustrations with the Assange character. A third performance that caught my eye came from David Thewlis, who was equally colorful as British journalist Nick Davies, who covered WikiLeaks’ exposure of the Afghan War Logs. I was also impressed by Laura Linney, who did an excellent job in conveying the U.S. intelligence services’ anger and frustration toward the WikiLeaks website. The movie also featured solid performances from Stanley Tucci, Alicia Vikander, Dan Stevens, Alexander Siddig, Peter Capaldi, Moritz Bleibtreu and Anthony Mackie. However, I was disappointed by the film’s minimum use of Mackie. For someone listed third in the cast, he had a very small role.

Despite the negative reaction to the movie and my belief that it could have included the viewpoint of main character Julian Assange, I still managed to enjoy “THE FIFTH ESTATE”. I thought director Bill Condon and screeenwriter Josh Singer did a solid job in creating a credible thriller from a movie about computer online leakage. More importantly, the film benefited from first-rate performances given by a talented cast led by Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Brühl.

Ranking of THE FLASHMAN PAPERS

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Below is my ranking of THE FLASHMAN PAPERS, the series of novels and short stories written by the late George MacDonald Fraser about a 19th century British Army officer named Harry Flashman. The novels and stories were published between 1969 and 2005: 

 

RANKING OF THE FLASHMAN PAPERS

1-flashman and the redskins

1. “FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” (1982) – Serving as an immediate follow-up to “FLASH FOR FREEDOM!”, this 1982 novel depicted Harry Flashman’s experiences in the Old West when he joined a wagon train in 1849 and became an unwilling witness to the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. Probably my favorite in the series.

2-flashman and the dragon

2. “FLASHMAN AND THE DRAGON” (1985) – Harry Flashman’s experiences during the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) and Lord Elgin’s March to Peking during the Second Opium War in 1860 are depicted in this 1985 novel.

3-flashman in the great game

3. “FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME” (1975) – Serving as a follow-up to “FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE”, this 1975 novel depicted Flashman’s experiences during the Sepoy Rebellion (1857-1858) in India and a reunion with a deadly former enemy.

4-flashman at the charge

4. “FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE” (1973) – Harry Flashman’s experiences during the first year of the Crimean War (1854-1856) and with Kokand freedom fighters in Central Asia between 1854 and 1855 are depicted in this novel.

5-flash for freedom

5. “FLASH FOR FREEDOM!” (1971) – Fleeing the country from a scandal not of his making, Harry Flashman finds himself aboard a slave ship and receives a first hand look at the trans-Atlantic slave trade and American slavery in the late 1840s.

6-flashmans lady

6. “FLASHMAN’S LADY” (1977) – When a former pirate-turned-businessman from the East Indies become obsessed with Flashman’s wife, Elspeth, and kidnaps her during a trip to Singapore; the cowardly hero’s pursuit leads to him fighting Borneo pirates with the legendary James Brooke and becoming a slave of the notorious Queen Ranavalona I of Madagascar during the early 1840s.

7-flashman

7. “FLASHMAN” (1969) – This 1969 novel served as an introduction to Fraser’s literary series and his infamous main character, Harry Flashman. After being expelled from Rugby School, Flashman joins the British Army and eventually participates in the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842).

8-royal flash

8. “ROYAL FLASH” (1970) – This 1970 novel turned out to be a spoof of the famous Anthony Hope novel, “THE PRISONER OF ZENDA”. Set during the Revolutions of 1848, Flashman finds himself “recruited” by the Prussian politician Otto von Bismarck to impersonate a Danish prince set to marry the ruler of a German duchy.

9-flashman and the mountain of light

9. “FLASHMAN AND THE MOUNTAIN OF LIGHT” (1990) – Flashman’s experiences during the First Sikh War in the Punjab is depicted in this 1990 novel.

10-flashman and the angel of the lord

10. “FLASHMAN AND THE ANGEL OF THE LORD” (1994) – After being shanghaied by an old enemy in South Africa, Flashman finds himself back in the United States, where he unwillingly gets caught up in the John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859.

11-flashman and the tiger

11. “FLASHMAN AND THE TIGER” (1999) – Instead of a novel, this 1999 book is a collection of three stories that depicted Flashman’s experiences in aborting an assassination attempt on Emperor Franz-Josef of Austria; his and wife Elspeth’s participation in the infamous Tranby Croft Affair; and his troubling encounter with a former acquaintance from the Zulu War.

12-flashman on the march

12. “FLASHMAN ON THE MARCH” (2005) – In this final novel written by Fraser, Flashman finds himself caught up in Great Britain’s 1868 military expedition against King Tewodros II of Abyssinia (Ethiopia).

Top Ten Favorite COMIC BOOK HEROES Movies

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Below is a list of my ten favorite movies featuring comic book heroes: 

TOP TEN FAVORITE COMIC BOOK HEROES MOVIES

1-The Avengers

1. “The Avengers” (2012) – Joss Whedon directed this superb movie about a team of Marvel Comics heroes teaming together to battle an alien invasion.

2-The Incredibles

2. “The Incredibles” (2004) – Brad Bird created one of the best Disney animated films about a family of superheroes living a quiet suburban life and forced to hide their powers, who are forced out of retirement to save the world.

3-Spider-Man 2

3. “Spider-Man 2” (2004) – Tobey Maguire made his second appearance as Marvel Comic’s web-slinger, who contemplates retirement while facing a new threat, Doctor Octavius in this first-rate sequel.

4-Captain America - The First Avenger

4. “Captain America: The First Avenger” – Chris Evans made his first appearance as Steve Rogers aka Captain America, Marvel’s first superhero who deals with the threat of a madman during World War II. Joe Johnston directed.

5-Iron Man 2

5. “Iron Man 2” (2010) – Robert Downey Jr. reprised his role as Tony Stark aka Iron Man. In this excellent sequel, Iron Man battles a “ghost” from his family’s past and a professional threat. Jon Farveau directed.

6-The Rocketeer

6. “The Rocketeer” (1991) – Bill Campbell starred in this first-rate Disney adaptation of Dave Stevens’ comic novel about a pilot who discovers a rocket pack and struggles to keep it out of the hands of Nazi pilots in 1938 Los Angeles. Joe Johnston directed.

7-X2

7. “X2: X-Men United” (2003) – Bryan Singer directed this second and best X-MEN film about the X-Men’s reluctant teaming with Erik Lensherr aka Magneto and friends to deal with the threat of a vengeful U.S. Army intelligence officer.

8-Batman Begins

8. “Batman Begins” (2005) – Director Christopher Nolan and actor Christian Bale teamed for the first time in my favorite BATMANfilm about the origins of the Caped Crusader and his efforts to save Gotham City from a mysterious threat.

9-Iron Man

9. “Iron Man” (2008) – Robert Downey Jr. exploded on the scene as playboy millionaire in this origin tale about how the latter became costumed hero Iron Man. Jon Farveau directed.

10-The Dark Knight

10. “The Dark Knight” (2008) – Christopher Nolan directed Christian Bale in this well-made BATMAN movie about the Caped Crusader’s conflict with the Joker. Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart co-starred.