Director Roland Emmerich has destroyed the White House a good few times now – Independence Day, 2012, that kind of thing – but this time round he works on destroying it from the inside out. President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) has agreed to sign a peace deal with Iran and withdraw all troops from the Middle East, not only gazumping the powerful "military-industrial" business but threatening to expose all their double-dealing. This is not a popular project with the powerful lobby it affects.
House Speaker Raphelson (Richard Jenkins) has been pointing this out for a while but still the entire presidential secret service crew, headed up by Walker (James Woods) and Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal0, manage to let in a motley gang of extremely well-armed baddies led by Stenz (Jason Clarke).
Fortunately for mankind John Cale (Channing Tatum), fresh from a sneering rejection by the Secret Service, happens to be touring the White House with the daughter who doesn't believe in him (Joey King) when he's called upon to save the Free World. This first act takes a bit too long but then gives way to a series of often comedic, frequently ridiculous and always OTT action set-pieces. It's fortunate too, then, that somewhere along the line Channing's suit trousers morph into combats.
None of the stars seems to be too consumed with taking it seriously, Tatum and Fox are a good team, Jenkins, Woods and Gyllenhaal do what is required and all the genre boxes are ticked – action, one-liners, emotional manipulation, fierce US patriotism, rabid nutters. And all eerily pertinent. On some levels, it's so bad it's nearly good. Fans of the genre should be pleased but non-fans will still hate it.
Vin Diesel is back in this third instalment of The Chronicles of Riddick series, and on the evidence of an impressive opening, Riddick's as badass as ever. Discarded and left for dead on an alien and inhospitable planet, he is thrown into an evolve-or-die scenario as an array of predators and CGI nasties seek to integrate him into their food chain.
Bulking up as a result of nifty transfusion of predator growth hormone, and befriended by a pet hyena, Riddick is ready to rumble – but attempts to exit the rock prove problematical.
In case you didn't know, our anti-hero has a price on his head and his activation of an emergency beacon prompts the arrival of two space ships. One contains a gang of bounty hunters under the command of uber-baddie Santana (Jordi Malla), the other is captained by a marginally more benign character from Riddick's past (Matt Nable).
Cue a kill-or-be killed scenario as Riddick goes torso to torso with those who would seek to do him harm. The situation is complicated by the reality that an army of predators is on the march and co-operation over an exit strategy is going to be necessary if any human is to avoid getting pulped.
Proceedings have taken a sharp turn towards the formulaic by the time the credits roll but as an exercise in high octane escapism, this David Twohy-directed feature is not without its rewards.
IN A WORLD
"In a world..." are the opening words of so many movie trailers and following the death of (real life) voiceover king Don LaFontaine, there's a battle for his throne and the crown is to be the trailer voice of upcoming Quadrilogy, The Amazon Games.
Sensing a no-win situation Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed), one potential heir apparent, decides to side with the younger contender Gustav (Ken Marino). They laugh when they hear of some female blow-in, everyone knows women don't do movie voiceovers. What it takes them a while to work out is that the almost accidental competition is Sotto's daughter Carol (Lake Bell, who has also written and directed the film.)
Carol is usually a chronically under-achieving voice coach but sound engineer Louis (Demetri Martin) not only has a crush on her but eggs her on to achieve her voice-over goals. There's an engaging second sub-plot involving Carol's sister Dani and brother-in-law Moe (Michaela Watkins and Rob Cordrry), a third regarding family dynamics, an enormous set of ideas and so many clever lines that some of the finer details almost get lost, but overall Bell pulls off a rich, funny and sweet – but never saccharine – film.
Bell, as Carol, has an impressive voice talent and although she overeggs the quirky sometimes, the cast, made up of excellent supporting actors like herself, create a functioning set of dynamics. Bell is especially kind to the female characters, there are also a few high-power female cameos from Geena Davis, Eva Longoria and Cameron Diaz, but the film makes its points without ripping anyone to shreds.
Opening on Friday
AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS
Writer-director David Lowery apparently misheard the title of a song. He thought it was called Ain't Them Bodies Saints, it wasn't, but he gave the name to his film instead. Comparisons between it and Terrence Malick's Badlands are inevitable, classic Americana in 1970s Texas, shot on film almost bleached sepia by cinematographer Bradford Young. Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) stomps towards the camera, her beau Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) chases after, they make up, turns out she might be havin' a baby.
Ruth shoots local policeman Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster) following a robbery but Bob takes the blame, allowing Ruth to go home and have their daughter. The characters take turn narrating what's going to and does happen. It's modern-age but timeless, the storytelling is elliptical, an interesting choice given that it hints at but never provides much in the way of backstory and no subplot.
Keith Carradine plays Skerritt, some kind of a father figure who looks out for Ruth and her daughter and makes invisible calls about what's right for them when Bob escapes and Wheeler only half-heartedly searches for him.
The performances are excellent. The always good Foster and Mara offer stiff competition but Affleck probably steals the show with another excellent rendition of a morally compromised character.
It's occasionally hard to understand, both in storytelling style and dialogue, but if you let it wash over you the gist is easy. It's a beautiful thing in many ways, if occasionally guilty of being style over substance.
Now playing at IFI and selected cinemas
THE GREAT BEAUTY
Who would have it thought it possible? A big picture that takes aim at the big picture and can be said to score a direct hit.
Such is the stunning spectacle that awaits courtesy of Italian director Paolo Sorrentino's bona fide masterpiece, The Great Beauty.
Set in contemporary Rome, the story is told through the world-weary eyes of a celebrated writer and journalist, Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo). The suave and impeccably attired Jep wrote an acclaimed novel in his early 20s but when we meet him on his 65th birthday, the sense of caustic ennui is all pervasive.
He still runs with an impossibly arty crew and hedonistic parties are a staple, but there wasn't a second novel and as we follow him on his perambulations through Rome's streets and piazzas there are existential intimations that the high life is no longer providing the same high. His penthouse apartment overlooks a "cluster of religious institutions" and their proximity facilitates the introduction of a spiritual component to his search for meaning, a search that is frequently punctuated with moments of understated hilarity.
Visually breathtaking, Rome plays a starring role in an experience that invites obvious comparisons with Fellini's La Dolce Vita. It's testimony to Sorrentino's towering achievement, however, that he's created a work that is worthy of its own singular claims to cinema greatness.
A soaring soundtrack, the visual splendour together with the depthful subject matter enhance the sense of a symphony for the soul.
Required viewing for all students of the human condition.
Now showing at the IFI
The idea of an Austrian museum attendant chatting to a lonely Canadian in wintry Vienna does not exactly cause the neurons of excitement to fire. The prospect becomes especially trying in Jem Cohen's Museum Hours, where a potentially charming portrait gradually sputters like a broken engine amid highfalutin' metaphors, cod postmodernity and self-indulgence.
It's a shame, because with a bit of surgery and a robust script rewrite something resembling a film could be teased out of the New York filmmaker's muddled feature-length art project. Bobby Sommer, for example, hums with elegance as Johann, the kindly former rocker who now finds himself spending a great deal of time ruminating over the masterpieces housed in Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Art Museum.
Then Anne (Canadian singer-songwriter Mary Margaret O'Hara) arrives in from North America to visit her hospitalised cousin. Unfamiliar with the Austrian capital, she befriends Johann one day. The two lonesome souls find companionship in one another and the stage is set for warming character study about friendship and solace while art and reality emulsify. Unfortunately though, Museum Hours lumbers into a condescending sermon on art appreciation which kills off any glimpses of soul caught in the opening half-hour.
As he flees the human drama such characters could offer, Cohen lectures us simpletons on composition and symbolism in Brueghel works, chucks in details of Egyptian busts and Caravaggios and makes us sit through yawnsome, navel-gazing chat. There's definitely an observant mind and an eye for a shot at work, but alas, no one on hand to rein in Cohen's adoration of the esoteric.
Now at the IFI