Saturday, June 29, 2013

White House Down [2013]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  Chi SunTimes (0 Stars)  Chi Tribune (2 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (2 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
Chicago SunTimes (R. Roeper) review
Chicago Tribune (R. Moore) review (M. McCreadle) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

We have got to stop blowing-up the White House in our films... honestly, we have to.

I had not planned to see White House Down [2013] (directed by Roland Emmerich, screenplay by James Vanderbilt) as I'm tired of these films and thought I had written about as much as one can write about them reviewing the quite recent Olympus Has Fallen [2013].  I found myself talked into it, having read some of the surprising and at times surprisingly positive reviews of the film (see above) and then listening to Facet Multimedia's Milos Stihlik's talking about the film on WBEZ (Chicago Public Radio's) WorldView program as I was coming home from a Communion call.

Having seen the film, I still think it is generally a waste of time though I do agree that part of what makes the film interesting is that the dasterdly Enemy this time DOESN'T come from the Outside: space aliens as in Emmerich's signature movie Independence Day [1995], weird euro-terrorists as in Die Hard [1988], more conventional but no less uncompromisingly Evil left-wing Cuban/PLO-style terrorists as in Under Siege [1992], or even North Koreans (arriving disguised as South Koreans, "how could one tell...?") as in Olympus Has Fallen [2013]. Instead, the Enemy in White House Down [2013] is essentially a "right wing conspiracy" (a la "militia" man Timothy McVeigh but more organized) a conspiracy more resembling the one postulated in Oliver Stone's film JFK [1991] involving the "military industrial complex" opposing a JFK-like, now Obama-like President (played in this film by Jamie Foxx).

That we would be just as capable (or even more capable) of  "blowing things up" by ourselves as having them blown-up by outside bad guys has actually been a long-held view by my own dad, born no doubt of 81 years of life-experience and watching some really stupid/self-destructive things done by people (and peoples) themselves.

One of my dad's favorite examples of this self-destructive phenomenon (remember my family is of Czech descent, thus Slavic and originating in Centeral Europe) was what the Serbs and Croats did to the lovely Serbo-Croatian coastal city of Dubrovnik (before the 1990s listed as a UNESCO world heritage site): "Even the Nazis didn't touch that town because it was so beautiful and it would have been a crime to destroy it.  Yet, two weeks into the Serbo-Croatian wars of the 1990s, the town was reduced to rubble looking like Stalingrad."  Then remember former Russian President Boris Yeltsin (the first democratically elected leader of Russia ever) ended-up bombing his own Russian Parliament Building (and arguably legitimately to thwart a back-sliding neo-Communist coup).

So there may be value in seeing a film where one domestic faction or another tries to seize power in this country by a de facto coup d'etat.  And that is what this film is about.  Apparently upset that Obama-like African-American President Sawyer (played by Jamie Foxx) had made a deal with Iran to pull all U.S. troops out of the Middle East in exchange for peace (and a pledge by the sitting Iranian president to make public decades-long documentation showing how U.S. military contractors had manipulated Middle Eastern governments and exacerbated tensions between them to justify a large open-ended U.S. military presence in the region and arms sales to everybody), those allied with said U.S. military contractors try to stage a coup in the U.S. to prevent this.  Much ensues ...

Yet what ensues on screen, I'm not sure is helpful ... to anybody.

Even as these Titanic forces are stomping in Godzilla-like fashion over the centers of power in Washington, the real "heroes" of the story are simply a divorced dad named Cale (played by Channing Tatum) who had served three tours in Afghanistan (in good part because "being at war" seemed easier than "being at home" with his family) and his somewhat estranged 6th-7th grade daughter Emily (played by Joey King).  At the beginning of the film Cale's trying to re-connect with his daughter who living in the D.C. area seems very civically minded.  So Afghan war vet that he is, he pulls a few strings and is able to get them a White House tour.  It's during this tour that the coup attempt takes place.  Now remember Cale is a 3-time Afghan War vet ... and 12 year old, ever on her smart-phone, Emily has her own talents: She runs a little 'current affairs blog' ("No dad", eyes-rolling "a YouTube channel") on the internet using said smart-phone as a computer/camera.  Well ... do those Titanic forces of Evil stand a chance against this little father - daughter team? ;-) 

There's certainly a cuteness to the movie ... even as revered national symbols get blown-up all around.

But I can honestly say to folks that even though "it all ends well," I FELT SORRY FOR THE 12-YEAR OLD EMILY.  And it's not just because she was a hostage by the bad guys holding the White House for a while, and that near the end of the film she does what amounts to a heart-rending flag-waving tribute to the similarly little flag-waving kid on the barricades in Les Miserables [2012], but because I do think we've failed young people like her. 

Honestly, let's stop blowing up the White House, or Big Ben, or the Eiffel Tower or the Kremlin, or what have you (even simply "on screen").  Why can't we just give our young people a world (or at least a youth) where they can live and grow-up in peace?

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