'White House Down' has the disadvantage of being the second 'Die Hard'-in-the-White-House movie of 2013 after 'Olympus Has Fallen,' and the advantage of being superior to its predecessor in every conceivable way. It's better directed, better written, and better acted. The action is better, with more impressive special effects; the production design is better, with a much more convincing replica of the White House; the camerawork is better; with clear, lucid images. Where 'Olympus Has Fallen' was grim and stern, 'White House Down' actually embraces the silliness of its premise. It's more exciting and more faithful to the 'Die Hard' formula. This is still basically a shameless ripoff popcorn movie, but it's a shameless ripoff popcorn movie popped to near-perfection.
College is not an obvious setting for a Pixar movie. For all the vaunted animation studio's reputation for producing mature, adult children's films, college lends itself to a more immature brand of adult humor -- the kind with lots of nudity, profanity, and outrageous drunken antics. Sure enough, Pixar's 'Monsters University' brings new meaning to the phrase "safe school" -- this G-rated riff on 'Revenge of the Nerds' and 'Animal House' (they probably thought about calling it 'Monster House' at some point, right? They had to) doesn't push any envelopes in terms of content or humor. It's basically a formula college comedy, minus the raunch, in the world of 'Monsters Inc.' Nevertheless, it's a formula executed by some very talented animators, who've produced a lively, if mostly forgettable, movie.
The magic of cinema and the magic of magic tend to cancel each other out. Once you convince someone they're seeing alternate realities, alien conquerers, and distant futures, pulling a rabbit out of a hat looks a little underwhelming. It is a cruel, sad truth that a single cut negates all the impact of the greatest act of sleight of hand.
So, a movie about magic needs to be about more than just magic. The silly but not entirely unpleasurable 'Now You See Me' is about showmanship. There are a lot of good actors in this movie, including Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Melanie Laurent, and Mark Ruffalo. They play illusionists, mentalists, hucksters, debunkers, billionaire industrialists, Interpol officers, and FBI agents, respectively(ish). All of them, no matter whether they're wool-pullers or wool-pullees, look like they're having a grand old time misdirecting us through a labyrinthine plot involving magicians, bank heists, and decades-old vendettas. For a while, the fun is infectious. I found myself chuckling at the outrageous character names -- Dylan Rhodes! Jack Wilder! Arthur Tressler! Thaddeus Bradley! J. Daniel Atlas! -- and grinning at the ludicrous twists. Like a mark at a good magic act, I knew I was being worked over and was enjoying every second.
'The Hangover' giveth and 'The Hangover' taketh away.
The first 'Hangover' made Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and especially Zach Galifianakis stars, and it elevated Todd Phillips from middling Hollywood director to name-brand comic auteur. But in the film industry, success that surprising and enormous demands more success; the beast must be fed. But as 'The Hangover Part II' and especially the new 'Hangover Part III' prove, it is very hard to make a good sequel to a truly original idea. 'Part II' went the rehash route, recycling the plot of the first movie so brazenly you almost had to admire its chutzpah. 'Part III' finally breaks with the formula a little (SPOILER ALERT: there is no hangover), but still doesn't produce anything even remotely worthy of the first film.
From the earliest days of his appearances in Marvel Comics' 'Tales of Suspense,' Tony Stark has always been modeled after aviator/inventor/industrialist Howard Hughes. With 'Iron Man 3,' Stark assumes a new dimension of Hughes' persona: that of the paranoid shut-in who, in his later years, became notorious for roaming his private floor of the Desert Inn Hotel in Las Vegas, freaking out about invisible germs and collecting jars of his own urine. 'Iron Man 3's' Tony Stark, played once again by the inimitable Robert Downey Jr.isn't quite that bad, but he's getting there.
After the events chronicled in 'The Avengers,' where Manhattan was nearly leveled by invading aliens and Tony himself was almost killed, he's become obsessed with upgrading his armor -- leaping all the way from the Mark VII to the Mark 42 in a matter of months. When anyone mentions New York or aliens, Tony gets panic attacks. There's a reason Daredevil, not Iron Man, is the Marvel hero known as "The Man Without Fear." Poor Tony is terrified.
Dirty Harry would love 'Gangster Squad,' a movie about cops who operate so far outside the law they make Clint Eastwood's signature detective look like a pencil-pushing dweeb. Assembled by LAPD police chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte), and supposedly inspired by a true story, the members of the so-called Gangster Squad operate as judge, jury, and executioners. They don't arrest their targets; they "wage war" against their enemy, mob boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). In their quest to bust up Cohen's rackets, the Gangster Squad brandishes about a billion guns and not a single badge. Hell, even Dirty Harry waited until the end of his movie to toss his away.
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