B-Movies A-Hoy! – White House Down & The Call

The movie fulfils the promise of this image.

The movie fulfils the promise of this image.

There are two types of B-movie – the big, brash and bold, and the simple idea followed through until the end – and this double bill provided me with one of each.

White House Down is the second ‘terrorists take over the White House’ movie this year and if you’ve been taking notes you’d know I didn’t see Olympus Has Fallen, the Gerard Butler led version that was first out of the gate. By all accounts, that movie took itself far too seriously, a problem which afflicts too many films with entirely preposterous set-ups. White House Down does no such thing. It’s knows it’s a big dumb action movie from the start and goes out to have some fun with it.

After the latest mishap, this time Obama really means it - he will give up smoking.

After the latest mishap, this time Obama really means it – he will give up smoking.

It also knows it’s going to be labelled “Die Hard in the White House” and seems hell-bent on being a Die Hard cover version featuring, amongst other things, elevator shafts, walking barefoot, vest-wearing, rocket launchers being fired at armoured vehicles, helicopters being shot down, a bespectacled computer geek employed to break some codes, and a fair few other key images or ideas from what I believe to be the greatest action movie of all time. And this is no bad thing. White House Down always maintains a sly wink to the audience and is more than happy to accept its own ludicrousness, be it in a White House lawn-based car chase featuring the president firing a rocket launcher or an aside from the lead terrorist that he doesn’t want cake because he’s diabetic.

It is, like almost everything, too long, clocking in at over 2 hours, but it is bloody good fun throughout and it’s difficult to exit the cinema without a big broad beaming smile on your face.

Halle Berry does Madonna at the Warner Bros Christmas Karaoke Party

Halle Berry does Madonna at the Warner Bros Christmas Karaoke Party

The Call is a very simple idea looking at a side of the emergency services that is all too often overlooked – the emergency call operator. Halle Berry plays the operator and we’re quickly brought up to speed on the kind of pressures and situations an operator has to deal with. The people on the other end of the phone can be in pain, in fear of their lives, and the operator must remain calm and try to ensure the caller’s safety until the police or an ambulance can arrive. As the trailer gives away, Berry takes a call from a girl afraid of someone attempting to break into her house and does everything almost perfectly, but her one small and instinctive mistake ultimately leads to the girl’s death. Shaken, Berry becomes a trainer rather than an operator, until a tour of the ‘hive’ leads her to taking the lead on a kidnapping in progress. The caller is in the boot of the kidnapper’s car and Berry has to try to track her down.

The film keeps your nerves on edge the whole way through and asks the audience what they would do in the same situation, before ruling out each of those options. It’s taut at a little over 90 minutes and is the kind of claustrophobic thriller you wish came along a little more often but without the big effects there’s little to draw people in at first glance. Hopefully word of mouth will lead to a good life on DVD as this is a film which deserves a bigger audience than the one it appears to have found at the cinema.

One note, the ending, ultimately, is ridiculous and you can go with it or you can walk out feeling let down. I’d say just go with it. It’s playing up to some generic conventions and what has gone before earns some leeway and artistic licence.

White House Down – B – Length: 2hrs 11 mins – Feels like: 2hrs 10 mins

The Call – B – Length: 1hr 34 mins – Feels like: 1hr 30 mins

White House Down trailer:

The Call trailer – warning – it gives away basically the whole movie. If you think you may enjoy the film, just skip the trailer and jump in.

Side Effects

Side-Effects-Poster

It’s difficult to take Steven Soderbergh seriously when he says that he is retiring from making films. Side Effects is his 10th movie since 2006, an absolutely phenomenal rate of production, and his last 4 films have represented perhaps his most consistent string of films in his career with each of Contagion, Haywire, Magic Mike and Side Effects (review spoiler) being excellent films. It’s certainly a string to rival Out of Sight, The Limey, Erin Brockovich, Traffic and Ocean’s Eleven. It’s difficult to see someone who has been making so many films, and films of such a high quality, would be able to just give it up cold turkey. But if he has, Side Effects is another similarly good film and one which sits well within his back catalogue.

As for how good Side Effects actually is, I’m finding it difficult to decide. It’s a film dealing with mental illness that is, itself, a little schizophrenic. As seen in the trailer at the foot of this page, the film is being sold (in the UK at least) as an indictment of Big Pharma – the pharmaceutical industry – with a patient (Rooney Mara) being prescribed a new-to-market anti-depressant, Ablixa, for her depression. The side effects of the drug are causing ever-worsening symptoms which slowly turn her more crazy. This is an interesting and important story, bearing in mind the secrecy that surrounds many drug companies and their clinical trials (sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad). However, if you’re looking for answers, you have come to the wrong place (you should really check out Dr Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Pharma).

Now, at around the halfway point the movie changes tack, and I found it just a little jarring. It’s also at this point that you may want to step out as, while the spoilers will be minimal and certainly won’t give the end away, there will be spoilers from here on in… Instead of following the course laid out in the first half, the film becomes a more traditional thriller, recalling Primal Fear (though my memory of that film is hazy). I’ve heard it suggested that the change is subtle and you slowly come to the realisation of what the story has done, but I was very aware that it was moving away from its starting point. But that doesn’t necessarily need to be a bad thing.

I admit that I felt some pangs of disappointment when I realised what was going on but I’m not sure that’s entirely the film’s fault, what with the advertising campaign raising expectations in a certain direction. Would my interpretation of the opening half have been different if I didn’t think the film was heading in a specific direction? It’s difficult to say and as such, I don’t want to punish the film for that. In fact, it’s difficult to know how the film should have been marketed. If you go in believing it to be the kind of thriller it turns into, perhaps the plot will unravel, become obvious. What should be said is that it is a good film. It’s very well made and, more specifically, very well acted. Jude Law, no longer the heart-throb he was 10 years ago, is adapting to playing some great character roles, of which this is one, while Rooney Mara is proving herself to be a brilliant young talent with a performance which truly announces her skills and range.

Ultimately, Side Effects is a film that will keep you engaged (and entertained) throughout and is well worth a watch, even if it doesn’t quite attain the heights that it at times promises.