Tag Archives: Roland Emmerich

Bombs Away


by George Wolf

After Independence Day, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow and more, the book on Roland Emmerich is fairly easy to read: expect spectacle over storytelling.

Midway is Emmerich’s latest, and that checks out.

A grand production respectfully dedicated to the American and Japanese forces that fought the legendary battle, the film does have heart in all the right places. But too often, it feels more inspired by war movies than the real thing.

Patrick Wilson is Edwin Layton, whose description as “the best intelligence officer I’ve ever known” gives us an early introduction into screenwriter Wes Tooke’s plan for character development.

“I told you she was a firecracker!”

“He’s the most brilliant man I know.”

“Best pilot in the world!”

“Knock off the cowboy b.s.!”

Layton still feels guilty about the intelligence failures of Pearl Harbor, and he pleads with Admiral Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) to trust his prediction of an upcoming Japanese invasion of Midway Island.

Names such as Nimitz and Halsey (Dennis Quaid) may be the only ones familiar to non history buffs, but no matter, none of the characters feel real anyway. They’re just humans who pose nicely while spouting the dialog of actors explaining things to an audience.

So much for the storytelling, now for the spectacle.

It’s pretty damn thrilling.

When the battles are raging, especially in the air, Midway soars. Constructed with precision and clarity, these extended set pieces allow Emmerich to indulge his showy instincts for maximum payoff.

Director John Ford famously filmed on Midway Island while the battle took shape. Emmerich and Tooke don’t ignore that fact, a not so subtle reminder that this is their movie about war, and they’re going big!

And about half the time, that’s not a bad thing.

When it needs to be big, this film is huge, detailed and epic. But when it needs to be small, and make this history breathe again through intimate authenticity of the souls that lived and died in it, Midway just can’t stop flexing.

A Fresh Take on History For Your Queue

Who’s in the mood for a couple of fascinating historical dramas, the kind that make you rethink your history lessons? Because Belle, releases to DVD today, and it’s the fact-based tale of a bi-racial girl raised by her aristocratic grandparents in 18th Century England. Well told and perfectly cast, with the always flawless Tom Wilkinson playing the family patriarch and a wondrous break out turn by Gugu Mbath-Raw in the lead, the film draws parallels you never knew existed between past and present.

If you’re looking for a little wilder, true ish (or at least rumored to be true) story that may cause you to rethink everything you know about British history and literature, have a gander at Anonymous. The usually unwatchably bombastic Roland Emmerich dials it back a bit – but not too much – to sketch a treacherous, traitorous, sordid story of the real William Shakespeare. Excellent performances and a savvy screenplay by John Orloff keep this one fresh and entertaining.


For Your Queue: What’s With All the Ado?

Let’s class up the queue this week with a double dose of the Bard. One of the very best films of 2013, Much Ado About Nothing, drops today. 

Writer/director Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Toy Story, The Cabin in the Woodsagain shows his storytelling instincts are dead on, regardless of the genre. Shakespeare’s classic comedy about love and deception is given a present-day makeover, employing a game cast of Whedon favorites to create a playful, satisfying romp.
The wordplay is frenetic, some of the most clever Shakespeare produced, but there are also very funny stretches that rely heavily on physical comedy. The cast delivers with a gleeful enthusiasm, and Whedon adds amusing touches such as having one pivotal scene set amid snorkeling, giving it a new, Wes Anderson-esque hilarity.
Artfully filming in black and white, Whedon doesn’t shrink from the play’s dark corners, while giving the wonderfully comedic aspects a new, updated energy.

Pair that with the 2011 tribute/mystery/historical fiction Anonymous. The film takes the eons-old theory that Bill Shakespeare did not pen all those plays and turns it into a political thriller that entertains at every turn. The fact that this layered, historically savvy costume drama was directed by bombast master Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012, White House Down) may have you believing in another anonymous helmsman.

Cleanup in the East Wing!


by George Wolf


Well, I believe I owe Olympus Has Fallen an apology.

Just a few months back, I labeled that film a pandering, if strangely entertaining, Die Hard in the White House.

Little did I know that White House Down was lurking like a crazy uncle waiting to show how much louder his bitchin’ Camaro is than your puny ride. This new presidential ass-kicking fest proudly lives by a bigger, louder, faster mentality, uncorking more of everything – the pandering, the wisecracks, the unapologetic Die Hardiness.

Channing Tatum dons the dirty wife-beater as John Cale, a D.C. cop on a White House tour with his young daughter when a paramilitary group invades. Naturally, John has been denied a spot on the Secret Service detail of President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) that very afternoon, which adds a redemptive angle to John’s heroics that the film wears like a manipulative badge of honor.

John and the Prez fight the baddies through every room, hallway and secret Marilyn Monroe love tunnel (patent pending) in the White House, recreating as many Die Hard moments as they can. Shoes off? Elevator shaft? Loved one held hostage? Cops mistakenly shooting at our hero on the roof?  Oh, yes, all that and so much more, as clever one liners give way to all-out comedy routines while bullets fly and rockets launch.

Director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012) displays his usual amount of subtlety:  none.  He keeps music swelling and flags waving, utilizing James Vanderbilt‘s script to deliver plenty of well choreographed, large scale action mixed with overblown speeches full of generic moralities.

And yet somehow, the unabashed ridiculousness and likable performances wear you down, and the over two hour assault on your objections calls to mind Russell Crowe in Gladiator.

“Are You Not Entertained?”  

Yes, a little.

Pass the popcorn.