For the second edition of Movie Night the theme of American Presidents was chosen by a panel of independent judges (one of my friends).
In a concerted attempt to make Movie Night a more entertaining experience I organised it so that the best film would come first and the worst last. The reasoning was that as we got progressively more drunk the bad films would be more tolerable.
Things didn’t quite work to plan.
The Butler (I thought) would be far and away the best film of the night. As it turns out I was quite wrong. The Butler isn’t necessarily a bad film. It is perfectly well-acted, beautifully shot, and adequately paced. It’s just that it never does anything particularly new or interesting.
The film purports to be the story of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), a black butler who served in the White House through a number of presidential terms. Unfortunately Cecil Gaines is little more of an observer to the events of the film. As such it plays out as more a chronicling of the civil rights movement than a one mans journey through them.
As it happens, the film has nothing revelatory to say about its period of history.
Cecil is ultimately a very passive character, he mostly watches on as other men act. What few moments of influence he does have (whether they happened or not) feel forced. Take for example when Kennedy (James Marsden) tells Cecil that his actions have changed Kennedy’s outlook on the civil rights debate for the better, it feel unearned and completely out of the blue.
Instead, The Butler’s most interesting character is found in Cecil’s son Louis (David Oyelowo). He is a far more invested and influential character in the film’s plot, and I can’t tell for the life of me why the film was not centred on him.
Best Bit: Oprah’s surprisingly good (but not amazing) performance.
Worst Bit: David Oyelowo in a netted top.
White House Down
This was a last minute substitution. This slot was originally meant to be filled by Olympus Has Fallen, however after watching both trailers the day before, I decided that this would probably be a better pick. As it turns out (I’m guessing) I was right.
White House Down has no pretences of being anything more than Die Hard lite. There is the everyman hero, the confined setting, and the loved one held as a hostage. This means that the film’s first act basically plays out as an extended showreel of overused cliches, and is quite tedious to sit through.
Luckily, as we launch into the action, things pick up considerably. The action, while stupid, is extremely entertaining and perfectly paced. It’s the kind of stuff that will psych you up, and after a couple of beers you will be cheering along with. Add to this that Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx do a good job of making their respective characters likeable and you get a particularly raucous thrill ride.
From the moment the film hits its stride, to the closing credits, White House Down never lets up. It’s probably for the best, since if it slowed down enough for you to think about it, it probably doesn’t make much sense.
I can’t say I hadn’t predicted everything that would happen in the film’s 3rd Act by the time it came around, but by then I was enjoying White House Down enough not to care.
Best Bit: The drive around the White House lawn.
Worst Bit: The really annoying tour guide.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
I mentioned earlier my hypothesis that excessive consumption of alcohol would render even the most terrible of films watchable. Well it turns out that there isn’t enough alcohol in the world to make Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter an entertaining ride.
While White House Down relied too much on cliche to develop its characters, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter opts to not develop its characters at all. A strange choice for a film that revolves around a historical figure so strong of character.
The film generally hops from one terribly CGI’d set-piece to another with very little in terms of plot to string it together. The result is underwhelming action, followed by underwhelming dialogue, which is underwhelmingly acted. Needless to say, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is an underwhelming experience, and perhaps one of the most tedious films I have had the misfortune of sitting through.
Best Bit: N/A
Worst Bit: Dominic Cooper’s performance or the unwatchable horse stampede scene. Take your pick.