Blu Tuesday: White House Down, Parkland and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“White House Down”

WHAT: While on a tour of the White House with his daughter (Joey King), Capitol policeman John Cale (Channing Tatum) is forced into action when the building is invaded by a group of paramilitary mercenaries looking to kidnap the President of the United States (Jamie Foxx).

WHY: When it was announced that there were two movies in production about the White House coming under attack, I would have put my money on Roland Emmerich to deliver the more entertaining film. But while “White House Down” is amusing in an over-the-top sort of way, Antoine Fuqua’s “Olympus Has Fallen” just barely edges it for me. Whereas that movie was a little more practical with its premise, Emmerich’s film wears its craziness on its sleeve, perhaps best illustrated by an outlandish chase sequence on the White House lawn. It also features more moles than a season of “24,” leading to some pretty impracticable twists. However, “White House Down” does benefit from some great chemistry between Tatum and Foxx, and the supporting cast is excellent, even if many of the actors are wasted in throwaway roles. At the end of the day, though, the two films are actually quite different despite their similar setups. While “Olympus Has Fallen” owes a lot to stealthy action thrillers like “Die Hard,” “White House Down” is a balls-out explosion extravaganza that’s the epitome of popcorn filmmaking.

EXTRAS: There’s no shortage of bonus material on the Blu-ray release, with 13 short featurettes – ranging from production, to casting, to special effects – and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Parkland”

WHAT: On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. This is the story of the individuals involved in that tragic day, including the hospital staff at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital, the Secret Service and FBI, the unwitting cameraman (Paul Giamatti) who captured it on film, and the family of Lee Harvey Oswald.

WHY: For as many times as the JFK assassination has been covered in cinema, it’s refreshing to see a film that offers a unique perspective on the matter, much in the same way that Emilio Estevez did with “Bobby.” Unfortunately, “Parkland” is a tale of two halves, and while the former is comprised of some powerful moments as the doctors, Secret Service agents and others scramble amid the chaos of the situation, the latter portion focusing on the days after the shooting isn’t nearly as interesting. The movie’s biggest problem is that there are so many characters that none of them are ever fully developed, though Giamatti’s Abraham Zapruder and James Badge Dale’s Robert Oswald are given more to do than most. With that said, it’s pretty incredible at how many great actors writer/director Peter Landesman was able to cast in the film – some of whom play such small, peripheral roles that they’re only in a scene or two – because it’s the quality of the talent that makes “Parkland” worth watching.

EXTRAS: There’s a director commentary and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Greg Mottola (“Clear History”)

Greg Mottola first came to prominence as the director of the indie comedy “The Daytrippers,” but he began a much quicker rise in mainstream recognition when he helmed the comedies “Superbad” and “Adventureland.” Currently, Mottola is making the rounds to support his work as the director of Larry David’s new HBO movie, “Clear History,” but he’s not entirely confident if the word “director” really sums up his efforts on the film. Bullz-Eye chatted with Mottola during the TCA press tour, and we talked about how surprisingly easy David is to work with, how he came to appear in a couple of Woody Allen films as an actor, and what a hassle – and what fun – it was to make “Paul.”

GregMottola

Bullz-Eye: So directing Larry David has got to be at least somewhat of a challenge.

Greg Mottola: Um…

BE: I’m not saying good or bad, just…challenging.

GM: It’s… Well, I mean, the process was so specific. I don’t even know if my job title should be called “director” on this movie. [Laughs.] “Associate collaborator” is probably closer to it. But that’s the way it should be. I’m not sure if, in the press notes, they talk so much about how we made it, but essentially it’s the same way Larry does “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” with some key differences. But Larry writes a script-ment, they call it, so this was about 35 pages of paragraphs of what happens in this scene, with an occasional line of dialogue or joke that Larry or his co-writers thought, “Oh, we should definitely get that in.” So they write that in, but, really, no other dialogue.

And we get to the set, we walk through the scene, and we’ll just sort of block it very generally. Like, “You’re gonna enter from that door, you’re gonna be sitting here, you’re gonna come over here, talk about this, you’re gonna leave.” Y’know, just sort of walk through all the little bits of blocking, but never rehearse it at all. So the first time anyone is acting, the cameras are rolling. And it’s usually two cameras, sometimes three if we can squeeze another one in there. And Larry by and large never does the same thing twice. [Laughs.] So as a director, you’re constantly strategizing, “Okay, we did that one time, I’d like to try and get something like that line, maybe in a tighter size, so…let’s switch lenses right now while we’re in the zone, and we’ll swap back and do wide shots again.” So you’re constantly just sort of improvising the directing style as everyone’s improvising the lines.

MottolaDavid

So directing Larry is just sort of endless conferences between takes about, “We’d like this from that, we didn’t like that,” just sort of honing in on what worked, sometimes stopping entirely and saying, “This doesn’t work at all, let’s start from scratch and just approach it completely differently and do a different version of the scene.” And that happened a few times. We’d have two completely different versions of the same scene…and usually the one that ends up in the movie is the second one. You know, the one thing about Larry is that he’s an absolute pleasure to work with. Despite his sort of screen persona and his point of view about human nature, which—between “Seinfeld” and “Curb”—is pretty clear… [Laughs.] He’s a really happy guy! He’s a guy who walks around whistling and practicing his golf swing. He’s, like, in a good mood 99% of the time. So it’s great to work with him.

BE: I…can’t really wrap my head around that.

GM: [Laughs.] It is hard to believe.

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