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Reviews for June 28th, 2013

Documentary Round-Up

      Magic Camp, directed by Judd Ehrlich, centers around five campers, Zacharia Ivins, Zoe Reiches, Jonah Conlin, Brian Woodbridge and Reed Spool who take part in a week-long summer session at Tannen's Magic Camp in Pennsylvania. There, they learn how to perfect their skills at magic as they practice for a final competition at the end of the session. It takes much more than skills, though, to please the judges: they have to entertain the audience concurrently. Director Judd Ehrlich does a commendable job of combining suspense, insight and human stories. You'll learn why they love magic so much and you'll also be able to palpably sense their enthusiasm as they struggle to best magician that they can be. Fortunately, they have a great teacher who knows how to build their confidence by complimenting them when they do well and pointing out their mistakes when applicable. Not surprisingly, some of the campers experience homesickness at first. One particular camper, Julian Rosenblum, ends up going home early because of his homesickness. Ehrlich, wisely and respectfully, knows precisely how to keep his distance when Julian requests a little privacy so he can talk to his mother on the phone. It's equally riveting, moving and delightful to watch each camper perform during the final competition. Magic Camp is the kind of doc that will make you stand up and cheer. It opens at the reRun Gastropub via SnagFilms.

White House Down

Directed by Roland Emmerich

      John Cale (Channing Tatum), an Iraq war veteran turned cop who aspires to become a member of the Secret Service, gets a chance to prove his heroism and strength when a group of terrorists overtake the White House and hold people hostage inside. What do the terrorists hope to achieve by their hostage takeover? Control over U.S. nuclear missiles as long as they get the launch codes from President (Jamie Foxx). What's at stake? The lives of every U.S. citizen, including the John Cale's daughter, Emily (Joey King), who's trapped in the White House and separated from John during the ordeal. John must save the nation, the President and his daughter from the ruthless terrorists led by Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke). James woods plays the White House chief of security who's about to retire, and Maggie Gyllenhaal shows up as the head honcho of the Secret Service who assists John via cell phone.

      White House Down could have gone in at least two directions that would have made it worth watching. It could have been a clever, suspenseful political action thriller with some depth or a campy, zany, shallow and funny blockbuster that never takes itself too seriously. Unfortunately, director Roland Emmerich and screenwriter James Vanderbilt instead turn the film into a loud, dumb and preposterous one filled with tedious explosions and gunfire that have diminishing returns when it comes to providing excitement and thrills.

      What made classics like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon so great? There was some chemistry between the charismatic leads, they had memorable villains who were more than just your average, cookie-cutter bad guys, and the plot was grounded in realism and had at least a modicum of internal logic. White House Down doesn't have any of those essential elements. Channing Tatum lacks charisma and the acting chops to give his character any emotional weight. The stilted screenplay doesn't help enliven his chemistry or lack thereof with him and Jamie Foxx either, and the villains are bland and forgettable. A few twists involving political corruption can be seen from a mile away so they're not really twists nor are they particularly well thought out or believable in hindsight. Sure, the concept of government corruption alone is plausible, but the way that it plays out here is rather inane and gimmicky, as if it's just there to move the plot along from point A to point B. You'll require so much suspension of disbelief when John and the President evade many bullets and survive more than one explosion without injury that you'll think that they're immortal. Does White House Down need to be 2 hour and 17 minutes? Not at all. It feels like a long, boring video game that's more dumb than fun.

Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by Columbia Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

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