Walking out of “Godzilla” at Blasdell’s McKinley Mall cinema on May 20, 1998, I made a solemn vow: I would never again pay to see a movie directed by Roland Emmerich on the big screen. In the years that followed, I rented virtually every one of his films — “The Patriot,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” “10,000 B.C.,” “2012,” even the interesting but dopey “Anonymous” — and found all but “10,000” a major improvement over the sinfully dreary “Godzilla.”
It is not that Emmerich is untalented, or his work offensive. He is simply irrelevant, anonymous. I give him credit for finding new ways to blow up Washington, but if one is seeking something new, he is not the man to look toward.
His latest, “White House Down,” looks like a preposterous blast, but I can guarantee I will not be racing to see it at the theater. Sure, I’ll rent the Channing Tatum-Jamie Foxx “Die Hard”-at-White-House romp, but if I’m going to pay my hard-earned cash, there are plenty of other options, such as …
“The Heat,” for one. For starters, it is directed by Paul Feig, the hilarious director of “Bridesmaids” and one of the minds behind the beloved “Freaks and Geeks.” Then there is the smart pairing of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, one of the more novel buddy-cop duos in recent memory. The trailers look funny, and in a summer of weak-kneed comedy, this could prove a keeper.
In terms of box office, “White House Down” should have no trouble coming in at number one, although I would expect it to open below last week’s number two film, “World War Z.” “The Heat” should follow in the second spot, with “Monsters University” up next. It will be especially interesting to see if “Man of Steel” or “World War Z” slots in fourth. If it is “Z,” then the Brad Pitt-starrer, which opened with more money than expected, can safely be called a lasting success. (Let’s not discuss how much it cost.)
In the world of indies, there are two very different, very interesting films hitting WNY this weekend: Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell” and Ronald F. Maxwell’s “Copperhead.”
Polley, of course, is the fine actress who moved into directing with the stunning “Away From Her” and the flawed but wonderful “Take This Waltz,” a film I despised at TIFF and adored months later. “Stories We Tell,” which debuted in Toronto last September, is a documentary on her mother, and the rumors that surrounded her own birth. It has received a rapturous response, pretty much across the board, and qualifies as a must-see.
Here is a wonderful segment of a Guardian piece on Polley and her acclaimed film:
“Sarah grew up with a family joke that she did not look anything like her siblings. Where did the reddish hair come from? Her mother used to laugh about it. There were other things she did not share with her siblings either. ‘I am highly strung, neurotic about responsibility and punctuality. I am compulsively early –I get to airports three hours early.’ In the film she determines to find out whether the joke has substance, a quest that will eventually lead to a ‘sick feeling of responsibility and an enormous crushing guilt that laid me out for a few weeks. I got really, really ill. It took a friend to clarify for me that finding a story is not the same as creating one.’ George Bernard Shaw wrote: ‘If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.’ In the film, that is what Sarah does.”
Meanwhile, “Copperhead” is the latest Civil War drama from Maxwell, the director of the great “Gettysburg” and the longgg “Gods and Generals.” I have a very personal connection to “Gettysburg” — my father was one of many reenactors who participated in the making of the film, and he can be glimpsed onscreen — but even without that link, I’d call it a very good film, with one of Jeff Daniels’ best performances. I never caught up with the less well-received “Gods,” but “Copperhead” seems an interesting follow-up.
It tells a much less-well-known story from the war between the states, focusing on opposition to the war in an upstate New York town. The cast includes “The Rocketeer” himself, Billy Campbell (who replaced Jason Patric during filming” and Peter Fonda, and it is worth noting that the film’s screenwriter, Bill Kauffman, is a Batavia, New York, native. (Incidentally, I wrote a piece on Civil War films that touches on “Coppherhead” for The Film Stage.)
One other note on “Copperhead”: Kauffman is set for a Q-and-A after screenings of the film this weekend.
Also opening this week, at the Elmwood Regal, is “Raanjhanaa,” a new Indian romantic drama that I must admit I am unfamiliar with. (Here is a Hollywood Reporter review.)
The Screening Room is once again showing Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief” at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; it is again followed at 9:20 on Saturday with the noir classic “D.O.A.”
Bacchus takes a few weeks off, returning with “Anchorman” on July 10, while the UB North Campus shows “Despicable Me” on Friday and “Forrest Gump” on Tuesday (July 2), both at 9:15, and the UB South Campus offers my friend Roland Emmerich’s “Independence Day” on Wednesday (July 3).
Coming down the pike is “Despicable Me 2,” which I reviewed for the Buffalo News — look for it next Thursday— and Johnny Depp’s wow-this-looks-unappealing “The Lone Ranger.” Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go ponder why “The Bling Ring” is already disappearing from Buffalo screens …
Photo: Director of Cinematography Iris Ng (left) with Director Sarah Polley (right) in STORIES WE TELL. Credit: Ken Worone.