Category Archives: Special Guest Writers

Escape Plan

If I may digress for a moment before getting in to the film itself. It is an honor to provide this guest review for Chasing Cinema. Having grown up on 80s and 90s action films, the pairing of Sly and Arnold is a huge event for 80s action junkies like myself.

Now to the film.

Escape Plan is the coming together of two of the greatest action icons ever. Two men who thrilled audiences for twenty plus years with huge muscles, larger than life adventures, amazing firepower, and a very bad day for any bad guy that dared cross their path.

In case the lead in was not enough, I’m talking about Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone in Escape Plan

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone in Escape Plan

The story revolves around Ray Breslin (Stallone) a structural security expert. Ray’s Los Angeles based firm is renowned for designing and testing the security of detention institutions. Ray himself is often contracted by the Department Of Justice to be placed within prison facilities and test their integrity.  He finds their vulnerable points, be it personal or structural and expertly exploits them, liberating himself from any facility he is placed in.

Ray is aided by his team which includes his germ phobic business partner Lester Clark (Vincent D’Onofrio), assistant Abigail (Amy Ryan), and ex hacker computer expert, Hush (Curtis Jackson/50 Cent)

Ray’s firm is approached by CIA Agent Jessica Miller, who wants them to test the integrity of a new Super Max facility. The facility in question was built to house the worst offenders on earth, who no government wants to take responsibility for detaining. Hence an off the books private prison for profit.

With some trepidation, Ray accept the job and is sent to New Orleans where he  will pose as a European terrorist for hire and abducted to be incarcerated.

However this all turns out to be an elaborate set up as Ray is drugged and awakes to discover the entire scenario was staged. He realizes that he is effectively without outside help and now imprisoned at the mercy of the sadistic warden Hobbs (Jim Caviezel) and his ruthless band of masked guards.

Ray must now make an alliance with fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) in order to survive and plan his escape.

Let me just start with this, if you go into this movie expecting brilliant character portrayals and a riveting story of twists, turns, honor, and deceit… then rethink your motives. That is not what this movie was ever meant to be. Now this is not meant to discredit it. However if like me, you want to see two of the baddest action bad asses do what they do best and in the process blow stuff up, then this is the movie.

Escape Plan actually has a pretty intelligent premise and a lot of thought went into plotting out the specifics of Breslin’s approach. Ray is an intelligent character, which is a pleasure to see because despite judging him by physique and toughness alone, Stallone is a highly intelligent man.

The action is there and ever present, however it does not overshadow or diminish the strategic factors of the story. Thought is given to these escapes, not cheap sell outs like tying a bed sheet and sliding down over the fence. And while I won’t reveal the exact location of this super prison, it is actually quite genius.

The characters are developed to a degree. Breslin receives the deepest character development. Stallone plays him as the character should be played. There is never a scene that requires him shirtless or to be an imposing hero. Breslin is a hero that uses his brain and immense powers of observation to achieve his goals. Of course he is no pushover either. Breslin is a thinking man’s tough guy. One of the most interesting scenes comes when the warden of a prison Breslin has just escaped from asks him why a man would spend his life going to prison. It sort of offers a chance to look beyond Breslin’s genius and ponder this. It is a fascinating question and throughout there is a certain pain that Stallone gives the character. Breslin is not Superman and Stallone allows him to be vulnerable. The film offers a slight glimpse into Breslin’s past and motives; sadly this just seems like an afterthought.

Schwarzenegger’s portrayal of Rottmayer is just fun. The character’s story is very briefly touched on and we get the idea that he is not someone the other inmates care to cross. Though never really tested, Rottmayer holds a certain influence within the confinement.

Schwarzenegger obviously had a good time with this character. His famous whit is ever present as well as his often sarcastic interjections. As an aside, it is amusing that a man whose primary language is not English and is often teased about his English, has a collection of the most quoted characters ever.

Rottmayer as well is not a larger than life super imposing presence. There is no occasion for Arnold to rip his shirt off and dispatch everyone with muscles bulging. Rottmayer is a rather low key character compared to what Schwarzenegger is known for. And there is a brilliantly funny scene where Rottmayer puts on a crazy act to distract the guards and Schwarzenegger has a field day going off on a tirade in German. Say what you will about Arnold and his acting, he is one of the most charismatic actors ever. And finally what is more fun for action junkies like me than to see Arnold rip a M249-E2 SAW (big machine gun) off a helicopter and blast away with a shower of 5.56s.

Hobbs is a mixed bag. I really like Jim Caviezel and Caviezel is fun to say. However the he has beyond mastered the stoic thing. Hobbs is no exception. Yes the character is supposed to be dead pan, but the guy could have had more layers. While the character is rather one sided, it would be interesting to examine the mentality of a man like this. As an actor emotion is everything. However as a human it is rather disturbing to ponder the mindset of a man with no emotion.

One of Hobbs most interesting scenes comes towards the end where you see his character not only lacks regard for others, but himself as well.

The brilliant Sam Neill plays and is highly underused as a conscious conflicted doctor who works in the prison.

However amid all of these characters, one of the most interesting is a Muslim extremist named Javed played brilliantly by Pakistani actor Faran Tahir. In my unapologetic opinion, Tahir adds so much to this movie. His character is quite interesting to watch and could easily transplant to a serious drama. It is very hard to find fault with actors who can perform with their eyes. Javed has prowling eyes that tell you automatically that this guy is not to be crossed and is no man’s prisoner despite his environment.

As far as directing goes, not much can be said as it is pretty straight forward.  Mikael Håfström does not direct in a manner that necessarily begs attention unlike say the late Tony Scott. His direction is just clean and to the point. The thing I would have liked to seen and felt is a greater sense of confinement. The conditions of this prison are horrific, but the movie feels very open and free despite a few scenes.

The story does seem to falter slightly in the end with a sketchy revel of Rottmayer’s true identity and his possible involvement with Breslin’s set up. And the resolution of a character that double crossed Breslin is fun though a bit silly.

As a writer, filmmaker, obsessive Stallone fan,and action junkie, I have never felt movies like this get a fare assessment. Their intent is not to provoke deep thought or drag out your deepest emotional reactions. They are to watch two of the best action legends kick ass and blow stuff up.

If you grew up on movies like First Blood, Terminator, Predator, and Cobra then this is just a treat. Some have said that the movie does not do Stallone and Schwarzenegger the justice they deserve. That may be true, but can anything? The same was said for the first ever direct pairing of Pacino and DeNiro. It is hard to take actors who are larger than life in their specific fields and give them a platform to join forces and excel in. The pairing will always be bigger than what the film could ever be.

Simply stated, Escape Plan does what it is supposed to do.

3 out of 4 stars

-By Tim Santoro

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Some of my favorite lines from literature were penned by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Chapter three of The Great Gatsby reads:

“There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft, or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his two motor-boats slit the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam.”

Carey Mulligan & Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby (2013)

Carey Mulligan & Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby (2013)

These are the words Fitzgerald gives to Nick Carraway in describing Gatsby’s opulence. The novel is filled—on every page—with this kind of vivid language. This language is evocative and extravagant.

And when I go to the theater to see Gatsby’s gala events on screen, I expect to see this kind of extravagance and experience in highly sensory way. Baz Lurhmann’s film, titled after this central character, certainly makes noteable achieveents in capturing Gatsby’s indulgence.

But everything that glitters isn’t gold.

I imagine that somewhere underneath the sumptuousness and the garish costumes and over-done theatricality that there is a story—with characters who are driving madly toward some end. I imagine that Jay Gatsby’s sole driving desire is to amass a great fortune that he might use it to regain Daisy’s love. I imagine that Daisy—a loveable and flirtatious beauty—pulls at every man’s heart.

So while my imagination is firmly planted in the commanding characters of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, my vision is marred by the powerless characters who traipse aimlessly through Fitzgerald’s poignant tale.

Most notably lacking in heart is Carey Mulligan’s portrayal of Daisy Faye Buchanan. If Daisy is not loveable, eccentric, exciting, flirtatious, seductive and heartless—all at the same time—then Gatsby’s fortune is a “purposeless splendor.” But if she does compel Gatsby, Tom, and Nick, along with every man in the theater, then the tale is not only powerful but riveting. Then the audience will react in shock and dismay when their beloved Daisy is responsible for unspeakable tragedy. Mulligan’s Daisy is so unaffected that she does not command the emotional response that Fitzgerald’s Daisy elicits. Yes, her costumes glitter (literally, in almost every scene). But everything that glitters isn’t gold.

At it’s most basic level, filmmaking is about story-telling. And in that regard, Lurhmann must be congratulated. The ingenious structural device of having Nick Carraway narrate the story as he is writing what appears to be the novel allows the story to be told in a meaningful way. It’s very clever. It certainly glitters. But the film’s final moments reflect an essential question that Lurhmann’s film does not answer: Is Gatsby great? Having Nick add the title of “Great” to Gatsby’s name as an after thought, when his writing is finished, suggests a total lack of understanding of the novel itself. Nick calls Gatsby “great” not because he achieves his goal, but because of the great lengths to which Gatsby is willing to go in order to recapture the past—which clearly cannot be done. Maybe in telling this visually rich story, Lurhmann came to more fully understand the real Gatsby. They both dreamed. And they both must have  “seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.” You know what they say about glitter.

2 out of 4 stars

– By Special Guest Writer: Kevin Cotton

 

The Last Stand

As an avid Schwarzenegger fan, Arnold’s performances have yet to fail me as an action hero. I am always excited to see Arnold on the big screen and even though his age scales upward, he still remains humble, vibrant, and upholds a devoted attitude towards the ones who depend on him the most. What I like best about Schwarzenegger’s films is that he never stays stagnant and is ALWAYS determined to get his man. Do I expect this movie to be an academy award winner? No, I expected to appreciate a good American classic action film with gatling guns, explosives, and villains who had it coming. After being governor of California for roughly seven years or so, The Last Stand is Schwarzenegger’s first major role since then. Being the first American film that Jee-woon Kim has directed, I feel as though he put together a satisfying flick. Granted, this movie was no Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)nor would I want to hold a Schwarzenegger film to that expectation, but I will say this movie makes one chuckle at moments and other times makes you want to be right beside him engaging in the action. Is Arnold still in his prime? Most would say probably not, but if I had to choose who I wanted to fight by my side against guerrilla warfare, there’s only one man I know. At the end of the day, The Last Stand has its funny but sometimes cheesy moments, entertaining actions scenes, and a few touching sequences. On the contrary, at times it did drag, but then again when films have too much firefights, explosions, and tedious battles, it digresses from the story line.

Johnny Knoxville and Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Last Stand.

Johnny Knoxville and Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Last Stand.

After working with Los Angeles’ police department for quite sometime, Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger) decides to settle down and move to a more quiet and smaller area known as  “Summerton Junction” as the local sheriff. Being a very small town and in an area in which everyone knows everyone, the need for excessive law enforcement is not crucial. Owens oversees three other officers who go by the name of Jerry Bailey (Zach Gilford), Sarah Torrance (Jamie Alexander), and my personal favorite Mike Firguerola (Luis Guzmán). The three officers who work under Owens lack experience, but show dedication and loyalty to the force. Outside of Summerton Junction is Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Norlega), a respected leader of a Mexican drug cartel who is under direct custody of the FBI. Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) is conducting and in charge of supervising Cortez’s prison transfer to another secure facility. Patiently waiting, Cortez’s men ambush the feds and try to carry out his escape through a well thought-out strategical plan. Once Cortez’s men successfully make away with Cortez, Bannister puts up road blocks, makes sure planes don’t leave the ground and goes on the hunt to catch him. Cortez’s getaway choice is a ZR1 Corvette which runs roughly 1,000 horsepower and plans to make his way to the Mexican border. The feds follow Cortez by helicopter, set up road blocks, and do whatever else is in their power to somehow stop him from leaving the country. As Bannister begins sending his men to different areas around the Mexican border, he gives a call to Sheriff Owens and warns him that Cortez might be coming through. Now, as Owens puts the pieces together, he must do everything in his power to protect his town.

I felt that the movie had an entertaining story line and amusing actors to get me through it. Johnny Knoxville played a humble but humorous character similar to his role he played in Walking Tall (2004). Even though Johnny Knoxville’s character was not a major role in the movie, when he did appear on the screen it always lightened up the mood and added some humor to the film. I can also say the same for Luis Guzmán’s character. Guzmán’s character was played as a relaxed police officer who was playful, but also proabalt the most competent police officer of the three. Guzmán was the type who wanted to avoid bad situations, but when it came down to it he was a man of his word. One of my favorite parts about the movie was the beginning when Jerry, Mike, and Lewis were shooting a dead animal and the Lewis’ gun recoiled in Jerry’s face. Of course Owens shows up and maintains order of the three and shows them how a “real man” shoots the gun. I felt that Jee-woon Kim could have chosen a different Cortez. Eduardo Norlega sometimes came off cheesy, but would make up for it in other places of the film. I felt that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character did not try to be something he wasn’t. I felt Arnold played a classic role of a good action film. I felt his performance in The Last Stand had some relations with one of his older films he made, Last Action Hero (1993). In both movies, he portrayed a police officer so there were many similarities there.

Peter Stomares’ character had some cheesy lines here and there but for the most part played well. Stormare clearly defines the antagonist of a plot and was casted as a stereotypical “bad guy.” I felt that Whitaker’s role could have been played better. I felt that he was trying to be to stern and came off arrogant at times. As an action fanatic, my favorite part of the film was when Arnold opened the back of a school bus and started to shoot “Vicky” AKA the gatling gun. After seeing that, it brought me back and makes you want to be there with him. On the other hand, I was worried that the special effects were going to be displayed horribly, but luckily I was proven wrong in that aspect. I felt the cinematography could have been better at times, but executed the overall picture as a traditional action picture.

Overall, this movie met the criteria I was looking for. Like I said I don’t believe this movie will win an Oscar, but I don’t believe this movie should be nominated for a Razzie award either. As a die hard Schwarzenegger fan, I will support no matter what.

I believe Arnold will “be back” and doubt this will be his “Last Stand.”

 

3 out 4 stars

-By Guest Writer: Matthew Kerstine