Talking Movies

October 17, 2013

Escape Plan

Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger finally properly co-star together, and the result is a superior slice of prison break nonsense.

THE TOMB

Ray Breslin (Stallone) begins the film getting sent to solitary in a federal prison in Colorado for shanking a vengeful fellow prisoner. He promptly escapes with the help of an explosive diversion outside. And then explains to the warden how he did it, because that’s Ray’s job. Aided by his colleagues Abigail (Amy Ryan) and Hush (Curtis Jackson), Ray is sent to prisons by his business partner Lester (Vincent D’Onofrio) to compromise their security, so that weak-points can be eliminated. However, when CIA agent Miller (Monaghan’s Caitriona Balfe) employs Ray to test a new black site things go sideways. Victimised by vicious guard Drake (Vinne Jones), Stallone finds the warden Hobbes (Jim Caviziel) is not his contact, but his nemesis. Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), an associate of a master financial hacker, is Ray’s only chance of escaping from Hobbes’ unbreakable The Tomb.

Director Mikael Hafstrom is obviously aware of the silliness of proceedings. The first appearance of Schwarzenegger is accompanied by a deliriously knowing camera swoop to reveal his face. And then a later slow-mo extreme close up on Arnie’s eyes accompanies an appropriately massive gun finally being given to him. The dialogue at times creaks under the weight of expectation for good one-liners that it can’t quite deliver. But there is so much to love in this film. Arnie freaking out in German in an extended sequence in which he recites the entire ‘Our Father’ as well as riffing on Nietzsche’s Gay Science is oddly glorious. And Stallone’s emphasis on brains over brawn is a pleasing acknowledgment of his age: his strength is his tactical nous in assessing how structural weak points best combine with the blind moments in guards’ routines.

Hobbes beautifully uses Ray’s very life work against him. If you’d read one of Cosmo Landesman’s more ridiculous rants you’d note that Caviziel’s wearing of a waistcoat, fastidious dusting of his tie, and studious hobby of pinning butterflies resemble Christopher Eccleston’s alleged coders of homosexuality in Gone in 60 Seconds. Landesman’s quite odd sometimes… Far more interesting is noting Republican Schwarzenegger’s involvement in such a politically subversive script. Hobbes dispenses with the niceties of water-boarding to simply insert a hose in Rottmayer’s mouth and let rip. Faran Tahir’s Javed becomes an integral and sympathetic part of the escape, so that suddenly either we’re rooting for a mujihadeen to get back to business or accepting that the CIA quite frequently renditions the wrong man. Escape Plan is also a needlessly star-studded film. Sam Neill gets very little to do as the sympathetic prison doctor, while the great Ryan is similarly underused.

Escape Plan, excepting some expansive pull-outs, prioritises physical sets and choreography over CGI, and is the escapist fun The Expendables franchise fails to deliver.

4/5

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October 5, 2012

Sinister

The producers of Paranormal Activity eschew their look for a more classically shot horror that has odd echoes of recent art-house oddity Berberian Sound Studio.

In the name of research true crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) moves into a house where a family was murdered. He neglects to tell his wife their new home is a crime scene… Law & Order fans will get a kick out of some minor roles as Ellison is brusquely welcomed by Fred Dalton Thompson (That’s Senator Thompson of Tennessee to you!) as the local Sheriff who wants him gone, and later he gets research help from an expert on the occult (Vincent D’Onofrio). He needs that help after stumbling over some old 8mm films in the attic, which turn out to be the home movies of a serial killer that include many other massacres besides the one Ellison’s researching, all just dripping occult symbols. Ellison gleefully believes this discovery will propel him back into the limelight. But then strange things start to literally go bump in the night…

Ethan (Training Day) Hawke as a man trying to re-scale the heights of a hit from the early 2000s seems like cruel casting that would do Veronica Mars proud. He’s very effective though as there’s an unexpectedly meaty emotional throughline with Juliet Rylance as his long suffering English wife Tracy; who’s worried about the malign effect his work has on their two children. There’s also great comedic relief from Deputy “So and So” (James Ransone); embarrassingly eager to assist Ellison’s research. Director/co-writer Scott Derrickson displays flair in building dread thru the effect the horrors of the 8mm films have on Ellison’s psyche. The idea of a serial killer who slaughters families before abducting one child, and who has been this doing since the late 1960s, is chilling, and Derrickson stages some wonderful scares as an increasingly paranoid Ellison chases shadows.

But even a truly terrifying sequence involving the night terrors of Ellison’s young son has not involved anything ghoulish. And then a spectacular scare moment loudly announces that this serial killer’s methods are supernatural; and he is now after Ellison… Sinister doesn’t quite reach the heights of The Woman in Black because Derrickson cheats a good deal. Ellison has a bizarre preference for working in the dark. He never switches on a damn light in the house at night, making it easier for the audience to fill the shadows with all kinds of scary monsters; which Derrickson takes advantage of for one heart-stopping supernatural jump scare. A brace of central ideas are also lifted from Doctor Who and American Gods. Gripes aside, this is tense stuff that patiently, inexorably builds towards a suspenseful, traumatic finale.

I don’t understand why Sinister is being released this early in October, because it is by way of being the perfect Hallowe’en scary movie.

4/5

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