Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Escape Plan

I can't believe Im writing this 3 weeks after it's release. But truth be told, I didn't have enough time to. I flew to California a day after watching the movie. Then again, that's 6 hours to type away. But then again, there were quite a few things I either A) Didn't remember or B) Didnt understand why certain things were done. All in a result to being absolutely inebriated. I have since watched it again (this time, I started drinking at the START of the film as opposed to 5 hours prior). And shit, how fucking good this movie is.

Just to give a little backstory on the production of this film. Originally, this was supposed to be a Bruce Willis vehicle. A plus for him, a minus for the film. Let's face it, Bruce Willie is a tired bald man. You can see it in every action film he has done in recent (and not-so-recent years). Sadly, he's 8 years YOUNGER than Stallone. And Stallone is running circles around this man. But going back to my plus & minus statement. Almost every movie Willis has done recently has been on par with his acting ability. Is Willis particularly bad in any film he's in? No. He's just bored and boring. It's Bruce Willis playing Bruce Willis. All his IMDb credits should read "Bruce Willis as Himself". If he DID do this film, it would benefit him, because this film is damn smarter than it needs to be (more on that later). Fortunately for the film, it lost Willis and gained Stallone, and THEN Schwarzenegger. Holy hell.

Originally titled "The Tomb" (a far more ambitious title) centers around Stallone's character Ray Breslin who is the foremost authority in prison security weaknesses. He is literally hired to break out of prisons to locate and address each and every weakness. His next job? A low-key, privately-funded, maximum-security prison that is off the books. Little does Breslin know, it's not a routine job. Someone wants him in there forever.

The film opens in a way to let you know how smart and clever it really is. Don't kid yourself, this isn't something like The Departed, where it's complexity is so fine-tuned. The phrase I throw around left and right with this film (and as previously mentioned) is "smarter than it needs to be". It is not a dumb film. It is not The Expendables (and fuck, do I LOVE The Expendables). It's clever. It has you guess how, and then gives you the answers. And not only does it give you the answers, but they actually make sense. Now of course there are some concessions made, in terms of accessibility. But they all still work. Going back to the opening of the film (don't worry, no real spoilers), it's more-so an introduction to Ray Breslin's (Stallone) character. He breaks out of just a routine-prison. And within those 10 minutes, you see how anything and everything are essential to escaping a prison. The layout, the routine and any help you can possibly get. From observing when guard smoke breaks occur to utilizing a milk carton to figuring out the exact keypad number combinations to your cell. It lays outs how Breslin thinks and operates.

I don't want to give too much away in terms of the story. So I won't. All that you need to know from here on out is that Stallone arrives to the off-the-books prison and realizes that he was not sent their on business. He was sent there to stay in there forever.

In the prison we meet Schwarzenegger's character Rottmayer. And I am so happy that he finally rediscovered his acting abilities again. Because I was a little nervous due to his performance in The Last Stand (you can read the review: HERE). In that film he was rusty and just awkward. In Escape Plan, Im going to say it, he STEALS the film from Stallone. A VERY fucking hard task to do. It's hard for me to even say it due to me being a "Stallone > Schwarzenegger" kind of person. Schwarzenegger not only dusted the dirt off of his shoulders in this, he is fucking hilarious. And I mean 70% in a Schwarzenegger kind of way and 30% in a genuinely humorous kind of way. He has some new soon-to-be classic lines, some German-speaking lines and one GOD-AWESOME dirty "your mother" insult. It's just really great seeing him at the top of his game again. And obviously him and Stallone together in more than a glorified cameo role. In fact, for the first 20 minutes of the film, it's solely Stallone's movie. But once Schwarzenegger's character is introduced, they split the screen time 50/50.

The rest of the cast were either tolerable or above-average. And with a Stallone/Schwarzenegger film that's NOT The Expendables, that's all you can ask for. First, we'll get to the antagonist of the film. Warden Hobbes played by Jim Caviezel (AKA Jesus in Passion of the Christ). He played a pretty good cunt warden. His character had a nice touch of Hannibal Lector, all the while staying grounded with his work. A pleasant surprise was Sam Neill, who played the prison doctor. He wasn't really sold in any of the trailers or TV spots, which rare for films like these. Vincent D'Onofrio was another nice addition to the cast. And oddly enough, 50 Cent wasn't horrible in this either. The fact that they casted him as just a computer specialist was fine for me. They didn't ultra-nerd-up his character, and didn't make him this udo-tough guy. He was just a regular character for the most part, which is the best thing they could have done for an odd casting like that.

The action. I would say that the action in this film is few and far between, but it's not. And IF it is, it's paced really well. Because there is not one second where I felt bored in the non-action sequences. Like I said (AGAIN!) the film is smarter than it needs to be. In all the in-between scenes where Stallone's character has to explain all the technics of how to escape, it's all very interesting. From navigating where they are exactly by deciphering which way the toilet flows, to deciphering how low below sea level they are by the type of metal the prison uses, to figuring out the guards' routines based on their ticks and interactions with other guards, it all works very well. But when the action happens, it's intense. Because you are obviously rooting for these guys to escape. A) Because it's only natural to see one prevail B) Because you want to know why the fuck these guys are in the prison to begin with.

Technically, you can tell some good money went into the film. The sets were realistic and believable. There were only a few noticeable CG shots. And by a few, I mean like 2. Most of the film is set inside the prison. And from what I could see from B-roll footage (raw, on-set footage) almost all the sets were practical sets. It was shot just fine. A few nice crane shots. And I think that was really to put the money on the screen. Because a lot of the sets were pretty damn high.

I am relieved to say that I set the bar high for this film, and it delivered. Do I like it more than The Expendables 2? No. But only because The Expendables 2 is too fucking fun. Too fucking fun. But I assure you, Escape Plan is a much better made film. How The Expendables 2 has a 68% on Rotten Tomatoes and Escape Plan only has a 48%? Maybe it was the Van Dammage...
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Machete Kills

Im not sure why, but I loved the first Machete. For me, it succeeded in making me laugh. Is it a real film? No. But I had a hell of a lot of fun with the first one. The odd thing is that I do NOT like Robert Rodriguez. I dont care for his style, and I dont care for his films. But he struck a chord with me with the first Machete. It was over-the-top, had killer stunt-casting, and was just generally hilarious. So with the first film ending with a tease of what's to come, I naturally got excited.

It took 3 years for Machete Kills to happen. And Im not quite sure if ideas were tossed around within those 3 years, or if they were tossed around RIGHT before shooting began, because the film was kinda' sloppy. What the first film achieved was some sense of cohesiveness. Machete Kills isn't really a cohesive film at all. I understand that if the first film was Rodriguez's "Mexican Shaft" that the second film was his "Moonraker". But for me, you can't switch a franchises genre around so abruptly. The whole film just felt off.

Let's get to plot of the film. Machete is hired by the President of the United States to stop a madman from launching nuclear missiles into space. A much larger idea than just border patrol issues like in the first one. And I'll admit, with his mission in "Kills" comes some pretty funny situations, but for the most part, it almost seemed like it was trying to be a homage to something as recent and undeserving like Jason X or something. I know for a fact that wasn't the intention at all. Maybe Leprechaun 4: In Space would be a better comparison. Regardless, they should have kept the character grounded (literally) for maybe another 3 movies.

I guess I'll get to the plus of the film. And that is once again the casting. Machete had Robert DeNiro, Don Johnson, and fucking Steven Seagal. Machete Kills? MEL FUCKING GIBSON. Dont even worry about who else is in the film. Mel steals the show. And I am not saying that biasedly. Everyone else in the film isn't even in the movie long enough to do anything with their characters. Mel plays an arms dealer named Luther Voz, and does it so fucking well. Voz is essentially a classic Bond villain. I would say he hams it up, but he plays it pretty straight, it's his costumes and surroundings that seem to ham up his character (he wears a fucking cape!). If you threw Mel in a Daniel Craig Bond film as the villain, with a serious tone and all, you would have something GREAT.

Now to nit-pick a problem with BOTH films, it's use of blood. There are PLENTY of scenes with clever and grotesque ways of dismembering and killing the baddies. It's just a shame there are no practical FX. It's all digital. And that is one of the many things that Tarantino excels at that Rodriguez does not. If you watch Django Unchained, you can clearly see that ALL of his kills are on-set squibs. Rodriguez loves to digitize everything. He shoots digital and does all of his FX in post. Which just shows a sense of laziness. I dont care if I dont like the film or not, I know Tarantino tries to make everything inside the frame as real as possible (not to mention on actual celluloid). I didn't really notice much (or any) feux-film grain in Machete Kills, but the fact that he used it for the fake trailer and the first film made absolutely no sense. If he wanted to get a sense of "aging" and "distortion", the picture should be pixelated. Putting film grain on digital video is like... Actually, I can't think of anything as stupid.

The one thing I WILL give to Rodriguez is his outsider-esque mentality. What do I mean by that? I'll explain. He works and operates in his hometown of Austin in his own film studio. He chooses less traditional projects (Sin City, Machete, etc.) and out-of-left-field projects (Spy Kids). Is Spy Kids the least bit good? Absolutely not. But I can admire wanting to make a movie his own kids can view. His craft may not be very good, but I can admire the independence he has in creating what he creates.

I know it doesnt sound like I liked the film, but in the end, I actually did. It was fun. Just not nearly as good or humorous as the first film. And that's even with the presence of Mel Gibson. Sheesh.
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