Escape Plan

Arnie and Sly get stuck in ITV's The Cube

Arnie and Sly get stuck in ITV’s The Cube

This should perhaps be considered an addendum to the B movies post of a few weeks back as it’s a continuation of that theme. It’s not quite the big dumb action movie that Sly and Arnie used to specialise in, but it’s close and it does represent the first time that these two have co-top-billed a movie.

The story finds Stallone as an expert at testing the security of prisons. He’s offered a big pay check to test out a CIA prison that is designed to be a more secret Guantanemo and dives in without a thought of the implications of getting involved with the CIA. So, in a matter of minutes he’s whisked away to an unimpeachable prison where, who should he find but Arnie. When his failsafe measures fail, he has to set about escaping for real, and Arnie latches himself on for the ride.

It’s a simple concept and it’s not without its flaws – if these prisoners are that of the grid why not just kill them? And why allow them to mingle with each other? – but you know what you’re getting in to. If you go along for the ride there’s plenty of fun to be had here. It’s a pleasantly dumb way to pass a couple of hours, and at no point does anyone make any stupid jokes about being too old for this shit, which makes for a pleasant change.

B-

Film length: 1 hr 55 mins – Feels like: 1 hr 45 mins

B-Movies A-Hoy! – White House Down & The Call

The movie fulfils the promise of this image.

The movie fulfils the promise of this image.

There are two types of B-movie – the big, brash and bold, and the simple idea followed through until the end – and this double bill provided me with one of each.

White House Down is the second ‘terrorists take over the White House’ movie this year and if you’ve been taking notes you’d know I didn’t see Olympus Has Fallen, the Gerard Butler led version that was first out of the gate. By all accounts, that movie took itself far too seriously, a problem which afflicts too many films with entirely preposterous set-ups. White House Down does no such thing. It’s knows it’s a big dumb action movie from the start and goes out to have some fun with it.

After the latest mishap, this time Obama really means it - he will give up smoking.

After the latest mishap, this time Obama really means it – he will give up smoking.

It also knows it’s going to be labelled “Die Hard in the White House” and seems hell-bent on being a Die Hard cover version featuring, amongst other things, elevator shafts, walking barefoot, vest-wearing, rocket launchers being fired at armoured vehicles, helicopters being shot down, a bespectacled computer geek employed to break some codes, and a fair few other key images or ideas from what I believe to be the greatest action movie of all time. And this is no bad thing. White House Down always maintains a sly wink to the audience and is more than happy to accept its own ludicrousness, be it in a White House lawn-based car chase featuring the president firing a rocket launcher or an aside from the lead terrorist that he doesn’t want cake because he’s diabetic.

It is, like almost everything, too long, clocking in at over 2 hours, but it is bloody good fun throughout and it’s difficult to exit the cinema without a big broad beaming smile on your face.

Halle Berry does Madonna at the Warner Bros Christmas Karaoke Party

Halle Berry does Madonna at the Warner Bros Christmas Karaoke Party

The Call is a very simple idea looking at a side of the emergency services that is all too often overlooked – the emergency call operator. Halle Berry plays the operator and we’re quickly brought up to speed on the kind of pressures and situations an operator has to deal with. The people on the other end of the phone can be in pain, in fear of their lives, and the operator must remain calm and try to ensure the caller’s safety until the police or an ambulance can arrive. As the trailer gives away, Berry takes a call from a girl afraid of someone attempting to break into her house and does everything almost perfectly, but her one small and instinctive mistake ultimately leads to the girl’s death. Shaken, Berry becomes a trainer rather than an operator, until a tour of the ‘hive’ leads her to taking the lead on a kidnapping in progress. The caller is in the boot of the kidnapper’s car and Berry has to try to track her down.

The film keeps your nerves on edge the whole way through and asks the audience what they would do in the same situation, before ruling out each of those options. It’s taut at a little over 90 minutes and is the kind of claustrophobic thriller you wish came along a little more often but without the big effects there’s little to draw people in at first glance. Hopefully word of mouth will lead to a good life on DVD as this is a film which deserves a bigger audience than the one it appears to have found at the cinema.

One note, the ending, ultimately, is ridiculous and you can go with it or you can walk out feeling let down. I’d say just go with it. It’s playing up to some generic conventions and what has gone before earns some leeway and artistic licence.

White House Down – B – Length: 2hrs 11 mins – Feels like: 2hrs 10 mins

The Call – B – Length: 1hr 34 mins – Feels like: 1hr 30 mins

White House Down trailer:

The Call trailer – warning – it gives away basically the whole movie. If you think you may enjoy the film, just skip the trailer and jump in.

2 Guns

2-guns

You shouldn’t read anything into the fact that, when playing catch-up on my reviews, I totally forgot I had seen this. It’s actually a really enjoyable diversion. no, it’s not the greatest film in the world, but it’s a highly enjoyable ride. The rapport between Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg is relaxed and easy and, utlimately, the real selling point.

The story is all a bit silly and doesn’t really matter. All you need to know is that at first they Washington and Wahlberg like each other, then hate each other, then reluctantly have to team up. How will they feel about each other at the end? Ooh, it’s such a mystery.

But taking a script that leans on all the conventions can either lead to something very creaky, or to something that has fun with it and this, fortunately, ends up as the latter. I think I’ve said before how much I like Wahlberg on screen and 2 Guns continues the theme. Washington, on the other hand, is someone I can often take or leave. I mean, I respect him – he’s an undoubtedly great actor – but his action thrillers are often less enjoyable than I feel they should be, taking themselves a little too seriously. Here, though, he is having fun, and his magnetism on screen shines through.

And while the film doesn’t do anything special in the story or character terms, it does bring some fresh images the screen in a few little chase sequences – one in the desert and one through a cowshed spring to mind – and when dealing with such standard material as this, a little innovation in the way things are shot is a massive bonus.

So all told, it’s nothing special, but it’s enough fun to be worth catching if you get the chance.

B

Film length: 1hr 49mins – Feels like: 1hr 40 mins

Rush

movies-rush-poster

The most interesting thing about Rush is that it avoids doing what you would expect every other film to do with its lead characters – it doesn’t take sides. Rush is the story of the rivalry between James Hunt, the prototypical Formula 1 playboy, and Niki Lauda who, while Austrian, could be considered the template for the stereotype of the hardworking German in search of precision and perfection. These two faced off over the course of the 1976 F1 World Championship, a season notable for a number of fatalities and horrific injuries.

The typical way to tell this story would be for Lauda to be presented as the bad guy. He was the incumbent world champion, he was cold, blunt, brusque. Hunt, on the other hand, was naturally skilled but didn’t care for preparation, relying on his wits. He was handsome, charming, a crowd-pleaser. I guess what prevented that narrative was the accident that happened partway through the season in which Lauda was almost killed, receiving terrible burns across his face, leaving him disfigured. Casting him as the bad guy would be harsh to say the least.

Instead, the film challenges the audience to make up their own minds, which is refreshing from a mainstream venture. It’s an interesting challenge. I have always sided with the guys with the natural talent, and the guys who show their emotions – people like Seve Ballesteros – over those who practice, practice, practice and keep their emotions inside – Tiger Woods for example – but Rush seeks to open up that more mechanical persona and turn it into something more human.

Overall, the film is enjoyable, solid mainstream fair, drawing engaging characters and relationships (though reputedly playing fast and loose with Hunt and Lauda’s off-track friendship), and I only really found it lacking in the driving sequences, which isn’t as big a miss as it sounds. The heart and soul of the film is in the characters, and so the fact that the on-track scenes don’t have you on the edge of your seat isn’t crippling but it’s certainly a disappointment.

B

Film length: 2hrs 3 mins – Feels like: 1hr 45mins

Elysium

Elysium

In 2009, a science fiction film came from out of nowhere (well, out of South Africa), with no stars but some fantastic special effects and a great story and script making a parable for its home country’s apartheid history. It featured a brilliantly realised world which felt true in every detail and offered insight without being heavy-handed. That film was District 9, (co-)written and directed by Neill Blomkamp. Elysium is his follow-up, this time with the might of Hollywood behind him. The risk is that Hollywood will see the original and up the ante on the wrong things as the things that stand out are not necessarly what made the original great in the first place. For a recent example, see Kick Ass 2, wherein the violence and, especially, the swearing were upped while the intelligence and the character was ignored, resulting in a soulless piece of garbage that’s in the running for the worst film of the year.

Blomkamp secured some quality when he came stateside though, with Matt Damon and Jodie Foster taking the leads, two actors with a lot of smarts and who don’t pick projects indiscriminately. The film is again a science fiction take on problems in the modern world, this time healthcare, or more specifically the American healthcare model. We’re in a world where the rich (the 1% if you will) have decamped to an orbiting space station, Elysium, while the rest of humanity is left to struggle and rot on earth. Naturally everyone on Earth wants to live on Elysium where the 1% seemingly do nothing to maintain their position and can be cured of cancer by what amounts to a tanning bed crossed with a photocopier. Foster is charged with keeping Elysium free of refugees, but has clashes with those above her in the system and has designs on running things her way. Meanwhile, Damon is a working-class Joe who made a childhood promise to a girl to take her to Elysium one day. Now that friend’s daughter has leukaemia and only Elysium can save her. After being exposed to a likely fatal dose of radiation, Damon is determined to make it up there.

O paper Elysium has the potential to be a truly great science fiction film, something to join the pantheon of greats from the 60s and 70s and those of more recent years, including films like District 9, Twelve Monkeys, and Children of Men. These are films which offer a wider reflection on humanity, on time, on life, on what it means to be human. It’s a shame, then, that Elysium fumbles the opportunity to such an extent that it’s almost laughable to bring those films up in the same paragraph.

What is wrong with the film, at its core, is that it doesn’t present a believable world. Damon, himself, does a good job in the central role of Max, but everyone around him feels like they are there to facilitate the plot or to ensure that Damon doesn’t exist in a vacuum. When building a world, science fiction or otherwise, the further away from the current reality it is the more you have to work to make it feel real. Here, virtually no character that interacts with Damon feels like they have their own sets of wants, needs, or motivations. They play archetypes or caricatures or people who ask Damon things so that he can explain his feelings about the world or what his next move will be. Everything that exists in this world is only there to serve Max and his story.

Then we come to Foster. It’s a very strange thing, but every single line she speaks appears to be post-dubbed (that is, appears to have been rerecorded in a studio and lip-synced badly after the event) despite the fact that she seems to spend nearly all her time in almost forensically clean environments. She speaks in a strange, clipped voice which doesn’t fit in with anyone around her. Her motivations are never fully explored and her job doesn’t seem to make sense. She is there to protect Elysium but all this seems to entail is calling Sharlto Copley (star of District 9) on Earth and getting him to fire rockets to shoot down the refugee vessels. Elysium itself seems to have no security system (to the extent that this giant ship in space appears to have no way of keeping the oxygen in – there’s not an air-lock in sight).

Foster’s plan to take over (and why, when she lives in this seeming paradise, she wants to run it, is never properly explored) is to take a piece of computer programming that would make Elysium’s computer systems think she’s in charge. This will be delivered, Johnny Mnemonic style, in William Fichtner’s brain. Presumably this is a future where not only is cancer cured on a tanning bed but computers viruses can no longer be transmitted wirelessly but instead are more like human-to-computer STDs.

Anyway. It only makes less sense from here on in. There is no insight present, there is no character and what plot there is is risible. It’s a terrible shame because, as I said, when you read out the ingredients this appears to have the makings of one delicious three course meal. I’m trying to think of a positive to throw out, and I’ve heard others say that Copley provides that, but I thought he did his best playing what amounted to little more than an over-the-top bad guy from an 80s action film like Robocop, but while some of the turns in Robocop might be approaching laughable, they worked in the context of the film around them, a film which, incidentally, created a highly believable world. Copley’s take on the part, while trying to paper over how underwritten the role is, is at odds with the humanistic take from Damon and the Badly Dubbed Porn performance from Foster. None of them feel like they exist within the same film as each other.

I’d like to say that it’s a brave attempt, but it fails too much for that. If this is the project that Blomkamp has worked on for the past 4 years, it feels sorely underbaked and in need of another 4 years to add the depth and humanity that a film like this needs. Ultimately it is less successful than the Tom Cruise-led Oblivion from earlier this year, and that was not a film anyone should be going out of their way to see.

D

Film length: 1hr 49 mins – Feels like 2hrs 5 mins