Friday, October 18, 2013

Escape Plan: Escape This!

Schindler's List.  The Hurt Locker.  The Shawshank Redemption.  Forrest Gump.  These are great movies.  These are Academy Award winning/nominated films.  They have great writing, great acting, great directing and the works.  They also have an agenda.  Sure, part of it is to entertain, but a lot of it has to do with grabbing that gold.  A lot of the people involved with those movies would probably say they did it because it "needed to be told" or that they were doing something "important".  And don't get me wrong.  A few of those are some of my favorite movies of all time.  You know what else joins that list, though?  Commando.  Kindergarten Cop.  True Lies.  Cliffhanger.  Crank.  Death Race.  Films that by an Academy standard or a critical standpoint are more frowned upon than anything.  I love film.   I love all film.  Yes, there are terrible movies out there.  There are probably more bad movies than good ones, but certain films know what the goal is to achieve.  Sometimes that's the Oscar.  And sometimes it's about giving an audience one hell of a fun ride.  That's what Escape Plan does and succeeds mightily in doing.

I can not believe that it took THIS long to get the two biggest action stars of the 80s and 90s in a movie together.  And, no, The Expendables doesn't count.  These guys are the reason that these skinny, ripped, pretty boys today are failing in reviving the action genre.  There's a reason we'd rather watch 60-year-old Arnie, or Sly, or even Liam Neeson nut-punch someone to death than watching Alex Pettyfer, Taylor Kitsch, or Jason Momoa types Justin-Beiber their way around an action film.  I like Sylvester Stallone, he's entertaining, but I've always been more of a Schwarzenegger fan.  Stallone's movies kick ass, but he doesn't have the personality of Ah-nuld.  He doesn't have that sweet German wit.  But, putting these two in a film together... come on.  Genius.

Like most Stallone and/or Schwarzenegger films, the plot isn't all that important.  Sly is an expert prison breaker-outer.  He can break out of any prison.  Until... he's thrown into this new high-tech prison and set up by someone on the outside so that it's impossible for him to break out.  Enter: Schwarzenegger with a badass goatee.  The two team up to take down the whole prison and escape back to sweet, sweet freedom.  Now, I gotta hand it to whoever took the reigns on this movie.  This could've very easily been a straight-to-DVD junk film with no brains and no fun.  Though, at times, it does lack the brains, the fun is always present.  And even the brains don't disappear to far.  The escape plan that they come up with... it's a good escape plan.  It's easy to follow and actually a bit creative.  There's even a slight twist at the end that, I'll admit, I probably should've seen coming, but I didn't.  It hooked me from the beginning and I stayed hooked right up until the end.  Sure, everyone knows how it's going to end, but getting there is the fun part.

What's also strange is that there are some good actors in the movie too.  They're all severely underused, but in a movie with these two hulking bad-guy-nightmares, I don't actually care to watch anyone else.  Amy Ryan, Vincent D'Onofrio, Sam Neill, Jim Caviezel... all underutilized.  But it doesn't matter.  It's flattering to know that they liked the script so much that they were willing to lend a brief hand in giving it a shred of credibility.  The best part is that these guys look like they're having fun.  Sly treads a little more on the serious side, but Schwarzzy is hamming it up, making it look like the most fun he's ever had on a film set.  The man is still at the top of his game.

Yes, it's a half-mindless popcorn flick that will only become a classic to the select few cult Arnold or Sly followers, but damn if it isn't two hours of fun.  Ten years from now no one is going to even remember this movie was made, but for now, relish in the fact that these guys can still do this.  I'll admit that watching these classical dinosaurs still try and whomp young ass does give me a bit of a tingly feeling in my pants, but it may, MAY, I say, border on embarrassing.  So, while they're still *cough* young... go out and enjoy a film that will make you forget the drudges of life and remind you a simpler time when action movies reigned supreme.  The 80s.

Ah shit.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Gravity: Houston, We Have A Great Film

Advances in CGI technology have come a long way in the past decade.  I mean, go back now and look at the first Lord of the Rings film compared with The Hobbit and there's an exceptional difference.  And LotR looked GOOD.  It was impressive and noteworthy.  Then came Avatar, the game-changer that almost no one will admit that they actually liked, because it's kind of, well... gay.  But, it does make you wonder how after the improvement of CGI that Avatar gave us we still get shitty CGI in movies?  Why do most movies still use archaic CGI that looks like you're playing a video game instead of watching real life?  Well, as much of a game changer that Avatar was a few years ago... Gravity has stepped it up even further.  It is literally the most beautiful movie that I've ever experienced.  Not watched.  Experienced.

Alfonso Cuaron, along with his son, has written a movie that will literally keep you on the edge of your seat.  This film is the reason movie review cliches were invented.  Because they exist to report on films as gripping and explosive and tense as Gravity.  It's not a movie.  It's a 90 minute thrill ride that you don't have to stand in line to ride for four hours.  It's as simple a plot as you can get, too.  Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are two astronauts that have to survive the vastness of space after their space station is ambushed by satellite debris.  The problems only build upon themselves and get worse and worse, though I didn't think it possible to be in a worse situation than spinning uncontrollably while floating towards the abyss of space.  That's all it is.  Two characters trying to make it home with no real solution in sight.  And it's perfect.

Those with heart problems, back problems and pregnant women should be advised that Gravity is an intense roller coaster and should take a good hard look at themselves and decide if it is worth it.  Holy God is Gravity intense.  I think people who watch the trailer gravely underestimate how truly terrifying being detached from anything in the middle of space actually is.  I got mild bouts of vertigo just watching the film and there's nowhere to actually fall where they're at.  Visually, it may be the best CGI I've ever seen in a film.  But, it's Curon's camerawork and direction that enhances the experience.  The opening of the film is a single shot that lasts upwards of twenty minutes.  He'll hold steady as one of the characters is blasted off the ship with no control over personal movement, then slowly catch up to the actor and come inside the suit for us to see exactly what is happening from that point of view only to escape it once more and give the audience that deep-seated uncomfortable feeling of helplessness.  Sometimes the camera will act as a dock and sometimes it'll float in zero gravity with the actors, but it doesn't get annoying or provide nausea feelings, it actually feels like you're floating in your seat.

Bullock and Clooney are fantastic and perfectly cast as well.  Bullock has always had good instincts as the heroine of a film.  She's never entirely sure of herself, but always has the will to survive.  Clooney is perfect as well because he's able to stay suave and confident even in the most sincere case of mortal danger, and we believe him.  He's able to look death in the face and make a joke.  It's a testament not only to the acting of the film, but to the writing as well that we can follow only two characters for an entire movie and still feel as attached as we do.  Like I said earlier, it's not just a movie.  It's a ride.  So, even though there's only two of them, you're part of it as well.  You're floating right next to them looking for the next answer that is sure to have it's own set of problems.  It's a gorgeously terrifying film.

One thing, though, that I have to stress is to see it in 3D.  3D has become a gimmicky novelty as of late and one that's [thankfully] dying out quickly.  But, there are those very few films, much like Avatar, that are ONLY meant to be viewed in 3D.  They were shot in 3D, with the purpose of being in 3D from the beginning, intentionally to add to the story.  And it does add to the story.  The experience seeing it in a regular theater would be vastly different than the 3D one I saw last night.  If you can spring for the few extra bucks, I'd also recommend IMAX as well.  What better to see a movie about the infinite expanse of space than watching it on the biggest screen you can possibly sit in front of?

Alfonso Curon has literally made one of the best films of the year.  This is one that no one should wait to go see because while it will always be a good movie, you need to get on the ride.  It has to be viewed in a theater, with stupid yellow 3D glasses, and a bucket of popcorn.  It's a marvel to see and much like any defining piece of art, Gravity has pushed new boundaries.  It should have much staying power, because until the next bit of computer technology is discovered or invented, this is the cream of the crop right here.


Don Jon: Good Vibrations

Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut is stunning.  He's done something little thought possible.  He broke the boundaries of the rom-com formula.  You know which formula I'm talking about: boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy and girl are happy, something happens that starts to break boy and girl or girl discovers what boy has been hiding, boy and girl break up, boy makes up some elaborate plan to get girl back and prove himself, boy and girl live happily ever after.  We like it because it's not real life.  We like to have the comfort that maybe, just maybe, people are actually meant to be together and there's some document written by the cosmos that declares these two people as such.  But real life isn't like that.  If two people split up, sometimes it doesn't matter how hard you love or how much you care or what sort of grandiose plan you make to win her back... sometimes they just stay gone.  So, we take comfort in watching two movie-star lovers find their way back to each other because it's what everyone wants to happen in life.  Now, I'm not saying that Levitt flipped the formula the bird and decided to go with the anti-ending just to be different.  He has taken the formula, contorted it around, restructured it, and completely changed the last few beats.  It's more like real life than I've seen in a movie in a while.

Levitt plays 'Don' Jon, a New Jersey man obsessed with bringing as many girls home from the club each night as he can, and let's just say he's been on a hot streak.  He beds these women night after night and feels little to no satisfaction whatsoever.  So, he turns to his other addiction: internet porn.  The nameless women he brings home every night have no emotional connection with him that he's distanced himself so much from the physical act of sex, that he rarely experiences release. Porn, on the other hand, he can lose himself, imagine himself in the situations these porn stars get into, find that connection he needs, and... release.  It's much like what Levitt is doing with the rom-com genre, is what Jon does with porn.  He likes porn because it's not real life.  The sexual acts of a porn star rarely, if ever, reflect the sexual acts of most humans.  A random hook up with a girl you just met at the bar is never going to be the crazy porn sex that he wants it to be, so he loses himself in the fiction of it all, because it's not real life.

Jon then meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), tries to play the same game with her and take her home for the night.  When she fervently denies his charms, he's enamored more than he's ever been.  After a bit of Facebook stalking, he finds her and asks her to lunch.  The two hit it off, but she's looking for a man to spend the rest of her life with, so she withholds even further.  She even goes as far as to need to meet his friends and family before she'll open herself up to him in that nature.  It's the whole opposites attract thing happening here.  Jon never experienced a connection with any of the randoms because they were so easy to bed.  Here, a girl who is truly interested in things about Jon beyond the sex, is intriguing and Jon finds that he can actually lose himself... sorta.  Unfortunately, he still needs the porn... something Barbara is adamantly opposed to... I'm talking deal-breaker opposed.

I don't want to spoil anything else, but this is a movie that you should see.  I would avoid seeing it with a parent of any kind because it is incredibly raunchy and even graphic in some scenes.  There are many quick clips of actual porn throughout the film to perfectly encapsulate Jon's addiction.  Levitt has done a fine job behind the camera as well as in front of it.  Jon is actually kind of a douchebag, but he's a likable douchebag.  Barbara is a gorgeous and sweet Jersey girl, but you kind of hate her too.  It's different from the romantic comedies anyone is used to.  It takes risks, but the reward is great.  Levitt, much like Affleck before him, has proven with his first directorial vehicle that he may actually be an asset to Hollywood and might actually know what he's doing.  I mean, hell, the guy's been acting since he was a little kid.  I'm assuming he may have picked up a thing or two about making a great film.