Escape Plan


AARP action movie stars.

AARP action movie stars.

(2013) Action (Summit) Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Faran Tahir, Amy Ryan, Sam Neill, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vinnie Jones, Matt Gerald, 50 Cent, Caitriona Balfe, David Joseph Martinez, Alec Rayme, Christian Stokes, Graham Beckel, Rodney Feaster, David Leitch, Eric R. Salas, Brian Oerly, Jeff Chase, Lydia Hull. Directed by Mikael Hafstrom

There is a certain comfort in movies that recollect past eras. The action films of the 80s were one such. It can be said justifiably that the 80s were the golden age of the action film as stars like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, van Damme and a fairly large contingent from Hong Kong plied their trade in multiplexes across the country. Most of these actors are largely in their 60s now and while guys like Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson have picked up the slack, they haven’t equaled the popularity of those other men in their prime.

Ray Breslin (Stallone) breaks out of prisons for a living. He is a security specialist, finding the weak points in institutional security and pointing them out to their clients so that those weak points can be shored up. It’s a fairly lucrative business with Ray being the brains and his partner Lester Clark (D’Onofrio) the money man.

They get an unusual request from a representative from the CIA to see if a new Supermax facility, one which will hold people the government wants to see go away and never be found again – terrorists, domestic and foreign, that sort of thing. While Ray’s computer genius Hush (50 Cent) and his handler Abigail (Ryan) have misgivings, Ray thinks that the unusually high payday is worth the risk.

Then he is kidnapped off the streets of New Orleans and taken to a strange facility with glass cells and a massive central hub known as Babylon – all of which is clearly indoors but Ray has no idea where. He quickly realizes that things are awry when his contact doesn’t seem to exist and his evacuation code doesn’t work. Instead, he has the soft-spoken Warden Hobbes (Caviezel), a sadistic sort whose right hand man Drake (Jones) has plenty of muscle to enforce Hobbes’ wishes.

Ray gets an ally inside the prison in Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) who appears to be the middle man for a financial terrorist who targets corporations. Hobbes wants to know where the terrorist is in the worst way and Emil so far isn’t talking. Ray realizes that he’s been set up and betrayed and he is not supposed to escape – ever. What happens when you have a prison that’s truly escape proof? Do you settle in and accept your fate or die trying to get your freedom?

This definitely harkens back to the golden age of action films I referred to earlier in tone and layout. The plot and writing aren’t going to be confused with Henrik Ibsen nor are Schwarzenegger and Stallone going to be confused with Barrymore and Olivier. However, both of the former have become iconic screen personalities and they don’t really need to act. They just need to show up and react.

This is definitely Stallone’s movie with Schwarzenegger playing little more than comic relief, although he gets his testosterone moment when he lifts a huge machine gun out of a helicopter and opens fire on the baddies. It’s as preposterous as any moment in the film yet one of the most gratifying. In fact, all those who grew up with the movies of the heyday of these two men will find this comfort food of the highest order, cinematically speaking.

The sets of the massive prison are pretty impressive, as are the black-masked prison guards. While Arnold and Sly do what they do so well, Caviezel – generally the Eastwood-ian hero of Person of Interest on CBS and quite possibly the softest-spoken actor in Hollywood – makes his character silky smooth and with all the delicious evil of a serpent. He makes for an excellent antagonist and given the Bond-like set and soldiers, might make for a Blofeld-like bad guy for the venerable British spy series if they’re looking for a villain to go up against Daniel Craig in the next movie.

While the leads labor through some of their action sequences (after all, they are both well past AARP age) and remind us that their prime has come and gone, they nonetheless have the experience and wisdom to simply rely on the images they’ve both carefully crafted over the years and use them to help push them over the top. Sure, there’s nothing here that is going to essentially stand out above other action movies in the year of our lord 2013 but this isn’t a disgrace either. It’s fine, mindless entertainment for a nation that desperately needs the same. Still though, you’d be better off renting Predator, Rambo, The Running Man and Cobra if you want to see the best work of these gentlemen.

REASONS TO GO: Nice set design and pacing. Caviezel makes an intimidating villain.

REASONS TO STAY: No surprises. The stars show just how long in the tooth they have become.

FAMILY VALUES:  A fair amount of action violence and bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Stallone’s eldest son Sage passed away during filming, causing a brief break in shooting while he attended to family matters.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/3/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 49% positive reviews. Metacritic: 49/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Escape From Alcatraz

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: The Counselor

Limelight (2011)


To some, New York club culture was more of a religion.

To some, New York club culture was more of a religion.

(2009) Documentary (Magnolia) Peter Gatien, Michael Alig, 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Moby, Ed Koch, Howard Safir, Sean Kirkham, Michael Caruso, Edgar Oliver, Frank Owen, Steve Lewis, Benjamin Brafman. Directed by Billy Corben

Once upon in New York City there was a club scene like no other. It was in the late 80s, early 90s and it just about put Studio 54-era discos to shame. Four of them – The Limelight, Tunnel, Club USA and the Palladium – were run by the same guy.

His name was Peter Gatien and he was notorious in his day. He was a Canadian, Ontario-born (although it was said he rooted for the Montreal Canadiens which was not unlike a native of the Bronx being a lifelong Red Sox fan) and wore a buccaneer-like eyepatch which was, contrary to popular rumor, not an affectation. He’d lost an eye playing hockey as a youth.

His clubs were like nothing else seen before or since; full of pulsating music and lights, sweaty bodies and essentially a place where new music was created. Moby has been quoted as saying that without these clubs there would have been no techno. These places were like stationary raves and in a sense were incubators for youth culture which has affected popular culture to this day.

It wasn’t always easy. Gatien started out selling jeans and after his hockey accident used the money to open his own nightclub in Ontario, which he parlayed into a club in Atlanta and then four in New York. In his heyday he was the toast of New York, name-checked by the Fun Loving Cannibals and THE man to know if you wanted to be somebody in that town.

But with notoriety like that comes attention, some of it of the negative sort. Drugs were rampant in Gatien’s clubs and they were sold to the point where some referred to the Palladium as a “drug supermarket.” Mayor Rudy Giuliani used Gatien’s clubs as a focal point for his anti-crime campaign and eventually after failing to pin any drug-related arrests on Gatien, nailed him for failing to pay his taxes (well after the clubs began to shut down) and had him deported back to Canada with only $500 in his pocket.

This after making millions from his cash cows. It was a precipitous fall after a remarkable climb. Gatien remains an engaging character and he’s surprisingly forthcoming in his interviews here. Many of those who were around Gatien – managers, bartenders, DJs and such – all have something to say. Most have never attained the pinnacle of hip that they achieved during those years and they still carry that borderline arrogance that comes from being Somebody.

One of those interviewed here is the notorious Michael Alig, who in a drug-induced haze murdered and dismembered fellow Limelight scenester Angel Melendez. Alig ran several parties at Gatien’s clubs and in fact Gatien was an early suspect in Melendez’s murder.

Corben peppers the documentary with animations and psychedelic images which I imagine gives you more of a feeling of being in an altered state as you watch. The movie is really a rise and fall affair with the beginning on Gatien’s meteoric rise much more interesting than the details of his ignoble fall. And yes while I get that “the higher the rise the further the fall” lesson, that’s essentially a story we’ve seen literally thousands of times, some in more compelling ways.

What I missed here was more of a look at how Gatien’s clubs affected pop culture and their lasting impact on modern society. Really what this turns out to be is a movie made more for the people who were there in that time and place. While I wasn’t a part of the New York club scene, I was part of a club scene in a different city at roughly the same time so some of it is recognizable to me. Fortunately I didn’t see the same kind of drug use and trade to the extent that it was here in my part of the world, although that could partly be ascribed to my own personal naiveté as well as that most people don’t want to transact drugs in front of a journalist.

Be that as it may, this is probably more of interest to those who clubbed in the late 80s and early 90s in general and in New York City in particular. It was an era that has come and gone, and will never return. So in that sense the movie has nostalgia value and on that level works like a charm. Gatien is an interesting enough subject that at least for the first part of the movie his engaging character is worthwhile. It’s only when the story of his downfall starts that your attention will start to wander. Gatien (and by extension the filmmaker) blames many of his troubles on a vindictive government but he’s only partly right – Gatien allowed that rampant drug use and sales to take place in his clubs. They were HIS clubs as he is quick to tell you and thus his responsibility. He has to shoulder at least some blame for his fall – and you get the sense he doesn’t see it that way. That might be the most tragic element of this story.

WHY RENT THIS: Fascinating look at maybe the nadir of all club scenes. Gatien is a fascinating character.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The second half spends far too much time on the legal battles that went on, less time on the lasting impact of the scene.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some bad language and alcohol and drug use depicted.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: One of the producers is Gatien’s own daughter, Jen.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $60,335 on an unreported production budget; might have made money but more likely just broken even or lost money.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Party Monster

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Eastern Promises

Righteous Kill


Righteous Kill

This is what happen to screenwriters who deliver subpar scripts to De Niro and Pacino.

(2008) Police Drama (Overture) Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Carla Gugino, Donnie Wahlberg, 50 Cent, John Leguizamo, Brian Dennehy, Trilby Glover, Melissa Leo, Alan Rosenberg, Rob Dyrdek. Directed by Jon Avnet

It takes a special kind of person to be a police officer. The temptation of corruption is always there, plus there’s the endless string of disappointment and frustration as felon after felon that you’ve worked hard to convict gets let off on technicalities or under the auspices of a sympathetic judge.

Turk Cowan (De Niro) and Rooster Fisk (Pacino) are New York City Police Department detectives. They make a pretty good team; Rooster is the brains, Turk is the brawn. They are pretty well regarded by their peers, although there are some whispers that once upon a time Turk manufactured some evidence to put a killer away.

Well, that part is true, and it might be that he’s up to his old tricks again. Guilty parties who had escaped justice are turning up dead with the same bad poetry left with the bodies that Turk had left previously. Nobody is really mourning the bad guys, but the cops know that if one of their own falls under suspicion, they all are under suspicion and so Rooster knows he must go about protecting his partner by finding the real killer.

This is standard cop show plotting, not something you’d put on the plates of two of the most decorated actors in history, but here it is. Of course, Pacino and De Niro could elevate anything put before them; heck, you cast Pacino as Bella Swan and De Niro as Edward, you could even make the Twilight series more interesting. Okay, maybe not.

But the two of them need to be at the top of their game, right? Not here they’re not. Pacino operates barely above a whisper most of the time, sort of like Michael Corleone having a real bad sore throat. De Niro also seems oddly dispirited, like his mind was elsewhere. Maybe Jake LaMotta took one too many to the head.

Jon Avnet also has better films than this one on his resume. There just seems to be a feeling of punching a time clock here. This is a pretty impressive cast when you look at it on paper; it seems almost unheard of that Donnie Wahlberg would give the most memorable performance out of all of them, but there you have it. Wahlberg, as a fellow detective, is the most believable and the most intense. If everyone had given the kind of energy to their performance that Wahlberg did, this movie would have been a whole different story.

But when you give Carla Gugino a role which is basically all about having rough sex with De Niro (who ironically enough played her father in A Boy’s Life), it’s a waste of a terrific actress, one who doesn’t get enough work as it is. It’s not that Gugino isn’t sexy or kinky enough; it’s just you need to give her more to work with than just her sexuality. Take that away from the role and you have a television medical examiner part that could be done by any actress who can pronounce the jargon.

When you get a team up of De Niro and Pacino, you set expectations extremely high. The two have only had essentially six minutes of screen time together prior to this movie which, to be fair, gives them an awful lot of screen time together. The problem is that you wonder why they cast these two in roles that any halfway decent actor could do, and you get the feeling that this was simply stunt casting that the two bought into for the paycheck. Not that they shouldn’t get paid – after all, they’ve contributed some of the most memorable movie moments of the past twenty years – but Righteous Kill is very much like seeing a match race between Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson, only to see them both coast around the track.

WHY RENT THIS: A case can be made for Pacino and De Niro to be the two greatest actors to appear in American films, and seeing them together is a big treat.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The rest of the movie, particularly the script, doesn’t fit the prestige of the two leads.

FAMILY VALUES: As with most police dramas there’s plenty of violence and bad language, but in this one there’s some kinky sexuality, as well as a little drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Pacino and De Niro have appeared in three movies together; in the first Godfather Part II, they both played gangsters. In the second, Heat, one played a gangster and one played a cop and in this one, both play cops.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on the temptations of police work, the kind of personalities attracted to the job and real life cases of corruption and brutality.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $77.4M on a $60M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Eagle Eye

Morning Glory


Morning Glory

Diane Keaton is thrilled she still knows which one of them is Indiana Jones.

(2010) Comedy (Paramount) Harrison Ford, Rachel McAdams, Diane Keaton, Patrick Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Patti D’Arbanville, Ty Burell, John Pankow, J. Elaine Marcos, Matt Malloy, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Reed Birney, Linda Powell, Vanessa Aspillaga. Directed by Roger Michel

Anyone who has to get up in the morning to go to work has at one time or another watched at least a snippet of a TV morning show, like “Good Morning America” or the granddaddy of them all, the “Today Show.” Making this kind of shows work takes a special kind of animal.

Whereas some women dream of finding Mr. Right or of having children, Becky Fuller (McAdams) dreams of producing the “Today Show.” She’s well on her way to getting there too, as a talented and highly-regarded producer on a local morning show in New Jersey. It’s no surprise that rumors are swirling that she’s about to be promoted to executive producer.

Instead, she’s let go in a cost-cutting move. Devastated only for a moment, the terminally chipper and perky Becky rolls up her sleeves and gets to work finding herself a new job on a different show. She finally finds one – on the lowest rated morning show on the lowest rated network – “Daybreak” on IBS.

The show is in the dumper for a number of reasons; no imagination, no good ideas, no energy, no life. Becky is bound and determined to turn the show around, going so far as to fire the smarmy lothario of a co-anchor (Burell) on her first day. Colleen Peck (Keaton), the ex-beauty queen co-host is clearly skeptical of Becky’s abilities to get anything done, although she approves of her ouster of her former partner, but the situation remains – morning show co-hosts don’t just go on trees.

Then Becky gets the bright idea of hiring Mike Pomeroy (Ford), a legendary news anchor who makes Dan Rather look like Perez Hilton. Dour and described by his producer Adam Bennett (Wilson) as the “third-worst person in the world,” Pomeroy has no intention of taking on a position that he views as contributing to the demise of proper news reporting – until it becomes clear that if he doesn’t, he’ll forfeit his lucrative salary.

The addition of Pomeroy actually makes things worse initially. He has no intention of doing the job they want him to do, and he has right of first refusal to any story assigned to him. He comes off as dour, curmudgeonly and humorless which is not exactly what people are looking for in a morning show. The ratings are declining and Becky’s boss (Goldblum) soon tells her that if things don’t turn around immediately, the show is gone.

Her only respite is her romantic relationship with Adam that has blossomed since she arrived at IBS but even that is in jeopardy as she feels that she has to constantly apologize for doing her job which is far from a 9 to 5 affair. Can she rescue a show that is sinking in spite of her best efforts?

I think we all know the answer to that. This is a bit of unrepentant fluff that isn’t out to reinvent the wheel, and that’s okay. Director Michel, whose Notting Hill remains one of the better romantic comedies of the past decade, knows how to get the best out of his actors and so he does here.

McAdams has oodles of potential but hasn’t gotten the role that will put her over the top just yet, and she’s still waiting. She has a terrific smile, awesome personality and great screen presence. She carries this movie as surely as a Julia Roberts or Amy Adams would; she’s moving into that elite set of company.

As he’s gotten older, Ford has made a career out of playing grumpy men. Here he takes it to a new level, making Mike Pomeroy an absolute prick but one that has enough at his core that we can’t dismiss him summarily as simply a jerk. That complexity keeps the audience from being turned off by him as we might ordinarily.

Keaton is one of the finest comedic actresses of all time. This won’t go down as among her finest work but it is solid nonetheless. Colleen is prickly enough to have an edge but she’s a trooper for her show and as the one out on the firing line of a show that is perennially in last, it is easy to see that the stress has taken its toll.

This isn’t a movie that has a lot of laugh-out-loud moments, but consistently evokes grins and even a few guffaws. It’s the charm of McAdams and of the ensemble in general that keeps this from becoming too much like a stage farce which at times it feels like it’s about to degenerate into. Again, there’s nothing extraordinary or new here but if you are looking to feel better about life in general, this is the perfect tonic for the troops.

REASONS TO GO: The leads are all pros and tackle their parts nicely. Not really laugh out loud funny but charming enough to keep the audience invested.

REASONS TO STAY: A little bit rote in places, and sometimes has the feel of a stage play farce.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of sexuality and some crude language here and there but otherwise suitable for teens and older.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was co-produced by veteran television producer J.J. Abrams (“Lost,” “Alias”).

HOME OR THEATER: There is nothing here that screams “big screen;” you’re probably not going to miss anything by seeing it at home.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Great Buck Howard

New Releases for the Week of August 6, 2010


August 6, 2010

Will Ferrell has Mark Wahlberg fit to be tied.

THE OTHER GUYS

(Columbia) Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, Steve Coogan, Eva Mendez, Michael Keaton, Ray Stevenson. Directed by Adam McKay

Danson and Manzetti are the city’s two most celebrated cops, collaring bad guy after bad guy. Gamble and Holtz aren’t quite up to their level; Gamble is a forensic accountant who would much rather sit in the office analyzing the paper trail, while Holtz has been banished to being Gamble’s partner after an itchy trigger finger put him in hot water with the Captain. These two unlikeliest of heroes will be called upon to save the day but as things usually do for the other guys, things don’t go quite the way they intend them to. McKay and Farrell have previously teamed up for movies like Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Step Brothers.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, language, violence and some drug material)

The Girl Who Played With Fire

(Music Box) Roomi Napace, Michael Nyqvist, Lena Endre, Sofia Ledarp. The second installment in the Millennium trilogy penned by Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson sees the publisher of Millennium magazine, who has made his living exposing corruption in high places, throwing himself once more into the fray when a young journalist comes to him with a story of sex trafficking in Sweden that goes up to the highest levels of authority. During the investigation, the computer hacker who works with the publisher is accused of three brutal murders, forcing her to go on the run while the publisher clears her name. The two stories turn out to be interrelated. The first book, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, made serious waves in the indie film circuit and is being remade into a major studio property being directed by David Fincher scheduled for release on December 23, 2011. The third of the Swedish films, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest will see a limited American release this fall.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for brutal violence including a rape, some strong sexual content, nudity and language)

Step Up 3D

(Touchstone) Adam Sevani, Rick Malambri, Sharni Vinson, Alyson Stoner. A group of street dancers from the Bronx team up with a freshman at NYU to take on the world in a global breakdancing showdown that will change their lives forever. One wonders how relevant a movie is when their official website is a MySpace page.

See the trailer, featurettes, music videos and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language)

Twelve

(Hannover House) Chace Crawford, Emma Roberts, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Kiefer Sutherland. A high school dropout turned drug dealer is living the good life; his Upper East Side clientele of boarding school preppies are keeping his business booming and he is able to successfully hide his secret life from his girlfriend. Things take an ugly turn when a new recreation drug du jour called Twelve is introduced into the market and his cousin is brutally murdered on an East Harlem playground. Now he is going to have to survive in a world he’s woefully ill-equipped to handle. This is based on the controversial novel by Nick McDonnell.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for strong drug content, alcohol abuse, language, sexual material, brief nudity and some violence – all involving teens)