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Escape Plan: Sylvester & Arnie Join Forces
Following the roaring success of The Expendables and its unnecessary sequel, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger team up for their first ever one-on-one, on-screen matchup in Escape Plan. Directed by Swedish filmmaker, Mikael Hafstrom – the man behind 2007 horror-thriller 1408 and 2005's Derailed – the film, unfortunately, falls short of both its promise and potential.
Ray Breslin (Stallone) is a highly skilful escape artist who specialises in testing the reliability of security systems used in maximum security prisons. As the co-owner of Breslin-Clark, with partner Lester Clark (D'Onofrio), Ray's job entails a few rather unconventional tasks; after gaining access to prisons, he escapes to highlight the security's faults.
His work soon draws attention from the CIA, who are keen to have the expert test a security system in their latest high-tech slammer. The multi-million dollar deal, however, doesn't sit well with Ray's devoted colleagues, Hush (50 Cent) and Abigail (Ryan), who find the whole thing a little suspicious. Despite his partners' hesitations, Ray agrees to the deal and soon finds himself sharing quarters with some of the most dangerous criminals in the world.
Soon after his arrival, and after the meeting with the prison's warden Hobbes (Caviezel), Ray senses that something is wrong; no one seems to know who he is or what he's there to accomplish. Realising that he needs to escape the as soon as possible, Ray befriends Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) and the duo soon learn that escaping the prison walls is not as easy as they think.
Never ones to shy away from the spotlight, it's surprising to learn that this long-awaited matchup has been in the works for quite some time. Therefore, it's even more surprising that neither actor appears fully connected to their roles. Seemingly set in their ways, both Stallone and Schwarzenegger rely heavily on a repertoire of cheesy one liners and overflowing bravado.
Additionally, almost every scene is shot with extreme close-ups, which proves rather unflattering for the time-worn stars. With very few action scenes, Stallone and Schwarzenegger are given little room to do what they do best. Meanwhile, despite being full of familiar faces, the supporting cast are neglected by the story, instead giving the spotlight to a watered down Sylvester and Arnie.
Escape Plan is filled with recognisable action film traits – but not the good kind. This is a film with a predictable plot, awful dialogue and far too many clichés, whose only potential redeeming features are equally downtrodden.
For his latest feature film, Woody Allen decides to return to Hollywood and explore his signature themes of love, passion and lost dreams in Café Society; an easygoing yet familiar comedy-drama which, although mostly watchable, lacks focus and is in need of a richer dramatic element.
Narrated by Allen himself, the story opens in 1930’s Hollywood at a pool-side party where Hollywood agent, Phil Stern (Carell), is sitting sipping drinks, looking important and commanding the attention of business associates and other admirers surrounding him. He is soon interrupted by a telephone call from his older sister, Rose (the wonderful Jeannie Berlin) who informs her brother that her youngest son, Bobby (Eisenberg playing what appears to be a younger version of Woody Allen), is headed out to Los Angeles and that Phil should help him get settled in.
After a few weeks of avoiding the initial meet, Phil soon meets with Bobby and lands him with a job at the agency where the young boy from the Bronx soon falls head-over-heels for Phil’s secretary, Vonnie (played by the refreshingly expressive Stewart).
See, although Vonnie is interested in Bobby, she can’t commit to the relationship as she’s also canoodling with his uncle, who is trying to decide whether he should leave his wife of twenty-five years or not. Learning about the twisted love-triangle, Bobby begins looking for love elsewhere while, at the same time, dreaming of his home and uncomplicated life back in NYC.
Whilst Bobby and Vonnie’s story is seemingly the centre-point of the film, Allen doesn’t spend too much time focusing on the love birds, instead whizzing the story back and forth between NY and LA, where we also get to spend some time with Bobby’s parents and his terribly clichéd gangster of a brother - played wonderfully by House of Cards’ Corey Stoll. It keeps the story moving, but the lack of focus means neither of the stories really stick.
Set against a glossy Hollywood backdrop, one thing that stands out, however, is the cinematography. With the help of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and the employment of the first-ever digital camera in a Woody Allen film, Café Society has that appropriately flashy feel to it, which successfully brings out the lavishness of its surroundings and, at the same time, ends up compensating for the writing’s occasional laziness.
The performances are solid with Eisenberg’s jittery naivety playing wonderfully against Stewart’s subtle nature and quiet beauty. It’s a shame that the rest of the picture couldn’t match their performance with Bobby’s description of life in Hollywood, “kind of half-bored, half-fascinating” serving to be the best assessment of the movie itself.
Despite the limited release, there is no doubt that Jean-Francois Richet’s Blood Father – a surprisingly pulpy action-revenge-thriller about an ex-con who is dragged into a dangerous war with a violent cartel - will have many talking. Written by Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff, Blood Father offers a lean and – feverishly mean – eighty-eight-minutes of violent brutality that’s paired with exciting action set pieces and one of the best performances we’ve seen Mel Gibson offer in a long time.
The story is centred on John Link (Gibson); an ex-con who has recently been paroled and trying to make some sort of a life for himself in a remote southwestern town. Living in a trailer park, John makes his living by working as a tattoo artist while also battling his addictions in a twelve-step program, supervised by mentor, Kirby (Macy).
Without warning, John soon receives a call from his runaway daughter, Lydia (Moriarty) who is seeking help from her estranged father in getting away from a group of Mexican gangsters, following an accidental shootout where she killed her boyfriend, Jonah (Luna), who was a member of the cartel. Asking to stay with her dad, John is soon pulled into Lydia’s dangerous world of drugs and guns, forcing him to break his parole and hit the road with his daughter whom he will do anything for to protect.
While one could point out the similarities with Taken – where a father with a list of ‘special skills’ is pulled in to save his daughter from harm – Blood Father is a little rougher around the edges and a film that actually takes its time in formulating its characters, sketching out their traits, flaws and dynamics before allowing all hell to break loose. First and foremost, this is a story about a father - a former bad man who is trying to make amends after a lifetime of bad choices – and a daughter – a troubled young woman who has fallen in the hands of a wrong crowd – reuniting once more and reconnecting their bond under the most life-threatening of circumstances.
Their relationship is engaging to watch and the performances from both actors exceed the expectations; Moriarty manages to sell her character well, while Gibson is in his element as a deadbeat ruffian whose tough-as-nails attitude is perfectly balanced with his more sensible and sensitive nature. Paced with incredible precision, the action is exciting– there’s plenty of blood and gore - while the dialogue written is smart and strong enough to carry the movie when the action stops.
The only drawback is that there’s a sense of predictability to the movie, but thanks to the superb directorial execution and Mel Gibson’s outstanding performance, you definitely won’t be disappointed with the overall end result.