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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.
After a series of questionable career choices – After Earth, Focus anyone? – Will Smith returns to form in Peter Landesman’s biographical sport-drama, Concussion; an entertaining, but relatively safe, biopic.
Concussion tells the story of Nigerian-born forensic neuropathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu (Smith), who in 2002 makes a startling medical discovery when the body of a former American football player, who’s reported erratic behaviour and mental instability led him to suicide, is brought in for an autopsy.
Omalu’s findings suggest that the persistent head trauma, which the players endure on daily basis out in the field, can cause permanent brain damage, which often leads to various mental disorders, including memory loss, anxiety and depression.
Naming the disorder CET - Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy – Omalu decides to publish his findings in order to educate the public on the potential dangers of the game. Unfortunately for him, the NFL isn’t too keen on what he has to say.
Based on a true story that rocked professional sports in America, the film starts off on an investigative and relatively intriguing note by opening with the struggles and then the death of Hall of Fame football star, Mike Webster (Morse). This is when we are introduced to Omalu, whose quiet and yet somewhat quirky demeanour - he talks to his corpses before beginning an autopsy - doesn’t sit all that well with his less traditional colleagues. Striking a good balance between highlighting Omalu’s journey as an African-born doctor in America and later his struggles when dealing with the NFL, Concussion ticks most of the boxes of an affective biopic; however, the film often swerves into the melodramatic, which diminishes the weightiness of the story at times.
In addition, the script doesn’t take risks in unravelling the story from its very core; it would have been nice to see a bit more dirt hiding underneath NFL’s impenetrable façade, for example, and the hurdle that the NFL presents to Omalu in publishing his findings never really seems challenging in any real way, leaving the film as a whole rather unrewarding.
Luckily, Smith, in one of his best performances in years, is there to remind all of what a passionate and empathetic actor that he can be, even if the romantic subplot never really pays off. Intriguing and thought-provoking, Concussion works, but thanks to its safe approach, it never really resonates as the important or a must-see film that it could have been.
Inspired by Casey Sherman and Michael J Tourgias’ 2009 non-fiction book, The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue, Craig Gillespie’s rescue-drama is an occasionally compelling film, but bearing in mind this is supposed to be the retelling of one of the greatest sea rescues in the history of sea rescues, the end-result is a little flatter and isn’t distinguished as one might expect.
Taking place on 1952, off the coast of Massachusetts, a raging storm has caused two oil tankers - the SS Fort Mercer and SS Pendleton – to split in half. While most of the rescue boats have been deployed to assist the Mercer, the crew on Pendleton - led by the first assistant engineer, Ray Sybert (Affleck) – weren’t able to send out a rescue signal and are now left at the mercy of the sea.
Meanwhile on land, docile-looking Coast Guard captain, Bernie (Pine) has been given instructions by his commanding officer, Daniel (Bana) to undertake the risky rescue-mission after the Pendleton’s location is discovered. Aware of the consequences, Bernie, along with a handful of men, heads out into the stormy night.
What keeps The Finest Hours afloat, so to speak, is the fact that it’s inspired by real-life events – this in itself gives the plot a sense of gravitas. If this was a fictional plot, however, it would have been thrown out long before it reached the big screen, despite, for the most part, telling its story in a relatively compelling and capable manner.
The problem is that it’s all a little run-of-the-mill. Giving the subjects of loyalty and bravery the classic, melodramatic Hollywood touch, the familiarity of the story is inviting, yes, but it’s also highly derivative and predictable. In addition, the nautical jargon used in the film is confusing and keeping up with the technicalities distracts from the human elements of the plot.
However, the film’s biggest setback comes with the decision to screen it in 3D, which is not only distracting, but also terribly disorienting; most of the film takes place at night, so trying to keep up with what’s going on is almost impossible.
The performances offered by what is a solid cast, meanwhile, are engaging enough to keep things balanced – Pine is surprisingly reserved but affective, while Affleck shines as the skilful engineer. Overall, though, it’s just not strong or heartfelt enough to keep its head above water (sorry, we can’t help it) and deliver a story which fitting of its real-life story.