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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.
Stomach-churning and deliciously unnerving, Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are is an American remake of Jorge Michael Grau’s 2010 Mexican horror flick of the same name. Though we’ve seen our fair share of poor horrors over the last year, this is one film doesn’t hold back in its telling of a dysfunctional family and their troubling religious rituals.
Set in the remote and damp outskirts of the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, the film is centred on the Parkers; a relatively withdrawn family of four, shaken by the sudden death of the sickly mother of the house, Emma (DePaiva), who, after suffering a mysterious seizure, drowns in a gutter.
Quickly after her tragic death, Frank (Sage), a stern and bearded patriarch of a father, hands down the responsibility of the Parkers’ family meal duties to his eldest daughter, Iris (Childers), who is fearful of the responsibility despite having the support of her equally frightened younger sister, Rose (Garner).
Meanwhile, the results of their mother’s autopsy and the mysterious findings of human bones washed up in the river bring the Parkers unwanted attention, threatening to uproot their deeply-buried family secret.
Forsaking traditional horror conventions and instead focusing on building the story intricately, We Are What We Are is painted with quiet and delicate tones.
The key to the success of the story lies firmly with the actors, all of whom execute their roles perfectly. Sage – known for his role in the American Psycho– interprets Frank’s domineering, fear-inducing presence with conviction, while Childers delivers a wonderfully moving performance of a girl asked to grow up much too fast. As her equally brittle and unnerved sibling, Garner shines in her role, and Gore, as the youngest member of the Parker clan, is both adorable and creepily absorbing at the same time.
Taking time to develop, We Are What We Are is deliberately slow and, although there are moments where the story stumbles, the overall effect will shock and is well worth the wait. This is not a film for the faint of heart.
Wally Pfister’s directorial debut – a slow and relatively complicated take on the world of artificial intelligence – falls short of the type of thrill needed to push Transcendence into the major leagues of sci-fi.
Written by a fellow first-timer, Jack Peglan, Transcendence lends its focus to Will Caster (Depp); a prominent leader of the artificial intelligence research who, along with wife Evelyn (Hall) and fellow researcher Max (Bettany), hopes that computers will one day be able to think for themselves and, inevitably, replace humans and the ill-intentioned ways of mankind.
However, Will’s radical way of thinking soon makes him a target for an underground anti-tech terrorist group led by Bree (Mara), who decide to take out the A.I pioneer by shooting him with a radioactive bullet, leaving him to die a slow and a painful death.
Not prepared to let go of her husband just yet, Evelyn reaches out to Max and manages to convince him that the only way they can keep Will and his work alive is to download his brain – and consciousness – into the system, before his body completely deteriorates.
The experiment is a success, but the new computerised version of Will is not the same man they all once knew, but a cold mechanical shell obsessed with accumulating both knowledge and power. With the help of a renowned computer scientist, Joseph Tagger (Freeman,) and FBI agent Buchanan (Murphy), Max begins to look for ways to put an end to Will, while Evelyn, desperate to hold on to the man she once loved, is hesitant to let go.
Pfister, a long-time Chris Nolan collaborator who served as cinematographer for most of his productions, definitely knows how to work the camera and manages to paint Transcendence with a crisp, pallid polish. Everything from the special effects to the choice of framing looks absolutely superb. However, its steely façade doesn’t make up for the shallowness of the story, which goes from confusing to downright ridiculous pretty early on.
In terms of the performances, the cast struggles with their underwritten roles and, consequently, feel utterly disengaged from the story altogether. Showing off a more subdued side, Depp is relatively passive and indifferent in his performance of a man who quickly loses sight of what’s right and wrong as he begins living in his own creation. Freeman and the rest of the supporting cast are underused, while Hall – as Depp’s despairing onscreen wife – is left with little to build with on the emotional side of the story.
In the end, Transcendence flatters to deceive; from the lack of onscreen chemistry and character development to the absurdity which the story quickly escalates to, this latest wannabe sci-fi blockbuster – although pretty to look at – is just a little too dull to stand with the big boys – so to speak.