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Escape from New York & Escape from L.A. – Review

27 Sep

To me, John Carpenter is an amazing film maker. He’s made some of my favorite horror movies, like Halloween and The Thing amongst others. He’s also known for more action oriented movies like Assault on Precinct 13 and the comedic Big Trouble in Little China. One of his most respected action movies, and in fact one of the most respected movies of his career, is the 1981 film Escape from New York. This was a dark, dystopian thrill ride that was a major hit with audiences and critics alike, which is surprising that it took 15 years for the sequel, Escape from L.A., to finally be produced and released. While both of these movies have something good to offer, Escape from New York is a far superior film than its sequel… depending on what you’re looking for.

Let’s start with Escape from New York.

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In 1988, crime in America rises by almost 400% (remember this was made in 1981) forcing the government to create the United States Police Force and also convert Manhattan into a giant maximum security prison surrounded by giant walls. When terrorists force Air Force One to crash land inside the prison walls, the president (Donald Pleascence) finds himself stranded. Luckily for him, there’s a new prisoner about to be admitted, the notorious soldier and gunslinger Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell). Before all of the formalities can even be completed, Snake is tasked by New York Police Commissioner Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) to infiltrate Manhattan and save the president and in return all of Snake’s crimes on record will be cleared. As an added incentive, Snake is injected with a small explosive device that will detonate in 22 hours. Now with no other choice, Snake wages a one man war with the inmates of Manhattan.

What really grabbed my attention first was how Escape from New York looked. It is a minor visual masterpiece that perfectly sets the tone. From beginning to end, this movie is enveloped in darkness and fog and destruction. It’s exactly how a dystopian film should look. Of course, this was also done in a time before CGI, so this destroyed version of Manhattan is all just brilliant set design, miniatures, and matte painting. Speaking of design, I can’t go through this review without mentioning the iconic anti-hero, Snake Plissken. Kurt Russell growls his way through the movie and succeeds at playing one of cinema’s cult badasses. Not to mention that he was Konami’s main inspiration for Solid Snake in the Metal Gear video game series.

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There’s a simplicity to the story that has also grown on me. While there is something of a message behind the story of the film, the main focus is always Snake rescuing the president. There is a pacing issue that happens about 20 minutes into the movie where it sort of grinds to a halt, but it picks up speed soon enough and I was right back into the action. The movie is a little bit dated, but there are plenty of reasons not to forget it. The cast that I’ve mentioned before, along with Ernest Borgnine, Isaac Hayes, Adrienne Barbeau, and Harry Dean Stanton are all great as always. The film is also just an achievement visuals, character, and the fact that you don’t need a huge budget to make an influential movie. Escape from New York truly deserves its recognition as a cult classic.

After a sequel was written in 1985 and quickly dismissed as being “to campy” by John Carpenter, the official sequel was finally released 15 years later in 1996.

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After an earthquake in 2000 pretty much levels all of Los Angeles. The island that is created as a result is turned into a prison when a strict theocratic president (Cliff Robertson) is elected and implements a moral code that is enforced throughout America. When the president’s daughter, Utopia (A.J. Langer), is influenced by a terrorist in the L.A. prison, Cuervo Jones (Georges Corraface), she steals a device that can be used to control satellites orbiting the entire earth with the capability to shut down all forms of power sources on the planet. After once again being arrested and facing a life sentence in L.A., Snake is recruited to go into the prison, retrieve the device, and eliminate Utopia and Cuervo in exchange for his freedom and an antidote to a virus that has been injected into his bloodstream.

Think of this movie as the Joel Schumacher Batman movies compared to Tim Burton’s, except not as disastrous as Batman and RobinEscape from New York had a dark and brooding atmosphere, whereas Escape from L.A. is brighter, louder, and much more excessive. That being said, there’s some really fun action sequences, but there’s a lot missing from this movie. For one thing, Snake is pretty much turned into an indestructible hero, which pretty much takes away all sorts of suspense. The special effects in this movie are also… pretty awful. I mean, Independence Day also came out in 1996, so there’s really no excuse the effects in Escape from L.A. should be so weird. I can’t even say it’s because it had a low budget because it was a $50 million production.

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There’s still a lot of imagination behind a lot of the different prisoners and sets. Also, besides Kurt Russell and Cliff Robertson, there’s also cameos and supporting roles for Bruce Campbell, Pam Grier, Peter Fonda, and Steve Buscemi. It’s just really unfortunate that all of this imagination and great actors is sort of drowned out in excessive special effects, a lack of suspense, and noise. While the story does move a lot faster than its predecessor, I really missed the style, suspense, and tone of the first film. It’s also worth mentioning that the whole story is almost a perfectly recycled version of Escape from New York.  Escape from L.A. isn’t an awful film, but it’s far from being any real form of good.

John Carpenter’s Escape from New York and Escape from L.A. are two very different movies. His first film is a cult classic, and rightfully so, while the second one bombed when it was released and it’s still considered a bomb today.

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Wild at Heart – Review

25 Apr

I’m a huge fan of David Lynch and could realistically talk about him for an entire week straight without getting bored. When I first saw his short film The Alphabet, I didn’t really know how crazy film makers could get. Ever since then it’s been a wild ride in my attempts to find some of the most insane movies to ever have been created. This all ties back into David Lynch because he’s never let me down when it comes to mind boggling weirdness. Even The Elephant Man has some pretty strange moments, but Wild at Heart shows the same type of odd characters and situations that were present in his previous film Blue Velvet and his short lived television show Twin Peaks.

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Lula (Laura Dern) and Sailor (Nicolas Cage) are two young people in love who are torn apart when Sailor kills a man trying to protect himself and Lula. This entire attack was organized by Lula’s psychotic and overly protective mother, Marietta Fortune (Diane Ladd), who forbids Lula from seeing Sailor when he gets out of prison. Of course, Lula disobeys her mother and runs off with Sailor as soon as he gets out with dreams of moving to California. As the two lovers spend their time making love and speeding down the highways, Marietta hires her private detective boyfriend Johnnie Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton) to track them down, but she also hires her other boyfriend, a gangster named Marcellus Santos (J.E. Freeman) to kill Sailor when he is found. Lula and Sailor have other problems, however, as they follow their version of the Yellow Brick Road into a small Texas town that makes hell seem comfortable. Problems that threaten to tear their beautiful relationship apart.

Wild at Heart shows a cool transition between the older style of David Lynch with films like Eraserhead and Blue Velvet and his later works like Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive. It has the same dirty characters and brutal violence seen in the early films and the trippy sequences and the more oddball characters of his later movie. While this movie does act as a bridge between the older and the newer David Lynch, it doesn’t quite have the intensity and mystery of his other films. As many strange characters and scenes there are in this movie, it doesn’t have the most fun aspect of David Lynch movies: figuring out what it all means.

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Wild at Heart is certainly a romance, except seen through the twisted eyes of David Lynch, much like how Danny Boyle’s  A Life Less Ordinary had a more frenetic view on romance. The style of this movie is very effective, and really is the coolest part of the movie. The jazz music mixed with the heavy metal music Sailor and Lula listen to combined with the rockabilly attitude of Sailor is just ludicrous in a way that only David Lynch could pull off. The supporting cast that I didn’t mention in my synopsis really contribute to that insane “Lynchian” factor. Crispin Glover’s small role is memorable, even though he has three lines of dialogue at best. Returning players who’ve worked with Lynch before include Sheryl Lee in a small part as the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz, Jack Nance as a crazy rocket scientist, and Isabella Rossellini as a criminal who has a shady past with Sailor. The scene stealer in this movie is Willem DaFoe as an off the wall hit man/bank robber named Bobby Peru. Everything from his outfit to the way he talks is completely ridiculous, creepy, and hilarious in the darkest sort of way.

Out of all of David Lynch’s movies that I’ve seen, Wild at Heart is one of my least favorites. I do love the style and the crazy romance, but it doesn’t have elements that made other films in Lynch’s filmography as memorable as they are. The plot seemed to be on the straight and narrow the entire way through, with only scenes that broke up the predictability of it all. The word “predictable” is a weird way to describe a movie of this film maker, but the plot seemed to follow a pretty straight line. There were small moments that shocked me and made me laugh, but as a whole it moved in a pretty normal way which I don’t want to see when I put on a movie made by David Lynch.

The video above shows the awesome first scene of Wild at Heart, and the insanity really doesn’t slow down at all. Lynch even made the slower parts of the movie feel really weird and nightmarish. Unfortunately, the plot wasn’t as interesting as the smaller scenes that were in the movie. The soundtrack and the performances were great and David Lynch’s entire style make this movie still really, really cool. Looking at it in terms of Lynch’s entire filmography, it doesn’t quite hold up to Lynch’s masterpieces like EraserheadBlue Velvet, and Mulholland Drive. Still, if you’re a fan of David Lynch or movies that make you feel very weird, Wild at Heart is still a hellish road trip worth taking.