See It Instead: Escape Plan Edition
Sometimes a movie comes along and makes you aware of an itch you never knew you had. Perhaps a review piqued your interest, or you’d rather stay in and pay yourself $10 for a small popcorn and watch a movie on the cheap. Perhaps you’re valiantly struggling through your queue on Netflix or Amazon Prime, and need a wise, cultured voice to direct you to where the real movie viewing gold is hiding amidst the shitty ninja movies and serial killer biopics. Well, look no further. See It Instead is here to take today’s new releases and guide you to what you should really be watching.
Escape Plan (2013)
Currently trying to engineer an escape from a dismal opening weekend is the latest come-back vehicle for aging action stars (which is starting to become a genre in its own rights) Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Escape Plan. The duo face a tortured, convoluted script, which has them tortured in a convoluted super max prison. Can they find a way to freedom? Well, probably. Can they find a way to make money and get Expendables 3 green lit? Future outlook not so bright. Why not see these films instead?
The Serious Pick: Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
For fans of a grizzled action hero beating the odds in the hardest prison on earth.
The classic prison escape movie starring Clint Eastwood, Escape from Alcatraz defines the genre. Based loosely on the only “successful” attempt to fly the coop at Alcatraz (and by successful we mean no bodies were ever turned up, so there’s a 50/50 chance they made it) it tells the story of habitual escape artist Frank Morris and his accomplices, who manage to engineer an improbable ticket off the Rock via tunneling through concrete. If this reminds you at all of the excellent Shawshank Redemption, you now have an idea of how iconic Escape from Alcatraz was and remains as the Ur escape movie.
The Lighthearted Pick: Rambo, First Blood Part 2 (1985)
If you want to see Stallone in his heyday, escaping harsh imprisonment.
I know, a lighthearted movie with a body count in the hundreds, but hear me out here. If you really want to see Stallone pull off long odds and look like ten pounds of angry bees in a five pound jar, why not see him escape the whole damn country of Vietnam? A jarring follow up to the jaundiced and heart wrenching story of a forgotten veteran that was First Blood, the sequel kept the survivalist John Rambo, but turned up the action quotient to eleven. Sent on a mission designed to get him killed, Rambo is back in Vietnam searching for POW’s that may not even exist. Captured and tortured, Rambo does what he does best: break out, save the soldiers, and murder a metric fuck-ton of enemy combatants. This movie minted Stallone as gun and growl action star, and he would go on to repeat the trick twice more (hell, no guarantee he won’t stop making em. He can’t be stopped!)
The Unconventional Pick: Cube (1997)
For fans of devilishly concocted prisons and visually disturbing traps.
Before Saw, there was Cube, a viceral, violent, and psychological horror movie that you could argue created the modern Trap genre. Five strangers (six if you count the unlucky bastard from the opening sequence,) awaken in a Kafka-esque cubic room, with sealed shafts on each wall, as well as floor and ceiling. Each shaft leads to another identical room, with the caveat that any room may contain a deadly trap, as the group learns the hard way. The survivors attempt to puzzle out where they are, why they are there, and how to evade the traps while searching for an exit. Mathematics play heavily into the solution, but you’re not required to have a PhD in order to enjoy the near misses the group encounters as they try to solve the Cube. Made on a modest budget, and spawning several less-notable sequels, Cube has enough twists and tension to sate fans of escape movies.
The Bonus Pick: Papillon (1973)
For viewers who want a relentless hero escaping a hellish prison through force of will.
As a gift to the viewers, I present a criminally neglected prison escape movie featuring Steve McQueen and a memorably eccentric Dustin Hoffman. If you’re unfamiliar with Steve McQueen, he’s equal parts Daniel Craig and Jackie Chan, and you may recognize his chiseled good looks if you’ve ever seen the business end of a belt sander. McQueen insisted on performing the films most dangerous stunt, a cliff fall into rough water, and appears to have followed the Christian Bale school of losing weight during the solitary confinement sequences. Papillon is a wrongfully convicted french tough guy sentenced to an island prison in French Guiana where escape is almost worse than imprisonment. He befriends Louis Dega (Hoffman) a famous counterfeiter who funds Papillon’s escape efforts through cash and promises, both which he pulls from his rear end. Papillon is brutalized after each escape attempt yet this only makes him try harder the next time, similar to Paul Newman’s Cool Hand Luke. Compared to Papillon, Stallone is in a country club prison.