Tag Archives: Lake Bell

No Escape

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

no escape 2015“We need to put ten steps between them and us.”

You know those films that act as awesome tourist adverts for the countries they are set in? Like how Brave was one giant ad for visiting Scotland, or how Lord of the Rings had everyone flocking to New Zealand? Yeah, No Escape isn’t going to be adding anything to anyone’s “must visit” list anytime soon.

Mainly because the film makes a real point to NOT naming the country it’s set in, although it looks an awful lot like Thailand. I bet they don’t put that in their tourist brochures. But whether or not they told us the name of the country, I wouldn’t want to visit it.  Mainly because mere hours after the non-specific South East Asian country’s Prime Minister has been murdered in his house and the populace has risen up against its government, the morons at the airport are still letting planes filled with fresh new plump people to kill land and push out their cargo of not-yet-carcasses into a country that’s killing everyone that isn’t from their slums.  I wouldn’t want to visit a place that so willingly ferries people in to be killed!  And such is the terror of No Escape.

Owen Wilson is Jack Dwyer, a man as non-descript as the country he has moved his entire family to for work. Dragging his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and their two young daughters from hot Austin, Texas to hot and muggy South East Asia for his new job working for a company that will be supplying clean water to the entire country. Arriving in the country hours after the people have risen up and killed the Prime Minister, the nuclear family settle in for the night at the one “decent” hotel in the area none the wiser to the situation that’s slowly bubbling up in the streets. A restless night and an early morning has Jack out to prove just how ignorant tourists can be by heading out to hunt for a newspaper in English, in a country with no name; instead finding himself standing right in the middle of a skirmish between local law enforcement and an uprising militia. Scrabbling through back streets to get back to the hotel and his family, our fairly generic unlikely hero stumbles into the reality of the situation; the populous isn’t just fighting back against the country’s tyranny, they are hunting out and executing foreigners with no trial or process. So of course, the well armed angry mob is heading towards the same hotel that Mr and Mrs Whats-their-name are staying in.

The odds are constantly against the family as they attempt to escape the murderous drove of locals, who seem to be one step ahead of every one of the tourists that are trying to flee. As quick as the family get to the roof, the militia get their hands on a helicopter and start mowing down helpless tourists from the sky like fish in a barrel. In a daredevil move, Jack and his three damsels in distress make a leap to an adjacent building and take us to the end of what we knew was happening from the trailers we’ve been subjected to for a while now. What follows from here is a mad dash to escape the country in one piece; tense encounter followed by tense encounter as the family of four grow ever more desperate for freedom as the hours go on and more of the city they are trying to get out of falls to the control of the mob. Helped by Pierce Brosnan’s Hammond, a shady man who isn’t quite what he makes himself out to be and has “Dodgy Agency Type” written all over his face. Hammond, with his strangely jarring British accent knows far more than he lets on and drags the Americans out of the side streets and joins them in their attempts to vacate this hell hole of a country as quickly as possible. No Escape ramps up the tension and puts audiences everywhere on the edge of their seats. Well… kind of.

No Escape follows the same blueprint from almost every disaster movie you’ve ever seen. Dad has all the good ideas, ruined by either his other half or his kids who think they know better; there’s an army dude, or a secret agent, or a survivalist somewhere that knows exactly what to do and every time you think you’ve found a plan that’s going to work, the disaster, or in this case, the angry mob of non-specific South East Asian people, accidentally stumble into a way to screw up the plans. All those moments of tension quickly lose their effect once you’ve gotten over the “what would I do in this situation” feelings and you realise it’s not doing anything new or original, meaning you can predict what is going to happen at almost every turn, it almost instantly goes from being an interesting thriller with an underlying story of how foreign businesses are taking over the world, to a run-of-the-mill thriller that’s just preaching about how Western business is trying to take over the world.

Pierce Brosnan is definitely a highlight, his daft comic relief and his role that pretty much proves that he’s missing his James Bond days but he did get a couple of real chuckles from me. Not really in the “Best of a bad bunch” category, but considering his co-stars, it’s dangerously close. I’m not sure I can believe Owen Wilson in his role as the husband that steps up and saves everyone; he’s not the worst person to try and break the slump of crap jobs and do something outside of their comfort zone, I think that’s reserved for the usually great John Cusack’s role in he equally bland 2012. Literally rolling out every trope from movies like this has done the film, that could have been really interesting and tense, a proper disservice; from the angry bandana wearing paramilitary guys roaming the streets with machetes to attempted rape and even Brosnan’s obviously a bit dodgy character; the film seems to relish in its predictable mediocrity with only one real scene towards the end, that I shan’t spoil, that really managed to ramp up the desired tension but sadly, by that point, I’d all but given up on the film.

No Escape really needed to try harder to stand out from the crowd. While it’s not a complete failure as a thriller and its direction is passable, bad casting and a refusal to think outside of that well-filled box mean I can only really recommend it as a filler film when you’ve got nothing better to do on a Saturday night.

Million Dollar Arm

Million Dollar Arm could be a very good sports biopic… it’s just focussed on completely the wrong character.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

million dollar arm 2I am going to be blunt, folks.  In a sports biopic about the first Indian athletes that are signed to an American Major League Baseball franchise, your main protagonist should not be The White Man.  See, despite that subject matter, Million Dollar Arm is not about the athletes; it’s about the sports agent who plucked them out of India and how their eventual success saved his agency.  Look, I, like any man, love Jon Hamm; I could stare at his ruggedly handsome looks and chiselled jaw for hours, as I in fact did, but he should not be the lead character of this movie.  J.B. Bernstein, his character, should be a secondary character instead.  The athletes and their translator, Rinku Singh (Suraj Sharma), Dinesh Patel (Madhur Mittal) and Amit Rohan (Pitobash Tripathy), should be the leads.  Hell, if you must make it about a sports agent, then why not make it about his Indian partner, Ash (an always nice to see Aasif Mandvi)?

But no, instead they’re side characters for absolutely no discernible reason.  Hell, I even hate to use that phrase because their characters basically amount to being J.B.’s MacGuffin for both his business and character arc, and repeating “Thank you, Mr J.B. sir” over and over as if that somehow substitutes for actual character work.  I count about six scenes that are solely dedicated to them and nobody else, the rest of the time they are basically children for J.B. to babysit; his love interest (Lake Bell, hopefully just taking a paycheque) even makes that comparison openly and his treating-them-right is basically what convinces her to open her legs to him.  There could be a brilliant sports drama about their struggle to adapt to life outside of their small little Indian village, of their homesickness, of being stuck in an unfamiliar and rather uncaring country, and the immense pressure for them to perform here.  Hell, there should be, this film is two goddamn hours, there’s no excuse for them having absolutely no character of their own outside of their brief introductions.

I know that I am supposed to review the movie we’ve got, not the one I want, but, dammit, this shit should not have happened!  Especially since this creative decision actually hampers the film we have totally, as well.  Not only are there no real dramatic stakes, seeing as the only thing we really know about these boys is that their success is important to The White Man and that makes it rather hard to care about how well they’re doing (it’s like when action films put a child in danger and they expect you to suddenly become really worried for the kid’s safety solely on the basis that it’s a kid, even though it has no character), it actually exposes the film as hypocritical.  J.B.’s character arc is that he learns to treat and see these kids as actual people instead of just walking contracts and deals, except that the film almost never portrays them as anything but walking contracts and deals for J.B. whose future rides on their success.  So if the film can’t be bothered to see them as people, then why are we the audience supposed to step in and do the film’s work for it?  Again, this film is two goddamn hours!  There is no excuse for this!

What’s worse is that if Rinku, Danesh and Amit were the lead characters, or at least had an equal amount of attention as J.B. gets, I’d be giving Million Dollar Arm a passing grade and maybe a light push to go and see it!  It’s a solidly made sports biopic.  It doesn’t bring anything new to the table (except an over-use of handheld cameras that all seem to have been operated by people desperate for a piss) and it’s too long, but it has good and charming performances, a nice light and warm mood, a pretty good soundtrack by A.R. Rahman, and a good grasp at the beats of the sports drama genre.  It’s nothing great, but it is comfort viewing and sometimes the cinematic equivalent of a nice slice of sponge-cake makes a good alternative to the relentlessly loud and cynical noise of everything else.

But they’re not and the fact that they’re not actually incenses me as I type these words.  I imagine that there will be some people out there who will think that I am getting all worked up over nothing and that, again, I should just give a passing grade to the film we’ve been given instead of a failing grade due to it not being the film I want.  Well, no.  I am not going to do that.  Not only does Million Dollar Arm blow the chance to say something interesting or do something new with its premise by not making the Indian athletes the leads, it reduces them to mere pawns and MacGuffins in The White Man’s personal journey, giving them no agency or character of their own and not seeming to care one bit about that fact.  I find that reprehensible and I refuse to let it off the hook for that.  This could have been avoided.  This could have oh so easily been avoided.  Instead, we’re here and Million Dollar Arm has nobody to blame but itself.

Callum Petch is looking for new maternal embrace.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!