J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

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Archive for the ‘Jailbreak’ Category

The Next Three Days

Posted by J on May 15, 2011

The Next Three Days is highly entertaining, yet entirely ridiculous.  It qualifies as a how-could-a movie.  A how-could-a movie is a movie during which you keep asking yourself the question “How could?”  As in, how could Harrison Ford possibly survive that jump off the dam in The FugitiveThe Next Three Days might set the record for “how coulds?”

Consider. The main character, Russell Crowe, is a pudgy community college English teacher who has an apprehension about guns.  So of course he is the perfect character to plan and execute a jail break! Of course.  The entire premise of the movie, that Russell Crowe’s character can and will break his wife out of jail, is a how could question.

It turns out that Crowe’s wife is in prison for murder. The evidence points to her guilt, and when she loses her final appeal, she is stuck in the slammer for life. Crowe is quite depressed about this, mostly because she’s attractive. So he mopes about his daily life, playing the father to his six-year-old boy.

But then the idea hits, “why couldn’t I break my wife out of jail?”  Well, aside from the facts that no one has ever escaped this jail and that Crowe has no experience as a criminal mastermind, he certainly could break her out of jail! Why not? So Crowe hires Liam Neeson, who has escaped jail seven times, to give him advice for five minutes about how to break someone out of jail.  It turns out that you really just need willpower and a little luck.

So Crowe spends most of the movie planning the jailbreak.  He uses Youtube a lot. Youtube shows him how to make a bump key, which he tries in an elevator at the jail. That doesn’t work, so he tries to buy fake passports and social security numbers in the ghetto. After he gets beat up and robbed, he goes back to the ghetto with a gun to rob a meth dealer.  He needs money badly, in order to escape the country and bribe corrupt officials in Venezuela, his final destination after he successfully pulls off his impossible plan.  But he has only a few hundred dollars left.  This is quite strange, because even though he has sold his house and all of his furniture, he’s still hanging on to his brand new Toyota Prius, which is his getaway vehicle.

Crowe then robs the meth dealer. He sets fire to the dealer’s house, but the house does not blow up.  This allows Pittsburgh detectives to find a piece of the Prius, which broke off when Crowe ran into a bunch of trashcans while leaving the crimescene.  These detectives turn out to be the ultimate Super Sleuths. They reason that there are 7000 Priuses in the nearby metro area, and thus 7000 suspects.  But they start their search with convicted murderers. Only one murderer owns a Prius: Crowe’s wife.  She couldn’t have committed a crime, though, because she’s in jail.  Yet these Super Sleuths reason that the killer of the meth dealer must be the husband or child of the murderer who owns the Prius.  Of course!  It takes them the better part of a morning to make this brilliant deduction and track down Crowe, who on that very day is executing his elaborate jailbreak.  Chase scene alert!

It’s funny, apparently Super Sleuths don’t make good cops.  While the police detectives find Crowe within hours, they can’t stop him when he’s on a hospital elevator.  Our pudgy English professor hero has, in his infinite wisdom, gotten his diabetic jailbird wife transferred to a hospital.  He then thwarts the Super Sleuths on the hospital elevator. He descends to the parking garage, throws his clothes off of the elevator, and then goes back up to the hospital lobby.  The Sleuths think that he is in the parking garage.  Oh that clever Russell Crowe!

Once Crowe has gotten his wife out of the hospital covertly, he follows Neeson’s advice.  He’s got 35 minutes to get out of Pittsburgh.  But there’s no time to get his son.  It’s either escape now or risk capture later.  Crowe’s wife cannot bear the thought of escaping without their son, so she tries to commit suicide by jumping out of the car.  But Crowe grabs her and hangs onto her as their rental car does a 720 on the interstate at 65 mph.  This is the second time in the movie that Crowe’s wife has attempted suicide, but apparently she’s too attractive to not live with in Venezuela for the next four decades.

Does Crowe get out of the country? As the movie’s hero, should we really be rooting for him to bust a murderer out of jail? These questions I will leave you to ponder, but if you seen only a few Hollywood movies, you should know what their answers are.

These detailed plot points are provided for you to prove that this movie is bursting with unintentional comedy.  Almost none of it makes sense.  It is more a fantasy than The Lord of the Rings.  Admittedly, though, it so entertaining that I didn’t feel like falling asleep during it, the first movie I’ve watched in a while where shuteye was not an option.  If you are looking to spend a mindless evening, then this is your movie.


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Stalag 17

Posted by J on November 15, 2008

Stalag 17 suffers from neglect because of its later spawn, Hogan’s Heroes and The Great Escape.  This is the 200px-stalag_17movie in which Sergeant Schulz first appears, that duddy German barracks officer who’s always the butt of American POW wisecracks.  If you know that fact alone before watching the movie, you’ll be completely surprised by Stalag 17‘s depth and its formal intricacies.  This is a great example of a well-made movie, a genuine classic.

The vast difference between this movie and The Great Escape is in its aim.  The Great Escape, a movie about American POWs in a German WWII prison camp, is all about escape.  It’s a fun action-adventure flick, with some colorful characters and charismatic actors.  It’s also a decent pickup in the $5 DVD bin at Walmart.  Too bad we’ve never seen Stalag 17 in the same bin.  It’s about escaping from a German WWII prison camp too, but it aims for the deeper themes of community and individualism, loyalty and betrayal, and justice and injusitice.  It also has Billy Wilder’s crafted, framed shots and a first-person narrator, which adds complexity that The Great Escape lacks.  Complex movies are rewatchable, which is why they’re a good deal for $5.

Frankly, to have made Hogan’s Heroes from this movie is like taking the Fool from King Lear and making him the star of a low-brow slapstick comedy.  Like any Shakespearian tragedy (though we don’t say this movie is Shakespearian or tragic), Stalag 17 has its comic moments, particularly with two bumbling bunkmates who have babes on the brain.  But there is tension and melancholy underneath the humor, since these POWs have a genuine dislike for the Nazis, and vice versa.  The Nazis are fine with playing nice, unless they are disobeyed.  Then it’s death by machine gun.  These American POWs look like they aren’t sure they’ll ever get home.  The best they can do is make a home at the prison camp.

The main issue in Stalag 17 is that there is a traitor in the barracks.  Somebody is tipping off the Germans about all that the American POWs do.  Who is it, the narrator asks?  It could be anybody, but one of the men is a loner and an opportunist.  Another is crazy, perhaps.  Whoever it is, he is responsible for the loss of important goods and a breakdown in community trust.

We won’t say who it is, leaving the analysis to you, but notice the way economics and sociology clash.  The opportunist makes money (cigarettes) on the community and accumulates a huge stash.  Seemingly jealous, the rest of the barracks is automatically suspicious of his success.  He is not contributing to their well-being, nor does he help himself with his aloof remarks.  This situation quickly turns into a problem of loyalty and justice — and it’s impossible to not abstract the particulars of the plot onto 20th century American history.  It’s a particularly interesting exercise to consider this movie in light of HUAC’s activities in the 1950s and Hollywood blacklisting.

Anyway, just remember this is nothing like Hogan’s Heroes, and probably tied with The Bridge on the River Kwai for the best WWII prison camp movie.

Entertainment: 8

Intelligence: 6

Morality: 9

Posted in Great, Jailbreak, War | Leave a Comment »


Posted by J on November 15, 2008

Papillion is a jailbreak movie that doesn’t induce claustrophobia.  It might induce some yawning, but that 200px-papillon_ver1only will come later in the movie.  Our prisoner, a man nicknamed “Papillion” for the butterfly tattooed onto his chest, travels from France to French Guiana to Honduras and back to French Guiana.  As a prisoner in the dreaded French penal colony system, Papillion has a will to survive like no other.  He also tries to break free, constantly.

“Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.”  So said Jean-Jacques Rousseau, complaining that human society corrupts all individuals who in an otherwise natural setting would be happy, content, and uncorrupted. Papillion pays attention to Rousseau’s philosophy.  The French penal colony system is as oppressive as human society gets, so we are shown, and if only Papillion could get outside of it and live freely.  For a time, he does, living amongst a native South America tribe for a few weeks of idle bliss.  When the film gets to this moment, it becomes too idealistic and inconsistent, and therefore it lags.

The above paragraph answers the key question, “Freedom to what?”, since Papillion is escaping to something as well as from something.  Some viewers might get the idea that the movie is about spiritual liberation.  Perhaps to some degree that is true, but recall the scene where Papillion shows up at the nunnery.  The head nun deceives him and turns him back into the authorities, who ship him back to French Guiana for five years of solitary confinement.  The church, the movie seems to be saying, is complicit in society’s oppression.  Papillion just wants to get away from it all.  That seems to mean everything you can see in this movie, which is nearly everything.

The movie is compelling in its early going, when Papillion and his fellow prisoners arrive at the penal colony, up through the point where Papillion exits solitary confinement for the first time.  Papillion forges a lifelong friendship with another prisoner, Louis Dega, who each save each other’s life.  “Someone saving my life is a new experience for me,” Dega tearfully exclaims, as he explains why he is risking his life to bribe guards just to make sure that Papillion gets sufficient nourishment.  Papillion had the potential to be a wonderful movie if just for the Papillion-Dega relationship.  If only the movie had been properly edited.  If only.

The movie also should be considered a soft “R”.  You might look at the PG rating and think “okay,” but if you are wanting an okay movie to watch with the kiddos, catch Papillion on TV.  Otherwise you will see a decapitation, a man get his throat slit, lots of other scenes with bad 1970s fake blood, prison talk and innuendo, and a 5-minute scene with naked, tribal women.

Entertainment: 5-7

Intelligence: 4

Morality: 4

Posted in Jailbreak, Okay, But We Won't Watch It Again | Leave a Comment »