Friday, March 23, 2012

The Hunger Gabs

Werth: Hi, Wise.  

Wise: Tell me, Werth.  Do you have...The Hunger?  

Werth: While I do have an extensive video collection, I tend to shy away from vampire lesbian flicks.  

Wise: No, I meant The Hunger Games—the new movie based on Suzanne Collins's ballyhooed dystopian teen series where a bunch of pouty-lipped pre-adults are forced to fight each other to the death.  

Werth: Sounds like the sales rack at Abercrombie & Fitch.  But I do love any good flick that takes place in the bleak near-future where individuals must battle each other for survival.  

Wise: I know, The Vow was awesome.  

Werth: I was thinking more along the lines of John Carpenter's Escape from New York. Picture it. 1997. America's at war with the Commies and Manhattan's crime rate is so high the whole island is turned into a maximum security prison.

Wise: Wait1997? I thought this blog was about the future?

Werth: The movie was made in 1981so back then 1997 was the future. Donald Pleasance is the President and his plane gets shot down by a terrorist worker's group and crash lands in Battery Park where the prisoners take him hostage.

Wise: This is so '97.

Werth: So the only man that Manhattan Prison Warden Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) can turn to is war-hero turned bank robber Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell). Snake only has 24 hours to sneak into the city, find the President and rescue him and get a full pardon before Snake's head explodes.

Wise: What?

Werth: It's complicated, but John Carpenter has always been a writer/director who didn't necessarily rely on plot believability. His knack for creating fast-paced action-horror movies revolved around creating a hero and a cast of characters that stood out from the seemingly pointless point A to point B stories. 
Russell was practically a Carpenter muse portraying several studly heroes in classics like The Thing (1982), Big Trouble in Little China (1986) and sequel Escape from L.A. (1996). In Escape from New York Russell unashamedly relishes playing the un-repentant anti-hero. He doesn't so much wink at the audience as wink, sexily snarl and then blow some dirtbag's head off.

Wise: I assume that's how he snagged Goldie.

Werth: Snake is dropped by glider into the hellish landscape of dilapidated, crook-murderer-psycho-infested New York City in the hopes of finding the President. Along the way he runs into a cavalcade of 1980's character actors like Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Ernest Borgnine and Adrienne Barbeauand her breasts. The whole film is good, dirty fun with shots of the desperate crew running through such cherished NY landmarks as a Chock Full 'o Nuts store. 
Considering the whole thing was shot on the lot in L.A. and in St. Louis, Missouri, the "NY feel" is better than it deserves to be. And with a classic, cheap-but-creepy synthesizer soundtrack composed by Carpenter himself, Escape is one of those cult '80's flicks that is a fun place to visit even if you don't want to live there.

Wise: In Children of Men (2006), Clive Owen plays Theo Faron, a civil servant in 2027 Great Britain—the last stable nation amid a worldwide crisis of pollution and infertility.  Kidnapped by his ex-wife Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore) who now runs a militant immigrant rights splinter group, Theo makes a deal to smuggle Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), a young pregnant refugee, out of the country and to a medical community sequestered in the Azores.  

Werth: I wish someone would do the same with Snooki.

Wise: Loosely based on P.D. James's novel of the same name and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, the film is a compelling mix of the possible and the improbable, filled with everyday details seamlessly mixed with futuristic contraptions that make the film's grim view of the future seem particularly close at hand.  This is the guy who directed the third, and best, Harry Potter movie, and he's made his career finding the perfect balance of conflicting tones.

Werth: Which in cinema usually means really dark lighting.

Wise: Even more vital to communicating Cuarón's vision is Owen's performance: casting off his matinee idol looks, Owen transforms Theo from a man riven by despair into a guardian of a hope he never knew he possessed.  This isn't the typical sci-fi action hero bluster—although there's plenty of gun play and chase scenes—instead Owen creates a man who had lost his soul, but now finds his way.  
And he's not the only one showing off his acting chops: Michael Caine has a delightfully daffy role as a pot smoking eccentric; and Julianne Moore uses her fragile beauty to portray a woman who's lost everything but her ideals.  

Werth: Speaking of losing ideals, are you ready to battle your way through the crush of teens to see The Hunger Games?  

Wise: I think I'll save my fighting spirit for next week's Film Gab.


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