Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Men Escaping From Shit

Yes, that is the technical term. As mentioned in my previous post, ‘Men Escaping From Shit’ is my favourite genre and one that is laden with some of the greatest films of all time. Which is a tad surprising when one considers that the companion – ‘Women Escaping From Shit’ is one of the worst facets of cinema to ever be conceived, unless of course your perspective differs in that you’re a sexploitation freak and fan of the irresistibly bad.

The attraction to this particular genre is no mystery. Every creature great and small craves at least a certain level of freedom. For some of us that might mean we need to live a thousand miles away from our parents, whilst for others it might mean only that we need a comfortable cage with enough room to stretch our legs. But the choice has to be ours to make. Taking from a person their right to choose is perhaps the most challenging aspect of what it means to be human, above and beyond the challenges of love, loss, hatred, rivalry and other basic emotional plot thickeners.

You can throw a guy in prison, have him wash up on an island alone or born into a society that challenges his beliefs and ideals, and in each case you will find a stage that amplifies raw human emotion like no other. We might not all find a particular joke funny, or think an action film is enjoyable, but if written well there are very few people who will fail to identify with a man whose basic right to freedom has been taken away.

So here I give you in no particular order, my top 10 films in the genre:

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
A man wrongly imprisoned shows that whilst the body might end up behind bars, the mind can still soar, ultimately allowing for redemption. (I know, I can’t believe I just wrote that sappy sounding shit either). Like any good escape or prison movie, the selling point is how prisoners deal with their lack of freedom, rather than the reward of release.

Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Freedom comes in bite-sized portions sometimes. This film shows that it’s better to relish those and fight for more, no matter how high the obstacles or the price to be paid. With quality work like this, one has to wonder what was so attractive to Paul Newman that he found more enjoyment in the salad dressing industry.

The Razor’s Edge (1984)
The tale of a man on a journey, trapped in his own mind, roaming the world and seeking freedom, love and an understanding. Starring Bill Murray in a dramatic role, this is a remake of an old Tyrone Power flick, and based upon the book of the same name, by Somerset Maugham.

Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
A traditional prison escape film starring Clint Eastwood and Fred Ward, this one re-enacts the famous and possibly successful Alcatraz escape attempt by Frank Morris and co.

Papillon (1973)
Mental anguish, psychological trauma and perhaps Dustin Hoffman’s finest ever work. What more could you possibly want?

The Great Escape (1963)
Action, comedy and tragedy rolled into one, this film is another based on a true prison breakout. The escape attempt by motorcycle goes down as one of the most memorable scenes in film history.

Stalag 17 (1953)
The inspiration for Hogan’s Heroes, this film is more about the fight by prisoners to keep their mind occupied and from going insane than any real focus on escape. Like the Shawshank Redemption this film lives more on the interplay between William Holden and the strong supporting cast.

Runaway Train (1985)
An escape from one prison and into another - Genius! Jon Voight’s best work is shown here, as he examines the ugly side of human nature whilst hurtling along a snow-covered track and without brakes. Strong performances also come from Rebecca De Mornay and the usually ham Eric Roberts.

Cast Away (2000)
Tom Hanks far away from Hollywood and with only volleyball for company. Some might say that say that’s freedom, but not me. After all, I am one of the few who forgive Tom for making The Ladykillers.

Escape From Absolom a.k.a No Escape (1994)
It was a choice between this film and Fortress. Absolom won because it did manage to have a little more substance to it in re-examining the whole Lord of the Flies v Society scenario. Both are enjoyable films, but primarily in the manner that Rambo and wrestling are. Even on Absolom, I still can’t get past Ray Liotta as the Christmas loving self parody on Just Shoot Me.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Scientifically Authentic

I do love Sci-Fi. Not so much the SFX laden crap so often spewed forth today, but the imagination filled, concept driven, low budget restricted product of the 1950's-60's. Sure, everyone knows about The Day the Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet, The Fly and War of the Worlds, but what about the lesser known classics of a similar ilk?

One of my favourite films in the genre and one that I consider to be somewhat under appreciated is Robinson Crusoe on Mars. I discovered this particular gem during the occasional Sundays spent indoors during my childhood, watching afternoon matinees in an attempt to escape from the energy sapping sting of the typical Aussie summer.

From the discomfort of a non air conditioned Northern NSW home, it was very easy to imagine and empathise with the characters on my TV and the hardships they faced in their efforts to stay alive for my viewing pleasure. Yes, this is less sci-fi and more a part of my truly favourite genre: Men escaping from shit (more on that later).

Starring Barney the Monkey as "Mona" (don't ask and I won't either), Paul Mantee and Adam West in his pre-Batman days, Robinson Crusoe on Mars is a low budget attempt to present a rough estimation of what life on our red neighbour might be like for a marooned astronaut monkey and his pet human. In fairness to the film, it was made 5 years prior to the Apollo moon landing (alleged, for all you tinfoil hat wearers) and very little at the time of production was known about the planet. Temperature, vegetation, oxygen content of the atmosphere and the availability of water were all matters for conjecture that made for an entertaining but terribly inaccurate piece of cinema. But damn, do I ever love inaccurate cinema!

The story sticks closely to the original Crusoe tale: man finds island, man hates island because island rejects him, island takes pity and falls for man, man secretly falls for some escaped Tongan dude, island feeling scorned releases both men) only that I can't quite recall the part where alien spaceships mined for minerals on the island that the original Crusoe called home. Perhaps Defoe only put that in the uncut version of his novel along with the deleted sex scenes.

Whilst not a great film, or anywhere close to accurate (breathing on Mars with only occasional aid of oxygen filled rocks) and is rather slowly paced, I still enjoy this movie as a quasi-adult, just like I did when I was 7. It's escapist fun and is not the sort of entertainment to be offered to anyone who lacks in imagination or humour. If you're the type of sick weirdo to point out the glaring inaccuracies to your friends when watching this type of film just DON'T! There is no need for that - just read the disclaimer from the original lobby card and inhale deeply. "This film is SCIENTIFICALLY AUTHENTIC is only one step of present reality." Compelling stuff, right?