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Escape Plan

Sylvester Stallone, who previously suffered and grunted to great effect in the excellent Lock Up (1989), gets thrown into the slammer again in Escape Plan as Ray Breslin, the Harry Houdini of incarceration. Breslin is so adept at egress from maximum security penitentiaries that he actually makes his living at it, hiring out his services to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and going undercover in different correctional institutions across the country to test their tightness. Breslin finds himself in the bind of his life when he agrees to try his hand at the Tomb, a CIA-commissioned, privately operated black prison “off the grid” and designed for containing dissidents the government would prefer to see “disappeared”. This time Breslin’s sentence is more than a game.

A gray-haired Arnold Schwarzenegger plays second fiddle to Stallone’s hero, but does add considerably to the fun of the film. He is given one moment of greatness equal to his larger-than-life persona when, in testosterone-mainlining slow motion, he levels a machine gun and mows down a gallery of disposable baddies. Jim Caviezel, unfortunately, is inadequate to the task of furnishing proper antagonism for the likes of the two leading titans. Sam Neill collects a paycheck for playing a tiny supporting role as the prison’s doctor, while Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson keeps it real representin’ the African-American computer genius community as Breslin’s loyal “techno-thug” Hush.

Escape Plan has exactly two things going for it: Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The script is lame and about as original as the title, with typical lines of dialogue being, “You hit like a vegetarian”; “I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you, motherfucker!”; and, still more amazing, this brilliantly sarcastic coup of a zinger: “Have a lovely day, asshole.” Weaknesses aside, the story is fast-paced, the performances are fun, and the dynamite action combo of Stallone and Schwarzenegger will be a difficult one for fans to resist.

3.5 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Escape Plan is:

7. Anti-tobacco. A guard’s routine of taking a smoke break causes him to be distracted.

6. Pro-miscegenation. The streets of New Orleans teem with interraciality.

5. Anti-Christian. Schwarzenegger, putting on a show of insanity for the guards, spouts religious nonsense in German. Stallone tears a page out of a Bible and burns it.

4. Anti-torture. Guards pummel Stallone and force water down Schwarzenegger’s throat with a hose.

3. Anti-neoconservative. The Tomb, with its savagery, high-tech surveillance, and disregard for citizens’ constitutional rights, serves as a microcosm of life in post-9/11 America. Giving the lie to the Islam-bashers, Muslim prisoners are violent only when they are provoked.

2. Anti-cronyism/anti-capitalistic. The Tomb is operated by “Blackwater rejects” who do the dirty work of corrupt, authoritarian governments and international bankers. “From a financial standpoint I like it,” Breslin’s business partner (Vincent D’Onofrio) says on hearing about the Tomb and the money he stands to make by cooperating with the CIA. Schwarzenegger is an anarchist or revolutionary of some sort who seeks to bring down the financial establishment.

1. Anti-state. The Tomb is administered by the significantly monickered Mr. Hobbes (Jim Caviezel), who boasts, “In here you have no control over any part of your life, except your breathing.” Of interest, too, is the deindividuated design of the brutal prison screws, who wear S.W.A.T.-flavored get-ups and charcoal-black masks with Caucasian features. Could this be a commentary on the reality of life under fake black president B.O., whose ballyhooed skin color masks exactly the same opportunism that motivated his predecessors in office?

the-frozen-ground-poster-artwork-nicolas-cage-john-cusack-vanessa-hudgens-small

The first half of this Nic Cage serial killer thriller is so uninspired that it comes as a bit of a shock to realize an hour or so into its run time that it actually packs some fair suspense. Cage is, as always, easy to watch and perfectly adequate in his role as an Alaskan state trooper investigating a series of gruesome hooker murders, though fans of his more outrageous performances may be disappointed by his relatively sedate turn here. It is Cage’s Con Air castmate John Cusack, however, here cast against type as the seemingly mild-mannered murderer, who constitutes the primary reason to see The Frozen Ground. The initial interrogation and confrontation between Cage and Cusack is especially electric and easily the strongest scene in the film. Also featured prominently is Vanessa Hudgens as a revolting prostitute targeted by Cusack and coddled by paternally protective Cage. Rounding out the cast are Breaking Bad‘s Dean Norris in a frustratingly small supporting role and rapper 50 Cent looking somewhat out of place as a pimp on ice. The Frozen Ground is no Angel or Vice Squad, too serious in its approach to its true crime subject matter to take full advantage of exploitative potential; but, approached with appropriate expectations, it might be worth a Redbox rental one of these chilly nights.

3 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Frozen Ground is:

6. Racist! Fiendishly perpetuating the black pimp stereotype. Even if it is based on a true story, truth is no excuse for racism!

5. Anti-gun. Cusack is a hunter and Hudgens relates that, when she saw all the animal heads mounted on his walls, she knew there was no point in begging for mercy.

4. Anti-drug. Recreational pharmaceuticals solve nobody’s problems. Cage’s sister died in an accident caused by a drunken driver.

3. Anti-Christian. The killer, whose middle name is Christian, is, appropriately enough, a Christian, as an FBI psychological profile has predicted. One senses that his family’s emotional life is stultified by the strictures of his faith, which has probably also contributed to his vicious attitude toward fallen women.

2. Anti-family/anti-marriage. Like American Beauty, Breach, and countless other subversive films, The Frozen Ground is eager to reveal the conservative family man to be a closet pervert and a volatile maniac. Cusack’s wife is clearly a silent sufferer in an unhappy marriage. Hudgens, child of a teenage mother, reveals that she was molested by an uncle.

1. Slut-ambivalent. The film can hardly be accused of prettifying the life of a hooker, and it graphically illustrates the danger of hawking sloppy thousandths on the mean, moose-prowled streets of Anchorage, Alaska. The movie stumbles onto thin dramatic ice with its attempt to drum up audience sympathy over the rape of a shameless whore, however, and irritates with its perpetuation of the popular misconception that streetwalkers’ lives have value.

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