Friday, July 4, 2008

#8: Escape from New York


Escape from New York
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by John Carpenter and Nick Castle
Released July 10, 1981

"The name's Plissken."

I had to reward myself for getting through Southland Tales. It's July 4th, and I decided to get as American as I could get: plopping down in front of my television after watching my redneck neighbors (and pretty much every single household in Omaha) blow shit up, saddling up to a pile of Freedom Fries and a 1 lb. double cheeseburger, and watching Kurt Russell in his prime in John Carpenter's classic Escape from New York.

Now this is an apocalyptic b-movie that I can get behind. It's 1997 (look, it was the future at one point), and Manhattan has been turned into the sole prison for the United States. Criminals are sent there to live or die, in a world of their own creation, surrounded by a massive wall, armed guards and surveillance. Air Force One is hijacked by a group of terrorist revolutionaries, intent on kidnapping the President (Halloween's Donald Pleasence).

Enter Russell's John Wayne-ian badass Snake Plissken (what a great fucking name!), an ex-war hero about to be incarcerated to the island. He's given the opportunity to be exonerated of his crimes in exchange for the President -- and more specifically, the briefcase attached to his wrist.

Like Southland Tales, the cast here is just nutty: everyone from Isaac Hayes to Harry Dean Stanton to Ernest Borgnine pop up in even nuttier roles. Unlike Southland Tales, this wacky cast actually works (and, thankfully, there are no extraneous musial numbers). Once Russell makes his way into the crumbling city of Manhattan, Russell's cowboy character is thrust into a ghettofied Land of Oz on a mythological journey full of underground dwelling "crazies," a fire-throwing cabbie, grisly gladiatorial battle. . . hell, even Plissken, with his iconic eyepatch, is essentially a nod -- intentional or not -- to the Cyclops.

Aside from a few creaky special effects, Escape remains a solid action film even today. It's a testament to the old days of flimmaking that the matte paintings and models used in the making of the movie seem far more realistic and believable than computer generated sets and backdrops.

If I had planned a little better, I probably could have turned tonight into a hell of a Kurt Russell film festival. The guy has a ton of great performances, but the trifecta he created with John Carpenter, which includes this film, The Thing and the bizarre Big Trouble in Little China would make for a pretty fun and sometimes uproarious night of movie watching.

If you're into ruining that night, feel free to add on the weak Escape from L.A..

For more on Escape From New York:
- More information at IMDB
- A link to the movie at the MGM website, which includes a link to buy the DVD.

Official movie trailer:

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