No Escape

Escape from [insert name of fictional Asian city here]

Considering the plot, characterisation and cinematography this film contains, it is not difficult to imagine it being made in the 1980’s (with Harrison Ford replacing Owen Wilson as the lead hero) or even the 1950’s (starring Jimmy Stewart). This is not a way of complimenting the film and suggesting it is timeless, anything but. This film is dreary, predictable and exceptionally dated. It’s portrayal of foreign conflict and politics is extremely problematic, a one-sided view of global issues that is almost xenophobic in presentation. The only thing that separates No Escape from a B-movie shown on the dark and misty unknown entities of Sky Movies channels after channel 315 is it’s talented cast, who are severely let down by the dross of a screenplay. Having not stayed for the end credits (in my desperation to leave the cinema)  I can only presume my hunch that the ‘research’ for this film was the greatest hits of The Daily Mail is in fact true…
Jack (Owen Wilson), an American engineer, leaves behind a failed business to drag his family to 
Southeast Asia to head his water manufacturing company’s new plant there. When they get there; they seem to be having problems, the electronics don’t work and rarely any cars are seen in the streets. When he goes to the market the next morning, he finds himself caught in the middle of a violent rebellion headed by armed rebels executing foreigners. Unbeknownst to Jack, just days before these armed rebels assassinated their prime minster. Jack must get back to the hotel and with the help of a mysterious British “tourist” (Pierce Brosnan), must get his family to the American Embassy in the midst of the chaos. But is there any escape? 
Firstly, the family. Jack is the archaic kind of hero of cinema long ago. He’s the Everyman. A husband. A father. By agreeing to this new job he has uprooted his family and doesn’t appreciate how they might feel, so he must learn his lesson through enduring this hero’s journey. He has a jarringly good range of survival skills; he knows instantaneously how to survive the most incredible and most ridiculous situations without having to think about it. Most depressingly of all, he is intentionally presented as all charmness and niceties whereas his wife Annie (Lake Bell) spends most of the film crying or with her face contorted into fear/outrage.  And, as bad as it will sound, their children are unbearably annoying. The majority of hurdles the family face are either caused by the children or severely complicated by the children. Pierce Brosnan enters, exits and reenters the film to little effect. His presence here echos something Micheal Caine declared when once asked about his role in Jaws: The Revenge,’ I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.’ That must be the only reason that Brosnan is here giving a throwaway performance as a mysterious lothario Cockney.
The film’s biggest error is its portrayal of the ‘enemy’, The way the armed rebels are presented could have been an intelligent examination of ISIS or other militant groups. Instead they reflect the sentiments of those who use the term ‘swarm’ to label those currently seeking European asylum. They are characiatures: nameless, faceless and brainless. They are zombies, an epidemic the hero must save his family from.
No Escape mistakes creating tension by instead creating frustration. It’s one-part popcorn movie to two-parts shameless exploitation.

We Are Your Friends

You’ll Never Be Alone Again!

If you did not find yourself singing along when you read the above sentence, or are not aware of how that sentence links to the film’s title, this may not be the film for you. (Answer – it’s the central lyric to Justice Vs Simian’s 2008 hit ‘We Are Your Friends) The film is aimed squarely at Generation Y, bringing remnants of a traditional coming-of-age narrative together with modernity and scoring it with electronica. And it really works. Surprisingly so. It’s released at the perfect time, at the tail end of the summer, as the film reflects the comedown and bittersweetness this time of year brings. It’s the last party of the summer, are you in?

Cole (Zac Efron) is a 23-year old struggling DJ who lives in the San Fernando valley, the urbanised area on the other side of the Hollywood Hills, and dreams of becoming a world-renowned record producer. Cole’s three closest friends also dream of something big, something more than the lot they have been handed. Thursday night socials are the highlight of their week. The foursome spend the day hustling a crowd for nightclub, then reap the small rewards in the night with free drinks, the attention of women and the possibility of a small sum. During these night’s Cole gets to perform a set to warm-up the crowd for the headline act. It’s the only time he really feels alive. One night that headline act is James (Wes Bentley), a celebrity DJ who is losing the battles against his demons. He fears that he has lost his talent and relies on alcohol to push such thoughts away. His assistant and girlfriend Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski) loves him but is hurt to see him struggle in this way. James quickly becomes Cole’s mentor, becoming a big part of his life. So does Sophie, who Cole forms a connection with, which will force him into making difficult decisions about his future. 

Based on the trailers for We Are Your Friends it would have been easy to rule it out as an Entourage for the millennials. Cole’s crew is made up of similar archetypes as Entourage– the ‘hot head’, the ‘hustler’, the ‘brains’ and with Cole as the ‘talent’. Yet several aspects of the film prevent it from deserving this status, and in fact elevate it above it. Specifically the direction and cinematography. Directed and co-written by Max Joseph (one of the co-hosts of MTV’s Catfish) the film’s tone echoes the world it is set in: the humidity of LA, the tense uncertainty of their environment and the sheer unadulterated escapist joy that music can bring. Joseph makes some unique choices along the way with some stand-out sequences including the blend of live action and animation at the art gallery after-party and Cole’s scientific explanation of how to truly get the party started.  It’s the twist 2/3 into the film, along with a sleazy sub-plot, that brings the film back to Earth and makes this a far more realistic tale than the overindulgence and consumerist pornography of Entourage. We Are Your Friends is the Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ to the ‘Holiday’ of Entourage; this is a life in which the party isn’t always worth the resulting hangover.

Zac Efron excels in his role as lead. He brings an engaging mix of ambition and drive, retaining our sympathies throughout each difficult decision.  This film marks Emily Ratajkowski’s leading role (after rising to prominence in the music video for ‘Blurred Lines’) and she’s reasonably good with the material she has been given, stuck in a relationship in which she must watch her partner indulging in excess whilst having feelings for Cole. However in this film she does have an annoying habit of pouting after each utterance, and spends most of the film frowning. This could be an attempt at characterisation, but there could have been more done with the role of the enchanting muse.

The film, like it’s soundtrack, is pulsive and hypnotic. Watch this if you want to prolong your Summer for that little bit longer, or if you want to see a genuine feel-good movie.