Monday, May 6, 2013

Ask Me a Question: Escape From New York

Entertainment Weekly's Cape Town Film Festival picks up steam with it's Friday night main event screening of 1981's Escape From New York.  The American Cinematheque showcases writer/director/musician John Carpenter's work regularly but this night was special.  Why?  Because Snake Plissken himself, the man behind Jack Burton, the dude who brought Wyatt Earp to life and took a shower with Sylvester Stallone as Gabriel Cash, yes friends, KURT RUSSELL was doing a rare appearance afterwards to speak about the film.

The courtyard was bumping as the music was playing and EWites were taking photos of the crowd and handing out free magazines.  I'm not sure if this was all a mea culpa for changing up the night's schedule and putting TNT series Falling Skies first (a smart if annoying move by the sponsor).  Falling Skies also provided free drinks and popcorn for the night so you can't complain too much.

I had heard of Falling Skies but don't watch television unless it's called Home Improvement, Two and a Half Men Classic or involves cooking in a non-competition setting.

Season Three is about to hit your TV screen and we were treated to a taste of the premiere.  It played like a jumble of Starship Troopers, Independence Day, War of the Worlds and some other sci-fi stuff you've seen before.  Not in a bad way either, it's just difficult to jump into a show three years in and seeing a chop shop version of an episode.  Familiar faces like Noah Wyle, Will Patton, Moon Bloodgod, Terry O' Quinn and Doug Jones (in alien prosthetic of course) showed up throughout.

Cast and crew showed up to speak about the show:

- Executive Producer Steven Spielberg is heavily involved in the pre-production of the show.
- Noah Wyle has been working for Spielberg for twenty years and describes their relationship as a kid trying to impress his father.
- Moon Bloodgod was pregnant during shooting and giving birth on screen is nothing like real life.

There were some bits about Season Three spoken about but this place ain't about the spoilers!

Some custom made Escape From New York tee-shirts were put up for Twitter auction and some band played a crappy song about Snake Plissken.

And.  Then.  It.  Was.  Time.

Rialto had produced a new DCP print (Digital version of a 35mm print) just for this night and it was time to Flux-Capacitate our way to 1997 via 1981 for Escape From New York.  

This movie kicks ass.  You've seen it, right?  If you haven't, do it.  Basically, in the future New York becomes a maximum security island prison where the President has crash landed.  It's up to former soldier turned thief Snake Plissken to get the Commander In Chief out alive.  Crazy gangs, sewer dwellers, a woman of the night, a psychotic warlord, his giant wrestler henchman, jugular vein bombs, fifty flights of stairs and a booby trapped bridge stand in his way.  Big whoops right?

It's badass, iconic, funny and sad all at the same time.  Carpenter always knows how to set up a slow burn pace that leads up to an all out finish.  The characters, this cast, is awesome.  Kurt Russell (Tombstone (Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton alert!)), Lee Van Cleef (millions of westerns), Ernest Borgnine (The Wild Bunch), Isaac Hayes (Shaft!  You damn right), Adrienne Barbeau (cleavage!), Harry Dean Stanton (Alien), Tom Atkins (Lethal Weapon) and Donald Pleasance (The Great Escape (Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson!)) all make their characters stand out memorable.  It was a little sad to see the opening credits and four names after Russell's have all passed.  Circle of life I suppose.

Post flick, it was time.  Time to see the man.  Mr. Russell came out to a standing ovation, shook a few mittens, handed out a couple of high fives and waved to the cheering crowd with sincere eyes.

To preface, Kurt Russell was great because he was real.  Funny, gregarious, complimentary, sincere and sensitive.  He cracked himself up a few times telling stories and mentioned a few things I won't repeat because they're personal to the subject.  Mr. Russell was rocking a mane of long gray hair and a mustache/beard combo that made him reminiscent of Kenny Rogers.

- Never talks about his movies so this event and the one at AFI prior are pretty special.
- John Carpenter is like an older brother who was always trying to do his best.
- The pair could sit and watch a basketball game, share a six pack of beer and say less than ten words to each other.
- Scripts like Escape From New York just got him, as did Tombstone and so did future project, Bone Tomahawk (why he was rocking the long hair and facial cover).
- Studio wanted Charles Bronson but JC fought for him.
- Snake's costume was put together from multiple sources, skin tight arctic camouflage pants instead of typical baggy green ones, motorcycle boots, the eye patch was his idea.
- Spoke about being a young actor and athlete and knowing one day he'd have to pick one path.  Getting injured playing baseball sealed his fate to become an actor.
- Got injured around 22-23 and really into acting around 25-26.
- Goldie Hawn told him making Ladyhawke with Richard Donner would be a mistake.  Shooting in Europe would add months to the schedule.  He arrived and crews were on strike.  Once he saw himself in the costume, i.e. tights, he knew he was wrong for the role and begged Donner to let him go.  Said he knew Donner wanted Rutger Hauer and he could get him (Russell had no ties to Hauer) and somehow it worked out.
- Snake Plissken would win in a fight against R.J. Mac Ready and Jack Burton.
- FOX didn't know what to do with Big Trouble In Little China.  At a screening, a studio head didn't realize Kurt and JC were in the crowd and openly dissed the movie and his character.
- Was told by a reporter that his career looked like it had been driven by a drunk to which he was flattered as he and agent Rick Nicita had planned it that way to secure interesting roles.
- On the EFNY remake, reiterated that Snake should be played by an American and that baseball bats were used during the death match for a reason.  Not a hockey stick, not a curling stick, but an all American bat!
- Doesn't really matter who they get to play Snake, more important selection will be John Carpenter's replacement because it's JC's world.
- Has affinity for Escape From LA and says people don't realize difference between the Big Apple and the Big Orange.
- Floated around idea of Escape From Earth so Snake could finally be left alone.
- Highest regards for producer Debra Hill, she was a trail blazer for women in film and is deeply missed (Hill died of cancer in the early 2000's).

Moderator Geoff Boucher tried to wind down the session but Russell was uber cool and told the audience to shout out questions and he'd answer them quick.  He finally said goodnight and walked out to another standing ovation.  The evening was everything you wished it would be and more.  A truly great night at the movies.

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