RoboCop

February 14, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton
Directed by: Jose Padilha (“Elite Squad”)
Written by: Joshua Zetumer (debut)

Question: is it fair to judge a remake/reboot by how it compares to the original film? After all, with the near-instant availability of pretty much every movie ever made via streaming or download, its easier than ever to to tick off essential film boxes on your personal movie watching checklist. Remakes don’t exist in a vacuum, especially remakes of beloved modern classics. If we’re being honest, remakes are at least partly banking on the movie-going public having at least a passing knowledge of the original film.

Answer: yeah, absolutely. And when it comes to the new remake of “RoboCop,” the comparison (probably not surprisingly) isn’t favorable.

Like the gory 1987 sci-fi satire, the modern “RoboCop” centers on Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman). As an undercover cop, Murphy and his partner Lewis (Michael K. Williams) are made by a drug lord (Patrick Garrow) they’ve been investigating. After a shootout in a restaurant leaves Lewis hospitalized, the drug lord’s goons go after Murphy by detonating a car bomb in front of his home leaving Murphy comatose and paralyzed.

Meanwhile OmniCorp, a giant corporation responsible for producing robotic drones that keep the peace in war-torn Middle Eastern countries, desperately desires to bring its killbots to U.S. soil. Federal law prohibits robots from conducting law enforcement, however, due to the fact that the ‘bots aren’t capable of human decision-making, a law that is a frequent target of rage for outspoken talk show host Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson). The promise of raking in billions of dollars in the American market leads CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) to a revelation: put a man inside a machine. After convincing Murphy’s wife (Abbie Cornish) the only way to save her dying husband is to hand him over to OmniCorp’s Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman), RoboCop is born.

Whereas director Paul Verhoeven’s late-’80s “RoboCop” relished in satirizing hyper violence and corporate greed, Brazilian director Jose Padihla’s PG-13 “RoboCop” sets its sights on the ethical dilemma of drone warfare, only with a muddier, more somber tone. The crux of the too-long subplot about the repeal of legislation banning robot cops – what is this, “The Phantom Menace?”- deals with the notion that a man should be the one pulling the trigger seems to ignore the fact that, well, men pull the triggers on robot drone strikes today. The movie also takes too long to get to the RoboCopping, dispensing buckets of backstory that ultimately doesn’t pay off, taking nearly a full hour to show off Murphy’s new cybernetic construction we all came to see.

Speaking of Murphy, the remake lets him keep his humanity from his initial boot up as RoboCop, a decision that significantly blunts the character’s arc. Instead of memory wipes, this Alex Murphy is less of a soulless automaton and instead just gets hyper-focused and emotionless when his dopamine levels are dialed down.

And, in what is perhaps the film’s worst offense, Samuel L. Jackson’s gets to utter his trademark phrase—motherfucker—only to have it bleeped. Which, when you think about it, sums up the mistakes of a straight-faced, PG-13 remake of “RoboCop” better than anything else.

Sucker Punch

March 27, 2011 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone
Directed by: Zack Snyder (“300”)
Written by: Zack Snyder (“300”) and Steve Shibuya (debut)
 
From putting a stimulating spin on an American horror classic in 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead” to slightly entertaining us with his next two highly-stylized films “300” and “Watchmen,” there’s no denying that director Zack Snyder can at least deliver some attention-grabbing imagery. But what he’s upchucked for “Sucker Punch,” an exceedingly erratic softcore male fantasy for gamers, is beyond inexcusable. Girls in an insane asylum imagining they’re in a whorehouse imagining they’re on a mission of girl-empowerment against German zombie soldiers, dragons, and samurai robots? Seriously, what the hell is going on here? Whatever it is, it’s not suspenseful or inventive and besides probably giving 13-year-old boys boners, it’s not very sexy either. This is the type of movie that will hang over Snyder’s head like “Showgirls” does for Paul Verhoeven. Now fanboys can officially fear for the “Superman” reboot.

Limitless

March 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish
Directed by: Neil Burger (“The Illusionist”)
Written by: Leslie Dixon (“The Heartbreak Kid”)

Busting at the seams with its spunky, offbeat vibe, the thriller “Limitless” is like the super-drug it peddles. With its miraculous promises, the film is too intriguing not to bite. When it hits your bloodstream, the high is exhilarating. But once that buzz starts to wear thin, things become exhausting. It’s the type of movie filmmakers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (the duo behind the “Crank” series) could’ve possibly written if they hadn’t hit the 8-ball so hard.

Based on Alan Glynn’s 2001 “techno-thriller” novel “The Dark Fields” – which expands on the oft-repeated myth that humans use only 10 percent of their brains at a time – “Limitless” tosses logic out the window, but does so with some entertainment value during the first hour of this pharmaceutical sci-fi starring the occasionally likeable Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover,” “The A-Team”).

Cooper plays Eddie Morra, a failed writer who can’t finish his book or keep a girlfriend and looks like he’s been sleeping under a highway for the past year. All his problems are solved when he is introduced to a tiny, clear pill known as NZT that activates the brain’s complex circuitry and allows him to use 100 percent of it 100 percent of the time.

With his sudden surge of brilliance, the “enhanced Eddie” is able to access infinite amounts of knowledge, learn new languages in minutes, and cash in at the poker table. Add a little hair gel and some designer duds and the fast-talking and now extremely charming Eddie is primped to take on the world and bag every hottie he can impress with his massive mind.

While Eddie’s smarts are never in question (in one scene he seems to be channeling a lecturing Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting”), it’s the script by Leslie Dixon (“Hairspray,” “The Heartbreak Kid”) that needs some sharpening. Approaching the narrative from a very conventional angle, Dixon delivers an innocuous screenplay to director Neil Burger (“The Lucky Ones,” “The Illusionist”) set in the cutthroat financial sector. When Eddie starts crunching numbers for stock-market tycoon Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), he becomes a character plucked straight out of “Wall Street.”

Stylized without being obnoxious, “Limitless” makes some unique choices in cinematography and art direction, but comes up short on substance. Skimping on the most interesting facets of the story (questions about addiction and damaged psyches), “Limitless” shies away from thought-provoking elements and spirals into its own mental breakdown.

Bright Star

October 2, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ben Whishaw, Abbie Cornish, Paul Schneider
Directed by: Jane Campion (“The Piano”)
Written by: Jane Campion (“The Piano”)

In “Bright Star,” director Jane Campion (“The Piano”) uses the words of 19th century English poet John Keats as her personal mantra and paints an inspired picture of a young writer whose passion for his work exposes not only the beauty of the world around him, but also the agony one must live through to appreciate all of life’s love and solidarity.

“Bright Star” is a beautiful story, and one that should be commended for its artistry and absorbing performances. But between all the technical achievements and solid acting, Campion’s film takes yearning to a tiresome level where no lovesick heart should ever tread even for the sake of cinema.

Taking the lead for this gloomy biopic is actor Ben Whishaw (“The International”). As poet John Keats, who dies at the age of 25 and is considered a leader in the Romantic Movement posthumously, Whishaw is an admirable choice. In the film, Campion focuses the story on Keats’ final years of his life as he writes some of his most noteworthy poetry and begins to fall in love with his unconventional neighbor Fanny Browne (Abby Cornish).

It’s a familiar tale one would find in many period pieces that have come before. Keats is a man of meager means whose poems are not generating much income. Fanny’s mother (Kerry Fox) disapproves of her daughter’s romance to someone who cannot support a wife. Keats spends his days refining his writing with his discourteous friend Charles Brown (Paul Schneider in a fantastic role), who becomes intolerant when Fanny comes around more often to unintentionally distract him from his work.

Keats, doesn’t mind much, however. Call her a muse if you must, but his relationship with Fanny takes hold of him. Campion wants us to believe it affects his prose in a most profound way. Whether it does or not is really of no importance by the third act. This is when Campion sends Fanny into a spiraling depression and Keats into a hopeless journey toward death.

Relying on Keats’ romantic nature to pull them out of this tedious waiting game in the long final stretch, Campion loses sight of what was working before. Keats’ poetry plays a vital part not only as impassioned symbolism but also as dialogue when Whishaw recites passages. It’s lost, however, in the woeful characters that never let up. Schneider injects some much needed humor and tension between the lovers, but Campion refuses to draw a line of distinction between love and pain.

Maybe in “Bright Star” there doesn’t necessarily need to be one, but when a narrative that should stimulate the heart becomes more exasperating than romantic, Campion should have let up on the overly-distressing tone.