About This Blog

A place to find my reviews not featured on epinions.com or horror-asylum.com, as well as opinions and lists on everything from movies to TV to music. It's all about me! Send hate mail to vegie18th@hotmail.com or just leave a comment beneath the posts. Review grading system assumes C+ is somewhere in the vicinity of a Passing grade or minor fail.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Review: Non-Stop

Liam Neeson plays a deeply troubled, Irish-born federal air marshal on a flight from London to New York. Shortly after take-off he starts getting weird text messages from an unknown sender threatening to kill someone on board unless $150 million is in a bank account within 20 minutes. And another person will die with every subsequent 20 minutes passing. Neeson tries his best to finger the culprit before any harm is done, but also alerting the least amount of people necessary. Unfortunately, the finger starts to be pointed in his direction, especially when some genius passenger films Neeson’s erratic behaviour and puts it online. Julianne Moore plays a passenger and Michelle Dockery a flight attendant, the only two real supporters he has, let alone the only two he trusts. This on a flight with another air marshal (Anson Mount), mind you. The two don’t really get along so well and Mount is Neeson’s first suspect. Lupita Nyong’o is another flight attendant, whilst Scoot McNairy and Jon Abrahams play nervous passengers, and Shea Whigham’s voice can be heard as a TSA agent who believes Neeson to be a terrorist hijacking the plane.


Director Jaume Collet-Serra (“House of Wax”, “Orphan”) and star Liam Neeson follow up their nifty, Hitchcockian thriller “Unknown” with another twisty mystery from 2014. It’s the kind of film where you think you’ve got it all worked out very early on, then lose your bearings through distractions and plausible red herrings, before realising you were right all along. Only, you weren’t right, you changed your mind, remember? Can’t claim it now, and in my case I can’t claim it at all because I would’ve only been 50% right. Well done to Mr. Collet-Serra and his screenwriters John W. Richardson & Christopher Roach (first-timers). You fooled me, you clever buggers. I feel like an idiot for not sticking to my guns throughout. It’s a jolly good yarn that represents what “Flightplan” could and should’ve been, but that film went down a less interesting route.


We open with a glum Liam Neeson pouring alcohol into his coffee. It makes me worry about the guy when he keeps taking on these brooding roles. But the truth is, he’s good at them, and he’s the right guy for the gig here. He’s perfect and a sturdy presence on screen. Sure, you’re about 99% sure that he’s the one guy who isn’t likely to be the villain, but the film tries to throw doubt at you and Neeson’s just enough of a mess here to put a bit of doubt in your mind from time to time. We certainly get a lot of other possible suspects, some more likely than others, but enough of them to throw me off the scent after a while, as I said earlier. I’m not entirely certain that Julianne Moore is used to her best advantage, however. She’s never really a suspect because we clearly see her sleeping at a very important moment, so what other purpose does she serve? Were some of her scenes left on the cutting room floor? Having said that, at least Moore has a sizeable role, whether it has depth/purpose or not. Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”) has about three lines of dialogue and a few brief scenes as a nondescript flight attendant. What the fuck? Fire your agent, sweetie. You got screwed (Or was this filmed before “12 Years a Slave”?). Aside from some shakiness from cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano (“Unknown”), it’s a rather nifty-looking, slick film. The film occasionally plays on post-9/11 fears and narrowly gets away with it, without being foul or exploitative. But it only just gets away with it, it’s a little uneasy towards the end I must say.


This is classic B-movie stuff with a Hitchcockian bent. I love this kind of thing, and Collet-Serra keeps up the tension and suspense throughout. Nice job, sir. It’s a film to enjoy in the moment (i.e. Don’t think too hard about logic or it probably all crumbles before your very eyes), and I can’t imagine too many people being underwhelmed by this one. It’s a nice companion piece to the earlier “Unknown”.


Rating: B-

Review: The French Connection

‘Popeye’ Doyle (Gene Hackman) is an ornery, loudmouth bully of a cop, who along with partner Russo (Roy Scheider) attempt to break a big, international drug smuggling operation. It seems a small-time local hood (played by Tony Lo Bianco) has connections with a dapper Frenchman named Alain Charnier (a slippery Fernando Rey), and there may be a huge heroin shipment coming in from France. Marcel Bozzuffi plays Charnier’s dangerous offsider, Alan Weeks (a Blaxploitation notable) plays a crim who gets chased down on foot by Doyle early in the film, whilst real-life cops Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso (whom Doyle and Russo are based on) have roles too, the former as Doyle and Russo’s superior officer.


Probably the best-ever film from director William Friedkin (“The Night They Raided Minsky’s”, “The Exorcist”), this landmark 1971 cops-and-crooks film boasts a top-notch performance from an Oscar-winning Gene Hackman as the tough, ornery, but ultimately dogged and determined ‘Popeye’ Doyle. Possibly Hackman’s best-ever performance, I bet cops at the time absolutely loved this character (supposedly based on real-life cop Eddie Egan, who plays Doyle’s superior in the film), and no matter his flaws (i.e. He’s a prick), he’s one helluva movie character. It’s the perfect marriage of actor and character, I think. Also impressive are the locations and the wonderful, elusive villainy of Fernando Rey. Roy Scheider is rock-solid too (earning an Oscar nomination), and Tony Lo Bianco is perfect casting.


It’s a well-directed and well-crafted film, and whilst the handheld cinematography by Owen Roizman (“The Exorcist”, “The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3”, “Network”) gets a bit too sloppy at times, it’s undeniably gritty and the film just looks and feels a bit more authentic than other 70s cop films. So you’ll accept a bit of the wobbles when the location-shooting is so important to the film. The Oscar-winning editing by Jerry Greenberg (“Apocalypse Now”, “The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3”) may be most important of all. I don’t normally like cross-cutting in a car chase, but here’s the one time where it works. Does this film contain the best car chase of all-time? I’m a bit partial to the bizarro one in “Déjà vu” myself (and the truck vs. motor bike chase in “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”, and the hilarious cop car pile-up in “The Blues Brothers”), but I don’t mind if others cite the car vs. train & traffic scene here as the best. The film also has a really exciting finale, capped off by an interestingly downbeat, cynical ending (The sequel’s underrated, too, by the way). The one downside to the film is the frankly awful music score by Don Ellis (“French Connection II”, “The Seven-Ups”), an overly loud and horribly insistent hack job that threatens to ruin every scene in which it appears.


One of the best of its kind, if not the best (It won the Best Picture Oscar), this is terrific entertainment, with a memorable lead character and sensational lead performance, backed up by exciting action, brilliant editing, and a good supporting cast. Shame about the music score, but you can’t have everything you want. The Oscar-winning screenplay is by Ernest Tidyman (“Shaft”, “Shaft’s Big Score”, “High Plains Drifter”, “A Force of One”), from a fact-based book by Robin Moore.


Rating: B+

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Review: Auggie Rose

Insurance salesman Jeff Goldblum is complaining about a scratch on a wine bottle to clerk Auggie Rose (Kim Coates) when an armed robber enters the picture, and kills Auggie. Shattered by the incident that he sees his petty request (Do people reject a bottle of Coke just because the label is a bit torn? Fucking take it and drink it you wanker!) as being partly responsible for the man’s death, Goldblum starts digging into the man’s life. He was a recently paroled man who had only recently gotten the job. Cop Richard T. Jones warns Goldblum not to keep sticking his nose in, but Goldblum can’t help himself, finding out where Auggie lived and visiting his apartment. He finds the letters he wrote in prison to the woman he hadn’t had a chance to even meet on the outside before his tragic death. Goldblum goes to meet the woman (Anne Heche- a bit more appealing than, well…ever, really), and when she assumes that Goldblum is Auggie, he doesn’t correct her. And so it goes. Nancy Travis plays Goldblum’s superficial and impatient girlfriend, and Timothy Olyphant plays a clearly dangerous crim looking for a likeminded person to go into a heist with him.


Terribly off-putting title, isn’t? The only Auggie I’ve ever heard of was that cartoon dog from Hanna-Barbera cartoons, and I couldn’t get the voices of Auggie and his equally annoying dad out of my head here. Apparently this 2001 film from director Matthew Tabak (who has only worked on TV movies since, principally as a writer) also goes by the name of “Beyond Suspicion”, but that makes it sound like a generic TV movie starring Melissa Gilbert, Tom Irwin, and Clancy Brown or something (It certainly has no bearing on the plot of the film). Scripted by the director, what it really is, is yet another example of the talented, versatile, and idiosyncratic Jeff Goldblum choosing lesser material to work with.


There’s nothing wrong with the premise nor Goldblum’s performance, which is as strong as ever. He’s especially good at selling his struggle to deal with the fact that a guy died essentially because of his petty complaint about a bottle of wine. It only gets more interesting when he tries to investigate this guy’s life and ends up assuming his identity (Being a boring insurance salesman, you can see why one might want to be someone else). This is a guy who was a recently paroled ex-con and recently employed store clerk, who may have actually been setting about on the straight and narrow…but no one will ever know now. He could’ve gone back to being a crim, sure, but we’ll never know. That’s incredibly sad, a life cut short before he had a chance to take advantage on his second chance in life.


Unfortunately, after an interesting first half, things take a nosedive in the second when Anne Heche turns up and Goldblum’s behaviour becomes much more difficult to accept. In fact, the second half would be hard to watch if it weren’t for the typically edgy and dangerous performance by Timothy Olyphant. Anne Heche is surprisingly believable as a naïve and lonely small-town girl, but like I said, once her character shows up, the wheels fall off (For one thing, it’s ridiculous that she never questions how a recently paroled ex-con got so freakin’ tanned on the inside!). I feel particularly bad for the very talented Nancy Travis, who has played the wife/girlfriend far too often over the years, and this time gets saddled with also being the heartless, non-understanding girlfriend to boot. There’s nothing anyone could do with that role, not even Cate Blanchett (No, I will not use Meryl Streep as the standard bearer, in case you were about to ask). Hell, there are similar beats to the character she played in the remake of “The Vanishing”, though much less fleshed out here.


There’s a lot to appreciate in this film, including following its unpredictable trajectory. However, I hate it when characters situations could so easily be remedied if they’d simply tell the truth from the outset. After a while, I just stopped believing in it, being pulled away from it. Damn, that first half hour in particular was terrific and quite sad, but this ends up being an interesting failure overall, despite good work by Goldblum and Timothy Olyphant.


Rating: C+

Review: How I Live Now


Sullen American teen Saoirse Ronan is staying with her English cousins in the countryside. She really doesn’t want to be there and doesn’t seem to suffer fools easily. She’s also got a seriously neurotic inner monologue thing going on (Shades of that cinematic masterpiece “The Host”, also starring Ronan). Eventually she lightens up a bit and even takes a fancy to one of her cousins (George MacKay). First cousins, by the way. Yep. Unfortunately, just as she’s settling in, the world goes topsy-turvy whilst her Aunt (Anna Chancellor) is away on business in Geneva. Terrorists have unleashed an attack in London, and before long soldiers are turning up to evacuate everyone to safety. Ronan actually gets a chance to go home to the US, but decides to stay put. She’s separated from her two eldest cousins, however, as she and the youngest (Harley Bird) make the trek to find them. At least, I think that’s what happens here.


Being based on a YA novel by Meg Rosoff and featuring youngsters fighting back when their country is invaded, you’d be forgiven for thinking this Kevin Macdonald (“The Last King of Scotland”, “State of Play”, “The Eagle”) film from 2013 was a sequel to “Tomorrow When the War Was Yesterday Before Being The Day Before it Happened Henceforth”. However, this one’s got much bigger problems than a lack of originality. I really wanted to get into the story, but either author Meg Rosoff or screenwriters Jeremy Brock (Macdonald’s “The Eagle”), Tony Grisoni (“The Brothers Grimm”), Penelope Skinner (a British playwright) didn’t want me to. It’s not a terribly interesting film at the end of the day, because although the premise is (if clichéd) a perfectly workable one, it’s frustratingly scant on explanation and depth. Fans of the novel might’ve known what was going on here, but the only thing that helped me was the fact that I had seen this basic premise several times before (The Aussie-made adaptation of “Tomorrow When Yesterday Previously Happened Three Days Ago”, and both versions of “Red Dawn”). Who are the invading/insurrecting enemy? We are only given the vaguest of hints, if that. What were Saoirse Ronan’s neurotic inner thoughts all about? They are never explained (Telepathy, from what I’ve heard about the book). Why is Ronan’s character such a neurotic bitch for half the film and then suddenly agreeable (but still a pain for the audience) for the rest of the film? The two extremes just don’t gel together as belonging to the same character. Meanwhile, the central relationship is woefully underdeveloped for something that is a little controversial. It’s ridiculously rushed.


The film doesn’t start out uninterestingly, with unnerving and raucous music, a 14 year-old would-be chauffeur, and Saoirse Ronan adopting a Yank accent in a Brit film. It made me want to see where it was all headed and had me somewhat unsettled. I also really liked the country scenery captured by cinematographer Franz Lustig (who did excellent work on Wim Wenders’ “Don’t Come Knocking”). Sadly it takes quite a while to go beyond ‘sulky distant relative sulks about in sulky manner with country bumpkin relatives’ nonsense. She’s horribly unlikeable, through no fault of Ronan’s, and it made it a chore to sit through waiting for the plot to kick in, and unimpressed when it finally did. Meanwhile, Lustig’s good work in the daytime scenes is undone by the ugly and murky night scenes. Talk about something being a case of night and day!


There’s an awful lot lacking here, as if the filmmakers had only skim-read the novel. Without more explanation as to the central conflict, it’s hard to invest. Unevenly shot to boot, and with a wholly unsympathetic lead character, I can’t imagine anyone being satisfied by this film. And how the fuck is a story about incest, bloody warfare and children being murdered, Young Adult entertainment?


Rating: D+

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Review: Fury

Set in 1945, and nearing the end of WWII, Logan Lerman stars as a young and decidedly inexperienced Army typist thrown into the deep end when assigned to join as a gunner and co-driver with one helluva motley tank crew of seriously battle-weary, rather prickly soldiers. Headed by veteran Brad Pitt, this rather disreputable bunch rather resent this rookie, who is horrified by not only the war going on around him, but the fact that he is expected to hold up his end, too. Shia LaBeouf is the resident religious-type, Jon Bernthal is the biggest arsehole among them, and Michael Pena is the token immigrant and the tank’s driver.


Well here was a big surprise. I didn’t know what to expect from this 2014 war movie, and when I found out at the end that it was written and directed by David Ayer (director of “End of Watch”, writer of the overrated “Training Day” and the transparent “Street Kings”), I was quite blown away. For starters, it wasn’t a corrupt cop movie for once. Amen to that right there. Also, the cinematography by Roman Vasyanov is not only much less shaky-cam happy than I expected, but some truly stunning images are captured throughout. This is in very stark contrast to the horrors of war going on in the film, and the frankly gone-to-seed characters carrying out the violence and mayhem. Although it’s not making the same points as “The Dirty Dozen” exactly, it certainly offers up another example of war being effectively fought by the ugliest and roughest amongst us. The film has its own identity, though. There’s a seriously grim, ugly tone to it that stops it from being too old-fashioned, like a “Dirty Dozen” or “Attack!” (both Robert Aldrich films, and both damn good, the former a masterpiece).


It’s quite an exciting film for those who ‘enjoy’ this sort of thing, and it’s a rare war film that focusses on tank warfare, which I personally appreciated. I was at first taken aback by the seeming laser fire of the tanks, but from what I’ve read, it’s an accurate representation of ‘tracers’, which help to see where you’re shooting. So there you go. Not content to just offer up action heroics, it’s very grim, very taciturn, and not at all shying away from showing what war is most likely really like. It’s one of those films like “Platoon” that is anti-war simply by presenting things as realistically as possible, rather than by offering up overt anti-war sentiment.


There are only two moments in the entire film where I felt I was drawn out of the experience. The first is a line spoken by Brad Pitt- ‘Ideals are peaceful. History is violent’. It’s a great line, but a ‘line’ nonetheless, and a screenwriter’s invention. No one actually involved in military conflict at that time would say such a thing in the moment. There’s also one moment later from Jon Bernthal that doesn’t ring true. He says something that would’ve sounded more plausible coming from either Michael Pena’s character or Shia LaBeouf’s. Because Bernthal’s character is the biggest scumbag of all of them, it stands out like a sore thumb, which is a shame. Having said that, I disagree with many here in saying that I don’t think the film as a whole is quite so jarring. People seem to think the finale goes against the film it was previously trying to be. I disagree, these guys are not turned into heroes. They’re irritable a-hole soldiers from beginning to end, dealing with their situation as best they can. War is ugly, brutal, and if you survive, it leaves scars. Look at what these guys are being asked to do, and how long they’ve been engaged in it. At no point does Ayer suggest these are a nice bunch of guys at all. They’re varying degrees of jerkdom. It’s just that one moment from Bernthal that didn’t ring true. I actually really liked that this film gave us characters who aren’t saints as protagonists. The villains here are Nazis, so it hardly hurts to make the American soldiers a bit seedy and ornery, so I appreciated a bit of difference.


There isn’t a bad performance to be found here, and Shia LaBeouf probably gives his best performance to date. However, Logan Lerman was for me the standout. He’s excellent as the one nice guy, and unfortunately he’s in the wrong gig for nice guys. He’s in over his head and hasn’t got the stomach for the nasty stuff, but being thrown into the deep end he’s just gonna have to cope. Of the rest, Brad Pitt plays the least morally objectionable of the lot, but as their platoon leader, he’s got a job to do and no time for babysitting newbies. Aside from that one moment (hardly the actor’s fault anyway) Bernthal is pitch-perfect as essentially a combination of John Cassavetes and Telly Savalas in “The Dirty Dozen”.


Yes this is clichéd stuff, you’ve seen it all before. The key is that it’s very effectively and mostly convincingly done. Pretty terrific, actually, and a must for war movie fans, especially Samuel Fuller fans, I’d say.


Rating: B

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review: The Prince

Jason Patric plays a widowed mechanic who worries when his college age daughter (Gia Mantegna) stops answering his calls. Eventually he decides to find out where she is, getting in contact with a college acquaintance (Jessica Lowndes), who informs daddy of a few unpleasant truths about his seemingly innocent daughter. Seems she’s gotten herself mixed up with the local drug scene (50 Cent plays a sleazy drug dealer) in New Orleans, so Patric has Lowndes show him around some of the seedier joints in town hoping to find out where she is. The trail leads to New Orleans criminal bigwig Bruce Willis, who has a personal vendetta to score with Patric that goes back a while. You see, Patric used to be an assassin, a very effective one. Rain turns up as Willis’ effeminate-looking Korean henchman, Jonathon Schaech is a gun store owner, and John Cusack turns up as one of Patric’s associates from the old days.


There’s a whole lotta slummin’ goin’ on in this direct-to-DVD 2014 action/drama from director Brian A. Miller (the terrible corrupt cop movie “Caught in the Crossfire”) and screenwriters Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore (who collaborated on the story for “San Andreas”). I don’t know how the fuck John Cusack, Bruce Willis, and Jason Patric ended up in something like this, but it plays like a dusted-off late 90s-early 00s Steven Seagal/Dolph Lundgren cheapie that someone has attempted to shine up via the casting of slumming A-grade (or B-grade in Mr. Patric’s case) stars.


Patric’s the leading man here, which probably had its positives and negatives for him. On the one hand, he’s the face of a bad film. On the other hand, he probably got the most money for it. Patric doesn’t immediately seem like a tough guy brooding action hero-type to me (or perhaps anti-hero is the better term here), but as a concerned dad he’s certainly appropriate casting. Despite playing an assassin, he’s quite sympathetic and relatable. He also looks to be in better shape than a lot of genuine action stars I could name. I would’ve preferred Michael Biehn or Scott Adkins in the role, though perhaps the former is too old, and the latter should be starring in better things than this. At any rate, Patric is a lot better here than you’ll likely expect him to be, and it’s probably one of the better performances I’ve seen him give (Faint praise alert!). And why the fuck is he billed third? He plays the main character, and his two higher billed male co-stars are barely in the damn thing! Weird.


Co-star Jessica Lowndes is really something in this. She’s entertainingly vacuous and obnoxious without being so annoying you want to turn the damn thing off. She’s hilariously bratty. After a whopping 30 minutes, Bruce Willis turns up as essentially the bad guy (though most sane people would agree that he kinda has a good motivation for revenge, too much so to actually hate him), looking old, shockingly thin, and rather small-looking. It’s quite disconcerting, actually. Was he ill at the time? He’s got himself a first-class ticket to Paycheck City here, not putting in any effort whatsoever with his performance. It looks like he really doesn’t want to be there and he’s the only one in the cast who isn’t at least trying. Bravo to John Cusack, however, who after about 50 minutes turns up and unlike Willis, bothers to give an actual performance. His performance is weird, distracted, and offbeat, but not in any scenery-chewing Nic Cage kinda way. This is simply how Cusack clearly sees his character. He’s quietly nervous and distracted (maybe even shell-shocked by something in his past, just my guess), and it’s actually pretty interesting to watch, even if it’s a wasted effort given the size of his role and the quality of the film. I’d rather he give a damn than simply phone it in, it’s not his fault the film is flimsy. You end up wanting to see a film about him, not this film. Good cameo too, by Jonathon Schaech as a gun store owner. Where the fuck did his career go? Korean dancer-actor Rain seems to be speaking phonetically, and although I’m not sure if he has martial arts skills or not, he looks skilled enough. However, Patric clearly isn’t skilled, so their fight scene is awfully short and unenjoyable. It makes Mr. Rain’s entire appearance in the film seem pointless given he can’t really act, and he looks like such a pussy for not lasting long in a fight. Meanwhile, director Miller and his cinematographer Yaron Levy (the latter did better work on “Fright Night II” and “Getaway”) are way too lens flare-happy for my liking, which lends it even more of a Steven Seagal vehicle-vibe. I’m sorry, but lights don’t have that effect naturally, it just makes your film look stupid.


Patric’s good, bratty Lowndes and quirky Cusack are even better, but this is a flimsy, simplistic excuse for a film. It’s really not much of anything, kinda like Bruce Willis’ performance. His entirely blank performance, the presence of 50 Cent in the supporting cast (creepy and doing much better work than he did in the terrible “Freelancers” and “Frozen Ground”), and the listing of eleventy billion producers say it all, really. BTW, how long until we get a low-rent equivalent of “The Expendables” featuring all of the once-prominent dramatic/mainstream actors now slumming in direct-to-DVD shit? (Nic Cage, John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Cuba Gooding Jr, Val Kilmer, Bruce Willis, Forest Whitaker, Aaron Eckhart, John Travolta, Ron Perlman, Rutger Hauer, etc. Shit, that’s a depressing list isn’t it?)


Rating: C-

Review: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

Thompson brothers Jared Rushton and Thomas Brown accidentally hit a baseball through their next door neighbour’s window. Said next door neighbour just so happens to be a scientist, named Wayne Szalinski (Rick Moranis- please come back!) who has invented a machine that can shrink matter. A machine that the kids have just accidentally activated with their baseball. Ergo, when they and Szalinski’s own kids (Amy O’Neill and Robert Oliveri) try to retrieve the ball, they find themselves in the machine’s line of fire and are shrunk to miniscule size. And then they get accidentally thrown out with the garbage! As the shrunken kids struggle with oversized insects through their trek from the backyard to the house, their parents are worried sick. Marcia Strassman plays Mrs. Szalinski, while Kristine Sutherland and an oafish Matt Frewer are the Thompsons.


I saw this Joe Johnston (director of “The Rocketeer”, “October Sky”, the shite “Jumanji”, the effective “Wolfman” remake) kiddie version of “The Incredible Shrinking Man” in cinemas back in 1989 when I was 9, and liked it well enough. Seeing it again in 2015 at age 35, it certainly holds up to that mild standard. Johnston’s directorial debut, it’s cute, clever, Rick Moranis is ideally cast, and the special FX certainly don’t come off looking embarrassingly all these years later. In fact, because the film is for the most part paying homage to 1957’s “The Incredible Shrinking Man”, it doesn’t matter that the FX aren’t mind-blowing (they were pretty good for 1989, though), it’s aiming for B-movie fun, and achieves it. If you go for A-level effects on a film like this, some of the nostalgic charm is lost. Only the blue-screen work disappoints, along with the weak performance by young Amy O’Neill as the teen daughter. The poor thing hasn’t got a chance with her mall-obsessed dialogue and pink wardrobe reminding me too much of the talking Malibu Stacy doll on “The Simpsons” (You’d swear she was about to cry: ‘Don’t ask me, I’m just a girl…’). The rest of the cast is tops, though, with Rick Moranis instantly perfect, Matt Frewer an interesting and hilarious choice for his pig-headed neighbour, and Kristine Sutherland looking just as MILFy here as she did years later as Buffy’s mum. What? Jared Rushton and Robert Oliveri are also perfectly chosen as the sons of Frewer and Moranis, respectively.


Although it seems more Ray Harryhausen (“Jason and the Argonauts”, “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad”) than “Incredible Shrinking Man”, the ant vs. scorpion fight is a lot of fun, and so is the film. It’s not one of the more memorable films Disney has ever put out, but if you saw it as a kid, re-watching it does bring a smile to your face, and a few laughs. God I feel old, I swear I was 9 years old like, yesterday. Excellent, rather Danny Elfman-esque music score by the late James Horner (“Battle Beyond the Stars”, “Krull”, “Aliens”, “Braveheart”) is a definite highlight.


Director Johnston is an ILM graduate, and the FX come from such luminaries as the aforementioned ILM (“Star Wars”, “ET”, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, “T2”), Phil Tippett (“Star Wars”, “Jurassic Park”, “Starship Troopers”), and David Allen (“Caveman”, “Q: The Winged Serpent”, the cheesy direct-to-video “Puppetmaster” series), among others. The screenplay is by Ed Naha (Stuart Gordon’s “Dolls”), Tim Schulman (“Dead Poets Society”, of all films), Brian Yuzna (producer of the immortal “Re-Animator”), and Stuart Gordon (director of “Re-Animator”, the mediocre “Dolls”, and the underrated “Fortress”), from a story by Gordon, Naha, and Yuzna. Good fun for the whole family!


Rating: B-

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Review: RoboCop (2014)

Set in 2028, a big corporate conglomerate named OmniCorp is the leader in robot technology, headed by CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton). Their drones are used in military conflicts, but facing serious backlash, Sellars decides a change or tweaking of the technology is required. Sellars comes up with the idea of an advancement to their current technology and introduce a physical human element to the currently used robot technology. Meanwhile, Detroit cop and family man Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is critically injured via a car bomb planted by the local gangster (named Vallon here, but essentially a substitute for Clarence Boddicker). After consulting scientist Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), Sellars arranges for Murphy to be the guinea pig for his latest project. Ergo the birth of RoboCop, a human brain and other assorted organs inside a metallic robot body. Sellars thinks he has found the perfect creation, but the thing is, there’s still parts of a human being inside that machine, and no matter what he and his somewhat reluctant mad scientist Norton (who questions things, but also wants his work to remain funded) try to do, humanity, it seems, can’t be entirely denied. Jennifer Ehle and Jay Baruchel play Sellars’ assistant and OmniCorp PR guy respectively, Abbie Cornish and Michael K. Williams are Murphy’s loving wife and partner/best friend, Jackie Earle Haley is an OminCorp combat specialist who resents having to train RoboCop, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste is the Detroit police chief. Samuel L. Jackson appears periodically as a loudmouth Bill O’Reilly-esque (but slicker in presentation) political TV host, who seems to be offering up pro-OmniCorp propaganda under the guise of ‘fair and balanced’ news/political discussion.


The original 1987 “RoboCop” still stands pretty tall in the action genre, even though it was very much a product of the 1980s. Re-making a very violent, very ‘Paul Verhoeven’ film of the 1980s in 2014, an era where it’s all about the dollar and cutting things down to a classification rating that encompasses the biggest audience possible, seemed like a really bad idea to me. This isn’t the first time we’ve been given a toothless, relatively bloodless “RoboCop”, as “RoboCop 3” was pretty mild, and I believe there was also a TV series at some point. But I still dreaded the thought of any kind of remake that stripped “RoboCop” of everything Verhoeven’s black heart gave it. It’s iconic, and very much connected to Verhoeven’s ultra-violent, dark comedic sensibilities. Having now seen this remake from Brazillian director José Padilha (“Elite Squad”, and also a lot of documentary work back home) and first-time screenwriter Joshua Zetumer (whose screenplay was allegedly entirely re-written by Nick Schenk and James Vanderbilt among others. Weird that Zetumer is still the sole credited writer), all the problems I expected to be present are indeed present. However, I will say that this isn’t the total write-off that I was expecting. It’s just not “RoboCop” as “RoboCop” should be, and if it ain’t broke, why bother making another one? Well, we all know why, don’t we? Cash. Money. You might buy this one for a dollar, but I really think you’re better off sticking with the original.


At least the film starts off well, with Samuel L. Jackson pretty much playing Bill O’Reilly with his ‘Novak Element’ political spin show. It’s actually really scary, and clearly modelled on the ‘Do You Want to Know More?’ ads from Verhoeven’s “Starship Troopers”, as well as having its roots in the portrayal of the media in the 1987 “RoboCop”. It’s not a great role for Jackson, but he plays it well nonetheless and has a truly awesome hairpiece (Not terribly outlandish, mind you, just awesome). He’s probably one of the highlights of the film, even if this is a million miles from “Jungle Fever” or even “Black Snake Moan”. It’s also probably the most well-written and pointed parody of O’Reilly and jibe at Fox News I’ve seen. He’s not as belligerent and rude, but he certainly uses some of the standard tactics of Fox News. It’s quite clever without overdoing it to the point where it’s unfair to its target. I’m not sure if Jackson’s censored use of his favourite swear word was a nod to O’Reilly’s famous ‘Fuck it! We’re doin’ it live!’ rant but I’d love to think so. I also thought it was quite ballsy to take the ED209 robots into the Middle East. It’s an interesting idea and a little more audacious and controversial than I was expecting. So the film doesn’t entirely foul up the dark political satire/criticism from the 87 film, it simply tries to update it to the ‘drones’ and cable news era.


Also early on, composer Pedro Bromfman gives us a burst of the old Basil Poledouris “RoboCop” theme that, although not a patch on Poledouris, it’s still one of my favourite movie themes, so I didn’t care. It warmed my heart (It’s a shame that the score overall is mediocre and unmemorable). I also appreciated that they showed us why and how they go from using machines to using human-machine hybrids. It’s not as much splat-tastic fun as watching ED209 blasting away at a bunch of execs, but it’s still interesting.


But then we’re introduced to our new Murphy/RoboCop, and I’m sorry, but Joel Kinnaman ain’t no Peter Weller. He’s completely boring, nondescript, and absolutely fails epically with the voice. I mean, Peter Weller’s deep voice…no substitute, I’m afraid (Michael Shannon might’ve done better, though. Perhaps he was a too expensive option). This guy’s a limp impostor and he gives a completely half-arsed performance that just isn’t acceptable. The ED209’s sound more like RoboCop than Kinnaman does! You have to wait 100 minutes to hear the immortal ‘Dead or Alive. You’re coming with me’ line, but when it does come, it’s Kinnaman’s best moment because he shows he still has some of his humanity in there. Congrats, it only took you almost the whole damn movie. I also have to say, PG-13 approach or not, having Murphy merely get blown up in a car instead of the much-loved (in a sicko way) massacre from the 1987 original is not only insanely implausible that he survives it, but it’s a lame, toothless, and obvious neutering. It’s a change entirely motivated by the almighty dollar (I have read that both star and director wanted an R-rating in the US, but a ballooning budget gave them no ‘hand’ with the producers).


Although our own Abbie Cornish looks hotter than ever, and probably gives one of her better performances, it’s not enough to make one of this remake’s biggest changes work. Unlike last time, the film isn’t about Alex Murphy rediscovering who he was before he was turned into RoboCop. At least, not at first. His wife is entirely aware of what has gone on, and I think that’s a shame because it robs the film of some heart, to an otherwise cold, dark experience. Cornish tries really, really hard, but it doesn’t work as well done this way, especially with a black hole for a leading man. Unfortunately, it gets even worse because halfway through the film, Murphy loses his damn memory. Why bother doing it like that? It just doesn’t work, and left me nonplussed. I liked seeing Murphy’s memories as he slowly comes to, after surgery. It was nicely done. There’s also a great bit where we see everything stripped away to just Murphy’s head, brain, and a few organs. That was a really cool visual.


One of the more interesting things about the film (at least on paper) is some of the unconventional casting, with Michael Keaton (AKA “Batman”, AKA The Best “Batman”) as the villain, the generally unsympathetic Zach Grenier as an anti-robot politician, and Gary Oldman as a conflicted, but generally well-meaning (if at times self-preservationist) scientist. But paper and actuality are two different things, I’m afraid. It’s a shame Oldman typically phones it in, because his unconventional casting in such a role is rather interesting in theory and could’ve really worked well if he had bothered to put any effort in. Michael Keaton, meanwhile is thoroughly and depressingly disappointing. One of my favourite actors since the 80s, and usually a pretty dynamic presence on screen, but he’s always been surprisingly ineffective as a villain in films for some reason (“Beetlejuice” hardly counts, in case you’re wondering. Tim Burton would consider him a loveable goofball). “Pacific Heights”? Boring. That Andy Garcia thriller where Keaton was a psycho killer? Yawn. In addition to playing a guy responsible for changing the colour of RoboCop’s already awesome silver armour to an indistinct black (a decision made entirely because…the director can), Keaton phones this one in even more than Oldman. At least the idea of casting Oldman in his role is interesting and somewhat effective, despite Oldman’s lack of commitment in his performance. It was nice to see him play a relatively decent human being, and he’s certainly better here than he was in the “Dark Knight” trilogy at least. Keaton is entirely wasted in such a flat, uninteresting corporate villain role. Why is he even in this? He gives zero effort whatsoever, completely flat. He does, however get more to do than this film’s nondescript substitute for Clarence Boddicker, who is not only forgettable, but the filmmakers seem to forget about him for great stretches. Wow. The original had such great villains in Ronny Cox, Dan O’Herlihy, Miguel Ferrer, and Kurtwood Smith’s Richard Widmark-esque Boddicker, but this one largely misses out, with Jay Baruchel hardly getting anything to work with. The one standout is a terrific Jackie Earle Haley, who easily walks off with the film as an antagonistic and cynical combat specialist. At one point he even gives us a new slant on one of the famous catch phrases of the original (Hint: I’ve already referenced it myself). Michael K. Williams is pretty good as Nancy Allen (Thank you, I’m here all week), but underused, as is Marianne Jean-Baptiste as the now female police chief (played in the original by the awesome Robert DoQui).


Not a terrible film, there’s some interesting ideas at play here and the first half shows promise. But it’s undeniably vastly inferior, unnecessary, and bloodless. Lots of violence, but strangely no blood. And we never even go back to Tehran! Why drop the Middle East stuff after a while? Weird. You don’t need to have seen the original to see that this remake just isn’t very good. It starts well, but you’ll end up underwhelmed. Brilliant use of ‘I Fought the Law’ over the end credits, though. I’ll give the film that. 


Rating: C+