RoboCop (2014)

March 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Movies

I had initial reservations about this remake–first, because I’m tired of remakes. Second, because what exactly was lacking in the 1987 film? It never really left you wanting more as far as themes and characters go–and even if you did, you had 2 sequels to…well, enjoy may be a strong word.

In the past few years, though, there were talks about a reboot. Names got thrown around like Darren Aronofsky and David Self. But it was like one of those things you just wanted to pretend wasn’t happening. It seemed to be more of a realistic thing coming to fruition when the “Total Recall” remake was released. And then we knew it was only a matter of time.

So, now, in 2014, ready or not, we have “RoboCop” the remake, directed by Jose Padilha (director of the “Elite Squad” films). I didn’t have high hopes going into the film; but from the opening sequence to the final frame, I have to say this is a remake that does what few remakes do–have its own story and idea.

There are films I”d love to see be remade–such as “The Stuff”, which is a timeless plot about consumerism and certainly has plenty of relevance nowadays, and the original film was actually kind of weak. “RoboCop” was certainly not one of them. But this film takes the idea of a cop KIA turned into cyborg and does something a little different. For one thing, this time, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is not killed. He is set up after a sting goes wrong with a criminal syndicate, and a bomb is planted in his car. He is horribly burned and loses most of his body parts–but his brain is very much intact. His wife has to make the decision to keep him alive.

Meanwhile, OmniCorp is a very successful robotics corporation run by Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) who is not allowed to produce robots for the United States, but has a highly lauded campaign going on in the Middle East with robot soldiers that are cleaning up the streets much like police officers would. Detroit is a city that’s still riddled with crime; and, according to Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson), host of the show “The Novak Element” (serving as the bookends of the film), we need these machines just as badly. But, there is a bill in Congress known as the Dreyfus Act which denies the use of robots as enforcers, because they don’t have morals or a sense of right and wrong. They’re too clinical. Sellars tries to convince the Senate that the Dreyfus Act should be repealed, but he isn’t getting any support. He believes it’s due to the fact that Americans need a “face”. So, “put a man in a machine”, and suddenly there will be support.

Murphy is one of the candidates for the program. Chief Scientist, Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman, borrowing his Commissioner Gordon accent and persona) is hired to create what’s going to be known as RoboCop. He designs a mechanical body for Murphy, covering most of his eroded body. Murphy is at first horrified by his appearance and wants to shut down the program and be put down; but the whole operation came about because his wife authorized it, and she wants to see him again. This, along with wanting to be with his family again, prompts Murphy to continue with the program.

Then, RoboCop is completed and becomes a powerful tool of the police, cleaning up crime easily. But there’s a problem–he has a conscious, and he’s still haunted by his attempted murder and wants to find the men who did it. He has a new set of tasks, however, and isn’t authorized to continue his search. Unfortunately for Murphy, he is mostly machine and can be controlled. Norton is ordered to shut down his emotional system in order for him to perform his duties clinically, as a machine would. But this alienates his old partner (Michael K. Williams) and his family which is tearing them apart.

Norton then finds himself with his own moral dilemma, and decides RoboCop should retain his emotions and memories. What RoboCop uncovers after changing his prime directive back to locating his attempted killers drives the climax of the film, and it’s a satisfying one. There’s a character, Rick Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley) that comes into play as a somewhat shady guy and has a lot to do with RoboCop’s programming and de-programming. It’s a bit of a predictable angle, but Haley adds a nice touch to the character where in some situations he’s borderline likable; and other times, you love seeing him get his. And speaking of performances, Kinnaman’s is very strong as Murphy/RoboCop. He isn’t your typical cardboard cut out hero. There is a lot of pain behind the visor, and we see that come through.

But what really makes the film separate from the original is that it constantly asks questions about compromising our emotions in favor of efficiency. Are we losing our touch with humanity? Do we want to? As amusing as the Novak Element is, it stands as a symbol and a commentary on where the world seems to be right now. We have all of this access to social media and everyone has a voice–but does anyone really know what to say? Or are we content with drones carrying out our dirty work?

The film could have developed these questions further–but it only has so much time and has to sew up its plot in two hours. What I’d like to see is a TV spin off that allows the characters to grow along with the themes the movie introduces us to.

Overall, though, the film works enough and is entertaining. The second half of act two drags a little bit, just because so much is going on and it starts to break down in its direction on where it’s going–but it certainly finds itself enough in the end. There are a few nods to the original; I definitely missed the amusing satirical ads such as “Nuke ’em!” and the interview with Keva Rosenberg. Other than that, though, I actually started to forget about the original while watching this film–and that hasn’t happened to me in regards to a remake in a long time.

My rating: :-)

Carrie (2013)

October 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

“Carrie” is an iconic horror film from the 1970’s that probably never needed to be dug up and remade again (isn’t she supposed to be burning in hell anyway?). But, there was another iconic horror film from the 1970’s that was remade, and remade pretty well, and that was Rob Zombie’s “Halloween”. So why not?

Then again, “Carrie” was already remade. But do TV remakes count? This one shouldn’t have. And let’s not mention “The Rage: Carrie 2”. OK, I just did. But let’s just move on now.

This remake is directed by Kimberly Pierce (“Boys Don’t Cry”), and has a strong cast including Julianne Moore as the psychotic fundamentalist Christian mother, Margaret; and, Chloe Grace Moretz as the titular character, Carrie White. Sprinkled in the supporting cast is Judy Greer as the gym teacher Miss Desjardin, Portia Doubleday as Chris Hargensen, and Gabriella Wilde as Sue Snell. This is a contemporary remake, so all of the events in the film take place now, not back in the 70’s. This sets the stage for a film that could really make a statement or at least have an opinion on the 21st century problems of “cyber bullying” and “mean girl syndrome” that seems to be infecting more and more schools around the world. In the hands of such a good director as Pierce, I had high hopes.

However, this film just pricks and prods at the problems of abuse and bullying rather than really taking these issues to task. Carrie (finely played by Moretz) is a 17 year old virgin who experiences her first period (a bit late) in the gym showers after a water volleyball scrimmage. The mean girls laugh at her and take photos; Chris (nicely played by Doubleday) uses video from her iPhone and puts it up on Youtube (doesn’t everybody use Instagram for short videos now?). At first, Sue (Wilde) is part of the action, but she starts to feel guilty. The gym teacher puts a stop to the whole ordeal and tries to comfort Carrie while also punishing the mean girls.

Meanwhile, during Carrie’s meltdown, she finds out she has telekinetic powers. This leads her overbearing Evangelical mother (Moore) into believing she’s a witch and forces her into a small closet to pray about it. Something tells me that’s not going to exorcise the demons though.

The movie’s plot pretty much plays out the same way the original did, which is a bit disappointing since they could’ve gone for a different approach. The original novel is written in an epistolary style, telling the story from media viewpoints after the fact. In this day and age of 24 hour, ubiquitous media outlets exploiting every single story out there, I think it would’ve been a nice idea to try and use that as a device to make a commentary on today’s society. Think of interviews with survivors with Bill O’Reilly; or, people blaming liberals and conservatives for Carrie and school bullying? Social satire would’ve been a fresh idea here. The acting is good, and Julianne Moore does a worthy job of filling in Piper Laurie’s shoes as Margaret. But her character isn’t nearly as menacing and scary as in the original film. As good a job as Moretz does as Carrie, she just doesn’t have that same innocent and yet “could snap at any moment” quality that Sissy Spacek naturally had.

As familiar and predictable as the remake is, being so close to the original, it starts to break down toward the end with the prom sequence. First, we come to realization that we hardly know any of these characters and so the prom just doesn’t feel that big of a deal. It feels like it’s just there to serve as the climax. And because we haven’t had the chance to really get to know any characters, some of the mocking at Carrie during her “pig’s blood” scene doesn’t really add up. Especially when her period video is being shown on a loop on a big screen during it. The natural reaction to something like that, I would think, would be more horror than laughter. Even with how mean kids can be, there’s not a whole lot of setup that the whole school is full of disaffected desensitized youth–only the mean girls share that quality.

So when Carrie finally comes undone, she comes off more as a Hogwarts reject showing off her magical powers (and in some facial expressions, looks like she is enjoying it for the sake of it), rather than a traumatized victim who’s finally acting out her aggression on those who have tormented her throughout the whole film. And that’s where the film just falls completely flat. Before the prom scene, I could forgive it as a nice and faithful remake. But then when you start to think about all of the possibilities this film had to be so much more, I just felt that it was overall a  missed opportunity.

My rating: :?

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

August 7, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies

Look out, Hollywood! The apes are back! But where’s Estella Warren? Hm? Where are you?? She’s gone…it’s all gone. It’s all been re-booted. In the totally original genre called “re-booting” franchises that was handled with brilliance like in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (which would have been a hated movie by me if I could have just stayed awake throughout it)…or wait, I think that was just a remake. This is a true re-boot. It’s like “Star Trek”; except, it’s different. There’s no Captain Kirk, for one thing.

So let me tell you the plot because it’s OMG so totally WeSoMEZZ (I just made that up; think it can become a meme?)

It’s about this guy (James Franco, who holds a record of being miscast in films; I think his streak is up to 5 now or something) who wants to treat his dad (the Harry-less John Lithgow, who trades Sasquatch for a chimp) for Alzheimer’s disease by creating a retrovirus called “113” and tests it on apes. The result? The chimps have a heightened intelligence. This is pretty amazing, of course. But it doesn’t impress his boss, played as standard as possible by David Oyelowo (say that five times fast! starting…now!), and so the project is scrapped. Well, there is a test subject that he takes home with him, named Caesar (named after the dressing), and this is no ordinary chimp–it’s a CGI! (Chimp Graphic Interface). Forgive the cheap joke.

Well, Caesar is quite limber and intelligent, and the film spends a few reels showing something that’s very akin to cut-scenes in a video game as we see Caesar grow up and become more intelligent; meanwhile, Dear Old Dad is given a dose of the medicine as well, and it actually works. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last forever…and he replases eventually. Meanwhile, the guy, Will, develops a relationship with a doctor named…oh…you know? I don’t remember. Why? Because she serves no purpose other than to say a few things to Will about how careful he should be. And they kiss at some point. Finally! The film lapses through about 8 years–this girl knows how to hold out.

Also, Caesar starts to really emo out. He gets lonely and sad, and wonders if he’s just considered a pet (which he is), and winds up taking out his self-loathing on a neighbor (who gets a few shots taken at him…but not enough payoff). He is sent to a little…monkey prison, where he is tormented by Draco Malfoy (well, Tom Felton, the guy who played him) to the point where Emo Caesar starts to really get peeved. He befriends the apes in the prison, and they basically break out and wreak havoc.

And that’s actually where this movie is so disappointing! Here you’ve got a pretty entertaining premise, and Andy Serkis is so good as a CGI actor that he’s basically a human special effect…possibly the best ever. But they go so by the book, standard, garden variety, no violence and no real tension…it’s not that it’s boring, it’s just that it’s so sterile! This movie could have had a lot of fun with itself, or gone the complete opposite direction and make it a real bloodbath. Apes just killing and pillaging and whatnot.

Instead, the movie feels like some kind of weird kid’s movie, which is confusing because kids would probably be scared to death of these chimps once they turn, and I gotta believe zoos better be aware that kids need to be told that A) the chimps in the zoo are not computer generated and B) not going to suddenly go America all over your ass.

Yes, the apes hold our attention more than the cardboard cut out human characters; but they’re also given very formulaic personalities that never really lets them breathe…so we get something that could be maybe enjoyed at a Drive-In; but it could have been a really fun movie if it wasn’t so Studio-tweaked.

I wanted to have fun with the movie; but it just didn’t let you in. It looks good, the CGI is well used, and the emo factor is fantastic–all Caesar is missing are the bangs. And maybe a Twitter account. But this movie just doesn’t explore any of the amazing possibilities (like Apes using Twitter) that it had, so we’re left with a very banal and standard action film that’s so synthetic that we can’t connect with any of it.

I can only hope the sequels do something more; but I highly doubt that’ll happen.

Maybe they could at least use LinkedIn though…

My rating: :(

A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)

May 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Michael Bay has quickly become the equivalent of a 1st Grade Elementary School Level Producer of Remakes. And even then, I’m probably giving him too much credit because at least a 1st Grade production of something has charm and innocence, something his “remakes” lack. While he’s not the filmmaker, he is the money guy and the one who usually puts these together. But along with “Friday the 13th” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, “A Nightmare On Elm Street” joins the clothesline of butchered projects that are coincidentally slasher remakes.

It’s not that this film is necessarily bad. The acting is fine, the visuals are well done, and the make-up is credible. It’s just incredibly bland. And I think that’s actually worse than something being bad. I’ve seen plenty of bad movies. Some of them are just bad. Like “Pulse” (not the 80’s thriller, but the awful 2006 film–which was a remake, too, but not of the 80’s thriller), or “Boogeyman”. Then there are films that actually are charmingly bad, like “Final Destination 3” or “Troll 2”. The remakes of “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare On Elm Street” fall into the former, rather than the latter. They’re literally ghosts of what made the originals classics. While those two movies created bloated franchises that became unoriginal and trashy, the originals still resonate today as being legendary horror films.

This film strays a bit from the original, too. And I’m not sure why. They’ve made Freddy more of a pedophile/stalker than a child murderer, which was what he was in the original “Nightmare on Elm Street”. But the film does nothing with this revelation. There’s absolutely no personality to this Freddy. He’s seething, angry, armed with his knife fingers and a bass amplified “scary” voice. But he has no value whatsoever. Part of what made Freddy endearing was his sense of humor about being so diabolical and sickeningly evil. He was a charismatic villain. This Freddy is a real glum one. He is also a pervert. Who wants to see that? It just doesn’t fit.

There’s nothing really of value in this film. People get slashed up, there’s blood. There are a few moments of “suspense” climaxing into a burst of orchestral hits and loud noises that’s supposed to pass for “thrills and chills”. But this is an empty funhouse. Wes Craven was not involved in this remake, unlike “Last House on the Left”, and I think they really missed out on letting him at least be a consultant. After all, it’s his movie. I find it interesting that a good portion of his catalog has been remade. I don’t know how I’d feel about that if I were him.

Like Zombie’s unfortunate “Halloween” remake sequel (I did like the first one), there’s no ambition or creativity at all in this film. It’s there, and it’s got some spooky imagery. But it doesn’t do anything for me at all. I think Jackie Earle Haley (Freddy) is a really good actor. But he was given nothing in this script to really do anything with. He’s a monster, but he has no personality.

So, Michael Bay I guess will keep on churning these things out. My advice is to recognize that every one of his movies looks the same, and every one of his movies will feel the same. Empty.

My rating: :(

Halloween II

August 31, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

When Rob Zombie came onto the horror film scene in 2003 with “House of 1,000 Corpses”, I welcomed him fairly warmly. His film, while a somewhat derivative send-up of 70’s gorefest Drive-In horror movies, was, at its heart, a fun movie. It didn’t take itself too seriously, and it gave a much needed jolt into a horror genre on life support. He created a film version of a Halloween funhouse: something that would give you chills, some laughs, and entertain you throughout. His cast was likable, and his skills as a filmmaker were more than competent.
When he followed that up with “The Devil’s Rejects”, I knew we had a filmmaker in this guy. He took what made “House” strong and made it even better, adding a more serious side to “Devil’s” that gave it a sense of reality, and it was not only gritty and horrific, but endearing as well. But how would he follow that up?
Well, I was hoping he’d continue his quest in original filmmaking, but instead he went the remake route. I had never been in favor of remaking any classic film, be it horror or otherwise. You should remake bad movies, not good ones, I always thought. But the fact that Zombie signed on to do a remake of “Halloween”, I was intrigued. Unlike many horror remakes, this guy at least has a clue and a purpose.
And unlike a lot of people, I actually enjoyed his take on “Halloween”. I looked at both movies differently, and appreciated both for what they were. But I felt Zombie had done his job, and needed to move on.
Hollywood thought otherwise. He apparently didn’t want to make a sequel, but I’m guessing the Weinstein brothers threw enough money at him for him to sign on, and now we have a sequel to a remake, which should instantly make your head explode due to the fact that this is the ultimate deadly sin in filmmaking, in my opinion. But what more could Zombie do?
Unfortunately, this is 105 minutes of proof that the answer is: Nothing. Zombie can blame the producers for forcing his hand (which I still have no sympathy for the guy for), but he did write the script, and the script is very banal. He wanted to create a portrait of insanity by having Laurie Strode increasingly become more like Michael, or at least–insane like him, not a murderer.
But instead of a character film we just get the same hackneyed, cliche’d slasher film all over again–and this time, even the kills aren’t interesting. Scout Taylor-Compton is probably one of the most irritating actresses I’ve seen in the last few years, and while I could look past my own bias in the last film, it really couldn’t be ignored in this one. The laughably extravagant dream sequences, the insistence on hillbilly victims, and the trite “symbolism” with the White Horse and Mother Myers with Young Michael imagery didn’t work and showed that either Zombie had nothing left in the tank, or he is losing his touch. I’m guessing it’s the former over the latter, but Zombie deserves to be torched for this film because it’s lazy filmmaking, and he has always struck me as anything but that, as an artist in general.
There are a few things that save this film from ultimate suckage, however. There is a death scene that actually moved me. I won’t give it away but it involves probably one of the only likable characters in the film. The death scene is far from cliche and I appreciated the sad piano music accompaniment, and the delicate way Zombie handled it. It was the only time I’ve ever been emotionally stirred in a slasher film, I think. I also liked the scenes involving Dr. Loomis that revealed him as a fraud to the public, such as appearing on a late night talk show in which he is *following* “Weird” Al Yankovic as a guest.
Other than that, though, it just seemed like Zombie didn’t have fun at all with this one. I was hoping he’d move on to his own films after this, but apparently he is going to take on “The Blob” next. I’m hoping he will at least get a little more creative with that one. This is the most unnecessary “Halloween” film since…well, I guess anything after the original could be considered unnecessary. But not since “The Revenge of Michael Myers” (Part 5) have I been this bored and uninterested with the franchise. At least Halloween Water had a few funny moments.

My rating: :(

The Day the Earth Stood Still

December 17, 2008 by  
Filed under Movies

You would think a big budget spectacle like this remake of the 1951 classic would be more fitting to be released in the summer time, when popcorn sci-fi cinema permeates the movie theatres; but I suppose that because this one’s supposed to be “thought-provoking”, it was more suitable at the “thought-provoking” time of year, the winter. I guess we have more time to think now that we can’t go outside and do anything, than we do in the summertime. Unfortunately for this movie, there’s not much thought that’s really being provoked. It’s more like it’s being threatened to stay away.

In the original “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, there is almost a Serling-esque feel to the way the story unravels, and obviously the way it ends, with the choice being left to us whether we want to save ourselves or be destroyed. It’s the misconception of humans that we think that anyone who says “You’re going to be destroyed” by a foreign presence means THEY are the ones who are going to destroy us. It was a very interesting plot–and for its time, it was convincingly executed, special effects wise.

In this modern day remake, we have the gaudy special effects, and the big budget, big screen feel. And this movie fails on every level that the original succeeds on. Well now, that RARELY happens in remakes, huh? What is it about that? Is it just the natural dilution of a remake? Is it just inherent that the remake MUST be devoid of what made the original so good? I didn’t feel that way with the 1978 “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, or “The Thing”, or “Father of the Bridge”, or even Zombie’s “Halloween” (don’t give me that look!). A remake should be an opportunity to take the original and either see it from a different angle, or improve on what may have made the original…dated. I suppose in the case of “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, the special effects. And they didn’t even really do THAT good a job on this remake, either.

The story resembles the original in a way; but it makes a few fatal changes that completely miss the point of the original. Where it gets the story right is in one of the best scenes in the film with John Cleese, playing a Nobel prize winning scientist, Professor Barnhardt, in which he has an engaging dialog with Klaatu about the fact that “it’s only on the precipice of disaster that we change”. That is very true, and it’s something that, had this remake expanded upon, would have made it a slam dunk. Unfortunately the movie gets so caught up in military action, stuff blowing up, and a very melodramatic and tired story between Helen (played as eloquently as possible by Jennifer Connelly) and her stepson Jacob (played by Jaden Smith, son of Will Smith, who seemed more confused by his own presence than anything else) and their struggles to get along. Since Jacob seems to blame her for his dad’s death, whom she’d only married a year or so prior to, this becomes a principle conflict throughout the film. Like in the original, Jacob’s father died in a war. But unlike the original, this movie fails to bring home the point about war and destruction.

If you have seen the original, there are many mentions about wars and the destruction humanity imposes on itself. In this version, it seems like this is more just about Americans, which is questionable since this was a plot that was supposed to be about “mankind”, not just American “mankind”. There are a few shots of “footage” from other countries that are going nuts over the “Alien Invasion”–but it looks like…there’s America, then there’s third world countries. I think Klaatu would be disturbed by the filmmakers of this movie, that we are so conceited.

There’s also more of an environmental angle to this film which doesn’t seem to work. Are we destroying our earth by killing each other in wars, or are we destroying our earth because we’re polluting it? In the first case, what difference does it make whether YOU kill us or WE kill us. In the latter, WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE WHETHER YOU KILL US OR WE KILL US?! It would have nothing to do with us, you would just eradicate us!

Because the movie didn’t work in the big picture, a lot of other things fall apart. What do we know about the father of Jacob, for one thing? What kind of dad was he? What kind of husband was he? If it’s so important, and vital in getting Jacob to trust Helen, shouldn’t we know more about their relationship too? No, instead the movie would rather show military operations and Secretary of Defense shenanigans (Kathy Bates who is the overpowering SOD that again shows our arrogance and whatnot). And some of the movie looked like it was borrowing from “Transformers”.
Another thing that got to me was the product placement. Now I know Hollywood does this often, but man ALIVE this is outrageous. Guess where Klaatu has to meet another “visitor” that’s been living on earth for decades?

No, really, guess.

I’ll give you a hint.

Ba-da-bap-bap-ba.

Oh, and you will definitely know they use LG cell phones; Windows Vista apparently utilizes Star Trek technology; and there is a thirty second sequence that is one big silent car commercial.

It’s just disappointing that this movie did NOT need to be remade, and again, it is frustrating that they missed it by doing exactly what drove Klaatu’s journey in the first place: it’s more about greed and profit than anything else. Now, do I think the original WASN’T made for money? No, but they at least trusted the writers enough to come up with something that would be marketable AND still retained intelligence.

It’s pretty sad when the BEST thing about this movie was Keanu Reeve’s performance. Unfortunately for him, who also worked on screenplay rewrites, the end result was less than stellar.

My rating: :???: