Film Reviews

Film Review: RoboCop (2014)

In 1987, director Paul Verhoeven made a subversive film detailing the destructive nature of human corruption, greed, capitalism and privatisation masquerading as a man in a suit of armor. The film of course, was RoboCop, about detective Alex Murphy who is brutally wounded in the line of duty only to be brought back to life as a half human/half robot dichotomy of machine-like efficiency and human emotion. The film was, on all accounts, a resounding and violent success; the accompanying gravitas added by the burgeoning excess of the 1980s.

Fast forward more than two decades and Brazilian filmmaker Jose Padilha’s first venture into English-language film is Hollywood’s revisit to Verhoeven’s classic. Looking at RoboCop (2014) from a distance, its easy to point out what fans of the original may have issues with. Among them is the film’s PG-13 rating, toning down the original’s purposeful violence and bloodshed. Yet as Padilha makes his way through modern Detroit’s Omnicorp-laden landscape, we’re given a brand new palette in which to immerse ourselves in- one that succeeds for the most part.

The Killing’s Joel Kinnaman is the new Alex Murphy- boasting the same kind of disheveled, gravely tone Peter Weller had in the original- he does a great job of being both human and robotic. And while the dystopian picture given in Verhoeven’s original isn’t quite as present, we’re given the backdrop of continued Middle East tension as to why America needs robots to defend the streets instead of humans. At the head of Omnicorp is Michael Keaton’s Raymond Sellers, an astute businessmen whose motives seem to be driven more by money and success than crazed megalomania. His towering corporate stance is given an opposing shadow by Gary Oldman’s Dr. Dennett Norton (a scientist whose primary role was to create robotic prosthetics to those who have lost their limbs). Through this we see that not even Keaton’s character is decisively evil, just focused on turning over political law to suit his corporate needs.

The crux of the film’s problems may stem from Samuel L. Jackson’s annoying media figure Pat Novak. He serves as the host of the political talk show The Novak Element, which serves as the political commentary of the film. The cross section of this plot progression is a little clunky and somewhat distracting, and while attempts to help bring home the corruptive and unproductive nature of politics, seems to act as a very unsubtle way to hammer home the idea that the film is making political statements. It doesn’t quite flow as well as the same tactic did in Verhoeven’s other cult subversive statement Starship Troopers.

From here we see Kinnaman battle the aforementioned elements once he becomes half man, half robot. The robot suit is actually quite refined and very well done. While the original RoboCop was literally a giant walking tin can, Padilha has managed to craft a sleek, agile and contemporary version of the suit that plays well into the character’s ability to undertake advanced police work. The best parts of the film are when Alex Murphy battles himself to overcome the robotic sedation of his human side. Credit to Padilha for giving RoboCop agility not only in combat, but in connection as well.

The biggest gripe of the film is perhaps Padilha’s reluctance to let the film become bigger than it is. Perhaps in fear of becoming a by-the-numbers action vehicle, the final third of the film is lacking one last big set piece. It would have been a great way to truly pay homage to the original but replicating its destructive violence- not for it to become just another action film- but to resonate a point the way the 1987 film did.

Fans of the original will undoubtedly complain about RoboCop (2014) shortcomings in comparison to Verhoeven’s. In truth, these two movies come at two very different times in our society and what was cultural shocking and subversive in 1987 needs to be finessed to an impatient and smart audience in different ways. The film is good, and is enjoyable as it is- a sleek, rather subdued but emotionally deft action film- just don’t take it for anything more.

[rating=3]

 

RoboCop is now playing in Australian cinemas and will open in US cinemas February 12th.

 

ROBOCOP
Directed by: Jose Padilha
Written by: Joshua Zetumer
Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Abbie Cornish, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman
Released by: MGM/Columbia
Running time: 118 minutes

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Film Reviews

Film Review: Last Vegas

It’s hard to believe that there will soon be a generation of moviegoers who will not see the likes of Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and to some extent, Kevin Kline, as anything but “the old guys in a movie”. While these four may be at the tail end’s of their much lauded careers, their ability to find roles that while be diminished in terms of their scope, still give them enough room to show audiences that they were indeed the best of their time.

Last Vegas, a Jon Turteltaub (known best for 90s fair Cool Runnings, While You Were Sleeping) flick, can easily be labeled or dismissed as a senior citizens version of The Hangover. To some extent, it’s true, the story surrounds Michael Douglas’ everyoung ladies man Billy Ghershon who is finally getting married in his 60s (to someone half his age). His best friends are corralled together for one last hurrah in Vegas. Seems straight forward, yet what Turteltaub and the writers have done is given the film an added texture of personality and humility. It means that while Last Vegas is less brazen than The Hangover, it certainly isn’t anywhere near as provoking or memorable, however, it doesn’t mean it’s not without merit. Quite the opposite in fact. While The Hangover left behind no aspect of shame, Last Vegas‘ message is actually more about rebuilding and solidifying friendships broken by mistrust and miscommunication. Through an opening set in the 50s of Brooklyn, the heart of the film is born; four best friends will spend a lifetime sorting through the ups and downs of life.

When we are reconnected with them 58 years later, there is a rift between Billy Gershon and De Niro’s character Paddy Conners. Much of the friction comes between these two and both play it off really well. They’re like a more sophisticated rendition of Grumpy Old Men, set to the backdrop of the glitz and glam of Las Vegas. Through it all, we get lot of old jokes, lost in a generational gap jokes, and some old fashion “get off my lawn” jokes. Romance, age and time play a big part in the plot’s progression after we’re introduced to the still radiant Mary Steenburgen. And while there are elements that can be described as The Hangover type debauchery, it is far more toned down. In fact, much of the humour comes from the juxtaposition of old (people) and the young (Vegas, in spirit).

Yes, it’s funny, and all four actors play a substantial part in the appeal of Last Vegas. As the conclusion nears, we see that the point of the film isn’t about flying to Vegas to have one last debaucherous weekend reliving one’s youth, but rather rediscovering and perhaps, finally realising what really is important in life. Something that gives the film a true warmth. Fans of Grumpy Old Men will certainly find a kind hearted soul underneath a rough, agitated and cantankerous exterior they enjoyed from Jack Lemmon and Walther Matthau. But perhaps, for a generation of viewers who have no idea who Lemmon and Matthau are, they’ve got De Niro and Douglas. Not bad really.

[rating=3]

 

Last Vegas opens in Australian cinemas February 6th.

 

LAST VEGAS
Directed by: John Turteltaub
Written by: Dan Fogelman
Cast: Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburgen
Released by: CBS Films
Running time: 105 minutes

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Film Reviews

Film Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

In the decades after the Cold War, much of the landscape of clandestine warfare had transformed itself from the confines of blacklists and microfilm to the vast ether of information and data across the globe. Spies and their craft had changed, and with it, Hollywood’s portrayal. The practice had gone from jabbing someone with a poison-tipped umbrella to taking down entire nations with access from a computer; and so Hollywood had to evolve its sleuths from uber charming, yet seemingly unflappable womanizers to flawed, troubled and broken men. Jason Bourne became the modern day spy. James Bond became Jason Bourne and almost every spy since, has had a Bourneness to them that we, the movie-going audience seem to relate to. There’s now a vulnerability grounded in reality. Where once luxury sports cars turning into submarines was acceptable, it is now the norm for our agents to be armed with nothing more than a pistol, some training and their wit, facing their greatest of enemies in the reality we all find ourselves in.

Jack Ryan, perhaps author Tom Clancy’s finest creation, has been off grid since the Ben Affleck-starring The Sum of All Fears in 2002. It was an admirable entry into the Jack Ryan series but lacked the tension and imminent fear that presented itself in previous Jack Ryan outings- most notably in the still terrific The Hunt For Red October. In the ten or so years proceeding, much has changed in the world, and while nuclear threat seems to loom far in the background, the prescient danger continues to be that of technological warfare threatening to undermine our most treasured of security: finance. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the official reboot of the Jack Ryan franchise and sees our protagonist continue his Benjamin Button act since Harrison Ford last donned the title in 1994’s Clear And Present Danger. The character’s genesis is beginning at a younger age we are given more of his development before delving into the primary plot of the film.

Imminent danger

Imminent danger

Chris Pine’s Jack Ryan falls somewhere between Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford’s; young enough to be brash and reckless, but at the same time, boasting a quality that convinces audiences he will grow into the Jack Ryan of old. Pine is surrounded by a pretty well-to-do cast that includes Kevin Costner (playing Ryan’s mentor and super-agent William Harper), Keira Knightley (Ryan’s eventual love interest and femme fatale Cathy Muller) and the irrepressible Kenneth Branagh (pulling double duty serving as the film’s primary antagonist Viktor Cherevin, as well as its director). The film is stronger for their parts, and while Costner’s role is quite restrained, there is an air of importance to him that works within the confines of the film. We’re also given a colourful palette of characters breathing out the warm air of nostalgia with its heavy Russian-villain lean. It’s the film’s most prominent connection to the spy films of old, and perhaps, beneficial in giving Shadow Recruit a sense of freshness. Surprisingly, Knightley’s character displays the cast’s biggest single nitpicky flaw. Knightley’s strikingly beautiful accent is stripped of its allure as she yams and yahs through a pretty terrible American accent. It’s the ‘Charlize Theron in Monster’ of accents (and not in the ‘winning an Oscar for the performance’ kind of way).

Unlike The Sum of All Fears, we’re given the less far-reaching plot of espionage cloaked in today’s turbulent and volatile financial landscape. Jack Ryan, CIA analyst, is tasked on uncovering a Russian plot to destroy America by crippling its financial structure. It’s all smartly done with the kind of explanatory tone that never breaches into condescension or overly smart. We’re given a look into the evolution of the Jack Ryan character- from tired economics student to battered and broken marine, and finally to the film’s primary voice; the analyst. While the film progresses over the course of a decade, it never grows tiresome and moves briskly through its narrative stages. The action is thick and heavy, and we’re once again grounded in the kind of hand to hand combat The Bourne Identity cemented as the preferred palette. The pace is comfortable and the dialogue smart, and much of the film exudes the kind of excitement and tension The Hunt For Red October is noted for.

Branagh’s direction resonates beautifully amongst the steel and structure of both New York City and Moscow; and in a particularly harrowing scene between himself and Knightley’s character, given a real sense of isolated terror and impending doom. Who knew lightbulbs could be so dangerous?

The spy genre may be one of the fields of film that has excelled the most in the post 9/11 world. They’re more grounded and realistic and to that extent, far more believable. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is an exciting new beginning for the franchise, and while it may not be as alluring as the original Jason Bourne outing, the Jack Ryan franchise hasn’t felt this right since the early 90s.

[rating=4]

 

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is in the cinemas now. 

 

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Adam Cozad, David Koepp
Cast: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh
Released by: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 105 minutes

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Film Reviews

Film Review: Thor: The Dark World

With the success of The Avengers firmly cementing the global resonance of the Avengers brand, the general audience has gotten in a sense, the size and enormity of this Marvel world. With The Avengers, we see that each and every one of these superheroes, their lives, their troubles, their individuality, and the characters that populate their sphere, are indeed interconnected. These events then, all in one world, has created an interesting dichotomy for Marvel and their individual movies.

Iron Man 3 felt entirely underwhelming, not because Tony Stark’s latest adventure was boring or dull, but because he felt alone and isolated from his newfound superhero friends. It was difficult to parse the events happening in his story without thinking, “why aren’t Hulk and Captain America there to help him?”

Yes, it is a suspension of belief, but it was enough that it crept into the idea that after The Avengers, we now have to go back to singular protagonist films.

So comes Thor: The Dark World, whose characters and actions undertaken in the previous outing became the backdrop and on-going conflict in The Avengers. The sequel to Thor comes a few years after the events of New York and sees Thor (Chris Hemsworth) defending the Nine Realms from a host of evils permeating different worlds. In the backdrop we have the Dark Elf Malakith (played with menace by Christopher Eccleston) who has long plotted to return the realms to complete darkness. He ultimately becomes a serious threat and we are given an intergalactic conflict we haven’t seen in… well, two movies.

Caught up in between are Thor’s earthly friends Jane (Natalie Portman), Professor Selvig (Stellen Skarsgard), and Darcy (Kat Dennings) who become part of Earth’s defence in a new battle against Malakith.

What new director Alan Taylor brings is a more easy-going attitude to the film. The sense of humor that was hinted at in the first is let loose with clever one-liners and likeable and enjoyable characters. He does well to present Loki (Tom Hiddleston) as the “is he or isn’t he a bad guy?” through the film and much of what happens unfolds at a good pace. The Dark World wins out because the film travels between Asgard and Earth in unobtrusive fashion, giving the audience a thrilling sense of the enormity in which these universes are connected.

Unlike Shane Black with Iron Man 3, Taylor is given a much bigger canvas to paint on thanks to these realms, and we’re taken away form the darker, more foreboding instances to moments of cinematic grace and beauty. Asgard gets a deeper look at than in the first film and we’re met with some scenes that give the audience a genuine sense of awe.

Yet as London comes under attack by a menace that seems far greater than the Chitauri, a small part of our mind asks where Tony Stark or the Hulk or Captain America are and why they’re not here to help. Nonetheless, while it does come to mind, it does not take away from the enjoyability and reflection of The Dark World. We’re meant to separate these lone films from what we have become accustomed to in The Avengers, and it’ll just take time, and/or a really good film to do it.

These standalone films must now once again become appetisers to the next Joss Whedon feast of spoils in Age of Ultron and judging Thor: The Dark World on these merits, we’re actually given a good return. The post-credits scene is a good reminder that Marvel is planning another significant venture outside of the next Avengers film and serves as a nice introduction to this next step (stay for it). If you’ve soured a little from the depreciating value of Iron Man, prepare to buy right back in as The Dark World is easily one of the best entries into the Marvel canon pre- and post- Avengers.

[rating=4]

 

Thor: The Dark World opens in US cinemas November 8th and is currently playing in Australian cinemas.

 

THOR: THE DARK WORLD
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Stellen Skarsgard, Christopher Eccleston, Anthony Hopkins
Produced by: Marvel Studios / Walt Disney Pictures
Website: marvel.com/thor#/home

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Film, Film Reviews

Film Review: We’re The Millers

If you’ve ever had to misfortune of seeing the 2006 Robin Williams comedy RV, you’d probably be hard pressed to sit down and watch We’re The Millers. On the surface, they’re near identical movies- a man trying to sort through the dysfunctional lives of his family members as they take a trip in a motor home. The difference being, that while RV was traditional, straight laced family humour, We’re The Millers is traditional, gross out toilet comedy akin to what has become the norm thanks to The Hangover and their kind.

Instead of a real family trying to sort out their difference, We’re The Millers sees Jason Sudeikis as low level drug dealer David Clark, stuck with no option but to be a drug mule for corporate douchebag (and hilarious orca owner) Brad Gurdlinger (played by Ed Helms). Concocting the ham fisted plan of putting together a fake family to transport the drugs in an RV as to not raise border patrol suspicions, he creates The Millers. His fake family includes a stripper (the phenomenally in-shape Jennifer Aniston), a runaway (Emma Roberts), and a goofy virgin (a really funny Will Poulter). When the Millers realize the amount of weed they are transporting across the border far exceed their expectation (“a smidge and a half” as Gurdlinger puts it), they are thrust into gag after gag of some pretty hilarious stuff.

The film’s crass approach and adult humour works well because the story is incredible simple. What RV lacked was any sort of edge, and with Sudeikis and Helms well versed in the kind of profanity-laced comedy, much of We’re The Millers comes across as contemporarily enjoyable. Much of the added laughs come from the great supporting turns by Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn (playing fellow RVers the Millers encounter on their adventures), who add their brightly coloured palette of humour to the mix.

Through all the crude jokes, there is a touch of heart to the film, and as expected, the Millers are taught some valuable family lessons as the film concludes. It never quite reaches the offensive enlightenment we get with the original Hangover, and a lot of it is very conventional, but it doesn’t mean however, that the film isn’t enjoyable. The cast is extremely likeable and while much of it isn’t too surprising, there actually is more to the film than a sexy, underwear-clad Jennifer Aniston stripping underneath a literal shower of sparks. That part is nice however.

We’re The Millers is in cinemas nationwide.

[rating=3]

 

WE’RE THE MILLERS
Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Written by: Bob Fisher, Steve Faber
Cast: Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts, Ed Helms, Will Poulter
Released by: Warner Bros.
Website: werethemillers.warnerbros.com

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Film, Film Reviews

Film Review: Pain & Gain

If there is one thing Michael Bay can never be guilty of, it is of not giving the people what they want. Based on a ridiculous true story, Pain & Gain is every bit the as glossy as it is muscle-bound; so inflatedly Bay that the ludicrous premise and wild characters are perfectly blended amongst the genuine, simple tone of its heart. Yes, it’s got heart.

Set in the sunset tones of Miami circa 1995, Pain & Gain tells the story of two well meaning, but frustrated bodybuilders (Mark Wahlberg and Anthony Mackie playing real life convicts Daniel Lugo and Adrian Doorbal) chasing the American dream. Feeling trapped by their lifestyle but looking up into the stars, they concoct a ham-fisted plan to kidnap and rob a rich Miami businessman (played with menace by Tony Shalhoub). Along the way, they meet hulked up ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) and stripper Sorina (played in true exquisite Michael Bay fashion by model/actress Bar Paly), adding to the oft bumbling, hilarious, but all too serious crimes they commit along the way. This includes murder and dismemberment.

Yet as serious as the matter at hand, Bay’s saturated direction, fast paced action, slow motion tracking and some nicely placed T&A means you’ll spend most of the film laughing and having a great time than worrying about the victims of this terrible crime. You get a lot of shots from below (placed conveniently anytime a nice looking lady is wearing something skimpy), recycled shots from Bad Boys, and thankfully, dialogue that is required to be both dumb and stupidly hilarious.

Wahlberg as Lugo leads the charge as the less than intellectually astute ringleader of the heist, and while his muscles have stopped blood flowing to his brain, he is the most driven and forward moving character in the film. Give credit to Johnson, who amongst all his brute force, shines as a character that ends up being funny, warm and endearing in the end. We’re surrounded by a motley crew of recognized faces- from cameos to second stringers- Bay has compiled an extremely likeable cast that features Ken Jeong, Rebel Wilson, Ed Harris and Rob Corddry. All of whom never detract from the humour, spills, and pace of the film.

As the film concludes, there is an air of satisfaction to it all; the story is complete and we end up genuinely caring about those involved (yes, even the boneheaded criminals- which has drawn some controversy).

It’s been awhile since Bay let his ability to craft humour, action and sex in a likeable fashion without a great deal of computer enhancement. We forget that he’s good at the kind of buddy comedy humour he perfected in Bad Boys, and Pain & Gain is by far his best movie since (although one can argue the original Transformers movie has something to say about that). You can’t help think that Bay is still very much on top of his game.

Pain & Gain is bulked up, ‘roided, and pumped. It’s a little bit Bad Boys, a little bit Miami Vice, and a whole lot of funny.

Pain & Gain is now playing in Australian cinemas nationwide.

 

PAIN & GAIN
Directed by: Michael Bay
Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Bar Paly, Ed Harris, Tony Shalhoub
Released by: Paramount Pictures
Website: painandgainmovie.com

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Film Reviews, Sight & Sound

Instagram trailer watch: Jobs

It’s fitting perhaps, that the first Instagram trailer be for the upcoming Steve Jobs biopic Jobs. The Ashton Kutcher-starring vehicle took out a first with its debut of the instrailer below. It’s a little innovative, smart, saavy and an unfortunate turn of events for those who love an old fashioned trailer to help build excitement for an upcoming “moving picture show”.

Are we not able to sit around for 3 minutes to watch a trailer? I hope this does not become the trailer staple.  Equal blame goes to the smart marketing innovators and Generation ADD.

//instagram.com/p/br4iT0oUeD/embed/

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