RoboCop (2014)

120px-Film-strip2Ah, remakes. For when you haven’t got an original idea in your head. After an enjoyable couple of hours at a Yelp! meeting (free food and drinks, yay) we had time to run over to Cineworld and catch the RoboCop reboot.

RoboCop (2014)

“I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Man creates robots. Then Man put man into robots. Then man in robot tries to show he’s more man than robot.

See it if you like: sub-standard rehashes of classic ideas

OK, wasn’t going to compare this reboot / re-imagining / rehash to Paul Verhoeven‘s classic 1987 original. Mainly because, barring the most basic of premises, there’s little in common between the two. However…

The satirical view of a dark future is gone to be replaced by something that looks like it could be set next week but with bigger buildings. The closest to the interjected fake TV ads are the comments running under the news items – and even they are repeated throughout the film. A bit poor given that one news report is supposedly being broadcast months before another. Besides, some of them are just poor jokes rather than biting witticisms.

I can’t fault the cast – it’s not their fault that the story is just so “by the numbers” as to be bordering on dull. The collection of Wall Street-esque self-centred men in suits who care nothing for their cyborg creation has been replaced by one corporate head (Michael Keaton) and a few hangers-on who aren’t even annoying enough to be yes-men.

The special effects are also rather good… mostly. It’s painfully obvious when Joel Kinnaman‘s “man in a suit” is replaced by a fully CGI RoboCop. However, the updated ED-209 units are definitely more evil and realistic than those from 1987.

I enjoyed the opening sequence, but after that the film just lost it with no real central bad guy. The original had two, this one has one bad-guy’s worth of character split between two individuals, one of whom hardly gets any screen time.

Stepping back, it was OK to watch but just nowhere near as satisfying as it could have been. It’s also not as bad as the risible RoboCop 3 (let’s just pretend that didn’t happen). However, they also don’t have the excuse that they had to rush out a quick sequel to make some cash like Orion did back in the day. In fact, the budget for this version jumped from $60m to $120m. Part of the problem is the 12A/PG-13 rating that the studio insisted on, but that can’t be blamed for the unimaginative script.

Taken on its own merits, it’s watchable. Put into context alongside its aging source material and it’s very weak indeed.

Batman: The Dark Knight Rises

As if this one needs an introduction. We’d hoped to see it at the IMAX as I saw the first two episodes there. Unfortunately, you have to book at least a day in advance at the Glasgow one due to their steam-powered booking system (assuming you can even find it on their web site). Also, simply due to popularity, the film is booked out for every evening performance until the middle of this week – and with Littler Miss working her way down the birth canal slower than a barge through treacle, we can’t risk blowing the cash on something we may not be able to get to. So, off to Parkhead we went. Oh, and with no concerns about trying to find a 2D showing as there was no crappy, revenue-driven urge to produce a 3D version of the film. Thank you director Christopher Nolan for putting your foot down about that one.

Batman: The Dark Knight Rises

I’ll try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible. The film follows on very closely from the end of The Dark Knight, with prisoners incarcerated as a result of the Harvey Dent Act. Gotham is free of organised crime and, as a result, the mysterious Batman has disappeared. However, this is Gotham. And this is a trilogy. So something has to happen.

Cue villain-of-the-moment Bane, born of darkness and out to destroy Batman – and Gotham City while he’s at it. It’s difficult to go too much further without giving anything much away so I’ll leave it at that and focus on the overall quality of the film. Before you see it, though, this excellent article on ScreenRant is worth a read. It’s pretty much spoiler-free!

There’s no denying the acting pedigree of the cast. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine return as Fox and Alfred respectively. Two of the most respected actors of their generation, and deservedly so. Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, takes on a major part of the story. As well as an ensemble cast, it’s a multi-faceted story which ensures these people aren’t just background to Christian Bale‘s hoarse whispering Batman and Tom Hardy‘s muffle-voiced Bane.

Ah, yes. Bane. Huge, scary but often hard to understand. On the whole, I got most of what he said but there were some lines I just didn’t catch. In fairness, Batman was just as unintelligible one a small handful of instances.

The film runs for a long time – 2hrs 45 mins, in fact. Be prepared for a long sit and don’t expect a thrill a minute or a bucket of laughs between the action sequences. Dark Knight Rises is a dark film – very dark. Unrelenting in places. It could be worse. Some of the death scenes are cut away from rather abruptly which is probably what’s earned it the 12A rating in the UK rather than a 15.

The action and effects are, as expected, fantastic. They’re not as “big” as those in, say, Avengers Assemble, but they’re more gritty. Having said that, I found the fight sequences lacking a little something, perhaps because the two main proponents (Bane and Batman) are so heavily padded. Anne Hathaway‘s Selina Kyle (she’s not referred to as Catwoman at all during the film) are actually slightly better to watch and not just because she fills a leather outfit so well.

Expectations are bound to be high for this film and mainly as the last film was, simply put, absolutely outstanding. However, you’re never going to get that chemistry again. In fairness, all three films in the trilogy have aimed to be different as well and bearing that in mind, Dark Knight Rises is successful. It’s not like the other two, it is an intellectual level apart from other superhero films and it’s very much a wonderful piece of work.

However, it’s also not as good as I was hoping. Some of the dialogue just clunked for me and I think I was expecting more of the action scenes. I do think I’d have enjoyed it more visually if we’d caught it at the IMAX, but that’s only the visuals. The pace would still have been slow and Dark Knight would still be kicking it for overall quality.

It’s good. In fact, it’s very good. But it’s not the utterly amazing classic it’s been built up to be. It’s really only let down by its own hype and the expectations put upon it by the second episode in the series.

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Rio / Red Riding Hood / Source Code

The plan for three films turned into a plan for one. Then two more. Which makes three anyway.

Rio

“I am not an ostrich!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: adopted macaw head to Brazil to discover his heritage and get laid.

I really wanted to avoid this film purely because it’s been used for the last three million years (or so it seems) to advertise Orange phones before every damn film I’ve seen. However, the kids wanted to see it (in preference to Winnie The Pooh and Hop) so off we went on Sunday afternoon. Oh, we saw the 2D version because Little Mister is under 6 and his older sister finds the glasses very uncomfortable. And I can’t bloody stand it.

It’s by the same folk who did the Ice Age movies, and it’s got a similar style of humour. It’s also definitely back on a par with the first of that series after the twee decline they went through. It  is a very bright and colourful movie with plenty of action to keep the youngsters happy although Little Mister didn’t seem quite in the mood to be engaged by it. Elder Sister really liked it.

The story is simple enough. A young macaw is stolen from the forests and finds a home in North America with a young girl (Linda voiced by Leslie Mann) who he grows up with. A Brazilian ornithologist arrives to beg that Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) be taken on a trip back “home” to pair up with the other last remaining macaw to save the species. Jewel (Anne Hathaway) turns out to be a little more of a live spirit and she and Blu end up going through a series of adventures.

The side characters and clever use of visual humour will keep adults interested as the kids giggle at the animated slapstick and ogle the visuals.

Not the best animated film ever, but definitely one that should entertain the sprogs if you have a spare afternoon. And that’s all that matters, isn’t it?

Red Riding Hood

“Grandmother… what big eyes you have.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A small village has been safe from the curse of a werewolf for twenty years when it suddenly strikes once again… but who it is, and what does it want?

This was one of those “we’re intrigued, but the times fit in with when we’re free” films. The two trailers we’d seen led us to think a) crap and b) hum, maybe not so crap. The reviews haven’t been kind, but I’d recommend giving it a chance.

It’s set in the middle ages, in a small insular village called Daggerhorn. Every full moon the villagers put out a sacrifice (goat, pig, whatever) and the local werewolf nabs it rather than killing one of the people. However, twenty years after the last human gets snatched, a local girl is eviscerated and questions start to arise.

The girl’s sister, Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), is the titular Red Riding Hood and central character. It is she who is caught up in the mystery of the identity of the werewolf, a mystery that takes another turn when Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) arrives in town on a personal crusade against all things lycanthrope.

The story then becomes a half decent whodunnit combined with a some soap opera touches as family and relationship secrets are exposed. Friendships are strained, beliefs tested and Oldman overacts as wonderfully as only he knows how.

I think Gillian reckoned this was “OK”. I was quite impressed, largely as I wasn’t expecting much. It did take a little while to get going, but once things started ticking along I was guessing here and there as to who the werewolf was and why they were interested in Valerie. In true Murder, She Wrote style all of these details are revealed when we find out who the rampaging half-wolf is, along with brief flashbacks to the events we didn’t see clearly the first time.

Red Riding Hood won’t win any awards, and likely won’t do too well judging by the ratings I’ve seen so far. Which is a shame, as it’s not as bad as some people are making out. If there’s nothing else on, it’s worth 100 minutes of your time.

Source Code

“Oh boy.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Soldier time-travels (repeatedly) back to a commuter train to find out who blew it up and to prevent a major terrorist bombing.

Along similar lines to the likes of Deja Vu and Quantum Leap, Jake Gyllenhall‘s character Colter Stevens is part of a military-funder operation allowing tweaking with the timelines. The limitation with this expedition is that Stevens can only witness and interact with an alternative reality’s version of the last 8 minutes of his host’s life, taking place during events which have already occurred. Simply put, unlike Sam Beckett, he can’t put right what once went wrong… but he can hopefully collect enough information to prevent an upcoming event of much greater proportions from taking place.

The reviews and comments I’ve seen about Source Code are universally complimentary and a huge number are marvelling at the complicated twists and mystery as to what the “source code” actually is. Frankly, anyone posting comments like that on Twitter has never seen a sci-fi film. This is as linear as it gets, and although being a good story its twists have been done before. The “big twist” at the end is even explained by the central character, after a fashion, during the main body of the film!

As with most modern sci-fi, it’s best to disengage the believability circuits at the same time as you start shovelling popcorn into your gob. Source Code is nicely character-driven with a good premise, much of what made Quantum Leap so deservedly popular. Although it’s not difficult to stay a scene or two ahead of the screenwriters, Gyllenhaal really does make you care for his character.

He’s aided by the sympathetic “controller” Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) who is overseem by the rather more self-obsessed Dr Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), while engaging with several characters on the doomed train – in particular Christina (Michelle Monaghan) who sits opposite him, and who he vows to save – despite being told that this is impossible.

I think Source Code suffered from the exact opposite problem as Red Riding Hood. After all the pizzaz, I was expecting it to be awe-inspiring. Instead it’s just “pretty good” so almost a let-down. Well-made, very well acted and not overblown it makes for a good film with a nice story but it simply isn’t the incredible movie it’s being made out to me.

Oh, and the Quantum Leap quote I put at the start of the review? The classic “Oh boy”? It’s in there. And it’s the first words spoken by the very actor who made them famous. Good luck spotting them!

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Single film Sunday

I was toying with also catching 44 Inch Chest today, but I just couldn’t be bothered leaving the house! I did make the effort to see The Book of Eli, though, and glad I did.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A lone man walks across the post-apocalyptic US carrying a book which is very much in demand – and not just from nice people.

First off, although filmed in a similar style to The Road which I saw a few days ago this is a hugely different film. For a start it seems to have some kind of plot. There are questions that as a film-viewer you feel you want to know the answers to. There is action. There are some nice snippets of dialogue.

All of these were missing from The Road which is, in fairness, a very different film.

The lead in this case is Denzel Washington who plays the titular Eli as a monosyllabic hard nut who just wants to get on with his little stroll to deliver a package. Bad guy duties go to the excellent Gary Oldman who carries out the manic, power-crazed role as well as would be expected.

Eli is carrying a book (no surprise there) to “the west” and Oldman decides he wants it. It’s a powerful book and what it is won’t come as a shock. What this leads to is a good bit of discussion over how the book has and will be used – how and why, and the effects it has had pre-war and within the society after it.

There are obviously going to be comparisons to the Mad Max films, but given that there are only so many ways you can portray a post-nuclear wilderness. Mel Gibson‘s films pretty much designed the template for any that were to follow, after all.

I definitely won’t spoil the twist at the end, and it’s a good one, but it does drag a bit. The final revelation is made, you get the “joke”… and then there’s more. That, to me, was the only major weak part of the movie. Other than that, it’s captivating and well-filmed. Visually, it’s excellent with a good use of real sets and what must be post-film effects. How else you’d get the Golden Gate Bridge in that state I don’t know.

If you’re only going to see one film set after a nuclear holocaust this month, make it The Book of Eli.

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