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 The collection of Wall Street-esque self-centred men in suits who care nothing for their cyborg creation has been replaced by one corporate head (Michael Keaton) and a few hangers-on who aren’t even annoying enough to be yes-men.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.

I Am… (for the second time)

OK, this was worth waiting the extra few days to catch…

Iron Man 2

“It’s good to be back!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell – bad men try to make new Iron Man outfits, real Iron Man has real-life crises and has to stop them. Come on, it’s a superhero film. You want a plot?!

It’s very, very rare for a sequel to outdo or even equal the original. Iron Man 2 has succeeded. Whether it’s better than the first is going to be a matter of opinion but it’s certainly every bit as good.

What I liked most about the first film was the wonderful banter, mainly in dialogue involving Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr). It’s fast, sharp and witty. I seriously wonder if they’ve hired a scriptwriter from The West Wing to add the extra zing. In all honesty, this dialogue gave me more laughs than I get from many so-called comedy films.

OK, let’s be honest. It’s not a complicated plot. A bad guy (Mickey Rourke) makes a cool exoskeleton with electric whips. Another nasty rich man wants to rip off Stark’s suits so he can make money in the weapons market. Things get out of hand, and a huge special-effects and explosion-laden fight ensues.

In with all of this, romance maybe seems to blossom between Stark and “Pepper” Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Samuel L Jackson reappears as Agent Nick Fury, and the Avengers project starts to gain some momentum. There is a very interesting post-credits sequence that’s apparently worth staying back for. I didn’t. So I read about it here.

This is a simple film with a good core set of actors. The effects are superb, the action sequences big and silly, the dialogue – as mentioned – witty. As far as it goes, and it doesn’t try to pretend it’s anything it’s not, this is a great piece of entertainment.

Which – after all – is what you’re after when you watch a film.

That and Scarlett Johansson in a sexy black outfit. Tick that box as well. Phwoar.

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Film Feast

"Invictus" sneak preview in Hsinchu,...
Invictus (honestly!)

Four Film Friday this time – Invictus, Youth in Revolt, Astro Boy and Edge of Darkness. I’ll try to get through them quickly…

Invictus

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) becomes President of South Africa and decides to use the upcoming Rugby World Cup as a means of unifying the country.

I don’t like rugby, on the whole. This worked in my favour going into this film as it’s based on real events and I didn’t know what the outcome would be as I had no idea who won the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Clint Eastwood directs, Freeman is – as ever – simply superb and Matt Damon captains the Springboks.

How close is it to what really happened? Who knows. I’m sure there are certain key scenes and events which mirror history but there’s always room for dramatisation (Wikipedia has a small list). Thankfully it’s not overly-sentimental or symbolic, though it does push this from time to time.

Both Freeman and Damon pull off decent accents although some of the other actors appear somewhat stilted, especially towards the beginning of the movie.

This is a good film. Not overstated, not grandstanding, and a very good story. The obvious link between a battered country finding its feet and being led by someone who’s overcoming the odds is very much mirrored by their rugby team’s efforts. If I have a complaint, it’s the huge over-use of slow-motion to enhance “dramatic effect” near the end.

Youth in Revolt

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Boy meets girl, boy has to become bad boy to get girl, boy goes a little too far…

Michael Cera plays two parts in this film – Nick and the alter-ego Francois that he creates to get the girl, Sheeni (Portia Doubleday). The only other film I’ve seen Cera in was Superbad and that lived up to its title. Youth in Revolt is marginally better but still lacks greatness.

If there’s one thing that stands out, it’s the amusing animated segments interspersed throughout the live action. They don’t really add to the story, but they’re amusing and the one at the start got one of the loudest laughs in the theatre. It’s worth watching the one over the end credits as well.

Amusing in places, messy in others. Next!

Astro Boy

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Scientist creates uber-bad killer robot, and also a robotic replica of his dead son. Cue obvious battle.

I’m not a Manga geek so I don’t know how this hold up to the original, however it’s kind of “OK” as a CGI Hollywood version. There’s no denying the quality of the voice cast: Nicolas Cage, Donald Sutherland, Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Nighy, Charlize Theron… However, the script needs more work. Or more jokes.

Visually it’s nice, but CGI films are all starting to look a little samey now. There’s no real imagination in Astro Boy. If you want a mechanical visual feast, check out Robots from a few years back.

The kids will like its simplicity, but adults will miss the added depths, double meanings and references present in films such as Toy Story or Planet 51.

Edge of Darkness

Plot-in-a-nutshell – a cop’s daughter is gunned down in front of him on his doorstep, so he sets out to find out who did it

This film is based on a BBC drama from some years ago which I vaguely recall watching. Obviously, it’s been shifted to the US but well re-written to make it fit both geographically and in a modern timeline.

However, while the drama had several hour-long episodes to fit everything in, the film version has only 117 minutes. As a result, Mel Gibson‘s efforts to locate his daughter’s killer and work his way through the conspiracy tree is often a little messy.

Ray Winstone’s role is rather hard to pin down. We know he’s there but who the hell actually is he? Other than an English guy who swears a lot (i.e. he’s playing himself again).

The film begins well enough, but the thrills and spills promised by the trailer really don’t occur. There’s a lot of soul-searching and threats by Gibson’s character mixed with very occasional bursts of fast driving. It is a drama, not an action thriller – but the trailer is misleading.

It’s a good story, too. But as I said it’s compressed into too short a time. Some questions are left unanswered while other bits of evidence are thrown in and the viewer is left wondering where they came from.

Well-acted, good story but just not suited for film form without better scripting.

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