Spider-Man: Homecoming

Release: Friday, July 7, 2017

[Theater]

Written by: Jon Watts; Jonathan Goldstein; John Francis Daley; Christopher Ford; Chris McKenna; Erik Sommers

Directed by: Jon Watts

The only thing that’s slightly unconvincing about the high school experience as depicted in Jon Watts’ re-re-freakin’-re-boot is the distinct lack of oily skin and pimples. Nobody ever looks as liberated from acne at this stage, not unless you have a parent working for a skin-cleansing company. Or maybe you were just more amazing than Spidey himself way back when.

Otherwise, holy crap. Spider-Man: Homecoming gets it. Tom Holland definitely gets it. The high school awkwardness. Being so young and impressionable. Being willing, perhaps overeager, to prove yourself. These clumsy first steps toward adulthood are so earnestly rendered this played out as a flashback of my drifting through Farragut High, a school originally designed for 1,800 but whose population was, at the time, swelling to over 2,100. I was reminded of the cliques and the cliches, of Toga Nights and canned food drives that epitomized our silly little rivalry with the Bearden Bulldogs. And, more generally, the undeveloped idealism that inspires 18-year-olds to “change the world.” And, of course, how few school dances I went to wasted time and money on.

Although Spider-Man: Homecoming almost made me nostalgic for those days, it’s not a film completely defined by its knack for triggering trips down memory lane. It’s a superhero origins film, through and through. It’s far less formulaic than many are inevitably going to give it credit for. While significant chunks of character development take place within the confines of the fictional Midtown School of Science and Technology, the story follows a proactive Peter Parker (Holland) as he attempts to stop a newly emerging threat and thus prove himself worthy of Avengerdom. He’s also taking part in academic decathlons and learning how to drive and talk to girls. Because of its placement within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Watt (along with half of Hollywood’s screenwriters, apparently) choose to keep the world of . . . World-Saving on the periphery, effectively ensuring the film has a personality and trajectory all its own.

This is undeniably one of the most assured installments in the MCU yet — some feat, considering we are nine years into this thing now. It’s thrilling because of what it suggests for the future of the MCU and future standalone films, yet the production remains fully connected to the present and focused, careful in the way it blends spectacle with human drama. In the process it leapfrogs past Andrew Garfield’s two outings and at least two of Tobey Maguire’s. Arguably all three, for as cuckoo as Doc Ock may have been, Michael Keaton’s villainy is far superior both in terms of impact on the story and the menace introduced. Spider-Man: Homecoming may be about teenagers, but it carries a surprising amount of gravitas. Driven by the exuberance of the youthful Londoner, the saga is bolstered further by the mentor dynamic established earlier between Tony and Peter in Captain America: Let’s All Hate Each Other Temporarily.

We’re first introduced to one Adrian Toomes (Keaton), who has been profiting from the salvage of scrap metal and precious recovered alien technology in the aftermath of the Battle of New York. Shut down by the intervening Department of Damage Control, jointly created by Tony Stark and the feds, the already desperate Adrian finds himself turning to more shady activity all in the name of providing for his family. Cut to eight years later, and to the unassuming residential sector of Forest Hills, Queens, New York. The architectural wonder that is Stark Tower looms large on the Manhattan skyline. Peter, in a makeshift outfit, sets about fighting pick-pocketers and other small-time crooks after school. To satisfy his ever-curious Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), he explains that he’s busy taking part in “the Stark internship.”

We know the drill by now. Secrets don’t stay secrets for long when you are living a double life. The tension’s familiar — Peter having to come up with ways of defending Spider-Man (“he seems like a good guy”) all while excusing himself from his normal activities with little to no warning. But the execution here is confident and creative, a consideration of what must be in place first before one goes from part-time to full-time superhero. Several recurring motifs are presented, but they’re buried convincingly within the drama more than they ever have been. Keaton redefines the role of the antagonistic father with a mysterious alter ego all his own. Best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) is the first Average Joe to become privy to Peter’s abilities. The girl is right there in front of Peter, yet she couldn’t be further from reach.

Mercifully, the film avoids a retread of the “great power” lecture. Tomei and Holland brilliantly internalize the pain created in the wake of the death of Uncle Ben. This frees up the quasi-origins story to explore the specific challenges of maturing into a bona fide superhero. Feeling suppressed under the supervision of Tony’s personal assistant, Happy (Jon Favreau), Peter is often left frustrated by the red tape he must deal with from his idol, a point of contention that frequently paints him, no matter how naturally aligned our perspective is with his, as a kid with a lot of learning ahead of him — an homage to the Tony Stark that was before he engineered his way out of a terrorist cell. One of the best scenes in the movie is when Tony chastises the 16-year-old for not fully understanding the consequences of his actions.

Question is, does director Jon Watts (Cop Car; Clown) realize the consequences of his? A bar has been raised. Will it remain out of reach? It’s no accident that Spider-Man: Homecoming is the most solid MCU offering since Iron Man (in effect, the inception of the MCU itself). It’s a fluidly paced, two-plus-hour movie that passes by in what feels like five minutes. It balances dramatic elements with high entertainment value, all while introducing highly advanced tech, with yet another new, sleek suit sporting over 500 different web combinations (thanks, Dad!). More compelling than the suit, though, is the way Holland acquits himself with regard to the burden of expectation placed upon him. Maybe that’s what reminds me most of Iron Man. That movie wasn’t supposed to be that good.

So, yeah. With great power comes . . . well, you know the rest.

What a fun movie.

Spidey chillin in HisTube

Recommendation: Buoyant, heartfelt, surprisingly moving. Spider-Man: Homecoming proves that not only was a new iteration possible, it was essential to our understanding of where the MCU goes from here. Speaking from the point of view of someone who never read the comics, I just fell in love with Spider-Man. I really did. I can’t wait to see more. With any luck, the more committed come out feeling the same way. It’s a testament to the quality of the film when it thrives even without J.K. Simmons. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 133 mins.

Quoted: “What the fu — ” 

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Founder

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Release: Friday, January 20, 2017

[Theater]

Written by: Robert Siegel 

Directed by: John Lee Hancock

Michael Keaton is such a good actor he will make you feel bad for McDonald’s. Not the McDonald’s of today, mind you, who never honors your request for no pickles, but the quaint San Bernardino burger stand run by the McDonalds brothers, the place that always got it right.

On a philosophical level the movie intrigues because it challenges today’s status quo, it makes us wonder if McDonald’s was always destined to be the soulless corporate machine it has ultimately become. Sure, it’s a little sentimental for the good old days and a twee sequence breaking down the logistics of the assembly line-style serving platform verges on romanticizing that which is decidedly not romantic, but The Founder also genuinely earns your attention and does well to entertain the notion of what could have been had Ray Kroc (Keaton) never happened.

For Maurice ‘Mac’ (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman), fate comes in the form of a 50-something-year-old milkshake machine salesman who sees their one-off restaurant as a potential gateway to the future. Having no luck selling his own product, Ray finds himself making the trip out to southern California when he receives an order for six of his machines, thinking there must be a mistake. In his experience no restaurant has been busy enough to justify more than a couple.

What he finds in San Bernardino is what Dick affectionately calls a “symphony of efficiency” — a system capable of delivering fresh, delicious beef patties and just-salted-enough potato cut fries to the masses in a way that conveniences both the customer and the business. After taking a quick tour of their facilities, Ray becomes convinced the brothers have the potential to revolutionize the way friends, families, even entire communities eat. Humbled by their ability to merely run an operation after having survived The Great Depression, the brothers are very wary of change.

Nevertheless, the very next day Ray is back with new gusto. He’s done with milkshake machines, now imploring his new friends to expand their operations nationwide. What he sees now are dollar signs, not Golden Arches. Profit, not product. A cultural revolution as opposed to a social gathering. In an impassioned speech, Ray encourages the brothers to see what he sees, a restaurant as a symbol of national pride: “Courthouses. Churches. Arches . . .”

Plot mechanics notwithstanding, The Founder plays out in often surprising and dramatic fashion. We have a trio of stellar performances to thank, as Lynch and Offerman lend a naivety to the McDonalds that makes them easy to like even if such qualities ultimately must be faulted on some level. The true star, naturally, is Keaton, who seems to be channeling a little Daniel Plainview into his mightily unflattering portrayal of an entrepreneur. Keaton makes it easy to believe this is a man who would sooner kick a kid’s lemonade stand down and tell them it was poorly constructed than pay the 50 cents for a cup and walk away all smiles.

The Founder is so fascinating to watch because Ray Kroc is fascinating. He is both an angel and the Grim Reaper and whether you root for him or want him to fall flat on his face is immaterial. His transformation from a nobody into an industry icon is as insidious as it is compelling. This is a man who made things happen, an immovable object moved only by his own dogged determination. There’s an objective reality to what he accomplished and impressively that is not lost even as we endure scene after scene of him gutting the already gutless, those who lack both the emotional and financial wherewithal to save themselves from ruination.

It’s a testament to the power of good storytelling that of all the things that make you sick at the end of The Founder, greasy food isn’t one of them.

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4-0Recommendation: A movie about how far McDonald’s has come in 50+ years, now that sounds like a recipe for cheesy product placement and insanely fattening sentimentality. But John Lee Hancock’s film is actually, legitimately entertaining and surprisingly revelatory and far from the commercial advertisement it could have become. You should go see it to have a better understanding of where we are today and to see an absolute stunner of a performance from Michael “I’m having a nice little career resurgence of my own” Keaton. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 115 mins.

Quoted: “I want a divorce.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Spotlight

Spotlight movie poster

Release: Friday, November 6, 2015 (limited) 

[Theater]

Written by: Thomas McCarthy; Josh Singer

Directed by: Thomas McCarthy

Every so often a film drops with little or no warning and leaves a lasting impression. 12 Years a Slave did it three years ago via punishing violence and bravura performances; a year later Gravity achieved unparalleled visual grandeur films two years on are still trying to match. Spotlight almost undisputedly fits the bill as this year’s crowning cinematic jewel, though its impact is far less visceral.

Thomas McCarthy has chosen to revisit The Boston Globe’s 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into the systemic and enduring sexual abuse of children at the hands of Boston-area Catholic priests and the subsequent cover-up by the Archdiocese under Cardinal Bernard Francis Law. What began as an inquisition into the number of isolated incidents quickly evolved into a more encompassing exposé in which it was discovered priests, rather than being dismissed from the church outright, were simply reassigned elsewhere in the country and were being protected by Cardinal Law. The publishing of the first article led to his resignation as Archbishop of Boston in 2002.

‘Spotlight’ refers to The Globe’s investigative journalism team, presently the oldest such unit still in operation in the nation. McCarthy’s methodically-paced and consistently compelling approach brilliantly and subtly pays homage to the work of Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) while exposing the underbelly of an institution that traditionally (or ideally) exercises superlative judgment of character and protection of cultural, spiritual and societal values.

Spotlight is information-rich and faced with the prospect of weaving together multiple, fairly complex relationships. McCarthy spares precious little time in getting to work. At the request of editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) the foursome are encouraged to suspend their current assignment in light of Baron’s concern over The Globe’s failure to dig deeper into a past case involving child molestation that was put on the back burner as far back as the 1980s. In the wake of the 2002 revelation over 600 follow-up articles would be published by the same paper, though the film elects to depict the researching and ultimate crafting of the very first story, one that, as Schreiber’s pragmatic Baron predicted, would have “an immediate and significant impact upon [the paper’s] readers.”

Drama presents investigative journalism as one of the last bastions of truth-seeking, as well as social and cultural enriching, and its vitality seems particularly quaint set against this day and age in which increasing numbers turn to social media for their ‘news’ — a concept that, in and of itself, could do with some spotlighting as it’s becoming harder and harder to separate the wheat from the chaff. A cherry-picked cast of certifiable A-listers, one that includes John Slattery as projects editor Ben Bradlee Jr. and Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup as Boston lawyers who specialize in sexual abuse cases, collaborate on an inevitably award-winning screenplay, penned by McCarthy along with Josh Singer.

There’s a collective energy amongst the group that affords Spotlight much of its profundity and their natural portrayals effortlessly absorb, a notable lack of melodramatic tension between key players resulting in a kind of harmonious interaction between spectator and creator that’s rarely been seen this or any other year. It’s impossible to single out a role without mentioning another; though if I were compelled to nitpick I’d nominate Keaton and Ruffalo as the performers with ever-so-slightly more screen time. Still though, Spotlight is an example of a true team effort and if the film finds itself in the running for Best Actor in a Leading Role the sextet of performers, in an ideal world, should find themselves on stage accepting the golden statuette.

What nudges McCarthy’s undertaking into the realm of bonafide classic is the delicacy with which he approaches the grim subject matter. We’re talking about — and periodically confronted with the survivors of — child molestation. I doubt I need to repeat the term to send chills down your spine. Yet, if you fear for the worst: depictions of the acts themselves, graphic or otherwise, or even a considerable amount of time dedicated to traipsing through the vileness of the Catholic Church’s most shameful hour, fear not. Spotlight isn’t interested in dwelling on the past. It is interested in and, more importantly, reliant upon history however, and getting hands dirty is a requisite if we are to get to the bottom of an issue that has consequently spread like a cancer across the globe. One that, sickeningly enough, has just as much relevance more than a decade on.

Indeed, what’s most crucial in recreating this wholly unsettling discovery, in acknowledging the effects it had on not only the Catholic faithful but on those asking the tough questions, is the mirroring of several pillars of fundamentally sound journalism. The film, though it may not be quite as timely as it could have been, is as concise as is feasible for a story with this many implications; accurate (despite a few outcries over the depiction of a select few characters) and brutally honest. Dialogue-driven narrative plays out with the tenacity of an Aaron Sorkin screenplay, though it’s far less poetic and lends itself more to conversation. Never mind the fact it continues to build in intensity as the statistics and evidence continue piling up to a level few, if any, seasoned reporters at The Globe could have been prepared to embrace.

Rare are the films that understand the importance of shaping events and characters in such a way that they appear the genuine article. Rarer still are those that transcend the form so as to actually become reality. Spotlight qualifies as one such film, blurring the line between dramatic feature and documentary presentation if only in how it confirms that the best films truly manifest as art imitating life. If McCarthy’s restrained focus on the life and times of these writers and this paper and the relationship between the church and the people of Boston has any one, significant impact it’s that reality can be (and indeed is) uglier than anything movies fabricate, convincingly or otherwise, in an effort to entertain or disturb.

decisions, decisions, decisions

Recommendation: Spotlight is a remarkable production. It manifests as a powerful advocate of journalism as a mechanism for change (an admittedly ever-weakening one at that in today’s gossip-geared papers and online posts) and a noble profession. It simultaneously unearths a disgusting, alarming reality that continues to trouble the Church to this day and it provides audiences spanning multiple age brackets some sense of what it was like to become involved in this story. Mind you, this isn’t a film that means to entertain. It’s 100% informative and revelatory. In my mind, it’s one of the most impressive works I have ever seen for these reasons and more.

Rated: R

Running Time: 128 mins.

Quoted: “It’s time, Robby! It’s time. They knew and they let it happen to kids, okay? It could have been you, it could have been me, it could have been any of us. We gotta nail these scumbags, we gotta show people that nobody can get away with this, not a priest or a cardinal or a freaking pope.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

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Release: Friday, October 17, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu; Nicolás Giacobone; Alexander Dinelaris Jr.; Armando Bo

Directed by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu 

Michael Keaton as Birdman as Batman, is awesome.

Behind him, a coterie of memorable characters, some fictitious and others parodies of the performers playing them. There’s Ed Norton in his underwear, Emma Stone in a drug rehab phase (if you thought she was good before, Birdman demonstrates that there is another level of impressive that she’s capable of reaching), and Zach Galifianakis, subdued to the point of being unrecognizable. There are so many elements to carry with you out of the theater, but it is these individuals who will preoccupy your thoughts more often than anything else.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is the fifth film from Mexico City-born Alejandro González Iñárritu and my first experience with his work. It tells the tale of a desperate and washed-up actor, Riggan Thomson, trying to salvage his career by mounting his first Broadway play, one based upon American writer Raymond Carver’s short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. When one of the play’s star performers is ‘accidentally’ injured on set, Riggan stumbles upon what first appears to be his ideal candidate, a well-established actor by the name of Mike Shiner (Ed Norton) for the part. But in the days leading up to opening night, a string of on and off-set snafu’s threatens to shut down the play before it has even debuted.

Two decades after Riggan decided to step away from the role of the popular (and fictional) superhero Birdman he is found succumbing to hair loss and possible mental instability while scrambling for a way to revitalize himself. The film unequivocally runs parallel to Keaton’s own Hollywood experience, particularly the years after he exited Tim Burton’s take on Batman. Now, Birdman doesn’t require an intimate knowledge of the actor’s history but every little bit of familiarity is likely to enhance the experience. For those who know, the struggle is indeed very real.

Birdman is a film student’s guide to establishing creative shots. Cameras spend much of the time following Riggan around the cramped interior of the famed St. James Theater in New York City, occasionally ducking out of the building to deal with side stories involving his troubled daughter Sam (Stone) and to put into perspective Riggan’s dual identities — as an aging actor and a former superhero. He’ll have you know that there are distinct differences, unique burdens and even particular liberating powers. And what better way to try and visualize the concept of a man struggling to accept who is than by hiring the incredibly talented cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (don’t take it from me, check out his work in Gravity). Once again, his cameras find some of the most beautiful imagery in difficult and unusual places.

There’s one technical aspect that really separates the film from other tales of ill-conceived attempts at career resuscitation, and that’s Iñárritu’s wanting to give the impression the movie is cut as one long, continuous take. Thanks to Douglas Crise’s crucial editing, it’s much easier to feel a part of the process because we never feel as if we’re watching a series of scenes strung together. There’s a flow to the proceedings that could very easily be overlooked in favor of the impossible dynamic between its cast and setting.

If the unexpected virtue of ignorance does have fault, it’s just that: too many things to ogle over and become infatuated with. It might be too dynamic a picture, but that’s more a passive-aggressive compliment than a sleight against a director who simply has a wealth of strong ideas surfacing at once. In some ways Iñárritu’s imagination is like that of a child’s: exploding with ideas and bright color, an obsession with the fundamentals of existence, things like popularity. Self-identity. Awareness of the place that has you contained. In Riggan’s case, it’s more a fear and confusion over these things from his past than apprehension and curiosity about what the future holds.

Riggan is a complex and massively entertaining character. But he is merely one piece of a fascinating jigsaw puzzle that crams stellar performances — Galifianakis, as Riggan’s best friend, lawyer and producer Jake, deserves a second mention perhaps more than Stone — as well as a passion for theater, and positively thrilling and adventurous storytelling into a relatively taut two hours. Is this the part where I am supposed to mention something about the score as well? Surely the jazz-drum score laid down by Antonio Sanchez will linger in the mind well after the end credits have rolled.

Here’s a production that is as uniquely bizarre as it is efficient and deceptively straightforward. Actors are, more often than not, some pretty insecure people. Actors want to be liked. They ideally would like to be adored by all. While that’s never going to be true, one is still allowed to dream. Here are those dreams visualized, distorted and shaped as if made of something tangible. As far as Iñárritu and Birdman are concerned, anything is possible through the magic of performance art. I absolutely loved this movie.

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5-0Recommendation: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is one whacky ride. Its outward appearance is likely to scare away a few who aren’t too impressed with kinky stories. For god’s sakes we have Ed Norton fighting Keaton in his undergarments, actresses making out with each other for the hell of it, and a man seemingly possessing an ability to control things with his mind. (If that wasn’t telekinesis, whatever the director’s doing with that little extra bit certainly propels the film further into the weird.) But it’s such weird, good fun and if you are game for a movie that is a little different from the rest, I can’t recommend a better one right now than this.

Rated: R

Running Time: 119 mins.

Quoted: “Sixty is the new thirty, motherf**ker.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Need for Speed

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Release: Friday, March 14, 2014

[Theater]

At the very least, Need for Speed has a need for tighter editing. One lap around this fast track will take you a little over two hours, a gratuitous length of time for a movie that centers around a videogame about street racing. The other obvious question is what, if any, need is there for this film to exist?

Many of us have played the game(s) over the years and hopefully those who spent time with it/them enjoyed doing so. The playing experience, though hardly revolutionary, was unique enough to be remembered fondly. While it did share traits with the superior (and more challenging) ‘Gran Turismo,’ ‘Need for Speed’ identified itself by offering up more cars as eye candy than any other game. Visual effects were pretty impressive (at the time) and the combination of dream cars with glistening sunset-dappled race courses while being pursued by the police was a pure delight.

Then in 2013 it was announced that a full-length feature film adaptation of this E.A. Sports creation was going to hit theaters in the spring of 2014. Reaction to this news came in the form of simple, one-word responses: “What?” “Huh?” “How?” “Why?”. . . .among other, more choice words. It was a move not designed to increase the game’s popularity. This was a complete gimmick designed to destroy what little was left of Hollywood’s credibility when it comes to talking about what they choose to adapt and not adapt.

Besides driving multi-million-dollar vehicles in the tropics, the greatest appeal of the gaming atmosphere was having this anonymity about you when driving. Your car was the main character; you as the driver remained unseen, unnamed and unexplained. You could have been a convict, you could have been Mother Teresa. It didn’t matter, and that was what made the generic feel of the game effective. Anyone could feel empowered.

By slapping a face on the franchise in the form of the quite likable Aaron Paul from a T.V. show you’d have to be crawling out from under a rock in order to be unaware of, its clear the studio and director Scott Waugh didn’t want to go the Mother Teresa route. Instead, it was decided that Need for Speed should be a sleek and shiny, adrenaline-fueled adventure that capitalizes on including as many top-tier automakers as possible while also providing the thrill of the chase element that was established by its source material. Thankfully, these are things that the film does not lack. However, what is lacking is a good reason why this wasn’t made to be a direct-to-DVD release.

At its heart is a story of vengeance. When a New York street racer, Tobey Marshall (Paul) loses one of his friends in a terrible accident during a romp through the streets he is framed for murder by his rival, the perfidious Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), and sentenced to a two-year stretch in prison. Upon his release Tobey is not only a little ticked off that his friend is dead (and that he was set-up), he has also painted a target on the back of Dino’s head because he knows the truth about the way things went down that fateful day. He’ll settle his anxieties by way of an extremely unlikely road trip across the country in a vehicle he was requested to build by none other than the snake himself, Mr. Brewster.

A silver-and-blue striped custom Shelby Mustang puts in the film’s best performance as Tobey and his roadtrip buddy, a British car enthusiast by the name of Julia (Imogen Poots), hurtle through changing scenery in Hollywood’s awful attempt to capture the experience of driving in the videogame. Wandering direction, along with problematic (possibly nonexistent) editing stages, create one long, loud, and laborious experience that could stand to be at least forty-five minutes shorter. Or upgrade the rating so at least the conversations might be more realistic.

In defense of the cast, they shouldn’t bear the brunt of the criticisms. Characters that inhabit this world aren’t well-defined — at all — but by the same token they are neither unlikable nor played with indifference by actors who seem committed to such a generic affair. In fact, Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi as Benny serves as welcomed comic relief when the script stalls. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine him improvising most of his lines. He’s easily the most watchable. . . . .apart from this film’s token girl. And despite Paul’s character being the Chevy Impala of this adventure, Tobey is worth rooting for. Sort of.

Where fingers should be pointed to the most is none other than Hollywood’s (probably) least-hired screenwriter, George Gatins. His involvement with a short film titled My Wife is Retarded and what sounds like a reliable full-length feature, You Stupid Man, is how I’d like to bow out of this review. I’ll leave you with that tidbit of information as you make up your mind over whether or not to see an unnecessary film.

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1-5Recommendation: Need for Speed misfires on virtually all cylinders. Despite me refusing to believe it would be anything more than crappy, I still came away disappointed. And irritated. The product has several other problems I didn’t even touch on, but in the spirit of not completely overstuffing one review, I called out only the major ones. If you were ever a fan of the game may I suggest you leave your memories of those years in tact by avoiding seeing this at almost all costs. (However, if you have a projector malfunction like the one I experienced before this one got underway, and you find yourself with a free ticket, this movie might be a good way to use that guy.)

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 130 mins.

Quoted: “They took everything from me. I do not fear, for you are with me. All those who defied me shall be ashamed and disgraced. Those who wage war against me shall perish. I will find strength, find guidance, and I will triumph!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

RoboCop

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Release: Wednesday, February 12, 2014

[Theater]

It takes guts to be RoboCop. Almost quite literally, nothing more and nothing less.

Swedish hunk Joel Kinnaman assumes the iconic role of Detroit police officer Alex Murphy in José Padilha’s controversial decision to ignore the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, as it were. Kinnaman (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Easy Money) trusted in the material enough to provide his signature on this modern reboot — a film that features impressive visual flare but perhaps not quite enough intelligence to fully justify its existence for the legions of fans of the original.

Given the overwhelming disappointment associated with the 2012 repackaging of Total Recall, the cause for concern over revisiting another of Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi classics is more than understandable. Fortunately, it was mostly overblown. Padilha doesn’t do anything with the material that’s revolutionary, but, like the predicament facing the half-machine, half-human protagonist, there are just enough parts laying about to construct something out of what appears to be nothing.

Alex Murphy is one of many of Detroit’s finest, seen at the beginning of the film tracking down a local crime boss named Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow). He’s patrolling dangerous streets in the year 2028, in an era where great controversy has been stirred over the concept of replacing entire (human) police forces with robots and machines. Fueling the debate is the immense tech conglomeration OmniCorp whose CEO, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), is particularly interested in adopting a new method for keeping the domestic peace. The United States has already been implementing robots-as-soldiers over seas, where they have proved to be effective at eliminating threats, while preserving the lives of soldiers who would ordinarily be in their place. But it goes a little beyond that for Sellars. He’s looking for not just another blunt instrument, he’s searching for the right gimmick that he can sell to the public in an effort to increase his company’s (ergo his personal) stock.

As luck would have it, it would be an early Christmas for Sellars. When a bomb that Vallon’s men plant underneath Detective Murphy’s car detonates upon his opening of the driver’s side door, the officer is left with fourth degree burns over 80% of his body and a slim chance of survival. OmniCorp’s brilliant medical staff, spearheaded by Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), pounces on the opportunity to put a man inside a machine. It is hoped that the marriage of a human conscience to the calculating perfection of advanced robot technology would create the ideal law enforcer. And so begins the film’s ethical tug-of-war: at what point does man stop and machine begin? Does it make sense to strip away some of Murphy’s stronger emotions so as to ensure the organic part of the robot complies with “company policy?” Is ‘ideal’ really the right word to describe Murphy’s unique situation?

The moral dilemma at hand, which is emphasized by the performance of the reliable-as-ever Gary Oldman, is this contemporary crime satire’s real strengths. (Well, that and the suit — it is entirely badass.) Joshua Zetumer’s screenplay strikes an uncomfortable balance (in a good way) between medical, social and political ethics. All three converge at a point, through Kinnaman’s portrayal of Murphy’s struggle. He turns out to be an incredibly effective weapon that quickly cleans up Detroit’s streets, but he lacks virtually everything else that once made him a father, a husband, and a good partner in the police force.

To a lesser effect, the cold and heartless way in which OmniCorp operates seems to echo society’s demands for keeping crime at zero percent. Those who portray the company’s head honchos aren’t exactly inspired. Keaton is bad at playing the human with a metaphorical robotic heart and without a conscience; ditto that to anyone else in that building not named Dennett Norton and Tom Pope (played by a surprisingly charismatic Jay Baruchel). Supporting actors are minimally used and unconvincing as well, including Murphy’s wife Clara (Abbie Cornish). Jackie Earle Haley has a little bit of fun with his role as the inexplicably hostile Rick Mattox, though his demise is supremely underwhelming.

Samuel L. Jackson plays the humorous pundit, Pat Novak, whose presence bookends the film. Though he does offer the film its few bits of comedy, he’s too distracting and ultimately plays a more trumped-up version of his real-life persona. He is an odd selection for the tone of this film.

The RoboCop of the new age is actually pretty ironic. Like it’s 27-year-old predecessor, it attempts to satirize the ineffectiveness of real-world crime-solving. Whereas Verhoeven’s much bloodier film used excessive gore to make a point, this version tones down the violence significantly to make room for a more general audience, but in so doing it loses heart. It comes across far more mechanical and seems to go through the motions in far too many scenes to generate much of a sense of identity.

That said, there are numerous action sequences throughout that provide heightened tension and cause heart rates to rise rapidly; a battle sequence in a darkened warehouse sits atop the pile of memorable scenes. Moments like this and the revelation of what Officer Murphy’s guts look like without his high-tech gadgetry protecting them allow RoboCop to squeak by and into acceptable territory, even if a great deal of the material remains as emotionally distant junk metal.

robofucked

3-0Recommendation: For anyone who hasn’t seen the 1987 version, going into the 2014 edition would prove to be a great advantage. On its own, Padilha’s vision is somewhat exciting but it’s not outstanding. As an action film, it suits just fine, especially on a day like Valentine’s Day if you’re sitting by yourself getting irritated by seeing a bunch of pink stuff all over the place. RoboCop offers a great alternative on this day in particular, but if you want a truly imaginative satirization of crime, best stick with the original on any other day.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 108 mins.

Quoted: “Why is America so robo-phobic?”

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