Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

Release: Wednesday, June 16, 2021

👀 Theater

Written by: Tom O’Connor; Brandon Murphy; Phillip Murphy

Directed by: Patrick Hughes

Starring: Ryan Reynolds; Samuel L. Jackson; Salma Hayek; Antonio Banderas; Morgan Freeman

 

 

**/*****

Short review: Well, I’ve seen worse. But that’s not exactly the endorsement I was wanting to write. Not that I was necessarily expecting to come out of this thing with effusive praise, but I was also hoping it would be a lot of fun. Alas, those expectations were too high.

Misfiring like an over-adrenalized rookie, Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, the sequel to 2017’s quickly forgotten (but in the moment, reasonably diverting) action-comedy adventure The Hitman’s Bodyguard, is an attempt to build a family out of the odd-couple dynamic that made the first film enjoyable. Unfortunately this more inclusive adventure amounts to little more than an excuse to get Salma Hayek to scream as many swear words and to get kissy-kissy with on-screen partner Samuel L. Jackson as often as possible in 100 pretty cringe-inducing minutes.

I’m going to skip over the fact that Wife’s Bodyguard is a cliched sequel (the original was not exactly an original either) and move directly to the more glaring issue. Hopped up like a virgin on prom night, this movie has a problem of energy. For the first time, maybe ever, I’m going to complain about an action-comedy having too much of it. Hayek’s painfully OTT performance makes her an easy target, but she’s not the only one to bear blame. Returning as director, Patrick Hughes believes that in cranking up the crazy dial past 10 we’ll be able to more easily look past the uninspired and highly contrived machinations that once again pull hitman Darius Kincaid (Jackson) into erstwhile retired bodyguard Michael Bryce’s (Reynolds) life.

Following the events of the first film, Michael is being forced to reevaluate his life having lost his license to protect and now under orders by his amusingly unsympathetic therapist (Rebecca Front — The Aeronauts; Transformers: The Last Knight) to take a much-needed sabbatical. Travel the world, maybe. One of the better gags in the entire picture revolves around the rather inconvenient fact a normal person’s vacay destination could be a well-traveled bodyguard’s potential trigger. This turns out to be close to the height of intelligent joke delivery in the sequel, for much of what happens after Bryce invariably gets roped back in to the bloody game becomes increasingly farcical and reliant on tired jokes.

The pacing is frenetic and the direction clumsy, making the progression of the central threat from a minor inconvenience into a continent-spanning catastrophe harder to buy than it ought to be. Off seeing the world in the luscious Capri, Italy a hapless Michael Bryce runs smack into Sonia Kincaid (Hayek); or, rather, a part of her body that the movie is keen on you noticing constantly smacks into him amidst a bullet-storm. Before long we’re linking up with Interpol, represented by an over-acting Frank Grillo (Point Blank; Captain America: The Winter Soldier) who coerces Michael and the violence-prone love-birds to work together to bring down a Greek terrorist hell-bent on sending Europe back to the Stone Age through some dark magic/tech wizardry stuff.

I will eventually get around to saying something positive for this is not a total wash, but Wife’s Bodyguard also suffers for its villain — this time, the confused nationality bordering on cartoonish. Gary Oldman is a Londoner but can sell you on a brutish Belarusian dictator. I don’t know in what universe a Spanish accent passes for a Greek accent, but here’s Antonio Banderas playing a terrorist named Aristotle Papadopoulos, anyway. As it turns out, Mr. Papadopoulos and Sonia have some history, which of course presents a roadblock for our heroes. And while we’re on backstory stuff, Morgan Freeman reminds us of his ability to play on either side of morality, and is capable of being more than just a lovable, 100% trustworthy, esteemed expert of some kind or loving family member. He’s quite good here playing father (of a sort) to Ryan Reynolds — his intro another you can file under the column of memorable moments.

While pretty much everything about this follow-up is forceful, what remains natural and enjoyable is the love-hate relationship between Reynolds and Jackson. Third-wheeling alongside them is Hayek, whose characterization is both overly sexualized and overcompensatory in its crudeness. Beneath this unfortunate layer though lies a woman terrified of not living the life she wants. There’s poignance — and sweetness — in her desire to have a baby with her murderous sugardaddy and in Darius’ explanation as to what’s really going on in that department. Wife’s Bodyguard so often lacks for these quieter, more relatable moments that you end up holding on to them for all they’re worth when they do happen.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard wasn’t the caliber movie one expects to get sequelized but when you have bankable stars like Reynolds and Jackson all bets are off. It could have used one, sure, but it really needed to be better than this.

“This one time, at bodyguard camp . . .”

Moral of the Story: Man, if they just dialed down the slapstick-level comedy here Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard would be a movie I could more easily get along with. It is unfortunate that in this case a sequel just means “go bigger and crazier than last time,” and not in a Fast and the Furious kind of way, but rather in the performances — a decision that effectively turns already heightened characters into straight caricatures. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “Now, get off my trash. You’re a stain on my legacy.”

Here’s the Official Trailer from IGN. All squeaky clean and green-band and everything! 

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.movieinsider.com

Unicorn Store

Release: Friday, April 5, 2019 (Netflix)

→Netflix

Written by: Samantha MacIntyre

Directed by: Brie Larson

Very much like a unicorn the directorial début of Brie Larson is a colorful curiosity. Unicorn Store reunites her with her Captain Marvel co-star, Samuel L. Jackson, albeit under entirely different circumstances. Instead of trying to prevent intergalactic war here we’re dealing with a millennial figuring out how she’s going to get out of her parents’ house and support herself. And, you know, support the unicorn that she’s about to get — the one she’s dreamed about owning since she was a kid.

Something you need to know about me before we move forward: I may not believe in unicorns but I’m a big believer in Brie Larson. I’ve loved her in most things I’ve seen her in. I also like to think I have a fairly high tolerance for quirky, “precious” indie movies. In 2015 Swiss Army Man rocketed to the top of my favorite movies, while Wes Anderson’s remained among my favorite filmmakers for some time. I’ve stuck by the Duplass brothers at their mumbliest and apparently on a good day I’ll even tolerate a Hipster Baumbach movie.

With all that said, I couldn’t really buy into the intentional absurdity of Unicorn Store. I lay most of the blame at the foot of Samantha MacIntyre, whose words have a touch as soft as a sledgehammer through glass. Hers is one of those overly affected screenplays that tries too hard to convince you it’s as quirky as its competitors (Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus is another film that springs to mind, though granted the characters in Unicorn Store are far less obnoxious). Here, just as in Magical Cactus, overt attempts to be different result in performances that feel something less than natural and a viewing experience that’s more grating than is necessary.

Larson pulls double duty as she not only directs but stars as Kit, the emotionally immature protagonist who starts the film failing/dropping out of art school and who for the longest time is convinced the only thing she’s succeeded at in life is disappointing her parents (an okay Bradley Whitford and an (intentionally?) annoying Joan Cusack). They work as camp counselors for troubled youth. Their eternal optimism is constantly offensive to Kit’s sensibilities. After a few nights of being back under her parents’ roof, mixing glasses of Cabernet with several shots of self-loathing, she stumbles into a boring routine at a soul-crushing(ly colorless) temp agency, a 9-5 which revolves around pushing buttons on a copier and having her own pushed by a creepy VP named Gary (Hamish Linklater — no relation to Richard).

While working on a marketing pitch for a vacuum cleaner for her Real World, real priggish bosses, Kit starts receiving mysterious invitations from an equally mysterious Store. Specifically, from a Salesman (Jackson) adamant he can provide Kit what she’s always dreamed of having. It’s in this weird, brightly decorated, strangely tailor-made space — it even has its own ice cream bar! — she learns that unicorns are not only real, they come with owner’s manuals. The presentation’s flamboyant but the details enclosed are written plainly in black and white.

They describe a binding contract that considers everything from the quality of the proposed living quarters, feeding and dietary habits, even the prospective owner’s financial and emotional stability. It’s all very complicated and considered. It’s apparently a responsibility, one that Kit must prove to the eccentric Salesman — and to herself — she’s capable of handling. As she commits gung-ho to her goal, she discovers she’ll need some help in completing one of the first basic requirements: providing adequate living conditions. That’s where hardware store hunk Virgil (Mamoudou Athie) comes in. Although Athie and Larson share a nice chemistry it’s hard not to question the logic behind this “relationship.”

Depending on your penchant for reading deep into things Unicorn Store is likely to leave you either underwhelmed or confused by its less-than-metaphorical denouement. You might just be indifferent to how literally it all plays out. It’s a movie perched on the edge of reality and fantasy, and it definitely has interesting ideas going on. Credit Larson’s reliable acting for the film’s few moments of poignancy. Yet as director, much like she’s written as the lead, she is often too forceful with her hand, too eager to rush seemingly important developments to nab the ending she thinks she’s due.

I shall call you ‘Thanos.’

Recommendation: Unicorn Store‘s an easier one to access if you’re a Brie Larson fan and you have a lot of patience for awkward, relentlessly self-deprecating millennials. If the word ‘Adulting’ doesn’t make you want to throw chairs. Believing in unicorns would be a plus, too. Of course the subject matter isn’t what’s off-putting. The narrative execution makes it hard to invest in the fantastical off-shoots of the real-world, and in this modern Peter Pan fairytale, not being able to believe is kind of a big problem. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “The most adult thing you can do is failing in what you really care about.”

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

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

Captain Marvel

Release: Friday, March 8, 2019

→Theater

Written by: Anna Boden; Ryan Fleck; Geneva Robertson-Dworet

Directed by: Anna Boden; Ryan Fleck

Captain Marvel figures to be a significant piece in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, acting as both a standalone origins story and a precursor to Jon Favreau’s standard-setting Iron Man; ipso facto it predates the entire MCU. That’s a pretty bold decision considering how much we are preoccupied with the present and the future of our favorite characters. Unfortunately the story this film tells isn’t quite so bold, the awkward way it ties into the overarching saga arguably a distraction more than it is an exciting talking point. Yet by force of personality Captain Marvel overcomes its weaknesses, and there is no denying the Avengers will be adding another nuke to their already impressive arsenal.

Unbeknownst to me, Captain Marvel is a generic name that actually refers to several characters, the very first appearing in 1967 as Captain Mar-Vell, a male (albeit an alien) military officer sent to our humble corner of the universe to spy on us and who, having grown sympathetic to the plight of mankind, ultimately switched allegiances, becoming a protector of Earth and a traitor to his own race. Multiple incarnations followed, with the character’s gender constantly changing (e.g. Phyla-Vell was female while Khn’nr and others were male) — justified by the episodic nature of comics and their need and ability to adapt.

That brings us to Carol Danvers, a half-human, half-alien super-being whose specific powers — supersonic flight, incredible strength, an ability to control and manipulate energy forms — identify her as one of the most powerful figures in the Marvel realm. As such, she wins the lottery to become the first female subject of a Marvel movie, its 21st overall. Captain Marvel is a reliably entertaining chapter that balances humor with heartache, becoming just as much about the struggle to find her real identity as it is about her discovering her powers and how she decides to wield them. It may not be winning many points in the original storytelling department, but it does have a winning cast of characters, fronted by Brie Larson and a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg and provided depth by the likes of Ben Mendelsohn, British actress Lashana Lynch . . . and one Hala of a cat.

Directing duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, known heretofore for indie fare like It’s Kind of a Funny Story and Sugar, keep their story pretty earthbound with only a few signature scenes sending us beyond our atmosphere. In terms of scale, it’s surely a bigger deal than Ant-Man, but if Guardians of the Galaxy gave us a tour of the cosmic town, Captain Marvel barely introduces us to our next-door neighbors. The relative intimacy certainly feels appropriate since the human side of the story manifests as a journey inward, into the heart and mind of a character unsure of herself. The superhero plot meanwhile draws elements from the Kree-Skrull War comic book storyline, setting up an intergalactic war between two alien races wherein we innocent earthlings get caught in the middle and need Captain Marvel to come to our defense.

Captain Marvel opens on an alien world known as Hala, the galactic capital of the Kree Empire. A young woman named Vers is awakening from a nightmare involving some older woman who looks a lot like Annette Bening, but that’s impossible since this kind of material is several fathoms beneath an actress of her caliber. But upon closer inspection I confirmed it is indeed Bening, playing a mystical figure referred to as the Supreme Intelligence, to whom Vers is sent at the behest of her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), who is concerned about Vers’ inability to control her emotions. The Supreme Intelligence doubles down on that cautionary advice before sending the pair on a dangerous mission to rescue an undercover operative on a distant planet overrun by the enemy Skrulls. Naturally the mission goes awry when the team gets ambushed and Vers becomes separated from Yon-Rogg and her other Starforce colleagues, the former crash-landing on some scrap pile known as C-53 (a.k.a. Earth). Even worse, she’s a fish out of water in mid-90s L.A. and if fashion is anything to go by, it isn’t exactly our species’ finest hour (luckily she didn’t crash land a decade earlier).

Vers is soon intercepted by a couple of serious-looking, suit-wearing gentlemen who work for an agency whose name should never have been provided in this film for continuity’s sake. A two-eyed Nick Fury and a Just For Men advocate in young Phil Coulson witness something extraordinary when a Skrull invader crashes the scene. Because the Skrulls have this ability to change their appearance, identifying friend from foe becomes problematic, with a notable alien named Talos taking the form of Fury’s higher-up and S.H.I.E.L.D. director Keller (Mendelsohn) and another impersonating Agent Coulson. After shaking this shape-shifting shit off Fury, at the direction of Talos the predictable script, leads Vers to a U.S. Air Force Base place of thematic relevance where she finds clues to her past life — photographic evidence of her as a pilot and news clippings presuming her dead after a disastrous testing of an experimental new engine designed by a Dr. Wendy Lawson (played by Spoiler Spoilerson).

She also learns she had a close friend in Maria Rambeau (Lynch), an important link in the ole’ jogging-the-memory chain (not to mention in the realm of the MCU at large — her daughter Monica, played by an instantly lovable Akira Akbar, ostensibly set to play yet another version of Captain Marvel in the sequel — Ms. Marvel, perhaps?). The scene at the house in Louisiana is among the film’s best, the emotion that comes pouring out here no doubt a result of the indie flavor the directing tandem have brought to this much bigger project. Whether it is Lynch describing what it feels like to see her bestie return from the dead — hence the longevity of the MCU,  the human cost of being in the superhero biz has always been handled in an interesting way — or Mendelsohn getting a really juicy character whose intentions are not what they first seem, Captain Marvel soars in these more grounded moments.

Even as the action takes a turn for the surprisingly cooperative, the character work is ultimately what saves Captain Marvel from its own Negative Zone of mediocrity. While the action sequences are worthy of the big screen treatment they aren’t as integral to the personality of the film as Larson is in the title role. At one time considered too young to play the part of an Air Force pilot (this was before the filmmakers double-checked with members of the American Air Force who confirmed it is possible for a 26-year-old to be so accomplished), Larson acquits herself with the utmost confidence, maturing from reckless and unpredictable to every bit the noble warrior hero she so advertises her people as to her de facto partner in Agent Fury.

Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers is by far Larson’s most high-profile role to date and while the plight of the superhero is unfamiliar territory for someone who has developed herself through such intimate human dramas as Room and Short Term 12, you wouldn’t know it based on her confidence and how much fun she’s having here. And sorry to break it to the basement dwelling trolls who review-bombed her new movie, a perma-smile does not for a natural performance make. I personally don’t need to see someone smiling through every damn frame of the movie to know they’re enjoying themselves, or to know what this material and this role means to them.

What is this thing called The Oregon Trail?

Recommendation: While I didn’t think Captain Marvel is a game-changer — save for the first earthly encounter with the Skrulls the action scenes are pretty forgettable — it certainly has its strengths, namely the lead character and the friends she ends up making along the way. It might go without saying for most of these Important Marvel Movies but considering the way this one was seemingly preordained to fail by insecure men before it even opened, it really seems that ignoring the internet has never been more crucial in allowing you to experience the film on your own terms. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 124 mins.

Quoted: “You know anything about a lady blowing up a Blockbuster? Witnesses say she was dressed for laser tag.”

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

Glass

Release: Friday, January 18, 2019

→Theater

Written by: M. Night Shyamalan

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

All the pieces finally fall into place for M. Night Shyamalan and his long-gestating superhero trilogy with Glass, in part a direct sequel to 2017’s psychological thriller Split as well as a belated return to the awe-inspiring identity crisis established 19 years ago in Unbreakable. Glass is far from perfectly polished, but against all odds the third and final chapter not only justifies its own existence, it justifies everything leading up to it, notably the ending to the last installment.

For what it’s worth, Anya Taylor Joy wasn’t the only one being held captive that day. I was such a prisoner of the moment, convinced the writer/director had just written and directed himself into a corner he was at the same time being pressured into by modern industry trends. But this knee-jerk reaction failed to take into account that Shyamalan had wanted to expand upon ideas established in Unbreakable years ago but just couldn’t get a studio to bite on a Part 2. In fact Split‘s compellingly deranged anti-hero was extracted from a ditched subplot in Unbreakable and in (one of Shymalan’s favorite things) a twist of fate, that film, unlike its predecessor, was immediately embraced critically and commercially. And now here we are, at the end of the line — the culmination of what we should, I suppose, formally recognize as the Eastrail 177 Trilogy. Not a very sexy name, is it?

Glass technically begins three weeks after the conclusion of Split, reuniting us with David Dunn (Willis the Bruce) and his now-grown-but-still-believing son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), running a little Bruce Wayne-like operation in the back of David’s own private security firm, with Joseph keeping online tabs on the seedy activity taking place in the shadows of metro Philadelphia while his father “goes for walks,” physically immersing himself in those shadows, brushing up against — well, you know how it works. We first see The Overseer, as he’s now known amongst internet fanbases, taking down a punk with a mean-spirited YouTube channel, confronting him in his own house and overpowering him by some margin in a bit of gleeful fan service.

The story proper is set into motion when David and the notorious kidnapper Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) are escorted to a remote psychiatric facility after a skirmish that spills out into the streets. Even though David successfully frees a group of high school cheerleaders Kevin and his multiple personalities (a.k.a. “The Horde”) have chained up in a warehouse, not everyone views his vigilantism as being in the best interests of the public. Kevin’s behavior is much less defensible; why they are both punished equally here kind of defies reason, but then again airtight logic has never been one of Shyamalan’s superpowers as a writer. Regardless, the pair are going to be having a little chat with a Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), who specializes in a very specific kind of delusion. The “I believe I am a superhero” kind of specific.

This of course is the same facility housing David’s nemesis, Elijah Price/Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), who, despite his near-comatose appearance, is under the most severe scrutiny given his propensity for manipulation and deception. Dr. Staple’s job is to convince her patients that what they have been experiencing are merely complex coping mechanisms after having lived through trauma. Yet within the context of the entire saga, the character — less a human and more a plot device, granted — represents an evolution in perspective. Unbreakable posed the question of whether or not superheroes really walk among us and it did so by comparing the naivety of Joseph versus that of his father; the point of view was private, personal, highly contentious. In Glass that perspective is systematically denied. Instead this is about an institution that believes it has the ultimate perspective. As the woman in the white lab coat suggests, if superheroes are real why are there only three of them?

If you want dissenting opinions, you’ve come to the right place. I was really impressed with what Shyamalan was able to create on such a modest budget, funding the $20 million project himself. (I wonder what my life would be like if I had that amount to throw at one thing.) Budgetary constraints are on display everywhere: they explain why we are for a large portion of the film trapped more or less in a single room with a “field expert” who enjoys bludgeoning her patients (and us) with medical jargon and bureaucratese. They explain the incident in the parking lot, the pistol and the pothole — the latter representing a truly creative resolution for something we all saw coming. Yet I can’t say the low overhead necessarily enhances the experience, either; it’s never less than a nagging thought that the film might have gone a different direction with just a little more money behind it.

Whether that would have been a more satisfying direction is obviously speculative. Going out with a bigger bang might have been more visually gratifying, but it would also risk violating the code of understatement Shyamalan has remained faithful to. As it stands, there is a surprising amount of weight that accumulates at an emotional and psychological level, and it is still the performances that make the movie. In its closing moments the actors are reaching some pretty spectacular heights (Willis aside, I won’t dissent on that widely-held opinion). I maintain that Mr. Glass is up there with some of Jackson’s career-best work, he’s a tragic and complicated figure. Meanwhile, McAvoy somehow one-ups his previous effort in Split by embracing even more of The Horde. In the process he illuminates his internal pain and turmoil in ways we haven’t yet seen.

Despite several blemishes in the script (inept orderlies, anyone?) and the fact Shyamalan reaches for but never quite achieves profundity, Glass ultimately succeeds in bringing closure to a series and a unique set of characters. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest this is either a swan song or a magnum opus. It’s simply a compelling film chockfull with geeky references to comic book lore and the culture surrounding it, and it is arguably his best effort in nearly two decades.

“Do it! Say osteogenesis imperfecta one more time . . .!”

Recommendation: Glass isn’t the event film most comic book adaptations are compelled to become and that alone feels refreshing. Getting to see all three characters share the screen is exciting, with James McAvoy being a true stand-out. The story is absolutely steeped in the language of comic books (becoming super-meta at the end with certain characters observing how reality is merging with events depicted in the comics — a nice touch even if a bit silly), and yet I think there is plenty here to recommend to viewers who aren’t hardcore about collecting and reading comics.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 129 mins.

Quoted: “This was an origin story the whole time.”

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

Decades Blogathon – Jackie Brown (1997)

Hey all, Natasha’s review of a refreshingly different Quentin Tarantino piece — Jackie Brown (1997) — is available for your reading pleasure over at Three Rows Back! Go check it out!

three rows back

Welcome to the penultimate day of the Decades Blogathon – ‘7’ edition – hosted by myself and my partner in crime Tom from Thomas J.For those who don’t know, the blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the seventh year of the decade. Tom and I are running a different entry each day (we’ll also reblog the other’s post) and today I’m very pleased to welcome Natasha from it’s the turn of the one and only Zoe from Life of this City Girl who is too-cool-for-school in her choice of QT’s Jackie Brown.

Jackie Brown PosterPlot: A middle-aged woman finds herself in the middle of a huge conflict that will either make her a profit or cost her life (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119396/)

A quick peek over at Tom’s blog alerted me to the fact that it was time for his and Mark’s annual Decades Blogathon. In the past…

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Kong: Skull Island

Release: Friday, March 10, 2017

[Theater]

Written by: Dan Gilroy; Max Borenstein; Derek Connolly

Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts becomes the latest to cash in on the recent trend of indie directors gone Hollywood, going from The Kings of Summer to a blockbuster that reimagines the king of the apes in all its primal glory in Kong: Skull Island, a fun throwback to creature features of the 1960s and 70s.

In it, a group of intrepid explorers comprised of government agents, Vietnam vets and various other useful experts travel to a remote island in the Pacific on a surveying expedition. The mission runs into a bit of a snag when they encounter the 100-foot-tall hulking ape known as Kong, whose territory they have begun bombing in an attempt to “learn about the landscape.” His retaliatory action lays waste to a fleet of choppers, killing several of the hapless tourists in the process and scattering the rest across the prehistoric jungle.

Kong: Skull Island proves antithetical of its Monsterverse sister Godzilla in almost every way. The focus is on more beast, more noise, more general mayhem. Less on those little threads of humanity that made each encounter with the nuclear lizard back in 2014 that much more interesting. The characters here merely serve to get us closer to the action, which is appropriate considering what the artists over at Industrial Light & Magic have accomplished. Kong: Skull Island is a visual effects delight and it should be allowed to show off a little. Did you see the number of names listed in the Visual Effects column in the end credits?

The biggest mystery surrounding this movie involves budgetary allocations rather than Kong himself. This monster movie’s cast is monstrously huge and yet only a triumvirate seems required. John Goodman plays Monarch agent Bill Randa, a man just crazy enough to get Senator Richard Jenkins to help fund his monster-hunting habit. Goodman’s a pro and makes his part enjoyable. Then there’s Samuel L. Jackson as Lieutenant Colonel Packard who has been tapped with providing Randa and some of his friends aerial support to the island. Packard’s function is to be the overbearing alpha male who wants to drop Kong himself after that initial attack cost him some of his men. Turns out, Packard has left Vietnam but only in a physical sense.

John C. Reilly is the only other significant role player here. He’s arguably the only one that really matters. He plays a World War II pilot who has been stranded on the unforgiving island and has ingratiated himself with the native tribe that also happens to be hiding out there. Luckily, it’s John C. Reilly who is given a role that ends up carving out significant space within the narrative. In the manner that SLJ plays SLJ and Goodman does a great Goodman impression, Reilly is reliably himself. Collectively the three have enough acting chops to take on Kong themselves and make it a rollicking good time.

But then there are talents like Tom Hiddleston and Oscar-winner Brie Larson stuck in acting purgatory, filling supporting roles that could have gone to anyone. The former plays a British tracker and ex-military man here to say “You can’t bomb this island” and Larson’s pacifist photographer succeeds in annoying more than just the fiery Packard. Meanwhile, Toby Kebbell gets a slightly more robust part but the actors who played Dr. Dre and Easy-E in Straight Outta Compton are totally expendable. And apparently Thomas Mann had a part, too. Who else did I miss, Kevin Bacon?

Fantastical, formulaic and occasionally frustrating, Kong: Skull Island isn’t an adventure epic that’s built to withstand the test of time or particularly intense scrutiny but what it offers is good old-fashioned, smash-mouth entertainment. Buy the biggest bucket of popcorn you can — you’re going to need it.

Kong SMASH!!! +500 pts

Recommendation: Kong: Skull Island is a bonafide crowd pleaser with its big special effects, trumped-up 3D marketing campaign and a list of famous actors longer than your arm. It’s all a bit over-the-top but then again this IS a movie featuring a 100-foot-tall gorilla. And for those who lamented the way Gareth Edwards handled his monster movie, maybe Jordan Vogt-Roberts will be your new best friend.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 118 mins.

Quoted: “I’m going to stab you by the end of the night.” 

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

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

The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight movie poster

Release: Wednesday, December 30, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Quentin Tarantino

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino isn’t softening in his old(er) age. The Hateful Eight might be one of his most vicious pieces yet, an ode to the frankness of life on the frontier as filtered through the perspectives of some of the meanest, nastiest sumbitches this side of the Continental Divide.

It’s a testament to the power of Tarantino’s snappy, whip-smart dialogue that a film that takes place essentially in two rooms — a traveling stagecoach and a remote Wyoming outpost known as Minnie’s Haberdashery — passes by almost in the blink of an eye. Or in this case, with the speed of a bullet to the groin. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. After all this movie runs the length of a basketball game — commercial breaks included — and it’s even longer if you experience it in the fancy-pants 70mm Ultra Panavision format, which comes complete with a little intermission.

First things first. There are quite a few things that The Hateful Eight is not. It’s not Tarantino’s most sprawlingly ambitious, nor is it his most poignant social commentary. It’s not family or date-friendly (but you knew that already), and it makes no concessions for those who were put off by the writer-director’s liberal usage of a certain racial slur in Django Unchained. As the time passes by in awkwardly disproportionate chapters it becomes a less sophisticated thing to watch. It’s not action-packed, and the writing isn’t quite as disciplined as it’s been in the past.

What it is, besides being a brilliant spin on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None — a classic whodunit wherein a group of strangers are invited to a remote estate and become suspicious of one another when they start getting picked off one by one — is the eighth reminder that filmmakers like Tarantino are all too rare. It’s a chatty chamber piece, and although it takes place almost exclusively in between the walls of a would-be cozy log cabin there’s no shortage of excitement . . . or bloodletting. Similar to Christie’s imaginative mystery thriller, viewers are complicit in the discovery process. Patiently we wait for the yarn of half-truths and three-quarter lies to fully unravel, to find out who these people really are and what their intentions are.

We’re introduced to Samuel L. Jackson’s Union soldier-turned-bounty hunter Marquis Warren, who flags down a passing stagecoach and asks for a ride to a shelter as a blizzard moves in. The horse-drawn carriage is transporting John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), himself a bounty hunter, who is handcuffed to the fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). They’re headed for a town called Red Rock. Don’t let the mustache fool you: dude’s a roughneck — surly and prone to violence. After some banter back and forth he allows Warren to come aboard. Soon enough they’re stopped once more by another man caught out in the cold. This is Walton Goggins’ Chris Mannix, who advertises himself as the new sheriff of Red Rock. He’s also trying to make his way back there.

The wagon pulls up to the Haberdashery and instead of being greeted by its proprietor, they’re met by Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir) who tells them Minnie has taken off for a few days. Inside awaits another three men John wasn’t expecting. There’s the polite Englishman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth, channeling perhaps a little too much Christoph Waltz‘s Dr. King Schultz). It turns out he’s the hangman of Red Rock . . . by all accounts Domergue’s grim reaper. But at least he seems nice. By the fireplace sits the cranky General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), responsible for murdering many a black Union soldier in the war. You could say he doesn’t take too kindly to Warren’s presence. And in the back corner sits lone cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), who is apparently waiting for the weather to clear so he can visit his mother on the outskirts of Red Rock.

The destination of Red Rock isn’t the common denominator these people share, per se, though I’m loathe to reveal specifics about what that really is. Let’s just say it’s something a little more personal.

Tarantino keeps mostly to this space in order to draw out the best (or is that the worst?) of these eight nefarious characters creatures. It’s determined they’ll be sharing the space for a few days since the weather is so bad. Soon enough the room becomes a bubbling cauldron of tension and distrust, John Ruth instigating much of it. His severe skepticism of everyone around him leads him to take precautionary measures. Domergue remains chained to his wrist. “Sheriff” Mannix constantly shifts loyalties. Warren is hostile and a notorious liar. Bob remains suspiciously quiet, and so too does the hangman. Ditto that for Joe Gage, while Domergue continues to suffer from her captor’s physical and verbal abuse.

For a film exceeding two-and-a-half hours and rarely taking advantage of its gorgeous natural environs outside, pacing isn’t much of an issue. Instead, more technical things stand out, and rather obviously. For a ragtag group of frontiersmen, these are some very eloquently spoken people. Call it a nitpick, but I prefer to call it an inevitability after paying such intense attention to what people are saying while also trying to figure out why such a wider, higher-resolution film was utilized here. Call it cabin fever. Something about the occasional verbal tirades, the overexploited art of romanticizing language, feels affected this time, almost as though Aaron Sorkin had gotten his hands on the script. (Shucks, now I sound like I don’t like Aaron Sorkin.)

But, I digress. It’s a new Tarantino offering and it’s more fun than it probably should be.

It’s also a film that almost never was. We’ve all heard the story: Tarantino vowed to scrap the project after a draft of the script was leaked late in 2014. He then considered turning it into a novel. Thankfully a live table read of the script convinced him to stick to his guns (e-hem) and commit to turning it into his next movie. Overly familiar creative flares notwithstanding, he’s once again acquitted himself the way any fan would want. The Hateful Eight is delightfully cynical, downright ugly at times and predictable in the best way possible.

Recommendation: Fans have another three hours of QT to pour over. The Hateful Eight doesn’t stack up to his weightier social commentaries and these characters are very, very difficult to like. They’re actually not likable at all but that’s one compelling angle to consider as you navigate your way through a labyrinthian web of relationships that grows ever more volatile as time ticks away. This is no pleasant winter retreat to the cabin in the woods. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 167 mins. (+20 min intermission if you see the 70 mm version)

Quoted: “When you get to hell, John, tell them Daisy sent you . . .”

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

Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Release: Friday, May 1, 2015

[RPX Theater]

Written by: Joss Whedon

Directed by: Joss Whedon

In the chaotic and climactic final twenty minutes a wistfulness arose within me, and though I didn’t let it fully disengage me from one of the year’s most ambitious CGI spectacles I was annoyed I let it happen. I knew it was going to, though. That feeling that, after all of this battling against the hype machine, this was it. This was all it could have been.

And of course it was; it makes sense. Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron may be the much-anticipated follow-up to that most grandiose uniting of superheroes from far-flung corners of the globe but in the end it is still just a movie. At two hours and twenty minutes it’s a lot of movie but even that kind of length ends up shortchanging those who have built this up in their heads as some kind of singular event. I honestly put the blame on Joss Whedon, though. Maybe if he hadn’t made Marvel’s The Avengers such a spectacular escape little old film fans like me wouldn’t have unfairly begun wielding our hopes and expectations like a shield of vibranium against which the man would have little hope of defending himself.

The one thing he won’t have to hope for is a solid box office presence, though. That’s perhaps the only thing that’s guaranteed about his new film.

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AGE OF JAMES SPADER

Age of Ultron arrives at a time when superhero movies have . . . okay, forget that. Instead: yay, summer! Rather than detangling the network of superhero film reel that’s enabled this one to happen, I think it’s best to cut to the chase and talk all things artificially intelligent and Hydra-related. Whedon wastes no time in appealing to our appropriately elevated adrenaline levels by introducing the gang kicking ass and taking names in the remote European nation of Sokovia, the location of a Hydra outpost. Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) has gotten a hold of Loki’s scepter and is using it to experiment on humans. His most notable creations become Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor Johnson) and the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who take pleasure in being the collective thorn in the Avengers’ collective side.

Following their successful stand against some of Hydra’s henchmen, the Avengers return to headquarters and celebrate, but only briefly. Given Stark’s affinity for constantly tinkering with his creations he uses the A.I. he and Banner discover within the scepter to jumpstart his long-dormant and secretive Ultron project, a program he believes will be humanity’s best chance of living in a safer world.

Amidst one of the more memorable scenes — Thor ribbing his companions into trying to lift his hammer knowing full well none of them will succeed, only to be gobsmacked by Steve Rogers’ ability to actually influence it ever so subtly — a worst case scenario rears its ugly head as Ultron’s sentience rapidly exceeds Stark’s ability to control it. Ultron (voiced by James Spader) quickly deduces people are no good; that the only way Earth will be safe is to eradicate them. One thing I was impressed by was how my cynicism was put in perspective in the face of a vengeful, ten-foot tall robot with evil red eyes.

If there’s anything that bundles together Age of Ultron‘s dizzying number of thematic and physical ambitions it’s the notion that not everything created by a billionaire genius can be controlled. Not by him, and not even by Whedon. The arrival of a one-of-a-kind android in Spader, whose own image rather disappointingly supersedes that of his on-screen counterpart, heralds an age in which over-ambition, even born out of purely good intentions, very well might mean the downfall of everything. That’s obviously not going to be the case for the MCU. Still, this bloated sequel is not the joyride its predecessor was.

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SUPERHERO FATIGUE V. SUPERHERO INDIFFERENCE

In propelling the complex mythos and relationships that have endeared millions to this lone property into the future, Whedon has incidentally obligatorily spawned an environment in which everything is expected to get more and more extreme. Unfortunately that’s kind of an issue that can be traced back to the Avengers’ cinematic birth in 2012. How the Infinity War sequels are supposed to top this is anyone’s guess, but there is no doubt Marvel will demand it from the Russo brothers. I suspect we are yet to enter the darkest days facing our fearless heroes, and if this middle film is a barometer of anything, it’s solemnity.

But like Man of Steel and The Amazing Spider-man, just because the story takes a darker turn — these properties are, after all, reflecting a reality that seems to be growing ever more hostile — this doesn’t discount Age of Ultron‘s potential to be an enjoyable summer getaway. Rather, I have found it easy to forget about that potential, and much more challenging to be as enthusiastic as Whedon’s canvas continues spreading to include lesser-known players, heroes who are admittedly cleverly worked into the picture, but who don’t mean as much if you haven’t done your Avengers homework. (And I am referring to the comics.) There’s something about the hatred Ultron directs primarily towards Tony Stark and secondarily to the human population at large that screams ‘classic movie villainy,’ yet the same can’t be said about Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch’s decision to shift loyalties.

Perhaps my detachment from the Maximoff twins, in particular, stems from my failure to be entertained by Elizabeth Olsen trying on a Russian accent. Equally distracting is Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Beach Boys hairdo. These two needed their own cinematic introduction before showing up in ostensibly pivotal roles here. The Vision means little to me, although his . . . odd genetic make-up is something to behold. If this all sounds like a personal problem, that’s because it likely is. Whereas some are experiencing the inevitable ‘superhero fatigue,’ I find I may have accidentally banished myself to the realm of superhero indifference.

What Age of Ultron ultimately assembles (and stop me when this sounds familiar) is an overstuffed extravaganza that tries, mostly succeeding, to incorporate as much of the popular Marvel legacy as a single film can handle before breaking and before turning off as many of its several hundred million viewers as possible. It’s the epitome of blockbuster in a blockbuster age. It’s a mighty compromise between getting really technical and remaining lowest-common-denominator entertainment. I feel as unique as the Avengers are, they deserve something not quite as mundane.

At the same time, what else could I have expected out of a summer movie? While I don’t feel like my expectations turned on me as drastically as Stark’s program did him, like him I am reluctant to admit it was pretty much my fault. . .

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3-5Recommendation: Featuring Whedon’s trademark comic relief and ability to weave together multiple story lines, Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron unfortunately might signal what has been coming down the pipe for a long time. It’s a film of excess but also a film that minimizes enjoyment to pack in as much information and spectacle as possible. Diehards will no doubt lap this up. Anything less though, are sure to find things that could have been much better. A recommended watch in the large format, but unlike the first one I can’t say you need to see it twice in such a fashion. There is a mid-credits scene that you should stick around for.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 141 mins.

Quoted: “Everyone creates the thing they fear. Men of peace create engines of war. Avengers create invaders. Parents create children, that will supplant them.”

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

Kingsman: The Secret Service

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Release: Friday, February 13, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Matthew Vaughn; Jane Goldman

Directed by: Matthew Vaughn

Thuffering thuccotash, itth Thamuel L. Jackthon! Again!

For those bothering to thtick with me through this review, be advised that one of the most prolific black actors of all time is the height of the appeal of Kingsman: The Secret Service. It’s also a thymptom of a dithappointing outing.

I know, I know. I’m pushing it a little bit here, but I don’t think I’m being any more offensive than Jackson. The man — and give him credit, he does work hard (so does his agent!) — is difficult to get over when he’s the only one trying to stand out in this mildly-amusing riff on the irreverent James Bond franchise. It’s a film with bigger plans, even, attempting to capitalize on the silliness that the casual observer associates with the spy genre, but in an ironic twist the fun devolves into a farcical spoof of itself in the final half hour. However, that’s not the issue at large.

It’s not that Colin Firth (that’s actually not a lisp, thank you very much) tries too hard playing Sean Connery-lite, clean-shaven and with a swagger perhaps more consistent than Jackson’s butchered pronunciations of the letter ’s.’ Firth is good here, his own amusement apparent in the way he parades across the screen, umbrella in hand, treading a tricky line between sophistication and aloofness. As Harry Hart, code-named something hilarious — oh, I don’t know, say ‘Galahad’ — Firth is cool and confident, even especially under pressure. He’s a spy who’s experienced his fair share of whoopsie-daisies working for a boutique secret service agency tucked away in the back of a posh clothing store. One downfall of being in this profession is seen at the film’s open when a fellow agent is killed by a grenade, or something.

It’s not that the emotional heft of the film strays into sentimentality so far that the overriding story makes little sense. Harry/Galahad finds it his duty to help a wayward youth named Gary (a.k.a. ‘Eggsy’), the son of the fallen Kingsman, avoid a life of crime and hardship on the streets (the upturned ball cap and padded jacket pegs Taron Egerton as a rude-boy in-the-making) by drafting him into the secret service. It’s better to walk into the path of a stray bullet as a youngster than die an old and miserable sad-sack, amiright?

It’s not that Jackson parodies the speaking-impaired until the bitter end, nor the fact that Gazelle (Sofia Boutella)’s legs are an odd choice for villainous material. It is refreshing seeing someone not play up a lack of legs as a disability, though. I don’t take the racism, fear-mongering and general hatred towards all of mankind as a sign either. Kingsman suffers from tonal shifts — one moment it’s all fun and games; the next we hear racist/homophobic slurs delivered with no other purpose than to inject some shock value, as if we need to have any more reason to cheer on Harry/Galahad — but these are aspects one can get over in a hurry if they’re intent on switching off their brain and enjoying a good showdown (or ten).

No, what’s most offensive about Kingsman is that despite its few quirks and charms — the chemistry between Firth and Egerton is undeniable, while Big Macs make for an exquisite, product-placement-friendly dinner with the villain — is the genericness. As a send-up of the spy genre, this mostly falls into disarray. To reiterate, the only thing the movie manages to send-up is the Q-branch and maybe Thamuel L. Jackthon.

In between extended moments of interminable blandness, Matthew Vaughn’s wannabe-James Bond occasionally finds moments of inspired lunacy and Jackson is admittedly hilarious. This was the most fun I’ve had in a movie that seems to like stealing ideas from others. Maybe the ultimate issue is that the most vivid memory I have of this film is a speech impediment. Either way, there’s a lot here that blows Kingsman‘s cover, but I believe Matthew Vaughn really was on to something here.

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2-5Recommendation: Can I call this movie boring? No. Can I call it dumb? Yes. Can I call it inspired? Mehhhhhhyesss . . . ? It’s an amalgam of James Bond with soft-core thriller material. It doesn’t have enough going for it to be that memorable yet this movie has proven to be very popular. Who knows. I’m probably off on this one. If you haven’t seen it already, you’re likely better off by not listening to me and seeing it for yourself. Wouldn’t be the first time on this blog that that’s happened! 😉

Rated: R

Running Time: 129 mins.

Quoted: “This whisky is amazing. You will shit.”

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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.

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