Friday, February 28, 2014

ROBOCOP (2014)

Written by Joshua Zetumer

Directed by José Padilha

Where & When: MJR Cinemas, Westland, MI.  February 18, 2014  9:30 PM

Paul Verhoeven, the Dutch provocateur, thrilled and horrified audiences in equal measure with his images of raw (and at times, campy) sexuality and grisly violence. The director began his career in his homeland with intricate low-budget films that earned Verhoeven plenty of critical acclaim. Hollywood soon came calling and with big money behind him, Verhoeven continued making his style of cinema but on a much larger scale. That partnership lead to the now classics, "Total Recall", "Basic Instinct", "Starship Troopers" and the infamous "Showgirls" but the film that launched his international ascent was "Robocop" back in 1987. Filled with his signature black humor, gruesome, bloody carnage and social commentary, this sci-fi cop drama was unlike anything previously seen before. Made with minimum investment and delivering maximum returns, "Robocop" went on to spawn two movie sequels, TV shows and video games.

Now the time appears ripe to reboot the popular franchise with another rising film maker put in place to revive the character. José Padilha co-wrote and directed the Brazilian crime drama, "Elite Squad" which won the Golden Bear Award at the 2008 Berlin Film Festival and became one of the highest grossing films in his home country. While the director offers a slick and modern Robocop to combat crime in the Motor City, this is simply a watered-down version. The brutal satire of the original is missed and after a nice start with some clever new plot ideas, this film eventually blends in to the generic formula of the current comic-book films.

The Detroit-based Omnicorp has found great financial success with their robotic police army preventing crime and protecting civilians throughout the world except the good ol' U.S. of A. Blocked by a Congressional bill due to the robots lack of human reasoning, the company's CEO (Michael Keaton) Raymond Sellars, not satisfied with just millions, is determined to enter the U.S. market. Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman) has been experimenting with using robotics to replace missing limbs of soldiers at Omnicorp and Sellars pressures him to go one step further to appease the concerns of American public. An injured police officer is sought for the experiment. After Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is nearly killed by a car bomb from orders of a crime lord he's been investigating, the detective proves to be the perfect candidate. Murphy's distraught wife (Abbie Cornish) reluctantly approves the surgery and a new form of police officer is born.

Murphy struggles to adjust to his new mechanical body and attempts to reconnect with his wife and young son. Right before the unveiling of Robocop to the press, Murphy's emotions overwhelm him to the point of a major breakdown. Dr. Norton is forced to adjust Robocop to suppress his emotional state, which leaves him more robot than man, and communication is cut off from his family.

Robocop proves to be a tremendous success fighting lawlessness in the city with public opinion beginning to sway. After learning of his son's difficulties without his father, Robocop overrides his programming. Murphy returns to making his own decisions, starting with solving the crime that nearly killed him.

Although Mr. Kinnaman, best known for his work on the cable show, "The Killing", fills out the cyborg suit nicely, the actor is fairly bland and buried under the weight of his classy, highly-gifted supporting cast which includes Jackie Earle Haley, Jennifer Ehle, Michael K. Williams, Jay Baruchel and most impressive, Samuel L. Jackson. Sporting Republican hair and no patience for liberal ideas regarding law enforcement, he plays a right-wing talk show host offering running commentary throughout which is a highlight of the film.

"Robocop" is certainly entertaining but it's just another sad reminder of what current film makers fail to realize when attempting to remake a beloved film. First, it's not necessary but if you insist, remember that all of the current visual tricks will not help if you leave out everything that made the original potent and essential.

Sunday, February 9, 2014


Written & Directed by Tom Gormican

Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  February 3, 2014  5:30 PM

"That Awkward Moment" is the romantic-comedy made with dudes in mind as it involves a trio of twenty-something buddies who vow not to get involved in a serious relationship so they can spend more time drinking and chasing tail together like they did back in their carefree days of college. First-time film maker, Tom Gormican has offered an intriguing raunchy bromance but still adheres to the typical conventions of the rom-com. These guys will face the expected difficulties in sticking to the grand plan as each will meet the girl of their dreams but oddly seem willing to sacrifice it all in order to hold up their end of their silly bargain. It's unclear who this likable but wobbly film may be geared towards as this plot doesn't sound much like something ladies will want to flock towards and men are not typically inclined to sit through a movie where something doesn't blow-up.What is refreshing about "That Awkward Moment" is how it unashamedly embraces modern ideas of the importance of male bonding although at the unfortunate expense of their relationships with women.

After Mikey's (Michael B. Jordan) marriage falls apart, his very single friends, Jason (Zac Efron), the dreamy metrosexual and Daniel (Miles Teller), our cuddly goofball, insist on taking him out for drinks and to meet girls. After Daniel slips them Viagra as a party favor, Jason meets Ellie (Imogen Poots, love that name!), a sweet and charming young lady. The two spend a great evening together and waste no time hooking up. However, Jason assumes she's a hooker (don't ask) and since he doesn't have any cash, sneaks out in the middle of the night.

The next day, Jason and Daniel go to their job as partners with an advertising firm and their client just happens to be Ellie. She's actually a writer and not at all pleased to see him. Jason explains the misunderstanding and wants a second chance but not surprisingly, Ellie is uninterested. Determined, Jason eventually manages to woo her back in to his arms but by this time, the boys have sworn off significant others. While wanting to keep his word to his buds, he also wants to move forward with his new lady which leads to a seemingly, impossible dilemma. His solution is to keep Ellie on the down-low which causes him to make not such great decisions as a boyfriend. This pattern continues as Daniel begins a clandestine romantic relationship with his female buddy (Mackenzie Davis) who served as his wing man to help him score chicks by stopping them to admire their shoes while Mikey secretly begins seeing his ex again.

Mr.Gormican displays considerable promise as a film maker and has a flair for dialogue which is how his script found it's way on the Hollywood Black List as one of the best unproduced screenplays back in 2010. He managed to eventually get his work produced but the film suffers from his inexperience behind the camera and needed to take another crack at the script to smooth out the rough edges in the plot. The director also occasionally appears before the camera which explains his great success at getting good performances from his actors. It's unclear whether Mr. Efron can actually act but delivers the proper amount of charm and sex appeal that's required here. There is little question about the abilities of his co-stars. Mr. Jordan, fresh off his impressive work in last year's "Fruitvale Station", manages to shine through despite his relatively minor role. The real stand out is Mr. Teller who takes me back to John Cusack in his early days, particularly "Say Anything". The actor has an easy, laid back comic style, which was also put to good use in his breakout role in "The Spectacular Now", that is quite appealing. Ms Poots, the only significant female character in the film, does the best she can in the underwritten role of the girlfriend needing a man but only a boy keeps showing up.

"That Awkward Moment" aims to present a humorous look at romance from the male perspective, albeit juvenile. Far from completely successful, the film still manages to be a satisfying diversion aided by a pleasing, spirited cast of young performers.