RoboCop (2014) a (mildly) belated review

Count me among those who were damn near horrified to learn a remake of Robocop, the classic 1987 film directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Peter Weller and Nancy Allen, was in the works.

There were those that managed to temper their negative feelings a bit after the remake’s cast was announced.  You had Micheal Keaton.  You had Gary Oldman.  You even had Samuel L. Jackson!  Big name actors and an interesting bunch.  Then it was announced that Jose Padilha would direct.this remake.  While not a huge name in America, he had directed some fine works in his native Brazil and those in the know felt that, at the very least, he was an intriguing choice for this remake.

So some fans had their fingers crossed and hoped for the best.  Eventually, the film was released.

I think its fair to say that the general reaction to the 2014 version of RoboCop was something along the lines of “It wasn’t as bad as it could have been”, which is as backhanded a complement as you can probably get.  Looking at the hard numbers, Rotten Tomatoes has the film scoring a mediocre 49% positive among audiences and a not all that much better 55% positive among critics (In comparison, the original Robocop scored a far more impressive 88% positive among critics and an 83% positive among audiences).

For my part, I wasn’t exactly dying to see the film.  Even after learning who was in it and who directed it (I remain unfamiliar with all his previous works), I was certain whatever was produced wouldn’t hold a candle to the original.  Yet when the opportunity presented itself to see RoboCop 2014, I gave it try.  As best I could I put my mind in neutral.  I didn’t expect much, but was hoping for the best.

So…was the film better than I thought?

In a word, no.

I didn’t like the film.  I didn’t like it much at all.  Yet before I go into what went wrong, I need to give the creators behind this movie credit as it certainly appeared they took the time to try to come up with a new, somewhat unique, and interesting “take” on the whole RoboCop concept.

The movie begins with U.S. armed forces in some unnamed Arabian country.  Over there the U.S. is using robots to “protect” the peace, a not so subtle jab at the current drone wars, only these forces are actually patrolling the ground (and obviously making the locals very nervous).  The company behind the robots, OmniCorp, wants to increase their profits by expanding the robot program into the United States as an aid to fighting crime.  But while we can use terrifying robots “over there”, politicians are far less inclined to allow their use within U.S. soil.

The company, headed by Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) figures out an end around to the politicians: It will create a man/machine hybrid and hopefully its success will allow them to convince the politicians to fully implement their profitable robotic forces on our soil.

All they need to do is find a police officer severely injured enough to put these robotic parts on what remains of his person.

Enter Alex Murphy (a very bland Joel Kinnaman) who is the proverbial “honest” cop in a den of dishonesty.  He is pursuing illegal gun sellers who are apparently getting their weapons from the police themselves.  His investigation creates too many waves and Murphy is dispatched with a car bomb.

Now severely injured, our two stories intersect as OmniCorp deems the fallen officer prime material for their RoboCop program.

And off we go.

Again, I like the fact that the creators of this film decided to use current events to fashion their movie’s concept.  I also like the fact that when RoboCop is created, they question just how far a human being can be cut down and “augmented” with artificial components before he is no longer a human.  These prove to be surprisingly weighty issues…but unfortunately tackling interesting concepts alone does not a good movie make.

The original RoboCop also dealt to some degree with the issues of man and machine interaction.  Unlike this remake, it gleefully presented itself as an ultraviolent comic book (I say that in the best way).  We had high level emotions and strong action sequences.  We had suspense, we had humor.  Like it or not, the original RoboCop moved.

Something that, unfortunately, cannot be said of the remake.

The first major mistake the film makes, ironically enough, goes back to its biggest strength.  The movie winds up wallowing a little too much in the questions of what makes a man and at what point is he a machine.  Worse, we’re given no strong villains for RoboCop to fight against.  Sure, we know two of his fellow officers are corrupt, but they’re for the most part in the background doing very little.  The head gun seller and man who was behind Murphy’s near death is also presented in only a couple of scenes and never merits much thought before he’s dispatched.  There are two other villains who appear later in the film, but one is meant to be a total surprise so we can’t root against the character and cheer her fall.  The final villain reveals his villainy only in the film’s last ten or so minutes, also making that character someone hard to root against.

What we’re left with is a film that Rottten Tomatoes’ score hits perfectly.  RoboCop 2014 is certainly not a terrible film, but neither is it particularly good.  In the end, it winds up being little more than mediocre.  And that winds up frustrating you all the more.  With a little more effort, RoboCop 2014 might have been memorable in its own way.

Too bad.

A couple of fun movie lists…

…found in the always amusing

First up, 26 Huge Editing Errors You Didn’t Notice In Famous Movies:

The #2 goof, taken from the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever (Sean Connery’s last “official” James Bond outing, assuming one doesn’t consider Never Say Never Again a “real” Bond film), is one of my favorites.  Cracked presents images of the scene in question with the explanation of the goof:

But the best way to see and enjoy this goof is by looking at the entire sequence:

If you’re impatient for the good stuff, fast forward to the 2:29 mark.  James Bond, in the Moon Rover, goes down a hill and one of the cars pursuing him flips over.  However, as it flips and starting at the 2:34 point, you see a wheel rolling into the scene from the left…clearly it is one of the Moon Rover’s wheels that has come off!

Of course, when next we see the Moon Rover it has all its wheels.  So why is this goof still in the film?  I suspect the producers of Diamonds Are Forever didn’t want to waste the time and money (not to mention getting another vehicle to smash) duplicating this stunt and went with the scene as it stood.  They probably hoped the scene went by quickly enough that only if you were paying close attention you’d notice the extra wheel bouncing around amid the mayhem of the flipping car.

Once you do notice it, however, its hard not to un-notice it! 😉

Next up are 5 Famously Dumb Movies (in reality, 4 movies and one TV show) With Mind Blowing Hidden Meanings:

I particularly liked what they said about the movie Dredd.  While many people liked the film, I found the movie decent but…uncomfortable.  When I reviewed it a while back, I noted the Judge Dredd comics I was familiar with were the originals (roughly up to the Apocalypse War) and they featured plenty of humor along with the violence.

For better or worse, one thing the Dredd film lacks is much humor!

However, the insight into the film offered in the above article is interesting.  It re-frames the film in my mind and, I have to admit, allows me to see it in a new light.

As I said, interesting!

Corrosive Knights, 6/10/14 update

Continuing the saga of the soon to be released fifth book in the Corrosive Knights saga!

My last update was on May the 23rd.  Since then:

On May 29th I finished the eight draft of the book.  I realized that the concluding chapters still needed work so on May 30 I began what I’ll call the 8 and 1/2 draft.  Because the first approximately 2/3rds of the book required so little work, I decided to exclusively devote myself on the concluding chapters.  As of last week I read through them and by tomorrow should have that draft done.  Unfortunately, I have to leave the book for a bit (just a few days, really) to focus on other stuff but when I get back to it, I expect the next draft will indeed be the last.

Yesterday, I finally “updated” the book covers.  While I like the covers to the books, I wanted them to be more indicative that they were part of a series rather than four “individual” books.

These were the old covers:

Corrosive MACN Old

And here are the “new” covers:

Corrosive MACN Covers

Ok, ok, not a HUGE difference.  The images themselves remain roughly the same but, as mentioned, I wanted to have a more consistent “look” to the books.  What I mean by that is that I wanted readers to be clear the books were part of a series and, even more, to know which part of the series they are.

Now, some final notes:

Chameleon, the third book in the Corrosive Knights series, will be available for free to download from starting this Friday, June 13 (Friday the 13th!!!!) and going on through Tuesday.  Take advantage of this by going to this link:

As for the cover to the fifth book in the series…I’ve begun it.  I hope to have it done shortly before finishing the next (last?!) draft of the book.

Keeping my fingers crossed!


Now this is clever!

If you’ve ever had the fortune/misfortune of creating your own poster or book or music “cover”, you know that it can be both exhilarating and frustrating.  You want to create something that catches the eye instantly and communicates as much as possible while hopefully giving audiences a healthy curiosity/interest in what you’re selling.

So with that in mind, here are 9 minimalist movie posters, just about all of which I think are clever as hell:

Choosing a favorite among the ones presented is really, really hard.  But if pressed, my choice would be the two Hitchcock films, with this one, a minimalist poster for Psycho, taking the ultimate prize:


If you like this, then check out the others, they’re well worth it.

Back to Cracked…

…and a pair of interesting articles regarding old and, in some cases, famous photographs.

First up, 21 Mind-Blowing True Back Stories of Famous Photographs:

They’re all pretty damn interesting, but be sure to check out the “winner” of the group, the very famous V-J Day “Kiss”, and see the progression of photos leading up to the very famous one of the sailor kissing the nurse at the end of WWII.

What seemed like such a tender, celebratory moment suddenly doesn’t look quite so innocent.  Sexual assault, anyone?

And next up, 8 Ordinary Photos Hiding Mind Blowing Details:

Was particularly fascinated by image #3, the very first person ever photographed.  Who was this long lost individual?  We’ll never know, but its fascinating to see.

The World’s End (2013) a (mildly) belated review

Movie “coincidences” are a curious thing.  I’m referring here to the times when very similarly themed movies are released at roughly the same time.

Sometimes such coincidences are anything but.  A long while back, after the tremendous success of both The Terminator and Aliens, it was announced that director James Cameron’s next project was to be set in an underwater facility.  Rival movie studios, hoping to steal Mr. Cameron’s lightning (and box office gold), set about making their own films set in underwater facilities.  Thus it was that in the year 1989 Mr. Cameron’s The Abyss was released at roughly the same time as both Leviathan and DeepStar Six.  The Abyss would turn out to be completely unlike Mr. Cameron’s previous white knuckle thrillers but Leviathan and DeepStar Six were essentially what the studios thought Mr. Cameron was up to: A variation of Alien/Aliens set in an underwater facility.

While this was a case where the studios were emulating (or, to not be quite so polite: ripping off) each other, there have been other occasions where “coincidental creativity” has appeared.  One has to look no further than the 2013 release of the comedies The World’s End and the somewhat similarly themed (and very similarly titled) This is the End.

This is the End (you can read my full review here) was a film featuring comedy actors playing exaggerated/cartoon versions of themselves while the Biblical Apocalypse rains down on Earth.  For better or worse, much of the humor felt improvised and the plot was rather simple.  On the other hand, The World’s End feels like a more thoroughly thought out story which is just as likely to be bittersweet as it is humorous.

The World’s End, for those who don’t know, is the third of the so-called “Cornetto Trilogy”.  The other two films in the trilogy, all of which feature director/co-writer Edgar Wright and stars/co-writers Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, were the zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead and the “Dirty Harry” meets Agatha Christie comedy Hot Fuzz.

Thus, the two previous Cornetto films take on popular movie genres and create their own humorous riff on them.  So, for The World’s End, what movie/genre did the trio decide to focus on?

Try Invasion of the Body Snatchers married with Peter Pan and a hint of The Big Chill.

The story goes like this: Back in the 1990’s a group of High School friends got together for one big -and they thought last- night of debauchery before graduating and heading off to “real” life.  They intended to visit (and drink at!) the twelve bars in the small town they all lived in, progressively getting wasted in “epic” fashion.

However, they didn’t quite make it to the last of the twelve bars, the titular The World’s End, so their epic journey ended in failure.

In the present, this group of friends have grown and have careers and family.  But their one-time leader, Gary King (Simon Pegg), appears to have never grown up.  When first seen, we find he’s in some kind of group therapy and talks about that magical night twenty some odd years before and laments that the group never quite finished their adventure.  One of his fellow therapy partners asks if he thinks about doing this again, to finish what he started, and so begins the adventure…

In the course of the next few minutes of screen time, we’re introduced to the now-aging gang via Gary.  He meets up with each of them individually and does what he can (usually involving sweet talk and/or white lies and flim-flammery) to convince them to go back to their home town and finish their bar hopping adventure.  In the end, Gary succeeds in getting everyone together and they start their day of bar hopping…

…until things get decidedly strange.

As I noted above, this film owes its central plot to Invasion of the Body Snatchers just as previous Cornetto films owed their plots to other films/genres.  It is this element which becomes the movie’s main focus, though there are other additions to the mix.

The comic elements are fun, though the film is just as often rather sad.  The fact of the matter is that Gary is, for the most part, a pathetic figure.  He is a warning to everyone of the dangers of living in the past and refusing to accept one’s present.  Indeed, as the movie progresses, his friends are more and more turned off by him and are about to leave him to his windmills and return to their adult lives when the strange stuff begins.

Given how “normal” the first third or so of the film was, the arrival of the strange stuff creates a rather jarring turn, and I suspect the film would have been a little better if they made the transition more subtly than they did here.

Still, this was their choice and the final parts of the film involve the characters still navigating their way through the bars while dealing with, potentially, the end of the world.

The World’s End is an amusing enough film that entertained me through its runtime without necessarily knocking my socks off.  While it didn’t wear out its welcome like This Is The End, the mix and mash use of different genres didn’t work quite as well here as they did in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, at least for me.

Regardless, the film was far more enjoyable -again, to me- than the somewhat similar Seth Rogan vehicle.  If you’re already a fan of the Cornetto films, this is a no-brainer.  Others not quite as familiar with the Wright/Pegg/Frost collaborations may take a little more time to warm up to their particular brand of humor.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) a (very) belated review

I’m a sucker for “deleted” scenes from films as well as movies that were trimmed down from the director’s vision and subsequently “restored”.

Perhaps the most famous of this later bunch -and easily one of my all time favorite films- is the 1927 sci-fi classic Metropolis.  Because of the high costs associated with the production and its too long run time which lead to fears the film would not recoup its expenses, Metropolis was cut down in length shortly after its premiere and the cut scenes were thought lost forever for many, many years.  That is, until a relatively complete print was miraculously found in South America.  The “restored” version, which still doesn’t include a couple of too far damaged scenes, is an incredible experience despite the blurriness of the reinserted lost scenes, especially if all you’ve ever experienced of the film is the “cut” version.

But restoration doesn’t always mean a superior product from the one released theatrically.  As much as I loved Apocalypse Now and as much as I was intrigued with seeing Apocalypse Now Redux, director Francis Ford Coppola’s extended version of the film, that version of the film wound up being an incredible disappointment.  The extra sequences proved, at least to me, forgettable and wisely trimmed from the film.  A good example is checking out the Redux version of the full Robert Duvall sequence and comparing it to the theatrical one.  In the theatrical version, those scenes are among the best of the film, concluding on a bizarre, wistful Duvall speech (“One day, this war is going to end.”).  In the Redux version, the scene goes on and on, bringing us an unnecessary -and silly- bit involving the boys stealing Duvall’s surfboard.  Similarly, The Warriors was, again IMHO, a great film in its theatrical form and a mess -again IMHO- in its expanded director’s cut.

Regardless, my interest in seeing “restored” versions of films remains very high and the latest example of just such a creature is the Criterion company’s release of the 1963 comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (I’ll refer to it as IAMW from now on).

The theatrical cut of the film runs 154 minutes but most fans of the feature know there was a 202 minute pre-release version that was subsequently trimmed and no longer exists.  Criterion nonetheless searched long and hard and found as many of the lost elements as they could and the restored version presented on their BluRay runs a lengthy 197 minutes.

Does this version add to the film like Metropolis or subtract like Apocalypse Now Redux and The Warriors?

The answer is a little tricky, but ultimately my feeling is the “restored” version of the film is the superior product…with a mild asterisk.

Why the asterisk?  To begin, IAMW was already a very time consuming film experience and those who didn’t “get” the joke were bound to think negatively about the film in its shorter version and would no doubt feel even less for the longer version.  I suspect younger viewers, too, might find less in the film because it features a cast that, frankly, the younger set may not recognize at all.  At the time of its creation in 1963, IAMW featured just about every popular comedic actor there was out there.  The all star cast was crammed into a race to the finish type film, where the various groups of people hunt for a buried treasure while greed gets the best of them.

Though I’ll admit to not being a huge fan of some of the principle actors (Milton Berle and Sid Ceasar, just to name two, were a little before my time), I nonetheless got a kick out of seeing all the various faces parade before me.  And some of the set pieces, in particular the wayward airplane sequences, were outright hilarious and an obvious inspiration to things that were to come (I’m looking at you, Airplane!).

The restored sequences reinserted into IAMW are at times pretty ragged.  Some of them have the dialogue cut off at the last second.  But worse are other scenes, most notably one featuring silent comedy legend Buster Keaton, which only feature the dialogue recording and were presented, in lieu of the actual film, with stills.  Unlike Apocalypse Now Redux, I felt most of the “restored” scenes were, if not always vital, at the very least added to the story and, in certain cases, filled in a few of the story’s gaps.  Returning to the lost Buster Keaton scene, now I understand where Capt. Culpepper (Spencer Tracy) was going toward the end of the film.  As it was in the theatrical cut, he heads to Buster Keaton’s place but I was never exactly sure why.

That’s not to say all the restored bits are all long and involved.  Many of them amount to a nothing more than a few seconds of extended dialogue or film that are interesting enough but could have been lost without hurting the feature all that much.

Still, my daughter, who usually doesn’t care all that much for older films, nonetheless wound up watching the restored version with me from a little after the beginning to its end and enjoyed the feature.  Given that the only actors she recognized were The Three Stooges in their couple of seconds long cameo, it didn’t detract from her enjoyment of the madness before her.

In the end, I recommend the restored version of IAMW.  While the film is long and therefore requires a considerable investment on the part of viewers, it is an at times hilarious bit of madness, a comedy on a grand scale the likes of which hasn’t been made any time recently.

Check it out.  If you’re into this kind of comedy, you’ll have a good time.