Friday, June 27, 2014

Robocop (2014)

Back in 1987, a masterpiece of sci-fi was created by a relatively unknown director by the name of Paul Verhoeven which seemed like an accident at the time.  When released, hearing the title sounded like a bad science fiction B-movie that wouldn’t work and I don’t think anyone thought much would come of it.  But it worked and, very quickly, Verhoeven showed a signature style to his movie direction, becoming the go-to filmmaker for many other hits to come.

Unfortunately, that stroke of genius Verhoeven created was treated poorly in its sequels and television series (both live-action and cartoon)—not to mention that god-awful part three—allowing it afterwards to lie dormant for a number of years before the Hollywood trend of reboots, remakes and reimagining took hold and revived it for a retelling in the 21st century.  So…back in February of 2014, we’d received the reassembled and rebuilt version of Robocop.

Of course, just like all the countless re-creates we’ve been bombarded with from movie studios, I had cried foul when it was announced that this classic was going through the redo -ringer.  The 1987 version was—and still is—such an archetypal sci-fi masterwork (which I still remember going to see when I was 19 years old) and I can’t understand why studios keep green-lighting all these do-overs.  To hear that filmmakers are just going to start over and retell the same story again seemed asinine and redundant. 

What made the 1987 version so memorable was the hard ‘R’ rating it acquired upon release, nearly garnering an ‘X’ due to the graphic violence it portrayed throughout the film.  However, before this new version was released—and before the rating was announced—it was evident that the movie studio would be too chicken to go all out as the original film had with its violence-in-your-face filming and make sure to release a neutered PG13 film.

Now, this film seemed like it took forever to film and produce, making me think the filmmakers were taking their time to give us something with substance.  I started rethinking about my disdain for the reboot and decided to give the unseen film the benefit of the doubt.  I opted to myself that I would wait until I at least witnessed a preview trailer before I would give any type of criticism towards the film.  Although the photos leaked out—either purposely or accidentally—and showed us some unsatisfying views of the new crime-fighting character, I still held hope that the film might do well.  When Robocop started rearing its ugly head with a teaser trailer, I found myself agreeing with all the premature examinations of the film.  But before I get into all the drawbacks and shortfalls of this film, let me synopsize it.

The year is 2028 and most of the world is being protected by droids created by the world conglomerate, OmniCorp.  However, because of an act issued by a Senator Dreyfuss (Zach Grenier), OmniCorp cannot develop the same technology for law enforcement in America.  But the CEO of OmniCorp, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), wants to push their technology for police organizations and, with the help of Dr. Dennett
Norton (Gary Oldman), who works with robotic prosthetics for amputees, search for a way to incorporate OmniCorp’s technology with a human counterpart.  In this film, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is an undercover cop trying to get to the bottom of some illegal arms dealing that may lead to corruption in the precinct.  But after getting too close to the crime boss, Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow), an attempt on Murphy’s life is made in front of his house by setting up a bomb in his car.  The explosion leaves Murphy critically injured with loss of his legs, one arm, and blind in one eye.  Meeting with Dr. Norton, Murphy’s wife, Clara (Abbie Cornish), is given a choice to save her husband by using OmniCorp technology and she agrees.  When Murphy wakes up, he finds that he has a robotic body and is now a cyborg they call…Robocop.

Now, there is good and bad about this film that I’ll point out shortly.  Before I do, however, I’d like to note that this movie is directed by José Padilha.  If the name doesn’t sound familiar, you’re not alone.  Looking over his résumé of films, I don’t see one—before or after this—that I recognize.  It’s almost as though the studio picked his name out of a hat and went with it.  From what I’d read, the guy went through some frustrations during filming, like how he was scrutinized the whole time by the studio to make sure he produced a PG13 film, and, overall, wasn’t satisfied with the finished product.  Anyway, whatever disparagements I give from here on out, I don’t blame on Mr. Padilha.

Okay, I’ve already denigrated the studio’s choice to remake this film, so I won’t retread on that too much.  But I’ll compare the hell out of both of them…so here goes.

In this new film, the way they deal with Murphy needing to be made into the cyborg is handled a little unthinkingly, going with less shock.  In 1987, one of the bad guys and some goons put a hundred bullets in him as well as shooting off his hand and putting a bullet in his head.  Now THAT was shocking!  In this one?  Car go boom.  Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to belittle the act of someone being unfortunate enough to be blown away by a bomb, because I certainly would never want that to happen to me.  But if I were to write a scene where our hero is critically hurt only to reemerge as half-man-half-machine character, I’d go with the 1987 scene. 

As for the revenge aspects of this new film?  It’s very unsatisfying when Murphy catches up to Vallon—the crime boss who ordered the hit on Murphy—to exact revenge on him.  The scene consists of a big shoot-out only to assume Vallon died in the barrage of bullets.  Later, OmniCorp CEO, Sellars, is made into a bad guy, but it’s sort of thin how they made him into one.  Yes, he was a douche bag and a typical head honcho of a big company, but in the great scheme of things he was only looking out for his company by shutting down the product of Robocop.  How they suddenly showed him as a villain in this film was sort of forced.  In the 1987 version, you knew who the bad guys were and there was no mistaking it—when the two baddies of the film are dispatched of, it’s very satisfying and gives the audience a reason to cheer.  In this new version, it’s a bit confusing.  Is it Vallon?  Is it Sellars?  Is it Sellars’ military consultant, Rick Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley)?  Who’s the big baddie?

So what’s my final “bit” on Robocop?

All in all, this film had superb special effects and excellent design in all the robotic technology.  I liked the 
angle on how OmniCorp wanted to get their robotics in America to help police forces fight crime and how it was a very political perspective.  However, it was pretty obvious how rushed this production was—even though they had a few years to perfect it—and that it was meant to be a castrated composition to keep it a PG13 movie.  Unlike the 1987 film, there was really nothing memorable about this reboot and they should’ve just left well enough alone.  2014’s Robocop is worth a look, but I’d wait until it shows up on cable.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the movies!

Cinema Bits is on Twitter and Facebook.


You know, a lot of horror movies over the years tend to grab well-known inanimate objects that we all recognize upon seeing and turn it into an entity of terror.  Sometimes it’s done well, like many movies about dolls coming to life (take Child’s Playfor example) or done as a tongue-in-cheek comedy (like they did with the killer snowman inJack Frost).  But there’s one thing that’s never been done right and that’s making a horror movie about scarecrows.

Now, some of you may cite Dark Night of the Scarecrow or the opening scene of Jeepers Creepers 2.  A lot of you may say that there havebeen a few films, like 1988’s Scarecrows or the little-known Scarecrow of 2013.  With the exception of the Jeepers Creepers 2 opening (the whole movie wasn’t about killer scarecrows anyway), all those other movies weren’t good or scary at all.  So it just surprises me that no one has tried to take the subject matter to make the pinnacle of scarecrow movies.
A killer scarecrow movie would be perfect for a terrifying movie to play in theaters to big crowds, especially around the Halloween season, but it has yet to happen.  However, in 2011, After Dark Films released a movie straight-to-DVD that would’ve fared well if it was brought to screens for the masses.

As a quick side note, After Dark Films has put out some great titles, really scary and gory stuff that I find entertaining almost every time.  For more on their films, check out the site here.

So the other day, as usual, I tool around the Netflix titles to see what I can add for my next shipment.  I have around 300 or so in my queue, but I occasionally mix them around to match the mood I’m in.  The other day, I was in a horror movie mood—surprise, surprise—and, after seeing the awesome cover art, decided to have 2011’s Husk sent to me in my next delivery.

Horror movies, these days, are so different than the ones I’d seen in my teenaged years.  I admit, I can’t relate to what teens do these days for fun or what type of lingo they use in speaking to one another, so I was worried that would’ve turned me off while watching.  But Husk doesn’t take long for the shit to hit the fan and gets interesting right away.

The story opens with a quintet of friends—Scott (Devon Graye), Johnny (Ben Easter), Chris (CJ Thomason), Brian (Wes Chatham), and Brian’s girlfriend, Natalie (Tammin Sursok)—driving to a lake to spend some time for some R&R.  Suddenly, a murder of crows starts flying into the vehicle’s windshield and causes them to swerve off the road, incapacitating the vehicle.  Stuck on the side of the road, next to a
cornfield and seemingly in the middle of nowhere, they first notice that Johnny is missing.  Seeing a farmhouse within the cornfield, they set off to find their friend and to see if they can get some help from the residents of the property.  Instead, they find themselves surrounded by killer scarecrows that have mysteriously come to life and the group must find a way to fend them off and try to get away.

The first thing I’d noticed when embarking on this film is the feel of it and how it felt like a horror movie from the 80s.  Without the cheesiness and dumb subplots that gave flicks of the 80s a lot of questionability, Husk tends to be more serious and spooky, striking more fear in the audience than the fun movies of the 80s had.  As the opening went on, it kind of reminded me of Children of the Corn, but probably only because of the immense cornfields on either side of the road shown in the film.  Not only that, but the nature of a group of friends driving cross-country also made me think of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  So thinking of those films in my head as I started watching this movie kind of helped me enjoy it more.

I’d mentioned in a review before (I believe it was 1988’s The Blob) that there are a number of things a film needs to include to make it a great horror movie.  One of those items was having 75% or more of the movie take place at night.  Director Brett Simmons follows that logic perfectly, having the characters crash their car in a day trip only to have them lose daylight very quickly, especially when they all find themselves on the property of this dilapidated farmhouse in the middle of this huge cornfield.

The characters, also, were not unlikable or annoying at all.  In fact, all of them have their own individualities that you can identify with right away to tell them apart.  First, you’ve got Chris, the sort of bad boy troublemaker, but not in an irritating way; there’s Chris’s good friend, Johnny, who seems to be the tagalong; Scott is the nerdy intelligent kid, complete with glasses (in case you don’t get how smart he is); Brian is the jock and surprisingly doesn’t exhibit it obnoxiously within the story (like most movies of this ilk tend to do); and finally Natalie is the only female in the film and is Brian’s girlfriend.  Although it doesn’t seem like we get too much development of their backstories, it’s pretty easy to see what each one is about as the film goes on.
The story, as a whole, seems to be a bit of mystery and a very dark one that isn’t very comprehensible as it initially begins.  But instead of hindering the film, it actually helps it as we feel what the characters feel—utter terror.  As you can tell by my summary of the story, and even if you read the synopsis on the back cover of the DVD, the story features animated scarecrows, so I don’t think I’m spoiling the movie for you. 

The scarecrows are pretty terrifying—and, of course, don’t speak—as they have no face but just a burlap covered head, reminding us of so many masked killers of yesteryear that wear a guise with little to no features.  With the cover of darkness and the cornfields, the filmmakers cleverly edit the scenes to show
these creatures easily darting in and out, striking at the characters and creating quite a few jump scares.
If I have to nitpick at anything within this film, it’s the way they choose to give us a back story as to how these creatures came to be.  Using the annoying device of giving one of the characters a sudden parapsychological power, where they unexpectedly develop the power to see visions, one of the central characters sees how this came to be (sort of).  Not only did the abrupt clairvoyance bother me, but what they see still didn’t explain why these scarecrows are able to be alive and running around.  I guess we can speculate, but it’s not consummately explained.

Anyway, if you can put that nitpick aside and enjoy the bulk of the film for what it is—a scarecrows-coming-to-life movie—then I think you’ll enjoy it immensely.

So, let me give you my final “bit” on Husk.

As I’d said, the movie totally reminds me of the horror flicks I’d seen when I was a teenager, where we get right to the problem and terrorize the characters immediately.  With no 21st century lingo and no constant talk of what kids do these days for fun, the film seems timeless.  I definitely recommend it and think you should add Husk to your library of horror.  I know I’m planning to do so myself.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the movies!

Cinema Bits is on Twitter and Facebook.