Monday, February 24, 2014

Moonlight Movie Reviews - Robocop and The Lego Movie

Did you hear, crime has a new enemy?

Well, not THAT new.

In line with everything else, the 1987 classic "Robocop" finally got its own remake this year, and a LOT of fans of the original were pretty upset. For one thing, there's always this big outcry, "Why remake this?" "Hollywood has no more original ideas!" Blah, blah, blah - bullshit. Hollywood has always done remakes. There are lots of original movies out there too, but you don't pay any attention to those, do you? You probably don't even notice them. But, of course you notice the remakes, because you're already familiar with them! As for the question of why remake any movie in particular, I'll agree that not all movies need to be remade. Remaking something like, say, "Casablanca", would be pointless. Remaking a sci-fi film though, well, nothing is more ripe for a remake considering what can be done with the effects these days.

Still, I can't say I would have necessarily felt a "Robocop" remake was... er, necessary, but then, I gotta say, I enjoyed the hell outta this film.

I went to, you guessed it, my favorite theater in Austin on Saturday afternoon, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. This time, it was the Village location, where I was greeted by cute and friendly server Rokhsan, who recognized me from being there just the day before (guilty), at which time I had come for the Lego Movie that's all the rage right now. This day, however, I had really shown up in the hopes of catching Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" (yeah, I have it on DVD, but I've never seen it on the big screen). Unfortunately, that screening was sold out, but I did see one other title of interest that I was right on time for, "Robocop". I went in, sat down, and saw quite the collection of clips to clue me in on what a huge franchise "Robocop" already was.

See, though I was a kid when the first film came out (I thought I had been in elementary school, but I guess I was in junior high already; really thought the original was older than that), and just the age to be a nut for it (despite it's R rating for violence and stuff), I don't know, for some reason I wasn't seeing a lot of this stuff back then, or I just wasn't as into it as everyone else. Most likely, my parents just weren't taking me to it, I guess. So, everyone was talking about Robocop in the schoolyard when I was a kid, and I don't know if I ever saw it in its entirety till a couple years ago, when a friend sent me the 20th Anniversary DVD. Naturally, I thought it was pretty darn cool! I still haven't seen any of the other material from the franchise though, which includes 2 sequels, a live-action TV series, 2 animated series, a live-action mini-series, videogames, toys and comic books! We got to see clips from some of this stuff, like the animated series, before the remake began, as is customary at the Drafthouse, and this included a wide array of commercials, some from foreign countries (I'm guessing Japan...).

Once the movie began, I'm sure everyone was properly geared up for some Robocop action, and I had an amazing pizza coming to me, so all was right with the world. Now, if you don't know a thing about the original, well, it's set in a dystopian near-future in which corporations have really come to be running everything. The city of Detroit is in so much trouble with crime and finances that they hire one major corporation, OCP, to run the police force, and they end up doing that by turning a near dead cop into a crime-fighting cyborg: "Robocop". The movie is loaded with some very heavy themes that are as cleverly dished out as they are obvious, thanks to the cheeky style of the whole picture. It's a very interesting mix of serious drama, graphically violent action and comedic commentary on excess, corruption and corporate America. It's really an excellent movie on many levels, and yet it is easy, I would think, to forget that and view it as a sorta kids' superhero flick from the cheesy 80's. Don't do that! Admittedly though, this would partly be the fault of other entries in the franchise, or so I hear. Robocop 3 seems to be particularly unpopular, but I can't comment on it, because I haven't seen it, and heck, I loved Superman 3 and Halloween 3.

But, how's the remake, right? Well, the remake is very different. It's not as brilliant as the original when it comes to going all out with a style of its own. It tries to capture some of that cheekiness of the first, but it also is trying to be far more realistic, so most of the humorously dark social commentary is dished out by Samuel L. Jackson in the role of a Bill O'Reilly type "news" program host. This is sorta reminiscent of the newscast from the original film, minus the funny commercials and side stories. But, as I said, this new film is very different, and they were trying to play this one far more serious than the original. That's the huge difference, really. This was a serious movie about a man who was murdered and turned into a machine. The social commentary and humor were there, but far less boisterous and campy. Here we are focused on the story of the gradual destruction of Detective Alex Murphy's humanity by the heartless corporation that had taken control of him and made him into Robocop. What we have here is basically an origin story, and I really like the route it took on the story of Murphy's transformation. The film could have been even more clever overall with a bit more reworking. Still, Robocop here is kept a much more human character, and I really appreciate that. This story, again, a very different one than the first, is about Robocop/Murphy not just losing his humanity, but overcoming his programming and regaining that humanity. In the first, he still seemed mostly robot through to the end, or at least like a pretty new entity rather than the old Murphy restored.

The new film is also about the fall and redemption of Dr. Dennett Norton (played by one of my favorite actors, Gary Oldman), the scientist who puts Robocop together and gives in to the corporation's will time and time again till it is too much for him. And then there's Michael Keaton as the head of the OCP and Jackie Earle Haley as his militant underling with a hatred for cyborgs. These are all brilliant actors who really make this film worthwhile, and the visuals don't hurt either. I prefer Robocop in the classic look, which he does have at times in the movie, and it's all quite appropriately done, even when he goes black. There are a couple of scenes where we see what is really left of Murphy, and for my money, it's as disturbing as the graphically violent scenes of the original film, though in a totally different way. I know many have complained about this one getting a PG-13 rating, but really, there's no reason this story needs to be rated R. The extremely graphic violence of the first film wasn't necessary to telling the overall story. I can live with or without it, frankly, and there was enough cool stuff in this movie to keep me satisfied. Oh, and I should mention that Joel Kinnaman was great as Alex Murphy/Robocop, being very reminiscent of Peter Weller once he had the suit on. Abbie Cornish did a fine job (and looked beautiful) as his wife, though she really wasn't given a lot to do here. And, hey, Jay Baruchel was in there too! Ya either like him or hate him, but I usually like having him onboard.

Overall, this remake was a really good movie. It's not groundbreaking or iconic like the original, it doesn't have an extremely unique style and the social commentary is reigned in somewhat, but still there since it is still the driving force of the plot. I feel with this one there is a bit more focus on the character of Robocop though, or on his human side anyway, which he is struggling to maintain throughout the film. So, it may not be as memorable or fascinating a film as the original, but it is different and good enough to make it a worthwhile one.  

Now, here is a mini review.

"The Lego Movie". Everything is awesome!

Okay, I'll give you a little more than that, even though it's past my bedtime. You've probably already gone out and seen it. It seems people are going nuts for this little movie. Well, here's the deal. Lego has grown insanely popular ever since it started doing franchise sets many, MANY years back. I'm talking like Star Wars Lego sets and similar ones. This also led to video games and other stuff. It's gotten huge. Finally, a bigscreen Lego movie has come out, and everyone is raving about it, because, yeah, it's pretty freakin' great!

The story is about a little Lego man named Emmet. He's a construction worker in a Lego city who wants to fit in and make friends but can't seem to do it. This appears to be because there's nothing special about him. Nothing even specific about him. He's just a generic guy without an original idea in his head. But, one day, he stumbles into a huge adventure. Emmet manages to get himself attached to a special piece. The Piece of Resistance. This sacred block is the one thing that can help the Master Builders defeat the President Business's plan to use his super weapon, the Kragle, to freeze everyone in the Lego universes into place, making everything a model of perfection forever. Think of it like "The Matrix" meets "Bill and Ted" meets "Zoolander" meets a bunch of other stuff. It's pretty crazy. It's very funny. The visuals are amazing and the plot takes a turn in the third act that really seals this together as more than just a funny animated feature. It really sends this thing over as a truly excellent film.

I'll be honest, with all the hype this movie has gotten, largely from the viewers themselves, I was expecting to be underwhelmed. I wasn't quite as blown away by the trailers as everyone else, and it took me a little while to get into the movie itself, really. Once I did though, once it got going, with Batman and Will Ferrell, and this awesome bit with Han, Chewie and Lando from Star Wars, it was just AWESOME! Now, I might say that some aspects people are celebrating this movie for may still feel a bit overblown to me (not EVERY joke is gold and it still took me a bit to get into it), there are other aspects for which I think it deserves even more praise than I've been hearing. The brilliance of this whole thing, for me really, is how it is written as truly a perfect movie for the subject matter! This is a movie about Legos! Not about how they are made or their origin, but about what they are all about! It's about using your imagination to build things! With Legos! Somehow, they made a brilliant movie all about that! It's really kinda perfect! In fact, it's so perfectly conceived that it does kinda make me worry that the sequel has already been greenlit. This is the first time I've ever really felt this way. I mean, I think pretty much anything can have a good sequel if the right person is writing it. But, this movie, I mean, I just don't see how a sequel won't be inferior or feel forced. But, that's a worry for another day. In the meantime, I repeat, this movie is brilliant and just tons of fun! Go see it! It clearly was written for adults as much as for kids, too, so no worries there!

Incidentally, a couple days after I saw the Lego Movie, I was at Wal-Mart and decided to look into getting an Emmet figure of my own, even though I'm trying to avoid TINY collectibles these days, ha. Well, what I discovered was that the Lego Movie minifigures are being sold in these packs where you don't know who is inside. Yeah, that kinda sucks, but since they're just like two something each, I guess that's the only way they figure they'll make enough money selling them. There are playsets though, and I'm ASSUMING those come with the figures pictured on them, so after trying out one of these mystery pack figures and getting the coffee shop guy, yeah, I'm thinking about checking how much those playsets cost.

And, yeah, I know, time to clip my nails. Gimme a break, they grow insanely fast.

Finally for tonight, I said I wasn't going to keep doing this, but someone who was a big part of my childhood just passed away, and I feel the need to share in the mourning of his passing. I don't really know what to say, except, too soon. You were a hero to all us kids from back in the day, and we'll never stop wanting to bust ghosts with you.

Harold Ramis, writer, director, actor and Ghostbuster
(1944 - 2014)

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