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Iron Man Three (2013)
Not without flaws but still a hugely entertaining ride.
I'll dive right in and start by addressing the obvious elephant in the room by which I mean Iron Man 3's many questionable plot points and outright flaws. Following on from 2012's stunning dream team-up The Avengers, Iron Man 3 had the unenviable task of picking up the pieces and going solo again.
My first nitpick is Tony Stark's PTSD regarding his flight through a wormhole above New York. A man who has an innate ability to predict the future (for aside from his mechanical genius that is Stark's 'power') would surely be well equipped mentally to cope with the revelation that aliens are indeed out there. His breakdown due to this one factor is something that doesn't smack of the comic book Tony Stark. I simply don't buy his anguish.
Another jarring choice is the difference between pre-Extremis Killian and his super- powered version. A more subtle physical performance for the pre-enhanced version would have been preferred from Guy Pearce. And whilst on the subject, the level of power that Extremis gives its subjects is pushed just too far. Rapid regeneration and the ability to heat up to 1,000s of degrees is just taking things too far to remain wholly believable. These guys make the T-1000 look tame. A little more restraint is all I'm asking.
Another nitpick is the last line which was changed from the scripted one. One of the film's better ideas is taking Tony Stark and stripping him of his suits but even without them he's still a guy who can make something out of nothing and survive, he still is Tony Stark yet the closing line of "I am Iron Man" as opposed to the original line of "I am Tony Stark" is a bizarre choice and in a way prevents Tony's story arc coming full circle.
These are personal nitpicks and some may see other major plot points as flaws and whereas I once did, I've now come to appreciate some of Shane Black's more bold choices. So let's deal with the main one, The Mandarin. Whilst I was with the majority initially and hated the big twist now I see it as a stroke of genius and very brave writing. Killian himself addresses the matter when he says, "You simply rule from behind the scenes. Because the second you give evil a face, a Bin- Laden, a Gaddafi, The Mandarin, you hand people a target." It's all there in that one line, The Mandarin was the ultimate decoy. And let's be honest about the Mandarin from the comics, he's an outdated Fu-Manchu racial stereotype that borders on being offensive. And let's not take any credit away from Sir Ben, as both The Mandarin and Trevor Slattery he's just pure entertainment.
What IM3 gets right it does so with aplomb. The film's humour is spot-on most of the time and typical of a Shane Black film. The three main action scenes (there are lots more besides) are a masterclass in frenetic, well staged and jaw-dropping action. The helicopter attack on the Malibu house is superb and the Air Force One skydiving rescue scene is phenomenal and one of the greatest set-pieces I've ever seen, the majority of it filmed for real with only minor CG enhancements. The final House Party Protocol battle is the stuff of fanboy dreams and is wholly satisfying. Apart from Tony then blowing up all his suits that is. Bum move Stark, you might need those soon!
So in summary it's a film that fires along at a cracking pace and thoroughly entertains if you can ignore some of its more questionable plot choices. For me it's the most entertaining of the three Iron Man films and one that I initially disliked but have now grown to love. It stands up to repeat viewings as much as any of the best MCU films. I still lament Marvel's avoidance of some the darker elements from the books relating to Stark's alcoholism which would give RDJ an opportunity to really stretch his acting muscles and give extra depth to the character. The film's mis-steps are often significant and have irked many a hardcore Marvel fan but they're mostly forgivable when you take into account just how very high those many high points are.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
How does Marvel keep doing this?
By 'this' I mean taking Marvel properties that aren't mainstream even by comic book standards and turning them into massively successful films. As part of Marvel Studios boss, Kevin Feige's Marvel Cinematic Universe master-plan they've taken characters like Thor and made them work successfully on the big screen and have recently done it again with a man who shrinks to the size of an ant. Such bold adaptations should never have worked but credit to Marvel they've nailed it several times now.
Few would argue that of Marvel's lesser properties that have been added to the MCU mixing pot, Guardians of the Galaxy is by far the most surprisingly successful adaptation. One of Marvel's more 'out there' (literally) properties, GotG was a big gamble and the lion's share of credit must go to director James Gunn who made the film very much his own. Colourful, subversively funny and achingly cool in equal measure, GotG blew cinema goers away with its infectious feel-good factor and brilliantly realised team of disparate losers. The script is the first and arguably most important thing that they got right. The consistently sharp and witty dialogue keeps your attention throughout and none of the main cast feel superficial or poorly written.
Chris Pratt almost steals the show with his portrayal of Star Lord and walks a fine line between making the character his own and falling into shameless Han Solo parody. Even the non-human CGI characters like Rocket and Groot are given a satisfying depth and what makes everything gel is the emotional heft that pervades throughout, be it Star Lord's grief over the loss of his mother or Rocket lamenting his tortured creation. Even wrestler Dave Bautista delivers as the dryly serious Drax who takes every verbal witticism by its literal meaning providing many of the film's funniest moments.
Yes, main villain Ronan the Accuser is somewhat thinly written with an almost generic genocidal drive to wipe out his people, The Kree's enemies but Lee Pace makes up for it somewhat with a commanding physical screen presence. Karen Gillian's strangely sexy, chameleon-like turn as Nebula is far stronger. Watch her express just enough mournful regret in her expression after seemingly killing her adopted sister Gamora to give the scene an added emotional layer. It's a beautiful moment in a film packed full of them. Indeed what Guardians does well is take time for those little moments of awe inspiring beauty like Groot's light spores and his moving "WE are Groot" heroic sacrifice.
No review of Guardians would be complete without mention of the astonishing soundtrack. The song choices are both fitting and relevant to Quill and are actually being heard by our characters as the scenes play. This helps pull us into Guardians trippy space opera and coupled with a rousing musical score Guardians is a treat on the ears as well as the eyes. From the surprisingly emotional 1988 set prologue to the über cool opening through to the musical montage ending the film whips along at a satisfying pace and not a scene or line of dialogue is wasted. The action is stunningly well executed and avoids the confusing Transformers-esque level of incoherent mayhem that pollute many modern summer blockbusters.
So 10/10, really? Well having watched it several times now I can't see where it puts a foot majorly wrong. It accomplishes all it sets out to do and more. It has enough depth to make repeat viewings rewarding and offers sufficient, technically flawless eye candy to never get boring. Indeed all of the $170 million budget is up there on screen plain to see and in terms of quality it's a film more than worthy of its financial success. And all this from a film that the majority of Marvel fans never really wanted or expected in the first place.
Going back to both the soundtrack and the film's pervading feel good factor, it's these two things working in tandem that are arguably the most memorable aspect of Guardians. A great meal is only as good as the last mouthful and by the end of Guardians' veritable feast you've been thoroughly entertained and emotionally satisfied and what else can you ask of a space-themed Summer sci-fi blockbuster?
The wait for their return to the big screen won't be an easy one and that's credit to what an amazing achievement James Gunn has made. He took what could've been seen as a Star Wars rip-off featuring a talking racoon, a man-tree and Han Solo and Malcolm Reynolds' love-child and somehow made it all work. Yeah, that gets a 10 in my book.
French Connection II (1975)
A truly underrated sequel and arguably Hackman's finest performance.
Despite it's unique style and ultimately somewhat dour tone William Friedkin's The French Connection was a massive critical and commercial success in 1971 and almost single handedly ushered in the edgy filmmaking style that would permeate much of 70's mainstream cinema.
The original's ending makes a point of being ambiguous and leaves everything unresolved. This is not a flaw but part of what makes it such a great film. Nevertheless success begets a sequel in Hollywood and it fell to John Frankenheimer to tell us what happened to Popeye Doyle after the somewhat disastrous ending of the first film. Any other typical sequel would have been merely a retread of the first with a different antagonist but the same familiar, comfortable setting like the numerous Dirty Harry sequels.
This sequel however, bravely moves from grimy Brooklyn to picturesque, sunny Marseilles, home of 'Frog One' himself, Alain Charnier, again played by Fernando Rey. We pick up Doyle as he arrives in Marseilles to assist the French authorities in identifying and tracking down the elusive Charnier. Here begins one of the films main defining themes, that of Doyle as a fish out of water.
Here Doyle's savvy streetwise Brooklyn knowledge is useless. He has no idea as to the particulars of French culture, no bearing as to where he is and most importantly no grasp whatsoever of the French language making something as simple as ordering a Bourbon in a bar a near impossibility. Doyle's rash action and inability to read the terrain leads to the murder of a police informant much to the chagrin of police lieutenant Barthélemy, well played by Bernard Fresson.
As Doyle bumbles around Marseilles looking for clues as to Charnier's activities he is spotted by the man himself and promptly abducted and in the film's second ace up the sleeve, is held captive and injected with Heroin. The film takes a dramatic turn and Hackman puts in an Oscar worthy performance with Doyle resembling the junkies he's spent most of his career chasing. After his release we see him forced to go cold turkey by Barthélemy and some of the extended takes of this harrowing ordeal are a veritable Tour De Force of acting. The Micky Mantle speech being particularly memorable.
Whereas the first film had it's famous car/L-train chase the sequel climaxes with a foot chase through Marseilles the end result of which remains one of the greatest final shots (literally) that I've seen in a film. We really feel Doyle's desperation and Heroin induced fatigue but he simply will not give up even if it kills him.
It may not have the fresh grittiness of the original but it earns points for its brave plot choices and Hackman's incredible performance. Easily one of the most underrated sequels ever, French Connection II gets my highest recommendation.
The French Connection (1971)
Friedkin's groundbreaking staged documentary.
Re-watching William Friedkin's seminal 1971 police procedural for the first time in well over a decade, it struck me how truly groundbreaking it is. All the usual movie tropes, especially those that usually propel the protagonist in any number of cop films (revenge, broken marriage, dead partner, etc) are thrown out in favour of a gritty ultra realistic fly on the wall documentary approach that, as far as I'm aware, hadn't been seen in movies prior to this, the flagship of the American 'New Wave' of 70's cinema.
We follow Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle and Buddy 'Cloudy' Russo played by the legendary Gene Hackman and the ever reliable Roy Schieder. These two hard nosed New York narcotic detectives are tired of bringing in low level perps for nickel and dime bags and crave a score worthy of their assumed reputations. The real life cops on whom their characters are based, Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso would jokingly discuss the casting of the movie of their lives as they worked the streets of Brooklyn. Both cops actually have significant acting roles in the film playing Simonson and Klein but it's the two big name stars, Hackman and Schieder that make such an impression.
Hackman's racist, rule bending Doyle commands the screen with an intense, obsessive drive to track down and incarcerate the French drug smuggler Alain Charnier played with superb cool and charm by Fernando Rey. In fact so fierce is Doyle's drive that even in the film's shocking climax where Doyle guns down the wrong man, any remorse quickly dissipates, replaced by his unending drive to catch 'Frog One'. That final scene, so numbing and without resolution for the viewer would be the basis for the entirely fictitious sequel and stays true to the real life events of the case without resorting to a comforting Hollywood ending.
Where the film really excels is in the technical merits of Friedkin's directorial style aided by the muted colours and shaky cinematography of Owen Roizman and Don Ellis' edgy score. We're shown some of the poorer, dirtier urban slums of New York and one can almost feel the biting cold of winter as Doyle and Russo spend hours tailing their quarry mostly on foot.
The bulk of the film focuses on the less glamorous side of policing seldom shown in film where stakeouts and tails can go on for days. Our hero cops drink coffee from paper cups in a cold doorway whilst Charnier enjoys fine dining in the comfort of a swish brasserie. This is extremely brave as on paper endless scenes of men following other men seems mind numbing at best but Friedkin presents it in such a way that one can't help but be riveted as they tail, lose and again catch up with their targets only to lose them again. This heightened investigative realism paved the way for the likes of such shows as The Wire decades later but must have seemed so fresh to audiences in 1971.
The numerous chase scenes are shot with a wildly nervous style of editing. The first foot chase where Doyle and Russo run after a perp only to catch him and use their tried and tested 'picking your feet in Poughkeepsie' interrogation where the criminal is baffled by a question he can neither answer or comprehend leading to a strained confession is superbly edited and comes from Egan and Grosso's real life antics.
The now legendary car/L-train chase, allegedly shot without a permit is kinetic, raw and visceral and a forerunner for the incredible car chase in Friedkin's 1985 cop thriller To Live and Die in L.A.
The French Connection is to this day a truly unique, thoroughly original cop drama, more staged documentary than film. Go into it without expectation and enjoy it for what it is, one of a kind film-making from one of Hollywood's true maverick directors. Just don't get caught pickin' ya feet!
RoboCop 2 (1990)
The beginning of the end for the RoboCop series.
RoboCop 2 has a small but fervent fan base that I've become aware of in recent years and am somewhat bemused by. I'm my opinion it's very clear that as both a film and sequel to the outstanding original it simply fails to deliver and was the beginning of the end of the RoboCop franchise in terms of quality at least.
I have a strange relationship with the film insomuch as although it's a film I have no love for I have nevertheless seen it innumerable times. I'll explain... As any who have read my review of the original will be aware it's my favourite film and in early 1990 my anticipation of the sequel was fervent to say the least. The first full theatrical trailer (with Basil Poledouris' score stolen from the original) remains to this day one of the most enticing trailers I've ever seen and makes the film look far better than the final product actually is. Alas later that year (I had to wait for the home video release) I was very disappointed. Yet still I re-watched it over and over in some vain hope that it would get better the more I watched it. I really wanted it to but It didn't.
Little has been made about the production history of the film, subsequent DVD and Blu Ray releases have been bereft of special features and it's only recently, with the renewed interest in all things RoboCop that the tale of 2's beleaguered production has surfaced in any great detail. On paper it should have been a success. Most of the surviving principle cast returned, The Dark Knight Returns scribe Frank Miller on writing duty and Irvin Kershner directing. Yes, that's the same Irvin Kershner that directed a little known 1980 sci-fi film called The Empire Strikes Back. You may have heard of it. It's probably the greatest sequel ever made.
So, what went wrong? Firstly as much as Kershner can be credited for his sterling work on Empire, by 1990 he hadn't directed a theatrical film since 1983's much maligned unofficial James Bond movie, Never Say Never Again. Verhoven's vision was such a defining factor of the original that his absence here was very much apparent. Kershner himself had many issues to contend with. A script that underwent numerous re-writes following studio intervention was the main problem. It's been said that when principle shooting began they still hadn't finalised the script. The finished article was, by Kershner's own admission a mess and the major cause of the movie's failure to capture the magic formula of the original. Ideas are suggested but never satisfactorily followed through. One such aspect is Murphy's relationship with his wife which is set up only for it to be unceremoniously dumped presumably to make room for more action.
The whole movie has a rushed feel, perhaps not surprising given Orion's desperate financial situation at the time, they'd been eager to put out a sequel ever since the first became a hit. The studio set a release date of June 1990 long before shooting had even commenced and a workable script was finished. Orion desperately needed a quick hit to aid their financial woes and weren't concerned with artistic integrity.
The performances across the board, even from Weller himself are sub-par at best. Gone is the regained humanity of Murphy by the end of film one. At the beginning of film two his voice and general mannerisms are far more robotic than when we last saw him. It's as if the film consists entirely of first takes, with unrefined, unnatural and clumsy delivery of poorly written dialogue by all involved. Also not to my liking is an almost camp edge to the humour, a poor mimicry of the ultra black comedy of the original.
Several poor plot choices stick out like a sore pneumatic digit; Gabriel Damon's foul mouthed 12 year old villain Hob - they really thought that idea would work? And the whole concept of putting the brain of a drug dealing psychopath into Murphy's replacement... I thought it was called Robo-COP 2. Tom Noonan's frankly bizarre turn as drug lord Cain pales in comparison to Kurtwood Smith and Ronny Cox from the first film. Cain the quietly spoken hippy is redolent of the film's off kilter tone. And since when did The Old Man and Johnson become scenery chewing villains in place of the admittedly greedy but still fairly decent characters they portrayed in the first film?
Another factor which defies logic is the decision to drop composer Basil Poledouris in favour of, wait for it... Leonard Rosenman. Yes, you know, that renowned film composer famed for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and... um, not much else. His score for Robocop 2 is almost a carbon copy of his Trek score, campy and ill-fitting, an insult to Poledouris' rousing yet melodic work on the first film. It has to rank as one of the hokiest film scores I've heard, shameful.
There are some promising elements and moments but they're few and far between. Whether Robocop 2 is better than the recent remake is up for debate, at least it's aimed at adults as it should be and is at least justified in its existence. Either way, the RoboCop franchise is best considered as solely consisting of one film and this ill-conceived sequel is proof that the first film really was a case of catching lightning in a bottle.
One of the greatest crime dramas ever committed to film.
1995 was, on reflection a great year for film. A number of classic, genre defining films were released that year, the historical epic was resurrected with Braveheart, and innovative thrillers and crime dramas looking at the subject from various angles wowed viewers with a degree of style and flair that would likely make Hitchcock swoon. David Fincher's Seven, Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects, Martin Scorsese's Casino, all were both stylish and thoroughly entertaining and have become well deserved classics. There is another to add to that illustrious list, Michael Mann's Heat, a remake of his 1989 TV movie, L.A. Takedown.
"All I am is what I'm going after."
If one were to think of the crime drama in terms of the perspective it takes then I can think of no more balanced a view than Heat which portrays both the criminals and police with no particular bias. Whilst this is more stylised stuff than recent crime dramas such as TV's The Wire with its uber realism, Heat is no less entertaining.
The cast Mann assembled is the stuff of dreams. Yes, Pacino and De Niro have been in the same film together (The Godfather Part II) but not opposite each other and no screen time was shared. Both actors were (at the time at least) arguably the greatest actors of their generation and seeing them put in such measured performances was a thing to behold. There was no sense of one-upmanship like McQueen and Brynner in The Magnificent Seven. This was the very definition of co-operation between two seasoned pros, each actor bringing both aspects we'd seen before (Pacino's shouting intensity, De Niro's cool menace) as well as a sense of passion for this particular piece. They are both thoroughly convincing as experts in their respective fields, meticulous criminal and determined cop alike.
The huge supporting cast makes for mouthwatering reading, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Natalie Portman, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, Tom Noonan and Danny Trejo to name but a few. Even the most minor roles are occupied by familiar faces, Jeremy Piven, Martin Ferrero, Xander Berkeley and Hank Azaria amongst many others.
"You do what you do and I do what I gotta do."
One of the films greatest and most memorable scenes is the coffee shop confrontation. Any other script would have upped the antagonism between the two leads but here both men aren't too macho as to withhold their obvious respect for one another whilst still holding on to a degree of threat and menace should one get in the way of the other. The relatively brief chat is nothing short of mesmerising and their only real conversation in the 170 minute runtime. Every line of dialogue has it's place. Nothing is wasted, there is no fat on the meat.
"I mean is this guy something, or is he something? This crew is good."
Technically the film is a marvel. From Dante Spinotti's icy cinematography to Elliot Goldethal's mournful score and no less than a four man editing team, Heat is a joy to behold. Some could argue that the film is a little long but I feel this gives extra value as even minor characters such as Dennis Haysbert's getaway driver gets his own almost self contained mini story arc. Some of the dialogue, Voight and Noonan's in particular, is difficult to understand (a problem that would later cripple Mann's Miami Vice) but this is a minor gripe.
One can't discuss Heat's technical merits without mentioning the films other standout scene, the now legendary bank heist/shootout. The tense build up of the stunningly executed heist leads directly into a lengthy, brutally realistic and ballistically correct gun battle in L.A.'s busy financial district. With no score and actual gunfire recorded as it was on the day this is a shootout like no other. So good in fact that in 2003 it was used as part if a special forces training package illustrating textbook cover & move tactics.
"We've been face to face yeah, but I will not hesitate, not for a second."
Heat's influence is still being felt and was beautifully paid tribute to in The Dark Knight's opening prologue. It featured two of Hollywood's greatest actors giving Oscar worthy performances surrounded by a vast and superb supporting cast and talented crew. Movies like this sadly come far too infrequently, movies where every facet is so tightly constructed with such care and attention to detail that the finished product is indeed, as the tag line puts it, an epic tale of crime and obsession.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
No fate but what we make.
It opens with a glimpse of the chaotic future war of what's left of 2029 Los Angeles, we'd been here before but just not on this scale. The opening to Cameron's £100 million 1991 sequel aims to set the bar and grab your attention. Then it moves into a credits sequence of a burning children's playground, a haunting view of the coming nuclear war. This theme of the end of mankind permeates the film far more than in the original. We are, after all by this point, 3 years away from nuclear annihilation (the film is set in 1994). It's as Kyle Reese says to Sarah Connor in the first of two haunting nightmare sequences, "There's not much time left in the world Sarah."
The beauty of Cameron's film is not just how it expands upon the scope of the original but how the film itself changed the landscape of cinema much like Jaws did back in the summer of 1975. This was a tent-pole summer blockbuster on a scale never before seen and, get this modern Hollywood, R rated! Yes, an R rated summer blockbuster! Let's hope we go back to this sort of braver movie industry some day soon.
If one is able to view T2 in isolation of its success and influence it's a superbly crafted slice of intelligent action sci-fi. Admittedly somewhat bloated (in its extended form at least) and exuberant in comparison to the lean and gritty low budget original but is that really a bad thing? Do the two films not perfectly complement one another?
After his incredibly fraught shoot on 1989's The Abyss (he didn't actually finish that film to his satisfaction until 1992) Cameron made sure that another ambitious project such as T2 would not suffer such troubles. He assembled the very finest crew (sound effects, editing and cinematography especially) and the quality of their work is all up there on screen. It's easily one of the most consistently beautifully shot films of the genre, unless of course you really don't like steely blue hues.
I'll address one popular criticism of T2, namely Arnie being the good guy. The original idea for the first film was that the Terminator's appearance would be that of a regular Joe who would just blend into a crowd as opposed to the imposing frame of the Austrian Oak (hardly a subtle infiltration unit). Robert Patrick's police officer garbed T-1000 was just that, a chameleon, a shape shifter, he could be anyone. Therein lay the threat.
That image of the partially formed, chrome T-1000 coolly waking out of a flaming truck wreck left jaws on floors and the subsequent imagery of his various acts of morphing were like nothing anyone had ever seen. Has there been a more innocuous looking yet totally unstoppable movie villain before or since? Unlike the subsequent slew of films that either overused or poorly implemented computer effects, in T2 they serve the plot first and foremost.
Returning cast members were on board, a ripped, lean Linda Hamilton famously getting into superhuman shape to play a much harder, weathered Sarah Connor is better than she's ever been. Michael Biehn (a well implemented cameo in the extended version) and Earl Boen reprise their respective roles from the original. Some deride Edward Furlong's John Connor but in comparison to some other first time child actors I can think of (yes you Jake Lloyd!) his performance is more than acceptable.
Writer, William Wisher (he cameos as 'guy with camera in mall' fact fans) ran with an idea deleted from the original, namely Sarah's idea to go after and stop Cyberdyne Systems. Instead of portraying the man who develops Skynet as a typical driven, power-mad scientist, here Joe Morton gives us a decent family man faced with the sickening realisation that his well intentioned day job will cause mankind's extinction. I'd just call in sick.
The film moves from one superbly choreographed, action set-piece to the next. It's lengthy runtime suitably balanced by several quieter reflective character moments. Brad Fiedel's stunningly haunting score complements these scenes perfectly, lending the story an even greater sense of the pending apocalypse that Sarah knows is coming. The pace of the film, whilst not as continually break-neck as the first, still keeps you on edge.
I am occasionally torn as to whether T2 is a better film than the first. Then I think back to how the film made such an impact in August of 1991. Never had such a well crafted roller coaster of a film been seen. Yes I do question the need for some of the film's lighter, humorous moments but I am willing to forgive them in light of the exceptional quality of the movie, a film that hasn't noticeably aged at all. T2 was the ultimate game changer of the early to mid 90's. It gave us things we hadn't seen before and was a sequel easily as good as if not better than the original.
The Terminator (1984)
An Undisputed Classic Film (Tech) Noir.
The fact that James Cameron's low budget 1984 breakthrough film, The Terminator is an undisputed classic of 80's cinema and cinema in general is just that, undisputed. It is however, one of a handful of first films that may be bettered by its sequel, in this case Cameron's 1991 epic, big budget follow up, Terminator 2: Judgement Day. For me the second film had always been my favourite of the two (I try to ignore the rest) but on re- watching the original recently I have a renewed love of the film. It's grittiness and dark tone, devoid of humour is very refreshing in this sanitised PG-13 age of Hollywood that we now live in.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is unrelentingly menacing as the titular killer cyborg from the future and it's a stunningly well paced film. It's very much a product of the 80's with its garish fashion and big hair but that's in no way a bad thing as it's setting is very much an integral part of the plot. T2 is grander, more epic and still near flawless but I fear it suffers from too much exposure if there can be such a thing. It's been on TV a million times and released more times on various home video formats than almost any other film and is maybe a little too much in the public lexicon to be viewed outside of itself and it's own reputation. The original has a lower budget feel that gives it an almost indie quality that has done it no such harm. Set over the course of two days and nights there is a greater sense of intimacy with the first film and a dark tone that's very film noir (or should that be Tech Noir?).
Schwarzenegger, in only his second major role, has only a handful of lines but commands the screen with a presence that sets him apart as one of cinemas truly frightening villains. When you consider that both OJ Simpson and Lance Henriksen had been considered for the role prior to the Austrian Oak it's lucky that Cameron made such an inspired casting decision and it would be interesting to peer into an alternate universe and see what the other two actors would have brought to the role.
Linda Hamilton shines as Sarah Connor, the T-800's timid, shell-shocked target and by film's end it's great to see her transition into something that more closely resembles (at least mentally) T2's ripped killing machine mom. Michael Biehn also gives a superb, understated performance as the battle-weary human soldier sent back to protect Sarah. The sense of impending doom he conveys whilst never straying from his mission adds immensely to the film's pre-post-apocalyptic theme.
There are many great plot devices and technical flourishes that I could mention such as the idea that Kyle is the father of the man that sent him back to the past in the first place, a mind bending temporal causality loop that gives food for thought and debate.
On the technical front the cinematography, iconic score and soundtrack and tight editing are all first rate. One particular scene representative of these aspects so finely melded by Cameron's deft hand is the scene where Sarah and the Terminator first meet. As the cyborg walks through the Tech Noir nightclub and approaches the table where Sarah sits waiting for the arrival of the LAPD, the film shifts into a dreamlike slow motion as Sarah knocks a bottle onto the floor, bends down to pick it up just long enough for the T-800 to miss her as he passes. The 80's rock music is now muffled by the dilation of time as the score comes in, Sarah gets up and sees not the cyborg but Kyle staring at her from across the bar oblivious to the fact that her hunter has now doubled back and is about to see her. Just as the slo-mo tension reaches a climax Kyle sees what Sarah hasn't as she lifts her gaze to the machine as he pulls out a gun, Kyle does the same and we kick back into real-time and all hell breaks loose. This level of tension is maintained for the film's duration and marks it as one of cinema's most efficient thrillers.
We've since seen what Cameron can do with huge budgets and established effects houses and there's no denying that he's more than made his mark on the movie world. However, one can't help but think that ever since he declared himself King of the World, his films, quality wise at least, have diminished. I still lean towards T2 as the more personally fulfilling entertainment spectacle of the two films but back in 1984 with very real limitations made worse by on-set woes, problems with studio heads and the lack of any prior reputation, Cameron made best of what he had and that estimated $6.4 million budget was stretched further than anyone could have imagined. He ended up giving us a classic film of such quality that it made sure that the audience, like the Terminator himself, would indeed be back.
Blade Runner (1982)
"All those moments will be lost...
... in time, like tears in the rain."
Well thanks to the medium of film this utterly influential Sci-Fi Noir classic won't be lost, it will be preserved forever and as Ridley Scott's 2007 Final Cut has shown, tweaked to perfection. The story of Blade Runner's inception, first as a short story by Phillip K. Dick, through to its very troubled production, relative failure upon initial release and then the years it took on home video through numerous, slightly different cuts, to finally gain the recognition it deserves is as fascinating as any. What was once very much a cult film has now gained true classic status.
Blade Runner isn't so much a traditional film in terms of narrative, more an overall audio- visual sensory experience. In it's Final Cut form, free from the much maligned voice over of the original theatrical cut, it has little in the way of plot exposition. After the scene setting text introduction the viewer is placed smack bang into Ridley Scott's Hellish vision of Los Angeles 2019 and what a vision it is. I cannot recall any film with such a strong visual style. The neon-lit, smog ridden, rain soaked, multi-lingual world Scott created is a thing of beauty like no other in film. The effects and production design take centre stage, even over plot and narrative yet service the movie in ways no one had seen before.
The sublime visuals work in perfect harmony with a score by Vangelis which is one of the greatest scores in film and is a truly unique musical wonder, perfectly capturing the somber melancholy of this dystopian future.
Inspired casting is another of the film's strengths. Harrison Ford's famous on set woes and personal issues with the director may have actually added to his somewhat detached, somber performance as Rick Deckard, the Replicant hunting cop brought back in for one last job who may well be one himself (my personal take is that he isn't a Replicant, probably!) Deckard is thankfully devoid of the cockiness of Ford's Han Solo and Indiana Jones and this is one of his finest performances.
Rutger Hauer has never been better as Roy Batty, leader of the group of renegade Replicants. His now famous final monologue, allegedly ad-libbed to some extent, describes the film's core message of our own mortality. It remains one of the most powerful and memorable scenes in film. You don't need to know what the Shoulder of Orion is or what C-Beams are, all you need to know is that during this artificially created life-form's short life, he has amassed experiences and memories which, once he's gone, will cease to be. Sobering stuff indeed but easier to swallow when you consider that Batty, in his final moments, loved life so much, his life, even the life of the man charged with hunting him, that he saved Deckard from certain death. A simply magical finale to a truly beautiful film
I'll finish by talking about Blade Runner's influence on the modern cinematic landscape. The unique visual style of futuristic dystopia that the film showed has been copied hundreds of times since, sometimes very obviously, (Akira, The Fifth Element), sometimes more of a subtle influence, (the constant rain of the unnamed city in Se7en apes that of L.A. 2019). Either way, Blade Runner has left an indelible mark on Hollywood, Sci-Fi in particular. It's a film that may require a bit of work from its audience but once you immerse yourself in its intoxicating beauty, you'll forever be a slave to it.
I pray that it's magnificence isn't sullied by an unnecessary sequel!
The Princess Bride (1987)
I last saw The Princess Bride around 20+ years ago. I can't recall what I thought of it then but I have always been aware that it has a great following. Having just re-watched it I am utterly dismayed that a film this poorly written, so poorly acted and with such a jarring almost absurdly bad musical score has such devotion. I can only guess that it's nostalgia that's clouding the minds of its fans. It's not even remotely funny and this coming from the guy that gave us This Is Spinal Tap? The sets look worse than the cheapest TV shows. It even makes reference to Australia being full if convicts yet has a Medieval period setting, hundreds of years before Autralia's convict influx. Did nobody vet the script? Where's the alleged humour? Please give me a funny line that I may have missed. This is woefully amateurish stuff.
103 minutes of cinematic perfection.
I've a very personal connection to RoboCop. It's been my favourite movie since I first saw it 25 years ago and was also the first truly adult film I'd seen at that time in my life. It's extreme violence shocked me and left and indelible mark, it's vile, memorable villains, breakneck pace and frenetic action were like nothing I'd ever seen.
I have revisited the film at various ages over the years and have regularly reappraised it, each time trying to gauge it objectively without the haze of nostalgia. Whilst other movies I loved in my youth now rate far less favourably with me when viewed as an adult, RoboCop is as good now as it was all those years ago. As an adult I now clearly see the deeper thematic elements such as the commentary on 80's corporate greed and Verhoven's Christ allegory of Murphy's crucifixion and resurrection.
The most powerful aspects of the movie are some of the more emotional elements such as Murphy's "I can feel them, but I can't remember them" scene and Murphy going to the abandoned family home, all played with perfectly balanced pathos by Peter Weller who puts in a career best performance in a very difficult, unconventional acting role.
The script and editing are second to none. It careens from one classic scene to another yet is perfectly paced. There is no scene that feels surplus to requirements, no fat on the meat. It's tone is also very unique, due in no greater part to its director's style. Verhoven employs a hyper-realism, gun shot wounds look as horrific as they would in real life, the use of a non-scripted crash team to work on saving Murphy after he's shot, all these things give a pleasing sheen of authenticity to the film.
Special mention must go to the film's technical aspects, namely the great production design and the RoboCop suit designed by Rob Bottin who also did the film's superb practical effects. The designs of RoboCop's suit and Craig Davies' imposing ED-209 have aged extremely well and have a timeless quality.
And let's not forget Basil Poledouris' majestic score. It perfectly complements the film and is both equal parts rousing and mournfully melodic.
One of the things RoboCop is most famous for is the aforementioned violence and indeed it is uber violent but the violence is an intrinsic factor that adds to the film's unique quality. Never before had such brutal, graphic, sadistic violence been portrayed in a major Hollywood movie. Again this is Verhoven's doing. Coming from Holland where there was no equivalent of the MPAA he was able to do as he wished as a film maker in his native country. He grew up during the Nazi occupation of Holland and violence was something he saw frequently and this shows in much of his work and none more so than here where it is used to great effect to instill sympathy in Murphy's character who doesn't get a great amount of screen time before being so brutally killed and it also paints this future Detroit as a cold merciless place. It never feels excessive when seen in context of the movie but is certainly not for the faint hearted. Whilst on the subject, special mention must go to Kurtwood Smith's exceptionally vile and sadistic Clarence Boddiker, easily a contender for Best Movie Villain Ever.
RoboCop is very much a product of the 80's, particularly Reagan's 80's America and this is in no way to its detriment. Indeed as the recent neutered, generic, typically modern Hollywood remake shows, they'd never be able to make a film this visceral these days. It even manages to be strangely prophetic - the real city of Detroit recently filing bankruptcy and Downtown Dallas, Houston, where the bulk of it was filmed now more than ever looking like the Old Detroit seen in the film.
The film has in it's arsenal, amongst other things, an incredible, almost mythical third act which is more Western than Sci-Fi. From the point where Lewis goes back to the Steel Mill to bring Murphy supplies the film starts to peak and doesn't let up until the incredibly satisfying final scene which scored off the chart with test audiences causing the originally planned final Media Break ending to be dropped leaving the "Nice shooting son, what's your name?" ending we have now.
For me this film has it all, a great script with endlessly quotable dialogue, great performances across the board, great effects that service the film instead of acting as a distraction, a superb score, perfect editing, a classic revenge theme, The Greatest Film Location Ever (The Old Steel Mill), the list goes on. I'll finish with this, don't look beyond the original RoboCop as it's greatness is only sullied by the poor sequels and dire TV series that followed. Instead see it as it should have remained, an undiluted classic, a masterpiece of modern film making with wit, brutality but also a very clearly defined soul.
Nice shooting indeed!
Typical of modern Hollywood.
**SPOILERS** I'll start this review by making it clear that the original Robocop is my personal favourite movie and has been since I first saw it 25 years ago. Having felt much trepidation about the direction the remake was going in (PG-13 rating in particular) I went in with fairly low expectations but still something of an open mind as I really wanted this reboot to faithfully kick-start a new, successful Robocop franchise.
I was pleasantly surprised by the first hour of the film and how Murphy's quite horrifying physical transformation was depicted (there wasn't much left of him) and the emotional impact upon him. I particularly liked the first few scenes of him coming to grips with his new form and his little meltdown in the Chinese factory in which he was built. Unfortunately the film starts to take a significant nose dive at the point of Robocop's big public unveiling. A stupidly convenient plot device whereby the entire Detroit PD database including 17 years worth of the city's CCTV is uploaded to Murphy merely minutes before he's about to make his big appearance. This causes Robocop to overload requiring a change to Murphy be necessitated resulting in him then becoming more robotic and ultimately making an arrest for murder upon his big unveiling. This was a clumsily handled plot device done for the advancement of the plot but defied logic. Why give him a massive upload at such a crucial time? Others have pointed to a lack of a true antagonist and this is very true. Main criminal Antoine Vallon is utterly woeful compared to Kurtwood Smith's vile Clarence Boddiker and even Micheal Keaton can't hold a candle to Ronny Cox's performance in the original. There is also little chemistry between Alex and Clara Murphy both before and after his transformation.
The film is best when it isn't trying to ape and nod towards the original. The use of Basil Poledouris' majestic music in Pedro Bromfman's new score is particularly jarring and poorly orchestrated. When I watched Man of Steel at about the 50 minute mark I realised I hadn't heard John Williams classic Superman theme but also realised that this was a new take on the Superman mythos that didn't need to borrow from it's predecessors. Shame this film didn't follow suit.
The effects are generally good but alas the Robocop/ED-209 battle is just a typical modern day CGI fest and has none of the weight of the same scene from the original.
The film's biggest issue is undoubtedly caused by the constrictions of the PG-13 rating. Hearing arch criminals talk without any swearing pulls me out if the film and destroys any sense of realism. In one scene as Murphy approaches a drug factory to make a bust images of the classic drug factory shoutout of the original came to mind. Alas this version turns out to be a total anti-climax almost totally devoid of the carnage so required from such a scene. This follows on to Robocop taking down Vallon in a night vision shootout where men are shot but no blood, death or injury are shown in even any mildly satisfying manner. This shows clearly that gritty subject matter is not befitting of a teenage rating and similar target audience. Would something like The Wire work if it was aimed at a teenage audience? No.
There aren't any particular standout performances other than Gary Oldman who almost always delivers no matter the role or movie. Kinnaman is somewhat wooden in places but gives a decent enough performance even though at times he looks uncomfortable with the role. One aspect of the film that did nothing for me was Samuel L Jackson's character who opens and closes the film and offers his very one sided views throughout. If this is their replacement of the satire of the original they can keep it. It's ham fisted and provides little more than uninteresting commentary on the power of the media and plot exposition. It tells us nothing interesting that we don't already know and Jackson does his shouty thing to excess, especially at the cringe-worthy end.
I wholly embrace the need to make this reboot from a fresh angle to that of Verhoven's original but Sony MGM have played it way too safe with something that would clearly play better if it were aimed at an adult audience. I genuinely believe that an R rated movie, devoid of such tight restrictions would have been a far more satisfying experience. The original Robocop franchise died when they aimed at a younger demographic. Hollywood greed I fear has caused a repeat of this mistake. It's not a bad film per se, it's just painfully average and therefore unable to get out from the vast shadow of its forebear and like the Total Recall remake, it tries too hard too often to remind you of the original whilst offering nothing new to compete with it. I doubt there's even a harder cut tucked away for home release and even if there was there are plot issues that damage the film as much as the tame approach. Other gripes include a lack of clarity as to Omnicorp's role (if any) in Murphy being blown up, and plot threads not being followed through to any satisfying conclusion such as Murphy's relationship with his family. The best bits revolve around Murphy's initial awakening as a cyborg which are very well done indeed.
Alas there's not really that much else that's in any way as memorable as the 1987 classic it's based on. As an example of how modern Hollywood has become all about excessive studio control above creativity and maximising ticket sales at the expense of a film's overall artistic quality then this film succeeds. In all other aspects it's a bit of a wasted opportunity really.