Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Treading water at the very surface of RoboCop, there is an idea. A dense concept, ready and willing to provide no dearth of dissection for any eager student of philosophy, psychology, political science, physics — hell, any of the Ps. To simplify the idea on hand: What separates man from machine? It's a question that is not just teased by the basic premise of José Padilha's remake of the 1987 sci-fi staple, but asked outright by many of its main characters. And then never really worried about again.
We have principal parties on both sides of the ethical quandary that would place the security of our crime-ridden cities in the hands of automatons. Samuel L. Jackson plays a spitfire Bill O'Reilly who wonders why America hasn't lined its streets with high-efficiency officer droids. Zach Grenier, as a moralistic senator, gobbles his way through an opposition to the Pro-boCop movement. We hear lecture after lecture from pundits, politicians, business moguls (a money-hungry Michael Keaton heads the nefarious OmniCorp...) and scientists (...while his top doc Gary Oldman questions the nature of his assignments while poking at patients' brains and spouting diatribes about "free will"), all working their hardest to lay thematic groundwork. Each character insists that we're watching a movie about the distinction between human and artificial intelligence. That even with an active brain, no robot can understand what it means to have a heart. But when Prof. Oldman tempers his hysterical squawking and Samuel L. Hannity rolls his closing credits, we don't see these ideas taking life.
In earnest, the struggle of rehabilitated police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) — nearly killed in the line of duty and turned thereafter into OmniCorp's prototype RoboCop — doesn't seem to enlist any of the questions that his aggravated peers have been asking. Murphy is transformed not just physically, but mentally — robbed of his decision-making ability and depleted of emotional brain chemicals — effectively losing himself in the process. But the journey we see take hold of Murphy is not one to reclaim his soul, although the movie touts it as such. It's really just one to become a better robot.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Meanwhile, RoboCop lays down its motives, and hard: Murphy's wife and son (Abbie Cornish and a puckish young John Paul Ruttan) lament the loss of Alex, condemning his dehumanization at the hands of Raymond Sellars' (Keaton) capitalistic experiments, and sobbing out some torrential pathos so you know just how deep this company is digging. Weaselly stooges (Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, and Jackie Earl Haley) line the OmniCorp roster with comical wickedness. Overseas, killer combat bots take down peaceful villages, unable to work empathetic judgment into their decision to destroy all deemed as "threats." And at the top, figures of power and money like Sellars and Pat Novak (Jackson) speak the loudest and harshest, literally justifying their agenda with a call for all naysayers to "stop whining." Clearly, RoboCop has something to say.
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And when it's devoted to its outrage, RoboCop is terrifically charming. The buzzing political world is just a tiny step closer to ridiculous than our own; the pitch meetings at OmniCorp are fun enough to provoke a ditching of all the material outside of the company walls. And one particular reference to The Wizard of Oz shows that the movie isn't above having fun with its admittedly silly premise. But it loses its magic when it steps away from goofy gimmicks and satirical monologues and heads back into the story. We don't see enough of Murphy grappling with the complicated balance between his conflicting organic and synthetic selves. In fact, we don't see enough "story" in Murphy at all. First, he's a dad and a cop. Then, he's a RoboCop. But can he also be a RoboDad? With all of its ranting and raving about the question, the film doesn't seem to concerned with actually figuring out the answer.
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The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
Louis Leterrier’s remake of Clash of the Titans the 1981 cult favorite that fused Greek mythology with sci-fi theatrics is a grand experiment in the ancient art of alchemy a big-budget attempt to spin fanboy nostalgia for a 30-year-old novelty into contemporary box-office gold. The main ingredients in this ambitious concoction are a potent arsenal of CGI weaponry and the star of the biggest movie ever Sam Worthington who inherits Harry Hamlin’s role as the heroic Perseus. But it’s what’s missing from the formula that ultimately dooms this remake.
Clash of the Titans redux mimics the original film’s epic ethos and preference for spectacle over all else but its storyline differs dramatically. Perseus is still the half-breed product of a one-night stand between the god Zeus and a human hottie and he still must to defeat the monstrous Kraken in order to save the lovely Princess Andromeda. Almost everything in between however has been altered — and not necessarily for the better.
The new version casts the Greek city of Argos as the primary battleground in a proxy war fought by dueling Olympian superpowers Zeus (Liam Neeson) and Hades (Ralph Fiennes). Born of a god but raised by and partial to humans Worthington’s Perseus battles not for the hand of Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) — as Hamlin’s character did — but instead for the people of Argos who stand to perish along with their princess at the hands of the dreaded Kraken. The film’s love story if it can be called that consists of the briefest of flirtations between Perseus and Io (Gemma Arterton) his self-appointed spiritual guide. (Cursed with immortality by the gods Io’s been secretly watching him all his life — which ostensibly makes her a glorified stalker.)
This detail is a small but crucial one. Strong-willed Perseus braves an obstacle course of giant scorpions gorgons and other horrors laid out for him by the wheezy fiend Hades but it’s never quite clear why he bothers with it all since what’s at stake is a princess he isn’t particularly interested in and a community of people he doesn’t really know — and who frankly don’t seem all that worth saving. His deadbeat dad up on Mount Olympus certainly isn't worth dying for nor are the battlefield compatriots he met barely a week prior. And while I’m sure that a few inviting glances from Gemma Arterton are positively delightful I wouldn’t risk being doused in flesh-eating scorpion venom for them.
This narrative oversight triggers a drain in enthusiasm that persists throughout the film. For a movie so epic in scale Clash of the Titans makes for a disappointingly bland ride. Leterrier’s CGI set pieces are at times magnificent but they’re proffered in the service of weak story filled with characters whose motivations are either unclear or unconvincing. During the film’s climax when Neeson’s Zeus utters the portentous words “Release the Kraken ” what should be an emotional high point instead feels perfunctory and anticlimactic. The only excitement it spawns comes from the knowledge that the end is mercifully imminent.
Director David Wain rounds up some of his buddies from the 1990s comedy troupe The State to poke fun at the do’s and don’ts of the Ten Commandments. No need to fall on your knees and pray for forgiveness if you’ve forgotten whose house you should not covet. Wain breaks down the Ten Commandments in episodic fashion and confers the task of introducing each outlandish morality tale upon his Wet Hot American Summer star Paul Rudd. The silliness is firmly established when Wain examines the consequences of worshipping a false idol. In this case it’s Adam Brody who enjoys fame and fortune after he accidentally jumps from a plane sans parachute. Not that he can reap the benefits of sudden stardom—he’s stuck in the ground and can’t be moved. But Brody’s predictament isn’t necessarily the oddest. A 35-year-old virgin (Gretchen Mol) goes weak at the knees when she’s hit on by none other than Jesus Christ (Justin Theroux). Liev Schreiber engages in a game of oneupmanship with his neighbor when both start snapping their town’s supply of CAT scan machines. Life imitates art when Winona Ryder learns the hard way that stealing causes her nothing but pain and shame. Rudd gets in on the fun as the lucky devil juggles married life with Famke Janssen with his booty calls with Jessica Alba. But Wain inflicts the most humiliation on his co-writer Ken Marino whose arrogant surgeon learns the hard way playing pranks on patients will only led to life in prison and a nightly “ass-raping.” As you can tell Wain’s not really into making subtle statements about the set of rules we observe—intentionally or otherwise—in our everyday lives. By finally making good use of her sticky fingers Winona Ryder reveals she’s ready to laugh at her past transgressions. Not that she goes off on a shoplifting spree. No she purloins a ventriloquist’s puppet in the name of love. Nothing in The Ten beats the hilarious though unsettling sight of a game Ryder getting all freaky with her wooden object of affection. She hasn’t let her hair down like this before so good for her. But she’s got some competition from Gretchen Mol whose screams of “Jesus” during hot and sweaty sex are let out with intense religious fervor. The award for Harried Husband of the Year goes to Paul Rudd Knocked Up’s henpecked spouse. But he plays the role of an estranged hubby with such biting wit that he makes marital disharmony a joy to behold. Still it’s hard to see why Famke Janssen and Jessica Alba—both wasted by the way—would fight over this dweeb. A hysterically deadpan Liev Schreiber spoofs his oh-so-serious forensics expert from this past season’s CSI Oliver Platt does a killer Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation and Rob Corddry gives brutal prison sex a kind face. The Ten isn’t exactly the full-fledged State reunion fans are waiting for especially as Thomas Lennon and Michael Ian Black barely make their presence felt. But Kerri Kenny is relentlessly cheerful as a sitcom-ish mom who fails to convince her two black sons that their real dad is the Governator. And an oily Ken Marino quickly loses his smirk once behind bars though he takes his punishment like a real man. David Wain can sleep well at night knowing that The Ten won’t cost him his place in Heaven. While there’s no denying that the Bible-inspired buffoonery on display is irreverent at best Wain and cohort Marino do not take a sledgehammer to the stone tablets. Instead they seem more interested in how the Ten Commandments play a role in our lives regardless of our religious beliefs. That said whatever point they try to make is lost amid the sexual shenanigans. Not that it takes a theologian to deduce that murder is bad stealing is wrong and buying up the town’s supply of CAT scan machines is asking for trouble. By the very nature of its structure The Ten can’t help but unfold as a series of interconnected sketches that sadly lack a punchline. But it’s so goofy and hilariously borderline offense that it’s hard not to be caught up in all the silliness. Indeed Wain’s preoccupation with sex provokes more nervous laughs than groans of disgust. And The Ten offers some side-splitting parodies of family sitcoms prison dramas crime procedure shows and preachy faith-based dramas. There’s even a warning against skipping church on Sundays—and letting it all hang out literally with your buddies—that would turn Homer Simpson into Ned Flanders. Wain orchestrates all this madness in the anything-goes manic style of Airplane! or Scary Movie. The Ten is by no means a minor miracle of the comedy kind but if you accept it for what it is rather than what it tries to be than it’s certainly worth skipping evening services to see.