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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Let's face it the world of Hollywood pirating — with its peglegs eyepatches shoulder parrots and bounty of other swashbuckling tropes — is pretty silly. Even a high seas adventure like Pirates of the Caribbean has the ridiculous Jack Sparrow to help it hobble along. Pushing the comedy can only work in pirate movie's favor and Aardman Animation's Pirates! A Band of Misfits goes all out seizing the absurdity with a flare only British sensibilities could conjure. The film is a treasure trove of design and technical wizardry but for those less interested in the intricacies of stop motion animation Pirates!'s simple story packs plenty of low-key laughs that viewers all ages can pick up.
The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) is at wit's end. While he's enjoyed his time leading a ragtag group of wannabe pirates including Albino Pirate (Anton Yelchin) Pirate with Gout (Brendan Gleeson) Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen) and his number two Pirate with a Scarf (Martin Freeman) a lifestyle of eating ham and barely making ends meet is losing its luster. When Pirate Captain shows up to the annual Pirate of the Year submission day he's once again outdone by Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) who rides in on a whale full of gold. Driven by competition Pirate Captain reassembles his crew hits the open waters and begins a new wave of pillaging. It's all for naught until the pirates cross paths with Charles Darwin (David Tennant) who identifies Pirate Captain's "parrot" as an extinct dodo bird. Suddenly the pirates have a new (and lucrative) calling: science.
There's an unexpected intelligence to Pirates!. The movie based on a children's book of the same name centers on Pirate Captain's mid-life crisis delves into the world of 18th century science and pegs Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) as the mastermind bad guy behind the elimination of the pirate occupation. That gives the accompanying adults plenty to chew (and laugh) on but director Peter Lord doesn't stray away from an ol' fashioned slapstick routine. There's a marvelous stray bathtub sequence halfway through the film a wild ride through Charles Darwin's old tudor house that's a true spectacle. But even a simple gag involving baking soda and vinegar exploding sud bubbles is expertly crafted and executed by Lord.
The stop motion technique never feels limited in Pirates! even with a great deal of walking and talking scenes. Gideon Defoe's script is elevated by the vocal performances; Grant is perfectly cast as the faux-burly Pirate Captain while Martin Freeman's perfected "timid skeptic" routine from The Office and Sherlock is once again on full display. The Aardman team continues to have a knack for gesturing their puppets uniquely natural and human. Even with all the enormous pirate ships detailed cityscapes and dazzling action Pirates! is at its best when it focuses on the sillier calmer moments.
The tangibility of Pirates! A Band of Misfits comes through in its physical stop-motion animation techniques but also its genuine heart. There's a rare reality to the storytelling even at its most fantastical. While the film doesn't hit the same emotional chords as some of Pixar or Dreamworks' best you would need an X-marked map to find a Hollywood cartoon as sweet and heartfelt. So don't walk the plank on this one — board with kids in tow immediately.
S1E11/12: Well, there you have it. A season of buildup—scattered hints and occasional insights into the master plan of the renegade son of the prehistoric society’s hard-boiled autocrat—all culminating in a very eventful two-hour season finale of Terra Nova. In short, Lucas, his business associates from the 2100s, and the Sixers wage warfare on Terra Nova and prehistory in general for a handful of motivations. Mira just wants to go back to the future so she can reunite with her daughter. The ecophobic businessmen just want to mine all the resources they can (apply your own political/capitalistic allegorical connotations). And I’m convinced that Lucas’ primary, if not sole motivation, is just the mere drive to undermine and destroy his father.
In fact, the episode is actually a little too eventful. That is to say, I think the story and gravity of the events would have been better served if we had spread all of what we get in the finale out over a few weeks. Sure, the sheer volume of tonight’s activity might heighten the intensity, but this comes at the price of comprehensibility. A show like Terra Nova rarely boasts the quality of being too complicated. But the finale teeters on that line. There is a whole lot going on—so much so that I’m really only going to focus on the broad strokes in this recap. And perhaps this wouldn’t be as big a problem if the show paid more attention to how it delivers its plotlines and characters. But we’ll get to that.
“Last thing I remember is the explosion.” – Jim
“That was three days ago, Jim.” – Liz
If you had forgotten that this was a Steven Spielberg production, this episode does a mighty fine job of reminding you. First of all, it opens with the eleventh pilgrimage delivering a man with a bomb strapped to his torso. When the bomb explodes, we get as dedicated an homage to Saving Private Ryan as I’ve ever seen, with Jim Shannon taking on the role of a deafened Tom Hanks. It’s also moderately important to note—even though it is barely mentioned or even alluded to much after the scenes to immediately follow—that Josh’s long-awaited girlfriend Cara also shows up on this pilgrimage, and is killed by the explosion. But that’s probably just so the show can ship Josh and Skye guiltlessly. Nice work.
Jim finds himself in a the bed of a rundown hospital, three days later—by the count of his wife, who intercepts him leaving the building in a bewildered run-in with two armed soldiers. Liz explains to Jim, and to us, that Lucas, Sixers and co. have overtaken TN in the interim period (we even get a visual of Mira standing on Taylor’s veranda throne), and she bends her new level of authority a bit to send her husband home to see their children. This poses a bit of a problem for the viewer, especially once Mira shows up at Jim’s hospital bed demanding to know where he is. It is pretty unbelievable that such lax security would be the M.O. of a tyrannical militant society three days into its hostile (and well-funded) reign over enemy territory. But whatever, we’ll live.
“They’re the Phoenix group. Private military. Killers for hire.” – Washington Jim sets out on his ad hoc investigation. His first stop: Washington, who is given a hell of a lot more character depth in this episode than she ever had before. Washington was left in charge by Taylor before he set off to oversee the arrival of the 11th, with Jim and the armed forces. After that, Taylor disappeared, extending Washington’s reign. She was forced to surrender when the invaders began killing civilians, and has been in a drunken stupor at Boylan’s as a means of coping with her handing over of the society to this tyrannical movement. But Jim knows how to rally. The mission to strike back is engaged. “You know, you have your father’s eyes.” – Washington While Terra Nova hasn’t always been fair to its minor characters, the season finale seems a lot like an apology letter to each of them: Washington, primarily an expositional character up to this point, is fleshed out and made the episode’s biggest hero when she helps the Shannon family escape from the guards who are hunting them, sacrificing her own life (she is shot dead by Lucas) to ensure the preservation of theirs. Malcolm is redeemed for all of his petty, cowardly and occasionally deceitful behaviors in the actions he takes to prevent the bad guys from following through with their mission…albeit via some pretty passive-aggressive tactics, like working as “slowly as he can” to repair their portal technology when he is forced into their employ. In fairness, he does blow something up, eventually. Then there are the soldiers—the gunmen and Reilly, the bomb-defusing expert—who all have their moments in the sun at one point or another in the episode. The rough-around-the-edges Reilly even gets to display her softer side when she allows Reynolds a break from his shift to spend time with Maddy (which—and I don’t mean to sound like a total jerk here—in a time of climactic guerilla warfare is pretty damn irresponsible). And Skye does everything she can to make up for her malfeasance…it’s hinted that she even engages in some kind of sexual act with the enamored Lucas, who, incidentally, keeps calling her his sister to save Josh’s life after he beats up Emperor Lucas for being inappropriate with her. By the way, what is with TV and incest these past couple of weeks?! Exhibit A (spoilers). Exhibit B (super-spoilers). And now this, kind of…COME ON! “You’re a highly suggestible hypochondriac, Mr. Weaver. I suggest you see a doctor about that. – Liz” But of course, nobody is allowed to steal the show from the Shannons and Taylor. Liz has her moment of badassery when she cons the sleazy businessman of the future into retrieving her kidnapped husband (held by an ever-maddening Lucas) by tricking him into believing she has poisoned him, and then injecting him with a sedative after he has complied. Jim saves the day by outrunning two explosions, one Tyrannosaurus Rex, and singlehandedly taking down an entire troupe of trained military soldiers—he also cuts off all ties with the 2100s (or so we are led to believe, for now) for all of Terra Nova society, which is kind of a double-edged sword. And Taylor finally faces off with his son. Just to make sure we understand that he’s really evil, the show has Lucas manipulate his father with crocodile tears about his mother’s death and the guilt he has shouldered because of it…just before stabbing Taylor when he is at his most vulnerable. The stab is not fatal, but neither is the gunshot wound Lucas incurs courtesy of a nearby Skye (Taylor’s surrogate daughter, who probably just won his favor back).
“That’s what this place is about. It’s about hope and a second chance. We cannot let them take that away from us.” – Liz So, when the episode leaves off, the future and the past are separated indefinitely, Lucas has hightailed it off someplace, and the Sixers have retreated to the mysterious badlands, from whence Jim and co. discover part of a 19th century ship…next season’s mystery: what the hell is going on in the badlands? But more or less, everything turns out okay back in the past. “A thousand people is all we’d have to restart civilization.” – Jim “A thousand people. That’s a good round number.” – Taylor That being said, the show’s Achilles heel is especially prevalent in this episode: it has a lot going on—it has its science fiction aspects, its ecological message, its family-trying-to-survive story, its political themes…but it doesn’t deliver most of them with enough sincerity. When actors are forced into really shallow scenes, spouting really hackneyed dialogue, it ruins the sincerity of what the show might otherwise be very successful in doing: telling a relatable story in a fantasy world. If we see another season of Terra Nova, we have new, more promising mysteries in store. Hopefully, the show will make an effort to bulk up some of its writing to better suit these new, potentially exciting storylines. So what might have brought the ship to the badlands? If there is another time portal, how did it get there? Where does it take you? And who is operating it? And how do the Sixers know about it? And, if they do know about it, why haven’t they tried to activate it previously? I hope you enjoyed this season of Terra Nova! Watch out for sonic waves!
Enigmatic and deliberate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes no reservations while unraveling its heady spy story for better or worse. The film based on the bestselling novel by John Le Carre is purposefully perplexing effectively mirroring the central character George Smiley's (Gary Oldman) own mind-bending investigation of the British MI6's mole problem. But the slow burn pacing clinical shooting style and air of intrigue only go so far—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sports an incredible cast that can't dramatically translate the movie's impenetrable narrative. Almost from the get go the movie collapses under its own weight.
After a botched mission in Hungary that saw his colleague Jim (Mark Strong) gunned down in the streets Smiley and his boss Control (John Hurt) are released from the "Circus" (codename for England's Secret Intelligence Service). But soon after Smiley is brought back on board as an impartial observer tasked to uncover the possible infiltration of the organization. The former agent already dealing with the crippling of his own marriage attempts to sift through the history and current goings on of the Circus narrowing his hunt down to four colleagues: Percy aka "Tinker" (Toby Jones) Bill aka "Tailor" (Colin Firth) Roy aka "Soldier" (Ciaran Hinds) and Toy aka "Poor Man" (David Dencik). Working with Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) a conflicted younger member of the service and Ricki (Tom Hardy) a rogue agent who has information of his own Smiley slowly uncovers the muddled truth—occasionally breaking in to his own work place and crossing his own friends to do so.
Describing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as dense doesn't seem complicated enough. The first hour of the monster mystery moves at a sloth's pace trickling out information like the tedious drips of a leaky faucet. The talent on display is undeniable but the characters Smiley included are so cold that a connection can never be made. TTSS sporadically jumps around from past to present timelines without any indication: a tactic that proves especially confusing when scenes play out in reoccurring locations. It's not until halfway through that the movie decides to kick into high gear Smiley's search for a culprit finally becoming clear enough to thrill. A film that takes its time is one thing but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does so without any edge or hook.
What the movie lacks in coherency it makes up for in style and thespian gravitas. Director Tomas Alfredson has assembled some of the finest British performers working today and they turn the script's inaccessible spy jargon into poetry. Firth stands out as the group's suave slimeball a departure from his usual nice guy roles. Hardy assures us he's the next big thing once again as the agency's resident moppet a lover who breaks down after a romantic fling uncovers horrifying truth. Oldman is given the most difficult task of the bunch turning the reserved contemplative Smiley into a real human. He half succeeds—his observational slant in the beginning feels like an extension of the movie's bigger problems but once gets going in the second half of the film he's quite a bit of fun.
Alfredson constructs Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy like a cinematic architect each frame dripping with perfectly kitschy '70s production design and camera angles that make the spine tingle. He creates paranoia through framing similar to the Coppola's terrifying The Conversation but unlike that film TTSS doesn't have the characters or story to match. The movie strives to withhold information and succeeds—too much so. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants us to solve a mystery with George Smiley but it never clues us in to exactly why we should want to.
Though ostensibly successful 2009’s The Final Destination represented to many a horror franchise on its last hackneyed legs. Rote uninspired and humorless it scored a (modest) hit only by virtue of the novelty -- and added ticket price -- of its 3D transfer. Two years later Final Destination 5 arrives with a slightly tweaked formula a beefed-up storyline actors you might actually recognize and genuine honest-to-goodness 3D. It’s still schlock mind you -- but artful schlock and a marked improvement over the preceding entry.
The story begins in familiar fashion with a cursory introduction to the characters followed by a grisly premonition that sees them perish wholesale. An assortment of cubicle-dwellers at a paper factory are being bused to a corporate retreat when one of them Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto perpetually bug-eyed) dreams of a massive bridge collapse in which he and his co-workers are impaled beheaded bisected crushed by cars singed by tar -- however many ways a suspension bridge can kill a person the film’s opening set-piece explores it gruesome detail. Sam awakens duly horrified and demands the bus be evacuated. Seconds later the employees watch in horror from the sidelines as Sam’s vision comes to fruition.
You know what happens next. One-by-one death stalks the survivors who meet their fate in a series of elaborately-staged incidents. Some are relatively straightforward; others involve fiendish head-fakes and red herrings. The range of victims is older and more colorful than in previous Final Destination films in which death preyed exclusively on attractive nubile teenagers but the end result is invariably the same. (Not to give anything away but those considering acupuncture or laser eye surgery would be wise to avoid the film entirely.) As death’s scheme becomes achingly evident Sam his lachrymose girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell) and his increasingly unhinged buddy Peter (Miles Fisher) become increasingly desperate. Enter the ever-ominous Tony Todd returning to the franchise after (wisely) taking the previous film off offering a potential way out. But is it genuine or just another of death’s cruel tricks?
Director Steven Quale a James Cameron protege hired principally for his 3D expertise takes full advantage of the added dimension delivering some of the most vivid and immersive 3D sequences in recent memory. Unlike The Final Destination which seemed little more than a amalgam of crude one-liners Final Destination 5 feels like a real movie one with a discernible plot an element of suspense and a handful characters who are more than just punchlines. Most of the actors are surprisingly competent save for Fisher a credible doppelganger for Tom Cruise (he parodied him 2008’s Superhero Movie) who imbues every line with couch-jumping intensity.
Final Destination 5 ends with a twist that while genuinely unexpected feels like a Hail Mary for a franchise that can’t forestall its inexorable descent into stale irrelevance despite the best of efforts from Quale. Its trademark formula has simply lost its potency -- a problem no amount of cosmetic upgrades however welcome can fix. That the film is bracketed by two pointless and time-consuming montages -- the first an animated sequence that hurtles various hazardous objects at the audience the second a greatest hits compilation of memorable kills from previous Final Destination films -- is a telltale sign that the saga’s creativity is on life support. Perhaps it’s time to pull the plug.