Category Archives: 3

RoboCop (2014)

20140310-120239.jpg

I must confess to not having seen the original 1987 RoboCop film, so you unfortunately won’t get a comparison of the old to the new here. However, that also means that this is a review from the perspective of someone who watched the movie just to watch the movie rather than to look for comparisons.

RoboCop stars Joel Kinnaman as police detective Alex Murphy, who is nearly killed by a crime boss for getting too close to his business. Thanks to Raymond Sellers (Michael Keaton) and Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) of OmniCorp, however, what is left of Murphy is merged with the latest robot technology, making him a lean, mean, crime-fighting machine, as well as saving his wife (Abbie Cornish) and son from having to mourn his death. But things get complicated when the question arises: who is more in control – man or robot?

I actually – surprisingly – enjoyed the film. It wasn’t one that I was particularly looking forward to, but I decided to give it a chance and was pleased with the result. Gary Oldman is the standout performance for me; his character’s internal conflict – do I do what’s ethical or what I’m told to do? – is well-acted and makes us sympathize with him rather than hate him for his actions. Michael Keaton as Raymond Sellers is also great. I haven’t seen Keaton in a true “bad guy” role before, though Sellers isn’t a “villain” in the traditional sense…he just wants money. Joel Kinnaman as the eponymous robotic cop does a decent job as a robot, but I didn’t think he played the human side of the character very well, even at the start of the film when he wasn’t yet part robot. He played the character almost completely emotionless, almost to the point that he was completely monotone.

*mild spoilers ahead*

The real problem with this movie is that characters don’t make reasonable decisions. Sellers randomly turns murderous toward the end of the film, which doesn’t make sense, and Murphy’s wife’s reaction to security alarms going off after confronting Sellers is to turn against what she just said about not wanting to see or speak to Sellers again and joining him on the roof, which is mostly just for the convenience of the plot.

That being said, there was a scene or two that got me emotionally involved, such as the scene when Murphy first comes home to his wife and son as family, but that tension is never built upon any further. In fact, there’s a moment in the film when RoboCop, now under the full control of the organization rather than his own free will, is told about his son’s social problems resulting from his father’s absence. This information sparks a change in Murphy, and he returns home, but instead of trying to amend his relationship with his family, he starts investigating his own murder. I would have liked to have seen some sort of reconciliation between him and his family at this point rather than saving it for the very end of the film.

In the end, this movie turns into more of just a generic action movie, albeit a mostly entertaining one. The visuals and technology displayed are impressive, and the action scenes were enjoyable, but too much of the story and character relationships were not given justice. Even the music score by Pedro Bromfman was sort of hit-and-miss for me; he utilizes the original theme from the 1987 film, which just doesn’t make sense to me. If you’re going to reboot a film, why not reboot everything like composers have done with Batman Begins (2005), The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), and Man of Steel (2013)? The theme was too 80s for me, which probably worked for the original film but felt out of place here, as did most of the rest of the score. The themes of biased media, family, and morality that the filmmakers tried to emphasize were not developed as well as they could have been, but, like I said, RoboCop is an at least decent action movie that I thought was fun to watch. I can’t speak to how it compares to the original film, but it’s still worth watching at least once.

-Chad

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material


Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

jack-ryan

 

 

I must confess to something: before this film, I hadn’t seen any of the Jack Ryan-centric movies, meaning The Hunt for Red OctoberPatriot GamesClear and Present Danger, and The Sum of All Fears, which is apparently a big deal. I own Patriot Games but haven’t gotten around to watching it, and The Hunt for Red October has been on my list for a while as well. Anyway, the point is that I had no established expectation for this character; I just knew that it was a reboot, and that it was the first Jack Ryan film to not be based on one of Tom Clancy’s original novels. My expectations weren’t too high, which I suppose is a good thing because I walked away moderately pleased.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (re?)introduces us to Jack Ryan (Chris Pine), a CIA analyst who has a past as a Marine but left due to severe injury. He is engaged to Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley), a physician who helped him to recover following his accident. When Ryan discovers a discrepancy with bank accounts connected to Russian tycoon Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), a discrepancy that might endanger the economy of the United States, he flies to Moscow to get to the bottom of it, but he is nearly killed upon arrival, forcing him to resort to his military training and take care of business in a way atypical of his position as an analyst. Tensions rise as he comes into contact with Cherevin himself, is suspected of infidelity by his fiancé, and is joined by his supervisor, Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) in a race to stop Cherevin and save the US.

Chris Pine as Ryan was the best part of this movie. The backstory provided at the start of the film showing how he joined the Marines as a response to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center gives us an emotional reason to invest in his decision, and his subsequent injury resulting from trying to save another Marine further solidifies that investment. He has a likable personality and does well in the action film setting thanks to his charisma and confidence. Kenneth Branagh both directs the film and plays Cherevin, and though I liked parts of his portrayal, it also seemed to me that his attempts at what I can best describe as “Russian stoicism” often seemed flat and uninteresting. There isn’t really anything to say about Kevin Costner except that he did an acceptable job without being stellar, as did Knightley as Ryan’s fiancée, though her American accent was inconsistent and, frankly, laughable.

My biggest complaint about the film – aside from the fact that the villain’s evil scheme was actually pretty confusing – is the abundance of overreactions from multiple characters throughout. At one point, Knightley’s character suspects Ryan of cheating on her with another woman because she finds a movie ticket stub in his pocket…sounds like cheating to me! She then flies to Russia like it’s not a big deal just to confront him on what she thinks is a business trip. This is most obvious example of what I’m talking about, but Cherevin and a couple of other minor characters have similar reactions for no reason at later points in the film.

Patrick Doyle’s score was actually pretty decent. I haven’t listened to it outside of the film itself, but what I heard in the film did an excellent job at propelling the action forward and building the tension/anxiety of the plot up. Doyle’s scores have been hit and miss for me in the past (well, more accurately, his score to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was a HUGE miss), but I was relatively pleased here.

Though I was a bit confused at time and irritated at others, this movie did a fairly decent job at keeping me interested and on the edge of my seat throughout. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit may have been my first venture into the world of Jack Ryan, and it may not have been an overwhelmingly positive one, but, to the film’s credit, it has piqued my interest in the character himself, so I am looking forward to looking backward at the previous films in this character’s history.

-Chad

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language


The Lone Ranger (2013)

the lone ranger

Watching the trailers for this film, I was completely uninterested. While I enjoyed Armie Hammer in the 2010 film The Social Network, I had no desire to see more of Johnny Depp strutting around playing a quirky character again. I have no previous experience with these characters (aside from being familiar with “Hi-ho, Silver, away!” and Rossini’s William Tell Overture), so there was no sense of nostalgia to spark my interest, so I very nearly didn’t see this film. However, I did, and, although The Lone Ranger wasn’t spectacular, it was better than I had anticipated.

Here is Disney’s official synopsis of the film:

“Native American warrior Tonto (Johnny Depp) recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid (Armie Hammer), a man of the law, into a legend of justice-taking the audience on a runaway train of epic surprises and humorous friction as the two unlikely heroes must learn to work together and fight against greed and corruption.”

They make it sound a heck of a lot simpler than it is actually presented in the film. The film uses a framing device to set up the story as a flashback; we first meet Tonto in 1933 when a young boy named Will (Mason Cook) meets the ancient warrior at a fair in San Francisco before taking us back with his story, which takes place in Texas in 1869. The framing device does nothing for the film aside from give Depp the opportunity to play the elderly Tonto for the amusement of the audience (which, I’ll admit, did make me chuckle once or twice) and to say “never take off the mask” a couple more times than necessary. Aside from the framing device, the plot is overly convoluted and filled with plenty of “unnecessaries”: a weird love triangle between John Reid, his brother Dan (James Badge Dale), and Dan’s wife Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), a backstory for Tonto that never really pays off, and Helena Bonham Carter’s useless role, Red Harrington, who, as a brothel madam outfitted with a gun disguised as a prosthetic leg, is appropriately eccentric for the actress.

I did like the film, though, and was particularly surprised by how much I enjoyed Depp’s Tonto. Though the strangeness of the character is familiar and typical of Depp, it doesn’t feel like a copy of anything he’s done before, so I enjoyed the freshness of what I brought to the role. Armie Hammer as the Lone Ranger was lots of fun, with the naivety of his character and his interactions with Tonto bringing plenty of laughs. William Fichtner as the main villain, Butch Cavendish, is appropriately menacing, with his face alone making you grimace. The overall color of the film was what could best be described as “muted,” giving it a western feel reminiscent of older, more traditional westerns.

The action of the film was particularly well-done for the most part, with the ending train sequence standing out as the absolute best part of the film; I LOVED the train chase/fight/shenanigans. It was fast-paced, it resolved the conflict with the villain quite well, and, most importantly, it was lots of fun, especially with the original theme song for the character, the finale to Rossini’s William Tell Overture, interjected into composer Hans Zimmer’s score. Speaking of Zimmer, he’s done it again with his score to this film. It’s not as fantastic as his recent score to Man of Steel (my review), but it’s still pretty great, despite a couple of moments that sound like bits of his scores to Sherlock Holmes or Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (my review).

There is one moment at the end of the film, after the story is done and over with, when the Lone Ranger (finally) says the character’s long-time catchphrase, “Hi-ho, Silver, away!,” in homage to the original serials and radio programs that made him famous. However, Tonto immediately responds with an incredulous look, saying, “Never do that again!,” which was done perfectly. I agree that films like this need to acknowledge previous iterations of the character, but this film did it in a way that was non-intrusive to the film as a whole and in a way that says, “okay, we did it, there you go, now let’s make this our own.” Very well-done and quite amusing, too.

Maybe I didn’t enjoy this film as much because of my lack of familiarity with the character, but, even if that’s part of it, the film’s confusing plot problems, unnecessary elements, and lack of a compelling story are difficult to forgive. Yes, it’s certainly more enjoyable than Disney’s awful trailers made it look, and Hammer and Depp both bring admirable performances to the table, but The Lone Ranger is still an overall forgettable summer blockbuster.

-Chad

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material


Monsters University (2013) – Randy Newman

monsters university

Randy Newman is back with Pixar for the first time since composing the score for Toy Story 3 back in 2010, which is great since he composed the score for the original film, Monsters, Inc. His score for that film had a jazz-oriented main theme that worked really well for it, and I was hoping for more of the same for Monsters University. While we definitely get “more of the same” here, it’s unfortunately not the “same” that I was hoping for.

The first half of this album or so fails to impress me at all. It sounds like nothing more than another Randy Newman score, which, unfortunately, isn’t much of a compliment. Don’t get me wrong – the sound of Randy Newman’s music very much IS Pixar, but a little variation would have been nice, or at least some more extensive reference to the original film’s score. We certainly do get some reference to the original score in the track “Field Trip,” where we hear the theme from “Enter the Heroes” as well as the chase theme from the first film, which can be heard in the Monsters, Inc. track “Mike’s In Trouble.” Anyways, I digress. I actually do have some good things to say about this score.

Newman did a good job of composing the Monsters University alma mater, which, in its slower instrumental form (as heard in “Goodbyes”), is slightly reminiscent of this theme from John Williams’ score to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – in a good way! Both themes have the same warmth to them. Also, despite my complaints regarding the lack of inclusion of themes from the original score, the quotes that were used were used well, bringing a smile to my face as soon as I heard them. Newman also utilizes what sounds like a marching band (specifically a drum line) to really bring the fact that this takes place at a college into focus, and it works wonderfully. As mentioned before, Newman’s music IS Pixar, or, at least, classic Pixar, so watching the film with his score playing in the background was like stepping back into my childhood. Also of note is the track titled “Roar,” credited to Axwell & Sebastian Ingrosso, which is a fun dance tune.

Randy Newman isn’t exactly the most “original” composer out there, as evidenced by the fact that much of this music sounds like his previous work; I can hear bits of Toy Story in “First Day at MU” and bits of A Bug’s Life (my review) in “Rise and Shine,” with several other similar instances popping up here and there. However, all of that is completely, perfectly okay compared to the opening of “Did You Do This?,” when he completely and blatantly rips off his own theme to A Bug’s Life. Make sure you click on both of those links because I want you to be as angry about it as I was when I first heard it…I probably shouldn’t have been driving at the time. Not even Hans Zimmer has been that blatant about borrowing from his previous work! …it frustrates me.

Maybe I’m being overly critical for something like this. Like I said, Newman’s score does a great job of bringing familiarity to the world presented in Monsters University, and despite that one HUGE problem and the score’s general tendency to be pretty forgettable, it’s a decent score overall. I have my qualms with it, but it serves its purpose just fine for the average listener and in the context of the film.

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

1. “Main Title” 0:52
2. “Young Michael” 3:58
3. “First Day at MU” 4:32
4. “Dean Hardscrabble” 3:19
5. “Sulley” 0:48
6. “Scare Pig” 2:00
7. “Wasted Potential” 1:16
8. “Oozma Kappa” 3:16
9. “Stinging Glow Urchin” 2:34
10. “Field Trip” 3:57
11. “Rise and Shine” 3:00
12. “The Library” 3:44
13. “Roar” (performed by Axwell & Sebastian Ingrosso) 2:55
14. “The Scare Games” 6:00
15. “Did You Do This?” 2:00
16. “Human World” 2:07
17. “The Big Scare” 3:02
18. “Goodbyes” 3:11
19. “Mike and Sulley” 1:12
20. “Monsters University” 1:34

Total Length: app. 56 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

P.S. – Read my review of this film here!


Gangster Squad (2013)

I was fortunate enough to see an early screening of this film the other day. I didn’t know what to expect; I didn’t know what it was about (aside from what I assumed was a squad of gangsters), and I didn’t know what the critics were saying about it. I only knew who was in it and that I got to see it for free, which was good enough for me. Thankfully, Gangster Squad was quite a fun film.

The story takes placte in Los Angeles in the late 1940s, and everything about it feels authentic, from the clothes to the music to the lack of today’s advanced technology – the last of these being pretty important since this film features some elements of espionage. From the very beginning of the film – as in the first two minutes – we are shown that this is going to be a pretty violent film, which makes sense since we’re dealing with gangsters. The title is derived from a special team of cops, led by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), whose goal is to take down the gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a former boxer and now the head of organized crime in LA.

In the assembling of the so-called “Gangster Squad,” we’re treated to what I consider to be an Avengers-esque montage in which we’re introduced to each member and their specific talents one by one. There was another scene later that seemed to be a cross between the fight montage from Captain America: The First Avenger and the newspaper headlines sequences from various other films (i.e. Ghostbusters, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, etc.). That’s not to say that they weren’t well-done or original – just familiar.

There are two standout performances in this film. The first comes from Josh Brolin as “Sarge” (as he’s called in the movie); I’d only seen him before in The Goonies and in the 2010 remake of True Grit, so seeing him in the lead role here was a nice, real introduction to him as an actor. His character exuded a strong confidence that fit his position as leader, and his desire to do the right thing no matter what was palpable. Ryan Gosling was even better than Brolin; I’d never seen him in anything before and only knew that he had been in The Notebook, so I didn’t anticipate him being anything special, but I was amazed to see that he was not only competent but also quite good. His character is Sgt. Jerry Wooters, a man who is at first reluctant to join the Gangster Squad, but his fraternization with Cohen’s girlfriend (Emma Stone) and the death of a friend at the hand of some of Cohen’s men convince him to join the fight. Gosling’s character brings some humanity to the field; he’s passionate for both his friends and his girl, and he holds the lives of these people at a higher priority level than he does the arrest of Mickey Cohen. He makes sure to keep Sarge in check so that he’s keeping his own life a priority.

*major spoilers in this paragraph*

My favorite part of this film was that the filmmakers weren’t afraid to let members of the Gangster Squad die; in fact, two of them do. They don’t have a miraculous recovery, but their deaths do not feel superficial…it doesn’t feel like the filmmakers killed them just to kill them. Sometimes, it seems like characters are killed just for the sake of killing them, and other times it seems like characters that should die due to injury are granted ridiculous reprieves. Thankfully, this film is smarter than that.

*end spoilers*

Overall, Gangster Squad may be violent and have some bad language, but that’s expected from a film like this. It’s a lot of fun, the actors do a great job, Jablonsky’s score is (surprisingly) superb, and the film itself feels neither too long nor too short; at just under two hours, it’s a perfect length for a film like this. The storytelling is pushed along by the action, but it isn’t mindless at all, and, in fact, most of it is quite entertaining. Everything is done really well, from the 1940s setting to the acting by everyone involved – Brolin, Gosling, Penn, Stone, et al. – does a fantastic job in a film that does a fine job of kick-starting this year’s movie lineup.

EDIT

Upon mulling over it a while longer, I’ve lowered my original rating by a star. Enjoyable, but not fantastic. Suffers from poor storytelling, flat character development, awful dialogue, and a few instances of just bad cinematography. I stand by my evaluation of Gosling especially, who was brilliant, but everyone else, including Brolin to a point, falls short.

-Chad

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

MPAA: R – for strong violence and language


Pitch Perfect (2012)

I was a little late to the Pitch Perfect party, which might seem a little strange since I’m a singer and have sung a cappella in both standard choir and show choir settings, but I never heard much about this film until after it had been released in theaters, at which point there were other films that ranked higher on my list. I finally caught it at the local dollar theater, and I’m glad I did; for what it is, it’s a pretty enjoyable film.

My main praise of Pitch Perfect is for the music – the a cappella arrangements are top-notch and sound fantastic, from both the main group of female singers and from the other groups it competes against. In fact, it was the music that drove my interest in the film in the first place; though the story isn’t awful (it’s slightly reminiscent of Sister Act 2), it’s not going to get nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay or anything. There are three standout performances in this film: Anna Kendrick, aside from being gorgeous, has a beautiful voice and carries the film well with her strong performance, while Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy brings the film most of its laughs (horizontal running, anyone?). Skylar Astin also has a killer voice and is very likable as Jesse.

There’s not much else to be said for this film; it’s a movie to be enjoyed for what it is rather than to be scrutinized as if it were an Oscar contender. It’s a fun film with lots of great music, and, while there are a couple of moments that I could have done without – I’m not a huge fan of projectile vomit, and if I hear someone say “a ca[random word]” one more time, I might explode – Pitch Perfect is very entertaining, plain and simple.

-Chad

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for sexual material, language and drug references


Sinister (2012)

I’ve only recently (meaning within the past 2-3 years or so) gotten interested in the scary/horror/thriller genre of film; since then, I’ve seen plenty of bad scary movies…making a good one is tricky. Every once in a while, though, a great one will pop up. Sinister, starring Ethan Hawke, is a scary film that rises above cheap tricks to make you jump and offers real substance that has the capability of making you quake in your seats with terror.

*spoilers*

Sinister is smart in relying on both what you do and don’t see to cause fright. We see disturbing images on old film reels that almost cause a sickness to the stomach: who would do such a twisted thing as this? Who would treat people this way? But with the introduction of the terrifying deity Bughuul, the terror is found in what we don’t see; we know that this creature is out doing these things somewhere, and we know he’s nearby, but we don’t know when he will show up again.

Perhaps the best part about Sinister is the ending. We reach a point where Hawke’s character realizes, “Oh no…what I’ve done has only brought this on myself and there’s nothing I can do to stop it anymore.” It’s his hopelessness and the realization of his situation that causes the most chilling moment of the film: when his own daughter drugs him and kills the whole family.

*end spoilers*

Overall, Sinister is a film that manages to scare without insulting its audience. Ethan Hawke does a fine job in the lead; we as the audience feel more and more anticipation as he discovers more and more of exactly what’s going on. The script is decent, the old film reels are spine-chilling, and we find in Bughuul a creature to truly be terrified of.

-Chad

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

MPAA: R – for disturbing violent images and some terror