Robocop (2014)

Robocop 2014 (2014)

Way back in the mists of time, we put some features up on the age-old topic of reboots: what’s the point of them? Are they better than the original? Was the original any good to begin with? Every year spawns iterations and new reasons for die hard fans to spew forth venom and shake their fists in discontent. I’m still not entirely sure this is the case when some of these films are 20+ years old. If you love the original, then great! You’ve got a favourite film. But that doesn’t mean you have to love the new one does it?? For me, I love Pulp Fiction and wouldn’t really care too much if it was remade. Simply because I know it can’t be topped! But maybe Pulp Fiction’s still a bit too modern (and iconically Tarantino)… unlike the current reboot-du-jour: Robocop. I am the law!

Robocop (2014)

Sadly, we don’t ever hear the line “I AM THE LAW” in this version of Robocop! A lot of time has passed since 1987. A lot has changed since 1987. The Phage has certainly changed since 1987. I think I was last seen getting my head stuck in a flight of stairs in 1987… I’m sure that’s going to happen again in 2014 though if I’m honest; I just can’t resist the urge to see whether my can fit into a tiny spot! Anyway… back on track! Yes, a lot has changed since 1987. We now find ourselves spending 2/3 of our day being controlled by screens of various sizes. Technology has come on leaps and bounds. This is how the cast seem to be justifying this reimagining / rebooting of the one man law machine: Robocop.

The premise is loosely the same: Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a Detroit cop becomes irreparably damaged through no fault of his own. When he wakes up he’s been fused with machine to become the world’s first Robocop – a cyborg for all intents and purposes – by Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman). In this iteration though, it plays against the backdrop of Raymond Sellar’s (Michael Keyton) OmniCorp looking to break the American market for machine-based legal protection. The one thing that stands in his way is a pesky piece of legislation prohibiting robots from policing the country, as they’re devoid of emotion and rationale. This is where the idea to fuse man with machine comes about… if they can show the value of such an entity, then the law could get repealed… but obviously, things never go exactly as planned!

2014... back in black!

2014… back in black!

Much has been made of the social commentary of Robocop. And some of it is rather stark and in your face: parodies and pastiches of what’s going on in the world. Nowhere is this more evident than Samuel L. Jackson‘s Pat Novak sections where he espouses the pro’s of the right wing, pro-robot agenda. It’s obviously used to harken closest to some rather large US networks that perhaps push a similar agenda. Aside from the robot thing… none of them have pushed that yet. Not until Google take them over anyway, which’ll only be a matter of years I’m sure, using their android drone army!

I seem to have spoken in-depth about the philosophy of this film, but little about the actual content! Let’s correct that. Robocop is a solid piece of science fiction, but doesn’t go much further than that. That’s not to say it’s unenjoyable – it has some interesting concepts and some serviceable performances, but it never challenges. If I think of some of my favourite sci-fi films of recent years, such as District 9 or Looper, they challenged and dazzled in equal measures. I certainly wasn’t expecting a film of similar grandeur, let’s not make any mistakes, but I was also hoping for something along the lines of last year’s Dredd. That film offered beautiful visuals with a simple plot mechanic, but was thoroughly entertaining. But Robocop… well, doesn’t hit the same highs as his other be-helmeted cop brethren.

Robocop (2014)

It has its set pieces, but the film lacks the connecting sinew – the true plot. It’s there, but it’s not wholly fleshed out. The performances are also there, but they too fail to really blow you away. This is particularly true of Joel Kinnaman. I’m going to refer back to Dredd here by talking about Karl Urban. Karl, despite only showing his jaw for the whole film, held the screen and brought a lot of emotion to that jaw role. Kinnaman doesn’t really deliver the same… it’s somewhat bland… but that may just be fantastic character acting!

I think the biggest thing that’s lacking in this film is heart. The original had a sense of humour and over the top violence. Whilst the latter certainly isn’t needed, the former is. Samuel L. Jackson provides some much needed comic relief, but the film is sadly devoid of other respites…

Ultimately, Robocop is more like the machines than he probably realises: slick and shiny, but ultimately devoid of human emotion and heart. Whilst it’s certainly not a bad film, it’s hardly going to set the world on fire. There’s been much talk of trying to restart a franchise with this film… but with this offering, I’m unsure if that’ll happen. Having said that, I’ve been wrong in the past. Although it is nice to state that this definitely won’t be up for an Oscar, which has been a recurring comment here with several of the past films we’ve reviewed!

So, this is simply another case of a reboot failing to really re “boot” a franchise. It got a slight shoe-ing, but definitely not a booting. It’s a shame as the film had a lot to offer at its premise with the machine-driven future we’re spiralling towards. I wonder if we’ll ever get Google: The Movie – that won’t need a reboot. Well, I’m sure we will get it in 2028 when our overlords take over our lives with their Google Glass, Google Droids and Google Boogles (we made the last one up)… They are the law.

Phage Factor:

3 Star

Oldboy (2013)

Oldboy (2013)

Raiding Asian cinema is nothing new for Hollywood. Some of the most famous examples are clearly the likes of The Ring and The Grudge. Indeed, these films introduced many to the wonders of Asian horror and Asian storytelling. Now we regularly see adaptations of Far Eastern cinema being adapted for us. No, we’re not going to count 47 Ronin. There’s a difference between aping an Asian style and straight-up translating it for Western audiences. So, on to Hollywood’s latest attempt to steal some of Asia’s thunder with a remake of 2003’s Oldboy – the tale about a guy that gets locked in a room for numerous years (15 if you’re into the Korean version, 20 if you’re into the US version), before being released. Vengeance is his for the taking as he tries to piece together why the hell he was imprisoned… but should Oldboy have remained locked in the room indefinitely? Let’s have a peek through the keyhole…

Oldboy (2013)

To be honest, the plot’s already summed up for you there. There’s not much more to Spike Lee‘s reimagining of Chan-wook Park‘s original. This time, the focus is squarely on “Joe Ducett”, played by Josh Brolin. A drunkard, no-hope father who’s more concerned with getting drunk and womanising than he is with looking after his little girl. So, Joe’s a little perplexed when he wakes up in a sealed room and is plied with vodka and dumplings on a daily basis. Oh, add into that the fact that he’s framed perfectly for the rape and murder of his estranged wife. So, some 20 years later, Joe is released back into the public with a lot of questions and an urgent need to clear his name… Which leads him to a variety of nefarious ne’er do wells, including characters (I won’t spoil anything) portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson and Sharlto Copley.

I’ll make a confession: I’ve not seen the original Oldboy. I know, I know: “it’s a classic”, “how can you review this if you haven’t seen the original”, “your verdict is USELESS you HACK”… some of those criticisms are valid, and I am indeed a hack. Nor have I read the graphic novel it’s based on either… But I’m now able to judge this version of Oldboy purely on its merits and not some sentimental view of a 10 year old film. I therefore can’t comment on what’s missing / what’s included. I can just comment on what works… and what really, really doesn’t.

Oldboy (2013)

Let’s start with the good shall we? The plot. The plot is an interesting concept and is clearly Asian in origin. It did remind me a little of Stephen King’s 1408 insofar that there’s a sense of desperation at being locked inside a room. It also had that torture edge to it that we’ve all become so accustomed to at the cinema in recent years. But then it swirls in the whole revenge angle. This is the type of role that Josh Brolin excels at. He just LOOKS mean and moody all the time in the same way that Ron Perlman looks like he’d break your teeth with a baseball bat. Or play a pirate monkey in Ice Age 4 (we still can’t believe he wasn’t that character!). Physically, Brolin is imposing and does the role justice in our opinion. Similarly, Samuel L. Jackson is bankable and clearly loves lapping it up as a villain. Though thankfully, he doesn’t do it to the same abominable degree that he does in The Spirit.

Similarly, the pacing is frantic and keeps you intrigued. It doesn’t slow down and constantly swirls and lashes at you as the film progresses. We liked this. What we didn’t like though were some of the hammy choreography in those fight scenes.

Oldboy (2013)

Oldboy is a suitably violent film. The body count is high and there’s a good deal of gore / torture to be seen here. Not quite Ichi The Killer levels of gore, but enough of it. Therefore there’s an urgent need for fighting and violence. Some of this works and has the shock value… but some is just so out-of-place and forced. Notably the moments after Joe is released from his confines – the first fight with the football jocks. Why? Why that level of violence? It’s uncharacteristic. Add to that some of the single-framed fights that looked more like a Broadway musical / Benny Hill sketch than anything else. It’s admirable to lock the camera in one place for us to watch what unfolds as opposed to the horrid use of shakey-handicam footage that plagues cinematic fights nowadays. But it felt too rehearsed / video game esque. It just didn’t work.

Now, what was the biggest flaw with this film is actually down to personal preference / favouritism. We’re massive fans of Sharlto Copley at Film Phage. We loved him in District 9, Elysium and even The A Team. No doubt he’ll also be fantastic in Chappie next year. But what’s with that accent Sharlto? You’re South African… why does your villain need to be hammy and English? As a Brit, the accent just grated with me somewhat. Why Spike Lee felt it necessary to have Copley‘s character be British is beyond me. Oh, is it because he’s “posh”? Or is it because of… what… unfolds? I have no idea. Copley himself acts well and had me captivated, so it’s no slight against his acting capabilities. It’s just that damn accent!

Oldboy (2013)

That sounds rather shallow of me doesn’t it? To say that an accent is the reason that the film doesn’t hit the giddy high notes? It’s actually symptomatic of the main problem with this film: it’s unnatural and forced. Some things don’t make sense: love interests developing so rapidly, random violence, THAT accent… the list goes on. It might make sense in Asian cinema, but it didn’t really fit here.

Oldboy is far from a bad film, but it’s also far from a great film. The plot and narrative is its strongest suit. It ably works as a mystery / thriller that has you guessing up until the final beats, but this was already going to be the case based on its source material. Indeed, if you’re familiar with Oldboy‘s plotting, I’m unsure of what pleasure you’ll derive from this, spare an update to 2013 technology (they use iPhones) and the obvious benefit of no need for subtitles…

Whilst not the finest adaptation of Asian cinema, Oldboy is serviceable and will satisfy a moviegoing audience seeking an 18 rated film at a time when animation and family films are King at the box office. Oldboy isn’t a Christmas film; that much is for sure. Unless Santa’d been the one subjected to imprisonment. Then you could have the title as “Oldboy Santa: He Knows If You’ve Been Naughty or Nice”, then have a photo of him covered in tattoos, or like the cover of Bronson, but meaner. Actually, I really want to see that film… someone go write it! He’s coming for you Easter Bunny; he knows it was you, you little bitch…

Phage Factor:

3 Star

Django Unchained (2013)

Django Unchained (2013)

Everyone has their favourites. Whether it’s their favourite actor, director or brand of cereal. Life’s eclectic like that. Me? Well, I’d struggle to pick out a single actor; I’ve got way too many favourites. Cereal? Well, I’m not really a cereal fan, but I’d go with something containing almonds and is crunchy enough to break at least five teeth per serving. As for director? Well, that’s quite easy: Quentin Tarantino. The guy has had his hand in some of my all time favourite movies and has also propelled certain actors into the ranks of my favourites too, owing to his screenplays. So when a new Tarantino movie rolls into town, I sit up and take notice, as they nearly always guarantee a slice of cinematic gold. Can Django Unchained continue the trend?

Bad Boys... Texan style.

Bad Boys… Texan style.

Before I get down to brass tacks, let’s discuss the premise of this particular movie… as if you don’t already know! The film follows the life of the titular Django (Jamie Foxx) – a slave who is liberated by a dentist-come-bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), in order to track down three targets. But what does Django want to do when the task is accomplished? Well, he wants to go off and find his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) – a fellow slave of the pre-Civil War United States. It just happens to be that Broomhilda is the property of a Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio): owner of the appropriately named Candie-Land plantation. Can the dynamic duo rescue her from his clutches? Or will Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) the loyal house slave, figure out their game?

Quite simply, Django Unchained is a formidable work of cinema. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but I loved every last moment of it. It had the perfect storm of great plot and fantastic casting, complete with Tarantino‘s brilliant scripting flourishes. So let’s kick off with the acting skills on show here. Much was made of the casting of Django himself, with Will Smith apparently in the running for the part in the early days. This made a lot of people sit up and take notice; owing to Smith‘s established fan base and ability to make massive returns at the box office. But for whatever reason, he never tried out for the part. This led to the hiring of Jamie Foxx for the role. Whilst Foxx isn’t the brightest star in the film, he fits the role perfectly. He’s just “right” for the part – he’s a fit, both physically and vocally. For me, his portrayal of Django was spot on. But as I say, he’s not the eclipsing star here. That accolade in fact belongs to three supporting actors: Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson. Waltz is bankable. He was sublime in Inglorious Basterds and put on a great show in Carnage. He’s a talent to be reckoned with. Whilst I found the role of King Schultz to be compelling, I never felt the same “wow” as I did with Inglorious Basterds‘ Hans Lander. Still, you can’t fault his performance here.

Django Unchained (2013)

I think I was most impressed with Leonardo DiCaprio, though I’m not surprised. For too long this guy was seen as a flash in the pan – only famous because of Titanic and how much the ladies loved him. But nothing could be further from the truth. He’s shown us countless times how he can step up to any role, so it was great to see him as a detestable character. Candie is sinister, intelligent and at the same time, incredibly naive. DiCaprio pulls it all off with aplomb. Finally, it’s brilliant to see Samuel L. Jackson in another defining role. As I’ve mentioned previously, it seems the guy picks films out of a hat, as opposed to scrutinising a script, as some of his films have been less than palatable. But Tarantino again brings the best out of Jackson. Just like Joss Whedon has his favourite rotating cast, I’m glad that Tarantino has the same. It’s familiar, but it’s always different… if you understand me.

Django Unchained (2013)

Plot / script-wise… it’s Tarantino. Come on – you know what you’re getting here. Ultra-violence, a heap of beautifully crafted dialogue and some great music choices. Some have derided the choice to include Rick Ross‘ 1000 Black Coffins (a modern hip hop song) in the middle of a film smattered with oldie-worldie sounding tunes. But it works! Come on, you can’t say you weren’t surprised to hear “Stuck in the Middle With You” during Reservoir Dogs can you? It was a massive juxtaposition – a guy’s ear being cut off with a cut throat razor with such a jolly song over the top. The same is true here, I’d argue.

The one thing that is definitely very “un-Tarantino” is the fact that he opts for a chronological story. We’re all well accustomed to his flair for Chapters in his films – ones that switch back and forth in time. They’re oddly absent here – something that must have been a deliberate choice on his behalf, of that I’m certain.

Oh, and anyone spot the massive tie in to the rest of the Tarantino universe? You know – where he makes a nod to a certain character / event in another of his films? No? Yes? It’s three points for a correct answer… OK, here’s a clue: King Schultz. Now go back and watch Kill Bill Vol. 2 with that in mind. All should become apparent.

Now, my verdict was never going to be an obvious choice based solely on the fact that Tarantino is the man writing the script, but it certainly raises expectations. Expectations can either be met, exceeded or never met. But Django Unchained never wanes and never bores over its lengthy run time. If anything, I’d have loved more time with those characters in their world. As I say, it’ll have its detractors, but what film doesn’t?

Thankfully, the Tarantino brand is still a mark of quality. Django Unchained is one of the best movies he’s ever put his name to. I’m not going to declare it “the” best, because his catalogue is too strong and it’s ultimately like picking between your favourite children… But we all do have a favourite don’t we? Cute little P. Fiction is mine…

Phage Factor:

5 Star

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