RoboCop and Beyond: Fanboy Says Yes to 2014

RoboCop

I saw RoboCop tonight.

If you’re younger than me, you can’t imagine the thrill the original Star Trek gave science fiction fans and budding futurists. The thing was nothing short of a revelation about a future of light and beauty, technological brilliance and human adventure. And Captain Kirk was this intrepid figure of never-give-up determination and courage, a studly MAN to match alien beings and technologies, the depths of space, and the challenges of the unknown.

When Star Trek: The Next Generation was announced, we were all certain nothing could live up to Kirk’s perfection. But here came Picard. Wonderful, steely, quiet, determined, deep, courageous, never-give-up Picard. The truth was, Picard was Kirk’s equal. In lots of ways he was better than Kirk; William Shatner’s Kirk became a figure of fun, today’s joke of overacting and comical cadence of speech. (For those of us who loved the original Star Trek, the magic will probably always be there, but we can appreciate the comedy too.)

Here’s the thing about RoboCop the original. It was both dramatic and comedic. It was bombastic and ridiculous. It took place in a world of dark comedy, a world where a least-common-denominator Everyman could be a television icon — “I’d buy that for a dollar!” — a world that resonates all too scarily with those of us trapped in RoboCop’s near-prophetic vision of the future, with  Duck Dynasty, Honey Boo Boo, FOX News and Sarah Palin.

Here’s the thing about RoboCop the reboot. It’s dramatic. Period. The future is just as dark, but it’s the darkness of PR shills and corporate CEOs who are both likeable and casual-sociopath-slimy. The action is just as good, the special effects are equivalent, and the acting by Gary Oldman and Michael Keaton is spot-on.

The story isn’t perfect, but neither was the original RoboCop. And this fresh one has the positive attribute of not being mugged by a series of lesser sequels. Overall, I’d say this new RoboCop is Picard to the old RoboCop’s Kirk. It works, and I liked it.

I, Frankenstein

This one was fun but forgettable — evil demons bent on calling demonic hordes from Hell to take over the world, opposed by Frankenstein’s monster and angelic gargoyles. I did like Aaron Eckhart in the role, having enjoyed him as Harvey Dent in the Batman reboot, and noticing him as far back as Erin Brockovich in 2000. And I sort of liked the detail of demons “descending” when killed, while the gargoyles “ascended,” both accompanied by active swirls of light. It was a feast of special effects. The disgusting Franken-Rat was a nice touch. But overall … meh.

The Rest of 2014

I’m looking forward to a really good season of SF movies. Here are some of the dozens that caught  my eye:

Mr. Peabody and Sherman, March 7
Captain America: The Winter Soldier, April 4
Transcendence, April 18
The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Enemies Unite, May 2
X-Men: Days of Future Past, May 23
How to Train Your Dragon 2, June 13
Guardians of the Galaxy, Aug. 1
Lucy, Aug. 8
The Hobbit: There and Back Again, Dec. 17

I’m especially eager for Mr. Peabody, Spider-Man 2, the new X-Men movie, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and The Hobbit.

God Goes Silver Screen

Oddly enough, this is a banner year for religious-themed movies too. No idea why; I guess the idea just hit a number of filmmakers at the same time.

Son of God, Feb. 28
Noah, March 28
Heaven Is For Real, April 16
Exodus, Dec. 12

I expect godders will eat them up, but I’ll give all of them a big miss.  Most of them look like stories you can take or leave, but Heaven Is For Real, coming on Easter and BASED ON THE INCREDIBLE TRUE STORY (!!), looks like an especially vile sample of manipulative swill.

I MIGHT see Noah on video, to enjoy the animals, and Russell Crowe’s and Emma Watson’s acting. I’m predicting some idiotic protest based on the fact that no dinosaurs will appear (or at least I’m assuming they won’t), said idiotic protest enjoying widespread media coverage and incensed-atheist-blogger gaspage.

Jesus and God are once again Hollywood commodities, which I expect will cheapen whatever mystique the figures once held, but conversely allow them to appeal even more to dumbed-down audiences.

Help Get ‘Hug An Atheist’ to a Wider Audience

Sylvia Broeckx writes:

I apologise for sending you this message out of the blue, but we could really do with some help. We’ve made a film about atheists in the USA and it’s from the perspective of everyday atheists, dealing with the aspects of life where religions provide solace and guidance such as morality, raising a family, and coping with tragedy.

But, what’s the point of making a film that presents atheism in a positive light, if it doesn’t get seen by lots of people that aren’t already atheists? We have less than 48 hours to raise the funds to help get this film to into festivals and reach a wider, non-atheist, audience.

We are getting close, but could really do with your help to spread the word about the campaign. It can really help make quite the difference.

Thank you!

Sylvia

Done! Here’s the trailer, with the Indiegogo fundraiser link below:

 

Fanboy Says ‘Oh Hell Yes!’ to Star Trek: Into Darkness

Warning: Profound spoilers below. If you don’t want to know major plot surprises, stop reading now. If you’re one of those who just CAN’T enjoy a movie if you know what’s going to happen before it happens (I’m not), I guarantee my poor telling can’t match what you’ll see in the extended journey of adventure the movie provides. Reading any further will cheat you out of the serious delights in store.

For the visual effects alone – the starships, the battles, hell, just the new version of going to warp – I would like this movie. But the visual effects played a very distant fiddle to the story. And a very good story it was.

A familiar story? Yes. But in this alternate-universe Star Trek setting, it takes on fresh life, with all the gritty brilliance of Daniel Craig’s rebooted James Bond, or Christian Bale’s rebooted Batman. Hollywood seems to have discovered a way to – occasionally – make sequels better than the originals.

I’m jumping around here because there’s just too much to like about this movie, and I can’t possibly describe it all without a word-for-word retelling of the entire story:

The interplay between Kirk and Spock, as they take in turns the saving of each other’s lives, is wonderful. In a totally believable “guy” way, you see the love between the two. Spock’s tears, as he stands watching Kirk die, bring incredible depth to the character, making him more than the laughable half-alien he was in early TV Trek.

The vulnerability of Kirk-Pine is very different from the swagger of Kirk-Shatner, one side-effect of which is that we get a believable explanation of why the CAPTAIN of a star ship would lead an away team.

I kept hearing this name from a couple of friends – Benedict Cumberbatch, Benedict Cumberbatch – and thinking “I’m not sure I even want to know this asshole with the too-British name.” But … he was good. Damned good, amazingly good, incredibly good.

Something I said to friends afterward: “You know how I’ve said Sam Elliott’s mustache should have its own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? I feel the same way about Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice.” His voice is indescribably rich, and the way he uses his mouth and face when he speaks … amazing. He also manages an unusually powerful portrayal of both the calm ally and the fantastically dangerous enemy.

In the quiet theater, I laughed out loud, a quick burst of “Ha!” when I figured out who he was just a moment or so before he told us: Khan.

But you BELIEVE he’s Khan, brilliant schemer and dangerous adversary. Even separated from his crew and fleeing capture, you can see him as an emperor, momentarily dispossessed of an empire but totally possessed of the ability to win one.

The two villains, the one a Starfleet Admiral and the other a 300-year-old genetically-enhance menace, worked very well. Peter Weller’s performance stopped just short of scenery chewing, and provided a believable explanation for the freeing of Khan.

Think of the dual villains as a multi-stage booster rocket, the megalomaniac and too-confident Starfleet admiral providing the initial thrust, burning out but simultaneously igniting Khan skyward. The firing of the third stage – with Khan and his genetically enhanced supermen free to bring their full ruthless potential to bear on an unready galaxy (with, thanks to the admiral, an advanced and massively militaristic ship) – is what Kirk and crew have to stop.

The business about Spock screaming Khan’s name as his friend Kirk dies inside the radioactive engine room chamber after saving the ship, I felt the hint of a protest welling inside me. Was there a cheat in this? A too-easy something the writers threw in because they couldn’t think of anything better? But it wasn’t like that at all. It WORKED, joining the new Star Trek universe with the old one as the changed timelines bled into each other with believable hints of alternate-universe symmetry. (Carol Marcus, daughter of the villainous admiral and the mother of Kirk’s son in the old universe, was another little bit of old-universe-new-universe interweaving, an unheralded delight for observant fans.)

I’d like to go on and on about the writing and the other actors, but I could write about 2,000 words here and not get it all out. I’ll just say this: I loved the acting; every single actor gives you your money’s worth. Special kudos to Simon Pegg for Scotty, the bright but slightly comical chief engineer struggling mightily in several scenes to make things come out right, and to Zoe Saldana for her Uhura, playing through a delightful lover’s spat with Spock at a moment of high tension.

Finally, a little side note: Less the fault of this movie and more a general plot device in science fiction, I am occasionally disturbed by the use of “genetically enhanced supermen” as villains. It’s part of the stock in trade of movie-makers, used many times in the Star Trek universe alone, but it builds on the mythos that “enhanced” must mean bad and never better.

As someone who truly believes humans-as-we-are lie a great deal south of where we must be intellectually to survive, I don’t rate our chances as very high unless we DO build some brighter versions of ourselves. And yet the fictional trope is that the bad traits are enhanced – ruthlessness, greed, ambition – and never the good ones. The murderous superman is a believable creation of human science, while the good, wise, compassionate superman can only come from outside, from mythical Krypton.

Speaking of which, guess who’s hitting the midnight show of Man of Steel on June 13? Oh, yeahhhh.

After I see Star Trek: Into Darkness at least once more, that is.

Fanboy Says ‘Oh, Hell Yeah!’ to Iron Man 3

Got back from the Iron Man 3 premiere last night (as usual, I was the oldest person there) and my roomie asked me “Which was the best of the three Iron Man movies?” I had to mull that for a moment, but I finally said “I think it might be this one.”

Action. Oh, yes, a lot of it. Quite a bit of this movie is Tony Stark in action as himself, either without his armor or without all of it. There’s one great sequence where he has nothing more than one glove and one boot, and yet still manages to kick major ass with a group of terrorists.

The suits are on display in a big way, with one fight scene involving about 20 of them, all being operated by Jarvis. One remotely operated suit gets some play, and it’s a nice little surprise each time you discover Tony Stark is not actually in the thing.

Don Cheadle’s role as the armored Iron Patriot serves mainly as comic relief in his in-armor scenes, but he gets some good action stuff later as himself, Rhodie.

Regarding major-villain action, and the necessary suspension of disbelief to support it: Some of the villains have the ability to superheat parts of their bodies so they glow red, and are even able to melt iron by touching it. There’s a healing ability that goes along with it. I could diss the nature of this power, and I expect some reviewers will, but I won’t carp at it. I liked it – if nothing else, it was true to the superhero comics universe, where just about anything can happen, and with the flimsiest of real-world justifications. Also, I’m a grownup and understand I’ve just watched a movie about a comic book hero.

There’s an extended sequence where Tony Stark is stuck in a small town in Tennessee, working on his Iron Man armor in an old automechanic garage, that I liked very much, for two reasons.

First, the young actor who plays opposite Robert Downey Jr. is Ty Simpkins, who plays Harley Keener. I don’t dislike child actors, generally, but I don’t like them much either, because of how often they get a break in judgment of acting quality. “That’s pretty good for a kid” is a way of saying “Well, he sucked, but what can you do, he’s 12 years old.” Except in this case, his acting was spot-on perfect and professional, which is to say he looked perfectly natural as the 13-year-old (or whatever) he was playing.

Second, Tony Stark deals with PTSD. Downey does this incredibly well. There are about five scenes where he verges on psychological meltdown, and they are very, very good. One of them is a bedroom scene with Tony Stark sleeping next to Pepper Potts, and the expressions that trail across his sleeping face are wonderfully apt to the moment.

A couple of surprises: Both the identity of the Mandarin and an action sequence near the end involving Pepper Potts (By the way: Gwyneth Paltrow … damn. A fine actress. And whoo, also a serious hottie.) come as surprises, but they work. The way the story unfolds, you sort of suspect the possibility of Pepper’s action scene late in the movie, but the moment it happens still comes as a nice surprise.

Ben Kingsley was PERFECT as the Mandarin, both as his sinister in-character self and as his “other” self. The scenes with the “other” are … well, delightful. You’ll have to see it.

Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan is a nice addition, a little too-eager comedic, a little heroic, as in the previous movies. I can’t help but recall that Hogan in the Marvel universe has been both a wearer of Iron Man armor and an accidental super-powered villain. But this slimmed-down movie role works.

Side Notes

Look for the Stan Lee cameo at the big party (the flashback) early in the movie.

3D: I don’t dislike 3D, but I don’t actually like it all that much either. About 30 seconds into any 3D movie, I stop noticing it. There is no moment when I go “Wow, that shark CAME RIGHT OFF THE SCREEN!!!” I don’t think 3D adds anything to a movie but the price tag. I always feel vaguely screwed when I pay extra but get no more MOVIE. I recommend you go to the 2D version, and if you’re anything like me, I promise you’ll get just as much out of it.

Interestingly, there are some 3D previews before the movie that appear to use a different type of 3D. I wasn’t aware that there was more than one type, but the 3D glasses handed out at the movie definitely worked for the movie, definitely didn’t work for the previews.

Confession: I’m slightly embarrassed that I actually bought into some of the Mandarin’s rhetoric, and found myself hoping the character of the President (a white guy, by the way; I kept seeing him as George W. Bush, or alternate-universe President Romney) might get a good kick in the head, if not actually riddled with bullets. Sue me.

I had the feeling, as the credits began to roll, that this might be the last Iron Man movie, and I hope that’s not the case. Robert Downey Jr. nails the character, and I’d trade one Iron Man for every single damned one of those stupid Transformers movies.

Yes, stay for the credits and the short scene that follows. It’s a little nothing, but it’s funny, and worth seeing for the bragging rights, if nothing else.

 

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Fanboy Says Yes to The Amazing Spider-Man

Got to see the new Spider-Man movie, and I have to say I liked it a lot. Warning: Possible spoilers.

Warning 2: It’s after 3 a.m. as I write this, so I don’t promise perfection.

Holding this movie up against The Avengers, Spider-Man 2, or Iron Man, I’d say it ranks slightly below them, but only slightly.  If those are 10-star movies, I’d give this one an 8 or 9. It won’t make you want to leap out of your chair and cheer, but I liked it and will want to see it again.  Continue reading “Fanboy Says Yes to The Amazing Spider-Man”

Fanboy Does ‘The Avengers’

Went to the midnight showing of The Avengers last night.

I’ve been saying for a couple of years that someone figured out something, about the time of the first Spider-Man movie. Something about how to do a REALLY GOOD superhero movie.

The whatever-it-was came to perfection by the time the second Spider-Man came out, the one with Doc Ock, making it the screaming best superhero movie ever-evarrrr.

But then the first Iron Man hit the screen. Blew. Me. The. Fuck. Away. Topped Spidey 2.

The Avengers is Iron Man times three. Continue reading “Fanboy Does ‘The Avengers’”