RoboCop (1987)

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It’s from the 80s, it’s from the 80s, it’s from the 80s.

RoboCop is one of those movies that was so cool when it came out, but it very quickly became dated.  While the 1986 Ford Taurus looked futuristic at the time, I just find that more humorous than anything else.

I can’t knock on this movie too hard though.  It did create a major franchise for a film with a $13 million budget.

A veteran cop in a futuristic “Old Detroit” is killed on his first patrol working in a new precinct.  Parts of his body are put into a cyborg for a new program called RoboCop.  While Murphy (Peter Weller) is now a cyborg, he retains bits and pieces of his memory prior to his death: his wife and son, his murder, etc.  He then proceeds to eliminate a lot of the crime and confront those who killed him.  There is a lot more to the story, but this is a more simplistic version.

The film has virtually no big names in its cast.  Kurtwood Smith (That 70s Show) is probably the biggest name on the cast, but they work well.  Each person seems to fit well into their given role.  Weller does good in the movie’s lead role, and Nancy Allen complements him quite well as Officer Anne Lewis, his partner and someone who helps him after he’s become RoboCop.

One of the main themes I enjoyed with this movie has to do with the conflict Murphy goes through after becoming RoboCop.  The film deals with the definition of masculinity, and Murphy has to figure out his identity.  He has been killed, but given new life in a way with his scientifically created body.  However, he retains elements of his humanity.  He is a family man who is killed, but his concept and memory of family does not go away, even if most of his body is dead and gone.

While doing a little research on this movie, I found out they’re re-making this one, and it’s supposed to come out early next year.  As I’ve previously stated, I have a mild dislike and distaste for most remakes.   This is no different.  I can just see this new one being an empty shell of the original.  There are some movies can be remade (Batman, Spider-Man, etc.) that work, but this is one is one that should probably stay in the past.

I thought RoboCop was decent, but I wouldn’t say it was great.  Perhaps I think that because it was a little before my time: apparently numerous critics said it was one of the best films of 1987, but I was too young to be able to have a strong opinion agreeing or disagreeing with this.  It’s okay to watch, if you don’t mind a lot of over-the-top violence or if you need a good laugh looking at very dated special effects.

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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The Usual Suspects (1995)

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Ensemble casting chemistry.

This is the second time I’ve watched this film, and as a result the twist surprise ending wasn’t a surprise.  I think that took away from my experience this time.  However, knowing the end I felt I was able to piece together some things more easily since I knew what to look for.

One of the strengths of this movie is the chemistry between the five main characters.  They seem to play well off of each other.  Each one brings a unique personality and skill set, aside from Fenster (Benicio Del Toro) and McManus (Stephen Baldwin) who are both primarily hit men.  The way these guys interacted made it seem like they had a natural chemistry without being carbon copies of one another.  I know very little about Gabriel Byrne, but I enjoyed him as the apparent mastermind but at the same time reluctant leader of the group.  His character’s experience as an ex-cop and heister provided a voice of reason as he dealt with trying to put those habits behind him.

The complexity and layers to this story at times were hard to follow for me.  If there was a weakness in this movie, that would be it.

Kevin Spacey does a great job in this film.  It’s interesting to note that he has been nominated for two Academy Awards for his performances in The Usual Suspects and American Beauty.  He won both times.  His calm yet firm demeanor makes the end-of-movie twist all the more surprising.  Even as Kujan is convinced Keaton is the leader of the group, the audience, or at least this audience, was convinced of that as well.

Overall I thought The Usual Suspects was engaging enough to stay interesting, but sometimes to a fault.  I enjoyed it, but probably won’t see again.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

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A widow, through the mourning period, decides to uproot with her daughter and start anew in a house no one has been able to stay in.  They claim a ghost lives there.  The previous owner, Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison), apparently committed suicide 4 years prior to Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) and her daughter Anna (Natalie Wood) moved in.  The captain reveals himself to Lucy and the two form a friendship, though rough at times, and Lucy eventually writes a book about Gregg’s life.  They have an argument as Lucy takes interest in another man, a living man, and Daniel makes Lucy believe that her interactions with him were all just a dream and she came up with the story all on her own.  The film then quickly skips through Lucy’s life: Anna grows up and has kids of her own, one of which is engaged to be married by the end, and finally Lucy dies, bringing about an interesting twist to end the film.

This movie was pretty straightforward.  I like how older movies rely more on acting and storytelling in contrast to today’s films, which rely more on gimmicks and special effects.  There’s almost a purity in performance with older films like The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.  It was a time when talent carried a movie as opposed to things like sex appeal.  Though Lucy eventually falls in love with another man in a  cliché way, the fact that it doesn’t play out helps, and eventually Lucy finds the one she wanted to end up with.

I haven’t seen very much of Rex Harrison, actually only My Fair Lady, but he does such a good job in this film being intimidating but vulnerable.  Honest and to the point, but never too over the top.  While the act of seeing and interacting with a ghost seems impossible, his acting and interaction with Lucy seems very real.

In a way this film was refreshing, specifically within the romance genre.  Today’s films are so cookie-cutter and predictable, plus being a guy I have to be in the right mood to somewhat enjoy, or at least tolerate, this kind of film.  The older look and era simplifies the story without being cliché and predictable.  The ending was sweet, I will admit that much.  Unfortunately I had read what would happen before seeing it, so the allure and surprise was lost for me.

I liked The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, but probably won’t see it again.  It’s one of those films that you can watch once and be okay with not watching again.  I have nothing against it: the film was well done, the acting was top-notch, the cinematography was appropriate for the subject matter.  It’s worth seeing, I’d recommend it.

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

 

Harold and Maude (1971)

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A 20 year old man is obsessed with death, specifically his own, and funerals.  Does it matter that he’s clearly from an upper-class family?  Of course not.  Harold (Bud Cort) has made a bit of a ritual of staging what appear to be suicide attempts in hopes of getting his mother’s attention.  His mother (Vivian Pickles) brushes every attempt off and seems more concerned with whatever else she is doing.  She’s set Harold up on three blind dates, and after Harold performs another suicide attempt, his mother seems more concerned with  the fact that he just ruined his last chance to be set up with a girl.

Harold finds a kindred spirit in Maude (Ruth Gordon) and the two seem like they have little in common, other than the fact that they enjoy attending funerals of strangers.  Maude is a full-of-life free spirit who has a true lust for life.  As they spend time together, Maude teaches Harold about life and making the most of the time we have on

This film was released in the early 70s at the height of the flower power movement.  I wouldn’t know, it was before my time.  Perhaps I would have enjoyed it better had I lived in the time period.  It seems anti-establishment to a degree (Harold and Maude steal a car, city tree, and eventually a police officer’s motorcycle as he is writing them a citation), and I can understand the appeal and why it would be popular in that time period.  The film itself did not do well at the box office: it started turning a profit 12 years after it was released.  However, it apparently has a huge cult following.

Must like The Big Lebowski, Harold and Maude is a cult-classic film that I simply don’t get.  The movie dragged for me, and while I knew beforehand that Harold staged fake suicide attempts, after the third one it just seemed redundant and increasingly disturbing.  Much like his mother, I found myself brushing it off and looking forward to what came next instead of dwelling on and being concerned with his need for attention.

Ruth Gordon was a delight in this.  She plays essentially the same character that won her an Oscar for her role in Rosemary’s Baby (I haven’t seen that one so I have to take what other’s have written at their word.)  I think there is some universality in what she communicates to Harold about life and enjoying what we have.  It can be very easy for a person to fixate on the bad and let that run their life, much like Harold does.  Though she goes over the top throughout the film, Maude’s desire to make the most of each day and live life by her own rule is refreshing to see.

One of the other redeeming things about this movie is Cat Stevens.  I found his music enjoyable.

I won’t watch Harold and Maude again, but I can understand why it has a cult following.   However, it’s a cult I am not a part of.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

The Longest Day (1962)

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The Longest Day.  At times more like the longest segment of a film and come on, let’s get on with it.

Actually not really.  I was surprised at how quickly this film moved along.  Yes, it’s 3 hours long, but it’s engaging throughout.

This film looks at June 6, 1944 as the Allied forces invade France and begin their march to Berlin and ultimate end of the European theater in World War 2.  What makes this film unique is that it covers every angle imaginable, and does so in a way that doesn’t seem redundant and boring.  It may be more my own personal preference, but I enjoy films like this.

Realism is common theme I’ve seen in the films I’ve surprisingly enjoyed watching in this project.  I especially enjoyed how the filmmakers took on all sides and perspectives of this day.  Americans, British, French, and German soldiers are all represented, and all three directors do a great job of telling individual stories that contribute to the bigger story of the day.  I found myself speculating about if something had been done differently: if the Nazis had sent tanks to reinforce their troops would they have held their ground?  Would the Allies have made it to Berlin that much faster?  Things like those interest me.  But it wasn’t all glamorized: a battalion of paratroopers was slaughtered because they missed their landing zone, a group of engineers was left directionless because all their commanding officers were killed before they reached the shore.  I think it conveys they value of life and consequences of war that can get overlooked.

There was a scene at the end of the film where an American soldier that’s been followed through the whole movie admits that he hadn’t fired a single shot.  A wounded British soldier, who had previously shot a German commander, reflects on the state each of them is in: dead, wounded, scared, and how most war probably produces those results.  It seems like a reflection of the futility of war when one takes a step back and sees a broader picture.

There is a whole slew of big names.  However, the film leaps back and forth between a number of participants, and as a result none of them are really in a central significant role outside of their own group.  John Wayne probably comes closest to being a central figure, though his character doesn’t participate in the beach invasion.  Henry Fonda plays Teddy Roosevelt Jr. (The President’s son), and plays a commander in his 50s and using a cane in an endearing performance.  Sean Connery appears in two whole scenes, and speaks one line.  The Longest Day came out the same year as Dr. No.  Connery was in all likelihood on set for 1 day, 2 tops.  The thing that I appreciated is how they seemed to fit seamlessly into the story, and the events rise above the big names.  “The endless parade of stars makes for an astute mix of realism and Hollywood star-power.”

The Longest Day won 2 Oscars: Best Cinematography and Best Sound Effects.  The battle scenes, especially ones that continued and the cameras panned and followed a battle in a way that couldn’t have been edited together was fantastic.  While elements aren’t as realistic as more recent war films have portrayed, specifically when guys get shot, the overall feel and   I’m pretty sure I heard the same sound used for X-Wing blaster fire from Star Wars at one point.

If I were a history teacher, and I had the okay from the school, this is a film I would consider showing this, or at least parts of it, when discussing World War 2 and D-Day.  I appreciate and applaud the realism in this film.  I would watch it again, but only under the right circumstances.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

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As I’ve looked over the last few reviews, I realize they’ve been rather lengthy.  I’ll work on that and try to get more to the point rather than babble on and on as I’ve tended to do.

I feel as though I needed to watch Sleepless in Seattle with my wife.  It screams chick flick, and yet, I enjoyed it.  The premise is basic: fate and love, and Nora Ephron makes it work with two actors at the height of their craft.

In 1993, both Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks were in what I’d consider the most successful time of their careers.  This film and When Harry Met Sally are probably Ryan’s two most well-known movies, and Hanks won his first of two Best Actor Oscars in 1994 for Philadelphia, and then the next year for Forrest Gump.  Ross Malinger nails the performance of Jonah.  He fits the part and keeps things interesting.  He represents a childlike innocence and hope in the power of love and fate.  I feel like Bill Pullman, especially in the 90s, played the guy who was a road block for a romantic pairing.  Hank Azaria has taken over that role more recently, but I think Pullman is likable enough without necessarily being lovable as a character.

Sleepless in Seattle makes numerous references to An Affair to Remember, and I get a feeling that this is a modern, at least for the time, version of that film.  It was unnecessary but I felt You’ve Got Mail (1998) was just a remake of Sleepless, but I digress.  When Sam (Hanks), Suzy (Rita Wilson), and Greg (Victor Garber) talk about An Affair to Remember, Sam and Greg make a mockery of how sentimental Suzy is about the romance that takes place.  The gender differences definitely show through, contrasting somewhat to the conversations Harry and Sally have in When Harry Met Sally…

Visually this film has become very dated, but the visuals aren’t what makes this movie relate-able and in some ways timeless.  The explosion of social networks and the internet since this film came out have made the world a much smaller place.  However, there are still some aspects of love, dating, and getting married.  The conversation Sam I believe has with Jay (Rob Reiner) shows this.  They compare inviting a girl out for dinner or for a drink, and the implications of each.  In most instances, going out in the conventional sense is still central to the dating process.  Guys and girls approach it differently, which Ephron demonstrates this quite well.

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In conclusion I enjoyed Sleepless in Seattle, and will probably watch it a few more times sometime in the future.  It’s not filled with layers upon layers of stories and subplots, but holds its own with the help of two strong  lead performances and a likable and relate-able supporting cast.  I really don’t have any complaints about this one.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Spider-Man (2002)

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Spider-Man.

Although this will show up at January 10, I started watching the film for this review on the 9th, the day that The Superior Spider-Man #1 comic came out.  I am most definitely not the comic book type, but I did get The Amazing Spider-Man #700 where the Peter Parker we know and love dies and is replaced…well I won’t give it away.  The new series is a different, superior mind occupying Parker’s body.

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I remember seeing this in theaters a decade ago.  I didn’t grow up with Spider-Man (I was more of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles guy), so outside of some of the obvious things: Peter gets bit by a spider and has supernatural abilities, loses his uncle, a few of the villains, etc., I knew very little about the storyline.  I remember thinking this was one of the last superheroes to make it onto the big screen.  It also marked a new era, in a sense, of film making and how these types of stories are told.  It became the plumb line in a sense for comic-book hero movies.

Since The Amazing Spider-Man came out last year, I can’t help but draw comparisons since these films are primarily back story and laying groundwork for future stories.  Each one has its own merits, but I will try to stick with the original film.

By today’s standards this movie’s special effects seem, well, primitive.  Specifically the scene where Peter first scales the wall, and then leaping from building to building as he realizes the new powers he’s acquired.  Watching this for the first time in a number of years, it serves as a reminder of how far special effects have come along in the last decade.

One of the reasons why this movie was successful was the balance Sam Raimi brings to the table.  It remains faithful to the comic books (though I can’t specifically vouch for this) while remaining light and informative enough for a broader audience (which I wholeheartedly agree with).  It was entertaining and left me hungry for what would come next.  Spider-man 2 was great, probably better than the first, and Spider-Man 3 could have been a whole lot better.

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I was thoroughly impressed with the acting in this film.  Tobey Maguire was good as Spider-Man, though I think Andrew Garfield is more convincing as a geek/super-hero.  Maguire almost seems too normal and un-geeky.

James Franco and Willem Dafoe do great together.  In the scene where the two reconcile after their spat at Thanksgiving, the only thought in my head was the fact that they could be father and son.  They look so similar.  Franco had auditioned for the role of Peter Parker, but he does a decent job as Harry.  I’ve always been impressed with Willem Dafoe as an actor.  He shows great range and contrast as Norman Osborn, schizophrenic CEO/villain.

Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson pull off a far more convincing Ben and Mae Parker than Sally Field and Martin Short.  Robertson is especially great in this movie because of the impact he has as a character in his limited screen time.  He adds weight and depth to the story.  Harris also shines as a strong source of wisdom, hope, and rational.

The only casting that I would have done differently was Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson.  I looked over her filmography, and specifically the movies I’ve seen, and I don’t know that I’ve liked any of the roles she’s played.  She’s missing a certain “it” factor.  Raimi originally wanted to cast Alicia Witt (Gertrude Lang from Mr. Holland’s Opus), but it didn’t work out for some reason.  Dunst has enough talent to continue to get work, but honestly I don’t see how that happens.  This prejudice, at least in the Spider-Man series, probably has more to do with her in Spider-Man 2 and 3 and not so much this one.

It’s interesting to note that Spider-man’s costume consisted of the bodysuit and the mask, while The Green Goblin’s outfit had 530 pieces and took a half hour to put on.  Willem Dafoe insisted on suiting up, as he believed a stuntman could not communicate the body language that came with his dialogue.  I think this was a very wise choice to make.

J.K. Simmons is great.  He works perfectly as J. Jonah Jamison.  It just works.

I think this film does a good job of laying the groundwork for later stories.  It brings the appeal of Spider-Man to a wider mainstream audience much like Star Trek (2009) did while remaining true to the source material.  A person can get the basic gist of the mythology and still be entertained.  The die-hard fans probably see more layers as they know more back story from other mediums.

I would definitely watch Spider-Man again, though I’ll cringe on the inside from Kirsten Dunst’s performance.  However, there are far more great qualities to this film that outweigh aspects that are more personal preference than anything else.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars