Tag Archives: Gary Oldman

Movie Review: Child 44 (2015)

child 44

I remember first seeing Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 in a bookstore, reading the back cover, and thinking to myself that the story will likely make a great movie. Stalinist Russia, a child killer on the loose — what’s there not to like?

Hollywood execs clearly agreed with me, and that’s why we now have the film adaptation of Child 44 by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House), starring the always-brilliant Tom Hardy as an MGB officer at the center of the story. Playing his wife is the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace, whom Hardy previously worked with on The Drop. Rounding out the superb cast are Robocop Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman and the ubiquitous Aussie Jason Clarke.

All the ingredients for a brilliant political mystery thriller are there, but for whatever reason, Child 44 turned out to be a mild disappointment. It’s one of those films where you keep watching intently, expecting it to get better and blow you away at any second, but all you end up doing is wait and wait and wait, until suddenly you realise it’s all over and none of your expectations were met. And that’s not a good feeling after you just sat through 137 minutes.

I sense that some of the blame must go to the story itself. It’s actually very misleading to market this film as being about the hunt for a child serial killer. In reality, Child 44 is a political thriller with a tangential child serial killer subplot. The “mystery” is something that’s always lingering in the background, something the film comes back to repeatedly, but is never the focal point. Instead, the vast majority of the film is about depicting the terror of Stalinist Russia — how you always need to keep an eye over your shoulder, how people and the state can turn on you at any second; never knowing who to trust; the constant fear and paranoia.

As for the killer? There’s never really a proper investigation. There’s no real mystery, no shocking revelations. It’s just some guy who suddenly shows up halfway through and is revealed to audiences as the killer. I also had some trouble understanding the motivations behind Hardy’s and Rapace’s characters wanting so badly to find the killer. They don’t even have children and they have enough life-and-death problems of their own to deal with. As a result it’s almost like the whole child killer thing is just a hook to suck people in. It’s a red herring.

That said, I shouldn’t be penalising Child 44 for not being the type of film I anticipated. On the plus side, it is quite effective in its depiction of that period of history, and Tom Hardy delivers a superb performance as the complex protagonist. I also wasn’t as distracted as some people have been by the Russian-accented English — or at least the varied attempts at it — as I accepted early on that it’s just something viewers have to live.

What fails the movie, however, is a lack of genuine intrigue and sustained tension. There are perhaps too many subplots, none of which manage to gather any momentum. It’s just not that interesting, a shocker considering that the book is considered to be a riveting page-turner. And that’s a shame, because I’m sure there’s a compelling story buried in there somewhere.

On the whole, Child 44 isn’t terrible. It’s a solid production with strong performances, but it’s also quite a dull adaptation that is unable to bring out the most of the fascinating premise and whatever it is that made the book such a supposedly compulsive bestseller.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: RoboCop (2014)

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Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop, made back in 1987, is widely regarded as one of his best movies alongside 1990’s Total Recall and 1997’s Starship Troopers, all sci-fi action blockbusters featuring amazing special effects (for its time) and boasting a sharp satirical edge that made them unforgettable classics. Last year, Hollywood attempted to remake Total Recall (with Colin Farrell in Arnie’s old role) and it was an epic failure. Apart from improved special effects, every aspect of the new film, from the story to the characters to the action, was inferior. Most of all, the charm and wit of the original was all gone.

This year they’ve decided to remake RoboCop, with Brazilian Jose Padilha directing and largely unknown actor Joel Kinnaman (I only knew him as Oliva Munn’s boyfriend) in the title role and a bunch of big names from Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach!), Michael K Williams (Omar from The Wire!), Abbie Cornish and Jay Baruchel in the supporting cast. The result this time is a mixed bag. Some might call it a failure too, but there is no doubt that the remake of RoboCop is much much better than the remake of Total Recall.

This time, the story is set in the not-too-distant future (2028, I believe), when high-powered robots made by the wealthy OmniCorp have replaced soldiers in overseas territories with a US military presence. However, robot cops are still outlawed in the United States, OmniCorp’s largest potential market, thanks to a senator played by Zach Grenier (I know him as annoying partner David Lee on The Good Wife). To get around the legal restrictions, OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) comes up with the idea of putting a disabled human in a robot, and that’s where Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a good cop on the verge of death after being betrayed by corrupt cops, comes in. This is all pretty obvious stuff.

The good news about this RoboCop reboot is that apart from the title, the name of the protagonist and a few key plot points, the film is very different to the original. After all, why remake a movie if it’s just going to be exactly the same? This RoboCop places more attention on the internal emotional struggles of Murphy than the original and spends a lot of time on the course of his development and the logistics of operation, most probably because a big star like Gary Oldman plays the scientist/doctor in charge of the project. In that sense, this RoboCop is a much more personal and serious film, though it doesn’t forget to pay homage to the original through some references such as suit and robot design.

The special effects are, needless to say, impressive, as you would expect from a 2014 film. The action scenes are also well done, though I had expected a little more innovation and creativity as the choreography was fairly standard and contained no particularly memorable sequences.

Joel Kinnaman is an interesting choice for Murphy (especially given that A-listers such as Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp and Keanu Reeves were considered). He seems tall but not really a leading-man type of guy, but neither was Peter Weller (the original). Like Weller though, Kinnaman does have a prominent jaw/lip area and that’s rather important as RoboCop spends a lot of his time with all but that part of his face covered. He doesn’t exude much charisma but does a solid job of playing both the cop and the RoboCop (ie, one with emotion and the other without). The jury’s still out as to whether he’s going to become a bigger star after this.

As for the supporting cast, Gary Oldman and Michael Keaton have the juiciest roles as the sympathetic doctor and the villainous CEO, while it was interesting to see the man who played Omar (Michael K Williams) play a cop instead of a crook. Aussie Abbie Cornish has a thankless role as the distressed and helpless wife, while Jackie Earle Haley is another interesting choice as the commander of the robots given his diminutive stature, but he more than makes up for it with his disturbing versatility. As for Samuel L Jackson, he was pretty much the same as always.

The main problem with the film is that it couldn’t exactly decide whether it wanted to be a serious film or be laced with satire like the original. I’m not saying that the remake had to take the same angle as Verhoeven’s version, and in fact I tend to prefer something fresh. This reboot starts with and features, sporadically, a series of TV segments hosted by Samuel L Jackson that are clearly intended to satirize America’s manipulative right wing TV shows (like those on Fox News). While these segments are semi-amusing and have strong political undertones (though they are nowhere near as good as those in Starship Troopers), they are also completely at odds with the tone and feel of the rest of the film, which is completely devoid of jokes, tongue-in-cheek one-liners and cheesy dialogue. It’s like they wanted to have fun and play it straight at the same time, and the result is confusing and renders the film frustratingly uneven.

I had high expectations for RoboCop and named it as one of my most anticipated movies of 2014 because I loved the 1987 original so much. It’s one of those movies I’ve seen heaps of times and will always keep watching if I happen to stumble across it on TV. I felt there was a lot they could have done with a remake given the advancements in modern technology and medicine since 1987. And I’m not just talking about special effects and character design either. They could have completely revamped the system, introduced some cool new stuff like innovative gadgets or vehicles which would make way for fresh action sequences that would override anything from the original. Instead, apart from showing us how efficient crime fighting would be with all the entire police database and CCTV camera footage in a cop’s head, the film fails to deliver any of those things. On a deeper level, I didn’t expect the remake to recapture the magic of the original, and I didn’t think it had to have the same satirical edge, but I had hoped that it would at least produce some of the same wit. Sadly, it didn’t do much of that either.

That said, if you take RoboCop 2014 as a standalone popcorn flick, it’s actually not bad — maybe even pretty good. The story is still cool, the cast is fantastic, the effects are great and the action is solid. I wasn’t anywhere near bored but neither was I thoroughly entertained like I hoped I would be. This remake is not a worthless one like Total Recall was, though it still missed an excellent opportunity to deliver something truly special.

3.25 stars out of 5

PS: Apparently a Starship Troopers remake is tentatively in the works. I can’t think of a film that needs a remake less than that one.

Mega Catch-up Movie Blitz (Part 9)

Red State (2011)

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Hard to categorize this movie except to call it an interesting Kevin Smith film.

Written and directed by Silent Bob himself, Red State is about a bunch of kids who meet a woman on the internet for naughty business, only to find themselves kidnapped by a religious cult. Cops get involved, mayhem ensues.

Doesn’t sound particularly original but it is a very unusual film with some fascinating characters, fine details, unexpected twists and turns and the feeling that anyone could die at any second despite a star-studded cast – featuring the likes of John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Michael Parks, Kevin Pollack, Kyle Gallner, Stephen Root, Anna Gunn, Kerry Bishe – not huge names but a very solid lineup.

It’s been described as an action-horror but that’s not quite right, though I’m not sure how else to categorize it. In any case, I really enjoyed the tension and being taken this wild ride with no idea where it was heading. It was a little messy at times and got less interesting as it progressed towards the end (though it had a ripper of a conclusion), but at a swift 88 minutes it was good enough for me.

3.75 stars out of 5

Red Dog (2011)

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I’m not usually a fan of animal movies or Aussie movies, so a combination of the two was unlikely to produce anything I would want to watch. But strong word of mouth and curiosity got me to check out Red Dog, which is apparently a true story about a legendary dog with his own statue in Western Australia.

It has a pretty decent Aussie cast with Rachael Taylor, Luke Ford and Noah Taylor, but of course they had to amp up the star power a little bit with American star Josh Lucas, whom I didn’t really mind here despite this being a very Aussie film.

I’ll admit, I was surprised that Red Dog was so entertaining and occasionally moving, making it a great family film and dog/animal-lover film. It doesn’t aim to be anything it isn’t and succeeds as a fairly low brow buddy movie with kiddy humour, clichés and an unexpected dose of charm. It doesn’t wow but has its effective moments.

I didn’t love it but I certainly didn’t hate it either.

3 stars out of 5

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

tinker tailor

This is one of those films that had the critics calling it a masterpiece and the majority of regular moviegoers calling it a boring turd. Personally, I’ll admit it took me more than a couple of goes to get into it, having fallen asleep during my first two or three attempts. I finally managed to stay engaged on my final try but I still couldn’t see why it was so unbelievably great.

Perhaps I needed to have read the 1974 novel by John le Carre on which it was based, or the acclaimed 1979 mini-series that was able to squeeze in a lot more of the source material, to really enjoy this one. Sure it is stylishly made and fuelled by impeccable performances from an all-star cast featuring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch (best name ever), but I found the story quite unremarkable and lacking an adrenaline kick.

Told primarily through flashbacks, Oldman’s character, Smiley, a retired British intelligence agent, tries to figure out which member of their upper echelons is a Soviet mole. There are a lot of characters, a lot of detailed conversations involving spy lingo and people sitting around doing everything really really slowly.

I can appreciate certain elements such as the well-crafted tension in a few scenes, but on the whole I expected a lot more and don’t get what the fuss is all about. I can certainly understand why people have walked out or fallen asleep in this film (I personally know a few) because it is deliberately slow paced and looks extremely gloomy. It’s almost as if Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (who directed the brilliant Let the Right One In) is telling his audience: if you can’t sit through this then you’re just not clever enough for my movie.

It may have been a tremendous feat to condense such a complex novel into a 127-minute movie, but having never read the book it made no difference to me whatsoever.

2.25 stars out of 5

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2012)

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Even though I had seen all three previous entries in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, I never really got into it like I thought I would. In fact, I can barely remember what any of them are about.

That might have been the reason why I actually thought the fourth instalment, On Stranger Tides (better known as Pirates 4), was pretty decent. Or maybe it’s just because it’s the first movie of the series without Kiera Knightley and Orlando Bloom.

Anyway, this one follows Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) on his quest for the Fountain of Youth. The main antagonist is Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his daughter, and the Jack’s love interest, is played by Penelope Cruz.

It’s your typical pirate adventure movie (if there is such a thing), and the thing I will remember the most from it is the freaky mermaids, who play a key role in helping the pirates locate the fountain.

It’s still filled with sword fights, loud battles, special effects and Johnny Depp running and dancing around like a lunatic, but for once a film in the franchise felt shorter than its actual running time (for me, anyway). This one was still too long at 137 minutes, but it’s actually the shortest of the lot. Pirates 3, which I actually fell asleep in, is a mammoth 168 minutes.

I can’t say I thought it was fantastic, but it might be the first Pirates movie since the first that I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel to (and of course there will be).

3.5 stars out of 5

In-Flight Movie Reviews (Part II)

(For Part I, click here)

This second part of my in-flight movie reviews rounds up the remaining 3 films I saw during my flights between Australia, Hong Kong and India.  As with the last set, please keep in mind that I was under the influence of prescription medication when I watched these films.

The Ghost Writer

A smart little political thriller directed by Roman Polanski (didn’t know and it gave me a shock when the credits rolled) and starring Ewan McGregor (who once again proves he is one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood), Olivia Williams, Pierce Brosnan and Kim Cattrall.

Brosnan plays a former British Prime Minister who is writing a memoir on his life and McGregor is assigned as his ghost writer to “polish up” the manuscript after the original ghost writer died under strange circumstances.  There is a mystery to be unraveled as the ghost writer is pulled deeper into the life of the PM, who is falling under increased scrutiny for his actions during several recent wars.

It’s a very interesting film, fictionalized, of course, but with touches of reality and topical issues. Apart from the ghost writing side of the publishing world we get to see, the thriller also raises some intriguing issues about civil liberties.
Polanski keeps the film simmering on low heat, allowing the tension and suspense to build while never making it too easy for the audience to figure out what is going to happen next.  My kind of film.

4 stars out of 5

Harry Brown


Comparisons to Gran Torino (one of my favourite films last year) are inevitable with this British drama starring Michael Caine as the titular character, an ex-marine who goes Dirty Harry on the local gangs in England.

However, the films are only similar in that the lead is a lonely old man and their neighbourhood is terrorized by local hoons.   Harry Brown is a totally different film because Caine’s character is entirely different to that of Clint Eastwood’s in Gran Torino.

Gran Torino is more about the relationship the protagonist develops with his “gook” (as he liked to call them) neighbours despite his prejudices, while Harry Brown is a more straightforward, ‘lethal old man pushed to the edge’ kind of violent drama.  Both are effective in their own ways, but Harry Brown isn’t quite as effective because there’s a feel of inevitability about it – you just knew what was going to happen and where the film was heading.

It’s nevertheless a compelling film to watch primarily because of Caine’s performance and the excellent depiction of the horrific world of British teen gangs, but Harry Brown lacks the subtlety and nuance to take the film to the next level.

3.5 stars out of 5

PS: And unless I am grossly mistaken about the advancement of forensic science in the UK, there are some major loopholes in this film.

The Book of Eli


I wanted to see this one since it was released at the cinemas but I never got around to it.  Without giving too much away, the story is set in a post-apocalyptic world (aren’t they all these days?) where a mysterious man called Eli (Washington) is trekking across the barren plains with a special book in his possession.  Gary Oldman plays the bad guy (doesn’t he always?) who wants the book at all costs, and Mila Kunis is a feisty girl who gets caught up in the mess.

The synopsis sounds much worse than the film really is, but it’s just a fun action film that takes itself a little too seriously.  I can understand if some people think the whole thing is a piece of crap, especially after they find out why the book is so special, but it managed to keep my attention all the way until the end, where there are a few unexpected twists and turns.

Look, it’s not a masterpiece and it’s far too uneven to be a great film, but when all is said and done The Book of Eli is not a bad way to spend a couple of hours on a plane.

3.5 stars out of 5