Tag Archives: Samuel L Jackson

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

As my second most anticipated ape movie of 2017, Kong: Skull Island had some big expectations to fulfill. That said, the trailers did not fill me with hope—it looked like a lot of glorified CGI action mixed with a bunch of cheesy jokes, and despite occupying the same universe as the 2014 Gareth Edwards’ version of Godzilla (which I really liked), it seemed to have none of the atmosphere.

With that in mind, I have to say Kong: Skull Island was better than anticipated. In contrast to the grim, dramatic, character-based (and insanely overlong) 2005 version of King Kong directed by Peter Jackson, this one is pure popcorn fun, with plenty of action involving not just Kong but also a variety of giant monsters (as opposed to dinosaurs). If a super-sized Kong wreaking havoc is what you want to see, it’s likely you won’t be disappointed.

The first great decision the film made was to set it in the 1970s at the end of the Vietnam War. Bill Randa (John Goodman), a senior government official, conjures up a scheme to arrange an expedition to the mysterious Skull Island with the aid of a young geologist (Corey Hawkins, who looks and sounds very little like his characters from Straight Outta ComptonThe Walking Dead and 24: Legacy, a testament to his versatility). For some reason, they hire a skilled tracker, Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to assist them, together with US military forces headed by Preston Packard (Samuel L Jackson). A photographer played by Brie Larson tags along for the ride.

And so begins their wild and perilous journey to Skull Island, where the monsters are big and abundant. King of the monsters is of course Kong, who acts as some sort of protector of the local natives who inhabit the island. This is a delicious premise on paper, with a whole bunch of characters with their own agendas and the biggest Kong we’ve ever seen (he dwarfs the 2005 version as he needs to be big enough to take on Godzilla next), all playing out with old school 70s rock music in the background and homages to classics such as Apocalypse Now.

The action is what the film thrives on, and thankfully, unlike the majority of monster flicks, you get to see Kong early and relatively often. Whether Kong is taking on humans or monsters, the action is spectacular, and the CGI is flawless enough that you can lose yourself in the fight scenes. I would still say the Kong vs T-rex x 3 in King Kong is the gold standard of Kong fight scenes in terms of creativity, epicness and length, though Kong: Skull Island gets pretty close with the sheer number of monster fights and the enlarged scale.

So in terms of what Kong: Skull Island needed to get right to be considered a good film, it does pretty well. However, in terms of the extra stuff that would have made it great, the film fares quite poorly. The first thing is that there are way too many characters for any of them to be developed properly. Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson are supposed to the glamorous human leads, but they are boring characters who really could have been cut out altogether. John Goodman, Corey Hawkins and Toby Kebbell are all underused, while the comedic relievers John C Reilly and Jason Mitchell (also from Straight Outta Compton) are poorly utilised, with the vast majority of their jokes falling embarrassing flat. Oh, and of course there’s also the arbitrary Chinese actress (Jing Tian) who is only there because the film was co-produced by China’s Tencent Pictures. The only human character who really has meat to his role is Samuel L Jackson, which surprised me as I thought he’d just do his usual schtick. In this case, it worked well for him.

In other words, the parts of Kong: Skull Island that don’t feature Kong are not very good, and there’s quite a bit of that given the film’s 118-minute running time. On the whole, I still enjoyed the movie because my expectations weren’t high and I just wanted to see the big fella smash stuff, which I got to do, though it’s a shame director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer) couldn’t have delivered a more complete and memorable experience. Nonetheless, the post-credits scene still got me excited for upcoming showdown between Kong and Godzilla scheduled for May 29, 2020.

3.5 stars out of 5

The Hateful Eight (2015)

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The Hateful Eight, the eighth motion picture by master director Quentin Tarantino, was one of my most anticipated movies of 2015. Average, good or masterpiece, every Tarantino movie is an event in my cinematic calendar.

And this one certainly appeared to be promising, with a ridiculous cast featuring Old faces like Samuel L Jackson, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen, as well as new ones like Jennifer Jason Lee, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern and Channing Tatum.

The premise itself – even though Tarantino movies are usually more about the situations and dialogue than the actual plot – is also intriguing: a Western and whodunnit mystery rolled into one, with a bunch of nasty outlaws, bounty hunters and gunslingers all trapped in a cabin during a snowstorm.

Still, my expectations were kept in check after some lukewarm scores from critics I follow and a friend who called it one of the worst movies he has ever seen! The film also performed poorly for a Tarantino movie at the box office, though some blame that partly on it crossing paths with Star Wars (and besides, it still made money overall).

Now that I’ve watched it I can say that I understand some of the negative feedback. Tarantino has always been a bit of an acquired taste, though if you appreciate his style you’ll tend to love most of his movies. On the other hand, if you don’t have the patience to learn how to appreciate his style, his films can sour in a hurry.

I saw the general release version, which is a whopping 167 minutes, but still 20 minutes shorter than the 70mm roadshow version. In my opinion, it probably would have been better at about 120 minutes. Told in six “chapters”, the film takes a long time to get rolling and didn’t really get interesting for me until the second half. But once it picked up momentum the film became a well-oiled machine that rampaged all the way until its thrilling finish.

As such, The Hateful Eight was a real a mixed bag for me. There were parts I didn’t care for and parts I consider vintage Tarantino. As usual, you have to pay attention to the dialogue, which is mostly sublime, and the dark humour and racism and violence is of course quintessential Quentin. Tarantino also again gets the most out of his cast, and it’s hard to pick a standout from the bunch. Samuel L Jackson and Michael Madsen seem very comfortable, as they should be, so I’d probably have to go with Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kurt Russell and Justified’s Walton Goggins.

Conversely, the pace of the movie is often slow – at times dropping to snail-like speed – with the conversation occasionally descending into pure convoluted indulgence. I’ve always indulged Tarantino’s ego and self-indulgence, though this time I felt having absolute free rein to do whatever he pleased may have ended up being a detriment.

Having said that, The Hateful Eight does have its cracker moments, those memorable scenes of hilarious mayhem and carnage only Tarantino can pull off to such perfection. My love for those moments does salvage the overall experience to some extent, meaning I will likely remember The Hateful Eight as a more enjoyable movie than it really is.

3.5 stars out of 5

Barely Lethal (2015)

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I know, it sounds terrible, but Barely Lethal is actually barely passable comedy entertainment.

Hailee Steinfeld plays an orphan indoctrinated into a secret US government project to turn young girls into deadly assassins. The head of the project is of course none other than Samuel L Jackson

Following a mission against a dangerous criminal (played by Jessica Alba), Steinfeld’s character escapes to become a “normal” teenage girl and enrols in high school. And as you expected, awkward situations ensue before her past catches up with her and action scenes are added to the humour.

The film is as cliched as it sounds and isn’t original given we’ve already seen Hit Girl do the whole high school thing in Kick-Ass 2. Having said that, it knows it’s nothing special and embraces its mediocrity, resulting in carefree and relaxed peformances from the core cast.

There are some amusing pop culture references (given that the only high school world known to Steinfeld’s character are from movies and TV shows), a welcome big screen appearance by Game of Thrones‘ Sophie Turner (as a villain, no less), and a scene-stealing performance from Rob Huebel as the typical awkward father of Steinfeld’s love interest (played by Thomas Mann of Project X fame). And of course, there’s Sam Jackson doing what he does best.

A fairly forgettable, totally mediocre experience that’s not without some laughs.

2.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Big Game (2015)

Big-game

Samuel L Jackson has done it all and then some, so it only makes sense that he would headline Big Game, in which he plays the president of the United States, who forms an unlikely alliance with a weird Finnish boy after Air Force One is shot down and terrorists start hunting him down in the European wilderness.

As one would expect, Big Game is more apeshit than Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Jackie Chiles would no doubt call it outrageous, egregious, preposterous. And yet it is embraces its insanity so whole-heartedly that it becomes one of those fun popcorn experiences every moviegoer needs every now and then.

This shit is whack!
This shit is whack!

I like that Jackson is less hardass in this film than we are accustomed to. He’s the most powerful man in the world, but he’s also just an ordinary dude with no real survival skills. It’s great to see him scream like a lunatic and get the shit kicked out of him by everyone, which cleverly enhances the moment when he finally gets the chance at the end to be the bad motherf$@ker he will always be in our hearts.

And that Finnish kid, played by Onni Tommils, is great too. He’s so weird looking, so awkward and so cute, and it makes absolutely no sense that his character, a useless 13-year-old, would be out there hunting in the wild to prove himself to his tribe. In fact, few of the things that the characters do or have happen to them in the film make any sense whatsoever, though it only adds to the hilarity of the ride.

I don’t know if this is a criticism or a compliment, but it’s actually difficult to tell whether most of the humour in the film is intentional or accidental. I guess it doesn’t really matter as long as it’s funny, right?

Not everything works — some scenes do fall a bit flat — and there is actually less action than you would expect. It’s actually quite hard to see what the filmmakers were aiming for. There’s no shortage of bloody violence and profanity, even though narratively and tonally the film feels more like a children’s or young adolescent film. It reminds me of those 1990s adventure films like Masterminds and Toy Soldiers, where underdog kids have to go up against big bad adults, forcing them to become unlikely heroes along the way. Like those films, it’s all about making the protagonists seem really helpless at first before finding ways to make them look extra cool, be it with heroic posturing or dramatic music.

Remember the 1997 Masterminds?
Remember the 1997 Masterminds?
toy soldiers
Or Sean Astin and Wil Wheaton’s Toy Soldiers from 1991? PS: Is that MC Hammer?

It’s a formula that works, though in this case it’s hard to see if that was the intention because it’s a little all over the place. In any case, and notwithstanding all the nonsense, Big Game is good for 90 minutes of relatively fun and funny entertainment that you’ll likely forget soon afterward, but it should at least offer enough to satisfy while it lasts.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

Kingsman

Kingsman: The Secret Service is entirely bonkers. It’s also entirely enjoyable.

Based on the a UK comic book series created by Dave Gibbons (Watchmen) and Mike Millar (Spider-Man, Wanted, Kick-Ass), it tells the story of Eggsy Unwin (Taron Edgerton), a white trash Londoner who is recruited to a top secret spy agency headed by “Arthur” (Michael Caine) and “Galahad” (Colin Firth).

Like its source material, Kingsman channels the most famous spy who ever lived, James Bond, with loads of super cool gadgets and outrageous action sequences. It’s not quite Austin Powers — ie, it’s more tongue-in-cheek homage than parody — but it’s so deliciously over-the-top and unapologetically so that you can’y help but admire its audacity and sense of fun. The villain, for instance, is a lispy eco-terrorist played by a crooked-baseball-cap-wearing Samuel L Jackson, whose sidekick, Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), is essentially “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorious with actual blades as prosthetic legs and Bruce Lee-like kung fu skills. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

What really elevates Kingsman above your typical action-comedy, however, is the direction of Matthew Vaughn, best known for Stardust, Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class. There’s a genuine energy to his approach that got my blood pumping, and he adopts a slick style that can only be described as cool. He’s a real talent who knows what works and has the skills to turn vision into reality on the big screen. One thing my wife said during the movie that stood out to me is that it doesn’t feel like a typically gloomy, drab British flick. And she’s absolutely right. In addition to the Bond films, Kingsman reminds me a little of the first Men In Black movie with the cool kid learning the ropes to be a new recruit angle, the innovative gadgets and the irreverent tone, as well as Kick-Ass for its stylistic — and shockingly graphic — violence. I’m sure there will be complaints about how violent it is,

The action is spectacular, as you would expect from the guy who delivered Kick-Ass, though here Vaughn takes it to another level with some of the best choreographed fight scenes in recent memory. One ridiculously complex set piece, forever to be known as “The Church Scene”, was a symphony of absolute mayhem executed with no rapid cuts and all swirling long takes. Epic stuff.

It doesn’t hurt that the cast is superb. Colin Firth looks and acts the part as Galahad, and the presence of Caine and one of my faves, Mark Strong, lifts the overall class of any film. Even Samuel L Jackson, who has been a “keep gettin’ ’em cheques” guys for a while now, appears to be having more fun than usual. I had never heard of Taron Edgerton before, but I’m sure I’ll be seeing a lot more of him after witnessing how he held his own against all these big stars without a hiccup. He’s equally convincing whether as a scared delinquent or a suave secret agent. Looking forward to seeing him later this alongside the likes of Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis and Christopher Eccleston in the true crime drama Legend.

It has already received fairly good reviews, though I have a feeling Kingsman will be looked upon even more favourably years from now. It’s adventurous, edgy, sharp, funny, and filled with energy and style. It’s acutely aware of the traditions of the genre, but instead of overturning them it plays along with a cheerful wink and throws in a couple of wild surprises so audiences can’t quite put their finger on what’s going to happen next. While it spirals into ridiculousness towards the end, the film’s complete lack of sense actually helps the kind of popcorn experience Vaughn is trying to achieve. When it’s all said and done, Kingsman could very well turn out be the best action-comedy of the year.

4.25 stars out of 5

2014 Movie Blitz: Part I

Man the movies are piling up, so it’s time to my first movie blitz of 2014. Surely it won’t be the last.

13 Sins (2014)

13 sins

This one’s quite an interesting, clever little horror film. If you look at it as a small, self-contained indie flick rather than a US remake of a Thai film (13 Beloved), you might end up having some fun with it.

The story revolves around Elliot (played by Mark Weber, who is married to Aussie Teresa Palmer in real life), a salesman who is engaged to be married but falls into debt and becomes desperate. He receives a phone call from a mysterious game show host who convinces him to perform certain acts for money.  If he can perform all 13, he wins a million dollars.

It starts off innocuously enough, with silly stuff like eating a fly, but of course the tasks soon escalate and become more sinister before everything spirals out of control. It’s a well executed idea that builds up the tension as it moves along, and Mark Weber’s performance delivers that paranoia and WTF feeling this kind of film needs.

It gets bloody at times, but the true horror comes from that claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in a situation you can’t get out of, and there’s no way out no matter which way you turn. There are plenty of improbable and virtually impossible things that happen in the film, but I liked how it only offers bare bones explanation of the game at the end without going into specifics, which allows the suspension of disbelief to continue instead of destroying the entire premise.

I wasn’t a fan of the look of the film, with that gloomy 80s feel, colours and tones, though considering what a low-budget film this is I think it qualifies as a solid DVD rental.

3.5 stars out of 5

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTNtyJIKTXk

Reasonable Doubt (2014)

reasonable doubt

It’s never a good sign when I have to Google a film to jog my memory before doing a review. I love Samuel L Jackson, but he’s pretty much become the black Nicolas Cage — ie, the actor who would do any role some cash.

I tried to give Reasonable Doubt some reasonable doubt despite seeing how horribly it rated on Rotten Tomatoes (13%!), but despite going in with an open mind I ended up being bored and uninspired by this dull mess of a film.

Dominic Cooper plays an up-and-coming district attorney who gets himself into trouble after a hit-and-run after a few drinks one night. Samuel L Jackson is arrested for the crime and Cooper, who is assigned the case, feels obligated by conscience to let Jackson walk. But, you see, there’s a twist, and Cooper ends up wondering if he’s actually done the wrong thing.

It’s a fairly typical thriller that was interesting until about halfway through, then it just fell apart and offered nothing new in terms of action or excitement. Neither guy seemed interested in what they were doing on screen and were simply going through the motions as the plot plodded along until a predictable conclusion that was surprisingly tame — and lame.

To be honest I can’t remember much more about this film other than Samuel L doing a lot of yelling and Cooper acting terrified. An accurate comparison for Reasonable Doubt is one of those TV movies you come across one night and end up watching to the very end, and then immediately regret wasting your time on it.

1.75 stars out of 5

Ride Along (2014)

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I haven’t had much of a chance to experience Kevin Hart’s humour other than the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game, of which he is a three-time MVP (fan voted, of course). I thought he was loud and seemed like he would never shut up, but he was generally funny enough to not come across as unbearably obnoxious.

His new star vehicle, Ride Along, was a huge hit in America, which seems to have a market for black buddy movies. Hart is a cop wannabe who is dating the sister of a hard-edged cop played by Ice Cube. To dissuade Hart from joining the police force, Ice Cube takes him on a “ride along” one day and lines up all the worse cases he can find. You can guess the rest.

Hart is like a likable itch you can get rid of, and he tries to channel that persona to the big screen, while Ice Cube plays the straight man who sets up the comedic punchlines for him. The two form a high-energy duo who carry the film – at least comedically — most of the way until it decides to raise the stakes so there can be an action-packed climax of sorts.

If we’re being honest here, Ride Along is not a good film. There’s no shortage of Hart talking and yelling like he always does, and after 100 minutes you’re praying that Ice Cube kills him. I wouldn’t have minded the standard buddy cop movie plot where two guys who can’t each other eventually learn mutual respect and going through some near-death experiences — but only if the film was genuinely funny. However, Ride Along’s jokes are painfully obvious almost all the time (you know, like Hart height jokes) and the slapstick that pokes fun at Hart’s lack of physical prowess gets old in a hurry.

I didn’t have any true “laugh out loud” moments in the film and only had a handful (less than 5) giggle moments. That’s just not enough to sustain a comedy. And yet, I hear there’s going to be a sequel set for release in 2016.

2 stars out of 5

Veronica Mars (2014)

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I never watched a single episode of the TV series, which is why it made little sense for me to catch the movie version of Veronica Mars, set nearly a decade after the conclusion of the show. Still, I think there’s enough juice here for people like me, as the characters and plot are introduced and developed well enough for me to get a general feel of what the fuss was all about all those years ago. And it doesn’t have a bad mystery to solve either. Considering it had a budget of only US$6 million and relied on crowdfunding, that’s quite an accomplishment.

Kristen Bell reprises her role as the titular character, who returns back to her hometown after starting a job as a lawyer in NYC. The reason for her return is because an ex-boyfriend has been accused of murdering his girlfriend, and he knows Veronica is the one person who can help him prove his innocence. I’m assuming a lot of the characters in the film are also from the series, such as her father, played by Just Shoot Me‘s Enrico Colantoni, as well as a bunch of her high school friends. Either way, while I didn’t have the background I was never confused by all the pre-existing relationships.

In essence, Veronica Mars is a neo-noir detective film, but it’s also strongly character-driven and sharply written. Despite some adult themes, the film has that nostalgic high-school drama feel to it, which I presume is handed down from the TV show, but there’s also an added maturity because the characters are no longer kids. The dialogue, which is crisp and humorous at times, reflects that.

I was impressed with how the writers moulded the plot and character development so that the film never felt like a 2-hour version of a TV show. There was a genuine mystery to be solved and it wasn’t a tacky mystery either, though at the same time they didn’t go for anything too ambitious that would have taken the characters out of their comfort zone.

In many ways, Veronica Mars is the perfect 10-years-later film version of a TV show. It brought back the characters, showed us how their lives had moved on since the show ended, and brought freshness with a new mystery that was big but not too big for their self-contained world. Obviously, being a newbie to this world I didn’t get as much out of it as I would have had I been a fan of the TV show, but I nevertheless found it quite enjoyable as a standalone mystery flick.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

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I’ve done a complete 180. With The First Avenger and now The Winter Soldier, Captain America has gone from, in my opinion, the most boring Marvel superhero with his own movie to the most interesting. He has impressive strength, speed and agility, but he’s not “superhuman” or invincible like Thor or the Hulk, nor is he aided by impressive technology like Iron Man. He may be the face of American heroism, but the 70 years he spent in frozen limbo has turned him into a vulnerable young/old man struggling to find his place in the new world order.

I was surprised that 2011’s The First Avenger turned out to be such a good film, one that cleverly made fun of the patriotism Captain America stood for while providing well-executed action sequences. That raised the hype for the sequel, and I’m glad to report that The Winter Soldier does not disappoint. With a few caveats, the film is a success, at least on par with its predecessor and ranks a few steps behind the first Iron Man and The Avengers as the best of the whole Avengers franchise.

The story is a natural progression from the events in The Avengers. Captain America, aka Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), is still working for SHIELD as a loyal soldier following the “incident” in New York (as they keep referring to in each post-Avengers film). Following a rescue mission aboard a SHIELD vessel along with the Black Widow, Natasha Ramanoff (Scarlett Johansson), the Captain begins to question the organization he works for and the motives of its frightening new project. It’s the catalyst that puts Captain America on a dangerous new journey of self-discovery that will force him to confront demons from his past and a battle against a new villain, the mysterious Winter Soldier.

The film plays out like it should, with a few minor but not completely unexpected surprises along the way. It’s biggest strength is its ability to mix things up a little so that the film doesn’t simply feel like its predecessor. The modern setting of course helps, but I enjoyed the insertion of new stakes and ideas, including being out of touch with the modern world, dealing with post-traumatic stress, the problems with unquestioned loyalty and pondering whether increased government surveillance is for the safety of the people or to control them with fear. Unfortunately, none of the ideas come close to being fully explored — this is a superhero action blockbuster, after all — but it’s better than not having anything intelligent to say at all.

It’s also great to see Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury FINALLY doing something after doing nothing but talk a big game in every Avengers movie to date. One of the best sequences in the entire movie is when Nick is under siege and must pull out all the stops to try and escape death. I also didn’t realise Scarlett Johansson would play such a big role either — she’s essentially the female lead and has the most screen time outside of the Captain himself. And if you think she’s just there for eye candy you better think again, because she kicks ass with the best of them.

There are plenty of other cool positives, such as the presence of screen legend Robert Redford as a senior SHIELD executive, Anthony Mackie as the new sidekick, and a touching sequence where we find out what has happened to Captain America’s first love, Peggy Carter. I did find the addition of Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter a little jarring, but that’s because I’ve come to think of her as an annoying psycho in TV’s Revenge.

Fans of the comics and the Avengers universe will also be happy to learn that there are many references and hints to other characters who may or may not appear in the franchise in the future. I won’t spoil them (I actually didn’t know most of them) but there are articles which explain for those who want to find out.

I personally enjoy these nice little Easter Eggs sprinkled throughout the film, including a great Pulp Fiction reference right at the end. By the way, I should mention that there are TWO post-credit sequences and you should stay for both of them (I only stayed for one as I didn’t know about the other). One of them ties into the next Avengers film while the only is an epilogue that will no doubt play a role in the third Captain America movie scheduled for 2016.

On the downside, the movie is a slightly overlong at 136 minutes with a couple of unnecessary slow slabs that could have been easily cut out. And while I enjoyed the action scenes I would have preferred less rapid cuts and shaky camera business so we could actually see what was going on. Lastly, The Winter Soldier receives the dubious honour for having the least amount of humour in the entire Avengers franchise. There were a few effective jokes and one-liners here and there, but for the most part the film is incredibly straight, just like its hero.

Overall, this is a highly enjoyable superhero movie and a solid sequel that will ensure that the Marvel money train continues to steamroll everything in its path.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: RoboCop (2014)

RoboCop-signed-poster-competition

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.

Classic Movie Review: A Time to Kill (1996)

After reading the book of the same name by John Grisham (my review here), several people have recommended that I watch the film adaptation of A Time to Kill, directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Matthew McConaughey (in his breakout role).  It’s one of those films that I really wanted to, but for whatever reason never saw when it was first released in 1996.

For those who don’t know the background, it’s Grisham’s first book but the fourth of his adaptations (behind The Firm, The Pelican Brief and The Client).  It stars McConaughey as a young hotshot lawyer, Jake Brigance, who is tasked with defending a black father who took the law into his own hands after two white drunks raped his little girl.  Due to the racial politics of the time and place (very important to remember when watching), Brigance not only has to fight a seemingly unwinnable case, but also has to deal with the dangers of representing a black man in a racist community.

I quite liked the book, but didn’t think it was anything special.  For me, the film version was a rare improvement on the book that addressed some of the things I felt the book could have done better.

For starters, Brigance is a much more likeable character in the film than the book, where he was more egocentric, obnoxious, and cared far too much about publicity.  In the film they really toned it down and made him more of a ‘hero’, which works well because the audience really needed to connect with him.

The second big alteration is that Ellen Roark, the brilliant college student played by Sandra Bullock, is given a much bigger role in the film than the book.  In the book, Roark doesn’t appear until halfway through, but in the film she’s there almost right from the beginning.  In fact, Bullock received top billing even though she was a secondary character — most probably because she was coming of the phenomenal success of Speed and The Net and was a huge cash cow at the time.  Nevertheless, I liked Roark’s expanded role because I always felt she was one of the more interesting characters in the book.

Plenty of scenes, characters and subplots were condensed or removed in the film version, which I personally thought was welcoming because they clogged up the central narrative and slowed the pace.  When I read the book I always felt there was something not quite right in the structure and the development of the plot, as though Grisham couldn’t figure out what was important to the story and what wasn’t.  In the film, they were able to adjust the equilibrium to create a smoother, less stilted delivery.  For instance, I was glad to see the actual trial commence relatively early, unlike the book, which waited until the final 100 pages or so.  The final climax, in particular, was reformulated to make it more about Brigance’s ability than luck, which made for much better cinema.

The most pleasant surprise for me was the number of stars or would-be stars in this film and outstanding performances they delivered.  Of course, McConaughey went on to be a big star after this film, and even though I’ve paid him out ever since Contact (‘By doing this, you’re willing to give your life, you’re willing to die for it. Whyyyyyyy?!!’), I must admit he was excellent here as Brigance.  It also made his solid performance in the more recent Lincoln Lawyer easier to comprehend.

I already mentioned Sandra Bullock as the top-billed star of the film, and she was probably at the height of her stardom at the time (some may say she was ‘bigger’ when she won the Oscar, but I disagree), just before Speed 2: Cruise Control knocked her down a few notches.

Of course, there was also Samuel L Jackson, one of my favourite actors in one of the best performances of his career as the father, Carl Lee Hailey (I’d still say Pulp Fiction was his greatest achievement, but others might say Snakes on a Plane or Deep Blue Sea or perhaps The Search for One-eye Jimmy).  In 1996, Jackson was coming off a string of less than impressive films (with the exception of Die Hard with a Vengeance) and this film helped boost him back up to where he belonged, as he would then go on to appear in a number of blockbusters/hits over the next couple of years, such as  Jackie Brown, Sphere, The Negotiator and Out of Sight.

The list of goes on.  There’s Kevin Spacey as the snooty DA, Rufus Buckley, who was, as usual, marvellous, and one of the highlights of the film.  He brought out the essence of Buckley without overdoing it, making him less of a caricature than he was in the novel.  Remember, in 1996 Spacey was coming off his masterful performances in Seven and The Usual Suspects,  and would go on to appear in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, LA Confidential and The Negotiator, right before his career defining performance in American Beauty in 1999 (personally, Verbal Kint is still my favourite).

What about the always-good-to-have-around Oliver Platt, who plays Brigance’s best buddy Harry Rex, or Donald Sutherland, who plays Brigance’s mentor Lucien Wilbanks?  What about veteran actor Chris Cooper as poor officer Dwayne Looney, before he rose to prominence in films like American Beauty, The Bourne Identity and Adaptation?  Or Ashley Judd as wife Carly, at the start of her strong career, before she broke out in films such as Kiss the Girls, Double Jeopardy and Eye of the Beholder?  Heck, there was even Mr Jack Bauer himself, Kiefer Sutherland, as a KKK redneck, before he became the butt-kicking CTU agent in 24.  I knew the film starred McConaughey, Bullock and Jackson, but it was a pleasant surprise to see just how much star power this film had.

In all, I enjoyed A Time to Kill (the film) a lot more than I thought I would.  Yes, it is a little self-righteous, melodramatic and contrived at times, but for the most part it was still an entertaining, thrilling, thought-provoking courtroom drama that was boosted by its awesome star power.

4 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (2D) (2011)

With the exception of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (starting next week, can’t wait!), Marvel’s mega blockbuster Captain America: The First Avenger was, up to this point, my most anticipated movie of the year.  To be honest, I didn’t know a whole lot about the superhero other than the fact that he’s going to be in next year’s most anticipated movie, The Avengers, along with Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, and a bunch of other superheroes led by an eye-patched Samuel L Jackson.  Maybe it’s the name and/or the costume, but Captain America never aroused much interest in me — until now.

In short, I loved Captain America: The First Avenger.  It’s the second best pre-Avengers tie-in film after the first Iron Man (in other words, better than Iron Man 2, Thor and The Incredible Hulk, even though Ed Norton is out and Mark Ruffalo is in as Bruce Banner).  Marvellous action, incredible special effects, solid performances and a cracker of an origin story which includes Nazis, big guns, advanced technology and the occult — what’s there not to like?

This is an origins film that tells of how a scrawny, weak little man with a big heart by the name of Steve Rogers became Captain America as part of a secret military experiment during World War II.  I won’t spoil much more than that except to say that the film has ties to Stark Industries from Iron Man and a powerful energy source that appears to originate from the world of Thor.

I was surprised how well the story was executed by director Joe Johnston (Rocketeer, Jumanji, The Wolfman).  It would have been easy to make this film too patriotically and cringeworthyly American, but somehow Johnston kept the focus on the story and characters and even had a little fun with the unavoidable Americanism of the character.

Speaking of character, a lot of ‘hardcore’ Marvel fans blew their sacks when they heard Chris Evans had been cast as the titular superhero.  ‘He can’t be Captain America,’ they cried, ‘because he’s already Johnny Storm from the Fantastic Four!’  Be that as it may, nobody wants to see another Fantastic Four movie, and Chris Evans makes a wonderful Captain America — big and buffed, blonde hair, blue eyes, and oozing All-American charm.  He might not be an actor with the greatest range or depth of emotions (like say a Robert Downey Jr), but he’s good enough here because he is physically perfect and Steve Rogers is a highly likeable character.  The special effects used to create the pre-suped up Steve Rogers were practically flawless.

Hugo Weaving plays the villain Red Skull, Hitler’s crazy head of weaponry, and I’m afraid to say he was a little bit of a weak link.  It’s not entirely Weaving’s fault because anyone that can play Agent Smith (from The Matrix), Elrond (from The Lord of the Rings) and V (from V for Vendetta) must be one of the greatest supporting actors of our time, but here he’s not given enough juice to make Red Skull a worthy adversary for Captain America.

The rest of the supporting cast was strong.  Haley Atwell was solid as Peggy Carter, pretty much the only female character in the film, as was Sebastian Stan (I know him from Gossip Girl), who was adequate as the sidekick.  Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones had relatively minor but important roles, though the real stand out had to be Tommy Lee Jones, who was fantastic as Colonel Chester Phillips, which would have been a bit of a nothing role had Jones not worked his magic.

For me, strangely, the film was at its best when Rogers was not the fully-costumed Captain America.  Following him in his journey from sickly little dude to superpowered superhero was so enjoyable that when he finally became Captain America I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed.  Not to say that it wasn’t still exciting — it’s just that there have been so many quality superhero movies in recent years that it becomes really difficult for one to rise above the others when it comes to action sequences.

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed Captain America: The First Avenger from start to finish — and that includes the little sneak peak we got at the upcoming Avengers movie following the credits (a long long wait, but certainly worth it).

4 out of 5!