Saturday, February 07, 2015

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Secrets of Isis: "The Sound of Silence."

In “The Sound of Silence,” Andrea Thomas (Joanna Cameron) develops a force field generator at the high school, only to see it stolen by a student named Bill, who is disappointed that he lost a science contest and now won’t have the money to purchase a new car.

Bill goes to a local crook named Evans and tries to sell him the stolen goods, hoping to get the money he needs.

Soon, Isis intervenes to recover the force field generator, and help set Bill’s moral compass back on track...

For a change, there’s actually some real sci-fi underlying an episode of The Secrets of Isis. In “The Sound of Silence,” Mrs. Thomas makes a force field generator that runs on uranium pellets (and therefore emits a small amount of radiation), but which can repel objects. We see her test the object, as Bill throws a tennis ball at her, and the force field kicks it back.

This sci-fi device is the key object of the episode, though the rest of the narrative covers familiar ground for the series: a teenager’s moral dilemma. In this case, Billy must decide if he wants to live a life of crime, or stay on the straight and narrow path.  He chooses wisely (this is a kid’s show…) and the mobsters are apprehended.

Isis displays some unique abilities in “The Sound of Silence.” She causes a lightning strike. The lightning hits and downs a tree, blocking criminal egress on a road. 

Later, it gets even weirder. Isis materializes a circle of trees around Evans and his muscle, Jocko, trapping them in a prison cell of sorts.  

Isis also proves, in the episode’s final moment that she is not affected by the force field generator.  In other words, Isis is immune to the natural faces that control the rest of us.  That’s pretty amazing, and it makes Bill’s choice -- to cooperate with the superhero -- seem all the wiser.

The sense of crisis in this episode emerges over the theft of the force-field which emits non-lethal amounts of radiation.  However, if someone is too close to the reactor for too long, they could be harmed.  So Isis must find Bill, and get the force field out of his possession before it is too late.  

Much like Filmation's Shazam, Isis is a woefully simple, straight-forward series, and the narratives don’t feature too much depth.  Even in light of these drawbacks, “The Sound of Silence” is a strong and watchable episode, in part because the force-field device adds a sense of both invention and urgency to the proceedings.

Next week: “Rockhound’s Roost.” 

Saturday Cult-TV Blogging: Korg 70,000 B.C.: "Tor's First Hunt"

In “Tor’s First Hunt,” the family undergoes a transition. Tor (Charles Morteo) is now old enough to participate in the daily hunt. This saddens his sister, Ree (Janelle Pransky), who will lose a playmate, but Mara (Naomi Pollack) comforts her.

Meanwhile, Tor is taken away from the family for a ritual involving his first hunt. He excludes himself from the company of all other non-hunter, has war-paint lines applied to his face and body, and is presented with a spear custom-made by his father, Korg (Jim Malinda).

The next day, Tor’s first hunt begins, and it is an eventful one. A lion attacks the hunters at one point.  At another juncture Korg falls down a mountainside and is injured.  

The day is saved, finally, when Tor spots a signal made by a reflective rock.  Korg says that the hunt belongs to Tor because without him, they would have brought nothing home to eat….

“Tor’s First Hunt” is a good episode, and one that shows how Korg 70,000 B.C. attempted to work real change in into its premise. 

Here the boy Tor reaches adolescence, and must therefore take on adult duties. He is no longer a child, and in the difficult world of the Neanderthal there was apparently no parental coddling. Ree is upset by the fact that she is losing a brother, essentially, to work, and even Mara is sad. She asks Korg “So soon?” upon learning of Tor’s transition. Korg is understanding but firm. “Yes, it’s time.”

The episode is fascinating for the way the women in the family accept these changes in their family, and for the way that Tor does too.  No one bucks the system, or goes against Korg, or even offerings a differing opinion. Without speaking a word, Tor does his duty, thus showcasing his maturity. We then watch as he undergoes the pre-hunting ritual.

Once “Tor’s First Hunt” gets away from the family dynamic and out into the jungle, so-to-speak, it is markedly less interesting. We have seen hunts go wrong on the series before, as well as violent engagements with wild-life, particularly a lion.  These aspects of the story don’t add much new to the series.

Just as in previous weeks we have seen Korg and his family learn about the salt, levers, and nets, “Tor’s First Hunt” concerns an addition to that same fund of knowledge. Here, the reflective stone is said to “bend the sun,” and is harnessed as a signal.

Next week: “The River.”

Friday, February 06, 2015

Cult-Movie Review: Annabelle (2014)

It’s become fashionable to hate and criticize the blockbuster horror movie Annabelle (2014). By contrast, its source material, The Conjuring (2013) was widely and exaggeratedly-praised. So perhaps some critics felt they had to come down hard on the sequel for the sake of “balance.”

What the reviewers giveth, they also taketh away.

I have no horse in this race, but it appears to me that Annabelle (2014) is one of those horror movies that can’t win, at least in terms of critical response. The movie adopts a slow-burn approach to its horror storytelling, and takes care not to reveal the doll committing violence on-screen. This approach to the material apparently upset several critics, who feel like they were owed a movie in which they could see the creepy doll going around attacking people. 

These critics term Annabelle boring, and are longing, apparently, for Chucky-style carnage.

Had the movie taken that more overt, less nuanced approach, however, I feel the same critics would have likely complained that the movie wasn’t scary, just violent and action-packed.

Horror movies fall into this trap a lot. Critics don’t actually like or appreciate horror as a genre very much, and so will use any argument that they think will stick in order to demean a film of this type.  Annabelle is damned if does, damned if it doesn’t.

My impression of Annabelle is that the director, John Leonetti, worked over-time to keep the mysterious aspects of the doll alive, and quite successfully so, while also generating some significantly scary moments throughout.

One scene involving a hotel basement, a storage cage, and an elevator, is beautifully and effectively staged, for example.  The moment builds to a fever pitch of terror, and really gets the blood running.

As I indicate above, many critics complained that the movie is boring, but “boring” isn’t a legitimate criticism, in my book.  No movie is boring if you meet it half way, or choose to engage with it. Some movies are flat, and I suppose that makes us feel bored. But generally, I feel that, as viewers and reviewers, we are responsible for our own viewing experience, and whether something is boring or not.

For me, Annabelle is an intriguing and well-crafted film because, outside the horror, it attempts to erect a sense of place and time.  The film is set in 1970, in the age of Charles Manson, and many of the details it presents (in terms of The Family, and in terms of daytime TV), help to forge a feeling for that span.  I have some personal memories of the seventies (though from a little later on, around 1975 or so…) that Annabelle successfully awakened for me, and so I feel it is more carefully and intelligently crafted than many reviewers suggest.

Indeed, I’ve seen reviews that call Annabelle one of the worst films of the year. That is, quite simply, a terrible exaggeration, and thus unfair.  The movie is often run-of-the-mill or predictable in nature, but from time to time it really pulls off a spectacularly creepy moment, or does a good job of capturing the vibe of its seventies age.

Honestly, I don’t know what else people expect of studio horror movie at this point.  Chucky has cornered the market on cussing, murderous dolls, and it’s encouraging to see another “killer doll” movie attempt to take things in a somewhat different direction.

So while I wouldn’t claim Annabelle matches the artistic success of The Babadook (2014) or The Battery (2014) or Honeymoon (2014), I see no reason to attack it as terminally-flawed either. Instead, it simply is what it is: an effectively made, mildly generic, entertaining horror movie.

“Mothers are closer to God than any living creature.”

In 1970, a young expectant woman, Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and her husband, John (Ward Horton), a doctor in training, plan for the arrival of their first baby.  John brings Mia home a gift: a collectible doll she has wanted for a long time.

One night, however, fate takes an ugly turn as deranged cultists break into Mia and John’s house, and attack them. Mia is stabbed, but survives, as does her baby. The female cultist, Annabelle Higgins, dies in close proximity to the doll, and Mia wants it destroyed.  John throws the blood-stained doll in the garbage.

After a mysterious fire at their house, Mia and John move to an apartment building. While they unpack, they discover the cast-off doll in the last box.

Mia decides, this time, to keep it.

That decision has fateful consequences, however, as strange and frightening events begin to occur. Mia comes to fear that a demonic force using the doll as a conduit seeks to steal the soul of her baby, Leah…

“You’ve got to lock the doors. It’s a different world now.”

I would be lying if I claimed I felt no personal connection to some aspects of Annabelle.

Many scenes in the film involve Mia staying at home, on bed rest, watching day-time soaps such as General Hospital. While watching episodes, she intermittently sews clothes on a sewing machine.

I possess very vivid memories of my own mother, in the 1970s, sitting at her sewing machine while watching the very same show.  I even recognized one of the characters on that program – Jessie -- during Annabelle.  It sounds like a small thing, but it isn’t.

In the early seventies, few Americans, at least in my town, could afford to shop and buy new clothes at stores. Instead, Moms sewed clothes for their spouses and children all the time, after buying huge spools of material at the store. The film recalls this time and this economic reality without making a big point of it. 

Similarly, my Mom went to work as a teacher in the late 1970s, but I vividly remember days staying home and having to watch One Life to Live, General Hospital, and Edge of Night. Back then, there was no cable and no streaming.  Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the afternoons were dominated by sudsy soaps of this type.

Also, I conjured up another forgotten memory during Annabelle. My sister owned a tall blond-haired doll she named Karen. I hated that doll. Karen was roughly as tall as I was, and when I got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, I would have to pass my sister’s open doorway and Karen too, silently standing guard nearby.

Even the film’s news footage about Manson and the mad-dog cultist aspect of Annabelle capture a time in the culture that my friend and mentor, the late Johnny Byrne, termed “the wake-up from the hippie dream.”  Annabelle is about that exact epoch in our culture; when an idea of beauty and peace got perverted into something scary; when people started locking their doors…out of fear.

So perhaps I’m pre-disposed to like Annabelle since it captures, for me, something of my personal experience as a kid growing up in the 1970s.

But, importantly, not every movie about the seventies gets the details right, or activates the memory in the way this horror films does.  For instance, I’m tired of all the 1970s movies and TV shows featuring a “key” party for adults who want to cheat on their spouses.

So far as I know, this kind of event never happened to anyone I knew in those days, and yet it has been accepted as fact of middle class life, when it clearly wasn’t. Rather, the key party was part of a narrow experience, and then picked up by the pop culture as somehow signifying life in the 1970s.

Annabelle focuses on little details instead, ones that create the impression of reality. The rat-a-tat-tat of a family sewing machine, for instance, or a newscast about “cults,” and worrying about Charles Manson. These moments seem much more intriguing and world-building than the presence of simple jump scare.  I could go watch Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 with Joel, if that’s what I wanted in my horror: pure mechanics.

I’ve also read complaints that the main characters in Annabelle somehow aren’t fully individualized or interesting enough to carry the movie.  Again, I suspect this kind of criticism comes from the general critic’s lack of understanding of horror.  Characters must be distinguished, it’s true, but also be generic enough so that we can identify with them; we can fill the gaps with our experience and thus put ourselves in their shoes. 

Consider the characters of The Evil Dead (1983), for instance. There’s two sets of boyfriends and 
girlfriends, and an odd girl out.

How much do we really know about their backgrounds?  Almost nothing.

And that’s good, because we can then imprint our own fears and angst upon them.

The characters in Annabelle, a pregnant mother-to-be and a largely absent father-to-be are distinguished enough that the audience cares about them, and that’s what is most important.  They aren’t the most colorful folks ever to headline a movie, but they don’t need to be.  I often have a difficult time watching films set in the 1970s, because modern actors just don’t look right for that era.  They’re too big, or too muscular. The actors in this film actually look right: skinny and not-idealized, though very young.

And the great Alfre Woodard is also here, as Evelyn, a friend of Mia’s. Woodard tells a heart-breaking story in the film, one regarding her daughter, and it feels so true and potent in her hands that it’s hard to argue that all Annabelle cares about is slick entertainment.  Woodard’s sincerity in the part takes the movie to a grander playing field, to one concerning the decisions we make here during our lives, and the reasons behind them.

Some moments in Annabelle are genuinely startling, or suspenseful.  Early on, Mia awakes from a slumber, and gazes through the neighbor’s bedroom window.  The events that unfold next are sudden and shocking, and will make you leap out of your seat.  It’s not so much the jump scare effect that makes the scene work, but the idea of seeing something you are not prepared for, or that is inexplicable.

Likewise, in my introduction, I mentioned the scene set in the basement.  Mia takes an item down to storage in her apartment building, and sees some horrible creature dwelling there, in the dark.  She runs back to the elevator, gets in and presses the button to return to her floor. The elevator door shuts. 

But the elevator goes nowhere. And the doors re-open.

She frantically hits the button again, peering out into the dark, scanning for that…thing.

This chronology repeats three or four times, until it becomes clear that the elevator is going nowhere, and Mia must tread out into the dark, and find another exit. 

The scene plays on the (probably subconscious) fear that we can’t escape a pursuer; that the tools we have built (like an elevator) are useless in the face of something supernatural and malevolent. 

The horror scene continues and builds as Mia runs up a staircase, a demonic creature lurking behind her.  In a flash of lightning, its face is revealed, and you’ll definitely feel a shiver. The moment works just as intended.

At other times, the horror touches are downright poetic. Mia again climbs her apartment stairs at one juncture, and diabolical drawings -- sketched by neighboring kids, or perhaps Annabelle -- land in her path like wind-strewn flower petals.  Each new arrival is more disturbing than the last.

I have some questions about the narrative in Annabelle (including precisely how the doll and the demon are connected), but for the most part, my concerns are immaterial. The film creates a memorable world, and crafts colorful and dynamic scenes of terror. 

Would a better film feature sub-text that relates to us today, living now?

Yeah, it probably would. 

Annabelle isn’t a great horror film. Instead, it’s a better-than-average, serviceable one that gets the job done.  It gives you the creeps, and it doesn’t do it in the most craven, predictable way possible, with an ambulatory doll stalking victims.  Instead, a creepy seventies vibe dominates the picture, and that’s a good thing.

So go into this one with your eyes open and know what you’re watching here: a professionally-shot and meticulously edited Hollywood horror movie. Annabelle passes the time, hits a few high notes, and then it’s over and you forget about it. 

At least the movie makes sense, which is something one can’t necessarily say of The Conjuring.

Actually, I’ll take Annabelle and its slow-burn horror over The Conjuring’s supernatural gymnastics any day.

Movie Trailer: Annabelle (2014)

Thursday, February 05, 2015

At Flashbak: Alfred E. Neuman Goes to the Movies: A Gallery of 1970s Blockbusters, as seen in MAD Magazine.

My new article at Flashbak remembers the great age of MAD Magazine's 1970s movie parodies and covers.

"In the seventies, all the options we now enjoy in terms of home entertainment options (DVDs, blu-rays, streaming) simply did not exist.  Instead, the 1970s represents the first great decade of the Hollywood movie blockbuster: popular movies that everyone in the culture saw, and everyone talked about.

The experience of those movies wasn’t complete, however until MAD Magazine rendered a wicked parody of it, and featured the film on its cover.

MAD originally hit the news-stand in 1952, but it was in the 1970s that readership hit its peak, owing in part, no doubt, to Alfred E. Neuman’s comical interface with all the movie legends and icons of that age.

Here’s a gallery of some of the best MAD Magazine 1970s covers.  My favorite of the bunch is the Star Wars (1977) cover, with Darth Alfred, featured at the top of this piece..."

Coming Soon: Poltergeist (2015)

Cult-Movie Review: RoboCop (2014)

RoboCop (2014) is a top-of-the-line science fiction movie for our time. It features a remarkable cast, strong visual effects and it ponders, with intelligence, some important issues of this epoch.

And yet the reboot -- while never an embarrassment to the long-standing franchise -- is absolutely, categorically, humorless. 

As you may recall, a vital aspect of the 1987 Verhoeven film was its comical skewering of right wing, pro-business policies in a fictional future U.S.A. The ED-209 didn’t just malfunction, for example, he turned an OCP board-member to a bloody pulp.

Meanwhile, the movie’s TV commercials for products such as the board game Nuke ‘Em revealed how the world had become a blood-thirsty, dog-eat-dog world due to rule, essentially, by unregulated corporations.

The new RoboCop finds no humorous corollary for any of these moments, and this, I fear, is a symptom of our times too.

For some reason, horror and science fiction films these days are afraid to be funny, to crack a joke here and there. They are deadly serious, instead, and that level of unremitting “grittiness” can be exhausting.

I suspect it’s the Dark Knight (2008) effect, honestly.

Now, post-Nolan, every genre pic has to be deadly serious and set (largely) at night, so we think it is “authentic” or “real.” It’s funny to contemplate, but Adam West’s Batman (1966 – 1968) cast a pall over superhero productions for a generation by presenting the hero as campy.  It now looks as though the Nolan trilogy has had just as deleterious effects on our age today, taking the genre to such dour, humorless heights that people forget how much fun a good, thoughtful sci-fi picture -- like RoboCop (1987) -- ought to be.

Why do I miss the humor in this RoboCop so much? 

Well, in Verhoeven’s film, the humor made a valuable point about the society as a whole, but it did so without turning the movie into a preachy left-wing diatribe. The commercials and moments of humor leavened the whole thing.

It’s the same reason you want a spoonful of sugar with your medicine, right?

In the original RoboCop, the points about out-of-control right-wing economic politics were still scored -- viciously so, in some circumstances -- but the movie was free to be an action movie, and not a sermon. We could look at all the pieces of the social critique, recognize them, and then laugh at our recognition of them. We could still have a good time, even while nodding in agreement about the nature of the exaggerated, fictional world.

Sometimes, the world really feels this way…

The new RoboCop proceeds from a point of far greater seriousness, and yet its point -- that people aren’t the property of corporations -- doesn’t transmit nearly as effectively as similar messages did in RoboCop, or even the gonzo-bonkers sequel, RoboCop 2 (1990).

This doesn’t mean the new film isn’t intelligent. It’s a smart and earnest movie. I liked it. But I didn’t admire it in the way I still do the original film.

The new RoboCop can be credited, absolutely, with rethinking the details of Alex Murphy’s story for our times. This version of the tale focuses on American military engagements in the Middle East, the plight of veterans who return home less than whole, and the use of drones or otherwise automated hardware against our citizenry.

It’s an intriguing angle for certain, and yet, again, the film somehow doesn’t feel as visceral or as moving as the original RoboCop did, even when it takes the time to explore aspects of the character’s personal life that the original didn’t touch…like the plight of Murphy’s wife and son.

Again, RoboCop is no embarrassment. It’s not a terrible, unthinking, or slapdash “re-boot.” But in the final analysis, it doesn’t carry the ball any further down the field than the original did. Objectively, it’s just not as good as the original was -- even though the argument could be made that the film is quite well-done -- and so its very purpose must be called into question.

Do we need a RoboCop reboot that doesn’t improve on Verhoeven’s original vision?  If so, why? 

It seems to me that this is the most important question that needs answering here.  All the solid work of the admittedly impressive cast and director Jose Padhila, doesn’t quite validate the existence of a film that feels, at times, so mechanical.

“A machine does not understand how it feels to be human.”

In an America of the near future, the corporation OCP wants more than anything to sell its robotic sentinels -- ED-209 and ED-208 -- to crime-infested cities. But CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) can’t open this market because of the settled law of the land.  The Dreyfus Act forbids robotic hardware to be in a position where it can police the American people.

Sellars suspects he can get around this edict by putting a man into such a machine, and marketing that man and his “conscience” to the American people. 

When Detroit cop, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is grievously injured in a bombing, Sellars has his candidate for that job.  He goes to a well-respected doctor, Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) and tells him to build…a Robocop.

When Murphy awakes, he discovers he is not quite the man he used to be.  Only one hand, his brain, his face, his lungs and his throat survived the bombing and the ensuing surgery.  Now he is more machine than man, housed in a complex robot body.  At the very least, however, he will still get to see his wife, Clara (Abbie Cornish) and his son, David.

When RoboCop hits the streets of Detroit and proves a success at stopping crime, the U.S. Senate holds a vote to repeal the Dreyfus Act. 

But with that repeal, RoboCop is now obsolete.  He has outlived his value to Sellars…

“It’s great to see American machines helping to promote peace and freedom abroad.”

The new RoboCop could almost be titled RoboSoldier because its primary concern is the post-Iraq War world. The film’s events occur during an American occupation of Iran (and Tehran, specifically), as ED-209s and humanoid ED-208s patrol the streets, enforcing the peace at gunpoint. 

Meanwhile, veterans come home to America physically broken, and scientists like the sympathetic Doctor Norton (Oldman), attempt to make them whole again with robotic limbs. There's a remarkable scene in the film of a man learning to use his robot hands to play the guitar. It's hopeful and sad at the same time.

Although technically not a soldier, Murphy comes home broken too, and must -- with all the changes inside him, and all the horror he has seen -- re-integrate into his family unit and his former life.  But of course, he is a changed man, literally, and again, this is the precise story that many soldiers face upon returning stateside, and to their homes.  

They are not who they once were.They are changed, even altered psychologically, by their war experiences. And Murphy faces this problem too. He undergoes a kind of robotic version of PTSD and doctors reduce his Dopamine level so that he acts, with his family, like a "zombie." He hardly seems to recognize his loved ones.

At the same time, on the home front, right-wing voices of “law and order” on TV demand that the American street be pacified too, using the same machines patrolling Tehran. 

But a liberal senator, Dreyfus, created a bill (and then a law) which prevents the use of such military equipment in American cities. 

Again, this dramatic scenario is ripped straight out of current events. In 2015, more and more police units in metropolitan areas are gearing up with military hardware, and more and more Americans are growing afraid that they could be the target of drones, or other machines of war, during moments of civil disobedience. Are police our protectors, or occupiers of our cities?  Very many, that line seems to be blurred.

The new RoboCop handles this paradigm well, and quite intelligently.  The commentary is smart, and often ironic, but it is never sharp enough, or funny enough, to leave a significant impact. Samuel L. Jackson plays a right-wing TV pundit/bloviator Pat Novak who complains about “robo-phobic” America and stands in front of giant screens of the American flag, draping himself in patriotism that is more aptly fascism.  This isn't satire though. This is an accurate depiction of certain personalities in the current media.

Novak calls the Tehran occupation a peaceful one, and notes -- immediately prior to a boy’s death by ED-209 -- that for the first time Iranian people can raise their children in safety and security.

The point is made ironically, of course. Novak spouts propaganda; and we see for our own eyes that it isn’t the truth. There’s no safety and security here, only an invading force occupying the city.

But the moment isn’t funny, because the new RoboCop doesn’t get the idea that was transmitted so clearly in the original.  

If you want to make a really memorable point about something, then you take reality and exaggerate it. You take it one step further than reality.

Go out of bounds with it a little. 

Instead, the reboot speculates, in dead serious fashion, about the use of military technology in other lands, and here at home. We get serious war scenes, with a youthful casualty. But this footage seems like it could be real, and from today, with just a few exceptions.

Paul Verhoeven, I suspect, would have treated the moment very differently. He would killed that Iranian kid in the most grievous, bloody, over-the-top, politically incorrect fashion, and then, for punctuation, have had Pat Novak label him a terrorist. 

We all would have gasped.

And then we would have heard some nervous titters or giggles from fellow audience members at the bad taste of the whole thing…and yet the point would have been made irrevocably. 

Our words, ideals, and our actions not only fail to line up, that scene would have expressed, they actually have no relation to one another.  

This was the essence of many Media Break moments in the original franchise. Remember in RoboCop 2 how Leeza Gibbons griped about environmentalists who complained about a nuclear meltdown in the Amazon Rain Forest.  

Those pesky environmentalists! They’re always complaining about something!

In the reboot, the ironic event (the death of a child during a “peaceful” robot patrol) is noted, but it just kind of hangs there on the screen, flat. The moment is played dead straight, and so the opportunity to expose Novak’s hypocrisy and propaganda is lost, at least to some significant degree.

To reiterate, I believe it is commendable that RoboCop attempts to tackle a serious subject: American military equipment exported to places where it is neither desired, nor helpful, by corporations who want to open big markets and make money. But the movie has no really illuminating or memorable viewpoint to note about the subject.

It's text vs. subtext, I guess, at least in some ways.

Also, it is commendable, I believe that this iteration of RoboCop expends the time and energy to showcase what Clara (Abbie Cornish), Murphy’s wife, goes through, following his injury and resurrection.  

She goes through Hell, and it’s the same Hell that so many military families go through in real life. A soldier is catastrophically-wounded, on the verge of death. How do you help him or her? How much do you consider quality of life for the injured vets? How much can technology help?

These are serious questions, and I appreciate that this RoboCop goes further than the original (and its sequels) did in charting this aspect of Murphy’s life.

The performances are all very good, too. Gary Oldman projects decency and humanity as the doctor who tries to make things better, but realizes he has gone too far. Michael Keaton is appropriately asshole-ish as OCP CEO Raymond Sellars, a man used to getting his way, and willing to use the media and the government to get what he wants. 

Joel Kinnaman is fine as Murphy/RoboCop too, but the role still belongs to Peter Weller. With Weller, you got a sense of Alex’s kind of gentle goofiness. Remember him trying to twirl his gun to impress his son? Or racing Lewis to the car, and driving it, his first day on the job, over her objections? 

It’s difficult to put this into words, but even though the new RoboCop gives the character more interaction with his family, and a deeper character arc, it is Weller’s Murphy who somehow seems more truly, legitimately human.  The new Murphy wants to solve cases, and bring people to justice. He’s like a cliché movie cop, dedicated, even as a robot, to bringing in a perp.  The old RoboCop wanted to impress his son, fit in on the job, and be a good cop. 

There’s a measure of difference there that’s worth noting.

The new film also fails to make an important connection, one that was so vital to the original work of art.  In Verhoeven’s film, Dick Jones and Clarence Boddicker were two sides of the same coin: board room thugs, and street thugs. Here, the plot involving the gun-runner Antoine Vallon, doesn’t really connect meaningfully with Sellars and his machinations. The plots are separate, and the Vallon plot doesn’t really go anywhere.

The new RoboCop also seems to have a lot less action in it too. 

One on hand, people could say it is a more mature film than the original was, since it attempts to focus on emotions and character arcs.  

On the other hand, the old film had action and satire -- it was exciting and smart -- so it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t a more fully realized work of art. This RoboCop takes itself very seriously, yet doesn’t  make its commentary stick in anything approaching a memorable or striking way.  

Again, I don’t wish to present the impression that the remake is terrible, or even bad. I’ve watched the film twice now. Once last year, and then again two nights ago, after finishing up the other RoboCop films. 

Clearly, the 2014 film is much better than RoboCop 3 (1993) was. No one in their right mind would argue otherwise. But by eliminating the humor and satirical angle of the series, this RoboCop film feels just as flat as that film did, at least at certain points.

The story, the performances, the visual effects are all superior, for certain, but this is, no doubt the “Tin Man” version of RoboCop

All head. No heart. And certainly no funny bone.

Movie Trailer: RoboCop (2014)

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Late Night Blogging: The Green Hornet Promos

The Green Hornet: "Give 'Em Enough Rope" (September 16, 1966)

In “Give ‘Em Enough Rope,” the second episode of The Green Hornet (1966 – 1967), the hero becomes embroiled in an insurance scam. 

Worse, the Daily Sentinel -- Britt’s paper -- gets sued for failing to use the word “alleged” when describing a criminal involved in the scam. This means that a lovely lawyer with an eye for Reid, Claudia (Diana Hyland) will be spending time interviewing him.

But it also means that she could become a target for the scammers…

The Green Hornet, a serious superhero series, often works overtime to earn the descriptor “realistic.” 

You can see that in stories such as the sophomore entry, “Give ‘Em Enough Rope.” Here, an underworld insurance scam is the rather non-glamorous topic, and the clues that the Green Hornet follows actually make sense. That was rarely the case on Batman, a pseudo-comedy in which the Bat Computer and Batman made wild leaps in logic to follow the trails of evil criminals.

On top of that, important events that occur have real life repercussions. A mistake in the world of journalism, for instance, results in litigation against Reid’s newspaper.

This is also the second episode in a row in which Mike Axford (Lloyd Gough), a reporter for that paper, gets beat up by thugs. He’s in a dangerous business, covering a dangerous beat, and it’s intriguing that the Green Hornet doesn’t take overt steps to shield him from harm. Indeed, it seems like Green Hornet likes to use Mike as the point of the spear, allowing the reporter to lead him into areas of concern (and ill-repute).

As was the case in “The Silent Gun,” this episode of The Green Hornet finds the hero pretending to be a criminal for the sake of solving a case. He learns about the “accident racket” occurring in his city by claiming to want a piece of it.  “The Green Hornet doesn’t like competition,” he notes grimly. 

The episode also features a weird (if memorable) villain: a killer in a mask who swoops down on a swinging rope (hence the episode title...) to attack his victims.  Literally, he represents death from above.  And he jumps down to attack his prey in vast, dark warehouses, and from building roofs.  The night-time palette of the series, again, differentiates it from the daylight world featured on Batman.

Although Kato still doesn’t have much to do (besides pull the lever that flips the car platform and exposes the Black Beauty), we see a bit more of Britt Reid here, particularly in his guise as womanizer/playboy. Van Williams excels in these scenes because he plays them at two levels.  On one hand, he is playing the part of a callow young man.  On another level, he is squeezing Claudia for information that could be helpful to his alter ego. 

Also, by this second episode, viewers are beginning to become familiar with the trademarks of this hero's world.  He has the hidden garage in a bad part of town. From there, the Black Beauty is launched. 

We also see the D.A.’s secret entrance to the Green Hornet’s lair. It looks like a junk-laden elevator.  

Once more, these touches make the series seem much less romantic and glamorous than Batman's world in that Dozier series.

The Green Hornet Cartoon Kit (Colorforms; 1966)

The Green Hornet: Corgi Edition

The Green Hornet GAF Viewmaster

Trading Cards of the Week: The Green Hornet

Model Kits of the Week: The Green Hornet

Lunchbox of the Week: The Green Hornet