Posts Tagged ‘Joel Kinnaman’

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If there’s one thing that’s even more pathetic than the “Marvel Guy” vs. “DC Guy” debates that have been raging among comics fans for years, it’s seeing those same arguments steroid-pumped beyond comprehension now that four-color funnybooks have become the go-to “IP source” for multi-million-dollar Hollywood blockbusters. “Marvel movies are the best!” “You take that back, DC movies are the best!” — it’s all so mind-numbingly tedious.

Not to mention fundamentally dishonest. Just as neither publisher deserves to have anyone rooting for them given their sorry ethical histories and largely substandard product of recent vintage, the same is true for both cinematic universes — by and large, they’re entirely unexceptional on their best days, offensively mediocre on their worst. 2016 hasn’t bucked this trend in the least to date, with Marvel’s Captain America : Civil War being yet another bland two-and-a-half hour TV episode with lots of guest stars, and DC’s Batman V. Superman : Dawn Of Justice being a largely grim and self-serious effort that, while being nowhere near as lousy as its numerous critics allege, still doesn’t manage to rise above the level of being anything more than a visually interesting, painfully over-earnest slugfest. But damn if people haven’t succumbed to their most base tribal impulses and self-segregated into camps according to which celluloid super-hero brand they think is better.

The internet is the battlefield of choice for these less-than-noble unpaid warriors for the Dinsey and Warner media conglomerates, which I suppose is better than watching folks fight it out in the streets, but the gusto with which each camp promulgates its ultimately untenable position that either one or the other is all that good has given way to the sort of excesses that usually only emerge in the philosophical or political arenas, and there they can be can at least be understood to a degree (if not excused) given that the subjects under debate actually matter — which, I’m sorry, is hardly the case here. Whoever ultimately wins the battle for your super-hero dollar at the box office, be it Disney/Marvel or Warner Brothers/DC, isn’t going to put food on your table, educate your kids, stop global warming, eradicate nuclear weapons, curb police brutality, or block a mentally unstable sociopath from being elected president. They don’t care about you —- who why should you care about them?

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And yet, care about them people most certainly do — to a degree that can only be called alarming, at this point. For evidence of just how absurd it’s all become, look no further than the petition swirling around online to shut down Rotten Tomatoes, the aggregate-score movie review powerhouse website, simply because the appraisals pouring in for DC’s latest mega-blockbuster, Suicide Squad, are wretchedly poor on the whole. This will go nowhere, of course — but the fact that there’s even one person out there, never mind thousands, who would like to permanently silence opinions that run counter to their own is a troubling sign of the insanity that has gripped some of fandom’s more unfortunate quarters. Shit, it’s bad enough when folks try to drown out the originators of dissenting viewpoints, but RT is nothing more than a conveninet clearing-house for opinions that have already been expressed elsewhere. Do get a life, people.

Still, it’s not like Marvel fans can claim any particular moral superiority on this front, either. Earlier this year, when an entirely more reasonable petition emerged (on Rotten Tomatoes, no less!) asking for Disney to stop paying critics for phony positive reviews, it was met with howls of derision and racked up several million “dislikes” to only a few thousand signatures in its favor. The hard-core Marvel fans want their insular worldview protected at all costs every bit as much as their DC-loyalist counterparts, and they don’t even mind that supposedly “impartial” critics are getting paid to do the reinforcing.

And here’s where things get really frustrating for somebody who just wants to hate ’em all and be done with it like myself — idiot-ass anti-RT petitioning aside, the more rational DC fans do sort of have a point, because the boat-load of negative reviews that Suicide Squad is attracting to itself like flies on horse’s backside are proof-positive that plenty of critics are, in fact, completely in the tank for Dis/Mar.

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I don’t offer that opinion simply because they’re saying it’s bad, of course — all art is subjective and you can like or dislike something for any reason at all according to your whims or, preferably, logic — but because of why they’re saying it’s bad. The big knock on Batman V. Superman was, of course, that it was “too dark” and “no fun,” and while writer/director David Ayer has certainly concocted another dark flick with Suicide Squad, it’s all kinds of fun, riddled as it is throughout with gallows humor, intense action, memorable characters, superb performances, standout effects work, sharp and witty dialogue, and breakneck pacing that doesn’t give you too much time to think about its gaping plot holes. In short, it has almost everything the paid gatekeepers of public taste said the last DC flick was lacking  (and certainly everything you could ask for in a brainless summer “popcorn movie”)— and yet they still uniformly despise it. I may not have a whole lot of respect for DC/Warner as a corporate entity, but damn — I still know when the fix is in, ya know?

For those unfamiliar with the particulars here, they’re fairly basic : concerned by the threat posed by super-powered villains in world where Superman is now (presumed) dead,  cold-blooded Pentagon operative Amanda Waller (portrayed with Oscar-worthy calculating menace by Viola Davis) assembles a crack team to beat the baddies at their own game that’s composed entirely of — super-powered villains? Well, okay, who better to fight ’em than their own kind, I suppose, and she’s got herself a crackerjack crew here consisting of assassin-who-never-misses-a-mark Deadshot (Will Smith), gang-banger who can control fire El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Aussie burglar extraordinaire ( I needn’t tell you what his weapon of choice is given his name) Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), scaly and amphibious monster of the sewers Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), honest-to-goodness immortal witch Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and the Joker’s even-crazier-than-he-is girlfriend, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). In the field, the misfit army is led by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), the most highly-decorated special forces operative in US military history, and his back is protected by Katana (Karen Fukuhara), a modern-day samurai warrioress with a soul-trapping supernatural blade. And every one of these already-unstable reluctant soldiers is corralled into service via a combination of manipulation of their weaknesses and/or personal blackmail — and a nano-tech bomb implanted into their skulls that will go off the second they break ranks. The best they’ll get out of the deal is ten years shaved off their respective prison sentences. The worst is they’ll end up dead and the government will deny ever sending them in the first place, given this is a strictly “off the books” operation. If you’re thinking it all kinda sounds like The Expendables with super-powers, you’re absolutely right.

And, like all the films in that venerable trilogy, this thing is an absolute blast of stupid, high-voltage hijinks from start to finish. The set-up is minimal, we get plunged right into the action when the Squad is tasked with cleaning up a mess of Waller’s own making )after one of her conscripts “goes rogue” and threatens to destroy and entire city on the way, of course, to world conquest), and it never lets up. Any flick that eschews conventional three-act story structure as blatantly as this one does is bound to be a bit wobbly when it comes to “Plotting 101” basics, but Ayer weaves in any number of brief-but-effective character “beats,” the team’s chemistry is fantastic on the whole (particularly the “caretaker/caretaken” relationship that forms between Deadshot and Harley), the threat they face is formidable enough to warrant serious concern, and everyone gets to contribute to the final victory. The acting ranges from good (Courtney, Kinnaman) to great (Davis, Smith, Robbie, Hernandez, Akinnuoye-Agbaje), there are fun and even essential cameos from Ben Affleck’s Batman and Ezra Miller’s Flash, Jared Leto’s highly-anticipated new iteration of The Joker (think Cesar Romero on a “cocktail” of PCP, Flay Agaric, and high-grade crystal meth) steals every scene he’s in,  and long-time comic book readers even get treated to a smattering of respectful “Easter Eggs,” such as when the gang rescues Waller from the “John F. Ostrander Federal Building” — a nod to the legendary scribe of most of the seminal Suicide Squad stories of the 1980s. In short, those last-second re-shoots that Warners ordered appear to have paid off as there’s literally something in here for everyone from seasoned fans to the most casual of “newbie” viewers,  and yet none of it feels forcibly shoe-horned, so expert is the execution. Yes, it’s packed to the gills and beyond with stuff both vital and less-than, but it all works. In short, this is the DC movie that everyone who says they don’t like DC movies has been asking for — heck, it even offers all these folks  nearly every specific thing they claim was missing in previous efforts.

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And yet, for all that, the knives are still out, and for all their millions, DC and Warner still can’t seem to catch a break. I won’t go so far as to say that I “feel sorry” for them — they’re a rich corporation and this movie, negative reviews and all, is still going to rake in a ton of cash and make them even richer. But I know a crock of shit when I see (and smell) one, and I would be remiss in my (mostly voluntary, it must be said) duties if I didn’t call out the well-organized “whisper campaign” against this film for exactly what it is. So fuck all the naysayers, it’s never been more clear who’s lining their pockets (free passes to the local preview screening of the next Marvel Studios flick and empty promises of a “potential set visit if you’re ever in the LA area” is usually the going rate to buy “major” critic or blogger, if you must know) — Suicide Squad is easily the most fun you’ll have at the movies this summer.

 

 

 

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In the end (so why am I bringing it up at the beginning?),  maybe all you really need to know about the profound differences between RoboCop a la Paul Verhoeven and RoboCop a la Jose Padilha is that the 1987 original was only a few scant seconds (a few scant seconds showing officer Alex Murphy’s blown-off arm twitching and writhing on the ground, to be precise) removed from an “X” rating, while 2014’s remake has both feet firmly planted in “PG-13” territory.

I honestly think there’s a lot more  more to it than that,, though(about 1500 words more, give or take, to be precise),   because the new RoboCop is far from a complete failure and/or disaster — in some (limited) respects, truth be told, it’s really not that bad at all, in fact. But it’s not all that great, either, especially in comparison to its progenitor.

Let’s dispense with the tired old “take this remake on its own merits” argument first, because I’m sick and tired of Hollywood wanting to have it both ways on this issue. On the one hand, they’re clearly and obviously out of new ideas in Tinseltown, but on the other, they trot out that tired line of “reasoning” for every single remake that comes out these days, and that’s blatantly hypocritical on its face. You can’t expect to cash in on the name and reputation of an earlier flick, not to mention take its fucking title, and then cry “foul” when your new movie is held up for comparison to its “source material.” Sorry, life just doesn’t work that way. Nor should it. If you’re making a movie called RoboCop, it’s going to be judged according to the standards set by the original RoboCop. Deal with it. Because that’s exactly what we’re going to do here.

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Despite numerous “tinkering at the edges” differences, the basic plot trajectory of the new RoboCop remains essentially unchanged from is earlier iteration — Detroit police officer Alex Murphy, a hard-working family man who’s dedicated to upholding the integrity of his badge, is nearly killed in the line of duty and “saved” by being turned into a cyborg by a large industrial conglomerate (OCP in RoboCop ’87, OmniCorp here). He then single-handedly goes on a tear and nearly rids the city of crime, even managing to violently “solve” his own murder case,  before his bosses in the corporate boardroom decide he’s worth more to them dead than alive, at which point the shit hits the fan and Robo-Murphy goes to war against the very people who created him.

What could possibly go so wrong, then? Well, it’s those “tinkering at the edges” differences I just alluded to where the new RoboCop comes up short —

At the top of the list, Padilha’s new film gets the whole thing wrong tonally. Verhoeven’s RoboCop was, as its critics charge, an ultra-violent piece of 1980s excess, but it was also, crucially, a deeply ironic, darkly sardonic “piss-take,” as the Brits would say, on those excesses, and had its tongue planted firmly in its cheek from word “go” to word “stop.” RoboCop 2014 has no time or patience for such self-examination and plays it disarmingly straight throughout. Sure, there are moments of levity — in fact, the movie starts out with a laugh — but they’re only that : moments of levity within the context of the story itself. There’s no larger commentary on the inherent ridiculousness of its genre, much less its own premise, going on here. In short, unlike its predecessor, which gave us the 6000 SUX and “I’d buy that for a dollar!,” this flick just takes itself too goddamn seriously.

Going side by side with getting the tone wrong is the fact that RoboCop 2014 makes some less-than-great casting choices. Joel Kinnaman isn’t bad, per se, as Murphy, but he’s essentially playing the same role that he does on AMC’s The Killing, and Peter Weller’s “king of deadpan” approach is sorely missed. Likewise, Michael Keaton’s decision to portray OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellers as some sort of “new age”/Steve Jobs-type asshole CEO is a good one, but having made that call, he then seems to trudge through the proceedings rather listlessly. Samuel L. Jackson does a serviceable enough take as a right-wing blowhard Bill O’Reilly-type TV host, but he’s downright  bit toned down in comparison to the rabid xenophobic fear-mongering numbskulls who populate Fox “news” every night already in this day and age, never mind how much more intolerable these types of dickheads will be in the near-future world this film is set in. Gary Oldman’s performance is likewise of a “good enough, I suppose” variety as the cybernetics specialist who “creates” the new Murphy and then develops a conscience a little too late in the game, but again, it’s far from being anything like standout work. All in all, it seems the performers are content with doing a “good enough” job rather than an actively good one.

Not helping things much is the fact that Murphy’s personal “character arc” is a bit all over the map. Weller’s quest to regain some semblance of his lost humanity in the 1987 film may have been a bit straight-forward, but it unquestionably worked, and the new flick’s curious (to put it kindly) decision to give him full awareness of his past from the outset, then take some of it away, then take all of it away, then give a little bit back, then have him fight to regain the rest of it diminishes, rather than enhances, the nature of his struggle. A straight line is usually the shortest way to get from point “A” to point “B,” and in the case of RoboCop, it turns out that it’s also the most interesting.

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Last on our laundry list of problems is that RoboCop 2014 gets its political message all wrong. The ’87 original was noteworthy for being one of the few big Hollywood productions of its time to openly take aim at the risible self-indulgences of the “Reagan Years” by pointing out their inevitable outcomes — a two-tiered society of “haves” and “have-nots” kept in line by a police force that functions as a de facto privately-owned occupying army. All the coporate “suits” in the movie were douchebags with no redeeming qualities whatsoever — the cops were on the verge of striking after being privatized — the middle class seemed, for all intents and purposes, to no longer exist — fuck if the whole movie wasn’t damn prescient, since in the years between then and now we’ve seen the rich/poor gap exacerbated to the level of the “robber baron” days and privatization unquestionably fail time and time again, from the San Francisco Zoo to Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac to Bechdel literally buying the entire water supply of the nation of Bolivia. It’s been an unprecedented disaster every single fucking time without exception, yet it’s still held out as the “solution” to almost every problem by unflinching, frankly unthinking, doctrinaire conservatives.

The new RoboCop takes a more nuanced — and gutless — view of the situation : he’s the creation of a “public/private partnership, ” and the working-class, non-privatized, cops in the film are shown to be every bit as sleazy and corrupt as their counterparts in corporate America. Heck, the chief of the Detroit police department (who, curiously, maintains an office in a precinct station) is almost as bad as CEO Sellers himself in this one, and Murphy’s very survival is ultimately engineered by the private-sector Doctor who made him what he is. Some may say that this represents a more “realistic” storyline, that there are good and bad apples in all walks of life, and while that’s true to a certain extent, it’s also deeply ignorant of recent history — last I checked, for instance, it was the much-vaunted private sector that came to the government for a bailout when they ran the economy into the ditch, not the other way around. Sure, RoboCop 2014 is more overtly political than similar blockbuster fare like, say, your average Marvel film, but its focus on issues like domestic drones, the robotization of the military (not nearly as far-fetched as you might think given the Pentagon’s long-term plans) and  expansionist, imperialist US foreign policy (we’ve invaded, and are consequently occupying, Iran in this one) are pretty “safe bets,” so to speak, given that all but the most dim-witted GOP hard-liners know that every single one of those ideas is a seriously lousy one. Again, Padilha and his veritable army of screenwriters are playing it much safer than Verhoeven did back in the day.

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The news isn’t all bad, though — the Murphy family gets a bit more to do in this one, and that’s a nice touch;  (Abbie Cornish is thoroughly believable as his wife and it’s good to see both her and their son play more critical roles in the story);  Padilha directs the action sequences with a kind of enthusiastic zest that seems genuinely heartfelt; the ED-209s fulfill a somewhat more believable (but admittedly less fun) role in the story;  and it’s nice to see Jackie Earle Haley (who plays a stereotypical military hard-ass with aplomb) and Michael K. Williams (on board as the new male iteration of Murphy’s partner, Lewis) in pretty much anything.

By and large, though, this armchair critic has to chalk up the new RoboCop as being a failure — sure, it’s got lot less blood and viscera than the original (hence the “PG-13” classification), but because it hasn’t got anywhere near  its guts.