RoboCop-1987-PosterUsually, to refer to a movie as a comic book movie is to suggest it was based on a specific comic book. There was not a Robocop comic when the film came out (although, Marvel quickly adapted it into an ongoing series). But Robocop had all the markings of a good super-hero comic. A noble lead who suffers tragedy and is reborn with great powers, forced to rediscover who they are, all while fight nefarious villains. It’s also Paul Verhoven’s one great film.

Spoilers are all over this…so if you have not seen RoboCop, but think you would like to someday? You might not want to read this.

Robocop is set in a near future that seems scarily possible. Crime is rampant in Old Detroit. Companies like OCP (Omni Consumer Products) now have contracts with the police dept effectively privatizing the police force. The villains of the film fall into two groups. There are the bottom level drug dealers, thieves, murderers and rapists…and then there are high rise occupying corporate men and women. The central villain is Dick Jones (Played with malice by Ronny Cox), the second in command at OCP. After his failure with his ED 209 Urban Pacification Unit, in swoops younger go getter Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer). Bob has been working on the Robocop plan, and has the opportunity to pitch it to “The Old Man” (Dan O’Herlihy).

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Peter Weller is able to convince us in a few short scenes that Alex Murphy was a decent, generous father, husband and cop. He loved his family and was devoted to his job. He also seems to get respect quickly from his sergeant (Robert DoQui) and his partner, Officer Lewis (Nancy Allen). In just a few minutes of screen time, he manages to make Murphy matter enough that when his inevitable death occurs at the hands of low life sleaze Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and his gang, it’s downright painful. Granted, part of the reason for that is that Verhoven is so graphic in the film’s violence. However, for the most part, the graphic violence feels justified within the context of the story.

So, by dying, Murphy “volunteers” for the Robocop Project. This leads to a nice series of shots all from Robocop’s perspective as he is being built. This lends a nice air of mystery as you wait anxiously to see the final look of Robocop. Even when he is finished, you don’t get a good look at him as he enters the police station. When he is revealed, the transformation is surprising. You barely see the man and Weller moves like a machine in an extremely convincing manner.

This all leads to a nice series of scenes where Robocop saves people. An interesting moment is after stopping an attempted rape, the victim hugs him and is thanking Robocop…but Robocop has no emotion about stopping the crime, it’s simply what he is programmed to do. He starts directing the victim to a local rape crisis center in a cold, uncaring tone.

But as OCP has tried to suppress the man, Murphy seems to fight to be free. Nightmares of Murphy’s death jar Robocop from his “sleep”. Lewis is the first to recognize the man. And it’s her questions that trigger Robocop to search his own history. In one scene, Robocop asks Lewis about “Murphy’s” family. Murphy is the other. He is not Murphy. After she explains to him what became of his family… Robocop quietly notes that he can “feel them, but I can’t remember them.”  There is a tone of mechanical desperation in that line.  He can process there is something there, but his programming cannot connect with what is missing.

Robocop runs into a member of Boddicker’s gang, which triggers a curiosity.  Robocop needs to investigate who killed him. This film is focused on Robocop uncovering the mystery of how he died, but then who he is, and how to regain what he lost.

Robocop’s effectiveness is in its characters. The villains are despicable, the heroes noble (but flawed). One of my favorite characters is Sergeant Reed, a passionate leader in his precinct. He will not stand for talking of a strike, he is a police officer, and that is a noble profession that can’t just go on strike. He quickly seems to accept Robocop as an officer, not merely a machine. On the other end of the spectrum is Kurtwood Smith who plays Clarence Boddicker with such evil glee, you almost like (and totally hate the bastard). Nancy Allen plays Lewis as a confident, bright and headstrong officer. Ronny Cox is so calculated and heartless in his portrayal of the power hungry Bob Jones, you hope for a worthy demise (and yeah, it’s “worthy”).robocop_lewis

And again, Peter Weller? The suffering he must have endured in that suit never shows. Instead, he moves in such a way that you can often forget there is a man beneath it, I can’t recall a moment where he slipped up. And yet, he manages to bring a warmth to Robocop as his self realization grows.  His movements are machine, but he becomes a man at heart.

I had mentioned this as Verhoven’s best film, and I stand by that. Often, his desire to shock with copious amounts of violence and nudity result in a rather flat story. And often, the themes he says he wanted to explore are barely touched upon at all. But in Robocop, his social commentary and satire on our consumerist and corporate culture pretty much hits every mark with great accuracy.

Robocop has managed to remain relevant and be entertaining even 28 years later.

marisa_tomeiThe reports are coming out that Marisa Tomei is going to be Aunt May in the Spider-Man movies now.  Which just feels crazy.

Not because she is a bad actress.  Not because I dislike her.  I like her a lot and think she is talented. But you know…this is Aunt May…

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aunt_mayShe is an older woman.  Now granted, they made her a bit less frail in the Ultimate Spider-Man Comics.  I appreciate and get that.  Old does not feel quite the same in my 40’s.  But when Sam Raimi made the first Spider-Man in 2002, Rosemary Harris was 75 at the time.  I loved Harris in all three of Raimi’s Spider-Man films.  She had a strength of spirit and a kindness, even though she was not physically imposing.aunt-may-harris

When they rebooted the franchise with the Amazing Spider-Man in 2012, Sally Field was 66.  I liked this casting, it put a slightly younger spin, but Aunt May was still advanced in age in comparison to Peter.

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But Marisa Tomei is barely 51.  I mean, I guess it is not that crazy to think of a teen having an aunt in their 50’s…but for some reason this ongoing de-aging of Aunt May just feels…off.

Several years ago, back in the 90’s, Richard Gazowsky (a Pentecostal minister) went out to the wilderness and had a vision.  God wanted him to make a epic sci-fi movie.   Really.

audience_of_oneHe came back to his San Francisco congregation and proposed this…and the congregation went with it.  And that is when you start to wonder if you’ve been sucked into the Twilight Zone.  They start a company called WYSIWYG Productions, and then the fun starts.

At first, it looks possible.  I do not mean this in any sense sarcastically.  The wardrobe people, comprised of the Preacher’s family and members of the congregation, seem pretty competent and knowledgeable about what will and won’t work.  Gazowsky does not listen, routinely ignoring and steam rolling over anyone who tries to explain why what he wants may not be possible.  One young woman even explains that she sees him as her spiritual father so if he says to do something-even if she knows he is wrong-she will do as he asked, waiting for God to correct him.

audience_oneRichard talks much, along with the conceptual artists, of creating creatures we’ve never seen in their sci-fi version of Joseph and the coat of many colors(called Gravity:The Shadow of Joseph).  The plans for this film are large.  They are even hiring outside people for cast and crew.  They are flying to Italy to film.  This is no small production.  The church is transformed into a fully formed production studio.

It’s in Italy that things start to take a turn.  Cameras don’t work, people working on the film get stressed, and three days into filming, there has not been one second shot.  It is unclear when any filming is happening at all.  But what is clear is Richard gives great speeches regarding God, God’s will, what God will do for them as long as they stay focused and remember that their endeavor is to make this movie for an Audience of One.  As you may suspect, that audience of one is  Jesus.

Gazowsky is passionate and sincere, there is no doubt, but one seriously starts to question his grasp of the situation, as crew seem to realize that maybe there is trouble brewing.  When they return to San Francisco, things seem to look up.  The Church rents a large studio space from the city, a seeming blessing…until they fall behind on paying their rent.  This results in more more impassioned pleas, including Richard telling about how he went to tell the city that they were behind on the rent but the money is coming.  When the city asked for some proof, he told them that his word should be enough, and that they just need to believe because that’s what God wanted them to do.  The money will be there, the city of San Francisco just needed to believe.

Yeah, they shut off the power.

The film’s real strength lies in it’s sympathy to these people.  It doesn’t try and decide everything for you.  Admittedly, towards the end, as Gazowsky lays out a ten (eight?) point plan for the church that includes multiple Christian television networks and colonizing other planets (I am not kidding) he states that it is either God or he’s just crazy… it is not hard to side with crazy.

Director Michael Jacobs has made an entertaining and fascinating character study with Audience of One, and I recommend checking it out.

Save Us!!!I meant to discuss this movie a few months ago…when I first watched it.  Somehow, it just got put off.

Now, if you are going into Dan Merchant’s documentary Lord, Save Us From Your Followers anticipating Jesus Camp type hi-jinks or the irreverence of Bill Maher’s Religious, you will not find it.  Merchant is not exposing the darker undersides of religion or asking why people believe at all.  No, Merchant is asking why we cannot simply have a dialog instead of back and forth hissy fits.

Merchant is a self identified Evangelical Christian, and he is challenging the Culture Wars.  Right from the start, he touches on “What is something that Christians are known for?” and “What is something that Jesus Christ is known for?”  To accomplish this, Merchant donned a painters jumpsuit covered in bumper stickers and criss-crossed the country.

The answers vary, but what Merchant notes is that the second question?  The answers lean positive.  Most people have positive feelings about Jesus…but Christians?  You could almost tell the beliefs of the people by their answers.  Christians saw Christians as kind and graceful people.  Everyone else saw them as self righteous hypocrites.

But Merchant goes farther…he examines the strife here interviewing a variety of people.  Some well known (Rick Santorum and Al Franken) and some not.   Dan (can I call you Dan?) starts to explore how Christians interact with culture… and it isn’t pretty.  His first stop is San Diego.  There, a Christian group held a massive gathering of young people.  It was a stadium filler full of prayer, concerts, worship, etc.  And then the kids were led to “pray for San Francisco” on the steps of City Hall.  This was not long after Gay Marriage was approved by City officials.

Dan MerchantWhat is interesting is that the representative that sat down with Merchant (Ron Luce) plays oblivious to the controversy that erupted.  Protesters met them.  Shockingly, the San Diego gay community did not get a thrill out of this.  Luce tries playing the typical Christian response when people show up upset by their actions.  He plays that “They call us angry, but they were yelling at us!”  Yet, it is entirely clear that Luce knows what they did.  They got the reaction they were trying to get.  By using kids.  When Merchant suggests other mass media targets like Hollywood and Madison Avenue(since Revoution claims to be trying to save teens from “saturated with media influence”), he is met with a rather insincere answer about they will get to those…Merchant points out that the very next year they did the exact same thing.  Suffice to say, I was left unimpressed with Luce.

The film also focuses things like inter-faith work efforts.  Dan highlights a story about a mainstream radio station that teamed up with a Christian group to raise money for relief in third world countries.

Merchant and his crew put everything together with both reverence and humor.  And in most cases it works.  Personally, I would have cut the whole bit about renaming the cities, as it is far more alarmist than the other portions of the film.  It almost caves into the “War on Christmas” style  and is overly Michael Moore-ish in it’s exaggeration.  I mean, really, are any atheists trying to change city names that have religious names in any great numbers?  The rest of the film is so thoughtful, it feels out of place.

Poster for the MovieBut the most moving moments are towards the end.   Merchant caps the film off with a heart wrenching sequence of a confessional booth of a unique nature and a group with an inspirational look at a group with a unique outreach to the forgotten in their community.

The film is not trying to provide hard theological questions, but it is challenging the viewer to start a dialog, rather than a fight.  To stop ignoring the needs of others because we are to focused on being “right“.  It’s thought provoking, moving, challenging and well made.  I would highly recommend giving Dan Merchant’s film a chance.

I wrote this a few years ago, a humorous aside, Dan Merchant is a producer on the crazy SyFy zombie show Z Nation)

the-cove-posterThe filmmakers follow Richard O’Barry as he takes them around Taijii, Japan.  He comes across as a paranoid conspiracy theorist early on.  O’Barry wears a Sars mask and hunches over as he drives to fool Japanese police as they drive by.  The town of Taijii, Japan seems particularly harmless, even endearing in many ways.  They seem to be obsessed with dolphins.  The town is full of statues of dolphins and whales, boats are made in the shape of dolphins and whales, there is a whale museum.  O’Barry, however, hates that place.

And just who is Richard?  Well, he used to be one of the most foremost dolphin trainers in the world.  He captured and trained the five dolphins that played Flipper.  O’Barry shares a touching story of one of the dolphins dying in his arms.  Dolphins are, according to some, deliberate breathers.  They can simply not take another breathe.  He describes it as a suicide, and some may balk at this, but the intelligence of dolphins is not exactly up for debate.  But it helps you understand O’Barry’s passion.

The film challenges the captivity of dolphins quite heavily.  And seeing Dolphins in their natural environment makes a strong case that they do not belong in small tanks.  And what does that have to do with Taijii, Japan?  Well, Taijii is where many of the worlds zoos, water parks and “swim with the Dolphins” parks get their dolphins.  Every September, Japanese fisherman coral thousands of dolphins into a cove.  Trapped in that cove, buyers pick the best dolphins and purchase them.  It’s a very lucrative business($150,000 for a live show dolphin).  You can watch this from the road.  But, hidden away, in a separate cove the even larger horror occurs afterward.  Little was known before the cove was released.  The Cove in question is hidden away and closely guarded.

So, the filmmakers put together a special team to create unique hidden cameras and secret ops mission to bring the slaughter of the Cove to the public.  Military, special effects experts, world class free divers, concert techs…all came together.  And If Rick O’Barry seems paranoid, it becomes clear he is paranoid with good reason.  They are clearly being filmed and followed by Japanese police.  Then the fisherman show up.  They try blocking the cameras and then block the crew, so they could not get a better look.

They do major recon and preparation to capture something few people are ever allowed to see.

It’s a gut wrenching film.  The sea is filled with amazing and wonderfully creatures.  Among them are dolphins.  One of the tragedies is the fact that most of Japan is unaware of this.  The film finds swimming with dolphinsmany Japanese shocked to hear anyone would even eat dolphins.  But in Taijii?  It was served in schools.  This is a health issue, not solely an animal cruelty one.  The film is full of horror and tragedy.  It’s tough to watch.  The film culminates is allowing us to witness the dolphin slaughter. Simply put, it is nauseating.

But the final moments are inspiring, hopeful…vindicating.

The film made me ask some questions…

We know serial killers start with animals…it is there that they deaden themselves to killing.  And I have come to believe that how we treat animals is reflective as to how we will ultimately treat each other.  And more so…where is the passion of the religious?  The environment, which is also known as creation to most religious people…seems not to be passionate…

I do not understand how people that think creation is evidence of God are so willing to turn a blind eye to its destruction in the name of capitalism and not “hindering businesses”.

How is creation, if it is evidence of God and a creator…how can people of faith be so casual about casting it aside…I just cannot connect with a notion that it does not matter.

You can learn more at.

And…there is something kind of magical about watching dolphins swim set to Bowie’s Heroes.

Preface: This is a review I wrote two years ago.  I have, however, edited it a bit.

And lo, there was much controversy and arguing. So it was I saw finally got around to seeing the tale Man of Steel.  Zak Snyder, David Goyer and Christopher’s grimmer take on the Superman mythos.

In a lot of ways, this is a response to the toughly reviewed Superman Returns. One of the cries was “more action” and boy do we get it.

man-of-steel-posterFirst, the good. I think Henry Cavill did a solid job as Superman. The film spends it’s time focusing on a Superman who is not working for the Daily Planet, but rather Clark Kent roaming the planet and saving people. It is borrowing an idea from Mark Waid’s terrific Birthright…and while not quite as nicely executed, it makes sense to use it as a reference.

The film opens on Krypton, one like we have not seen in previous film or television adaptions. I am pleased to see they opted to break free of the influence of Donner for this film. It is a Krypton that has evolved to genetic engineering, something scientist Jor-El seeks to set his son free of. This happens in the midst of a military coup by General Zod (Michael Shannon). He and his followers are sent to the Phantom Zone, shortly before the destruction of Krypton.

Amy Adams is a tough and fearless Lois Lane who is on the trail of the mysterious hero. I liked her quite a bit in the role. She was aggressive and dedicated to finding her story. I also felt Zod and Faora were solid characters. As Superman’s parents, Russell Crowe, Ayelet Zurer, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are all quite strong. Lara’s role is short, but she is strong and full of courage. Crowe is mainly there for exposition, but he makes it work.

The visual effects were great, seeing Superman use his powers was exhilarating. I truly had fun watching him use his powers.

The tougher stuff…while I liked Costner, I had the same problem with Man of Steel as I did with Smallville. Pa Kent is obsessed with “keeping the secret” which extends to “let people die”. This is troubling on a lot of levels. The action in the film is relentless, giving little time to catch our breath. The characters are also given little space to grow, so we get familiar, but new sketches, rather than full blown character moments. And the destruction becomes numbing…it is just to much.

In addition, Superman never appears as Superman until after Zod arrives.  Clark runs around saving people, but once he dons the costume, he saves one person directly, otherwise he is busy fighting Zod and his army.  You might ask why this matters…but if we had Clark appearing in Costume before Zod arrives, saving people and stopping crime, that establishes him.

We as the audience have every reason to see Superman as the good guy.  We get it, we have seen Clark use his powers to help people.  But in the world of the film?  The citizens of the world have no reason to trust Superman over Zod.  Donner’s original Superman film had a great sequence of Superman doing all sorts of heroics.  And it allowed us to see the city of Metropolis becoming excited about Superman.  We have seen from the teasers that in Batman vs  Superman they plan to explore the motif of hero worship.  And this could have set that up.

The other problem was, this feels like Nolan filtered through Snyder.  I like Nolan, I liked his take on Batman…but his Batman was grounded in a fairly real world idea.  There was no room for a Superman or Wonder Woman in the Nolan Bat Universe.  I also liked Watchmen by Snyder.  But between the two, they created a Superman world of darkness and paranoia.  Even the color schemes are digitally washed out and bleak.  This is still slightly better than Stalker Superman.

In the end, I still enjoyed this more than Superman Returns. It is imperfect, but not salvageable for the continuation of Superman.

For a mainstream movie.  I have never seen the Exorcist 2.  I skipped right to Exorcist 3.  But this trailer for the Exorcist 2 is…well..insanely funny.

so Michael Eisner was part of a panel and made the following comment:

During an onstage conversation with Goldie Hawn, he theorized on why she’d been so successful: “From my position, the hardest artist to find is a beautiful, funny woman. By far. They usually—boy am I going to get in trouble, I know this goes online—but usually, unbelievably beautiful women, you being an exception, are not funny.”

The first thing that stood out to me was Eisner knew he was going to get in trouble.  Now, someone pointed out to me that these incidences can lead to discussion and learning.  But I am, admittedly, unsure that Eisner is going to listen.  Often, when people tell you they know they will get in trouble for what they are about to say they see themselves as imparting some tough truth.  Maybe Eisner is open to realizing what a dumb statement he made.

And truthfully, my first instinct was to start listing funny very beautiful women in Hollywood.  Lots of people certainly presented evidence to refute Eisner.

But I am thinking my first instinct is part of the problem.  Why should beautiful be the primary criteria here?  Especially for comedy?  Comedy has a long history of overweight, less than handsome male leads.  They are often paired with gorgeous leading ladies.

Yet, when women are the lead, they have to be gorgeous above all.

And that is the real problem.  Talent, wit and timing are important comedic skills…and in the minds of far to many, hold second to…”Is she gorgeous?”  And that criteria needs to go.

I was hoping this one would come to be.  I really thought DuVernay’s Selma and felt that it would be good to bring some of that passion to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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AP Images

In a talk with Essence Magazine, she confirmed she was not going to direct.  Explaining that why she loved the people involved, she could not come to a place of agreement with Marvel.  This is certainly not the first time Marvel and a Director could not find a point where their visions aligned enough make things work.

A lot of this comes down to just how Avengers-centric the Marvel Cinematic Universe is.  There is seeming to be less and less room for specific visions within the films themselves.  Already Civil War looks less like a Captain America film and more like a mid season replacement for the regular Avengers.

Marvel Studios needs to start looking to expand their product.   Movies that are not connected to the Avengers and movies that might even be outside their theatrical universe. Warner Brothers has shifted films based on Vertigo comics to New Line.  Marvel needs to start exploring movies that are based in some of their more independent books.

As it stands, their vision and commitment to the Avengers franchise is becoming to restrictive to allow them to work with directors uncomfortable with making a film that serves the bigger puzzle.

With Warning (Calvary, 2014)

To be honest, I expected Calvary to be a somewhat plodding movie.  I thought it would be “Gee, it was good, but kinda slow.”

Calvary_movieposterInstead, it begins with a bang.  Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is in the confessional, but instead of a confession, he is given an unrepentant threat to his life.  The “confessor” tells of having been molested for several years by a Priest.  Father James asks if he has sought therapy or made an accusation.  But this sick priest is dead, so the confessor feels there is no chance for justice there.  And really, what good would it do to take his life were he still alive?  No, the confessor believes a truly bolder statement would be to kill a good and trusted priest.  He gives Father James one week to get his affairs in order.

As the week proceeds, Father James does little to try and prevent this threat to occur, instead, he tries to go about his life, helping the community around him, trying to help a community that has given up hope heal.  You wonder who might be the person who made the threat…Father James seems to recognize the voice.  And even when they meet on that fateful day, Father James seeks to bring healing.  Knowing what he may be going towards, he still takes the time to connect with the people in his community.  He seeks to help the man who has made it his purpose to end Father James’ life.

There is a great exchange that occurs late in the film…Father James is speaking with his daughter and says, “There is too much talk about sins and not enough about virtues.”  His daughter asks, “What would be your number one?” He responds, “I think forgiveness has been highly underrated.”

There is another bit about how dangerous people are who want to be hated and despised.  I think that is true.  There is a bizarre form of self righteousness that can occur in people who enjoy being hated.  They feel as if being hated justifies their belief.  People hate them because they are right.

Calvary is full of sly, dark humor and emotion.  It is easy to root for Gleeson, for he is a good priest.  This is not a story where we find out that he harbors all sorts of dark secrets.  No, he genuinely seems to care about his community.  He loves his daughter and feels regrets for retreating after her mother died.

It is a very well written film that is worth seeing.  If I had seen it last year?  It (like Locke) would have made my top ten of 2014 list.

I was asked what the title of the film means.  I believe my explanation is correct…but it is a huge spoiler to reveal it.  So read on only if you want to ruin the ending of the film. Read More