Burning Love (Iron Man 3, 2013)

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When they announced Iron Man 3’s villain there was concern  The Mandarin was a character with a rather troubling past.  An evil magical Asian.  Then they announced he was being played by Ben Kingsley.  He isn’t an example of Whitewashing exactly (Kingsley is not white).  But in the end, this was not the big concern for most viewers.  Favreau was out…Lethal Weapon scribe Shane Black was in.

Borrowing from the comic’s Extremis story-line, Tony runs into a guy trying to outdo his armor by creating soldiers who don’t need armor.  They are living weapons.  The problem is that they are volatile and prone to exploding.  Then there is the mysterious terrorist the Mandarin.  As Tony finds the situation escalating, he goes into hiding.  He is still struggling with Post Traumatic Stress for the alien invasion in the Avengers.  As it all comes together Tony discovers a few twists, including the possibility the terrorist organization does not even exist.

As usual, the cast is stellar, and Kingsley’s reveal is entertaining.  Though as the Mandarin he has this weird southern drawl that seems…out of place. But other than that, the performances  are quite good.

Of all the action sequences, there is a sequence where Iron Man saves people in freefall that is just great.

The effects are strong, though at times the powers seem arbitrary.  People with Extremis technology exhibit some really random powers (such as breathing fire). They do look pretty cool though.  Also, the ending seems to make no sense.  Tony destroys all his armor for…I guess…reasons?  It feels like they were trying to put a stamp of closure on the Iron Man franchise when we knew he would be back for another Avenger’s movie.

All in all, I found Iron Man 3 a bit of an improvement over the second film.  It has intrigue, action and humor.

 

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Part 1 (Deep Star Six, 1989)

Deepstar_Six_Poster1989 saw three competing sci-fi/horror films.  One stood out above the other two, but we will get to that one later.

First up is Sean Cunningham’s Deep Star Six.  Cunningham was known primarily for producing and directing the first Friday the 13th.  He is probably more well known for his producer credits.

It is the story of an underwater nuclear test facility.    One morning they discover an underwater cavern.  it apparently housed a whole underwater ecology of it’s own…and it sets free a large creature that starts working it’s way through the crew.  The creature turns out to be a large and ancient crab-like beast.   It damages the sea base, forcing the remaining crew to figure out a way to decompress and then take them to the surface.  oh, and the creature stands between them and the only remaining way to get to the surface.

While the effects are decent, there is nothing that this film offers in chills or scares.  It’s most redeeming quality is that it has a pretty good cast.  It is loaded with talented character actors.  And Greg Evigan (who seemed like he would be on a big star path before he joined the Tekwar Franchise) is pretty likable as the fish out of water, so to speak. but the film itself is only memorable in that it was competing for audiences against two other films with similar  concepts in the same year.

More Man Than Machine (Robocop, 1987)

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.

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