Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Thor: The Dark World (2013) movie review

Overall verdict: 7/10

The Good: Spectacular production design, top notch acting, excellent cast chemistry, epic story that expands the franchise, significant character development

The Bad: drop in standard of special effects, forgettable villain, muddled plot, badly timed humor, disappointing soundtrack

3D Readiness: None. Post Production 3D conversion. Fast paced and tight action scenes do not lend well to 3D.
IMax-ability: None.

Lightning does not strike twice with the follow up to 2011's THOR. Thor The Dark World does not live up to the standard set by its predecessor. Although it ups the ante with the action, it lacks that personal focus of the first movie. Thankfully, a stellar cast and amazing chemistry saves the movie from falling into mindless blockbuster territory.

With a combined movie universe, it begs the question of how come other heroes do not appear to intervene in the various world shattering crises that other heroes face in their individual movies. THOR: THE DARK WORLD provides just such an explanation by setting most of its action off earth. After the events of AVENGERS, Thor leads an Asgardian force to bring peace back to the 9 realms. On earth Jane Foster, Thor's love interest from the first film, stumbles on an anomalous place with portals that transports items, and herself, to another world; the so called "Dark World". There, she unwittingly bonds with an ancient weapon of tremendous power called the Aether. This alerts the evil Dark Elves, technologically advanced ancient enemies of Asgard, and their leader Malekith.

As villains go, Malekith and his Dark elves are no where as memorable as one would have hoped. Like a crossbreed of LORD OF THE RINGS's Uruk-Hai with STAR WAR's Sith Lords and Clone Troopers. They have superpowered "Kursed" warriors, who are like Berserkers on steroids, they have space age technology centered around the manipulation of gravity (and novel use of mini-black hole grenades); all these are quite cool but seem to clash with the more fantasy-tech of Asgard. Malekith himself is a one note villain who is out to destroy all realms. Zero depth, zero development. Then again, what do you expect? He is not the star of this movie.

What Thor The Dark World succeeds very much in is its world building. It crafts and expands upon the Marvel movie universe, adding much needed history and depth to the people of Asgard. This depth extends to the characters; this time focused mainly on the relationship between Thor, Loki and their parents. While Chris Hemsworth does a marvellous job as a heroic yet humble Thor, Tom Hiddelston is magnificent as Loki. He just oozes nuance in his performance, portraying the trickster as a truly tormented soul torn between the love for his mother and the hatred for his brother. You never know his true intentions or where his loyalties lie. If anything, this is more of a Loki movie than a Thor movie where your tragic villain outshines the titular character, stealing every scene he is in.

Sadly, this leads to all the problems inherent in the movie. THOR: THE DARK WORLD has a great story. Yet its execution is muddled in direction and its general look and feel. Also, its character development is almost non existent except for Loki. As it opens up the Marvel cinematic universe into the far reaches of space age science fiction, the whole thing feels very much like the "Star Wars" prequels. High speed chases in space ships accompany the ever present  laser guns, cloaking technology and plasma turrets. That sequence where Thor and Loki escape a blockaded Asgard with Jane just reeks of a similar scene in STAR WARS EPISODE 1. 

Then there are the romance and comedy. For most of the movie you have Thor and Jane pinning for each other like teenage love birds. Once together, they clearly look like they should be in love yet there is feeling of "fakeness" to their romance. Thankfully such scenes are few, with the focus on bigger action. In this department, the movie does not disappoint. The action is clearly of an epic scale and the stakes are high. Yet the movie sees fit to throw in as much inappropriate humor as possible into such heavy scenes. The humor just does not fit and in fact pulls us out of the moments. Moments where reality itself is crumbling and a character cracks a joke just feels like Disney at work again, killing another chance to take comic book superheroes seriously.

Alas THOR: THE DARK WORLD is not a bad movie, it is good. It is just not as good as the first THOR movie, and this is likely due to executive meddling trying to get all new Marvel movies to follow the tone of Avengers. In trying to squeeze different types of stories into a single mold (no doubt to further cement their shared universe concept), you kill what made the concept great to begin with. Gone is Patrick Doyle's unique and spirit lifting symphony replaced by Brian Tyler's disappointing rehash of his CHILDREN OF DUNE soundtrack spliced with LORD OF THE RINGS and (believe it or not) Marvel's AVENGERS.

In a similar vein, gone is what made THOR unique to begin with. It may not be a typical mindless blockbuster, but it is becoming a typical Marvel movie. Like Iron Man 3, like Avengers, and quite possible like all subsequent marvel movies; chock full of comedy, big action and cartoon style dialogue with no effort to try and take superheroes seriously or to craft a deep themed tale of costumed vigilantes gifted with awesome powers.
*****************************Review End***************************

Entertainment: B+
Story: B-
Acting: A
Characters: A-
Music: C+
Replay value: B+
"Brains": D+

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Robocop: Prime Directives (2001) miniseries review

Overall verdict: 5/10

The Good: R-rated violence, social satire, well developed plot of a machine regaining his humanity

The Bad: dated special effects, overall cheap feel, badly portrayed Robocop, scifi cliches, illogical plot twists, unremarkable directing, overusage of skip frame slo-mo, bad fight scenes.

3D Readiness: none
IMax-ability: none


Three movies, a live action TV series and two cartoons later, ROBOCOP returns with a made-for-TV miniseries “ROBOCOP: PRIME DIRECTIVES”. This miniseries consisted of four movies which attempted to bring back the gritty and darker tone of the first movie, as well as some social satire.  For all intents and purposes, what we have is an ambitious project limited by lack of budget and inexperience of the creative team.
Our story begins 10 years after the first movie (ignoring the continuity of the other movies and TV series). Robocop is obsolete and weary of his years trying to bring peace to the crime ridden Delta City. 
The megacorporation OCP, who runs the city, is experiencing inner turmoil among the management. Due to new policies preventing use of lethal force by the police, a crime wave is sweeping the city. From Kamikaze gangs to a psycho in Halloween armour armed with machine guns and rockets, this town is going to hell. Fortunately, they have a new kick ass police commander JohnCable; a dual pistol wielding ol fashioned cowboy cop. 
Oh, and Robocop, the supposedly invincible enforcer of law who spends the entire miniseries getting owned.
Every character goes on about how awesome Robocop is, every criminal mentions his name in fear, you never see that. What you get is Robocop being
knocked down,
 and pretty much getting his big metal butt handed to him in every combat scene

. He only manages to take down people who refuse to take cover in a firefight. This brings me the portrayal of Robocop himself played by Page Fletcher. Fletcher is a fine actor, able to convey heavy emotions with his voice and mannerism. He is not, however, I anyway suited to the role. For starters, he is  short. As in really short.
And the bulky oversized armour only makes him look shorter. Everyone including the old female scientist is taller than him.

And although he can act, he can’t seem to portray body language. His Robocop is a stumbling dwarf, always marching with his fists balled up.
On the flip side, with his helmet off, Robocop looks like an old man and even acts like one. Nothing is done to make him machine-like. He very visibly pants when tired, swallows hard when scared, he even sweats.


So a crappy Robocop headlines 4 made-for-TV movie length episodes of the miniseries. On the bright side, what the 4 episodes do is attempt to remake and redo some very classic elements from Robocop media history. Dark Justice, the first episode, deals with Robocop’s unseen history with his friend John Cable, an internal upheaval in OCP’s management and “Bone Machine”. Meltdown sees a much better take on a “Robocop 2” concept than the actual Robocop 2 movie; another dead cop gets turned into an unstoppable cyborg, and his first mission is to take down the original Robocop.
 Resurrection deals with OCP’s new CEO Damien Lowe and his intention to automate the whole city with a artificial intelligence named “S.A.I.N.T”, a callback to the pilot episode of the Robocop TV series where something similar happens. While this is happening, a cabal of high tech cyber terrorists are introduced and a rogue scientist named Kaydick who plans to use S.A.I.N.T for his own ends. Then, the final episode Crash and Burn sees the restoration of Robocop’s human identity as Alex Murphy. 

Throughout this story is the tale of James Murphy, son of Alex Murphy, who is now a young executive caught up in the turmoil in OCP. James must come to terms with the discovery of his father’s identity as Robocop as father slowly reunites with son.

The overall story is good for its drama. The actors are spot on in their portrayals and it is generally well written with many of the themes inherent in the original films. Of particular note is the hammy Kaydick and the absolutely obnoxious Damien. A huge plus is the miniseries return to R-Rated violence rather than the kid friendly style of fighting in the TV series and Robocop 3.

Sadly the execution is less than sub-par. Director Julian Grant brings a lazy hand to the directing and seems to have this obsession with skip-frame slo mo (the kind of jerky slo mo you get when shooting something at half the usual Frames Per Second). The overall low budget look to the production is heightened by dated special effects, unremarkable camerawork and crappy costumes. The New cyber terrorist villains have the fashion sense of the Matrix characters, all tight, black and trench coats. They have cartoony electrical powers and can move at super speed with a basic blur effect.
 The low budget is most obvious in the Robopcop suits. During action scenes, they come apart at the seams letting you clearly see the black leotard underneath.   

With this, Prime Directives sounded the death knell of the classic Robocop franchise. Perhaps in this new century of movies with fast kicking kung fu combat, high tech special effects and tighter narratives, the concept of classic Robocop as a walking tank is in itself obsolete. With this sad closure to a once remarkably original franchise, perhaps the new reboot in 2014 would be a much welcome revival of the concept.

*****************************Review End***************************

Entertainment: B-
Story:  B
Acting: B
Characters: B
Music: D+
Replay value: C+
"Brains": C-