Tag Archives: Robocop

Peppermint

9 Sep

‘Peppermint’: Jennifer Garner takes her turn in not-so-fresh parental revenge action genre

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There’s nothing minty or fresh to “Peppermint,” the hard-boiled throwback from Pierre Morel who covered similar terrain with “Taken” back in 2008. That psychological actioner starring Liam Neeson as a relentless pa out to reclaim his daughter from kidnappers proved a surprisingly effective B-grade thriller. Here, unfortunately, the amiable Jennifer Garner spreading her wings as an avenging angel has a lot less to work with in terms of nuance and character, though the film far exceeds “Taken” in brutality and head count. Comparisons to “Old Boy” or “John Wick” would be fair.

The film begins accordingly with a bloody struggle inside a boxy sedan in predawn Los Angeles. In those tight confines, Garner’s Riley North eventually gains the upper hand and lets a bullet fly into the cranium of a highly tatted gangbanger. The thing you admire most about the whole affair and its aftermath is Riley’s steely resolve and professional efficiency. You know she’s done this before. The how and why of that get answered quickly as we flash back five years, with Riley now a Girl Scout-leading soccer mom. Things are pretty tight for the Norths: Riley works part time in a bank while her loving yet flawed husband Chris (Jeffery Hephner) labors in a garage while figuring out his next big move. Unwisely, he listens (just listens) to an offer to be part of a crew to rob a drug lord by the fantastically generic name of Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), who, as the film says over and over, is the Mr. Big of the L.A. crime scene. The offer gets turned down, but Garcia’s already caught wind of the job and takes out Chris and Riley’s 9-year-old daughter (Cailey Fleming) in a drive-by. Riley sees the whole ordeal – in repeat slow-mo – and even though she IDs the shooters to the police, once in court, the defense attorney smugly flips the case. The judge won’t listen to Riley’s plea and the prosecutors don’t seem to care. The shooter goes free. An enraged Riley is cuffed, dragged out of court and prepped for a mental institution. Continue reading

Upgrade

5 Jun

‘Upgrade’: Victim of attack has a question: ‘Siri, how do I get my gruesome revenge?’

 

The name Logan Marshall-Green might not ring a bell immediately; he played the first scientist in Ridley Scott’s “Alien” reboot, “Prometheus” (2013) affected by the alien, his eyes going black and turning into something of a berserker before getting torched by a flamethrower and run over by a bus. Seeing “Upgrade,” a sci-fi take by longtime “Saw” collaborator Leigh Whannell (working with James Wan), it seems these are desirable acting skills, as rough, good-looking Marshall-Green plays another intrepid protagonist similarly subjected to violent torment and put through a nasty physical transformation. The good news for his Grey Trace is that the brutal smackdown happens upfront in this film; then it’s time for the upgraded Grey to lay down his own brand of ass-kicking.

Set in the near future where driverless cars are the norm and criminals and vagrants roam the littered cityscape, Grey and his wife are beset upon in a vehicle that goes way off course. It doesn’t end well – she’s dead; he might as well be. A few days later Grey’s up, learning to walk again, a super computer chip implanted in his head to help make all connections to the nerves that make him go. He also hears voices in his head: his own personal Siri, that, if Grey grants permission to take control, can use his body in lightning-fast ways. In short, he becomes his own personal “Terminator” on the trail of getting revenge on the posse of vermin who offed his wife. 

Natch, there’s a fly in the ointment – corporate espionage, bottom lines and more that drive the bigger picture, and themes right out of “Frankenstein” or “Blade Runner” (1982) – but it’s all a device for Grey to tap into his inner HAL and hack up henchmen, some of whom have guns implanted in their arms; one who can sneeze deadly spores.

In the end, the clear borrowing from the great, snarky original 1987 “RoboCop” (near-future cityscape and all) almost overpowers “Upgrade.” It’s not nearly as sharp or socially biting, but does have a fresh, whimsical take on tomorrow – “Her” (2013) on crack and very angry. Whannell could have played the camp angle for more; as is, the dark and violent approach works largely thanks to Marshall-Green selling his wonder and horror so effectively. Besides genre fans, “Upgrade” is likely to prove a fun, forgettable watch, more a reboot than the next version.

Chappie

7 Mar

‘Chappie’: This RoboCop is street smart, and South Africa’s better than ‘Elysium’

whitespace https://player.vimeo.com/video/117160271 Is Neill Blomkamp the next M. Night Shyamalan? Hard to tell from his latest, “Chappie,” a near-future tale in which a robo-cop gets infused with AI and falls in with the wrong crowd. The good news is that Blomkamp’s third feature is a step up from the pedantically plotted “Elysium” – but it’s nowhere near his cutting-edge debut, “District 9,” which had sci-fi fans hoping for the next coming of Ridley Scott and James Cameron (the early incarnations). 030615i Chappie b“Chappie” also takes Blomkamp back to his native South Africa and the grimy post-apocalyptic ghettos where “D9” took place, where the FX auteur clearly feels more at ease. Much of what transpires is borrowed heavily from Paul Verhoeven’s brilliantly biting satire, “RoboCop” especially “The Moose” – a clear (homage?) clone of the mega bipedal ED-209 that RoboCop has to go titanium to titanium with. It’s 2016 and Jo’Burg (Johannesburg) has remedied its rampant crime by contracting with an arms manufacturer to build and deploy humanoid droids to embed with police forces. They make great shields, hardly miss and never tire. Chappie is essentially scrap parts, put together by an engineer more interested in science than big bangs or big bucks (Dev Patel from “Slumdog Millionaire”) and injected with code that can allow him to learn, feel and essentially be human sans the flesh. Problem is, Jo’Burg is rife with thug life, mostly ripped, tatted white guys with grillz and cornrows who clearly model themselves after Gary Oldman in “True Romance.” Through a plot twist not worth going into, Chappie ends up in the hands of Die Antwoord. What, you’re probably asking? That’s the name of a South African music act (give a google and watch a few videos and be amused or horrified, as it may be) and the duo, Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser, play street punks (I’m not sure if there’s any real acting, as the pair maintain their name and smash mouth personas) who pull Chappie into their service as he begins to learn and grown his consciousness – hopefully in time for the big heist.  Continue reading