Down From the Shelf ~ RoboCop (1987)

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robocop
The Facts
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Synopsis: In a dystopic and crime-ridden Detroit, a terminally wounded cop returns to the force as a powerful cyborg haunted by submerged memories.

Stars: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Ray Wise, Paul McCrane

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Rated: R

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Released in the summer of 1987 on the same day as Jaws: The Revenge and a re-issue of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, RoboCop was a unique package that landed at the right time amongst the larger studio fare being offered.  Keep in mind that this was also the summer of The Untouchables, Predator, The Witches of Eastwick, Spaceballs, and Dirty Dancing (are you nostalgic yet?) and if you comb through the other films released that year you’d be able to tell why Paul Verhoeven’s dark comedy sci-fi was able to make its way to the fifteenth highest grossing picture of the year.

Yeah, I called RoboCop a dark comedy…because there’s ample amount of wink-wink-nudge-nudge references to pop culture and the changing face of news as entertainment.  Peppered in between the story of a cop killed in the line of action reborn as “Part Man, Part Machine, All Cop” are hysterically lampoon-y commercials and the kind of graphic news footage that still wouldn’t be accepted in today’s society.  Casting Entertainment Tonight television personality Leeza Gibbons as a news anchor was a nice touch in riding the line between hard hitting news and the carefully lobbed barbs at the kind of fluff stories Gibbons was accustomed to dishing on.

Comedy aside, its remarkable how ahead of its time the film was.  Though some of the effects don’t play quite as well nowadays, it’s still a very watchable action/sci-fi film thanks to Verhoeven’s gonzo direction and the sleek special effects.make-up from Rob Bottin.  Admittedly, the plot is a bit thin from screenwriters Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, never really building upon its own original concept.  It feels half-baked and not as fully thought-out as you may remember it being.

Peter Weller makes for a nice leading man even though the top half of his face is obscured for much of the middle half of the film.  A last minute replacement to the cast, Nancy Allen would get more to do in future RoboCop installments (none of which are half as good as this) so here she’s regulated to a Girl Friday role more than anything.  As far as 80’s villains go, you couldn’t ask for smarmier candidates than Ronny Cox and Miguel Ferrer, both are scene-stealing wonders as executives that stretch their roles into high camp.

Originally given the dreaded X rating for its copious amounts of gore, the restored film is pretty graphic but given the package it’s delivered in there’s a way to laugh off some of the more squirm inducing moments.  A fun movie to revisit…especially for those of us that remember when the film was first released.

Movie Review ~ Vampire Academy

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Rose, a rebellious Guardian-in-training and her best friend, Lissa – a royal vampire Princess – have been on the run when they are captured and returned to St.Vladamirs Academy, the very place where they believe their lives may be in most jeopardy.

Stars: Zoey Deutch, Lucy Fry, Danila Kozlovsky, Gabriel Byrne, Sarah Hyland, Joely Richardson, Cameron Monaghan, Sami Gayle, Claire Foy, Ashley Charles, Olga Kurylenko

Director: Mark Waters

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 104 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: Vampire Academy sucks.  It bites.  It’s a stake through the heart of YA adaptations capitalizing on the success of franchise films like the Harry Potter series and, to a lesser extent than you might imagine, Twilight.  It’s toothless in its construction and bloodless in its execution.  Yes, my fangs are bared and my bad puns are all but used up for this cheap looking, badly acted mess that could have gone so right but finds itself oh so very wrong.

With the director of Mean Girls (Mark Waters) and the writer of Heathers (Daniel Waters, yep, they’re brothers) involved I was expecting a nice mash-up of those two films with a little bit of Jawbreaker thrown in for good measure.  Sadly, none of the sparks that made those movies a pleasure (guilty or otherwise) exist here so we’re left to wonder what in the hell went askew.

When a film isn’t screened for critics it’s usually never a positive sign but there was something that compelled me to see the film anyway, possibly hoping that this high school fantasy was just not designed for critical consumption.  Based on the first novel in Richelle Mead’s popular series, the film follows Rose (Zoey Deutch, daughter of 80’s royalty Lea Thompson and director Howard Deutch) and Lissa (Lucy Fry), two girls bonded together by an age-old prophecy and their (mis)adventures in a prestigious boarding school for vampires.

An early prologue contains so much rote exposition to bring the audience up to speed that I half expected the actors to start saying things like “I’m opening a door. I’m sitting on a bed.  I’m looking dazed at the moment”.  Filmed in such non-descript locales suggesting the filmmakers secretly filmed in IKEA showrooms, it’s not long before Rose and Lissa are back on the ground of St. Vladimrs Academy and thrust back into a dangerous plot…the one thing Daniels Waters script doesn’t bother to flesh out.

Remember that scene in Showgirls where veteran dancer Cristal Connors asks newbie Nomi Malone to rehearse with her, only to have a cat fight stop rehearsal five seconds in?  There are at least three of passages like that here with Rose getting “trained” by the hunky Dimitri (Danila Kozlovsky) in enough time for the two to engage in badly timed fight choreography that ends with them staring longingly  at each other.  While Deutch has an Ellen Page vibe about her that’s mildly engaging, Kozlovsky is pretty much just an Aqua di Gio ad come to life.

This lack of personality in its characters is really where the film trips and falls, we can excuse Deutch’s milquetoast line readings for a while but when she’s paired with Fry the tone becomes incredibly deadly.  About as appealing as a glass of room temperature milk, Fry is supposed to be a regal princess but her cracking voice and penchant for wearing ankle length skirts gives off more Amish Princess than Vampire Royal.  The costume and make-up design is across the board awful and I can’t imagine any of the women in the film were happy that they wound up with rouged cheeks that suggest a playful three year old applied it.

The film earns two whole stars for including two bits of biting dialogue that hints at the direction the film should have gone.  Both occur too late in the film to save us from abject misery but in the hands of Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace, Oblivion) and Sarah Hyland they were the most memorable moments of an entirely forgettable film.  Never deciding if it wants to be a satiric black comedy or a dewey young adult fantasy, it winds up turning to dust the moment the lights come up.

Laughably (but laudably) ending with the promise of a sequel, this movie should never have happened.  Even if the airwaves are chock full of vampire series right now, this would have been much better suited as a weekly television series because the episodic nature would have made more sense.  To the big screen the money hungry producers went, though, leaving the film to go the way of other franchise non-starters like Beautiful Creatures and The Mortal Instruments: The City of Bones.  Terrible.