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Robocop

The Past • About Last Night

February 20, 2014

Robocop (**) PG-13

I suppose the best thing that one can say about the remake of Robocop is that it isn’t the total train wreck that any of you might be expecting but that’s faint praises. It had all of the earmarks of a cinematic blunder that the majority of these unnecessary remakes carry with them but what salvages the picture—surprise—is the human element. The scenes illuminating the relationship between wounded police officer turned robot, Alex Murphy, and his family are some of the best stuff in the film and I’ll readily admit that it’s something that the 1987 version was sorely missing. Too bad there isn’t just a little bit more of it and perhaps this Robocop wouldn’t be classified middling at best.

What the new Robocop is lacking, however, is the cutting satirical humor and zippy violence that made the original such an entertaining film. The new Robocop is rated PG-13 and with that rating comes a less gritty version of the future than the one portrayed in the original film. The violence in the original Robocop was so grisly that at one point it was stamped with the dreaded X rating before being trimmed by a few minutes in order to receive a rating of R. The violence in the updated Robocop is so light and cartoonish that taking older children to see it wouldn’t be unthinkable as I’m sure that’s what the marketers had in mind in the first place.

The film is again set in a Detroit of the future, 2028 to be precise. Samuel L. Jackson, as a Fox News Network styled commentator delivering the only lines that will come close to putting a smile on audience faces, explains in a pre-credit sequence how drones have been used successfully in the military for years.

Joel Kinnaman & Gary Oldman in Robocop

This of course is a set up for the meat of the story, as multinational corporation Omnicorp is contemplating bringing the drones to the home front but using the technology on a human specimen instead.

Meanwhile, Detroit Officer, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), has been on an undercover operation, the trail of which leads all the way to the Detroit Police Department. When he winds up on the receiving of a car bomb he becomes the perfect specimen for Omnicorp to test their technology. All goes well until Robocop decides to expose the corruption in city government which leads to Omnicorp head Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) giving the go-ahead to destroy the man/machine, a decision with which his creator, Norton (Gary Oldman) finds himself in disagreement.

If the new Robocop is taken on its own terms, perhaps audiences will find it at the very least tolerable. Those who came of age in the eighties and know the original well are certainly going to come up short here. Paul Verhoeven, the director of the original, was the perfect filmmaker to tackle that type of material. Jose Padhila, the director of this version, just doesn’t have the same sensibility of Verhoeven. What we get instead is Robocop lite.

The Past (***) NR

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s The Past, the filmmaker’s follow up to his Oscar winning 2011 film A Separation, has much in common with that film and his overall body of work in general. It’s a powerfully observational drama dealing with the messy domestic webs that humans weave and the resulting dysfunctional scars. It doesn’t quite pack the punch that Farhadi’s last film managed to, mainly due to a tendency toward overlength, but it comes awfully close and will certainly not disappoint fans of the filmmaker’s output. When one takes into consideration what an emotionally devastating piece of filmmaking that A Separation was, it’s no easy feat to pull off. Still, Farhadi successfully completes the task by mining the waters of troubled families once again in his unique way. Frankly, I hope he’s just getting started on this subject.

The Past is interesting in that its filmmaker is Iranian and yet the film is French and, of course, subtitled in that language.

Berenice Bejo & Ali Mosaffa in The Past

Perhaps Farhadi is attempting to make a point that the domestic issues that he has chosen to explore again are universal, which they certainly are. I’m not really sure, but it’s interesting to watch a director with Farhadi’s background tackle a similar subject as his last film in what must have been an unfamiliar cultural setting. Whatever the case may be, Farhadi is a master at picking apart the nuances of relationships and The Past is a terrific showcase for numerous scenes that make his points in a powerful manner.

The film stars Berenice Bejo, whom most American moviegoers will know from her role in the 2011 Best Picture Oscar winner The Artist (She won Best Actress at Cannes last year for her role in The Past.) Here she’s Marie, a thirty-something pharmacist who’s already on her way to a third marriage. As the film opens, Marie is picking up her previous husband Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) at the airport in order for her to finalize her divorce from the man and move on with a new life that involves yet another potential husband. Ahmad has been away for four years and obviously anticipates that ending things with Marie will be a fairly painless process. That’s before he becomes entangled with Marie’s sixteen-year old daughter and the girl’s younger half-sister, not to mention a new addition to the family.

Marie is now serving in the role as the step-parent of her fiancee’s child, Fouad. He’s an angry boy prone to temper tantrums on a whim due to the absence of his mother, who is in an apparently irreversible coma after attempting suicide upon discovering her husband’s affair. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the messy domestic upheaval that lies at the center of Marie’s world.

It’s interesting how the character of Ahmad comes across as the sanest person in the film. He clearly thinks before acting and uses mostly good judgment in his decisions. If only Marie could do the same. She’s like a lot of people attempting to fill a void in their lives through domesticity, wrecking other lives in the process. We’ve all seen them. Kudos to Farhadi for dramatizing it so well.

About Last Night (** ½) R

Regarding the latest version of director Edward Zwick’s well remembered 1986 film About Last Night, allow me to paraphrase Sergeant Joe Friday of the television show, Dragnet: ‘The film is the same, only the locale and the ethnic race of the lead characters has been changed.’ That line will give you a pretty good idea what to expect when signing on to director Steve Pink’s take on this film, another in a seemingly endless line of unnecessary remakes that may win some new fans, but will not erase memories of the original film by any stretch of the imagination.

Director Pink’s biggest success prior to this film was the 2010 comedy, Hot Tub Time Machine. He, along with writer Leslye Headland, do a credible job of updating David Mamet’s play, which served as the basis for the original film. It’s a good balance of romance, comedy and drama for the most part and, if nothing else, will serve as one the rare examples where the casting of comedic actor Kevin Hart actually works in tandem with the film’s material.

I’ll come clean and let it be known that I’m no fan of Kevin Hart’s onscreen comedic persona. However, in the role of Bernie, which was amply filled by James Belushi in the original, Hart is perfectly cast. The rest of the actors are well chosen in terms of fleshing out the characters we remember so well from the first film and it’s to the film’s benefit.

Michael Ealy & Joy Bryant

The locale of this version of About Last Night has been changed from Chicago to Los Angeles and the characters are African American. I suppose that’s so that the filmmakers can’t be accused of not attempting to do something a bit different with the material. The story’s template, however, is pretty much the same one featured in the original film.

Here we have Bernie (Hart) and Danny (Michael Ealy), both of whom work for a food supply business. Bernie, the less serious of the two, spends most of his off-time chasing women and drinking. Danny, the more contemplative of the two, is still reeling from his last failed relationship as he attempts to learn what happened. When Bernie, courtesy of his latest fling, Joan (Regina Hall), introduces Danny to her friend, Debbie (Joy Bryant), the two unexpectedly fall madly and passionately in love while Bernie and Joan fight like cats and dogs. The question remains, however, as to whether Danny and Debbie can weather the storms relationships may bring, in spite of their best efforts to do so.

About Last Night is much better than it has a right to be and I guess that’s enough to give it a small recommendation. As is usually the case, it will certainly fare best with those who haven’t seen the original. But the truth is there’s nothing really new here in spite of any honest intentions of the filmmakers.

The Past is at the Regal Park Terrace Six in Charlotte. About Last Night & Robocop are playing everywhere.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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