RoboCop (2014)

February 22, 2014

Movie Review By: Mr. Roboto

Year: 2014

Directed by: José Padilha

Written by: Joshua Zetumer (screenplay), Edward Neumeier & Michael Miner (1987 screenplay)

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Moderate

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Moderate

Key Cast Members:

  • Alex Murphy / RoboCop: Joel Kinnaman
  • Jack Lewis: Michael K. Williams
  • Dr. Dennett Norton: Gary Oldman
  • Raymond Sellars (OmniCorp CEO): Michael Keaton
  • Pat Novak : Samuel L. Jackson
  • Clara Murphy: Abbie Cornish
  • David Murphy : John Paul Ruttan
Rating: 6 out of 10

RoboCop (2014)

You’ve been wondering what the new RoboCop is like. Brace yourselves…

Overview: The original RoboCop has become one of the “must see” cyberpunk films, one that needs to be in everyone’s cyberpunk movie collection. Now, José Padilha has made an updated version of Paul Verhoeven’s masterpiece, leaving many to ask that inevitable question:

Why would you do that?

Well, much has changed in the world since Peter Weller first donned the RoboCop suit to rid old Detroit of crime. The original was not only a classic story of a man’s death and rebirth as avenging angel, but there was a statement of American consumerism of the 80s as shown in the built-in “commericals”. The new version deals more with America’s reliance on drones to fight wars, the possibility of autonomous drones being used, and of the radical ultra-conservative elements that have cropped up since the end of the Regan presidency.

The Story: The movie opens with a right-wing TV program called “The Novak Element”, starring Pat Novak (Jackson)

Novack (Jackson)

Does he look like a bitch?

He has corespondents in Tehran, now under US robot control, who report on a “random” (read: FORCED) scan of the people for threats. A couple of insurgents with vest-bombs kill themselves and destroy some of the bots. One of the insurgent’s son appears with a knife in his hand and is blown away by a mech-like ED-209. The feed is cut and Novak espouses how the robots can be used to make America “safer”, but the Dreyfus Act makes such robots illegal. OmniCorp, a division of Omni Consumer Products, made the robots.

OmniCorp wants the Dreyfus Act terminated so they can sell the robots for American law enforcement use, increasing their profits and achieve world dominance, even though public opinion is against the idea of autonomous drones. Their solution: Create a law enforcement cyborg, a man inside the machine, to sway public opinion, beginning by using a permanently disabled cop.

Detective Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) and partner Sgt. Lewis (Williams) have been tracking crime lord Antoine Vallon, but Vallon is tipped off and Lewis is seriously injured requiring hospitalization. While visiting his partner, Murphy’s car has a bomb planted on it by one of Vallon’s men. It explodes at his home, nearly killing him. He awakens three months later, in his new cyborg body and software thanks to consent of his wife, Clara (Cornish). Murphy doesn’t want to be RoboCop, but is convinced by Dr. Norton (Oldman) to “be strong for his wife and son” and begins training with Rick Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley) who seriously doubts Murphy will stand up to highly stressful and/or emotional situations where drones would not be so hindered.

Notable differences. As you can tell, there are some major differences between the two RoboCops. First off, Lewis undergoes the Rule 63 (aka “gender swap”) treatment, and is now a Sargent… and black. OCP, the megacorp that privatized the Detroit police, is now a parent company with OmniCorp as the robotics subsidiary. The “news” is now a right-wing propaganda machine run by the brilliant performance of Samuel L. Jackson (again, does he look like a bitch?). The violence has been toned down considerably… well less bloody anyway. The ED-209s are now mecha-sized, there are more of them, and they are often accompanied by human-sized ED-208s (I think that was the model number used).

Of course, much has changed in the twenty-seven since since the franchise first booted up, so the differences will come as a shock to those who have been watching since those heady early days of cyberpunk. But the biggest shock(s) vets may encounter will definitely be from Robo himself.

RoboCop (2014) - Noticing his new skin.

“What the hell did you do to me? “

Paint it black. Perhaps the most jarring changes were made to Murphy/Robo himself, primarily in his armor. Oh, it starts as the classic silver-and-black scheme, but CEO Sellars (Keaton) wanted him to look more “tactical,” so black is the new… armor. It’s been said to make him look more insect like,

RoboCop (2014) - New paint scheme and bike
but it’s actually more of a streamlined borg appearance.

But the biggest change to Murphy is also where the film tends to fall apart most: The original Murphy died and came back as a robo-revenant to avenge himself. This time around, Murphy doesn’t die. That alone kind of puts a damper on the philosophical discussions of whether a human mind can be put into a robot body and still be like before. Here, his mind (well, his whole head… and lungs… and heart… and windpipe) lives on in the new shell.

That doesn’t mean he can’t still be treated like a machine; When he fails a simulation, Dr. Norton tries to “reprogram” Murphy to make him think that all his actions are under his conscious control, even though he’s still running a program. Later, when the upload of the police database causes Murphy to overload emotionally, Dr. Norton reduces his dopamine levels to where he becomes an emotionless robot, even ignoring his own wife and son.

It’s not just OmniCorp that mistreats the new Murphy; It seems everyone involved with getting the Dreyfus act revoked is now using him as their poster boy, their messiah… their “tool” to mechanize America. Even as Murphy “comes to his senses” and goes rogue to solve his own attempted murder the ultra-conservatives and OmniCorp try to spin the events as showing how corruptible humans are and how machines would not be. They even plan to “martyr” Murphy out of fear because his wife went to the press because OmniCorp would not let her see him and might reveal what they did to him. Poor Murph can’t get a break.

But like I said before, much has changed since the 80s. “Hair metal, glam metal,” or whatever-they-want-to-call-it-these-days metal has long had its party ruined by some coffee-gulping Seattle punks which lead to… whatever they call that shit on the radio now (can’t be music). Conspicuous consumerism has been eroded to conspicuous consumer pessimism while megacorps suck up the wealth like some hybrid octopus/shop-vac. And obviously, that one day… which lead to the NSA’s global panopticon and current planet-sized prison. Naturally, if a reboot needed to be made it would have to show the world in current terms as opposed to past expectations, but you’d think they would keep some of the philosophical aspect of Murphy’s transformation. Well, they do, but not in terms of death and rebirth. Rather, Murphy’s transformation and subsequent treatment is more about the dehumanization of a man, and possibly the whole of humanity, in the name of “security”, “peace”, and PROFITS.

RoboCop (2014) - Training

It looks like someone’s been watching Equilibrium.

Conclusion: Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop was certainly the jewel of 80s cyberpunk, and its theme of death and resurection will make this an all-time classic. But you can’t blame José Padilha for wanting to update it to reflect current world events; The times they are a-changin’ (Bob Dylan) and even RoboCop can use an upgrade every so often. The movie works on its own with its theme of corporate dehumanization, so newbies have something to look forward to. As for us veterans… you have been warned.

ONE MORE THING: Samuel L. Jackson… DOES HE LOOK LIKE A BITCH?

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Rust Valley

April 24, 2011

Movie Review By: Mr. Roboto

Year: 2011

Directed by: Andrew Bond & John Whoriskey

Written by: Ryan Dolton

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: High

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Moderate

Key Cast Members:

  • James Donner: Mike Orie
  • Ora: Nadine Avola
  • Rating: 7 out of 10

    Rust Valley – 35mm short. from RDolton on Vimeo.

    Overview: Our forum member Burnt Lombard brought this net short to my attention earlier this week. Actually, I had a bookmark to it on Vimeo for a while, but that version is now password locked. More recently, I seen the trailer for it on Kovac’s screener of UCF: Abstract Messiah. Now that I’ve invested the 17.5 minutes to watch, I got to give Lombard his creds for getting me to watch. Imagine, if you will, a little of what a live-action System Shock movie could be like…

     

    The Story: ASEMS pilot James Donner has spent the past 1000+ days (3 years) in space and is now on his way home for some hard-earned R-and-R. Then he gets a call from some corporate dick:

    Donner gets a call.

    “We’ve been out of contact with the Valley Isis colony for eight months now. We just received a distress signal and…”

    So much for vay-kay. Against his better judgement, Donner boards the colony when he hears a female survivor, Ora, over his radio.

    Ora

    I’d rescue that for a dollar!

    When Donner finds Ora, that when he has to make a choice…

     

    But, is it cyberpunk? Rust Valley has been tagged as cyberpunk on Vimeo, and it does make its case well. We have the ASEMS corp, though the full extent of their power and influence wasn’t revealed. There’s a bit of man-machine fusion (won’t say where due to spoiler possibility). But it’s the visuals that makes the short cyberpunk. Let’s just say that there’s a reason why it’s called RUST Valley.

    Onboard Valley Isis

     

    The audience is now deaf. Being an amateur production, and shot on 35mm film, some technical glitches are expected. But when you have to turn up the volume to hear the monitor voices, you might want to consider amplifying the microphones for the monitor actors.

    UPDATE: Burnt Lombard has uploaded the official video on Vimeo, with improved audio. It’s a bit different in other ways as well, but with the improved audio I’ve decided to upgrade its rating to 7.

     

    Conclusion: While not the most polished production, this short still manages to make for good cyberpunk viewing. And for a bonus, there’s an alternate ending that was supposed to be the original ending. This could make for a good feature… just pray that it doesn’t become the next Snakes On A Plane.

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    Repo Men

    March 22, 2010

    Movie Review By: Mr. Roboto

    Year: 2010

    Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik

    Written by: Garrett Lerner & Eric Garcia (based on his novel The Repossession Mambo)

    IMDB Reference

    Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: High

    Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: High

    Key Cast Members:

  • Remy: Jude Law
  • Jake: Forrest Whitaker
  • Beth: Alice Braga
  • Frank: Leiv Schreiber
  • Rating: 5 out of 10

  • New Eye: $345K
  • New Heart: $975K
  • New Liver: $756K
  • New Kidney: $524K
  • Not Making Payments for 90 Days: YOUR ASS!
  • Remy at work

    “Relax, it’s totally painless! I won’t feel a thing! Besides, once you’re dead you won’t even notice.”

    Overview: The timing of this movie’s release is eerie. Originally scheduled for April 2, it was instead released March 19, the same weekend that the US Congress scheduled a vote on Health Care Reform. Coincidence? Maybe, but this film could be considered a vision to what could happen if HCR fails (or succeeds, depending on how you want to look at it). No, cities won’t turn into a Blade Runner landscapes, but a corporation does finds a way to make its “customers” live on borrowed time… literally and figuratively… while they profit.

     

    The Story: Megacorporation “The Union” has apparently cornered the market on artificial organs, or “artiforgs.” This, plus a (continuing) global economic meltdown, has made such implants a very expensive purchase, even to save a life. To make them affordable to those who can’t buy outright, The Union has financing plans available similar to today’s car and/or home loans. But there is a downside to such financing; Fail to make a payment for 90 days, and The Union will send repossession men to retrieve the organ. The organs have an RFID-style tracking system installed, so repo men can track down the delinquent, cut them open, and retrieve the organ. Remy (Jude Law) and Jake (Forest Whitaker), former schoolmates and soldiers, are The Union’s best repo men.

    Remy has a wife and a son, and lately, she has been pressuring Remy to switch from repossession to sales which doesn’t pay as much but would allow him to spend more time with his family. During one repossession mission, a defibrillator malfunctions and nearly kills Remy. He awakens in a hospital with a Union financed Jarvik artiforg heart… and the bill for it.

    Remy (Jude Law)

    The Corporate Brand: Not just for salarymen.

     

    Tin Man. A new heart wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world, but when Remy tries a repossession he couldn’t go thorough with it. Physically, his normally steady hands start shaking, and mentally his tell-tale heart can be heard. It’s as though losing his heart actually gives him a heart; Losing part of his humanity made him more human. His new Jarvik heart must have had an empathy attachment, since he is now unable to do repossessions… or even sales as his graphic descriptions of repossessions scares customers.

    Unable to make money, Remy soon finds himself being hunted by repo men, including his friend Jake.

     

    The cat in the… box? At a couple of moments in the movie, Remy refers to an experiment where a scientist places a cat inside a box with a machine that emits poison gas at some point. We are simultaneously alive and dead, was the scientist’s conclusion, but Remy didn’t understand what that meant until he was being hunted himself, and found himself identifying with the cat:

    We can either lick our paws and wait for the inevitable, or we can fight and claw our way out of the box.

    Remy chooses to fight his way out, and hopes to liberate other repo targets from the system.

    Repo Man chase

    “Welcome to your world, repo man.”

    OK, should be go see it? There’s not much new to see. In fact, some of the city scenes could be confused for Blade Runner, only without the spinners flying about. There is the contrast of the sterile environs of The Union’s offices (especially the “clean room” that doesn’t stay clean) and the run-down part of town known as the “black hole.” There’s also Beth, the woman who is almost nothing but artiforgs, including enhanced eyes and ears. And of course, The Union and its payment-and-repossession program that can be called predatory. Pretty much standard issue cyberpunk stuff.

    UPDATE: After having seen Repo! The Genetic Opera, I can say there is not much similar between these two movies. With Repo Men’s cyberpunk tomes vs. Repo!’s goth atmosphere, we can keep this at 5 stars.

     

    Conclusion: Can’t really say Repo Men is a great movie, or even a good one. It does it’s job well enough, but lacking originality, the current politics with health care reform… and some obligatory operational blood… may be enough to turn many off. Adequate enough to waste a couple of hours on, but only IF you’re not into operas.

    Frank (Leiv Schreiber)

    “You owe it to your family. You owe it to yourself.”
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