Monday, May 31, 2021
JUDGE DREDD and I mentioned that comparisons to ROBOCOP were inevitable. Based on a comic book that predates ROBOCOP by a number of years, JUDGE DREDD is enough of a mess that it’s possibly the more interesting film to write about. The thing is that ROBOCOP, a comic book movie not actually based on a comic book (even if parts of it maybe have been somewhat inspired by the original Judge Dredd), is pretty damn close to perfect. Once you get past that, it can be a question of what else there is to say? Still, there’s nothing wrong with trying. THE UNTOUCHABLES and DIE HARD, each of them part of a memory that is growing dimmer, yet in my head they remain as powerful as ever. But it’s also a perfect example of a movie that has gained in stature through the years as the world has continued to change around me, so its meaning has only deepened, making it look harder into Murphy’s eyes to see how much everything has been taken away from him, and how much has been taken away from us. That sense of danger is always at the forefront even as the laughs come, and this is a pretty goddamn funny movie, with the way each scene plays out making it all feel like it could go either way at any moment. Every television is presumably tuned into the same comedy show, the one with the certain catchphrase you’ll never forget, as if this view of America is essentially one giant vicious sitcom anyway, one where the laughs come when people get hurt and they don’t realize this until it’s too late. The scene that shows just how dangerous this future really is occurs not down on the mean streets, but up in a sleek executive boardroom, and even though he’s barely seen, it’s very clear that the head of it all, Daniel O’Herlihy’s CEO, known only as The Old Man, is more dangerous and powerful than anyone. Both worlds are equally nasty. It’s just that the suits are much nicer in one of them. TOTAL RECALL, he used Arnold Schwarzenegger better than few other directors ever have and he made BASIC INSTINCT all about the glory of what Sharon Stone does in front of the camera in every possible way. But in ROBOCOP, the character called RoboCop becomes part of the very essence of the filmmaking. The way he/it carefully walks down a hallway almost becomes the visual style of the film’s fluidity, so every moving shot seems to go with the next, giving it an energy that comes from the way each of the characters walk and how it defines them, so every gesture is equally important. The way the film teases out our first real glimpses of the character as he arrives at the police station comprises one of those touches throughout that have something beyond what we were expecting, and that sheer sense of physicality gives every moment an extra jolt. On the surface, subtlety has nothing to do with what Verhoeven is doing and yet the director always knows to add in certain small moments that add to things, so even what he does with silent glances between people is something, reminding us that there’s always more going on, which keeps each of those characters alive and in our heads even when they’re not around. SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE opened and instantly died), but even at this early stage ROBOCOP uses itself to glorify the concept while also making clear the storytelling limitations inherent in the very concept of the superhero film; after all, it’s about a person who no longer exists, the emotions fighting to come through and he isn’t able to have sex which most likely in the Verhoeven world means you’ll never be a complete person. His programming, after all, gives him no real awareness of the trauma brought on by the sexual assault he prevents in one scene, the male organ he shoots off just one more obstacle to help him take down the bad guy.
Saturday, May 29, 2021
STARTING OVER, this made me even more aware of the echoes found in HOW DO YOU KNOW as if he was mining the past for inspiration—the back and forth of a woman moving in with a guy she’s seeing, the rare (for films) occurrence of people using buses and even the proposal of two people having their first dinner together in silence. This film actually lets the idea play out during the date in question but even so, STARTING OVER always felt like part of a recognizable world within its own tone while this film never sheds a certain antiseptic feeling that makes it play like the whole thing was shot on a backlot even when it’s clearly filmed on location (the film is set in D.C.; parts were also shot in Philadelphia). The street scenes always look so clean, sparkly and oddly lifeless, everything constantly wet down to make them glisten without a drop of rain ever spotted. It turned up on Netflix for a period in 2020, and that continual, incessant brightness of every scene went perfectly with what has become the Netflix romantic comedy aesthetic in recent years, everything looking perfect and seemingly never part of any recognizable reality. Some of those films never seem to have any apparent goals beyond simply getting you to zone out, which at least can’t be said for HOW DO YOU KNOW, which has characters who spend much of the running time overthinking things to the breaking point. It beats the alternative these days, but it still never quite achieves a flow to allow each scene to go naturally from one moment to the next.
Thursday, May 27, 2021
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD on opening day, the place where I saw THE MASTER in 70mm twice on opening weekend each time in a packed house, the place where I saw the Sidney Lumet remake of GLORIA on opening weekend in a theater that was practically empty. There was also something else that I’ve been thinking about but I’ll get to that shortly and the very idea of this glorious place never reopening is simply unacceptable. DEMOLITION MAN, or being let out of prison at the start of the second RAMBO or being in prison for all of LOCK UP), trying to squeeze the Stallone comeback narrative of so many of his films into a sci-fi/comic book world whether it belongs or not. Judge Dredd stands in the middle of the street during his first appearance bellowing “I AM THE LAW!” to the criminals above and it feels meant to be iconic or at least a spin on his first appearance in something like COBRA but it plays like he hasn’t been let in on the joke yet.