I appear on “CTV News at 11:30” with anchor Andria Case to talk about the best movies and television to watch this weekend. This week I have a look at the Apple TV+ spy series “Slow Horses” starring Gary Oldham, the Crave mystery series “Panhandle” starring Emmy-winner Luke Kirby and the country ‘n western biographical series “George and Tammy” starring Micheal Shannon and Jessica Chastain.
“The Wizard of Oz” has lived at the very center of popular culture for more than a hundred years. David Lynch cribbed from the story for his film “Wild at Heart,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is filled with references from books and isn’t C3PO just the Tin Man in a gold suit?
A new film—actually a remake of a much-loved 1987 movie—brings a new Tin Man to town. “RoboCop” stars Joel Kinnaman as the half human, half robot police officer who struggles to find his heart.
Set in 2028 the story takes off when Detroit cop and family man Alex James Murphy (“The Killing’s” Kinnaman) is almost blown to bits by a drug dealer looking to silence him. Burnt on eighty percent of his body, missing limbs, deaf and blind in one eye, the bomb appeared to have done the job. That is until OmniCorp, a multinational company run by ruthless businessman Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) sees a marketing opportunity with the fallen hero.
The company’s totally robotic law enforcement drones are being used worldwide with effective but deadly results. OmniCorp wants to expand into the lucrative American market but is stymied by Senator Hubert Dreyfuss (Zach Grenier) and his question: How can a robot know what it means to take a life if it has never lived a life?
Murphy is the answer. The catastrophically injured officer becomes the ghost in the machine, an organic brain for a mostly robotic body in a suit tailored by Daft Punk. He’s a rootin’, tootin’ crime fighting machine, but will the human part of the robot fight its way to the surface and allow Alex to get his robo-revenge on those who have done him wrong?
Paul Verhoeven’s “RoboCop” was social satire that used ideas about corporations and privatizing the police as a jumping off point for some pointed—if action packed—commentary. Today’s “RoboCop” doesn’t have the same shock appeal.
In our world where Detroit has gone bankrupt, unable to afford decent policing and national food chains use yoga mat chemicals in their bread, the black humor of the first film is now a dark reality laced with some man-machine ennui. It’s less fun than the original, but does have some high points.
Swedish born Kinnaman gives the character a Nordic sense of ennui that would make Ingmar Bergman grin. Alex is, for a while at least, tormented by the idea of his very existence. He brings some stoicism to the role and does an OK job of jawbone acting under the heavy mask but the emotional connection that Peter Weller forged with the characters (and the audience) in the original is missing. Murphy’s wife is nicely played by Abbie Cornish but despite some scenes with her and his son David (John Paul Ruttan) the story is focused elsewhere.
More expressive are Gary Oldham and Michael Keaton. Oldham takes a generic, morally divided scientist and gives him spark, while Keaton relishes playing the bad guy. Samuel L. Jackson also livens things up as a Glen Beck type TV host who fuels the flames of controversy with incendiary statements like, “Has the US Senate become pro-crime?”
All three are big performances that stand out in a big, loud movie, but central to the story is a smaller role from Jay Baruchel as OmniCorp’s head of marketing. He’s a corporate weasel who works amoral marketing angles to make RoboCop palatable to the public. “He transforms!” he says. “Kids love it. Focus numbers are through the roof.”
Baruchel doesn’t over or underplay the character, he simply allows him to breath and in doing so creates the most chillingly realistic portrait of venality in the film. He’s the real wizard behind the curtain.
“RoboCop” is a more generic film than its predecessor. It simply doesn’t have the vulgar verve that Verhoeven brought to the original, but between the explosions and bullets it does tackle some big, timely questions about drone warfare and corporate responsibility. The movie doesn’t exactly take the time to tackle and then wrestle these ideas to the ground, but hey, at least the new suit is really cool. It’s enough to make Oz’s Tin Man jealous.
Now that the “Harry Potter” franchise has come to an end the British acting community has been forced to look for alternate employment. Luckily for them “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” was casting, putting together an ensemble cast comprised of several Potter cast-a-ways and an Oscar winner. The acting is top notch but a serious casting flaw costs the movie much of its suspense.
Based on the John le Carré bestseller the movie begins with a bungled secret mission in Budapest before bringing the action back to the highest levels of British secret service. Veteran spymaster George Smiley (Gary Oldham) is brought back from the Old Spy’s Home to uncover a Soviet mole from within the top echelons of MI6.
It’s a world of secret files, Cold War paranoiac intrigue, suspicious glances, loyalty and intelligence gathering. No James Bond stuff here, just pieces of a puzzle being put together from the edges inward. It’s an occasionally complicated story—the BBC made this into a six hour miniseries in 1979-about facts, figures and flashbacks, which is all well and good, except for one fatal casting mistake.
CAUTION! SORTA-KINDA SPOILER ALERT! The key to the story is suspense, which it has in spades, but it tips its hand by casting an Academy Award winner in a seemingly minor role. From the first appearance of this
actor (I’m trying hard not to completely give anything away here) it becomes clear that he is peripheral to the story–or is he? As the intgue comes to a close it’s apparent the high profile actor has more to do with the outcome of the story than director Tomas “Let the Right One In” Alfredson would like you to know. In a world where all is not as it seems he might as well be wearing a big sign that says, “I’m the guy you’re looking for!” around his neck.
END OF SORTA-KINDA SPOILER ALERT! One bit of inspired casting is Gary Oldham as the tight lipped but relentless spy, the ironically named George Smiley. Years spent in the Potterverse as Sirius Black haven’t dulled his edge. He’s a quietly coiled snake, patiently waiting to pounce. Smiley is a character who in lesser hands might have appeared too disconnected, to removed, but Oldham displays a fierce intelligence behind his over- sized bifocals that brings the character to vivid life.
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is a cerebral thriller. Not much happens–a trio of bullets is about it for the action and it has one of the most melodramatic tears in recent cinema history–but the prolonged suspense will make your palms sweat.
In my review of the first installment of the revived Caped Crusader franchise I wrote, “I went in to Batman Begins expecting a lot and left wanting less—less psychological babble, a lesser running time and less of Liam Neeson’s ridiculously wispy goatee.” For the new episode, The Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolan has kept most of the stuff that bugged me about the first movie (except for the wispy goatee part, which is, thankfully, is no where to be seen) but has, this time around, created a tour-de-force that left me running for my thesaurus to find new words for awesome.
Its two-and-a-half running time makes it the longest of the summer blockbusters but, unlike Get Smart or Sex and the City, there isn’t a wasted second or extraneous scene. The film takes off like a turbo charged Batmobile, opening with an exciting bank heist, and doesn’t let up until the end credits.
Following the robbery, in which $68 million dollars of the mob’s money is stolen, the triumvirate of Batman (Christian Bale), Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldham) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) take a broom to the streets of Gotham in an effort to, once and for all, put an end to crime in their city. After mass arrests the crime fighting trio comes up against their greatest foe yet, The Joker (Heath Ledger), a psychopath with a sinister scar in place of a smile, who forces Batman and Dent to push the boundaries of their professional crime fighting ethics.
Since 9/11 the world has spent a great deal of time pondering good and evil, and so does The Dark Knight. It is the first true, post 9/11 superhero movie; one that looks at the use of chaos as a tool of terrorism while exploring the paper thin line between good and evil.
Dispensing with the jocularity of Iron Man, the CGI action of The Incredible Hulk and Hancock’s sense of irony, The Dark Knight is a serious film with a positively Shakespearean exploration of the ethics of good and evil that raises timely questions in these unsettled times. Mainly, to what lengths can heroes go as they fight crime before they stop being heroes and become vigilantes? When is it OK to break the rules to stop evil? Batman and Dent grapple with these questions (more than, say, Rumsfeld or Bush ever did) as the Joker pushes them closer to the edge of their moral boundaries.
The Joker’s biggest question is one for the ages. Can bad guys exist without the good guys?
“I don’t want to kill you,” the Joker tells Batman, by way of an answer. “You complete me.”
But don’t get the idea that The Dark Knight is only a treatise on the nature of villainy. It is that, but the ideas about good and evil are wrapped around a popcorn movie that is packed with great action, thrills and good performances.
Christian Bale fills out the Batsuit better this time around, skillfully portraying the moral tug of war the character plays with his conscience while ably pulling off Batman’s outrageous feats of physical prowess. Bale may be the only contemporary actor who can convincingly pull off ennui one second and then pilot a supercharged motorcycle up the side of a building the next.
New franchise addition Maggie Gyllenhaal, stepping in for Katie Holmes, brings a feistiness to the character of Bruce Wayne’s oldest friend and soul mate Rachel Dawes. Aaron Eckhart in a dual role does a nice job of playing the transformation from the virtuous DA Dent to the twisted morality of the considerably creepier Harvey-Two Face. Old pros Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, as Bruce Wayne’s trusted butler and equipment designer respectively, round out the cast, both handing in effortless performances.
Of course the cast member everyone wants to see is Heath Ledger as the Joker in his last completed performance. I always felt Batman Begins was marred by the lack of a great villain, but this time around the inclusion of Ledger’s Joker guarantees on-screen fireworks for The Dark Knight.
Whereas Jack Nicholson’s Joker was a pop culture icon for the prosperous 80s and 90s, Ledger’s Joker is a super villain for the new millennium; a terrorist, more interested in creating chaos than in anything else.
He’s a disfigured bad man—“What doesn’t kill you only makes you stranger,” he says—who when he isn’t killing people—his preferred weapon is a knife because it’s up-close-and personal—keeps busy creating elaborate schemes to test the moral fiber of the men who want to put him behind bars. Ledger strips the character of Nicholson’s cartoon persona, re-imagining him as a fiendish lunatic. From the slash of red lipstick where his mouth should be to the caked white make-up that obscures his face Ledger’s Joker is an unhinged creation that will likely inspire nightmares. It’s a bravura performance that sees the late actor working at the top of his game as he creates the definitive version of the character (sorry to any Cesar Romero fans who may disagree).
The Dark Knight is a rare beast. It’s a summer blockbuster with equal parts brain and brawn.