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Review: “RoboCop” unnecessary remake lacks humanity

February 12th, 2014 at 8:17 am by under Entertainment
"RoboCop" poster courtesy Columbia Pictures

“RoboCop” poster courtesy Columbia Pictures

“RoboCop” (2014)
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material
Runtime: 1 hour, 58 minutes
Genre: Action/Crime/Sci-Fi/Thriller

My spoiler-free review: (underline)

Just because you can remake a 27-year old movie, doesn’t mean you should.   Since they did, filmmakers should have been more careful to build the human element of the story and also careful not to alienate about 50% of their audience: fans of the original 1987 movie.  Now that I’ve seen it, it is clear why this  moved from its original late August 2013 slot on the summer box office calendar to the cold, dreary February 12th, 2014 spot on the schedule.

Upgraded effects, a different story, and a strong supporting cast can’t save this remake from the junkyard… I give it 5.5 out of 10.

(Warning to parents: while not as graphically violent as the original, this “RoboCop” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action including a lot of gun violence, some strong language, one scene of sensuality and some drug material)

We know that reboots and remakes don’t always work, but our first red flag on this movie was the schedule change – it was originally slated for an August 9, 2013 release but 10 months before it was to hit theaters it was pushed back… way back… 6 months later to the middle of February.  The reluctance of some stars to sign on to the project starts making sense, but they still ended up with a pretty good cast surrounding our lead characters.

So what went wrong?  Remember Peter Weller’s RoboCop?  He was more human before and after the procedure, the audience could make a connection with his character, his RoboCop had the traits and characteristics of his “cowboy” personality.  But this Detective Alex Murphy - Joel Kinnaman – is a little rigid, stale, cold, quite emotionless and stale.  He’s more robotic than man in his acting even before the accident/procedure.  There’s not a lot of depth to his character either.  Plus Kinnaman’s Alex is also a rebel, renegade, very wreckless in his job that makes him harder to sympathize with.  The other main characters, his partner ‘Jack Lewis’ (Michael K. Williams) and his wife ‘Clara Murphy’ (Abbie Cornish) are also very one note characters that are more like the empty Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz”, very hollow in their performances.  Despite their display of emotions on screen, I wasn’t buying what they were selling.

I’ve said it before – character depth is very important to me… if I can’t connect to the character, I can’t sympathize with their emotional struggles… and it makes it hard to care about what happens to them.  In this movie that makes all the themes of Alex’s struggles accepting his new fate/robotic body suit fall flat because I’m not empathizing… it just becomes one big action movie about corporate greed – and that’s part is just average and quite predictable.

There was more emotional connection with the supporting cast of Gary Oldman (Dr. Dennett Norton), Michael Keaton (Raymond Sellars of OmniCorp), Samuel L. Jackson (talk show host Pat Novak), and Jackie Earle Haley (Rick Mattox), even Jennifer Ehle (Liz Kline) and Jay Baruchel (Tom Pope) had more audience chemistry than our main characters.  Oldman has lots of depth as the conflicted doctor trying to help and maintain his hippocratic oath at the same time.  Keaton is smooth and crafty trying to run a business focused solely on profits.  Jackson delivers an extreme version of  cablenews talk show hosts.  Haley is solid as always, this time as the military man behind OmniCorp.  And even minor characters Ehle and Baruchel had more layers of depth and polished acting than our leads.

Maybe that was part of the schedule change… to edit the movie and try to focus more on the supporting cast… which could have worked if they didn’t try to stick to the themes of man versus machine.  In exploring the humanity of the RoboCop program and the flaws of both man and machine, the end product is just another average movie churned out by the Hollywood machine.

And… while some of the effects were good (they should be 25+ years later), others in the final scenes looked more like effects of the late 1980′s.

Also… future Detroit looks a lot less bleak than the original movie’s view of the crime and blight-ridden Motor City, a city desperate for a hero… the streets and neighborhoods of this version of a future Detroit do not look as hopeless.

Plus… some things are not as well explained or easily understood (like Alex’s motivations) and the portrayal of media coverage is very cliche and easily mocked.

But there were some good things about the 2014 version: this story line is different than original: more focused on the politics and economics of robotic police/armies – so it does keep those of us who saw the 1987 version guessing a little bit as to what’s going to happen.

Also, this RoboCop is not as dark and nightmarish for younger viewers – there’s still a bunch of bad guys getting shot but it is violence without gore/graphic injuries/ excessive blood… clearly sanitzed for the PG-13 rating… and one change I was okay with.

MORE INFO (possible spoilers): (more…)


No place like Michigan: Wizard of Oz prequel coming soon

May 13th, 2011 at 10:40 pm by under Entertainment

“Oz: The Great and Powerful” set to film in Detroit area in July

According to a casting call websiteWDIV, and other news outlets, the Disney production of the Wizard of Oz prequel “Oz: The Great and Powerful” is set to begin production this summer.

The movie is about Oz and the three witches years before Dororthy arrived.  “Oz: The Great and Powerful” is being directed by Royal Oak, Michigan native Sam Raimi who has directed numerous movies with either box office and/or critical successes like “Spider-Man”, “Drag Me to Hell”, “For Love of the Game”, and “The Evil Dead”.

Early casting news includes oscar nominee James Franco (“127 Hours”, “Spider-Man”), Mila Kunis (“Black Swan”, “That 70′s Show”), oscar winner Rachel Weisz (“The Mummy”, “The Lovely Bones”), and Blake Lively (“The Green Lantern”, “The Town”) is rumored to be joining the cast in a role fans of the original 1939 “Wizard of Oz” will be familiar with.

“Oz: The Great and Powerful” is a fantasy that is said to be a prequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) by L. Frank Baum, told from the point of view of the Wizard. It tells how the Wizard arrived in Oz and how he became the ruler.

Mila Kunis and James Franco in "Date Night" courtesy 20th Century Fox

This won’t be Kunis and Franco’s first time together in a movie, they were recently on the big screen together in 2010′s “Date Night” as a petty crime couple wanting to make it big.  

Franco was nominated for an oscar last year for his lead role in “127 Hours”.  He is said to play “Oz”, a fast-talking snake oil salesman and illusionist who flees a traveling circus and winds up whisked away in a hot air balloon by a tornado to the land of Oz and falls in love with “Glinda the good witch”.

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Kunis starred alongside Natalie Portman in the oscar nominated “Black Swan”, she gained popularity for her role on “That 70′s Show”, but has since become wel known for her recurring voice role of Meg Griffin on “Family Guy”, and has also starred in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (2008), “The Book of Eli” (2010), and “Extract” (2009).  Kunis will play “Theodora”, the youngest sister of the three witches that includes “Glinda” and “Evanora”.  According to sources, Theodora starts out as a good witch, alongside her beautiful sister Glinda, but after her advances are pushed away Oz, she’s convinced by Evanora to switch sides and help her older sister rule Oz, eventually becoming known as “The Wicked Witch of the West” – the green witch played so well in the 1939 version by Margaret Hamilton.

Weisz is best known for her role as “Evelyn” in two of the “Mummy” movies and won the oscar for Supporting Actress for her role in “The Constant Gardener” (2005). She’s also starred in a variety of roles from dramatic to comedic and independent to big studio movies like: “The Lovely Bones” (2009), ”The Brothers Bloom” (2008), “Fred Claus” (2007), “Runaway Jury” (2003), and “Confidence” (2003).

Weisz is expected to play the wicked witch ”Evanora” or better known as the “The Wicked Witch of the East”, the one that was ruling over the Munchkins and is killed by Dorothy’s falling house in the original “Wizard of Oz”.  She was the original owner of the magical slippers.

Lively is rumored to be playing “Glinda”, commonly known as “the Good Witch”.  She got her break in “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” (2005), gained popularity in the TV series “Gossip Girl” and “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2″ (2008), and gained more attention for her more dramatic role in “The Town” (2010).  Lively’s next role is opposite Ryan Reynold’s this summer in the comic book movie “The Green Lantern”.

The production is expected to start July 25th.  Pre-production is underway at the recently opened Raleigh Michigan Studios in Pontiac, MI.  The Michigan Film Office has reportedly said that “Oz” was approved for the film incentives in late 2010, prior to the new restrainst put in place under the new Michigan 2012 budget proposal.  “Oz: The Great and Powerful” has a scheduled release date of 2013.

Raleigh Michigan Studios is located in Pontiac at the site of a former General Motors truck plant and office complex.  The studio says “Oz” will be the largest feature to shoot in Michigan.

Raimi was born in Royal Oak, Michigan on October 23, 1959.  He has directed action movies and horror movies, independent movies and big budget studio productions:  “Drag Me to Hell” (2009), “Spider-Man 3″ (2007), “Spider-Man 2″ (2004), “Spider-Man” (2002), “The Gift” (2000), “For Love of the Game” (1999), “A Simple Plan” (1998), “The Quick and the Dead” (1995), “Army of Darkness” (1992), “Darkman” (1990), “Evil Dead II” (1987), and “The Evil Dead” (1981).

EXTRAS CASTING CALL
A Los Angeles based casting company

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Review: “Whip It” is an endearing movie

October 2nd, 2009 at 2:03 am by under Entertainment

Fun and sweet, “Whip It” is a growing up movie that Michigan can be proud of (story is set in Texas, but shot in Michigan).

Ellen Page is great in a familiar coming-of-age teen angst role… but its a role she excels in again.
"Whip It" poster courtesy Fox Searchlight 

(My spoiler-free review)

This is a new classic growing up outcast movie, centered on the life of an awkward low self-esteem girl that neither fits into the life of pageants her mother wants nor the high school in-crowd that make fun of her.

The 22-year old Page plays the teenage main character Bliss so genuinely and with such conviction, you might forget that that she is a few years beyond her character’s age.

Bliss’ mom is played wonderfully by Marcia Gay Harden who really helps enhance the mother-daughter tensions, while Daniel Stern plays her supportive football loving dad with a natural ease… add in Eulala Scheel as the little sister and this comes across as a very believeable disfunctional family.

The strength of the cast goes beyond the main characters:  (more…)


Lions Larry Foote: I Make Love to Pressure

June 25th, 2009 at 1:16 pm by under Sports

foote-lionsI’ve been going to Detroit Lion training/mini camps for 20 years now.  After interviewing dozens and dozens of players over two decades… it’s not very often you get a quote from a player that you’ve NEVER heard before…. Tuesday, I did, courtesy of new Lions Linebacker Larry Foote.  When I asked the former Wolverine and Steeler if he felt any pressure being the only two-time Superbowl champion on the team that other players are looking to for leadership… he simply smiled and said…. “I make love to pressure!”  Click here to hear from Foote and the rest of the Lion linebackers:   http://tinyurl.com/nhhbmc


Talking With Lions Beat Writer Tom Kowalski

June 22nd, 2009 at 4:35 pm by under Sports

kowalski3The Detroit Lions will open a mandatory three day “mini camp” on Tuesday (June 23rd)… their last official team workouts until the opening of “training camp” in late July.   At the end of OTA’s (organized team activities) I had a chance to talk with Booth Newspapers Lions Beat Writer Tom Kowalski, about the team heading into mini camp.  Click here to see that interview: http://tinyurl.com/lr3nuz


Tension Already Building In Motown

June 12th, 2009 at 10:46 am by under Sports

Game time is still nearly ten hours away, but  already the tension is mounting here in Motown.   On Detroit radio this morning the most commonly heard phrase has been “I’m already nervous”.  There is an incredible feel of anticipation, excitement and anxiety in the air here. 

The Red Wings hit the ice for their “morning skate” at 10:25… a little later than normal, but not much.  Not everyone is skating… but that’s not unusual.  Still no sign of either Dan Cleary or Kris Draper… neither of whom skated yesterday either… but both are expected to play tonight.  Oddly, Marian Hossa has yet to ice, but again, not all players do.  I can only guess at this point, Marian is trying to keep the legs fresh for, what will be, without a doubt, the biggest game, and perhaps moment of his professional career.  Hossa, as most of you are well aware… will either hoist the cup tonight in Detroit… or have to sit and watch the team he LEFT, to pursue “better opportunities” in Detroit, celebrate victory, on his new team’s home ice.  Ouch!  It will either be the greatest or worst night of Hossa’s hockey life.

Grand Haven native Dan Bylsma and Penguins are schedule to hit the ice at about 11:30 this morning.  When the Wings are done, my partner and photographer “Eli the Penguin” and I will head to the Detroit locker room to do player interviews, and then attend Mike Babcock’s final pre-game news conference.  After that we’ll shoot the Penguins practice and attend Dan Bylsma’s final pre-game news conference.  You can hear from both sides, tonight as our live coverage from Detroit and the Stanley Cup Finals, continues tonight, on-air, at 5:00pm.

Go Wings.


Attention gear heads: ‘Monster Garage’ coming to Detroit

May 14th, 2009 at 8:28 am by under Entertainment

Casting call for “Monster Garage” in Detroit

Monster Garage logo courtesy Original ProductionsMichigan mechanics and auto body specialists, here’s your chance to use your skills and be on national tv…

The former Discovery Channel TV show “Monster Garage” will be returning with Detroit as its new location of operation.

The shows premise is transforming cars in strange and unusual ways.

An open casting will take place this weekend: Saturday, May 16 and Sunday May 17, 2009 at the Atheneum Hotel at 1000 Brush Avenue, in Detroit from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. each day. All applicants are asked to bring video, photos, and other media that shows off their skills.

The show will begin filming new episodes in late May and could take six months.

The show is expected to air in the fall on the Discovery Channel.

Burbank, California based Original Productions says the show will also have a new host.   The original host, Jesse James, will not be returning. James, who is currently appearing on “The Celebrity Apprentice” is launching a new series on SpikeTV next month.

The Detroit News and WXYZ have more details on the casting call.

Good luck!  :)

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Michigan might get ‘The Wannabes’

April 14th, 2009 at 8:02 am by under Entertainment
"The Wannabes" starring Radio Disney teen singing group sensation "Savvy".  Photo courtesy Showcase Entertainment, Inc.

"The Wannabes" starring Radio Disney teen singing group sensation "Savvy". Photo courtesy Showcase Entertainment, Inc.

 It could be another feather in the cap of Michigan’s film incentives: a tween tv show “The Wannabes”

The Detroit metro area may be the location for the first tv series ever to be completely filmed and produced in the state.

But, the Michigan Film Office has said that they have not yet received an application for the state’s tax breaks.

According to several Detroit media reports (The Detroit Free Press, WXYZ), shooting is expected to begin in June with a mostly Michigan crew.  Reportedly, hundreds of new jobs will be created during the term of the series and local Michigan talent may also be hired.

The pilot episode has already been shot.

“The Wannabes” is described as a half-hour comedy sitcom for ages 8 – 16, which follows six tweens who are wanna be popstars attending a strict arts academy boarding school so they find a place to rock out under cover at a local cafe.     The show is created by writer/producer Doreen Spicer (Disney Channel movie “Jump In!” and “The Proud Family”) and directed by Eric Dean Seaton (That’s So Raven, Cory in the House, Suite Life of Zack & Cody).

Ferndale based S3 Entertainment Group LLC announced Monday that it plans to produce the “The
Wannabes” and that the show will be shot entirely in Michigan.

Savvy on the set of "The Wannabes". Photo courtesy Stern-LeMaire Productions, Inc.

Savvy on the set of "The Wannabes". Photo courtesy Stern-LeMaire Productions, Inc.

 S3 says the show will feature a lot of singing and dancing and will star members of the Disney pop recording group, Savvy, who have been performing in the United Stated since 2004.

The show’s website says (more…)


GR poison control center may lose state funding, could lead to closure

April 10th, 2009 at 3:29 pm by under News

The state is considering eliminating funding for the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Poison Control Center in Grand Rapids, a move that could force the center to close, a Spectrum Health spokesman said.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s budget proposal cut state support for both poison centers that receive funds, including the one in Grand Rapids and one at the Detroit Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital of Michigan. A spokeswoman for the governor said it was one of the many cuts proposed for all state departments. “It was an extremely painful budget,” said the spokeswoman, Megan Brown.

Some in the state House have considered consolidating state funding to support just one poison control center, the one in Detroit.

A Spectrum statement said the possible closure of the Grand Rapids center would not interrupt statewide poison control service.

The Poison Control Center at DeVos Children’s has an operating budget of $1.4 million, and 17 percent of it — $250,000 — is an annual subsidy from the state of Michigan, according to the Spectrum statement. Another 21 percent of the funding comes from the federal government and three percent is support from the United Way. But the majority of the center’s funding — roughly 60 percent — comes from DeVos Children’s itself and the Spectrum spokesman, Bruce Rossman, said the possible state funding cut would force the children’s hospital’s patients to subsidize the poison center.

The state subsidy covers an ever-decreasing share of the cost of the center as expenses continue to rise, Rossman said, “And if they’re going to put all their funding to one poison center, we can’t in good conscience continue to run this service.”

He stressed that Spectrum will not make a final decision on the status of the facility until the state’s funding plan is clear.

The Grand Rapids center employs 17 people, including some part-time workers, and two doctors who also work elsewhere at Spectrum Health. It is unclear how a possible closure would affect those employees, Rossman said.

The centers in Detroit and Grand Rapids already share the same phone number,  1-800-222-1222 .


Talking With Red Wings Anthem Singer Karen Newman

February 8th, 2009 at 11:57 am by under Entertainment, Sports

I had chance during a recent Griffins game to spend some time with Red Wings anthem singer and recording artist Karen Newman.  “It’s been too long since I’ve been here at a Griffins game,” Newman said.  “I’m glad to be back.”

In addition to singing the national anthem prior to Red Wings games and participating in teams community relations events, Newman has produced several of her own C.D’s, has sung backup for major acts including Kid Rock and Bob Segar and the Silver Bullet Band and has put on annual Christmas shows in Detroit for the past eight years.

“I said (to a Griffins employee), why am I not doing my Christmas shows here in Grand Rapids,” Newman said.  “I’m going to explore that.  I’d love to bring my Christmas show (here), it’s a very family friendly show.  There are some great people here, great hockey fans, great music lovers, I need to bring it here.”

While Newman is known best for beautiful voice and well…  beauty…  I found her to be incredibly nice and personable.  She’s also a huge hockey fan.  In fact, growing up in metro Detroit, she became a die hard Red Wings fan well before she joined the team nearly two decades ago.  “I grew up listening to the Red Wings,” Newman said.  “My dad always had the Red Wings on.  I’ve been with the them (the Wings) for 19 seasons.”

After singing the national anthem at a recent Griffins game, Newman joined me for a brief intermission interview on the Griffins radio network to talk about her love of the Red Wings, music, and bringing her Christmas show to Grand Rapids. 

You can find that video of that interview, on line, at www.woodtv.com

See ya at the rink,

Larry Figurski