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Big Trouble in Little China (1986) starring Kurt Russell and created by John Carpenter. Give it a chance you won’t regret it.

I was scrolling though the Netflix on demand movies wondering what would be family appropriate and was happy to see the Big Trouble in Little China was available for the watching.  I remember this film from the 80’s and have always liked it.  Given that the movie is now considered a “cult classic” I feel vindicated that my perception of the film has some wider-spread acceptance than the Box Office numbers the movie failed to generate.

 

Few works of ’80s commercial cinema still seem as fresh as John Carpenter’s ninth feature, a rowdy, rocking hunk of fun that both fulfils and subverts many ideals of action filmmaking. Big Trouble has been described as ahead of its time, in that it anticipated, and still outclasses, the great wave of Asian-Hollywood fusion flicks that took over action cinema from the mid ’90s on, represented by The Matrix, Kill Bill, the American starring vehicles of Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-Fat and Jet Li, and sundry others martial-arts-infused movies. But in other, fundamental ways, it’s still unique. It was, in its own moment, a painful flop that effectively ended Carpenter’s rise up the rungs of Hollywood, in spite of it being his most stylistically confident and technically accomplished film; his next work, Prince of Darkness (1987), was a virtual bargain-basement affair. The reasons for Big Trouble’s failure are now practically lost in the mist of time, but its cult status today is undeniable and entirely deserved.

Big Trouble’s cheeky take on the genre template commences with the fact that Jack Burton, the hero Kurt Russell plays, isn’t really the hero at all. He’s a tough-talking truck driver, fond of broadcasting his personal mythology over the CB radio and coming on like John Wayne’s bastard son, but he’s not too far from the kinds of character Bob Hope and Don Adams played, a posturing clot with occasional moments of competence—a poke in the eye for what was then the cult of greased-up machismo represented by Stallone and Schwarzenegger. Jack is friend and veritable sidekick to Wang Chi (Dennis Dun), whose physical prowess as a brilliant martial artist and motivation to snatch back his true love from the forces of evil clearly mark him as the real protagonist.

 

Carpenter and Russell had previously worked together on the telemovie Elvis (1979), Escape from New York (1981)(also reviewed here), and The Thing, but Big Trouble was the true high point of that collaboration, at least in terms of the director’s intent and the actor’s capacities meshing. Few other young male movie stars have ever betrayed such a willingness to send themselves up as Russell did here. For example, Burton answers the question “Are you ready?” when venturing into any enemy lair with a swaggering “I was born ready!” Once there, however, he drops weapons, can’t work out how to let go of an opponent he’s holding prone, and looks momentarily shocked when he shoots someone, giving away his essential lack of experience as a tough guy.

Another thing that marked Carpenter out as a filmmaker, but which made him seem increasingly out of place in modern Hollywood, is his care in evoking a sense of milieu and situating his heroes as a part of an ordinary world. Often, they’re blue collar dudes and ladies, included by accident in greater machinations. Big Trouble commences with an opening that gives a fine sense of Burton as both a bit of a blowhard, ranting on the radio before cramming a giant hoagie in his mouth, but also as a cool guy. After delivering a load of produce to a market in San Francisco, he sits down to gamble with the mostly Asian porters and buyers, including his old friend Wang Chi, a self-made restaurateur. Carpenter doesn’t need a word of dialogue to show us who Burton, Wang, and the rest are: normal people doing real things and relaxing in a normal way, the sort of things nobody does in modern action blockbusters except in the most laboriously signposted fashions. The only remarkable moment is a challenge between Wang and Jack. Wang, who’s just lost all the money he’d saved up for a lavish welcome back from China for his fiancée, bets Jack double or nothing he can split a beer bottle in half with a meat cleaver. He fails, and Jack catches the bottle, which shoots across the table at him, proving he has brilliant reflexes. That’s a classic piece of establishing a hero’s gifts, but it’s a promise the film deliberately, hilariously delays fulfilling.

Jack recompenses Wang by taking him to pick up said fiancée, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai), from the airport, where Jack eyes Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall), a civil rights lawyer. She’s trying to shepherd immigrant Tara (Min Luong) safely past a waiting coterie of thugs from a Chinatown street gang on the lookout for girls to kidnap and force into prostitution. When the goons snatch Tara, Jack confronts them, only to be quickly toppled; the thugs take Miao Yin instead. Jack and Wang chase them to Chinatown, where they’re caught in the middle of a battle between the evil Wing Kong triad, and the good-guy Chang Sing gang, who are having the funeral procession for a leader and are ambushed by their enemies. The Chang Sing’s retaliation proves effective until the intervention of the Three Storms—Thunder (Carter Wong), Lightning (James Pax), and Rain (Peter Kwong)—bizarre beings that seem to have supernatural powers. The Storms slaughter the Chang Sings where they stand. When Jack tries to escape this melee by driving his truck through it, he seems to run down a tall, regally dressed man whom Wang thinks might be David Lo Pan (James Hong), the legendary head of the Wing Kong. Lo Pan seems unhurt by Jack’s truck, and rays of blinding light shoot from his eyes and mouth.

 

Jack soon learns that he and Wang have stumbled into the middle of a metaphysical battle of good and evil. Working with Gracie, whose knowledge of Chinatown’s criminal dealings is great, Jack infiltrates the White Tiger, a brothel where sex slaves are bought and sold, to find Miao Yin. Unfortunately, she’s snatched away by the Three Storms and taken to the underground lair of Lo Pan. He proves to be a 2,000-year-old soldier and magician, cursed by the gods for his offences, who is really a fleshless spirit desperately in search of a girl with green eyes he can marry to end his curse. Miao Yin fits the bill. Jack and Wang’s efforts to find her in Lo Pan’s headquarters prove a comic disaster until they manage to escape and free a number of captive women. But Gracie is left in the hands of Lo Pan and when he proves that both she and Miao Yin can survive the rituals for testing his brides, he plans to marry both, sacrificing one and keeping the other to be his companion as he conquers the universe. Wang and Jack are aided in their quest by Gracie’s journalist friend Margo Lane (Kate Burton), Wang’s debonair maitre d’ Eddie (Donald Li), the Chang Sings, and general-purpose sorcerer and tour guide Egg Shen (Victor Wong).

 

The quality of Big Trouble that sets it apart from many similar ’80s films and makes it tantalizingly hard to describe is the fluent ease with which it shifts between genres and tones: a giddy succession of swerves from slapstick to melodrama; Howard Hawksian verbal byplay; Tsui Hark wire-fu shenanigans; comic book hoot; resonant, sexually and mystically mysterious epic. Carpenter’s shift into action-oriented fare after mostly making horror movies, in which control of mood, atmosphere, and story progression are key assets, saw him assay Big Trouble with a contiguous grace that eludes most physically dynamic movies where a motion rush becomes paramount. Big Trouble’s atmosphere is tangible, as the heroes perform the gleeful boyish fantasy of taking a turn down just the right side street and being plunged into an adventure.

 

Under the surface effervescence, another strength of Big Trouble is that unlike most subsequent fantasy and East-West fusions, Carpenter captures, and even builds upon, the mystical weirdness that infuses much wuxia filmmaking. This is clear in images like Lo Pan transforming from his flaccid old guise into young ghost and passing through walls, and when Jack and the Chang Sing warriors follow Egg Shen down a fire pole into a subterranean shadow world where monsters lurk and the “black blood of the Earth” flows. The references to Chinese mythology alternate wryness with wistful seriousness, and Carpenter’s music score communicates a spacey, almost haunting underpinning to the adventure – the fact that many Hong Kong films of the same period sported synthesizer-dominated scores like Carpenter’s increases the likeness.

James Hong as Lo Pan is an evergreen surprise. Generally known for playing gaunt, cagey ciphers, a la his role as the guardian of dark secrets in Chinatown, Hong presents Lo Pan as alternately the dirtiest of old men when he’s in his corporeal shell of withered leathery flesh, swearing and teasing Gracie with insidious delight, and a weirdly beautiful supernatural master in his classical garb and make-up, appealing to the unconscious Miao Yin with poetic cadence and quivering with frustrated desire. Such flourishes makes Lo Pan a far deeper kind of villain than the usual run, and Hong’s intuitively perfect performance struck such a deep chord with the actor that he directed a film, The Vineyard (1989), that reiterates aspects of this film’s plot. Lo Pan gets his comeuppance, eventually, but that’s really the throwaway end to a grandiose fight. Carpenter even makes fun of the usually epic deaths of supernatural villains by having Lo Pan succumb to the simplest of implements, with his great collection of plaster buddhas spontaneously collapsing like dominos, as if the gods are marking the passing of a great if evil force. Carpenter’s filming of the preceding fight is a source of constant delight to me, with a comic-book-like clarity of action displayed in the way Carpenter offers frames that are cut in half by swords or crisscrossed by battling opponents swooping from one edge to the other. Such stylistic rigor, light years away from the happenstance gibberish seen in so many recent action films, gives a sense of the physical space, combined with the rapidity of the editing and the dynamism of the stuntmen, in what is still a master class for this sort of thing. Whatever Big Trouble’s failures as a revenue earner, it was a big triumph as entertainment, and I still love it.

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2014 in Movie Reviews

 

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Stop everything! My friend and colleague Tom V. has proposed a viable theory; that is, the beginning of the end for Hollywood began with the 1990 film “Tango & Cash.” Despite its “all-star” including Jack Palance, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell and several other familiar faces according to Tom V. (and I agree) the film signals the beginning of Hollywood’s decent into mediocrity at best and piss-poor at worst.

Sorry you have not heard from me in a while, but I have a nagging injury that just won’t go away. Anyways, Tom V and I were discussing movies and he said that he deduced the film which symbolized and embodied the beginning of the end for Hollywood: Tango & Cash (1990). This film embodies everything I despise in cinema—its porno thin plot, really bad acting, the udder failure to adhere to “Movie Physics” as set forth in “Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics.” I understand and agree that movies require a certain suspension of belief, but there are limits and this one crossed over everyone I could think of.

First, Sylvester “Sly” Stallone plays an intellectual investment banker-Beverly Hills cop which just comes off so bad and stilted it is laughable. Kurt Russell who plays the Joe-six pack/L.A. cop with a gun in the heel of his cowboy boots. Jack Palance playing the criminal mastermind Yves Perret who would rather than simply kill police interfering with his operations sets up some totally elaborate-unattainable-unbelievable frame up of Tango & Cash even after being told by his subordinates to simply kill them. James Hong (don’t worry you will recognize him when you see him in the clips) playing the classic Asian criminal and some idiot savant James Bond “Q” wannabe who invented the gun boot and built some bullet proof minivan with a 20mm cannon mounted on its side. The list goes on and on.

This film was so bad from the start that Warner Bros. hired editor Stuart Baird to re-edit the movie because they were displeased with the rough cut. Baird was also called in by Warner Bros to re-edit another Stallone action movie Demolition Man (1993) (another shitty movie) for same reasons. Baird and another editor Hubert de La Bouillerie had to constantly re-edit the movie because Warner Bros. kept complaining on cut after cut of it. During the re-editing, some plot parts and even some action scenes were deleted, some of which can be seen in theatrical trailer which was made by using the footage and scenes from one of the earlier cuts of the movie. There is no editor that could have saved this film.

On with the “story.” Beverly Hills LAPD Lieutenant Ray Tango and Downtown Los Angeles Lieutenant Gabriel Cash have earned themselves a reputation for disrupting crime lord Yves Perret’s smuggling operation in their respective jurisdictions. One day, both of them are informed of a drug deal taking place later that night. Both detectives meet each other for the first time at the location, but discover a dead body that is wire-tapped before the FBI arrive and surround the duo. Agent Wyler finds Cash’s backup Walter PPK pistol on the floor with a silencer attached and arrests both Cash and Tango. At their murder trial, Tango and Cash are incriminated by an audio tape, secretly given to Wyler by Perret’s henchman Requin and verified in court by an audio expert, which appears to reveal them shooting the undercover FBI agent after discussing a drug purchase. They plead no contest to a lesser charge in exchange for reduced sentences in a minimum-security prison, but are transported to a maximum-security prison to be housed with many of the criminals they arrested in the past.

Once in prison, Tango and Cash are rousted from their bunks and tortured by Requin and a gang of prisoners until Matt Sokowski, the assistant warden and Cash’s former commanding officer, rescues them. Sokowski recommends that they escape (uh-huh) and provides them with a plan, but Tango refuses to go along with it. When Cash tries to escape, he finds Sokowski murdered and is attacked by prisoners. Tango rescues him and the duo escape. Once outside the prison walls, they proceed to go their separate ways when Tango tells Cash that should he need to contact him, he is to go to the Cleopatra Club and look for Katherine.

The detectives then visit the witnesses who framed them in court. Wyler admits to Tango that Requin was in charge of the setup, and Cash discovers that Skinner, the audio expert, made the incriminating tape himself. Cash finds Katherine, who helps him escape the night club as police move in on him. Later that night, Tango reunites with Cash, who discovers that Katherine is Tango’s younger sister. The duo are met at Katherine’s house by Tango’s commanding officer, Schroeder, who gives them Requin’s address and tells them they have 24 hours to find out who Requin works for. Tango and Cash apprehend Requin and trick him into telling them Perret’s name. Armed with bullshit vehicle loaned to them by Cash’s weapons expert friend Owen, the duo storm into Perret’s headquarters to confront the crime lord. At this point, Perret, who has kidnapped Katherine, starts a timer that will trigger the building’s automatic self-destruct procedure. After killing everyone and destroying all glass that could possibly be in any one building they are confronted by Requin, who is holding Katherine at knifepoint but throws her aside to fight the detectives hand-to-hand with the help of another henchman. The detectives defeat the two henchmen and when Perret appears, holding a gun to Katherine’s head, they kill him and leave with Katherine just before the building explodes.

 

Not surprisingly the film received negative reviews. One bad review came from The New York Times, which criticized the plot, the screenplay, and the acting (right on all fronts). It maintains a 34% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 41 reviews with the consensus: “Brutally violent and punishingly dull, this cookie-cutter buddy cop thriller isn’t even fun enough to reach ‘so bad it’s good’ status.”

 

Tango & Cash was also given three 1989 Golden Raspberry Awards nominations for Worst Actor (Sylvester Stallone), Worst Supporting Actress (Kurt Russell in drag ya that is right) and Worst Screenplay, but did not win—I don’t know how frankly. According to the Razzi website the breakdown for that year were “TANGO & CASH – 3 Nominations (Including Worst Actor of The Decade) 1 “Win” (See Worst of The Decade Awards).” See http://www.razzies.com/forum/1989-razzie-nominees-winners_topic339.html

 

I can’t say enough about this film, but I will say this it actually hurt to watch the second time when I was cutting the film for the clips. I can watch some bad films but this one almost had me beat.

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2014 in Movie Reviews

 

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Episode II of a “Splendid” Family. Teppi Starts to get the Screw Jobs.

Sorry folks about my lack of productivity but due to a broken bone I have had limited ability to type without being in extreme pain.  Where we left off with the Manypo family is that Teppi’s father is convinced that Teppi is in fact his half-brother because his father had an “encounter” with his wife.  Some sort of paranoia has taken over the head of the Manypo family is going to be overtaken by Teppi.

Teppi as we know is trying to get the family’s steel factory financing for the modern blast furnace to bring Japan into the modern industrial age.  Also remember that the father is believes that the Hanshin bank is the key to the wealth and power of the family and is trying to avoid being merged into a bigger bank.  Employing a desperate strategy of the small bank swallowing the bigger bank he asks his son-in-law (a high ranking treasury official) to get confidential data on the bank President Manypo thinks he can take over.  His son in law bribes one of his colleagues to get the information.  Not coincidently it is the same bank Teppi is seeking to get a major part of his financing through.

It dawns on President Manypo that if he can get his target bank to finance a major portion of the furnace and his son Teppi fails, the bigger bank with have massive exposure and losses that would make them vulnerable to a takeover.  So machinations begin to set up Teppi quest for a blast furnace to go bust.

Meanwhile, the younger members of the family are being set up for political marriages.  The youngest son is resigned to his fate to marry out of political needs to rather than love.  Teppi also runs into an old flame and finds out that, though he loves his wife and child, a woman he truly treasured (and still has feelings for) was told by the Manypo “butler” in no uncertain terms that there was no way she and Teppi could marry because she didn’t come from a good enough family.  Teppi is furious and returns to the Manypo family compound to demand answers.  He sees his mother running out of her bedroom.  Confused his younger brother explains that while Teppi was studying abroad he discovered that his father and the “butler” were involved in sexual relationship giving this witch even more power.  So hurt was his mother that she ran back to her family (and was promptly returned) then tried to take her own life.  Teppi’s brother said he has known for years but never said anything out of fear or retaliation.

 

The next day Teppi openly tells this “butler” to get the hell out.  The rest of the Manypo family see the conflict since they are about to leave for the arranged marriage meeting.  Teppie confronts his father directly who sides with the butler saying she is “indispensable” for the continuation of the Manypo dynasty.

About the only good news for Teppi is that due to his father in law’s intervention is issued the permit to proceed with construction with the construction of the blast furnace but even this has its downside because his father’s bank intentionally cut his funding by ten percent. So he has to go beg other banks for remaining 2 billion yen.

I really wish I could find the English translation of this novel.  The author has some serious insight into what money does to people—even family.  So afraid of losing their wealth these elite families engage in behavior that is truly despicable.  Their wealth gives them power to ignore the law and social conventions of acceptable and moral behavior.  These truly warped people have the veneer respectability and are the envy of those without this wealth and privilege.  Unlike the masses they get to have it both ways; that is, they can engage in deviant behavior but do not have to face any of the consequences that an everyman or woman would if they behaved the same way.  Anyone but the elite would be in jail for the way these people behave.

 

It reminds me of the relatedly recent news story when the heiress to the Mars candy fortune crossed the center line in her Porsche and killed a family coming home from wedding.  This old woman certainly has a driver but instead she killed a family and what happened to her?  I believe she was charged with a misdemeanor.  If you or I were behind the wheel of the car we would (and should) be in jail.

 

All this because of some fancy paper?

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2014 in Movie Reviews

 

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Episode one of the “Splendid Family”

The episode opens up in postwar Japan with the splendid family at a hotel they go to every year to welcome in the new year.  While the rest of the family waits, the elder son and main character Teppi is running late because he’s taking care of some business at the family conglomerates steel factory which he is in charge of.  He has just signed a deal with a new company because his new technology is 10 times stronger than anything else in Japan.

As the family begins to sit down for dinner and take the traditional annual photograph Teppi makes a just-in-time.  He is scolded by his father, the patriarch of the family, as well as the family “Butler” a woman who arranges many of the family’s affairs including marriages, meetings and other family business.  The Butler also has the luxury of sleeping with the father when he chooses, as he did on New Year’s Eve after dinner.

We then follow the father to the family bank which is the center of the family’s fortune and the conglomerate of companies.  As he is walking to his office, he looks onto the bank floor and sees hundreds people working and expresses concern for them and their families.  We have also learned that the Treasury Department of Japan is following America’s lead in consolidating the country’s banks in order to increase capital availability and modernize the economy.  Manypo (the father) has grown the family bank from being a local city branch to the 10th largest bank in the country.  However, because he is the 12th largest bank he is ripe for acquisition and will likely be merged into one of the larger banks thereby losing his authority and other privileges of ownership.  Out of necessity he looks to his son-in-law (a high ranking treasury official) for a way to employ strategy whereby a smaller bank would gobble up the larger bank.  A risky and complicated proposition.

Meanwhile his son Teppi decides that he needs to build a blast furnace in order to stay competitive in the steel industry.  This is no small task, requiring billions of Japanese yen in order to construct such a machine.  If the blast furnace is built successfully, it will be one of only a few in Japan that is able to make modern steel for cars and other heavy industry.  He approaches his father for the financing of this technological marvel who agrees to take the matter under advisement.  What we don’t know is why father and son have such a cold relationship given that Teppi seems very likable and capable–everything a father would possibly want a son to be.

We start to get hints when one evening the father is out looking at his koi pond and sees a praying mantis stuck in spiders web that is about to be devoured.  He thinks to himself he is more like my father than me.  He becomes even more spooked while the two of them are at the same pond later in the day and Teppi is able to summon the largest fish known as shogun by clapping his hands.

At this point things are still setting up and background is starting to be filled in as to the intra-family relationships as well as some family history that may be dark and swept under the rug begins to surface.  But the stage is being said for a long, interesting and complicated set of maneuvers supposedly among family members that are to be loyal to each other but instead will slowly stab each other in the back.

 

Next time episode two.

 

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2014 in Movie Reviews

 

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I apologize for my lack of content and diligence.

I would like to apologize to all of my followers for my lack of content on this site until now.  However in my defense I was in an accident that broke several bones in my right arm and shoulder making things very difficult for me to keep up with work, eat and for purposes of jpfmovies I’m forced to type with my left hand only.  Try it and see how hard it is believed me what used to take minutes now takes hours.  Though I’m not fully healed I cannot stand not putting up a more content on the site so I’m going to slug through our next series of reviews no matter what it takes.

 

Our next review will be a nine part Japanese TV series based on novel I cannot get my hands on for the life of me called “A splendid family.”  We will examine the series episode by episode but in general here’s a synopsis of the excellent work.

Set in the post-World War II climate of the 1960’s in Kobe, the show explores the struggle for power within the powerful Manpyo family. The cornerstone of their empire is the Hanshin Bank, a fictional version of the former Kobe Bank (now Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation)), controlled by the father of the clan, Daisuke Manpyo Eldest son Teppei is the managing director of Hanshin Steelworks, fictional version of Sanyo Special Steel Co., Ltd.). The ambitious Teppei seeks to expand operations of his company, and goes to his father to see if he can secure a loan. But the Minister of Finance seeks the merger of smaller Japanese banks to fend off foreign competition. Daisuke must decide whether to protect his son’s interest in manufacturing or to ensure the survival of the bank that he controls.

The series mostly revolves on the hidden secrets within the Manpyo family. A running theme throughout the show is Teppei’s constant hunger for his father’s approval. However, instead of being seen as a son, he is often seen as a threat by his own father. Throughout most of the series, they are competing as Daisuke refuses to help in Teppei’s struggles.

At the end, we are shown why the characters act as they did. Teppei’s mother was supposedly raped by his grandfather, therefore, making Daisuke unsure if Teppei was actually his, or Keisuke’s (his father). Teppei’s uncanny resemblance to Keisuke, and his blood type proves to Daisuke that he was, indeed, his half-brother. This causes the heartache that surrounds the Manpyo family.

Teppei’s company is not saved. As he finds out that he was not actually who he thought he was, he goes to the mountains where his family hunts. He makes a final call to his wife. The next morning, Teppei leaves a suicide note and shoots himself.

When the Manpyo family learns about Teppei’s death, his mother is distraught.  His father however, seems placid and cold. A man then comes in and asks the parents to sign Teppei’s death certificate. Daisuke notices that they had made a mistake in the certificate, he states that they had Teppei’s blood type wrong. The man informs them that the blood test taken during the war was wrong, but the current one is accurate.  This revelation drives Teppei’s mother into a fit. Daisuke is weakened. The man he thought to be a product of his father’s horrible actions, was in fact, his own son. He is even more remorseful when he reads Teppei’s suicide letter.  Finally, Teppei is given the acceptance that he so long craved for.

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2014 in Movie Reviews

 

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Robocop Is Another Sad Re-Make

jpfmovies:

I knew this would be the case!

Originally posted on :

RoboCop-2014-HD-Wallpapers-e1380690800674 I’ve said on many occasions, re-makes are a very tricky element. It doesn’t matter if it’s the re-make of a good movie or a bad one. Unfortunately, every writer and director thinks they can improve on a film or make their movie better than it was originally done. Usually the reason a film was successful in the first place was because of originality. When you remove a key aspect of a movie’s success, you are already starting from behind.

One of the many re-makes is the recently released Robocop. Robocop is based on the 1987 movie in which a badly injured police officer is used as an experimental new hybrid robot/human police officer in an effort to clean up the streets of the violence in futuristic Detroit. With Peter Sellers in the original and almost iconic role, as far as action fanatics are concerned, the original Robocop was cool and…

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Posted by on March 18, 2014 in Movie Reviews

 
 
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