What makes a man a man and not a robot? This is the question at the heart of RoboCop. People can feel, preventing them from hurting a child, where a robot won’t care. But the manufacturer of all this equipment, OmniCorp, argues that humans can also feel fear, anger, despair, and disillusion—and can be corrupted. The way OmniCorp decides to circumvent the law is to combine the body of a robot with the brain of a man.
Jack Ryan’s creator, writer Tom Clancy, had the hero of his first book, The Hunt for Red October, trying to outwit the Soviets during the Cold War. Shadow Recruit presents his back story, beginning with Jack still in his college years. Yet, surprisingly, it’s the 9/11 attacks that motivate him to take his analytical skills to Afghanistan to help fight the war. Nevertheless, it works. And instead of staying behind a desk, Jack’s soon out in a helicopter with soldiers on a mission, getting shot down, badly injuring his spine, but saving two of his men. So it’s no surprise that, after heroically forcing himself to learn to walk again, he’s recruited by The Company.
The Dark World launches with a history lesson telling of an ancient battle between the Asgardians and the Dark Elves on their home world of Svartalfheim. The Elves, led by Malekith, not only use enhanced warriors called the Kursed, but also the Aether—a terrible force that gives them great power. Although Malekith is vanquished, the Convergence—an alignment of planets allowing travel between them—permits his return. This is all well and good and very Lord of the Rings-y, but thereafter the film’s exposition just keeps on coming; and unlike LOTR, which gave visual presentations, The Dark World relies on the mellifluous voices of Anthony Hopkins and Idris Elba intoning endlessly about unlikely mythology, leaving you begging for someone to just get on with the action. Once things get rolling, though, there are plenty of passages of great home theater.
Touch of Evil is a tale of two cities, or at least two opposite towns sharing the same border. Coming from one side is priggish, by-the-book Mexican drug enforcement official Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston), who finds himself taking on brilliant, highly respected American cop Captain Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles), who plants evidence to bring the guilty to justice.
Set in 1978, this entertaining film tells the “some of this actually happened” story of a brilliant grifter (Christian Bale) and his co-conspirator lover (Amy Adams), who, on getting busted in a scam sting, are forced to work for an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) in bringing down four fellow crooks. But the crazily ambitious fed ups the ante to entrapping corrupt politicians willing to accept kickbacks to grease the wheels of the sheik’s scheme to rebuild Atlantic City casinos. But this, of course, will mean mafia involvement and taking down a decent New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner) who just wants to help his community. And out of all these fast-talking con artists, who’s really zooming whom?
Slightly campy, with oodles of gratuitous nudity and violence, writer-director Paul Schrader’s remake of the 1942 Val Lawton classic tells of Irena (Nastassja Kinski), a beautiful young woman who goes to New Orleans to stay with her sinister minister brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell). Irena represses her sexuality, fearing that animal lust will loose the beast and transform her—into a panther. When she falls in love, though, her desire makes her gradually embrace her nature.
In a museum of the Old West, a boy experiences an ancient noble savage figure in an exhibit coming to life and telling him about his times with the Lone Ranger. As was the case in Little Big Man, the character is an unreliable witness due to a mixture of his bullshit artistry and mental problems—and the whole incident is probably going on in the imagination of the kid, anyway. So the filmmaker has a lot of leeway for unlikely and implausible events, and he takes this artistic license to the limit.
Screenwriter-director Woody Allen serves up a delicious modern variation on Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire filled with humor, tragedy, and great performances. Leading the cast is a towering Cate Blanchett as Jasmine, a former New York socialite whose life has fallen to pieces. The story is told by flashing back and forth between her old life of luxury and glamour in her 5th Avenue, Manhattan mansion (and summer house in the Hamptons) and her new humble and humbling existence living with her working-class sister (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco after Jasmine’s successful businessman husband (Alec Baldwin) is sent to prison for fraud and all their funds seized.
The idea of great, aging actors running around, dropping their elegant theatrical gravitas, and letting their hair down to play goofy action heroes was an inspired one that produced plenty of humor and charm in Reds. Though the concept doesn’t work quite as well the second time around, it still offers a lot of fun.
There’s not much gained by the contemporary setting to offset the oddness of having Shakespeare’s characters seem like a bunch of Wall Street stockbrokers speaking strange in the Hamptons as if in a Woody Allen comedy, but otherwise the Bard’s words flow well enough from the pretty mouths of the cast.