Dead Or Alive: A Robocop Retrospective – Part One

The awesomely violent and rather multilayered Robocop turns 35-years-old this month. Originally released on the 17th of July way back in 1987, happy 35th birthday to Robocop. Seeing as this is one of my favourite films, I guess I have to write something. So, I’m going to be looking at some Robocop video games in another article. But here, I’m going to explore Robocop on the big and small screen, everything and yes, I’ll even cover the TV shows too… along with some rather surprising appearances at the end. Starting off, chronologically, with the first film.

RoboCop

Part man. Part machine. All cop. RoboCop was one of the first films I ever saw on our own VHS player. I was about 13-years-old at the time and I remember being really shocked at the swearing in the film. Younger me had heard swearing but just not that much and that frequent. That fella robbing the store in the film and screaming ‘fuck me, fuck me, fuck me’ over and over almost made me want to cover my ears… almost.

Directed by Paul Verhoeven, co-written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, Robocop possibly began life as a possible Judge Dredd film. You can see a Judge Dredd influence in the final film but the story goes that writer Neumeier began penning the story as a Judge Dredd film but could not secure the rights, so he then changed it to an original character instead. I say ‘possibly began’ as a Judge Dredd film because I can’t seem to find any concrete evidence that outright states this, just user-submitted ‘trivia’. Still, Edward Neumeier is a self-confessed Judge Dredd fan. Also, there was the early test sculpt of the RoboCop suit…

ROBOCOP DREDD

… yes, that one. Very clearly Judge Dredd influenced but still not proof the film itself was originally a Judge Dredd one. I’m leaving this tit-bit as inconclusive.

But anyway, getting back to the film. Director Paul Verhoeven first thoughts of the film were that it was utterly stupid. Apparently, he only read the first few pages of the script and then threw it in the bin. The idea of a robot/human police officer hybrid was something that Verhoeven just could not get past and he failed to see a film worth directing. His wife, Martine, took the script from the bin and read it herself. She then convinced Verhoeven to read the script properly as it had a lot more depth to it than he first realised. As Paul Verhoeven recalled himself:

“She read it in a completely different way: she felt there were elements that weren’t so far away from me, like [Murphy] losing his past, and the philosophy of losing your memory. … Even my films in Holland, if they were about a war, none of them were action movies. I was more interested in the philosophical underpinnings of the script. I saw RoboCop a bit like a futuristic Jesus.”

That really is the key with RoboCop, it does have a lot of layers and a lot of depth. Yet, you can misunderstand it as just being a stupid sci-fi action flick. Just going back to 13-year-old me watching the film on VHS. That was how I saw it. RoboCop was just a ‘naughty’ film with a lot of swearing that looked cool. But when I watched it as an adult, the film seemed so different… but still with a lot of swearing in it and that it looked cool. The layers on RoboCop really are impressive. You’ve got your satire of American culture and Reaganomics. Those funny little TV ads within the film take on a very different meaning when you realise what they are poking fun at.

ROBOCOP TV AD

Then you have the central character of Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) himself. The fact he loses everything, including his memories, and is just used as a ‘product’ by a massive corporation. His humanity is thrown aside so some slimy corporate executive could climb the ladder. Which does bring me to the Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) character and ‘father’ of RoboCop. He’s a slimy snake in the grass for sure… but the way Ferrer played him made him a very likeable guy. He was a bad guy with a heart and one that did actually care for his creation. Speaking of bad guys…

Man, I adore Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and he is one of cinema’s greatest villains. The slightly nasally voice, the ‘Heinrich Himmler’ glasses, the one-liners. He’s a complete dick and has zero redeeming characteristics… but you can’t help but love him. A good film needs a great villain for it to work and RoboCop has one of the best. Officer Lewis (Nancy Allen) was used as the connection between RoboCop and Alex Murphy. The ‘Murphy, it’s you‘ scene really is one of my favourites in the flick. The way that RoboCop does that literal little step backwards and becomes Murphy for just a second or two, before snapping back into RoboCop and continuing on. It’s the really subtle acting that sells it. Acting that must’ve been tough for Peter Weller when we the audience can’t see his face. For an actor to convey emotion and reaction… without having the luxury of using their face is damn tricky.

ROBOCOP MURPHY ITS YOU

Which does bring me to the main man himself and the one who gets the big job of carrying the weight of the film on his shoulders. How Weller pulled off playing the titular character is incredible. I’ve read stories of just how damn uncomfortable it was to act in the RoboCop suit. Apparently, it took 11 hours to get Peter Weller into the suit the first time. They got better over the course of the film shoot but it still took a good few hours. Then he couldn’t go to the toilet easily, or at all. It was so damn hot that Weller would lose around 3 lbs a day via sweating. Yet, even with all of that, he still put in an amazing performance and one with so many layers and facets. Look, I’m more than 1,400 words into this retrospective, I’ve only briefly looked at the first film and I need to move on. I could most probably write a huge and in-depth article just on RoboCop alone, just not now.

Still, I really do love this film. Paul Verhoeven’s directing is sublime and RoboCop is a film that I have grown up with. From 13-year-old me watching this on VHS and being shocked at the swearing to 46-year-old me peeling back the layers and enjoying this film for its depth and (sometimes not) subtle digs as 80s Americana and culture. In the middle of all of that, you have this story of lost humanity and one of the best acting performances you’ll ever see in an 80s sci-fi flick.

RoboCop

What do you do when you have an overtly violent and very adult-themed film? You make a kid’s cartoon out of it, of course. Honestly, this was a bit of a trend in the 80s and 90s, taking an obviously adult-focused film and turning it into kid’s entertainment. Be it a cartoon, TV show or even kid’s toys, there are loads of examples of this happening back then. I mean, in the 80s, you could buy officially licenced Freddy Krueger pyjamas for kids to wear… just think about that for a second.

FREDDY PJS

This animated show only lasted for one season and 12 episodes. Originally airing in 1988, a year after the film was released. I mean, they didn’t even wait for the film franchise to begin and get stale before they turned into a kid’s show. RoboCop (animation) was released when the film was getting its home release. The film had been an unexpected hit and work on a sequel was already underway by then but why wait for a proper sequel when you can make a kid-friendly cartoon ‘sequel’ instead? RoboCop (animation) does follow the events of the film quite a lot but it also changes things up a fair bit. For example, Murphy is still killed by Clarence Boddicker and his gang to become RoboCop. But Clarence Boddicker and his gang are actually still alive in the cartoon. Lewis is in this too as are a few of the film’s characters. No Bob Morton though (well I guess he did die in the film) and Dr. Tyler is his creator. Now, Dr. Tyler was in the film but as a very minor character. Look, I could sit here all day and point out the differences between this cartoon and the film it is based on but I need to look at if the show was any good or not.

ROBOCOP ANIMATED 88

I never watched this show back then. In fact, I only watched it recently just for this retrospective. It’s kind of like a kid-friendly retelling of the first film that (obviously) replaces the violence of its source material with morals and lessons for children. Guns don’t fire bullets, they shoot lasers… ‘cos kids love lasers. It’s that kind of thing, very typical Saturday morning cartoon fare. None of the film’s actors reprise their roles but it’s not like you’re going to miss them here anyway. The voice cast are actually pretty decent, for a kids cartoon. When watching RoboCop (animation) for this retrospective, I tried to put myself in the shoes of teenage me and work out if I would’ve watched it back when it originally aired. I reckon I would’ve. A bit of Teenage Mutant Ninja (or ‘Hero’ as they were called here in the UK) Turtles, some Spider-Man, a portion of Rude Dog and the Dweebs and a helping of RoboCop on a Saturday morning. Yeah, I think I would’ve gotten into this.

It is very obviously massively diluted from the film but as a kid’s cartoon, it is pretty good. Some episodes even deal with more ‘adult’ content, in a kid-friendly way. Things like racism, terrorism, the environment, various prejudices and so on. The kind of subjects that these types of cartoons like to force in now and then. To be fair, RoboCop even deals with the character’s humanity pretty well too. It is 12 episodes of a very typical but still a fairly entertaining show. If you want to introduce your kids to RoboCop and not worry about scarring them for life via the original film, this is a decent way to do it.

RoboCop 2

Released in 1990, this sequel saw a few of the original cast return like Peter Weller and Nancy Allen. But throw in plenty of new characters, including an ‘improved’ RoboCop 2 (title) to contend with as well as a city-wide drug problem and a Detroit running out of money. Behind the camera, director of the first film, Paul Verhoeven was gone. As too were the original writers with Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner. Sitting in the director’s chair was Irvin Kershner, with the film being written by Frank Miller and Walon Green.

ROBOCOP 2

There were several behind-the-scenes issues with RoboCop 2, mainly the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike. Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner began work on writing a very different and gritter sequel. But the aforementioned writer’s strike put an end to that script. So Frank Miller was brought on as writer instead and he penned a much darker script that involved corporate fascism and would explore the backstory of Alex Murphy more. Then, Walon Green was hired to rewrite Miller’s script and ‘lighten’ it, make it more fun and jokey. This new script also removed a lot of the backstory and ‘simplified’ everything. Then there was Orion Pictures themselves. With the first film, as it wasn’t expected to be a big hit, they left Paul Verhoeven to do whatever he wanted. With this sequel, the studio saw the potential of a franchise, and so they began to control everything much more tightly and perhaps played it too safe.

ROBOCOP 2 SCREEN

RoboCop 2 is a hard film to outright dislike but it is clearly a film that suffers from studio interference and horrible script rewrites. It is still ‘adult’… I guess. Yet, it had this undercurrent of trying to be broader and more appealing to a wider audience. RoboCop 2 is nowhere near as creative or deep as the first film, it’s very shallow and lacks heart. We do get to learn more about Alex Murphy and his (widowed) wife, yet it all feels very ‘off’, lacking in any real meaning. When speaking to avclub.com, Peter Weller said that:

“RoboCop 2 didn’t have a third act. I told the producers and Irv Kirshner up front, and Frank Miller. I told them all. I said, “Where’s the third act here, man? So I beat up a big monster. In the third act, you have to have your Dan O’Herlihy. Somebody’s got to be the third act.” “No, no, the monster’s going to be enough.” “Look, it’s not enough!” When you have a movie like the first RoboCop, where the bad guys are never the bad guys and it’s always the morality of the thing. You know, like the idea that progress in the name of progress can steal a man’s identity. Look, the first RoboCop’s got deregulated trickle-down social economic politics in it, way before Bush and Romney and the debates with Obama and Senator Clinton. It’s got a morality to it. If you don’t have that, man, you’ve got no flick, and I said that so much.”

He was right too, the lack of a real third act thing aside, there really isn’t much of a flick with RoboCop 2 at all. The whole film is just so lacking over the first one. The idea of morality, humanity and so on are just not here. It’s a very typical ‘oh look, we may have a franchise on our hands’ type of sequel. One where the studio were reluctant to take any chances and played it safe just to make a better-looking and bigger budget film but one with very little substance. RoboCop 2 is watchable, even enjoyable at times… but it is still a pretty poor sequel. One thing I will say about this film though is that it got it right about Detroit going bankrupt.

RoboCop 3

RoboCop 2 was a flawed but still a somewhat watchable sequel. RoboCop 3 was just fucking atrocious. Third film and third director with Fred Dekker at the helm. Dekker also co-wrote the screenplay with Frank Miller. Now, in Frank Miller’s defence, his original script was said to have been far better but once he handed it into the studio, it went through several edits and changes. To the point where Miller turned his back on Hollywood and refused to write another script until 2005’s Sin City. Miller turned his bastardised RoboCop scripts into well-received comic books later. Some of the first two film’s cast returned for this sequel… but not Peter Weller, he had good taste. Robert Burke stepped into the chrome suit this time around and he’s a bit terrible. But I think that has more to do with the awful script than the actor. RoboCop 3 was released in 1993 when Orion Pictures were going through bankruptcy.

ROBOCOP 3 SCREEN

There really is very little to like here. You have a film where RoboCop is now helping homeless people and going to get revenge because Lewis has been killed. To be fair, Nancy Allen as Lewis is about the only saving grace in the whole film… and they killed her off about a quarter of the way in. RoboCop gets an interchangeable hand-thing that feels like an idea from one of the kid’s toys. He uses a flamethrower, wears a jet-pack and takes on a ninja robot from Japan. Seriously, I’m convinced that the producers just looked at the RoboCop kids toy line that existed at the time and said ‘make a film like that’. RoboCop has gone from shooting potential rapists in the dick to babysitting an 11-year-old girl who makes ED-209 ‘as loyal as a puppy’.

You know how the first film had real depth. Yeah, it was in its most basic form, just a film about revenge. Still, it had some amazing writing, characters you cared about, satire, witty observations, good acting and more. RoboCop 2 lost a lot of that, yet it did still have some semblance that could be connected to what made the original great. This film, RoboCop 3 however, is just truly heinous. This one feels like a made-for-TV movie that was being used as a vehicle for a family-friendly TV show… which I will get to soon enough. The iconic violence is gone, the excessive swearing is gone and the social satire is gone to be replaced with cheap parody. What you have is a prime example of why the PG-13 rating should never have been invented.

Now, before anyone starts jumping up and down on my nuts for praising and liking the animated RoboCop show earlier for it being kid-friendly, whilst decrying RoboCop 3 for going kid-friendly… allow me to explain. First, I did qualify the animated show by wondering if I would’ve liked it as a teenager back then, not as an adult now. Plus, the animated show may have been the same characters on a technical level, but the show was a retelling of the first film and created its own continuity. Those ‘same’ characters existed in a different universe to the first film. With RoboCop 3, the characters are still supposed to be the same ones from the first two films and it is in continuity with the 1987 original. So RoboCop now being all ‘help a granny cross the road’ is stupid. The character hardly does anything in the film and spends most of it out of action and being repaired.

ROBOCOP 3 SCREEN 2

There’s always been something that bothered me about the film too. Well, there are a great many things that bother me about it, to be honest. But there is one specific thing that always annoyed me. When you see RoboCop moving and talking, the suit looked terrible. You could see the jawline flopping about when Robert Burke spoke. You could see the joins in the suit more than before and it just looked really ‘fake’. It really did just look like an actor in a suit. Whereas before, it looked and felt genuine, even if we did know it was just an actor in a suit. I later found out that the suit used was the same one from RoboCop 2. Now, there is nothing wrong with reusing older props in films but with the RoboCop suit, it was measured and built specifically for Peter Weller and his body. Robert Burke had a different build and his jawline was not as strong. One of the reasons Weller got the part in the first film was because Paul Verhoeven loved his strong jawline. So when Burke wore the suit, it didn’t fit, or it didn’t fit well enough. You can really see as much in the film too. I later learned that the suit was so uncomfortable on Robert Burke that it actually hurt him when he was acting in it and he’d be in that thing for several hours at a time. I genuinely feel sorry for Burke. He had a shit script to work with and spend hours in a suit that caused him pain… just to make a shit and utterly pointless sequel.


And this is just half of the ‘fun’ too. There is more questionable RoboCop content coming up in part two of this retrospective, including some of the most bizarre appearances of the character ever…

ROBOCOP 3 SCREEN 3

Movie Review: Elvis

I’ve been sitting on this one for a few days now. Originally, my review of this simply read: “Well, Tom Hanks was quite good.” and that was it. A one line review for a one-note film. This really isn’t very good. But that one line review, while justified, felt lacking… just like the film. I thought I’d better explain my disdain for this film.

So yeah, I really didn’t enjoy this at all, except for Tom Hanks, a performance that is really dividing people. Music biopics are all the rage recently, a trend that seemingly kicked off with Bohemian Rhapsody a few years back. Yeah, I know that these kinds of flicks predate the Queen biopic, but the recent trend seems to have really kicked off because of it. A few weeks back, I actually reviewed the Kurt Russell starring TV Elvis movie. A film I hadn’t seen for quite a few years. Despite its low budget and age, it has held up pretty well and Russell is a really good Elvis too. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not great or anything but it does have one major saving grace… it’s not this film.

Rap music, rap music in an Elvis biopic! ‘Cos you know, Elvis and the 50s – 70s didn’t have much in the way of music to use eh? It was just so out of place and jarring. I don’t mind when films make artistic music choices. Quentin Tarantino using a mashup of James Brown’s The Payback and 2Pac’s Untouchable during the Candyland shootout in Django Unchained was awesome. But that was a fictional film set in a fictional universe with fictional characters. Let me bring this comparison closer to home with Rocketman, the Elton John biopic had songs being sung at times decades before they had been recorded. The Bollywood dance scene during the Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting scene was completely erroneous but wonderful. However, Rocketman was billed as being a ‘musical fantasy’ and it worked.

ELVIS SCFREEN 2

This Elvis biopic is neither of those things, it’s not a fictional film telling the story of fictional characters. Nor is it a fantasy using a well-known musical artist’s life as its backdrop. It’s supposed to be a genuine and direct attempt at telling the story of Elvis… and it really is not.

There are several major events of Elvis’ life that are skipped over. Sun Records and Sam Phillips? Nope, aside from a very brief mention. Elvis’ long-standing friendship with Red West? Nope. Elvis’ close relationship with his mom? Nope, Gladys Presley is in this, but their close mother/son relationship is pretty much glossed over and when she does die (spoilers) it lacks any character or stroy depth. His time in the Army and being stationed in Germany? Blink and you’ll miss it. Even his marriage to Priscilla is glossed over and feels like a footnote. There are more instances of Elvis’ life that apparently didn’t happen, according to this film. Now, someone said that’s because this is told from the perspective of Colonel Tom Parker and if he wasn’t there to witness events then they can’t really be part of his narrative. Okay, fine I accept that… so why are there so many scenes shown that Colonel Tom was not a part of? We see Elvis as a young boy years before Colonel Tom was even involved. Just one of many examples. If this film wants to use the narrative of this being told through Colonel Tom’s eyes, then stick with it and stop cherry-picking moments to tell a disjointed narrative.

ELVIS SCFREEN 3

This film just skips over major events of Elvis’ life… in a biopic about Elvis. You know, I actually really liked the idea of the story being told from the point of view of Colonel Tom Parker. It’s unique and hasn’t been done before. Tom Hanks was amazing in the role too (some say otherwise) and it’s very unusual to see Hanks playing the bad guy and he really is portrayed as being a bad guy too. But this is an Elvis biopic, it’s called Elvis and is centralised on Elvis. If they want to make a Colonel Tom film… then make a Colonel Tom film… and don’t call it Elvis.

Austin Butler as Elvis is both great and terrible. In the early years, showing his and Colonel Tom’s relationship, Butler was atrocious as young Elvis. I kept thinking he was going to stop and marry a couple in Vegas he was that bad. However, as older Elvis in the 1970s, Butler was fucking amazing. In fact, this film really doesn’t get even slightly interesting or good until the last 30-40 minutes with Elvis doing his Vegas thing. The film actually feels like a disjointed mess of scenes that is just bulldozing its way to the finale. I’m pretty sure the only research done for this film was reading a few paragraphs of Elvis’ Wikipedia page.

ELVIS SCFREEN 1

The main issue is that this is a Baz Luhrmann film. Stroy by, screenplay by, produced and directed by Luhrmann and he’s crap. He’s wearing so many different hats for this film that I’m amazed he didn’t do the catering. He lets his ego get in the way of his art and everything has to be ‘Luhrmannised’ to the point where his films become the epitome of style over substance. That is exactly what this flick is style on top of style, on top of more style… and a tiny bit of substance at the end. It tried to be Rocketman with its glitz and failed. Because unlike the Elton John flick, there’s no real story here, just scenes. A film with a 2-hour and 39-minute runtime and only the later 39 minutes feel anything like a watchable film.

This flick is just an over-bloated mess that doesn’t do anything particularly well (until the end) and what it does do, it does really badly… in style. Elvis is a film that straight up pisses on an icon, it is the cinematic version of someone doing a paint-by-numbers version of the Mona Lisa… with glitter paint and not following the numbers/colour coding…. while painting over the lines. Don’t bother watching this at the cinema, wait until it is on streaming services (which should take a few weeks going by recent trends) because you can just fast forward to the last 40 minutes when it finally gets good then and save yourself a couple of hours.

Oh well, at least Tom Hanks was quite good.

Movie Review: Elvis: The Movie (1979)

There’s a new Elvis film coming very soon. From director Baz Luhrmann and starring Austin Butler as the King of Rock ‘n Roll, with Tom Hanks playing Colonel Tom Parker. Full admittance, I’m not a huge Elvis fan, but my older brother is and so, I grew up with Elvis’ music and films whether I liked it or not. Whilst I’m not a huge Elvis fan, I certainly appreciate him and his work. I’m actually really looking forward to seeing the new Elvis flick too. In the meantime, I thought I’d re-watch the 1979 biopic. A film I’ve not seen since I was a kid and I just wanted to see how it holds up or if it does at all.

The first thing that I do want to cover with this flick is that it was low budget and that it was originally a made for TV movie (though it did see a theatrical and very edited release outside of the US). I mean, this film was made for around $2.5 million which is under $10 million in 2022, that wouldn’t even cover Tom Hanks’ salary in the new film. Still, even with the low budget, Elvis: The Movie is a very worthy effort in telling the life story of The King.

Starting out in 1969 with Elvis (Kurt Russell) waiting to take to the stage in Las Vegas after not performing for a number of years. Elvis begins to doubt that he still has it, worried that he will be a disappointment. The film then cuts to Tupelo, Mississippi in 1945 where we see young Elvis talking to his dead twin and getting a guitar for Christmas (it was actually on his birthday in real life). Beaten up by a local bully, young Elvis decides that he wants to do something with his life and get out of Mississippi. Singing and playing the guitar is what he loves to do, so that’s what he’ll do.

ELVIS 79 SCREEN

From then on, the film follows Elvis at various moments throughout his life and career. His rise from a poor country bumpkin to a global megastar. With scenes featuring teenage Elvis at school being picked on because of his hair, his first recording sessions at Sun Records and his friendship with Red West (Robert Gray). Some of Elvis’ acting roles, his close relationship with and the death of his mother Gladys (Shelley Winters), signing up for the army, meeting and marrying Priscilla (Season Hubley) and ending in 1970 with Elvis’ triumphant return to the limelight after several years of not performing. So it doesn’t cover the last few years of his life before his death in 1977.

What you have here with Elvis is a very ‘by the numbers’ biopic that really doesn’t take any chances. It never delves into any of Elvis’ darker moments and even I, being someone who isn’t a big fan, knows that he wasn’t a saint. Yet that is pretty much how this film portrays him, as the golden child who never did anything wrong. It really isn’t a very deep film at all. Bearing in mind that Elvis died in August of 1977, this film went into production less than a year later and was filmed in mid to late 78, to be released in early 79. Perhaps there was a little hesitance on the filmmaker’s part as to not upset the still grieving fanbase and the Elvis Presley estate at the time by exploring some of his darker moments? This often feels like a collection of Elvis’ ‘greatest hits’ put to film over an accurate retelling of the man’s life.

ELVIS 79 SCREEN 2

Yet, even with this flick being very ‘safe’, it is still a really good and enjoyable watch. Kurt Russell is absolutely amazing as Elvis. To this day, the best performance as The King ever seen on the big or small screen. Obviously, I’ve not seen the new film yet so that could change in a few weeks. Still, Russell really is brilliant. He has the mannerisms down perfect, the voice and that Elvis swagger. The fact that Kurt Russell kind of looks like Elvis really helps too. Now, Russell didn’t do any of the singing, he just lip-synched to recordings made by Ronnie McDowell, which are really damn good. Close your eyes not knowing that you are listening to an Elvis impersonator and I think that even the biggest Elvis fans could be fooled.

The rest of the cast do really well too. Shelley Winters as Elvis’ mother is wonderful and the chemistry between her and Kurt Russell really does come across well on screen. Playing the part of Elvis’ father, Vernon, is Bing Russell… yup, Kurt Russell’s real father. So obviously their chemistry is perfect, a father and son playing a father and son. Pat Hingle plays Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker and this is what I mean about this film being very ‘safe’ because there is none of Parker’s shady life in this film at all. Again, I’m not a huge Elvis fan, but I’ve heard the stories of how Colonel Tom Parker exploited Elvis and perhaps mismanaged and pushed him too far. Of course, Parker was the man who took Elvis from small-time performer in Tupelo, Mississippi and turned him into a global phenomenon but he was still a bit ‘dodgy’ as a person and there’s none of that in this film.

ELVIS 79 SCREEN 4

The rest of the cast do their bit as the friends of Elvis with Robert Gray paying Red West, Elvis’ closest friend and he does a fine job. Season Hubley as Priscilla Presley is good too, even if she doesn’t come into the film until about halfway through and really isn’t used as much as perhaps she should’ve been. Elvis was directed by the legend that is John Carpenter. Now famed for his sci-fi and horror films. In fact, Carpenter landed this job after directing the classic horror film, Halloween. This was also the first time that John Carpenter and Kurt Russell worked together. This sparked a long, fruitful friendship and collaborative working relationship between the two.

For a low budget TV movie that this is, it is certainly far better than you’d expect it to be though. Really great performances throughout and even if the film never really gets very deep or delves into some of the more ‘personal’ aspects of the whole Elvis and Colonel Tom Parker relationship, it is still very much worth seeking out for a watch. Oh yeah, try to find the full version too. As I said earlier, this film was edited for its release outside of the US. I remember a cut of the film that starts just before the death of Gladys Presley. This version cuts out everything before her death too, Elvis growing up, going to school, his first song recording, and the wonderful chemistry between Kurt Russell and Shelley Winters, it’s all gone. It pretty much cuts out half of the film. In fact, this is the cut of the film I remember watching as a kid and it comes in with around an hour and a half runtime. There is another 2 hour cut too however, the full version is actually just under 3 hours and it was only when writing this review that I found the full version to watch for the first time.

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This flick also missed a fantastic opportunity to do a wonderful in-joke. See, Kurt Russell’s first-ever movie acting role was actually with Elvis. It was in the film, It Happened at the World’s Fair from 1963. A then 12-year-old Kurt Russell had to kick Elvis in the shin.

They meet again later in the film and young Russell kicks Elvis in the shin again. There are scenes in this Elvis biopic that have Kurt Russell playing Elvis acting in films. Why they didn’t recreate this scene with Russell playing Elvis and some kid playing Russell kicking him as Elvis, I have no idea. It would’ve been amazing. Apparently, the two got on well on the film set too and would often throw a baseball between each other as they waited between scenes to be filmed. This isn’t Kurt Russell’s only connection to Elvis either. Aside from kicking The King in the shin (twice) and playing him in this film, Russell also played an Elvis impersonator in 3000 Miles to Graceland. A film where Russell’s character is suggested as being Elvis’ illegitimate son, he also sings Such A Night as Elvis during the credits. Kurt Russell voiced Elvis in Forrest Gump too, which starred Tom Hanks, who plays Colonel Tom Parker in the new Elvis flick.

Okay, so a bit more trivia before I end this one. Kurt Russell met with the real Vernon Presley at Graceland while making this film. Vernon was a big supporter of the flick and offered to help out in any way he could. Vernon Presley actually wanted Kurt Russell to wear some of Elvis’ real clothing for the film. Russell picked out the iconic Adonis white jumpsuit. Now, there is a slight anachronistic error here as that jumpsuit was made in 1972 and this film ends in 1970. So in reality, the suit didn’t exist when it is shown in the film. Still, that is Kurt Russell wearing Elvis’ actual famed jumpsuit on the poster for the film and in the film itself.

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But yeah, Elvis: The Movie may not be perfect, it may ignore some of the more questionable aspects of Elvis’ life, his relationship with Colonel Tom Parker and so on and it may come across as being a bit too ‘safe’ as to not want to upset the fanbase/Elvis estate. But still, this is a really good film. Kurt Russell is amazing in the lead role and he is supported by some great actors too. Watch the full and uncut 3-hour version though as it really is the best version of the film out there.

Movie Review: Everything Everywhere All At Once

The multiverse, a wonderful concept that can lead to an inexhaustible infinity of ideas. There could be between one other and an infinite number of universes, other than this one, where there is another version of you leading a different life. Maybe in this universe you clean toilets for a living but in another, you are a world-famous movie star, a scientist who discovered the cure for all known cancers, an honest politician… or just a slightly different version of you wearing a hat while cleaning toilets for a living. The multiverse is an endless well to pull ideas from.

Marvel have been exploring the multiverse with their films, most recently with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. A film that I felt was very okay and that was mainly down to the fact it was directed by Sam Raimi. Then there was Spider-Man: No Way Home, a film that used the multiverse to play on fan nostalgia. I really enjoyed this one but I can’t help but feel that enjoyment mainly came from the fact it did feature past Spider-Men and villains already familiar to me. If it had been the same film but with a completely un-nostalgic cast, I honestly don’t think it would’ve had the same impact.

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On the flip side of that point, there is Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. An animated multiverse flick that didn’t have nostalgia to fall back on and did something a bit more ‘out of the box’. I mean, I doubt that you’ll ever see Peter Porker/Spider-Ham in a live-action Spider-Man film. Why am I bringing Marvel/Sony’s attempts at tackling the concept of the multiverse? Well mainly to show how the same idea can be handled in very different ways. With the MCU, they don’t really seem to be using the idea of a multiverse all that well, it feels very ‘safe’ and ‘fan-service’ like. However, Sony’s effort with the animated film allowed the filmmakers to be a bit more experimental and push the concept of a multiverse a bit further to make a much more interesting film.

And this brings me to Everything Everywhere All at Once, a film about Evelyn and Waymond Wang, a middle-aged married couple who own a laundrette and who are being audited by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Yup, in terms of multiverse films, laundrette ownership and tax audits are not exactly high concept ideas. And yet…

“When an interdimensional rupture unravels reality, an unlikely hero must channel her newfound powers to fight bizarre and bewildering dangers from the multiverse as the fate of the world hangs in the balance.”

Written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as Daniels. These guys have a bit of a penchant for the ridiculous. See 2016’s Swiss Army Man as proof. A film that features a man stuck on an island, and who uses a dead body with severe flatulence as a jet ski to travel the seas. The dead body has a multitude of other uses too, hence the title. So yeah, that’s the level of absurdity we are dealing with here. If you can’t get on board with the idea of a dead Daniel Radcliffe’s erection being used as a compass in Swiss Army Man, then Everything Everywhere All at Once will most definitely have you screaming ‘what the fuck!?’.

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Starring the absolutely awesome Michelle Yeoh, who I have adored for years now, and Ke Huy Quan… or Short Round from Indiana Jones, as he will always be known. Yeoh and Quan play the aforementioned married couple Evelyn and Waymond Wang, running a launderette. As they are being audited by Deirdre Beaubeirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis) an IRS official, Evelyn learns that she is part of something much bigger than washing people’s undercrackers. An evil ‘verse jumper’ called Jobu Tupaki is threatening the destroy the entirety of the multiverse and Evelyn must connect with multiple parallel universe versions of herself (that she created by making different decisions in her life) to stop that from happening. Oh and don’t worry, I’m not doing spoilers here, so this is safe to read.

What kind of a genre is Everything Everywhere All at Once? Well, it’s kind of everything, everywhere and all at once really. It’s a martial arts, black comedy, romance, action, fantasy, family drama, animation, sci-fi… a discussion between rocks about the existence of the universe, a film about bagels and so much more. This film is just utter bat-shit crazy and the title really does sum everything up nicely. Split into three parts the Everything, the Everywhere and the All at Once that the title suggests. We follow Evelyn Wang as she learns that she has to stop the pretty major concern of the end of the multiverse and destruction of all life everywhere, ever in every possible reality. In terms of threat, this is a pretty big one.

Evelyn pulls skills and talents from the many other versions of herself to help defeat the evil… and that is all I’m going to say.

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The film shows many different universes and some of them are really quite sane, such as the self-referential one where Evelyn, played by Michelle Yeoh, a martial arts movie star in our reality, becomes a martial arts movie star in the reality of the film. To the not quite as sane universes, such as one where everybody has hotdogs for fingers… because? There is even a part of the film that becomes a deep discussion between two rocks about how and why the universes and life exists… all done in complete silence and via text-based dialogue. Yup, that is the kind of craziness that Everything Everywhere All at Once throws at you. I mean, it does feature butt plug kung fu…

And yet, in all of that insanity, there is a real human story here about acceptance and family values, especially within Chinese culture that is highlit by the fractured relationship between Evelyn and her daughter (Stephanie Hsu). Really, nothing here should work because none of it makes any logical sense. And yet, it is the utter nonsense of it all that ends up making the most sense. Obviously, I am avoiding spoilers here so can’t really get into the details of what happens to who and how. But the basics of an evil possibly destroying the multiverse really is the gateway to a much deeper and engrossing plot about family.

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The various universes that we get to see, from the perfectly sane to the utterly ludicrous, are wonderfully realised and a joy to experience. There’s a lot of circular symbolism (washing machine doors, googly eyes, scribbles on IRS receipts and more) that is seemingly pointless at first but it all becomes clear towards the end of the film. Everything Everywhere All at Once is crammed with loads of little touches that you may miss the first time around but pick up on with subsequent viewings. As I write this review right now, I have watched the film three times in two days and I’m still picking things up that I previously missed. I have only just noticed how, when Evelyn first experiences the multiverse and the screen fractures, so do the subtitles that we the viewer read. from tiny little details, to much bigger ones are littered all through the film and you’ll need a keen eye to not just see them but also understand the point.

As basic as the good guy (or gal in this case) has to stop the naughty evil plot is, there is so much more going on in this film that is subtext and leads to a much deeper piece of storytelling all round. I have been trying to summarise exactly what watching Everything Everywhere All at Once felt like and I think I may have it. Watching this took me back to the first time I watched The Matrix. Both films have that stylised action look to them and both have a lot more depth and meaning behind them too. Both have that ‘WTF’ aspect to them, even if for entirely different reasons. Both films have a duo of filmmakers at the helm with a vision that is so non-Hollywood that it stands out in its own right. I don’t think I’ve seen a film that has challenged and entertained me in the way that Everything Everywhere All at Once has since I watched The Matrix 23 years ago.

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The cast is wonderful too. I have loved Michelle Yeoh ever since seeing her in Jackie Chan’s Police Story 3: Supercop back in 1992. Speaking of which, this film was actually originally written specifically for Jackie Chan. However, the Daniels decided to change the lead to a female, I think this would’ve been a great film for Chan to do too but Yeoh is outstanding. From the action scenes to the more grounded in reality/family drama stuff or even when this film goes full-on absurd hotdog fingers mode, Michelle Yeoh is perfect. It really is great to see Ke Huy Quan (Short Round from Indiana Jones) doing something with some real meaning too. He’s not the kid with the cute voice anymore and depending on which version of Waymond he is playing. The dowdy and useless one from the ‘normal’ universe or the kick-ass and exposition spouting version from the Alphaverse, he’s on point.

Jamie Lee Curtis as the IRS official is really more of a supporting character but don’t worry, she also gets pretty involved in the more bizarre aspects of the film… as well as some doing some ass-kicking of her own. Seeing Jamie Lee Curtis do some martial arts and pro wrestling moves could be the greatest thing you’ll see this year. Even James Hong is in this and if you are a big Chinese/American film fan then you should know who this legend is. I mean, Lo Pan from Big Trouble in Little China… ’nuff said.

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Everything Everywhere All at Once is beautifully shot too with some great use of cinematography to allude to certain aspects of the plot that are very subtle. I only just noticed, on my third viewing, that the aspect ratio of the film changes as it progresses. It becomes more wide-screen as Evelyn sees and understands more of what is going on, clever. The action is captured brilliantly and clearly. Funny nods and references to things in our universe that are different from the universes shown in this film (the Ratatouille bit was great). A madcap hodgepodge of film genres, filming styles and story threads. But like a patchwork quilt, everything is stitched together to make a final product that works as a wonderful sum of its parts.

In terms of multiverse films that I have seen recently, Everything Everywhere All at Once blows all of them out of the water… and on a much smaller budget too. Proving that money doesn’t always buy the best of everything. Jamie Lee Curtis even took to Instagram to declare that this film “out marvels any Marvel movie they put out there”… one in particular. She’s not wrong either. As pissed off as a lot of Marvel fans were over her comment, that is exactly how much better this film is as an exploration of a multiverse concept and as an overall film. Around $200 million is what Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness cost to make, this film? $25 million. An eighth of the budget and yet, infinitely better in every possible way.

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Now, I know that Everything Everywhere All at Once is not going to be for everyone because it is so ‘out there’. Yet as crazy as this film can be and does get in places, under all of that chaos is still a very grounded story about family relationships and human needs, mothers vs daughters, husbands vs wives, aspirations vs disappointments. There is a lot to take in here and as I said earlier, subsequent viewings can reveal details that you may have missed first time around. Like The Matrix, this film can be viewed on a multitude of levels. You want to just watch some well shot and pretty awesome action? This flick has that. You want a film with scenes that would make the Monty Python Colonel character appear and say “stop that, it’s silly” over the nonsense? Check. You want a movie about relationships and love? That’s here too.

A few days ago I watched Top Gun: Maverick and I thought it was the best film I had seen this year. A very worthy sequel to a classic 80s flick that is adored by many. Then I watched Everything Everywhere All at Once afterwards and suddenly, Top Gun: Maverick seems so ‘underwhelming’… but still amazing in its own right. Everything Everywhere All at Once is what cinema should be about more often. Ballsy filmmakers taking chances with smaller budgets to deliver refreshing pieces of unique art… no matter how absurd they may get. Proof that you don’t need a $200 million budget to make a deep and engrossing film… with a scene that features two rocks discussing the existence of life in utter silence.

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Movie Review: Top Gun: Maverick

1986’s Top Gun is one of the quintessential movies of that decade. How many times have I watched the first film? I have no idea but it’s a lot. Top Gun was one of my ‘growing up’ films. It was very quotable, it had a naked Kelly McGillis sex scene… and overt homoeroticism with half-naked sweaty men playing beach volleyball, while Kenny Loggins sang about Playing With The Boys. Oh, it also had some pretty great fighter jet action scenes and stuff too.

Really, all Top Gun was, was a romance flick with jet fighters. It was a film with a very simple premise but a film that became a modern-day classic. It also made Tom Cruise a huge star and had quite a bit of heart to it. Just mention the name ‘Goose’ to any Top Gun fan and watch their bottom lip quiver. As great as that first film was, it really did feel very stand-alone and no sequel felt necessary. Yet, here we are, a whole 36 years later and Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell is back.

“After more than 30 years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him. Training a detachment of graduates for a special assignment, Maverick must confront the ghosts of his past and his deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who choose to fly it.”

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Top Gun: Maverick has had a bit of a troubled production. Originally announced back in 2010, Tony Scott, who directed the first film, was on board to return as director here. As he was working on the project, sadly, he committed suicide in 2012. So, the whole thing was put on hold. In early 2018, the project was picked up again with Joseph Kosinski hired as director. Originally set to be released in July of 2019, it was delayed until June 2020 so they could shoot some more scenes. Then the whole covid thing kicked off and more delays came. Set to be released at the end of 2020 instead… only that didn’t happen as covid had a massive domino effect on other big movies and loads of release dates got moved around. Top Gun: Maverick was then set to be released in July 2021. But that didn’t happen either as Tom Cruise became too busy shooting the next Mission Impossible film(s) and would not be available to help promote this one. Eventually, Top Gun: Maverick was given a May 2022 release and it actually made it too.

After the film began production over a decade ago, the sad suicide of its original director and multiple delays that led to a 3-year wait. Was it all worth it, does this sequel work or tarnish the awesomeness of the original? Well, that is what this spoiler-free review is going to tell you.

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As I say, I won’t be doing spoilers here but I do need to quickly go over the basics of the plot. After over 30 years of service, Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell is now working as a test pilot for the U.S. Navy. Happy with where he is, Maverick has purposely dodged promotion to avoid being grounded and stuck behind a desk. After going against Rear Admiral Chester Cain’s (Ed Harris) wishes, Maverick pushes a hypersonic prototype jet to its limits, which results in destroying the very expensive jet. Instead of punishing Maverick by grounding him, Admiral Cain sends him back to the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program (AKA Top Gun), where he was trained himself in the first film, to train a new group of fighter pilots for a mission.

What Top Gun: Maverick is, in essence, is yet another one of those ‘legacy sequels’. You know the kind of film by now as we have already had a few recently. A sequel to a film with a huge, many years gap between them that brings old characters back to teach the new blood how to do things. Ghostbusters: Afterlife and the new Scream come to mind as I write this. A sequel film that is very heavy on the nostalgia of the original while trying to inject some modern ethics into a dated franchise. These kinds of films can really be hit and miss. It’s great to see some much-loved characters back but they often feel out of place now.

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As with other legacy sequels, Top Gun: Maverick really does slap you hard with the nostalgia. There are parts of this film where I was questioning if this was a sequel or a thinly veiled remake. Do you want a scene in a bar where the hotshot pilots ridicule their teacher, unbeknownst to them that the person is their teacher? Do you want a follow-up scene where those same hotshot pilots have a ‘damn’ moment when Maverick is revealed to be their new teacher at Top Gun? Do you want a scene with people singing Great Balls of Fire around a piano? Do you want a scene on a beach with some half-naked sports? Do you want more Kenny Loggins? This film has all of that and more. To put this in a most basic description, Tom Cruise in this film is playing the Kelly McGillis character from the first film.

As I said, that is putting this film into basics as there is a lot more going on here. One of the new characters is Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw (Miles Teller) who is the son of Goose from the first film (both even have moustaches) and the relationship between Maverick and Rooster is not the best. So you have your conflict angle there. The other characters are filled out with some carbon copies of characters from the first film too.

The only two returning characters from Top Gun are Maverick and Iceman (Val Kilmer). Now, Kilmer has been suffering from throat cancer and can’t talk, I mean in real life, not this fiilm. So there was serious doubt that he would be in the film, but he is. And without going into spoilers, the scene that he and Cruise share together is perhaps the best of the entire film. It’s not about flying jets, no action or anything. Just two old friends talking and it really does pack a hell of a punch. The chemistry between the two is wonderful to see. And even though we’ve not seen anything of their relationship over the last 30-odd years, you still get a sense that these guys are close.

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The obligatory love interest for Maverick is Penelope Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly). Now, if you are a die-hard Top Gun fan, then that name may sound familiar. Penelope wasn’t in the first film but the name was mentioned. She was the girl that is referenced several times, the admiral’s daughter that Maverick has a few ‘high-speed passes’ with.

But outside of all the references and nostalgia for the first film, Top Gun: Maverick really does hold its own. The action scenes are brilliantly shot as Tom Cruise (a producer on the film) demanded that no CGI should be used and all the action be real. Real jets flying in real locations getting involved in real (scripted) conflict. It looks amazing too. As good as CGI can be at times, it really can not compete with the real thing. I’m sure some CGI was used to enhance the scenes but the jets themselves were real. The cast actually had to sit in real cockpits in real jets and were flown by real pilots to get all of the close-up shots. This film is far better for it too and the action here is really well done as it looks and feels very authentic.

The directing by Joseph Kosinski is top-notch too. This is one of the films that doesn’t feel like a scene is wasted, as if it is just there for ‘reasons’. Even the half-naked sports on a beach scene feels like it should be part of the film. Whereas, with the first film, you really do question what the point was. There is drama, emotion,  action and a bit of romance along the way. The whole thing really does feel very Top Gun. I’m not exactly a huge fan of Tom Cruise, I find him okay at best. But when he gets it right, he can be amazing. Here though, I absolutely loved him. His Maverick is older and a little wiser here, but he still has that cocky arrogance and charm that was there with the character in the first film. It may be 36 years later but quite honestly, this feels like it could’ve been made a couple of years after the original.

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Top Gun: Maverick is brilliant. I really wasn’t expecting it to be at all though. As a big fan of the original and being very wary of legacy sequels like this, I was ready to roll my eyes in disappointment. However, by the time the end credits were doing their thing, I had a massive grin on my face. This isn’t just a sequel to a classic film, this is a very worthy sequel to a classic film. Dare I say it, even better than the first film… yes I do dare. The nostalgia is there and even with a lot of remade scenes, it never felt out of place. There is a bit in the last act of the film with a none-too-subtle ‘I may be old but I can still, do what I do’ analogy and even this made sense within the film itself. With a slightly over 2 hour runtime that just flew by (no pun), I recommend that you get this watched ASAP. Was it worth the three decade and several delays wait? Oh yeah.