You don’t have to see the RoboCop remake. Normally I’d say that if you don’t see the big new release that you can’t read the new Movies to Watch column, because you’ll get spoiled. But I don’t think there’s much in the way of spoilers here, even if you haven’t seen the 1987 original. There’s a cop, he becomes part robot and then he’s a RoboCop. Without knowing much more than that, you can gather that some obvious precursors include Frankenstein, Blade Runner and anything where Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a police officer of any kind.
Yet none of those are in this week’s batch of a dozen recommendations inspired by the new RoboCop. Some of my picks are more obvious with relation to the remake than the Paul Verhoeven version. Speaking of which, that too is another obvious selection I feel is a given if you see the new one and haven’t before seen the old. Go ahead and see the divisive RoboCop 2, also, and while you’re at it go on to RoboCop 3 in order to see something much, much worse than the reboot. Because it was difficult to be reminded of much else besides those predecessors, more than a few of the titles below are merely better earlier works by the talent involved.
In spite of what I said above, here’s your reminder that the following list may spoil parts of this week’s movie, so if you haven’t seen the RoboCop remake and plan to, you might not want to read ahead just yet.
Let’s kick things off with a little reality. This short documentary by Rafel Duran Torrent features Neil Harbisson, an actual cyborg due to his having a permanent mechanical eye (called an eyborg) that stems out from the back of his brain and over his head. It helps him to experience color sight through the sensation of music, and inspired by this technology he has also done a lot of artwork involving the translation of sound to colors and vice versa. He previously had a fitting cameo in Terminator: Salvation, but this film puts him front and center for its brief running time of three and a half minute. Produced as part of the GE-sponsored Focus Forward Films series, devoted to innovative people around the world, screened at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize (including $100K!) in the series’ filmmaker competition. Guess who was a member of that jury. Yep, RoboCop remake director Jose Padilha.
Watch the short below.
A.D. Police File 3: The Man Who Bites His Tongue
If you want a film that’s kind of like a remake of RoboCop but shorter and kinkier and animated, this third part of a trilogy prequel for Bubblegum Crisis is for you. The basic premise of the half-hour anime film is the same as RoboCop: an officer who nearly dies is saved by being turned into a cyborg, and then he becomes the greatest asset to Mega Tokyo’s A.D. Police. But in this take on the concept, the cop is having some psychological issues and in order to keep sane by reminding himself of his humanity, he bites his tongue to feel pain by the only source he has left. That tongue can also be used for other things, too, and at one point the doctor who designed him has simulated sex with the machine, primarily in order to give his mind much needed stimulation. There’s a shootout in the dark that reminded me of one scene in the new remake, too.
Watch the animated short below.
If the reason for the RoboCop remake to exist is its relevance to the modern issue of military drones, it was pretty much beaten to the punch more than five years ago with the first Iron Man movie. While not a cyborg, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) does have a mechanical gizmo attached to his heart keeping him alive, and as Iron Man he is kind of like a robotic law enforcer. The Marvel Comics adaptation also addresses issues with the military industrial complex and taps into ideas about the man/machine being a weapon that should be owned and utilized only by the U.S. The opening of the new RoboCop, set in Tehran during a routine policing operation involving actual robots, reminded me of the part in Iron Man when Stark returns to Afghanistan as Iron Man to save some villagers from the Taliban (watch the scene below).
Back to reality, this new Oscar-nominated documentary shows the reality of another side to the new RoboCop movie: drones and other remote combat tools, such as cruise missiles, used for targeted attacks. Director Rick Rowley follows journalist Jeremy Scahill as he investigates America’s covert wars, while in RoboCop everything is out in the open about robots used for policing villages against insurgents and fighting the war on terrorism. One thing that’s lacking in the action remake is real recognition that unmanned and remote weapons often kill innocents, including women and children. That’s part of the point of why RoboCop is created, to give these machines a human conscience. Of course, it’s human error that often leads to innocents’ deaths, so that’s not a positive advancement for drone technology.
The Bourne Legacy
Many dismissed this Bourne franchise spin-off starring Jeremy Renner as a silly, action-deficient installment with no redeeming entertainment value. While some of that is valid, there’s a lot to like in this movie, from the performance by Rachel Weisz to the way it plays with the Bourne Identity‘s plot by inverting some character purpose, as well as how it’s more about combat drones than anything else. This should be obvious after a scene with an actual failed drone attack on Renner’s character, as we then make the association that he has been a sort of human drone, having been turned into a kind of machine through drugs, to be a perfect killing machine. He’s Frankenstein and RoboCop without the reanimation or robotics.
Another underrated movie that is more interesting for its ideas than its action — though there are some really great visuals here, too, and a terrific lead performance. In this 2013 sci-fi adaptation, Ender (Asa Butterfield) is used for the purposes of remote warfare. He’s not a drone but rather a manipulated player in what he thinks are always combat simulations. There are some parallels between how he’s exploited and how Renner’s Bourne Legacy character and RoboCop are exploited. And of course after you watch Ender’s Game, there’s a list of movies to see after that, too.
Like a perfect inverse of RoboCop, Johnny 5 is a military robot that becomes more human thanks to a lightning strike that somehow gives him artificial intelligence and free will. But there are some shared traits between the plots, namely in how the military wants to destroy their malfunctioning property but the scientists responsible for his creation are out to save him. Yes, Gary Oldman is little more than today’s Steve Guttenberg by this analogy. I think that might make Aimee Garcia its Fisher Stevens in blackface. Short Circuit is another 1980s movie with a remake in development.
Snabba Cash (aka Easy Money)
A lot of moviegoers aren’t familiar with RoboCop star Joel Kinnaman, whether because they don’t watch the TV series The Killing or because they’re not connoisseurs of modern Swedish cinema. Kinnaman is a Swede, and both his film debut and his breakout role were in movies that were or are going to be remade by Hollywood. The first, in which he’s got a minor supporting part, is the original version of The Invincible. The latter is this sleek 2010 crime thriller where he’s he lead, a poor student who starts selling drugs to fit into the upper class society of a woman he falls for. Martin Scorsese attached his name to the film, which earned Kinnaman the Swedish equivalent of a Best Actor Oscar. He resumed his role in two sequels, Snabba Cash II (aka Easy Money: Hard to Kill), which was released in the U.S. this weekend, opposite his big action debut, and Snabba Cash: Livet Deluxe (aka Easy Money: Life Deluxe), which came out in Sweden last year. The remake, set to star Zac Efron, is currently in development.
The title character’s wife has a more substantial role in the RoboCop remake, but while she is more significant to the story, she is also just a device for the plot and has little development beyond that. It’s unfortunate that Abbie Cornish has been reduced to such a role given that it seemed she was on her way to being a bright star in Hollywood. And that partly has to do with her breakout performance in a movie called Bright Star. Jane Campion directs this romantic drama about poet Robert Keats and his three year affair with Fanny Brawne, who Cornish plays wonderfully.
Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite)
The movie that likely got Jose Padilha the notice from Hollywood that led to his gig directing RoboCop, this 2007 Brazilian film co-scripted by Braulio Mantovani (City of God) is a much grittier look at good cops, bad cops and drug trafficking criminals. No RoboCops, though, but like the remake he’s helmed this is special for its modern relevance. While set in 1997 on the eve of a visit from the Pope to Rio de Janeiro, its premise of tasking military type police to curb crime and clean up the favelas for an upcoming national event parallels what has been in reality happening in anticipation of this summer’s FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, both being held in Brazil. As for how this and its sequel, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, best link to RoboCop, though, is in some of the armored vehicles we see driven in the former by the BOPE in the former and by OmniCorp in China.
Secrets of the Tribe
I should be recommending Padilha’s Bus 174, his best film, fiction or nonfiction, but it doesn’t relate quite as well as Elite Squad and this other, lesser known documentary about ethically questionable actions of anthropologists in the Amazon during the 1960s and 1970s. I was actually reminded of this great slam against academia more than I was the previous entry on this list, because of the way RoboCop is utilized for ethically questionable experiments regarding cybernetics, memory and other cognitive aspects that make a human human. In Secrets of the Tribe we’re shown stories of scientists who employed indigenous South Americans in medical experiments, in social experiments and for sexual exploitation — either as prostitutes or child brides. Especially fitting is how the native people were introduced to weapons and how that affected them individually and socially.
Watch the first 10 minutes below.
The Wizard of Oz or The Stoned Age
I love the soundtrack choices in the RoboCop remake, particularly two cues in a single training scene in which RoboCop’s strengths as an unstoppable one-man army are on display for the OmniCorp execs. First, we hear the diegetic jokey use of “If I Only Had a Heart,” which is the Tin Man’s tune in The Wizard of Oz. Then, non-diegetically, to ramp up the action for the audience, the movie goes with “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, a yodeled heavy metal song that apparently I’m not alone in loving. I don’t know how cinema has gone so long without such a prominent presence of the tune, the last that I can recall being a very brief diegetic employment in the Dazed and Confused knockoff The Stoned Age. It’s not a great movie, but it has some funny moments and some other great soundtrack bits. If you’ve already seen the classic 1939 L. Frank Baum adaptation and weren’t inspired by RoboCop to revisit it, then pop in James Melkonian‘s only other movie besides The Jerky Boys.
The Stoned Age is available on iTunes