Tag Archives: Michael Keaton

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RoboCop (2014) 3.64/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 74.4
Genre: Science Fiction
Duration: 117 mins
Director: José Padilha
Stars: Joel Kinnaman, Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson

An audacious and laudable remake that takes the opportunity to look at a central concept of the original film from a fresh perspective. In other words, it does exactly what a remake should! Whereas most modern remakes simply use the name recognition of the original as a basis for spewing out a series of CGI action sequences and nothing more, this one takes the most fascinating ideas underlying the original RoboCop and teases them out one by one. And that it does so on a level that would put many academics on the subject to shame is even more impressive. The scenario is only roughly similar to the 1987 movie. An America of the future where OmniCorp (who are restricted to non-domestic military applications like the ED209) are eager to overcome a congressional bill by getting the American public to accept robot law enforcers on their streets. Their villainous CEO (a brilliant Michael Keaton with a performance so utterly untouched by cliche that we spend most of the movie liking him) comes up with the idea of putting a man in a machine. Unfortunately, an immediate conflict between the robotic components and his free will raises financial, political, and philosophical implications that place pressure on the scientists to separate the two when in reality they may share a much more dynamic and inseparable relationship.

In a further gutsy move, the man to play the hero was picked from relative obscurity. Far from an obvious choice, The Killing’s Joel Kinnaman nonetheless cuts a decent Murphy. He doesn’t have the booming presence of Peter Weller but his character is conflicted from the moment he’s awoken and thus less assured as the cyborg law enforcer. In truth, with everything that’s going on, he isn’t as central as Weller’s RoboCop was in the first place and while he, like the plot, could’ve had a little more room to breathe, the “secondary” characters, representing as they do the film’s wider questions, are just as important.

Keaton may not be playing a machine himself but he’s no less electric. There’s a genuine substance to his character’s actions like tiptoeing into his underling’s office out of concern for bring rude. Gary Oldman as the scientific mind behind the robot interface is just as complex and terrifically realised on screen. Of course, much of the credit must go to Joshua Zetumer and Edward Neumeier’s (yes, the same man responsible for the glorious satire of the original film) well nourished script (though much was added by uncredited James Vanderbilt). A less satirical screenplay but even more cynical, in this RoboCop humans are human, whether they be bad or good. Caricatures are few and far between in this remake – and there’s a sentence for you!

But what tips this movie into the net is the movie’s intellectual ambitions. Fascinatingly and indeed admirably informed debates regarding the nature and constituency of human consciousness and self-determination lie at the centre of the story and even the plot so that the film coheres like almost no other modern blockbuster. That it’s cohering around the most complex of subject matters is fairly impressive when practically every other tentpole movie can’t even balance the most trite themes of the human condition. Contrary to movies like Inception which have absolutely no bearing on the reality of human psychology, RoboCop 2014 is framed around cutting edge considerations in the science from the neuropsychological basis of free will to its fundamental interdependence with unconscious action. Similarly sophisticated is its glancing swipe at the role of the right wing media in the politics of fear through reduction, simplistic disingenuousness, childish anger, and naked hypocrisy.

Where the movie undoubtedly runs flat, however, is in its action sequences. Here, Jose Padilha’s direction (which by some accounts was beset with studio interference) needed a little more elegance and much more punch. The set pieces smack of tokenism and an overuse of the Call of Duty PoV attenuates their cinematic quality. That the original scored as high in this department as it did on its satire places it firmly above this remake. But then again, action is not what this remake is about. The ultimate twist here is that RoboCop 2014 isn’t an action sci-fi at all but a cerebral sci-fi with just a little action sprinkled on top.

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Pacific Heights (1990) 3.43/5 (5)

 

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Rating: The Good – 70.9
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 102  mins
Director: John Schlesinger
Stars: Michael Keaton, Melanie Griffith, Matthew Modine

Pacific Heights is an original and well crafted thriller about a young couple (Melanie Griffith and Matthew Modine) who rent the downstairs of their newly renovated dream-house to an initially charming but deeply disturbed man (Michael Keaton) who begins to psychologically terrorise them ostensibly for profit but in reality because of deeper compulsions. Griffith and Modine hit most of the right notes but this is Keaton’s film as he gives us a very different type of villain than we’re used to seeing.

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Beetlejuice (1988) 4.43/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 78.4
Genre: Fantasy
Duration: 92  mins
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis

Tim Burton’s imaginative and authentically quirky tale of a young married couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) who after dying in a car crash become trapped for an eternity as ghosts in their own home. When a somewhat unwholesome family (led by the always excellent Catherine O’Hara) move into the dead couple’s house, the two ghosts hire a professional exterminator of the living called Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton) to get rid of them. Burton’s magical eye helped create one of the most distinctive looking films of the 1980′s and as a work of pure fantasy, it is arguably his most well-rounded work. Initially, the movie depicts two very incompatible worlds (mirroring the confusion of the young couple): the near-incomprehensible world of the afterlife set against the more familiar and comfortably framed world of the living. The real feat of genius, however, lies in how he subtly transforms the latter into the former as the film progresses only to rapidly invert that process at the end. If Burton is making magic happen behind the camera well then he is matched every inch of the way by what Keaton is doing in front of it. Keaton is simple astounding as the “ghost with the most” as his timing, delivery, and improvisation collide to form a whirlwind of comedy-horror and one of cinema’s most memorable characters. “You’re working with a professional here!”. You better believe it!

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Night Shift (1982) 3.43/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 67.7
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 106  mins
Director: Ron Howard
Stars: Henry Winkler, Michael Keaton, Shelley Long

Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton make a great comedy duo in this goofy comedy about two morgue night attendants who decide to run a pimping operation from their deserted offices during the small hours. Winkler continues his attempt to eschew his Fonz persona (and does quite well) as the reserved and timid Chuck who is intimidated by everyone including his fiancé. That is until he meets Bill (Keaton), a free spirit with lots of harebrained ideas and Belinda (Shelly Long), the plucky working girl next door who together get Chuck involved in the lucrative but dangerous business of prostitution. Cue wild morgue parties, fights with rival pimps, and other such mayhem. The most important thing is that it all works wonderfully. Ron Howard’s direction captures the spirit of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel’s witty script well and the various characters are all fleshed out in interesting ways. The chemistry between the three leads is spot on and each of them adds substantially to the humour levels. Keaton’s performance as the lovable doofus has been well remembered down through the years and it is brilliantly funny but this is a team effort from start to finish.

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Out of Sight (1998) 4.29/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 74.9
Genre: Crime
Duration: 123 mins
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Keaton

Terrific adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel by Steven Soderbergh with George Clooney in top form as a serial bank robber who breaks out of a Florida prison so that he can pull a diamond heist with the help of his regular accomplice (Ving Rhames). While doing so, he is forced to kidnap a beautiful but tough federal marshal in the form of Jennifer Lopez and an unlikely relationship between the two develops. As you’d expect from a Leonard-Soderbergh project, Out of Sight is a slickly crafted and worded film with all the style of Soderberg’s Oceans films but with more restraint and a better story. David Holmes chimes in with an equally slick and well weighted score. The highlight of this synthesis between dialogue, look, and score comes during the central romantic moment of the film which is full of playful innovation. Lopez and Clooney are brilliant together displaying palpable chemistry as they woo and zing each other in equal measure.

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Batman (1989) 4.57/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 85.2
Genre: Fantasy
Duration: 126  mins
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger

Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson go toe to toe on the streets of Gotham as Batman and the Joker respectively in Tim Burton’s ingenious re-imagining of the famous comic book. Christopher Nolan and his films may be surfing on a wave of popularity at the moment but Burton’s original (and indeed his follow-up Batman Returns) is a far superior film to Batman Begins and even The Dark Knight. Coming from the mind of Burton, Batman’s darkness seems somehow more authentic than Nolan’s, yet it also remains more faithful to the comic book idea which Nolan was clearly moving away from. Burton’s vision of Gotham City and its colourful inhabitants are sumptuously brought to life through visionary set design, some of best dialogue in the business (seriously!), and terrific performances from all concerned. Nicholson’s Joker has one immortal line after another to chew on while Keaton’s hugely under-appreciated Batman is the most layered and intriguing portrayal of the Caped Crusader to date. Kim Basinger, Jack Palance, Michael Gough, Billy Dee Williams, and Pat Hingle all offer strong support but this is Keaton vs Nicholson all the way. The action set-pieces are all masterfully directed with the museum-escape sequence in particular standing out. Danny Elfman’s score quickly became the template for all subsequent superhero movies and the film as a whole changed the genre forever. Fantastic!

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Jackie Brown (1997) 4.57/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 82.7
Genre: Crime
Duration: 154 mins
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael KeatonRobert De Niro

Quentin Tarantino’s only adaptation of existing material sees him take on Elmore Leonard’s “Rum Punch” and the result is a fascinating combination of the two artists’ particular styles. 70′s blaxploitation star Pam Grier is the struggling air stewardess Jackie Brown, who after being arrested by ATF agents attempts to play them off against the gun-running criminal to whom she had been illegally delivering money.

Though she only really comes into the movie about half an hour in, Grier’s graceful presence dominates the movie and did as much to affect its style as Tarantino did. Samuel L. Jackson gives us a uniquely charming yet ruthless criminal in the form of ATF-target Ordelle Robbie, while Michael Keaton steps up to play the agent in charge of the investigation (the same character he played in Out of Sight – another Leonard-adaptation released that same year). Robert De Niro is also on hand to put in a solid if understated shift as Ordelle’s henchman. However, the true revelation is Robert Forster as the decent bail-bondsman Max Cherry, who strikes up a friendship with Brown after Ordelle hires him to post her bail. Tarantino rescued Forster from b-movie wilderness to bring him in on this but it was well worth the effort as his performance is one of the most genuine and endearing in recent memory. There are some critics who have argued that the plot to Jackie Brown peters out towards the end due to the protracted set-up and execution of the central scam but such criticism misses the point to this film entirely. Jackie Brown is all about the tender would-be romance which emerges between Cherry and Brown. It’s a mature and refreshingly real depiction of friendship and in capturing it more purely and honestly than 99% of so called “romantic dramas”, Tarantino shows yet another sophisticated side to his colossal talent.

Tarantino structures this complicated story superbly by masterfully employing the soft sound and look of Jack Hill’s blaxploitation classics to set the mood, Kubrick’s time-placed multi-perspective sequences from The Killing to generate tension, and the split screen artistry of Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill to accelerate the story where needed. In each case, he pushes the boundaries of his predecessors (showing again that this guy is much more than a mimic) and in the case of the split screen he gives us perhaps the most clinical demonstration of that device’s effectiveness. Of course, even when he is not channelling anyone else, what he serves up is just as tantalising and for everything there is to know about Tarantino just check out that opening sequence and its majestic finessing of staging, millisecond editing, and audio mixing. This is also, the first film in which Tarantino uses non-digetic sounds and, in the scene in which Ordelle pays Jackie Brown a night time visit, he does so to sublime effect. Yet another string in the bow of this master director.

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Multiplicity (1996) 3.14/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 65.7
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 117  mins
Director: Harold Ramis
Stars: Michael Keaton, Andie MacDowell, Zack Duhame

Harold Ramis hasn’t directed many movies but when he has they’ve usually stood the test of time and Multiplicity is no different. Michael Keaton stars as an overworked construction worker whose demanding family life and unsympathetic boss push him towards the edge. That is until he meets an eccentric scientist who convinces him that a clone is the best way to get two things done at once! Things go horribly wrong of course when the clone decides he himself needs a clone! As he did with Groundhog Day, Ramis gives the outlandish scenario some proper depth, never being afraid to bring the emotions of the characters to the forefront of the story. He also gives Keaton plenty of room to improvise and it pays off in spades as he is simply excellent with each clone being funnier than the next (all with different personalities – kudos Chris Miller). The last clone in particular (clone of a clone of a clone) is messed up from the repeated copying and is consequently utterly hysterical.  Andy McDowell is only slightly annoying as Keaton’s wife and in fairness, she does more than her bit in allowing Keaton and his three Keaton-clones to do their magic.

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Batman Returns (1992) 2.81/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 86
Genre: Fantasy
Duration: 126  mins
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer

It’s too bad that Christopher Nolan’s much hyped Batman films have given a whole new generation of kids the wrong impression on what to expect from a Batman film. Nolan attempted to bring Batman into the real world by asking the question: what if there really were superheroes? This is laudable, though not original, and there’s no doubt that Nolan does it well (Okay, in The Dark Knight he did it well). But in the final analysis, the very idea of a Batman is cartoonish, unrealistic, and from the point of view of the real world – just plain silly. As such, the idea of Batman is best explored in a comic book film. That is, a film where the world and its inhabitants are caricatured. That’s crucial because a caricature would never dream about questioning the validity of a man who dresses up as a bat because in his exaggerated world, where the laws of logic only tenuously apply, Batman makes perfect sense. A more realistic character, however, would laugh himself silly if a man dressed up as a bat took it upon himself to start fighting criminals. Burton understood this but he also understood the yearning for Batman (the most serious of superheroes) to be a little more gritty and real than the rest of the bright-tight wearing lot. And in attempting to be true to both ideals, he gave us the two most spellbinding superhero films ever.

Batman is a tour-de-force of production design, direction, acting, and in particular screenwriting. Batman Returns doesn’t have the masterfully lyrical dialogue of its predecessor but it does have a more mature and sombre screenplay. Its main characters (Batman, Catwoman, Penguin, and Max Shreck) are fascinatingly realised and brilliantly performed and Danny Elfman’s score is a darker and more seductive version of his seminal 1989 score. Where Batman Returns exceeds the quality of that first film is in Burton’s sublimely executed vision. Batman Returns is quite simply one of the most visually stunning films ever made, a film which is immersed in the expressionism genre where set-design, darkness, and shadow take on a life of their own. However, Burton goes one step further by marrying this expressionism with the comic-book genre in as honest and as uncompromising a manner possible. Thus, the bright colours of the Penguin’s circus army and giant plastic duck mobile and the gaudy decor of Max Shreck’s office are set against the impossibly black background of Gotham city to tremendous effect. One will be utterly spellbound if they let themselves take in what Burton serves up here.

Thankfully, the story has the legs to compete with this visual spectacle mainly thanks to the quality of the characters and actors on show. Danny De Vito is perfect as the maniacal Penguin, and Christopher Walken gives us perhaps the most enjoyable comic book villain outside of either Nicholson or Ledger’s Joker. Michael Keaton is superb as Bruce Wayne and Batman both, balancing the different sides to his character with aplomb. Of all those who have played Wayne, his is easily the most spot-on depiction of a disturbed billionaire recluse with a dark penchant for vengeance. The show stopper is of course Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman. She is simply incredible as the feline killer blinded by mad rage and that moment when she, Batman, and the Penguin finally meet is not just a testament to her presence but to the quality of the entire project for in that moment we have the essence of Batman Returns. Boom!

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