Saturday, 3 November 2012

Night Visions MH12: The Future of Law Enforcement

Just when you thought it was safe to take it easy with festival movies and go early to bed, comes once again the devastator of minds and sleeping rhythms. But this year Night Visions Festival is clearly bigger, faster and stronger than ever before. The greatest genre classics and the most interesting new films come thick and often, so who needs sleep?

This year has also seen its share of incredible guests, the most notable being the legendary directors John waters and Paul Verhoeven, both of whom were nice enough for their fans to switch a few words with me, shake my hand and pose for a picture.

I'm currently preparing for the traditional all-nighter, during which I aim to watch a whopping nine films, from 4PM's End of Watch to the ending film The Seeding of a Ghost, set to start at 8.45 AM. It gives me time to reflect on the two futuristic police satires that served as the opening of the festivities.

RoboCop (1987)
Director: Paul Verhoeven

The warm-up show for the festival was arranged around Paul Verhoeven's visit to plug his book Jesus of Nazareth. Which was all the more fitting to show the uncut original version of his sci-fi action masterpiece for the first time on Finnish screens. Verhoeven calls the film both his "American version" of the life of Jesus, and also his best success while making films in Hollywood.

The futuristic Detroit is a city ruled by rich executives, while regular people live in squalor. Crime rates are through the roof, and the city's small police force can't handle all the heat. That's why they resort to private funding for a new kind of, more effective law enforcement. Yet Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) has cut corners with the design of his robot ED-209, and it kills everyone in its path, whether committing a crime or not. The young opportunist yuppie Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) has an idea to create a cyborg, half-man half-machine, to get better results.

Meanwhile, young police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) attempts a massive drug bust on his first day working at a new precinct. But the precinct is ruled by crime boss Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and his gang, who don't like cops. While Murphy's partner Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) manages to escape relatively unscathed, Murphy is brutally shot to pieces and left fighting for his life. He dies on the operating table, but Morton saves him by adding cybernetic parts to him. He also erases his memory to allow a computer program to take over his thoughts. He becomes RoboCop, the scourge of crime in Detroit and the unemotional law-giver, the ultimate straight man cop.

So the meat of the film is Murphy slowly starting to fight his program and recalling his past life. It is a quest for humanity, and fighting against corporate powers attempting to make a profitable product out of an individual. At the same time the more Murphy regains his consciousness, the more he is willing to step outside the boundaries of law to get brutal revenge on Boddicker, the man who already once killed him.

Verhoeven directs with a firm tongue-in-cheek, as evidenced by the satirical television programmes of the future, that sadly are not that far-fetched from our reality. News anchors gloss over horrible items with a smiling face to make time for commercials that make family time fun out of nuclear war and make a car's huge size (and presumably high gas mileage) it's most alluring attribute. The best satiric touch is the crass, Benny Hill-like comedian Bixby Snyder, enjoyed immensily by the lower class, while being hilariously stale and repetitive even with the few second-long glimpses we witness.

"I'd buy that for a dollar!"

For an action film, Verhoeven's big money scenes are usually over quite quick and very, very violent and bloody. He gleefully shoots various kinds of massacres where one side can't hold their own against and overwhelming enemy. The long camera drives move with almost a robotic fashion. It's funny that the film has so few sets, with three major scenes taking place in abandoned factories (it's not entirely clear whether it's the same factory). These are issues of budgetary limits, but Verhoeven certainly works them for his advantage.

Since in Detroit everything is in ruins, and blue-collar workers are put up against the wall, Verhoeven also finds time to ponder the issues of privatization and strike-driven union activities. His main sympathies lie among the working guys, the cops, yet he also manages to give them a whiff of fascistic following of orders since they are willing to attempt to kill a fellow officer on grounds of a say-so. Verhoeven develops some of the ideas he would later have for Starship Troopers here, including the unisex locker-rooms and showers, though glimpsed only for a second.

By contrast, the upper-class yuppies are as slimy as they come, only caring about upping their own position, cocaine and whores. They have no regard for the smaller pawns and don't care if their aiming for their own goals causes a major strike that allows crime to flourish all across the city. Hell, crime is what makes them money! Verhoeven's satirical ideas of power have grown even fresher by today's neo-liberal climate.

Last but definitely not least, the film is perfectly cast. Allen's Officer Lewis is for once a great strong female lead that gets along while not being sexualized, or having a romantic tie to her partner Murphy. they are just friends, pulling together because if they don't the world gets them. Likewise Weller is excellent as a man torn between the roles of a TV cowboy he's emulating and a feeling human being, a good father and a husband, and later a man who has lost it all, even his memories. he also has the proper chin for the part, as well as a flat, laconic sound of his voice to shout lines like "Your move, creep".

The best however, is Kurtwood Smith in a career-best turn in the most hilariously dickish main villain put to film. Whether he's discussing with accomplishes or taking care of his enemies, he usually does a small asshole move at the same time, like sticking his gun to a glass name plate or dipping his fingers into his business partner's wine glass and sniffing them. His anger, ruthlessness and risregard for human life in general and to all sorts of decency ensure that he goes far even while being too low-class to work with the yuppies rather than behind the curtains.

Bitches leave!

Oh, Verhoeven also can't resist to have a Troma movie sort of toxic waste mutation scene in the movie, for no other reason but to gain laughs for all the gore.

This is a masterpiece. Thank you for your co-operation.


Dredd (2012)
Director: Pete Travis

RoboCop has a certain cartoonish quality to it, even though it wasn't based on any comic book. A high inspiration, however came from the british comic book 2000AD and it's headlining hero Judge Dredd. He is the toughest law-giver in the futuristic Mega-City 1. With five billion people in the densely populated area, crime rates are through the roof. That is why the policing Judges have the privilege to hand out judgements on field. Basically every law-breaker either gets years of isolation in prison cubes, or a death sentence.

While the cheesy Sylvester Stallone vehicle in 1995 pissed on the legacy of the character, it is actually not that bad (or rather, not among the worst) of the 90's Stallone movies. But clearly a rethink was in order, and the new super-violent filmatization finally gives the fans what they want. Karl Urban's leaner, stringier Dredd reminds more of the character in his original late-70's, early-80's adventures than the mountain of muscle from the 90's. He also has the scowl right, but to my taste his voice is quite not tough enough.

In the new, 3D Dredd, our favorite Judge is paired with a rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thrilby) to evaluate her, and to determine whether she has what it takes to be a Judge. Anderson has psychic qualities, which has made the higher-ups disregard a few of her previous misgivings. While investigating a triple homicide, Dredd and Anderson get locked up in the huge city complex of Peach Trees. On the top floor lurks the crime boss Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), who rules the entire building. Dredd must fight floor by floor to reach the top and to apprehend the villain or perish. So far, so Raid: Redemption.

Dredd also has a near-future that mostly looks like our modern day. Stallone's Judge Dredd did have quite astonishing city shots, where it seemed Mega-City 1 was crawling with life everywhere. In the concrete behemoths of Dredd, it seems most of the citizens tend to hide in their apartments, and not go out. A bot more dwelling into the city would've done marvels, since all the best Dredd comics tend to have him as just an observer of the odd micro- and macrocosmos of habits, events and phenomena in the gigantic city.

The film is superbly violent, however, particularly a scene early on, where Dredd's bullets pierce hoodlums in super slow-motion. But the best set-pieces are used in the beginning and the climax itself is oddly underwhelming and repeating things already seen. Nevertheless, it's good that the film doesn't take a too big a bite to chew on Dredd's first adventure, like having Judge Death or Judge Child in the film. A single small crime boss suffices very well for now. It's a sad thing this has been somewhat of a flop, so we probably won't get to see any more. Drokk.

★★★ 1/2

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