Proper Noun

Dodsworth: adapted by Sidney Howard and Robert Wyler from the novel by Sinclair Lewis; directed by William Wyler; starring Walter Huston (Sam Dodsworth), Ruth Chatterton (Fran Dodsworth), Mary Astor (Mrs. Edith Cortright), Paul Lukas (Arnold Iselin), David Niven (Captain Lockert), Gregory Gaye (Baron Von Obersdorf), and Maria Ouspenkaya (The Baroness) (1936): Marvelous, sympathetic character study of a businessman (the eponymous Dodsworth, played by Walter Huston) who discovers that retirement holds nothing for him, but everything for his increasingly distant wife. 

There isn’t a bad performance in the movie — and there’s a scene-stealing turn from the wonderful Maria Ouspenkaya (best remembered as the Gypsy woman in Lon Chaney Jr.’s The Wolfman). There’s also sympathy here for all the mismatched, lonely characters. A terrific piece of film-making from the beginning of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Highly recommended.

Robocop: adapted by Joshua Zeturner, Edward Neumeier, and Michael Miner from the 1987 film written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner; directed by Jose Padilha; starring Joel Kinnaman (Alex Murphy/Robocop), Gary Oldman (Dr. Norton), Michael Keaton (Raymond Sellars), Abbie Cornish (Clara Murphy), Jackie Earle Haley (Mattox), Michael K. Williams (Jack Lewis), and Samuel L. Jackson (Pat Novak) (2014): Studio interference on this oft-delayed remake drove director Jose Padilha crazy, as a $60 million R-rated movie turned into a $100 million PG-13 meant for the widest audience possible. It’s a good-looking, tame, and amazingly boring production.

Gone is the blood-soaked, occasionally nihilistic satire of the original movie. The cartoonish villains have been replaced with forgettable cannon fodder. There’s surprisingly little meaningful action, as the movie gets swallowed by an endlessly complicated origin story, by Robocop’s post-Robocop family problems, by Michael Keaton playing low-key, by Samuel L. Jackson in a meaningless and soft satiric turn as a conservative TV host, by too many supporting characters played by major actors, by timidity and boredom. Rightfully a bomb in North America. Thanks, studio! I would not buy this for a dollar! Not recommended.

Godzilla: written by Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham, based on the Toho Studios character; directed by Gareth Edwards; starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ford Brody), Ken Watanabe (Dr. Serizawa), Bryan Cranston (Joe Brody) and Elizabeth Olsen (Elle Brody) (2014): Even on a large small screen, the newest Godzilla is almost incomprehensibly dark at times. I”m glad I saw it on a big screen. The hoo-ha about Godzilla being the protector of natural balance on Earth still seems pretty silly — the big lizard and his vaguely machine-like enemies seem more like alien doomsday machines than natural beings, and such a change would make the movie make a lot more sense. Certainly the two ‘bad’ monsters didn’t need to evolve electro-magnetic pulses to fight anything in nature. Or fight Godzilla. Turn up the lights! Recommended.

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