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Treading water at the very surface of RoboCop, there is an idea. A dense concept, ready and willing to provide no dearth of dissection for any eager student of philosophy, psychology, political science, physics — hell, any of the Ps. To simplify the idea on hand: What separates man from machine? It's a question that is not just teased by the basic premise of José Padilha's remake of the 1987 sci-fi staple, but asked outright by many of its main characters. And then never really worried about again.
We have principal parties on both sides of the ethical quandary that would place the security of our crime-ridden cities in the hands of automatons. Samuel L. Jackson plays a spitfire Bill O'Reilly who wonders why America hasn't lined its streets with high-efficiency officer droids. Zach Grenier, as a moralistic senator, gobbles his way through an opposition to the Pro-boCop movement. We hear lecture after lecture from pundits, politicians, business moguls (a money-hungry Michael Keaton heads the nefarious OmniCorp...) and scientists (...while his top doc Gary Oldman questions the nature of his assignments while poking at patients' brains and spouting diatribes about "free will"), all working their hardest to lay thematic groundwork. Each character insists that we're watching a movie about the distinction between human and artificial intelligence. That even with an active brain, no robot can understand what it means to have a heart. But when Prof. Oldman tempers his hysterical squawking and Samuel L. Hannity rolls his closing credits, we don't see these ideas taking life.
In earnest, the struggle of rehabilitated police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) — nearly killed in the line of duty and turned thereafter into OmniCorp's prototype RoboCop — doesn't seem to enlist any of the questions that his aggravated peers have been asking. Murphy is transformed not just physically, but mentally — robbed of his decision-making ability and depleted of emotional brain chemicals — effectively losing himself in the process. But the journey we see take hold of Murphy is not one to reclaim his soul, although the movie touts it as such. It's really just one to become a better robot.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Meanwhile, RoboCop lays down its motives, and hard: Murphy's wife and son (Abbie Cornish and a puckish young John Paul Ruttan) lament the loss of Alex, condemning his dehumanization at the hands of Raymond Sellars' (Keaton) capitalistic experiments, and sobbing out some torrential pathos so you know just how deep this company is digging. Weaselly stooges (Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, and Jackie Earl Haley) line the OmniCorp roster with comical wickedness. Overseas, killer combat bots take down peaceful villages, unable to work empathetic judgment into their decision to destroy all deemed as "threats." And at the top, figures of power and money like Sellars and Pat Novak (Jackson) speak the loudest and harshest, literally justifying their agenda with a call for all naysayers to "stop whining." Clearly, RoboCop has something to say.
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And when it's devoted to its outrage, RoboCop is terrifically charming. The buzzing political world is just a tiny step closer to ridiculous than our own; the pitch meetings at OmniCorp are fun enough to provoke a ditching of all the material outside of the company walls. And one particular reference to The Wizard of Oz shows that the movie isn't above having fun with its admittedly silly premise. But it loses its magic when it steps away from goofy gimmicks and satirical monologues and heads back into the story. We don't see enough of Murphy grappling with the complicated balance between his conflicting organic and synthetic selves. In fact, we don't see enough "story" in Murphy at all. First, he's a dad and a cop. Then, he's a RoboCop. But can he also be a RoboDad? With all of its ranting and raving about the question, the film doesn't seem to concerned with actually figuring out the answer.
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New Line via Everett Collection
Vince Vaughn's new movie Delivery Man is in theaters now and, while he may not be an Oscar-winning A-lister, many of us have a favorite Vince Vaughn movie that has brought us great joy over the years. Vaughn tends to play this protoypical, ordinary dude who finds himself in somewhat extraordinary -- or at least bizarre -- situations. Although he could totally be accused of playing different variations of a character that is really, well, Vince Vaughn himself, you gotta admit that you dig it. Here are just a few memorable Vince Vaughn characters that we totally love.
Peter La Fleur, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
He literally owned a gym called "Average Joe," which is hilarious. And when he went up against Ben Stiller's Globo-Gym we all found ourselves rooting for the underdog.
Gary Grobowski, The Break-Up
Remember that douchey boyfriend you had who wouldn't do the dishes, and then wouldn't move out even after you dumped him? Yeah. That was Vince Vaughn in The Break-Up, and it was a lot more fun to experience watching Jennifer Aniston manage the drama.
Beanie, Old School
Will Ferrell and Luke Wilson may have been the standout stars of this 2003 comedy, but Vaughn's character was hugely important to the crew. Beanie's boredom and dissatisfaction with his everday life as a soccer dad became the inspiration behind the coolest, old school-est, fraternity ever.
Jeremy Grey, Wedding Crashers
Vince Vaughn has had a lot of memorable roles, but watching Gloria (Isla Fisher) terrorize him for an entire movie was nothing short of splendid. She may have been a stage-5 clinger, but she totally broke him down in the end. It was awesome.
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When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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When it comes to 3D animated movies, two names stand out: Pixar and DreamWorks Animation. Big franchise hits such as Toy Story and Shrek have made them animation's top dogs at the box office, leading many to think of them as rival studios. So let's take a look at how these two giants of animation stack up.
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PixarOf the two animation studios, one could argue that Pixar is the art house of computer animation. With mature, character-driven stories that both adults and children can both laugh and sniffle at, it's no wonder the studio has won the Best Animated Feature Oscar seven of the past 12 years. From 2007 to 2010, Pixar experienced a "golden age," creating animated features that include some of the best movies of all time with Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up, and Toy Story 3.
However, Pixar has recently capitulated to big studio executives by producing sequels, backtracking on their past statements to avoid producing franchises. While Toy Story 3 is the extremely rare example of an excellent threequel, Cars 2 was nowhere near close to meeting Pixar's lofty standards. With this summer's Monsters University and the recent announcement of Finding Dory, a sequel to 2003's Finding Nemo, one has to wonder whether Pixar has finally run out of original ideas.
Paramount Pictures/Everett Collection
DreamWorks AnimationIf there's one thing DreamWorks knows how to do better than Pixar, it's cranking out big hit after big hit. The "House that Shrek Built" has made 13 more animated films than their rival, and they haven't been around as long. DreamWorks has earned $11 billion total worldwide with box office hits such as Madagascar and The Croods. Although the critical consensus has been Pixar offers the better movies, it's not like DreamWorks have been slouches either. The studio has been nominated nine times for the Best Animated Feature, with wins for Shrek and Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
DreamWorks also draws a lot of big names to provide the colorful voices of their animated creations. Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, and Brad Pitt are just a few actors who have lent their voices to DreamWorks. The studio is still keeping busy over the next couples with six releases that include sequels to How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda.
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In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
It happens every Halloween: Magazines and movie sites (like this one) trudge up a list of horror movies for recommended Halloween horror viewing. As a lifelong horror fan, I’m sick of seeing the same films on these lists – Frankenstein, The Exorcist; Alien, etc. – with the more adventurous writers occasionally recommending something like Dario Argento’s Suspiria that’s not so well known to mainstream audiences but are classics to the horror crowd.
I don’t want to read about the same old movies I’ve known and loved for decades; I want to put the focus on some horror films that are so good, not even all die-hard horror fans have seen them. What I’ve got for you here is a listing of eight really solid horror films from different eras that are not only well worth seeing but also readily available on DVD or VoD. They’re smart, they’re scary and they all stay with you, like any good movie should. Enjoy!
Dracula's Daughter (1936)
Most people are unaware that Universal even made a sequel to Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, much less that this film (directed by Lambert Hillyer) is actually a superior film. Despite some unnecessary moments of comic relief, it’s one of the most intelligent and adult films in the classic Universal canon, with some surprisingly frank lesbian context for the era. Star Gloria Holden delivers an excellent performance in the lead role that makes her one of the finest vampires in screen history.
And Soon the Darkness (1971)
British schoolgirls Pamela Franklin and Michele Dotrice, on a biking holiday in the French countryside, encounter the mysterious Sandor Eles, unaware that he’s the same serial killer who’s been terrorizing the area. One of the best British horror films of the 1970s, director Robert Feust makes excellent use of sparse, open locations and perfectly captures the feelings of isolation and dread that come from being a stranger in a strange land – all of it set during a bright, sunny day.
Hausu (a.k.a. HOUSE, 1977)
This crazed Japanese horror fantasy/comedy has finally been released in the U.S., 33 years after its initial release, and it’s now available on DVD and Blu-ray from none other than the Criterion Collection (who have done their usual stellar job). The film itself is pretty indescribable, which is exactly the key to its appeal; Hausu simply throws a lot of crazy ideas and marvelously insane visuals at the viewer for 90 minutes, and once it’s done, you have no idea what you’ve seen, but you know you love it. A major rediscovery, Hausu is proof positive that no one does ultra-weird horror quite like the Japanese.
Long Weekend (1978)
One of the best Australian horror films of the '70s stars John Hargraves and Briony Behets as an estranged married couple on a remote camping holiday who abuse the environment as much as they do each other – and find that nature isn’t in a forgiving mood. What follows is a stark, brutal and powerful film, one of the best “nature run amok” films ever made. Quentin Tarantino is on record as being one of the film’s many admirers.
Cemetery Man (1996)
Adapted from a popular Italian comic book, Michele Soavi’s funny and frightening zombie film stars Rupert Everett as the caretaker of a cemetery whose residents keep coming back to life, which puts a real damper on his love life. Perhaps the best horror film of the '90s, Cemetery Man is consistently unpredictable and surprising, all of it anchored by a wonderfully funny and droll lead performance from Everett.
Five Across the Eyes (2007)
Paranormal Activity put the focus on micro-budget genre films being produced for only a few grand that exhibited new talent behind the camera. This Tennessee-shot winner is filmed entirely from the inside of a car with five lost teenage girls who have dented its fender and whose driver happens to be completely insane and won’t leave them alone. The very definition of a movie that knows how to use its low budget effectively, the constant screaming and crying of the girls may grate on some viewers, but for this one, it only amped up the tension.
Murder Party (2007)
Low-budget horror comedies that are actually funny are extremely rare, so major props must go to this ingenious indie that gets it right. A shy mailman gets a mysterious invite to a Halloween party – actually a “murder party” thrown by a group of Brooklyn hipster artists – and he’s the victim! A clever premise that plays well throughout, and like the best horror comedies, it adds a lot of social satire with the blood and scares.
The Burrowers (2008)
Writer/director J.T. Petty effectively mixes the horror and Western genres with this little-seen gem that was dumped by its studio. A posse, on the search for a missing family of settlers, discovers that instead of hostile Indians, they’re really up against underground creatures who know the terrain better than they do. Beautifully shot in New Mexico locations, The Burrowers is smart and intelligent horror that will also appeal to Western fans, and there’s not a lot of movies you can say that about, are there?