Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
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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Surprisingly when it comes to fully loaded Blu-ray releases it's the movies for young ones that seem to get all the attention. After lamenting the decline of solid DVD features and applauding kid-friendly extras in my review of The Smurfs Blu-ray I find myself once again impressed with another animated release that knocks it out of the park. Kung Fu Panda 2 is an energetic enjoyable 90-minute cartoon that goes above and beyond the call of duty for its Blu. This isn't the Social Network of youngster flicks but the set certainly aims to both entertain and educate—and when buying discs for children why settle for anything less?
For those who missed it in theaters KFP2 finds Po the Panda (Jack Black) now fully immersed in the world of Kung Fu taking on his role as the Dragon Warrior with full force. He runs jumps punches and eats dumplings with The Furious Five his ragtag team of equally adept ninja-types. When China is threatened by Shen a panda-hating evil peacock who has harnessed the power of explosions for world domination purposes Po and the gang leap into action for another adventure across an array of dazzling landscapes.
The original Kung Fu Panda was something of a surprise a heartfelt adrenaline rush amongst lowbrow predecessors (the Shrek series mainly). The sequel follows suit injecting a more personal touch to Po's quest (he discovers that he's not really the son of a stork but rather a survivor of Shen's earlier massacre). On Blu-ray director Jennifer Yuh Nelson's gripping action scenes really flourish. The animation looks a little simpler at home (perhaps a holdover from the first movie's design) but the movie's so fun and fast-paced you won't mind the technical misgivings.
And if you have a hunger for extras like Po does bowls of noodles then Kung Fu Panda 2 serves up a hardy meal. The Blu sports a few storyboarded deleted scenes a commentary with the hushed-but-highly-intelligent Nelson and a standard "Working with the actors" piece that features Black Angelina Jolie Gary Oldman and more talking about their time recording the movie's dialogue. Watching Black flail around the room is exciting—that enthusiasm clearly comes through in the movie. The disc also adds instructional features for the young ones including "Panda Stories " a panda wildlife preservation doc and "Ni Hao " a tutorial on speaking Mandarin. The disc also includes two different games you can play with your Blu-ray remote that are designed for the young-but-savvy.
What really blew me away was the short included on the disc. Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Masters a 20-minute film that utilizes both 3D CG and traditional 2D animation. Much like the backstory flashbacks seen in KFP2 Secrets of the Masters recounts the past adventures of three side characters: Master Rhino (Victor Garber) Master Croc (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Master OX (Dennis Haysbert). The short even manages to bring back one of my favorite characters of the first movie: the slow wise turtle Oogway! The 2D style reminiscent of Samurai Jack or both the intros from Kung Fu Panda 1 & 2 is vivid and stylized adding a real artistry to the series and to a medium that's all but removed this kind of work form its palette. The story a fable on fighting for the right reasons never feels didactic—making it a great watch for the kids and the kids-at-heart.
Kung Fu Panda 2 is a heck of a lot of fun and should provide countless hours of entertainment for you and any kids who happen to be in the room while you indulge in this animated martial arts ride. The only reason not to pick it up for the family? There's solid evidence to believe a third Kung Fu Panda is on the way and you know how much Blu-ray companies love trilogies...
American Pie 2 enjoyed the weekend's sweetest slice of box office pie.
Universal launched its R rated youth appeal comedy sequel Pie 2 in first place to a record setting ESTIMATED $45.1 million at 3,063 theaters ($14,724 per theater).
Pie 2's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Directed by J.B. Rogers, it stars Jason Biggs, Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Natasha Lyonne, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Tara Reid, Seann William Scott, Mena Suvari, Eddie Kaye Thomas and Eugene Levy.
"The first one opened to $18.7 million," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning, referring to the original American Pie, which after its July 9, 1999 launch went on to gross $102.7 million in domestic theaters.
Now with the sequel's blockbuster opening, Rocco said, "With Friday's business, Universal became the number one (distributor in terms of domestic) market share for the year. We've been number one for the summer. We became number one for the year. We're well over $600 million in domestic box office grosses as of now."
Rocco also pointed to a number of records set by Pie 2: "This picture is the biggest R rated comedy. It's the second highest opening for an R rated film ever, just behind our own Hannibal (in which Universal was partnered with MGM). It's the third biggest comedy ever (of any type), not just R rated. It's the fourth movie that Universal has opened consecutively to over $40 million. Our records show that no other studio has done that twice in a row. And it's the fourth number one movie in a row for Universal."
Universal's outstanding success this year includes its first place openings of The Mummy Returns the weekend of May 4-6 to $68.1 million, The Fast and the Furious the weekend of June 22-24 to $40.1 million, Jurassic Park III the weekend of July 20-22 to $50.8 million (and a five day cume of $81.4 million) and now Pie 2 with an ESTIMATED $45.1 million.
Focusing on the sequel's profitability, Rocco observed, "It made back more than its production cost, which was $30 million."
All told, she added, "I'm delighted with the results of this picture. This is our own home grown franchise and it's so exciting that audiences were anxious to revisit characters that they fell in love with for the first time."
Rocco said that the studio's exit polls for Pie 2 were outstanding, showing that its audience was 53 percent female and 47 percent male. "67 percent of the audience was under the age of 25, as expected," she said. "For that core audience, the Top Two Boxes (excellent and very good) scored 94 percent. Overall, it scored 90 percent in the Top Two Boxes. For the core audience, the definite recommend was 73 percent against a norm of 50 percent. Overall, the definite recommend was 69 percent, which is fabulous."
New Line Cinema's PG-13 rated action comedy blockbuster sequel Rush Hour 2 dropped one rung to second place in its second week with a still impressive ESTIMATED $31.48 million (-53%) at 3,118 theaters ($10,095 per theater). Its cume is approximately $131.9 million, heading for $175-200 million.
Directed by Brett Ratner, it stars Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.
Buena Vista/Disney's G rated family comedy The Princess Diaries held on to third place in its second week with a still royal ESTIMATED $14.1 million (-38%) at 2,706 theaters (+169 theaters; $5,211 per theater). Its cume is approximately $51.9 million, heading for $85-100 million.
Directed by Garry Marshall, it stars Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway.
Dimension Films' opened its PG-13 thriller The Others in fourth place to a promising ESTIMATED $13.67 million at 1,678 theaters ($8,147 per theater).
Directed by Alejandro Amenabar, it stars Nicole Kidman.
"We'll be in profit by the end of the week on this one. It was made for $17 million all-in," Miramax L.A. president Mark Gill said Sunday morning. "Cruise/Wagner did a brilliant job creatively and economically. I think Nicole Kidman becomes a serious Oscar contender after the great reviews she got. So we're excited about that."
Asked about Kidman's prospects as an awards contender, Gill added, "She's just gotten astonishingly great reviews, so I think there's almost no doubt she'll be a serious Oscar contender."
Given the film's strong opening, Gill said, "We're on about a thousand screens less than everybody else, so we'll about 500 more this coming week. At $8,147 a screen, (exhibitors) will be ringing our phones (asking for prints of The Others)."
Did all the media attention Kidman's been getting as the result of her divorce from Tom Cruise hurt or help the film's opening? "There's no doubt that publicity gets attention," Gill replied. "But the key to this, of course, is you can all the attention in the world, but if people don't like what they're seeing they don't go. So the movie had to deliver and the advertising had to look like it was presenting a good movie. Mercifully, all that was true.
"The movie is fantastic. It reminds me a lot of Hitchcock movies. But, you know, pick your favorite influence. It's more psychological than it is anything else. As a consequence, it's, I think, better and scarier not to rely on blood and gore. It gets you there in other ways. The Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar brought a ton of style to it. It's a really great movie."
20th Century Fox's PG-13 sci-fi action adventure Planet of the Apes fell three pegs to fifth place in its third week with a quieter ESTIMATED $13.32 million (-52%) at 3,405 theaters (-125 theaters; $3,910 per theater). Its cume is approximately $148.7 million, heading for $175-180 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Tim Burton and produced by Richard D. Zanuck, it stars Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter and Michael Clarke Duncan.
Universal and Amblin Entertainment's PG-13 rated action adventure fantasy sequel Jurassic Park III slipped two notches to sixth place in its fourth week with a still impressive ESTIMATED $7.3 million (-41%) at 3,175 theaters (-287 theaters; $2,299 per theater). Its cume is approximately $160.2 million, heading for $175 million or more in domestic theaters.
Directed by Joe Johnston, JP III stars Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Tea Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter, John Diehl and Bruce A. Young.
Warner Bros.' PG rated comedy Osmosis Jones kicked off in seventh place to a calm ESTIMATED $5.58 million at 2,305 theaters ($2,419 per theater).
Directed by Peter Farrelly & Bobby Farrelly, it stars Chris Rock, Laurence Fishburne, David Hyde Pierce, Brandy Norwood, William Shatner, Molly Shannon, Chris Elliott and Bill Murray.
Revolution Studios and Columbia Pictures' PG-13 rated romantic comedy America's Sweethearts slid three slots to eighth place in its fourth week with a less romantic ESTIMATED $4.6 million (-43%) at 2,686 theaters (-325 theaters; $1,713 per theater). Its cume is approximately $83.4 million, heading for $100 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Joe Roth, it stars Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones and John Cusack.
MGM's PG-13 rated comedy hit Legally Blonde fell two rungs to ninth place in its fifth week with a still attractive ESTIMATED $3.82 million (-35%) at 2,031 theaters (+505 theaters; $1,881 per theater).
Blonde, which cost only $18 million to produce, has a cume of approximately $78.7 million and is on its way to a very profitable $85 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Robert Luketic, the Marc Platt production stars Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Matthew Davis, Victor Garber and Jennifer Coolidge with a special appearance by Raquel Welch.
Rounding out the Top Ten was MGM's R rated thriller Original Sin, down four pegs in its second week with a slow ESTIMATED $3.05 million (-52%) at 2,194 theaters ($1,391 per theater). Its cume is approximately $12.49 million.
Written and directed by Michael Christofer, it stars Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Dimension Films' new expanded version of its PG rated youth appeal action comedy Spy Kids Special Edition with an unfunny ESTIMATED $1.43 million at 1,676 theaters ($851 per theater). Its cume (including its original run, which began with its $26.5 million opening the weekend of Mar. 30 - Apr. 1) is approximately $109.0 million.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez, it stars Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino.
"Video and DVD are coming up in September so this was sort of the pre-amble to that," Miramax L.A. president Mark Gill said Sunday morning. (Dimension is a unit of Miramax Films, which is owned by Disney.)
Fox Searchlight Pictures R rated thriller The Deep End kicked off to a very encouraging ESTIMATED $0.14 million at 6 theaters ($23,415 per theater) in Los Angeles and New York. Its cume after five days is approximately $0.2 million.
Written produced and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, it stars Tilda Swinton, Goran Visnjic and Jonathan Tucker.
"That's significantly higher than our excellent opening on Sexy Beast (earlier this summer), which was $18,009 per theater," Fox Searchlight distribution president Stephen Gilula said Sunday morning. "We'll be adding theaters this week, both expanding in New York and L.A. and another nine markets, so we'll go up to over 50 theaters by this Friday. And we have an expansion the following week, which will take us up to around 200 theaters."
Focusing on the promising kick off for Deep, Gilula noted, "We're very, very excited. It just shows, again, that there's a really avid moviegoing audience in the summertime for alternative, thoughtful movies in addition to the mega-movies. When the critics embrace a film, as they did with this--particularly with Tilda Swinton's performance--the crowds have come. It's a crowded marketplace (this summer) with the sheer number of films opening, so (our marketing department, under Nancy Utley) did a great job of getting the word out.
"It's actually been, I think, a fairly good summer (for specialized films), going back to Anniversary Party and Sexy Beast and then The Closet and Made and now The Deep End. There really is an alternative audience in the summertime that is looking for this type of product."
Gilula added that Beast in its ninth weekend did about $198,000 at 29 theaters, "which takes it to $5,964,500, which means we'll cross $6 million by Wednesday or Thursday. That's a tremendous result for us. It's also the number one limited release film for the summer."
USA Films' R rated sci-fi thriller Session 9 arrived to a quiet ESTIMATED $0.083 million at 30 theaters ($2,750 per theater).
Directed by Brad Anderson, it stars David Caruso, Peter Mullan, Brendan Sexton III, Steven Gevedon and Josh Lucas.
Paramount Classics' PG-13 rated drama An American Rhapsody opened to a drab ESTIMATED $0.042 million at 7 theaters ($6,000 per theater).
Written and Directed by Eva Gardos, it stars Nastassja Kinski, Scarlett Johansson and Tony Goldwyn.
Paramount held sneak previews Saturday night of its PG-13 comedy Rat Race.
Directed by Jerry Zucker, it stars Rowan Atkinson, John Cleese, Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Seth Green, Jon Lovitz, Breckin Meyer and Amy Smart.
"The sneaks were about 60 percent capacity," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "There were 1,012 sneaks. We had 700 locations that had two sneaks, so you can say we effectively had 1,700 sneaks. The capacities at the later sneaks (at 10:30 p.m.) were only around 35 percent (given the later hour). The index score from the exit polls was 78, which is very good. I (don't yet have) the full exit polls, but I know it was 50-50 male-female."
Asked about the index score, Lewellen explained, "That is the result of the combination of checking the boxes (on the exit poll forms). It's an average. Anything over 70 or 71 is a very good response. Like, Forrest Gump got an 81, as an example. It's a very good score."
Lewellen said he anticipates that the film will play to a family audience.
Race opens this Friday (Aug. 17), Lewellen said, at "about 2,500 locations and probably 2,800 screens or so."
On the expansion front, this weekend saw Miramax's R rated French comedy The Closet go wider in its seventh week with an okay ESTIMATED $0.43 million (+5%) at 145 theaters (+17 theaters; $2,975 per theater). Its cume is approximately $4.0 million.
Directed by Francis Veber, it stars Daniel Auteuil, Gerard Depardieu, Thierry Lhermitte and Michele Laroque.
Artisan's R rated comedy Made widened in its fifth week with a dull ESTIMATED $0.4 million at 128 theaters (+11 theaters; $3,125 per theater). Its cume is approximately $3.0 million.
Written and directed by Jon Favreau, it stars Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Sean Combs, Famke Janssen, Faizon Love and Peter Falk.
Miramax's R rated Apocalypse Now Redux widened in its second week with a still promising ESTIMATED $0.35 million at 19 theaters (+17 theaters; $19,323 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.53 million.
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, it stars Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Dennis Hopper and Harrison Ford.
MGM's release of United Artists' R rated youth appeal comedy Ghost World widened in its fourth week with a still lively ESTIMATED $0.35 million (+1%) at 34 theaters (+11 theaters; $10,294 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.3 million.
Directed by Terry Swigoff, it stars Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Brad Renfro, Illeana Douglas and Steve Buscemi.
Fine Line Features' R rated rock musical drama Hedwig and the Angry Inch added a few theaters in its fourth week with a still hopeful ESTIMATED $0.26 million (-9%) at 50 theaters (+4 theaters; $5,180 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.2 million.
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell, who also wrote adapted his hit Off-Broadway play to the screen, Hedwig stars Mitchell in its title role.
Key films--those grossing more than $500,000--took in approximately $150.17 million, up about 47.89 per cent from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $101.54 million.
This weekend's key film gross was down about 9.51 per cent from last weekend this year when key films took in $165.94 million.
Last year, Sony's second week of Hollow Man was first with $13.05 million at 2,956 theaters ($4,414 per theater); and Warner Bros.' second week of Space Cowboys was second with $13.02 million at 2,835 theaters ($4,591 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $26.0 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $76.6 million.