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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If there's a cinematic alchemy award to be given this year director Bill Condon deserves to take it home after magically turning the tedious Twilight franchise into entertainment gold. 2011's Part 1 was a horror camp romp that turned the supernatural love triangle — the naval gazing trio of Bella Edward and Jacob — on its head. Breaking Dawn - Part 2 continues the madcap exploration of a world populated by vampires and werewolves mining even more comedy thrills and genuine character moments out of conceit than ever before. The film occasionally sidesteps back into Edward and Bella's meandering romance (an evident hurdle of author Stephenie Meyer's source material) but the duller moments are overshadowed by the movie's nimble pace and playful attitude. Breaking Dawn - Part 2 will elicit laughs aplenty — but thankfully they're all on purpose.
Part 2 picks up immediately following the events of the first film Bella (Kristen Stewart) having been turned into a vampire by Edward (Robert Pattinson) to save her life after the torturous delivery of her half-human half-vampire child Renesmee. She awakes to discover super senses heightened agility increased strength… and a thirst for blood. One dead cougar later Bella and the gang are able to focus on the real troubles ahead: Renesmee is rapidly growing (think Jack) and vampiric overlords The Volturi perceive her a threat to vampiric secrecy. Knowing the Volturi will travel to Forks WA to kill the young girl (a 10-year-old just a month after being born) The Cullens amass an army of bloodsucking friends to end the oppression once and for all.
Packed with an absurd amount of backstory and mythology-twisting plot points (some vampires can shoot lightning now?) Condon and series screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg mine revel in the beefed up ensemble of Breaking Dawn - Part 2 and thanks to a wildly funny cast it never feels like pointless deviation. Along with the usual suspects Lee Pace adds swagger to the series as a grungy alt-rock vampire Noel Fisher appears as a hilarious over-the-top battle-ready Russian coven member and Michael Sheen returns has Volturi head honcho Aro and steels the show. Flamboyant diabolical and a steady stream of maniacal laughter Sheen owns Condon's high camp vision for Twilight and he lights up the screen. There are a few throw away nations of vampires — the oddly stereotypical Egyptian and Amazonians sects are there mostly there to off-set the extreme whiteness — but the actors involved bring liveliness to a franchise known for being soulless. Even Stewart Pattinson and Taylor Lautner give personal bests in this installment — a scene between Bella and her dad Charlie (Billy Burke) is genuinely heartfelt while Jacob's overprotective hero schtick finally lands.
Whereas Breaking Dawn - Part 1 stuck mostly to the personal story relying on the intimate moments as Bella and Edward took the big plunge into marriage and sex Part 2 paints with broader strokes and Condon has a ball. Delving into the history of the vampires and the vampire world outside Forks is Pandora's Box for the director. One scene where we learn why kids scare the heck of the Volturi captures a scope of medieval epics — along with the bloodshed. Twilight might be known for its sexual moments but Breaking Dawn - Part 2 will go down for its abundance of decapitations. The big set piece in the finale is something to behold both in the craftsmanship of the spectacle and in its bizarre nature.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 had the audience hooting hollering and even gasping as it twisted and turned to the final moments. There's little doubt that even the biggest naysayer of the franchise would do the same. No irony here: the conclusion of Twilight is a blast.
Whereas most kids have a pushy thorn-in-your-side gym teacher growing up John Farley (Seann William Scott) was taught by the devil incarnate Mr. Woodcock (Billy Bob Thornton) whose whistle might as well have been his pitchfork. As a teenager Farley was Woodcock's prime target an honor that routinely led to (over)weight jokes and dodgeball beanings but 13 years later Farley seems to have gotten the last laugh. He is now a best-selling self-help author--thanks to his book inspired more than a little by his former P.E. tormenter--and returns home to Nebraska a full-blown celebrity. Things have come full circle--almost. Full circle comes when Farley learns that his mom Beverly (Susan Sarandon) is now dating Woodcock and class is once again in session. After a few botched attempts by Farley and his childhood friend/co-victim Needleman (Ethan Suplee) to dig up dirt on Woodcock Farley goes straight to his mom to prevent her from marrying his archenemy. And before long teacher and student return to their old stomping grounds the school gymnasium to duel over Beverly. Once upon a time--2003 to be exact--Billy Bob Thornton was a fresh bit of casting as a miserable crotchety Santa Claus; he has since appeared as a nuanced Bad Santa no less than twice and the third time as Mr. Woodcock is anything but a charm. As his latest grumpy old-ish man Billy Bob seldom imparts humor that doesn’t involve chucking a ball at an unsuspecting teenager’s head. At times in the movie it seems as though even he is tired of the same character. Speaking of playing the same character Frat Pack wannabe Scott doesn’t fare any better. He and Thornton have their moments of chemistry but when Scott is without proper assistance from a co-star or a pratfall his acting is exposed—as rather unfunny. He again appears unable to succeed at well under-the-top comedy. Luckily the supporting cast picks up some of the leads’ slack to balance it all out. Sarandon her days as a leading lady sadly a thing of the past adds desperately needed warmth to an otherwise inane farce. And in a too-small role SNL’s Amy Poehler as Farley’s heavily sarcastic publicist manages to score Woodcock’s biggest laughs. Not that that’s a particularly tall order in this case. Mr. Woodcock is the first of director Craig Gillespie’s two movies in two months--October’s Lars and the Real Girl is next--and he essentially has nowhere to go but up. The newcomer shows some comedic talent but certainly not in any way we haven’t seen a million times--in 2007 alone. Heavy on notions of comedy but light on execution thereof Woodcock succumbs to the same conventionalism that claims almost every other non-Apatow-affiliated mainstream comedy (yes it is necessary to continuously reference the genre’s gold standard). But it’s not all Gillespie’s fault. Writers Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert would’ve been on to something had they made Woodcock the quirky Freudian dramedy it probably wanted to be on paper but they tried instead for the ol’ crowd pleaser. As a result audiences will anticipate each attempted joke the direction of the story and the ending. They may even laugh too but only out of sheer habit.
The team of David Mamet (writer/director) and Gene Hackman (actor) is
receiving much praise for their current enterprise, the "caper" movie
Jay Carr in the Boston Globe writes: "It's a rare
pleasure to encounter, as one always does with Mamet, a film that's
language-driven. Mamet is not yet Billy Wilder or John Huston, but his
love of pulp-fiction lingo is catching, and it sounds good delivered by
Hackman and the others."
Similarly, Roger Ebert writes in the Chicago
Sun-Times that Heist is the kind of film "that was made
before special effects replaced wit, construction and intelligence. This
movie is made out of fresh ingredients, not cake mix."
Kevin Thomas in
the Los Angeles Times comments: "Full of action and suspense,
Heist is above all a gratifyingly adult entertainment."
Hunter in the Washington Post begins his review talking in Mamet
lingo: "You know that thing he does? You know. The thing. He does a
thing where, what I'm saying is, it's a thing, a thing. Everybody talks
in such a rhythm it's so real but then it's also not real, it sort of
sings and dances and you're thinking, what the hell. ...That's what he
does. And what I'm saying is: He's done that thing again. That thing."
He concludes his review: "That thing he does? Damn, he does it good, you
But Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta
Journal-Constitution found the film disappointing. "Heist may
hook you for a while and it's never uninteresting," she writes, "but
there's no getting around it. It just isn't the movie it should have
Check out the Hollywood.com review of Heist by clicking here!
Film critics appear to have reached a consensus that the stars steal the show in Bandits, but that the show itself isn't much of a winner.
"This quirky heist comedy manages to hold our interest even through its slower, more self-indulgent moments ... because of the acting, which features familiar performers (Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett) taking on diverting variations of what they usually do," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.
"It's rare for a movie to have three such likable characters and be so unlikable itself," comments Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. Many critics also agree that the film would have been much improved had it been cut by about 20-30 minutes.
If that had been done, commented Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Bandits could have been a brilliant comedy. As is, it's still very entertaining."
Several critics also suggest that the film tries to be too hip for its own good. As Bob Strauss writes in the Los Angeles Daily News: "Bandits is an enjoyable and extremely well-crafted mess. ... It would probably be more substantial if it wasn't so ambitious."
Joe Morgenstern makes a similar point in the Wall Street Journal: "Bandits," he says, "wants to do everything at once: celebrate its stars, demonstrate its sophistication, emulate famous films, lay on whimsical disguises and toy with a too-hip narrative device."