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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The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
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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Lady Gaga has scored her third number one album on the U.K. music charts. The Born This Way hitmaker's new release ARTPOP has toppled Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP 2, which debuted at number one last week (begs11Nov13).
Celine Dion's Loved Me Back To Life debuts at three, while Little Mix's Salute and The Nation's Favourite Elvis Songs compilation round out the new top five.
On the singles charts, Martin Garrix's debut, Animals, has grabbed the number one spot ahead of Lily Allen's cover of Keane's Somewhere Only We Know, which she recorded for British department store John Lewis' Christmas TV advertisement.
Allen's cover sold just 12,000 fewer copies than teenager Garrix' first release.
Ellie Goulding's How Long Will I Love You, the official single of this year's BBC's Children In Need telethon, lands at three, while Eminem and Rihanna's former chart-topper, The Monster drops two places to four.
Boybands including One Direction, Jls and new supergroup Mcbusted led the way during Britain's Children In Need telethon on Friday night (15Nov13) by helping to raise cash on live TV. One Direction took to the stage to perform their hit track Best Song Ever, marking the third time they have appeared on the annual fundraiser, and bandmember Harry Styles revealed how much the organisation means to them, saying, "We grew up watching it... If you grew up watching something, it's so important, so we love getting involved."
His bandmate Liam Payne added, "We've watched Children In Need since we were children and we are so proud to be a part of it. The children the charity supports are a complete inspiration."
The pop stars later filmed appeals for donations on the set of popular U.K. soap opera Eastenders, while another boyband, JLS, performed a medley of their hits on the show's set.
New supergroup McBusted, made up of members of McFly and Busted, also performed, along with rapper Tinie Tempah, singer James Arthur and Ellie Goulding, who belted out the official Children in Need single How Long Will I Love You.
Singers Kylie Minogue, Sir Tom Jones, Cheryl Cole and actress Olivia Colman were also among the famous faces who filmed appeals featured during the show.
The telethon had raised in excess of $22.5 million (£15 million) to aid disadvantaged kids as WENN went to press.
Officials at the Children In Need organisation also hosted a star-studded concert in London earlier in the week (beg11Nov13) to raise money for the cause. The show was masterminded by Take That star Gary Barlow and featured acts including Kings of Leon and veteran crooner Barry Manilow.
Abba star Agnetha Faltskog stunned fans by hitting the stage for a surprise performance at a London charity concert on Tuesday (12Nov13), marking her first high-profile gig in 25 years. The Swedish singer, who has reportedly not performed in front of an audience for more than two decades, was the surprise guest at Gary Barlow's Children In Need Rocks concert, which was held at the city's Eventim Apollo venue.
Faltskog performed her duet with Barlow, I should've Followed You Home, to raise cash for the BBC's annual Children In Need charity event, which supports underprivileged kids around the world.
British girl band Little Mix and Barlow's former Take That co-star Robbie Williams also took to the stage to perform at the first of two charity concerts. The second gig will be held at the same venue on Wednesday (13Nov13) with performances from Ellie Goulding and Rizzle Kicks.
Superstar singer Beyonce thrilled a blind fan by dedicating a performance to her during a concert in Australia on Friday (08Nov13). The Halo hitmaker was performing in Perth as part of her The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour when she singled out 13-year-old Sophie Kotkis, who is blind and suffers from mild cerebral palsy.
Beyonce reportedly kissed the girl on the cheek and dedicated a performance of her track Irreplaceable to her, before asking the youngster to help sing the hit song.
Sophie's sister Ellie brought her younger sibling to the star's attention by making a video explaining her condition to children's charity Hope For Children, who later sent it to Beyonce.
Ellie tells Britain's Daily Mirror newspaper, "She's never really been able to go to a concert due to logistical reasons so I made a video about Sophie. Even with everything that she's been through, she's been able to do so much. She raised over $1,000 for people with multiple sclerosis."
Harry Styles and Tokio Hotel were early winners at the Mtv Europe Music Awards on Sunday (10Nov13) after picking up honours on the pre-show red carpet. Dizzee Rascal and Ellie Goulding were recruited to help unveil the night's first award winners and announced Styles had claimed the Best Look trophy, beating off competition from Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Rita Ora. Meanwhile, Tokio Hotel claimed the Best Fan award.
Neither of the winners were on hand to accept their awards.
The big show is currently taking place in Amsterdam, Holland. Miley Cyrus, Eminem and The Killers are among the acts who will be performing and Justin Timberlake and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis lead this year's nominations with five apiece.
Actress Olivia Colman has confirmed reports she will be back as Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller in the sequel to hit British TV drama Broadchurch. The murder mystery became a huge hit in the U.K. when it debuted earlier this year (13) and it went on to become a cult hit in the U.S. and elsewhere this summer (13).
Colman tells the BBC her role is now "set in stone", but she has also confirmed that she will not be joining co-star David Tennant in the planned U.S. TV spin-off, which is scheduled to start filming in January (13).
Meanwhile, Broadchurch is being adapted into a novel, according to The Daily Telegraph newspaper. Scriptwriter Chris Chibnall and author Erin Kelly have reportedly teamed up to bring the TV drama to the page.
Getty/Andy SheppardHaving recently topped the U.K. charts and entered the U.S. Top 10 with their debut album Days Are Gone, Los Angeles siblings Haim certainly appear to have justified the hype that was showered upon their sun-soaked soft-rock sound at the beginning of the year. But in case you've been living under a rock over the past twelve months, here's a quick everything you need to know guide to Este, Danielle and Alaina.They've Always Kept It in the FamilyProof that the trio have always kept it in the family, the girls began their music career in a band named Rockinhaim with their father Mordechai on drums and their mother Donna on guitar.They Were Once Valli GirlsDanielle & Este also cut their teeth as part of The Valli Girls, an all girl-group inspired by the likes of Blondie and The Pretenders who appeared on the soundtracks to both The Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants and the 2005 Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards.Julian Casablancas was Their Unofficial MentorAfter inviting Danielle to perform percussion and guitar on his solo tour, The Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas then became the band's unofficial mentor, advising them to take a break from playing live and instead concentrate on their songwriting.Este is a Musical ProdigyRenowned for her incredible bass-face performances, Este is also something of a musical prodigy having completed her five-year degree in Ethnomusicology at UCLA in just two years.They Won the BBC's Sound of 2013Pipping the likes of AlunaGeorge, Angel Haze and Laura Mvula to the post, Haim were crowned the winners of the BBC's prestigious industry poll earlier this year to join such illustrious company as Adele, Florence + The Machine and Ellie Goulding.They Like CollaboratingAs well as hooking up with Jessie Ware on their own record, various members have also popped up on tracks this year by Major Lazer ("You're No Good"), Kid Cudi ("Red Eye") and Portugal. The Man ("Purple Yellow Red & Blue")Este Almost Died at GlastonburyDiabetic Este claimed that she feared she was going to die in front of a live audience after she was forced to abandon their first set at this year's Glastonbury when her blood sugar levels ran dangerously low.David Cameron is a FanDavid Cameron tweeted how he was looking forward to listening to their album after the trio dedicated a performance of "The Wire" to the Prime Minister when they both appeared on the BBC's The Andrew Marr Show.