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.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Hollywood expects to be thrown for a loss on the box office gridiron this Super Bowl weekend.
Neither of the weekend's two new wide releases is tracking well, according to distribution insiders.
"'Eye Of the Beholder' is 3% first choice, 'Isn't She Great' is 2% first choice," one studio executive said, referring to mid-week tracking data. "I really liked the trailer for ('Great'), but I guess it doesn't matter. It has zero unaided awareness. Nobody cares."
"Great," opening via Universal at about 750 theaters, is an R-rated drama about the life of best-selling author Jacqueline Susann. Directed by Andrew Bergman, it stars Bette Midler and Nathan Lane.
"Beholder," opening via Destination Films at 1,672 theaters, is an R-rated thriller written and directed by Stephan Elliott and stars Ewan McGregor and Ashley Judd. Its story revolves around an intelligence agent obsessed with his very seductive prey.
"We're going to have another weekend where everything's in single digits," the executive predicted. "Last weekend, everything was (single digits), and based on these numbers, neither of these movies is going to crack double digits. 'Eye Of the Beholder' could be $5-6 million, and "'Isn't She Great' could be $4-5 million."
The outlook appears equally bleak for the leading holdover films in the marketplace. Last week's two top-grossing pictures, New Line's "Next Friday" and Miramax's "Down to You," are both likely to tumble in their second weekend in theaters.
An indication of their weakness was seen earlier this week when last weekend's third-ranking film, Universal's "The Hurricane," moved up to top-grossing status Tuesday and Wednesday.
"It's getting good word of mouth," an insider said, adding that it probably says more about how "Friday" and "Down" have slipped in ticket sales.
Directed by Steve Carr, the R-rated comedy sequel "Next Friday" was written by, stars and was produced by Ice Cube. It placed first last weekend with $8.01 million.
Written and directed by Kris Isacsson, the PG-13 rated teen appeal romantic comedy "Down" stars Freddie Prinze Jr. and Julia Stiles. It came in second last weekend with $7.6 million.
Does Denzel Washington's best actor (drama) Golden Globe win account for "Hurricane's" rise?
"That could be," the distribution expert said. "That's probably the reason. Any time somebody wins, it gets publicity, and it reminds people about the movie."
Asked if "Hurricane" could capture the top spot on the Super Bowl weekend chart, he commented, "I'd be surprised, coming off $6.5 million (for the prior weekend). Let's say it's only down 25% because of his win. That puts it at $5 million. If it's down less than that, it's $5.5 million.
"It certainly would put it in the mix with 'Isn't She Great' and 'Eye Of the Beholder,' but I have a hard time believing two new movies are both going to gross under $5 million -- although the tracking's very poor.
"But, yes, I guess there's a chance. I think 'Next Friday' is in there. Of course, the Super Bowl's going to kill 'Next Friday,' and it will hurt 'Hurricane' as well. Super Bowl hurts everything, but it hurts anything with a male audience even more."
Directed by Norman Jewison, the R-rated drama "Hurricane" stars Washington as wrongly imprisoned boxing champion Rubin "Hurricane" Carter.
With the Super Bowl in mind, "Great" should be in a better position than "Hurricane" or "Friday" to survive the competition thanks to its appeal to adult females.
"Except nobody cares," the studio executive reminded. "So it's a bad weekend with the No. 1 movie (grossing) maybe, $5-6 million and then a cluster of movies like 'Hurricane' and 'Next Friday' and 'Down To You' right behind it."
Filling out lower rungs on this weekend's chart will be Columbia's PG-rated blockbuster family comedy "Stuart Little," directed by Rob Minkoff and starring Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie and Jonathan Lipnicki; Warner Bros. and Castle Rock Entertainment's R-rated prison drama "The Green Mile," written and directed by Frank Darabont and starring Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan; DreamWorks' PG-rated sci-fi comedy hit "Galaxy Quest," directed by Dean Parisot and starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman; Columbia's R-rated drama "Girl, Interrupted," directed by James Mangold and starring Winona Ryder and Golden Globe winner (best supporting actress, motion picture) Angelina Jolie; and Paramount's R-rated drama "The Talented Mr. Ripley," written and directed by Anthony Minghella and starring Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Cate Blanchett.
This weekend will see USA Films' expand its R-rated period piece drama "Topsy-Turvy" into the top 50 markets. Directed by Mike Leigh, it stars Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner as the British opera-writing team of Gilbert & Sullivan.
Also expanding is Lions Gate Films' PG-13-rated documentary "Mr. Death," directed by Errol Morris, about an engineer specializing in the design and repair of prison gas chambers, electric chairs and lethal injection systems.
On this weekend's exclusive front, Warner Bros. will launch "The Big Tease," an R-rated comedy set in the world of celebrity hairdressing. Directed by Kevin Allen, it stars Craig Ferguson and Frances Fisher and will arrive at theaters in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Fine Line Features' G-rated Oscar contender for Best Foreign Language Film, "The Cup," will kick off in New York and L.A. Directed by Khyentse Norbu, it is the story of Tibetan monks who attempt to have a satellite dish hooked up to the monastery so they can watch the 1998 World Cup.