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 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced its shortlist of nominees for 2014. While the Hall of Fame is little more than a vanity project for a cabal of self-important baby boomers headed by Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, who last had his finger on rock's pulse sometime before the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the U.K." came out, it's always fun to predict who will and won't make it in on each year's ballot. So here they are, in approximate likelihood of induction.
Because artists are eligible 25 years after their first record was released, Nirvana have been nominated on the first possible ballot. (Bleach came out in 1989.) They will sail through, which the board will consider proof that they're down with The Kids, notwithstanding that The Kids that bought Nirvana's albums are in our 40s now.
Ronstadt will be this year's sympathy vote, since she recently disclosed that her singing career is over due to Parkinson's Disease. A technically gifted (and drop-dead gorgeous) singer, Ronstadt was often hampered by her lack of interpretive skills. For example, she seemed genuinely oblivious to the fact that Randy Newman's "Sail Away" was sung from the point of view of a slave trader.
He's been eligible for 11 years, and as a critically-respected solo artist who also scored some major radio hits, he's exactly in the hall's wheelhouse. Given the comparative lack of sure things in this year's shortlist, this may be his year.
Although the board is notoriously anti-disco (Donna Summer didn't get in until after she died), the commercial resurrection of Nile Rodgers via Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" might sway a few members to recognize the architectural genius of hits like "Good Times" and "Le Freak."
Hall & Oates
There was a period in the early 1980s where critics considered Daryl Hall a genius blue-eyed soul songwriter on the level of Todd Rundgren and John Oates an amiable dude with a killer mustache. Perhaps some residual nostalgia for the duo's hits might bring them in. Personally, I think they should be inducted just for this incredibly bizarre and primitive video for "She's Gone."
Perhaps the only act who genuinely wants to be in the Hall of Fame, Kiss are rock's most shameless hucksters. And frankly, they deserve recognition just for the fact that they pioneered the licensing and merchandising that made pop music even more profitable than it was. But the board still has the antiquated view that rock is art, maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan, and that being too commercial is uncool.
LL Cool J
With his primary career these days being an amiable TV actor, it can be hard to remember just how outstanding singles like "The Bells" and "Goin' Back To Cali" were -- LL was one of the first next-gen rappers taking the music in new directions after the first wave had passed their peaks. Like Hall and Oates, he'll get in eventually, but this may not be his year.
Given The Replacements' "loveable losers" image, it would actually be entirely fitting if they became one of those bands who never actually make it in. When they do -- which they will, eventually -- it will shut the door on the entry of other key Amerindie bands of the mid-80s like Husker Du and the Meat Puppets. The board thinks they only need one representative.
Like Rush, Kiss and Black Sabbath, Yes has their diehard fans who think the Hall of Fame is a joke for not including their favorite band. The Hall is indeed a joke, but that's not why.
Still stigmatized by the overblown reaction to some widely misunderstood quotes Yusuf Islam (the man formerly known as Cat Stevens) gave to a newspaper in the wake of the fatwa against British author Salman Rushdie, Stevens may never make it into the Hall. But then, his pleasant but lightweight take on UK folk-rock is hardly the most earthshaking music of its time.
Okay, look: Machine Head was awesome. I mean, "Space Truckin'" and "Highway Star" will still rock your face off, and even as overplayed as it is, "Smoke on the Water" has one of the all-time great riffs. But the rest of Deep Purple's catalogue is at best third-string boogie. If artists with only one great album are eligible, let's induct The Stone Roses immediately.
Dr. Dre will someday make it into the Hall as a producer, but Jann Wenner lets the band whose signature song was called 'F--k tha Police" into his playground over his dead body. And Ice Cube's acting career makes NWA seem less threatening with every family comedy he makes.
Honestly, The Zombies are probably my favorite band on this entire list: "She's Not There" is maybe the most perfect single of the British Invasion, Odessey and Oracle is start to finish brilliant, and through Rod Argent's electric piano solos, they were possibly the very first band to bring a modern jazz influence into Top 40 pop. But they remain probably too obscure a niche taste to make the final ballot.
That goes double for The Meters. All rock critics genuflect to this New Orleans institution led by the legendary Art Neville, but I've always suspected that most of those copies of Fire on the Bayou in their collections don't actually get pulled out much.
I love Link Wray's doomy, reverb-driven instrumentals as much as the next guy, but given that his first, biggest and best hit "Rumble" came out 55 years ago, I can't help but think that if he was going to get inducted it would have happened by now.
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
Much like The Meters, critics love to name-drop Butterfield and his legendary guitarist Mike Bloomfield, but Bloomfield remains far more beloved for his mid-'60s work with Bob Dylan than for much-lauded but little-heard albums like East/West.
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
In news that doesn't really surprise anyone, MGM likes Blu-rays (but seriously, who doesn't like Blu-rays?). The studio just announced that it plans to make eight throwback titles available to consumers on Blu-ray: Three musicals (New York, New York, Hair and The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert) and five others (Death at a Funeral, The Long Riders, Posse, Vera Cruz and Original Sin). Below is the official synopsis for each:
Fresh off the farm, Claude Bukowski (John Savage) arrives in New York City to join the army, but he’s quickly swept up in the counterculture when a group of hippies introduce him to their psychedelic world…and a beautiful rich girl named Sheila (Beverly D’Angelo). When the group’s leader (Treat Williams) tries to keep Claude out of Vietnam, the consequences are shocking for everyone involved.
The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert:
They came. They conquered. They looked fabulous! With a contract to perform a drag show way out in the Australian desert, Tick (Weaving), Adam (Pearce) and Bernadette (Stamp) each has his own reason for wanting to leave the safety of Sydney. Christening their battered, pink tour bus “Priscilla,” this wickedly funny and high-drama trio heads for the outback…and into crazy adventures in even crazier outfits. You go, girls!
New York, New York:
Acclaimed director Martin Scorsese teams with Academy Award® winners* Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro in this splashy, flashy musical spectacle celebrating the glorious days of the Big Band Era in the Big Apple! Jimmy is a joint-jump in saxophonist on his way to stardom. Francine is a wannabe starlet who dreams of singing in the spotlight. When they meet, sparks fly and when he plays and she sings, they set New York on fire! It's the beginning of a stormy relationship, as the two struggle to balance their passions for music and each other under the pressures of big-time show biz.
Death at a Funeral:
As the mourners and guests at a British country manor struggle valiantly to "keep a stiff upper lip," a dignified ceremony devolves into a hilarious, no-holds-barred debacle of misplaced cadavers, indecent exposure, and shocking family secrets. Packed with extras including audio commentaries and an uproarious gag reel, Death at a Funeral blows the lid off the proverbial coffin as "the film's delicious comic flourishes... sight gags, slapstick, flawless timing... are served up by an outstanding cast" (O, The Oprah Magazine).
The Long Riders:
Jesse James and his gang of outlaws ride again in this "extraordinary" (LA Herald-Examiner) western that pulsates with hard-driving action and electrifying drama. Four sets of acclaimed actor brothers David, Keith and Robert Carradine, James and Stacy Keach, Dennis and Randy Quaid, and Christopher and Nicholas Guest each depict real-life siblings in emotionally charged portrayals of the Old West's legendary bandits. The notorious James-Younger gang is the most famous group of outlaws in the country, robbing banks, trains and stagecoaches with a sense of daring that makes them folk heroes throughout the land. But when the mighty Pinkerton detective agency swears to track them down, these criminals must face an awesome enemy that will stop at nothing to see them behind bars...or dead! Only through the strength of their loyalty and blood ties can the outlaws hope to survive the brutal pursuits, unexpected betrayals and blistering showdowns that mark the end of their dangerous ride.
Mario Van Peebles (Judgment Day), Billy Zane (Titanic) and Stephen Baldwin (Fled) shake up the frontier in this "fast-paced, star-studded, big brawny western" (Janet Maslin, The New York Times)! Filled with gun-blazing, fist-pounding action and co-starring Big Daddy Kane, Blair Underwood, Tone Loc, Pam Grier, Isaac Hayes, Nipsey Russell, Aaron Neville and more, Posse takes a page missing from the history books - and unfolds it with suspense, humor and awe-inspiring power! In 1892, a group of mostly black infantrymen, betrayed by their white commander, Colonel Graham (Zane), desert the Spanish-American War. With Graham hot on their trail, Jessie Lee (Van Peebles) leads the men to his hometown, Freemanville, only to find it's also besieged by war - a racist war! Lee's attempts to bring justice and freedom to his people make for a brilliant western that's short on words and long on "killer entertainment" (Los Angeles Times)
Legendary screen icons Gary Cooper (High Noon) and Burt Lancaster (Elmer Gantry) team up for a magnificent, action-packed western from director Robert Aldrich (The Dirty Dozen) and screenwriters Roland Kibbee and James R. Webb. With sweeping vistas and larger-than-life heroics, it's a tale as bold and rugged as the characters it so brilliantly depicts. Cooper and Lancaster portray Benjamin Trane and Joe Erin, two daredevil mercenaries who journey to Mexico in search of adventure and cold hard cash during the 1866 revolution. But they get more than they bargained for when the wealthy and beautiful Countess Duvarre (Denise Darcel) hires them to escort her (and a fortune in gold!) to Emperor Maximilian's fighting forces in Vera Cruz. The trail is fraught with danger, betrayal and murder... and when Ben is swept up in the revolutionaries' fervor, he and Joe find themselves at odds with the Mexican Army and each other
Oscar Winner Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas sizzle in this smoldering tale of passion, deception and danger. A wealthy Cuban merchant (Banderas) only knows his mysterious bride to be (Jolie) through letters, but when he finally meets and marries her, his life takes a deadly turn. With footage too hot for theaters, director’s commentary and more, this unrated Blu-ray is sinfully satisfying
Source: MGM Pictures