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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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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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
Olsen twin goes home
Teen actress Mary-Kate Olsen has been released from a health facility where she underwent six weeks of treatment for an eating disorder widely reported to be anorexia, her spokesman told Reuters on Monday. The 18-year-old icon is "feeling very well" and will continue treatment privately while preparing for college, her publicist Michael Pagnotta said. "The focus right now is on school," Pagnotta said in a statement. "She intends to live her day-to-day life normally. ... She won't be hiding. She'll be going out and doing a lot of the things that she's missed doing over the past few weeks." Olsen and her twin sister Ashley plan to enroll together at New York University in August.
Ja Rule faces assault charges
Ja Rule turned himself into Toronto police Monday and was charged with assault, following an incident at a downtown club last month, Reuters reports. Since a judge allowed a publication ban on the details of the case, authorities would say only that the charge stems from a June 5 incident at a Toronto nightclub. No more information was available. "There's no celebrity justice here," the rapper's lawyer said outside the courthouse. "You don't get treated differently in this country if your name is Martha, Michael or Ja Rule, everyone is treated the same and he'll be treated fairly." The 28-year-old rapper, whose real name is Jeffrey Atkins, made a brief court appearance and was released on $7,500 bail.
CSI actors rehired at original salary
CBS has rehired CSI: Crime Scene Investigation stars Jorja Fox and George Eads at their original salaries of $100,000 per episode, the AP reports. Fox was dismissed July 14 after failing to provide written assurance that she planned to show up for the start of production on the series' fifth season, while Eads was let go the next day when he didn't show up for work. At the time, both actors were in salary negotiations with the network. After they were canned, Fox and Eads released appeasing statements explaining their predicaments as the result of misunderstandings.
Soprano fans must wait until 2006
Cabler HBO announced Thursday that the sixth and final season of the hit mob drama The Sopranos won't premiere until sometime in 2006, The Associated Press reports. The show, which stars James Gandolfini in the lead role of Anthony Soprano, wrapped up its fifth season last month. "It's like the Harry Potter book," HBO chairman Chris Albrecht said. "You'll wait very long and be happy when you get it." Albrecht added Sopranos creator and executive producer David Chase could now take all the time he needs to write, suggesting the final season could become longer than the customary 10 episodes Chase committed to in January.
Seacrest's On Air off air in some markets
On Air With Ryan Seacrest will soon be off the air in some parts of the country due to low ratings. Sources told The Hollywood Reporter that the Sinclair Broadcast Group has pulled the syndicated talk show from more than 20 of its TV stations. Sinclair stations that carry the American Idol host's show include WCWB in Pittsburgh, WLFL in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., WZTV in Nashville, WTTEL in Columbus, Ohio, and KABB in San Antonio. The move could deal a major blow to On Air, which has been struggling with low ratings since its debuted in January. It's unclear, however, when the move will take effect.
Actor Sorrells arrested in shooting death
Veteran actor Robert Sorrells, who starred in numerous film and TV Westerns including the 1969 feature Death of a Gunfighter and the popular TV series Gunsmoke, was arrested Monday for investigation of murder after witnesses told police he walked into a Simi Valley, Calif., bar Saturday and shot two patrons, killing one, AP reports. A bartender told L.A.'s Daily News the 74-year-old actor had been at the bar until it closed Friday night, returned Saturday morning looking for his credit card, then returned again in the afternoon and opened fire. Police said he shot Arthur De Long, 45, in the back and Edward Sanchez, 40, in the face and back. De Long was killed. Sanchez, 40, was hospitalized in serious condition, AP reports.
Jackson's defense wants more time
In a motion requesting the trial be delayed four months, Michael Jackson's defense team called the singer's child molestation investigation a "breathtaking" effort to take down a major celebrity, the AP reports. "The scope of the prosecution's investigation is breathtaking," the document stated. "This is not a usual criminal investigation. It is an effort to take down a major celebrity. The expenditure of resources by the prosecution is unprecedented and extravagant." Prosecutors said in a reply that while they would not oppose a "reasonable" delay, four months was too long. Jackson, 45, is charged with committing a lewd act upon a child, administering an intoxicating agent and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. He is free on $3 million bail and scheduled to stand trial Sept. 13.
Michael Moore getting Sicko
Director Michael Moore, whose $6 million pic Fahrenheit 9/11 become the first documentary to cross the $100 million mark at the domestic box office, won't have trouble financing his next film, Sicko, a critique of health-maintenance organizations. "Clearly, if you make a movie that has this ratio of how much it costs to its gross, you're going to find an easy time making your next film," Moore told reporters in a conference call over the weekend. Moore said the idea for Sicko grew from a segment he did on his The Awful Truth TV show, in which he staged a mock funeral at an HMO for a patient who was denied an organ transplant he needed to survive. The HMO relented and paid for the transplant.
Guylaine Cadorette contributed to this report.