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 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.
Top Story: Injured Snowboarder Gets Visit from Letterman
A champion snowboarder who was injured Thursday while performing a stunt on CBS' Late Show with David Letterman received stitches and a visit from host David Letterman. Tara Dakides, a 2004 X Games silver medalist who is considered one of the world's best female snowboarders, was performing a stunt on the show when she fell 25 feet off a makeshift ramp onto the concrete pavement near the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City where the Letterman show is taped. Dakides, 29, was hospitalized immediately after the tumble and received stitches for a gash in her head but did not suffer any broken bones. Dakides, nicknamed the Terrorizer, is expected to leave the hospital today, and will reappear on the Late Show Monday night. "The only thing I am upset about is that the French judge only gave me a 5.6," Dakides said from her hospital bed, in a statement by her manager. After the accident Letterman canceled the remainder of his show, featuring guests Drew Barrymore and pop band Fountains of Wayne, and ran a repeat instead.
Stage Set for Grammys
Don't expect to see any presenters at this year's Grammy Awards, which take place Sunday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, because like last year, the 2004 ceremony will be hostless. According to Billboard.com, organizers will use music, film and television personalities to introduce performance segments of the show. Representing the world of music will be Madonna, Beck, Queen Latifah and Evanescence singer Amy Lee. TV and film personalities will include Samuel L. Jackson, Cuba Gooding Jr., Sarah Jessica Parker, Jack Black, and Ellen DeGeneres. A bevy of artists are set to perform, including 50 Cent, the White Stripes, Martina McBride, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Jackson Browne, Prince, Sean Paul, Billy Bob Thornton and--yes--Justin Timberlake.
Jay-Z and Beyonce, Crazy in Love?
There may be wedding bells in the future for Jay-Z and singer Beyonce Knowles, who have been an item for almost two years. Jay-Z announced plans to marry Knowles last week while attending a party in New York last Wednesday Lyor Cohen, who recently left his post at Island Def Jam to head up Warner Music Group. According to Launch.com, the rapper took the microphone to congratulate Cohen and said, "You've been one of the best friends I could have had ... Apart from this woman beside me (Beyonce), who I love and who I will marry very soon." Neither Jay-Z's or Knowles' camps have made official announcement yet.
Singer James Brown Seeks Annulment
Singer James Brown has filed papers seeking an annulment from his wife, 33-year-old Tomi Rae Brown, claiming she never divorced from her previous husband, whom she married in Houston in February 1997, The Associated Press reports. The annulment comes on the heels of an altercation between the 70-year-old Godfather of Soul and his wife. Brown was arrested last week in South Carolina on a domestic violence charge involving Rae Brown and released the following day. He has denied the accusations. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.
MGM May Resurrect Orion Pictures
MGM may resurrect Orion Pictures, whose past releases include The Silence of the Lambs, Dances With Wolves, the Robocop films and several Woody Allen features, The Hollywood Reporter reports. Orion was established in 1978 by a group of former United Artists' executives but was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1992. MGM acquired the Orion name and its film library five years later and now wants revive it as a genre arm to complement its United Artists specialty films unit. The studio is looking to team up with an outside partner to resurrecting Orion for theatrical and video releases.
Donald Trump's The Apprentice, Round Two
NBC renewed Donald Trump's hit reality series The Apprentice for a second season, Reuters reports. The show, in which 16 would-be protégés vie for a $250,000-a-year job as a top executive in Trump's business empire, has been a ratings champ for NBC since it premiered last month. Aided by a lead-in from Friends, The Apprentice averaged 19.1 million viewers in its first three Thursday night telecasts. According to Nielsen Media Research, The Apprentice ranks as the season's No. 3 series in the 18-49 demographic and No. 6 in total viewers.
Master P Pleads Guilty to Tax Crime
Rapper Master P, aka Percy Miller, pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to failing to file a corporate income tax return seven years ago, The Associated Press reports. Prosecutors claim Bout It Incorporated, the company founded by Miller in 1996, failed to report its first-year earnings to the Internal Revenue Service. If convicted, Miller could face a fine of $200,000 or twice the financial gain or loss (whichever is greater), the cost of prosecution and five years probation. Before entering the courthouse, Miller, was approached by man attempting to serve papers relating to another matter. According to the AP, the man tried to block the building's metal detector before finally throwing the papers at the rapper.
Role Call: Aniston Signs for First Post-Friends Project
Jennifer Aniston's first post-Friends feature film: An untitled project tentatively set to start in April. According to The Hollywood Reporter Aniston will play a woman who discovers her family was the inspiration for the book and the movie The Graduate--and she may actually be the biological offspring of the scandal.
The first rule of the cooking club is that you never, ever talk about the cooking club.
And the second rule of the cooking club is ... well, you get the point.
Sexy Brad Pitt might reunite with director David Fincher, whom the actor worked with in "Seven" and "Fight Club," to do a film called "Seared."
According to Daily Variety, the film is a loose reworking of chef Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential," which centers on the career of a New York celebrity chef.
'DEATH' TRAP: Variety says that Michael Douglas and Billy Crystal are considering taking the leads in "Till Death Do Us Part." The film is supposed to be a remake of 1979's "The In-Laws" which focuses on a dentist and a CIA agent in South America.
HE GOT 'GAME': Variety also reports that Gary Sinise will join Philip Baker Hall and Mason Gamble in the drama "A Gentleman's Game" about a group of men whose lives are changed forever one summer in a country club.
MACABRE TELEPATHY: "Stir of Echoes'" Kathryn Erbe will star opposite Kevin Costner in "Dragonfly," Variety reports. The film is about a widowed doctor who senses that his wife is communicating to him through his dead patients.
Anjelica Huston 'TIME' FACTOR: The Hollywood Reporter says that actress-director Anjelica Huston will direct "A Time to Be Born," a starring vehicle for Julia Roberts for Revolution Studios. Based on a Dawn Powell novel, the story follows a social climber who marries into New York high society.
Huston has a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for "Prizzi's Honor" alongside her acting and directing credits. She last appeared on the big screen in "Agnes Browne."
'HIGH' TIME: Actress Amanda Peet, who you may have seen in the little seen "Whipped," might join Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd in the thriller "High Crimes." The film is an adaptation of the novel by Joseph Finder about a high power lawyer (Judd) who must defend her husband in court. Peet will play the Judd character's younger sister. Freeman will play another attorney.
SHAGGY, WE'VE FOUND YOU: The Reporter says that "Scream" dude Matthew Lillard might play Shaggy in the upcoming "Scooby-Doo" project. And as we reported before, Freddie Prinze Jr. and galpal Sarah Michelle Gellar are also in talks to play teen detectives Fred and Daphne.