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.
Hungarian director Janos Szasz triumphed at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic on Saturday (06Jul13) after he was awarded the top prize for his war drama The Notebook. The movie was named the winner of the Grand Prix Crystal Globe, while the Special Jury Prize was awarded to British filmmaker Ben Wheatley for A Field in England.
The Czech Republic's own Jan Hrebejk earned the Best Director honour for Honeymoon and Olafur Darri Olafsson was named the Best Actor for Icelandic movie XL. The female equivalent was awarded jointly to Bluebird stars Amy Morton, Louisa Krause, Emily Meade and Margo Martindale.
The final day of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival also included a special prizegiving for John Travolta and Oliver Stone, who both received the Crystal Globe Award for Outstanding Artistic Contribution to World Cinema.
If the description of Amy Morton dealing with familial woes in the middle of a desolate, cold location sounds all too familiar, think again. The award-winning veteran stage actress' latest Bluebird, which premiered earlier this week at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, is a far cry from her role as George Clooney's sister who reunites with him in snowy Wisconsin in 2009's hit dramedy Up in the Air. In every way possible.
In Bluebird, Morton plays Lesley, a school bus driver in a sleepy working class mining town in Maine whose life is turned upside down when one of the kids she picks up is accidentally left on the bus and is left clinging to life. Lesley begins to break down in the aftermath of the terrible accident, complicated by her own family issues, including having a distant husband who has carried on an affair (played by Mad Men's John Slattery, who Morton described as "very fun, straightforward and down to earth") and her teenage daughter Paula (Emily Meade) who's headed down a wrong path.
"In the beginning of the movie... everybody's trying to get through their day because everybody's in a certain amount of financial trouble because of our economy and it added to that is the isolation of each member of this family," Morton said during a chat with Hollywood.com. "You can tell they're kind of growing apart and after the tragic incident she just begins to unravel. It's a geographical place with the people from that area don't do a lot of talking. There's not a lot of 'This is how I feel' going on."
Of course, it was that very geographical location that made Bluebird the slow-burn of a character study that it is. Morton said that she would drive an hour-and-a-half from Bangor to the small rural town where it was filmed because, as she put it, "there was no way I was gonna be stuck in that town without a car."
"It was smack dab in the middle of Maine in the smack dab middle of winter. It was bleak," Morton continued. "There really was not much to do at all. Nobody wanted a day off, because there was nothing to do. That town was really small and it was a mill town and the mill closed so it had already lost half of its population so the one main street 85 percent of the businesses were closed."
But that depressing isolation wasn't just a place, it was a state of mind for the actors. "Watching the movie I was like, 'Now I get it.' It would not be the same movie had we shot it in Northern New York trying to make it Maine. I think the location and the time of year is absolutely the other character in the movie. It's as important as anyone else in it."
Though it most certainly wasn't the exotic filming location that drew Morton to the script, but the very human story that Lance Edmands' Bluebird tells. "I thought the character [of Lesley] was really good and I thought the story was kind of beautiful and I love the fact that Lance didn't really answer any questions for anybody. To me, it was very much like real life. That's why I liked it so much."
Morton added that Bluebird, which Edmands (making his full-length feature debut) spent three years working on before cameras (on 35mm film, to be precise) even started rolling, "Any progress that's made in the film — and once it's over how you imagine their lives after— it's very true to life in that progress comes in inches. There aren't' huge revelations or changes from, 'I was this person and now I'm this person.' It's how people progress, it's usually very slowly."
Getting to explore these characters and setting is something, Morton —who, in addition to Up in the Air has been seen on the big screen in movies like The Dilemma and on the small screen including shows such as Boss — says this is where being in a small indie has the advantage. "I haven't done a lot of films, so I don't have a whole lot to compare it to, but to compare this to a big budget movie with big stars in it, yeah there's a big difference," Morton explained. "You get paid more when you work with the stars but I guess what makes up for it when you're doing a low budget independent film is that you get more time."
"When you're doing a big budget film you feel the pressure to get your work done because time is so much money," she said, adding, "Whereas on this film you get the luxury of a little bit more rehearsal time and discussion time, so you feel a little bit more relaxed about exploring. You don't feel under the burden of the mighty dollar. It's a more relaxed set because you're not spending a gazillion dollars a day. They scraped and begged and worked very hard for every dollar that they raised for this thing, so it's not like they weren't aware [of money]. Everybody's on the same page, nobody is making more than anybody else or anything like that, so you have a more relaxed atmosphere."
But for Morton, who recently wrapped up the Broadway revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, noted that there's no preference when it comes to creating art, big budget or otherwise. "I like it all," Morton told Hollywood.com. "I like stage work and I like film work and I also direct, so it's all really good. I feel very lucky that I get to work in this business in a couple of different ways."
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New mom Rebecca Romijn plans to return to television, this time in a new drama called Eastwick.
The actress, most recently seen as Alexis Meade on Ugly Betty, will play Roxie Torcoletti in the ABC pilot based on John Updike’s novel The Witches of Eastwick according to Variety. The story was also used in the 1987 film by the same name starring Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer and Jack Nicholson.
Romijn’s costars in the show, about three women who discover they have magical powers, will include Lindsay Price (Joanna Frankel), Jaime Ray Newman (Kat Rougemont) and Paul Gross (Darryl Van Horne).
Romijn, who recently had twins with her husband Jerry O’Connell, will maintain her recurring role on Ugly Betty.
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