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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A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
The cast is rapidly coming together for Screen Gems' Planet B-Boy. Deadline.com reports that Chris Brown, Josh Holloway, Laz Alonso, Josh Peck, and Caity Lotz have joined the film, which is inspired by Benson Lee's eponymous 2007 breakdancing documentary. The script, written by Brin Hill and Chris Parker, follows an American breakdancing crew as it battles its way to an international competition in France. Lee is directing. Shooting on the film began today in Los Angeles.
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Top Story: Wedding Bells Ring for Rosie
Comedian Rosie O'Donnell and her lesbian partner, Kelli Carpenter, were wed Thursday in San Francisco, a day before the California state attorney general is slated to file a lawsuit that may end the controversial weddings, Reuters reports. O'Donnell and Carpenter said they were motivated to tie the knot after President Bush proposed a Constitutional amendment Tuesday banning same-sex weddings and cited the recent flood of gay marriages in San Francisco in his remarks. "We were both inspired to come here after the sitting president said the vile and vicious and hateful comments he did," O'Donnell said after kissing her bride.
Gibson Feels Judged on his Passion
Director Mel Gibson told Jay Leno Thursday on NBC's The Tonight Show that he feels his film The Passion of the Christ has been unfairly prejudged over the past year, The Associated Press reports. "For a year, it's been nothing but nasty editorials and name-calling," Gibson said, but he added he is adopting a loving attitude, "even for those who persecute you." The director also alleged that a copy of the script was obtained "nefariously" before the film was completed, leading to "all these accusations of anti-Semitism," which he has vehemently denied--and he never considered changing his script because of the protests. "I don't know any director, any artist who would bow to this kind of pressure. It's un-American," Gibson said. The film grossed a whopping $23.6 million on its opening day Wednesday, prompting Leno joked in his opening monologue, that since the film was doing so well, "there's now talk of turning it into a book."
Shock Jock Stern Voices Opinion on Ban
Radio personality Howard Stern had more than a few words to say Thursday morning regarding being yanked off a half-dozen stations for his controversial radio show. "They are so afraid of me and what this show represents," AP reports Stern told his legion of devoted listeners. The heightened anxiety created by the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake stint during the Super Bowl halftime show has put pressure on broadcasters to clean up their acts, and Clear Channel Communications took Stern's show off the air Wednesday in a dozen markets, including San Diego, Calif. and Pittsburgh, Penn., until Stern met its programming guidelines. "Janet Jackson is now forgotten, and I'm on the front page of every newspaper," Stern complained Thursday morning.
A Friends Reunion?
It's a split vote between Friends cast members on whether they would return for a reunion show. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, AP reports Courteney Cox Arquette, Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow didn't think it would be a good idea. "I think that would cheapen it," Aniston told the magazine. "Do you remember The Brady Bunch reunion show? You remember the Happy Days reunion show? Were they ever good? Cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap." The three male actors on the hit sitcom, however, were more amenable to the idea. Matthew Perry suggested, "Talk to me in 20 years. If I'm on really hard times, maybe I'll be pitching one," while David Schwimmer said, "…If it meant I get to revisit the relationships and work with those writers and actors again, then that would be a good thing."
AFI Fetes MPAA's Jack Valenti
The American Film Institute honored the Motion Picture Association of America's president Jack Valenti with the Charles Heston Award Thursday for his contributions to the industry, AP reports. The ceremony was held in Los Angeles.
Clay Aiken Donates Clothes to Museum
Last year's American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken saw his clothes--a white Italian-made shirt, black pinstriped pants and the shoes he wore on the show--on display at a museum in Raleigh, N.C., AP reports. "Today's popular culture often becomes tomorrow's history; we are pleased to have objects connected to Clay Aiken's early success," Elizabeth F. Buford, director of the history museum and the Division of State History Museums, told AP.
Rowling Invited to Billionaire Club
J.K. Rowling, the wealthy author of the Harry Potter books, has joined Forbes magazine's list of the world's billionaires, Reuters reports. Rowling, once an unemployed single mother, saw her wealth rise to $1 billion after the publication of the latest Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and the success of the movie franchise, the magazine said Thursday. The founders of the Internet search engine Google.com, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, also made the list.
Lane, Broderick Say Goodbye to Producers--Again
After making a splashy comeback Dec. 30, original stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick are leaving their hit Broadway musical The Producers April 4, AP reports. The (real) producers of the show declined comment Thursday, although John Barlow, a spokesman for the show, told AP casting is proceeding and said that the new performers will be announced when they're signed. Since Lane and Broderick's return, the show has been doing well and last week took in more than $1.3 million, the highest gross on Broadway, AP reports.
Role Call: Theron Goes Aeon Flux
Charlize Theron, currently reaping numerous awards for her startling performance in Monster, is in negotiations with Paramount Pictures to play the futuristic assassin in a feature film based on the MTV animated series, Aeon Flux. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the MTV series revolved around a killer known for her extreme style, cool attitude, tight clothes and propensity for dying. The feature is targeting a June start with Karyn Kusama (Girlfight) in the director's chair.