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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In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
The film and television nominations for the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards have been released, recognizing achievements in both individual performances and the strengths of ensemble casts. This year's television award nominations are listed below, including many worthy recipients, but there are also a few surprising absences. Among the hard-hitters listed below are dramas like HBO's Mildred Pierce and Boardwalk Empire, AMC's Breaking Bad and comedies such as ABC's Modern Family (which swept the Emmys this year) and NBC's 30 Rock. However, some might be surprised not to find the new Showtime drama Homeland or NBC's secret weapon Parks and Recreation.
The 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards will air live at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on Jan. 29, 2012 on TNT and TBS.
Click here to read the list of this year's film nominees.
18th ANNUAL SAG AWARDS NOMINATIONS: PRIMETIME TELEVISION
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Laurence Fishburne - Thurgood (HBO)
Paul Giamatti - Too Big to Fail (HBO)
Greg Kinnear - The Kennedy (Reelz Channel)
Guy Pearce - Mildred Pierce (HBO)
James Woods - Too Big to Fail (HBO
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Diane Lane - Cinema Verite (HBO)
Maggie Smith - Downton Abbey (PBS)
Emily Watson - Appropriate Adult (Sundance Channel)
Betty White - Hallmark Hall of Fame: The Lost Valentine (CBS)
Kate Winslet - Mildred Pierce (HBO)
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series
Patrick J. Adams - Suits (USA)
Steve Buscemi - Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Kyle Chandler - Friday Night Lights (DirecTV)
Bryan Cranston - Breaking Bad (AMC)
Michael C. Hall - Dexter (Showtime)
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series
Kathy Bates - Harry's Law (NBC)
Glenn Close - Damages (DirecTV)
Jessica Lange - American Horror Story (FX)
Julianna Margulies - The Good Wife (CBS)
Kyra Sedgwick - The Closer (TNT)
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin - 30 Rock (NBC)
Ty Burrell - Modern Family (ABC)
Steve Carell - The Office (NBC)
Jon Cryer - Two and a Half Men (CBS)
Eric Stonestreet - Modern Family (ABC)
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series
Julia Bowen - Modern Family (ABC)
Edie Falco - Nurse Jackie (Showtime)
Tina Fey - 30 Rock (NBC)
Sofia Vergara - Modern Family (ABC)
Betty White - Hot in Cleveland (TV Land)
Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
Boardwalk Empire (HBO) - Steve Buscemi, Dominic Chianese, Robert Clohessy, Dabney Coleman, Charlie Cox, Jose & Lucy Gallina, Stephen Graham, Jack Huston, Anthony Laciura, Heather Lind, Kelly Macdonald, Rory & Declan McTigue, Gretchen Mol, Brady & Connor Noon, Kevin O'Rourke, Aleksa Palladino, Jacqueline Pennewill, Vincent Piazza, Michael Pitt, Michael Shannon, Paul Sparks, Michael Stuhlbarg, Peter Van Wagner, Shea Whigham, Michael Kenneth Williams, Anatol Yusef
Breaking Bad (AMC) - Jonathan Banks, Betsy Brandt, Ray Campbell, Bryan Cranston, Giancarlo Esposito, Anna Gunn, RJ Mitte, Dean Norris, Bob Odenkirk, Aaron Paul
Dexter (Showtime) - Billy Brown, Jennifer Carpenter, Josh Cooke, Aimee Garcia, Michael C. Hall, Colin Hanks, Desmond Harrington, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Rya Kihlstedt, C.S. Lee, Edward James Olmos, James Remar, Lauren Velez, Peter Weller, David Zayas
Game of Thrones (HBO) - Amrita Acharia, Mark Addy, Alfie Allen, Josef Altin, Sean Bean, Susan Brown, Emilia Clarke, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage, Ron Donachie, Michelle Farley, Jerome Flynn, Elyes Gabel, Aiden Gillen, Jack Gleeson Iain Glen, Julian Glover, Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Conleth Hill, Richard Madden, Jason Mamoa, Rory McCann, Ian McElhinney, Luke McEwan, Roxanne McKee, Dar Salim, Mark Stanley, Donald Sumpter, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams
The Good Wife (CBS) - Christine Baranski, Josh Charles, Alan Cumming, Matt Czuchry, Julianna Margulies, Chris Noth, Archie Panjabi, Graham Phillips, Makenzie Vega
Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series
30 Rock (NBC) - Scott Adsit, Alec Baldwin, Katrina Bowden, Kevin Brown, Grizz Chapman, Tina Fey, Judah Friedlander, Jane Krakowski, John Lutz, Jack McBrayer, Tracy Morgan, Maulik Pancholy, Keith Powell
The Big Bang Theory (CBS) - Mayim Bialik, Kaley Cuoco, Johnny Galecki, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Jim Parsons, Melissa Rauch
Glee (Fox) - Dianna Agron, Chris Colfer, Darren Criss, Ashley Fink, Dot Marie Jones, Jane Lynch, Jayma Mays, Kevin McHale, Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Heather Morris, Matthew Morrison, Mike O'Malley, Chord Overstreet, Lauren Potter, Amber Riley, Naya Rivera, Mark Salling, Harry Shum Jr., Iqbal Theba, Jenna Ushkowitz
Modern Family (ABC) - Aubrey Anderson-Emmons, Julia Bowen, Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Nolan Gould, Sarah Hyland, Ed O'Neill, Rico Rodriguez, Eric Stonestreet, Sofia Vergara, Ariel Winter
The Office (NBC) - Leslie David Baker, Brian Baumgartner, Creed Bratton, Steve Carell, Jenna Fischer, Kate Flannery, Ed Helms, Mindy Kaling, Ellie Kemper, Angela Kinsey, John Krasinski, Paul Lieberstein, B.J. Novak, Oscar Nunez, Craig Robinson, James Spader, Phyllis Smith, Rainn Wilson, Zach Woods
It almost makes you wanna trip over an ottoman, just for the hell of it.
Today marks fifty years since the premiere of The Dick Van Dyke Show, one of the most iconic and influential sitcoms in television history. The Dick Van Dyke Show, starred (you probably don’t need us to tell you) Dick Van Dyke as Rob Petrie, a family man and comedy writer for a New York City-based variety TV show. TDVDS seems to have all the facets of your standard workplace comedy—tyrannical boss, wisecracking coworkers, put-upon errand boy -- but there’s something that differentiates this series from others of its type: it was the first of its kind.
In fact, TDVDS was a pioneer not just as a workplace comedy (seriously—name one that came before it), but also in its portrayal of woman and minorities. One of the main characters, Sally Rogers, was a brash, single woman and professional comedy writer. TDVDS was nearly unprecedented in its portrayal of a black family as economic and societal equals to the Petries. And finally, it was one of the first shows to include a number of Jewish characters.
But in addition to these important sociopolitical steps, it was also the foundation for several types of comedic characters that have stood the test of time. We may not realize this, but characters from our favorite sitcoms today—workplace, family, all genres—draw inspiration from the cast of The Dick Van Dyke Show.
Liz Lemon (Tina Fey on 30 Rock)
Liz Lemon is the hapless head writer of TGS with Tracy Jordan, a sketch comedy show on NBC. Since the series' start, Liz is illustrated as a career woman who has let her work addiction, and (often ironically counterproductive) measures to advance the depiction of women on television, stand in the way of her personal life. However, Liz's mission is to "have it all." She wants to meet a good man and start a family, but is in no way willing to give up her demanding job. Additionally, the scattered attempts Liz does make at finding love are always ill-fated, either by her own abrasive personality or by her attraction to terrible men.
Each and every one of these characteristics can be traced back to Rose Marie's character, Sally Rogers, on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Sally's lack of apparent femininity led her to often be jokingly referred to as "one of the guys" by coworkers Rob and Buddy. She was a markedly successful professional writer, but she often lamented her inability to find a husband. The few men that Sally was seen with over the course of the series never offered much promise: her on-off love interest Herman Glimscher was immature (much like Liz's recurring boyfriend, and the best character in the history of television, Dennis Duffy). Furthermore, Sally often drove men away due to her unbridled personality and sense of humor.
Tom Haverford (
Aziz Ansari on Parks and Recreation)
While he was employed at the Parks Department of Pawnee, Indiana, Tom Haverford was rarely seen contributing to anything but the office vibe. Tom is an incurable wiseass. At every waking opportunity, he goofs off and makes fun of his coworkers (specifically Jerry...and Leslie...and Ben...and Jerry). There have been many quick-witted slackers over the years, but Tom is one we are pleased to have with us today. And, of course, we might not have Tom if we never had Morey Amsterdam's character, Buddy Sorrell, on The Dick Van Dyke Show.
Although Buddy's work ethic was slightly more impressive than Tom's (after all, he was a comedy writer, so technically, making fun of the producer was part of the job...right?), he was not exactly a model employee. Buddy never let an opportunity to snark at producer Mel Cooley slip by, usually vying for the obvious target of his baldness. Like Tom, Buddy was shown to be a decent guy underneath his attitude -- still a jackass, but a decent jackass.
Dean Craig Pelton (Jim Rash on Community)
Every fan of Community (that I know) cheers whenever Greendale Community College's Dean Craig Pelton struts into the library to deliver what will inevitably be unappreciated, irrelevant, and annoying news to the study group. The dean is the biggest victim of the eightsome's constant barrage of mockery due to his overzealous embrace of everything that he has to say. Somehow, despite his laughable appearance and incredibly peculiar personality, Dean Pelton takes himself incredibly seriously, and takes great offense to anyone who insults him or his job.
In this case, there are as many physical similarities between Pelton and Richard Deacon's Dick Van Dyke character Mel Cooley as there are personal. The bald, bespectacled Mel cherished his position of authoirty over the fun-loving gang of writers. However, his authority was strictly in title; he rarely commanded any respect from the trio, especially Buddy. Mel was the victim of endless abuse from the wisecracking comedians. Still, he carried out his position with great pride, much like Dean Pelton does his. Of course, Mel was never shown to be a pansexual deviant...maybe Community got that from Leave it to Beaver.
Ryan Howard (B.J. Novak on The Office)
Ah, the horrible boss. Beyond every other staple in workplace comedy has this one pervaded. Now, one might find it curious that, in use of The Office, we wouldn't highlight the iconic Michael Scott as the 'bad boss.' The thing is, Michael, while bumbling, insecure, immature, and ill-equipped for his position, was actually a pretty decent guy...underneath it all, anyway. Ryan Howard, however, during his reign as Michael's superior at Dunder Mifflin Corporate, was very much the opposite. He embodied perfectly the 'evil boss.' He was seflish, egotistical, insensitive, and obsessed with own success over others' and the company's. He was not above belittling, berating or manipulating his employees if it meant getting what he wanted.
Over the years, there have been many, many terrible bosses. But they all date back to creator Carl Reiner's character Alan Brady, star of the in-universe Alan Brady Show for which Rob, Sally and Buddy were writers. Alan originated as a faceless character, much like the George Steinbrenner character we saw in Seinfeld. Once the show made a transition into depicting Brady as a full-fledged character, he got meaner, ruder, more narcissitic and less compassionate -- especially to his own brother-in-law, Mel.
Phil and Claire Dunphy (Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen on Modern Family)
Phil and Claire are a classic formula. Goofy husband, high-strung wife. Both good-hearted and devoted to one another. Unlike some other series of recent past, it is easy to see why Phil and Claire love each other. Their differences are not played to extremes in the interests of laughable chaos. We actually see plenty of their similarities, as well. While Phil's bumbling nature often causes Claire grief, and Claire's flusterability (just go with it) might upset Phil, we never doubt that they're right for each other.
And this is something we definitely find in Rob and Laura Petrie, played by Dick Van Dyke himself and the great Mary Tyler Moore. They started it all: the great married couple. Not perfect to the point of inhuman like the Cleavers. Not flawed to the point of "Well, why are they even married?" like the Barrones. Totally real. Totally lovable. Totally memorable. Like the show itself, a true legacy.