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.
When a movie gets knocked around from one crummy release date to another one would assume that it is pretty awful. However even I a knowledgeable and open-minded film geek wasn’t prepared for the monstrosity that is Season of the Witch a medieval mess that has reportedly been in the works for a decade. You’d never be able to tell so many years of preparation went into this sad excuse for a B-movie based on its laughable CGI dialogue and contrived premise. How many flavors of bad is this supernatural stinker? Sample this…
A period horror action flick Season of the Witch is initially set in a cursed city suffering from the Black Plague that has deformed and decimated the majority of its population. The disease has been unleashed as a result of a literal witch-hunt gone wrong. Ancient evil forces are afoot and the blame is put on a young girl who the Church believes is a witch. Though imprisoned in the dungeons of a castle her power reigns supreme. Enter Behman (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman) Knights of the Crusades who happen upon the city on their way back to civilization. Once recognized as deserters they are imprisoned and given the choice to remain captive or lead a suicide transport mission to a remote monastery where the girl’s innocence or guilt can be determined. If deemed evil she is to be destroyed.
The premise though far from original could have been cool if executed with some style but director Dominic Sena (Gone In Sixty Seconds) is incapable of making it enjoyable. Instead of creating suspense through eerie environments he settles for cheap thrills that fall short every time. His use of CGI is painfully bad conjuring effects that would’ve looked dated around the turn of the century. Most insulting is the film’s big “twist” - a lazy paradigm shift so easily foreseeable the movie should have just been called The Devil’s Advocate. Is that not bad enough for you? Just wait it gets better (read: worse).
Stars Cage and Perlman are Razzie bound with a pair of pathetic non-performances. The accomplished actors don’t even try to get into character. Rather they don period garb shield and sword and run around like cheap imitations of their former selves for two hours. You won’t hear any attempts at English accents because apparently 14th Century Knights are just like contemporary buddy cops. With this little effort being put forth by the two men who are essentially the reason folks will pay to see the movie Season of the Witch doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on. The supporting cast which includes Ulrich Thomsen Stephen Graham and Christopher Lee try to bear the burden but cannot undo the damage that Cage and Perlman inflict upon this film. The scariest thing about Season of the Witch is the movie itself an abomination of bad filmmaking and terrible acting.
Planet of the Apes proved to be the 400 pound box office gorilla insiders anticipated, opening to nearly $70 million.
20th Century Fox's PG-13 sci-fi action adventure inspired by the studio's 1968 classic of the same name landed in first place with an out of this world record setting ESTIMATED $69.55 million at 3,500 theaters ($19,871 per theater).
Apes' average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide or limited release this weekend.
Directed by Tim Burton and produced by Richard D. Zanuck, it stars Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter and Michael Clarke Duncan.
"This is as good as it gets," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning. "It's the best non-holiday weekend opening ever. Mummy Returns had that position at $68.139 million and we're going to blow past that with $69.55 million. It's the second best weekend (of any type) ever. Lost World: Jurassic Park's three day -- they had a four day of $90 million -- was $72.132 million. So we are the highest non-holiday and the second highest (for any weekend)."
An indication of the enormous expectations theater owners had for the film is that its theater count continued to rise right down to the wire. With a count of 3,494 theaters going into the weekend, Snyder said that as of Sunday morning, "It's actually 3,499. Call me crazy -- I'm calling it 3,500 now! They kept adding them. I swear, every time I saw (the total) it was like, here's another one."
Looking back, Snyder noted, "The original Apes from which the whole franchise sprang did $32.5 million (in its domestic theatrical run). I think we had that by noon yesterday!"
Asked why the new Apes has worked so well, Snyder replied "I think it's the concept. We're somewhat older audience-wise, so this isn't just about being driven by kids. This is being driven by you and I and 35-year-olds. Sixty-two percent (of those on hand opening weekend) were over 25 years of age. So we've still got some young people to get, which is terrific. That really bodes well."
Snyder did not have detailed exit poll data in hand yet early Sunday morning, but said, "I've just gotten it read to me over the phone and it played fabulously. It's a people picture."
Faced with the arrival of Apes, Universal and Amblin Entertainment's PG-13 rated action adventure fantasy sequel Jurassic Park III took a predictably sharp drop second weekend drop, falling one peg to second place with a still larger than life ESTIMATED $22.49 million (-56 percent) at 3,439 theaters (+5 theaters; $6,540 per theater). Its cume is approximately $124.8 million, heading for $175-200 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Joe Johnston, JP III stars Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Tea Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter, John Diehl and Bruce A. Young.
Revolution Studios and Columbia Pictures' PG-13 rated romantic comedy America's Sweethearts slid one slot to third place in its second week with a still attractive ESTIMATED $15.7 million (-48 percent) at 3,011 theaters (theater count unchanged; $5,214 per theater). Its cume is approximately $59.4 million.
Directed by Joe Roth, it stars Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones and John Cusack.
"Listen, in today's world down 48 percent is above average," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning.
"We certainly would hope even better holds lay ahead. We have survived against two of the biggest openings in history (with Jurassic III and Apes) in the last two weeks. While Rush Hour 2 lays ahead, it's pretty different (in terms of core audience) and we would hope for even better holds ahead. But off a $30 million opening and what's been going on this summer (in terms of second weekend drops in the 50 percents), this is not bad at all. I think this still points us towards $100 million and that would be a very nice target to aim at."
MGM's PG-13 rated comedy hit Legally Blonde fell two rungs to fourth in its third week, still showing good legs with an ESTIMATED $9.0 million (-19 percent) at 2,725 theaters (+30 theaters; $3,304 per theater).
Blonde, which cost only $18 million to produce,has a cume of approximately $59.8 million and is on its way to a very profitable $75-80 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Robert Luketic, the Marc Platt production stars Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Matthew Davis, Victor Garber and Jennifer Coolidge with a special appearance by Raquel Welch.
Paramount's R rated crime drama The Score dropped two notches to fifth place in its third week with an okay ESTIMATED $7.3 million (-32 percent) at 2,211 theaters (+51 theaters; $3,305 per theater). Its cume is approximately $49.4 million.
Directed by Frank Oz, it stars Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Angela Bassett and Marlon Brando.
Cats & Dogs, the PG rated family appeal comedy from Warner Bros., Village Roadshow Pictures and NPV Entertainment, fell one peg to sixth place in its fourth week with a calm ESTIMATED $4.52 million (-34 percent) at 2,816 theaters (-224 theaters; $1,603 per theater). Its cume is approximately $81.5 million, heading for $100 million in domestic theaters.
20th Century Fox and Davis Entertainment's PG rated comedy sequel Dr. Dolittle 2 rose one notch to seventh place in its sixth week, holding very well with an ESTIMATED $4.18 million (-13 percent) at 2,190 theaters (-244 theaters; $1,906 per theater). Its cume is approximately $100.8 million, heading for $110 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Steve Carr and produced by John Davis, it stars Eddie Murphy.
"We have a second piece of good news," Fox's Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning after talking about the studio's success with Apes. "Dr. Dolittle hit $100 million this weekend. It and Shrek were the only movies that were impervious to the [huge Apes] opening. We were only off 13 percent. I think we should scratch to $110 million."
Universal's PG-13 action drama The Fast and the Furious dipped two rungs to eighth place in its sixth week, still holding well with an ESTIMATED $3.78 million (-29 percent) at 2,415 theaters (-317 theaters; $1,565 per theater). Fast, which cost a modest $38 million, has a cume of approximately $132.2 million.
Directed by Rob Cohen and produced by Neal H. Moritz, it stars Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster.
Dimension Films' R rated horror film spoof sequel Scary Movie 2 fell two rungs to ninth place in its fourth week with a quiet ESTIMATED $2.6 million (-43 percent) at 2,179 theaters (-623 theaters; $1,193 per theater). Its cume is approximately $67.0 million, heading for $70 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans, it stars Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Anna Faris, Regina Hall, Christopher Masterson and Kathleen Robertson.
Rounding out the Top Ten was DreamWorks' PG rated computer animated blockbuster Shrek, up one notch in its 11th week and still showing good legs with an ESTIMATED $1.7 million (-24 percent) at 1,439 theaters (-112 theaters; $1,209 per theater). Its cume is approximately $255.5 million on its way to $260 million or more.
Directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, its voice talents include Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow.
This weekend also saw the arrival of USA Films' R rated comedy Wet Hot American Summer with a hopeful ESTIMATED $0.021 million at 2 theaters ($10,397 per theater).
Directed by David Wain, it stars Janeane Garofalo and David Hyde Pierce.
Buena Vista/Disney held very well attended sneak previews at 1,150 theaters this weekend of its G rated family appeal comedy The Princess Diaries.
Directed by Garry Marshall, it stars Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway.
Disney said Sunday morning that 45 percent of the theaters were sold out and the rest played to 80-90 percent of capacity. Those on hand covered the entire age spectrum and scored the film 91 percent in the Top Two Boxes (excellent and very good.)
Diaries opens wide this Friday (Aug. 3).
On the expansion front, this weekend saw Artisan's R rated comedy Made widen in its third week with a still encouraging ESTIMATED $0.63 million at 195 theaters (+86 theaters; $6,005 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.3 million.
Written and directed by Jon Favreau, it stars Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Sean Combs, Famke Janssen, Faizon Love and Peter Falk.
Miramax's R rated French comedy The Closet went wider in its fifth week with an okay ESTIMATED $0.37 million (+9 percent) at 98 theaters (+33 theaters; $3,775 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.8 million.
Directed by Francis Veber, it stars Daniel Auteuil, Gerard Depardieu, Thierry Lhermitte and Michele Laroque.
Fox Searchlight's R rated critically acclaimed British crime thriller Sexy Beast added a few theaters in its seventh week, still holding well with an ESTIMATED $0.34 million (-17 percent) at 193 theaters (+5 theaters; $1,780 per theater). Its cume is approximately $5.1 million.
Directed by Jonathan Glazer, it stars Ray Winstone and Ben Kingsley.
Lions Gate Films' PG-13 rated drama Songcatcher continued to widen in its seventh week with a soft ESTIMATED $0.18 million (-19 percent) at 104 theaters (+13 theaters; $1,750 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.6 million.
Directed by Maggie Greenwald, it stars Janet McTeer and Aidan Quinn.
MGM's release of United Artists' R rated youth appeal comedy Ghost World widened in its second week with a lively ESTIMATED $0.13 million (+29 percent) at 8 theaters (+3 theaters; $16,000 per theater) in Los Angeles, New York and Seattle. Its cume is approximately $0.3 million.
Directed by Terry Zwigoff, it stars Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Brad Renfro, Illeana Douglas and Steve Buscemi.
MGM said that this Friday (Aug. 3) Ghost will add 7 more markets and 14 theaters, bringing its total for the weekend to 22 theaters and 10 markets.
Fine Line Features' R rated rock musical drama Hedwig and the Angry Inch added a few theaters in its second week with a still hopeful ESTIMATED $0.11 million (-30 percent) at 11 theaters (+2 theaters; $9,924 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.4 million.
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell, who also wrote adapted his hit Off-Broadway play to the screen, Hedwig stars Mitchell in its title role.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $148.47 million, up about 18.04 percent from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $125.78 million.
This weekend's key film gross was up about 5.86 percent from last weekend this year when key films took in $140.24 million.
Last year, Universal's opening week of Nutty Professor II: The Klumps was first with $42.52 million at 3,242 theaters ($13,115 per theater); and DreamWorks' second week of What Lies Beneath was second with $22.86 million at 2,825 theaters ($8,093 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $65.4 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $92.1 million.