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.
An elite group of environmentally-conscious celebrities, including Glenn Close, Daryl Hannah and Chevy Chase, joined over 100 business leaders, scientists and activists to participate in The Mission Blue Voyage, a four-day conference at sea to address conservation issues in the country.
Guest speakers during the trip included veteran rocker Jackson Browne, singer/songwriter Damien Rice, film producer Jake Eberts and French explorer/environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau.
DiCaprio and Norton are said to have met with Ecuador’s Vice President Lenin Moreno during the trip on Friday (09Apr10) and given him their backing for the Yasuni-ITT initiative, a scheme which aims to protect the Ecuadorian Amazon from oil extraction measures.
An autopsy has shown Bee Gees brother Maurice Gibb died because his bowel and small intestine were so severely twisted it caused a restriction of blood flow, The Associated Press reports. Gibb, 53, died Sunday three days after suffering cardiac arrest prior to undergoing emergency surgery for an intestinal blockage. The Miami-Dade County medical examiner told AP Gibb suffered from a condition known as ischemic enteropathy, which can be severe enough to cause cardiac arrest because of the restricted flow of blood. Dr. Jeffrey Raskin, interim chief of gastroenterology at the University of Miami, also told AP, "People (with his condition) can live to middle age with no symptoms. They can have minor problems off and on. Or, they can present on the first time with a catastrophic event, as it seems in this case." Gibb's brothers, Barry and Robin, have questioned the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami about the decision to operate after their brother's cardiac arrest.
Singer Bobby Brown was sentenced to eight days in jail Friday after pleading guilty to a 1996 drunken driving charge in Georgia, AP reports. He is also to perform 240 hours of community service, pay $2,000 in fines and $800 in court costs, as well as getting couseling. Brown will be on probation for two years.
Variety reports the Directors Guild of America will award Martin Scorsese its lifetime achievement award at the 55th annual DGA Awards March 1. In its 67-year history, the union's highest achievement has been given out to only 29 directors. Steven Spielberg was the DGA's last recipient, winning the honors in 2000.
DreamWorks has joined Paramount Pictures to co-finance the Ben Affleck sci-fi thriller Paycheck, Variety reports, making it the third deal the two studios have set up together lately. The other two include Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events and Killing Pablo. Paycheck is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick about a guy whose memory is erased by his employer but who tries to collect his paycheck anyway.
Samuel L. Jackson will join Juliette Binoche in the indie drama Country of My Skull for director John Boorman. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the story is based on the book Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa and chronicles the account of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated human rights abuses during apartheid.
The Simpsons are sticking around for another two seasons, Variety reports. The animated show has been renewed by Fox through May 2005, which will make 16 seasons and 360 episodes total. This will surpass the classic The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, television's longest running show in history.
Cybill Shepherd will don the apron and play Martha Stewart in an upcoming NBC telefilm, tentatively titled Martha Inc.: The Story of Martha Stewart. Seems fitting, no? The project is based on Christopher Byron's biography Martha Inc.: The Incredible Story of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, which was released in bookstores last spring, just as Stewart became embroiled in the insider trading scandal with the biotechnology firm ImClone.
Rocker Jackson Browne is calling for the removal of some scenes from the TBS telepic America's Prince: The John F. Kennedy Jr. Story, which suggest the singer assaulted a former girlfriend, actress Daryl Hannah, who also dated John Jr. Reuters reports Browne's attorney, Lawrence Iser, demanded in a letter to TBS that it "cease and desist" airing the program again "until false and defamatory scenes accusing Mr. Browne of assaulting actress Daryl Hannah are removed." The film aired Sunday on TBS.
The William Morris Agency will be opening a branch in Miami, Fla., to accommodate their Spanish-speaking clients, including Luis Miguel and Enrique Iglesias. The office will open in April.
Further shaking up the record industry, Jay Boberg, president of Vivendi Universal's MCA Records, resigned his post Thursday, Reuters reports. This follows the resignation of Sony Music Entertainment head Tommy Mottola last week. Boberg will be replaced in the interim by Craig Lambert, MCA's senior vice president of promotion.