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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Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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When fans learned that Megan Fox’s love-interest role in Transformers: Dark of the Moon was removed from the script and replaced with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s character of Carly, they were completely confused. Not with Michael Bay’s decision to replace Fox, that part some people understood (if someone likens you to Hitler, you give them the boot, no questions asked). But Bay’s decision to put his faith in some random underwear model seemed strange: he’d already been directing movies for years, and it was hard to believe that out of all his possible connections in the movie industry, the best person to play Sam Witwicky's new love interest was someone with no acting skills. And so the fact that Bay chose inexperienced Huntington-Whiteley for the role could mean one of two things: either Huntington-Whiteley is a superior actress who, despite no training, is excellent anyway, OR Bay believes the only way to make a good movie is to cast good-looking people in it, regardless of their experience or talent.
But that’s not a question I’m even going to attempt to answer at this point in time. What I am going to do is tell you how Rosie Huntington-Whiteley found herself in a position to be cast in a Michael Bay movie. I think that’s a much more suitable task for the day.
Rosie was born on April 18th, 1987 in Plymouth, Devon, England to Fiona, a fitness instructor and Charles, a chartered surveyor. She grew up on a farm in Devon, where her classmates at school teased her for having full lips and two last names. She was voted Miss Big Mouth when she was because she talked so much and then at 13, she got very tall and was voted Girl Most Likely to Become a Supermodel. When she grew up and was studying at Tavistock College (which is not a college, actually – in England, high schools are called “colleges”), a scout for Profile Model Management spotted her and recruited her to the agency. Her first job as a model was appearing in a commercial for Levi’s jeans, and she spent the whole check she received as payment on a three-door Ford even though she couldn’t drive.
In December of 2006, Rosie began modeling for Victoria’s Secret and made her debut at the lingerie line’s fashion show in Los Angeles. But she wasn’t noteworthy until she replaced model Agyness Deyn in an ad for Burberry’s fall/winter campaign alongside Sam Riley. While continuing to work for Victoria’s Secret, Rosie still managed to find work elsewhere, like for Agent Provocateur, Godiva and Miss Sixty and in 2008, Harper’s Bazaar put her as number 6 on their annual “Best Dressed List.” After booking solid work for the next few years, she finally received the coveted title of a Victoria’s Secret Angel in 2009. Then her career really took off -- she met Michael Bay on the set of a Victoria’s Secret commercial in December of 2009, and she posed naked for Pirelli Calendar in early 2010, which was shot by noted photographer Terry Richardson. Then fashion photographer Rankin compiled a book of photographs he took of her and called it Ten Times Rosie, which celebrated the work of Thomas Wylde and Rosie's sense of style and empowerment. Of her look and talent, Rankin said “We’ve been looking at very, very skinny, almost masculine girls for a long time. [Rosie] really is the model of the moment. She’s the actress of the moment. She’s definitely going to become something much, much bigger.” And then finally, in May of 2010, Bay offered Rosie the role of Carly in Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
There's no way to tell if Rosie will continue to pursue a life as an actress in Hollywood. I'm sure she's getting offers upon offers from other directors and producers who are hoping to snag her for their own projects. But if modeling will remain her true passion, then there aren't a lot of ways to persuade her to capitalize on the extreme fortune she had of getting cast in a Michael Bay movie, or to convince her that her door is about as open as it will ever get. I would assume that she'll do what most models do, which is enjoy the benefits of making occasional cameos in movies while modeling full time and then when they become too old to strut down the runway in the $2 million bra, they begin working on creating their own brands. And at this point in time, I'd say Rosie won't encounter too much resistance along the way.