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 core component of 21st century filmmaking is focused on producing trilogies, anthologies, sagas and series. Animated films are no exception to this rule and now that Rango, Gnomeo and Juliet and Hop are all bona fide hits, things are looking good for their sequel potential. This week, 20th Century Fox and director Carlos Saldanha (Ice Age) unleash their new CGI series opener Rio and since the movie has all the makings of a full franchise I thought it’d be cool to take a look at a few of the films that I think you’ll see sequels to in the near future.
In Theaters: This Friday, April 15
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg, Jamie Foxx
As previously stated, Fox believes that this film has the chops to go the distance and I’ve got no reason to doubt that. It’s got a voice cast comprised of popular performers like Hathaway, Eisenberg and Jamie Foxx. It’s got an underused South American setting (the titular Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), though the digital environment surely can’t capture the beauty of the live location. Most importantly, it’s got a vibrantly colorful aesthetic and lots of cute characters that kids will no doubt fall in love with. This is precisely the formula that made DreamWorks’ Madagascar films massive worldwide hits, and so I’d count on getting familiar with Blu the Macaw, Chloe the Goose and all the other birds of Rio.
In Theaters: June 17
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively and Peter Sarsgaard
Superheroes have the benefit of being franchises before they ever hit the big screen. Most comic book characters have been around for ages and have scores of villains and stories for filmmakers to choose from for multiple movies. In the case of Warner Bros. Green Lantern, the studio also has multiple heroes to choose from, as Ryan Reynolds' Hal Jordan isn’t the only Earthling to wield the emerald power ring (actually, he’s not even the first! That honor belongs to Alan Scott, but I digress). If this first film really takes off, the studio can make a trilogy of films focused on Jordan before moving on to Jon Stewart and, finally, Kyle Rayner, who many fans consider to be the best Lantern of all. Adding in the fact that each one of these intergalactic defenders has mutual and exclusive enemies and there’s potential for a dozen Green Lantern films…literally.
In Theaters: July 29
Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Katy Perry, Jayma Mays
Nostalgia can work wonders for a property’s profitability. With The Smurfs, Columbia Pictures has a globally recognizable brand that appeals to the inner child inside all of us. Not only does the studio have two likable live-action leads in Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays, but an army of lovable little blue people voiced by well-known personalities like George Lopez, Jeff Foxworthy, Katy Perry and John Oliver; all of whom have sizable followings of their own. Throw in the always nice-to-watch New York City setting and a wonderfully rendered villain in Hank Azaria and we could be witnessing the second coming of The Smurfs.
Conan The Barbarian
In Theaters: August 19
Starring: Jason Momoa, Ron Perlman, Stephen Lang
The torture-porn Saw series aside, Lionsgate Films doesn’t contain the wealth of franchises that its larger rivals do, so this movie is a big deal for the company. It’s a property that most associate with its original star (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and without question the biggest hurdle this reboot faces is not having a big-name star wielding the sword of the Cimmerian warrior. But with Marcus Nispel, director of the recent Friday the 13th remake, at the helm, Robert E. Howard’s brutal and unforgiving world should at least raise the interest of most male moviegoers. And having Rose McGowan and Rachel Nichols scantily clad in various scenes can only help…
Cowboys & Aliens
In Theaters: July 29
Starring: Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde, Harrison Ford
Everyone involved in this highly-anticipated genre mash-up is used to and comfortable with franchise work (from director Jon Favreau to producers Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard to stars Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford), so I’m sure that Universal Pictures is considering the possibility that, should the film take off at the box-office, Cowboys & Aliens could become another lucrative brand. It literally has everything going for it: the biggest and best cast of the summer directed by one of the most exciting filmmakers in the industry working from a script by some of the most sought after scribes in Hollywood. All the stars lined up in perfect harmony for this picture and though I don’t think a 19th century alien invasion epic needs a sequel, I won’t deny that I’ll be first in line to see one if it’s optioned.
Remember last year's Grammys show?
Going in with a field best 10 nominations, Carlos Santana tied Michael Jackson’s record for the most wins in a single night, taking home eight statuettes.
Then there was the gossip-filled competition between Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Everybody was waiting with much anticipation to see which of the dueling teen divas would win the best new artist award. Aguilera won -- for at least that night.
And even though she didn't perform, there was Jennifer Lopez's green, barely there Versace dress. She … or her dress, rather … arguably overshadowed Santana.
So far, there isn’t any hot gossip brewing or a massive sweep of Santana-esque proportions for the 43rd annual Grammys in February. But there are a few players who you can bet have a good shot at a nod or two when the Recording Academy announces the nominees Wednesday in Los Angeles.
Gen-X angst ruled in 2000, so the likes of Limp Bizkit, Eminem and Metallica are likely contenders to get some recognition from the Academy: The Bizkit crew for their performance on the "M:I-2" soundtrack and their newest release "Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water" and Metallica for the hit single "I Disappear."
Eminem is in a league of his own. Some hate him, some love him. But it doesn’t change the fact that his latest album, "The Marshall Mathers LP," made an indelible mark on the music scene in 2000. Criticized for its glorification of homophobia, misogyny and murder, the hit record was led by the single "The Real Slim Shady" and has sold 7.3 million copies, something the Recording Academy can’t ignore.
Regardless of the bad press "Marshall Mathers" got, the only other strike against Eminem is that he won two Grammys at last year’s show (best rap album for "The Real Slim Shady LP" and best rap solo performance for "My Name Is"). He's also been named the year's top musician by the likes of Spin and Rolling Stone magazine.
Hip-hop star Sisqo had quite the year with a little ditty called "The Thong Song." The tune became the summer anthem for teens everywhere, and such a feat could land him a nod by the Academy. Let’s just hope he leaves the barely there underwear at home this time.
The Beatles (yes, the Beatles) made quite the splash late in the year with the release of "1," a collection of the Fab Four’s 27 No. 1 hits. Is it possible for a band that split up 30 years ago to get nominated for a set of re-released music. Stranger things have happened. Remember when the Academy gave a Grammy to Milli Vanilli? And Sarah McLachlan won a Grammy last year for a live version of the song "I Will Remember You," which was released long, long before Spears and Aguilera hit the scene.
The race for the year’s newcomers could be strong, with bands such as 3 Doors Down and Vertical Horizon as possible strong contenders for the Grammy. Three Doors Down could be angling for a nod fueled by the summer hit "Kryptonite" that's still perched near the top of The Billboard Hot 100 singles charts.
And what of the dueling divas or the boy bands? If anyone has a chance, it’s 'N Sync and Spears. Each had successful new albums in 2000. And don't discount the Backstreet Boys, who were multiple Grammy nominees last year, or best new artist Aguilera.
The same can be said for Ricky Martin. He fizzled quickly in 2000, but if there’s a shortage of Latin nominees, the bon-bon shaker’s new album "Sound Loaded" or his first single "She Bangs" might qualify.
Again, it’s difficult to tell with the Recording Academy (see previous reference to Milli Vanilli). Now as far as that best polka album category, your guess is as good as ours.
The nominees for the 43rd Annual Grammy Awards will be announced Wednesday at 8:15 a.m. PT from the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.
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