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.
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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When shots rang out on a November morning, the whole world was changed forever. The assassination of John F. Kennedy sent shockwaves throughout the entire country, but the new film Parkland focuses on the select few men and women who saw it happen. The film seems not to be so much about President Kennedy or his life, but more specifically on the unsung men and women who sprung to action after his death.
Parkland showcases, from multiple perspectives, the race to save the President's life, the events of the investigation, and the life of the family of Lee Harvey Oswald. In a cast littered with Hollywood talent, Paul Giamatti plays the man who mistakenly captures the assassination on tape, Tom Welling and Billy Bob Thornton play secret service agents attempting to catch the shooter, and a scruffy Zac Efron plays a doctor tasked with saving the Commander-in-Chief's life.
Open Road Films
The cast also includes Marcia Gay Harden, Jackie Earl Haley, James Badge Dale, and Jacki Weaver. If the trailer is any indication, Parkland looks like the type of meaty historical drama that will have Oscar voters buzzing early next year. At the very least, the film looks to have the 1960's aesthetics nailed right down to the skinny ties and classic cars.
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Despite the fact that Jay Baruchel has films like Million Dollar Baby and Almost Famous under his belt, he's still largely looked at as a comic sidekick. He's the skinny housemate in Knocked Up, the dorky fifth-in-command in Tropic Thunder, the no-good ex-boyfriend in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. Even his leading roles aren't too flashy: aside from voicing the hero in How to Train Your Dragon, the actor's biggest role to date has been as the guy of whose league she is out in She's Out of My League. But the lanky Undeclared vet is amounting some darker and more serious roles. Recent reports on The Hollywood Reporter are that Baruchel is in talks to take a significant role in the developing Robocop remake.
Baruchel, who should take on the role of an Omnicorp executive, joins a pretty serious cast: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Jackie Earl Haley. Samuel Jackson, a lifelong perpetrator of both action and comedy, often at once, also plays a major role. And Hugh Laurie can handle a joke.
So can the lanky, squinty-eyed comedic mainstay really become a dramatic contender? Is Robocop Baruchel's transition into more serious roles? Could the days of playing pot-addled right-hand man to Seth Rogen be over? The questions amount.
[Photo Credit: David Edwards/Daily Celeb]
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The way I see it, if Lincoln isn't the best movie ever made, it's going to be a failure. Think about it: which President is more epic, more cinematic, more pronouncedly representative of American history than Abraham "Big 16" Lincoln?
Luckily, it seems all the right people are moving forward to bring the lumbering politican to the big screen. The biopic will see Steven Spielberg, one of the country's most celebrated living directors, collaborating with the superhuman Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln. And the hype keeps growing along with the everpresent good news surrounding this film. Jared Harris, a phenomenon of supporting performance, will take on the formidable role in Lincoln of Ulysses S. Grant.
Harris is one of those actors who is so good that he'll never be famous. That is to say, you can see a movie with a monumental performance by the actor and never know he was in the movie. That's because there's nothing "Jared Harrisy" about a Jared Harris performance. He plays all types. He and the role are one and the same. So, unfortunately, you'll never catch glimpse of him entering a scene and say, "Oh, I love this guy!" Even though you most certainly do. You just didn't know that all those roles you loved so much were the same guy. To fathom it seems a bit impossible, actually.
But Harris will indeed do wonders with Ulysses S. Grant; that's something of which we can be sure. And we can also invest some confidence in the performances of Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Jackie Earl Haley, David Oyelowo and James Spader.
So I guess this just might be the best film ever made after all. Good. We can rest easy, then...for now.
Harris can also be seen as the vicious Prof. Moriarty in the upcoming film, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, starring Robert Downey, Jr., and Jude Law.
So apparently, there's going to be a whole lot of racism in this new Lincoln biopic. Joining Steven Spielberg's account of the sixteenth and most vehicular president of the United States will be Jackie Earl Haley, adding to the list of Lincoln's trinomial enemies. Haley will portray Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy during the time of Abraham Lincoln's (Daniel Day-Lewis) initiative to end slavery.
Alexander H. Stephens once proclaimed, "[The United States government's] foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition." So, that's pretty rude.
Jackie Earl Haley is, for all intents and purposes, the man. He managed a phenomenal performance in Watchmen without even the leg-up of having a face. He played Kelly Leak in the original Bad News Bears, the sequel where they undergo breaking training, and the one where they go to Japan. And best of all, he was the short kid in Breaking Away, which is one of the absolute greatest coming-of-age movies ever made.
So can this multifaceted hero bring the same whimsy to Alexander Stephens that he did to countless roles in the past? Yes. He can. Don't bother thinking about it, there's your answer.
Now go read up on the Civil War so you don't have to whisper to your friend during the movie, "Which side is the good guys?"
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.
It's no easy thing to define the "black experience" in the United States, but if artists working in any particular medium have succeeded time and again, it's filmmakers. We wanted to take a deep dive into some of these films because its Black History Month, there have been tremendous contributions to cinema that shouldn't go unrecognized and well, we think it's important.
Highlighted below are some of what we feel are the most crucial and influential films that honor the hardships, triumphs and history of the black experience. In no particular order, here are 20 films that we believe helped define entire generations and continue to define great cinema.
Do the Right Thing
Spike Lee’s 1989 masterpiece took audiences into the BedStuy neighborhood in Brooklyn on the single hottest day of the summer, just as racism and bigotry are boiling over until it all ends in violence. When the Italian American- African American prejudices overflow, Lee’s Mookie is left to make a split second, difficult decision. The film is considered to be one of the most controversial movies ever; debate swirls around whether or not Mookie actually does the right thing in the end, but Lee has noted that those who truly value life over property shouldn’t question Mookie’s choice.
This 1977 television miniseries showed viewers the devastating history of slavery in America as they’d never seen it before. LeVar Burton stars in the film based on acclaimed author Alex Haley’s history of his ancestors. The story follows Haley’s fourth great grandfather, Kunte Kinte, as he is ripped from his home, brought to America and sold into slavery. As the story continues Kunte Kinte and his children and grandchildren endure separation and violence as well as many historical events such as the Civil War and Emancipation. Haley ends the miniseries with a short narration and photo montage connecting himself directly to history and the ancestors whom the film depicts, truly personalizing history by pairing faces and names with a time that most only ever encountered in textbooks.
Driving Miss Daisy
This 1989 film presents the southern prejudices in the late 1940s while proving that race and religion could overcome those elements. In Georgia, 72 year old Daisy already knows the cold front of religious prejudice in the South. When she has a driving mishap and is forced to hire a driver, she learns the true impact of racism in the region. Miss Daisy’s friendship with Hoke (Morgan Freeman) improves and grows over time, and through his experiences her eyes are opened to the overtly discriminatory society. The film explores the prejudices that plagued Jewish Americans and Black Americans and shows the beginning of society’s upward turn when Daisy attends a dinner where Martin Luther King Jr. is speaking.
Gone With The Wind
The classic film from 1939 tells the dramatized tale of the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era from the Southern point of view. The film is also credited with giving a role to the first African American person to ever win an Oscar, Hattie McDaniel. It was the biggest film of its time, and its premiere highlighted the staunch racism that had yet to be resolved in the US. McDaniel and other black actors were barred from the premiere due to remaining Jim Crow laws, and if it had not been for McDaniel’s request that he attend, Clark Gable would have boycotted the premiere. McDaniel’s Oscar win and her non-admittance to her own film premiere drew attention to the archaic prejudices that managed to survive and this attention helped to move towards abolishing them.
Boyz 'N the Hood
Much like Do the Right Thing did for Brooklyn, this 1991 film chronicled the lives of a group of friends in South Central Los Angeles as they dealt with violence in their neighborhood. It starts with this message: "1 in 21 American black males will be a victim of murder. Most will be killed by other black males." The group of friends navigate gang life and their own big dreams but by the end of the film, blood has been shed and some of those dreams have been cut short. The film was praised for its striking look at a harsh reality and made director John Singleton the youngest person and first African American to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Director.
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
Cicely Tyson is praised for her performance in this 1974 TV miniseries, based on the book by acclaimed author Ernest J. Gaines. The film tells the story of a woman in the South who is born into slavery, witnesses the Civil War but lives long enough to eventually become a part of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1962 at age 110. The miniseries preceded Roots, and was a landmark in the art of prosthetic makeup as the film depicted Jane aging from 23 to 110.
To Kill a Mockingbird
This literary classic turned iconic film is a story that almost every American should know – it’s been required reading for high school students almost every year since its publication. Gregory Peck lends his talents to the role of Atticus Finch, a 1930s Southern lawyer who defends a wrongly accused black man from his undeserved rape charge and the prejudices of the time. Many criticize the film and the novel for their lack of depth amongst the black characters, but what the 1962 film did accomplish was evoking the long history of racial injustice and crippling prejudices that continued to plague the US while its audience was in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement.
The Jackie Robinson Story
This 1950 biopic can’t not be included on this list. It tells the story of Jackie Robinson through his own eyes, as it stars Robinson as himself. The film follows his struggle in the sports world as he moves up from the minor leagues and becomes the first African American Major League Baseball player ever. Even though racial segregation was rampant at the time of its release, the film did remarkably well in the box office, making steps toward eventual changes in the long-standing societal prejudices.
This classic 1971 film is often credited as the father of the Blaxploitation film genre. John Shaft is a private eye hired by a crime lord to bring back his kidnapped daughter and the action film draws on elements of film noir while still forging its own genre. Shaft is hugely culturally significant; it’s preserved in National Film Registry and is considered one of the best films of 1971. It was also a landmark film in that is cost only half a million dollars to make, but earned over $13 million. The pop culture effects of Shaft are countless, and can still be seen all over television and movies today.
This 2004 film captures the life of Ray Charles, one of the most significant musicians of the 20th century. Jamie Foxx delivers an Oscar-winning performance while sharing Charles’ legacy with a new generation. Not only did Charles pioneer his hybrid style of music (gospel, country, jazz and orchestral) but he revolutionized the music world by fighting segregation in jazz clubs and fighting for artists’ rights within the music business. He also overcame his own demons as his musical genius allowed to become one of the most beloved musicians of all time.
Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner
Screenwriter William Rose created an ideal subject for Spencer Tracy’s liberal upper class patriarch to criticize: a charming and educated African American doctor who wishes to take his daughter’s hand in marriage. Sidney Poitier’s sterling John Prentice made it difficult for Tracy’s Matt Drayton to judge him on any other ground but his skin color and this helped the Oscar-winning 1967 drama address the growing Civil Rights Movement head on, exploring the underbelly of prejudices that plagued society in a though-provoking but entertaining package.
A Raisin in the Sun
Based on the award-winning play, A Raisin in the Sun sees Sidney Poitier leading a stellar cast including Ruby Dee and Louis Gossett in this drama centering on the Younger family’s hopes for a better life. We learn that the various generations of African Americans represented by the contrasting characters all have different notions of what success means to a black family in the United States (pre-Civil Rights Movement), but the moral of the story is that they can all succeed in fulfilling their dreams as long as they stick together. It was a powerful message at a time when assimilation seemed to be the safest move, especially for young African Americans, and showed that they could all live together and become a part of a larger community while keeping their individuality and identity in tact.
In The Heat Of The Night
Wow, Sidney Poitier has been in a lot of landmark movies, huh? This one casts him as a big-city detective from the progressive north who’s sent down to the narrow-minded South to assist a racist cop in hunting down a murderer. The major accomplishment of the film, other than giving the world an incredibly quotable line of dialogue (“They call me MR. TIBBS!”), was its development of a mutual understanding and respect between the two central characters -- a breakthrough that mirrored the changing sociopolitical climate in the U.S.
One of the most controversial figures in American history was given a stirring biopic thanks to one of the most culturally significant filmmakers of the 20th century. Spike Lee shouldered a massive responsibility in telling the tale; his vision for the project was subject to scrutiny from nearly everyone remotely involved in the production. Spanning Malcolm’s entire life and depicting both the seedy and stoic sides of his character, the film was a truthful, sympathetic epic on par with heralded biopics such as Ghandi and Lawrence of Arabia.
The Color Purple
Steven Spielberg’s heartbreaking film, based on the acclaimed book by Alice Walker, chronicled the life of Celie Johnson and the hardships she faced as a black woman in early 20th Century America. Though the story is a personal account, the trials and tribulations that Celie endured were representative of entire generations of African American women.
Director Michael Mann gave Cassius Clay a rousing and realistic tribute in this pricey motion picture that saw star Will Smith knock it out of the park with his impressive portrayal of the people’s champ. Aside from following the fighter from his earliest days in the ring through his championship bouts, the film revealed the intentions and ulterior motives of many in Muhammad Ali’s inner circle – figures, in some cases, that were major forces in the Civil Rights and Islamic movements, including Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
The Great White Hope
James Earl Jones plays the first black heavyweight (a fictional take on Jack Johnson) in this emotional roller coaster. Jones' Jack Jefferson faces adversity in and out of the ring as he rises to the top of the sport and courts a beautiful white woman with whom a romantic relationship is forbidden. The film speaks worlds about the turbulent times in which it is set and the hegemonic society determined to keep African Americans in a hopeless situation.
A Time To Kill
A brutal film to watch, A Time to Kill shows that director Joel Schumacher pulled no punches in telling the tale of a father on trial for murdering the men who viciously raped his young daughter. Aside from revealing the terrible truth that the Ku Klux Klan is sadly still very much alive and well in the U.S., the movie dramatized real-life injustices against African American women.
New Jack City
Director Mario Van Peebles gave gang culture its due with this gritty urban drama. Its relevance was key to its success; by the time the film was released, violent crime syndicates like the one depicted in the movie were making headlines daily as a result of drive-by shootings and drug wars. Americans have always had a fascination with gangsters, and Wesley Snipes’ Nino Brown became an inner-city icon thanks to his take-no-prisoners attitude.
A tribute to the unsung heroes of the Civil War, Ed Zwick’s epic adaptation of a pair of novels inspired by the memoirs of Col. Robert Gould Shaw (who commanded the all-black 54th Regiment during the Civil War) is an inspirational tale of acceptance and camaraderie. The film chronicled the rise of the first all-black regiment from laborers to respected soldiers. The triumph of the movie, however, was the mutual respect built between the black and white characters throughout the picture.