Imagine if you will the story of Pinocchio in reverse: Instead of a puppet turning into a human boy the opposite occurs. Now in place of the puppet substitute a humanoid robot with flight capabilities and advanced weaponry and you get Summit Entertainment's animated sci-fi flick Astro Boy.
If the concept sounds a tad bizarre it might help to know that Astro Boy’s roots stretch back to the world of Japanese manga comics where the idea of a boy dying and being reborn as a super-powered robot isn’t considered remotely unusual. Thankfully helping to make Astro Boy’s robot Lazarus more palatable to American audiences is Freddie Highmore who lends his considerable voice talents to both the titular robot and his human forebear Toby.
Little Toby absolutely worships his father Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage) a gifted scientist famous for his innovations in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence.(Astro Boy is set in the distant somewhat dystopian future by the way.) Tenma serves as the lead science advisor for Metro City a high-tech utopia that floats high above Earth safely removed from the environmental wreckage on the surface below . He’s a busy man — so busy in fact that he doesn’t notice when his son wanders into a weapons testing area and perishes during one of his experiments.
Devastated Tenma does what any heartbroken father would do after the tragic death of his son: He extracts the memories from the boy’s DNA and uploads them into the CPU of a technologically advanced super-robot one who bears an uncanny resemblance to the deceased. Tenma soon finds however that his son’s robot doppelganger does nothing to alleviate his suffering. Consumed by regret he orders the robot boy dismantled.
But Toby 2.0 manages to avoid destruction with the help of another scientist Dr. Elefun (Bill Nighy) who takes pity on the earnest all-too-human creation and he escapes to Earth’s surface. Amid the forgotten wasteland he befriends an Oliver-esque group of orphans is re-named Astro Boy and bests a handful of other robots in a giant battle royale.
No sooner does Astro Boy triumph against the mechanized gladiators than he is summoned back to Metro City where its megalomaniacal president General Stone (Donald Sutherland) has gone completely apes**t fusing with a powerful war machine (ironically dubbed “The Peacemaker”) and carving a destructive path through the metropolis. Soon the only thing that stands in the way of Metro City’s certain annihilation is the heroic Astro Boy whose compassion for his human friends we discover is anything but artificial.
With its simple message charming story and gorgeous retro-futuristic animation Astro Boy packs more than enough firepower to overcome the awkwardness of its premise the lulls in its storyline and the overall creepiness of Nicolas Cage (both his voice and his character). Dr. Tenma is an odd cat and Cage does little to endear him to the audience to the point that when father and robot son reconcile at the end their reunion feels hollow — and more than a little weird.
Initially Astro Boy takes a little too long trying to establish the father-son and father-robot dynamics when it should be fast-forwarding to the action. When the action does get going however the movie is consistently engrossing.
Feast your eyes on these exclusive new pics from Astro Boy, Summit Entertainment's upcoming adaptation of the legendary anime series, starring Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage, Kristen Bell and Charlize Theron:
Color us excited!
Astro Boy opens everywhere October 23, 2009. Check out our Astro Boy photo gallery for more cool pics from the film.
MORE MOVIE NEWS: Halloween 3-D Halts Production
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
In the late '50s a group of elementary students put futuristic drawings in a time capsule that is then buried on school grounds. One overly obsessed kid Lucinda goes her own way by writing hundreds of mysterious seemingly non-sensical numbers on her entry. Fifty years later it’s dug up and comes into the possession of Caleb the young son of John Koestler a recent widower and astro-physics professor who becomes obsessed with the papers Caleb has brought home from class. He soon discovers the random digits are actually not-so-thinly disguised dates (including 91101 of course) for “future” disasters and there are clearly three of those dates yet to come. Although nobody believes his ramblings about this code for impending doom a nearby plane crash proves he is on to something so ominous the fate of the world could be in jeopardy. With all hell about to break loose the prof takes matters into his own hands.
WHO’S IN IT?
Just a couple of years ago Nicolas Cage starred in Next as a magician who could see into the future and had to prevent a nuclear attack. Now he’s at it again as an MIT professor who also has clues to future catastrophes and also is out to prevent the inevitable. And of course in the National Treasure films he latched on to maps that had contained similarly dark deeply held secrets. Nic clearly likes “knowing” stuff before the rest of us and he’s quite believable even if some of the circumstances in his latest sci-fi adventure are really out there -- literally. Cage somehow makes you buy into this stuff which is key to the ultimate success of the flick. As the key kids Chandler Canterbury as Caleb and Lara Robinson as Lucinda (and later Abby Lucinda’s granddaughter) are properly eerie and haunted-looking. Rose Byrne is also along for the ride as Lucinda’s grown daughter who is able to provide goosebump-inducing information that the numbers alone can’t. There’s also some dead-on creepy emoting from D.G. Maloney as a quietly foreboding stranger who seems to be following Caleb.
Unlike some recent movies of this type with nothing on the agenda but pure mayhem “Knowing” delves into the bigger issues of why we are all here providing something other than just big explosions to talk about on the way home from the multiplex. Director Alex Proyas (I Robot Dark City The Crow) certainly knows how to pull off complex action set-pieces but he and his screenwriters also seem to be genuinely interested in exploring the meaning behind the madness.
Some of the more pedantic dialogue Cage is given can be groan-inducing but since he plays John as a total believer we can forgive it. Also the film falls victim to a final act that veers into typical disaster movie territory and isn’t as compelling as the first two thirds which try to keep the premise at least marginally credible. At two hours it probably could have been tightened anyway.
The rain-soaked plane crash sequence with its gritty hand-held photography is riveting to watch and one of the most frightening depictions of a jetliner disaster put on film yet.
GO OUT AND GET POPCORN WHEN ...
If you are really squeamish it might be worth "knowing" that you should take breaks in the big disaster sequences as the CGI effects can get pretty violent and graphic particularly for a PG-13 movie.
It’s that special time of year again, for fanboys, joystick addicts and comic-book enthusiasts to emerge in their gloried, creative ensembles, and congregate at the 4th annual New York Comic Con.
What began as a mini-me version of the original San Diego Comic Con, has undoubtedly ballooned into a full-blown NY comic extravaganza within the last few years. The fascinating comic cult simply took over the overwhelmingly large Jacob Javits Center.
Divided by numerous exhibitors, every booth was overcrowded and adorned by eager fans donning unconventional suits and intriguing costumes. After all, aside from Halloween, this is a great occasion for fanboys to play dress up and illustrate their undying devotion and penchant for their favorite comic-book heroes and characters.
But the best part are the panels. Kicking off the day, WB held a special presentation of their highly anticipated films, Watchmen, Friday the 13th and Terminator Salvation. First, artist Dave Gibbons walked on stage and enthusiastically introduced the premiere of the first 18 minutes of the Watchmen, adapted from his critically acclaimed graphic novel.
The audience was pleasantly surprised and blown away by the spectacular never-seen-before opening adrenaline-driven footage. It began with a vivid, historic montage, followed by an exhilarating fight scene, leading to The Comedian’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) death (we’re not giving anything away). The exclusive footage, which culminated in a chilling scene of an unmasked Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) in prison, kept us clamoring for more. Comparable to his cinematic vision in 300, director Zack Snyder intensified, emphasized and captured all the action in these clips by using breath-taking action sequences, extreme close-ups, and frame by frame shots. Check back in few days for a more in-depth coverage of the NYCC’s Watchmen coverage with Q&A’s with artist Gibbons and director Synder, as we await anxiously for the movie’s release in theaters Mar. 6.
The second WB presentation was for their forthcoming reboot of Friday the 13th. Sitting on the panel were the producers Brad Fuller and Andrew Form, and stars Derek Mears (as the hockey-masked psychopath Jason) and Jared Padalecki. Fuller introduced the terrifying footage of the masked murdered on a killing spree in Camp Crystal. It’s clear that with this version, the film will finally redeem itself as the spine-chilling, horror film it once was. Following the sneak, the cast and crew wrapped up the panel by answering a few questions about the film, which opens this Friday, the 13th. Natch.
The final WB panel was for Terminator Salvation, presented by its director McG, who approached the audience with great humor, in light of Terminator star Christian Bale’s recent on-set tirade. He managed to do damage control by joking with the audience about the fight, and conveyed Bale’s apology once again.
The chatty director also talked about: the plot, the origins of the Terminator, creator James Cameron, the film’s composer Danny Elfman, the wonderful cast, and possible cameos by Schwarzenegger and Hamilton, before introducing the latest footage from film. We were shown a montage of different scenes, elucidating John Connor’s rise in the post-apocalyptic resistance. Each scene was equally electrifying, action-driven and visually enticing. Filled with anticipation, the audience had their Q & A period with McG before heading back to the comic craze.
Then it was off to the Disney panel for their upcoming flicks Up and Surrogates. Up’s director Pete Docter and producer Jonas Rivera introduced Disney-Pixar’s sweetest animated creation. The comedy-adventure is based on a 78-year-old balloon salesman Carl, who fulfills a lifelong dream by tying thousands of balloons to his house and flying away to South America. He embarks on a great adventure along with a spirited 9-year-old Wilderness Explorer scout named Russell. Doctor and Rivera introduced the film’s footage with great pride and joy. Following a few different clips and a 50-minute screening of the film later in the day, I shared the same enthusiasm and affection for Up. Anyone familiar with Pixar’s films will understand how incredibly genuine, visceral and endearingly realistic it all is. Another winner.
Disney’s second presentation was a trailer for the futuristic thriller Surrogates, starring Bruce Willis. The action-thriller is based on a graphic novel about humans who live in isolation through identical replicas of themselves, in the form of robotic surrogates. The chase and action begins when someone finds a way to kill a person by killing their surrogate. The screening ended with a long line of beautiful people, walking around like robots and handing out Surrogate business cards. Clever.
The final panel was for Summit Entertainment’s upcoming films Knowing, The Hurt Locker and Astro Boy. We began with an exclusive footage of Knowing, starring Nicolas Cage. The action-thriller is based on a professor (Cage) who stumbles on a piece of paper filled with numbers, which helps him predict the future. As he begins decoding the numbers and signs, he sets out to prevent every terrifying prediction from taking place. The use of spectacular special effects, translated the footage into a thrilling, powerful and entertaining film.
Moving on to The Hurt Locker, which garnered lots of attention and acclaim during its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last year. Slated for a 2009 release, the film is based on a real life journalist’s experiences following bomb squads in Iraq. It’s directed by Kathryn Bigelow and stars Jeremy Renner, who portrays a bomb technician named James. We were presented with a scene from the movie, where James finds a trashed car filled with ticking bombs, ready to explode. Driven by the rush and high of dismantling the bomb, he is determined to do what it takes to complete his tense mission. Following the footage, Renner stepped on stage to answer a few questions, stressing that this was not a political or war film.
The final Summit Entertainment panel for the day concluded with a peek at the new images and short footage from Astro Boy. Based on a Japanese manga series, Astro Boy is a powerful robot created by a scientist to replace the son he lost. Although he looks and feels like a human, he eventually discovers his superior powers and uses them to fight crime. Using breathtaking CGI animation, the footage showed Astro Boy falling down and discovering his powers for the first time, as the rocket boots activate.
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Actress Jessica Biel is reportedly dating her former Blade: Trinity costar Ryan Reynolds.
The pair starred in the 2004 film and have recently rekindled their friendship, according to media reports.
Reynolds, 32, ended his engagement to fellow Canadian Alanis Morissette on Feb. 2.
An eyewitness claims the couple "looked really close" while eating at Cuban restaurant Babalu in Santa Monica, California, on Feb. 19, saying, "They knew people were watching them, so they didn't hold hands or kiss, but when they left the restaurant, they hid behind the bush. Were they kissing? Maybe."
Five days later they were spotted again at West Hollywood's Astro Burger diner laughing and enjoying lunch before Biel flew to Paris for the spring fashion shows and Reynolds began work on his new movie.
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The second feature in the planet-conquering Japanese franchise opens with an all- Pokémon all-gibberish short feature that will have parents reaching for the Tylenol even sooner than expected then we cut to the main adventure titled "The Power of One." A scheming Pokémon Collector named Jirarudan begins snatching up winged Poki with the power to control fire lightning and ice destabilizing Earth's weather patterns. It's up to brave young Pokémon Trainer Ash Ketchum his chubby yellow pocket monster Pikachu and their friends to put things right.
It's a sad state of affairs when voice actor Ikue Otani manages to steal the show chirping his character's name over and over as the floppy-eared lightning-tailed Pikachu. The thespians lending their vocals to the human characters have less chance to be impressive saddled as they are with the film's clumsy English translation of Pokémon arcana and the occasional witless pun.
Kunihiko Yuyama's team puts no special stamp on the series' generic Japanese toon work which bears a closer resemblance to primitive TV fare in the "Speed Racer" or "Astro Boy" vein than the cutting-edge artistry going into modern anime epics such as "Princess Mononoke." Computer-rendered shots of Jirarudan's elaborate flying fortress and churning ocean waves are impressive in themselves but they clash with the traditionally animated material. Not that the grade school-age target audience is likely to mind.