Movie Review: Robot and Frank (2012)

"Hello, Frank.  It is a pleasure to meet you."
“Hello, Frank. It is a pleasure to meet you.”

Hollywood is going through a science fiction renaissance.  I’m not quite sure if these are all projects greenlit post-Avatar and Star Trek, but we seem to be getting science fiction of all sorts back in the theaters as a presence.  A wonderful byproduct of that resurgence is this quiet little film that is science fiction at its best: it uses a unique lens to show us ourselves.

Frank Langhella is fantastic as an elderly cat burglar whose children (played by James Marsden and Liv Tyler) get him a robot caretaker (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard).  The presence of the robot gets Frank back into his old tricks and leads to a finale that’s surprisingly touching and powerful. 

I honestly don’t want to say a lot about the film because it’s wonderful to discover its charms for yourself and I don’t want to ruin it.  This is one of 2012’s hidden gems and if you’re stopping by a Redbox this weekend, do yourself a favor and check it out.

9.0/10

My Favorite Scene: The Usual Suspects (1995) “Keyser Soze”

The Usual Suspects made the careers of both director Bryan Singer and Kevin Spacey, who won the first of his two Oscars playing the film’s breakout character: Verbal Kint.  The ending of the film is one of the greatest lines and reveals in cinema history, so if you for some reason passing the understanding of man have not seen The Usual Suspects, do NOT watch these clips. The ending, though set up by the whole film, really is sold when Verbal tells the detectives the myth and legend of Keyser Soze. Spacey weaves a spellbinding tale of this criminal mastermind, darker than the devil and larger than life.  He’s elusive and terrifying, and if the detectives had been a little more aware of their surroundings, they’d have known just how thoroughly they were being played when Kint says, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled is convincing the world he didn’t exist.”  It’s an epic story and a grand illusion that sets up the film’s legendary hammer blow of an ending.

The Possible Villains of Star Wars Episode VII

Scott Chitwood over at www.comingsoon.net has posted an excellent look at the possible villains available for the next Star Wars film(s).  Of the options, I think a combination of the remnants of the Empire (lead by Grand Admiral Thrawn?) and a resurrected Sith Order to mirror the Jedi Order being recreated by Luke is the best option.  Star Wars loves duality.  I think the contrast of the two orders being rebuilt would make a great base for the next batch of stories.  What would you like to see?  Do any of these stand out to you as the way Abrams and company should go?

The Villains of Episode VII

While it’s pretty clear who the heroes of the new “Star Wars” films will be, the antagonists are a bit less clear. Who will create the wars in “Star Wars”? There are an awful lot of options, and almost all of them have already been explored in the Expanded Universe. Which ones worked, which ones didn’t, and which ones are the best options? Read on…

The Cloned Emperor

Way back in 1991, the comic “Dark Empire” from Dark Horse featured an intriguing villain – a cloned Emperor Palpatine. The premise was that in “Return of the Jedi” when the Emperor was killed by Darth Vader, his Sith powers transferred his spirit into the body of a clone of himself in a vault on another planet. Palpatine then came back and started trying to reclaim control of the galaxy. (That was pretty cool, but then the story also featured Luke Skywalker becoming resurrected Palpatine’s apprentice in order to find a way to defeat him. That didn’t make a lot of sense.)

Why This Would Be A Good Idea
Cloning is a big theme in “Star Wars,” so resurrecting the Emperor using the technology is a fun idea. On top of that, it expands on the ‘unnatural’ powers of Palpatine which he alluded to in “Revenge of the Sith.” It might also open up the possibility that Anakin Skywalker wasn’t the product of a midi-clorian birth as described in “The Phantom Menace,” but a product of freaky-deaky Sith experimentation by Palpatine. Also, bringing in a new actor to play young Ian McDiarmid could be fun and it ties the previous two trilogies together. This is, essentially, resurrecting Hitler for World War III.

Why This Would Be A Bad Idea
Making the villain the cloned Emperor would be a lot like making a second Death Star in “Return of the Jedi.” It has all been done before….why do it again? Break new ground. Don’t retread old territory. And bringing back the Emperor would seem to take away from Darth Vader’s sacrifice at the end of Episode VI.

Invaders from a Neighboring Galaxy

With the book series “The New Jedi Order,” the Star Wars Universe was invaded by an external threat – the Yuuzhan Vong. These invaders took over the galaxy planet by planet, eventually going as far as Coruscant. The villains even managed to kill Chewbacca as well as Han and Leia’s youngest son Anakin Solo. These aliens had all of their technology based on organics and were also not visible in the Force, thus befuddling the new Jedi in the series. This unstoppable threat forced the Republic and what was left of the Empire to join forces before finally saving the day.

Why This Would Be A Good Idea
Bringing in any new threat from outside of the Star Wars galaxy, whether it is the Yuuzhan Vong or not, is a good idea because it is essentially a blank slate. The ships, aliens, and technology can be whatever you want them to be, and it’s not simply Jedi battling Sith again. It allows for fresh ideas to come into play. It also forces the Republic and Empire to work together, and the theme of reconciliation is a good one for a new trilogy. Having kids see enemies putting aside their differences for the greater good is a better theme than seeing their hero choke his pregnant wife to death.

Why This Would Be A Bad Idea
Having a blank slate for the villains can go off the rails pretty quickly. The Yuuzhan Vong had organic technology which was a good idea, but it didn’t take long for it to feel like it was not part of the Star Wars movie universe. It felt more like H.R. Giger and “Alien” than Ralph McQuarrie and “A New Hope.” The Yuuzhan Vong were also religious zealots and their cult of pain worship grew tedious over time. Finally, as far as villains, go they were dark. Very dark. They didn’t match the tone of the films well, and that’s a risk you take with any external invader.

Remnants of the Empire

In the book “Heir to the Empire” by Timothy Zahn, a group of Imperials returned from an expedition into the Unknown Region of the galaxy to find the Empire collapsed, the Jedi returned, and the Rebels now in control. Naturally, that didn’t sit too well with them. And fortunately for them, they were led by Grand Admiral Thrawn. A brilliant strategist sidelined by the Empire’s anti-alien policies, Thrawn leads the Imperials in victory after victory and begins to break the Alliance’s fragile control of the galaxy.

Why This Would Be A Good Idea
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as seeing X-Wings battle TIE Fighters, AT-AT’s on the battlefield, and Star Destroyers blasting away at the Alliance fleet. So there is some appeal to seeing what’s left of the Empire backed into a corner and fighting to the last man.

Why This Would Be A Bad Idea
While Grand Admiral Thrawn was a great tactician who led the Imperials to numerous victories, he’s a limited threat to the Jedi one on one. Alone against Luke Skywalker and a lightsaber, any Imperial is outmatched. You need a threat that can take on a Jedi head to head (as Zahn addressed by bring an insane cloned Jedi into the mix to battle Luke). So if you’re going to bring Imperials into the mix, you have to bring a lot more in along with them.

New Sith

If the galaxy can be repopulated with new Jedi, it can be repopulated with new Sith as well, right? Since “Return of the Jedi,” there haven’t been many full blooded Sith. In the book series “Legacy of the Force,” Han Solo and Leia’s son Jacen turned to the Dark Side and became Darth Caedus. Later in the comic series “Legacy” from Dark Horse, Luke Skywalker’s descendant Cade Skywalker does battle with a host of red and black tattooed Sith including the female Darth Talon. But for further examples of Sith warriors, you can look back to the Old Republic for all sorts of varieties of Sith.

Why This Would Be A Good Idea
Sith and Jedi are like chocolate and peanut butter. They go great together. And since the whole Star Wars Saga is about the Light Side vs. the Dark Side, it makes sense that the Sith appear and represent the other side of the coin when it comes to the Force. Plus the Sith are one of the few legitimate threats the Jedi can face head on. You could also bring in some new characters to spice things up. A love interest for the kids of Leia and Han that is secretly evil? A character that is secretly the offspring of Palpatine? There are a bunch of possibilities.

Why This Would Be A Bad Idea
Practically every Sith that has been created since the films has been a weaker copy of Darth Maul or Darth Vader. They’re all either tattooed like Maul, a cyborg, or they have a strange armor. Few of the creators have really brought much new to the table when it comes to the Sith. And most of the Sith rant about the Dark Side in a repetitive way that becomes tedious. Neither their designs nor their motivations are that intriguing and a movie would have to really step things up to create something engaging. Even Darth Maul was simply a cool action character with little depth. Audiences will want something more. And I have to say that turning Han and Leia’s son to the Dark Side was pretty depressing, not to mention repetitive consider who his grandfather was. I hope the films don’t go in this direction.

There are, of course, other threats in the galaxy such as crime organizations (like in “Shadows of the Empire”), bounty hunters, Dark Jedi (who are not full fledged Sith), droids, and politicians, but they aren’t good antagonists on their own. They need to be part of a larger threat as mentioned above. (But please, let’s not have more Senate debates and trade discussions in a sequel.) Overall, J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt have a lot of great possibilities in front of them, but they have just as many pitfalls to avoid as the Expanded Universe shows.

Top 5: Bryan Singer Movies

Top 5: TV Episodes of All-Time (Comedy Edition)

Today heralds the return of director Bryan Singer to the cinema with Jack and the Giant.  While it doesn’t seem like this is going to be a classic on par with his earlier work (Rotten Tomatoes has it at 49% at the time of this piece), I’m just glad he’s back.  His career got off to such a spectacular beginning and, let’s not forget, we owe this man for beginning the modern comic book movie renaissance with the first two X-Men films.  Singer got his start in Hollywood as an assistant to Richard Donner whose Superman saga he brought to a close in Superman Returns.  I think the stress of that production and the backlash from some fans really shook him and threw him entirely off track.  I love Superman Returns.  I’ll have to do a whole column on it sometime, but I think it’s absolutely fantastic.  So here are my top 5 Singer films and I cannot wait to see what he has in store for us next year with X-Men: Days of Future Past.
1. The Usual Suspects (1993)
2. Superman Returns (2006)
3. X2: X-Men United (2003)
4. X-Men (2000)
5. Valkyrie (2008)

Bryan-Singer-X-Men-director-jpg

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