Archive for September, 2012

Looper

Posted in Action, Drama, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on September 28, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketIn 2074, time travel is possible but it’s outlawed. This however doesn’t stop the mob from sending their targets 30 years back into the past. This is where specialized assassins called loopers wait to kill and cleanly get rid of a body that technically doesn’t exist. One day Joe must “close the loop” and finish off his older counterpart, but when he comes face to face with the older version of himself, he hesitates and old Joe escapes. Now he must track down the escapee and eliminate this loose end or incur the wrath of his underworld boss.

Writer/director Rian Johnson has created a fascinating world in which a crime syndicate of loopers kill and eradicate with mechanized skill. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Bruce Willis’ Joe at a younger age. The story is propelled by young Joe’s drive to contain and dispose of his future self. This is Kansas and the blunderbuss is their weapon of choice, a firearm with a short, large caliber barrel that doesn’t require a lot of accuracy to use. Gat Men, the more elite of the mob’s henchmen, are the muscle that enforce the rules that loopers must live by. They journey on slat bikes, cycles that hover over the ground. Many humans have developed telekinesis as sort of a genetic mutation. It’s a heady mix, like The Matrix, The Shining and Donnie Darko had ménage à trois and Looper was the beautiful baby from that union.

Looper’s script is wisely aware of the complexities of time travel. Yet it stops short of fully delving into the cerebral intricacies of it. Astute viewers will notice certain inaccuracies emerge that aren‘t understood until the film develops. Early on JGL allows his future self to escape then promptly revisits the scene again where he immediately rights that wrong. It’s a perplexing sequence when initially viewed, but grows clearer as the film unfolds. There always will be inherent dilemmas in time travel movies that cannot be resolved. Think too hard and you’ll get a headache or simply accept the conceit and it’s wild roller coaster ride of a film. I’m still not convinced the multiple time lines make sense as they exist in never-ending loops of logic, but the narrative had me too hypnotized to care.

What’s separates Looper from your garden variety time travel hokum is its character based structure. There is a lull here and there, but for the most part the thriller is captivating. Willis even gets a chance to single handedly display the kind of badassery he’s known for when he starts blasting away with two guns at those nasty Gat Men. As good as Willis is, this is JGL’s movie. I was concerned upon seeing his unrecognizable face from the trailer that his makeup would be distracting. JGL’s face looks like a heavily botoxed rendering of himself. However, one should not underestimate his acting. Even though Willis and JGL look nothing alike, I would’ve preferred we take a leap of faith and accept the premise without makeup. With facial expressions, vocal inflections and gestures, JGL carefully conveys a younger version of Willis. He’s good enough that after awhile, the weird makeup becomes less of an issue and you’re focused on the scope of his predicament.

The hectic first half is an exciting actioner highlighted by the occasionally confusing time traveling motif. It’s consistently enjoyable. The plot then takes an unexpected turn halfway through. We are introduced to Sara, a single mom on the farm played by Emily Blunt and her mysterious son Cid, an impressive child performance by Pierce Gagnon. Here’s where an interesting sci-fi becomes a human drama. What this storyline lacks in action, it more than makes up for in heart. How mother and son are relevant to his mission is something I won’t reveal, but it gives an already entertaining fantasy, a thrilling development. Precocious little Cid is a boy that easily joins the ranks of creepiest kids ever.

Looper reunites JGL with Rian Johnson, the writer/director behind 2005’s indie high school mystery, Brick. That modern noir heralded a prodigious new talent. His follow-up The Brothers Bloom was a step back, but now with Looper he takes one giant leap forward. In the end, I won’t insist that all of the time traveling mumbo jumbo intellectually holds up, because I don’t think it does. Its brain twisting time zigzag jumps caused me to exclaim Huh?! on more than one occasion. Smart viewers will question script logic. Having a looper murder their own future self clearly causes more problems than a disinterested, neutral party would, for example. But the sincere connection we have to these characters compels us to watch. It’s a mesmerizing tale with a very satisfying conclusion. The second half in particular has a surprisingly amount of heart that even upholds the importance of good parenting. Wasn’t expecting that. Looper blends an engaging sci-fi time traveling fable with the tenderness of an emotional drama. I love when a story exceeds my expectations and Looper does just that. But one last question, Whatever happened to France?

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End of Watch

Posted in Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on September 25, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketTwo beat cops are partners as well as buddies. Together they serve and protect South Central Los Angeles. One is married, the other has just met a girl. In their regular patrolling of the area they routinely have entertaining conversations. Observe Jake Gyllenhaal as Officer Brian Taylor and Michael Peña as Officer Mike Zavala lob good natured insults at each other that reference cultural stereotypes. Their jokes belie an obvious friendship. In their day to day rounds, they stumble upon a dangerous Mexican drug cartel.

On paper, the plot unfolds like any generic buddy cop film. But in the hands of writer/director David Ayer, the tale deeply engages the viewer. He appears to have a fascination with the LAPD. Clearly he has a love for this material. Ayer has an ear for well written dialogue as this script is on a par with his memorable screenplays for The Fast and the Furious, Training Day and S.W.A.T. Apparently third time is the directing charm as this movie blows his previously helmed efforts (2006’s Harsh Times and 2008’s Street Kings) out of the water.

If the picture had a major failing it’s in the cinematography. Officer Taylor has been documenting his life on the job for a class he’s taking. His shots are the video that we the audience see. The “found footage” milieu can play havoc on one’s eyesight. Granted it gives the action a visceral, “you are there” experience. However one fight between Michael Peña’s character and a street tough devolves into a wrestling match with wildly spinning visuals that are likely to make you seasick.

End of Watch has a point of view that is thankfully unexpected. Given the prevailing attitudes toward LA cops, the positive outlook reads highly original in this day and age. The account is surprisingly laudatory. I was expecting a much different portrayal. Why only back in February, Woody Harrelson’s character in Rampart presented a decidedly pessimistic view of LA cops. But this tribute to the good men and women in blue never feels sappy. The charisma of actors Gyllenhaal and Peña should not be underestimated. They carry many scenes simply of the strength of their casual easy going chemistry. We genuinely care about these guys. The narrative is intense, exciting and realistic. Everything a police drama should be. It renders what happens a profoundly moving experience.

Dredd

Posted in Action, Science Fiction, Superhero with tags on September 21, 2012 by Mark Hobin

Note: Dredd is offered in a 3D version as well. As I feel that format (1) actually makes things look worse and (2) solely exists to charge $4 more for the very same film, I watched this in the clearer, brighter, and less expensive 2D.

PhotobucketDredd is a character featured in British science-fiction oriented 2000 AD comics. He has made it to the big screen once before in a 1995 movie starring Sylvester Stallone. Based on that less than successful adaptation, my expectations weren’t particularly high for this. What a nice surprise that this is an entertaining improvement. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not going to win any storytelling awards. The whole thing plays out like an amalgamation of RoboCop Meets The Raid with a little Mad Max thrown in for good measure. But if you’re looking for a potent summer action flick (foolishly released in the fall) this should fit the bill.

In the future, the United States has become an ever expanding wasteland. People live in housing blocks that have become slums blighted by crime. The Judges are a new type of law enforcement that serve as judge, jury and executioner all in one. Judge Dredd is our hero and Judge Cassandra Anderson is his fledgling sidekick with psychic abilities. Hooligans driving recklessly down the street lead the pair to the Peach Trees housing block. The 200-story slum tower is run by a murderous drug lord called Ma-Ma. She is the sole supplier of Slo-Mo, an addictive new narcotic that hinders the user’s sense of time. Now Dredd and Anderson must infiltrate her drug den and take down Ma-Ma and her ruthless network of thugs within the building.

Dredd is an eye-popping combat film that is a violent pulp tale of mayhem. Actor Karl Urban strikes just the right balance as our lead. He’s all business as a no-nonsense superhero that gets the job done without ever cracking wise. He’s a poker-faced protector that never shows his face. Ok granted we do see his chin at least protruding from a helmet that covers his head. Actress Lena Headey as Ma-Ma is a bit harder to accept. She reads more like the grande dame on a prime time soap opera than the criminal kingpin she portrays here. Thankfully Olivia Thirlby gives us a reason to care in the engaging emotional arc her rookie Judge must undergo. The script conveniently involves a mind altering substance, called Slo-Mo, which gives the director free reign to slow down action sequences whenever the users are hyped up on the product. It effectively slows perception down and renders everything as if the air has been bedazzled with sparkles. Their production design of the future oddly gave me nostalgia for the late 80s sci-fi TV series Max Headroom. Some scenes almost looks as if they’ve been artificially colorized. The effects are kind of cheap, but if you’re a fan of shoot–’em–ups you’ll get your money’s worth. The violence supports an oppressively dreary tone. Its R rating is well deserved, but it’s highly stylized and artificial as befitting its comic book roots. Yes, we’ve seen this all before, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it I guess.

The Master

Posted in Drama with tags on September 21, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketLet me first preface my review by saying, I am a fan of director Paul Thomas Anderson. Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood: I’ve found something interesting in everything he’s ever done. Needless to say my expectations for his latest opus, The Master, were high. Unfortunately I’m sad to report, this production is a distinctly unenjoyable chore to watch.

The Master features a narrative that is dramatically inert, offering a very weak storyline about how a drifter fell into a religious sect. Lancaster Dodd is their questionable leader, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. On paper that could have been the searing portrait of a svengali and his followers. But the script doesn’t attempt anything daring. Instead we get relaxed shots of water around a ship, a motorcycle speeding through the desert, people listening to but not interacting with the leader. We’re never given much proof as to why he has a following. He doesn’t even have anything particularly interesting to say. This is especially problematic in a film depicting a charismatic guide. Just how far his reach is outside this small circle of friends is never depicted but Lancaster doesn’t seem to engender much devotion even among these people. He isn’t especially appealing or seem to really improve anyone’s life. Even his own son admits he just makes it up as he goes along. One poor soul who does respond to his organization is Freddie Quell.

There is not one engaging character for the audience to get behind and champion. Joaquin Phoenix is Freddie Quell, an aimless drifter, mentally consumed by two pursuits, alcohol and sexual desire. The plot drifts along showing us Joaquin Phoenix acting bizarre. The actor is all angles twisting his body into contorting shapes ostensibly to show us how odd he is. He keeps one eye closed throughout the picture in a facial squint that recalls Robin Williams in the movie Popeye. It’s an off putting performance. We cannot possibly identify with him, nor do we feel sorry for him. He’s too repellant . It simply makes the movie a difficult experience to endure. He creates a female figure out of sand at the beach and simulates sex with thrusting motions. He manufactures alcoholic drinks out of household products like paint thinner and Lysol. He’s both physically and intellectually ugly. Then there’s Lancaster Dodd, the proverbial “master” of the film. He’s sort of a self styled guru in charge of a small flock that follow him. He’s written a book entitled “The Cause” which is a Bible of sorts for his faith based organization. Yet we have no concept of how many people actually subscribe to his beliefs. As presented here it’s an intimate circle, an insignificant number of people. Most of the plot focuses on the relationship between these two men. Freddie is so mentally messed up, we’re to accept that at least under Lancaster’s guidance, he has instilled a sense of purpose in the wayward creature. He becomes his right hand man willing to beat up anyone who dares disagree with Lancaster’s views. But we’re never given a reason why Freddie is so impressed by him. Without that reason the justification for the story falls apart.

The heart of the movie is the dialogue between teacher Lancaster Dodd and student Freddie Quell who becomes a guinea pig for the studies he’s conducting. Lancaster repeatedly asks him the same questions over and over. The stated goal is to “bring man back to his inherent state of perfect.” But how are these exercises supposed to accomplish this? It’s never quite clear or explained. The same question is put forth over and over to Quell in repetition. Don’t blink or we’ll start again at the beginning he instructs. Ok, But what’s the point? The exercises are a tedious chore for the audience. Sound boring? How about watching Joaquin Phoenix fling himself from one side of a room to touch a wall and then fling himself back to touch a window. Over and over, back and forth. How does this elucidate our understanding of this group? These ambiguous scenes promise to have a payoff that will clarify their point. But this payoff never arrives.

In the end it’s not clear what the movie is trying to say. It’s weird for the sake of being weird. Pretentious and shallow, the script lazily presents scenes seemingly without focus. They wander directionless with no discernable point. One scene gave me hope. At a party as the leader is pontificating his views to onlookers, one man speaks up and questions his beliefs. He brings up the word cult. But Lancaster shouts back, well you’ve already made up your mind so no reason to explain. No, please explain! That could have been a fascinating discourse on the nature of cult vs. religion but the screenwriters shirk any responsibly to get deep and a perfect opportunity is wasted. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has acknowledged that his drama is inspired by L. Ron Hubbard and the beginnings of Scientology. Regardless of your opinions of that religion, even its detractors would at least have to admit that it has galvanized a gathering of dedicated followers with the promise of improving your life. That is not the case here. The leader isn’t very charismatic nor is he even outrageous or dangerous. He’s just some guy that has captured the interest of a small group, some of which follow him and others privately talk negatively about. It is never demonstrated why Freddie is so taken with his teachings. Without that basis, nothing holds together. If Anderson has accomplished anything, it’s that has he has shot a lushly photographed film in 65mm, highlighted by some beautifully composed scenes. The production design is admirable as well. It would make a nice coffee table book. The actors do their best to bring life to a directionless, meandering script, but ultimately The Master is just a bunch of pictures in search of a point.

Arbitrage

Posted in Drama, Thriller with tags on September 18, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketA powerful Wall Street hedge-fund executive seeks to sell his trading company to bigwig banker James Mayfield. In order to get the best price, Robert Miller struggles to hide the precarious position his once healthy business empire now holds. He does so with questionable practices that threaten to destroy the lives of his investors as well as his family. That would’ve been enough story right there, but an unforeseen complication threatens to derail his comfortable family life even further.

Arbitrage is director Nicholas Jarecki’s first feature and it’s a remarkably assured debut. It does play out a bit like a TV show, but the story boasts a stellar cast who raise the level of this drama above the ordinary. The supporting players shed light on a variety of dilemmas that confront Robert Miller. Actress Brit Marling is the admirable voice of reason as his daughter and CFO of her father’s company. Tim Roth, a detective investigating the death of a pretty young French artist, Susan Sarandon, his savvy wife. Her sensational speech in a climatic scene is a highlight. And let’s not forget little known actor Nate Parker who plays an important and unlikely contact of the business magnate. He’s memorable.  However, first and foremost, this is star Richard Gere’s movie.

Arbitrage is an excellent showcase for Richard Gere‘s talents. As of late, the actor has demonstrated a knack for giving some great performances. Ever since Unfaithful, He appears to be gracefully entering the latter part of his acting career with some wonderfully nuanced work. Not since Cary Grant has a leading man entered his 60s so smoothly. Robert Miller is a man of incredible wealth and power. Richard conveys the desperation of a man on the precipice of monetary ruin. Based on his less than honorable financial dealings, we should completely hate him, but in his capable hands, Gere makes him a fully formed human being that does earn our sympathy along with the expected hatred.  An economic thriller may sound like an oxymoron. It’s not an easy sell perhaps, but thanks to Richard Gere, he manages to make this character study of a flawed individual, compelling.

Samsara

Posted in Documentary with tags on September 11, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketSamsara is a wonder to behold. The Sanskrit word means “continuous flow”, the repeating cycle of birth, life, death and reincarnation. This non-verbal documentary was filmed over four years in 25 countries around the world across 5 continents by director/cinematographer Ron Fricke. Baraka was Fricke‘s 1992 experimental cinema that covered much of the same territory. Now 20 years later we get this sequel of sorts. The granddaddy of this genre is Koyaanisqatsi (1983) on which Fricke was the cinematographer. Like that picture, time-lapse photography is frequently used to depict a heightened reality of a world we see every day. Scenes quickly unfold before our eyes in a stunning document of events that often take much longer. This is the music video as anthropology. Cultural revelations designed to shock and awe. The images will provoke laughter, tears, disgust and joy. All of this is underscored by a soundtrack featuring ambient music by Michael Stearns, Lisa Gerrard, and Marcello De Francisci.

There is no narrative but there is a point. Samsara is celebration of the environment filtered through an anti-urbanization milieu. Mechanized society is bad. Nature and indigenous cultures are good. Of course what you actually take away from this documentary depends on what you bring to it. The spectacle is ripe for free association by the viewer. Without any narration or story, we are compelled to fill in the blanks and make our own inferences as to how these images relate. No two people are going to have the same experience watching this film. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a tone poem.

At times the exhibition begs for an explanation. Witness men in orange jumpsuits dancing choreography in utter precision to techno music. The production is better than a halftime show, more precise than a Broadway musical. Their exuberance is captivating and their spirit is contagious. The fact that these are prisoners at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines prompts the question: what is going on here? We are never given an answer (or even where this was photographed) it’s simply on to the next display.

The documentary works best when the spectator doesn’t feel as if they’re being manipulated. Hundreds of plucked live chickens being vacuumed up by a thresher like machine is an indelible image that’s hard to shake. It’s an obvious scolding to non vegetarians. “How dare you eat meat! This travesty is your fault.” If it’s possible to gild the lily in a negative way, the filmmakers succeed. We’re presented 3 gargantuan Americans stuffing their faces at a fast food restaurant immediately after. Also for your reflection, are women wearing burqas standing in front an underwear ad of male models in Dubai mall . Their juxtaposition manipulated to highlight the obvious double standard is mildly exploitative. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is contrasted with the Palace of Versailles. And then there’s the random insert of a French performance artist as businessman dressed in suit and tie that aggressively rubs clay and paint all over his face. It doesn’t even fit within the context of the picture. I guess he was showing us what a nervous breakdown looks like. Awkward.

The document thrives when it celebrates our world without judgment. A Symphonic poem, the breathtaking images literally hypnotize the viewer into a trance inducing state. From, religious place of worship like pagodas in Burma and the vaulted ceilings of the Vatican to Muslims circling the Grand Mosque at Mecca. Gorgeous vistas of the sandstone arches of Utah’s Monument Valley to half dome Yosemite Valley. Even the urban cityscapes of Shanghai and Dubai: archive a poetic beauty amongst all the natural wonders. A cityscape at night shows cars zipping along the highway in multicolored electronic glow. Like glowing electronic arteries, the modernity is hypnotic on the big screen. It’s the visual manifestation of a dream and occasionally a nightmare. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Samsara would take a lifetime to read.

Kaboom

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Mystery with tags on September 10, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketGregg Araki is a polarizing filmmaker. He’s guaranteed to alienate at least slightly conservative tastes even before we begin to make sense of the plot. On the one hand, Kaboom is a frivolous comedy highlighted by the warm glow of a brightly colored visual palette. The enthusiastic, youthful cast engenders a playful mood that attracts interest. But anyone familiar with the director by way of his 2004 dramatic high point Mysterious Skin, will undoubtedly be disappointed in this wandering meditation on the sexual exploits of this group of college students. Their adventures are mixed with some nonsense concerning how an undergrad’s destiny holds planet Earth in the balance. Yes, you heard that right. It’s an end of the world story.

Of course most of the film is an excuse to show promiscuous students in a pansexual world of carnal escapades. I’m trying to write about this in the most urbane manner possible but it’s rather difficult. Thomas Dekker is our main protagonist Smith. The teens have a chilly indifference to their surroundings, none more so than his best friend Stella portrayed with sassy, nothing-fazes-me attitude, by Haley Bennett. Her presence gives the story some much needed direction. Her odd relationship with a witch gives focus to the directionless plot. She’s very amusing and a nice comic foil to 18 year old Smith, who is preoccupied by his all consuming lascivious desire and little else in this world.

The narrative does have some mental quests thrown in. Smith witnesses the apparent murder of a red headed woman by men in animal masks after a late night party. In a drug addled haze, he’s not quite sure if he didn’t just hallucinate the whole thing at first. But then he discovers a disc drive in his pocket left by the unknown victim that points to a mysterious online cult. Here’s where the tale starts to get interesting. Unfortunately director Gregg Araki is more interested in the sexual experimentation of teens and the story collapses under the weight of wanton pursuits. These interludes appear kamikaze style throughout and they’re neither sensual nor funny.

Kaboom is a schizophrenic melding of two different films. It presents a mildly entertaining, bizarro apocalyptic fable that is buried under a lot of drek. What a shame that everything is ultimately explained in a hastily executed wrap up in the last 10 minutes. The explosive streams of vernacular coming from the mouths of the entire cast is a recklessly spoken explosion of words meant to clarify what we‘ve been watching. It renders the whole account as arbitrary and meaningless. I couldn’t possibly do justice to the ridiculous conclusion. Perhaps the producers were running out of money and Araki had to quickly end this mess. I know you pretty much get what you deserve when you choose to watch a Gregg Araki flick, but good heavens, Kaboom is really out there, even for him.

Sleepwalk with Me

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on September 7, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketMike Birbiglia is a brave guy. The comedian wrote, directed, and stars in Sleepwalk with Me, yet he’s not afraid to portray himself as a first class jerk. This independent comedy is a caustic tale seemingly based on his own life, an intensely personal statement.  This motion picture had humble beginnings in 2008 as a one-man show performed off-Broadway in New York City. The odd blend of stand-up jokes and theater was a critical success. So too was his subsequent nonfiction bestseller Sleepwalk With Me & Other Painfully True Stories. He wrote this movie with public radio personality, Ira Glass who also produces This American Life, a weekly hour-long radio program.

Birbiglia is portraying someone named Matt Pandamiglio. He’s dating a pretty, and likable girl named Abby. She’s sweet and understanding to a fault, but she wants to get married. And why not? The couple have been together for 8 years. All of their friends are getting married and having kids. You know, growing up basically. But Mike, being the quintessential man-child, is a commitment phobe of the highest order. He not only struggles with his true feelings for his girlfriend, but also his stand-up career AND a sleepwalking affliction that grows more and more dangerous as his stress level gets worse.

Matt is a difficult guy to like. Lauren Ambrose is a delight as Abby, his long suffering sweetheart. She’s been his loyal, supportive live-in companion. She’s a saint, really, accepting the lack of success in his profession, but also agreeing to loyally wait around while he tries to make up his mind. Matt is hard to support however he’s very very funny. “Remember, you’re on my side,” he cautions us at one point. His observational humor is quite hilarious. In fact he achieves his greatest laughs in front of an audience when he’s willing to poke fun of the apprehensive emotions he has toward his girlfriend. Uh oh, rough seas ahead. The comedy drama is also a grim window into the survival of a struggling performer. The script presents his work as an unglamorous trip on the road from club to club sometimes driving miles out of his way to stay in generic hotel rooms playing engagements that barely, if even, cover the gas mileage it costs to get there. It’s a harsh portrait of a comedian at its rudimentary levels.

Sleepwalk with Me plays to Birbiglia’s strengths. At certain key moments he addresses the viewer à la Woody Allen as he tells his story. The gimmick works because he’s funniest when he riffing on a theme: the world of a comic and the anxiety over his own relationship. By looking directly into the camera, he’s able to give candid thoughts on his everyday existence. As pressure to marry and have kids increases, so does his sleepwalking disorder. We soon witness the potentially life threatening results. The narrative ultimately climaxes to a satisfying, albeit somber conclusion. And that’s ok. Despite the fact that Matt is a most frustrating individual, he’s also very funny. And since this is a comedy, that’s quite alright.

Robot & Frank

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Science Fiction with tags on September 4, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketFrank is suffering from dementia. We discover this as we follow him through his daily routine. He says he’s going to Harry’s which is a restaurant that has been closed for a long time. It’s now a froufrou bath products store. He asks his son, Hunter, How’s Princeton?, a school he graduated from 15 years ago. He is often found wandering in the middle of the street. Concerned about his father’s deteriorating mental abilities, Hunter presents him with a robot. This is the near future and the robot is an advanced caregiver of sorts designed to clean, make meals, and ostensibly provide companionship for lonely people.

Robot & Frank is one of those films that will confound your expectations. I hadn’t seen the trailer beforehand and didn’t know what to expect. But the setup had me believing this would be a treacly tale on the regrettable effects of aging. How one plucky little robot improved the life of a cantankerous old coot. To be fair, I was partially right, It certainly starts out that way, but the drama is oh so much deeper than that.

The story is abetted by an appealing cast. Frank Langella plays Frank, a declining retiree in upstate New York. He’s given some wonderful performances in recent years, but this just might be his most engaging. He’s sweet, but never saccharine. He’s playing a sympathetic senior citizen, yes, but one with a surprising talent that makes him far from a saintly. Frank has a past. And let’s be “frank”, he is required to carry the picture. His interactions with everyone else form the bulk of the narrative. He enjoys visiting the local library where he hits on a mature but attractive librarian named Jennifer, played by Suisan Sarandon. She invites him to a fundraiser for her work. There he meets Jake played by newcomer Jeremy Strong, a smug hipster in charge of renovating the way the books are stored. He’s pretty much the very definition of a tool. Upon meeting the old guy, Jake remarks,” You’re so square, you’re practically avant-garde”. This is where the plot’s most interesting development takes off. I won’t spoil it, but it’s hilarious and totally unexpected.

Robot & Frank presents the life of a spirit reborn with a healthy dose of humor. The robot himself sort of reminds me of Woody Allen’s goofy butler disguise in the movie Sleeper. The cockamamie premise could’ve collapsed under a different direction – comparable to one of those high concept TV sitcoms from the 80s like Alf or Small Wonder. But the script manages to be funny, intelligent, and surprisingly original. It treats its main subject, not as an individual to be pitied, but as someone vibrant with a fully formed personality. Frank Langella imbues the character with a pragmatism that wholly unique. He simply finds excitement in doing things that he loves. The surprise here is that those pursuits are less than honorable.