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White Lies (2013)
Not the best NZ film, but an important one.
I was fortunate enough over the weekend to attend a screening of NZ feature White Lies followed by a revealing Q+A session with writer/director Dana Rotberg, star Antonia Prebble, composer John Psathas and novelist Witi Ihimaera. It might seem odd for a film about NZ colonial identity to be made by a Mexican filmmaker, but surprisingly the story benefits greatly by coming from an outside perspective.
Adapted from Witi Ihimaera's novella Medicine Woman, White Lies doesn't have a particularly well told story at its core, but is nonetheless an important film for NZ to have produced. Set during the early days of settlement, the film depicts a sinuous power struggle between colonial housewife Rebecca (Prebble), her housemaid Maraea (Rachel House), and Paraiti (Whirimako Black), the Maori medicine woman whose particular skills and discretion are sought.
The shifting dominance of each of these women, representing different aspects of female identity at the time, weaves a compelling and bleak narrative, but some of the story beats that should have had greater impact unfortunately fall a little flat. Elements that needed more room to breathe play out much too quickly, not allowing audiences time to digest, although the film's closing scenes are powerful. White Lies deals with uncomfortable subject matter, and Rotberg doesn't shy away from the story's most tragic aspects.
Thankfully, White Lies looks better than any NZ film for some time. The cinematography by NZ legend Alun Bollinger gives the rugged setting of the film a beautifully oppressive quality reminiscent of his work on Vincent Ward's Vigil, and has moments of rare, haunting beauty.
It's a shame that most viewers will be unable to hear Rotberg speak about her approach to the film. The director's keen understanding of the tragedy of colonialism in her homeland brings significance to White Lies that a Kiwi director may have been guarded about addressing, and hearing her thoughts on NZ colonialism and our nervous attitude about exposing our own violent past was incredibly refreshing. Her desire to treat the subject with integrity while never sugarcoating it comes across with wonderful passion, and while she remained respectful of the source material, she makes no excuses for altering Ihimaera's work to suit her own vision. Despite the film's faults, White Lies takes more risks and offers deeper perspective than most NZ films of late.
Lands with a thud.
Any movie concerning the manipulation of a character's mind is going to present an unreliable narrative. Inevitably the rug is going to be pulled from said character, usually upending the audience as well.
Danny Boyle's latest Trance is but one more film that tries to bait and switch us, but unfortunately the only effective twist in this tale is the rapid deterioration of an illogical but often gripping thriller into a sloppy and occasionally puerile mess, with a third act that lands with such a thud that any goodwill earned early on seems to be a hazy memory of a different film.
Trance tells the story of Simon (James McAvoy), an apparently naive auctioneer caught in the middle of a high stakes art heist who loses his memory after a crack on the head from the heel of a shotgun wielded by thief Franck (Vincent Cassel). Enter Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), the hypnotherapist hired by Franck to break through Simon's amnesia to reveal the location of a £25 million painting that vanished in the robbery.
The logic of the film is murky from the get go, but Boyle fires Trance out of the gate with such furious pace that allows little time to stop and pick apart the pseudo-scientific aspects of hypnotism as depicted here. Typically of the director, they style seems to take precedence over the substance, and a terrific soundtrack (all the better if you're fortunate enough to see the film in a Dolby Atmos theatre) contributes to the slickness of it all.
Truth be told, there's a lot in Trance that is pretty enjoyable. The cool neo-noir vibe works well despite the obvious cracks in the surface of the script.
Until, that is, the cracks become a gaping crevasse, torn open by the baffling decisions to hang a fairly significant story point on a frankly idiotic idea, and grind the relentless charge toward the climax to a halt with turgid exposition that makes little sense in the context of the story. It's simply bad writing, and the film has no time to recover, left instead with an ending that has zero real impact beyond the crushing confusion of it all.
Trance had the potential to see Danny Boyle to get back on track after a couple of minor works (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) that generated a lot of awards buzz but little enduring quality. It's disappointing to see a filmmaker with such a unique and varied catalogue of work hit a rough patch like this, but if you're waiting for a work that shakes Boyle from his slump, Trance just isn't it.
Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)
I wish it was all a dream
A piece of advice for anyone thinking about seeing Oz: The Great and Powerful: the further you can get from the majestic 1939 masterpiece The Wizard of Oz, the more chance you stand of having a good time with the prequel.
For those of us that feel a strong connection to the original film, Disney's first big release of the year is a trite, overloaded bog of cloying CG, nauseating characters, and a needlessly dark tone that betrays of the innocence of a world so many of us grew up with.
It's nothing new to observe that many of the big summer pictures of the last decade or so have leaned towards a darker tone, and it's also not necessarily a bad thing. What I'm going to suggest is that the technique doesn't necessarily have to be employed in every case, and certainly not for something like this.
I simply want to ask why we are forced to endure the suggested genocide of a race of people (the porcelain villagers of China Town), or the corseted, sexed-up Wicked Witch of the West (Mila Kunis) threatening that the Yellow Brick Road, a symbol only associated with goodness and joy, will run red with the blood of Oz's fair citizens.
Because it's 2013, and people demand darkness in their beloved children's tales? Where is it written that simplicity and purity can't be part of a successful film anymore?
Why does the arrival of Oz (a leering and feckless James Franco) himself have to be tied up to some tacked on prophecy? It's a completely unnecessary plot point that adds nothing to the character or the film. Due to the cultural footprint of the original, even people who may not have seen it in a long time, or ever, are probably familiar enough with the story that we know how this film is going to play out.
There was no prophecy about Dorothy's trip to Oz to defeat the Witch, each of the supporting characters had their motivation set up in little more than a sentence or two, and it's hard to deny that story turned out pretty well. The simplicity of the story is what worked.
Why, why, does Oz: The Great and Powerful need not one, but two ridiculous sassy sidekick characters? A neurotic flying monkey played by Zach Braff doing his best Woody Allen impression is cute enough until certain shots reveal some ghastly, flat CG work on his face. And the sooner we can free ourselves of Tony Cox's wise-cracking dwarf schtick the better. It's a character that we've seen over and over again, and am I crazy or is having a character exist for no reason other than so people can laugh at someone different from themselves more than a little offensive?
The tornado that serves as the catalyst for this atrocious movie's plot just may have been whipped up by L. Frank Baum and Victor Fleming furiously rolling in their graves. Oz: The Great and Powerful is gaudy, tonally inconsistent, over-written nonsense that does its best to tarnish the legacy of one of the all-time classics, a film that will make you wish you could click your heels together and transport yourself out of the cinema, realising it was only a horrible dream.
Django Unchained (2012)
Familiar but surprising
I don't know how he keeps doing it, but Quentin Tarantino always surprises me with his restraint.
This might seem like an odd thing to say about the man who gave us the blood-soaked extremes of Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds and, well, any of his other films, but for whatever reason I always expect his films to completely slip the leash and run wild. Django Unchained maintains the madness of the director's earlier films, but more so than ever before, it feels like he has kept his most extreme instincts relatively in check.
Django Unchained begins with a fairly simple A-to-B narrative. Pre-Civil War era slave Django (Jamie Foxx) is acquired (in a classic Tarantino opening scene, rivaling Inglourious Basterds) by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a bounty hunter on the search for three wanted brothers. However, it soon becomes apparent that this hunt encompasses only the film's opening third, and a much more sprawling story unfolds over the course of the close to three hour running time. For assisting Schultz, Django earns his freedom and the pair enter into a vengeful partnership in pursuit of Django's wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), a slave sold to the sadistic Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Perhaps more than any of Tarantino's previous films, it feels like he is really trying to say something with Django Unchained. As great as a film like Pulp Fiction is, it really works on cool factor alone, and couldn't exactly be praised for its depth. Here however, Tarantino seems to know precisely when to dial back the cool to comment on the nature of human violence. While full of outrageous gunfights packed to the brim with geysers of gore, the film features an alarming amount of up close, almost intimate brutality that is very upsetting.
Which feels to me like precisely the point. The savagery inflicted upon slaves by their white masters is shoved right in the audiences face, and is much more difficult to endure than the exaggerated violence of the guns, which draw more laughs than anything else. Tarantino has never shied away from violence in his work, but the very clear binary nature of the bloodshed in Django Unchained feels very carefully thought out, and really opens the film up for deeper analysis than anything he has done before.
That said, Django Unchained doesn't completely escape Tarantino's self-indulgent streak. The sheer length of the film will certainly cause some viewers to question the necessity of much of the final 30 minutes, particularly the baffling sequence in which the director makes his obligatory cameo appearance. Also, the most egregious use of a certain n-word since Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles is going to raise eyebrows with conservative audiences, opening the debate of whether Tarantino is simply courting controversy in the hopes of drawing a crowd.
Aside from perhaps the director himself, the acting is top-notch across the board, with Foxx and Waltz sharing great chemistry, and DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson (as house slave Stephen) both hilarious and frightening in equal measure. Django Unchained navigates a razor-thin space between raucously entertaining and unapologetically confronting, yet rarely veers too far either side to become either exploitative or preachy. It's a familiar but somehow surprising effort from Tarantino, and while it may not rank amongst his most well-crafted films, Django Unchained stands out as a bold and completely assured work from a modern auteur doing exactly what he wants to do.
The Master (2012)
Must be seen
After taking forever to reach us down here in New Zealand, Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master finally has a limited release this week. I'm not quite sure how I felt about it, so this isn't a review so much as just a few thoughts I had about the film.
Despite the lack of a best picture Oscar nomination, The Master is possibly the most highly regarded film of 2012. Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most gifted directors around; his previous film There Will Be Blood is right amongst the best films of the last 10 years, and features one of history's great lead performances from Daniel Day Lewis.
Expectations were obviously pretty high going into this movie.
In a lot of ways, The Master doesn't disappoint. It is impeccably crafted from the very first frame. In my view, Anderson's greatest strength is his skill at telling a story through character rather than traditional narrative, and the characters of The Master are just so richly written, and played to near perfection. If Joaquin Phoenix's work feels a little big for most of the movie, it comes together brilliantly in the closing scenes, a complete performance. Even better is Anderson regular Philip Seymour Hoffman as the charismatic cult leader Lancaster Dodd, and as good as he always is, this is a role he will be remembered for. Holding her own against such imposing leading men is Amy Adams as Peggy Dodd, a fascinating character I would have liked to have seen much more of, and, in typical Anderson fashion, an array of excellent supporting players including Jesse Plemons and Laura Dern enrich the world of the film.
Anderson's films are always tough nuts to crack, aren't exactly the easiest things to enjoy, and with the exception of Punch Drunk Love perhaps, exist in some pretty murky territory. This might be the reason why, despite all of its strengths, truthfully The Master left me cold. It's like gazing upon a huge feat of engineering. You can admire the construction of a 100-level skyscraper, wonder at the level of skill in its creation, but you can't really connect emotionally with it. It may be impressive, but is absolutely unfeeling. That's The Master for me. It is a film that feels like it is defying you to enjoy it, as if Anderson is intentionally keeping you at arm's length, and I was never able to connect with it beyond an admiration of the craftsmanship.
That said, it is without question a film that demands to be seen, and seen, and seen again. I'm sure there are untold nooks and crannies to be explored upon closer analysis, and it's likely that I will grow to appreciate it even more. For now though, I'm mostly at a loss regarding The Master, and that might be the best thing about it. Few filmmakers have the talent to provoke such an unusual reaction in me, and it's a feeling I choose to savour and enjoy, rather than be frustrated by.
Les Misérables (2012)
For those of us who are huge fans of film musicals, there is a tragic lack of quality in modern cinema. Sure, occasionally a gem will come along, shaking up the rigid classical structure and offering something exciting, but for every Once there seems to be a handful of Chicagos, Nines and Sweeney Todds. It's tough out there for the song-and-dance enthusiasts.
With Les Misérables (an adaptation of the stage musical, itself an adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel), director Tom Hooper had a better shot at making something great than anyone has for some time. All the pieces were in place: solid source material, a director fresh from awards glory, and a well selected cast of performers. So, after chewing it over for several days, why is it that I'm beginning to think this might be a terrible film?
What works in Les Misérables works very well indeed. First of all, the story itself is top-notch; a bleak melodrama of the French Revolution with an emotional core that still resonates and feels relevant 150 years after its debut.
The cast are for the most part excellent, committing themselves admirably to the challenge of delivering essentially all dialogue through song. Hugh Jackman oozes the nobility required for Jean Valjean, displaying a stunning voice and holding together a performance that could quickly become camp in the wrong hands. Equally good is Eddie Redmayne, playing Marius' strength and bravery with a well-observed hint of naïveté.
The real acting drawcard however is Anne Hathaway's sadly brief role, for which she will surely get much attention at awards time. Her performance of 'I Dreamed a Dream,' one of Les Misérables' most iconic songs, is quite honestly one of the most powerful pieces of acting I can remember, and is so raw and heart-wrenching that you will be left gasping. Not quite as strong is Russell Crowe, deserving of some credit for putting himself out there, but whose voice just isn't strong enough to really convey the menace of the villainous Javert.
Unfortunately almost everything else about the film is really handled quite badly. Much like The King's Speech (Hooper's previous film), Les Misérables is a victim of over-stylisation and awkward cinematography that is at times inexplicably jarring and, for lack of a better word, ugly. With all of the elaborate set design Hooper is apparently so excited about, for the vast majority of the film he insists on using very tight close-ups, making the sets and backgrounds redundant. It doesn't help matters that, on the rare occasions when his camera does retreat enough to show a little more, the over-use of blue screen backdrops gives a ghastly, manufactured look, too flat to be anything close to believable.
Whatever Hooper's reasoning behind the choices he makes with Les Misérables is obviously not for us to know. Adapting a stage musical such as this, I can understand the temptation to capture close-ups, offering an intimacy not possible in a live theatre, and it's precisely for this reason that the inevitable hero moments each principal character has (like Hathaway's aforementioned solo) are far and away the best moments in the film.
But surely a huge reason to do this at all would be to free oneself from the restraints of live theatre and indulge the epic nature of Hugo's original vision? Hooper, far too beholden to the play, instead chooses to merely recreate what could be easily put on stage, not taking advantage of the scope cinema can offer. The result is a well-acted but visually turgid mess, which only seems more misguided the further I get from it.
Life of Pi (2012)
Ang Lee continues to surprise
I think it might be time to put to bed the idea of an 'unfilmable novel'. Particularly in recent cinema history, as Hollywood has increasingly relied on existing material for its output, so-called unfilmable books have yielded movies of varying quality. It's true that some (such as 2012's two-part adaptation of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, by all accounts a catastrophic failure) only bolster arguments favouring the concept, but let us not forget that Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness was long considered unfilmable before Francis Ford Coppola gave us Apocalypse Now, not to mention the certainly difficult but successful job Peter Jackson did with JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Which brings us to Life of Pi, based on Yann Martel's introspective 2002 Man Booker Prize winning novel. A challenging story to bring to the screen to be sure, but under the expert hand of Ang Lee the film is yet one more example of how difficult material can be adapted given the right amount of time and care.
Life of Pi is at its core a tale of survival against insurmountable odds, following the titular teenager's (Suraj Sharma) months spent adrift on a lifeboat after the sinking of a cargo ship transporting his family from India to Canada. A dwindling menagerie of animals from the family zoo are also along for the ride, including the fearsome Bengal tiger Richard Parker, representing those who managed to escape the ship and cling to Pi's tiny craft.
Perhaps the difficulty of adapting the novel lay in keeping audience interest during long sequences involving little more than a boy and a tiger, and it's likely the film would have dragged were it not for the astonishing visual spectacle Lee brings to the screen. He takes full advantage of all technical wizardry available, balancing the ocean's serene beauty and unapologetic violence in just the right measure. Even the 3-D, something I personally am usually resistant to, never intrudes or calls attention to itself, but rather complements the oppressively flat horizon so much of the film plays out in front of. Life of Pi will undoubtedly be in the best visual effects conversation come awards season, with Richard Parker in particular standing out as one of the most impressive digital characters yet created.
Exploring Life of Pi a little deeper, Lee develops strong thematic currents relating to storytelling and faith, and how the two are entwined. As a story about storytelling, the film works very well from the beginning, as the older Pi (played wonderfully by Irrfan Khan) relates his tale to a visiting writer (Rafe Spall). Yet it is also a story about faith, and here the waters get a little murkier. What Lee is trying to say about faith and religion is open to interpretation (and that's likely the point), but the film's one major shortcoming is a lack of satisfying answers regarding what is the most clearly defined aspect of Pi himself.
The narrative seems to promote the importance of faith as a general concept, not tied to any specific religion, but more akin to a sharing of humanistic beliefs. It's not the specifics of faith's origins or even ultimate goals that matter, but rather how the beliefs are shared, adapted and passed on. Not the most conclusive analysis I know, but the links between faith and storytelling are there, and perhaps repeat viewings will offer up more answers.
Despite the elusive nature of some of Life of Pi's subtext, it really is a film that deserves praise and attention. Never one to pigeonhole himself, Lee has crafted a thoughtful and moving fantasy that is beautiful to behold yet also offers much intellectual nourishment.
An unexpected disappointment
"All great stories deserve a little embellishment." So says Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) in the most telling line in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter Jackson's return to the world of JRR Tolkien. It's a line that clearly outlines Jackson and his co-writers' intentions, yet it comes off as a veiled apology, as if the film-making team knew that what they have created is going to be problematic for die-hard Middle Earth fans. Sadly, Jackson's new film doesn't come close to silencing the skeptics like his Lord of the Rings films did, and is actually more ill-conceived than expected.
Things that do work well for the most part in The Hobbit are sequences that come directly from the source novel. Iconic scenes, such as the arrival of the dwarfs at Bag End or the encounter with the trolls are handled pretty well, despite being padded out to unnecessary lengths with lame gags and pointless alteration of the original events in the book. Juggling such a massive primary cast is obviously a challenge, and as such the film's best moments involve only one or two characters, with Bilbo's (Martin Freeman) meeting of Gollum (Andy Serkis) and the finding of the ring being a particular stand-out sequence, the only one that seemed like it could have used more time.
However, all of the good work that Jackson & Co do with the direct source material is swamped by the content they felt they had to develop themselves. The great achievement of the LOTR films is how they managed to distill the huge source novels to their most important story beats, only hinting at most of the wider story in a way that brought incredible richness to the world in which they take place. With The Hobbit though, Jackson only has a 300 page novel to start with, and the decision to make three lengthy films, I assume to parallel the first trilogy, is precisely why this first film doesn't work.
The Hobbit should be allowed to stand alone as its own film, but it is structured in such a way, almost identically to the first LOTR entry The Fellowship of the Ring, that it's all but impossible not to compare them. As a side-effect, the much lighter tone will be jarring for a lot of established franchise fans, the very people the film seems to be primarily aimed at. The chase sequence in the goblin tunnels for example is little more than an updated version of the Moria scenes from LOTR. It's exciting enough, but much of the action feels in service of the film- making technology on display rather than the story, and as such none of the stakes of the earlier films are built here.
Where the LOTR films had to keep moving at such a pace to fit everything in, The Hobbit dwells on unnecessary moments which had only the briefest of mentions in the novel to reach its 2 hour 49 minute runtime. Most damaging are the call backs linking the previous trilogy, setting up what is likely to be an almost completely new story bridge between the two trilogies in the third film due in 2014. There is absolutely no reason for Frodo (Elijah Wood), Saruman (Christopher Lee), and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) to appear in this story, yet here they are, taking us away from a perfectly good narrative about a quest to fight a dragon. It reeks of cynical franchise care, and arguably disrespectful to the carefully crafted world that Tolkien created.
There's a good movie somewhere in The Hobbit, and had Jackson shown more restraint we might have seen it. The film could easily lose at least 45 minutes, but it feels as if director feels so beholden to his previous work that he needs to deliver an epic on the scale of LOTR. But that's not what this book is, and we're left with an uneasy balance - the lighter tone to distinguish this as a separate story but a strict adherence to the LOTR structure - but ultimately doesn't fulfill either side.
It's with a hint of sadness that the Twilight franchise has come to an end. Sure, they're terrible, terrible films (and books I assume), the popularity of which paints a sorry picture of the tastes of today's youth, but now that all is said and done, on reflection it was worth enduring the first three insufferable disasters (Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse) to get to the unbridled mayhem of Breaking Dawn (my thoughts on part one can be found here).
After seeing part one, it was difficult to see where the story had left to go. We had seen the unending wedding of Edward and Bella, the banal South American honeymoon, the shocking and genuinely upsetting pregnancy/birth, and the werewolf falling in love with the baby. It seemed like an appropriate place to end it, but Summit and Stephenie Meyer obviously had other ideas, hence we have Breaking Dawn, part 2.
While perhaps not as off-the-leash nutty, Breaking Dawn, part 2 maintains a lot of the weirdness of the preceding chapter. Picking up exactly at the point where part one ended, Bella (Kristen Stewart) finds herself having to adjust to her 'newborn' vampire status, learning to control her superhuman strength and fighting the urge to hunt humans. Edward (Robert Pattinson) begins to assume a mentor role, but for whatever reason Bella learns so quickly that the learning plot is pretty much dropped.
Here's the first and biggest of the many problems of Breaking Dawn, part 2. For at least the first two thirds of the film, plot threads and characters are introduced with enough fanfare to make one think they're going to be important cogs in the larger machinery of the story, only to be forgotten or abandoned with zero explanation. Perhaps it's fan service, and people familiar with the novels will be able to link things up, but for newcomers it becomes increasingly hard to keep track of who everyone is, why they're involved, and what on earth is happening from one scene to the next.
The character of Alistair (Joe Anderson) is a good example. Following the development that the Volturi, the ruling council of vampires last seen in New Moon, are coming after Edward and Bella's daughter Renesmee, the Cullen clan assemble a team of vampires from across the globe to defend the child, the last of which is the enigmatic Alistair. Yet after an introduction to suggest he will be a character of some importance he merely ends up lurking in the background, and popping into one random and pointless scene with Bella. He's always there, but doesn't actually do anything significant.
It's this scattered and overloaded approach that really damages an already abysmal film. On top of the lack of charisma in the stars, the questionable storytelling is a real hindrance for anyone set on enjoying Breaking Dawn, part 2 at all, not to mention how simply ugly the thing is. There's an over-reliance on terrible green-screen work, shoddy visual effects, and whatever lunatic decided that an almost completely CG Renesmee was a good idea needs to be removed from the business of movie making.
However, much like the last film, a part of me loved Breaking Dawn, part 2. As I said, it may not seem as insane as part one, but in some ways that's a good thing. I loved part one because I was caught completely off guard by the madness, but was appalled by it because much of the content really shouldn't be part of a film made for pre-teen girls. Part two dials back the more troubling aspects of the previous film and just revels in the stupidity of Meyer's writing. It's weird as hell, but really pretty harmless, aside from all the decapitation. Oh boy, there's a lot of decapitation.
Director Bill Condon and his cast seem to be having a lot more fun here. The most ridiculous thing about the first three films in the series is how unwaveringly serious they are, but with both parts of Breaking Dawn, it feels like Condon and Pattinson in particular are winking at that portion of the audience who, like myself, are simply there to see how off the reservation this daft franchise can go. It manages to achieve a delicate and kind of wonderful balance of satisfying the true fans (the Twi-hards) with its creepy romantic melodrama, while clearly acknowledging the bizarre and quite frankly awful story Meyer has crafted. The awareness of this final chapter is perhaps its greatest asset, and if you're willing to abandon all logic and actual critical appreciation, then Breaking Dawn, part 2 delivers a great time at the cinema.
Robot & Frank (2012)
Funny and sad in equal measure
It seems like once a year or so an Alzheimer's movie comes along and knocks me for a loop. I don't know what it is; I've never had any personal, real-life experience with the condition or its unfortunate sufferers, but there's ripe material for crafting warm and moving stories which invariably end with me in tears. In the last few years I have been devastated by films such as Away From Her and Barney's Version, and while Robot and Frank is certainly comparable, it's a lighter, less harrowing take on a tragic side of aging, and ultimately results in a much more enjoyable experience.
Frank Langella plays Frank, a divorced senior living a life of solitude in rural New York. Between visits and video calls from his children (James Marsden and Liv Tyler) concerned about his seemingly deteriorating mental state, Frank fills his time with visits to the local library to flirt with librarian Jennifer (Susan Sarandon), and by shoplifting decorative soaps from the store occupying the former site of his favourite restaurant. He is a man of the past, and his little moments of defiance in the face of change establish his character early, so when Hunter (Marsden) arrives with a new robot caregiver, Frank is understandably offended.
As much as Frank's memory regarding the day to day seems to be fading, his former 'profession' as a cat burglar remains at the front of his mind, and the robot's insistence on finding a project to keep him mentally engaged opens a window of opportunity for Frank to focus his mind and retreat back to the glory days of his youth. The planning and execution of heists sees a charming relationship forming between Frank and his robot companion, complemented by a sweet potential romance and stark moments of sadness.
There's a clever subtext running through Robot and Frank as well, commenting on the loss of personality in the digital age, and the disposable nature of modern life. The more we come to rely on technology for everything, from our reading material to our aged care, the less we ourselves are practically capable of, giving rise to a generation of privileged, ironic, but purposeless people ('yuppies' as Frank calls them). What Robot and Frank highlights is not just the fragility, but also the value of a mind filled with life experience and skills. There's no substitute for the complex intelligence of our brains, and even the most sophisticated technology has more to learn from us.
Robot and Frank feels like a film aimed at an older generation, but there is so much to enjoy for anyone who might be occasionally frustrated by our cynical modern world. There's a great balance of laughs, romance and sadness with a fun sci-fi twist, right down to the subtle Star Wars reference.