Unsought Film Collection Part 1: Bicentennial Man (1999) Review

bicentennial man review

Sean Maher, tinybot reviewer

Based in part on two stories by Isaac Asimov, Bicentennial Man is a charming, beautiful and innocent fable chronicling a shiny household robots 200-year odyssey in search of the one thing that eludes him most, the very thing we all take for granted – humanity.

Andrew Martin (Robin Williams) is an NDR-114 robot butler, who arrives in a packing crate one day outside the home of a wealthy San Francisco family headed by Gerald Martin/Sir (Sam Neil). After a brief encounter, and a mispronunciation of the word android by the youngest sibling Little Miss, the robot gains the name, Andrew. The reactions to the robot’s arrival vary, for example, Sir and Little Miss are the most curious, Sir’s wife (Wendy Crewson) is hesitant and the eldest daughter Grace outright rejects him, treating Andrew like a piece of property that she can vandalise.

Andrew is an intelligent robot who has been designed to replace domestic servants, he performs menial tasks around the house such as maintenance checks, cleaning, cooking and tidying. At first, the robot is treated unkindly, Andrew jumps out of a window when told and he spends most of his time alone, in the basement – fixing things. However, Andrew is no ordinary robot, he’s much smarter and more ‘human’ than any of the other variants, although he’s just as blunt. Unlike others of his kind, Andrew has a personality and an appreciation of art and music. Andrew also acts on his creative impulses, at first it is suggested that these impulses may have been caused by some loose wiring or faulty programming, however, his manufacturers conclude that it is actually a positronic anomaly. Sir instantly dismisses these findings and when he returns home he instructs his family to treat Andrew as if he were a person. He later tells Andrew “You’re a unique robot. I feel a responsibility to help you become – whatever you’re able to be”. Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics are presented, an obligation for any of his cinematic adaptations, but they’re never really dwelled on.

Whilst taking Sir’s daughters to the beach Andrew accidentally steps on Little Miss’ favourite toy horse, he goes away and teaches himself to carve, then creates a new one for her. This random act of kindness is the catalyst for Andrew, who forges a bond with Little Miss that resonates through generations of the Martin family. The earlier scenes between Andrew and his master are some of the funniest in the entire film, the comic principle of these scenes is based on the social awkwardness of a robot who takes everything literally. For example, when Andrew learns the fate of most sperm he responds “One feels badly for them”. Whilst Robin Williams is trapped in his aluminium shell the film takes on a life of its own. In the latter half of the film, it gains a lot of heart but loses much of the humour that is consistent throughout the first hour. Robin Williams is great as the witty, intelligent and unequivocal robot, and he reveals a hidden depth beneath the shiny metal exterior, he has created a robot that is genuinely endearing. Perhaps a less experienced comedy actor would have been obligated to overact and emphasise punch-lines, whereas the machine gun-firing comedian shows a great deal of professionalism and restraint.

There are times when Williams clearly wants to go to darker, weirder places with Andrew, but can you blame him? Throughout the film Andrew falls in love with Little Miss (Embeth Davidtz), he upgrades himself with a shiny new robotic penis and then has sex with Little Miss’ granddaughter Portia (Embeth Davidtz). Did I forget to mention that they’re both played by the same person? I’m not sugar coating, Columbus does. Still, it’s enough to raise a few eyebrows in the Kardashian household.

Bicentennial Man is a simple morality tale that deals with the pathos of an android who has humanlike thoughts and emotions, but who must watch those he cares for around him age and die. Andrew does not understand how time works, at least not how time works for humans.  Whilst at the deathbed of his beloved Little Miss, Andrew asks “Will every human being that I care for just…leave?” her daughter Portia sympathetically replies “I’m afraid so…” “That won’t do, ” Andrew says. This moment leads him towards a process of becoming, negotiating the intellectual and biological criteria to being considered human. Andrew challenges these throughout his life, he dresses like a man, relies on physical changes in his anatomy, and when all options are exhausted he seeks out robotic surgeon Rupert Burns (Oliver Platt) to perform a fatal operation that will alter his positronic brain, so that it will decay over time – his skin will also age. After the enhancements of various upgrades, external and internal, Andrew goes before the World Legislature, reveals his sacrifice and moves them to declare him a man. As he awaits confirmation on his deathbed on the two-hundredth anniversary of his construction, he tries to hold onto his final thought of humanity, but as slowly drifts of his final thoughts are with Little Miss.

Throughout the narrative, Andrew maintains that he should not be measured by the material of his being, but by the fabric of his character. It’s an important lesson for any young person, sort of like a futuristic version of Pinocchio, certainly in a thematic sense and at a basic plot level.  Bicentennial Man has received much criticism for its soppy sentiment and decision to focus on the romantic aspect of the narrative, however, the power of this film, I think, is that it doesn’t just generate such sentiments without recourse because it really is about something. It is not some silly cold-blooded splatter fest where robots are depicted as sinister replacements to humans, as enemies to humanity (sorry action-porn aficionados). It’s a universal parable about slavery and freedom, love and prejudice, difference and acceptance, and ultimately – humanity. I’m not quite sure Bicentennial Man knows its audience and the final product is a mix-mash of sorts. It has a positronic brain filled with broad philosophical thoughts, which may go over the heads of many young viewers, but the heart at the centre of Bicentennial Man’s core is very much a human one. The older you get, the more you will appreciate this film, the more profound it will become. Most critics have pointed out that Bicentennial Man is a film devoid of conflict – they seem to have missed the point.

Part of the reason Bicentennial Man  (1999) received mixed reviews and went relatively unnoticed is because previous family comedies from director Chris Columbus such as Home Alone (1990) and Mrs Doubtfire (1993) were commercially successful and led Disney to believe that marketing this film the same way around Christmas would make the film more profitable. Sadly they were wrong, the film flopped. Disney reportedly chopped $20 million from the budget and this upset Robin Williams, due to a loss of content the cuts brought on. However, Bicentennial Man is an ambitious and profound science fiction fable, with broad philosophical thoughts and a human heart at the centre. Most of the ideas are well presented, but it ultimately lacks that cutting edge to execute them all. However, this is a seriously good film, a hidden gem from Robin Williams, it may be too polite to demand your attention, but it’s certainly just as deserving.

 

Cast

Robin Williams as Andrew

Embeth Davidtz as Little Miss/Portia

Sam Neill as Sir

Oliver Platt as Rupert Burns

Kiersten Warren as Galatea Robotic/Human

Wendy Crewson as Ma’Am

Directed by

Chris Columbus

Written by

Nicholas Kazan

Robert Silverberg

Drama, Family, Science Fiction

Rated PG For Language and Some Sexual Content

132 minutes

“The Unsought Film Collection”

matrixpills

How many people do you know that are interested in the same films, or binge-watch the same things on Netflix?

Nowadays we think of choice as a good thing, after all, there’s so much of it – right? How many times have you sat down to look for a movie, only to become paralysed by the sheer number of them staring back at you? The amount of choice out there is vast. Netflix has tried to make this easier. For instance, they suggest content that has similarities based on what you have previously watched and via a percentage. Apple is also making choices for you. You want a laptop? You’ve got two to choose from. You want a desktop? Here’s one.

We’re constantly being told that there is so much to choose from and yet we limit ourselves to whatever’s trending on Twitter. You might buy the next updated version of the same phone, or watch a film because your favorite actor is in it, and you’re familiar with them. Trying new things is exciting, I might watch something I’ve never seen before and become completely enchanted by it. Or, I might watch something I’ve never seen before and as soon as the credits roll I’ll say to myself “it’s shit, that’s why I’ve never seen it”.  Either way, I’m learning something new about myself each time, films do that – in some small way. You’ll be surprised by what you don’t know you like. I recently tried black pudding crisp, I don’t like black pudding. The crisps, however, were delicious. Anyway…

I’ve decided to start a blog series, a carefully picked selection of films that you probably won’t find on most critics lists. I’m calling it “The Unsought Film Collection”. As the name of the series suggests, I will look at films that have received mixed or negative responses over the years from critics but have since gone on to earn a cult status due to artistic merit. You will find new installments appearing online at the beginning of every month, with the first one starting on June 1st, 2017.

“I’m trying to free your mind […]I can only show you the door, you’re the one that has to walk through it” – Morpheus (The Matrix, 1999)

I hope this series is fun for many of you to read and hopefully it may encourage a few of you to be a little more adventurous with what you watch. Don’t be afraid to watch something because a verified Twitter user told you not to. Don’t be scared of scare quotes, they’re bluffing – sometimes! Don’t let Netflix choose for you, where’s the fun in that? The fun in choosing comes from trial and error! Give yourself options and choices, you might just find out something new about yourself – whether the film is good or bad. I’m trying to free your mind. I can only show you the door, you’re the one that has to walk through it.

Alien: Covenant (2017) Review

Alien Covenant 4/5 | Sean Maher

Covenant is an occasionally delightful blood-splattering affair. One that is brilliantly staged, full of surprises and sometimes flawed”

Alien: Covenant is the second film in the Alien prequel series and the sixth installment in the Alien franchise. It is set 10 years after the events of Prometheus and serves as a direct sequel to it. The story begins with an accident on board the Covenant, a colony ship carrying 1000 still-sleeping colonists and a reserve of frozen embryos that are heading for a paradise planet. Most of the crew on board the Covenant awaken from hyper-sleep unscathed, except for the Captain Jacob Branson (played in a flashback, randomly, by James Franco). Walter (Michael Fassbender) is also on board, he is a newer generation of David from Prometheus, an android that is more imperfect and stripped of emotions and personality.

The remaining group begins carrying out essential repairs on the ship when they intercept a rogue signal coming from a nearby planet. Whilst they want to continue with the mission at hand, none of them want to go back into hyper-sleep – I don’t blame them! They decide to go and investigate the rogue signal, kickstarting a series of tremendously stupid decisions that have devestating consequences – but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Once they arrive on the planet the xenomorphs welcome them with open arms, they all sit around the campfire toasting marshmallows and make inter-terrestrial love – the proper way. Just kidding! They become trapped in a tropical death trap, stalked in the corn fields by creatures that want to eat, rape, and impregnate them.

The xenomorphs use the tall overgrown grass as a cover to surround and trap the crew and its one of the most wonderfully staged scenes. Just when the xenomorphs are about to move in for the killer hug David (from Prometheus) lights up the sky with a flare and quickly takes the survivors to an old ruin. Here Fassbender is given a number of scenes to act off against himself and I’m not going to disagree with this decision – he’s brilliant! After all, two Fassbender’s are better than one. David’s ruin is dark and bleak, a place once filled with life but now littered with human remains. The evocations of destruction and creation well and truly set Covenant up as something decidedly different to all previous installments. Although all of the beats look and sound the same, it’s refreshing to see Ridley bring some different variations to Alien folklore, whilst still hitting the same frightening notes in the process. The unflinchingly bloody and chest pumping xenomorph scenes well and truly earn Covenant its R-rating, and they’re scattershot just enough throughout the film to appease fans of Scott’s original masterpiece.

“Like the monster that inspired it, the Alien series is perfect by design precisely because it is adaptable “

When I first read some of the complaints about Covenant not being an “Alien” film, I thought about it and decided to revisit some of the earlier entries.  I did and I couldn’t disagree more. Apart from strong female leads, a promise of extraterrestrial rape and an exploration of deep space, there isn’t a strict schematic that you have to adhere to if you’re directing an Alien film. Like the monster that inspired it, the Alien series is perfect by design precisely because it is adaptable, and it has continued to evolve over the years to reflect on the shifting trends in popular taste. Alien: Covenant isn’t a great film, it doesn’t have to be. It just has to be better than Prometheus, and I can assure you that it is.

Most of the criticism aimed at Covenant is concerned with how Ridley has somehow lost his way, some have even suggested that he is even out of touch with the Alien franchise. Covenant though is a courageous film from a ballsy filmmaker and Ridley goes beyond straightforward scares here – way beyond. He questions the very nature of human existence. It’s rare for a commercial film to be given the freedom to express big existentialist ideas and once again Ridley is going against the grain. Much of the credit has to go to Michael Fassbender who rises to the challenge and executes most of Scott’s ideas. The xenomorphs are dealt with like an irritating afterthought, at least temporarily, only to emerge in horrifying fashion when they come bursting (quite literally) onto our screens. Ridley is not simply an artist trying to repaint an old picture, only this time with slightly better brushes. He is bravely laying the groundwork for something much more radical, unearthing a much deeper fear that is closer to home than a million miles away. Prometheus previously left too many questions unanswered and Covenant suffers in pacing painting over those cracks. It is not a great film, but it is an occasionally delightful blood-splattering affair. One that is brilliantly staged, full of surprises and sometimes flawed

Michael Fassbender is brilliant in a dual capacity (Walter/David), but a magician he is not. Katherine Watterson does her best impression of Ellen Ripley, but ultimately she isn’t given enough to do or say, at least not enough to leave a lasting impression. Danny McBride (Tennessee) is a welcome addition to the Alien family and he packs an emotional punch in a film series that discards characters like they’re a couple of dead batteries. Covenant has some of the best sets in horror movie history, complete with a towering performance from Michael Fassbender and some of the most impressive sequences, from a director whose technical mastery will have a raw visceral impact. Prometheus was a rock in the road for Ridley and the franchise, but after much meandering Covenant has put them right back on track.

Cast
Michael Fassbender as David / Walter
Katherine Waterston as Daniels
Billy Crudup as Christopher Oram
Danny McBride as Tennessee
Demián Bichir as Sergeant Lope
Carmen Ejogo as Karine Oram
Amy Seimetz as Faris
Jussie Smollett as Ricks
James Franco as Jacob Branson
Guy Pearce as Peter Weyland
Director
Ridley Scott
Writer (based on the characters created by)
Dan O’Bannon
Ronald Shusett
Writer (story by)
Jack Paglen
Michael Green
Writer
John Logan
Dante Harper
Cinematographer
Dariusz Wolski
Editor
Pietro Scalia
Composer
Jed Kurzel
Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller

Rated R for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity.

123 minutes

20 Shocking Movie Posters

A new poster for Spider-Man: Homecoming recently swung its way onto the web, the reactions have been mixed and there seems to be quite a lot going on – perhaps a little too much. I’m all for showing and not telling when it comes down to movie posters, but this latest bit of marketing from Sony/Marvel Studios features a lot of supporting characters. Do we really need costumed and uncostumed versions of Spider-Man, Iron-Man, AND Vulture? Probably not, but Marvel Studios are always coming up with ways to connect their films to the wider MCU and all things Marvel.

Spiderman Homecoming Poster

Spider-Man: Homecoming will be the first standalone film for Tom Holland’s incarnation of the web-slinging superhero, having appeared briefly in Captain America: Civil War (2016) and completely stealing the show. That is no mean feat for a young actor sharing the stage with the likes of Robert Downey Jr., Paul Rudd, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johannson and Co.

The early trailers look promising, even if this latest poster is a little bit of a mess. Still, a bad poster does not necessarily indicate a bad movie. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the worst movie posters of all time.

Good Luck Chuck (2007)

Good Luck Chuck Poster

Star Casualties: Dane Cook and Jessica Alba

What the hell happened? This one is all kinds of creepy. Jessica Alba is too busy looking for her other arm and Dane Cook looks like he’d fit right at home in Westworld with his very own synthetic Jessica Alba. Both actors spent a lot of time on screen together, but they certainly weren’t in the same room for this photoshoot.

Forced Vengeance (1982)

forged vengeance poster

Star Casualties: Chuck Norris

What the hell happened? It basically looks like Danny Trejo starring in a Chuck Norris biopic. I mean, really? It barely even resembles a Madame Tussauds Chuck Norris.

Hercules in New York (1970)

Hercules Movie Poster

Star Casualties: Arnold Schwarzenegger (Or, Arnold Strong as he was called in this debut film outing)

What the hell happened? Kudos for making Arnie look the right way, although this is only a minor moral victory. Arnie’s right hand only has three fingers, his body looks as though its beginning to cave in on itself and whose idea was it to add a couple of random glow balls? What’s up with them glow balls?

Venus (2006)

venus poster

Star Casualties: Peter O’Toole

What the hell happened?  It’s creepy as hell that’s what. He looks like he’s just seen the deepest depths of hell. That’s the same face we pulled when we found out Adam Sandler’s latest film The Meyerowitz Stories has been generating some serious Oscar buzz.

The Shaggy Dog (2006)

The shaggy dog poster

Star Casualties: Shaggy Dog’s real eyes, which were surgically removed and replaced with Tim Allen’s. Imagine being a dog and seeing the world through Tim Allen’s eyes, that’s still a better plot than the actual film. Don’t believe me? Watch it, I dare you.

What the hell happened? There’s just something strangely disturbing about photoshopping Tim Allen’s eyes onto a dog. Also, that has to be one of the worst taglines of all time, but that’s a blog for another day.

Top Dog (1995)

top dog poster

Star Casualties: Chuck Norris

What the hell happened? The second Chuck Norris film on the list, mostly for the half cropped dog. Why is Chuck Norris so confused? Does he know what movie he’s shooting? Has he eaten the other half of the dog? Probably. Who knows?

The Hottie and the Nottie (2008)

Hottie_and_the_nottie poster

Star Casualties: Everybody involved (especially Paris Hilton who received three Razzies that year).

What the hell happened? Insulting, crass and existing only to boost Paris Hilton’s self-obsessed vanity. No wonder online critic James Berardinelli described the film as “about as funny as the anal rape scene in The War Zone”. Not only is that one of the more glowing reviews, its also rather  fitting here as well.

Stolen (2012)

Stolen poster

Star Casualties: Nic Cage

What the hell happened? You can run Nic, but you can’t hide how painfully bad this poster is! He’s doing his “please come and watch my new movie” face. The title is also rather fitting, given how it stole the whole plot outline from Liam Neeson’s Taken.

Over Her Dead Body (2008)

Over_Her_Dead_Body_Poster

Star Casualties: Eva Longoria’s knees, elbows and wrists.

What the hell happened? Why does Eva Longoria have no knees, ankles or wrists? Why is one arm mysteriously longer than the other? Why is her hair glued to her neck? Answers? I’ve got none, so lets move on…

The Last Song (2010)

The last song poster

Star Casualties: Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth

What the hell happened? Let’s keep this one short and to the point. Cheesy upper body fades into the sky, Liam Hemsworth does his best impression of the sun from Tellytubbies.

Blond and Blonder (2007)

blond and blonder

Star Casualties: Pamela Anderson and Denise Richards

What the hell happened? Bad photoshopping in almost every conceivable way. Pamela Anderson’s head is way too big for her body, the tire marks and smoke are laughable, Denise Richards is barely blonde and the car going over the golf bag is just the final nail in the coffin.

Bangkok Dangerous (2008)

OneSheet (Page 1)

Star Casualties: Yep, it’s that man Nic Cage again, based on pure volume he’s today’s big winner!

What the hell happened? Quick game, pick any spot at random and you’ll likely find something wrong with this poster. It’s a sad truth. The generic flame borders that children draw onto school folders, random bullet holes for no reason at all, and Nicolas Cage’s oversized arm reaching into his jacket pocket, presumably for the gun that the photoshop experts forgot to add to his other hand. I mean, Nic Cage is good, but he’s not magic, as far as I know.

The Blue Lagoon (1980)

the blue lagoon

Star Casualties: Columbia Pictures

What the hell happened? Columbia’s marketing team decided to take a slightly different approach  selling The Blue Lagoon, by including a mini dissertation on the poster. Show don’t tell. The end result is it looks like something a Jehovah’s witness would post through your door on a sunny Tuesday afternoon. It’s a big NO for a movie poster, I guess that’s what I’m trying to say.

X-Men: First Class (2011)

xmen first class poster

Star Casualities: Decapitated James McAvoy

What the hell happened? Look, I like the idea. The old guard fading out and the new era of young actors being brought in. Unfortunately the execution is terrible. They’ve just randomly plonked a Zordon-inspired floating head of James McAvoy over Patrick Stewarts silhoutted crotch. Fortunately, the film fared much better than the uninspired posters.

True Lies (1994)

true lies

Star Casualties: Arnie, marginally improving on Hercules.

What the hell happened? All you need to know is its Arnold Schwarzenegger holding a gun. The generic government logo in the background is lazy and could be anything from military to postal service. Shame about the delivery of this poster though.

Hard Boiled (1992)

hard_boiled_poster

Star Casualties: Chow Yun-Fat

What the hell happened? A film about a lethal cop and his most deadly weapon, a killer baby. It isn’t, which is a shame because this poster doesn’t really make much sense now. I have so many questions and not enough room. Whose baby is that? Did they give permission for him to be used on a John Woo poster? What the fu…

Henry’s Crime (2010)

Henry's Crime poster

Star Casualties: Keanu Reeves, Vera Farmiga and James Caan

What the hell happened? In short, three lifeless film stills horribly placed onto google street maps. In a nutshell.

The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

the matrix reloaded poster

Star Casualties: Keanu Reeves

What the hell happened? ‘Hey everybody, look how awesome my coat is’.

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

 

thor_poster

Star Casualties: The entire cast, it seems.

What the hell happened? To be honest I could have picked any number of Marvel Studios posters, which continue to overcrowd figures, showing off the size and scope of their character catelogue. Thor: The Dark World is yet another Marvel character orgy.

And finally…

Wanted (2008)

wanted movie poster

Star Casualties: Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy

What the hell happened? Is James McAvoy auditioning for a rap video? Why does Angelina Jolie have two elbows? Why is her arm so long? Sadly, we may never know. It also doesn’t help that they blatantly ripped of the film Juncture (2007) in the process, here take a look…

juncture poster

Well, that’s it! The 20 worst film posters of all time. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading through our list as much as we enjoyed writing it. Please leave your comments and suggestions below, for all those films that we couldn’t squeeze in. Whilst you’re at it, follow us on Twitter for all the latest updates from tinybotreviews.com