Thursday, August 30, 2012

Robot & Frank

Robot & Frank
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY
8.28.12

My father did not suffer a significant loss of his faculties in his final years. My mother, I'm also happy to say, is the same way. She'll complain about forgetting things every now and then, but it  can be chalked up to what one would normally expect with age (though who knows what kind of effect watching Dancing With the Stars may have). Since neither of my parents contracted Alzheimer's Disease, I doubt that I or my sister will either, but ever since I reached a significant plateau, age-wise, earlier this year, I can no longer fool myself into thinking I'm still a spring chicken.

My father spent most of his final years in his bed watching TV all day, rarely going out, and even though he remained sociable with his friends and certainly wasn't what you'd call a recluse, it wasn't, and isn't, the way I want to spend my twilight years. Part of me hopes, in the immortal words of The Who, that I die before I get old - I mean really old, as in unable to see to my most basic needs.


Certainly losing my memory would suck, although there are certainly many things I'd love to forget. In keeping this blog, I've found myself repeatedly reaching back into my past for bits of memory that I can recreate; wondering whether an event went one way or another, whether I met someone at this time or that. If worst comes to worst, I'll just guess at the facts, but I do strive for accuracy whenever possible. The point is, this blog keeps my memory active.


All of which brings us to Robot & Frank, a film set in the "near future," about an aging cat burglar whose son gets him a robotic home attendant to see to his needs. The robot, however, ends up becoming an accomplice to the old man's crimes. I didn't expect this to be as funny as it is. A lot of the humor is the odd-couple type: grouchy old man unfamiliar with modern technology versus artificial intelligence programmed to keep him healthy. Frank Langella totally makes you believe it, though, in a performance that evokes both dark humor and deep compassion. Naturally, I was reminded of last year's outstanding film A Separation, only the emphasis is on the patient instead of the caregiver.


The robot is an amalgam of familiar sci-fi automatons, from C3PO to HAL 9000 to Twiki. Watching their relationship evolve is fun to watch, especially since it never crosses over into maudlin sentimentality. (At most, it skirts the edge.) The robot isn't programmed with a sense of morality, but exposure to Frank means it slowly develops a conscience of sorts, which is ironic since it repeatedly claims that it's not a sentient being.

There was a hint of what may have been a subplot having to do with Liv Tyler's character (whom I did not like) being part of an anti-robot movement of some sort. In this future, robots are part of everyday society (there's also a library robot in the film) and it sounded as if her character's stance against them was part of a wider philosophy. I would've liked to have seen a bit more of that, though not if it meant seeing more of Tyler. I liked this a lot. I hope Langella gets a Best Actor Oscar nod.

8 comments:

  1. Great review! I too walked out of this thinking about my own memory and how I would cope with Alzheimer's if I had got it eventually (not a thing in my family either, so it's unlikely, thankfully). I liked the relationship between Frank and the robot (who really did need a name!) and thought the movie as a whole was pretty funny. Live Tyler was indeed very annoying, but I liked James Marsden and Susan Sarandon.

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    1. Perhaps not giving the robot a name was part of the attempt to separate this film from similar genre movies, like 'Short Circuit.'

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  2. This movie looks fascinating. I can't wait to see it. I have to admit when I first heard about it, I had hoped that it was made "Being John Malkovich" style, and that the "Frank" in the title was actually Frank Langella playing Frank Langella.

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  3. That would've been... different.

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  4. I enjoyed this too, I also didn't expect it to be as funny as it did. I feel the same way about Liv Tyler's character, seems rather tacked-in somehow and her character wasn't developed very well. The ethical nature of preferring a robot over a human being's company also wasn't explored in much depth, so whilst I like the performances, the movie itself wasn't all that memorable to me.

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  5. I think Liv Tyler's character could've just been taken out altogether without the rest of the movie suffering.

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  6. John, I think this movie looks fascinating too, and I can't wait to see Langella in another fantastic role. This whole movie looks good from the character development to the difficulty behind memory loss. I look forward to exploring the relationship Robert shares with Frank, especially how they pull off heists together; I can only imagine that there will be some sad parts, given Frank's condition. My business travel for Dish fills up my schedule, so I don't make it to theaters as often as I'd like, but I'll catch Robot and Frank using Dish Online; I always have my laptop whenever I'm away from home. Watching a good movie is a nice distraction when I'm missing home.

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  7. It does end on a bit of a down note, but nothing too depressing. Come back and let us know what you thought.

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