Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr Viber
Trending On Empire
The Big 2015 Movie Preview
The 50 Best Films Of 2014
Review Of The Year 2014
Subscribe to Empire!
Save up to 63%
Want To Be An Empire Journalist?
We're looking for reporters for the LFF
Empire Blogs
Under The Radar

Back to all blogs Comment Now

Sundance 2012: Fourth Report

Posted on Monday January 30, 2012, 00:52 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
Sundance 2012: Fourth Report

With its strangely chipper demeanour and wry view of the near future, Jake Schreier's Robot And Frank plays a little bit like a throwback Disney TV movie, from the days when the studio made oddball curios like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. It stars Frank Langella as Frank, a man of retirement age who is starting to lose his marbles, much to his family's dismay. Frank doesn't see what all the fuss is about; his memory may be fading but his instincts are still sharp – when he shoplifts, it's deliberate, not an act of befuddlement – so he is outraged when his son (James Marsden) presents him with an an android careworker. The robot, who never gets a name (and is voiced by Peter Sarsgaard), tries to set a daily regime for Frank, but Frank has other ideas. Frank, we soon learn, is a former cat burglar, and in the guileless robot he sees the perfect partner in crime. Together, they plan a series of heists, culminating in a daring raid on the home of local yuppie.

Although it has nothing else in common with Red Lights (see Third Report), there is an extraordinary overlap between the two films, since both deal with the human mind and how it can be manipulated. Langella is simply perfect as Frank, the grizzled ex-con who always believes himself to be one step ahead of the law and his family, leading to some great twists and revelations as we find out, by turn, that sometimes he's right and less often he's wrong. The film's handling of Alzheimer's is certainly unique, but I'm still ambivalent about it, since it brings the story to a disappointingly tidy climax. However, Langella is just great, and there's a lot to be said for a film that allows us (and not just Frank) to invest in a mechanical man with, as it tells us repeatedly, no personality or feelings.

I approached Arbitrage with a degree of caution, since America appears to be incapable of telling stories about the financial crisis without adding layers of heavily inked moral shading. For example, I am still baffled by the rapturous reception afforded the dreadful Margin Call, which presented the traders of 2008 as being somehow like those (literally) poor fishermen in The Perfect Storm. However, director Nicholas Jarecki being the brother of Andrew and Eugene, I knew it wouldn't be a total write-off, and, indeed, it wasn't. Rather than dwelling entirely on rich people's problems, Abitrage is at its best when suggesting that the whole of human existence is subject to arbitration on every level. But even while doing that, yet again, it puts an unconvincing, glossy sheen on the lives of the privileged.

Richard Gere, extremely well-cast, plays Robert Miller, a Manhattan businessman known for his acumen and predictive skills when playing the market. As his 60th birthday looms, he begins to think about retiring and selling the family business, but an untypically disastrous investment has drained the company coffers. To cover the shortfall, Miller has arranged an illegal bridging loan from a friend, but the financiers who are supposed to be taking over are dragging their heels, and Miller's now-impatient friend is demanding his money back. This, of course, is not a good time to be involved in a driving felony, but one duly occurs when Miller falls asleep at the wheel, accidentally killing his annoying French artist mistress (played by Letitia Casta, whose part is cut mercifully short).

What follows ought to be gripping but simply ticks over like a superior airport novel, as Miller ropes in the African-American son of his former chauffeur to help him escape the scene and cover his tracks, adding some much-needed variety to a so-far one-track story. Tim Roth subsequently turns up to throw a spanner in the works, playing the most suspicious yet somehow worst cop in the world, but by this time it's quite hard to know what angle the film is coming from. Personally, I'm a bit tired of moral ambiguity in these kinds of stories, and the film's constant reference to Miller's ongoing dilemma – if he fesses up, the deal will go south, making hundreds of people redundant – gets very tiresome, when, after all, a woman lies dead and her rich lover has deliberately and callously washed his hands of her.

Lay The Favorite (pictured) was, ironically, one of the least lauded films at the festival, but I rather liked it, not least because this is the film that will likely send Rebecca Hall off on the career that Gemma Arterton was pencilled in to have. On Twitter I called it a “bubblegum Grifters”, since it presents a similar band of outsiders in a similar milieu, only this time no one gets hurt and there's a touch more toplessness. DV DeVincentis, writer of Grosse Point Blank (as no one seemed to notice) scripted it, and Stephen Frears directed it, which seems like an odd match and is doubtless the reason that it got the reviews it did.

But I thought it worked. Not only is Hall fantastic as the clueless Beth Raymer – a ditzy girl who not only craves a job with “stability, excitement and glamour” but whose father thinks that her becoming a cocktail waitress is actually a career progression – Lay The Favorite is an above-average Vegas comedy with an unusual, restless structure and some very funny lines. Much of the disdain that fell on this movie may be due to Bruce Willis's light but not exactly prominent performance as Dink, the bookie who inducts Beth into the world of gambling. I think, though, that the film will play better to female audiences, since Hall turns Beth from a clueless cutie into a woman with smarts if not brains, and that transformation alone was enough to make me smile.

Login or register to comment.

Currently No Comments

Log in below, or register to post comments
Remember Me:


Empire States (444)

Under The Radar (335)

Infinite Lives (92)

Small Screen (57)

Words From The Wise (36)

Cannes 2011 (28)

Off The Wire (24)

Comic-Con 2010 (21)

Casting Couch (2)

Oscars 2011 (1)


A chat with Jury chair Lee Daniels & the results of the 11th Dubai Film Festival
By Nev Pierce

Paying the rent, rats and selling out: A lesson from Virginia Madsen
By Nev Pierce

Movies And Medinas: Empire Reports From Marrakech International Film Festival
By Phil de Semlyen

Dubai Film Festival: The unlikely appeal of camel beauty pageants…
By Nev Pierce

Mission: Probable - Dubai's attempt to attract Hollywood
By Nev Pierce

The Dubai International Film Festival: Paul Bettany and Russell Crowe turn directors
By Nev Pierce

Night Visions 2014: The Harvest, Let Us Prey and Nuntius
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2014: Marcos Ortiz and In Darkness We Fall
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2014: Pablo Larcuen and Hooked Up
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2014: The Spanish Contingent
By Owen Williams


Mission: Probable - Dubai's attempt to attract Hollywood
" Latest Music And Movies"  ajay94
Read comment

Paying the rent, rats and selling out: A lesson from Virginia Madsen
"It's not that long an article, Nev Pierce. It's just our attention spans have got shorter! Really re"  Cookiedough
Read comment

Night Visions 2013: Adjust Your Tracking (or Does Anyone Actually Miss VHS?)
"Or don't..."  Owen Williams
Read comment

Aruba 2013: Juan Francisco Pardo Q&A
"Sadece on altı dakika içinde iyi bir görsel hikaye anlatmak önemli beceri ve bel"  skndrdmr
Read comment

Aruba 2013: Opening Gala
"That really amazing."  ommrudraksha
Read comment

2013 IIFF - The Winners
"Hi Simon, Trying to get in touch with you. Hope this works. I enjoyed your piece on Enter t"  matthewpolly
Read comment

Christoph Waltz will win an Oscar
"although its old now :(, of course he was gonna win it :), one of the many idols of why i wanna be a"  SONYA ALALIBO
Read comment

Brisbane International Film Festival: First Report
"I think it is pretty clear the story revolves around The Blacksmith, in The Man With The Iron Fists,"  owenyunfat
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"Thanks for the feedback! I hope I didn't give the impression that Cloud Atlas is a write-off; I just"  Damon_Wise
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"Hi Damon With regards to Cloud Atlas, I fear that it will face the same problem a"  ChesterCopperpot
Read comment


Sundance Part Six: In The Loop

Damo's Top Ten Of 2009

Basterds Blog

The Times BFI London Film Festival Preview

Sundance 2010: Four Lions blows everyone away!

Sundance 2010: The Killer Inside Me causes outrage!

Chris Hewitt Of The Year Award!!!!

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines

The Wrestler

Where to see Moon...

Damon Wise (299)
Helen O'Hara (181)
James Dyer (87)
Amar Vijay (71)
Ali Plumb (56)
James White (29)
Phil de Semlyen (21)
Owen Williams (21)
Simon Braund (6)
Nev Pierce (5)
Ally Wybrew (2)
Ben Kirby (1)
David Parkinson (1)
Dan Jolin (1)
Ian Nathan (1)

Empire Meets Ridley Scott
The great director on The Martian, Blade Runner 2 and the Prometheus sequels

Jessica Chastain On The Martian
On becoming an astronaut and rescuing Matt Damon AGAIN

My Movie Life: Justin Kurzel
The Macbeth director on how Rocky changed his life and the worst ever date movie

Life On Mars: Trips To The Red Planet
A dozen of cinema's Martian misadventures

Hallowed Ground: Folk Horror In British Film
Ten tales from our island's dark past

All Hail Macbeth! The Scottish Play On Film
By the pricking of our thumbs, ten adaptations this way come(s)

10 Star Wars: The Force Awakens Toys You’ll Want To Own
Falcon quad copter? BB-8 Sphero? We’re already asking for pay raises…

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Empire print magazine

Delivered to your door – with exclusive subscriber only covers each month! Save money today and

Subscribe now!

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Empire digital magazine

Exclusive and enhanced content – get instant access via your iPad or Android device! Save money today and

Subscribe now!

Subscribe now and save up to 63%
Print, Digital & Package options available Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire Digital Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  Digital Edition  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Editorial Complaints  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)