FRANK LANGELLAFrank Langella (Frank) An imposing and unforgettable presence on Broadway, actor Frank Langella has long been considered among America’s greatest stage and film actors. His career is a model of quality and longevity; excelling in range, power, and versatility. A preeminent presence in the American theatre, he has been called “an actor’s actor” by Ben [...]
JAMES MARSDENJames Marsden (Hunter) Having appeared in a wide range of films over the course of his still young career, James Marsden continues to carve out a distinctive place in Hollywood. Marsden recently appeared in Sony Screen Gems’ remake “Straw Dogs” for director Rod Lurie opposite Kate Bosworth. He stars as L.A. screenwriter “David Sumner” who [...]
LIV TYLERLiv Tyler (Madison) Liv Tyler made her film debut with the leading role in “SILENT FALL”, directed by Bruce Beresford, opposite Richard Dreyfuss. After another lead in “EMPIRE RECORDS”, Tyler portrayed a waitress in a local diner in James Mangold’s “HEAVY”, a favorite at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival. However, it was Tyler’s unforgettable role [...]
SUSAN SARANDONSusan Sarandon (Jennifer) The extremely versatile actress brings her own brand of sex appeal and intelligence to every role – – from her fearless portrayal in “Bull Durham” to her Oscar-nominated performances in “Thelma and Louise”, “Lorenzo’s Oil”, “The Client”, and “Atlantic City” to her Academy Award-winning and SAG Award winning role in “Dead Man [...]
PETER SARSGAARDPeter Sarsgaard (Robot – Voice) An actor noted for his range and ability to access what is behind the often complicated facades of the characters he plays, Peter Sarsgaard continues to add to his burgeoning reputation. Sarsgaard is currently starring in the Linda Lovelace biopic, “LOVELACE”, opposite Amanda Seyfried, in the role of Chuck Traynor, [...]
JEREMY SISTOJeremy Sisto (Sheriff Rowlings) With a breakout hit in his first single-camera foray, the ABC series, “Suburgatory,” Jeremy Sisto continues to impress audiences and critics alike with his chameleon-like range. While previously best known as the darkly charismatic Billy Chenoweth on HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” as well as for his five year stint on the [...]
JEREMY STRONGJeremy Strong (Jake) Jeremy Strong is a classically trained actor and has shown his talent and versatility in film, television, and theater. Strong studied his craft at Yale, The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Most recently, Strong stars in Steven Spielberg’s “LINCOLN” for DreamWorks opposite Daniel Day Lewis [...]
Set in the near future, Frank, a retired cat burglar, has two grown kids who are concerned he can no longer live alone. They are tempted to place him in a nursing home until Frank’s son chooses a different option: against the old man’s wishes, he buys Frank a walking, talking humanoid robot programmed to improve his physical and mental health. What follows is an often hilarious and heartwarming story about finding friends and family in the most unexpected places. Robot & Frank features an award winning cast including Academy Award® nominee Frank Langella, James Marsden, Liv Tyler and Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon.
Set in the near future, ROBOT & FRANK is a buddy caper about an elderly ex-jewel thief and his new caretaker robot.
An imposing and unforgettable presence on Broadway, actor Frank Langella has long been considered among America’s greatest stage and film actors. His career is a model of quality and longevity; excelling in range, power, and versatility. A preeminent presence in the American theatre, he has been called “an actor’s actor” by Ben Brantley of the New York Times and “one of our few great actors” by Clive Barnes of the New York Post. In recent years, Mr. Langella’s career as an actor in films has become equal in stature to his career on Broadway.
Langella was born in Bayonne, New Jersey on New Year’s Day, 1938. He caught the acting bug when he was 11, playing an elderly man in a school play about the life of Abraham Lincoln, and went on to earn a degree in Theater from Syracuse University. He immediately began working with regional theater companies on the East Coast and in the Midwest, finally making his New York stage debut in 1963 in the leading role in an off-Broadway revival of “The Immoralist”. Between 1964 and 1966, Langella won three Obie awards for his work off-Broadway, and in 1969 he received the Drama Desk award for his work in “A Cry of Players” by William Gibson. In 1974, he made his Broadway debut in Edward Albee’s “Seascape”, for which he won another Drama Desk award as well as the first of his three Tonys.
Langella made his film debut in 1970 in “Diary of a Mad Housewife”, and later that year co-starred in the iconic Mel Brooks comedy “The Twelve Chairs”. Appearing regularly in film and on television through much of the 1970s, he was still busiest as a stage actor. In 1977, he starred in the title role of a Broadway revival of “Dracula”, and his performance as the bloodthirsty count earned rave reviews and turned the production into an unexpected hit, earning him his second Tony nomination. He reprised his performance for the film version of “Dracula” released in 1979.
He maintained a busy schedule of stage work and in the 1990s scored a breakthrough screen role in Ivan Reitman’s comedy “Dave” as the deceitful political puppet master ‘Bob Alexander’. A busy schedule of character roles in such films as Adrian Lyne’s “Lolita” and Roman Polanski’s “The Ninth Gate” followed, and Langella still remained a frequent and distinguished presence in the New York theatrical community.
He has continued to work constantly on Broadway, winning a second Tony for “Fortune’s Fool” in 2003 and a third for Frost/Nixon in 2007, as well stellar reviews for his bravura performance in the 2008 revival of A Man for All Seasons. In film, he scored an artistic and critical success in 2005 playing William S. Paley in George Clooney’s historical docudrama “Good Night, and Good Luck” and then costarred as Daily Planet editor Perry White in the 2006 summer blockbuster “Superman Returns”, directed by Bryan Singer.
In 2007, Langella earned rave reviews, as well as an Independent Spirit Award nomination, for his starring role in “Starting Out in the Evening”. In the 2008 film version of “Frost/Nixon”, he was honored with a Best Actor Academy Award nomination, as well as Golden Globe and SAG nominations, for his portrayal of disgraced former president ‘Richard Nixon’ in Ron Howard’s big screen adaptation of the Broadway play. He also can be seen in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”, the sequel to Oliver Stone’s award winning 1987 film.
Most recently, Mr. Langella was seen in Andrew Jarecki’s “All Good Things” alongside Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. This past summer he filmed Robot & Frank with Susan Sarandon, Live Shrieber, and James Marsden. Mr. Langella can currently be seen on stage in Terence Rattigan’s “Man and Boy”, in what Ben Brantley has called a “personal triumph” of a performance.
Mr. Langella was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 2003. In addition to the awards already mentioned, he has been honored with well over two dozen acting nominations and wins, including Tonys, Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, Cable ACE Awards, Obies, and various critics’ awards.
Langella makes his home in New York.
Having appeared in a wide range of films over the course of his still young career, James Marsden continues to carve out a distinctive place in Hollywood.
Marsden recently appeared in Sony Screen Gems’ remake “Straw Dogs” for director Rod Lurie opposite Kate Bosworth. He stars as L.A. screenwriter “David Sumner” who relocates with his wife (Bosworth) to her hometown in the deep South. Soon after they arrive, tensions build and a brewing conflict with locals becomes a threat to them both. Earlier this year, he starred in Universal/Illumination’s box office hit “Hop” with Russell Brand. The film has grossed over $180 million worldwide. In 2011, Marsden was honored with the “Spotlight Award” at the Savannah Film Festival alongside fellow honorees, Oliver Stone, Lily Tomlin and Ellen Barkin.
Most recently, Marsden wrapped production on several different films. He recently completed the comedy “Bachelorette” opposite Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher and Adam Scott for director Leslye Headland as well as the thriller, “Loft,” with Wentworth Miller, Eric Stonestreet and Karl Urban. An adaptation of the 2008 Belgian thriller, “Loft” follows five friends who share a loft for their extramarital affairs begin to question one another after the body of an unknown woman is found in the property. He also wrapped production on “As Cool As I Am”, written and directed by Max Mayer. The film, co-starring Claire Danes, is scheduled to be released in 2012. Marsden is also set to star in Jack Schreier’s “ROBOT & FRANK” starring Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon.
On the small screen, Marsden will appear in NBC Universal’s hit comedy,“30 Rock,” for a multi-episode arc, scheduled to premiere in January 2012.
In 2010, Marsden appeared in Neil LaBute’s “Death at a Funeral.” Previously, Marsden starred opposite Cameron Diaz in Richard Kelley’s psychological thriller, “The Box.” And in 2008, he appeared alongside Katherine Heigl in the box office hit “27 Dresses,” a romantic comedy for Fox 2000 and Spyglass Entertainment.
In 2007, Marsden received rave reviews for his singing and dancing range in both the box-office smash “Enchanted” opposite Susan Sarandon, Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey for Disney and in Adam Shankman’s box-office hit musical “Hairspray” opposite John Travolta, Queen Latifah, Michelle Pheiffer and Christopher Walken. Marsden played Corny Collins, the host of the TV dance show.
Marsden was also seen in “Superman Returns” for director Bryan Singer as ‘Richard White,’ a new rival for the affections of ‘Lois Lane.’ Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, Brandon Routh and Frank Langella also starred. Marsden’s additional, diverse film credits include Cyclops in the X-men trilogy, the Nick Cassavetes romantic drama “The Notebook,” “Sex Drive, “ “Disturbing Behavior,” “10th and Wolf,” and “Sugar and Spice.”
Marsden currently resides in Los Angeles.
Liv Tyler made her film debut with the leading role in “SILENT FALL”, directed by Bruce Beresford, opposite Richard Dreyfuss. After another lead in “EMPIRE RECORDS”, Tyler portrayed a waitress in a local diner in James Mangold’s “HEAVY”, a favorite at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival. However, it was Tyler’s unforgettable role as ‘Arwen’ in New Line Cinema’s blockbuster trilogy, “THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING”, “THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS”, and the final installment, “THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING” that drew international acclaim.
Liv returned to the big screen in 2011 with feature roles in Matthew Chapman’s suspense thriller “THE LEDGE” opposite Patrick Wilson and Charlie Hunnam as well as James Gunn’s dark comedy “SUPER” opposite Rain Wilson, Ellen Page, and Kevin Bacon. “THE LEDGE” premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and “SUPER” hit theaters April 1st through IFC Films. She was seen on screen as the beloved ‘Betty Ross’ in Universal’s “THE INCREDIBLE HULK” co-starring Edward Norton. She also starred in Bryan Bertino’s instant cult classic “THE STRANGERS” opposite Scott Speedman as well as the 2007 drama “REIGN OVER ME” co-starring Don Cheadle and Adam Sandler.
Tyler’s other film credits include: Steve Buscemi’s “LONESOME JIM”; Kevin Smith’s “JERSEY GIRL” co-starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez; Bernardo Bertolucci’s “STEALING BEAUTY” opposite Jeremy Irons; Pat O’Connor’s “INVENTING THE ABBOTTS” with Joaquin Phoenix and Billy Crudup; and Michael Bay’s “ARMAGEDDON” opposite Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck. Tyler has also been seen in Robert Altman’s COOKIE’S FORTUNE alongside Glenn Close, Julianne Moore, and Charles Dutton; Jake Scott’s “PLUNKETT & MACLEANE”; “ONEGIN” costarring Ralph Fiennes, as well as “ONE NIGHT AT McCOOL’S” opposite Matt Dillon, Paul Reiser and John Goodman.
Tyler is the face of edgy and fashion-forward global denim label ‘G-STAR’ – appearing as the first celebrity spokesperson for the brand in their Fall 2010 advertising campaign. Tyler continues to be the face for Parfums Givenchy – again setting a new precedent as the first celebrity to be connected to the designer since Audrey Hepburn more than 40 years ago.
Born in New York, Tyler was raised in Portland, Maine until the sixth grade when her family returned to Manhattan. She began modeling at age 14 and was seen in numerous print ads and television commercials before moving into acting. Tyler currently resides in New York City with her son.
The extremely versatile actress brings her own brand of sex appeal and intelligence to every role – – from her fearless portrayal in “Bull Durham” to her Oscar-nominated performances in “Thelma and Louise”, “Lorenzo’s Oil”, “The Client”, and “Atlantic City” to her Academy Award-winning and SAG Award winning role in “Dead Man Walking” as Sister Helen, a nun consoling a death row inmate.
Sarandon has been seen in “Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps” for director Oliver Stone, in “Lovely Bones” for director Peter Jackson, “Enchanted, Speed Racer” for Larry and Andy Wachowski, Elizabethtown for director Cameron Crowe, “Shall We Dance?”, The Banger Sisters, Mr. Woodcock, In the Valley of Elah for director Paul Haggis, “Alfie”, “Moonight Mile”, “Igby Goes Down”, “Romance and Cigarettes”, “Twilight”, “Step Mom”, and “The Hunger”.
Sarandon made her acting debut in the movie “Joe,” which she followed with a continuing role in the TV drama “A World Apart.” Her early film credits include “The Great Waldo Pepper,” “Lovin’ Molly,” Billy Wilder’s “The Front Page” and the 1975 cult classic “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” In 1978 she played Brooke Shields’ mother in Louis Malle’s controversial “Pretty Baby” and went on to receive her first Oscar nomination in Malle’s “Atlantic City.”
Her additional feature credits include: “The Witches of Eastwick,” “Cradle Will Rock,” “King of the Gypsies,” “Compromising Positions,” “The January Man,” “White Palace,” “The Buddy System,” “Sweet Hearts Dance,” “A Dry White Season,” “Bob Roberts,” “Light Sleeper,” “Little Women,” and “Safe Passage.”
On Broadway, Sarandon appeared in Gore Vidal’s “An Evening with Richard Nixon” and received critical acclaim for her performances Off-Broadway in “A Coupla of White Chicks Sitting Around Talkin’“ and the thriller “Extremities.” She also appeared, Off-Off-Broadway, in the moving post September 11th stage play “The Guys.” In 2009, she returned to Broadway and starred in “Exit the King” with Geoffrey Rush.
The hard-working actress has made a career of choosing diverse and challenging projects both in film and television. In 2008 she received an Emmy Nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries for her role in the HBO film “Bernard and Doris” as well as a Golden Globe and Sag nomination. She received an Emmy and SAG nomination for her work in Barry Levinson’s “You Don’t Know Jack” with Al Pacino for HBO.
She starred in the 2003 CBS Movie “Ice Bound” as Dr. Jerri Nielson – based on Nielson’s real life survival story – and as ‘Princess Wensicia Corrino’ in the Sci Fi Channel Mini Series “Children of Dune.” Sarandon also appeared in the TV Movie “The Exonerated,” directed by Bob Balaban.
She also starred in HBO’s “Earthly Possessions,” based on the Anne Tyler novel and directed by James Lapine; in the CBS Movie “Women of Valor;” and the HBO Miniseries “Mussolini: The Decline and Fall of Il Duce” opposite Bob Hoskins and Anthony Hopkins. She has made guest appearances on 30 Rock and in the “Mother Lover” video on Saturday Night Live. In addition to her many on screen credits, she lent her vocal talents to the animated features “Rugrats in Paris,” “James and the Giant Peach,” and “Cats & Dogs” and provided narration many documentaries including Laleh Khadivi’s documentary “900 Women,” about female prison inmates.
(Robot – Voice)
An actor noted for his range and ability to access what is behind the often complicated facades of the characters he plays, Peter Sarsgaard continues to add to his burgeoning reputation.
Sarsgaard is currently starring in the Linda Lovelace biopic, “LOVELACE”, opposite Amanda Seyfried, in the role of Chuck Traynor, Linda’s abusive husband.
Past film credits include Martin Campbell’s “GREEN LANTERN”, opposite Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively and Tim Robbins, James Mangold’s “KNIGHT AND DAY” opposite Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, Jaume Collet-Serra’s “ORPHAN” opposite Vera Farmiga, Isabel Coixet’s ELEGY co-starring Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz, Rawson Marshall Thurber’s “THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH” opposite Sienna Miller, Betrand Tavernier’s “IN THE ELECTRIC MIST” co-starring Tommy Lee Jones and Gavin Hood’s “RENDITION”, co-starring Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal.
In 2010, Sarsgaard starred in Lone Scherfig’s “AN EDUCATION”, a coming of age story about a 17-year-old girl living in the quiet London suburbs whose future is compromised by a dangerously charming 35-year-old Brit, played by Sarsgaard. The film co-stars Dominic Cooper, Emma Thompson, Alfred Molina, and Carey Mulligan and won the 2010 Independent Spirit Award for “Best Foreign Film.”
In 2004, Sarsgaard co-starred to much critical acclaim in the biopic “KINSEY” written and directed by Bill Condon, and starring Liam Neeson and Laura Linney. Sarsgaard played Kinsey’s young protégé and earned both a Critics’ Choice Award nomination and an Independent Spirit Award nomination for his supporting role.
Sarsgaard received numerous accolades for his portrayal of New Republic editor Charles Lane in Billy Ray’s “SHATTERED GLASS”. For his performance, Sarsgaard garnered awards from the Boston, San Francisco, St Louis, Toronto and National Society of Film Critics, as well as Golden Globe and Spirit Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor.
Sarsgaard first received wide acclaim for his role as ‘John Lotter’, the tormenter and rapist in Kimberly Pierce’s’ “BOYS DON’T CRY”. Starring opposite Hilary Swank and Chloe Sevigny, Sarsgaard received critical praise for his searing portrayal of the violent ex-con ill-equipped to deal with a startling discovery.
Other film credits include: “YEAR OF THE DOG” directed by Mike White and co-starring John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon; “JARHEAD” directed by Sam Mendes starring opposite Jake Gyllenhaal and Jaime Foxx; “FLIGHTPLAN” opposite Jodie Foster; “THE DYING GAUL” opposite Patricia Clarkson and Campbell Scott; “GARDEN STATE” opposite Zach Braff and Natalie Portman; “K-19 THE WIDOWMAKER” opposite Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, and “SKELETON KEY” with Kate Hudson and Gena Rowlands.
Sarsgaard has just completed a critically acclaimed Anton Chekov run. He first starred opposite Kristin Scott Thomas and Carey Mulligan on Broadway in “The Seagull”, and next opposite Maggie Gyllenhaal off-Broadway in “Uncle Vanya.” Most recently, Sarsgaard again starred opposite Maggie Gyllenhaal in Chekov’s “Three Sisters”, which was been nominated for a Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Achievement Off-Broadway and a Drama Desk Award.
Sarsgaard attended the Actors’ Studio Program at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, after which he was cast in Horton Foote’s “Laura Dennis” at the Signature Theatre Company Off-Broadway.
With a breakout hit in his first single-camera foray, the ABC series, “Suburgatory,” Jeremy Sisto continues to impress audiences and critics alike with his chameleon-like range. While previously best known as the darkly charismatic Billy Chenoweth on HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” as well as for his five year stint on the renowned Dick Wolfe series “Law and Order,” Sisto’s film credits are numerous and eclectic, from Larry Kasdan’s “Grand Canyon,” and the iconic teen comedy “Clueless,” to the authentically gripping “Thirteen” and the indie hit “Waitress.”
Sisto continues to be a favorite of new filmmakers, with two upcoming roles in independent films: as a motivational speaker in Max Mayer’s “As Cool as I Am” with Claire Danes and James Marsden, and playing a rural detective in commercial director Jake Schreier’s feature debut, “Robot and Frank,” with Frank Langella and Liv Tyler.
Sisto made his Broadway debut in 2006 with “Festen,” a stage adaptation of Thomas Vinterberg’s film “The Celebration.” He went on to become a figure in New York’s 24-hour Plays, and recently earned strong reviews for his leading performance in Beau Willimon’s “Spirit Control” which explores a man’s thirty year struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. Jeremy’s other theater credits include “Take Me Out” (which earned him a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award), and a starring role opposite Brian Dennehy in Bertolt Brecht’s “Galileo” in Chicago.
Jeremy Strong is a classically trained actor and has shown his talent and versatility in film, television, and theater. Strong studied his craft at Yale, The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Most recently, Strong stars in Steven Spielberg’s “LINCOLN” for DreamWorks opposite Daniel Day Lewis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and he can next be seen in the following independent films: Jake Schreier’s “ROBOT AND FRANK” opposite Liv Tyler and Frank Langella; and Nate Meyer’s “SEE GIRL RUN” which David Gordon Green is executive producing.
On the big screen, Strong was last seen starring in Galt Niederhoffer’s “THE ROMANTICS” opposite Katie Holmes, Anna Paquin, Josh Duhamel, Malin Akerman, Adam Brody and Elijah Wood. In 2009, Strong co-starred in Academy-Award nominated Oren Moverman’s THE MESSENGER opposite Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton. Strong can also be seen on the small screen as Matt Becker, in the CBS hit, THE GOOD WIFE. Other films include M. Night Shyamalan’s “THE HAPPENING” opposite Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel and the leading role in “HUMBOLDT COUNTY” opposite Frances Conroy, Peter Bogdanovich, Fairuza Balk and Chris Messina.
In theater, Strong last starred in Adam Rapp’s HALLWAY TRILOGY Off- Broadway opposite Julianne Nicholson, and played the title role in THE COWARD for Lincoln Center, for which he received his second Lortel Award nomination for “Outstanding Lead Actor.” Strong has been hailed as “The Excellent Jeremy Strong” by Ben Brantley of the New York Times. Strong made his Broadway debut opposite Oscar Nominee Frank Langella in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS at The Roundabout Theatre Company, directed by Tony-winner Doug Hughes (DOUBT). Strong also starred in Pulitzer Prize nominee Theresa Rebeck’s play OUR HOUSE at Playwrights Horizons, directed by Tony winner Michael Mayer (SPRING AWAKENING). His performance was called “a standout” by Christopher Isherwood of the NY Times, “mesmerizing” by the Associated Press and “indelible” by Time Out New York.
Other theater includes Richard Nelson’s CONVERSATIONS IN TUSCULUM at The Public Theatre opposite David Strathairn, Brian Dennehy and Aidan Quinn, David Ives’ NEW JERUSALEM at Classic Stage Company (Lortel Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor), DEFIANCE at Manhattan Theatre Club, and FRANK’S HOME at Playwrights Horizons. Additionally, Jeremy assisted Daniel Day-Lewis on the film “THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE.”
Strong was the 2009/2010 recipient of the Lincoln Center Theater Annenberg Fellowship for “an artist of extraordinary talent.”
Jake Schreier graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2003, where he co-founded the filmmaking collective Waverly Films. In 2006 he joined Park Pictures, where he’s directed award-winning commercials, music videos, and now a feature film. He is a long-time collaborator with the band Francis and the Lights on images and music. ROBOT & FRANK is Jake’s feature directorial debut.
Christopher Ford graduated from NYU film school in ’03. He co-founded Waverly Films, created Webby Award winning webshows, pilots for Comedy Central and a graphic novel series “Stickman Odyssey” for Philomel, a division of Penguin. “ROBOT & FRANK” is his first produced screenplay. He’s currently writing a horror script, “Clown”, for executive producer Eli Roth.
Ms. Niederhoffer is an acclaimed film producer with 21 produced feature films to her credit. While this would be represent a stunning lifetime body of work for most producers, Galt has achieved all of this at a surprisingly young age and is moving full steam ahead with two films currently in production. “Variety” has featured Galt as a Rising Producer and “Entertainment Weekly” includes her on its Indie Power List.
Eight of her films have shown in competition at the Sundance Film Festival, and seven of them have won awards at Sundance, a record for a producer, and a reflection of the quality of her work.
Ms. Niederhoffer is the author of two novels, published St Martin’s Press. Her third will be published in fall 2012.
“The New Tenants”, Sam’s film debut as a Producer, won the Academy Award in 2010 for Best Live Action Short. Sam Bisbee is a founding partner of Park Pictures Features, the feature film division of acclaimed commercial production company Park Pictures. “ROBOT & FRANK” is Sam’s feature debut as a Producer and also the first produced for Park Pictures Features with his partner Galt Niederhoffer. As a screenwriter, Sam co-wrote an adaptation of Eric Bogosian’s novel “Mall”, which is due out in 2013, directed by Joe Hahn (Linkin Park) and featuring a new album from Linkin Park.
As a singer/songwriter/composer and record producer, he has recorded and released 5 critically acclaimed albums on four record labels, and performs regularly in New York City. Sam is also signed to a publishing deal by Nettwerk. Sam’s songs have been featured on numerous television shows: “Damages”, “Private Practice”, “Victorious” and “Life Unexpected” to name a few. Sam has composed the score for four feature length films and numerous shorts, as well as the music for over 20 commercials, including his remake of “Hanging on the Telephone” for AT&T, which featured Cat Power.
JACKIE KELMAN BISBEE
Jackie Kelman Bisbee
Park Pictures LLC Founder/Partner, Park Pictures Features Partner
Jackie Kelman Bisbee is a founding partner and co-owner of Park Pictures, an award-winning commercial production company with offices in New York, Santa Monica and London. Since its inception in 1998, Park has garnered an impressive array of industry honors, including an Oscar® in 2010, as well as numerous Gold Cannes Lions and AICP Awards.
A New Jersey native-turned-consummate New Yorker, Jackie graduated from the Stern School of Business at New York University. After a stint in the fashion world, she teamed up with acclaimed director/cinematographer Lance Acord to form a prestigious commercial house that would nurture top-tier talent, provide its directors with diverse creative opportunities and foster creativity and collaboration among its ranks.
Under Jackie’s intuitive eye, Park Pictures has grown to represent some of the most sought-after filmmakers in the business, ranging from Emmy Award® winners Ellen Kuras (The Betrayal) and Chris Wilcha (This American Life), Cannes, Sundance and Venice alum Alison Maclean (Crush; Jesus’ Son), award winning director and artist The Glue Society, Academy Award® winner Joachim Back (The New Tenants, produced by Park Pictures), and BAFTA Award® nominee and cinematography legend, Park co-founder Lance Acord (Lost in Translation; Where the Wild Things Are; Adaptation; Being John Malkovich).
In 2011, Park produced the VW Superbowl commercial and viral hit “The Force,” (directed by Acord) which went on to win the AICP Award for Advertising Excellence and a Gold Lion at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, and was rated #1 by numerous viewer polls.
Most recently, Jackie and Park Pictures teamed up with independent film veteran Galt Niederhoffer to form Park Pictures Features – an independent film production company to be headed by Niederhoffer and The New Tenants producer Sam Bisbee. Its burgeoning slate of projects incorporate a notable array of talent, including film adaptations of Sam Lipsyte’s best-selling novel “The Ask,” to be directed by Steven Shainberg, and an adaptation of the venerable late David Foster Wallace’s short story “Little Expressionless Animals.” With several projects in development, including one for director Lance Acord, Park Pictures Features recently wrapped its first narrative feature, ROBOT & FRANK, starring Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden and Liv Tyler, directed by Park Pictures’ Jake Schreier.
Park Pictures LLC Founder/Partner, Park Pictures Features Partner
After graduating from the San Francisco Art Institute, Lance began his career assisting the photographer Bruce Weber and quickly became one of the industry’s most sought after cinematographers. After founding Park Pictures LLC with partner Jackie Kelman Bisbee, Lance seamlessly transitioned into directing, working with clients including Nike and Microsoft. Lance has won Gold Lions for his work on Nike’s “Before,” Adidas’ “Impossible: Laila Ali,” “The Long Run,” “Wakeup Call”, and most recently “The Force”. He was nominated as Best Commercial Director by the DGA in 2003. Lance’s feature Director of Photography credits include Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” (BAFTA nomination for Best Cinematography) and “Marie Antoinette,” Vincent Gallo’s “Buffalo 66,” and Spike Jonze’s “Being John Malkovich,” and “Where the Wild Things Are.”
Erika Hampson began producing films in 2005, with the debut of the short film Five Minutes, Mr. Welles starring and directed by Vincent D’Onofrio. Since then, she has gone on to produce many projects, including the 2010 Oscar winning short The New Tenants, directed by Joachim Back. In 2008, she produced D’Onofrio’s feature film directorial debut, Don’t Go In The Woods. The film was recently acquired by Tribeca Films and will be released in the winter of 2012.
Erika executive produced The Vanishing City, a documentary that exposes New York City’s exclusionary policies and subsidies and its far-reaching effect on the middle class and the working poor. Erika served as producer for the short films Ipso Facto (2009) and American Falls (2011). Her most recent projects include the feature films Worst Friends, starring Kathryn Erbe, Geoffrey Arend, and Sarah Wynter and Sunny Side Up, with Parker Posey. This past summer, she co-produced Robot and Frank, directed by Jake Schreier and starring Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon and James Marsden.Erika has several films in development, including a film adaptation of Eric Bogosian’s novel Mall.
A long-time collaborator of Park Pictures’, Cody Ryder has produced over 100 commercials and music videos. She’s worked with clients such as Ford and Verizon, and bands like LCD Soundsystem and TV on the Radio. Her work has won an Emmy award, a D&AD award, and multiple Webbies.
MATTHEW J. LLOYD, CSC
Matthew J. Lloyd, CSC
Director of Photography
Matthew Lloyd is a Canadian cinematographer living and working in Los Angeles, California. He has worked extensively in commercials and music videos during his career, including celebrated collaborations with Mike Maguire, Todd Cole, and Roman Coppola. ROBOT & FRANK was Lloyd’s feature film debut, followed by his 2nd Unit photography on Oliver Stone’s SAVAGES.
Prior to joining Park Pictures in 2010, Theodora Dunlap worked as an associate in film development and distribution; including the theatrical release of The Romantics starring Katie Holmes, Josh Duhamel, Malin Ackerman, Anna Paquin and Elijah Wood, as well as the crime-thriller Meskada starring Kellan Lutz, Rachel Nichols and Nick Stahl. Thea has ten years experience in the theater and entertainment industry and garnered her first associate producing credit for ROBOT & FRANK starring Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler and James Marsden.
Erika Munro is a costume designer, illustrator, and artist living in New York.
After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in Children’s Book Illustration, Erika lived in France for several years before moving to Los Angeles. While in LA, Erika combined her love of vintage clothing and drawing, which led her first to textile design, then to costume illustration, and ultimately to costume design.
Erika has worked for and learned from some incredible artists, including Oscar-nominated Costume Designer Danny Glicker and Oscar-winning Costume Designer Colleen Atwood.
Since moving to New York in 2004, Erika has designed costumes for more than 12 films, 2 plays, and numerous commercials and music videos. Among the many actors she has worked with are Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin, Eddie Redmayne, Christopher Eigeman, Timothy Hutton, Rory Culkin, Emma Roberts, Blake Lively, and Chloe Moretz, to name but a few.
As a costume designer, Erika uses her training in illustration, visual storytelling, textiles, and historical garment construction. When not on a film set, she can be found expanding her collection of vintage clothing, baking beautiful and delicious sugary confections, or drawing and sewing in front of a movie from the 1940′s, all while sporting red lipstick.
South African born Sharon Lomofsky gained international recognition for her production design of Before the Rain. (Winner “Golden Lion”, Venice 1994, Oscar Nomination, Best Foreign Film, 1995) She designed critically acclaimed Manny and Lo, Claire Dolan, Pinero, A Love Song For Bobby Long, The King, (Un Certain Regard, Cannes 2005), Stephanie Daley, (Winner, Waldo Salt Award, Sundance 2006), El Cantante, and I Think I Love my Wife, a Chris Rock Comedy.
Bring it On topped the box office in the U.S. and abroad.
Recently her works include James Marsh’s, Man on Wire, (OSCAR WINNER 2009, BAFTA BEST BRITISH FILM 2009), Vera Farmiga’s critically acclaimed directorial debut, Higher Ground, (Sundance special competition 2011). In post production is The Occult a thriller directed by Christian E. Christiansen and produced by Liddell Entertainment. She is currently filming Very Good Girls in New York, with Naomi Foner directing, Dakota Fanning and Lizzie Olson, produced by Groundswell Pictures.
She is very proud to have designed ROBOT & FRANK!
Jacob Craycroft, a New York City native, has cut over 20 films, including Robert Altman’s swan song, A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION.
Other notable films include, George Ratliff’s JOSHUA, Jesse Peretz’s OUR IDIOT BROTHER, and the cult comedy hit, SUPER TROOPERS. Craycroft first worked with Altman when he edited the Sundance Channel miniseries, “Tanner on Tanner,” written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Garry Trudeau.
Among his other credits are Galt Niederhoffer’s THE ROMANTICS;
the 3D Horror Comedy, HELLBENDERS; Michael Showalter’s THE BAXTER;
two short films with Shekhar Kapur (one for the compilation film, “New York, I Love You”); Mickey Lemle’s 2001 documentary RAM DASS, FIERCE GRACE, a portrait of ’60s guru Ram Dass. Craycroft also edited and produced Joey Garfield’s 2002 documentary BREATH CONTROL: THE HISTORY OF THE HUMAN BEAT BOX, and worked with Joey Garfield on the documentary featurettes for the DVD release of the cult classic graffiti film, “Style Wars”.
Craycroft just finished editing the VH1 Rock Doc, DOWNLOADED, the story of Napster and the downloading generation, directed by Alex Winter.
FRANCIS AND THE LIGHTS
Francis And The Lights
FRANCIS AND THE LIGHTS is a band conceived and led by the musician Francis Farewell Starlite. Francis (who legally changed his name in 2003) is a Polydor/Universal recording artist who has released 3 EPs, toured with MGMT and Ke$ha, and produced and written for Drake. He is currently working on his major label debut.
FRANK LANGELLA as Frank
FRANK LANGELLA as Frank & LIV TYLER as Madison
FRANK LANGELLA as Frank & SUSAN SARANDON as Jennifer
JAMES MARSDEN as Hunter
FRANK LANGELLA as Frank
FRANK LANGELLA as Frank
LIV TYLER as Madison & SUSAN SARANDON as Jennifer
FRANK LANGELLA & Director JAKE SCHREIER
LOS ANGELES TIMES
Movie Review: ‘Robot & Frank,’ an Odd Couple with a Twist
Frank Langella is masterful as a lonely curmudgeon who rediscovers his purpose in life with some high-tech help.
by Kenneth Turan
Everything about “Robot & Frank” is as unlikely as it is irresistible. Charming, playful and sly, it makes us believe that a serene automaton and a snappish human being can be best friends forever.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this Sundance prize winner is the easy way it blends the impeccable old-school acting of Frank Langella with the youthful independent sensibility of a pair of first-time filmmakers, writer Christopher D. Ford and director Jake Schreier.
Though most indie filmmakers gravitate toward stories about the agonies of being under 30, old souls Schreier and Ford have made a film that deals, in the most good-humored way, with age, vulnerability and the need to always be of use in your own life.
To keep the story lively, the filmmakers have given it a futuristic backdrop and blended in elements of classic caper films. Engagingly written and exceptionally polished for a first-time effort, “Robot & Frank” has enough surprises and twists to keep us involved to the very end.
Set in “the near future” in the upstate New York town of Cold Spring, “Robot & Frank” opens like a thriller with a scene that neatly encapsulates much of what is to come.
The film’s first image reveals someone expertly breaking into a house in the dead of night. A flashlight scans the room and suddenly, confusion, uncertainty, even terror flood the burglar’s face. This is Frank Weld (Langella), and he has just realized he’s broken into his own home.
Frank, we soon discover, is a retired “second-story man,” a former high-end jewel thief who specialized in finding ways into buildings where no ways existed. The cold light of the next day reveals that now, at age 70, Frank has difficulty finding his way around his own house.
Long divorced and living alone, Frank is not doing well. He isn’t up to cleaning the place; the milk he has with his morning cereal has gone sour; and the restaurants in town he thinks about patronizing have gone out of business.
The only bright spot in Frank’s routine are visits to the local library, where he flirts with Jennifer (Susan Sarandon), the establishment’s last remaining flesh- and-blood librarian. But even this pleasure may be fleeting, as a smug, officious new technology consultant named Jake (Jeremy Strong) has a plan to phase out books entirely.
So cranky and cantankerous that no one wants to mess with him, Frank has not been a great father. His bubbly daughter, Madison (Liv Tyler), video-phones in from her travels in Turkmenistan, and though married son Hunter (James Marsden) makes a 10-hour round trip every week to see him, he gets nothing for his trouble but his father’s irascible scorn.
Fearful about Frank’s condition and fed up with the long drive, Hunter comes up with an expensive, futuristic solution: He gives his father a VGC-60L healthcare aide, a talking robot who is programmed to cook, clean and get Frank on a healthy regimen.
Frank, no surprise, is resistant to having a robot in his life. Make that very resistant, and Ford’s script has no lack of withering lines suitable for expressing disdain. “You’ve got to be kidding, I am not this pathetic,” is Frank’s first reaction, followed quickly by “that thing is going to murder me in my sleep” and “get this hunk of crap out of my life.”
But, as flawlessly voiced by Peter Sarsgaard (Rachael Ma does the robotic movements), the soothing, philosophical VGC-60L turns out to be the antithesis of the malevolent HAL 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey”: It truly wants to serve man. And when that robot voice calmly says, “If you don’t mind my saying so, Frank, I think I could be a big help to you,” neither he nor Frank have any idea just where that assistance will lead them.
It is a tribute to Langella’s gifts that he makes us believe absolutely in this growing relationship between man and object, and this despite the fact that he never heard Sarsgaard’s essential voice until he viewed the finished film.
Though he has fine support from the rest of the cast, Langella’s performance is the equivalent of an acting master class as he uses delicacy and underplaying to easily hold the screen even when he’s all by himself.
Because it delivers classic movie satisfactions with a very modern spin, it’s somehow appropriate that “Robot & Frank” is being distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films, the only independent company with a direct line to Hollywood’s beginnings. It’s not hard to imagine Samuel Goldwyn himself really enjoying this film, and that is saying a lot.
Robot & Frank: An Endearing Showcase for Langella’s Star Turn
by Richard Corliss
Both are named Frank, but it’s a cinch to tell the actor Frank Langella from the character he plays in Robot & Frank. Set in the near future, this ingratiating indie comedy has at its center a man who has lost large patches of his past. Frank — a gentleman felon of about 70, living reclusively in Cold Spring, N.Y. — is sliding toward dementia. His ex-wife has faded into a distant blur; he forgets that his favorite local restaurant has closed; he thinks his son, nearing 40, is still an undergrad at Princeton. A solo cat burglar for much of his career, and then imprisoned, Frank is used to working and living alone. But with his memory in deep recession, he needs help.
There’s Frank, and then there’s Langella, who at 74 has done it all and is doing fine. A half-century in theater brought him major roles in plays by Albee, Strindberg, Turgenev and Noel Coward, and a couple of Tony Awards for his mantel. His voluptuous machismo encased in doe-like features — a curious mixture of Brando and Bambi — Langella was a natural for sensual movie villains. He played demon lovers in Diary of a Mad Housewife, as Dracula (repeating his stage triumph) and, in the 1997 Lolita, that master gamesman and cocksman Clare Quilty. In Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate he was the Devil’s most devoted disciple, and in the play and movie Frost/Nixon he tenanted another tormented soul: that of the 37th President of the United States. Every few years Langella returns to Broadway — as Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons or as the ruthless tycoon in Terence Rattigan’s Man and Boy — to demonstrate the old-fashioned glory that star quality yoked to surpassing craft can achieve.
And unlike his character in Robot & Frank, Langella remembers everything and everyone. His memoir Dropped Names, published earlier this year, comprises 65 sketches of “famous men and women as I knew them.” Some he knew biblically; the book bubbles with the sexual attentions lavished on him by showbiz goddesses of a certain age: Rita Hayworth, Dolores del Rio, Yvonne De Carlo, Dinah Shore, Elizabeth Taylor. He recalls a breathy “Hi” from Marilyn Monroe when he was 15; his lifelong ardor for her is nearly as acute as his admiration for Robert Mitchum and Ida Lupino, his loathing for Method guru Lee Strasberg (“a cruel and rather ridiculous demigod who ran a highly profitable racket”). On the evidence of Dropped Names — stocked with enough celebrity gossip to make it the perfect gift for all your gay friends — Langella can love and hate with the same ruthless passion. He makes readers squirm with guilty delight, pleased that their foibles never came under his laserlike gaze.
In his new movie, Langella finds excellent employment for that unmanning stare. It seems to cauterize his morning cereal, when Frank realizes he’s poured sour milk on it, and on the lady in a tchotchkes store who sees him palming a soap figurine of a Pomeranian. (Is that incipient Alzheimer’s for the 70-something second-story man, or force of habit?) On a video call with his daughter Madison (Liv Tyler), Frank’s stare practically shorts the connection. He’s no more sympathetic to his son Hunter (James Marsden), who drives five hours to see him each weekend — apparently the geniuses of the future haven’t resolved traffic delays. When Hunter recommends an in-house robot as a caregiver, Frank categorically refuses.
The VGC-60S robot (performed by Rachael Ma and voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) has a strong personality of its own. Instructed to improve Frank’s health through nutrition and exercise, it takes the old man on vigorous walks when it’s not cracking wise deadpan-style. “Time for your enema,” it says, as if its brain had been set to Droll. On their visit to the local library, Frank flirts with Jennifer (Susan Sarandon) behind the counter; he may have forgotten his wife, but a lovely lady can still stir his courtship reflexes. When Jennifer’s new boss Jake (Jeremy Strong) announces his plans to junk all the books and make the library digital, Frank deciders to take his criminal expertise out of retirement for one last heist.
Any viewer can anticipate that Frank’s relationship with the robot will mellow from hostility (“That thing is gonna murder me in my sleep”) to exasperation (“What am I doin’? I’m talkin’ to an appliance!”) to dependency (“I need him — he’s my friend”), and that the old cat burglar will find uses for the robot’s skills in planning that final caper. Avoiding indie clichés of simmering angst and climactic eruption, played to a plangent piano score, director Jake Schreier and writer Christopher D. Ford instead embrace the more venerable, and reliable, clichés of Hollywood. The film boasts the rhythms of a Vietnam-era comedy like The Graduate — ending scenes with mild visual or spoken zingers — and a lush soundtrack, by Francis Farewell Starlite (aka Francis and the Lights, for whom Schreier has directed music videos), that includes a long taste of Mozart’s Requiem Mass.
The movie has the assured, comforting touch of an adroit, mid-career work from a director with nothing left to prove. In fact, it’s a debut feature from two NYU Film School grads. A low-budget film with mainstream impulses, and aimed straight at the educated moviegoer of a certain age, Robot & Frank must have sent a thrill of anachronism through the audience at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. There, the movie won an Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, named after the longtime President of General Motors, who made the cover of TIME in 1926. Can’t get more retro than that. What the new lord of the library says to Frank — “You’re so square, you’re practically avant-garde” — is true of the movie as well. What I’m saying is that I resisted the film but it won me over, a little more than I care to admit.
Chalk that up to the main performances. Not so much Marsden, who must play the starchy authority figure to his own dad; and certainly not Tyler, who, when agitated, compulsively runs her fingers through her long locks, as if acting were hair care. But Sarandon, who broke into movies (with Joe) the same year Langella did, contributes another portrait of erotic maturity — a woman any man could fall in love with, at any time of his life. And the Ma-Sarsgaard team invests the robot with warmth and dignity, a crucial component for what is, at heart, a buddy picture.
And, mainly, a Langella picture. Unlike Frank, who wants to be alone and is saddled with a computerized companion, Langella is basically working in a void, searching for emotional feedback. He had to interact with a silent woman in a robot suit and a male voice that may have been dubbed in later. Whatever the circumstances, it must have been a lonely job and a major challenge: turning a one-man show into a story of human-automaton friendship. A work of power, nuance and daredevil craft, Langella’s performance is a reminder that giants still fill the stage, and the screen.
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
‘Robot & Frank’ review: Man meets RAM
by Mick LaSalle
There are so many ways that a movie about a robot and an old man might have gone wrong. There are even more ways that a movie about a robot and an old man losing his memory might have gone wrong. All those ways – so easy to imagine (cute, whimsical, tear-and-a-smile, quirky) – have nothing to do with “Robot & Frank,” which turns out to be a hard, funny and realistic movie about the future.
In his late career, Frank Langella has created some impressive performances, most notably in “Starting Out in the Evening” and “Frost/Nixon,” but in some ways “Robot & Frank” is his best showcase yet. Langella usually plays monoliths as seen through the eyes of another character. Here we get a chance to get inside his mind. Langella carries most of the film’s humor, which is considerable, though quiet and subtle. Moreover, he is at all times showing us who this character is, what he is becoming and who he used to be. It’s a beautiful performance in a movie that happily seems at no point trying to be beautiful.
The world of “Robot & Frank” could be 20 years from now, and it could be 10 years from now with the way technology is advancing. One hint of the time frame is that Susan Sarandon plays a friend of Frank’s named “Jennifer.” Sarandon is 65, but most of the Jennifers of the world are currently in their 40s. So figure the movie takes place at a not-too-distant time when the most popular name on the Social Security files is Jennifer.
Frank (Langella) is a man in his 70s who is suffering from two major ailments, and it’s difficult to say which is the bigger one: He is in the early stages of dementia, and he is bored stiff – and for sure being bored stiff is not helping the dementia. About the only excitement he has is stealing soap from the local beauty shop. If at first these petty thefts seem like a sure sign that Frank is cracking up, later you realize that no, this is Frank being Frank. This is who he is.
The robot enters the picture when Frank’s son (James Marsden) brings it along as a kind of health aid for Dad. The robot (the voice of Peter Sarsgaard) cooks, cleans and even gives enemas on request, and anyone who likes Siri on the iPhone would just love one of these. In terms of technological dependence, we are just far enough along as a culture to understand completely and in a personal way just what that kind of human-machine interaction would be like.
It’s at this point in the film – really, the first minutes – that you might guess that “Robot & Frank” will turn into the sentimental story of a man, a robot and their groovy kind of love. Forget it. Screenwriter Christopher Ford and first-time feature director Jake Schreier are far too shrewd and plugged in to take shortcuts into cliche. Instead, “Robot & Frank” has an imaginative plot, with interesting turns and moments of suspense.
It stays active and lively, while never losing sight of Frank and what he is experiencing. The movie touches on the preciousness of memory, human and artificial. And Langella, who has often been formidable, becomes lovable, both for himself and his cold, sly wit, and for who he is really playing here: He is playing the 20th century man. The last of them. Appreciate them now before they go away.
Pick of the Week: A Robot Turns to Crime
Pick of the week: Frank Langella trains an unlikely apprentice in the science-fiction satire “Robot & Frank”
by Andrew O’Hehir
“Robot & Frank” is such a sly, dry, modest-seeming picture – part science fiction, part social satire, part geriatric comedy – that you don’t realize how well it works until it’s over. Everything about this movie, from Jake Schreier’s direction to Christopher D. Ford’s screenplay to the magnificently collected, unself-pitying performance of the great Frank Langella as an aging cat burglar, is deliberately understated, as if to convince you that the movie lacks ambition or allegorical heft. Even the title sounds like an in-progress file name Ford might have used in Final Draft – well, it’s got a robot, and we’ve cast Frank! And the finished product makes perfect mid-August moviegoing fare: You can watch it as a lightweight, family-friendly comedy about an old guy dragging his electronic healthcare aide into a life of crime, only to discover a day or two later that the mood and ideas and emotions have stuck with you.
We’re in the picturesque Hudson Valley town of Cold Spring, N.Y. – in real life, and as it is depicted here, a Potemkin village of amped-up cuteness – in the “near future.” But it’s far enough away that a workaholic yuppie like Hunter (James Marsden) can buy his ailing father, Frank (Langella), a perky robot helper who cooks and cleans and tries to restore order to the daily routine. This cheerful appliance, as Frank resentfully calls him, resembles an upright vacuum cleaner with an astronaut’s helmet attached to the top, and speaks in neutral, cheerful tones supplied masterfully by Peter Sarsgaard. It’s genuinely one of the best robot performances in cinema history, and you really wonder how many takes it required Sarsgaard to nail some of these lines without busting a gut. (“Frank, planning this burglary was a great idea!”)
See, it’s the future, so even though Frank suffers from far worse episodes of memory loss and incipient dementia than he admits, he isn’t mystified or horrified by the existence of robots. He merely resents this one’s happy-fascist insistence on taking him for hikes and serving low-sodium, vegetarian dinners in place of Cap’n Crunch. (“That cereal is for children, Frank! It’s full of unhealthy ingredients!”) But Frank gets to like the machine’s cooking – resisting the meddling of Liv Tyler, as his globetrotting daughter – and then discovers that whoever programmed the robot forgot to include any prohibition on violating the law. In his prime, it turns out, Frank was a “second-story man,” an ace jewel thief who specialized in patiently figuring out how to rob high-security premises where big payoffs could be found.
Since the robot’s prime directive is to restore Frank’s mental and physical health as much as possible – and to encourage vigorous outdoor activity! – he is easily diverted from a focus on gardening to a focus on burglary. Is this, you know, even remotely plausible, when it comes to the presumptive future history of the robot race? I guess not, but that’s hardly the point. Schreier and Ford leave the question of whether there’s a ghost in the machine – that is, whether Frank’s robot has some kind of will or consciousness – hovering lightly in the background. For his part, the Sarsgaard ‘bot cheerfully reminds Frank several times that he’s just a clever simulation with no thoughts or emotions of his own, even when Frank seems to catch him lying, or at least making misleading and strategic comments.
“There’s more going on in that noggin of yours,” Frank muses, but he might well say the same about himself. This movie is not about the mysteries within mechanical brains but the mysteries within our own. Frank and his mechanical friend first break into the town library to steal a rare and valuable copy of “Don Quixote,” one of the few books that isn’t in the process of being scanned and pulped. He wants to give the lovely Cervantes volume to a woman he admires, but that woman is the town librarian, Jennifer (a lovely, measured, quiet performance from Susan Sarandon), who showed it to him in the first place.
Frank never seems aware that his brain has short-circuited when it comes to “Quixote” and Jennifer, or at least not until he faces a much bigger and more startling revelation later on. And the robot, out of dignity or duty or some other unseen objective in his programming, never tells him. As for the delicate and lovely parallel between that great picaresque novel and this movie, with Frank as the deluded but noble knight and the robot as Sancho Panza, none of that occurred to me until I wrote this paragraph.
Everyone in the audience will root for Frank and his robot in their grand scheme to burglarize the tasteful Cold Spring mansion belonging to Jake (Jeremy Strong), the patronizing zillionaire who is funding the privatization and digital-age renovation of Jennifer’s library. “You’re our connection to the age of printed information!” Jake says jovially, clapping Frank on the shoulder and stiffening the latter’s spine. It is, however, a flawed criminal scheme, concocted by an old man in uncertain mental condition and a walking computer with no experience of the world. Frank and his robot both succeed and fail, and both are required to make unexpected sacrifices in a conclusion with a tender, rueful and surprising emotional potency.
Certain things within the final act of “Robot & Frank,” including Jeremy Sisto’s role as a county sheriff homing in on Frank, are too formulaic for this artful and subtle film. Schreier does not deliver a heavily art-directed or effects-rich vision; this is a character comedy, even if one of the characters, as he repeatedly assures us, is not human. But this movie paints a distinctively witty and faintly troubling picture of an Earthbound future, which feels like the same ambiguous era when Keir Dullea’s astronaut attains godhood in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” I suppose this is a story about the paradoxes of technology in some ways, with faint echoes of Isaac Asimov’s agenda-setting “I, Robot.” But “Robot & Frank” bounces off some philosophical questions, new and old, on the way to considering the much greater paradoxes of human life, lived in solitude and togetherness, love and sacrifice, all that is remembered and all that is forgotten.
Robot & Frank
by Peter Travers
Like the best movies, the ones that manage effortlessly to work their way into your head and heart, Robot & Frank has a deceptive simplicity. It also helps to have Frank Langella, a stellar actor at his magnificent best, in the starring role. Langella’s Frank is a retired burglar, a second-story man ready to hang it up at 70. His children, Hunter (James Marsden) and Madison (Liv Tyler), don’t know what to do with him. His parental neglect extended to two prison stints.
Enter Robot (voiced with droll wit by Peter Sarsgaard), a talking machine that will keep the old-timer in line. Or so Frank’s kids think. After a few days of Robot’s lectures on diet and exercise, Frank gets his own ideas to enlist Robot in a new robbery scheme. There’s bracing humor here, and a dash of heartbreak – just don’t expect to be wrapped up in a warm and fuzzy cinematic blanket. Robot & Frank, crisply directed by newcomer Jake Schreier from a fluid script by Christopher D. Ford, is made of tougher stuff. Just like Frank’s flirtation with a librarian (a tangy Susan Sarandon), the movie keeps springing scrappy surprises. It also addresses questions of aging and neglect that Hollywood likes to run from. Langella, who’s played everyone from Dracula to Nixon onscreen, is giving a master class in acting. Enroll now.
NEW YORK POST
Robot & Frank
by Lou Lumenick
That veteran charmer Frank Langella is at it again. This delightful comedy, set in the “near future,” features a retired jewel thief whose exasperated son (James Marsden) shows up with a talking robot to help provide care for dad, who’s having memory problems.
Irascible, long-divorced Frank wants nothing to do with cheery but demanding Robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) — at least until he realizes his new companion isn’t programmed to obey the law, and has an electronic brain that gives him real potential as a safecracker.
Frank persuades Robot that it would be therapeutic to rob an obnoxious young millionaire (Jeremy Strong) who is privatizing the local library (the setting is Cold Harbor, NY) into a bookless community center.
But what will Frank do when he realizes that his new friend’s computer memory is the main evidence linking him to the crime?
The feature directorial debut of Jake Schreier, has a smart script by C.D. Ford and an impressive supporting cast that includes Susan Sarandon as a librarian who serves as Frank’s only human friend; Liv Tyler as his clueless daughter who turns Robot off; and Jeremy Sisto as a bumbling sheriff on Frank’s trail.
But it’s Langella’s crafty, heart-tugging burglar who steals every scene.
MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE
‘Robot & Frank’: Touched by a robot
by Colin Covert
The time is the near future. Phones are slicker. Libraries are closing because books are obsolete. People still eat corn flakes and drive regular cars and there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s.
Frank (Frank Langella) is too proud and stubborn to admit that his forgetfulness is getting to be a problem, so his son gets him a caretaker. A robot. “If you don’t mind my saying so, Frank, I think I could be a big help to you,” it remarks. Frank resists, but it’s the robot or the retirement home. After a contentious period of adjustment, the calm-voiced, infinitely patient little helper has Frank eating healthier, more focused, better connected to life. In fact he’s feeling so confident that he wants to slip back into his old line of work: cat burglary. And he makes his automated assistant his partner in crime.
“Robot and Frank” is an absurdist comedy that’s also a moving drama about the human experience and a touching portrait of old age. It’s seriously emotional, occasionally deeply sad and even pessimistic, but very funny. The film owes a large measure of its success to Langella’s perfectly modulated performance. His performance captures the plight of an intelligent man who’s beginning to lose his grip. Much of the film is a one-man show, as he interacts with the visor-faced android (which speaks in the soft, tranquil tones of Peter Sarsgaard).
One can only marvel at the emotional depth this talented actor brings forth. Burglars by and large are not personable or charming, and Frank is no exception. He is serious and gruff, almost a bit of a heavy. He’s distant from his children (played by James Marsden and Liv Tyler, each of whom has made a turbulent sort of peace with this difficult old man). He’s perversely admirable for his daring, his skill at larceny and his lawless code. He only steals diamonds and “nobody gets hurt except the insurance company.” And the more Frank denies his growing vulnerability, the more protective we feel toward him.
Frank’s first foray back into criminality is a rare-book heist intended to impress the kind local librarian (Susan Sarandon). There’s a warm and poignant interplay between the co-stars. You might predict that they will fall into a saccharine late-life romance, but Christopher Ford’s canny script and Jake Schreier’s deft direction make the relationship richer and more intelligent than that. They also create an oddly affecting bond between the testy old man and his placid surrogate caretaker.
Frank decides to rob the house of a patronizing technology consultant who’s transforming the library into a sterile virtual-reality museum. It’s an act of poetic revenge on a man who’s wiping the community’s memory banks, but it boomerangs on Frank and his faithful robot in a way that hits painfully close to home.
The underlying theme of this marvelous movie is the pain of losing connections — to family, to the past, even to cherished objects — but it never loses its connection to the audience.
Robot & Frank is full of humanity, heart, and humor.
by Steven Rea
Set “in the near future,” but grappling with issues that are all about the past – reclaiming it, struggling to remember it, letting it go – Robot & Frank is a small, sweet character study that affords Frank Langella another opportunity to shine.
The great veteran actor is a retired cat burglar, living comfortably, and living alone, in upstate New York. But his memory is slipping, alarmingly: When his son, Hunter (James Marsden), checks in, Frank asks how Princeton is – a college his son attended a decade earlier, before he married and took a job.
And when Frank walks to town to his favorite restaurant, he seems shocked to see it has become a gift shop. It has been that way for years, and yet he’s always surprised.
Frank’s daughter, Madison (Liv Tyler), is wandering the world, and Frank’s wife long ago left him. And so Hunter, burdened with responsibility and worry, arrives one day with a gift: a robot to keep house, cook meals, keep Frank company – and keep Frank on a regimen that might sharpen his wits, make him more mindful.
The robot, with its arms, legs, and rotating, visored head (and a voice by Peter Sarsgaard), is not welcome at first. But Frank cautiously takes to the little white machine, and soon he has got it programmed to help him with a heist. There are rare books at the local library – including a valuable Don Quixote – and Frank and his ambulatory accomplice are going to get them.
Langella plays things just right, with a gloss of sadness, confusion, and fright, but always with a glint of irony, too. (He could have been Meryl Streep’s roomie as she wandered, disoriented, as the retired Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.) And when Frank goes into the library to case the joint, he’s also there to flirt with the librarian, a generous and gentle Susan Sarandon, hiding behind her eyeglasses and her regrets.
Robot & Frank, written by Christopher D. Ford and directed by first-timer Jake Schreier, has a quiet whimsy about it, at the same time the film explores the challenging issues of aging, and loss, and, yes, memory loss. It’s an Alzheimer’s allegory, full of humanity, heart, and humor.
‘ROBOT & FRANK,’ 4 Stars
by Bill Goodykoontz
Buddy films typically involve cops or people in other jobs who are forced by plot conventions to spend time together, drawing attention to their differences and, ultimately, their similarities.
“Robot & Frank” is a different kind of buddy film: Instead of the street-tough cop learning from the green rookie how to get in touch with his emotions or whatever, it’s about a man and his robot. Not a robot he wants or appreciates at first, but one he grows to depend upon for help around the house and a whole lot more.
Frank (Frank Langella) is a cat burglar living in the near future who has gotten too old to continue in the line of work he loves (and, by the looks of his house in upstate New York, was pretty good at). It’s not just his age, it’s his memory: Frank is in the early stages of dementia. He sometimes whiffs on the names of his children and suffers other more startling lapses of recall. Mostly he reads, walking down to the library to check out more books and, more importantly to him, to flirt with Jennifer (Susan Sarandon), the patient librarian.
His daughter, Madison (Liv Tyler), who travels the world, checks in by a TV-size screen above Frank’s fireplace. His son, Hunter, (James Marsden), pays Frank weekly visits and on one trip gives him an ultimatum: Either Frank will accept the help of the specially programmed robot he’s brought along, or he’ll check Frank into a brain center.
It’s not an easy choice for a man so defined by pride as Frank, but he reluctantly accepts, and the buddy-comedy portion of the film begins. The robot, whose voice is provided brilliantly by Peter Sarsgaard, insistently changes some of Frank’s habits. He must eat better. He must have structure to his day. He must occupy himself with tasks. The robot suggests gardening, but really, what is an aging jewel thief more likely to contemplate? And once Frank realizes that the robot possesses limitless memory and excellent dexterity in its fingers, as well as the ability to figure out combination locks in seconds, Frank finally starts to come alive again.
Meticulous in his planning but now a little sloppy in the details, Frank and the robot pull off one small job, but then Frank sets his sights on something bigger. This caper involves the arrogant man (Jeremy Strong) who is having all the books in the library digitized and gotten rid of. This is a threat to Frank on several levels.
It is all, to this point, pretty cheerful stuff, excepting the fact that it involves an aging felon spending his golden years plotting another job. Things change a bit in the last act, accelerated by an emotionally powerful plot twist. Then it’s no longer just fun and dangerous games.
This is director Jake Schreier’s first feature, and, working from a script by Christopher D. Ford, he creates an inviting world. This is largely achieved through the performances, which are consistently good. But the two most crucial are also the two best. Sarsgaard, sounding like a domesticated HAL 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” gives the robot enough humanity that it has to repeatedly remind Frank, and us, that it is not a real person.
Langella, meanwhile, is tremendous. Funny and sometimes tender, his forceful performance is ultimately about a prideful man desperately trying to hold on to his dignity the only way he knows how. For someone else, maybe it would be painting a picture, tinkering with a car. For Frank it’s about stealing jewels, and in “Robot & Frank,” Langella makes us really hope that he will succeed.
The Future According To Jake Schreier
by Emma Brown
Robot & Frank does not seem like a directorial debut; few first-time directors manage to assemble a cast as impressive as Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, Peter Sarsgaard, Liv Tyler, and James Marsden. Before Robot & Frank, however, director Jake Schreier focused on music videos—for his friend Francis and the Lights—and shorts, often in collaboration with his film group, Waverly Films. Already a hit with critics and at Sundance (Schreier was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize), the film is coming to cinemas this week, and Schreier is in a good mood. Why wouldn’t he be?
If the word “robot” immediately conjures up visions of I, Robot, or Steven Spielberg’s A.I., rest assured that Robot & Frank is no sci-fi tribute to Isaac Asimov. Describing Schreier’s film is much more difficult than that. Set in the near future, Frank (played by Langella) is a retired, moderately curmudgeonly jewel thief and a constant source of frustration for his son, Hunter (Marsden) and absent daughter, Madison (Tyler). Frank’s forgetful, and it is increasingly problematic. Fed up with trying to monitor his father, Hunter buys Frank a care-taking robot. Were you to watch the movie with five friends, you would come out with five different opinions about what the film is “about”: dementia and our aging population, familial responsibilities, art, addiction, loneliness and the human tendency to anthropomorphize, and, of course, the role of machinery in the mundane.
Interview recently sat down with Schreier to quiz him about his film, working with friends, upscale jewel thieves, and what’s next.
EMMA BROWN: Robot & Frank has a pretty impressive cast, especially given that it’s your first film.
JAKE SCHREIER: We were lucky to have them. The whole thing is surreal. The first day, just when you have Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon acting in front of you, I forgot to direct—”Oh yeah, that was great, I guess, do it again”—I was like, “Oh, I should probably do my job at some point.” You just kind of get out of the way.
BROWN: How did you pick Peter Sarsgaard for the voice of the robot?
SCHREIER: I think his kids went to school with one of my producers’ kids, but I’ve been a big fan of his for a long time, since Shattered Glass. I think if you were programming a robot to take care of the elderly, you would want them to have kind of a calm, soothing, and caring voice—those qualities are just so endemic to his voice, it seemed that even if we made it monotone or we made it sound like a robot, they would still be there. There’s just such a level of empathy in it.
BROWN: I like the height of the robot. It’s like a child. How did you decide that? Did you have extensive conversations about what the robot would look like?
SCHREIER: We had some extensive conversations, but at the same time, it comes from a real place. We basically wanted it to be as short as it could be so that it could be cute, but still able to reach a shelf. Just under five feet, or four and a half. Somewhere around there. It helps that Frank [Langella] is tall—it seems even shorter.
What we tried to do is design the robot [with] a “less is more” philosophy. It was always very important that it be faceless. Humans will ascribe emotion to a toaster; we’re so good at that, we like to talk about everything as though it’s real. If [the robot] is faceless, in the beginning, hopefully you find it a little bit creepy. Then as Frank grows to care about it, hopefully the audience goes on the same journey.
BROWN: Did Peter and Frank ever interact in person?
SCHREIER: Not at all, no. We didn’t even know it was going to be [Peter] when we were shooting. He came in, and in eight hours we recorded the entire robot voice. We didn’t have him watch the movie, really—he had seen it, but we just printed all the lines on a list and he read them through, because it was almost easier to disassociate them from the interaction in the film and make it sound more robotic. I think everything that ended up in the movie came from one half-hour readthrough of takes.
BROWN: That’s got to have been difficult for Frank. Were you reading the lines out loud, and was it just pause?
SCHREIER: His nephew was off camera, he was a PA on set and he would read the lines for the robot. And Frank is so good, he can do it with whatever.
BROWN: I heard that the film is actually based on a short you did a while ago, is that true?
SCHREIER: It is, yeah. Chris Ford, who wrote it, he and I went to NYU together, and his thesis film was a short version of the movie. We put it away, and four years ago we were looking for something to sort of develop as a feature, we thought, “Oh, that might be cool,” there might be something in it that is achievable on an indie scale but that also had a hook and could be relatable.
BROWN: Did you work with him on the short?
SCHREIER: I was the producer of the short, which meant that we shot at my uncle’s house in upstate New York. That was my main involvement. He and I and a bunch of other friends of mine from NYU, we’ve kept working together since school on various different things. [Ford] writes for my friends as well, but we were always looking for something to do together.
BROWN: Was the character of Frank always called Frank?
SCHREIER: It was, yeah. [Frank Langella] never asked us to change it and we sort of just went with it. But, yeah, it’s a funny coincidence.
BROWN: There’s also a character called “Jake” . . .
SCHREIER: Oh, Ford likes to name all his villains after me just to give me a hard time, so there will be more of those, unfortunately. I can’t do anything about it.
BROWN: Liv Tyler’s character objects to “robot labor,” and I assumed that she was going to talk about exploiting robots, but you never went that route.
SCHREIER: In our movie the robot’s pretty cute and hopefully, if the movie works, you come to care about it and you’re kind of pro-robot, and a lot of people leave the movie being like, “I want one.” But certainly going in, some people have concerns about what it means to leave our responsibilities to robots. I think to some degree in every family, you’ve got siblings who disagree over the care for their parents. James [Marsden] is the one that gives [his dad] the robot because he’s trying to make the best out of a bad situation. Liv [Tyler], who is actually doing very little to take care of her father, is the one who has these idealistic ideas about, “No, no, no. Humans have to take care of humans,” even though she is not living up to her own responsibility of doing that. It’s sort of like a future hippie philosophy: this is not something that should be left to machines. Humans should do this.
BROWN: You mentioned that you and Chris did some research together for the film.
SCHREIER: We did research on robots, [but] the most fun was to research jewel thieves. When you read about those guys —really high-class jewel thieves, ones that pull off these big heists—they talk about their work like artists.They’re not doing it for the money, because you really can’t spend it, if you’re stealing famous jewels, they’re hard to spend, so the heists are like these little art projects for them. It’s all about proving what they can do; they love it in the same way that an artist does. So that was sort of fun. It’s buried in the movie, and I don’t know if many people would pick up on it, but for me it’s sort of about how being an artist can screw up your relationships—what that did to Frank’s family. I think that’s something that most people that try to do this stuff can relate to, how hard it is to kind of juggle that passion for the craft while trying to maintain real relationships with people.
BROWN: But is that art, or addiction?
SCHREIER: Right, that’s a good question that I probably don’t want to answer. It’s better to think about.
BROWN: What is the strangest question you’ve been asked about this film?
SCHREIER: I think that someone asked, “What would [you] do if [your] kids got [you] a robot?” I still haven’t figured it out. I feel like I would want one. It seems like a good trade-off.
BROWN: Have your parents said anything? Are they nervous that you’ll try and abandon them in the care of a robot when they’re older?
SCHREIER: You know, I haven’t asked them that. That’s an even better question. I don’t know that robots are going to be ready in time for my parents. I’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way.
BROWN: I wanted to ask you about Francis and the Lights. I know that Francis did the music for the film; did he go to college with you as well?
SCHREIER: We’ve actually known each other since we were 13. I played in the band for a couple of years, though I’m not a very good keyboard player. He made music for some of my movies in college, and I did his music videos. We always thought it would be fun to kind of work together. He had never made a whole movie score, and neither had I—[so] it was really fun to kind of figure it out together. We watched a bunch of old Coen brothers movies and figured out themes. Matt Veligdan, it should be noted, orchestrated and arranged all of [the music] and did a great job of turning it into a real orchestral, filmic piece.
BROWN: Are you sick of talking about Robot & Frank yet?
SCHREIER: No. Maybe I just love the sound of my own voice too much. No, it’s kind of crazy, what’s happening now because it all feels like a sprint. You don’t stop. It doesn’t feel that long ago [that] we were just about to make it. To all the sudden be here and have it come out in theaters is just exciting.
BROWN: What are you up to now?
SCHREIER: Mostly just releasing this. There are a couple little things that are in early development, but there’s no next thing that I’m jumping into.
ROBOT & FRANK COMES OUT THIS FRIDAY, AUGUST 17.
THE DETROIT NEWS
“Robot & Frank” hits all the right notes — romantic, fantastic, tragic and sweet.
Set in the slight future, it’s a story about losing the past while grasping for the present. And it offers Frank Langella a wonderfully wide role within tight physical confines.
Langella plays Frank, a one-time heist man and thief, now living alone in a small house at the edge of a small town. His memory has slipped — he keeps trying to go to dinner at a place that closed down years ago — but his instincts are intact: He likes to flirt with the local librarian (Susan Sarandon) and he honors his former occupation by shoplifting.
But Frank’s son (James Marsden) can see his father is slowly falling apart; so he buys him a robot (voiced by Peter Saarsgard), a white shiny thing the size of a boy, to clean up the house and make sure Frank eats right.
At first, of course, Frank doesn’t want this gizmo interfering in his life. But then he grows use to it. And eventually he realizes something — the robot has no real morality programmed into it. It can steal. And if pulling a job with Frank helps Frank focus his mind — which it inevitably does — then the robot is doing its job.
So Frank’s back in business. And indeed he comes to life. Until, of course, things get complicated.
But not too complicated. First-time feature director Jake Schrier, working with a script by Christopher D. Ford, keeps things clear and direct, save for a couple of sweet surprises at the end. This is a fable more than science fiction, yet at its heart is a very real portrait of a mind coming apart, and that reality is treated with respect.
“Robot & Frank” is the sort of small, delightful film Hollywood rarely makes anymore. Thankfully, this one was made.
If box office returns were the sole measurement of quality, then Seth McFarlane’s foul-mouthed stuffed bear in “Ted” is the summer’s reigning mascot. Truth be told, however, “Ted” suffers from the same loose comedic randomness that has restricted McFarlane’s television work from gaining traction beyond a sizable army of fans. The foul-mouthed stuffed bear delivers oodles of humor largely based around the dissonance between his cute appearance and unruly behavior (the bear does coke, the bear screws women, and so on). But when it comes his longstanding relationship with lifetime pal John (Mark Wahlberg), the requisite chemistry rings hollow under a steaming pile of jokes. Ted may have plenty of energy, but he lacks both purpose and soul.
That’s less of a problem for the automated half of the buddy movie equation in “Robot and Frank,” a delicate, contained dramedy hitting theaters this week. With an understated turn by Frank Langella at its center, “Robot and Frank” pits the actor against a mechanical counterpoint who has no name. As Frank, Langella plays a crabby ex-thief wasting away his senior years in a near future that looks much like the present. Living alone in Cold Springs, New York, the man meets his match when his grown son (James Marsden) buys his dad a robot butler (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) to care for his every need. While initially reticent to accept the pushy machine into his life, Frank eventually realizes that the robot’s amoral outlook makes it the ultimate accomplice in his intention of pulling off one final heist. Through a twisted burst of inspiration, Frank rediscovers his vitality.
Directed by newcomer Jake Schreier from a screenplay by Christopher D. Ford, “Robot and Frank” allows its understated wit to emerge organically from well-calibrated performances and the resulting pathos. Despite the ostensibly absurd set-up, the filmmakers play it straight, so that Frank’s initial resistance to the robot’s intrusion in his secluded life is no less credible than if the old man were grappling with a pushy roommate.
“Robot and Frank” succeeds where “Ted” fails because, unlike McFarlane, Schreier and Ford render the relationship between the human character and the robot in largely credible terms. While there’s never a point in time in which the movie hints that the robot has developed bona fide feelings toward Frank, his own affection for the robot is entirely believable. The ultimate cinematic actor, Langella’s facial expressions often tell the story in close-up, and with “Robot and Frank” they display a jaded man rediscovering his passion. With his subjectivity the star of the show, once Frank starts to see the robot as his only friend, so can we.
In “Ted,” the notion of a talking bear was a one-line joke told a few dozen ways over the course of an otherwise familiar plot. By contrast, “Robot and Frank” elevates the offbeat nature of its scenario by using it to explore the tension between aging consumers and technological progress in heartfelt terms. The premise is silly, but the chemistry runs deep.
Langella and his sleek robot friend make such an enjoyable onscreen pair that the other actors, including Liv Tyler as Frank’s daughter and Susan Sarandon as the local librarian he routinely tries to romance, can’t keep pace. Whenever “Robot and Frank” becomes a family drama about a senile man and his anxious offspring, it loses track of its fundamental appeal. Fortunately, these characters take a backseat to Frank’s increasing excitement over his ability to steal from Jake (Jeremy Strong), the slick digital entrepreneur in charge of shutting down the Sarandon character’s library, and ostensibly get his groove back in the process.
As Frank’s grip on reality gradually lessens, the sense of excitement and danger associated with what he thinks he can use his new toy to do accurately encapsulates a distinctly 21st century relationship between man and machine. That’s more of a meaningful twist than this genre usually allows. One could argue that the teddy bear in “Ted” symbolizes the lingering juvenilia that secretly chases everyone into adulthood. But that deduction is less obvious in the work itself. “Robot and Frank” makes its universal relevance clear: In an age of smart phones, we’re all a walking buddy movie waiting to happen.
Robot & Frank: Science Fiction at its Absolute Best
by Charlie Jane Anders
The best science fiction is usually about our relationship with technology in some way — how technology changes us, and how we shape it, in turn. But it’s rare for science fiction movies to have something interesting to say about technological and scientific progress. That’s why Robot and Frank isn’t just one of the year’s best movies — it’s also a must-see piece of science fiction.
Minor spoilers ahead… Having just rewatched the movie’s trailer, let’s just say that this review will be considerably less spoileriffic than the ultra-spoilery trailer.
In Robot and Frank, Frank (Frank Langella) is a former cat burglar who’s retired, and who’s losing his marbles somewhat. Frank’s son Hunter (James Marsden) is sick of driving six hours to check on his dad once a week, so he decides to get Frank a personal care robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard). Frank hates the robot at first — until he realizes he can talk the robot into helping him to return to his burglarly career, in the name of helping his recovery.
There’s also a fascinating subplot in which the local public library, where Frank likes to hang out, is being turned into some kind of digital monstrosity and all the books are being recycled. The local librarian (Susan Sarandon) is having to come to terms with the changing ways people read and interact with information, and she’s saddled with her own, somewhat more obnoxious, robot helper. In charge of the library’s renovation is Jake (Jeremy Strong), an unbelievably smug hipster whom you want to toss off a tall building the first time you meet him.
At its heart, Robot and Frank is a family movie — it’s the story of Frank and his family, and what happens when a robot becomes part of the family. But as this movie makes space for the characters of Frank and his two kids (and their absent mother) to become living, breathing characters, the robot’s role in their lives becomes more complex — and the inclusion of the robot makes this a much richer and more honest family portrait, instead of just being a shiny gimmick grafted onto a traditional story of a senile man and his kids. All of the performances in this film are amazing, especially Langella, whose elderly wiseguy reminds me just a tad of Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino.
To a large extent, the robot is in loco parentis, looking after Frank and controlling his life — trying to get him to eat right and exercise and take on beneficial activities. But he’s also standing in for the Frank’s son, acting in Hunter’s interests, and to a large extent speaking for Hunter. Meanwhile, Frank’s daughter Madison (Liv Tyler) hates the robot and wants to get rid of it, even after Frank starts thinking of the robot as his friend and companion.
The movie plays with the the divide between an appliance and a person. The robot is part of the family, but is it like the family dog, the family television set, or a family friend? The robot is smart, but sort of like a smartphone and sort of like a smart person. As Frank (and the audience) get used to the robot being around, we tend to humanize it more and more — but the robot doesn’t actually change or start seeming more human.
People will inevitably compare Robot and Frank with the summer’s other big movie about robot-human relations, Prometheus. Prometheus was really eager to suggest that Michael Fassbender’s David was sentient — and, in fact, creepily sadistic — it didn’t, in the end, seem to have any ideas about human-robot relations other than “daddy issues are universal.” Meanwhile, Robot and Frank is incredibly precise about exactly what this robot is, and what sort of thought it’s capable of — and by setting strict limits, the movie actually opens up more avenues of meaning.
Meanwhile, Frank’s burglarly expertise allows the movie to open up questions of what we consider valuable — as Frank explains to the robot, he always specialized in taking the highest value objects that he could steal the most quickly. But what makes something valuable? When Frank shoplifts horribly kitschy bathbombs from the schlocky store that’s replaced his favorite restaurant, he treats them as precious because he stole them. And meanwhile, the public library is recycling all its books — except for a few volumes, which are valuable. What makes them more valuable than other books? Is it the information in them, or how it’s presented?
The focus on books also leads obliquely into the movie’s overall focus on different types of information storage — from Frank’s brain, which is slowly failing as a storage medium, to the robot’s memory, to the written word.
Most movies about robots get stuck on the question of whether they’re “alive,” or whether they have something we’d recognize as consciousness. But Robot and Frank sidesteps those questions, to get to some much trickier ones. The movie is pretty clear that the robot doesn’t have any independent sentience of its own — it’s just an extension of Frank, no different than a wheelchair or a telephone.
But that doesn’t mean the questions about the robot’s consciousness don’t matter — in fact, they’re a lot more complicated than you’d think at first. The more we start to see the robot as an extension of Frank, the more the robot’s fate becomes intertwined with Frank’s.
Robot and Frank is the first story about robots in a long time to sidestep questions about whether robots are human — and instead, to delve into arguably more tricky waters about how dependence on robots affects our own humanity. As a result, you won’t just walk out of the film with the rich drama indelibly etched on your brain — you’ll also leave debating the questions the movie raises. This is definitely one of the year’s best movies.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
In the annals of buddy comedy caper flicks, “Robot & Frank” represents a new frontier, and not simply for its near-future, gently sci-fi setting.
The film, the first feature from director Jake Schreier and writer Christopher D. Ford, stars Frank Langella as an aging man who forms an unlikely bond with the diminutive home healthcare droid his adult children purchase for him. The duo pull off a series of ambitious and daring heists masterminded by former high-end jewel thief Frank, even as he struggles with slowly advancing dementia.
The film, which opens in Los Angeles on Friday, finds lightly comic moments as Frank, initially resistant to his robot companion, slowly comes to appreciate the machine’s skills in the kitchen and realizes he can teach the droid to do things — such as picking locks and casing a home to burgle. But there is an underlying melancholy too as Frank struggles with some of his life’s regrets, particularly about his family, and his discomfort over the young, tech-savvy nouveau riche who seem to be taking over his small town.
“It is a funny mix of tone and genre,” concedes Schreier, 30.
“Robot & Frank” dates to 2003, when Ford wrote and directed a short with the same title (that Schreier produced) as his thesis project when both were students enrolled in New York University’s film program.
In the intervening years, Schreier and Ford, both of whom hail from Northern California, were attempting to forge careers in the industry — Schreier directing commercials and music videos, Ford writing scripts, including a series of unproduced pilots for Comedy Central.
When the time came for the friends to try their hand at a feature, Schreier and Ford returned to the short. While it may seem unusual in hindsight for two relatively young men to make a film about the end of life, neither Schreier nor Ford thought much of it as they advanced the project.
“The idea for the story and the character jumped out at me,” said Ford, who concedes that he frequently hears from acquaintances “that I’m like a crotchety old man stuck in a 31-year-old body.”
For the full-length incarnation of the story, they invented the crime angle and fleshed out Frank’s family background, though they chose to maintain the robot’s objective distance from his fellow bandit.
“The robot doesn’t have a heart. It’s not alive, it doesn’t have a soul,” Schreier said recently in Los Angeles. “Frank projects those things onto it, and hopefully the audience does too … but it’s not ‘Short Circuit,’ and it’s not ‘Robopocalypse.’ There’s a logic to what it’s doing.”
“I was really interested in the robot having conversations with Frank where he says ‘I’m not real, I’m just here to take care of you,’” added Ford, 31, in a separate interview. “The idea the robot would have this sort of opposite self-awareness, an awareness of his nonself, I felt was really important.”
A Tony Award-winning veteran of theater and film who was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Richard Nixon in “Frost/Nixon,” Langella agreed to star in the film only after first meeting with Schreier and Ford to discuss the story’s take on aging, which includes a budding romance between Frank and a local librarian (Susan Sarandon).
“The fact that they chose to have it be about a man my age I thought was original, exciting and rare,” said Langella, 74. “You don’t get many films anymore in which if you are up in these years you’re playing the leading role.
“There are so many things that go into being in your 70s. Even if you’re not having Alzheimer’s, you are losing muscle mass, your memory slows, you feel vulnerable but have a resistance to being looked after, your defensiveness. Those are all just qualities of getting older.”
No buddy comedy can function with only half of a dynamic, and so crafting Frank’s partner, his intruder turned caretaker and erstwhile friend, a nuisance turned accomplice, was vital to the film’s success. Still, bringing the robot to life was one of the biggest challenges for the production, which was shot over 20 days last summer in upstate New York on a budget of roughly $2.5 million.
During filming, dancer Rachael Ma wore a suit designed by the effects house Alterian Inc. to reflect real-world likelihoods for service robots. Ma had difficulty speaking audibly from within the confines of the boxy, gleaming white outfit, so Langella’s nephew would often read the robot’s lines off-camera.
Actor Liev Schreiber was originally planned for the part of the robot’s voice, but his deep baritone seemed too commanding, the filmmakers realized; the reedier tenor of actor Peter Sarsgaard to their minds better conveyed the robot’s ambiguous demeanor. Sarsgaard, however, was not cast until filming had wrapped. He recorded his lines in only about eight hours.
“Robot & Frank” premiered to strong reviews at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation prize given to films that explore themes of science and technology (previous winners include “Primer” and “Another Earth”).
Ford says he and Schreier wanted the gadgets to appear as forward-thinking extrapolations of current devices — a super-sleek TV, a phone that’s simply a small, clear screen, even the small service robots. In a subtle joke, Sarandon’s character, Jennifer, drives a dented and dilapidated Toyota Prius.
“If you actually were in the future, not everything will be made in the year 2037, you’d have a beat-up old car from 2010,” Ford said. “And that led us to something that was more interesting and realistic. The more you can miniaturize technology, the more it sinks into the background of our lives.”
Despite its futurist trappings, the film is really a study of the resonance of the human spirit in the face of change — either physical changes in the body itself or the evolution of society and culture represented by advances in technology. Both, Langella observes, are constant.
“This era is on its way out,” Langella said. “It’s not gone, you don’t find only houses that are sleek and perfunctory, you’re able to see Frank’s messed-up old house and inside is a robot walking around. It’s the beginning of what the future is going to be.
“I’d like to think that humanity is powerful and strong enough that it would resist being totally taken over by technological things. But it looks like that’s where we’re going.”
THE NEW YORK TIMES
From the Future, a Subtle Spark of Recognition
In ‘Robot & Frank,’ Technology of the Not-So-Distant Future on Display
by Jenna Wortham
THERE’S a moment in the film “Robot & Frank” when Frank, an aging retiree with a helper robot installed in his life courtesy of his son, forgets that his caretaker is something other than human. The two are excitedly chatting when Frank gestures at his companion’s boxy outfit and asks, absent-mindedly, why he’s wearing a silly space helmet.
The dissonance radiating from that scene is twofold. Frank’s cognitive stutter pries open the heartbreaking subplot of the film, revealing his slippery grasp on reality and his mind’s inability to maintain firm footing in the present; it is sharply recognizable as Frank’s advancing dementia.
It’s equally discomfiting for reasons beyond Frank’s deteriorating condition: the scene offers a mirror to our own dependency on technology.
Who hasn’t given a phone an affectionate pat, made room for it at the dinner table, nestled with a laptop in bed or frantically searched for a device gone AWOL, heart racing until its shiny little body is located and stashed somewhere safe? And this is before our devices can carry our groceries, bake us cakes and plant intricate vegetable gardens, as Frank’s helper does in the film. What will our relationships with devices and software look like in the future?
This is the crystal ball that the director Jake Schreier and the screenwriter Christopher D. Ford are trying to peer into with their first feature, “Robot & Frank,” due Aug. 17 from Samuel Goldwyn Films. Their vision of the future won’t arrive with exaggerated fanfare; it will most likely set up shop nearly unnoticed, possibly even installed in your living room by your next of kin.
“It’s not a future where everything is new and has taken over,” Mr. Schreier said during an interview in an ornate meeting room at the Crosby Street Hotel in Manhattan. Instead, the film is set in rural New York, where these advances are “just beginning to creep in.”
Not much is different between the film’s world and ours: The cars are a little sleeker and mostly electric-powered, and the phones and tablets are transparent and voice controlled. The interactions between humans and their devices are relatively believable, a struggle for most films and television shows today. Probably no one has ever received a “blast” on a cellphone like the kinds sent in “Gossip Girl,” and while plenty of us have accidentally sent an e-mail to the wrong recipient, it probably has never been as mind-bogglingly disastrous as MacKenzie McHale’s workplacewide gaffe on “The Newsroom.”
Part of the interpretation of a technology-enhanced future in “Robot & Frank” stemmed from budgetary constraints. It was hastily shot in 20 days for around $2.5 million, so there wasn’t much leeway to insert splashy special effects. The displays and menus on the characters’ tablets and smartphones were designed by Justin Ouellette, who works at Tumblr, a microblogging site. The robot’s costume was designed by Alterian in Los Angeles, the company that also made the dazzling LED helmets worn by the French electro duo Daft Punk. (The robot was voiced by Peter Sarsgaard; Frank is played by Frank Langella.)
The filmmakers found that the rapidly transforming society they were trying to capture was also reflected in their lives. When Mr. Ford started conceptualizing the movie in 2002, the advances he pictured involved tablet computers nicknamed CompuTabs. Fast-forward six years and “during production, everyone had an iPad, so even in that small part of time, part of the script turned from science fiction to reality,” he said. “So then we’re all holding our iPads, looking over at the robot going ‘Hmm, how long is that going to take?’ ”
Such advances are already under way. On YouTube you can see videos from scientists showing robots folding laundry, performing elegant dances, blinking in confusion and smiling in greeting. ”We think about robots in terms of manufacturing cars or doing something that repeats the same movement over and over again, but there’s been a boom in robotics where they’re starting to have smarts, and can do complex things like pick fruit,” said Andrew Ng, an associate professor of computer science at Stanford and co-founder of an education start-up called Coursera. “We could see them in homes in 10 to 20 years.” By trying to stay a step ahead of science Mr. Schreier and Mr. Ford join a long line of filmmakers who have attempted to envision the world we may inhabit, and the droids that may someday coexist with us, from the sentient but murderous HAL 9000 in “2001: Space Odyssey” to Skynet’s terrifying armies of human hunters in the “Terminator” franchise to the lovable, bumbling droids in “Star Wars” and “Wall-E.”
The director Ridley Scott, who delved into similar issues in “Blade Runner,” also explored the blurry philosophical line separating humans from their synthetic counterparts in “Prometheus.” That expansive science-fiction epic, set somewhere in the “Aliens” universe, turned a sharp eye to our responsibilities for the technology we create and what happens if we leave our most precious possessions — our lives — in its hands.
Mr. Scott spun this question around an anatomically correct android named David (played by Michael Fassbender) that eats, sleeps, longs to learn and lovingly cares for members of a spaceship crew as they travel into the far regions of the universe, despite their disregard and suspicion of him. David, already autonomous, begins to interfere with the mission. The inability of the humans to control David and their failure to notice his machinations is an apt metaphor for a world in which we are only beginning to understand how the major corporations in which we’re placing our trust and data — like Apple, Google and Facebook — could someday be twisted in ways we cannot foresee.
“People have embraced the convenience of technology, but I don’t know that the average person understands the potential of the data that is being aggregated through our devices,” said Barbara Kahn, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “The enormity of it is amazing. This is just the first wave. The next step is the Internet of things. It’s not just GPS knowing where I am, it’ll be devices knowing what I’m doing.”
While the future in which “Prometheus” is set exists much further along the timeline than “Robot & Frank,” there are traces of those hyperadvanced technologies visible in our lives even now. It’s easy to glimpse the sophisticated, 3-D navigational charts used by the Prometheus spaceship crew in the holographic performance by Tupac Shakur this summer at the Coachella music festival. The United States Navy already uses autonomous drones to sweep underwater terrain for mines — not entirely dissimilar from the flying “pups” that map out the topography of the film’s temple. And David’s less-than-subservient attitude to his human counterparts is reminiscent of the sassy responses that Apple programmed into its virtual assistant software, Siri. But while “Prometheus” and other films offer a dystopian view, showing us how close we are to a world full of technology gone haywire or spiraling out of control, “Robot & Frank” isn’t trying to impart such lessons. “It’s wrong to be afraid of the future in a knee-jerk way,” Mr. Schreier said. “You almost always end up on the wrong side of history by the end of it.”
He and Mr. Ford merely wanted to examine the implications of our increasingly intimate symbiosis with technology. “It’s not bad or good but it will change the way we relate to each other,” Mr. Schreier said. “There’s no stopping it.”
LOS ANGELES TIMES
Sundance Film Festival: Frank Langella happy to have a robot costar
A young filmmaker’s ‘Robot & Frank’ provides the veteran actor with ‘a remarkable experience.’
by Kenneth Turan
Reporting from Park City, Utah — — In his more-than-distinguished career, Frank Langella has become Richard Nixon, Clark Kent’s editor Perry White and a count named Dracula. So how did he end up playing a part opposite a robot in a sweltering East Coast summer? The answer is surprisingly simple: “Christopher Walken turned it down.”
The resulting picture, the sly and delightful “Robot & Frank,” brought the 74-year-old actor to the Sundance Film Festival for the first time. Sitting in a comfortable corner of an Italian restaurant and watching a near blizzard develop outside, Langella added, “I really do believe that all of life is happenstance, careers especially.”
“I was sitting with my new agent of 24 hours, Toni Howard, and she got a text that said, ‘Chris just passed on the movie.’ She answered, ‘How about Langella? Same deal as Chris.’ They answered ‘Perfect.’”
And perfect is what Langella is as an elderly grump named Frank who’s having increasing difficulty taking care of himself, so much so that, this being the near future, his son brings in a UGC-60L home care robot to look after the old man. Frank initially resists (“I’m talking to an appliance,” he complains), but then finds the droid actually suits him in deliciously unexpected ways.
Given how beautifully Langella acts with the UGC-60L, it is surprising to find out that (a) he never heard Peter Sarsgaard do the voice of the machine until he saw the finished film a few days ago and (b) the robot he acted with was a sometime thing on the set.
“Filming was a hardship case, it was 110 degrees, no air conditioning in that steaming house, no dressing rooms, no place to wait,” he said of the shoot last summer in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. “We had a young girl from a circus, she was a little under 5 feet tall, in the robot suit, but because of the heat it was extremely difficult for her and when she spoke I often didn’t hear her. Sometimes my nephew would read the robot’s lines off camera. Sometimes there would be a robot head on a stick.” None of this affected the actor.
“In a very strange way, it was a remarkable experience. I had a very personal relationship with the robot in my head, it was very real to me, and nothing else mattered.”
That relationship began when Langella read the screenplay by first-time writer Christopher Ford. “Every part I choose is me in some form. I trust what happens to me when I open a script and start reading. Some scripts are so vulgar and stupid I stop after five or 10 pages.”
More than the script, Langella connected to under-30 director Jake Schreier, a man who he feels is a kindred spirit to Andrew Wagner, the director of the last film Langella had in Sundance, “Starting Out in the Evening.”
“Both men are ferocious, single-minded,” Langella said. “I don’t like the word ‘vision,’ it has an air of self-importance, but they have a determination to make their film their way. These two guys are in love with cinema. And they have a purity of heart.”
Other obligations kept Langella from Sundance when “Evening” played in 2007, so he’s an older newcomer to Park City who is amused to find that “everywhere I go I am the oldest man in the room. Everyone is always putting their arm under my elbow.”
That sense of the vicissitudes of age, as it turned out, played a part as well in Langella’s decision to take on the role in “Robot & Frank.”
“Often I understand afterwards why I chose a movie. In this one I realized that I was profoundly affected in my own life by the ephemeral-ness of things, how I’m changing in my own body. I’m fine now, but I know it’s coming. No matter what I do, I can’t prepare for the day when the doctor rings me up and says, ‘Frank, we found something.’”
Langella has just completed a book, due out in March, with an intriguing title, “Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women as I Knew Them.” In it, he relates his experiences with 66 people he’s met who are no more, from a glimpse of Marilyn Monroe when he was 15 to meeting Elizabeth Taylor when he was 60. It’s the kind of experience few Sundance players can boast.
Despite all that’s come before, Langella gets surprised by his work when he sees it on screen, and that was very much the case with “Robot & Frank.”
“I had no expectation, while we were making it I thought, ‘Oh, dear,’ but you never know what’s going to jell,” Langella said. “I liked it very much, but I can’t tell you why. This movie created something you can’t put into words.”
The Top Features of L.A. Film Fest 2012
This past Sunday marked the end of the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival, which boasted the world premieres of big ticket films like “To Rome With Love,” “Magic Mike,” “Brave” and “Seeking a Friend For the End of the World.” But the heart of the fest is in its lesser-known titles, the indie flicks without distributors or making festival rounds and the docs that may be destined for Oscar nominations.
Here we take a look at the former of these categories with our favorite narrative features of L.A. Film Fest 2012.
3. “Robot and Frank” (dir. Jake Schreier)
Throw together the tropes of a cantankerous old man with Alzheimer’s movie, a heist flick and a science fiction picture, and you get “Robot and Frank,” a film set in the near future where people have the option of buying robot companions, butlers, assistants and the like to help in everyday life. Frank Langella plays Frank, an ex-thief reaching old age who clearly isn’t all there anymore, whose son, played by James Marsden, gets him one of the newfangled robotic inventions to keep him healthy while he’s living alone in a remote area of upstate New York. Though Frank is initially skeptical, he soon finds use for the robot and develops a friendship with him despite the robot’s constant reminders that he is not a person and cannot feel.
“Robot and Frank” explores the real-world possibilities of owning robots in a fascinating way, exploring how one can manipulate something that’s based in logic and how even when we are told over and over that a thing cannot reciprocate our feelings, we have an overwhelming desire to anthropomorphize, especially if the thing in question is able to have a conversation with us. Making the choice to view this changing world through the eyes of a man somewhat stuck in the past was an ingenious move, as the changing technology seems just as new to Frank as it does to us. Even the way people make themselves up is somewhat futuristic, with hints of “The Hunger Games” Capitol in the hairstyles and makeup of the women at a fancy party.
Langella gives an outstanding performance, which is not surprising considering his pedigree, and in addition to James Marsden, he is joined by a warm Liv Tyler, a radiant Susan Sarandon and a robot voice on par with “Moon”‘s Kevin Spacey in Peter Sarsagard . A third act emotional punch to the gut will immediately make you want to see the film again as you dab welling tears in your eyes and puts a new perspective on everything you’ve just witnessed, but the end will leave you somewhat hopeful when you catch a glimpse of just how much of an indelible mark Robot has left on Frank. It’s refreshing to see a movie dealing with something as difficult to watch as Alzheimer’s in a fresh, atypical way, in that it brings you closer to the subject and makes you empathize more strongly.
“Robot and Frank” is a wonderful and promising debut feature from director Jake Schreier, who really wanted to depict a future that wasn’t dystopic but rather a natural evolution from where we are now (for the positive) and present a robot that was neither evil nor capable of developing a heart but represented more accurately where we could be headed. A bold move to make in the genre field, but one that works exceptionally well, joining the ranks of fellow 2012 films like “It’s a Disaster,” “Extraterrestrial,” “Sound of My Voice” and “Safety Not Guaranteed” as a smart indie flick that use science fiction in a clever, minimalist way, proving that tropes and catalysts rather than special effects are where the value lies in sci-fi and providing a lovely and poignant piece of filmmaking.
THE HUFFINGTON POST
With the open bar at the filmmaker’s lounge closing its taps, and the jury announcing its winners, the Los Angles Film Festival has at last sadly come to a close.
Not surprisingly, Sundance favorite hippie love-child Beasts of the Southern Wild took the audience award for best narrative feature. Its lead’s magical realist child-like eyes and those mytho-poetic fireworks are clearly ready to charm audiences across the country with faints whiffs of Oscar hanging in the summer air.
Film Independent also handed out the best narrative award to Pocas Pascoal’s All Is Well and Best Documentary to Everardo Gonzalez’s Drought, while the best performance award went to the cast of Joshua Sanchez’s Four. (The rest of the winners are here.) Of course, I somehow managed to miss most all of the winners — damn you, open bar — though I caught Four.
Anchored by the tremendous presence of Wendell Pierce, the he-muse of David Simon in The Wire and Treme, it follows the separate sexual confusion/collisions of a father and daughter over the fourth of July. In true indie spirit, Four focuses less on plot than character dynamics and again, assuming it was shot on a Canon 5D or 7D which it looks to be, shows how such DSLR’s have become the essential sketch pencil for cinematic artists these days — with some gifted actors, night lighting and shallow depth of field, young directors can draw out some compelling observations with an intimacy that film proper, i.e. that weird strip of stuff you’re not supposed to load in the light — requires a whole apparatus of technicians and crew to duplicate. Just you wait one of these days, the next Godard, probably already born brooding and smoking somewhere in Silverlake, will take these possibilities to the next level.
Of course, one of the species of film that often falls through the cracks, even at festivals, is the short documentary category. Frankly, in our ADD-age, I’m surprised short docs haven’t had their moment of vogue yet; they’re often a perfect appetizer for the bored brain. Given our propensity to click on links of puppies playing scrabble, why isn’t there a YouTube channel dedicated to mini-docs for the afternoon office break at work? Shorting of founding a start-up, I’ll ameliorate that travesty by a) listing LA Film Fest’s winner in that category right now — Josh Gibson’s Southern flora lyric Kudzu Vine — and b) I’ll sing the praises of a short I have seen (Sorry, Kudzu Vine but you got that prize you sound like you’ll be good). Nadav Kurtz’s Paraiso won best short doc at Tribeca and the Seattle International Film Festival and hopefully will find its way into a theater or your laptop somehow, someway.
It’s a beautiful little gem about the immigrant window washers of Chicago — Mexican immigrants who daily strap themselves to the tops of the Windy City’s most totemic skyscrapers and dangle precariously over the edge, all so you can look out your corner office with just a little less grime obscuring that Masters-of-the-Universe view. Delightful, probing, insightful, and most importantly, ennobling its subjects without the least trace of condescension, Kurtz takes you on a 10 minute ride to the top of the world with men who face death on a daily basis just to feed their families– and then joke about catching people having sex in their offices. It’s enough to make John Steinbeck cry.
Equally delightful and touching is Jake Schreier’s Robot and Frank, essentially a robot, buddy, heist comedy with Frank Langella, words I never thought I’d string together in one sentence. It’s been on the tips of industry cognoscenti tongues since Sundance and finally, I got to understand why. Frank Langella plays a retired cat burglar in near-future upstate New York whose son gets tired of enduring his dad’s cantankerous fits and fading memory, and so he buys him a medical robot companion to monitor his health and keep him active. Looking like a cross between Nintendo’s R.O.B. and a Mac Performa 6115 on human growth hormone, Robot’s constant medical attention and low sodium meals infuriate Frank. That is, until he realizes his transistor-based buddy has no concept of the law and thus makes for the perfect companion to a geriatric cat burglar itching to pull one last job — and get revenge on the 21st century pampered Brooklyn hipsters co-opting his mountain retreat with their retro-chic vibe.
Of course, Frank ends up with an all-too-human attachment to his new appliance, whose emptiness reflects hard truths that Frank has been unable to face up to. Now, there’s a great deal to admire about the film — Schreier’s thoughtful brush strokes of near-future prognostication, like battered Priuses and translucent iPhone X’s, as well as its touching, grounded script that finds a good balance between sentiment and schmaltz. (And Schreier displays a commercial sensibility and human heart with his high-concept that studios used to seek out before falling back on sarcastic comic book re-boots and… what else do they do now?) But it’s Frank Langella, truly one of our greatest living actors, who steals the show.
Not only does he knock this out of the park without batting an eyelid, his ability to project human empathy animates Robot as well as the best crew of Pixar pixel-monkeys can with all their textured-code; the mechanoid’s blank visage becomes a mirror that amplifies Langella’s gruff, poignant humanity. It’s an astounding feat of acting, and if Robot and Frank gets any traction this year, perhaps Langella will at least be rewarded with that Oscar he’s so dearly overdue for.
I also caught Todd Berger’s It’s a Disaster — a sarcastic and surprisingly realistic look at what would happen if the world happened to go to pieces over a strained Sunday brunch. It takes its cues from what I’d call the “throw-the-kitchen-sink” school of comedy, another prime example of taking a high-concept premise that a studio would add CGI-aliens and a Hans Zimmer score to, and transplanting it to the living room.
America Ferrera, Rachel Boston, Erinn Hayes, and Julia Stiles play the womenfolk, and David Cross, Kevin Brennan, Blaise Miller and Jeff Grace the men in a creative imagining of the only way a noxious couples brunches could get any worse — (hint, terrorist attack.) To me, it was surprisingly realistic for all the quips and hysterics, and more than anything highlights the quivering jelly of fear, neuroses, and confusion vacuum-packed inside the dutifully repressed packaging of civilization that’s just waiting for a power outage and loss-of-Internet to emerge.
It made me wonder, in a world where we’ve become accustomed to constant connection, what would happen if that connection was suddenly now cut off. I propose after 24 hours of no Internet, a brutal Mad-Max world would emerge where we check each other’s status updates with a two-by-four full of nails after being forced out of our digital cocoons into dealing with other human beings. For more on the the unique dynamics of disasters, check out my conversation with the brilliant David Cross to come shortly.
So on that glib, glum note, I must bid adieu to the Los Angeles Film Festival, pre-order my Dark Knight Rises tickets and brace myself for a summer of exploding film, if not exploding minds.
Film Reviews: Robot & Frank
by John Anderson
The kind of comedy that could well inspire love, “Robot & Frank” is a marginally futuristic, emotionally genuine yarn that combines facetious technology and two armor-coated characters: a crusty, fading ex-cat burglar and his phlegmatic appliance. Debuting helmer Jake Schreier, screenwriter Christopher D. Ford and a wry and wily Frank Langella all shine in a smart, plausible and resonant film that should have no problem finding its way from Sundance to significant distribution.
Set in bucolic Cold Spring, N.Y., “in the near future,” the story begins with 70-year-old Frank (Langella) breaking and entering, apparently for old time’s sake. An accomplished “second-story man,” as he calls himself, Frank is more or less retired from his felonious vocation, having served two considerable stretches in prison (although one, he acknowledges with disgust, was for tax evasion).
His relationship with his two kids — Hunter (James Marsden) and Madison (Liv Tyler) — isn’t awful, considering what an absentee father he was. But Madison travels and Hunter lives far enough away that Frank’s increasing need for care presents a problem. So Hunter buys Frank a robot butler; this is the near future, after all. And then the fun begins.
Other screenwriters might have belabored the obvious devices that attend such a conceit. Frank doesn’t want or need the robot; he wants the robot out of the house; cue crankiness, confrontation and lots of clanging and clattering. Ford uses all this, but also takes the storyline in several unexpected directions, among them the library, where Frank has an obvious sweet spot for the local librarian, Jennifer (Susan Sarandon). Like Frank, Jennifer is something of a relic (albeit a good-looking one), especially since the library is being revamped and modernized by a local mogul, Jake (Jeremy Strong), who addresses Frank as “old timer” and thus earns his undying wrath.
Things may be changing, but Frank doesn’t like change, any more than he likes a robot who throws out his Cap’n Crunch and makes him engage in “moderate exercise.” So Frank trains his robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) to pick locks. The first target of Cold Spring’s newest heist team is Jake’s house, an operation that requires some negotiation, as Robot is programmed to weigh the odds of success before he’ll allow Frank to commit a burglary.
Robot and Frank achieve an odd chemistry. Robot is chipper while Frank is sullen, and Langella does a fine job of portraying a dementia victim’s anger at his own malfunctioning mind. Frank can be a bit mischievous — he shoplifts, mainly to drive a local shopkeeper crazy — but he’s also lonely and deprived of stimulation, which is why dementia has the advantage. One of the film’s more touching and nicely underplayed angles is the improvement Frank makes as he becomes re-engaged with life, even if he does so via crime.
There’s a tenderness to the film that complements its often barbed dialogue, which Langella delivers with irony, exasperation and sometimes both. Aside from several pleasing plot twists, a gracefully constructed metaphor about memory adds a bittersweet angle to a story that’s half sci-fi and half shaggy dog.
Tech credits are tops, and d.p. Matthew J. Lloyd finds just the right palette to reflect Scheier’s well-wrought mix of pathos and humor.
One of the hits at this year’s Sundance Film Festival is Robot and Frank, an unusual story of a lonely old man named Frank who makes friends with a household robot—who becomes his accomplice to burglary. (Yesterday, io9 labeled it the “next great science-fiction indie.”) The film is set in the near future. Frank is losing his memory, the robot has perfect memory, and together, it turns out, they make a good team for crime.
I know that sounds like it might be really terrible: a heist/sci-fi/buddy movie that’s about old age? But it somehow works, thanks to careful writing and a talented cast, including Frank Langella (as Frank), Susan Sarandon (as a librarian Frank has a crush on), and Liv Tyler as Frank’s daughter. (The robot is voiced by Peter Sarsgaard.)
The film is more E.T. than 2001, charming and sentimental rather than terrifying. But it sneaks a few serious messages in as well. The movie asks whether being truly alive depends in some sense on having a working memory. And the film hits a nerve when it makes clear just how much easier it can be to love our machines than our family members, especially when the former are programmed to help us, and the latter, seemingly, programmed to irritate. (And these questions feel a lot more resonant now than they would have just a few years ago, as robots really are entering new parts of our life.)