Like Scrooge and the Spirit of Christmas Future, pop-culture junkies fear the last two weeks in August. Summer television series wrap up then, and there are still a couple of fallow weeks before the new fall season of TV. Those looking to seek refuge in the multiplexes are greeted with junk in the vein of The Expendables 2 (though junk certainly has its bullet-ridden charms). The summer beach reads are all finished, and the good books haven’t come out yet. Things look bleak.
That doesn’t mean we’re completely devoid of quality entertainment — we just have to work harder for it. This weekend, for example, I saw Robot & Frank, a movie starring Frank Langella as a former master thief who, in his retirement years, gets a robot as a home healthcare aid. It sounds like it could be treacly in the style of Batteries Not Included, pairing up old people and technology to be best friends forever, but Frank immediately uses his robot to start planning heists again, so it thankfully takes a different path.
Another reason I bring up Robot & Frank is its location: Cold Spring, in the not-too-distant future. Admittedly, when I saw the words “Cold Spring” on the screen, I pictured the robot and Langella strolling along the Hudson and gazing over the river… but it didn’t happen, so I’m guessing it wasn’t really filmed there (though IMDb disagrees). Still, there are a couple of really nice establishing shots of Blush Beauty Bar — in Rye, not Cold Spring — so it does have a healthy dose of local scenery.
The movie has a current Metascore of 65/100 on Metacritic, meaning “generally favorable reviews” — which isn’t bad for the end of August. Here’s what some of the critics are saying:
“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… 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.” — Andrew O’Hehir, Salon
“What I’m saying is that I resisted the film but it won me over, a little more than I care to admit.” — Richard Corliss, Time
“The robot and Frank make a predictable odd couple, one that the first-time feature director Jake Schreier, working from Christopher D. Ford’s script, tries to sell with smiles and soft comedy. That’s too bad because Mr. Sarsgaard [Ed. note: Actor Peter Sarsgaard voiced the robot], his silky voice oozing, is onto something appropriately creepy, and Mr. Langella, who can be a ferocious, thrillingly powerful screen presence, has it in him to take this ingratiating story somewhere dark or at least someplace deeper.” — Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
How have you been entertaining yourself in the doldrums of August? Let me know in the comments.