Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Movie Review: Real Steel (2011)

Real Steel (2011)
Director - Shawn Levy
PG-13; 127 Min
Charlie - Hugh Jackman
Max - Dakota Goyo
Bailey - Evangeline Lilly

So I had to kill some time while waiting for my new glasses (I wear contacts except at night watching TV, so it's been 5 years since I got new ones, and if I were to wear those while driving on some random occasion I wouldn't have been able to read a stop sign nor avoid an entire crossing of deer), so yeah, I had to kill some time and I happened to be next to a movie theater so I did something I never do and I just walked in and picked a movie that was starting.  That movie was Real Steel.

This is the exact type of movie I would never pay to go see if I had taken some time to think ahead and plan a trip to the movies, but since it was between that, 2 films I have already seen, or a few things that looked absolutely horrendous, I ponied up the $6.50 matinee price and found myself seated in a room with approximately 12 other people, 6 of which were children.  Thankfully my favorite back right corner seating area was empty so I settled in for what I assumed would be an average viewing experience, if that.

As for the movie, I'm not going to dissect it, but guess what? It wasn't terrible! I mean, it really didn't totally and completely suck! It certainly wasn't one of the worst films I've seen this year and in the end I sort of thought I liked parts of it just fine.  Of course, let's be real (is that a pun? I have no idea), the movie was pretty awful in some regards.  I mean, Jackman as a deadbeat dad who has zero acting ability sort of gives it away that this will not be another Rocky, but then we find out that this is exactly Rocky except it takes place with human controlled robots fighting each other for prize pools.  Actually, this is a cross between two great Sly Stallone films - the great boxing one and the equally great (am I serious?) arm wrestling one, Over the Top, except in this reincarnation Jackman doesn't give a damn about his kid at first whereas Sly at least had some love for his bratty rich kid in the other.

I've rambled.  Put it this way: this is actually entertaining.  It is completely dumbed down with scenes involving the father/son/girl relationship (Evangeline Lilly from Lost fame looks hot but adds little), but the scenes of robot fighting and the way it is shot actually worked well.  I have no idea who the audience is for this but I'm guessing it is really really wide, so if you're looking to see something corny and don't want to be mad when you leave, I think this one does the trick.

*** out of 5

Saturday, October 15, 2011

2 Movie Reviews: Contagion (2011) and The Ides of March (2011)

Contagion (2011)
Director - Steven Soderbergh
106 Min; PG-13
Matt Damon; Gwyneth Paltrow; Jude Law; Kate Winslet; Laurence Fishburne; John Hawkes; Marion Cotillard

Note: Spoilers in this review

When Gwyneth Paltrow travels to Hong Kong for work and seemingly does nothing but drink, gamble and, on her way back, whore it up with an old flame in Chicago, she reminds us all of the reasons we hate Gwyneth Paltrow. Thankfully for all of us, she is one of the first people to die from a new disease which we only pray was actually started because of her, but we also realize it was most likely given to her by someone or something (it was) and that her death would be a starting point for the movie in which we probably can guess the direction it will take but are also pleased with the execution (we do and we are.)

As with all awful people like Paltrow they hurt the ones they love. In her case, she kills her son and her lover - what an evil bitch. Ok, so she didn't know she would transfer the disease, but she exists and therefore she should have been aware that she would eventually do something horrible. But I digress.

Her husband Matt Damon is found to be immune to the deadly disease, thus proving once again that Damon made a deal with the devil as far back as School Ties (1992). Their daughter is now his to protect from the soon to be mobs of looters and those passing on the communicable nightmare. This is but one of no less than 5 sub plots involving normal people, CDC workers and their families, WHO workers and their families, scientists working on the vaccine and their families and a slightly improbably, Jude Law as a world famous blogger who garners some 12 million unique views of his video blogs calling out everyone involved for conspiracy theories to hide the truth about the disease and to withhold crucial vaccine information in order for corporations to profit. He may or may not be profiting in the same way.

All these subplots have managed to destroy other films (think the truly egregious Vantage Point (2008)) but such a strong director, script and actors help make this film a success. Never overly dramatic, though tens of millions are dying, the film is cohesive and keeps us well informed with a visual timeline throughout. At no point was I questioning what was happening or what day or month it was or who was involved in what part of the story - it all truly flowed very well (Though I will say the Cotillard storyline was a tad bit out of sync.)

There was never a doubt that this was a Soderbergh film.  Just look at the scene in a car with Matt Damon on his phone, the camera angled up from the passenger front seat to his face in the back seat - pure Soderbergh.  This has the feel of Traffic (2000) stamped all over it in just as good a way.

I'm not sure at what point I sort of lost any real care for the people involved, but I did, and in the end that leaves me with a slightly less enthusiastic feel of the film than I had at the mid point.  With that said, it is definitely one to see.

**** out of 5

The Ides of March (2011)
Director - George Clooney
101 Min; R
Cast: George Clooney; Ryan Gosling; Philip Seymour Hoffman; Paul Giamatti; Evan Rachel Wood

Clooney, Gosling, Giamatti and Hoffman in a political thriller? Yes please.  Unfortunately it becomes very predictable.  Great cast and great performances, but nothing special.  I wanted to like it more but really, other than some good acting, it never really delivers anything special.  Gosling's character deserved much more development and Hoffman really could have been explored much more. 

*** out of 5