Real Steel (2011)

Here is a truly fun film for kids and adults with the urge to have their own downtown underground fighting robot.

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Last night my wife and I sneaked out leaving the brother to babysit and saw Real Steel is about robot boxing. Yep, it’s that simple and that great! I have to say, I wasn’t too excited to see it. The idea of robots punching each other for 2 hours didn’t really pique my interest. But I am happy to recommend it now as a fun family film, with some fight scenes, that has all the charm of the Karate Kid and cgi as good as Transformers.

It was directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the MuseumBig Fat Liar …) and stars Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, and newcomer Kevin Durand. Jackman plays Charlie, an ex prize fighter who now slums as a robot coach (of sorts). Jackman discovers he has a son, Max, and try as he might to do otherwise, he is destined to partner up with his 13 year old son throughout the movie. Charlie and Max try their hand at robot management and coaching but it has mixed results. It isn’t until they have a few shared experiences that they acquire a new, plain, yet mysterious powerful robots. What that power is remains to unfold. Together they discover the worth of teamwork and the analog body in sync with the digital robot technology. I won’t give away anymore about the plot but know that it’s quite a fun ride.

Evangeline Lilly plays Bailey, Jackman’s ex. She is the calming force in his life even now that they are not together. They share a little romance that sizzles off the screen. Max is just happy-go-lucky. He ends up getting a dad and a prize fighting robot in the deal. There is not a while lot of real life character development but for what this movie is, an action movie, that isn’t required. Atom is the robot. You end up feeling like he is an actual person. He is the classic underdog fighter with no chance and a small physique. The twist is that he is not a human, like Rocky from the 70’s, but rather a steel fighting machine. He never says to his corner man to “cut me” but several comparisons are obvious, as well as to the Karate Kid.

All in all, this movie isn’t very real amid the steel. That being said, you will cheer when the good robots win fights. It is just the right time for this sort of movie to be made. Technology makes these things seem like real chunks of 1,000 pound metal to watch, enjoy, and give a high five to. While weak on the storyline and character development, this is the ideal underdog movie for the kids of today. And for those of us in our slightly older years, we should suspend disbelief so this movie can please us as well.

3/5

Intruders

“He WAS your friend, NOW he’s a doorstop.”

Fans of “Panic Room” may really like this one. A group of under thirtysomething males break into the protagonist’s home on a tip there is cash there. She surprises them and delivers some top-shelf girl kickass.

Intruders (2015)
Cast
Beth Riesgraf

as Anna Rook

Rory Culkin

as Dan Cooper

Jack Kesy

as J.P. Henson

Directed by
Adam Schindler

 

Written by
T.J. Cimfel
David White

 

Other Info

Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rated R
1h 30min

This is a girl kicks ass movie but there’s is another element. Madness keeps her in the house where she has remained ever “since daddy died” which we are given no exact time on. She nursed her cancer stricken adult brother in the house for years until he died and then even at his funeral she still will not leave the house. So, her madness is an extra element not always seen in “girl kickass” movies.

Beth Riesgraf plays Anna Rook, the heroine/protagonist. She is well known for her role on “Leverage” which I must admit, I now want to see more of. She’s very talent with a ton of potential. This is an excellent revenge type role but it wasn’t received well by the critics. I hope Beth Riesgraf gets roles that get her more exposure, she’s very talented. By the way, if you remember Rory Culkin from “Signs” as a child actor, he reappears in this film as the delivery guy. Buy, his look has changed.

I’d say this film is mostly a thriller and less horror that the posters promote it as. We do find out some horror elements exist like the frozen hand in the freezer and the makeshift dungeon in the basement. Still, this is a thriller with a fairly decent script that holds the viewer’s attention. It has a strong concluding scene that I fond very creative. Overall, I highly recommend it. As is my common theme lately in my reviews, you can’t always trust Rotten Tomatoes. This is a creative and fun thriller with an added mental illness factor. It spent a little too much time developing the relationship with her dying brother and I found that cumbersome. Still, I enjoyed it and highly recommend it. Now I’m off to watch “leverage.”

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Edge_of_Tomorrow_PosterI have to tell you about this movie, it’s a breath of fresh air in a 2014 Summer of mostly dull movies. This one flies above the rest. It’s concept is not unique but if you see this movie, you’ll be talking about it for days. It’s a bit like Groundhog day in concept. By that I mean, the same way Bill Murray’s character has to keep reliving the same day over and over again until he gets it right. In this case, the conflict is fighting aliens, and scary ones at that.

We see a funny Tom Cruise for a change. I recently saw “Oblivion,” an example of his serious sci-fi side in an excellent film.

He was the rough and tough sci-fi action hero. In “Edge of Tomorrow” it’s a lot of that but with laugh-a-minute deadpan humor thrown into the mix. Much of this humor consists of Emily Blunt beating him to a pulp to train him day after repeated day: hence the title “Edge of Tomorrow.” I liked this movie for many reasons and therefore highly recommend it. I am going to try and avoid spoilers on this blog because I know a lot of people like to leave the movie a mystery as they watch it unfold. Suffice it to say, the critics of all the major movie sites say the same thing as I.

Have you seen this film? What are your thoughts?

‘Wildlike’ – A Sleepy Hiking Film of Surprising Suspense

The indie film Wildlike is a hidden gem from 2015 that was recently added to Netflix. The director, Frank Hall Green, uses the Alaskan wilderness as backdrop for a suspenseful story. Starring in Wildlike are Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek) and Ella Purnell (Maleficent) who make this film a unique diamond in the rough.

img_9922Ella Purnell stars as Mackenzie, a 14 year old girl who’s been abandoned by her drug addicted mother. While in the care of her uncle, she is sexually abused, and flees to a nearby Alaskan hiking trail. That’s where she crosses path with Bruce Greenwood’s character, Rene.

Bruce Greenwood is the most recognizable star in the movie and he does a magnificent job trying to understand and help the troubled teen. He’s been in films as big as Star Trek and thankfully for us fans he accepted this role even though it was an independent film. The friendship between Mackenzie and Rene is fascinating and appears it could save her. Watching it develop is one of the best parts of the film though so I won’t describe it more than that.

Mackenzie is an interesting and powerful character as well. Not many of us know what it would be like as a 14 year old girl who was sexually molested. Some will say she should have told the police but others could argue the police might Bruce Greenwoodbelieve the aggressor, making a return to him inevitable. Ella Purnell dons the signature troubled-teen mascara that we see gradually reduced through the film as she begins to trust Rene. She shows us the fear involved for victims. She is a survivor and sticks close to him. Rene has profound reasons for being on the trail as well. The trail could be a metaphor that we all have our own pain to walk off. Both actors do a great job in their hiking dialog.

The suspense starts in the form of a bear on the trail and then culminates with the abusive uncle stalking Mackenzie. When Rene and the uncle finally meet, some may hope the uncle gets beaten to a pulp. They don’t show that. Instead, as with other themes in the movie, they infer it and the viewer is left to decide for her/himself.

wildlike_stillThis film has done quite well for its first time director, Frank Hall Green. It has been invited to over 75 film festivals and has won 16 Best Film awards. It’s nice to see such an understated film that allows the viewer to come to her/his own conclusions has done so well. It’s also understated and tasteful in the way that ordinarily graphic scenes like the sexual abuse is not shown but rather inferred. This is a stylistic choice of Green. By way of trivia, the IMDB page for the movie states that Frank Hall Green hiked in the exact park where the wilderness scenes were filmed and the path in the film was based on paths he and his family hiked.
I found this film a pleasant surprise. I expected a sleepy hiking film and instead got amazing outdoor cinematography with a suspenseful/thriller. I love movies that juxtapose a good story with stellar visuals. I’m reminded of Fargo as an example. Frank Hall Green is already at work on other projects but I hope a lot of people get a chance to enjoy Wildlike.

Life (2017)

Director Daniel Espinosa has given us a great space action horror flick. There’s a good lesson here too that we’ve seen before in movies like Jurassic Park: Don’t mess with nature.

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It starts like any other space team film. You might even expect the label predictable. still, if you want a Big Mac, there’s nothing better to satisfy your hunger. People who liked Alien and Gravity will like this film. Scene for scene it’s a lot of the same stuff. Creature is brought aboard, impossible to kill. Yeah. There is an ending eerily similar to Gravity but I will spare you the twist.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This is a great ride. While parts seeem highly borrowed, I chose to enjoy it and let it rock me. I would have liked to have seen something more scientifically illuminating as the trailer and title alluded to. Still it’s a great thriller with horror elements that fans of these genres will enjoy. A lot of work clearly went into this. Too bad it’s a rehashed plot. Most people will enjoy it.

3/5

Hugo

Article first published as Hugo on Blogcritics.
Sometimes a film comes along that I think of as perfect, not because it was made well or even acted well, but because it gave me a space in which to think clearly. These types don’t tell you what to think like so many modern ones try to. Hugo is about life and more specifically the role movies play in our lives.

When I first saw the previews for Hugo I thought it was a kid’s film about a rapscallion pre-teen who lived in a train station and called everyone “gov’na.” It isn’t that at all. Ben Kingsley’s character says when addressing his movie fans, “I address you all tonight as you truly are: wizards, mermaids, travelers, adventurers, and magicians. You are the true dreamers.” Are you one of those? If so, you’re who Hugo was made for.

Hugo is based on the bestselling book by Brian Selznick. It was produced by Johnny Depp and directed by Martin Scorcese. It’s about a 12-year-old named Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) who lives in a huge clock in a train station. His father was a tinkerer and repairman who died in a museum fire. He left his son a broken automatron, a sort of 1930’s version of a robot, and Hugo is determined to get it working. He thinks there is a message in it from his dad. He meets Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) a girl of his age who has a mysterious grandfather, Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley). He has a toy stand in the station and seems to despise Hugo for some reason. He is unusually cruel.

There is also a ruthless inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) with a Doberman and a leg brace who captures vagrants in the station. He sends them to jail or to the orphanage. He is a sort of lingering nemesis of Hugo throughout the movie, although he provides few scenes of subtle comic relief; I laughed out loud watching him try and pick up a woman.

The boy is on a quest to make the automatron work, and through the process learns a lot about the people in the station and Isabelle. There is a message here about the role of fantasy in our lives as well as the role of movies.

In conclusion, Hugo is a little slow in the beginning but the 1930s sets, costumes, and Parisian music makes the slow beginning worthwhile. When Hugo steals a croissant from a food cart you feel like you can taste it. The colors and attention to detail are so convincing, you feel like you are in the movie. The stalled action en principio is important in that it develops the characters. I really enjoyed Hugo. Once the ride began, I never wanted it to stop. If you want to go on a cinematic ride and be inspired, watching Hugo should be on your to-do list. I gave it 5/5 stars. Oh yeah, and if you love the history of movies, Martin Scorcese knows a thing or two about that! He certainly says it well in Hugo.

Straw Dogs

Article first published as Straw Dogs on Blogcritics.
Straw Dogs was directed by Rod Lurie, known for the Contender (2000). He is an ex Los Angeles film critic who took on quite a challenge directing a remake of the original Straw Dogs from 1971 which starred Dustin Hoffman. Surfing around the web I found this remake has similar controversy to the Cape Fear movies: volatile opinions exist.

I believe any remake will have its detractors and Straw Dogs appears to have its fair share. While I enjoyed some aspects of the movie I found the script unrealistic and the characters under-developed. Had those two features been enhanced, it could have been a great remake.

The film centers on LA screenwriter David Sumner (James Marsden) and his wife Amy (Kate Bosworth). They have just inherited a large house way out in the boonies of the deep South since Amy’s father’s passing. They decide to spend some time there in the town where Amy grew up so David can work on his most recent movie script presumably away from the noise of the city. Amy’s high school flame Charlie (Alexander SkarsgÃ¥rd) comes on to her right away and there is a tension there that hints at trouble. Charlie works with a group of ruffians that have long since graduated from high school but still cowtow to the coach Tom Heddon (James Woods) with regards to drinking games in the local saloon and other important facets of their small lives.

We learn very little about these washed-up football players. When they commit horrible acts we have no idea why. This is due to plain and simple shallow character development. There is something going on with the coach’s daughter and that makes for a side story that I won’t get into here. Suffice it to say it is once again, shallow character development and weak screenwriting. The premise of the movie is that ex-high school football stars in a small town often become feared villains. This group, defined by David Sumner as “Straw Dogs,” are in no way cute or interesting. They are savages and their criminal behavior wreaks havoc until the final scene.

I found the plot very predictable. Something done with a bear trap piqued my interest just minutes before the credits rolled. Too bad that was the only high moment for me. Perhaps it should have happened an hour earlier and I would have liked this film more. If the writing were better along with the character development of both the straw dogs and the other characters, it could have been an awesome new concept of a classic. As it is, this remake “drops the ball” in more ways than one.

Gentlemen Broncos (2009)

Movies give us a specific point of view. For this reason, it is possible to NOT GET IT in the same way you might not get someone different at work or in your life’s travels. In my years reviewing movies here on my blog (as well as my entire lifetime watching movies) I have suffered from “jumping to conclusions” about movies. I did that with Nacho Libre. Jack Black didn’t seem funny the first time, but my perspective changed. My gate opened up and after a month or so, that film was my second favorite of all time. Gentlemen Broncos was directed by Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite). It is as camp as camp gets. All (I am) saying is give “camp” a chance.

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Sam Rockwell plays Bronco, an interstellar futuristic hero from the imagination of a teenage writer. He is made out to reference the futuristic movies of the 1960’s, usually starring Charleton Heston. He is actually one layer below the reality one, being in a book. Michael Angarano is our true protagonist. Reminiscent of the children’s comedy Big Fat Liar, his manuscript is stolen by a more established sci fi writer and used for his next book. The best parts of this movie are the flashback sequences into the book. Everyone is searching for yeast, it is the lifeblood of a dying species. Does that sound ridiculous? There’s much more. Some of the real life sequences are slow and unnecessary. I don’t know why the director did so many of them. He could have stuck more to the manuscript story and only gone back occasionally to real life. I think tht would have improved the movie. The director seems like he is filling up dead space with snake diarrhea shopping with mother scenes. The manuscripts are where it’s at.

Envision stags with explosive rockets mounted on them. It’s camp effects again (see what I was saying about camp?). This movie will not resonate with a large audience because it is just too loosely joined. I probably will not recommend my friends and family to watch it but for those who have “seen it all” I offer this as a refreshing laugh with truly stupid intentions. If you laugh at this movie or even walk out, you are doing exactly what the director had hoped you would. I like movies like that, just not every day. Check out the clip below of Gentlemen Broncos.

3/5

Beauty And The Beast (2017)

Disney has done it with its big screen, live action adaptation of the animated musical Beauty and the Beast. The opening scene’s of Belle’s “provincial” town might as well be take straight from the cartoon classic. They are done well however and live-film aspects are utilized fully. I’m sure many were skeptical of what the film might do but it’s this author’s opinion that it entertains more than the animated classic.

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Bill Condon directed it will all the accolades of directing 2 Twilight films and experimental ones like Kinsey. He’s been around the block and it shows. Emma Watson does an excellent job as Belle. She has the chops to deliver and I found her to be “Belle” very shortly into the film. Like everyone, i was waiting for her to sing and when she did, it wasn’t small or nasal, she commanded the songs with a voice like an instrument.

The music remixes most the earlier songs. There are some added that have already brcom instant classics. One way Disney got this film right was by not making it too musical and conversely not too “drama film.” I think they achieved that balance well.

Dan Stevens was the best casting choice in the film. He emoted the beast in and out of costume. He probably had the most lines and screen time so it was integral to the success that he be liked and “bught.” I bought it! Every minute of him. The CGI wasn’t perfect but the acting and voicing was so good, I don’t feel the need to criticize. The wolf fight along with the Gaston jump fight at the end are some of the best action scenes in all Disney movies.

There are other amazing actors in this who do not fail to satisfy: Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, and Emma Thompson. The acting is first rate and part of what makes this an outstanding film experience. The animated clock and candlestick figures were among my favorite. They are very relatable, just as much if not more so than the prior animated ones.

The story is probably known to all by now. A sorceress’ spell keeps a Prince in the beasts’ body until true love sets him free. This is kind of like the life story of anyone who has sought love. The process of patience and understanding is chronicled much more clearly in this live action film than in the cartoon. We live among the characters and there are scenes where there was not a dry eye in the house. It’s not just a chick-flick either, there are wolf attacks and beast fights, and all the other sort of exciting stuff you’d expect from a legendary tale such as this. Most know that true love wins.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Listen, we all know the story here. It can easily appear that Disney is simply cashing in, once again, on a classic anmated musical to make a sure thing. That isn’t true though because we have learned through time that remakes don’t always succeed. This film is a success in its own rite. Emma Watson delivers as Belle and Dan Stevens is a knockout power punch as the Beast. Then there are 6the smaller successes in the music and the smaller roles. There is a reason this film keeps packing theaters, people want what it gives and they’re ready to pay at the box office. Hollywood should take note for future remakes of such classic animated films.

5/5