Saturday, October 29, 2011

Real Steel is a Sweet Family Picture With Boxing Robots

Three Stars

This film doesn’t require a very long review. I get the feeling that the script to ‘Real Steel’ could have been written by a 12 year old. It’s corny and sweet. No real value, but not every movie needs to be. I have to admit, the story of a down on his luck dad, and his spunky long lost son made for a sweet film, even if they were bonding over robot boxing in the future. I think they made a Twilight Zone episode based on the same short story by Richard Masterson. I remember the original short story being a lot tougher than this, but whatever. This is a film you can bring your 12 year old to, and not worry too much. There’s some violence and mild language but not enough to really make you uncomfortable watching it with your child. I don’t think any self respecting adult would buy the premise of this film, but no need. Hugh Jackman is good as the down on his luck guy who starts out as a jerk but then learns to love his son, Max (Dakota Goyo). Yes, the script feels like it was thrown together from other family pictures, like the scene where Max promises the robot that he will keep his secret that they can understand each other or when they teach the robot how to dance. Sometimes a movie can make you invest in a story that’s corny and ridiculous. It’s a shamelessly sweet story, as the script focuses more on the father and son learning to love each other than the boxing robots. The boxing robot scenes might make an adult roll their eyes, but it’s a good way to kill a few hours with your tween. I wouldn’t bring really young kids to see this film, but the film plays it mostly safe. And it should.

So, simply put. I’m giving “Real Steel” three stars. It exceeded my very low exceptions going in but turned out to be a sweet film with a gimmick. This film is called “Real Steel”, and the kids should get a kick out of both the spunky kid, the down on his luck boxer and the fighting robots. It runs a bit too long (127 minutes) but if you need a film to bring your tweens to, this is a nice bet. You should be mildly entertained. I know I was. Sometimes criticizing a film harshly, really isn't worth it. Sometimes a film is simply entertaining, and kind of sweet even if it is kind of silly. This film is one of those.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

50/50 is 50/50 on Laughs and Drama

Three and a half stars

Sometimes movies can make us think about life in general, and that’s what the new film ‘50/50’ attempts to do. I know as I watched this film, I thought about what it would be like if I had cancer. How would I take that news and what attitude would I have? In one scene, Adam (Joseph Gordon Levitt) and his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogan) go to a bar and try to pick up girls with his cancer diagnosis. That might sound horrible, but the scene is played for laughs, and the movie treats the topic in a sensitive way. I thought to myself, would I try to pick up girls if I had a cancer diagnosis? Well, we are all human, aren’t we? Though, the film isn’t a laugh riot, nor should it be. Adam goes on the web and finds out that with his rare form of cancer, he has a 50/50 chance of survival. The film shows Adam go through all the motions of this terrible news. First, he tries to play cool. Then he gets mad. Then an older friend of his at the hospital dies, and he decides life isn’t worth much. He is assigned a therapist (Anna Kendrick) who is cute as a button. She’s 24 years old and when Adam refers to her as Doggie Houser M.D. she doesn’t know who that is. If I went to a therapist I would want my therapist to be like her. It’s a little predictable that Adam is going to get together with his therapist, and let’s be honest; we want them to get together. If we can’t cheer for a guy who has cancer with a 50/50 survival rate, then who can we cheer for?

Joseph Gordon Levitt seems to be building a career of taking quirky scripts. I gave 500 Days of Summer four stars. 50/50 is a comedy with a cancer gimmick, so that’s pretty quirky. People react differently to his cancer. His friend, Kyle, tries to make the best of it. Adam’s first girlfriend, Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard),doesn’t take the cancer diagnosis well. Adam offers to let her bail on him if this is too much, and we get the sense she might bail on him. His mother Diane (Angelica Huston) gets overprotective when she is told her son has cancer.

At times, Adam can be a jerk, as suggested by his therapist. His father has Alzheimer’s disease, and Adam seems to skip his mother’s phone calls, thinking she’s overprotective. His therapist points out that she has a husband who can’t talk, and a son who won’t talk. That makes Adam a bit of a jerk. Adam is realistic about his disease, as I said earlier. The script keeps it light mostly. It keeps it as a comedy-drama. The screenwriter, Will Resier, had cancer himself, and decided to write a script about it. It’s interesting he picked to write a script instead of a memoir. The film is good in the way it doesn’t try to overdramatize everything, as films about terminal diseases often do. We don’t see long scenes of him in the hospital bed, giving final wishes. Instead, we are treated to scenes of him hanging out with his friend, Kyle, trying to just live life and make some small talk. It’s a little odd to watch a light comedy about cancer, and makes the reviewing of it a little hard.

When a film has a sensitive topic, and plays it for laughs, without being disrespectful, it’s a bit hard to categorize the film. I don’t have cancer, so it’s hard for me to write about this film in a critical fashion. I don’t know how realistic this film is about cancer. Though, if you do have cancer, you don’t stop living your life, and that’s what this film portrays. You want Adam to live, and you get the sense that yeah, this film won’t end on a downer. The film can proceed a bit like a standard comedy at times, and doesn’t go as deep as a film about cancer can, but I don’t think that was the purpose. The film goes on with everyday life with the disease looming, and tries to make scenes funny and sensitive at the same time. Like the scene where they cut off his hair in the mirror, and Kyle says they shouldn’t have done that. Adam questions what Kyle uses the razor for. Where is he using that razor to shave? What part of his body? Adam once again tries to make light of the topic, and much like this film, Kyle is doing a bit of a balancing act. The film is trying to be sensitive and comedic about it at the same time. That being said, it did make me think about how life can be sometimes. How things can change in an instant. The title 50/50 is good for this film. As I said earlier, I never had cancer so I can’t say what it’s like having cancer, so I’m not sure how I can judge this film entirely. I’m not sure if I would be calm about it or have a sense of humor about it, though what I can say is this movie does have us thinking about life. Movies are not a cure for a terminal disease, but they can be good medicine.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

'Moneyball' Goes Behind The Scenes of Baseball

 Four Stars

‘Moneyball’ opens with the statement, “$114,457,768” vs. “$39,722,689”, to symbolize the budget of the two teams at play. One is the Yankees, and the other is the Oakland A’s. The Yankees beat the Oakland A’s in the Division games. This greatly bothers Billy Beane (Brad Pit), the general manager of the team. He talks on the phone, then talks to his higher ups about what kind of money he can get for the team, then talks and talks. Of course, the team isn’t doing well, disappointing the fans, and this doesn’t hold well for their budget. So, he travels to Cleveland to talk to the Indians about a trade. It’s there, he meets a young guy named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a nerd with a economics degree from Yale. Impressed by his skills, he makes a trade of his own, and Peter comes on board with him at the Oakland A’s. Brand has a philosophy about baseball, that they can build a great team by getting undervalued players cheap. To everyone’s surprise, Beane decides to take a chance on this guy, and his higher ups look at him like he is crazy.

His team manager, Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a bit offended at the fact that Beane is taking advice from some nerdy kid instead of experienced baseball experts, like himself. Brad Pitt turns in a calm performance as Beane, a straight forward guy who wants to win. Jonah Hill’s performance is focused and very good. They make an unlikely team. Something starts to happen, as the team starts to win, after a few tries of different guys. This is a film that knows that baseball is a business, like everything else, and doesn’t boggle down in baseball movie clichés. It isn’t about the players as much as it’s about the people putting together the team. The screenplay, no surprise, is full of dialogue and talk scenes. And that’s no surprise because the screenplay was co-written by Aaron Sorkin. The film was directed by Bennett Miller, who directed Capote. He does a good job here, making the film have an office feel. The film has a business feel. It spends more time in the office than it does on the baseball field.

This film isn’t about the glory of the game. It’s about what goes on behind the scenes of the glory of the game. Even when the team is winning, Beane feels that it doesn’t mean anything until they win the big one. Beane states he is just a guy with a high school diploma who would like to send his daughter to college, unlike Brand, who has a diploma from Yale. You can tell both these guys really love the game. Yes, in different ways. Yet, you can tell they share a love for this. Beane used to be a baseball player himself, and Brand loves putting together the numbers, even if it’s questionable whether he himself has ever picked up a bat.

The performances here are very good, and so is the script. At the end of the film, as I won’t give away, but I suspect those who have been keeping up with the sports pages over a number of years already know, Beane turns down something huge. My brother, who’s a big baseball fan, already knew the story that was going to happen. I’m just a movie critic, so I didn’t follow this story. My stuff appears on the entertainment and arts or lifestyle pages (or wherever the newspaper decides to stick this syndicated review column), so I came into this movie not knowing the full extent of how the A’s got to the top. As someone who doesn’t follow sports, the film still kept me interested.

That being said, ‘Moneyball’ is an intelligent homerun. It’s a business film, and a baseball film. It’s no surprise it’s a business movie, as it is based on the book by financial journalist Michael Lewis. I think you don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this film. It is an intelligent and mature picture about baseball without all of the glory and clichéd scenes of sports figures. It’s about the real guys behind the scenes of the ballpark and not about just the baseball players. At one point in the film, one of the characters says you can’t play kids games forever. And Beane knows this, and so does Brad Pitt. Here is a film that takes baseball seriously.