Movies Review

Movie Review – Real Steel

I took my son with me to see Real Steel last night.  Much like Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this was a movie that hit my radar late.  I mean, I knew about it, and probably made the jokes everyone else made about Rock’em Sock’em Robots.  It wasn’t until reviews started to come in that I really took note.  Ebert liked it?  Hmm.  I’ve had my differences with his reviews in the past, but you can at least get a sense of the movie from Roger whether or not you end up agreeing with him.

Jackman’s character is a former boxer, Charlie Kenton, who got pushed aside when the human boxing game ended, and robots took over.  Now he travels on the outer fringes of the robot boxing sport, fighting them at state fairs and underground arenas (sometimes badly).  Complicating things for him is his son Max, who he takes on after his ex-girlfriend dies.  He only agrees to that for cash to get another robot, as the kid’s rich aunt and uncle want to adopt him.  Anyway, that’s not important.

The real story starts after Charlie gets a second robot (the one bought with the money from the aunt and uncle) destroyed, and they have to search for parts in a junk yard.  Max finds an old fighting bot and in the process bonds with dear old dad.  OF COURSE the underdog gets a shot at the big show, and digs down and…well, you know.  If you’ve seen Rocky, or Rocky Balboa, or any other ‘little underdog beats the odds’ type of film, you know how it goes.  That doesn’t make it any less fun, though.  The fights are solid with real boxing choreography.  The dialogue shades to the corny side.  You have to accept a lot to get to a place where the only obvious robots in the world are the boxing ones but if you can, there’s a solid, enjoyable movie here.    I think the last paragraph of Mr. Ebert’s review sums it up very well for the naysayers:

“Real Steel” is a real movie. It has characters, it matters who they are, it makes sense of its action, it has a compelling plot. This is the sort of movie, I suspect, young viewers went to the “Transformers” movies looking for. Readers have told me they loved and identified with their Transformers toys as children. Atom must come close to representing their fantasies. Sometimes you go into a movie with low expectations and are pleasantly surprised.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Featured Review

More on Thor: Come ON, Roger

Roger Ebert is one of the few critics I play attention to.  I don’t always agree with him, but he thinks really hard on even the silliest movie he has the misfortune to see.  That is, most of the time.  He didn’t review Thor officially, but mentioned in his ‘Journal’ today.  I can understand him not being familiar with the source material – neither am I, really, as I never read Thor’s standalone books – and it’s really not necessary for this movie.  Most of what you need to know is laid out for you, and if you don’t get that the ‘Barton’ dude carrying a bow is a reference to Hawkeye, so be it.  You’ll figure it out later.  But check this:

In the arena of movies about comic book superheroes, it is a desolate vastation. Nothing exciting happens, little of interest is said, and the special effects evoke not a place or a time but simply…special effects.

A ‘desolate vastation’??  I might save that for Elektra but Thor wasn’t a bad movie.

Thor to begin with is not an interesting character. The gods of Greek, Roman and Norse mythology share the same problem, which is that what you see is what you get.

This I agree with, but I thought there was enough interest with the byplay between Thor and Odin, and Thor and Loki.  Different strokes.

The land (sphere? state of mind? heaven?) known as Asgard is described in Norse mythology as being near Troy, or perhaps in Asia Minor.

Uh, in the MOVIE, it was explained pretty clearly ‘where’ Asgard is and how it connects to the other realms.  Roger also missed both the scientific description of the Bifrost and Thor’s own description of it, as that confused him too.

Later there’s a meteoric event in which Thor’s hammer hurtles to earth and becomes embedded so firmly that it can’t be pulled lose by a pickup truck or even the federal government.

Again, there’s source material that could help with this, but I thought it was made pretty clear that only someone WORTHY of wielding Mjolnir could lift it.  “Whoever wields this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.”  You hear that, you see everyone NOT lifting the hammer, you get it, right?

Thor luckily speaks English and Jane and her friends take him to the local diner, where he eats lots of Pop Tarts and, when he finishes his coffee, smashes the empty cup to the ground. “We don’t do that,” Jane explains as if to a child, and advises him to simply order another cup, after which he apparently absorbs human behavior and the movie drops the Taming of the Thor angle.

Yes, he speaks English.  As a god-like alien whose people have traveled to 9 different planets over thousands of years, he might’ve learned it.  If you’re wondering how he eats and breathes…

The three scientists are thin soup. Jane flirts demurely with Thor, Darcy stands next to her and does nothing very important, and Dr. Sevig regards them gravely and looms slightly above a low-angle camera while looking on with wise concern

This I agree with, but I think both of the ladies are pretty cute, and Dr. Selvig does his job okay.  Always seems out of breath, though, he should see a doctor.

Superhero movies live and die on the quality of their villains. “Thor” has a shabby crew. The Frost Giants spend most of their time being frosty in their subzero sphere of Jotunheim and occasionally freezing their enemies.

Admittedly, the Frost Giants didn’t impress me, not seeming ‘giant’ enough.

Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is dark-haired, skinny, shifty-eyed and sadly lacking in charisma.

The Trickster god, he does a solid job of manipulating everyone, but he’s not a match in a direct fight, so he doesn’t.

These villains lack adequate interest to supply a climactic battle, so the plot provides a Metal Giant, sends him to the New Mexico town, and has him blast fiery rays that blow up gas stations real good but always miss his targets. He is apparently stopped by a sword through his spine, but why does he need a spine since when his mask lifts we can see his head is an empty cavern?

The Destroyer is stabbed by a spear, and doesn’t get killed by it.  Just wrong.  Look, there’s more here that doesn’t make sense but I guess I expect more from Roger Ebert.  I don’t expect you to read years of back issue comics to understand a comic book movie, but that’s not required here.  Just watch the movie.  It’s not the best comic book movie, but it IS a good one.

Console Games Media PC Games

Seeing Art

If you are like me, and you read Roger Ebert’s excellent Twitter feed and blog, you know he sometimes gets on a subject and won’t let go.  Recently, one such topic has been how video games can’t be art.  Now, video games are pretty close to my heart (as close as movies are to Mr. Ebert’s), and I have felt compelled at times to defend games, but have never posted.  Many others did so so eloquently, and Ebert seemed stuck in his ways, it seemed fairly useless.  Still, after yet good-natured snipe, I had to get this on record:  Video Games Are Art.

I mean, there are some great stories – great stories are art.  In modern games especially, there are beautiful images – images can be art.  I have certainly been moved by games, perhaps not to the same extent as a really outstanding book, but there are levels to everything.  I probably rank games  above most picture art, as far as that goes, but it’s different for everyone.

My favorite ‘video game as art’ example is Half-Life.  Now, I don’t enjoy horror movies, typically.  But the beginning of HL plays out like a horror movie, that is actually supremely enjoyable to me.  It produced real tension, as I crept through the ruined Black Mesa facility.  Doors bursting open, me wildly swinging the crow bar until the headcrab zombie was dead, then laughing and shaking my head at my own reaction.  That’s art, to me.

What causes the outcry about stuff like this is the fact that we gamers are a prickly bunch.  We get derided as childish, lazy, violent-offenders-in-waiting who play killing simulators and brain-numbing MMOs.  So we are touchy when a major media outlet of any kind takes a shot at us.  Even when it’s one we generally like (despite a favorable review for Star Wars: Episode 1).