31 March 2012

Movies: The Thing x 3

The Thing from Another World (1951) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044121/
The Thing (1982) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084787/
The Thing (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0905372/

Horror Sci-Fi

Yes, all three films. After watching the 2011 version I figured what the heck, I'll watch the other two versions again as a refresher. So I popped in the 1951 film then the 1982 film. I realize now I should have watched the 1951 film last for better continuity, but that's okay.

All three films are adaptations of the 1938 novella "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell Jr, who wrote the story under the pseudonym Don A. Stuart.  All three films have at their core the premise that a craft crashed and melted in to the ice, a body was found a short distance away frozen in to the ice, when the body was recovered it breaks free of its icy prison and starts wreaking havoc on the people who found it.  They end up not only battling for their lives but for all of Earth, for if this Thing gets to warmer climes and near populations the whole world is in for some hurt.

* The 1951 "The Thing from Another World" takes place in the Arctic. A science team detects the crash of some sort of craft and calls the military to report it. As our military and its allies did not have any air craft in the area they suspect it may have been a Russian craft.  The Air Force sends a team to find the crash site with the science team's help and investigate. A reporter hanging out in Anchorage, AK, with the air crew asks permission to come along and get a scoop.  After locating the crash site they realize it is probably an extraterrestrial craft and try to melt the ice with thermite to get to it. They inadvertently destroy the craft, but luckily find a body frozen in the ice a short distance away. This time they dig out the body and return the corpsesicle to the station. The body gets free of the ice and begins to wreak havoc.

As it's a 50's-era film there is plenty of dialog that we just wouldn't hear in today's world. It also goes toward the stereotypical science blinded to reason route vs. the military level-headed authority. It's also filmed in black-and-white. There aren't much by way of special effects. The creature looks like a Frankenstein's monster knock-off in a jumpsuit. However the film does feature what is possibly the first stuntman set fully on fire for a film.
The film deviates from the source story by making the Thing a plant-based life form. The scientists in the film surmise that the Thing was going to plant its seeds on the Earth to take over the planet.  Knowing how resilient the Thing is they realize they have to destroy it before it gets to warmer climes.

The film is effective and entertaining enough. Despite some dated dialog and obvious low-budget effects it holds up rather well today. Probably moreso from a nostalgic perspective than anything. Plus some of that dialog is great in its dated way. By today's standards it is probably a lot less scary than modern horror/thriller films have acclimated us.

* The 1982 version of  "The Thing" by John Carpenter takes place in the Antarctic, in contrast with the 51's taking place in the Arctic. In some ways it might be considered a remake of the '51 film, but in actuality returned to the source story and followed it more closely than the '51 version.
The film begins with a Norwegian helicopter chasing down and shooting at a sled dog. When the dog reaches an American camp the pilot lands the craft and the shooter chases after the dog, still shooting. After he missed the dog and hits one of the Americans the Americans shoot back and kill him.
After securing the dog in the kennel it goes through a crazy transformation and starts eating the other dogs. Understandably wigged out a couple of the Americans fly back to the Norwegian camp and discover it burned out, nobody left alive, and some recordings they made. They also find a bizarre and charred two-headed creature lying in the snow. They grab the remains and bring them back to their camp.
Through the recordings we see the actual discovery of the craft and the digging up of its passenger actually took place prior to this film's start. What happens after isn't recorded, but the Americans have an idea what happened next, because they start living the same horror.

The creature in this version is no longer a walking growling vegetable. As in the original novella it assimilates and morphs into the creatures which it comes in to contact.  The body count is much higher in this film than the 1951 version. Scarier and greater tension-building too. Great special effects for its time and considered a benchmark setting film.

Also notable this film has an all male cast. The '51 version had two women cast members, as does the 2011 version.

* Now, on to the 2011 version of "The Thing".
This one, too, takes place in the Antarctic.  But this isn't exactly a remake, it is a prequel to the 1982 film. The production took care to 'set up' things at the station to look like the burned-out Norwegian station in the 1982 film. They even play out events that put in to place objects that can be seen in the 1982 film, including an axe stuck in the wall, certain corpse locations and how those charred remains of a two-headed creature got outside for the Americans to discover later in the 1982 film.
The creature's abilities are the same as the 1982 flick's creature.
This film begins after the Norwegian team has already found the craft. They bring in an expert to help dig out and examine the frozen corpse that was discovered. Unlike the 1951 film's corpse, this one looks more alien and bug-like in the ice. The craft's discovery is not portrayed, though the 1982 flick fills in that gap by showing us that video footage.
So, in some ways, this retells the 1951 story, although the 1982 also retells the 1951 story. Remote scientists battling a creature from outer space is the common theme and they can only deviate so much. However by making the 2011 film a prequel to the 1982 film it tells a more coherent story when coupled with the '82 film.  Admittedly the 2011 flick is event-similar to the '82 film, a factor which drives the nerdspace crazy when talking about the film.

As a stand alone film it is good. As a prequel to the 1982 film it works especially well.  One can watch the '82 flick right after this one and continue the story where it leaves off. Excellent job by production to tie the two together. If you watch this 2011 flick go ahead and watch the credits roll at the end of the film. There are scenes cut into the credits that lead directly in to the start of the 1982 flick.
I thought the special effects are done well. They used a mix of animatronics and CGI.
As a horror/thriller flick it has its moments, mostly due to startles and some building tension. But it is more action-oriented than the 1982 flick.
One complaint I have is the technology shown in this film seems to be more modern than the technology in the 1982 flick, even though you can see they tried to keep it 80s-ish. You can't fault the '82 flick's technology because it was practically state-of-the-art at the time. However the difference is rather jarring when you watch the 2011 film then the 1982 film back-to-back.
Another, slightly bigger complaint, is there is some difference between the alien ship discovery in this film vs. the video footage portrayal in the 1982 film.  It's quite obvious when you see them in sequence. It isn't quite a seamless prequel, but darn close, and I'm not going to let that totally ruin the experience of watching the films back to back. They do good enough in other ways for me to let some things slide.
There exist more in-depth continuity discussions fueled with nerd-rage, but you know what? I don't care. I can accept 'good enough' and 'close enough' for entertainment purposes, well, up to certain extents. This film didn't exceed my allowance tolerance, so I'm satisfied.

* My overall recommendation?
The 1951 flick is a great nostalgia film, one to watch more out of curiosity or if you like those classic horror films of yore.  It isn't really a must-see because the 1982 film had a greater impact on pop culture and is a lot more memorable to folks still living today. However it is still fun to see those old 50s flicks, no?

The 2011 flick is a good film to watch for that horror/thriller/sci-fi movie night. It does well on its own. But why stop there? Why not just turn that into a double-feature night by watching the 1982 film afterwards. You'll better appreciate how well the 2011 film sets up the 1982 film. Even if you've seen the 1982 film before and think you'll remember it you'll better appreciate what they do in the 2011 film.  And if you haven't watched the 1982 film this would be the perfect time to see it.  Keep in mind, too, that the 2011 film is more action-oriented and the 1982 film is more psychological.

29 March 2012

Movies: The Black Hole

The Black Hole (1979) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078869/

Family-friendly Sci-Fi Action Adventure

A deep-space research vessel happens upon a black hole and discovers a ship that has been presumed lost for decades, precariously balanced near the event horizon.  Things start off sort of iffy, then spiral into madness.

This is Disney's first PG-rated film, prompting them to start the Buena Vista studio system to release more adult films and keep them separate from the Disney name. The film is live-action. You can tell they were experimenting with some of the visual effects - they didn't like the price quoted for Industrial Light and Magic cameras and folks so they did everything in-house. Even though they innovated a better computer-controlled camera system and had the longest computer-generated sequence for a film up to that time, other issues with the film eclipsed those achievements.  Heck, it even looks dated compared to 1968's "2001: A Space Odyssey".

There is somewhat of a "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" feel to the film, but isn't nearly as good. The dialog and character interactions seem especially behind-the-times for a 1979-era film. It's sort of as if Disney was still stuck in the 50's mindset when making this film, aiming for the low-hanging fruit of using pages from the same worn-out playbook Disney had used for years for its live-action films. Despite production quality, story and dialog just seem a bit out of time.  Especially in a post-Star Wars world.  I do have to give the scriptwriters some props, though, because they seem to have actually read up on black holes a bit when writing the script. They didn't get everything wrong.

The main robot characters, V.I.N.CENT and Bob, are reminiscent in some ways of the robots in 1972's "Silent Running". And Bob especially reminds me of a pre-cursor to Tow Mater in "Cars". As it was Slim Pickens's voice for Bob that is understandable, although Slim's a much finer actor. Roddy McDowall voiced V.I.N.CENT. Surprisingly the robots were the least annoying thing about the film, considering that usually the comedic support characters in Disney flicks tend to be more annoying to me.  Warning: Ernest Borgnine in a very form-fitting costume.

I remember seeing this film when it first came out and feeling a bit disappointed. At the time I was hungry for more things like "Star Wars" and this just didn't do it. After seeing the film again in 2012 it is even more disappointing. It didn't age well at all. However, in all fairness, I suspect one could get away with showing this to the younger crowd (10ish I'd guess) and they'd be a lot more accepting.
I watched the film just to give it a shot from a perspective that differs from my 13-years-old brain. I think I remembered the film a little more fondly than it deserved, and I didn't remember it fondly.

I suppose one could watch it for curiosity's sake, or perhaps nostalgia. But I wouldn't really put it on any must-see list.

26 March 2012

Movies: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1441326/


After Martha flees from a farm where she's been living with an abusive cult for the past couple of years she tries to cope with the memories of the place while trying to re-integrate herself with her sister and the world away from that farm.

The title may seem a bit confusing but makes sense when watching the film. Her name is Martha. When she first arrives at the farm the cult leader, Patrick, says "You look like a Marcy May," which then becomes her new name. The Marlene bit doesn't become apparent until much later in the film. If you're going to watch the film, see if you can spot it.

This film could have gone bonkers with the cult life, it could have gone bonkers with her re-assimilation in to non-cult life, and doesn't. Yes it seems like a deliberately paced film, kind of slow in bits, but watching her post-cult life inter-cut with her memories of cult life, the overlaps and triggers that bring those memories on, becomes compelling to watch through to the end. You want to know how things are going to turn out. Does the cult track her down? Can she escape them completely? Can she readjust to life off the farm?

Stars Elizabeth Olsen as Marcy(etc). She's the younger sister of the Olsen twins of "Full House" fame. There is a family resemblance, but she doesn't look at all like a monkey (unlike her sisters). And she can act, too (unlike her sisters). I was rather impressed by her performance, completely shattering the preconception I couldn't avoid (because of her sisters).
The ever-improving John Hawkes is Patrick. The dude is easily recognizable and ever since I saw him as Pete the convenience store clerk in the opening sequence of "From Dusk 'till Dawn" I've paid more attention to his roles in other flicks. Always a "hey - it's that dude" moment.
Recognizable cast or not, they all did quite well and I didn't notice any cast or acting weaknesses.

Decent production and location choices too. The story does take on some darker themes, but as I mentioned before they didn't go bonkers about it. Seemed realistic enough.

Initially I had no intention of watching this film, but after hearing a few good things about it I changed my mind. Glad I did. A worthwhile serious movie night choice.

25 March 2012

Movies: Flypaper

Flypaper (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1541160/

Mystery Comedy

When Tripp goes to the bank he gets caught in the middle of two bank robberies. Two different teams decided to rob the bank at the same time. During the ensuing stand-off between the teams Tripp overhears parts of their conversations and mediates a solution. One team goes for the vault, the other team robs the ATMs.  The robbers move all the hostages in to a room, but events begin to unravel everyone's plans.

This is more like a bottled-up caper film. Bottled up because we don't leave the bank until the very end. A caper film because we find out there's a bit more going on behind the scenes and an explanation as to why the two teams decided to rob the same bank at the same time. The mystery component comes about as Tripp begins to piece together, not entirely accurately, what is going on.   The humor (comedy) component comes about from situational absurdity, characters and some dialog.  There is some gun-shootin, some blowing-up stuff, some violence and deaths.

And, like any decent caper film, there is quite a cast of recognizables including Patrick Dempsey, Ashley Judd, Tim Blake Nelson, Mekhi Phifer, Jeffrey Tambor, Pruitt Taylor Vince. Even if you don't recognize some of the names you'll surely recognize the faces.

It's not as complex a caper film as, say, the "Oceans 11" series or "The Italian Job", but it does have its bits. The biggest difference is that most caper films tell you the goal then show you the planning stages, whether or not it goes to plan or there's a plan within a plan. This one slowly reveals what the plan was and by who as events unfold.

Decent enough film, should work for light comedy night or even bank-robbery night viewing.

21 March 2012

Movies: Contagion

Contagion (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1598778/

Thriller Drama

A deadly disease outbreak starts killing folks off, the CDC and other medical teams try isolating the virus to develop a cure while others try to track down patient zero.

Has one of the larger ensemble casts I've seen in a while, drawing from both big-screen and small-screen top-talent pools.

When I first heard of the film my first thought was, of course, 1971's "The Andromeda Strain". Can't be helped, that's my usual go-to for virus outbreak film comparisons. Sure, the '71 flick is a bit dated by now, but it is still a decent film. I don't even consider 2008's "The Andromeda Strain" mini-series 'cause IMO that was a disappointing POS. I only watched the original showing, I've not bothered trying to watch it again, I just remember griping during every episode.
Another possible candidate for an outbreak film comparison is 1995's "Outbreak". I didn't particularly like that film much either. I've watched it a couple times just to be sure. Every few years I would think to myself, "I can't remember why I don't like this film," rewatch it, then I remember. It's been a few years, I still can't remember why I don't like it, but I'm just trusting that I remember I don't like it.
71's "Andromeda Strain" takes place in a bottle. that is, most of the film takes place in a facility where the core cast is 'bottled up' together.  "Outbreak" take us outside of the bottle in some respects, however it is still centered in one general location around a core cast of players.

Regardless, I didn't anticipate much from "Contagion". I figured I've seen plenty of outbreak films (mentioned and unmentioned) and I doubted "Contagion" was going to be anything especially new.  I expected "bug spreads, people die, scientists race to find a cure".

"Contagion" takes a different approach. "Contagion" takes place worldwide with multiple shifts in cast focus taking place. People die. New characters come to the front.  "Contagion" is about as different from predecessors like "The Andromeda Strain" and "Outbreak" as can be.  Not only does the film let us watch the medical teams at work, we get to see societal impact, panic spreading as fast as the disease, international actions fueled by prejudices and distrust, greed exploiting people's fears at no consideration to their well-being, and personal story arcs. All this takes place over a more realistic period of time that would be required to actually track down a virus and develop and distribute immunizations for modern-day populations. Quite ambitious in scope, but it works well. I didn't get lost following all the story threads.

I enjoyed the show. It was much better than anticipated and I'm glad I was wrong about it being "just another outbreak film".  I'm not sure if I'm going to feel compelled to watch it again in the future, but if I do forget why I liked it it won't kill me to see it again.

18 March 2012

Documentary: Life in a Day

Life in a Day (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1687247/


The call went out over YouTube for people to film their life on 24 July, 2010. 80,000 submissions from 192 nations and 4500 hours of footage later, this film was cut. Slices of life from around the world, all from the same day.

Amazing. Just amazing. How wonderful this world, how different everyone is, yet curiously how similar despite the differences. And for every second I saw of this 95 minute film I had to wonder how much of that 4500 hours of footage is equally compelling and missed out on? 
It isn't just clips thrown together randomly, there is a sense of order and common themes through the film, stitching together and changing as the day progresses.

I'm guessing just as varied as the clips are, different viewers will have different reactions to the film. Perhaps it hinges on one's ability to be interested in seeing what goes on outside one's immediate field of view.

The film in available to be watched in its entirety on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/movie?v=JaFVr_cJJIY&ob=av1n for free. It's also available on DVD and via Netflix streaming.
You can read more about how the film was put together at this Wikipedia article.

16 March 2012

Movies: Take Shelter

Take Shelter (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1675192/


Curtis begins having recurring increasingly intense nightmares about an impending storm. He feels compelled to expand and stock his backyard storm shelter. Knowing his mother was institutionalized for schizophrenia in her 30's he begins to doubt his own sanity and seeks medical help, however money is already tight and his deaf daughter may be a candidate for a procedure that will restore her hearing. As his nightmares continue to affect his daily life and decisions his family, friends and co-workers begin noticing his behavioral changes too.

This is a very slowly developing slow burn drama. If you choose to watch it, be sure to be well rested before doing so. It is a very long 120 minutes. I realize the pacing is deliberate and directly feeds the impending doom Curtis feels to the viewers of the story, but had I watched this after eating a meal I would've been snoring 30 minutes in to the film. 
I'm not saying the movie is bad. I really liked the film. I'm glad I stuck around to the end.

Stars Michael Shannon as Curtis. He's been in the business for a while and I've seen him in quite a few things, but only recently have I really been noticing him in productions. Probably because in the past, if I recall correctly, he was generally a 'bad guy #3' type. Surely recognized by "Boardwalk Empire" fans as Agent Van Alden. He was also in "The Runaways".  Curtis's friend and co-worker Dewart is played by Shea Whigham, who also happens to be Sheriff Eli Thompson in "Boardwalk Empire."
I should mention that Michael Shannon will be playing General Zod in the upcoming "Man of Steel" film. Kneel before Zod. (sight unseen I'm thinking the film might be a bit better than "Superman: Requiem", just saying).

The film opening says it was rated "R" for language. I didn't even notice any cursing and I was trying to pay attention because I thought how in the hell heck does a film get rated "R" for language these days? Well, if it were "Boondock Saints" level cussing I could see it.  So the cursing must've slipped past or something because I didn't even notice any.  It wasn't especially violent either - there's way more violence in prime-time TV than this film's one short scene of fisticuffs and sitting on fried catfish and macaroni.
Some of Curtis's dream sequences were especially scary to Curtis - not so much for viewers. The sparingly-used special effects are good and mostly realistic.

Like I said - slow burn deliberate pace, but compelling and acted really well. Separating Curtis's dreams from reality isn't always easy, especially as he takes steps to prevent his dreams from becoming reality. But the more he struggles to separate the two the harder it becomes for him (and eventually us) to do so. I couldn't help but stick around to answer the question "Is Curtis going insane, or what?"
I liked it, but understandably not going to be everyone's flavor-of-choice film.  Have to kind of be in the mood for one like this.

15 March 2012

Movies: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1298650/

Action Adventure

This time around Captain Jack Sparrow ends up racing to find the Fountain of Youth, competing with and/or helping Blackbeard and/or the returning-to-the-series Barbossa, and everyone is against the Spanish group on the same quest.

Actiony. Adventury. Mermaids. A little light on sea-battles. A little dark (visually). I prefer the high seas and bright jungle-y bits to dark innards of taverns, ships, nighttime jungles.  I thought the mermaid swimming effects were rather good - fast like dolphins instead of some models struggling in waterlogged prosthetics.

Cast great, just as its predecessors.  A little light on the returning primary and secondary cast, just Sparrow, Barbossa and Gibbs that I recalled. The new characters did great, with Ian McShane as Blackbeard and Penelope Cruz as Blackbeard's daughter Angelica. Considering it turned out Cruz was pregnant during the shoot and her sister did the stand-in work for distance shots I didn't even notice. Hollywood magic, eh?

I like the series of films. Just sit back and let myself be entertained. This one entertains too. Perhaps a tad weaker in some respects than the first three, but not disappointingly so. Regardless, it's a fun romp.  If they continue cranking these out I'll continue watching them. Well, within reason. If they get real stupid all of a sudden I'm out.

08 March 2012

Movies: Popeye

Popeye (1980) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0081353/

Family Musical Adventure Comedy

Live-action Popeye film.  Popeye rows in to Sweet Haven, meets Olive Oyl and her family, adopts Swee' Pea, fights with Bluto...

I had not seen this film prior to now. I figured it was time to do so.
My first thought -- I can't believe this was directed by Robert Altman. I remember the original "MASH" film, I make a point of watching it once every three or five years or so.  I even liked "A Prairie Home Companion" in a fashion. But this film -- I'm just flummoxed it's from the same director.

The film did nothing to evoke fond memories of the old Fleischer Popeye cartoons. I'd rather I had watched those for two hours or more.

Granted - Popeye does have some good scenes in it. But the film as a whole is weaker than the sum of its parts. At first I thought I was watching a stage musical converted to film. Afterwards I find out that's not the case. Some of the songs are okay, but for the most part I could've done without. Not the composer's fault, they just didn't add much to the film for me. The story seemed kind of weak and disjointed, though I do see how everything ties together. But still. Ugh. It was almost painful to watch. I watched the whole thing just to give it a fair shake, but I was really prepared to cut it short many a time.

Set-wise they did a wonderful job. The boats used in the chase-scene were masterworks as well. But that's not enough to win me over, especially when I'm not particularly liking the coherence of the story. Plus, a lot of times the sound seemed off. I know a lot of films do post-production sound work and ADR and stuff, but the mix just seemed way off and pasted-over.

Stars Robin Williams as Popeye, Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl.  Actually the casting was spot-on for the film. The Swee' Pea was cute. Duvall was perfect for Olive Oyl. Even though it was Williams's first feature film, in context of today casting him as Popeye then was the perfect choice.  The supporting cast did well for the most part too. The backgrounders all seemed like stage musical background performers, exaggerated scenery-chewing and all.

Here I thought I was missing out on something by not having seen the film before, but now that I've seen it, I realize I was wrong.  Heck, it made me re-appreciate recently re-watching "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang".

04 March 2012

Movies: Drive

Drive (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0780504/


A part-time Hollywood stunt driver works in a garage repairing cars by day and moonlights as a driver-for-hire for less-than legal endeavors. He becomes enamored with an apartment neighbor (Irene) and begins to develop a relationship with her and her son. This is despite knowing that Irene's husband (Standard) is in prison. After Standard's release from prison of course there is some uncomfortable tension. However the driver comes upon a severely beat-up Standard in the parking garage and finds out Standard owes a lot of money to the guys that protected him while he was in prison. They want Standard to rob a particular pawn shop to pay off the debt, otherwise they will go after his family. The driver offers to help. The robbery goes wrong and now the driver is in the middle of a situation much bigger than just a prison protection racket.

Stars Ryan Gosling as Driver (that's his character's credited name, honest). Carey Mulligan plays Irene, I've seen her before in "Never Let Me Go" and a "Doctor Who" episode. The cast also includes the awesome Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, Malcolm in the Middle), Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, curvy Christina Hendricks. Standard is played by Oscar Isaac. I've been seeing that guy a lot lately, specifically in "Agora", "Robin Hood" and "Sucker Punch", he's been quite a good supporting actor thus far.

This is a slow-burn thriller, patiently paced. It has some action, and does get quite violent at times, but it isn't a frenetic paced action-fest like "The Transporter". The story does have a bit of romance near the start of the film but don't despair. It is more to help define Driver's character and his motivations through the rest of the film. And just when you think you have Driver's character defined in your mind he exposes a bit more of what burns under his seemingly cool and reserved surface. I've heard people say they were disappointed because of the romance aspect, or they were expecting something like "The Fast and the Furious", and they quit watching the film. Well they missed out, then, because the best stuff happens after that. I do have to say, though, there's a lot less driving taking place in this film than one might infer from the title.

Filmed and produced well, decent story and a great cast. This film doesn't just prop up cardboard characters and knock 'em down until the film is over (coughTransportercough). Hey, I'm not knocking Transporter -- I enjoyed that film for exactly what it was. This film is of a different sort and they really shouldn't be compared.
All in all kind of refreshing.  Just remember - slow burn thriller - so probably not best if you're in an action flick mood.

02 March 2012

Movies: Empire of the Sun

Empire of the Sun (1987) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092965/

WWII Period Drama

A coming of age tale about a privileged British lad, Jim Graham, living in 1937 Shanghai at the time the Japanese finally take over the city. During the rush to escape the advancing forces Jim is separated from his parents. He returns to their abandoned home and waits for them to come get him, surviving off the canned goods left behind. Once those supplies run out he makes his way on to the streets. Eventually he is captured and sent to a Japanese internment camp, where he continues to struggle to make his place and survive, as well as struggle with his conflicting admiration of the Japanese despite their being the enemy.

This is a Spielberg-directed film. The locations, cinematography and effects are stunning. The story is based on a fictionalized semi-biographical account written by J.G. Ballard.

A then-12-years old Christian Bale plays Jim Graham. We also get some great performances from folks like John Malkovich, Joe Pantoliano and a few other recognizable faces. Even Ben Stiller has a bit part and said he was inspired to write "Tropic Thunder" while making this film.

I was reminded of this film while I was watching "Winter in Wartime" because of the similar coming-of-age theme played out in WWII and figured it was about time to watch it again. "Empire" does cover a much longer span of time for its young protagonist than "Winter" does.

I realize it's an older film, but it's a beautiful film that hasn't aged and is worth seeing once.

01 March 2012

Movies: Real Steel

Real Steel (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0433035/

Sci-fi action

Human-controlled robot boxing has eclipsed human boxing as a sport. This isn't Battle Bots®, these are giant human-ish looking robots slugging it out in the ring.  Charlie Kenton is an ex-boxer that goes out on the road with his beat up trailer and beat up robot taking jobs wherever he can. He owes lots of people money, and continues to dig himself deeper in the debt hole. Charlie finds out his ex-wife, who he hasn't had contact with in 10 years or so, has died and he has to attend a custody hearing for his 11-year old son, Max. Charlie's ex-wife's sister wants custody of Max. When Charlie reaches the hearing he realizes his ex-sister-in-law's husband Marvin is a man of obvious means. When Marvin approaches Charlie about maybe watching Max for a few months so Marvin doesn't have to bring Max on vacation, Charlie suggests Marvin pay him $100,000 in exchange for watching Max and not fighting for custody.  With half the $$ up front Charlie invests in a new robot to fight.

So yeah, you probably have an idea which direction this estranged father and son story is likely going to go.  I suppose that's the "heart" of the film.

Before watching the film I had a preconceived notion this was "Rock'em Sock'em Robots" turned into a film. How could it not be?  I mean, "Clue" was turned into a film. "Battleship" is due in theaters soon. I think "Candy Land" is in the pipe as well. So it wasn't much of a stretch to anticipate "Rock'em Sock'em Robots". For all I know it was pitched as "Rock'em Sock'em Robots: The Movie", got turned down by whoever, then got made under the "Real Steel" title instead.

The rest of the story has a serious "Rocky" vibe with a bit of "Over the Top" thrown in. Probably gunning for a "The Champ" vibe in some ways too.

No matter. Special effects-wise, robot fighting and stuff, it looked great. Makes you want to watch real giant robots pounding the fluids out of each other in the ring. Sure there's times where the 'technology' is a bit too unreal and controlling interfaces shown are a bit too simple to account for the robot's movements in the ring, but suspension of disbelief works well enough to let that slide.
Acting, no problem. Hugh Jackman rarely disappoints and does fine as Charlie. The kid playing Max holds his own no problem. A lot of the time the kid comes off as more an adult than Charlie, but I'm sure that's intentional. The kid still does impulsive kid-things, so he isn't entirely unrealistically mature. The rest of the supporting cast does fine but their characters don't require much depth to them either. The antagonists are generic cardboard stereotypes. We aren't subjected to having to worry much about anyone except when necessary for the main story progression.
There is some unanswered questions, like the origin of the 'bot. It's supposed to be a discontinued generation 2 sparring model, but it exhibits behaviors that must be unique because the people 'in the know' are surprised at its effectiveness. Except they never really explore that side of the story. The film even hinted at a possibility of robot self-awareness in one scene, but never pursued that either.
The emotional side of the film, when you really think about it, is almost appalling. Call it what you want, but no matter how you slice it Charlie sold his child to his dead ex-wife's sister's husband. So how is someone supposed to consider this a heartfelt story? How is Charlie supposed to be likable?

All in all, it's an entertaining watchable film. Pure escapist fare that attempts to have an emotional side, probably so couples can watch it together. Not exactly an original story in many respects, but the fighting robots make it ok.  I liked it more than Transformers mostly because it actually had a story. Transformers is just a couple hours of specialeffectsexplosionfest.