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At The Movies

Real Steel
Directed by Shawn Levy
The poorly-made trailer for “Real Steel” gives the impression of a blend of “Transformers” and “Rocky” – but the actual movie makes that seem like both the wrong robot analogy and the wrong Stallone analogy. The storyline is a much closer fit with Stallone’s “Over the Top,” so much so that it almost feels like there should be a throw-back writing credit. And the relationship between the son in the movie and the main robot is more reminiscent of “Iron Giant” – which is, for me at least, high praise. Hugh Jackman plays an ex-boxer who has transitioned into the new world of robot boxing by becoming an itinerant operator of robots on the underground boxing circuit. The sudden death of an ex causes him to have temporary custody of a son he has never known, a turn of events which appeals to neither of them (seriously, read the synopsis for “Over the Top” and see how similar they are – substitute robot boxing for arm wrestling and you’ve got the same story). But the film, however unoriginal in form, is well-produced and solidly-acted by both Jackman and his young co-star (Dakota Goyo) and far better in outcome than I had expected. The relationships are simple but well-handled. The action scenes are engaging without suffering from the frenetic pacing of some movies that render them almost impossible to watch. There are a few plot elements that seem to go nowhere, but overall this is a solid and genuinely fun movie.

Restless
Directed by Gus Van Sant
It’s hard to watch or think about this movie without reference to “Harold and Maude.” Here, Enoch similarly meets Annabel at a funeral and, while she isn’t old and close to death as Maude was, she’s young and close to death due to terminal cancer. She has that same light, love of life that complements Enoch’s morbid curiosity, following the loss of his parents and his own brush with death. Their short relationship is complicated by Enoch’s other companion, the ghost of a WW II Japanese kamikaze pilot, whom only he can see and who has an occupational advantage in games of ‘Battleship.’ It’s a story that manages to be both tragic and uplifting, as both of their experiences with death, respectively recent and imminent, are aided by the other. Van Sant has an impressive body of work that encompasses both the trippy and the weighty, and “Restless” manages to reside in the former while contemplating the latter. Demonstrating along the way the relationship between the terminally ill and those around them (as did last week’s “50/50”), it’s at times endearingly awkward, at other times painful, but mostly simply beautiful – much like life.

The Way
Written & Directed by Emilio Estevez
In “The Way,” Emilio Estevez plays son to his real life father, Martin Sheen. Sheen is an American doctor who receives a phone call, while playing golf, informing him that his estranged son has died in a remote European village. Stunned, he goes to collect his son’s remains only to find that he had just embarked on ‘El Camino de Santiago,’ a religious pilgrimage in the form of a walking trail that starts in France and traverses Northern Spain. There are strong spiritual elements to the film but it can also be appreciated by those who wouldn’t normally seek out such subject matter. This is a journey of discovery and redemption, and a story of a father’s love for a son he no longer knew or understood. Those are themes that transcend religion or specific beliefs. It’s also an interesting, small-scale production that bucks the trends of big Hollywood to tell an intimate and meaningful story, and will likely cause many to wonder how they might react in a similar situation. “The Way” would make a great precursor to stimulating dinner conversation.

1911
Directed by Jackie Chan & Li Zhang
I’ve previously noted that Jackie Chan’s career is at risk. He’s an actor who’s made his career on an ability to perform fight stunts, but who no longer has the agility and speed to keep up with his former self. For that reason “1911” is a welcome departure, in theory, as he returns to his Chinese roots in this historical dramatization, spoken in Cantonese. Unfortunately, in practice, it’s not a very entertaining film – feeling more like a video textbook of an uprising, taken event by event. It’s also very difficult to fully appreciate as it combines subtitles, written background statements, and onscreen labels that introduce new characters – often at the same time. I’d like to see more of Chan in dramatic roles, but this isn’t one I’d recommend unless you’re simply fascinated by anything pertaining to revolutions and/or the end of the Qing dynasty.

Brighton Rock
Directed by Rowan Joffe
This is a dark movie that never lets up in its tale of a small-time hoodlum in 1960’s Brighton, England, against a backdrop of the youth violence between mods and rockers. Pinkie’s father-figure and gang leader is killed, upsetting the balance of power both within the group and in relation to a larger, rival organization. Sensing opportunity, Pinkie attempts to manipulate those around him, including Rose, a young tearoom waitress who had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Elevated by neat supporting performances from Helen Mirren and John Hurt (and a relatively rare opportunity to see Golum’s Andy Serkis in a live-action role), this adaptation of the classic novel remains compelling despite the relentlessly amoral actions of Pinkie and his associates. It’s essentially a character study of a psychopath no longer bounded by the guidance of his mentor. While uncomfortable for some, it’s an intriguing descent into the darker depths of a human nature unhindered by remorse.

Machine Gun Preacher
Directed by Marc Forster
“Machine Gun Preacher” is based on the true story of Sam Childers, an ex-con with a background in violent crime and drug abuse, who found religion and built a church and orphanage in war-ravaged Sudan. It’s an intriguing story that suffers by feeling like it’s probably less interesting than a documentary might be – a feeling that’s reinforced by the snapshots of the real Childers that are screened over the end credits. It’s also likely to be uncomfortably preachy for those who don’t share the same faith, even if the accomplishments themselves might be of interest. That said, it does do a good job of reminding viewers of the scale and nature of real danger and brutality (rape, murder, and the forced recruitment of child soldiers), as compared to “first world problems,” such as his daughter’s disappointment over not having a rented limousine for her school dance. But I wish I had stumbled upon a Biography Channel special rather than what ends up feeling like an abruptly halted, half-story.

What’s Your Number?
Directed by Mark Mylod
Funnier than I had expected, “What’s Your Number?” is centered around a young woman (Anna Faris) who is alarmed after reading a magazine article that makes her realize that she has had far more boyfriends than average. In trying not to increase that nu
mber, she attempts to revisit old relationships, in search of more potential than she originally saw. This sets up some amusing and pleasantly brief encounters with a broad array of characters including, for example, an English ex-boyfriend around whom she fakes an English accent. It’s also worth noting that while her accent varies from moment to moment, that’s both intentional and funny – whereas Anne Hathaway’s wandering accent in the recent “One Day” was neither. There’s virtually nothing surprising here, but it’s not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.


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