The Occasional Movie Review

A two-fer this time…Saturday featured wall-to-wall movies.


See, the girls had a Girl Scout Halloween event at Camp Lackamaga, so we packed them off to their leader’s house Friday night and they weren’t back until around noon today. By all accounts, though, it was a great time.


So on Saturday, Patrick, Jenni and I took in a matinee of a movie that the two of them wanted to see: Real Steel.


This is a feel good movie. With robots…Boxing robots.


And it’s a movie about an absentee father finding the son he’d forgotten about for a decade. With fighting robots.


And it’s a movie about the triumph of the little guy over the big guy…With fighting robots.


Okay, I kid (a little), but if you take this movie at face value, it’s done fairly well. The story is a retread, repackaged and presented here with the aforementioned fighting robots, but it holds up for the most part without being too horribly cliche.


The basic story is this: an aging boxer turned robot boxer (Hugh Jackman) finds his career declining in this second phase and he’s desperate to turn things around. Then he learns that the mother of his son has died and her sister wants to take custody of the boy, with the added bonus that the sister is rich, and he, of course, as opportunistic and selfish as he is, sees his chance to cash in on the situation. He takes the boy for the summer while the sister and her husband are in Europe, all for a price, of course.


Over the course of the summer, the boy finds an old sparring robot in a junkyard and works on training it for fights. One success leads to another, and he and the father find that they’ve got a very unique fighting boxing robot on their hands. They work their way up to a fight with the best robot in the robot boxing league, and…


I won’t give away the ending.


The movie is done well, charming without being terribly syrupy, but it hits all of the chords that a good Disney film should. Though it isn’t a Disney film…Jackman is simultaneously likeable and dislikable enough where you find yourself rooting for him when he does well and saying “told you so” when he isn’t. The kid is charming and edgy, as all kids in these roles should be, and in a nice touch Jenni pointed out from an interview she’d read, Sugar Ray Leonard choreographed the fight scenes using different signature professional boxer moves for the different robots.


So, short story: OK movie, if the loud, quick-cut action film is your thing. Three out of Five Stars.


On what has to be the exact polar opposite of that fluff film is the very heavy and slightly confusing Black Swan.


I remember Julie talking about some of the truly messed up things that dancers did when she was dancing. And while I realize, or hope that this is very extreme, it still seems to reverberate with some of the things I heard her talk about.


The story is this: a totally insanely crazy dancer (Natalie Portman) gets the role of a lifetime as lead in Swan Lake, replacing the totally insanely crazy long-time lead dancer who’s being forced to retire. The totally insanely crazy new dancer is very insecure in her abilities, and finds herself jealous of another insanely crazy dancer who’s been imported from San Francisco while she’s working to make her director like her performance.


And as if that pressure isn’t enough, our totally insanely crazy main character has an insane and overbearing mother who once had a dancing career that didn’t pan out, apparently because she became pregnant with the super-crazy Swan Lake lead.


Drug use, sex, lesbian sex, skin disorders and more hallucinations than I care to count happen along the way from being named the lead to the opening night performance, and in the end, it’s hard to figure out exactly what’s real, what isn’t, and why our batshit crazy lead did what she did.


To say I was surprised by this movie would be an understatement: I expected something a bit more…um…cerebral, and got a real psychological thriller. It’s quick moving for being one of these deep, dark, thinking movies. And Natalie Portman plays crazy from the first frame to the last very, very well. So I guess her oscar was well earned.


I gave this movie Three out of Five Stars, mainly because it wasn’t really a genre I enjoy, and I couldn’t really say it hit that four-star level of being a movie I liked a lot. It is well done: it sucks you in, makes you uncomfortable with how crazy and weird everyone is, and doesn’t let go until the credits roll. And for that, you have to admire it.


I’m now through half of Mad Men season two, and I’m pleased to say that while I thought the season had been pretty slow and uninspiring so far, the most recent episode brought a surprise that I didn’t see coming and was a nice twist. Now I’ll have to see what they do with it…


Quick bonus food review: made the America’s Test Kitchen Chicago-style deep-dish pizza tonight, and I’ll highly recommend it, if that’s your style. Just don’t do what I did with my pizza and try to overload it: Chicago-style deep-dish needs just one or two toppings before it gets bogged down with too much going on. Jenni said her mushroom pizza was just great. And I trust her food opinion a lot.


Off to bed now to face the week.


See you tomorrow.