Month: October 2011

Cloverfield

Paramount Pictures

2008

Directed by Matt Reeves

Produced by J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk

Written by Drew Goddard

The premise behind CLOVERFIELD is a simple one: what if a giant sized Godzilla or King Kong type monster attacked Manhattan one night and the story was told not through the eyes of the military or scientists but ordinary people just trying to live through that night?  That’s the story in a nutshell and it’s related to us by means of a video camera found after the monster attack.  A group of close friends have gotten together to throw a going away party for Rob (Michael Stahl-David) who has landed a lucrative job in Japan.  During the party he argues with Beth (Odette Yustman) a girl he had a brief but passionate love affair with.  The argument, along with everything else at the party is documented on a video camera by Rob’s best friend Hud (T.J. Miller) who really didn’t want the job but was hustled into it by Rob’s brother Jason (Mike Vogel) who really didn’t want to do it either.  Hud makes the most of it and even sees it as a way of trying to get to know Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) better.  Hud’s got the serious whim-whams for the chick.  The fact that Marlena quite obviously doesn’t want to have a thing to do with him is lost on the poor guy but everything is put in its proper perspective when Manhattan is blacked out by what the partygoers think is an earthquake.  They soon find out that much worse has hit The Big Apple.

An honest to Gamera monster has attacked Manhattan and is doing an absolutely bang-up job at tearing shit up.  Panic stricken crowds are fleeing while the military is trying to contain and/or destroy it with little effect.  It’s as if Armageddon times ten has come to town.  Rob and the others try to escape via The Brooklyn Bridge but it’s an attempt that ends in tragedy and spectacular destruction.  Then Rob gets a phone call from Beth who had left the party after their argument.  She’s in her apartment.  She’s hurt and can’t get out.  She begs Rob to help her.  Unfortunately the monster and the United States Army are having their apocalyptic disagreement right between them.  Still, Rob figures that if he uses the subway tunnels he can get to Beth.  Marlena and Hud go along as does Lily (Jessica Lucas) Jason’s girlfriend.  Hud steadfastly records their harrowing night on video as they struggle to rescue Beth and then get off the island of Manhattan alive.

CLOVERFIELD has a lot of good things going for it and number one is the cast of unknowns who go a long way to selling the reality of the situation.  This movie wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if say, Shia LaBeouf and Katherine Heigl were playing the lead roles.  Since these are faces we’ve never seen on the screen before (well, at least I haven’t) it helps to sustain the conceit that these are just ordinary people caught up in an extraordinary situation.  I liked most of the cast, especially Lizzy Caplan who in an amazingly short amount of time creates a real character through her body language and expressive eyes.  T.J. Miller just gets to be annoying about halfway through the movie as his character really doesn’t lend anything to the story and apparently he’s along just to tote the camera.  But the rest of the cast steps up to the plate admirably.  There wasn’t a moment when they didn’t convince me of the reality of what they were experiencing.

What else is good about CLOVERFIELD?  Well, the special effects were better than I thought they would be, what little I saw of them (more on that in a minute: stay tuned) what with the scenes of destruction and panic being a little too realistic at times.  There were some scenes where I thought: “My God, that looks just like 9/11.” Which is okay if that’s what the filmmakers intended.  But it was a little jarring to see it in what I had expected to be a simple monster movie. Which brings me to what you really wanna know.  You probably want me to cut to the chase and tell you if we see the monster at all in the movie.   I won’t keep you in suspense.  Yeah, you do see the monster but to be honest most of the time it’s shown at a distance or in quick cuts.  There’s only one time where we get a really clear shot of it but still, I couldn’t describe to you what it looks like if you put a gun to my head.  Which brings me to my main problem with the movie: the jiggly cam.

I understand that the movie is supposed to be a recording on a video camera and so it has been filmed in nothing resembling a conventional manner.  There are very few moments in the movie when the camera is still.  There are even moments when the characters are talking but the camera is pointed at the floor or at something else.  As I suppose a real person would do with a real camera in such a situation.  During a tense scene in the subway tunnels where Rob and the others have to fight off these spider-like creatures that have apparently dropped off the monster it’s really a chore to have to follow what’s going on as the camera is whipping about wildly.  To give CLOVERFIELD it’s credit: it’s got a solid reason for why the jiggly cam technique is used but halfway through the movie I was wishing I could reach in, grab the cameraman and scream : “Hold the damn thing steady!”

So should you see CLOVERFIELD?  I don’t think it’s going to be known as a classic of the monster movie genre but it is well made and has solid acting and great special effects.  It’s a monster movie that’s not about the monster.  It’s about the destruction and horror the monster leaves in his path and it’s presented in an entertaining manner. I enjoyed CLOVERFIELD and I think you will also.

PG-13

90 minutes

Death Proof

2007

Dimension Films/Rodriguez International Pictures/Troublemaker Studios

Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Produced by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Erica Steinberg

Once upon a time there was this street in Manhattan.  42end Street.  Now before you jump up and say; “It’s still there!” Let me say that no.  It’s not.  Oh, 42end Street is there.  But it’s not there.  Give me a minute to explain.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s you could go to 42end Street between 7th and 8th Avenue and on both sides on the street there were nothing but movie theaters.  Cheap movie theaters that showed double and even triple features.  And when I say cheap I mean $2 or $3 bucks.  That’s right.  You could go see two movies for three lousy dollars and stay in the theater until it closed if you liked.  There was this one theater that showed nothing but a triple bill of kung fu movies.  The theater that was home to “The Lion King” for many years used to be the raunchiest XXX movie theater in Times Square.  These theaters opened early and closed late.  Real late.  If you had $20 bucks in your pocket you could stay on 42end Street all day long and most of the night cruising from one theater to another until you were all movie-ed out.  Of course you shared the theater with potheads, drunks, bottom feeder drug dealers, prostitutes, unemployed men hiding out from the world, teenagers cutting school and their ilk.  But if you didn’t mess with anybody they generally didn’t mess with you.  Back in the day the rule of thumb was: “don’t start no static, there won’t be none”.   The movie theater staff had the same policy.  Folks would light up their joints, pass around 40s of malt liquor, pints of cheap booze, smoke cigarettes openly and put their feet up on the backs of the seat in front of them.  But as long as they were cool, the management was cool.   In short, the environment was as saturated with depravity as the movies shown.

The movies that were shown in these theaters, which we now popularly and affectionately refer to as ‘grindhouses’ were far from Academy Award winning films.  They were Grade B, C, D and more oftentimes than not, Z exploitation flicks.  Blaxplotation.  Kung fu flicks.  Spaghetti westerns.  Horror.  Italian ‘giallo’ thrillers.  Splatter.  Made on the cheap and designed to be nothing more than sensational pulp entertainment most of them you forgot the day after you saw them.  Oh, there were exceptions, to be sure and a lot of those movies transcended the trash and are still highly regarded to this day.  But the 42end Street of those bad old days is gone forever.  I know, I know…people go on and on about it’s ‘safer’ now.  It’s ‘cleaner’.  It’s more ‘family orientated’ and I’m all for that.  I still think it was more fun back then.

Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez collaborated on a project called “Grindhouse” where they attempted to give modern day movie goers a taste of what the movie going experience was like back then.  “Grindhouse” was made up of two complete and separate films on a double bill along with a handful of fake trailers for equally fake films.  The two movies, DEATH PROOF and “Planet Terror” were aged and battered to replicate the way films looked back then since those prints were shipped all over the country from theater to theater and not handled with the best of care.   So when they were shown on the screen you had all these scratches and more often than not whole sections of film missing and spliced together.  “Grindhouse” even made use of vintage 70’s/80’s advertisements and theater announcements.   It was all designed to be a Valentine to that entire movie era of gleeful sex, violence and gore.

The problem was that a lot of moviegoers didn’t get the joke.  I remember reading that audience members were confused by the sections of the movie that had ‘missing reels’ and demanded that they see the missing parts or else they wanted their money refunded.  Supposedly there were complaints from theater owners about the 3 hr+ running time of “Grindhouse” Whatever the reason; “Grindhouse” was an ambitious experiment that failed at the box office.  However the two movies have been released on DVD as separate features.

DEATH PROOF begins with three Austin, Texas girls preparing for a weekend of partying to celebrate the birthday of Jungle Julia (Sydney Poitier) a local disc jockey.  Her two best friends Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito) and Shanna (Jordan Ladd) go with her to the Texas Chili Parlor where they’re going to hook up with Julia’s drug connection Lanna (Monica Staggs) and from there it’s on to the lake house owned by Shanna’s rich daddy.  But first the girls have planned a wild night of drinking, dancing and making out with some of the local guys (one of them played by writer/director Eli Roth) They also meet up with Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) who claims to be a professional stuntman although he can only credit television shows thirty years old that he supposedly worked on.  Stuntman Mike flirts with the girls which earns him a highly erotic lap dance from Arlene who is both intrigued and repelled by the scarred but strangely charming man.

Turns out that Stuntman Mike is not only scarred physically but mentally as well since he’s a psychotic sadist who likes killing young woman with his special souped-up 1970 Chevrolet Nova which he proudly boasts is “death proof”.  It’s been tricked out so that Stuntman Mike can do things like ram another car head on at 120 miles an hour and survive.  Whoever is in the other car isn’t so lucky.  Stuntman Mike proceeds to show off just how deadly his “death proof” car is by killing not only the four girls but also a girl he’s tricked into actually riding inside the car (Rose McGowan) in a pair of truly horrific scenes.

Cut to fourteen months later.  Stuntman Mike is in Tennessee and sizing up four new victims.  This time it’s Abernathy (Rosario Dawson) Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) Kim (Traci Toms) and Zoë (Zoë Bell) who are all in the movie business themselves.  Zoë is a stuntwoman and wants to do two things; buy a vintage 1970 Dodge Challenger and play a game called “Ship’s Mast” in which Zoë lies on the hood of the car, hanging onto two belts while Kim drives down the highway at high speed.  Bad time for them to pick to play this game because Stuntman Mike has been stalking them all day and he decides he wants to play as well.  But his idea of a fun game is way different from what the girls have planned.  Before it’s all over, everybody will have gotten their share of playing games.

DEATH PROOF is a way different movie in style and tone from “Planet Terror” in that where “Planet Terror” takes off at Warp Factor Five right from the first five minutes, DEATH PROOF takes it’s time to build up to the wild car chase that takes up the last fifteen minutes or so.  That’s why I advise everybody who plans on seeing these films back-to-back on a single night’s viewing (which is really the way to watch ‘em) to watch DEATH PROOF first, then “Planet Terror” DEATH PROOF takes it’s time telling it’s story and its certainly not boring but Q.T. takes his time in the first half so that we can get to know the first set of girls before the totally terrifying head on collision with Stuntman Mike’s car.  Then we’re introduced to the second set of girls and Q.T. takes another half hour with the characterization before we get down to their desperate 100 mile an hour road war.

It’s a solid movie full of the patented Tarantino dialog we’ve come to expect and there are extended scenes where it’s nothing but people just talking.  But since it’s Tarantino putting the words in their mouths and the actors are so good at what they’re doing I don’t think you’re going to mind a bit.  Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson and Zoë Bell are the acting standouts in this one, especially Zoë Bell.  She’s a real life stuntwoman who doubled for Lucy Lawless in “Xena” and for Uma Thurman in the “Kill Bill” movies and she’s totally charming here.  And that’s really her sliding around on the hood of that Dodge Challenger as it’s roaring down the highway.

Tarantino wanted to film a car chase without using CGI at all and it’s a really excellent car chase.  I’m glad to see that some filmmakers still like doing some things Old School: Tarantino put real stuntmen inside of real cars and let them do what they do best.  Vanessa Ferlito also does terrific work in this movie.  She does a mean lap dance and while doing it all I could think of was that she looks like she could be Rosario Dawson’s younger, sluttier sister.

And like all of Tarantino’s movies, the soundtrack is killer.  I don’t think there’s a director working today except for Martin Scorsese who uses music in his movies better than Tarantino.  The music he uses in his movie isn’t just stuck in there just to fill dead air between dialog scenes.  The songs uncannily fit the mood of a scene and get across exactly what emotion Tarantino wants to convey. And I always hear a couple of songs in his movies that I’ve never heard before from artists I assumed I was fairly familiar with.  Such as The Coasters song he uses for the lap dance sequence.  I’ve been listening to The Coasters since I was knee high to a knee as my father was a huge fan of theirs but I’ve never heard that song before I saw DEATH PROOF.

If I have any complaints with DEATH PROOF it’s this: despite Tarantino’s desire to make a grindhouse flick in the style of “Vanishing Point” and “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry” (both of which are referenced several times by the characters) the movie is way too dialog heavy and far too polished to be considered a true grindhouse flick.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that while “Planet Terror” is by far way more fun to watch, DEATH PROOF is technically the better movie and the one that will most likely stay with you for days afterwards.  There’s just more meat on the bones of this one.  But that ending is just too abrupt for me.  But then again, “Vanishing Point” and “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry” had similar out-of-left-field-what-the-hell endings and I was able to roll with them so I guess I can roll with this one.

So should you see DEATH PROOF?  You bet your ass you should.  It’s not one of Quentin Tarantino’s best movies but still, a minor flick from Q.T. is better than a lot of directors’ major works.  The performances are excellent, that car chase is a doozy and the story is tightly suspenseful.  By all means, Netflix and enjoy.

114 Minutes

Rated R

Planet Terror

2007

Dimension Films/Rodriguez International Pictures/Troublemaker Studios

Written and Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Produced by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Elizabeth Avellan

Once upon a time there was this street in Manhattan.  42end Street.  Now before you jump up and say; “It’s still there!” Let me say that no.  It’s not.  Oh, 42end Street is there.  But it’s not there.  Give me a minute to explain.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s you could go to 42end Street between 7th and 8th Avenue and on both sides on the street there were nothing but movie theaters.  Cheap movie theaters that showed double and even triple features.  And when I say cheap I mean $2 or $3 bucks.  That’s right.  You could go see two movies for three lousy dollars and stay in the theater until it closed.  There was this one theater that showed nothing but a triple bill of kung fu movies.  The theater that was home to “The Lion King” for many years used to be the raunchiest XXX movie theater in Times Square.  These theaters opened early and closed late.  Real late.  If you had $20 bucks in your pocket you could stay on 42end Street all day long and most of the night cruising from one theater to another until you were all movie-ed out.  Of course you shared the theater with potheads, drunks, bottom feeder drug dealers, prostitutes, unemployed men hiding out from the world, teenagers cutting school and their ilk.  But if you didn’t mess with anybody they generally didn’t mess with you.  Back in the day the rule of thumb was: “don’t start no static, there won’t be none”.   The movie theater staff had the same policy.  Folks would light up their joints, pass around 40s of malt liquor, pints of cheap booze, smoke cigarettes openly and put their feet up on the backs of the seat in front of them.  But as long as they were cool, the management was cool.   In short, the environment was as saturated with depravity as the movies shown.

The movies that were shown in these theaters, which we now popularly and affectionately refer to as ‘grindhouses’ were far from Academy Award winning films.  They were Grade B, C, D and more oftentimes than not, Z exploitation flicks.  Blaxplotation.  Kung fu flicks.  Spaghetti westerns.  Horror.  Italian ‘giallo’ thrillers.  Splatter.  Made on the cheap and designed to be nothing more than sensational pulp entertainment that you forgot the day after you saw them.  Oh, there were exceptions, to be sure and a lot of those movies transcended the trash and are still highly regarded to this day.  But the 42end Street of those bad old days is gone forever.  I know, I know…people go on and on about it’s ‘safer’ now.  It’s ‘cleaner’.  It’s more ‘family orientated’ and I’m all for that.  I still think it was more fun back then.

Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez collaborated on a project called “Grindhouse” where they attempted to give modern day movie goers a taste of what the movie going experience was like back then.  “Grindhouse” was made up of two complete and separate films on a double bill along with a handful of fake trailers for equally fake films.  The two movies, “Death Proof” and PLANET TERROR were aged and battered to replicate the way films looked back then since those prints were shipped all over the country from theater to theater and not handled with the best of care.   So when they were shown on the screen you had all these scratches and more often than not whole sections of film missing and spliced together.  “Grindhouse” even made use of vintage 70’s/80’s advertisements and theater announcements.   It was all designed to be a Valentine to that entire movie era of gleeful sex, violence and gore.

The problem was that a lot of moviegoers didn’t get the joke.  I remember reading that audience members were confused by the sections of the movie that had ‘missing reels’ and demanded that they see the missing parts or else they wanted their money refunded.  Supposedly there were complaints from theater owners about the 3 hr+ running time of “Grindhouse” Whatever the reason; “Grindhouse” was an ambitious experiment that failed at the box office.  Too bad.

PLANET TERROR begins with go-go dancer Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) quitting her job and hitting the road to pursue her dream of being a stand-up comedian.  She herself doesn’t think she’s very funny but since everybody she knows says she’s hilarious she figures what the hell.  Cherry literally hits the road when she’s almost run over by a convoy of Army trucks heading for a military base outside of Austin, Texas led by the smirkingly sinister Abby (Naveen Andrews) and Lt. Muldoon (Bruce Willis) who are looking for canisters of a top secret biological weapon hidden at the base.  In a movie like this it’s almost a given that things go wrong.  They do and the biological weapon is unleashed in the form of a sick-looking green mist that infects the townspeople, turning most of them into flesh-eating mutant zombies and leaving only a handful of desperate characters who must band together to stay alive during the hellish night.

Let me say right off the bat that if you’ve got a sensitive stomach and really don’t enjoy the sight of bodies being Swiss-cheesed by thousands of rounds of machine-gun fire or pulled apart like fried chicken and devoured then this isn’t the movie for you.  Robert Rodriguez doesn’t hold back on anything in this one and the sheer exhilaration of the violence in this movie might freak out some people.  There’s stabbings with hypodermic needles, zombies are doused with gasoline and incinerated, zombies are blown up, run over, decapitated and that’s the light stuff.  After seeing this movie my wife Patricia was speechless.  Seriously.   Depraved souls like myself are going to have a great time with this one.

You really have to throw out everything you thought you knew about movies to appreciate PLANET TERROR especially if you’re someone who’s never seen a movie that’s less than ten years old.  That’s because in terms of acting, cinematography, special effects and story, PLANET TERROR scores as being a successful throwback to the 70’s/80’s style of movie.  It looks, sounds and feels like somebody was rummaging around in a long forgotten storage room somewhere and found a lost John Carpenter flick from the 70’s.

A lot of the fun comes from the eclectic cast, all of whom look as if they’re having an absolute blast because they throw themselves in the ridiculously loopy story with gusto, energy.   While they’re all having fun with the material they respect it and make even the most bizarrely outrageous plots twists seem logical.  Freddy Rodriguez is really good as the mysterious badass El Wray who apparently can do anything and do it with a James Coburn-ish cool I found tremendously appealing.  And it adds to his mystique and badass status that El Wray is an average sized, average looking guy.  He certainly doesn’t look like a cat who can walk through a wall of zombies with nothing but a pair of switchblades and take ‘em all out.  Josh Brolin’s performance was one that struck me as oddly familiar for some reason and I couldn’t put my finger on it until the second time I watched the movie: he’s doing Nick Nolte.  In appearance, voice and mannerisms he’s a dead ringer for Nick Nolte in his younger days.  Michael Biehn and Jeff Fahey are a lot of fun as brothers.  Biehn is the local law while Fahey runs the best BBQ shack in Texas.  They brothers have spent years feuding over the family BBQ recipe but put their differences aside to fight zombies.  There’s some nice cameos and small but memorable supporting bits courtesy of Stacy Ferguson (of The Black Eyed Peas) Bruce Willis, Nicky Katt, Tom Savini, the Original El Mariachi himself: Carlos Gallardo, Q.T. and Robert Rodriguez’s patch encrusted leather motorcycle jacket.

But the movie belongs to Rose McGowan and she knows it.  From her opening scene to the closing she owns the movie and strides through it with a confidence and sly smile that seems to be communicating something private to those of us watching it.  She’s beautiful, funny, serious, droll and best of all; she plays Cherry Darling with respect.  It can’t be easy playing a zombie fighting go-go dancer with an M-16 for a leg but she plays it straight enough with just the right shadings of humor that we go along with it.  I’d like to see Meryl Streep or Nicole Kidman try to play the same character half as well.

So should you see PLANET TERROR?  Absolutely.  I applaud Robert Rodriguez for saying “the hell with it” and just going all out crazy with this one.  I mean, if you’re gonna make a movie then dammit make a movie as if you’ll never make another one in your life and that’s how PLANET TERROR plays.  It’s a wonderful homage to a  style of filmmaking we don’t see anymore and it’s done with such brilliant energy and imaginative power that I was truly sorry when it ended and I can’t say that about too many movies I see these days.

But again I have to warn those of you who are sensitive to violence to steer clear of this one.  Especially since there’s a scene involving a little boy and a handgun.  I realize that even though it’s a movie there are those who take such scenes as that one very seriously and would rather not see scenes such as that one even though you don’t actually see anything.   And if you decide to Netflix both PLANET TERROR and “Death Proof” to watch on the same night (which is really the best way to see ‘em) let me make a suggestion: Watch “Death Proof” first then PLANET TERROR.  Even though in the theaters they were shown in the opposite order trust me on this one.  I think you’ll enjoy it a lot more.  Then go email Robert Rodriguez and demand a movie starring The Crazy Babysitter Twins.

105 minutes

Unrated

Real Steel

2011

Touchstone Pictures

 Directed by Shawn Levy

Produced by Susan Montford and Don Murphy

Screenplay by John Gatins

Story by Dan Gilroy

Based on “Steel” by Richard Matheson

Ever since I first saw the trailers for this movie I have refused to call it by its actual name of REAL STEEL.  Far as I was concerned this was “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots: The Movie” and now that I’ve actually seen it, I think it deserves that title even more.  Because that’s just what it is; robots rockin’ and sockin’.  Wrapped around the epic ‘bot battles is a heartwarming story of a father and son reconnecting and without the story, the movie wouldn’t nowhere be near as much fun as it is.

It’s twenty minutes into the future and human boxing has been replaced by robot boxing.  Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) stays in the game thanks to the underground illegal robot boxing arenas.  He buys robots on the black market.  Robots who usually lose.  On the run from men who owes a lot of money to, Charlie is informed that his ex-girlfriend has died, leaving behind her 11 year old son, Max (Dakota Goyo).  Charlie has absolutely no interest in being a father so he makes a deal with Uncle Marvin (James Rebhorn).  Marvin wants to go away to Italy with Aunt Debra (Hope Davis) for a final fling as a couple before settling down to raise Max.  For $100,000 Charlie agrees to sign away all legal claim to Max and take care of the boy for three months.  Neither Charlie or Max is happy about the arraignment and caught in the middle of their mutual antagonism is Charlie’s long suffering girlfriend Bailey (Evangeline Lilly).  She’s had with fixing the busted up robots Charlie keeps bringing home.  And the final straw is when Charlie badly mishandles the controls of a Japanese fighting robot named Noisy Boy.  Noisy Boy gets trashed in a fight, leaving them all broke as Charlie spent his $50,000 advance buying the robot.

But things change when Charlie and Max find an entire working robot in a junkyard while foraging for replacement parts to repair Noisy Boy.  The found robot, named Atom is a sparring robot.  He can take a lot of punishment but he can’t dish it out.  Taking parts for Noisy Boy and another robot, Charlie and Max upgrade Atom and take him on the road where Atom proceeds to take the robot boxing world by surprise when he wins match after match.  In the process attracting the attention of genius robot designer Mashido (Karl Yune) and Farra Lemcova, the brains and money behind Zeus, undisputed champion of The World Robot Boxing League.  Atom is becoming too popular too fast and so a unique challenge is proposed.  One that may destroy the bond that has been forged between not only between father and son but between boy and robot as well.

Don’t let that last line throw you.  You don’t have to have seen a lot of boxing movies to tell how REAL STEEL is going to end up.  Or think this is going to be a heavy emotional trip.  Every single beat REAL STEEL hits goes all the way back to 1931’s “The Champ”.  That’s not to say that REAL STEEL doesn’t have fun with boxing movies tropes.

I especially enjoyed the choreography of the robot fighters as well as their distinctive visuals.  In the “Transformers” movies it’s impossible for me to tell the robots apart or understand what’s going on in the fight scenes.  Not so in REAL STEEL.  The great Sugar Ray Leonard was the boxing consultant for the movie and it shows.  Even though these are CGI/animatronic seven foot tall, thousand pound robots, they move with the fluid grace and realism of human boxers.  It’s exhilarating to watch.

So should you see REAL STEEL?  Absolutely.  It’s a fun movie and Hugh Jackman is always good in whatever movie he’s in (yes, even “Australia”) while Evangeline Lilly surprised me.  I only know her from “Lost” but judging from this movie, she’s got a nice career ahead of her.  Dakota Goyo plays one of those hyper-intelligent movie kids that usually gets on my nerves.  You know the type; they’re not really kids at all but small adults.  However, in this movie it kinda works as Max is a kid who has been forced by circumstances to grow up before his time while Charlie has simply grown older.  Not necessarily ‘up’.  There are a couple of amusing scenes where Charlie and Max appear to have switched roles as child and adult.

I usually don’t hope for sequels but I am hoping for a REAL STEEL sequel.  And maybe they’ll go ahead and call it REAL STEEL II: ROCK ‘EM SOCK ‘EM ROBOTS.  That would be nice.

127 minutes

PG-13

The Ides of March

2011

Columbia Pictures

Directed by George Clooney

Produced by George Clooney, Brian Heslov and Brian Oliver

Screenplay by George Clooney and Brian Heslov

Based on the play “Farragut North” by Beau Willimo

A movie like THE IDES OF MARCH couldn’t have come along at a better time.  What with the country being so politically divided and the various political parties at each others throats, a political thriller is undoubtedly a topical one.  But it’s not fair to call THE IDES OF MARCH a thriller.  It’s more of a character piece, examining the flaws of our political system.  Flaws that make it just about impossible for an honest man to remain honest if he wants to get to where he believes he needs to go to do the most good.  And how good can the intentions of a good man be when he betrays everything he believes in to achieve those intentions?

Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is The Junior Campaign Manager for presidential candidate Govenor Mike Morris (George Clooney).  Under the guidance of Senior Campaign Manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) Stephen is clearly the real star of the campaign and it’s obvious he’s got a brilliant future ahead of him.  In fact, he’s considered to be so valuable a resource that the rival Senior Campaign Manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) wants to hire Stephen for his team.  Paul wants to make use of Stephen before he becomes cynical and corrupt like Tom and Paul.

Stephen turns him down but decides not to tell his boss.  A decision that will bite him very badly in the ass later on.  Along with his decision to cover up the affair one of his interns (Evan Rachel Wood) had with Governor Morris.  Both of these decisions drive the second half of the movie which ends up the only way that it possibly could, given the nature of the arena Stephen has chosen to play in.

THE IDES OF MARCH is one of those movies I point at when people complain that movies for adults aren’t being made anymore.  It’s a movie that carefully examines why people get into politics and why it changes them.  It’s almost as if no matter how honorable a man or woman is when they start their political career, the machinery changes them.  And not for the better.

This movie has one of the best ensemble casts I’ve seen in recent movies.  Besides Gosling, Clooney, Hoffman and Giamatti there’s Marisa Tomei as a reporter for The New York Times and Jeffrey Wright as a Senator whose endorsement is hotly sought as it is vital to the success of both campaigns.  Everybody’s simply terrific in their roles and Ryan Gosling especially gives off vibes that at times reminded me of Mickey Rourke and at others of Steve McQueen.

So should you see THE IDES OF MARCH?  I would certainly say yes.  It’s a mature movie.  And when I say ‘mature’ I don’t mean just because the movie has a sex scene and the “F” word is used.  I mean that it’s mature because of the issues at stake.  The moral and emotional values that are tested and broken.  The relationships that go in directions that are not expected.  And at the end of it, Stephen Meyers is left with what he worked so hard for and only himself to decide if it was worth it.

101 Minutes

Rated R

Mary Reilly

1996
TriStar

Directed by Stephen Frears
Produced by Norma Heyman, Nancy Graham Tanen and Ned Tanen
Screenplay by Christopher Hampton
Based on the novel by Valerie Martin

I’ve never been much impressed by Julia Roberts in terms of her looks as she resembles her brother Eric Roberts way too much for my tastes. As an actress she also never did much for me although I’ll freely admit that I have to pretend there’s something in my eye if I’m watching her death scene in “Steel Magnolias” with other people.  And I thought the notion of Tess Ocean in “Ocean’s Twelve” being a dead ringer for Julia Roberts was a pretty funny one since this meant that Julia Roberts ended up playing a character that was playing that character’s idea of Julia Roberts. She must have a terrific sense of humor since she took the chance to poke fun at her own media image of herself in that convoluted role.

So given how I feel about Julia Roberts, why did I watch MARY REILLY?  Well, since John Malkovitch was co-starring and the movie was based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” I was intrigued enough to give it a look and was pleasantly surprised that I ended up enjoying it a helluva lot more than I thought I would.

Mary Reilly (Julia Roberts) is a slim whisper of an Irish lass who was placed “in service” by her mother who had no other choice if Mary was to get away from her horrific father (Michael Gambon). This model specimen of manhood would lock Mary in a closet under the stairs and throw in a bag of rats to keep her company whenever he got drunk. The rats would eventually chew their way out of the bag and then start chewing on Mary. Mary eventually comes to the household of a notable Edinburgh physician who is intrigued by the scars on her neck and wrists, souvenirs of her battles with the rats. They have conversations about her father and the nature of his evil.  They debate about if evil is inherent in man’s nature and the purpose of evil in the world and indeed, does it have a necessary purpose in the scheme of things. These conversations are remarkable on two levels. First; given the rigid class structure of England in the 19th Century the very notion that a doctor, a gentleman, a man of education and learning would even discuss such matters with a maid is more shocking and disturbing than if they were having sexual relations. And second, the doctor happens to be Henry Jekyll (John Malkovitch)…who employs a frighteningly brutal man named Edward Hyde (John Malkovitch) as his assistant…

Right from the start we know more about what is going on than Mary Reilly since we know that Henry Jekyll is shooting up with his homebrewed funky cold medina and going out at night doin’ all kinds of wild thangs as Edward Hyde.

But that doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the movie as this isn’t meant to be an out-and-out horror movie, even though there are some outstanding horrific moments and we never see the transformation from Hyde to Jekyll until near the end. No, this is more of a psychological horror film with a really weird and disturbing romantic triangle being formed between Mary, Jekyll and Hyde. This movie is a great example of what I think is meant by Gothic horror with some unusual sets, such as Dr. Jekyll’s lab, which can only be reached by a walkway suspended from chains over what might as well be a black bottomless pit. Jekyll’s house seems forever dark and claustrophobic and most of the scenes take place either at night or in darkened, shadowed rooms. Mary and Dr. Jekyll form a creepy bond as he relies more and more on her and in a strange way, Mary becomes an accomplice in the dark and terrifying deeds of Edward Hyde as she takes messages back and forth from Dr. Jekyll to Mrs. Farraday (Glenn Close) the madam of the bawdy house where Hyde commits some really despicable acts that Jekyll gladly pays to hush up.

I really liked the performances of Julia Roberts and John Malkovitch here. Julia Roberts manages to disappear into the character of Mary Reilly and conveys a lot of strength and vulnerability. We can see how she’s attracted both to Henry Jekyll’s intelligence, gentleness and compassion but also to Edward Hyde’s brutality and raw sexuality. John Malkovitch makes an interesting choice in how to play Jekyll/Hyde. He plays Jekyll as an older man, with gray hair and a scruffy mustache, slightly on the heavy side, slow and deliberate. Edward Hyde is thin as a scalpel, fast as a bullwhip, clean shaven, young and virile with a flowing mane of thick black hair. I wouldn’t be surprised if he took his inspiration from Jack Palance, who played the roles of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in a memorable 1968 Dan Curtis production in a similar manner.

The strength of MARY REILLY comes from us seeing major events from the classic Jekyll and Hyde story distilled through the eyes and sensibilities of Mary and the rest of the house staff and it’s really interesting to watch such a well-known story unfold through the eyes of secondary characters. The footman Bradshaw (Michael Sheen) speculates that Hyde might be Jekyll’s illegitimate son and at one point he even says in frustration; “Doesn’t anybody besides me notice they look quite a bit alike?” And the butler Mr. Poole (George Cole) is obviously jealous of the growing relationship between his master and Mary and that colors his treatment not only of her but also of Dr. Jekyll.

So should you see MARY REILLY? I’d say yes. It’s by far the most unusual version of “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” that I’ve seen in terms of the way the subject matter is handled. It’s got murder and mayhem but it’s focused on character and atmosphere instead of special effects. The acting by John Malkovitch and Julia Roberts is remarkably strong and powerful. This could be one of the few horror movies that guys can watch with their wives or girlfriends and due to the subject matter and acting be considered wonderfully sensitive and yet have their bloodlust satisfied. Enjoy.

Rated R
108 minutes

BiTD Basement of Horrors!

It’s become a tradition–around Halloween, The Boys Outta Brooklyn always discuss horror films you might not have considered when planning your movie marathons for the spookiest holiday of all. And during the past seven years we’ve build up a graveyard full of spooktacular episodes focusing on the creepy and the ooky as well as the mysterious and kooky. Here’s a complete listing of the horror themed episodes of BETTER IN THE DARK. Maybe you’ve listened to some or all of ‘em of them before. But if you haven’t, here they go. Bounce on over to the BiTD Fan Page Episode Archive and get to clickin’! 

EPISODE #5: Once again with more enthusiasm than facts (although we’re getting better), Tom and Derrick spend an hour looking at George Romero’s DEAD series. From NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD to LAND OF THE DEAD we examine the entire canon, including the remakes. Plus, the guys from Brooklyn tackle the eternal question of “Canada–what gives?”

EPISODE #12: What Made Haddonfield Famous–The Halloween Series
The Guys Outta Brooklyn unleash almost 90 minutes of filmic goodness. Join Thomas and Derrick as they go through the entire eight-film cycle, from the John Carpenter classic to the dumb-ass sight of Busta Rhymes kung fu-ing Michael Meyers. No film goes unmentioned or unpunished!

Episode #17: Hunting In A Black Cemetery For A Haunted Phantasm Before Dawn
Join the Boys From Brooklyn as they discuss with more enthusiasm than facts six of their favorite horror films. From the classic-but-near-forgotten PHANTASM to the insanely wrong-headed (in the positive sense) CEMETARY MAN we’re sure to turn you onto something that’s perfect for your tastes. Also, Tom and Derrick talk about the charms of both versions of THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. It’s a gruesome grab bag of cinematic chillers, so what are you waiting for?

EPISODE #43: The Sleepy Wicker Man Under The Stairs On The Descent To Hell’s Cell
Join Derrick and Tom as they discuss such underground classics as the British pagan thriller THE WICKER MAN, the African-American economic scare story THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, the very literal comedic horror tale HIGHWAY TO HELL and other treats to trick you into screaming! Plus Thomas imitates Gilbert Gottfried, the Guys discuss movies to make you claustrophobic, and we ponder the fate of Patrick Bergin.

EPISODE #59: BLACK GLOVES ARE FOR MURDER: THE GIALLO STYLINGS OF DARIO ARGENTO
The Guys Outta Brooklyn go continental as we examine a quintet of giallo films by the man who helped originate the genre, Dario Argento! From the insanely plotted but compelling TENEBRAE to the insanely plotted and craptacular TRAUMA to the clip show love letter DO YOU LIKE HITCHCOCK?, Tom and Derrick examine the handiwork of this seminal Italian director. Plus Tom gets an excuse to trot out another accent, how the Three Mothers trilogy is like Kill Bill and a word from our sponsor, The Argento Decapomatic! You know it’s all like a dream brought on by too much Ziti Fra Diablo, so get to clicking!

EPISODE #61: TRIUMVERATE OF PASSION AND TERROR–THE FILMS OF CLIVE BARKER
Tom and Derrick team up with Des Reddick, host of Dread Media as they discuss the unique cinematic vision of Clive Barker! Join the trio as they examine HELLRAISER, NIGHTBREED and LORD OF ILLUSION, as well as a number of other films based on the writer’s work. Plus far too many references to baboon butt, teaching our Junior Correspondent how to properly punch his dad, and how Jennifer Rubin ended up on the poster of Nightbreed! It’s a damn sight better than murdering the world, so get to clicking!

EPISODE #67: BEHIND THE DUEL OF MARY LOU, THE LITTLE GIRL WHO BURNT SATAN’S CLAW
Derrick chooses three films from the 70’s including one of Steven Spielberg’s first and a creepy guignol tale featuring a young Jodie Foster, and Tom chooses such gems as a high school ghost story and a ‘documentary’ that follows an aspiring serial killer as he plans his night of grue! It’s a six-pack of sinister ideas–plus some suggestions for a second feature to make those choices even more fun–so get to clicking!

EPISODE #72: TRANSPORTING MR. ROMERO
It started out as a simple episode examining the career of George Romero by looking at some non-zombie movies in his canon. But before it’s done, the Boys Outta Brooklyn will find themselves engaging in the first–and maybe last–edition of Better In The Dark Fight Night, featuring a selection of action movie stars…and Tom Savini. Plus Derrick tells us why Wes Craven deserves a daily kick in the ass, Tom has fun with public domain blaxploitation films, and gratuitous Kristen Bell. After all, it wouldn’t be an authentic BiTD episode without gratuitous Kristen Bell, right?

EPISODE #81: WHAT MADE SPRINGWOOD FAMOUS: THE NIGHTMARE SERIES
In an episode three years in the making, Derrick does for Freddy Krueger what Tom did for Michael Myers and examines the entire NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET ouvre, from the absolutely classic first entry through the rather…goofy end to the attempts to recreate the series in WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE and the monster rally FREDDY VS. JASON! Along the way, The Guys Outta Brooklyn discuss the importance of Robert Englund in creating this horror icon, how Wes Craven attempted to kill the franchise repeatedly, and how the films, as bad as they got never lost money. Plus…we find a connection between the series and the ultra-obscure Adam Sandler vehicle The Unsinkable Shecky Moscowitz and address a great disservice done to Curtis Mayfield. Every town has an Elm Street so get to clickin’!

EPISODE #88: DIRECTOR’S COURT–THE CASE OF ROGER CORMAN
The latest edition of Better In The Dark brings an icon of Drive-In Cinema before the docket! Tom and Derrick examine the influence American original Roger Corman had on Hollywood as both a director and a producer in a career that spans five decades. From his Poe adaptations to the long list of creative types he influenced to the series of giant animal movies that prowl the fringes of Syfy, Corman entire life is put under the microscope. Plus Tom and Derrick mourn Gary Coleman, who you should never patronize a business run by Klaus Kinski, and why a certain film should’ve been renamed MURDER HYUNDAIS! You’ve never lost money listening to us, so get to clicking!

Episode #90: WHO CAN SHANK THE STRANGE CORRUPTION OF THE GRIM PRAIRIE SAUNA (Special Guest–Des Reddick)
It’s time for this year’s iteration of a Better In The Dark tradition, as Tom and Derrick once again provide you with suggestions for Obscure Horror Films to light up your Halloween festivities. This year, however, they welcome the Patriarch of the First Family of BITD (and host of Dread Media), Des Reddick, to join in. The results are an international six pack of horror flicks ranging from the Finish period piece SAUNA to the New Zealand (pretending to be Nebraska) should’ve been a period piece STRANGE BEHAVIOR to the Spanish chiller WHO COULD KILL A CHILD. Plus zombie chickens! Tom Cruise sitting around in his underwear! The world’s most unscary home invaders! Everything goes better with monkeys, so get to clicking!

Episode #116: The Company of Beguiled Wittering Magic Shadows Must Die (Guest: Desmond Reddick)

The Boys Outta Brooklyn once more sit down with their Brother From the North, Des “Dread Media” Reddick, to discuss another six-pack of Obscure Horror Films designed to spice up your Halloween marathons! Tom, Derrick, and Des put the spotlight on werewolves and maniacs, with films set in the Old West, Feudal Japan, a fairy tale forest, and a British boarding school. Plus, oysters, monkeys, and most importantly, The Werewolf Break! You know one of us is a beast, so get to clicking!

Episode #118: Gatekeepers of Childhood Nightmares – The American Horror Host Tradition (Guest: Lord Blood Rah)

The Guys Outta Brooklyn return to their upbringing when they welcome modern-day horror movie host Lord Blood Rah to discuss the origins, history, and resurgence of the American Horror Movie Host tradition! Of course, this being a guest host episode of Better in the Dark, it soon morphs into a freewheeling discussion of the state of horror movies in general. It’s almost two hours of fun and frights in the BITD manner! Plus, the forgotten blaxploitation mummy epic, why Dr. Frankenstein always has the upper hand when other mad scientists host tea parties, and why it might be a good thing that Guillermo del Toro isn’t adapting Lovecraft. It’s time to cut up that giant ameba, so get to clicking!

Episode #129. Director’s Court – Tim Burton

The Boys Outta Brooklyn reconvene Director’s Court to pass judgement on Tim Burton. Tom and Derrick cover the man’s entire career, and try to figure out if he is still blazing new trails or relying on the same old tropes. Plus, Derrick knows the value of Johnny Depp to moviegoers, why the Gene Wilder version of Willy Wonka may be a demented serial killer, and, for the first time ever, our subject may get his revenge. You know Spectre is really swell, so get to clicking!

Episode #130. The Gentleman with Blood in His Teeth – A Celebration of Christopher Lee

The Boys Outta Brooklyn raise their glasses to honor the great Christopher Lee! Join Tom and Derrick as they explain why this is one of the most remarkable actors they’ve ever discussed, and not just because of his defining horror film roles! If that’s not enough, they struggle to explain the plot of one of Lee’s weirdest films, the insane Scream and Scream Again! Plus, Tom sings heavy metal, Derrick suspects the word “Huguenots” is dirty, and writing talk. You know the world will hear from us again, so get to clicking!

Episode #138. And Soon May The Header Man Skin? With Special Guest Desmond Reddick!

Tom and Derrick once more team-up with Dread Media’s own Des Reddick to pick a bunch of horror films you may not have heard of! From the bleak coming of (twisted) age story, The Reflecting Skin, to not one but two iterations of the atmospheric psychological thriller, And Soon the Darkness, the Guys Outta Brooklyn (and Vancouver) serves up an hour and a half of conversation and movie recommendations for your Halloween festivals. Plus, the debut of Clemens’ Peelers, and the new film rating Ebola! There are too many pretty parts, so get to clicking!

The Reflecting Skin3