Real Steel – the new sci-fi sports flick from Night at the Museum director Shawn Levy – is set in the year 2020. Its vision of the future looks remarkably similar to the present save for the fact that the sport of boxing has been taken over by pugilistic robots. There are no robot butlers taxi drivers or senators – just boxers. Apparently technology in 2020 has advanced enough to allow for the creation of massive mechanized beings of astonishing dexterity but humanity has found no use for them beyond the boxing ring.
Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton a has-been boxer turned small-time robot-fight promoter. A consummate hustler who’ll do anything for a buck Charlie’s fallen on hard times of late. Opportunity arrives in the diminutive guise of 11-year-old Max (Dakota Goyo) his estranged son who turns out to be something of an electronics wunderkind. Together they work to fashion Atom an obsolete ramshackle “sparring robot” left to rot in a junkyard into a contender.
Anyone who’s seen an underdog sports movie – or any movie for that matter – made in the last half-century can fairly easily ascertain how this one plays out. (The story borrows tropes from The Champ Rocky and Over the Top wholesale.) Atom proves surprisingly capable in the ring compensating for his inferior technology with grit perseverance and an ability to absorb massive amounts of punishment. Under the guidance of Charlie and Max he makes an improbable run through the ranks eventually earning a one-in-a-million shot at the World Robot Boxing championship.
Real Steel was executive-produced by Steven Spielberg; it bears his unmistakable imprint. Levy judiciously deploys Spielberg’s patented blockbuster mix of dazzling special effects and gooey sentiment wrapping it all in a highly polished if wholly synthetic package. Still Real Steel might have amounted to so much glossy hokum were it not for its champion Hugh Jackman. Other actors might eye such a project as an opportunity to coast for an easy paycheck but damned if Jackman isn’t completely invested. The film’s underdog storyline isn’t nearly as inspiring as watching its star so gamely devote himself to selling material that will strike anyone over the age of 12 as patently ludicrous. His efforts pay off handsomely: Real Steel is about as rousing and affecting as any film inspired by Rock’em Sock’em Robots can expect to be. (The filmmakers claim lineage to a short story-turned-Twilight Zone episode but who are they kidding?)
In the summer of 1990 after graduating from Emory University with grades good enough to get into Harvard Law upper-middle-class 22-year-old Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) gave his $24 000 life savings to Oxfam and hit the open road. Christening himself Alexander Supertramp the idealistic McCandless proceeded to wander the country's highways and byways for two years before striking out alone into the wilds of Alaska. Anyone who's read the Jon Krakauer book knows what happened then but those who are new to McCandless' story will be holding their breath as his journey progresses toward its sadly inevitable end. The beauty of director Sean Penn's film is the route it takes to get there introducing viewers to the people Chris touched during his travels and making it clear what he learned about love and forgiveness along the way. The success of a movie like Into the Wild depends disproportionately on the talents of its star. Luckily Hirsch doesn't disappoint. Simultaneously charismatic and aloof he makes Chris both an enigma and an Everyman. Whether he's exulting in a panoramic view of the Alaskan wilderness shooting roiling river rapids (impressively no stunt doubles were used) or learning how to operate a combine machine Chris/Alex is completely aware--and appreciative--of every new experience life brings him. His quest for truth and authenticity affects everyone he meets from hippie couple Jan (Catherine Keener) and Rainey (Brian Dierker) to fast-talking entrepreneur Wayne (Vince Vaughn) and lonely leather worker Ron Frazer (Hal Holbrook). Meanwhile representing Chris' abandoned conflict-ridden homefront Jena Malone provides heartfelt nuanced voice-over narration as Chris' sister Carine. Filming Into the Wild was a labor of love for Penn and his affection for the material shows in every frame. Like Chris Penn and cinematographer Eric Gautier rhapsodize over sweeping vistas and pristine countryside lingering on the way sunlight glints on water droplets and the beauty of a freshly harvested field. Penn is in no hurry to tell Chris' tale; he lets it unfold naturally its rhythm matching the ebbs and flows of Chris' journey. Aiding him every step of the way is the film's powerful soundtrack which features original music by Eddie Vedder. Whether building momentum or accompanying Chris in moments of quiet contemplation the film's music is the traveling companion Chris doesn't realize he needs until it's too late. Blending sympathy for Chris' motives with regret for his tragic end; Into the Wild is a thoughtful biopic that's both inspiring and chastening.
Umm hard to pin this one down. While not dealing with a) water b) teenagers or c) being hungry this bizarre and raunchy cinematic experience has something to do with the mysterious origins of Aqua Teen Hunger Force members: Meatwad (literally a meatball) Frylock (a floating box of French fries with a diabolical face) and Master Shake (a horny milk shake). When an immortal piece of exercise equipment threatens the balance of galactic peace these three become unlikely heroes teaming up with the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past and the Plutonians to strive for ultimate control of the sinister deadly device. There’s also the fat slob New Jersey neighbor Carl who tries unsuccessfully to keep the Aqua Teens away from his house and his pool; the mad scientist Dr. Weird and his lab assistant Steve; and two villainous pairs of dastardly villains--Ignignokt and Err of the dreaded Mooninite Army. Seriously we aren’t making any of this up. Produced by Matt Maiellaro and Dave Willis ATHF is based on their successful Adult Swim series in which they also provide the vocals: Willis voices Carl Meatwad and Ignignokt while Maiellaro takes on Err Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past. There’s also Dana Snyder as Master Shake Carey Means as Frylock and Andy Merrill and Mike Schatz as The Plutonians. Apparently most of the dialogue is improvised. Ah to be a fly on the wall in THAT recording studio. You can just imagine those guys sitting around with fast food and candy wrappers everywhere and an old Galaga video game in the corner coming up with the most off-the-wall stuff they can think of. Of course some of it may only be funny to them but it’s their ballgame. They can do what they want. Maiellaro and Willis who also worked on Cartoon Network’s hilariously subversive Space Ghost: Coast to Coast are some sincerely messed-up dudes. The first ATHF episode “Baffler Meal” (a parody of McDonald’s Happy Meal) appeared on the Space Ghost show and featured a prototypical version of ATHF that resembled the future characters but differed in appearance personality and voice. It sort of grew exponentially since then and now the show is going into its fifth season. In ATHF Colon Movie Film for Theaters the vulgar humor is certainly South Park-inspired and the animation at best rudimentary. The best are Ignignokt and Err who look like old arcade video-game characters. As they threaten the world with impending destruction they shoot their ray guns which move at the speed of a snail: beep [pause] beep [pause] beep [pause]...and so it goes. Little hysterical touches like that pop up all over the place. The overall movie however will probably only speak to those twisted minds out there who watch the show snagging a few new converts (myself included) along the way. Maybe that’ll be enough.