Saturday, August 3, 2013

Here Comes the Boom

Year 5, Day 215 - 8/3/13 - Movie #1,498

BEFORE: Linking from "Real Steel" was really tough tonight - I'd had something worked out, but an actress in a minor uncredited role shouldn't really count, so instead I had to dig deep and find that an actor named Miguel Sandoval played a judge (I assume a boxing judge) in "Real Steel", and he was also in the film "Fair Game" with Salma Hayek (last seen in 'Once Upon a Time in Mexico").

THE PLOT:  A high school biology teacher looks to become a successful mixed-martial arts fighter in an effort to raise money to prevent music classes from being axed at his cash-strapped school.

AFTER: There's something almost noble about this film, because it has good intentions - the main message is that music class is important to public schools, and that's a message I can get behind.  Unfortunately we're at a terrible crossroads in the economy, where programs are being slashed to balance budgets at the city and state level across the country (I assume? I admit, I'm kind of out of the loop when it comes to high-school kids.)

I participated in music programs in junior high and high-school, and my mother was an elementary school teacher for many years, so music was always part of my education.  I wasn't allowed to play sports, so chorus and orchestra were my only chances to participate in activities with others.  (OK, there was P.E. class, but I've repressed most of those memories...)  So I agree that these programs are essential for a large number of teens.

But how can the average person help to save the music programs?  Bake sales have fallen out of favor, because of childhood obesity and related diseases.  And you can only hold so many car washes.  This film suggests a new route to take - raising money by becoming a mixed martial-arts fighter.

Sure, it's not for everyone - but our hero used to wrestle in college, so he thinks he's prepared for the sport (he isn't).  But there is a twist on the usual sports underdog story - he doesn't set out to win, he plans to lose, because even the losing fighters in this sport earn money, and he figures he can raise enough money just by participating and getting the stuffing beat out of him.  It's the hardest way imaginable to raise $50,000 if you think about it.  Jeez, you could probably recycle all the soda bottles at the school, wait, that would be 1 million bottles, forget that.  Martial arts it is.

As the teacher decides to pay it forward, he finds one of his ESL students (he moonlights) is also a former cage-fighter, so in exchange for fighting tips, he agrees to get him help to pass the U.S. citizenship exam.  The tutor is a girl from the music program, and to free her up he needs to do a favor for her father, which involves his cousin who's a chef, and...look, it gets complicated, with everyone helping out someone else, but everyone benefits in the end.

It just so happens that this favor chain forms one of those "closed systems" that the teacher talks about in biology class.  In that sense the favors all seem quite coincidental, so really the seams are showing from where the plot got stitched together from a list of character motivations, but again, somebody meant well.

It's also a little coincidental that his time in the Octagon turns out to be JUST the thing that energizes the school, lands him a date with the school nurse, AND gets him (and his students) excited about teaching again.  But if you don't think too much about that, and just take it as a story about a man with a dream who tries to follow through and help people, it's fairly enjoyable.

Think of "The Rookie" mixed with "Mr. Holland's Opus"...

Also starring Kevin James, Bas Rutten, Joe Rogan, Gary Valentine (all four last seen or heard in "Zookeeper"), Henry Winkler, Greg Germann (last seen in "Once Around").

RATING: 5 out of 10 mouth guards

Friday, August 2, 2013

Real Steel

Year 5, Day 214 - 8/2/13 - Movie #1,497

BEFORE: That's it for the superhero films, I've got one more sci-fi type film, and then it's on to another subject - well, actually this is sort of a boxing film too, so I'm using it to bridge the two topics, sci-fi and boxing.  Then I'll get to the rest of the Sports wrap-up, then we'll take a look at the 5-day forecast and your local weather.  Oh, and Hugh Jackman carries over from "The Wolverine", I think you'll agree that was a bit of divine providence.

THE PLOT:  Set in the near future, where robot boxing is a top sport, a struggling promoter feels he's found a champion in a discarded robot. During his hopeful rise to the top, he discovers he has an 11-year-old son who wants to know his father.

AFTER: This is really two stories, it's the father/son relationship, and the look at the future-sport of robot boxing.  (though they never say exactly what year this takes place, it's some time after robot boxing became a thing, then fell out of favor for a bit, then underwent a revival.  Sort of like soccer in the U.S.)  Really, this could have been about any sport, or it could have been a screenplay about a regular human boxing contender, and someone felt the need to add robots - which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  You could get two great tastes that taste great together, like peanut butter and chocolate, or you could get something worse, like Oreos dipped in salsa.

It's perhaps a heavy buy-in - you have to believe that the robots are so sophisticated that they can box in several different modes, like voice-command mode, shadow-boxing mode, and dance-remix mode.  Yet the robots are apparently so simple that a man and boy with limited technical ability can find one in a scrapyard, repair it and re-wire it so that it can hold its own against newer, better models.  Not quite a NITPICK POINT, but it's a little hard to reconcile those two things.

You can probably guess the formula for the movie if you've seen just about any boxing movie, particularly "Rocky V" or perhaps "The Champ".  Take a washed-up older boxer (robot), get him back in fighting shape, and through keen management, and a bit of luck in a key fight, he gets a shot at the title, or something close to it.  In that sense this film is very by-the-numbers.  But since it's got robots, everything old is (almost) new again.

ASIDE: Whatever happened to "Battlebots", anyway?  That was a great show on Comedy Central about a decade ago, and it looked like that might represent the future of sports/entertainment.  I think this film helped revive the genre, since there was a new show "Robot Combat League" that was on earlier this year, but I didn't watch it.  The whole genre kind of went the way of the segway, it just sort of petered out.

The emotional storyline here is somewhat predictable, too.  If you predicted that the father and son who don't really know each other very well will be forced to work together towards a common goal, and develop an understanding that will lay the groundwork for a deep, lasting, loving relationship, then you get a gold star.  Or you've, like, probably seen a movie before.

Also starring Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly (last seen in "The Hurt Locker"), Hope Davis (last seen in "Charlie Bartlett"), James Rebhorn, Anthony Mackie (last seen in "The Adjustment Bureau"), Kevin Durand (last seen in "I Am Number Four"). 

RATING: 6 out of 10 uppercuts

The Wolverine

Year 5, Day 213 - 8/1/13 - Movie #1,496

BEFORE: Much has been written lately about the under-performance of some of this year's films, like "R.I.P.D." and "The Lone Ranger", two big-budget action-packed films that coincidentally also have ties to comic books.  But it's films like "Iron Man 3", "Man of Steel" and now "The Wolverine" that appear to be keeping Hollywood funded.  I am not at all surprised - isn't that what superheroes do, save the day?

This would have been a great way to close out July, but I'll be honest, I was out at a beer event last night, so when I got home I was in no shape to watch a film.  But that worked out for the best, because after waiting another day, I was able to sneak out right after work to see this one in the theater, and keep my chain going, since Robert De Niro from "Limitless" was also in "Hide and Seek" with Famke Janssen (last seen in "Goldeneye").

THE PLOT:  Summoned to Japan by an old acquaintance, Wolverine becomes embroiled in a conflict that forces him to confront his own demons.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (Movie #537, "X-Men: First Class" (Movie #1,100)

AFTER: Just like with "Man of Steel" and "Dark Knight Rises", they managed to cherry-pick some of the better Wolverine stories from the past to cobble this one together.  Namely, Wolverine goes to Japan ("Wolverine" limited series, 1982), loses his healing powers (umm, tried several times in the comic books) and displays his alternate claws (seen after X-Men #25, 1993).

As a fan of the comics I have to wonder why this was set in the movie X-Men's present, as opposed to years ago, since Wolvie first met Mariko and Clan Yashida back in the early 1980's.  I would have set this film in the past, right after the events of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", but this is instead set after "The Last Stand", so our hero can pine/obsess over the death of Jean Grey.  This makes him a broken, tortured soul, and ultimately sympathetic and fragile, which is a nice counterpoint to his indestructability.  (the one thing his power can't heal is...sniff...his heart!)

Of course, he has been to Japan before, as seen in the opening scene of this film.  So how come when he goes back in the present day, he doesn't seem to know any of their customs?  I supposed this is easily explained away, since he only remembers fragments of his past.  Marvel manages to sweep away lot of continuity errors by saying "Oh, someone messed with his brain" or "the adamantium experiments and berserker rages turned his mind to Swiss cheese".

The film put a new spin on the Silver Samurai character, one I haven't seen before, but the rest was pretty predictable.  You just know he's got to get his healing power back somehow, you just know he's going to find a way to triumph over the villains, and the pieces are going to go back into the box for next time.  It's like when James Bond turned Japanese or got married, you just knew it couldn't last.

NITPICK POINT: They did reveal in the comic book a few years back that Wolverine had bone claws, long before he had metal ones.  After Magneto removed the metal from his body one time, they resurfaced.  Which sort of makes sense, since he has some kind of extra muscles that push his metal claws out and also retract them - they were part of his body that did the same for his bony claws.  But the bone claws are differently shaped than the metal ones - so the metal didn't cover the bones - so where did the bone claws go?  Were they behind the metal ones?  Did they disappear when he had the metal claws, and do they return when he loses them?  Am I overthinking this?

I am adding extra points, however, for the last few minutes of the film - do NOT leave the theater until you have seen the final scene, which takes place after some of the credits.  This is the most exciting five minutes I've seen on screen this year, as it essentially serves as a teaser for the next X-Men film, "Days of Future Past".  This film will bridge the gap between the team seen in "First Class" (Prof. X, Magneto, Mystique, Beast, Banshee, Havok) and the team last seen in "Last Stand" (Prof. X, Rogue, Storm, Shadowcat, Iceman, Colossus, etc.).

The original "Days of Future Past" storyline depicted a terrible future in which mutants were hunted and killed by giant Sentinel robots, and the consciousness of Kitty Pryde (Shadowcat) was sent back in time to inhabit her younger body, so she could tell the X-Men they needed to prevent a political assassination, to prevent that future from coming true.  It looks like in the film they'll be sending Wolverine's consciousness back to the past in order to do something similar.

Hmm, all the X-Men characters, past and present, in one film, plus giant killer robots AND time travel?  This movie isn't even finished shooting yet, but I want to buy a ticket!

Also starring Hugh Jackman (last seen in "Les Miserables"), Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Brian Tee.

RATING: 8 out of 10 ninjas

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Year 5, Day 211 - 7/30/13 - Movie #1,495

BEFORE: I realize this isn't a comic-book based movie, but it does deal with superpowers in a way.  And in a week that's been filled with flight, super-strength, spider-senses, and telekinesis, let's not leave out superpowers of the mind, OK?  Linking from "Chronicle", Dane DeHaan was in a film titled "The Place Beyond the Pines" with Bradley Cooper (last seen in "The Hangover Part II").

THE PLOT:  With the help of a mysterious pill that enables the user to access 100 percent of his brain, a struggling writer becomes a financial wizard, but is also put into a new world with lots of dangers.

AFTER: Well, as Kurt Vonnegut loved pointing out, what are people but bags of skin filled with chemicals?  And the wrong chemicals can make people be depressed, or go insane or even die.  So logically it should follow that there are good chemicals, ones that can improve our attitude or our blood flow or brain function.  Who's to say that we won't one day find one that makes us smarter?

I'm not sure whether to take this as a commentary on the pharmaceutical industry, or on drug dealers and drug users, or the importance of financial success in today's society, or for that matter, man's inhumanity to man.  How ironic that a film about a drug that grants people intense focus doesn't seem to have much focus of its own.  It's a good idea to not only say stuff, but also to have something to say.

Anyway, this whole idea that we humans use only 10% of our brain power has been debunked as hooey.  If that were true, then you might expect that 90% of the people who suffer brain injuries would have no lasting effects, and that's simply not true.  There are people who can train themselves to use their brains better, and some people's memory abilities are better than others, but that 10% figure was probably just generated by someone without any practical evidence to support it.

NITPICK POINT: One of the first things that our hero does with his new brain power is...clean his apartment?  Seems like a bit of a waste.  Plus, what part of the brain is responsible for cleaning, the anal-retentive/OCD part?  I just don't see how "smart" relates to cleaning, unless he decided to call a maid service.  The pill might have given him focus and motivation, but what about the physical energy required to do all that work in one night?  From what we learn about the pill, nothing suggests that it also works like a Red Bull.

NITPICK POINT #2: If the pill makes someone smart, or expands their brain, or just enables them to tap into the information they've learned and forgotten, how come no one who takes it is smart enough to figure out that there could be side effects, even based on what they've learned before about drugs or pharmaceuticals?  The pill does not impair judgment, if anything it enhances it, so why do its users make such bad choices regarding its use?

NITPICK POINT #3: On a similar note, our hero borrows money from a shady mobster to start his investment portfolio with his newfound talents.  Once he's made his first million, why doesn't he take some of that profit and pay back the mobster with 100% interest as his next order of business?  Again, he's supposed to be SMART now, and not paying someone who might KILL him seems like a no-brainer.  I know, if he does that, then we don't have a movie, but it seems like the obvious next step, even for a stupid person.

Also starring Robert DeNiro (last seen in "Stone"), Abbie Cornish (last seen in "Elizabeth: the Golden Age"), Anna Friel (last seen in "Land of the Lost"), Andrew Howard, Johnny Whitworth (last seen in "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance"), Ned Eisenberg, Robert John Burke.

RATING: 6 out of 10 blackouts

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Year 5, Day 210 - 7/29/13 - Movie #1,494

BEFORE: Like "The Rocketeer", this is about flying heroes - umm, I think.  And linking from "The Rocketeer", Billy Campbell was also in a film called "Almost Kings" with Alex Russell, one of tonight's heroes.  Another actor turns out to have been in a film with both Gary Oldman AND Tom Hardy, but now I'm second-guessing my linking plan.

THE PLOT:  Three high school friends gain superpowers after making an incredible discovery underground. Soon, though, they find their lives spinning out of control and their bond tested as they embrace their darker sides.

AFTER:  This is another one of those "found footage" films, like "Cloverfield" or "Blair Witch Project", in which I'm asked to believe that this whole situation could have been recorded on a video-camera, or a collection of cell phone cameras combined with security cameras, and edited after the fact into a collection of scenes which the language of film dictates must constitute a movie.  That's fine, but let's acknowledge it's not that - that's a smokescreen, since clearly this was made with special effects and professional cameramen, so someone spent a lot of money to make the film look amateurish.  If you can turn off your brain long enough to believe this was shot on a camcorder, that's great, but I just can't.

It's especially hard when a camera is lost or destroyed, but yet the footage is still available and usable.  Yet the plot of the movie clearly states that camera was lost...  In the second half of the film, one character develops the ability to float a camera to wherever is necessary to get the best shot, and mentally keep it aloft for as long as needed - at this point the movie shifts from a handheld perspective to the omniscient camera work that we're all more accustomed too.  It's another trick, one cleverly explained by the plot, but it's still a trick. 

Anyway, we're back to the subject of bullies, which was seen in "The Amazing Spider-Man", "Man of Steel", "Kick-Ass" and to a lesser extent, "Iron Man 3" and other films this week.  When an outcast or bullied nerd happens to get super-powers, the first and simplest impulse is to gain vengeance against one's oppressor, however that's really not the type of action a hero should take.  Peter Parker (eventually) learned to rise above the bullying, and make peace with Flash Thompson, eventually regarding him as a sympathetic character and friend. 

However, that's not very cinematic - so in "Chronicle" they take the other path, and the central figures become antiheroes of a sort, using their newfound telekinesis powers for personal gain, like impressing girls, winning at beer pong or performing "magic" tricks in a school talent show.  This eventually leads to a question over the nature of good vs. evil - do the powers bring out their darker sides, or were they always there to begin with, with no way to manifest themselves?

The special effects in the second half are quite well done, there's lots of stuff I haven't seen in film before, but other parts are really pedantic, just repetitive battle elements, similar to what was seen in the Superman/Zod battle in "Man of Steel". 

Also starring Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly (last seen in "Man of Steel"), Ashley Hinshaw.

RATING; 6 out of 10 nosebleeds

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Rocketeer

Year 5, Day 209 - 7/28/13 - Movie #1,493

BEFORE: I'm not entirely sure that this fits in with the superhero chain, but I'm going to give it a whirl, especially since Gary Oldman was also in "Dracula" with Billy Campbell (last seen in "Ghost Town").  I'm at the point where I have to take the linkings where I can find them...

THE PLOT:  A young pilot stumbles onto a prototype jetpack that allows him to become a high flying masked hero.

AFTER: Ah, pity the poor film that has to follow "The Dark Knight Rises".  Almost any film would probably pale by comparison to such perfection.  Why, this film's hero only has a jet-pack, and Batman's got a cool helicopter, a cool motorcycle, a mansion with underground caves, a butler, and he's a billionaire.  Err, was.  This guy's a poor lowly test pilot, and we don't even know if his parents died tragically!  What kind of a superhero is that?

This whole film felt kind of lackluster in general, and I'm trying to figure out why that is.  It had the misfortune of being released in 1991, just a few years before superhero films got really hot again, but it's also set in the 1930's, which is a period that a few key Hollywood people seem really enamored with, but audiences don't always glom on to.  Why should we care so much about stuff that happened 80 years ago?  It's not like there's some kind of 1930's revival going on, with Glenn Miller on the radio and people dressing in Depression-era clothes.  If anything nostalgia tends to run in a 25-30 year cycle, which explains the current fascination with 80's culture, and why music acts like Styx, Toto and Cheap Trick are still touring, among many others.  Even in 1991 anyone who was around in the 1930's was either dead or in a nursing home. 

So I have to assume the story demanded being set in the 1930's.  OK, so we've got mobsters and FBI agents and Fascists all looking for this jetpack (but they all wear the same suits, so it's kind of hard to tell who's who....) but my other main problem here is, it's JUST a jetpack.  No one's going to win the upcoming Second World War with one jetpack - it's not even a weapon, just a mode of transportation.  How is it going to change the world?  It's like the segway of the jazz age.

Even if you could fly with this jet-pack without burning your legs off (seems unlikely, considering how much flame comes out), all it's good for is getting from place to place.  And in a wild, uncontrollable manner at that.  I mean, we've technically got jet-packs now, but nobody uses them, I guess because they're impractical.  All they're going to lead to is mid-air crashes, followed by people falling to their deaths.  I just watched a news segment last week about flying cars - how the 1950's media predicted we'd have them by now, and we probably could - but who's going to regulate all that airspace?  Do we want cars falling on our houses when they crash in the air or run out of gas?  Really, what you get when you combine a car and a plane is a hybrid that doesn't really fly OR drive well, which is a shame. 

Kind of like when you set out to make a action-movie/comedy spoof hybrid, you might end up with a film that falls a little flat on both fronts.  But hey, the same director later had success with the "Captain America" film, which was also a hero film set in the WWII era, so I'm willing to concede this film might just have been made at the wrong time.

Also starring Jennifer Connelly (last seen in "Mulholland Falls"), Alan Arkin (last seen in "The Muppets"), Timothy Dalton (last seen in "Licence to Kill"), Terry O'Quinn (last seen in "The X-Files"), Paul Sorvino (last seen in "Oh, God!"), Jon Polito (last seen in "Miller's Crossing"), Margo Martindale (last seen in "Win Win").

RATING: 4 out of 10 gas tankers