Monday, October 24, 2011

Real Steel (2011) movie review

Overall verdict: 9/10

The Good: Solid emotional core, great cast chemistry, top notch special effects, a touching pro-family story, gripping fight scenes, excellent acting, endearing main characters, energy of the fights draw you in, rousing soundtrack, clever themes of satire.

The Bad: a little too "fairy tale"-ish, suspension of disbelief required, underdog story may seem unoriginal.

Current Availability Status:

"Real Steel". The title itself calls to mind loud, frenetic, bot-on-bot battles the likes of Michael Bay's "Transformers". Promotional material and trailers featuring quick cuts, bad ass one liners and humanoid machines beating the nuts out of each other only heightened that expectation for a souless, action heavy, gear grinding testosterone charged movie.

Take a look here

Surprisingly, Real Steel has real heart. It is less like Transformers and more like Rocky or Karate Kid. Simply put, it is an emotional tale about a down and out loser reconnecting with his estranged son over their passion for "robot boxing". You see, in the future, "Bot bouts" have replaced traditional fighting sports like boxing as a way to up the excitement factor. Robots can, after all, take a bigger pounding, and dish out more damage than any human can. Sadly for poor ex-boxer Charlie Kenton that means he's out of the job. Without a purpose He desperately tries to get into the Robot fights circles to relive his glory days but his bot is trashed, leaving him in debt and with shattered dreams. Charlie's stubborn dedication to a lost cause is broken when he is given custody of a son name Max whom he never knew he fathered. Things go from bad to worse but through a stroke of luck, Max discovers an old training Robot in a junk yard. Christening the robot "Atom" Max convinces his dad to retry for the robot fights.

This is where the movie throws its first surprise left hook: the robot fights are only secondary to the human story. The terrific chemistry of the cast, especially between Charlie (Hugh Jackman) and his son Max (Dakota Goyo), is full of old school charm. Jackman's Charlie is superbly developed; he starts off as a self centered and stubborn man who learns responsibility, patience and the value of family. In a way, he represents the common workaholic who aims too high and has lost sight of the little joys in life. Newcomer Dakota Goyo plays Max as the perfect foil to Charlie's thick headed immaturity; an endearing kid, full of spunk and energy which rubs off on his dad and gives him a new purpose to keep fighting for. They are a lovable pair, slowly opening up to one another.

But fear not fanboys, it is not all drama. There are the promised robot fights. And when they come, they come like glorious uppercut in slow motion. Shawn Levy's directing style is clear and even, yet energetic with none of the whiplash cuts and shaky cam; a welcome surprise seeing as how this is Levy's first time directing a sci/fi movie. Perhaps the most astounding aspect of the film is its special effects. The robots are a combination of computer generated images (CGI) and physical animatronics which give them a heightened sense of realism in both their look and the way they move. Furthermore, the fights were overseen by former boxing hall-of-famer "Sugar Ray" Leonard.

Real Steel is the tried and true underdog story set against a science fiction backdrop. Sure, it might seem unoriginal, but the writers weave in some clever themes to set it apart. Under the mechanical mayhem lies a clever jab at the commercialisation of modern sports. How the big money holders will constantly try to squash "the little guy" from reaching their dreams. It also advocates the old saying about how it is not the destination that matters but the journey. And lastly, it advocates a pro-family theme about how good old fashioned joy of sports bring people together.

This is a true family movie for everyone. Accompanied by Danny Elfman's rousing soundtrack, the atmosphere is so contagious, you just cannot help but cheer our lovable protagonists on. Action is exciting and the fights are intense with the outcome never clear. For fans of japanese anime, Real Steel incorporates some familiar stereotypes such as the immature adult/mature kid pairing and the designs of some of the robots. Plus, the whole gimmick of shouting out attacks for the robot to perform will remind any kid of something like Pokemon. Yes it is slightly unreal, it is wish fulfilment at its very best. What child would not want his very own fighting robot?

Like its protagonists' and their robot "Atom", Real Steel is "the little guy" when stacked against the year's big hitters like Transformers 3, Harry Potter 8 and Pirates of the Caribbean 4. It only has a fraction of their budget and no franchise power to flaunt. Yet Real Steel comes through with incredible action sequences that are only secondary to what matters most: characters who are easy to relate to, a heartfelt emotional narrative and compelling themes.

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Go For it: if you want to see a robot science fiction film that has heartfelt emotional drama or if you liked underdog sports stories like Rocky, Karate Kid, Mighty Ducks etc.
Avoid it: if you really dont believe a word of this review

Entertainment: A
Story: A-
Acting: A
Characters: A
Music: A-
Replay value: A
"Brains": B+

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Batman Year One (2011) animated review

Overall verdict: 8.5/10

The Good: Cinema standard animation and artwork, seamless CGI, extremely faithful to the graphic novel, well rounded character development despite short running time.

The Bad: Some instances of stilted voice acting, over too soon, seems to be aimed solely at Batman comic fans.

Current Availability Status: On DVD and Blu Ray in most good Singapore video stores

Named as one of IGN's 25 greatest Batman stories of all time and one of the books that any Batman fan would swear by, Frank Miller's 1987 classic Batman Year One finally comes to life as a full length animated movie. Besides inspiring elements in various Batman animated shows since the 1990s, Batman Year One is also the main inspiration for the blockbuster hit "Batman Begins". So with its influence seen in all incarnations of Batman in the last 15 years, the producers are hard pressed to come up with anything original. Instead of just retelling Batman's origins, drawing influence from Batman Year One, the creative team decided to stick as close as possible to the source material and literally transfer the book into animated form.

To date, Batman Year One is easily the movie that is most faithful to its source material. Barring a few lines tweaked to flow more naturally in dialogue, the script is almost exactly the same as in the book. Whole scenes are reproduced shot for shot, as if the comic panels themselves came to life. One could literally watch this movie and read the comic side by side. Sadly, the plot itself is weaker than what one would expect, mostly due to the limitations of the audio/visual media.

Batman Year One contains two parallel tales. One follows Bruce Wayne, a millionaire playboy with a tragic past who returns to Gotham City after many years. The other follows Lieutenant Jim Gordon, a cop transferred to Gotham Police Department. Crime and corruption run rampant through the city, driving both Gordon and Wayne to bring justice to this lawless town through their own means. Initially, they are powerless against against a world of vice and sin, a world that does not want their help and would instead seek to crush their bodies and spirits. But both men soldier on in their quest. Wayne decides to become a masked vigilante; striking from the shadows against those that the authorities are powerless to touch. Meanwhile Gordon, knee deep among crooked Cops, struggles to expose the corrupted powers that be.

When it first debuted in 1987, Batman Year One was meant to be a realistic reinterpretation of Batman's origins. No fancy gadgets, no Batmobile, no crazy freaks. Batman does not befriend the police, and is in fact wanted as a criminal at one point. Those expecting long drawn out Batman brawls might be disappointed by the lack of appearances by Batman. Remember, the story is less about the icon and more about the man behind the mask. Also, the voice cast is possibly one of the weaker ones from DC animation. None of the performances really stand out, especially Benjamin McKenzie's Batman who seems to be doing a bad Christian Bale impression.

In true comic book fashion, the story is the very definition of brevity. Despite running barely over 60 minutes, the movie does a wonderful job of getting to the point of how both Wayne and Gordon struggle to keep their beliefs in a world devoid of morality. The power of a comic's visuals in telling a story without words is reflected very well in the animation. Scenes are loaded with impact and potential interpretations. Sadly, in an animated medium, one cannot mull over a page or let the imagination "set" to fully appreciate a scene's impact. Perhaps some would feel that the movie is too "to the point"; giving the audience the story instead of letting it play out over time.

On the flip side, what the animated medium takes full advantage of is bringing motion to static artwork. The animation by Korean studio "Moi Animation" is so smooth and seamless, a standard usually only seen in big budget theatrical feature films along the lines of "Rebuild of Evangelion" and "Sky Crawlers". The fight scenes are definitely the highlight of the movie. Fully animated, without a single cost saving short cut, it is almost like live action combat sequences out of a blockbuster. The art is no pushover either. It is David Mazzucchelli's original comic designs and characters, combined with an asian anime flaire and aesthetics. This means small tweaks like giving characters more expressive eyes, sharper features and a less murky color palette. Purists would cry foul at the tweaks but they never detract from the original artwork's feel; it is still dark, gritty, and atmospheric as ever.

Being incredibly faithful to the source material means that one need not be familiar with the graphic novel to appreciate this show. If anything, this film allows those who would normally be averse to reading a comic book appreciate a timeless tale, integral to Batman lore. It is the same book, just a different way of reading it.

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Go For it: if you have heard about the great "Batman Year One" graphic novel and do not dare to pick up the comic book. If you want to see the definitive comic book origin of a more realistic Batman brought to life or if you just appreciate good animation in general.
Avoid it: if you are more inclined to "cosmic" superheroics involving aliens, alternate dimensions, angry evil gods and people in colorful tights flying about.

Entertainment: A
Story: A-
Characters: B+
Animation: A
Art: A
Voice work(english): B-
Replay Value: A-
"Brains": B-