This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr strips down to his boxers and starts a new training regimen to make him look more like Huge Jackman. He’s got a head start, considering his torso looks almost like Jackman’s… if you turn it upside down. After duking it out with some robots in a boxing ring, Kevin tries his hands at politics because it’s the kind of business where you don’t necessarily have to look like Ryan Gosling to get a young hottie like Evan Rachel Wood. But the primary system leaves him depressed and cold, so he takes a trip to the Sudan to play target practice with some warlords. He hears the Sudan is simply lovely this time of year.
Want to hear what Kevin has to say on the Fat Guys at the Movies podcast? Click here to listen how religion comes to the Magical Studio in the Sky with Reverend Scott, a frequent guest on the Outside the Cinema podcast.
Rated: PG-13 for some violence, intense action and brief language
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie, Kevin Durand and Hope Davis
Directed by: Shawn Levy
What it’s about: A once-great fighter (Hugh Jackman) is struggling to make ends meet in the world of robot boxing. After getting his ashcan kicked in a low-rent bout, he is saddled with his eleven-year-old son for the summer. Reluctantly, he takes the kid under his wing, and together they refurbish an old sparring bot, making it an unlikely champion in the major league.
What I liked: I wasn’t sold on the idea of a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robot movie until I saw the first trailers of this film. It’s one of those rare instances where Hollywood – and the notorious hack director Shawn Levy – actually gets things right.
Real Steel isn’t a complex movie with deep meaning. It’s a simple story about a father trying to reconcile his non-existent relationship with his son. It’s a button-pusher, both with the father/son cliches and the sports movie cliches, but sometimes a button-pusher movie can be fun. Just look at films like The Help.
The cast is quite likeable, which is expected for Hugh Jackman but quite surprising for the young Dakota Goyo who seems to channel 1999-era Jake Lloyd. But as annoying as the kid can be in the beginning of the film, I really did warm up to him throughout the movie.
And then there’s the robots. Almost any movie can be improved by giant robots beating the lube out of each other, and this is the film’s crutch. But it’s a crutch that’s fun as hell. Unlike the Transformers movies which represent the overblown EEE breast implants of giant fighting robot movies, Real Steel is easier to take and much more approachable.
What I didn’t: As I said earlier, I initially wasn’t sold on Dakota Goyo, and he still represents the obligatory kid thrown into a movie to widen its audience base. But when you forget that this is a DreamWorks production and is actually co-distributed by the Touchstone arm of Disney, it seems entirely appropriate.
Real Steel runs a bit long, which seems to be a strange side effect of giant fighting robot movies, and there’s a lot of cheese that can be milked out of this film for a sequel. Still, those are the problems of what comes next rather than this movie itself.
Who is gonna like this movie: Kids, families and fans of robot boxing.
THE IDES OF MARCH HOUSE
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Rated: R for pervasive language
Starring: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei and Jeffrey Wright
Directed by: George Clooney
What it’s about: Ryan Gosling plays Stephen Myers, a young, idealistic political strategist who is working in a campaign during the Ohio Democratic Primary. He has thrown down his support for candidate Mike Morris (George Clooney) because he believes this man can do the country a lot of good. However, as the campaign gets more heated, Stephen gets a lesson in dirty politics and how things really run behind the scenes.
What I liked: Like many people, I rolled my eyes at the thought of a political movie directed by George Clooney. After all, the guy is well known for being a partisan activist. That’s not to say I’m against one side or the other, but rather I wasn’t looking forward to a politically preachy movie. If I wanted that, I’d watch a Michael Moore movie.
But for as politically active and opinionated Clooney is, he keeps personal politics out of the film. Instead of being about one party or another, The Ides of March is about the morally ambiguous workings of politics in general, and it is ultimately an indictment of the whole system. By framing the film around a single party (with which Clooney is aligned, by the way), there’s no finger pointing, aside from those pointing at the sad state of American politics.
The film has a fantastic pace, taking the audience on the journey from the wide-eyed wonderment of working on a campaign to the soul-crushing betrayal found in the business. It’s also got a fantastic cast, featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti as dueling political strategies and Evan Rachel Wood as the young tempting intern.
This is not an uplifting film, nor is it optimistic in any way. But it gives an uncomfortable but keen insight into a world most of us only read about in the news.
What I didn’t: Not much at all. This is easily one of the best films of 2011.
Who is gonna like this movie: Political junkies and anyone frustrated with the political system.
MACHINE GUN PREACHER
Studio: Relativity Media
Rated: R for violent content including disturbing images, language, some drug use and a scene of sexuality
Starring: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Kathy Baker, Michael Shannon and Madeline Carroll
Directed by: Marc Forster
What it’s about: Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) was a criminal, drug addict and sinner. After hitting rock bottom, he finds God and builds his own church for other wayward members of society. After taking a mission trip to the Sudan, he tours the war-torn region and decides to do whatever he can to help. He builds an orphanage in the most violent area and defends it against the warlord of the region, putting a strain on his relationship with his wife and daughter back home.
What I liked: There are some good things to take away from this film. At the very least, people in the first world can go to the safe and secure cineplex to see that our problems are not that huge. For the most part, the film resists shaking its finger at us who worry about getting the latest iPhone while there are children in the Sudan getting their homes set on fire and the families mutilated. It doesn’t completely avoid this, but considering the temptation to do so non-stop, it’s relatively light.
Butler does a fine job in the role, though he lays it on a bit thick in his earlier moments as a criminal. Michael Shannon also impresses as Childers’ friend who helps hold the fort down with his family while he’s in Africa.
Ultimately, the film’s heart is in the right place, but that’s not enough to save it from its own pitfalls.
What I didn’t: Like any movie that’s based on a real person, there are no easy answers, and the pacing can be a bit awkward. There are no easy answers, and there’s very little resolution. Such is the case with most biopics. Add to this the fact that Marc Forster is the kind of director who likes to leave things somewhat open-ended, and he doesn’t like to deliver a happily ever after story, especially if it’s not called for.
But unfortunately, this makes the film a lot less hard-hitting. Even though it avoids beating the viewer over the head with a message, it does get a little preachy at times. And in the end, Childers is presented as a bit of a jerk, neglecting his family at home over the Sudanese children. More over, these points are driven home with painfully obvious lines, like when his daughter yells, “You care more about little black babies on the other side of the world than you do about me!” Yeah, that was a little much.
With a title like Machine Gun Preacher, I was hoping we’d get an African version of Hobo with a Shotgun, so I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed when it wasn’t that.
Who is gonna like this movie: People who like an out-of-the-box biopic.