Dakota Goyo

review dark skies

For better or worse the horror genre often seems to move in trends. From the bloodthirsty animal terrors and slasher films of the ’70s and ’80s to the J-horror remakes and (so-called) torture porn of the ’00s, genre filmmakers see a hit and immediately move to duplicate its success. Sometimes it works, but more often than not later films just feel like more of the same done worse. The most recent trend in horror has been haunted house movies thanks to hits like Paranormal Activity and Insidious. Their success ushered in a slew of imitators, but for every PA2 or The Woman in Black there have been a dozen direct to DVD duds. Standing out in a crowded field isn’t easy, but while the surest way to get noticed is by making a quality movie the second surest is to add something new to the mix. Sinister is a good example of a well made film that finds a fresh angle on the genre. By contrast, Dark Skies is simply an example of a film… that finds a singular fresh angle on the genre.

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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.

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Anyone familiar with the work of Shawn Levy — the commercialism auteur behind films like Night at the Museum and Cheaper by the Dozen — won’t have their outlook on life remodeled by the revelation that with his latest film, he’s got very little to say. They may, however, be surprised to hear that the guy who brought the world Just Married has delivered a wicked family-driven action movie that, when put up against the ropes, delivers some of the best robot-on-robot CGI mayhem we’ll see all year. And yes, I’m including Transformers: Dark of the Moon in that category. With a story borrowed from every sports redemption film you’ve ever seen, Real Steel moves quickly through exposition and delivers on its promise of big, bad robot boxing that ultimately finds a way to be a whole lot of fun.

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I’m standing on the edge of the The Detroit River which is also the edge of the set for Real Steel – the forthcoming robot boxing movie with a heart of gold. Twenty or so feet away from the Cobo Arena, the wind is picking up, and the view looks out over the glass of the water toward Ontario. This might not seem like a dramatic moment for anyone who lives there, but there’s something poetically jarring about looking out at a different country (and looking southward to see Canada). Right across the water is another world. It’s a world separate from Detroit that hasn’t been beaten down by a lagging economy and the failure of major auto manufacturing. It’s not that Detroit isn’t as impressive, it’s that Windsor seems newer, fresher, and more alive. A precipice with a view to another world seems like the perfect place for the Shawn Levy-directed, Hugh Jackman-starring film to shoot as it promises to tell a story both embedded in the seedy underground and the glittering, life-filled stadiums of the near future. To hear Levy talk, the movie sets out to feature a man living in one world, testing his limits to live in the other.

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