Thursday, 10 November 2011

Real Steel - Dir. Shawn Levy

Shawn Levy has made a name for himself as a director who likes to converge upon and exploit the family-friendly cinema market for everything it is worth. His recent outings include the two successful ‘Night at the Museum’ films and the Steve Carrell driven ‘Date Night,’ and with his latest effort ‘Real Steel’ he carries on this trend of bringing a large-scale, blockbusting picture to the big-screen that appeals to both children and parents alike. As expected with a film involving fighting robotic androids, it’s an over-the-top, CGI-laden action-fest that never attempts to be anything else which somewhat works in its clich├ęd favour.

It’s the year 2020 and human boxing no longer exists due to human beings insatiable taste for increasingly violent blood sports reaching new, unbridled heights. When society wouldn’t sanction anything more violent and deadly, the World Robot Boxing league was created to satisfy man’s urge for destruction. Here huge, metallic robots battle each other in front of hundreds and thousands of spectators to determine which man, woman or child has created the ultimate, well, killing machine. Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is a former pro-Boxer and full-time loser, his arrogance and stubbornness is a constant contributing factor towards his failure in life to provide for himself and his friend Bailey (Evangeline Lilly). But when his ex-girlfriend dies and he is left with custody of his eleven year old son Max (Dakota Goyo), he must not only juggle his job as a poor man’s robotic boxing coach, but also a young, animated child who understands that the man before him is only his father by blood and nothing more.

Cheesy dialogue, energetic action sequences and exaggerated emotions prosper in ‘Real Steel,’ because Shawn Levy has decided that this film does not need to be taken seriously by any members of the paying audience watching in a nearby theatre or home cinema. Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo play overstated characters whose emotions are literal thrown at the viewer. When they’re feeling a bout of sadness, arms flail, voices rise and tears flow. In no way do the characters react to the subtle nuances that govern everyday life, but instead, they perform to an overstated level, because everything in this film is placed into entertainment overdrive. The robots are huge, meandering objects of destruction, and the underground arenas are stereotypically on the ‘bad part of town’ (except for a Zoo, of all places). While the script perfectly encapsulates the desperate, stereotypical situation this father-son duo find themselves in both financially and emotionally, as their relationship slowly develops throughout the course of the film. Essentially all three elements combine in their own tawdry way to create something which can easily be described as; harmless, brainless fun.

This film is a case of; if you drop your cinematic guard and allow yourself to be sucker punched, you’ll probably come away happy. If an audience member goes into ‘Real Steel’ with high expectations, he or she should come away feeling mildly disappointed, however if the audience member in question goes into the theatre with low expectations, there is no doubt that they would come away feeling somewhat satisfied. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every scene contains engaging entertainment, but the majority do, including the final act, in which even the terribly tacky product-placement can’t ruin a predictable, yet enjoyable conclusion.

The Adventures of Tintin - Dir. Steven Spielberg

Recently Steven Spielberg has been one busy man, not only has he been producing numerous television and film properties over the past year or so, but he has also been juggling two directorial properties. While ‘War Horse’ isn’t due to be released for another month, his latest offering, ‘The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn,’ is based on the classic, best-selling comic books created by the Belgian artist Georges Remi (who was also known under the pen name Herge). The comics follow a young Belgian reporter named Tintin and his dog Snowy as they go about their days solving mysteries and getting into various misadventures along the way. Directed by Spielberg, produced by Peter Jackson and written by the British trio of Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish and Steven Moffat, it marks a new turn in Spielberg’s cinematic journey as he ditches live action for motion capture, and while the film takes full advantage of the technology at hand to create lavish environments, the story itself is too disorientating to hold an adult audiences attention for its one hour and forty minutes running time.

Tintin (Jamie Bell) along with his faithful dog Snowy, is enjoying his day meandering around a local market when he finds an intricately designed model ship called the Unicorn available for sale by a somewhat anxious merchant. Once in Tintin’s possession, the ship sets off a sequence of events which sees the young reporter come up against the mysterious Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig), befriend the alcohol loving Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), and help the bumbling Interpol agents Thomson and Thompson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) in their many endeavours, as he attempts to unravel the mystery behind the legend of the Unicorn and the secret cargo stowed away by the ships fabled Captain Sir Francis Haddock. Action, adventure, explosions, and bumbling detectives follow as Tintin races throughout the world to solve the mystery of the Unicorn.

It is a phrase which is thrown around a lot when evaluating films within the action-adventure genre, but ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ is literally a non-stop thrill ride. But, while this phrase would usually be attributed to the praise of a motion picture, in the context of this film, it becomes a part of the criticism. From the beautifully crafted opening titles to the closing scene, there isn’t a moment which goes by in which something isn’t being blown up, jumped on, ridden or used as a makeshift weapon. It is as if Spielberg doesn’t trust the primarily young audience members to actually engage with the film when a lavish action set-piece isn’t taking place, and because of this, the audience is presented with a film which becomes disorientating due to its constant fast and frenetic pace. Also, due to the narratives exhilarating pace, the film requires that many of the large set-pieces take place one after the over, thereby once again detracting heavily away from their overall impact on the viewer.

Aside from the fast-paced nature of the motion-picture however, the performance capture works well, as the computer generated backgrounds, locations and scenery are a startling indicator of how far technology regarding motion capture and three-dimensional imagery has come in the last decade. When it comes to the characters themselves however, while the motion capture allows for startling facial detail, it cannot replicate the emotional disparity of real human beings. The script written by three of the most promising British filmmakers at the moment contains a multitude of in-jokes, friendly humour and an attempt at characterisation. But again due to the pace of the film, this aspect falls flat due to the central narrative stream taking precedence over everything else on-screen throughout its running time.

‘The Adventures of Tintin’ is a family-friendly, fast-paced, loose, action-adventure film that will no doubt be lauded by children across the land. It is essentially Spielberg doing what Spielberg does best: entertaining the public. But unlike the ‘Indiana Jones’ series and ‘E.T,’ among many of his other films, ‘Tintin’ is unable to cross generational boundaries to become a film for all the ages. While children will appreciate the non-stop, in-your-face action sequences which are constantly loud, bright and full of computer-generated destruction, older cinema-goers will no doubt become tired of the repetitive series of events. With a ‘Tintin’ sequel and even a trilogy potentially on the cards for the future, it would have been nice if Spielberg had attempted to scale back the action sequences for further plot and character development, rather than throwing every available device at the viewer hoping that something would eventually stick. While this approach may work with young children viewing the picture, it will almost certainly pass most adults by.