Graham Young and Roz Laws review the latest films
Real Steel * * *
Cert 12A, 126 mins
With executive producers like Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg, it’s fair to expect this ‘boxing robots’ movie will have some decent special effects.
And that’s exactly what we get as Night at the Museum director Shawn Levy engineers a hi-tech cross between Rocky and Transformers.
The film’s success lies more with the heart of the former than the physics of the latter; the explosive punches of the metallic Trojans would count for nothing were it not for the performance of one little boy.
Luckily, the exotically-named Canadian Dakota Goyo is up to scratch as Max Kenton, the insanely lucky young representative of all viewers who would love to control life-size robots capable of flattening Bruce Lee and Muhammad Ali at the same time.
Max also wants to get to know father Charlie (Hugh Jackman) better. Much better.
Going into partnership together like Ali’s corner of Bundini Brown and Angelo Dundee seems to be as good a way as any.
Set in the near future, the back story about Charlie selling Max to his sister-in-law is exceptionally trite. But the scenario does facilitate some combative dialogue between the two male leads.
Since Charlie is a bit of a loser in life and with his robots, when Max finds an old model and reactivates it you can guess the rest.
An unnecessarily nasty human beating has robbed this 12A film the fourth star I would have gladly handed over. Otherwise, Real Steel feels like an old-fashioned Boy’s Own movie rehashed especially for those who crave the combative violence of computer games.
Note the title’s cheeky spelling mistake. Given its derivative cinematic roots, a more accurate label would have been Real Steal. GY
Footloose * * *
Cert 12A, 113mins
If Hollywood was going to remake a musical-style film you’d think the moguls would have had a crack at West Side Story, which will be 50 years old next week.
This updated version of the 27-year-old Footloose is competently made and lively enough.
But it’s hardly going to set pulses racing since the retained central premise is that a town could ban dancing, an idea which simply seems too implausible in 2011. Dennis Quaid is the reverend character previously played in 1984 by John Lithgow and he has a lot to learn about himself during the battle for the moral high ground following a car accident which kills several youngsters.
Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough are competent in the lead roles of potential lovers Ben and Ariel, but neither the sparks from their romance nor the dated music itself is likely to have audiences dancing in the aisles.
Having previously given us much more atmosphere in Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan, one must assume that director Craig Brewer felt constrained by the film’s MTV credentials even though – like Real Steel – some fight scenes are rather heavy for a 12A. GY
Tyrannosaur * * * *
Cert 18, 92 mins
Staffordshire actor Paddy Considine makes his feature film directorial debut with an assured but very dark drama.
The friend and collaborator of Shane Meadows – plus star of such films as Cinderella Man and The Bourne Ultimatum – covers similarly gritty ground in Tyrannosaur. It opens with Joseph (Peter Mullan) kicking his dog to death in a drunken rage. And it just gets worse from then on.
Believe it or not, violent, racist and short-tempered Joseph is not the real villain of the piece. James (Eddie Marsan) may live in a nice house and look perfectly respectable, but behind closed doors he’s a vile monster who abuses his wife Hannah (Olivia Colman).
She works in a charity shop on a council estate, which is how she comes to meet and take pity on Joseph. Instead of shunning him, she offers him a cup of tea and prays for him.
“I’m not a nice human being,” he declares. “God loves you,” she tells him, even if no-one else does.
In turn, Joseph helps Hannah when it emerges what cruelty James is putting her through.
It’s a little slow but always gripping, even if you sometimes want to tear your eyes away from the horror. Thankfully the violence isn’t too graphic – we see the bruises more than the beatings. The acting, especially from Colman, is first class.
I’m giving Tyrannosaur four stars because it’s a well-made and brilliantly acted film.
But I can’t recommend it as an enjoyable night out, as it’s so harrowing. And the frequent use of very strong language is tiresome. Don’t see it if you want something to lift your mood, but do catch it at Birmingham’s Electric Cinema if you are up for an intense experience. RL
Dolphin Tale * * *
Cert U, 112 mins
The film-makers have resisted the obvious pun of calling this A Winter’s Tail, as it tells the (mostly) true story of a dolphin washed up on a Florida beach having been caught in a crab trap.
Taken to the Clearwater Marine Hospital and named Winter, she had a badly infected tail which had to be amputated. She learned to swim without it, but the side-to-side motion she used was damaging her spine, so prosthetics experts designed her a new tail.
This story is told, with added drama and sentiment, through the eyes of a fictional character, 11-year-old Sawyer (Nathan Gamble). He’s painfully shy but when he finds Winter – who plays herself in the film – he follows her to the hospital and helps to nurse her to health with marine biologist Harry Connick Jr, his father Kris Kristofferson and his horribly precocious daughter.
Meanwhile Sawyer’s cousin is invalided out of the army and recovers in a hospital with amputees and doctor Morgan Freeman, the prosthetics man who invents Winter’s new tail.
The 3D format is entirely superfluous, and its saccharine schmaltziness and manipulative pulling at the heartstrings stop me from awarding it four stars.
But you would have to be made of a very hard heart not to be moved by the underwater scenes of Sawyer swimming with the dolphin, and of the real-life footage at the end of amputees meeting Winter. RL
First Night * * *
Cert 15, 116 mins
How often do we see British films that are either regrettably violent or just ridiculously dull?
For a sparky alternative, try this new starring vehicle for Richard E Grant as a rich industrialist whose sizeable country pile becomes a retreat for a group of lively young performers rehearsing for an opera.
Like Dorian Gray with opera, Big Brother with class, The Apprentice with singers or The X Factor with sex, this is a surprisingly heady treat showing at Erdington Showcase.
As well as the cast including the novelty of seeing Sarah Brightman again, director Christopher Menaul (The Forsyte Saga, Prime Suspect) keeps the camera moving with a breezy confidence to match the sharp-tongued script.
An early case of mistaken identity in the bedroom ensures we’re never quite sure what will happen next in a film that plays like a Tamara Drewe (2010) version of Kenneth Branagh’s In The Bleak Midwinter (1995). GY
1920: The Battle of Warsaw 3D * * *
Cert 15, 115 mins
Given the number of Polish people working in the West Midlands, more’s the pity this historical movie was released without an advanced press screening.
Especially as it’s a well-made insight into how the Poles bravely stood between Bolshevik plans to move into Western Europe after the First World War.
A ferocious counter-attack secured Polish independence at the time and helped to repel communism for universal benefit.
Oscar nominated for the war study Potop, a best foreign language contender in 1975, director Jerzy Hoffman marshals his large cast well and illustrates the bravery of men willing to give up their lives so that others may live in freedom.
At the same time, we see the action through the eyes of a pair of newlyweds – Warsaw review dancer Ola (Natasza Urbanska) and Polish cavalryman Jan (Borys Szyc) whose love story adds a ‘will they, won’t they get back together’ twist to the action.
Oscar-nominated a decade ago for the heavy duty Black Hawk Down, the cinematography is by Slawomir Idziak and the film has been retained into next week at Cineworld Broad St. GY
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark * * *
Cert 15, 99 mins
The irony, of course, is that you should be afraid of the dark. And you will be, after watching this scary horror film.
You’ll probably be checking under (and in) your bed for nasty rat-like creatures. They inhabit a creepy old house being renovated by Guy Pearce and his new girlfriend Katie Holmes. His daughter Sally comes to stay and finds a blocked-up basement, from which spooky voices whisper ‘set us free!’.
The horrible little creatures turn out to be twisted tooth fairies, wanting blood as well as incisors and canines.
It’s sometimes hard to see what’s going on in the dark, and it ends a little flatly, but the air of menace is built up well and you’ll jump at least once. The fact it’s co-written and produced by Giullermo del Toro, who brought us Pan’s Labyrinth, is a sign of the chills to come, although it’s not as good as that movie. RL