Sunday, 30 October 2011
Thursday, 27 October 2011
Have you ever wondered what the Tooth Fairy does with your teeth once it exchanges them for a coin under your pillow? Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) thinks he knows, and if you’ve seen any of his previous films, it will come as no surprise that his theory is dark, creepy, and anything but nice.
Young Sally Hurst (played by the talented Bailee Madison) has been sent by her mother to stay with her father, Alex (Guy Pearce), in Rhode Island at Blackwood, a Victorian mansion that Alex and his new girlfriend, Kim (Katie Holmes), are restoring. Alex is consumed with the restoration in order to establish himself as a world class architect, and has no time to bond with his troubled and Ritalin-popping daughter.
But we've seen in the film’s gruesome opening sequence - featuring a surprise piece of casting in Garry McDonald (best remembered for his Australian comedy character, Norman Gunston) as Emerson Blackwood, an artist and builder of the mansion - that the dark, yet beautiful mansion has a disturbing past which the caretaker, Mr. Harris (played by Jack Thompson with an almost passable American accent), would prefer to keep undiscovered.
Filmed on location just outside of Melbourne, the cinematographer and set designers offer a real treat, both indoors and out. I was envious as I watched the determined Sally explore the house and lush surrounding gardens (echoes of del Toro's own Pan's Labyrinth), and finding the mysterious hidden basement which has kept the evil imprisoned within for 100 years.
If you hear whispering voices echoing your name from deep within a subterranean ash pit, you'd remove the bolts securing the door to see what’s within, wouldn’t you? Sally does, and unwittingly unleashes the little grotesque creatures who proceed to wreak havoc upon the house. And of course, it’s only Sally who (at first) sees and hears them.
The creature design, visual effects and voice talent portraying the creatures are top notch, but the line regarding less is more is crossed too readily and they are simply not as effective as when they remained in the shadows, taunting Sally from behind teddy bears or hissing her name through the walls.
I have yet to see the 1970’s television movie which del Toro, as co-writer and producer, has based this at times scary remake on but celebrated comic book artist, Troy Nixey (Mike Mignola’s Batman, and Neil Gaiman’s Only the End of the World Again), shows great promise as a genre director in this, his feature film debut.
Bridging the gaps of logic in the script, however, proved to be a bit beyond him. Improbable actions from the adult characters left me not caring as much as the filmmakers intended us to, and Katie Holmes again shows her limited range in a role no doubt written to be a strong, sympathetic heroine but which she fails to bring off.
The real fun to be had with Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark comes from Bailee Madison’s great performance, and experiencing the terror through the eyes of the misunderstood Sally. Adults may no longer jump at things that go bump in the night, but kids know better than to close their eyes - or lose their teeth.
Sunday, 23 October 2011
Saturday, 22 October 2011
Saturday, 8 October 2011
Saturday, 1 October 2011
Rocky with robots; The Champ with microchips. Real Steel is an amalgam of every boxing film you've ever seen with the only difference being the pugilists are not flesh and blood but, well, real steel.
But in spite of the film being cobbled together from bits and pieces - much like Atom, the fighting robot at the centre of the action - Real Steel manages to overcome any deficiencies or doubts one may have (and I had a couple going in) to succeed as popcorn entertainment.
Set in the not-too-distant future where not much has noticeably changed except for a great leap forward in robot technology, Real Steel sees fighting robots as commonplace as smartphones (and just as regularly updated), and replacing humans as the combatants in the ring.
One of those former fighter's is Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) who, without a belt to fight for, has taken to travelling the backroads of the States, attempting to make a buck off the amateur boxing 'bot circuit. Down on his luck and in debt, Charlie's fortunes take a turn when a former lover passes away and his estranged 11-year-old son, Max (Dakota Goyo), is left motherless.
Charlie is happy to pass the boy off to his aunt (Hope Davis) and her rich husband (James Rebhorn), but sensing an opportunity, manages to have the rich man pay him to take the boy for the summer while the couple vacation in Italy. As far as deadbeat dads go, Charlie is as seemingly dead inside as they come.
It will come as no surprise that father and son will eventually bond, an inevitability facilitated by the discovery of an old, abandoned sparring bot named Atom who Max cleans up and decides will become a champ. The kid is nothing but persistent, almost to a fault; your tolerance for Goyo will very much depend on your tolerance for opinionated pre-teens.
More troubling for me, initially, were the fighting robots and Hugh Jackman. If the Transformers films and the climaxes of both Iron Man films taught us nothing else, it is that the sight of CGI metal men going medieval on each other does not make for great cinema.
But the 'bots here look impressive (and apparently not all of it CGI), and even more so is Shawn Levy's ability to have us care about the outcome of Atom's bouts. The film doesn't expand on the idea that Atom is more intelligent than his owners suspect, but you'll be cheering him on just the same.
As for Jackman, I'm not a fan. Yes he's charming and good looking but I've yet to find him convincing on screen. His Charlie is a grade-A jerk and hard to like, and given that the hurt at the loss of his boxing career isn't played up, his moment when it comes isn't as affecting or redemptive as the film, and the tears of Charlie's on-again-off-again girlfriend, Bailey (Evangeline Lilly), would have us believe.
Still, I defy you not to be absorbed in that final bout which constitutes Real Steal's climax, as Atom takes on the undefeated champ of the pro boxing 'bot world; a Goliath of a machine named Zeus owned by a Russian millionairess, Farra Lemkova (played by the fun to say, Olga Fonda, and no doubt intended as a nod to Rocky IV's Brigitte Nielsen).
Ordinarily I'd say a film which makes you care more for a CGI robot than the human father-son relationship at its centre is a failure, but Real Steel manages to come out a winner if only on a points decision.