Real Steel and Moneyball

Real Steel
Hugh Jackman, ATOM and Dakota Goyo in Real Steel

Real Steel

3.5 stars

Starring Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Dakota Goyo and Kevin Durand

I don’t particularly care for the actual sport, but I am a sucker for boxing movies. Love them. So much drama. And I love robots. So I was kind of excited for Real Steel. And the movie delivered exactly what I expected.

A down on his luck ex-boxer turned robot-boxing promoter reunites with the son he left 10 years prior for one last shot at redemption. Both in the ring, and with his kid.

I’m just going to come right out and say it… unless there’s a brilliant sub-plot, or if the boxing angle is the sub-plot, a boxing movie is going to be pretty standard. The Fighter was amazing, not just because it was a well crafted piece of cinema, but the core of the film wasn’t the boxing, it was the relationships Mickey had with his brother, his mother and his girlfriend.

Real Steel was Rocky with robots. It follows a very similar narrative trajectory, and even ends the exact same way.  Boxing was the main thing, and the negligent father sub-plot was almost an afterthought. But as a sucker for boxing films, I fell for it. It hit me in all the right ways.

Much of that credit should go to Hugh Jackman (X-Men, The Prestige). Jackman continuously shows promise. He never fully realizes his potential as an actor, but he’s always right on the cusp. He’s able to show a bit more of what he can do in Real Steel, accessing some emotional points previously unseen. I’m waiting for him to pop as an actor, instead of as a star.

I was most impressed with director Shawn Levy’s (Night at the Museum, Date Night) transition from comedy to sci-fi. The film is put in the not too distant future (only 2020), so we, as the audience, can still recognize aspects of contemporary life, but acknowledge the future of tech and information. He really made it an accessible future.

It’s a fun, popcorn movie, but really doesn’t have much else going for it. Do see it for some light fair, but don’t look at it too hard

Moneyball
Moneyball

Moneyball

4.5 stars

Starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Chris Pratt

I always moan a bit when I hear of another “True Story, Inspirational Sports Film.” It’s not that they’re bad… they’re just all the same, and the filmmakers ratchet up the drama to make a compelling narrative. But I was more than satisfied with how Moneyball turned out.

Unable to compete financially with the likes of the New York Yankees, Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) decides to approach team building from a different angle: pure statistics. With the help of young economist Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), Beane pulls talent no one else wants, much to the dismay of Team Manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who refuses to play by this new plan.

What makes this film work is the script from Steve Zaillian (American Gangster) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network).  Zaillian reigns in Sorkin’s trademark cadence (see The West Wing and Sports Night) to create a slower paced, dialogue driven sports film. It’s all about the interactions between the characters. It’s a baseball film that contains little playing of the actual sport. But the audience is still engaged in the action and involved in the characters.

Much like Shawn Levy and Real Steel, Oscar Nominated director Bennett Miller (in 2006 for Capote) makes an interesting genre jump, but manages to leave his impression on it. He paces it exactly right so as not to completely lose the feel of a sports movie, but keep it as a solid drama.

The only detriment to the film was the acting. Not that it’s bad, it’s quite good, from everyone, including Hill (Superbad, Get Him To the Greek) who makes a genre shift of his own. He’s much more restrained than he’s exhibited in his previous work, and I like the way dramedy looks on him. But with such a great script and capable director, I was just expecting more from Pitt (Inglourious Basterds) and Hoffman (The Ides of March), who are usually dependable. They were good, I guess I was expecting great.

Great sports film that bucks the clichés and becomes one of my all time favourite baseball films. Definitely go see this one, I highly recommend it.

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