Real Steel

by Cesar Gonzalez

51ulq+I7vHLIn the year 2011 there were plenty of films to go around, both new ideas and adapted ones.  It was a rather big year, you had the Marvel Cinematic Universe already hitting the fast track with Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor.  From the biggest film adaptation of that year, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, to reboots, such as X-Men: First Class.  Yes it was a rather big year, and yet 2011 harbored some potentially great films that either passed under the radar or were just born too early for their time.  One of those films was Real Steel, a movie that had the potential to bring in a bit more originality into the movies.

Real-Steel-featurette-with-Hugh-JackmanReal Steel, directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Cheaper by the Dozen) is set in the not so distant future were human boxers are replaced by Robots.  It follows leading man, Hugh Jackman ( X-Men, Prisoners) as he pits his robot against some of the toughest in the league.  Accompanying him is his estranged son played by Dakota Goyo (Rise of the Guardians).  Also starring in the film is Evangeline Lily (Ant-Man, White Chicks) and Kevin Durand (3:10 to Yuma, Winter’s Tale).  The film has received mixed reviews all of which had something in common, stating that the story was not the best.  The story of the film is lazily put together and it is a bit obvious that the direction is poor.  It’s a rather cliché story: father finds out he has a son, he is forced to spend time within before he is taken away, the two bond and grow close, there is an issue with who keeps him, the two live together as a happy family.  While the direction of the story did not go so well the direction and performances of the actors is one of the better aspects of this film.   

real-steel-2-movie-hugh-jackmanThe actors manage to work with the subpar story well and give a decent performance with what they were given.  Hugh Jackman is the best performer out of everyone in the film, although this film is not one of his stronger roles.  His character goes through the most development in the film and is actually one of the only likable characters.  At first Jackman’s character only cares about the fighting and making as much money as he can to pay off his debts, and when his son is introduced in the film he initially wants nothing to do with him.  But as the film progresses Jackman’s character grows closer with his son and they eventually form a close bond with one another as they both share a goal of having their robot beat the best on the league.  Jackman manages to deliver a great performance even when it is a bit obvious that the script is either bouncing all over the place or a line does not make sense.

18lpupizxwciojpgJackman’s co-stars, however, are another story.  Evangeline Lily is likable in the film but her role is rather small.  She is regulated to the love interest to Jackman’s character and has little screen time.  She still manages to deliver a good role on her part but the film actually would have played out the same if her character wasn’t in it ay all.  She had no impact on the story other than the fact that she owns the gym were Jackman’s character trains.  While Lily and Jackman’s roles are the best in the film, the other two did not really deliver the best they could.  Dakota Goyo is a new face to film and his performance in this is below average to say the least.  The film revolves around his and Jackman’s character, so some pressure is clearly present and that may have been the cause for his weak performance.  Although he has good chemistry with Jackman and the two bounce off each other as if they really are father and son, Goyo certainly has room to improve.  Kevin Durand’s character is the weakest in this film, playing the role of the ‘antagonist’.  I put that in quotations because Durand’s character really does not do much other than steal money from Jackman’s character and then disappears for more than half the film. His character is utterly useless and provides nothing to the overall plot of the film, if anything the only thing you get from his character is a strong urge to punch him as his performance is so bad that you can’t stand to look at or hear him when he has his few moments of screen time.  The thing that saves and is the main selling point is the robots themselves.

atom_in_real_steel-wideThis film has some of the best visual effects in film and some of the best sound design as well.  It was obvious from the very start that seeing these boxer robots fighting it out in the ring was the main reason to see this film and there is actually a good chunk of film that has robot fight scenes.  Unlike the Transformer series, in this film you actually get to see the robots plenty of times throughout the film and it is very pleasing to the eyes.  The sound design of this film is also very well done.  The sounds of metal scraping together and crunching is rather satisfying to hear as you see it unfold on the big screen.  Truly one of the best aspects of this film.

 imagesYou won’t get any morals out of it and you won’t really remember it after a day or two, but all in all Real Steel is a good popcorn flick to watch with the family.  In my opinion the film missed out on what could have been the start to a new franchise.  Unfortunately, with poor direction and sub-par acting this film was destined to be a simple one off.  In the end I recommend this film to anyone who enjoyed the Transformer films and definitely those who like action films.  It’s a good film to watch on those nights when you cannot find anything else to watch.

The Book of Life: Good Family Fare

by Zulma Orta

The_Book_of_Life_(2014_film)_posterThe animated feature, The Book of Life is a magnificent film directed by Jorge R. Gutiérrez and written by Jorge R. Gutiérrez and Douglas Langdale.  This movie is one of my all-time favorites, revolving around romance, friendship, tradition, death, and life.  Its powerful messages will not only reach the hearts of viewer’s but the film introduces kids to a vibrant world of color.

The friendship that Maria, Manolo, and Joaquin (the protagonists) share is truly a bond that cannot be broken, although it’s obvious that both Joaquin (voiced by Channing Tatum) and Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna) are interested in Maria (voiced by Zoe Saldana) as a woman and not just as a friend.  The mantra of the trio is, “No retreat, no surrender”.   The fact that this film shows children how pure and innocent love is is incredible.  Particularly since love is something that is often confused for lust.  The internal and external struggles that each character face here are some that adults are faced with on a daily basis.  Maria is stuck in between doing what is right for her Pueblo of San Angel or doing what her heart desires the most, which is to love Manolo endlessly.  Manolo is stuck between Bull fighting and honoring his family name or fulfilling his passion of singing, while Joaquin is stuck between being a strong male figure and becoming who he truly is.  These are everyday struggles that people face; the decision between what is “right” and what we emotionally feel.  We often sacrifice our own well being for the good of others.  This movie gives the audience a chance to identify themselves with characters who do the same.

the-book-of-life-official-trailer-2Maria is a strong lead female role.  Although this is a kid’s movie it shows how empowering and strong women can be.  Maria is sassy and defeats the odds facing a Latina woman.  She wants to have power over her own life and do something more with her life than attend to a family household.  Additionally, I felt that it was very smart of the writers to show a more sensitive side on the male stand point as well.  Both Joaquin and Manolo are sensitive and want to be comprehended.  They act like “tough guys”, but at the end they let the viewer know that it is okay to be weak in some sense.  I believe this is more than realistic and it happens every day.  Society has made us believe that women should be women and men should be men.  Yet, this movie defies that message by letting the younger generation know that it’s okay to be different; it’s okay to be yourself.  Again tradition is very much present in this film.  From the vibrant colors that scream Mexico, to the traditional clothes, music, food, and holidays.  This movie is able to personify Mexico in such a beautiful and successful way.  I could tell that they studied the geographical regions in Mexico and that is something that I truly appreciate, as well as the music that they use throughout the film.  It is not fully Mexican but it does have that Mexican flare. 

book_of_lifeIt’s important to note that one of the central themes of the film is death.  Death is a topic that is usually seen as something tragic.  Children are usually introduced to death in films like “The Fox and the Hound” or even in “The Lion King”, but I feel that this film incorporates the portrayal of death in such a subtle and beautiful way.  They made sure that it is seen as a passage on to a better life where there is celebration and you can be reunited with the loved ones that have already passed.  I think that is such an important concept that children should not be immune too.  This film, of course doesn’t leave out the truths about death.  Yes, it hurts and of course you will miss your loved one.  But, you must enjoy your life to the fullest because you never know when your last day will be.

150625-book-of-life-01-1920Saying that, life is also a major part of this film.  The concept of life is probably by far my favorite topic in this movie.  They portray Manolo as someone who was writing his own story, showing kids that they have control over their future and their own goals.  It is just a beautiful message of encouragement and it proves that not everything is set in stone.  Drawing back to the internal struggles that each character had, Manolo is scared of killing a bull.  But, the truth is he isn’t scared of defeating the bull.  He is scared of letting his family down.  Yet, he is a courageous character who refuses to let his family’s pressure get in the way of what he believes to be right.  The beautiful message is that sometimes we have to let go of our own fears in order to be able to create our own path.  Joaquin is a character that is ambiguous.  In the language of a kid he is a meathead.  He only cares about his own achievements and his looks.  But, really he’s afraid of admitting that he isn’t like his father and he will never be a “Grand General.”  I identified myself very much with him in this sense.  We’re always looking to fill someone else’s shoes, and we forget that we have to fill our own shoes.  I feel like this is telling children that they can be whomever they wish to be.

manolo-and-joaqiun-brotherhood1This movie isn’t all about beauty and inspiration.  The writers are able to incorporate some of the downfalls we deal with in life, such as the people who don’t want us to succeed.  In this movie it is Chacal, a villain who terrorizes villages.  Chacal wants all or nothing and he honestly doesn’t care about who he hurts in the process.  I feel like we all deal with someone like this in our everyday life.  As much as we try to avoid them they are never content.  They try to distract us in any way they can.  This is where the characters unite as a unit and defeat the negativity,  showing kids how to be comrades.  More than anything it teaches them values and reinforces kindness.  Sometimes we have to fight for ourselves even if that means deferring to greater forces.  I don’t think violence is the answer, but I do believe that we have the right to fight for what we believe.  This movie is a great example of people who want the same thing fighting for it together.  Not only do the characters put aside their own differences, but they realize the truths they’ve been trying to avoid.  Sometimes you cannot do everything on your own.  Sometimes you need to turn to the people who love and care for you.  I believe that this movie emphasizes friendship, love, triumph, but most importantly that it is completely okay to be yourself.  You should never acquiesce to others.  It is okay to put yourself first.  

maxresdefaultI believe the film also speaks to parents.  It lets them learn that they cannot push their children to be someone who they might not want to be.  They have to let them explore and come to be who they want to be.  Maria’s dad doesn’t realize this at the beginning.  He wants to mold his daughter into a modest young lady because he is afraid of what people would say about him.  Later he comes to realize that “she is the son he never had.”  He realizes that he loves her regardless of who she is or what she is.  Maria likewise is going to love him in return the same way.  He just needed to learn to accept her.  I feel like a lot of us need to learn to accept things instead of forcing them.  Sometimes we truly only make it much worse than it really is.

book-of-life-movie-images_zpsdf83a781In conclusion, I believe this is a magical film for families all around the world.  It celebrates customs and empowers family.  The filmmakers did a good job in mixing up the stereotypical roles that we put upon women and men.  They managed to embody the true definition of friendship, and they were able to depict something so beautiful, which is acceptance.  Here we see families learning to accept and love those around them as well as themselves.  Becoming accepting of the hardships we are faced with and learning to embrace the life we are given is an important lesson.  I give this movie a ten out of ten.  There are many other messages that speak volumes about multiple issues as well.  I also believe the film embodies my Mexican traditions in a beautiful and subtle way.  And lastly it taught me “No retreat, No surrender.”  Life is beautiful and we should always keep fighting. 

Captain America: Civil War

by Justin Guiao

Captain America: Civil War by the Russo brothers is the 13th film in Disney’s Marvel’s new cinematic universe.  It’s strange to think that Marvel has been able to put out so many frankly similar films at extremely high budgets in this relatively short amount of time since the first Iron Man hit theaters.  They continue to make money however, meaning many more of them are to come.

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I had fairly high expectations for Civil War.  I saw Fox’s Deadpool in theaters a month or two before which was my first visit to a theater in over two years.  I was thoroughly impressed with Deadpool, and the raving critical reviews of the Civil War screeners led me to go to the theater once again.  However, these heightened expectations may have damped my enjoyment somewhat.  Even though I did enjoy it, I am probably going to continue holding out on going to the theater for any more blockbusters for a while and will just start waiting for Blu-rays.  Regardless of all this, I did think Civil War was a good film, and I probably will see it again after it comes out on disk.  It features a few firsts for a Marvel franchise 13 movies into its story, with Downey as Tony Stark showing up in a non-Iron Man or Avengers film for the first time, as well as the introduction of new characters to the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), Black Panther and Spiderman, both of which are unsurprisingly up for solo movies in the near future.  It also features a large battle between many of the heroes, as well as some notable smaller bouts, in contrast to previous MCU team-up films where the heroes fight off endless hordes of weaker minions.

captain-america-civil-war-image-46-1200x499Unfortunately, I think Marvel is coming up to a point where they have too many heroes in their MCU.  It has gotten to the point where there are so many that it seems silly to have a big crisis that only one hero deals with when we are aware that many other exist and operate relatively nearby.  On the other hand, the big team up film that is Civil War almost feels like a bunch of promotional material for movies about the new heroes, as even after everything that happens in the film, at the end there are not any sizable rifts created between the heroes and everyone starts carrying on as normal, resulting in that feeling that little or no progress was made.  Also, Marvel has been adherent to the thought of letting any of their heroes die.  The fact that the audience knows this by now takes some of the intrigue and tension out of the film. We know how it’s going to end, just not how it’s going to get there.  In spite of this, the Russo Brothers were able to create a film that stands out among the seemingly exponentially increasing amount of Marvel superhero films that have been coming out.  While it doesn’t have the strongest plot that would make it stand out as a classic in the future, it does fulfill its purpose as an action blockbuster well.  The special effects were top notch as always through these films along with excellent fight choreography (although Captain America definitely killed a majority of the people he fought.  There is no way that would just knock them unconscious like the film made it seem, they’re dead).

screen-shot-2016-03-10-at-12-12-20-pm-173561I can’t say much for the sound of the film.  This may be because I have been spoiled by Marvel’s production quality in the last near-decade, but it was just really more of the same.  Loud explosions, extremely over exaggerated punches and hits, the same mechanical sounds from Iron Man, and fantasy-like mystical sounds from the Vision and the Scarlet Witch.  While the sound was definitely high quality, you could tell that actors were the real stars and sound was just there to make them look better.  The editing of the film was also impressive.  I can only imagine how many cuts and scenes were filmed individually in the film.  Even with such heavy amounts of CGI, there was plenty of practical effects used to make it seem more real, including most of the explosions.  While the big fights were all CGI, the editing on the scene where two super humans are running down Bucky on a motorcycle really makes it seem like they’re outrunning all of the cars.  The hand to hand combat, even between CGI’d head to toe Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, seemed fluid and believable.  I don’t know too much about video editing, but I could tell that the people who worked on this film took pride in it and managed to do an excellent job.

For how many people have played Spiderman recently, I really liked this iteration. They portrayed him closer to his comic roots, a teenager with a quick wit and a loud mouth. The incessant chatter from him during the big fight scenes really brought forth what I think the original writers intended for the character. I didn’t really know what to think of the casting choice for Black Panther and really I still don’t, as I did not know much about the character.

2818A5BD00000578-3069258-image-a-2_1430857574138With all the strong acting and effects, I really feel that the overall plot is the weakest thing in the movie.  It seems like they were trying to cram too much into one movie, and the suspension of belief for the plot started to fade away in the process.  The civil war comic story was extremely popular and very receptive to a movie version, but perhaps it could have used two movies.  However, this didn’t matter too much during the film itself, as the actors, choreography, and special effects led the way once more for Marvel.  With Civil War, Marvel has created another enjoyable and action-packed blockbuster to whet the appetites of long time comic fans for the introduction of more characters into the MCU.

A Single Man: A Beautifully Realized Translation of Word to Image

by Juan Espinosa

MV5BMzU5MTk4MjQ2M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDU0MzEwMw@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Through the use of attention-grabbing visual techniques, Tom Ford creates a masterpiece in his directing debut in cinema.  Creating such a vivid interpretation of the novel on which the film is based, Ford’s main challenge in making A Single Man was to transform a story that was all about a man talking to himself into a world where we can see exactly what the novel’s author, Christopher Isherwood intended for us to imagine.  With the novel having to focus all on words to get the story across, the film transforms those words into visual form exceptionally well.

In 1964, Christopher Isherwood, an iconic English novelist, published A Single Man, a story about a middle-aged English professor named George who is living out his last day.  George spends his last mortal day paying close attention to every detail of his surroundings as he gives himself a penetrating last look at life.  The novel was adapted into an award winning major motion picture in 2009 that was the directing debut of world renown fashion designer, Tom Ford.  Both film and book have a core relation to each other, but the dissimilar ways in which the book and the film tell the story directly reflects the personal lives of the author and filmmaker: through background, character and personal love lives.

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Immediately the visual design of the film grabs the viewer, providing a strong guiding hand to the overall mood and atmosphere of George’s world.  There is a notable transition from very dull and sad colors as he (our “hero”) goes through his daily life, to images that are vivid, warm and strong.  The undeniable message is that this character is taking a close, careful, and youthful look at life.  The angles of the camera and where it is focused during these times of vividness shows the detailed orientation of the main character’s concentration.  This careful and rigorous look gives the feeling that the camera is absorbing all which it observes.  Add in the music of composer, Abel Korzeniowski and the tone and mood of George’s character is complete.

articleLarge-v2Author, Isherwood and filmmaker, Ford tell two very different personal stories through A Single Man.  Isherwood wrote the novel out of fear of losing his lover, Don Bachardy after Don had left him for many months to live on the other side of the country with another man.  Imaging as if Don died, Isherwood wrote A Single Man as if he was a widower.  The story directly reflects all of what was going on inside Christopher’s head.  When transforming the novel into a film, Ford tells the story through his personal perspective while using his intricate techniques as a fashion designer to give the audience a film they will never forget.  His obsession for perfection allows him to adjust the plot exactly the way he wants and drives him to construct a cinematic experience so vivid and flawless.  With every detail being attended to, the film is completely his own creation.

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Although both author and filmmaker are gay icons, they did not emphasize the main character, George as being a homosexual man.  He was just a man.  As in most of his stories, Isherwood writes in a biographical manner.  He expresses his life experiences, which is the reason for most of the main characters being gay.  Yet, the most interesting part of his style of writing is that he does not write as if the character is straight or gay, he writes as if they are just ordinary human beings.  This is the same view on life with which Ford focuses within his fashion ads.  These two men live in different eras, yet they share many similar experiences and view points.

single-man_george-carlosGeorge (played by Colin Firth), is coping with the loss of his partner, Jim, whom he loved deeply.  Jim died in a car crash on his way to visit his family, and unfortunately, George was asked by Jim’s brother to not attend the funeral because of the family’s homophobia.  Since that day, George’s life is cold and melancholy.  He no longer has any enjoyment or interest since the accident.  He lost his lover, whom he had for quite some years.  With the intergenerational homosexual relationship being the dynamic of the association of the two, both Ford and Isherwood could directly relate.  Tom Ford and his partner, Richard Buckley have a thirteen year age gap between them.  And Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy have a thirty year gap.  The difference though is that Ford is the younger partner in the relationship as Isherwood was the older.  Yet, the unique vibrancy of their relationships is correspondingly understood by both. 

Ford was able to relate very well to Isherwood’s love life and personal issues, which inspired him to transform the book into a film.  A fascinating coincidence about the three most important people from the story: Isherwood (the author), Ford (the director) and Colin Firth (who plays George), is that of their personalities.  In an interview, Ford distinctively points out, “This might sound silly to some of you – I don’t know – but Christopher Isherwood was a Virgo.  Virgos are precise, almost uptight.  It’s all about precision and order and I’m a Virgo.  Colin Firth is a Virgo.  This was the Virgo, Virgo, Virgo film”.  He explained how the harmonic of the three worked very well in knowing how the story should be portrayed and delivered to the audience and to satisfy themselves.  Another interesting strategy Ford used in the film is, besides the main character, he had all the American actors speak in British accents and all the British actors speak in American accents: Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult, Matthew Goode, etc.  All-in-all, the direction Tom Ford took on the film was outstanding.

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In both the work of literature and that of the cinematic, the personal lives of Christopher Isherwood and Tom Ford are individually reflected by the same core story through their own works.  One of the most amazing things that is indeed an exceptional occurrence is that even though the novel and film have many differences and personal intents, they both work out perfectly to tell the same story with the same meaning.  A Single Man brings to light a delicate insight of the true internal emotions of two separate men.  Whether in a book or on the screen, that is a work of art.