The Ides of March: Is it just me, or is this the last really Oscar-bait-y movie for the next five or six weeks? [Clint’s J. Edgar out 11/9, so you’re pretty close. Though I hear that Sony Classics is going to push Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In, and Antonio Banderas in particular—not that this really discounts your point, “Oscarbait” is by definition American, I just thought you’d find it interesting. —Ed.] This isn’t necessarily a complaint, mind you, just a curiosity: years after the Oscar deadline was pulled up, there’s still some kind of stigma about releasing too many awards-race movies before mid-November or so. Regardless, here’s George Clooney and Ryan Gosling and an old-fashioned all-star cast ready to make the $40 million or so earned by most serious movies starring Clooney and/or Matt Damon.
On the Clooney in Charge scale, the high end is Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (still his best movie as a director according to me); the low is probably Men Who Stare at Goats (not Clooney-directed, but like a poor man’s Coen picture nonetheless); and the middle is, well, most of his more high-minded movies like Good Night, and Good Luck and Syriana (too bad Leatherheads scared him off from making his own imitation-screwball stuff, at least for now). Ides looks a little cut-and-dried from the trailer: Gosling is the smooth but idealistic operator who falls for Clooney’s smooth but idealistic politician, but can some sort of terrible secret or revelation shatter their smoothness and/or idealism? Probably! [Like in Primary Colors?! Will there be Larry Hagman?!? -Ed.] Potential simplicity may be assuaged by the murderer’s row of character actors: Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman (in the same movie?! Who will be a sadder sack?!), plus Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Ehle, and Evan Rachel Wood. I wonder if when Clooney assembles these starry casts, any of them ever get a little disappointed that they aren’t making a party-in-Europe movie like Ocean’s 12. Probably not.
Real Steel: Let’s start with the good: props to Shawn Levy. Prior to this rock-em-sock-em-robots-in-everything-but-name adaptation, he directed movies like Cheaper by the Dozen, The Pink Panther, and the Night at the Museum series—basically, movies that make you feel bad about talented comedians. The pinnacle of his career so far has been more or less getting out of the way of Steve Carell and Tina Fey in Date Night, which at least isn’t directed in a way that actively undermines the funny people in it (though it is extremely cheap-looking for a big studio movie; while I’d agree that something like What’s Your Number? also wastes the talent on display, frequent viewers of big studio comedies should know that by looking like a real movie and not an overlit sitcom or a camcorder demo reel, it shows more filmmaking savvy than many of its brethren [Jesus the curve you’re grading on. You’re like a Soviet defector brought to tears by the bounty of the 7/11—you’re not wrong, but that movie still looks worse than The Mentalist, Thursday nights on CBS. -Ed.]).
Yet in Real Steel, Levy does a passable impression of an imitation of Steven Spielberg, which is to say he shines some lights at the camera, puts together a few tracking shots, and generally makes what looks like a slick Bruckheimer-y big-budget movie without resorting to Michael Bayisms. Also, the special effects in this movie are great. Not so great: the movie itself. More enthusiastic fans have deemed this worthy of mid-80s Amblin, which seems particularly ridiculous in a year when movies like Super 8 and Attack the Block have evoked that era with actual style and wit, not just by including low-angle shots of a mouthy kid hero who, by the way, is absolutely fucking insufferable. The kid and Hugh Jackman and everyone else are all pitched to eleven, playing to the cheap seats and making sure the movie is plenty loud even when robots aren’t clanking into each other at top speed. Though Levy is a less obnoxious director than Michael Bay (Date Night is more enjoyable than Bay at his supposed best, which I guess people still say is The Rock), it’s possible that I’d rather watch a Transformers movie at random than sit through Real Steel again. Actually, especially at random: can we get some kind of app that randomly generates Transformers nonsense from a database of scenes across the three movies? Just keep it to a two-hour running time—something Real Steel, even in a bid to be more streamlined, less bombastic, and more family-friendly than Bay’s monstrosities, can’t quite handle.
Dirty Girl: Abe Sylvia’s also-ran indie, which played at the Toronto Film Festival last year, when the Weinsteins also (probably) overpaid for it, is spikier and more fun than festival boondoggles of yore like Happy Texas or The Spitfire Girl, although it’s not as hilarious as recent indie-flop standard-bearer Hamlet 2.
On the basis of some details mentioned in fest reviews like this, I’d guess that the Weinsteins did some of their trademark tinkering, maybe softening some potential unpleasantness, usually an annoyance but not necessarily a bad thing for an essentially sweet-natured movie like this one (an AIDS crack described in the review, for example, isn’t in the final version of the movie, at least not to my recollection).
Whatever happened during its short (by Weinstein standards) stay on the shelf—actual tinkering or just quieting of either positive or negative hype—the movie on its own terms is pretty charming, if often caricatured, a sweet gay guy/straight gal buddy comedy well-acted by Juno Temple and newcomer Jeremy Dozier.