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Notes from the Back Row

Of Ides and robots

Autumn - a.k.a. harvest time, rainy season, slow season or time-to-leave-town time. Call it what you will but for barely working locals it usually means a lot of free hours. Enough to watch a stupid movie just for the fun of it and Real Steel, the underdog robot boxing movie that opens this Friday at the Village 8, certainly fits the bill.

Granted the movie is basically an adaptation of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, a two-button children's game invented in 1964, and director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum 1 and 2) shovels on the sap, but there's something appealing about watching robots beat the tar out of each other, especially if it's big and loud and you've got popcorn and Junior Mints.

Hugh Jackman stars as a "focused to a flaw" deadbeat father, a down on his luck ex-boxer turned "handler" in a near-future world where robots brawl for our entertainment and gambling. Stuck touring the robot fight circuit with a son he doesn't realize how much he loves, Jackman is forced to become more human when the duo unearth a junky old "sparring" robot named Atom.

Atom quickly becomes the real star of the movie and brings the mean old dad and his precocious son closer through his awe-inspiring rise to a title bout. Other than Atom however, Real Steel is a bit of a slog - 127 minutes of wretched dialogue and tired sentiment. The futuristic robot shit-kicking is fun though, and not a stretch considering the appeal of boxing, mixed martial arts, monster truck rallies and demolition derbies. The rest of Reel Steel 's future world is pretty uninspired and the PG-13 rating ensures there are no nice surprises.

Give a guy a spliff, however, and Reel Steel transforms into one of those so-bad-it's-good movies, a fun way to knock down an afternoon and forget about your problems. Plus, Abbotsford's Evangeline Lilly ( Lost) stars as a Robot Mechanic. This is Thanksgiving weekend so the matinees play on Monday too and a brainless movie is a good way to persevere through a serious turkey hangover.

The other flick opening this week is George Clooney's The Ides of March. The title is apparently a nod to the death of Julius Caesar - I guess he got knocked off on March 15 and 'Ides' apparently means 'middle division.' Personally I think Clooney, who directed this one, should have gone with a less-oblique title and this one looks like it might be less fun than we're used to from America's leading man.

The Ides of March appears to be some kind of dialogue-charged, political-intrigue, coup-thriller about the depths of depravity once-idealistic politicians are capable of sinking - once you're in the game, it brings out the worst in a person. (Speaking of which, we have a municipal election coming up this fall - pay attention this time!)

Clooney gives himself a bit part and populates his picture with big-name talent. Phillip Seymour Hoffman stars as a good guy (kinda), Paul Giamatti as an ambiguous bad guy and Ryan Gosling as the cat that can tip the scales. Add in Marissa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood and Jennifer Ehle and Clooney's assembled quite a cast for his fourth directorial effort.

Perhaps too good of a cast. I'm awfully suspicious of any film starring both Hoffman and Giamatti. And setting any scene in front of a 60-foot tall American Flag is a standard warning sign too.

Ides certainly won't suck, Clooney is too talented a storyteller, but there are theories floating around the Pique offices (okay, my sofa) that people put out extra-cynical movies just to win Oscars. This fits that - Oscar bait just for the sake of it.