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Ides of March, Real Steel, Dream House
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Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Clooney, not to praise him. It's not that I love Clooney less, but that I love good movies more.

And for huge chunks at a time, The Ides of March is a good movie. What's more, director-producer-cowriter-star George Clooney is not only a fine filmmaker but also a fine American, espousing the progressive ideals that, when adopted by those in charge, help make this country great. These ideals are regurgitated in this slick motion picture (adapted from Beau Willimon's play Farragut North, with the playwright sharing script credit with Clooney and Grant Heslov), with the suave leading man using his charisma to punch across the character of Governor Mike Morris, a presidential aspirant locked in a heated battle with another Democrat for the party's nomination.

His press secretary, Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling), believes in him and works hand in hand with campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to insure victory. Stephen is ambitious and intelligent, so it's no surprise that the opponent's campaign manager (Paul Giamatti) tries to lure him to their side, that a New York Times reporter (Marisa Tomei) turns to him for insider info, and that a cute intern (Evan Rachel Wood) climbs into bed with him.

But Stephen gets blindsided by dirty politics - literally - and is further stunned to discover a secret that could derail the whole campaign.

This is basically Gosling's movie, which is a good thing since Clooney's character largely just shows up to deliver speeches that reflect the actor's real-life liberal leanings. It's not that I disagree with what's being spoken, but there are more inventive ways for a film to lay out its agenda without resorting to ham-fisted proselytizing (see: Bulworth; Bob Roberts). Yet ultimately, the movie's simplistic view of the political landscape is no worse than the melodramatic turn it takes late in the game.

Still, despite its faults, there's much to take away from this piece, starting with the superlative performances by old pros Giamatti and Hoffman and the still-rising Wood. And when Clooney the director manages to keep Clooney the actor away from the podium, there are some juicy exchanges and pointed one-liners flying between the other cast members. The Ides of March is satisfying and frustrating in equal measure; just mark it off as a split ticket.



Not nearly as awful as its premise and previews might lead one to believe - hey, how's that for a ringing endorsement? - Real Steel should prove to be a modest surprise to those expecting nothing more than a Transformers-style blend of CGI cacophony and callow characterizations.

Although loosely based on a Richard Matheson story ("Steel") that was previously dramatized in a 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone starring Lee Marvin, Real Steel has been described in some quarters as Rock'em Sock'em Robots: The Movie and in others as an update of 1987's Over the Top, the dreadful Sylvester Stallone vehicle about a wash-up who travels the country entering arm-wrestling competitions while trying to bond with his estranged son.

Neither viewpoint is exactly a stretch, but Real Steel has a Weapon X in Hugh Jackman, who delivers a rousing performance as Charlie Kenton, a former fighter who's now reduced to promoting robot boxers on the underground circuit (in the film's near-future setting, all boxing matches are between robots, not humans). Charlie is surprised to learn he has a young son, Max (Dakota Goyo), but the kid proves to be an asset as Charlie tries to move up in the sports world.

Whether it's the chemistry between Jackman and Goyo (who may look like The Phantom Menace's Jake Lloyd but can act circles around the little Annakin) or the guiding hand of noted humanist filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis (both on hand as producers), Real Steel mines some real emotion out of its hopelessly cliched father-son tale. As for the effects, they're excellent, effortlessly placing the computer-generated 'bots in real-world surroundings.

Sincere but silly - I could have done without the cringe-worthy dance routines between boy and robot - Real Steel is a rocky version of the Rocky template, but it exhibits a beating heart under all that heavy metal.



Between its tell-all trailer and its tell-all poster, there's not much to tell about Dream House except that it's a crushing disappointment considering all the Herculean talent on display. A bastard child of a movie that got caught in one of those ugly divorces between a studio and a filmmaker, this was wrested away from director Jim Sheridan (In America) and reshaped by Universal Pictures into the mess that's been foisted upon paying audiences.

To be honest, I'm not sure that Sheridan's version would have been a rousing success - the script was written by David Loucka, whose past credits include the Whoopi Goldberg turkey Eddie - but I have to assume it would have been better than this cut, which doesn't even have the support of the stars who initially were excited enough about the project to sign up but have since refused to promote it.

That would be Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, playing a married couple who move into a quaint house with their two young girls. Before long, they learn that the house was previously owned by a man who murdered his wife and children, and that said killer has just been released from prison.

Craig and Weisz are fine (Naomi Watts is on hand as well, but she's wasted as a supportive neighbor), but this movie will prove to be obvious and illogical even to those who haven't been privy to what surely must rank as the clumsiest marketing campaign of 2011.