Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

DVDs In Brief: January 25, 2012

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Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots meets the Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling movie Over The Top meets every boxing cliché known to man in Real Steel (DreamWorks), which makes such a power grab for the lowest common denominator that even its intended audience seemed too insulted to turn out in large numbers. It’s shameless. It’s sentimental. It’s altogether stupefying. And yet it succeeds in provoking a dumb smile anyway, because the formula still works, and a robot doing The Robot is irresistible…

Screenwriter Will Reiser based 50/50 (Summit) on his own experiences as a cancer survivor, and he cast real-life friend Seth Rogen as himself; their relationship in the film feels the most resonant and true. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Reiser’s surrogate as a health nut struggling with the cruel irony of his body betraying him, and his interplay with Rogen is full of dark guy humor with unspoken hints of genuine concern and support. The film errs only in treating Reiser’s girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) as a villain for not being able to give him what he needs…

In spite of an impressive Rachel Weisz performance in the lead role, The Whistleblower (Fox) mostly botches the true story of Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska cop turned UN International Police Force monitor who reports colleagues whom she asserts are participating in a Bosnian sex trafficking ring. The raw material of Bolkovac’s experiences is incendiary, but the film doesn’t respect the audience enough to give a more nuanced look at the circumstances that allowed these horrors to happen…

Chronicling the creation of 1991’s Achtung Baby, one of the band’s best and most popular records, Davis Guggenheim’s ego-inflating documentary U2: From The Sky Down serves mainly as a 90-minute commercial for the reissue. Guggenheim buys into whatever line of business he’s sold by Bono, his bandmates, and the press spin, like the assertion that U2, still reeling from the tepid reception to Rattle And Hum, nearly broke up in the early sessions for Achtung Baby. The best moments lean on raw footage of the band at work, a novelty fans rarely get to witness…

Directed by photojournalist Danfung Dennis, Hell And Back Again (Docurama) is a documentary of near-distracting beauty, following a soldier from his time in Afghanistan to his troubles adjusting to life back home in North Carolina. Sgt. Nathan Harris was deployed in summer 2009 and returned after catching a Taliban bullet in the leg. Dennis considers Harris’ grim situation on both ends, whether ducking gunfire from unseen enemies or working his way through a painful rehabilitation.