Despite countless gold and platinum records, as well as induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his longtime partner Kenny Gamble in 2008 as recipients of the inaugural Ahmet Ertegun Award, songwriter, producer and musician Leon Huff is still “Here to Create Music,” as the title of his 1980 solo album suggests. His recent connection with vocal group Ju-Taun, of Williamstown, N.J., has reignited that passion.
Huff, who recently released another solo project titled “Groovy People,” is mentoring the group, which is comprised of siblings Jake and James “Jamie” Evans, who are half Puerto Rican, along with their close friend, Samaouen (pronounced “Simone”) Cheng, who is originally from Cambodia.
Ju-Taun (pronounced “Ja-Taan”) is signed to Climax Entertainment, a joint venture between Huff and David Still, and Huff has produced a trio of Christmas classics with the group, including “Please Come Home for Christmas,” “White Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
“It’s on I-Tunes. It’s great,” said Huff, who plays piano on the tracks. The music is also available on other online outlets such as Amazon.com.
During a recent visit to the Tribune offices along with their road manager Stan Golden, the talented singers explained their unusual name. “When we first started the group, we wanted something that was unique, because our group was so multi-national and so diverse,” said Jamie, the younger of the two Evans brother. “We wanted a name that reflected that, but also was different and didn’t identify with anything else. We felt that our sound and our style was different than anything else, so we just came up with something that sounded that way.”
Huff first saw Ju-Taun at one of the weekly talents shows that were taking place at TSOP Experience, located next to Philadelphia International Records’ historic headquarters at 309 S. Broad Street. “One of those weeks, I came and they were there. I liked the image, the sound — everything,” Huff said. “The sound is very commercial — they’ve got a great look. They’re right up there with today’s contemporary image. They’re great guys — clean cut, good stage presence, and I’m going to work with them.”
“We found out later that was actually his first time at the show,” Jake said. “He watched us live and he came backstage to talk to us. First thing he said was, ‘I got a song for y’all called ‘Walk Between the Raindrops,’ and we‘re like, ‘Cool!’ It was an honor for us to be singing in front of him because our father’s a musician, he played with Chubby Checker. He’s always been a huge Leon Huff fan, specifically for his playing style. We always grew up hearing their music. He used to make us learn a lot of TSOP songs… ‘You’ve got to pay tribute to the hometown!’ So it was just weird to be now performing in front of him, and then for him to actually respect what we do and want to work with us!”
Some of the production on Huff’s “Groovy People,” took place at the Evans Brothers’ Tru Sounds Studio in Camden, N.J., and Ju-Taun is featured on renditions of “Hey There, Lonely Girl,” as well as the Temptations classic, “The Way You Do the Things You Do.”
The group’s deep respect and appreciation for Philly’s musical legacy grew even stronger when they had the opportunity to meet and converse with engineer extraordinaire Joe Tarsia, who was at the sound board for the lion’s share of the hits on Gamble & Huff Philadelphia International label, as well as legendary drummer Earl Young, one of the final remaining links to the golden era of “The Sound of Philadelphia.”
“Sometimes I wish that we were still in that era because there was such a different type of organic-ness to the music,” said Jamie. “When you’re bringing all those human elements together as opposed to just maybe one or two people sitting there at a computer or doing whatever they’re doing, when you have all that energy in one room, it just brings something different to the music.”
With Huff’s guidance, the group plans to incorporate that energy into their own sound, fusing it with some of their own ideas. “I don’t want to say bring back the old, but kind of like keep it relevant, but also mix in some new,” said Jamie. “Give it a freshness,” Jake added. “But expose people more to what that type of music brought. The inspiration that it brought, and the positivity that it brought as opposed to a lot of the newer stuff. I think the biggest thing with us is that we want to do what we feel.”
As the iconic Huff builds on his own musical legacy, he can barely contain his excitement over ushering in a new era of the Philly Sound and said in conclusion, “I want to wish everybody happy holidays, and be on the lookout for Climax Entertainment, because some great music is going to be coming through there!”
Tickets are now on sale for Powerhouse 2011, presented by Power 99 FM radio. This annual celebration of the station’s “birthday” takes place at 6 p.m., Friday, October 28 at the Wells Fargo Center, Broad Street & Pattison Avenue. The star-studded artist line-up includes Chris Brown, Rick Ross, T-Pain, Young Jeezy, DJ Khaled, Tyga, Meek Mill, Wiz Khalifa, OCD, Moosh and Twist.
As Power 99 gears up for the celebration, the station is searching for a loyal listener to be in the press pit and backstage taking pictures for its Facebook fan page. The lucky Powerhouse photographer, to be chosen on Monday, October 10, will receive two tickets to the show, a new digital camera, press pit passes and backstage passes. To enter, visit www.power99fm.com.
Tickets to Powerhouse 2011 are on sale at www.comcasttix.com and the Wells Fargo box office. You can also buy tickets at www.power99.com — keyword “powerhouse.”
Syndicated radio host Michael Baisden recently announced his plans to give away a half million dollars to small businesses and non-profits via a “Million Dollar Business Pitch” campaign.
“It’s time for those of us who have done well because of the people to give back to the people,” Baisden says. “While we relax in our comfortable homes driving our expensive cars, families are being destroyed. I understand that I can’t save the world, but I can reach back and help as many people as I can, and hopefully inspire others to do the same! It’s time to pay it forward it a big way!”
On a recent broadcast of “The Michael Baisden Show,” Baisden announced that he would use $5,000 of his personal resources to start a college fund for a young author whose children’s book is now available in stores and online.
From author to radio personality, to filmmaker and now social and political activist, Baisden is “committed to advancing the global community to a better place.” His contribution for the campaign is not from corporate sponsors, but is coming directly from his wallet. “You see, that’s our problem. If we can’t make a profit off helping people, we don’t do it,” he says. “While I welcome corporations and others to support us, I can’t wait for their budget cycles to make a decision.”
Over the past eight years, Baisden, author of the novels, “Men Cry in the Dark,” “The Maintenance Man” and “God’s Gift to Women,” has advocated for civil rights issues, campaigned for voter registration, supported free health clinics and promoted mentoring with a 70-city bus tour. Most recently, he took his microphone to Occupy Wall Street in New York, engaging his listeners up close and personal with protesters from the site.
“As President Obama said, we can’t wait 14 months,” Baisden observed. “Some of my listeners won’t survive another 14 weeks. We have got to do something now!”
For information on how you can win a share of his Million Dollar Business Pitch, follow “The Michael Baisden Show” on Facebook (on Baisdenlive) and Twitter (@BaisdenLive). Details on how to submit your business will be announced live on “The Michael Baisden Show, airing locally on WDAS (105.3 FM) on November 28 between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
A beloved Philadelphia tradition 92 years in the making, the 6abc Thanksgiving Day Parade, now sponsored by Dunkin’ Donuts, kicks off at 8:30 a.m., Thursday, Nov. 24, on 6abc. Rick Williams and Cecily Tynan of “Action News” will co-host the broadcast, with Karen Rogers and Adam Joseph reporting live along the parade route.
As always, the lineup of stars and performers will excite the crowds and dazzle the viewers watching from home. “Good Morning America’s” Sam Champion returns for his fourth Philly parade appearance. Carla Hall, co-host of ABC Daytime’s “The Chew” and Charlie McDermott, from ABC’s hit comedy “The Middle,” also join the star-studded lineup. For some real star power, there will be a special appearance by Hollywood’s hottest couple — Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy — whose newest big screen adventure, “The Muppets,” hits theaters Nov. 23.
A virtual feast for the eyes and ears, the 6abc Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade has something for everyone, with 16 balloons, 16 floats, 14 marching bands from across the nation, and fan favorites from stage and screen.
Musical guests include pop star Iyaz, presented by Wired 96.5, who will rock the parade route along with “American Idol” finalists Stefano Langone and Philly’s own Justin Guarini, now a perennial parade favorite. The Eagles cheerleaders will pump up the crowd, and magician Scott Alexander of “America’s Got Talent” will mystify the masses. Zack Montana, a contestant on Radio Disney’s “Next Big Thing,” will make his parade debut, as will CeCe Peniston, best known for her dance hit “Finally.” Young parade-goers will be treated to a special performance from their friends at Sesame Place.
And for kids of all ages, it wouldn’t be a celebration without a little Disney magic. From the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Phineas and Ferb, and the rest of the Disney family will excite the children (and baby boomers) on the parade route, along with Rapunzel and Princess Tiana from Disney on Ice Presents “Dare to Dream.” Viewers will be treated to a performance from the musical, “The King and I,” the vocal talent of tenor Nathan Pacheco, and the debut single from “The Farm,” presented by 92.5 WXTU. For the grand finale, the big stars of the show — Santa and Mrs. Claus — will officially usher in the holiday season.
Filmmaker George Lucas, mastermind behind the “Stars Wars” franchise, is self-financing a film inspired by the Tuskegee Airmen, the first organized group of African-American fighter pilots in the U.S. Armed Forces.
The airmen, whose story will be featured in “Red Tails,” fought in World War II. Written by John Ridley and “The Boondocks” creator Aaron McGruder, and directed by Anthony Hemingway, the film stars Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Ne-Yo, David Oyelowo and Nate Parker.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Lucas put $58 million of his own money into the movie and is spending $35 million more for its distribution. It will be released by Lucas’ production firm Lucasfilm Ltd. on January 20, with News Corp.’s Twentieth Century Fox distributing it.
A representative for the filmmaker stated that Lucas has worked on the project for 23 years. “They are really the knights of the contemporary age,” Lucas said in a statement.
The legend of the Tuskegee Airmen, which counts among its valiant membership Lawrence Roberts, father of “Good Morning, America” news anchor Robin Roberts, was previously chronicled in the 1995 HBO TV movie, “The Tuskegee Airmen,” starring Laurence Fishburne. This earlier interpretation by Robert Markowitz also featured Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding Jr.
On March 29, 2007, approximately 300 Tuskegee Airmen (or their widows) received the Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol rotunda. The medal is currently on display at the Smithsonian Institution.
The Hollywood Reporter contributed to this report.
Following the success of the gospel play production “She’s Not Our Sister,” GMC presents “She’s Still Not Our Sister,” the four-episode sequel, premiering with back-to-back episodes at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10, and concluding in the same time slot with episodes three and four on Saturday, Dec. 17.
“She’s Still Not Our Sister” features an ensemble cast including Kellita Smith (“The Bernie Mac Show”), Drew Sidora (“The Game”), Azur De (“Somebody Help Me 2”), Christian Keyes (“Tyler Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman”), Clifton Powell (“Ray”), Jazsmin Lewis (“Meet the Browns”), Jeckee Harry (“Sister, Sister”), Tony Grant and the award-winning gospel group Trin-i-tee 57.
In the engaging sequel written by Johnnie C. Johnson Jr. and directed by Roger Melvin, drama continues to surround the Walker Sisters as they learn that the millions they received after their father’s death cannot buy happiness. Instead, the four women discover that they have inherited an entirely new set of challenges, including “career setbacks, romantic disappointments, charming gold-diggers and self-destructive tendencies.”
The set, the dialogue and even the atmosphere of “She’s Still Not Our Sister” are very similar to the actual “gospel play” theatrical experience that has become so familiar to urban audiences. Episode One, titled “Daddy Issues,” begins as Reverend Beckley (Clifton Powell) visits the home of the Walker Sisters, who have reconciled with their half-sister Allison (Jazsmin Lewis) following the death of their estranged father, and it appears that the lives of Vivian (Kellita Smith), Cynthia (Drew Sidora) and Deniece (Azur De) have become even more complicated. Fortunately, their surrogate mother, the over-dressed, over-the-top Aunt Connie (Jackée Harry) is there to lend help and advice — whether they want it or not.
Now that Cynthia and D’Andre (Christian Keyes) are officially engaged, their relationship is “on-off-then on again,” as Cynthia is still learning what it means to trust a man. Allison has spent a lot of her money paying off tons of credit card debt, but it is becoming evident that she may have a serious gambling problem — something that she lightheartedly refers to as her “relaxation,” despite having dropped $15,000 in a casino in a single night. Meanwhile, Elliot Ross (Tony Grant) is introduced as Allison’s potential love interest. Episode Two, titled “Graduation and Disappointment” immediately follows at 8 p.m.
“As our first gospel play series, ‘She’s Still Not Our Sister’ marks an exciting milestone for GMC,” said Leslie Chesloff, executive vice president of programming, GMC. “‘She’s Not Our Sister,’ which premiered in June, was wildly popular with viewers. We are thrilled to present a four-part series that allows our audience to continue the journey with these compelling characters as they encounter new romances, unexpected challenges and startling revelations.” Episodes Three (“Vivian Goes to Paris”) and Four (“On with Our Lives”) of “She’s Still Not Our Sister” air back-to-back beginning at 7 p.m., Saturday, December 17 on GMC.
She could have been a benevolent ruler, with the proverbial velvet glove covering her iron fist.
Or just as easily, she could have been a fairy princess, fluttering over troubled land, waving her magic wand, sprinkling effervescent dust, making everything perfect and right.
Yet while she does not fit either of these personas, Angelique Kidjo is indeed a super power, an amazing ethereal presence, who wields her influence through her voice, her body — singing and dancing about peace, freedom, unconditional love and liberation for the oppressed. And oh yes, the Grammy Award winning, West Africa native flavors everything she does with an extra measure of pure, unadulterated soul.
The impact of Kidjo’s intense performance was heightened by the intimate setting at Montgomery County Community College’s Science Center Theatre, where she appeared on March 23. Truly an international entertainer, who puts a unique spin on the moniker “world music,” Kidjo sang in multiple languages, ranging from Fon, to Swahili, from English, to French and Hindi. Her set included a wide range of favorites she has been identified with including the hits “Agolo,” “Afirika,” and “Malaika.”
She opened up with “Atcha Houn,” a traditional melody from her native Benin, West Africa. This was the first song she ever sang in public, at the age of six, with her mother’s theater company.
“That’s when I got addicted to this microphone,” she said, laughing with the audience. “That’s a good addiction to have, right?” Kidjo thrilled the audience with arrangements of James Brown’s “Cold Sweat,” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up.” All night long, she kept the energy high, dancing, shaking and twirling all over the stage as she sang in her big, deep voice. Right up front, she established “The rules of my show, which are to sing when you feel like it and dance when you want to.”
Kidjo’s song and dance adventure featured an impeccable band of musicians, including guitarist Dominic James, who hails from New York City, bassist Itaiguara Brandao from Brazil, percussionist Magatte Sow, a New York born Senegalese, who currently resides in Los Angeles and trap drummer Daniel Freedman, from Brooklyn.
A petite woman with a bronze complexion that contrasts with her bleached blonde razor sharp short Afro, Kidjo wore a red, gold, and blue African print ankle length dress, low-heeled ankle boots, a fancy beaded necklace, dangling earrings and thin bracelets lined up both arms, gracefully approaching her elbows. Her elegant outfit allowed her ease of movement. Truly an iconic entertainer, Kidjo has appeared on the world’s finest stages, including Carnegie Hall, the Royal Albert Hall and the Sydney Opera House. She has collaborated with Bono, Dianne Reeves, Carlos Santana, Josh Groban, Peter Gabriel, John Legend and countless others. She has performed before heads of states as well as the Nobel Prize ceremonies.
Kidjo sought exile in Paris, when her homeland was overtaken by a Marxist dictator. There she developed her performing and recording expertise and was befriended by her personal idol and mentor, Miriam Makeba. She has been named an international UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and is the founder of her own organization, the Batonga Foundation which provides African girls with an education.
Slowing down for a momentary pause to speak with the audience, she said: “This next song, ‘Petite Fleur,” is dedicated to my father and all those musicians that mold the person I am today. My father passed away in 2008. He raised ten children, - seven boys and three girls. He sent all of us to school. He always said, ‘Education is the best thing any parent can offer to their children.’” She further explained that when her father received offers to marry off his daughters in exchange for money and material possessions, he refused, saying: “They are not merchandise. They are my children.”
Kidjo Also Dedicated “Petite Fleur” to the girls in Africa who are still being subjected to female genital mutilation. Voicing her opposition to the practice, Kidjo said, “I want them to develop without pain.” The emotional ballad started out with a duet with her bassist and as the song progressed, the rest of her band joined in.
Before the night was over, she also highlighted her percussionist, who worked wonders on the djembe drum and her guitarist, who played both electric and acoustic guitar. Ntshadi Mofokeng, a South African native who is a student at Bryn Mawr College exclaimed: “Oh my God, it’s a great time! She always gets you going. ‘Move On Up’ was my favorite. I first saw her sing that with John Legend at the World Cup in Johannesburg in 2010.” Mofokeng’s classmate, Sascha Patel, who hails from India, noted that, “The song ‘Ann’ was the most beautiful rendition of a Hindi song I have ever heard. It was really, really beautiful. I loved how the whole audience came to life.”
As typical during a Kidjo performance, she invited the audience to join her on the stage to sing and dance with her. “Each night wherever I go I try to empower people with my voice. We’re very powerful individually and collectively.” Hosted by Cultural Affairs Director Helen Haynes, Kidjo’s appearance was underwritten by the PEW Center for Arts and Heritage Music Project, as part of Montgomery County Community College’s “Africa: The Call and Response Series.” An Afro-Pop After Party, featuring DJ Rich
Medina, and dancers from the Kulu Mele Ensemble followed Kidjo’s performance.
Formerly the voice of the jazz ensemble Incognito, talented singer/songwriter Maysa’s soothing vocals have been seducing listeners for years, and she explores new territory with her latest release, “Motions of Love.”
Now available in stores, the engaging 14-track disc is largely produced by Chris “Big Dog” Davis, who has also been at the helm of projects by Will Downing and Kim Waters. “This was intended to be an all R&B record with no jazz at all because I’ve never done a whole R&B album before,” said Maysa, who is possibly best known for the Incognito classic, “Deep Waters,” and wrote most of the material included in her new collection.
There are two impressive special guests joining her on this project, including popular neo-soul artist Dwele, who is featured on the hypnotic “Flower Girl,” and I must say that I wish that he’d made a more significant contribution to the track. “Have Sweet Dreams” is a soulful lullaby written by Stevie Wonder and features the music icon on harmonica.
Although she is in fine voice throughout the project, Maysa gives a particularly powerful performance on the poignant “When It’s Over,” a song that she wrote on a plane after a painful breakup. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the inspiring “Hold On,” by Rowan Chapman, which could pave the way for Maysa’s entrée into the thriving gospel market.
Overall, I share the perspective of the artist, who said, “This album has more popular appeal than my other stuff. I love my cult following. I have no complaints about that because that’s more meaningful to me than anything. I don’t want to walk into a store and have to have bodyguards and all that crap. I don’t want that. If people come up to me in the supermarket and give me a hug, I love that. I don’t think I’m doing anything different than Jill Scott or Ledisi. It’s all the same vibe.”
Given the sad state of the recording and radio industries, it’s hard to predict what will happen with a noble project such as this, but if you’re a Maysa fan, or a fan of good music in general, “Motions of Love” is definitely one to add to your collection.
“Day N Night”
“Flower Girl” (featuring Dwele)
“Have Sweet Dreams”
“When It’s Over”
Jeffrey Gaines to perform at Tin Angel
When he was a little boy, everyone loved his voice and encouraged him to keep on singing.
“My cousins and I would imitate the Jackson 5 and sing for the whole family,” says singer/songwriter Jeffrey Gaines, about to take the stage at the Tin Angel on June 29.
“I think that was the beauty of it. Because everybody was so encouraging, in some ways I feel that maybe I didn’t have to fight to make music my career. However, once I got into the music business I realized there was a lot of fight you have to have in order to make it.”
Born and raised in Harrisburg and now living in the Philadelphia area, Gaines said his musical interest was sparked at a very young age, owing largely in part to his parents’ collection of soul records — and the fact, he adds, that they gave him the freedom to seek his own identity.
But, he adds, it was his discovery of Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie that truly sealed his fate, leading to his participation in local bands.
Mostly self-taught, Gaines explains that he took whatever music classes he could in public school because they were free. “But I never had strict lessons as such,” he explains. ”So what I do is natural in many ways.”
After high school, Gaines was offered the singer slot for a New York rock and roll band, but turned it down to move to Philadelphia, where he signed with Chrysalis Records, the thing that many young artists wait for.
“Things started happening so fast, and unfortunately, I had never learned why what I was involved in was called a business. Everyone around me got caught up in the excitement of it all. Even the people who were supposed to be helping me figure it all out didn’t always point out what was best for me.”
Fortunately, Gaines came through it all in one piece. In fact, over the years he has been heralded for his soul-searching lyrics and his powerful live performances. He was once described as “the man who sounds like Otis Redding, Elvis Costello and David Bowie, wrapped up in one amazing package.”
His newly-released CD, titled “Live in Europe,” was recorded during his 25-day tour of Europe with Joe Jackson in the autumn of 2010. The CD features Gaines’ classics and fan favorites, including the hit ballad “Beyond the Beginning” and the powerful anthem “Headmasters of Mine.”
Gaines writes his own music, and bases much of it on his own experiences and what he sees around him. He says of the song “Fear,” the first song on his CD, “I can get very personal about things. The idea for ‘Fear’ came to me when I was looking at some file footage of integration in the school system in the l960s.”
The footage was in black and white and concentrated on the townspeople screaming at little kids being escorted by the military. “The kids just wanted to go to school to get an education. And with all the screaming, the kids had the calmest look on their faces when all around them there was nothing but anger. They didn’t want to ignite the situation anymore so they had to play possum in a sense, going against their natural instincts because they knew they could not react.”
While not facing such problems himself, Gaines does say that he often faces white audiences who are trying to figure him out. “The come to my shows with stereotypical thoughts of what they’re going to hear. Hopefully, by the time they leave, they’ve not only enjoyed my music, but I’ve managed to expand their conventional wisdom. I know I have to convince the crowd I’m good every time I go up on stage. But usually it works.”
For times and ticket information, call (215) 928-0770.
Awesome! If you’re captivated by the trailer for “Real Steel,” the action packed feature film, open in theaters today, definitely lives up to the hype. This tricked out version of Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots will keep the family fully engaged for two fantasy-filled hours.
In this futuristic film directed by Shawn Levy, Tony Award winner Hugh Jackman stars as Charlie Kenton, a washed up boxer who has managed to stay close to the sport through the world of robot boxing. Now on the underground “bot” boxing circuit, Charlie, who quite frankly, is a jerk, takes his pathetic mechanical man from one venue to the next, winning just enough cash to keep his “tour” going.
Charlie has visions of hitting the big league — World Robot Boxing (WRB), but at the moment his bot is at an anonymous state fair, about to face a very mean bull (yes, bull) named Black Thunder. Shortly after his bot literally gets stomped back into scrap metal by Black Thunder, two men approach Charlie and give him some bad news. His baby mama, Caroline, has passed away, and he is being asked to take custody of his 11-year-old son, Max (Dakota Goyo), whom Charlie has not seen since he was born.
A deadbeat dad who is not interested in being shackled to a surly pre-teen, Charlie shows up at the custody hearing expecting to hand the kid off to Caroline’s sister, Debra (Hope Davis) and her filthy rich husband. However, the hearing takes an unexpected turn, and Charlie agrees to keep Max for the summer. Father and son are reunited, and needless to say, their initial meeting does not go well.
Conflicted, Max is filled with resentment toward his father, but still wants to get to know him. Charlie, however, tries to leave the boy with Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lilly), a robotics and electronics wizard who always manages to piece together Charlie’s mechanical monstrosities long enough for them to fight another day. Immediately drawn to Max, Bailey encourages Charlie to take the boy on the circuit so they can spend some time together.
Once on the road, father and son hit the robot graveyard to find spare parts for Charlie’s busted up bot. While exploring, Max falls into a seemingly bottomless crevasse and is saved from certain death when his jacket gets caught on a piece of metal. Closer inspection reveals that the boy’s life was saved by an abandoned, severely undersized bot lodged in the mud and debris. Charlie thinks the robot is a piece of junk, but Max, excited over having his very own robot, promptly names it Atom.
Max cleans up Atom and takes him to Bailey for an overhaul, and before long the little robot is up and running. Charlie begins to take notice and they soon discover that Atom has some very special characteristics. While most of the gargantuan gladiators in the ring are operated by a hand-held controller or an elaborate computer system, Atom, a sparring robot, can be voice activated and is equipped with a “shadow” mechanism which allows him mimic human movements. If Max jabs, Atom jabs. It Charlie throw a right cross, so does Atom. Cool! With the small but mighty robot now at full power, the headstrong Charlie and his equally stubborn son hit the grimy underground circuit to try their luck.
The versatile Jackman, who is clearly having a blast in this role, trained with Sugar Ray Leonard, who also did the fight choreography for the film, and is very convincing as an ex-boxer showing Atom how to handle himself in the ring. He also has an intriguing chemistry with Dakota Goyo, who’s a prototypical Disney Kid — a precocious little moppet with expressive eyes and a strong will. Though their relationship is contentious, they are bound by their competitive spirit as they navigate the underground circuit in hopes of a big time bout in the WRB.
Anthony Mackie, who usually appears in serious films like “The Hurt Locker,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “Night Catches Us,” is somewhat of a bot boxing ringmaster as the street smart bookie Finn. My only criticism of this film is that it did not make full use of Mackie’s considerable talent, and his role could have been fleshed out a bit more.
The special effects and the fight scenes, which are brilliant throughout, are particularly spectacular when the scene shifts to the dazzling WRB, kind of a WWE on steroids. The league is populated with murderous mega machines named Twin Cities, Noisy Boy and Zeus, and while the bouts are violent, it’s kind of like watching a gigantic video game.
As with any good fight film, “Real Steel” culminates in an epic battle between good and evil — in this case Atom, the “People’s Champ,” vs. the WRB Champ, the vicious “killing machine,” Zeus. Who will prevail?
I’ve heard that some of my colleagues feel that the premise of the flick is “nauseating,” and panned the multi-talented Jackman’s performance, which “they” say is not up to his usual Tony-winning standard. Apparently they have forgotten one of the most basic principles in reviewing films: the “willing suspension of disbelief.” Now, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and, no, the script isn’t perfect, but loosen up people! They’re robots!
Even if robots aren’t really your thing, you’ll be spellbound by the engaging story, over-the-top special effects and non-stop action of “Real Steel,” a fun family escape in the Disney tradition. (PG-13)