Pacific Rim Is Awesome

Pacific-Rim-Poster Before jumping into my review of Pacific Rim, I want to talk about two things running through my mind as I was heading into the theater Saturday evening. First off, I’d been reading a lot that week about how this movie was going to tank. That’s one of the downsides to having a gig in the entertainment industry, you’re constantly inundated with the business-y side of Hollywood, the kind of stuff most people don’t really care about. The problem, though, is that sometimes the projections about how well a movie is going to do leading up to its release wind up poisoning the well a bit for the people who do pay attention to these things. “It’s not going to do well? I’m not gonna go.” I don’t have a solution for those aside, but the news bummed me out. Did it have something to do with Despicable Me 2 and Grown Ups 2 doing better over the weekend at the box office? Maybe. Then again, those more family friendly movies were going to be big no matter what.

The other thing rolling through my head was, “THIS is going to be what I always wanted from a Godzilla movie.” As a kid, I loved the bits and pieces of giant moster flicks I’d catch on TV, but when I finally turned 16 and started getting tapes by the backpack-full from Family Video I discovered something rather unsettling: a lot of those movies (like Gamer vs. Viras) are super boring. All you really want is guys in rubber suits fighting over a cardboard city with toy tanks shooting at them, but what you get is a little bit of that with a lot of scientists talking about how to stop the monster. Yawn.

I figured that a director like Guillermo del Toro would be able to figure out a way to balance the giant action with the smaller character moments and that’s what Pacific Rim delivered as far as I’m concerned. The story takes place on an Earth in which an inter-dimensional portal has opened up in the ocean. Said portal spits out giant monsters — dubbed kaiju — that humanity has to fight. The human race took on the first one with conventional weapons, but eventually built gigantic robots called jaegers to handle the menace. The jaegers are so big, though, that you’ve got to meld two minds to run them. Two pilots — usually relatives — literally link minds to drive these things and fight the baddies. Charlie Hunnam’s Raleigh Becket is a one-time jaeger pilot who winds up working for his old boss Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) and new co-pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) to try and put a stop to this nearly decade-long menace once and for all. There’s a whole heckuva lot more going on, of course, but I don’t want to get too spoilery (yet).

Guys, I loved this movie. It delivered exactly what I wanted and even a little more. The robots versus monsters scenes were fantastic with everything from spinning blades and swords to battleships coming into play. But there’s also a real sense of menace to the film. They got pretty good at taking on the kaiju for a while as Becket tells us in the opening monologue, but then things got crazier with bigger, more dangerous monsters attacking. A pair of scientists played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are doing their best to figure out what’s going on, but in the meantime you get the sense that the world is hanging in the balance. Some politicians have decided to bury their heads in the sand and try a fairly foolish means of defense (which might seem a little insane, but I bought it enough), but luckily for earth there are some very brave men and women from all over the globe working together to put a stop to it.

As a kid I always wanted to cut out all the boring stuff with people and just watch the fights, but in this one, I thought there was a good deal of humanity interspersed throughout. Sure, a lot of it’s the kind of stuff you’d expect. A leader who considers his image more important than his well-being, a cocky fighter unsure of why the hasbeen and rookie have been brought in, a person who hates the kaiju for destroying their family (that flashback scene kicked me in the gut, I’m such a wuss when it comes to kids in films these days). But when those characters are played well — and I thought they were for the most part — a bit of new life is breathed in. Plus, even if you don’t dig the, you wait a little bit and a robot rips a monster’s tongue out, so it’s cool.

pacific rim gipsy danger poster

There were a few elements of the film that didn’t sit particularly well with me. Minor SPOILERS follow. I enjoyed Hunnam’s performance, but the way he spoke was kind of distracting. The actor is from England, but he sports one of those accents that doesn’t sound like it truly belongs on either side of the pond. I had a similar complaint regarding Freddie Highmore’s performance in the first episode of Bates Motel. I’m not sure if this is just how he talks or how he was directed to speak, but it was distracting. I also wondered why the manner of defense against the kaiju was so segregated. You’ve basically got the jaegers and a giant wall, but the two are almost completely unrelated. Wouldn’t it make sense to have cannons that can do the same thing that Gipsy Danger’s fists can? They’ve been fighting these monsters for 6 or 7 years and no one thought of building up the borders in a different way?

But those are fairly minor quibbles. On the whole, I thought the story had a lot of fun, new elements that made sense and also had fun with sci-fi elements. The mental handshake stuff was cool and how can you not love ridiculously gigantic robots being built in even bigger bunkers driven by two people? The basic concepts get thrown at you pretty early in the movie, so if you’re not on board with the movie science, then you might want to skip the whole thing altogether. As it is, I enjoyed seeing a big budget spectacle that wasn’t based on anything but writer Travis Beachum and del Toro’s imaginations. I was far from disappointed by this film and would recommend anyone who though the trailers looked cool to go check it out.

Okay, SUPER SPOILER TIME. This is so SPOILERY that I’m putting it after the jump if you happen to be reading this post on the main page. If not, you’ve been warned.  Continue reading Pacific Rim Is Awesome

Friday Fisticuffs: Ghost Rider Spirit Of Vengeance (2011)

Guys, this should come as no surprise considering I love Mark Neveldine/Brian Taylor-directed flicks (Crank, Crank 2 and Gamer), but I really dug their first comic movie effort Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. They brought their trademark super-kinetic, down-and-dirty directing style to a character who rides around on a flaming motorcycle and fries bad guys with his eyes. I love that Marvel allowed one of their weirder characters to be treated how he should have been on film. Ghost Rider is essentially a pretty goofy idea (remember, flaming face and motorcycle)  so creators really need to just embrace that and run with it. That’s what Jason Aaron did on his wonderful run of GR a few years back (I read the omnibus of his stuff last year, but didn’t get around to reviewing).

I remember very little of the first Ghost Rider movie, almost nothing in fact. This time around, Idris Elba finds Nic Cage (Ghost Rider) and makes him a deal: help his religious order find this mystically important kid  and get severed from the Rider. So, Cage unleashes the beast (both the Ghost Rider and the maniac that lives inside that man in the real world) and all kinds of fun unravels. The kid starts off with this one hood who winds up turning into the villain I believe is based on Blackout. I’m not sure familiar with Ghost Rider’s world, but I do have one of those GIT DVDs, so I kind of want to catch up.

If you can’t get behind the idea of the devil having a kid with a woman just so he can then take over that half human/half demon body and a man who turns into a fiery demon and pees like a flamethrower, do not apply, this movie is not for you. If you dig that kind of stuff and Cage’s wackiness, this movie is pretty fantastic. Neveldine and Taylor were the prefect guys for this project and really brought a realness to it, which is difficult when you’re dealing with so much inherent CGI. The chase scenes look great as do the fights, even when moving between the real world and Blackout’s weird dark-inducing one. That expert use of effects combined with some of the lowest tech ways of filming (holding onto the back of a motorcycle wearing rollerblades and holding a camera) make for something that feels real most of the time (Blackout’s disintegration powers didn’t always look great on our TV).

At the end of the day, I had a ton of fun with this movie. It was exactly what I wanted from both the directing duo and Cage. I have a feeling I’ll have a better time remember SOV than the original flick too. I have no idea what Neveldine and Taylor are working on next, but I will definitely see it…probably on DVD well after it comes out, as is my lot in life.

Quick Movie Review: Thor (2011)

I feel like a bad geek. Three pretty well regarded comic book movies came out this summer and I didn’t see any of them in theaters. Younger me would be in there opening weekend, if not at a midnight showing. Ah well, I’m a dad now, I guess that counts as a good enough excuse. Anyway, the wife and I finally got around to watching Thor the other night after the DVD sat around from Netflix for a while (bumping down to one at a time has been rough).

The movie was good. The cast was fun and interesting, but what else would you expect from a Kenneth Branagh film starring Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba, Natalie Portman, Ray Stevenson, Kat Dennings and Skellan Skarsgard? Even Chris Hemmsworth who I knew nothing of did a good job with the character of Thor, balancing out the brash warrior and “needing to learn a lesson about life” student.

I think what kept me from loving the movie stems from the fact that I just read and flipped through a big stack of Thor comics from the late 70s/early 80s and discovered that nearly every Thor story is the same: something big and evil happens, Thor rushes in and Loki tends to be behind it. Meanwhile, Odin’s usually being tricked or is asleep and the god of thunder deals with some small human problems that are supposed to show how good of a guy he is while also not really posing any kind of danger. I’m sure there are plenty of Thor stories that don’t follow this model, but I was surprised to see how many of them do.

So, with those in my head, I wasn’t surprised to see a movie where Loki was ultimately the bad guy, Odin sat out most of the movie and Thor wound up proving how good of a guy he can be. It was interesting watching the movie with the missus though as she’s never read anything having to do with the characters and yet she called Loki as a bad guy about 10 minutes in. It made me realize that the uninitiated would definitely go into this movie differently than the comic fans and would possibly enjoy it more, but I also thought it was interesting that it was kind of “on the page” as it was.

As far as the Marvel movie universe building goes, it was fun to see Hawkeye have his scene and the SPOILER appearance of Nick Fury and the Cosmic Cube at the end of the movie. I’m not sure what to believe when it comes to the Avengers movie, but it would be rad to see that come into play. If so, it’s pretty cool that the ante will truly be upped.

At the end of the day, I liked the movie, but thanks to my recent reading adventure was already keyed onto the story. I think, had I watched it when it came out or maybe even a few months from now, I’d dig it more. At the end of the day, it’s a solid movie with a great cast, some really fun and funny moments, maybe not as much action as the Thor movie in my mind had, but a great appearance by the Destroyer and some cool looking Frost Giant battles. Plus, watching a guy beat bad guy ass with a hammer just never gets old. Now, when do the Warriors Three and Sif get their own movie? That, I want to see.

We Want Action: The Losers (2010)

Man, I had a great time watching The Losers tonight. As I said a while back, I was really looking forward to this movie along with The A-Team and The Expendables, one of which I haven’t seen yet and the other I loved. All three movies are action movies with tough badasses up against a tough mission, with Losers and A-Team both being about a team that was set up and attempting to clean up their good names. The Losers is a military team consisting of dudes with cool nicknames like Clay (Henry Dean Morgan), Roque (Idris Elba), Cougar (Oscar Jaenada), Jensen (Chris Evans) and Pooch (Columbus Short) who get burned by a guy named Max and set out to get revenge on him, later adding bad ass chicj Aisha (Zoe Saldana) to their little gang. First off, this cast is pretty rad. I haven’t seen Elba in The Wire but did enjoy him on The Office, plus the movie stars the Comedian from Watchmen, the blue chick from Avatar, one of my favorite characters from Studio 60 and the Human Torch. Fun stuff.

More fun, of course, is the flick, which doesn’t seem to go more than 10 minutes before getting into another rad action scene. The movie’s pretty easy to follow, though it does get a little wild with a weapon that seems to disintegrate islands, though I was glad they didn’t go with the regular old MacGuffin and actually showed the weapon of mass destruction in action. Other than that you’ve got the usual amount of ass kicking and plot twisting. I guess it’s a little by the numbers as far as the plot goes, but there’s enough other stuff going on that I didn’t really notice until looking back on it now.

The action scenes are top notch. There’s one earlier in the film with Aisha facing off against Clay that involves trashing a hotel room that catches on fire. It was such a visual fight without getting too wrapped up in the jerky fight scenes we’ve been assaulted with lately. Sure there’s speed-up then slow-down moments, but they seemed to serve the fight to my eyes. In fact, I was doing some writing while the movie was playing, but every time an action scene kicked off, I was drawn away from the computer and couldn’t take my eyes off the TV. The movie’s bright color palette in general helped with this as well, especially with scenes like the one with Cougar and Jensen working in a doll factory.

I also really dug the characters who all felt well acted and well rounded without having too much bogging them down. You get a good enough sense of who each one is thanks to the role they fill on the team and what we see here and there throughout the movie. Evans and Morgan really shined for me with the former’s humor and the latter’s general bad assness. Evans as the torch was one of the few bright spots in the otherwise boring Fantastic Four movies and I had only seen Morgan in the shark jumping episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and his role as the Comedian, so it was nice to see him get some more screentime and flex those cool muscles instead of getting murdered either by his girlfriend or Ozymandias.

My only real problem with the movie was the character of Max (Jason Patric) who was just a bit over the top for my tastes. He makes lots of lame jokes and changes his mind about huge plans all the time. I get wanting to add a layer to the character, but I started questioning how a man this flighty could run an organization big enough to mess with the Losers, which kind of breaks up the foundation of the movie a little. Not a good move. There’s also a bit at the end that will be considered a SPOILER. In a rad moment, Max throws a pressure switch off a high point where he and Clay are having a standoff. Clay dives into the water, grabbing the device in just enough time, but when he gets out of the water, the rest of the gang roll up in a yellow stretch Hummer limo. But I don’t understand why Cougar, the sharp shooter of the bunch, wasn’t still at his post to take Max out. Or any of the other guys on the team. It’s a little weird, but not a bad enough moment to completely kill the movie for me.

All in all, I had a great time with this movie, which is good because I really didn’t like one of the other two flicks I watched today. It can’t be ignored that The Losers is based on a comic book of the same name by Andy Diggle and Jock. The only reason I hadn’t mentioned it before is because I haven’t read them, though after watching the movie, I want to now and will probably start tracking them down on Sequential Swap.

Halloween Scene: 28 Weeks Later (2007)

Allow me to get nostalgic, just for a moment. The first time I saw Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later was in this tiny art house theatre in Bowling Green, Ohio. I went with Barry’s co-worker-turned friend Bobby, his girlfriend-now-wife Sasha, Toth and Randy (I think) and it blew us away. We had been hearing chatter about it and the alternate ending that you could see if you waited through the credits. The ride home was full of conversations about fast zombies and which ending we liked better. I can tell you with zero doubt that that’s the furthest I’ve ever gone to see a movie and it was totally worth it. I later bought 28DL and watched it a number of times, so, like every other person on the planet, I was pretty skeptical when I heard about the Boyle-less sequel 28 Weeks Later. But damn was it good.

I won’t be nearly as eloquent and detailed as Sean was when he talked about writer/director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28WL back in ’07, but it really seems like this flick was amazing in spite of itself. A sequel to a movie that most people either saw in art houses or on DVD getting a bigger sequel by some guy who wasn’t involved in the first one with a joke title like 28 Weeks Later? It couldn’t possibly live up to it’s predecessor, but boy howdy, does it.

And, I think what makes it work so well is the fact that it’s not a direct sequel, it’s merely set in the same world as the original. No characters return (unless you count London, which I wouldn’t argue against) so you’re left with a part of the zombie mythos we don’t tend to see: the clean-up and aftermath. Plus, if the opening of this movie doesn’t get under your skin and make you think about how you’d REALLY react in a situation like this, then you might need to check your pulse. Sure we’ve seen people ditch other folks to save themselves in movies like this, but damn if this isn’t the most effective emotionally.

That’s really what makes this such a superior horror film, the level of emotional attachment stays consistent with the original. You start wondering how’d you react in a given situation and it’s so easy to transfer most scenarios from a zombie infested world to the real one: how would you react if the woman you abandoned to thieves turned out to still be alive?

I also like how the emotional attachment bounces from character to character. After seeing how easily and understandably a husband might abandon his wife, it makes the adult heroes of this movie who accompany the children, even more heroic, earning them instant credibility (along with Scarlett’s attestation that they probably shouldn’t be bringing children into the city).

I had seen 28WL on DVD a while back, purchased it almost immediately afterwards, but hadn’t watched it in a while, so the fates of the characters weren’t fresh in my mind and I was continually surprised followed by moments of “oh yeah.”

Another aspect of the movie that I love is the fact that things aren’t forced down your throat. You can think about this movie for a while and realize all kinds of things. This time around, I fell in love with the idea that, Scarlett protested the idea of kids coming into London because “what if the rage virus isn’t all the way gone?” only to have them not only be the only ones to survive (of our main characters at least), but also re-caused the spread of the virus inadvertently. So, she was right that they shouldn’t be there, but for a completely different reason. Damn kids.

Oh, plus Harold Perrineau of Lost fame is in it, so bonus! I know I’m talking about a much-loved two year old movie that most horror fans have already seen, but if you haven’t watched it in a while, I highly recommend it, if for no other reason than the helicopter vs. zombie scene and the very end with zombies storming France. It’s way more effective than the “invasion” of NYC in Zombie and it nicely sets things up for a potential sequel.

Finally, a quick note about the DVD. There are two animated comics on there that were apparently first published through Fox Atomic that tell the tale of the guys who accidentally created the rage virus before the events of 28DL and one of a vigilante killing zombies and humans in “his city.” The first one was really interesting from a continuity perspective (plus it had art by my con buddy Dennis Calero), while the second is more of a slice-of-life from one tiny perspective in a larger world. They’re not too long and definitely worth a look.