Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim is the farthest thing from a thoughtful, moving flick that we are likely to get this year. That said, it’s at times very fun, mostly because of Idris Elba and what isn’t fun about huge robots punching nasty beasties from the deep?

You’ll probably enjoy Pacific Rim if you enjoyed:
Transformers (1, 2, and 3)
Independence Day
Hellboy
Lockout

If you like your action movies to have brains and heart, you might not enjoy Pacific Rim.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released July 12, 2013

Written by Travis Beacham and Guillermo del Toro

Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Starring Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Max Martini, Diego Klattenhoff, and Robert Kazinsky

Rated: PG-13

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Story

Years ago, a devastating monster, dubbed kaiju, rose from the deep ocean, laying waste to a coastal town. Several more soon followed. Humanity created massive robots, called jaegers (Yay-gher), that would be run by two people whose neural pathways were connected. These people would be in the robot, each controlling half of it, and with their brains connected, they work in total concert.

The technology wherein two people can be connected this way is called ‘drifting,’ and it works best if the two are related.

Raleigh (Hunnam) and Yancy (Klattenhoff) Becket are brothers running a jaeger called Gypsy Danger. Their operation goes bad and Raleigh leaves the ranks of jaeger pilots because of it.

Now, some time later, the attacks from the kaiju are increasing and getting worse. Some idiots think that building walls is the best option for defense of the race. Marshall Pentecost (Elba), who has been running the jaeger program is left without funding and with only a few final jaegers. But he has a plan and he needs the best jaeger pilots he can find, so he goes and finds Raleigh and convinces him to rejoin the jaeger program. The plan? Close the portal that the kaiju are coming from.

In the meantime, you have Dr. Newton Geiszler (Day) and Dr. Gottlieb (Gorman), both of whom are experts on kaiju, trying to discover the true nature of these creatures. These two provide comedy and fun through their competitive dynamic, and they team up to help reveal important information that Pentecost can use to his advantage.

Raleigh needs a partner, so a jaeger expert named Mako Mori (Kikuchi), who has serious issues, is brought on. Now these two need to fight for the survival of humanity, along with the other jaeger pilots.

All of this, of course, leads to a final showdown between kaiju and jaeger, with buildings and roads being destroyed and all kinds of eye-popping fight scenes happening. The creativity that went into the relentless kaiju is a treat.

Critique

Apparently, in today’s action movies, collateral damage is not an issue. We see this in the Transformers franchise, Man of Steel, and many more. Pacific Rim joins the pantheon of films wherein the good guys just don’t seem to care about the damage being caused as they trade punches with the bad guys.

This detracts from the enjoyment and overall impact of the films, because if these heroes aren’t heroic enough to try and save individuals, what’s the point?

The writing/plot of Pacific Rim is focused on one thing: fill in the blanks adequately to lead to awesome fight scenes. To fill in these blanks, emotional relationship issues are created, one-liners are crafted, and, happily, two characters called Newt and Gottlieb are invented who add some good fun. Charlie Day is a win.

It might have been nice to have more thought put into characters who we could care about, who make decisions not because the plot demands that they do but because they go through journeys that we can identify and sympathize with. This does not happen in Pacific Rim, and that is too bad.

But there are solid one-liners, a few scenes of personal sacrifice, a father-son relationship that is quite touching, and huge scenes of phenomenal battles between kaiju and jaeger, so Pacific Rim accomplishes what it set out to do.

That it feels kind of flat at times is a problem with Hunnam’s flat performance, character and dialogue that are too-often there for filler, and not enough time given for characters to think things through. Luckily, Elba and Martini are excellent performers and they get it done.

Content warnings: some salty language, intense scenes, lots of scifi violence.

Writing: 3.5          Acting: 3          Overall: 3.5

Go share this now, before the kaiju attack!

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Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is, thankfully, brief. That might also be one of the main problems with it.

But first, how about a preview:

Some deets:

Released February 17, 2012

Written by Scott Gimple, Seth Hoffman and David S. Goyer (!!) (Click on Goyer’s name if you want to know why I’m surprised at his writing credit here)

Directed by Neveldine/Taylor

Starring Violante Placido, Nicolas Cage, Idris Elba, Ciaran Hinds, Fergus Riordan, Christopher Lambert, and Johnny Whitworth

Rated PG:13

*     *     *      *     *

What happened to Nic Cage? We know he can act. Or maybe he lost the talent along with his fortune that he spent on castles. Whatever the case may be, he only sort of tries to elevate a production that is directed by people who should stick to making music videos for Linkin Park. I liked the first Ghost Rider, and I loved the comics.

Story

Ghost Story: Spirit of Vengeance picks up where the previous film left off, sort of. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have Eva Mendes in it. In fact, the way this movie is cast and where it takes place really makes it feel like a cross between Crank and Blade. Johnny Blaze (Cage) still has the curse where he’s possessed by a demon made of napalm when Blaze approaches someone who needs to have his or her soul sucked down by a burning skull. Blaze doesn’t like this curse, so he’s somehow made it to eastern Europe and is hiding in a warehouse where Moreau (Elba) inexplicably finds him.

Moreau is a member of a priestly order that is trying to protect a young boy who is Satan’s version of Christ. This boy is Danny (Riordan) who spends his time mostly looking like he’s not sure what he’s supposed to be doing. Danny and his mother, Nadya (Placido), are on the run, trying to get away from her ex who is working for Satan’s avatar on earth, Roarke (Hinds). Roarke wants to transfer himself into Danny because Danny’s body is made of stronger stuff and can handle the power of Satan better than Roarke’s degenerating clay. If this works, mankind’s days of peace and plenty are numbered.

Wait.

So Moreau somehow finds Blaze and makes a deal to have Blaze help protect the boy in exchange for having his curse lifted. Blaze has daddy issues, as is highlighted by the strange script, and he forms an attachment to the boy, a feeling which is reciprocated.

This all leads to a big showdown where two titanic powers fight each other and the sympathetic hero has to dig deep into himself to finally define himself as a good yet flawed person who has forgiven himself, whereupon he gains greater strength and vanquishes the implacable and incredibly evil foe in a moment of emotional crescendo.

Sorry, that last paragraph is wishful thinking. What this all leads to is a rather dull and very uninspiring climax.

Critique

The story is not bad. It deals with some neat religious themes, is populated by potentially interesting characters, has a very cool looking central hero, deal with high stakes, and essentially follows an arc for Johnny Blaze.

But the script is bad. No really, it’s bad. And the direction is worse. The pacing is uneven, in the extreme. We start off all right, with a smarmy and interesting villain. Moreau is also fun to watch, a credit to Elba. But we go astray fast, with Blaze’s inner struggle far too melodramatic and with no successful balance between attempted insane humor and dramatic mugging.

We feel hurried and pushed and confused, even while important elements are repeated multiple times by strange voice-over narration and characters. Scenes are not allowed to unfold; they are thrown at the viewer fully formed and hard to swallow.

Then we have a second act that spends an inordinate time taking us down a road where the religious themes are confusingly illuminated and taken far too seriously. Suddenly this movie becomes a snoozer.

The overall critique of this movie is that the scenes and characters are never allowed to grow, form, and evolve for the viewer. Because of this, there is no emotional investment possible on the audience’s part. There are only scenes in chunks, potentially interesting but instead very flat characters, and some great, simply stupendous really, visual effects.

The climactic struggles are a boring combination of Mad Max, Fast Five, and any Arnold Schwarzzenegar movie. You’ve got cars dying, clever zingers, creative action, but by the time the end has rolled around, we still don’t care about these people and we know exactly what’s coming.

You would think that a movie about a napalm-peeing demon who is the devil’s bounty hunter wouldn’t be such a snoozer. You’d be wrong.

Content warnings: mid-to-high level profanity, plenty of comic violence.

Writing: 1.5          Acting: 1.5          Overall: 1.5

Don’t believe me? Compare my review with those on Rotten Tomatoes

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Takers

Takers caught my eye when it first came out, since it starred the extremely cool Idris Elba (tied for Actor With the Most Awesome Name with Chiwetal Ejiofur (how the frak do you pronounce that, anyway?)) and looked like a nifty heist flick. I like heist flicks because they often pit slick and smart heisters against usually morally questionable targets (a bank works, right?) and the cadre of thieves is usually dodging a relentless cop.

Because this is the usual set-up for heist flicks, the denouement tends to be a chess game where the smartest person who looked ahead enough, and demonstrated enough knowledge of their opponent, wins. The Ocean’s 11, 12, and 13 films are excellent examples of this.

But Takers, ultimately disappointed. Mainly because it did NOT follow this formula as it should have.

The deets:

Released August 27, 2010.

Written by Peter Allen, Gabriel Casseus, John Luessenhop, and Avery Duff

Directed by John Luessenhop

Starring: Matt Dillon, Jay Hernandez, Idris Elba, Chris Brown, Michael Ealy, Hayden Christensen, Paul Walker, and T.I. Harris.

*     *     *     *     *

Takers opens with two detectives tooling around New York City. They are Jack Welles (Dillon) and Eddie Hatcher (Hernandez). We quickly switch to a well-orchestrated bank heist conducted by Gordon (Elba), AJ (Christensen), Jake (Ealy), Jesse (Brown), and John (Walker). They have a plan and chemistry and seem to make every effort to not do anybody any harm. Their escape is one of the more clever, if totally improbable, escapes in all heist movie-dom.

Then Welles and Hatcher are on the hunt, doing their best to track down the thieves. We then switch to views of the detectives and the thieves as the story pans out. After a dedicated viewing of video, the detectives end up with a few leads. Meanwhile, the thieves seem to be honorable and friendly guys. It’s easy to like them.

At this point, enter the wild card in the form of Ghost (Harris). Ghost used to be a member of the band of thieves, but got shot and captured due to a mistake he made in a heist some 4 or 5 years ago. He never turned on them and they kept his share of the money in a secure account, so the idea was for him to get out and collect his money and disappear. But Ghost has a lead on a huge payoff that he got wind of in the clink.

Thus, the lads start to plan their next job, with some misgivings. Nobody wants to trust Ghost, but they seem strangely willing to go for his plan. And this is where the problems begin.

The story gets bogged down in sibling tension and romantic issues, as well as a random graft plot line. When we see a heist film, we want to see the relationships between the buddies/thieves and see how they play off of each other. And it would sure be nice to see misgivings motivate some planning ahead just in case there happens to be a double-cross from Ghost involving perhaps some Russians.

So the movie is entertaining and exciting. There is a marvelous foot chase as Chris Brown shows his agility and the detectives do what they do best: implacability.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but the movie essentially spoils the ending itself. It gets extremely predictable and the viewer sits there shouting at the screen (perhaps silently), “Why don’t you just ____?”

I get it. These are thieves. They are essentially leeches on society and they really ought to get what’s coming to them. But these are essentially nice guys and the movie takes pains to show us that.

When the finale is not a thrilling chess match but a series of overwrought gunfights, the heist movie is no longer a heist movie but a social commentary.

The acting is quite good, particularly Matt Dillon’s performance as well as Michael Ealy’s. Brown does a nice job, but has two total levels. Paul Walker channels Keanu Reeves, as usual. And Jay Hernandez: You’re such a good actor… when you try. Try harder next time.

Hayden Christensen and Idris Elba stand out also. Partly because big Anakin seems to become quite a fine actor and Idris, or his character, has a certain gravity and magnetism that seems to act as a lynchpin for the team.

I enjoyed the movie until the final twenty minutes. I was surprised the filmmakers did what they did there. Sure, not everyone can pull off an Ocean’s 11, but a little more effort would have been appreciated.

Pens (writing): 3

Cameras (acting): 4

Screens (the entire experience): 3.5

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