Pacific Rim


Why does this giant robot have a trash bucket on its head?

Why does this giant robot have a trash bucket on its head?

(2013) Science Fiction (Warner Brothers) Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman, Robert Kazinski, Burn Gorman, Max Martini, Clifton Collins Jr., Diego Klattenhoff, Brad William Henke, Larry Joe Campbell, Mana Ashida, Santiago Segura, Joe Pingue, Milton Barnes, Ellen McLain (voice), Robert Maillet, Heather Doerksen. Directed by Guillermo del Toro

When I was a boy, I used to love Japanese monster movies – men in rubber lizard suits smashing Tokyo to smithereens. My Dad and I loved the kind of cheesy earnestness of the movies and while we both moved on to other genres, we did share that one thing.

For my own son, it was giant robots. Transformers, dude. Things that turned into other things that grew huge and took on other huge things. That was what kids a generation removed from myself cut their teeth on. Now what about combining the two together?

That’s just what Guillermo del Toro, visionary director of Pan’s Labyrinth did. In the near future, Earth has been invaded by gigantic beasts that came out of the ocean – or more accurately through a dimensional portal that manifested at the bottom of the Pacific. These creatures wreaked havoc on the coastal cities of Asia and Australia as well as the West Coast of the United States. Conventional warfare doesn’t work on these Kaiju which is Japanese for “strange creature” but over time has come to assume gigantic size as well. In order to fight these creatures, giant robotic creatures – called Jaegers which is German for “hunters” – have been created. These machines are piloted by humans and are so intricate and complex that it requires to human brains, which are psychically linked by a “drift” which allows both pilots to share memories while operating both sides of the robotic brain. At first, these robots are successful.

However as time goes on, more and more creatures pour out of the portal growing larger and more deadly as they do. Raleigh Becket (Hunnam) is a pilot along with his brother Yancy (Klattenhoff) but in a battle with a Kaiju Yancy is killed while connected to Raleigh who experiences his brother’s death. Raleigh leaves the program and becomes a construction worker on a gigantic wall protecting the coastline which the government feels will adequately protect the people and cities of the coast.

Of course, that doesn’t work and the general of the Jaeger program, Stacker Pentecost (Elba) finds himself in need of pilots as the Kaiju have begun a counter-offensive that has pushed humanity to the brink of extinction. Stacker knows the only way for humanity to survive is to find a way to close that portal; he has scientists Newton Geiszler (Day) and Helmut Gottleib (Gorman) trying to find ways to do just that. But they’ll need pilots too, even burned out ones and Raleigh is recruited. Japanese scientist Mako Mori (Kikuchi) is his handler; her family died in a Kaiju attack and she yearns to pilot a Jaeger and get some payback. Raleigh might be her best bet for it – but both will have to get over their issues from the past and face gigantic odds because the creatures coming at them from the portal are like nothing they’ve ever seen before.

This might well be the most visually amazing movie of the summer – the battle sequences are worth their weight in gold all by themselves. This is high-tech stuff, even more so than the anime you might remember that featured the giant robots. Del Toro does himself the favor of creating characters with some meat to them, giving the audience a rooting interest which is more than a lot of summer films have been able to accomplish this year.

Hunnam, known to most audiences from his work on Sons of Anarchy is turning out to be quite a promising leading man. Here he has some pretty good cast members to work with, particularly Elba who is one of the best in the business. So too is Perlman (playing a black market Kaiju organ seller) but he has no scenes with Hunnam. Kikuchi is riveting when she’s onscreen; at a very young age she’s become one of the best actresses in the world.

Following a trend that has puzzled me all summer long, the film is a good 20-40 minutes too long; quite frankly the entire subplot with Perlman could have been eliminated or at least saved for a Premium Home Video release. At least however even if the movie drags near the end the eye candy you’re given makes it worthwhile and for geeks of all ages this is manna from heaven, ready to be gorged.

REASONS TO GO: Amazing visuals. Elba and Perlman always interesting; Hunnam is getting to be quite a leading man.

REASONS TO STAY: Way too long. Too much chest-busting.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of action, plenty of violence and  a bit of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tom Cruise was originally considered for the role in which Idris Elba was eventually cast in.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/24/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 72% positive reviews. Metacritic: 64/100; the critics are pretty solidly behind this one.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Space Battleship Yamato

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: I Melt With You

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The Divide


A post-apocalyptic pacifier.

A post-apocalyptic pacifier.

(2011) Sci-Fi (Anchor Bay) Lauren German, Milo Ventimiglia, Michael Biehn, Courtney B. Vance, Rosanna Arquette, Ashton Holmes, Ivan Gonzalez, Michael Eklund, Abbey Thickson, Jennifer Blanc. Directed by Xavier Jens

The real test of humanity comes in situations of great stress. We see the best of the human spirit – firefighters running into burning hills to protect homes and property, ordinary people pulling people out of the rubble of disaster sites and keeping them alive until help arrives.

We also see the worst and that’s pretty much what you’re going to see here although to be fair, that is pretty much true of most movies of this genre. New York is leveled by nuclear detonations; eight residents of a Manhattan apartment tower make their way into the basement to ride out the fallout storm.

Mickey (Biehn), the janitor, lives in the basement and he’s none too happy about having his space invaded by residents Eva(German), her boyfriend Sam (Gonzalez), brothers Josh (Ventimiglia) and Adrien (Holmes) and Josh’s friend Bobby (Eklund), Marilyn (Arquette) and her daughter Wendi (Thickson) and the bookish Devlin (Vance). While he asserts his dominance, it is not without some uneasiness on the part of the other survivors.

Not long afterward the make-shift shelter is broken into by armed men in biohazard suits; they abduct Wendi and attempt to leave but a firefight breaks out and Adrien is wounded while several of the invaders are killed. Josh takes one of the soldiers suits in an effort to rescue Wendi and finds the basement connected to a lab connected by tunnels of plastic sheeting. He finds Wendi among a group of children unconscious, head shaved and eyes bandaged. Unfortunately, Josh’s ruse is discovered and a soldier yanks off his breathing apparatus, exposing him to the irradiated air.

Josh makes it back to the basement and the soldiers weld the remaining survivors into the room, trapping them there. This is called making things worse; the fractured group grows even more fractured. Sexual politics begin to play a role as Marilyn starts sleeping with Bobby while Eva moves away from the indecisive and borderline cowardly Sam and more towards Adrien. When it becomes clear that Mickey has a hidden stash room, a fight breaks out and the balance of power shifts. Josh and Bobby take control and start using Marilyn as a sex slave. Can Eva and the rest survive?

Gens has a history of films portraying a group of people in a hellish situation and showing them to revert to their most primal and ignoble forms. There are those who believe and hope that faced with a desperate survival situation that people will show that they are basically good and act accordingly. Gens is clearly not one of them; in his point of view (and he may well be right) people are inherently self-serving and will throw morality and compassion out the window in a justification to survive at any cost, no matter what it takes.

The tension here is as good as you’ll see in any movie of this type. I like that this isn’t a paint-by-numbers apocalypse with conspiracies and mutants. Instead, we see people gradually grow more suspicious and violent and when power shifts, we see how that power corrupts them, making them monsters. Of course, the radiation poisoning doesn’t help either.

While I like Arquette’s performance as the distraught mom who reverts to using her sexuality to bind her to the alpha males. It is sobering and discouraging to watch but I think it’s a pretty accurate portrayal. As much as I respect women, we come from roles in which women who had stronger protectors were more likely to survive. It’s why even now, women are expected to be more attractive in order to find a mate.

Unfortunately, most of the others in the cast are surprisingly flat and uninspiring. Considering the situation, you’d expect that there’d be more emotion in the cast but you never get a sense of anything other than anger, self-importance and lust. They go right to the base emotions and while indeed that might be what would really happen in such a situation, when we look at situations where civilization breaks down we do see less of that baseness than you see here.

This is a very bleak movie although it is well-made. However you will feel a need for showering after wading through this celluloid cesspool of human ugliness. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth wading through however – the well-made can sometimes outweigh the ugly.

WHY RENT THIS: Gens ratchets up the tension nicely. Avoids post-apocalyptic cinematic clichés.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Misses opportunities. May lay on the ugliness a bit thick.

FAMILY VALUES: It’s not just the violence and sexuality but more the disturbing nature of it. There are also some rough images as well as plenty of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although set in New York City, the majority of the movie was filmed in Winnipeg.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $130,839 on a $3M production budget; the production costs were not recouped during the theatrical run.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: On the Beach

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Goon

The Hunt for Red October


The Hunt for Red October

Sean Connery lights up the screen.

(1990) Thriller (Paramount) Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Sam Neill, Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, Joss Ackland, Richard Jordan, Peter Firth, Tim Curry, Courtney B. Vance, Stellan Skarsgard, Jeffrey Jones, Fred Dalton Thompson, Tomas Arana, Gates McFadden. Directed by John McTiernan

 

There are weapons of war – planes, ships, tanks, subs – that we all know about and each side keeps tabs on and has whatever countermeasures that are available to combat them. All sides have them and it keeps things honest. What if there was a weapon of war that only one side had, one which avoided the whole Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine and gave one side a critical advantage, one which in order to have would have to be used without the knowledge of the other side?

In this classic Naval thriller set during the Cold War the Soviets have done just that. The Red October is a submarine with a propulsion system that allows it to run virtually undetected by sonar (who might mistake it for whales). This is bad news for the Americans who would never know if the sub parked itself off the Atlantic seaboard and start lobbing nukes into New York City, Washington, Boston, Philadelphia…hell all over the northeast with virtually no warning.

Captain Marko Ramius (Connery) realizes that this is the only use a sub such as this would have; the Red October has nearly zero maneuvering skills and  isn’t particularly fast. He knows that the vessel he has been tasked with taking on a trial run could mean the end of everything. Therefore he enters into a pact with his senior officers, including his second-in-command Borodin (Neill) to do the unthinkable.

In the meantime the CIA is frantic. They’ve monitored a new sub leaving the shipyards and then disappearing as monitored by the USS Dallas’ crack sonar operator Jones (Vance). His captain, Bart Mancuso (Glenn) is mystified. So is the CIA. Admiral Greer (J.E. Jones) has never heard of this kind of vessel. His expert in Soviet subs is Jack Ryan (Baldwin), an analyst who is currently living in London. They put him on the first flight to DC where he is shown some pictures of a sub with an odd pair of openings in stern. Ryan takes the pictures to a sub builder (Jeff Jones) who realizes what it could mean.

Soon it becomes apparent that something extraordinary is going on. The entire Soviet fleet is scrambled, apparently searching for something. Ryan reports his findings to the President’s defense counsel, including his most senior advisor Jeffrey Pelt (Jordan). While the military men think that this signals that an attack on the U.S. is imminent, Ryan – who wrote the C.I.A.’s analysis on Ramius suddenly realizes that Ramius might be intending to defect.

Nobody really thinks Ryan is for real but Pelt wants to hedge his bets; if he can get his hands on a piece of Soviet hardware this advanced, the opportunity has to be at least explored. He sends Ryan – who is not a field agent – to the Dallas (which is by no means an easy feat) to intercept the Red October and determine his intentions – while trying to keep out of the way of the entire Soviet and U.S. Fleet which are trying to sink her.

Jack Ryan is the creation of former insurance agent and now bestselling author Tom Clancy who has made his career out of these political thrillers with military overtones. Clancy knows his military hardware and while even at this date nothing like the Red October exists (at least to the knowledge of the general public), it certainly is within the realm of possibility.  This was the first Jack Ryan novel to make it to the screen and its success both critically and commercially paved the way for three other movies to make the transition (with a fourth scheduled for Christmas 2013).

A large reason for this is Connery. He brings dignity and gravitas to the part of Ramius. Though this is a Jack Ryan film it is Ramius you will remember and it is in many ways his show. The relationship between Ramius and Borodin is crucial in the film and Connery has some pretty believable chemistry with Neill.

The sub chase sequences are as good as any you’re likely to see with the possible exception of Das Boot. I also found the political intrigue that goes on during the movie to be second to none; you get the sense that everyone is playing a game that is unique to themselves, from the ship commanders on up to the President himself. That may well be how it is in real life.

There are some who have criticized Baldwin’s low-key performance as Ryan; certainly I think Harrison Ford nailed the part better in later versions of Jack, but I don’t think Baldwin is that bad. He plays it more intellectual and less action than Ford but that’s all right – his performance is well-suited for the film, which really makes most of its action bones with the sub duels rather than individuals. In that sense it’s the captains of the various vessels involved who make the action heroes here.

There is definitely an 80s film sensibility here (it was shot in 1989) although it would open the door for the 90s political film ethos. In a very real way this is one of the movies that transitioned the 1980s action film into the 1990s special effects film. As such it’s a classic and to my mind one of a kind. I do not necessarily agree with Clancy’s political beliefs, but the man can write an excellent story and he has done so here; I’m not entirely sure if he likes the movie that came of his imagination but I know that I do.

WHY RENT THIS: Quite realistic. Details are superb. Connery, Baldwin, Jones and Glenn are amazing. Great sets and breathtaking story.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Something of a throwback to cold war attitudes.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some violence, a few adult themes and a bit of swearing.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: When the film was released on VHS, the tape was colored red.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $200.5M on a $30M production budget; this was a blockbuster.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Das Boot

FINAL RATING: 9.5/10

NEXT: Uncertainty