Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Belated Movie Review: Pacific Rim

love this movie. I’m not quite sure I can explain why, except that it hit a chord with me, as I’m sure has happened to you with songs, books, movies, etc. Sometimes there’s no surprise, and sometimes you’re a little baffled that something hit you so strongly.

For those of you that are not big fans of science fiction, or action, or giant monsters or giant robots, you may not be so interested. This is one of the most genre of genre films I have seen. Matt Zoller Seitz at rogerebert.com gave it four stars. It is a tribute and homage to past films, and most specifically to Japanese “kaiju” movies.

Like most films I catch these days, I did not see this one in a theater, but oh how I wish I could have. This movie is about big things — big monsters, and big robots, called “jaegers” (YAY-gers). So I had to make do with my flat-screen TV, but that was okay. I had a huge grin on my face, I think, for most of it when I first saw it.

A synopsis of sorts, and there will likely be spoilers, but the film is from 2013, so I think if you haven’t seen it by now, you probably don’t care so much. In 2013, the first kaiju comes to Earth via “The Breach,” a fissure between two tectonic plates in the Pacific Ocean. Because monsters must destroy recognizable landmarks, this first kaiju (Trespasser) destroys the Golden Gate Bridge, and a few more things down the CA coast. He is destroyed, but six months later, there is another. Then another in six more months. 

In one of those utopian movie moments, the world comes together to fight a common enemy, and to fight giants, we build giants — huge robots, piloted by a pair of people are mentally compatible so that when they “drift,” they can connect to both each other and the robot to operate it. This works incredibly well, and as the movie’s narrator, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) puts it, we got really good at winning.

Until things change, and Becket’s jaeger is destroyed in taking out a kaiju. His brother is killed in the process, and Raleigh refuses to “jockey” anymore.

But this is a genre movie with certain clichés and expectations, and director Guillermo del Toro and writer Travis Beacham do not disappoint. Raleigh is the burdened veteran pressed to return to service; Chuck Hansen is the hot-shot Australian pilot who’s unimpressed with Raleigh’s story; Stacker Pentecost (how can you not love that name), played by Idris Elba, is the strong commander who cares and does what he must to complete the mission; Mako Mori (Rinko Kukichi) is the young woman who wants to become a fighter after having been a victim, but is held back by Pentecost, her adoptive father, but out of love and not lack of confidence.

Yet all these characters, despite their expected existence, are individuals. You can relate to all of them to some degree, and the presence of a woman like Mako in this movie is fantastic. She is just there, and no one questions her right to be there, her intelligence, or anything else. She will rise or fall on her own merits, and that is so refreshing. There may or may not be something romantic between Mako and Raleigh (again, expected), but it is not the point. They have a job to do, and they want to do it, and that comes first. Mako is smart and resourceful; please give us more movies with characters like her, no matter the genre.

But really, let’s talk about the robots, right? Come on, you know you want to. They are so cool. Their names — Gipsy Danger, Crimson Typhoon, Striker Eureka — how great is that? And they are international. When the chips are down, the four jaegers left come from various countries that border the Pacific Ocean. Gipsy Danger from the US; Crimson Typhoon from China (with three arms and piloted by triplets!); Cherno Alpha from Russia (looking a bit like Gort from the original The Day the Earth Stood Still); and Striker Eureka from Australia. All are brought to Hong Kong, where they are housed in the Shatterdome. Is that not excellent?

There are, of course, many fights between the robots and the monsters, and I think credit is due to del Toro for not rushing things, or cutting every half a second, so that the viewer can follow the action. We know who hit whom, or what, and where they are, and what happened. When a jaeger goes down, your heart’s in your throat; you feel for the crew and you want a last-minute miracle. When a jaeger lands a blow on a kaiju, you’re relieved.

But the science, far-fetched perhaps, is not forgotten, and two scientists figure prominently in the story as well. Geiszler and Gottlieb are an odd couple — neat v. messy, formal v. informal, etc. — but they are smart men who realize that when the world is ending, you follow the most likely path to success or at least answers and you don’t worry so much about who’s supposed to be right or wrong. Without their work, the final plan devised by Pentecost would be doomed to failure, and Pentecost respects them enough to rethink the plan. 

Oh there’s more. There’s the tension between Chuck and Raleigh, between Mako and Pentecost, and a darkly humorous side brought in by Ron Perlman as a black-market dealer in kaiju remains. The terrific final battle, underwater, and the ensuing human victory.

I like that despite all of the fighting and impending apocalypse, there is hope in this movie. I recently discovered that I’ve had my fill, for a while, of anti-heroes and people trying to get by after a civilization meltdown, be it The Walking Dead or HBO’s The Leftovers. Pacific Rim gives me action, and some sorrow, but an underlying hopeful note, and these days, you can’t have too many of those.

P.S. If you see or have seen the movie, check out the film’s Wiki for back story, kaiju names, etc. It’s great fun.

 

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Belated Movie Review: Robot & Frank

I will have a writing related post soon, but since I watch a lot of movies and like to muse on them, I thought I might start with “Belated Movie Reviews.” I rarely see movies when they open in theaters, so I hope that by reviewing older movies, I might turn you on to something you missed.

Last night I saw Robot & Frank, a sort of sweet little movie (85 mins) starring Frank Langella, James Marsden (aka Cyclops or Corny Collins), Liv Tyler (she still acts, it seems) and Susan Sarandon (yay!).

Langella’s Frank Weld is an older man, living alone, whose memory is starting to fade, or fragment. Not entirely, and not necessarily on important issues, but he’s obviously declining. At first, the viewer doesn’t realize how much, as what he forgets seems relatively harmless, such as that his favorite diner in town has gone out of business.  Frank also used to be a thief, a “cat burglar” as he himself puts it.

Frank fills his time by walking into town, visiting the library and flirting a bit with the librarian (Susan Sarandon). He is disappointed to learn that the library will essentially be going all-digital, a project funded by a neighbor, a young millionaire named Jake.

Frank has two children, Hunter (Marsden) and Madison (Tyler), and I have a feeling people will recognize these different relationships. Hunter drives five hours each way every weekend to check on Frank, who lives alone in a rural area. He sacrifices time with his family because he feels his dad needs him. Madison is off in Turkmenistan, communicating via erratic Skype calls, and not as familiar with Frank’s condition, but only because she is far away, not because she doesn’t care.

Hunter shows up one weekend with the Robot, because he is reaching the end of his rope in dealing with Frank — answering the same questions, having the same arguments, going over the same things. Hunter need something to change, both for himself and for Frank, and so brings in the Robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard). The Robot will care for Frank, cooking meals, cleaning the house, and perhaps most importantly, putting him on a routine in order to help his cognitive functioning.

This is something Frank obviously needs, but Hunter cannot provide (he has his own family) and Frank will not accept from another person, nor will go to the “brain center,” he informs Hunter.

Frank naturally resists at first, telling both Hunter and Madison he does not want the Robot. However, Frank discovers some perks about the Robot, not the least of which is that he can teach the Robot to pick locks. This gives Frank an idea, which benefits him mentally because now he has a goal — something the Robot has said is important for Frank. (There’s a wonderful moment towards the end, when the Robot follows a previous order from Frank but in a different situation than it was issued. Who says Robots can’t have senses of humor?)

Madison suddenly shows up on Frank’s doorstep to save him from the Robot. By now Frank is not just accustomed to his companion, but needs him for a plan. However, Madison is a force to be reckoned with and shuts the Robot down, much to Frank’s dismay.

There are various relationships going around here, and it’s hard to say which one takes precedence, and perhaps no single one does. Frank and the Robot are at the center of it, but Frank’s relationships with Hunter and Madison and how they handle his mental decline are important as well. Madison is not ignoring it, but does not seem to see the entirety of it. Hunter is doing the best he can, but has other obligations. In a moment with the Robot, Frank has to confront the kind of legacy he has left to his children, and it’s a watershed moment for him, played well by Langella.

I liked the movie over all, but it felt lacking in places, mostly with Madison. It’s not clear why she is so upset about the Robot. It’s at least implied that she feels it is cold for a Robot to be caring for her father, and she comes dashing home from Turkmenistan to work on a grant application and care for him, but it’s a bigger job than she realized. But why is it so awful for the Robot to do this, especially if Frank will not accept live-in care, but needs it? Is she coming home because she really wants to, or because she feels guilty? Does she think the Robot is usurping a person’s job? Why didn’t she come before — it’s clear that she and Hunter have discussed their father’s condition, so she doesn’t seem in denial.

Frank’s relationships with both children are also a bit thin. We find out that he’s divorced, and that he’s spent time in jail, but nothing of the impact of that is discussed aside from one line from Hunter. Yet somehow Hunter feels compelled to care for him. Did Frank make up for his mistakes?

The ending is satisfying, I think, or at least pleasing, and it doesn’t feel out of place or forced.

I’d recommend the movie with the reservation that one might feel it is incomplete. But it’s worth a viewing.

 

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