Pacific Rim (2013)

Pacific RimRelease Date: July 12, 2013Director: Guillermo del ToroStars: Charlie Hunman, Idris Elba, Rinko KikuchiRuntime: 132 min.

“Pacific Rim” is the first movie I attended a premiere for since “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” back in December. As the day of the premiere approached, I became more and more excited. Heck, I could hardly even sleep one night coupled with my excitement and crappy sleeping habits. Let’s just say, “Pacific Rim” satisfies in most of its critical aspects.

As a war between humankind and monstrous sea creatures wages on, and creatures attack at an increasingly rapid rate, a former pilot and a trainee are paired up to go on a high-stakes mission in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse.

There are some refreshing aspects to this feature that one might not see in an average summer tent-pole. There’s no leading star power, but Charlie Hunman (TV’s “Sons of Anarchy,” “Children of Men”) is good as a character you’ll enjoy, but you probably won’t remember his name. In this film, there doesn’t have to be much star power, because everybody knows the real stars are the robots (Jaegars) and the monsters (Kaiju). If one had to compare this to anything, it’s like a “Godzilla” movie and that Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots game. There’s a lot of new content here, and it’s an awesome ode to monster movies. This is going to stand out in memory as one of the most original movies of the year.

I appreciate that this movie isn’t merely just a visual feast. The story gets care put into it and it keeps the viewer guessing. It’s ridiculous at times, but it’s going to have to be in a sci-fi monsters vs. robots feature. The concepts of the Drift and the Neural Handshake are fascinating. It is the most effective storytelling presented in a movie event so far this year, so that’s a compliment to this, but not exactly to 2013 blockbusters as a whole. The thing is, one’s average big-budget extravaganza has a larger focus on visuals and less on story – so to see that in a film like this is refreshing. Though, like the modern big-budget flicks, this is going to feature a lot of loud noises!

There are also some appealing characters, even if they aren’t memorable. Mako (Kikuchi) is given layers, as something from her past is haunting her. Marshall Stacker Pentecost (Elba) is quite possibly the character you’ll care about the most. Elba delivers one of the year’s most memorable speeches, and it’s still pretty damn effective when one finally sees the movie after seeing the trailer seven times. The research team of Newton (Charlie Day) and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman, “The Dark Knight Rises”) is comedic gold, and one of the movie’s best aspects. It also shows that this movie has a comedic way about it, as well, even if it has the tendency to be cheesy. That pairing is the movie’s best aspect besides the big battles, of course.

The battles everybody is anticipating are spectacular in a visual way, and lots of fun. You’ll nerdgasm a few times throughout, at the battles and the great creature design, but mostly at the battles. I cannot help but wish that more battles occur during daylight. All of the mashes occur during the night, mostly in the middle of the ocean, and in the pouring rain. Granted, the monsters’ invasion might alter the climate to make it rain a lot, but it would be nice to see them fight without the rain. It would also be great to see a little less splashin’ on the screen, and some more monster mashin’. It’s as if they’re in a wave pool.

This feature also has to find a comfortable pace before it can really get to the heart of the story, so a shorter film would be welcome. Nobody wants to see the humans. We nerds are here for the robots. You’ll care about the humans, sure, but you’ll only truly care about the survival of a select few characters, and since these characters believe in the greater good of the humankind, we’re taken on an emotional roller coaster with them. These folks also make a great ensemble cast, made up of little to no bankable actors. This is visually stunning in its IMAX 3D glory, and you’ll be getting a front row seat to one of the most awesome speeches of the year.

This movie is awesome. It will remain one of the 2013’s best blockbusters. It’s also a great addition to a fantastic year of science fiction, a genre that is growing on me. I know I’ve thrown a lot of ‘Most memorable speech’ and ‘Best storytelling in a sci-fi extravaganza’ so far this year, but I remain undecided if this will be included in my Top 25 of the year, looking at what is coming in the second half of the year. It’s immensely enjoyable, but I’m not sure when I’ll feel the urge to revisit this. At the end of the year, if I think back to the pure awesomeness of a Jaegar picking up a giant boat and using it as a baseball bat to hit a Kaiju with repeatedly, this movie might find its way on my Top 25 list.

Score80/100

Advertisements

Mama (2013)

MamaMama

Release Date: January 18, 2013

Director: Andrés Muschietti

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier

Runtime: 100 min

Tagline: A mother’s love is forever

In this modern age, it is very difficult for horror films to be original. There is so little ground that has not already been stepped on. This is exactly one of the biggest problems of Mama, a film that has a great backstory, but it’s a story that reminds me of The Woman in Black and it copies scares from many other features.

One day, a father goes insane, kills his wife because she is going to leave him, and he takes his two young daughters with him and they hit the road, meaning to go far away. The father, Jeffrey, is zooming too fast, and the car skids off the road and down into the forest. They find a cabin, and just when the father is about to kill the elder daughter, a mysterious being comes and takes him away.

It is now five years later, and the girls have not been found. The uncle of the two young girls, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), hasn’t given up hope of finding them. With the support of his girlfriend, Annabel (portrayed by Jessica Chastian, who is sporting a short jet black wig and rocker tattoos), he has been paying investigators to look for them for those five years. When the investigators finally find them, they are in odd states. They crawl to get around, they’re dirty, and they claim to have been taken care of by something they called “Mama”. When Lucas and Annabel take in Victoria, 8, and Lily, 6, Mama isn’t very fond of her girls being taken away from her.

The back story established in Mama is a good one: a institutionalized woman steals back her baby in the late 1800’s, but she dies and her baby doesn’t. Soon, her ghost searches everywhere for the baby, only to find Victoria and Lily instead.

The only reason this feels reminiscent of The Woman in Black is the back story, the spirit in that film also wants to rest with their son, but in the meantime kills the townsfolk. It’s not extremely similar, but I still thought of it during. The film’s main scares are from better horror films, so there isn’t much content one hasn’t seen. There are also many convenient things that happen in the film: the uncle gets put into a coma rather early on in the film, leaving Annabel take care of the little eerie tykes so he doesn’t lose custody. Whilst the film does a few things wrong, it does a lot of things right.

We may have seen the scares before, but it doesn’t stop the film from being effective and spooky. Many of the scares also do linger on the mind after watching the feature, which is an effective thing that horror flicks aspire to possess. It’s an atmosphere that doesn’t give its audience many senses of security. Mama is often popping up every which way, and the feature can really get the heart racing. Mama starts off on a strong note, keeps going strong, and the third act is the weakest of them all because of a characters’ stupid decision not to tell anyone where they were going.

Until it loses its pacing balance during the final act, it’s a chilling experience each time the sun goes out. It is even quite scary during the day, because apparently spirits never sleep. The bond between the two sisters is generally strong throughout the feature, but there is room for improvement. Lily, the youngest, is still very dependent on Mama, while Victoria is getting closer to Annabel and Mama’s malevolent tendencies are becoming more visible. Lily seems as if she’s too afraid to be abandoned again, as is Victoria in a way. Mama doesn’t want to be abandoned either, rousing malevolent jealousy. Annabel is depicted as a character not open to having kids in the beginning because of her excitement to a failed pregnancy, but she does open up to the girls as the film goes along. This is much to Mama’s dismay, as she is suffering from a disease called JBS (Jealous Bitch Syndrome). You really don’t want to screw with this mother. All of this duelling of jealousy leads to the unbalanced third act, but it also leads up to a surprisingly emotionally stirring ending.

The performances in the feature aren’t top-tier, as this is still a horror movie. Each performer does express the usual fear and anxiety, topped on with more screaming. It was a great decision by the casting director to cast such a big star as Jessica Chastain. However, for Chastain, this is a career low-point for her. Even though this doesn’t say a lot because this is still a great feature. At least her character didn’t commit too many horror flick clichés. Chastain does prove she really can rock any look.

In a nutshell: Mama has a great backstory, but it doesn’t strive on originality. With great pacing until the final act, Mama makes for a thoroughly scary experience with hardly any room for a feeling of safety. And if there is, don’t fall for it. The concepts of abandonment and jealousy are cool to bring into horror flicks. Mama is a solid antagonist who won’t allow me to look at moths and butterflies the same again*.

*The moths and butterflies would show up whenever she is near.

Did you know? This isn’t extremely interesting, but; this was filmed in Hamilton, Ontario and a studio in Toronto, both a little more than a five-hour drive from where I live.

78/100

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

The Hobbit -  An Unexpected JourneyThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Release Date: December 14, 2012

Director: Peter Jackson

Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage

Runtime: 169 min

Tagline: From the smallest beginnings come the greatest legends

A curious Hobbit of The Shire, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is confronted by the magnificent wizard, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), who wonders if Bilbo would enjoy going on a great adventure. The quest is to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. Bilbo soon joins Gandalf and thirteen dwarves, led by the legendary warrior Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Amitage). They must gander through Middle Earth, fighting the likes of Goblins, Orks, and many other creatures. Their mission is to get to the East where the Lonely Mountain is, but the Goblins and Orks are close on their tail. Bilbo learns how to muster up enough courage that he didn’t even know he had, with a little help from the creature Gollum (Andy Serkis).

Mostly everyone knows that Peter Jackson (director of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) is a fairly innovative director. This time, he shows his innovative side by being the first person to film using 48 frames per second (f.p.s.). While it is an admirable experiment, it is mostly a needless one. The visuals have the tendency to get very distracting, even though the screen is very clear. However, the visuals are nonetheless beautiful and usually not that bothersome as other critics might say. It might deserve a second watch in a 2D regular 24 f.p.s. screening.

Everyone also knows that his features are usually lengthy (like The LOTR Trilogy, or his remake [more like new film altogether] of King Kong). He gives us another awesome, but long, adventure back to Middle Earth. He writes it with help from three other writers, including the also legendary Guillermo del Toro (writer/director of Pan’s Labyrinth) and it is adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. All the writers express that they are not afraid to insert some silliness and foolishness into a great Middle Earth fantasy story. However, they insert some jokes so relentlessly, that you may forget that any of the story is intended to be serious. Usually, though, it isn’t bad – and you just can’t help but laugh and have a good time. Especially when the great Gollum shows up. There’s an exuberant amount of comedic dialogue inserted in that specific riddle scene shared between Gollum and Bilbo, but it also makes for one of the greatest scenes in the film. This time around, some of the more talky scenes are the best; while the action sequences are simply visually stunning and intense, but the material we’ve seen before outweighs the new and fresh content.

I am unsure of how faitful the writing is to its source material, but the fun that the cast and writers had making the film is definitely present. The writing is very smart; and the introduction of Old Bilbo putting his journey into writing for Frodo is a perfect touch for any fan of the adventures of Middle Earth. The antagonists (like the Pale Ork or the nasty looking Great Goblin) are also fine and the backstories for some characters and the plot lines are great.

There is never a dull moment in this feature, but there are some scenes that could have been so not over-the-top. When Bilbo, Gandalf, and company, visit the land of Rivendell, the introduction of Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) is just too over-dramatic. Sure, she’s beautiful as anything, but it didn’t have to be over-done like that. Also, when Saruman (Christopher Lee) does his brief cameo, the audience (those who have seen Lord of the Rings) will feel a certain loathing because we know what this character will do in sixty years. Often enough, the problem with prequels is we know some good characters will turn evil (like Saruman) or we know some will survive. SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE LORD OF THE RINGS Like we do with Bilbo and Gandalf. END OF SPOILERS. It may take away from the suspense, but it’s all about knowing how they survive. The reappearance of certain characters (like Galadriel, Elrond, Gollum, Frodo) will be a treat for any fan of Tolkien’s magnificent universe. However, it’s a little difficult to get emotionally-invested with the new characters like we did the first time we saw the older characters.

There are just too many dwarves to keep an eye on. Thorin Oakenshield, the leader; Ori, the one with the slingshot; Balin, the charming elderly one; and Bombur, the chubby eater, are the ones that really stand out. If any dwarves decease, the viewer may feel sad for a minute, but it’ll soon wear off because there are many others. All share the same traits, and it feels as if the writers took traits from Gimli and Legolas (some dwarves are archers) and lent them to the new dwarves. The majority feel, unfortunately, expendable. They are just a little too alike, or don’t say much. Bilbo is both a new character, and an old one. Those who have seen Lord of the Rings are familiar with the older version of him. Now, we are introduced to the young Bilbo, before he learned all the life lessons or even left The Shire. He is great, and the fact we get to watch him grow is a scrumptious treat. Martin Freeman is the perfect actor to play him, as is the casting of the dwarves.

The first installment of a new Middle Earth trilogy is much like The Fellowship of the Ring; not a lot happens. They only complete a small amount of the journey, and upcoming antagonists and ones that are going to appear again in the series are established. However, please don’t forget that the story will all come together in the end of the trilogy. For what it is, it is a great experience, and there are enough action scenes to probably keep you satisfied. Though, some of those said action scenes are a little familiar. Am I complaining, though? Not particularly, because it’s still fun.

As a stand-alone feature, this is an awesome adventure-fantasy film. Compared to the likes of The Lord of the Rings, it is simply satisfying and usually visually stunning. Some of it is familiar, the visuals are distracting, and the dwarves are a little too alike. However, there is never a dull moment – even when one moment is over-dramatic. The cinematography, the visuals, the writing and the performances are stellar. The silliness is very enjoyable, especially the scene shared between Bilbo and Gollum (and Precious, of course). Simply put, this is the beginnings of a fine, new Middle Earth trilogy.

75/100

Celebrity Birthdays: October 15 – 21

Sorry for the delay, I got my days mixed up.

Bailee Madison (October 15)

Happy 13th birthday to Bailee Madison. She is a great young actress. At only the age of 13, she has worked with Robert Patrick (in Bridge to Terabithia); Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire (all in Brothers); Hilary Swank (in Conviction); Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston (in Just Go With It); and Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, and the writer Guillermo Del Toro (in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark).

Jon Favreau (October 19)

Happy 46th birthday to Jon Favreau, director of the Iron Man films and the (apparently) disappointing Cowboys & Aliens. I’m not a really big fan, but his films seem good for those super hero fans.

Viggo Mortensen (October 20)

Happy 54th birthday to Viggo Mortensen. He is best known for performing in A History of Violence, and playing Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings series. He frequently works with director David Cronenberg, their collaborations include: A History of Violence, Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method.

Danny Boyle (October 20)

Happy 56th birthday to Danny Boyle, director of Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours, 28 Days Later… and Trainspotting. He looks a bit like a tall version of Golum from the LOTR films, doesn’t he? (I say jokingly.) I liked Slumdog Millionaire, but not really 127 Hours.

Other Birthdays: Oct. 15, Larry Miller (59). Oct. 16, Tim Robbins (54); Brea Grant (31). Oct. 18, Zac Efron (25); Freida Pinto (28). Oct. 21, Carrie Fisher (56).

Who is your favourite actor/actress on this list?

My reviews of films they have starred in: 

Bailee Madison: Bridge to Terabithia (2007)