Review: Pacific Rim

A damaged Jaeger collapses after a battle in 'Pacific Rim.'

A damaged Jaeger collapses after a battle in ‘Pacific Rim.’

Director Guillermo del Toro clearly never identified with those people who live by the adage ‘less is more.’ His movie Pacific Rim, a sci-fi epic that pits human-powered robots against giant monsters, is as colossal a summer blockbuster as there ever was or ever will be. Del Toro’s greatest directorial challenge is ensuring that it never collapses under its own weight. Miraculously, he pulls it off. Pacific Rim succeeds against all odds; it’s a visually dazzling powerhouse that packs both emotional resonance and an unfailing sense of fun. In a word, it’s awesome. In two words, it’s really awesome.

As towering human-powered robots called Jaegers fight even larger monsters called Kaijus to save humankind from annihilation, the sheer size of Pacific Rim‘s action is jaw-dropping. Even more shocking is how Del Toro miraculously keeps the film’s battle sequences coherent and clear, never losing his footing despite the film’s scale. It’s a testament to his talent that a scene’s action can encompass an entire city without the audience losing track of what’s what.  

Pacific Rim‘s top-notch cast also helps the movie soar, particularly Idris Elba, who’s outstanding as stoic commanding officer Stacker Pentecost. His performance, complete with booming voice, soulful eyes, and surprising emotional depth, demands the audience’s attention. The chemistry between leads Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi, two unlikely Jaeger pilots who become humanity’s last hope against the Kaijus, is also terrific. Del Toro staple Ron Perlman shows up to deliver some cheesy but still great lines as larger-than-life black marketeer Hannibal Chau. And Charlie Day nearly steals the show as an energetic scientist studying the monsters, providing laughs and heart in equal measure.

However, the biggest thing that Pacific Rim has going for it is ever-present energy, courtesy of del Toro. This is his ode to the Japanese monster movies of his youth, executed with due reverence, visual gusto and expert aplomb. No matter how large the action gets, del Toro successfully emulates the simple magic of a kid playing with toys in a sandbox, letting the audience bask in that youthful exuberance as well. His boundless enthusiasm for the genre shines through.

Although Pacific Rim‘s action sequences take up a huge chunk of the movie, they never feel drawn out or artificial. One colossal battle in Hong Kong is terrific fun, both exciting and remarkably innovative. A smaller-scale martial arts scene with fighting sticks is just as cool to watch. And the film’s grand finale, a fast and furious fight to the death on the ocean floor, is a thrilling pièce de résistance.

Throughout the film, Del Toro’s confident direction allows the film to take risks with its narrative and cinematography, and those risks pay off tremendously. For one, Pacific Rim doesn’t shy away from the human cost of war against the Kaijus, capturing both the perspectives of civilians caught in crossfire and of the monster-mashing pilots. As such, the most devastating moment of the movie comes early on, as a terrified young girl finds herself in a Kaiju’s path of destruction. Additionally, the direction often highlights the strange beauty of the movie’s creatures – both the Jaegers and Kaijus are wondrous to behold, dazzling CGI behemoths which move with an almost celestial grace at times.

The only time when Pacific Rim ever really stumbles is when it overreaches with its story. Some ideas the script puts forth about the origins of the Kaijus don’t sit well, and other plot points in the story’s set-up are undeniably weak. But even with those few shortcomings, Pacific Rim ultimately succeeds both as a tribute to Japanese monster movies and a resuscitation of the same. Any gripes with the plot don’t even register once Hunnam and Kikuchi strap into their Jaeger and throw down with fearsome Kaijus in any of the film’s breathtaking action sequences.

As far as action goes, there’s no better film to see this summer. Pacific Rim is an imaginative and thrilling popcorn-pleasure spectacle that doesn’t let gargantuan scale sacrifice a big heart and sense of fun. What more do you need to hear? Go get lost in Del Toro’s crazy-cool childhood fantasy, and experience the breathtaking grandeur of his fully-realized vision for yourself. You’ll be glad you did. A-

Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros.

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DVD Review: Lockout

Guy Pearce shoots off bullets and one-liners in 'Lockout.'

Guy Pearce shoots off bullets and one-liners in ‘Lockout.’

Die Hard in space, as sci-fi thriller Lockout could be accurately dubbed, may be the silliest (and stupidest) Die Hard rip-off yet.

Guy Pearce stars as devil-may-care secret agent Snow, who is forced to infiltrate a high security prison to rescue the President’s daughter Emilie (Maggie Grace) after the prisoners rebel and take over. The catch? The prison, MS One, is in fact a maximum security space station orbiting Earth.

Pearce is easily the best part of Lockout, playing Snow as a Han Solo clone, complete with gruff charisma and roguish wit. Luckily for the film and audience, he pulls it off. Trading either barbs or blows with every character he comes across, Pearce effectively establishes himself as a more-than-capable leading man. It’s just a shame he’s given so little to work with.

Lockout‘s plot is as described above, and that’s pretty much it. There are no layers to the concept of MS One, though the writers throw some inadequate tidbits to the audience that make the film’s ultimate simplicity all the more frustrating. The fact that Emilie is on board to investigate rumors of prisoner abuse is one of the film’s only thoughtful ideas, but it’s immediately drowned out by explosions and gunfire and never goes anywhere. An undercooked side plot with Pearce’s character being framed for murder back on Earth is so meager and poorly executed that it’s not worth trying to piece together.

There are a lot of missed opportunities in Lockout, which decides to poorly copy better movies instead of introducing its own ideas. John Carpenter’s Escape from New York is the movie most plagiarized, from the concept to the characters, but almost every idea in Lockout originated in a different, better movie.

Lockout is about evenly split between effective action sequences and ones that look shockingly crappy. The film’s jumpy, amateurish direction does nothing to alleviate sensory headaches caused by the worst of those scenes. Honestly, at times, the level of thought that went into Lockout makes it appear as if it were made by middle school students taking an Introduction to Filmmaking course, albeit ones with deep pockets.

Atrocious direction aside, Lockout not only asks viewers to suspend their disbelief, but to throw basic laws of physics out the window. Pearce tries his damnedest, but it feels like he’s fighting alone. Lockout‘s directors, producers, and writers (including super-producer Luc Besson) are all perfectly content to let the film float around aimlessly like so much space debris. The supporting cast is no help, with Grace floundering in a thankless role and Peter Stormare mangling already cheesy dialogue as a dull government supervisor.

Lockout wants to be seen as a legitimate action thriller, but it can’t even be truly enjoyed as a parody of the same. With mind-numbingly bad special effects and even worse plot points, Pearce’s fine performance doesn’t even come close to saving Lockout from collapsing under the weight of its own idiocy. Lock this one up and throw away the key. C-

 

Photo Courtery: EuroCorp.

Sci-Fi Thriller ‘All You Need is Kill’ Gets New Title

Tom Cruise is having a really bad day, again and again, in 'Edge of Tomorrow.'

Tom Cruise is having a really bad day, again and again, in ‘Edge of Tomorrow.’

Tom Cruise’s sci-fi thriller All You Need is Kill, due next summer, has received a much-needed name change.

The movie, now known as Edge of Tomorrow, finds Earth at war with an alien race called the Mimics. Cruise stars as unlucky soldier Bill Cage, who after being killed in battle with the invaders is caught in a time loop and must relive the same battle over and over. Becoming a smarter soldier with each battle, Cage takes the fight to the aliens with the help of veteran soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt).

Edge of Tomorrow is based on a graphic novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. The movie so far looks like a mash-up of Source Code and Halo, or a Groundhog Day with more exploding heads, neither of which are necessarily a bad thing.

Edge of Tomorrow will hit theaters in IMAX 3D on June 6 next year.

Source: Entertainment Weekly.

Image Courtesy: ScreenCrush.

Review: The Purge

Ethan Hawke expects some unwanted visitors.

Ethan Hawke expects some unwanted visitors.

Is mankind inherently evil? If murder was legal, would you kill someone? Is the letter of the law the only thing preventing carnage on a massive scale? James DeMonaco’s micro-budgeted horror thriller The Purge has a lot of big questions on its mind. What a shame that it’s never given the opportunity to answer them.

The Purge imagines America in 2022 as “a nation reborn.” Poverty and crime are at all-time lows because, for twelve hours a year, citizens are given carte blanche to kill, rob, rape, destroy, you name it, in the name of purging all of their most angry base instincts. It’s a neat concept, perhaps one that doesn’t completely hold up under close scrutiny (the impoverished and starving don’t feel hungry enough to steal any other time of the year?), but one that’s innovative nonetheless.

The film narrows its scope too much by focusing on the Sandins, a wealthy family living in an affluent suburb. James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) works as a home security developer, while his wife Mary (Lena Headey) deals with the difficult kids, Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and Charlie (Max Burkholder). They live an idyllic life, until the Purge starts, and stupid/innocent Charlie momentarily lifts the fortifications to allow a man running for his life into their home. As the man’s pursuers attempt to break into their home, the Sandins find themselves fighting for their lives, and the film  begins to dissolve into horror-movie cliches.

Hawke clearly embraces his ‘action-hero’ role, and he pulls it off for the most part. His fight scenes are exciting and believable. Hawke lacks the physical presence of Liam Neeson, for one, but he succeeds in holding the audience’s attention. Headey is also well-cast, showing off a dramatic range typically reserved for higher-caliber movies than this. A psychotic Rhys Wakefield plays his small part well. No one else stays on screen long enough to make an impression.

After its promising beginning, as DeMonaco showcases some of the horrific violence perpetrated during the Purge, the film becomes disappointingly bogged down by its plot, which refuses to allow The Purge to move past the home invasion subgenre to address its most compelling ideas.The film’s bigger themes are buried by ceaseless, senseless violence, frustratingly so.

Faceless baddies lunge from the shadows, blood spurts everywhere, there’s a predictable third-act twist, and none of it sticks after the credits roll. Inexplicably, the film’s only original aspect – its thought-provoking premise – is sidelined in favor of cheap, gory, toothless kicks. The audience gets few answers, and with a running time of only 85 minutes, The Purge is too slight to pull off the thoughtful social commentary it’s striving for.

The Purge is a serviceable home invasion thriller, but it gives hints that it could have been more. With such an intriguing central idea, it should have been much more. For a high-concept movie about a society reliant on heinous violence, The Purge is dismayingly tame.  C+

Photo Courtesy: The Hollywood News.

Matt Smith to Leave ‘Doctor Who’

Matt Smith will depart BBC's 'Doctor Who' later this year.

The BBC confirmed today that, after almost four years of starring as the Time Lord from Gallifrey, Matt Smith is set to leave Doctor Who at the end of this year.

Smith, who took over the role from fan favorite David Tennant in 2010, first appeared as the Eleventh Doctor during the rebooted sci-fi show’s fifth season, and will make his final bow in the upcoming 50th Anniversary Special.

With Smith as the Doctor, the show has enjoyed increasing popularity worldwide, particularly in the United States. The recent advertising push for Doctor Who across the States, in addition to the growing influence of internet fandoms, are some likely causes for the surge of support for the show, but Smith, along with companions Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill), surely also played a role.

His energetic performance and dramatic gravitas, in addition to fondness for bowties, fish fingers and custard, and the phrase “Geronimo”, have certainly earned him a place among the best Doctors. Smith is also the first actor to be nominated for a BAFTA for the role, receiving the nod in 2011.

The search for the Twelfth Doctor is currently underway, and companion Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman) is expected to stick around for at least one more season.

After he departs Doctor Who, Smith will next be seen in Ryan Gosling’s upcoming directorial debut, a dark fantasy called How to Catch a Monster.

Photo Courtesy: Wakonda Marketing.

Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

The Enterprise spirals out of control.

The Enterprise spirals out of control.

J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot was an unexpected pleasure, taking a cult sci-fi series and revitalizing it in grand fashion, with spectacle, heart, and humor. Despite the enthusiastic welcome that the prequel/reboot (preboot?) received from fanboys, critics, general audiences, and even the Academy (the film won Best Makeup and received a total of four nominations), Abrams chose not to rush headfirst into a sequel. Four years later, with the follow-up finally hitting theaters, it’s clear that he made the right call by taking the time to think ideas for the next installment through completely, though evidently none of the deep thought thart the finished product shows went into a title (that’s right, no colon, no number, nothing). Quibbles aside, Star Trek Into Darkness is a thrilling, smart, imaginative, and satisfying sequel worthy of its respected namesake.

With introductions out of the way, Into Darkness focuses on telling a great story with a terrific cast of characters. This time around, the crew of the USS Enterprise find themselves on a mission of retribution. After Starfleet officer John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, of Sherlock fame) defects and commits a series of devastating terrorist attacks on Earth, Captain James C. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew travel to a war-zone planet in Klingon territory to capture him so he can face judgment for his crimes, unwittingly playing right into their enemy’s hands. As its title suggests, this Trek is grittier and more intense; the villain, topically, is a vicious terrorist with a murky agenda of his own. Corruption, sacrifice, politics, revenge, and betrayal all play roles in the story, while the darkness of the title also refers to the indecision and fears of the Enterprise’s crew, particularly those of Kirk and Spock. Harrison manipulates the crew into questioning their own morals, giving Into Darkness some added depth that elevates it high above typical sci-fi fare.

All of the characters, not just those two, are really at the core of what makes Into Darkness work. Abrams doesn’t sacrifice character development for action, strengthening the crew’s connections and personalities even as he pits them against unimaginable odds. Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) are struggling to make a relationship work as the story starts out. First Lieutenant Scotty (Simon Pegg) has serious moral quandaries with the Enterprise’s assignment, while Kirk grapples with his failures both as a leader and as a man. It isn’t all doom-and-gloom, however. The witty banter between Kirk and Spock is at an all-time high, and comedy relief characters Dr. ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) and Scotty are both terrific in their roles, managing to capture the heart and soul of the Enterprise.

The newcomers are also strong. Cumberbatch is a much more compelling villain than Eric Bana’s bland Romulan in the 2009 Trek, bringing a menacing gravitas and dangerous verve to the physically-imposing Harrison, a super-human with equal penchant for skull-crushing and monologuing (sometimes simultaneously). His scenes alongside Pine and Quinto hum with a nervous energy and are among the film’s best (and without giving any spoilers, die-hard Trekkies may go into hysterics when a great twist halfway through reveals him to be one of the Enterprise’s greatest foes). Pete Weller sinks his teeth into a sizable role as Admiral Marcus, head of Starfleet. Finally, the gorgeous, talented Alice Eve is a great addition to the cast as the admiral’s daughter Carol Marcus, a love interest for Kirk who will hopefully have a larger part in the series’ inevitable third installment.

Abrams’ flair for visuals is used to great effect in Into Darkness; the movie has no shortage of memorable edge-of-your-seat action sequences. Though his trademark shaky-cam and lens flare effects sometimes distract from the action, the geek auteur does a solid job of keeping the film moving and creating some terrific set-pieces. The Enterprise has never looked better, and Abrams’ future Earth, despite the presence of flying cars, is one of the most realistic to hit big screens in recent memory.

Boosted by a terrific villain, fast-paced storyline, and jaw-dropping action sequences, Star Trek Into Darkness is one of the series’ all-time best, entertaining without ever becoming bloated or overlong. It’s the ultimate intergalactic popcorn pleasure. A

Photo Credit: Forbes.