Pacific Rim review

On Saturday, 13 July 2013, I met Josh C. at the AMC Burlington Cinema 10 for a morning matinee of Pacific Rim. The kaiju movie was entertaining, and even though it might not have the most original story of the year, it was a nice change from other franchise entries.

Pacific Rim wallpaper
Giant monsters vs. robots

I’ve been a fan of giant monster movies since childhood, with the Japanese Godzilla and Gamera in their kid-friendly prime back in the 1970s. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate the more serious allegories around the rubber-suited actors and remote-control vehicles tromping through meticulously detailed urban dioramas.

Plot: In Pacific Rim, huge aliens (kaiju) invade Earth through a dimensional rift in the seabed. Humanity builds giant robots (jaegers, or hunters) in response, but the nascent world government decides to shut the program down and instead spend resources on giant walls around vulnerable cities. Let the battles begin!

As with most monster movies, the kaiju represent the result of environmental destruction, and humanity must band together to remedy the situation. There are conspiracies, setbacks, and massive mayhem, but the heroes eventually realize what must be done….

Cast: All the archetypes of kaiju films (and their siblings in anime) are present: the hotshot pilot, the grizzled veteran, the cute but kickass girl, the mad scientists, and a few more sketchy characters needed to ultimately figure out the enemy’s motivations.

Sons of Anarchy‘s Charlie Hunnam plays Raleigh Becket, a onetime jaeger co-pilot who is brought back for a last stand against the kaiju. He’s a pretty straightforward hero, mentored by the charismatic Idris Elba (Thor) as Stacker Pentecost and partnered with the winsome Mako Mori as Rinko Kikuchi, who has also suffered personal loss.

More noteworthy are Charlie Day channeling J.J. Abrams as Dr. Newton Geiszler and Torchwood‘s Burn Gorman as Geiszler’s sparring partner Gottleib. Hellboy‘s Ron Perlman, no stranger to monsters or director Guillermo del Toro, nearly steals the movie as the flashy Hannibal Chau, a dealer in kaiju organs.

While there is some token character development, Pacific Rim rightly focuses on the monsters and robots. Each jaeger crew is a national stereotype (but without the jingoism of many U.S. action flicks), and there are few surprises but many thrills in the ensuing fights, both in and out of the jaegers.

Direction: Del Toro wears his love on his sleeve for the same movies I grew up on. He keeps a brisk pace to the action and avoids overindulging in romantic subplots or too much pseudoscience. Flashbacks provide exposition, and while older monster movies relied on long stretches of exposition, Pacific Rim doles out explanations throughout its runtime.

Del Toro also avoids the “found footage,” shaky-cam style that had become popular with The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, and Troll Hunter, allowing us to see full-body shots of the kaiju-jaeger battles, which were nicely choreographed. There are also some good human-scale duels.

Visual effects: Speaking of scale, while the monsters and robots are rendered with computer-generated imagery, they are more ponderous and distinguishable than in the recent Transformers flicks. The design of each kaiju resembles a real animal, and each jaeger design is unique. I can easily see toys or models based on these being popular.

Sure, there is massive urban destruction in Pacific Rim, but unlike Iron Man 3, Star Trek: Into Darkness, or Man of Steel, it’s a necessary part of this subgenre, and attempts are clearly made to evacuate affected areas in advance.

Musical score: The original Gojira still hasn’t been matched, but the soundtrack helped propel the action. Pacific Rim‘s action-filled opening and end credits (which I’d compare with those of Django Unchained) were also well done.

Ratings: I’d give Pacific Rim, which is rated PG-13 for violence and language, a B+, three and a half out of five stars, or an 8 out of 10. It was one of the most satisfying action movies of this year so far, and I’m glad that it wasn’t a sequel or a reboot.

I’d recommend Pacific Rim to any fan of kaiju, giant robots, or action-filled speculative fiction. We also saw several trailers, of which only the fantasy Seventh Son (not to be confused with the Orson Scott Card novels) looked interesting of those I hadn’t seen before. The next movie I hope to catch in the theater is the dystopian Elysium, and I look forward to the next iteration of Godzilla.

World War Z review

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie WarWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Traditional monsters always reflect both our primal fears and the time in which a particular story is told. Just as vampires represent perennial concerns about lust and death, so do zombies embody loathing of disease and dread about the hordes of nameless others that threaten to overwhelm us — communists in the 1950s, race riots in the 1960s, and terrorists in the early 2000s.

Max Brooks, son of Mel Brooks, takes a Ken Burns-like approach to zombies in World War Z. His conceit of a onetime U.N. observer traveling around to get firsthand accounts 15 years after the outbreak of the living dead does convey the global nature of the conflict. However, it also drains the narrative of a single protagonist and the suspense needed for a good zombie tale.

The upcoming movie adaptation, starring Brad Pitt, diverges significantly from the source material, with “only one man can save the world” and fighting against fast, free-running zombies rather than the typical shambling undead.

Brooks effectively evokes pop culture portrayals as he shows the gory struggle to survive the zombie apocalypse. On the other hand, he uses too much military jargon, many characters sound too much alike, and more characters should have been tied together sooner.

I’d give World War Z a B-, and my book club gave it a C-. I’d recommend the novel to anyone who’s a fan of horror literature and movies and doesn’t mind stock characters.

View all my reviews

Bringing out the dead: ParaNorman review

On Sunday, 26 August 2012, Janice and I screened ParaNorman. We enjoyed the stop-motion-animated horror/comedy. Like Coraline, the movie uses familiar archetypes and genre tropes but has a better-than-average script, clever allusions, and a decent emotional heft.

Good Undead fun

ParaNorman’s all-star voice cast is unobtrusive, and the zombies may be a bit intense for younger viewers. The writers were clearly familiar with the Salem witch trials and how the town has become a tourist destination in Massachusetts.

Without giving away any “spoilers,” I liked some of ParaNorman‘s role reversals and the revelation of the witch’s identity. I could also easily see the story as an RPG scenario using School Daze. I’d give ParaNorman, which is rated PG, an 8 out of 10, three out of five stars, or a B+.

This coming weekend, I look forward to joining Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H., college chum Stuart C.G., and Stu’s family during his visit to the Boston area.

Autumn 2011 genre TV, Part 3

Cartoon Network's Young Justice
DC/Cartoon Network's Young Justice

In the first two parts of my look at the new television season, I looked at the mysteries and thrillers that fill many weeknights. Fridays are different, however, with more speculative fiction than any other night. Cartoons, conspiracies, and fantasy worlds abound!

Cartoon Network has been burning off the final episodes of the fun and retro Batman and the Brave and the Bold, followed by the darker Young Justice, lone space opera Star Wars: Clone Wars, and the cool reboot of Thundercats. There have been decent reboots of G.I. Joe (Renegades) and Transformers, but I haven’t had time for them.

I’ve been less impressed with G4’s late-night Wolverine and Iron Man — they have many of the worst weaknesses of both Marvel and anime, such as static scenery, long internal monologues, stereotypical (and worse, bland) villains, and improbable action scenes punctuated by shouting. I’ll give the latest incarnations of the X-Men and Blade a try, however.

I lost Marvel’s Iron Man: Armored Adventures and Fantastic Four in the scheduling shuffle, and I still miss the canceled Spectacular Spider-Man and Sym-Bionic Titan. Cartoon Network/Boomerang has been rebroadcasting Samurai Jack, and the Hub has been showing the superlative Batman: the Animated Series.

In yet more animation, I’m looking forward to Nickelodeon’s fantasy Avatar: the Legend of Korra and the computer-animated Green Lantern and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as well as to the recently announced Beware the Batman. The computer-animated Tron: Uprising, How to Train Your Dragon, and Kung-Fu Panda movie tie-ins should also be coming soon.

As I’ve noted before, Disney/Marvel may have the lead in print comics and live-action movies (see The Avengers trailer), but Warner Bros./DC is holding on with TV series and direct-to-video releases such as the upcoming Batman: Year One and Justice League: Doom. To be fair, Marvel‘s Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Super Hero Squad have been renewed, and Ultimate Spider-Man (and a live-action Hulk, Cloak & Dagger, and A.k.a. Jessica Jones) is in the works.

Speaking of live action, spy spoof Chuck, cryptozoological Sanctuary, and alternate reality drama Fringe have all moved to what used to be called “SciFridays.” My DVR will be working hard from 8:00 to 11:00 p.m.! As with Smallville, I’ll enjoy the cameos on NBC’s Chuck to the show’s approaching end. SyFy’s Sanctuary has been uneven in tone, but Fox’s Fringe is still going strong, in my opinion.

Torchwood is over for now, and I haven’t yet caught A Gifted Man. I’ll try to see Grimm, which combines the modern supernatural aspects of Once Upon a Time with the procedural spoof elements of Dylan Dog (which I recently rented and enjoyed). Less fantastical but more gruesome is Spartacus: Vengeance, which lost its original star Andy Whitfield and whose third season I plan to watch.

On Saturdays, other than the annual Christmas special, Whovians will have a long wait for new Doctor Who episodes — until late 2012. I’m also looking forward to the eventual return of BBC America’s Being Human, if not the Americanized SyFy remake.

A few updates: After my previous posts on the current TV season, I saw that laid-back Southern crime drama Memphis Beat has been canceled, as well as the latest Charlie’s Angels, which I had already dropped. David I.S. has picked up Terra Nova and American Horror Story just as I’ve dropped them from my busy schedule, but there are only so many hours in the week!

Autumn 2011 genre TV, Part 2

Thrillers and superspies
RPG sourcebook related to midweek genre TV

Continuing my look at the new television season, on Tuesdays, Janice and I have been watching Top Shot on the History Channel. We like the use of a range of archaic weapons, if not the cutthroat competitiveness of some participants.

In addition to catching up on genre shows recorded on Sundays and Mondays, I look forward to the eventual return of the sleuths on White Collar and Memphis Beat. Janice is taking a yoga class this fall.

I haven’t added comedies such as The New Girl or Two Broke Girls to my viewing schedule, but I liked what little I saw of them more than the Mad Men-inspired Pan Am or even the already canceled The Playboy Club.

On Wednesdays, most of the shows I’ve watched in the past few seasons are not returning: Reaper, Eastwick, and Human Target, to name a few. I still occasionally watch food TV such as Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives and Man vs. Food NationBitchin’ Kitchen is my current favorite.

The goofy sleuths on Psych return tonight. If you liked David Lynch’s surrealistic Twin Peaks (whose cast had a reunion on Psych) or the psychosexual horror of some of True Blood, you’ll probably like FX’s American Horror Story. It’s a bit dark for my tastes, but it’s better than most of the schlocky “reality” programming on SyFy or the History Channel.

On Thursdays, I’ve dropped spy show Nikita, which of course then got renewed. Also last season, I watched Undercovers, which got canceled, but not Covert Affairs, which also got renewed. I wasn’t impressed by the latest version of Charlie’s Angels, whose actresses are less jiggly, glamorous, or interesting than their predecessors and who are hampered by weak scripts.

I have picked up Person of Interest, created by Jonathan Nolan, brother of The Dark Knight director Chris Nolan. Like that movie, it explores the implications of ubiquitous surveillance, and it’s a paranoid post-9/11 technothriller similar to the aforementioned Homeland. The distrustful team of a computer genius and a former commando inserting themselves into the lives of people who need help reminds me of The Prisoner, The Pretender, and Human Target.

I’ll save Friday, which is the most crowded night of the week for genre TV fans, for an upcoming post. What are you watching?