Tag Archives: Guillermo Del Toro

“PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING” Review (✫1/2)

SOURCE: Universal Pictures

More like downsizing.

The biggest flaw with the first Pacific Rim was its third act, where its runtime extended so long with so much content packed together that it really could have been cut out and edited into its own separate movie. This flaw, unfortunately, carries over into its sequel Pacific Rim: Uprising, which descends into a classic case of sequelitus with all of its ideas spent. It has a stupid plot, dull characters, boring dialogue, and humor so unfunny that Adam Sandler could have done a better job at writing it. The movie’s one saving grace is its visual effects. Gee, I wonder where else we’ve seen that before?

Taking place 10 years after Raleigh Beckett, Stacker Pentecost, and the other Jaegers closed the Kaiju portal at the end of the first movie, Pacific Rim: Uprising follows Stacker’s son, Jake (John Boyega) living the good life in a post-Kaiju world. He parties, drinks, trades on the black market, swindles dangerous mob bosses, and steals any Jaeger tech that he can find.

Well like clockwork, Jake’s criminal activities leads him into the jail cell, and this time he can’t simply just bail himself out. Now faced with a potential prison sentence, his sister Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) gives him an ultimatum: come back to the Jaeger program and help train the new cadets, or rot in a cell for the next 30 years. Jake slightly prefers military service over prison. Slightly.

The problems with Pacific Rim: Uprising all starts with its writing, which is such a poorly-done retread of the first Pacific Rim that it feels more like fan fiction than it does a faithfully-produced sequel. The writer and director Steven S. DeKnight has had several television credits prior to his film debut in Uprising, including writing episodes for Warner Bros.’ “Smallville” and being the showrunner for series’ including “Spartacus” and “Daredevil”. Trust me, he’s definitively a talented storyteller. Unfortunately, all of his experience is wasted here in his first foray into film, and there is no evidence that any skill or talent exists behind his camera at all.

Case in point: the screenplay. It is essentially the exact same plot as the first Pacific Rim was, point by point. We start with a big, epic Jaeger fight, follow with an underdog hero who doesn’t believe in himself, suddenly recruited into a military operation, bonds with the girl in closest proximity to him at the base, a shocking revelation is made about the alien threat, and our heroes team up to disband of said threat.

That’s it. That’s the whole story in a nutshell, a preposterous copy-and-paste of the first Pacific Rim and adding Uprising at the end of the title. Granted, sequels don’t have to be original in every aspect of their storytelling. Shoot, even the most recent Star Wars movies are almost straight rip-offs from the original trilogy. The difference, however, lies in the extra details the filmmakers put into those movies to further their interest. Pacific Rim: Uprising’s mistake was thinking that the interest lied in its derivative plot, which of course, it doesn’t.

Look at the first Pacific Rim as evidence of this. It has the same plot, yes. Yet it succeeds so much more in being fun and entertaining to its audience. Why? It’s because Guillermo Del Toro knew which details to focus on and why. He knew that the size and scope of the Jaeger/Kaiju fights needed to be reflected in the buildings and environments around these monsters. He knew Charlie Hunnam and Idris Elba needed on-the-spot, quick-witted dialogue to make them more than the average one-dimensional movie heroes. And (most importantly), he understood the movie he was trying to make. He knew he wasn’t trying to make some seriously out-there, psuedo-dimensional experience like Inception or Gravity. He was trying to make the next explosive, Transformers-esque action fest that overjoyed the inner child in him. That was the movie he aimed for, and he succeeded spectacularly in making it.

Compare this to the desperately confused approach behind Pacific Rim: Uprising. It has no idea what it wants to be. It doesn’t know whether it wants to be a serious action movie, a silly Hollywood blockbuster, a complex science-fiction fantasy, or all three at once. All it knows for sure is that it wants to be like the first Pacific Rim, but it doesn’t know how to get there. That’s because the screenplay hasn’t earned the right to compare itself in its storytelling. The sad part is that it knows it too.

Yes, the fight scenes between the Jaegers and the Kaiju are cool. So what? The fight scenes were just as fantastic in the first Pacific Rim, and that was made over five years ago. The music’s electric jams sound fantastic, but again, there’s nothing there that you can’t find in the original already. The only thing to really set this movie apart from its predecessor is John Boyega, who brings such an oafish charm to the movie that he can make something as mundane as eating ice cream seem funny to us.

Even then though, his performance is plagued by the mediocre cast members surrounding him. Scott Eastwood fills out the generic stiff-necked soldier cliché to a “T”, and he demonstrates little personality outside of pure smugness. Newcomer Cailee Spaeny plays the movie’s second underdog, and she overacts so much that she fits better inside of a Disney Channel movie. And Charlie Day? God-awful. His character does such a forced 360 turn from his personality in the first movie that I couldn’t take him seriously or urgently. He felt more like a parody of a mad scientist than an actual mad scientist (and if you didn’t like him in the first movie to begin with, wait until you see him here).

All in all, Pacific Rim: Uprising is a haphazard, unnecessary sequel; one that would have added value to the franchise if it were never made at all. The first Pacific Rim was an epic love-letter to Japanese Anime and monster movies, a rock-em-sock-em creature feature that was loads of fun. Pacific Rim: Uprising is just clueless. At the end of the movie, the big baddie Kaiju monster grows three secondary brains to fight our movie’s heroes. Perhaps it would have helped if Steven DeKnight grew a few extra brains himself.

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“THE SHAPE OF WATER” Review (✫✫)

SOURCE: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Sleeping with the fishes.

There is an audience out there that The Shape of Water was made for. I am emphatically not a part of it. It’s one of those arthouse films that spreads itself thin with period drama, satire, science-fiction, horror, romance, and fantasy, diluting all of those aesthetics down to the point of meaninglessness, losing whatever impact they might have originally had. There’s a good movie swimming around somewhere in The Shape of Water. Unfortunately, it’s so watered down that the previews before the movie seem more interesting than this.

Taking place in Baltimore, 1962 during the Cold War, The Shape of Water follows Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor who communicates using sign language with her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer). Elisa and Zelda work at an obscure government laboratory tucked away from the public eye, and the labs they clean hide some very peculiar secrets in them. One of these is an amphibious humanoid creature brought in by colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), who captured the creature so that he could be studied and possibly dissected by the lab team.

The ladies are told that the creature is a deadly and vicious animal and are warned to stay away from it. However, Elisa’s interactions with the creature prove otherwise. The little guy is curious, shy, and friendly, interacting with Elisa like how a whipped dog would interact with a child. As the two become closer and more fond of each other, Elisa resolves to break the creature out of the laboratory and set him free.

You go into movies like The Shape of Water with a few expectations in mind. 1) That it’s going to be strange and unpredictable. 2) There’s some deep messages tied into this seemingly simple narrative. 3) There are going to be sex scenes, many of which you have no desire to see whatsoever. The first two expectations are not surprising for writer-director Guillermo Del Toro, whose career is filled with both visually spectacular blockbusters and intimate fables filled with double meanings. Hellboy, for instance, was an action-adventure thrill ride about a reluctant hero overcoming his literal demonic nature, while Pacific Rim was a science-fiction robot/monster romp of epic proportions. My favorite of his movies, Pan’s Labyrinth, is a childhood fairy tale trapped inside a nightmare, paralleling a little girl’s infatuation of a fantasy world with her loss of innocence in the adult world. Del Toro is no doubt an ambitious and creative storyteller, and his filmmaking trademarks are just as consistent in The Shape of Water as they are in his other pictures.

But there are creative decisions being made here that make very little sense, and even when they do, the general response to them is nausea, disgust, or both. Take for instance, the previously mentioned sex scenes. They are constant and jarring, as if a nymphomaniac watched the theatrical cut and told Del Toro he wouldn’t release it until he edited more nudity into it. Elisa, for instance, has multiple scenes where she is seen naked masturbating in her bathtub. Strickland has one graphic sex scene with his wife where he is disturbingly obsessed with her remaining silent while he finishes ejaculating. And the creature. Good God, the creature. His sex scenes with Elisa are just weird, disorienting, and disturbing, like a fish dry-humping a child on the beach.

I know, I know, this isn’t the first time an inter-species romance is prominently featured in a movie. From Avatar to Blade Runner 2049, humans have had sex with aliens, monsters, computers, holograms, and robots in the movies. Why not throw sea creatures into the mix? It’s certainly not the most awkward sexual encounter we’ve ever watched on-screen (see Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johannsen’s sorta-sex scene in Her).

But even by cinema’s already creepy standards, The Shape of Water still manages to outdo its predecessors, mainly by the sheer brainlessness of its characters. For instance, in one scene the creature eats a cat’s head off, then flees the apartment when startled by one of the neighbors. Now I’m not a 1960’s American socialite, but if a monster just ate one of my neighbor’s cats and ran away, I would say good riddance and shut the door behind him. Yet Elisa is instead worried for the creature, and becomes further infatuated with him when she finds him later on with blood and cat fur all over his chin. I’m an animal lover, folks. Let me tell you, I’ve never had a stronger instinct to shoot at something on the movie screen in my entire life.

Other scenes make just as little sense as that one. After Elisa has sex with the creature, she gossips about it with Zelda in the laboratory, and instead of running away screaming in horror and insanity, Zelda just nods and mildly approves of this science-fiction bestiality. In another scene, Elisa floods her bathroom just to have underwater sex with the creature. Isn’t she concerned about the water bill? The weak wood foundation? The movie theater underneath her apartment that she can potentially flood? What if her landlord decided to evict her from all the property damage she caused? What if the floor caved in and she killed herself from the fall down? And since when did Del Toro think it was a good idea to randomly insert a musical number halfway through the picture?

I won’t say that the film is technically incompetent, because that couldn’t be further from the truth. The scenery and the building designs expertly convey the feel and grandeur of the 1960’s, while the bleak, grey hues of Elisa’s laboratory evoke the tensions and paranoia of international espionage during the Cold War. The music by Alexandre Desplat is elegant and simplistic, beautifully romanticizing the creature’s relationship with Elise while at other times evoking the unease and hostility of the era. The makeup and costume work, as it is in all of Del Toro’s productions, is spot-on and mesmerizing. Actor Doug Jones is essentially erased into this role as a humanoid sea creature who’s just discovering the world around him, and the way he moves and acts gives no indication that it’s just a man acting inside of a costume.

The greatest of these elements, however, is Sally Hawkins. It’s not often that a film features a mute character. In fact, the last time I can recall any character even resembling Elise was Patty Duke’s portrayal of Helen Keller in 1962’s The Miracle Worker. And yet, Hawkins completely mesmerizes in the role, physically mimicking the characteristics of a mute while remaining emotionally sensitive to her plights. Most actors have the advantage of dialogue to demonstrate their skills in a performance, yet without her voice, Hawkins’ performance is handicapped right from the outset. The fact that she’s just as compelling in her silent role regardless makes her acting all the more impressive, as she does with her wrists and hands what her lips would normally do.

The Shape of Water is a film filled with great intentions, but intentions do not equal quality. And as far as its themes of prejudice, xenophobia, and miscegenation goes, there are far superior films from the year that elaborated on these same themes, yet illustrated them so much better. Get Out. Detroit. War for the Planet of the Apes. These films illustrate the same ideas, but finds a better way to integrate them into their narrative. The Shape of Water drowns in its own preachiness. And sex scenes.

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“THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES” Review (✫✫✫)

And the Dwarf King: The Battle for Himself. 

Here it is, at last: the end of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. It hasn’t arrived without it’s challenges. Originally, the series was supposed to be directed by Hellboy director Guillermo del Toro before he dropped out and let Peter Jackson hop back in the director’s chair. Then, Jackson decided to turn it from two movies into three because he wanted to “expand the story.” Then in April, he decided to retitle the third film from There and Back Again to The Battle of the Five Armies. Every indication from the production of this film has shown that the movie was going to be either the weakest entry or the most unnecessary film out of the series. Jackson, however, has overcome every obstacle in his path and made a film that is just as exciting, enduring, and memorable as any other film in the series. Jackson’s persistence is something to be admired.

Picking up after that horrible cliffhanger of an ending we got from The Desolation of Smaug, The Battle of the Five Armies opens with Smaug the Dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch) laying waste to the village of Laketown shortly after he was set free by Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). After setting the village on fire and killing many of the villagers, Bard the bowman (Luke Evans) escapes from prison, climbs the highest tower he can find, and kills the dragon with the black arrow he inherited from his father.

With Smaug dead, the dwarves have taken possession of the Lonely Mountain. However, something strange is happening to Thorin. He has become more greedy, violent, and eager to find the Arkenstone in the chamber and become the next king of the mountain. Bilbo has noticed his new attitude, and finds it disturbingly similar to that of Smaug’s personality. As tensions grow inside the mountains, things heat up with elven, eagle, orc, and human armies assembling outside of the mountains as well. Now with the four armies gathering to take the mountain from the dwarves, Thorin gathers his own dwarf (and hobbit) army to protect their inheritance and keep it from unworthy hands.

The third movie in any trilogy is always the most crucial. It either makes or breaks the series, making it just as memorable as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, or as half-baked as the Matrix trilogy. Part of me wonders why they even had to make a third movie at all, and why they couldn’t just combine this with The Desolation of Smaug. That was originally the plan, after all, but I guess if they did that, they would run the risk of shoehorning two plots into one film.

Honestly though, I don’t know if it would have been that big of an issue. The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies offers exactly what the title suggests: a battle which is bigger and bolder than any other fight in the Lord of the Rings movies. Yes, that includes the final siege on Sauron in Return of the King and the fight against Smaug in Desolation of Smaug. The scale and scope is bigger here than any other Lord of the Rings movie, with elves, dwarves, eagles, orcs, villagers, trolls, wizards, spirits, and a hobbit crashing, slashing, and colliding into each other like nobody’s business. This is the most action-packed Lord of the Rings movie yet, with it’s final lengthy action sequence clocking in at about over an hour.

Some of the action runs rampant and gets repetitive now and then. In one scene, for instance, Legolas the elf fights against an orc on a tumbling castle. The scene ran for well over 20 minutes, with them clashing swords and fists against each other, and I sat there wondering to myself “Why couldn’t he just trip him off and be done with it?”

But here’s the interesting thing: no matter how long the action ran, it kept me engaged. If this were a Michael Bay or a John Woo picture, the action would have ran wild and I would have gotten bored about 10 minutes into it. But Jackson is more talented than most filmmakers. He understands that in order for your audience to be invested in the action, they need to be invested in the characters first, because what’s the point of having characters go through these epic fights if you don’t care about them?

With this movie, I noticed that the character I cared most for was not Bilbo Baggins, but Thorin Oakenshield. He has the most interesting arc out of any other character in the movie, spending one half of the film fighting orcs, and the other half fighting himself. His character in the film reminds me a lot of Gollum: his conflict isn’t so much with others trying to take the things precious to him, but with himself in how the things he values most changes him. He especially serves a crucial part in the film’s final climatic battle scene, which is so nerve-wrecking and heart-pounding that it brought me just as much excitement as the climax in Return of the King did. The impressive part? Return of the King’s climax featured an entire armada of warriors, while The Battle of the Five Armies’ climax only needed two.

All in all, The Battle of the Five Armies did to The Hobbit what The Return of the King did to The Lord of the Rings: it wrapped it up nicely into a tight, satisfying conclusion, bringing excitement, emotion, and resolution to these characters that we’ve cared so much for so long now. Granted, it didn’t do as well as The Return of the King did with this, and I personally would have wished that Jackson would have made it less messy and cluttered than it already was. Does that ultimately matter, though, if I had fun watching it? Let’s just be glad that Bilbo made it there and back again in one piece.

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“THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY” Review (✫✫✫✫)

A journey J.R.R. Tolkien would want to go on. 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the story I first experienced when I saw The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring for the first time. Like The Wizard Of Oz or Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, it’s a sweeping fantasy about ordinary characters getting thrown into extraordinary circumstances. So if hobbits, dwarves, wizards, and fire-breathing dragons constituted as “ordinary” in this universe, imagine the extraordinary circumstances that they go through.

Serving as a prequel to the J.R.R. fantasy epic The Lord Of The RingsThe Hobbit tells the story of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a relaxed and easygoing hobbit who doesn’t like to do much throughout the day except for eat, sleep, and smoke his pipe every now and then. One day, he gets a visit from a mysterious stranger named Gandalf (Ian McKellen), an elderly wizard who is looking for shelter and a young companion to go on an adventure with. Much against Bilbo’s wishes, Gandalf not only stays in his small village home: he invites an entire company of dwarves, who proceed to wreck Bilbo’s house and eat everything in his fridge.

After having a nervous breakdown and cleaning up his entire house, Bilbo overhears Gandalf and the small dwarf brigade’s plans. Ages ago, the dwarves‘ prized possession, the Lonely Mountain, was overtaken by a vicious fire-breathing dragon named Smaug, who destroyed their village and stole the castle and all of it’s gold for his own desires.

After being betrayed by their allies, the elves, and being left to fight for their land all by themselves, the dwarves are determined to travel back to the mountain and fight for their home. Bilbo must make a decision of continuing to live on his normal, uneventful life, or to reach out, travel with the dwarves, and seek out adventure the likes of which he’s never experienced before.

Remembering that it was only a few years ago when I originally fell in love with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the RingThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a prequel that hits on all of the right notes, and then some more that I wasn’t expecting. In comparison to it’s elder companion, The Hobbit is uncanny. It has a wide verse of characters, each one being unique and memorable both in appearance and personality. It has a dynamic and involving story, ripe with exposition and emotion, retaining your full attention despite the lengthy run time. And it has highly stylized set pieces and visual spectacles that excite the eyes and overwhelm the mind. Do not mistaken Peter Jackson’s intentions here: he was inspired by Lord of the Rings when he was making The Hobbit.

And yet, there are so many differences from The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings. One of the biggest, I think, would be it’s protagonist. Bilbo is different from Frodo, his nephew in Lord of the Rings whom Elijah Wood inhabited so wonderfully. They’re similar, of course, in that they are small hobbits not necessarily fit for fighting, but are clever, creative, and courageous nonetheless.

And yet, Bilbo is so much more than Frodo is. He’s funnier, for one thing, a bumbling, clumsy little hobbit that reminds me so much of the antics between Pippin and Merry in the original movies. He’s also more outgoing, a more active protagonist doing more in the film than just holding a ring and trekking long miles. He does so much in the film, sneaking around trolls, fighting Orcs, going through traps and mazes, and having a first-hand involvement in many of the film’s biggest fights. My particular favorite scene is one where he is talking to a fan favorite from The Lord of the Rings about the possession of a mysterious gold, rounded object. Hint: His favorite word is “precious.”

My point in saying all of this is that Bilbo is a dynamic character in his own right, and Martin Freeman handles the character very well. In the previous movie trilogy, Freeman had four hobbit inspirations to pull from, and instead of following just one of them, he took characteristics from all of them and made a character all his own. That took great talent and risk, and Freeman’s efforts paid off, making a character that I think is the most memorable and charismatic hobbit out of all of them.

Without a doubt, the best film in the series is Return of the King. This film is perhaps the second best. Sure, at times it might suffer from a slight overdose on exposition, but doesn’t all of the films? The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an adventurous, ambitious gamble of a film, and it makes me believe once again in the power that a wizard, a slew of dwarves, and a brave little hobbit can have.

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“THE BOOK OF LIFE” Review (✫✫✫)

book of life

Ay caramba, tu joven amantes.

As children, we were told many fairy tales that filled our young minds with wonder and imagination. We looked at the pictures in our tiny children’s books as our parents narrated the words to us, but did we ever stop to think about where these fairy tales came from? The Three Little Pigs came from England. The Little Red Riding Hood, London. The Fountain of Youth, Japan. The Little Mermaid, Denmark. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Germany. So many stories have come from so many places all around the world that by the time they reach us, we have “cleansed” it of it’s culture and Americanized it for our own comfort.

Here, we have Jorge Gutierrez’s own fairy tale called The Book Of Life, and for the sake of the movie I’m glad it didn’t succumb to mainstream appeal by having it take place in Colonial America. The Book Of Life is splendid, a wonderful, uplifting, joyous, and immensely entertaining animation engulfed and inspired by the culture Gutierrez came from. Think about how quickly you are swept away when you read the fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm, and you can imagine how this film sweeps you up in that exact same way.

Told as a story within a story similar to Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride, The Book Of Life follows a group of schoolchildren through a museum as they are told the tale of Manolo (Diego Luna), a Mexican bull fighter who is fighting for the heart of his childhood friend Maria (Zoe Saldana). His closest friend and rival, Joaquin (Channing Tatum) is also fighting for her love, and when they finally see each other after many years apart, they begin their pursuit for Maria’s love.

Unbeknownst to any of them, however, a heavy secret hides behind their innocent intentions. The spirits of the afterlife La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), who rules the world of the remembered, and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), the one who rules the world of the forgotten, have placed a bet on these three friends. If Manolo ends up marrying Maria, La Muerte wins and gets to rule both the land of the remembered and the forgotten. If Joaquin marries Maria, Xibalba wins and he gets to rule the land of the remembered. The world of the undead is at stake here, and it’s up to Manolo, Maria, and Joaquin to set things right.

What do I say about an animated children’s film that’s based around Mexican fables and customs? The Book Of Life is a wonderful animation: bright, vibrant, colorful, and lively all at once. Writer/director/animator Jorge Gutierrez has a careful eye for detail, and does well in visually adapting to different scenes, settings, and moods.

In one scene, after one of the supporting characters die, the setting suddenly becomes dark. The sun drops. The candles burn out. A cloudy fog envelops in the sky as rain drops pellet onto the ground. In the very next scene, however, we see the world of the remembered from this deceased person’s perspective, and it is lively colors light up with shiny, gold-brick pathways illuminating everywhere and with Churros and balloons floating as far as the eye can see.

This is what I mean when I say the animation is versatile: it’s attentive, eye-catching, and delightful, demanding your attention the minute you lay your eyes on it. But it’s not just the animation that works so well with this movie. The Book of Life is entrenched and inspired in its own culture, living and breathing the Mexican customs though every frame of its run time.  There is one work that Gutierrez did this with before The Book Of Life, and that is the Annie award-winning Nickelodeon cartoon series “El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera.” Now we have The Book of Life, and I feel it will spur on many Mexican children and families to pick up their heritage and be proud to represent it. In a day and age where Hollywood feels they need to Americanize everything, The Book of Life is a Godsend.

Everything else in this film functions exactly as it is supposed to. The story is mostly formula in that there has to be a good guy, a bad guy, a forbidden love, a big fight scene at the end, and a happy ending. The voice cast is solid, and Channing Tatum didn’t annoy the living daylights out of me for a change. And the music by Gustavo Santaolallo is pristine and authentic, with the plucking of the Mexican guitar strings filling your ears with wonderfully harmonic sound.

But make no mistake. The best thing about this film is the inspiration Gutierrez instills in it, the inspiration that his parents most likely instilled in him when he was still just a little boy. I hope there will be a children’s novelization of this film in the future and that it too will inspire children of all ages, regardless of their heritage.

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“PACIFIC RIM” Review (✫✫✫)

Transformers meets a whole lotta Godzillas.  

Pacific Rim is an action movie for the action fan, a movie so overblown with giant-sized robots, monsters, explosions and destroyed buildings that I wonder how the planet is still intact by the film’s conclusion. It’s not a bad thing, mind you, that there’s this much action in a movie like this, especially with the release of Man Of Steel earlier this summer. It just means that this is a specific movie for a specific audience: one that is very stylish, visually stunning and hella lot noisy.

The premise is something of a Independence Day meets Transformers. These mythical creatures called “Kaiju”, who are the biological equivalent to the Godzilla monsters, come from a portal deep in the pacific ocean called “The Bridge”, and it is this portal where the Kaiju stem from to attack the human populace. They start at specific locations at first: San Francisco. Hong Kong. Amsterdam. The more frequent the attacks, the more the humans realize that they need a battle plan to counterattack the Kaiju.

Enter the Jaeger program. “Jaeger”, from what we’re told, is German for “Hunter”, and that’s exactly what this program is. It’s a military initiative designed by the world’s leader, combining their resources to make a weapon to fight the Kaiju with, which in this case, is an army of giant, imposing robots that would make Optimus Prime explode in his diaper.

I know what you’re thinking: “Why use the resources on a robot army instead of finding a way to close the portal?” Because then we wouldn’t have our movie, now would we? The most experienced of these Jaeger pilots is Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), a retired Jaeger pilot who quit after losing his twin brother in battle. With their resources dwindling by the hour, however, Raleigh is recruited by Commander Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) back into the fray, to defend the earth before it is forever lost to the Kaiju army.

Sounds like a movie by Michael Bay, right? No? Well, how about Roland Emerich? Alexander Pryas?  Andy and Lana Wachiowski? All wrong. This movie is written and directed by spanish filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, who is most known for movies including HellboyPan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. What exactly, convinced him to step out of those realms to traverse into a science-fiction action movie like Pacific Rim?

Doesn’t matter. This is a good movie. A very good movie. How good, you might ask? So good that when you watch the movie, you can’t help but be blown away. It’s the sort of explosive, massive, beat-em-up action movie that functions as a sort of love letter to classic Japanese manga and anime, with shows such as Voltron and Gundam seeming to serve as the inspiration for these crazy monster fights. The fight scenes in the movie are big and boisterous, its level of scale and destruction so disastrous that it made movies like Godzilla and King Kong classics. I remember when I saw the 1939 King Kong for the first time five years ago and being impressed by what they accomplished visually despite the lack of technologies they had back then. Hear me, fellow reader: what Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack did with King Kong, Guillero Del Toro did with Pacific Rim.

In this day and age though, its easy to just focus on a film visually and forget to invest time in the story and characters as well. That’s where most action movies fail and what makes us frustrated by the majority of them, including the Transformers sequels and any Stephen Sommers movie. Here, Del Toro is smart enough to craft an actual story with his visuals, and for this I appreciate his effort. It isn’t just mindless action we’re watching on the screen here: Del Toro takes careful consideration in crafting a smart and interesting story to keep viewers interested, starting with the first day the Kaiju came to earth, to looking deeper into the troubled histories of many of these Jaeger pilots. There was one scene specifically that sticks out in my mind, a troubling and disconcerting memory of one of the female pilots recounting their experiences as a child when a Kaiju came and destroyed her home and her family, all while her male co-pilot tries his best to console her while crying helplessly like a lost child.

This is what turns the movie from good to memorable: the presence of these characters are rich, charismatic and dramatic, a nice combination of an involving, epic story with that of over-the-top stylish and exciting action scenes. Rarely do we get a combination this effective, and Del Toro does a great job delegating both parts of the story when the time calls for it.

It’s a shame, though, that Del Toro doesn’t keep up with that balance all the way through. There is a common problem this movie shares with many other action movies, and that is a final 30-40 minute action sequence that becomes repetitive, boring and predictable that loses all of the momentum and excitement it had at the beginning of the film.  What happened? It’s overstuffed, dear reader. The end sequence takes place in the pacific ocean with two Jaeger’s fighting against an army of Kaiju. There are two things I know for a fact here: 1) The good guys are going to win, and 2) The main character, Raliegh, is going to live. I know thats how its going to end because the film would receive backlash if it ended any other way.

I’m fine with a predictable ending as long as it emotionally satisfies me, but why drag it out this long with action that loses its momentum? I know its for the viewers that just like to see big things blow up on screen and nothing more, but the ending sequence dragged out way too long. It became less of a story about humanity and survival and more of a video game watching things punching each other and screaming.

Okay, now before any sci-fi die-hards pounce on me like a wildcat, let me wrap this up. There may be some problems with this movie. Nevermind that. Take out the huge explosions. Take out the prolonged action scenes. Take out the cheesy dialogue and any of the movie’s supposed faults and just look at the film from the action fan’s perspective. This is an action movie that is exciting, suspenseful, involving, visually stunning, and mind-blowingly spectacular. This is an action movie that has been done right, not that Michael Bay would know about anything like that.

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“PAN’S LABYRINTH” Review (✫✫✫✫)

The perfect blend of fantasy and reality. 

Now here’s one you’re not going to be expecting.  Here is a spanish-language fantasy film that blends elements of reality and war drama with that of horror and psychological thrillers.  It’s rated R with a healthy amount of blood, violence, and language, it has a child as its lead character, and it is a fantasy film with no cuddly creatures and no misplaced sense of optimism.  It’s also in spanish, one of my most frustrating languages.  And it is also probably one of the best films of its kind.  Maybe the only one of its kind.

Written and directed by spanish filmmaker Guillmo Del Toro, Pan’s Labyrinth is a post-Spanish civil war story about a young girl named Ofelia (brilliantly portrayed by Ivana Bacquero), who is fascinated and enticed by the many stories and fables she finds in her books and novellas.  Her mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil) is pregnant with her unborn brother, and they have been ordered to move to an outpost located on the outskirts of Mexico so the boy can be born next to his father: Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), a cruel and heartless product of war that knows nothing of decency, morality, kindness, or human life.  This is a man who would kill a father and his son thinking that they lied about being hunters, and a second later pulls out their quarry in the bottom of their knapsack.

This is the situation Ofelia is trapped in: the cruelty and strictness of Captain Vidal, and the negligence and weakness of her pregnant mother.  In the stories that she reads, however, Ofelia finds escape: she soon discovers a cave hidden deep within the gardens of the outpost, unnoticed to the human eye.  It is here deep within the cave where she finds odd inscriptions, a plethora of fairies, and even an anonymous Faun (Portrayd by Doug Jones, voiced by Pablo Adan), who informs her of her true destiny: that she is the lost princess Moanna of their sacred kingdom, and she must complete three specific assignments tasked by the Faun in order to become a princess once again.

This is the kind of story Pan’s Labyrinth is: the kind that deftly blends elements of wondrous fantasy with that of tragic reality.  This is rare treasure for foreign-language cinema: a film that while it is visually expressive, it is also a deep and personal commentary on the tragedies of war and its effects on a torn country.  Del Toro has elaborated on such subjects before: his 2001 film The Devils Backbone also took place during the Spanish Civil war, and it also featured a child in great distress.  Here though, I feel that he has a better handling of his premise, and if it is not better, it is at least more creative and dynamic in approach.

The visuals reach out in stellar, gritty, and striking details, the fairies light and whimsical, the faun towering, ancient, and brutish.  There are so many visually stunning scenes in this movie, at times it is overwhelming.  Del Toro, with the help of his cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, do something rare here: they paint a world here as fascinating as it is dangerous, a mesmerizing and gripping world that hypnotizes you with its appeal and its imagination.  One might say Pan’s Labyrinth is an adult version of Alice In Wonderland: I disagree with that.  I think this is the realistic version of Alice In Wonderland.

Why do I say this?  It might be because the movie is very deserving in its R rating.  Besides the occasional F-word uttered in spanish, there is a great deal of gore and violence in the movie, some of it aimed towards children.  I’ll be the first to admit, Pan’s Labyrinth is heavy on violence.  People are shot frequently in the film, often in very bloody manners.  People’s limbs get cut off.  In once scene, a man smashes a farm boy’s nose in with the butt of an alcohol bottle.  And in one terrifying scene, Ofelia is fleeing capture from a pale man-eating monster, who proves his monstrosity by biting the heads off of the fairies assisting her.  Don’t take your kids to this, folks: the movie is extremely violent.

While I would normally take points of a film for using excessive violence, here I believe it is warranted.  Through every gunshot, through every murder, and through every droplet of blood, Del Toro is saying something provocative about war and innocence, most of it being things we need to hear of.  I don’t believe Pan’s Labyrinth is just memorable, stunning, and poignant entainment: I believe it is relevant storytelling.

And at last, we come to the films conclusion, which is so mesmerizing and emotionally overpowering that we don’t know what to make of it.  Did Ofelia complete all of her tasks?  Was the Faun telling the truth?  Did she become the fabled princess?  Was it all a ruse?  Or did she simply become a victim of the earthly world from which she was born of?  The ending is eloquent, vast, and beautiful, open for many possible interpretations.  You decide which one fits you best once you see the movie.

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