Pacific Rim

Posted on July 11, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Pacific-Rim-02I know there’s only one question you have about this movie, and the answer is yes.  If you ever wanted to see a movie with giant monsters battling giant robots, this is it.

And if you ever wanted to see a movie that is nothing but giant monsters battling giant robots, this is that movie.

Not much more to say after that.  And thankfully, director Guillermo del Toro understands that.  I don’t remember ever seeing a movie that gets to the point so quickly.  Less than a minute into the running time there’s a monster attacking a city and cars falling off a bridge and moments later, we get, you guessed it, a monster fighting a robot.  And it’s pretty much monsters and robots from then on.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  These are some mighty fine monsters and robots.

So, here’s the deal.  There are monsters.  We don’t know where they came from but they arrive through some sort of “Thor”-like portal under the Pacific Ocean. Its cheeky conceit is that the dinosaurs were a sort of failed advance team and the monsters had to wait until humans evolved and deteriorated the environment until it was Goldilocks-just-right for them.

These are very, very big monsters known by the Japanese term “kaiju.” Del Toro loves monsters, and these are absolutely fantastic.  Like Ray Harryhausen, del Toro and his character design team understand that we need monsters to be at the same time very strange and very familiar, impossible but possible.  The structure of bone and muscle and teeth has to make sense to us.  They have to be able to support their frames and their movements have to feel weighty and powerful.  These monsters are masterfully designed, marvelous and scary.  There are blue, glowing tentacles and massive jaws with pointed teeth.  They attack cities like Godzilla’s gigantic brother, stomping and chomping.

What’s cool here is the sheer scale of the things.  Over and over, it take your breath away.

At first, the humans think it is a one-time attack.  But then there are others.  And the earth has to recalibrate all notions of what is possible, all priorities.  They have to find a way to fight the kaiju.  They have to build robots the size of the Empire State Building.

The robots look great, with ninja heads and believable scuffs and dents.  Some of what they do does not seem physically possible — how does that running and jumping thing work? — but mostly their movements seem to make sense and feel believably powerful and weighty.  What goes on inside, not so much.  We can build robots the size of a skyscraper but the arms and legs have to be operated manually, like a kind of gym stair-stepper?  And what is this mumbo-jumbo about how the pairs who operate them have to be able to “drift” — meld their neural pathways so they can access each other’s thoughts?  Oh, well, let’s get to the fights!

Charlie Day provides some comic relief without going overboard as a nerdy scientist.  Ron Pearlman shows up as a colorful profiteer.  He goes overboard, but that’s what he’s there for.  Idris Elba gets to use his real accent for once, is majestic as the guy in charge.  Charlie Hunnam, bulked up, fades into the background, more generic than the machines.  Whenever they try to add some human interest, everything stalls, but fortunately that does not happen too often.

There are a couple of good touches about the way different elements of civilization respond to the monsters.  I couldn’t really understand who was doing what some of the time or what they were saying much of the time (a lot of the usual sci-fi moments of people staring intently into monitors, but it is always nice to Clifton Collins, Jr., and he does better with the jargon than most people).  But there were robots fighting monsters and in the middle of the summer, that’s good enough for me.

NOTE: Be sure to stay halfway through the credits for an extra scene.

Parents should know that this film has non-stop and intense sci-fi action violence with massive destruction and genocide, very scary monsters, chases, explosions, suicide missions, gruesome images, sad deaths, brief language

Family discussion: Why didn’t Staker want Mako to go out in the Jaeger? How is the cooperation between Gottleib and Geiszler like the drifting of the Jaeger operators? What are three different ways we saw characters respond to the attacks?

If you like this, try: “Independence Day,” “Top Gun,” “Blade Runner,” and the original “Godzilla”

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3D Action/Adventure Science-Fiction

The Perfect Game

Posted on April 15, 2010 at 7:15 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some thematic elements
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Character gets drunk in response to stress
Violence/ Scariness: Sad offscreen death of a child, themes of grief and loss
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, some racist remarks and behavior
Date Released to Theaters: April 16, 2010

Think of it as the “Good News Bears.” This sweet, sometimes sugary film is based on a real-life Little League team from Monterrey, Mexico who came to the United States to play in the Little League World Series of 1957 and not only won every match but, well, you saw the title.

Jake T. Austin of “Wizards of Waverly Place” plays the baseball-mad Angel, who lives with his parents in a desperately poor community. He and his friends love to hear about pro games and players in America. They want to learn how to play but they do not even have a baseball, much less a playing field or a coach.

Angel finds a ball and then he finds a coach in Cesar Faz (Clifton Collins, Jr.), a factory worker who once worked with the St. Louis Cardinals. The boys make their own field. With the help of Coach Faz and inspiration from Padre Estaban (Cheech Marin, adding another to his list of screen roles as a priest), the boys become a team. When they get a chance to play in the Little League World Series, they each take only one change of underwear, carried in a brown paper bag. First, it’s all they have. But second, it never occurs to them that they will win, so they assume they will be home after the first game.

But they win. And they win again. A woman reporter (Emilie de Ravin, channeling all the girl reporter actresses of the 1930’s newspaper movies) reluctantly accepts the assignment, then is captivated by the courage and dedication of the team. As they rise through the ranks, they encounter racism, xenophobia, and just plain old hostility. But they hold on to their ideals — including refusing to play unless they can be led in prayer first (we find out why they are so partial to Psalm 108. They get help from some unexpected sources: a sympathetic diner owner (Frances Farmer), the reporter and a groundskeeper who once played in the Negro Leagues (a fine Louis Gossett, Jr.). And they keep winning.

It has a retro feel that has nothing to do with its 1957 setting, but like its pint-sized team (inches smaller and pounds lighter than its opponents), the movie has so much heart that it is easy to root for. Collins and Marin are engaging enough to give the predictable and light-weight script a little extra heft. If “The Perfect Game” is not the perfect movie, it is an enjoyable little fable that will be fun for Little Leaguers and their families.

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Based on a true story Family Issues For the Whole Family Movies -- format Spiritual films Sports

Extract

Posted on September 3, 2009 at 6:40 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, sexual references and some drug use
Profanity: Very strong and explicit language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, characters smoke marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Comic violence, character injured, character dies
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: September 4, 2009

The fans who have been waiting for a new workplace comedy as wickedly on target as Mike Judge’s cult classic “Office Space” will have to keep waiting. Judge’s new film has no red stapler, no TPS reports coversheet problems, and most of all, it has no flair.

This time, Judge has us on the side of the boss. He is Joel (Jason Bateman), who owns a small manufacturing company that makes flavor extracts. His life is flavorless, get it?

Joel has an office with a window that looks down on the assembly line that conveys the little bottles to the boxes and the forklift. And he has to deal with petty and incompetent employees. But no matter where we are on our own corporate totem poles, it is always going to be more difficult for the audience to identify with the guy who gets to tell everyone what to do before he goes home to his big house and his big bank account.

And it turns out that this movie is less about the workplace than it is another weak frustrated married life comedy. On one hand, this is a good thing because the workplace plot line, involving an industrial accident than unmans one of the workers (Clifton Collins, Jr., you can do better than this) and a scheming temp (ditto Mila Kunis) is neither interesting nor original. On the other hand, it is not a good thing because neither is the marital plot line. Joel is frustrated. His friend (Ben Affleck, bearded) advises Joel to entrap his wife into an affair, thus giving himself carte blanche to do the same. This was briefly popular back the days of, what was that again, oh yes, “Love, American Style.” There is a reason that show is no longer on the air. And it’s the same reason this movie should immediately move to the 99 cent bin and stay there.

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Comic-Con 2009: Interviews for ‘Alien Trespass’ and ‘Boondock Saints II’

Posted on July 29, 2009 at 12:40 pm

I am a huge Eric McCormack fan and enjoyed his retro sci-fi movie Alien Trespass, so it was a special treat to get a chance to talk with him and writer/director R.W. Goodwin (of “X-Files”) at Comic-Con about the DVD release. Goodwin emphasized that the film is not a parody of cheesy 50’s sci-fi movies or even a tribute; his intention was to create a film that would look and feel as though it had actually been made half a century ago and had just been re-discovered. He loves the “great, sweet, really earnest” films of that era and wanted to “put ourselves in that space.”

I asked McCormack what he thought about in creating the character of Urp, an alien who inhabits the body of an Earth scientist, and he said that the image he held in his mind was when Urp has to drive a car for the first time. “He’s obviously intelligent,” McCormack said. “He piloted a rocket ship to get to earth. But everything is new to him. So I thought of him as more child-like than robotic. Ted’s body is a stolen car he is learning how to operate.” Here he talks about his favorite scene.

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And it was a lot of fun to talk to Clifton Collins, Jr. and Julie Benz about their upcoming film, “Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day.” Benz said she seems to be doing nothing but vigilante stories — “Rambo,” “The Punisher,” “Dexter,” and now this sequel to the cult favorite about two brothers who take the law into their own hands and famously end the film asking whether they are good or evil, saint or vigilantes. Collins and Benz join the returning cast of the 1999 original, including Billy Connelly, Norman Reedus, and Sean Patrick Flannery as the father and sons who go after the bad guys.

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Collins is one of my favorite actors, most recently seen as the number two bad guy in Star Trek, but I have been a fan since he appeared in The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit in 1998. He told me that he was “not in the first film but was around it,” knew writer/director Troy Duffy’s journey from bartender to film-maker (as documented in the movie Overnight) and “once I read it, who didn’t want to be a part of ‘Boondock Saints?’ Everybody did.”

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Festivals Interview

The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit

Posted on July 28, 2009 at 12:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: All Ages
MPAA Rating: PG for mild language
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some drinking, scenes in a bar
Violence/ Scariness: Bar fight
Diversity Issues: Set in Latino community of LA
Date Released to Theaters: 1998
Date Released to DVD: 1998
Amazon.com ASIN: 6305268851

This is a wonderful, magical movie!

Based on the short story and play by Ray Bradbury (who adapted for the screen), this is the story of five poor men who pool their resources to buy one magnificent, beautiful, white suit, each hoping it will make his dream come true.

One man is a political speaker, one is a musician, one is a con man, one is in love, and one is homeless and filthy.

Originally selected on the basis of size (all of them have to fit into the same suit), they find that they have more in common. All feel ignored and alone. As each gets to wear the suit for one hour, each finds it a thrilling and transforming experience.

The cast is sensational. Joe Mantegna plays the con man who puts the deal together with the thought of taking the suit on a one-way trip out of town, but who thinks better of it after he puts it on. Esai Morales (“La Bamba”) plays the musician whose guitar-playing draws every female in hearing range out into the street for a joyous dance. Newcomer Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez (now Clifton Collins, Jr.) is a delight as the young man who wears the suit to find the courage to approach the beautiful woman he has adored from afar. Activist Gregory Sierra (TV’s “Barney Miller”) finds that people cheer his speeches when he wears the suit. And under all that grime is Edward James Almos (“Stand and Deliver”) as a homeless man who embraces life (and the girlfriend of a mean guy called “El Toro”) when he wears the suit.

At the end of the evening, the young man says, “This morning I had no friends, but tonight I have many friends.” You will feel you have made some, too.

This movie gives families a great opportunity to talk about dreams, cooperation, and self-confidence, and to think a little bit about what they would do if they had a wonderful ice-cream suit.

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