Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Case for Pacific Pugilism

The greatest movie ever!  Is not Pacific Rim.

Nah, I was never expecting his Gundam versus Godzilla special effects fest to be filled with Oscar winning performances or an innovative, creative screenplay.  I was expecting lots of giant beasties striding across the Pacific and only setting foot in major cities on the continents around the Rim, with the human-piloted Jaeger robots casusing almost as much mayhem and destruction as the creatures in their mission to save us all.  And on all these points, Pacific Rim delivered.

This film is incredibly stylish, perhaps not completely surprising considering it is Guillermo del Toro at the helm. 

He has selected an impressive cast of well know (if not necessarily A-list) celebrities to bring his boys toy story to life, including a lot of the cast of Sons of Anarchy (well, Ron Perlman had to be in his film, didn't he?), The Wire (Idris "Awesome" Elba) and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (likeable but also annoying Charlie Day).  There is one token female with a speaking part in there as well, and some spectaculary stereotyped Australians, Russians and Chinese, but this is about a good looking American lad Raleigh (the square jawed, charismatic and occasionally (pointlessly) shirtless Charlie Hunnan, though he is English from memory) saving the planet , backed up by a cast of international characters (including his "soul make" Mako, Rinko Kikuchi) who are good but not quite as good as him.

Unfortunately for them, this is not really a tale that is based on anything like character development or originality (some of the publicity said it was quite an original film, but maybe that is from people who have never seen Japanese anime, Voltron, or perhaps even Transformers), so its a shame when attempts to prove otherwise take a huge amount of time to unfold.  Traumatic childhoods, burgeoning love affairs, and humble origins are slowly, laboriously exposed and sometimes tediously so.  And some crucial plot points, like how a wall around the continents could possibly be less expensive and more protective than twenty mobile, weapons laded robots against the increasingly menacing alient threat is never really explained.

But then, logic was never really going to enter into this.  Just lots of explosions, destruction and gross out moments.  And in 3D, these are all particularly impressive.

Overall then, the film flags a bit at times whenever there are humans running around attempting to be funny, but when the robots are going full throttle, ripping through beasties and cities alike, everything else is pretty much forgotten.

Verdict: Pacific Rim is a big budget bash fest, with a human cast to try and bring some levity and love to proceedings, but they more or less fail.  Logic also takes a back seat to the usual conventions to these kinds of films, which would be fine if they didn't allow you to dwell on it for so long.  No matter.  Pacific Rim delivers what the box and posters promise.  I wouldn't count on there being a sequel, but then again, you never know...

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Case for Despicabler

When I saw some of the "funny" clips on the Graeme Norton show, I have to admit, I was not convinced by the merits of Despicable Me 2.  The first film was based on the idea of a bad guy with ridiculous inventions going good, whereas the second seemed to be all about a love story.

But then, heading into the film, I realised that I had overlooked the real reason to see Despicable Me 2, and in fact the only reason worth going at all: the Minions, those cute little hostess twinkie shaped assistants of exceptional good humour and incomprehensible (yet somehow understandable) language.

Strange really: considering Steve Carrell and the incredible Kristen Wiig are the main characters in this film, I had kind of thought that Gru (Carrell) and his love interest Lucy (Wiig) would get lots of good lines and amusing repartee.  But no, Carrell seems happy to let Gru's frankly annoying accent generate most of his laughs, and while Lucy is very... perky, it seems that she is meant to be a physical comedy kind of side kick, though that function has already been taken by the minions.

The animation is good, and some of the secret gadgets are hilarious, but El Macho's character (voiced by Benjamin Bratt) seems to be an idea rife with amusing possibilities that are never fully realised.  And then there are Gru's girls, his adopted family and reason for the first film, who are more or less sidelined, the cuteness of the smallest amped up to almost nauseating levels and the older girls get almost nothing to do.

But, as mentioned, I had kind of missed the point by assuming the animated humans were meant to provide most of the entertainment.  No, those cute lovable minions are the real star of the show and the series, their bumbling antics and amusing chatter winning me over in all the ways the main characters and what passes for a plot does not.

And yes - there is really no story in there at all.  Last time, it was all Gru's determination to be evil.  This time... there is something about an Anti Villain League and tracking down a baddie, but it all seems very thin and a series of separate scenes rather than one cohesive story line.  Though perhaps in a kiddie film, more than that is not required.

Verdict: Despicable Me 2 is, in every fibre of its being, a minions movie.  It's just a shame the human characters and voice actors feel they need to attempt to have a storyline and love story in the same movie as well.  3 Minions out of 5.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Case for Super Troopers

Man of Steel is the latest in a line of super reboots.  As Superman is not a Marvel comic book hero and has not been blessed with the gift of Joss Whedon’s vision, this reboot looks to the dark side of the Dark Knight to draw its inspiration and (I am sure Warner Bros hopes, after Superman Returns and Green Lantern) its success. 

Which means the film is all very serious.  There are a few slight one liners in there (mainly referring to how good looking Superman is, and Henry Cavill definitely fills that role both in and out of the Super suit), but mostly the two and a half hour running time is devoted to brooding and violence and being, well, serious.

The film has three parts to it: there’s Jor El’s (Russell Crowe, who was in the film a lot more than I expected) Avatar action piece; then there is Lois Lane investigates; and then Kal El fight baddies in densely populated areas. 

As you can probably tell, Lane (a serious Amy Adams) gets the most to do, though her character comes across as hard nosed and intelligent but pretty joyless.  

Meanwhile, Henry Cavill frowns a lot as Clark and seems to get no respect despite the fact he is relatively tall, good looking and incredibly well built, with no glasses or mild manner to be mistaken for anything other than a bit of a jock.  Cavill is reasonably tall (though I presume a tad shorter than Christopher Reeve), but oddly, I got the impression he was shorter as they kept putting him opposite men who are rather short to make him seem taller (if that all makes sense).  His motivations for becoming the saviour of the human race (age 33, lots of religious symbols… the whole Jesus allusions are laid on a bit thick) are mainly due to the influence of his rather austere father (played by a serious Kevin Costner) and his fairly lovely mum (an always luminous Diane Lane), his defence of being an all American Midwestern boy at heart not really satisfying me who remembers Timothy McVey and a whole raft of High School shootings. 

No matter: the baddies are bad and need to be stopped, and humanity is pretty defenceless against them, so Superman needs to smash.  The Evil General Zod (played with a serious frown by Michael Shannon) and his minions (all in black), all well trained soldiers with decades of experience behind them, vastly advanced Kryptonian technology (what is with the tentacles though?) and made super powerful by Earth’s environment versus Superman and the might of the American Army.  Who will win?  Much special effects and questionable tactics and use of powers later, and much of Indonesia and downtown Smallville and Metropolis are in ruins (hundreds of thousands may have died, who knows?) and we find out. 

Look, it all makes very little sense (why does Krypton need an army again?), but that is really not the point here.  This reboot aims to get another franchise back in the sequel business through action, and I presume that the Earth-bound cast will get the chance to flesh out their characters in the next few films.  

Verdict: The big blue boy scout is back and this time he is… serious.  The cast look great but, besides Crowe and Adams, aren’t really given a lot to do.  Cavill fits the tights of Superman very well, but doesn’t really get much of a chance to create a character out of him, Clark or Kal El.  Maybe next time.  Meanwhile, Man of Steel is a visually spectacular piece of incredible effects and action, missing only a human heart.  7 super suits out of 10.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Case for Happy Endings

I laughed quite a bit in This Is The End, the new “gross out” comedy from the minds and actors that brought us films like The Pineapple Express and Superbad and other fairly stupid movies that are good for a guffaw.

Its not that the film shone with intellectually stimulating gags or witty puns.  Mostly, there was lots of laddish talk of smoking weed and getting it on (or not as the case may be), and, considering that is what I expected from the outset, the film met my fairly lazy criteria. 

The basic plot is: the actors are all playing themselves (kind of), and Seth Rogan (always awesome) and Jay Baruchel go (reluctantly in Jay’s part) to a big party at James Franco’s new place, rubbing shoulders (and other things) with Rhianna, an unhinged Michael Cera, Emma Watson, and a whole lot of other familiar faces.  Well, for a little while anyway.  Until the end of the world comes to Hollywood. 

What follows from there on is… well, a continuation of the jokes that came before really, just with a sense more urgency and with a dwindling number of house guests.  The remaining characters get more and more mental, with Jonah Hill’s take on himself as a guy so nice it borders on the insane.  Emma Watson shows up now and again, though her character seems an odd mix of high class, do no nothing girl and... well, what is she really doing in the film?

As much as the story is almost non existent and the jokes puerile, it all seems to work, mainly as the characters/actors involved are completely at home making fun of themselves and they do it all so well.  It's not mean spirited... well, it is actually, but everyone about whom it is mean spirited seems to be in on the joke and happy to go along with it. 

There are major fluctuations in tone and style and pace that hint that this is more a labour of love than a labour of work, but as long as these kinds of things are not any of the reasons you went to see the film for (and really, they shouldn't be), then you won't be disappointed.  Well, you might, but you should be expecting that from the get go.

Verdict: This in the End is the type of movie that already has someone drawing a big d!ck over the poster, because it is a load of cobblers.  But its aimiable rubbish, acted by guys used to mocking themselves and using the basest of slacker humour at its best... or at least, its most easily digestable.  And the number of cameos (and some of their nature) are pretty impressive too.  6 hell fire and damnations out of 10.