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Film Review: Pacific Rim

Somewhere between the minds that created Japanese Manga, mecha beasts and Hell demons comes Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim.

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Somewhere between the minds that created Japanese Manga, mecha beasts and Hell demons comes Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim. Offering a glutinous feast of sight and sound for all the senses, Hollywood’s latest entry into the monster movie cannon is the personification of the Americanized Japanese blockbuster. While the spate of recent apocalyptic fare has offered up cynicism with its dose of explosive, Del Toro’s monster flick has far more optimism written in. Like the historical nature of the Japanese monster movie, there is a very clear definition between good and evil, and much of the characters’ hope comes from the promise of a rising sun.

Pacific Rim is massive, both in size and detail, and throws the viewer into the middle of the coda from the onset. Humanity has been thrust into a titanic battle with giant monsters that have emerged from the depths of our oceans. These leviathans (known as Kaijus) came through the seas and have forced humanity to build equally terrifying mechanical beasts (built as Jaegers) in retaliation. This exposition comes very quickly in the opening stanza of the film, and before you can dig in to your popcorn we’re shot 5 years into the present where the battle between man-made beast and beast is at its pinnacle. It’s a little bit of a shame we do not get the same gradual storytelling the way Independence Day unfolded, as while there is no time wasted before we’re into the meat of Pacific Rim, it would be have been a fascinating exploration into the reveal of these monsters if Del Toro would have spent more than 5 minutes explaining their sudden appearance on Earth.

The cast is led by the booming presence of Idris Elba, whose headstrong-into-battle marshalling of the supporting cast is a pretty decent homage to Bill Pullman’s noble Presidential turn in ID4 (right down to the motivational speech). Alongside, Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) portrays Raleigh Beckett, your everyman hero; talented and charismatic, leading the charge against the monsters. His occasional brooding is brought upon by the burden of his past, and serves as both motivation and a hindrance to his return into the Jaeger program. His new co-pilot is Rinko Kikuchi’s (Babel) Mako Mori, whose deft touch to deceiving Asian frailty is offset by her ability to nail down her need to kick-ass when required. Similarly, her backstory takes the audience to perhaps the film’s most touching moment- the young Mako hunted through the city streets by a Kaiju (played by youngster Mana Ashida, who already has 23 titles to her resume). There is a real terrifying sense of hopelessness and fear to her character, and it really takes the audience far into the film’s best human moment.

As humanity and their machines battle the beasts, we find that the Kaiju continue to evolve and that their end game is unexpected. It is up to two wily scientists (played with some timely humour by Charlie Day and with odd Britishness by Burn Gorman) to figure out a way to effectively end the Kaiju menace. From here, we’re treated to some of the most exhilarating and breathtaking big screen CGI battles we’ve ever seen, and there is almost an operatic tone to Del Toro’s vision. While Michael Bay and Zack Snyder are happy to punch you in the head for 2+ hours, Del Toro adds a little song and dance to the fold. From the oceans to the metropolis streets, the collision of steel and flesh unfolds in the most effective and detailed carnage yet. It’s beautiful destruction without the fatigue.

“Those who grew up with Japanese robot cinema, or even kooky television shows like Dai Sentai Goggle-V, will know that there is a youthful veneer to all the beasts and destruction.”

Expectedly, there is some glorious cheese to the dialogue (and the Australian accents placed on the Australian Jaeger pilots are at times, excruciating), but Del Toro and screenwriter Travis Beacham know that it isn’t Shakespearean context that will successfully connect all the action. It’s about being funny at the right times, being overly dramatic in others, and doing their best to be human the rest. Those who grew up with Japanese robot cinema, or even kooky television shows like Dai Sentai Goggle-V, will know that there is a youthful veneer to all the beasts and destruction. It says that while there is evil, there are good protectors that will defend and fight for the rest of humanity. And in contrast to all the computer generated modernity of the picture, much of Pacific Rim is old fashioned in its sensibilities.

With Del Toro’s eye for detail, some good casting and a seriously fun attitude, Pacific Rim does what films like the Hollywood version of Godzilla couldn’t do; make the ridiculous believable, exciting and at times, just immensely breathtaking. Go see Pacific Rim at the largest screened cinema you can find, where the audio is cranked up to 11, and where they’ll charge you an extra few dollars for 3D glasses. You will be entertained.

PACIFIC RIM
Directed by: Guillermo Del Toro
Written by: Travis Beachham, Guillermo Del Toro
Cast: Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kickuchi, Charlie Day
Released by: Warner Bros.
Website: pacificrimmovie.com

Film Reviews

Film Review: It Chapter Two

The sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans

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The final installment in the It saga is a clever, scary, probably-too-long allegory about the power of friendship — complete with a 20-foot clown spider. Sure, it’s probably a half-hour longer than it really needs to be — but It Chapter Two is still a fantastic film that hits the sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans.

It’s a story about friendship, and just like the first film, it’s those relationships that make this story so compelling and keep it woven together in a way that you really care about what’s happening to all the folks Pennywise has been menacing across these two films. Sure, Bill Skarsgård’s absolutely terrifying performance as Pennywise is what puts butts in the seats, but at its heart, this is a story about the power of friendship to win out over pretty much anything. If we work together, we can overcome fear, loneliness, doubt, depression — and yeah — even a supernaturally godlike killer clown. Thankfully, all the blood keeps that message from getting too sappy along the way.

The first It in 2017 was a surprise, monster hit — but for good reason. The Stephen King adaptation by director Andy Muschietti is pretty much a horror masterpiece wrapped in a compelling coming of age story. Think Goonies meets a face-eating monster flick with jump scares galore to keep the blood pumping. But, despite a decently-closed ending to the first chapter, the story was always conceived as a two-part film run, which is pretty much the only way one could hope to possibly wrap up King’s massive tome (the studio actually briefly considered splitting Chapter Two into two films, because there’s just so much material). 

It Chapter Two makes a wise decision to keep the stellar younger cast from the first film involved via ample flashbacks, while still providing space for the adult Losers to live and breathe (and, ahem, die) while bridging the gap between who they were and who they all grew up to be. It also embraces the inherent silliness and insanity of its premise to laugh, now seen through the lens of middle-aged adults as opposed to middle school minds. It’s a hard tone to hit, and it arguably might come off with more laughs than scares, but it’s true to the inherent madness of Pennywise.

The adult cast is also a home run by and large. James McAvoy makes for a capable adult Bill; Jessica Chastain is the embodiment of adult Bev; James Ransome nails grown-up Eddie; and Isaiah Mustafa does a capable job providing the necessary info-dumps as adult Mike. But the real breakout is Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader as grown-up Richie. There’s scattered buzz that Hader could be worthy of an Oscar nomination for his performance, and he deserves every bit of it. We knew Hader had comedy chops, and he uses them plenty to keep this dark tale from getting too dark, but he really taps into the emotion of what it’d be like to go through something so traumatizing. And the moments that break Richie will almost certainly break you, too.

As for the changes to King’s original novel, sure, they’ll certainly be noticeable for fans. That said, the book itself — especially the ending — is absolutely wild and arguably impossible to adapt in a way that could work on the screen. The ending on-screen largely stays true to King’s themes built into the novel, and for the story that’s been told across these two films, it really does work. Hell, even King himself shows up in a cameo to make a joke about just how hard it can be to get an ending right.

Thankfully, despite a few bumps, It Chapter Two pretty much nails the landing. In a world filled more and more with King adaptations, this two-film run will stand as one of the best.

It Chapter Two is in cinemas now

IT CHAPTER TWO
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Gary Dauberman
Cast: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Skarsgård
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Run time: 169 minutes

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Film Reviews

Film Review: Hobbs & Shaw

If you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion

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Hobbs and Shaw

It is hard to believe that 2001’s The Fast & The Furious was just a film about the underground culture of street racing. Fast forward nearly 20 years later and the films have gotten so ridiculous that the only logical next step for the film series is to blast it into space. Our endless appetite for the series has seen us grown accustomed to cars taking planes out of the sky (Fast 6), cars jumping from one building to another (Fast 7), and cars being remotely controlled to act like a pack of mechanical wild dogs (Fast 8). Ridiculous is not a barrier the film series will ever brake for and so it brings us to this, the biggest spin-off the series has seen, Hobbs & Shaw.

When the chemistry between The Rock and Jason Statham proved magic in Fast 8, it only took The Rock butting heads with Vin Diesel to see that logically, the series needed a freshness to it. Who better than Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham? Well, as Hobbs & Shaw proves, if you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion as the film cares not for subtlety, pouring gasoline on the fire. The film sees the addition of Idris Elba as supervillain Brixton Lore and the effervescent Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw, the sister of Statham’s character. Both characters fit in superbly well to the colorful, over-the-top personas of the series, but with one difference; they haven’t worn thin yet and are extremely likable. The film benefits greatly from the absence of Vin Diesel’s dopey head and the majority of the dopey Fast “family”, instead taking the Fast and Furious formula and giving it a spit shine, turning it sideways, and sticking it right up… well, you know the drill.

Hobbs (Johnson) and Shaw (Statham) play the unlikeliest (but most charismatic) buddy cop twosome since the days of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte. Unexpectedly, this film is really quite hilarious- with the two swapping one-liners and jibes that keeps the film light and funny. The two are tasked with stopping global genocide at the hands of the megalomaniacal terrorist organization known as Etheon. The “face” of Etheon is superhuman Brixton Lore (Elba), an agent left for dead and turned into a weaponized cyborg-esque villain using genetic engineering. He’s the “black Superman” as he says, and he’s got an array of tech and gadgets (including a transforming, autonomous motorbike that would have found itself at home in a Transformers movie) that are part of Etheon’s plan to rid the world of the “weak”.

Vanessa Kirby
Vanessa Kirby is one of the highlights of Hobbs & Shaw

Etheon are after a deadly virus that is in possession of Hattie Shaw and what ensues is the expected cinematic equivalent of flexing your muscles and undoing the top few buttons of your blouse soundtracked to explosions, fast machines, and zippy dialogue. Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) keeps things by the book, and visually it’s all very on brand with the film series. But it is the chemistry and likability of the stars- namely Kirby, Statham, and Johnson- that keeps Hobbs & Shaw light on its feet, big with its set pieces, and never a chore. Kirby, in particular, has shown that her action chops are as deadly as her acting chops (is it too late to make her Black Widow? Or maybe just put her in all the action films). She never spends the film waiting to be rescued and is often the one quelling the childish, but hilarious quarrelling between Statham and Johnson.

The film trades the tired Fast family for real blood family, and while we still get the whole “family” and “heart” spiel that Vin Diesel loves to harp on about in these films, there is definitely a welcome change to the last few films. In fact, the Fast films haven’t been this fun in a long time. Unlike the last few, Hobbs & Shaw knows that the stakes of the film are global, but never does it take that too seriously and we the audience never feel too burdened by the ridiculousness of it all. There are some great cameos (two unexpected stars pop up that add the right comedic touches, plus Helen Mirren is always brilliant) and while the changing of scenery to Samoa is reminiscent of the previous Fast family vacations to South America et al, there’s something spiritual about this trip.

In the end, you don’t even have to turn your brain off because the film is soaked in charm and lightness that makes for a fun, smart enough romp that keeps its two-plus hour run time feeling like quite a breeze. Hobbs & Shaw is what this film series desperately needed. And while we can’t say the appeal will still be there when we’re inevitably sitting through Hobbs & Shaw 2, 3, 4, 5… we can say that for now, we’ll live this life one spin-off at a time.

HOBBS & SHAW
Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Helen Mirren
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Run time: 135 minutes

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