Pacific Rim and My Own Personal Movie Theater

I have been hoping that Guillermo del Toro’s latest film, Pacific Rim, would rescue me from the summer doldrums. This year’s crop of blockbusters has been disappointing, ranging from the silly, mediocre, or problematic (Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger) to the downright awful, boring, or misconceived (Man of Steel, The Fast & The Furious 6, The Great Gatsby). I enjoyed Monsters University but not as much as Monsters, Inc., Star Trek: Into Darkness but not as much as Star Trek, World War Z but not as much as the book.

Pacific RimNormally I go to my beloved Carolina Cinemas but I was free on Wednesday morning with a $12 voucher ticket from Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Regal Cinema’s Biltmore Grande has a RPX (Regal Premium Experience – basically a not quite Imax) theater and was showing Pacific Rim at 10 a.m. Matinee price for a 2D RPX ticket is $12. There was a line in front of me at the box office but they were all there to see the $1 children’s movie.

RPX emptyApparently no one wants to spend $12 at 10 in the morning. I had the entire RPX auditorium to myself for Pacific Rim. Woohoo! Using the $12 voucher in combination with my Regal card netted me a FREE popcorn (saving it for this weekend’s Despicable Me 2 family trip). I also grabbed two FREE Pacific Rim posters on my way out for the movie room.

Pacific Rim (2013) – Rated PG-13

“As a war between humankind and monstrous sea creatures wages on, a former pilot and a trainee are paired up to drive a seemingly obsolete special weapon in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse.”

One Line Review: If you like giant monsters or robots, then go see this on a giant screen!

Pacific Rim on a RPX screen was just what the doctor ordered. It is not a masterpiece like Pan’s Labyrinth. The dialogue is very cheesy, particularly the speeches Idris Elba is asked to give. The visuals are very dark at times and as such may have difficulty transferring to the small screen.

Acting is definitely a weak point. Charlie Day and Burn (Torchwood) Gorman show personality as scientists but are often annoying in their mannerisms. Charlie Hunnam is bland as Raleigh Becket. Idris Elba is good but is saddled with the worst dialogue. Rinko Kikuchi isn’t given enough to do and Ron Perlman hams it up.

The visuals are magnificent in general but occasionally are murky enough to make it difficult to tell what is happening. The kaiju (monsters) are of course the highlight of the film. There are several long wonderful fight scenes between the kaiju and the jaeger (giant robots) as well as several smaller scenes involving each. Sound effects are marvelous (seat shaking in RPX).

Dramatically this movie is very cliched, particularly in the last act. Dialogue is corny and wooden but only serves to be reminiscent of the movies Guillermo del Toro is paying homage to. This is obviously a labor of love for him.

If you want to see giant monsters and giant robots beat up on each other and destroy cities, then go see Pacific Rim. If not, then there isn’t much reason to recommend it.

I Sell the Dead

I Sell the Dead is currently on instant Netflix and Amazon Prime.

I Sell the Dead (2008) – Not rated.

“As 19th-century grave robber Arthur Blake faces the guillotine, he confesses his sins to a priest, revealing a life filled with unearthly high jinks in this macabre comedy starring Dominic Monaghan as the doomed digger and Ron Perlman as the cleric.”

“Every Burke needs a little Hare.”

Glenn McQuaid not only writes, directs and edits I Sell the Dead but also wrote a graphic novel for Image Comics based on his screenplay. This is not terribly surprising as many of the film’s segues are told as comic panels. After working for Larry Fessenden on The Last Winter as title designer and visual effects supervisor, McQuaid cast director Fessenden as gravedigger Willy Grimes. Fessendon does a good job of playing second fiddle to our other gravedigger.

Dominic Monaghan finally gets a lead role as likable gravedigger Arthur Blake. The creepy Angus Scrimm, the Tall Man in all the Phantasm movies, plays the demanding Dr. Knox fill-in, Dr. Quint. Genre stalwart Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Outlander, The Last Winter) plays Father Duffy, sent to interview Blake before his execution.

The movie references are innumerable. The priest speaking to the condemned man to get his life story, setting up the movie to be told in flashback was used in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). Obviously the charming gravediggers harkens to the story of Burke & Hare which was told in The Body Snatcher (1945), The Flesh & The Fiends (1960), and Burke & Hare (1972 and 2010).

I Sell the Dead has a rather dry, dark sense of humor. This raises more smiles than chuckles but is quite enjoyable none the less. It starts off like Burke & Hare but then the enterprising gravediggers discover a body wreathed in garlic with a stake through her chest. That is just the beginning of surprises that I do not want to spoil.

People Watch: I Sell the Dead has numerous in-jokes and homages to classic horror films. As in Frankenstein (1931), “A good cast is worth repeating!” is shown before the end credits.

Drive

Nicholas Winding-Refn’s Drive just became available on instant Netflix.

Drive (2011) – Rated R

“A Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver is lured from his isolated life by a lovely neighbor and her young son. His newfound peace is shattered, however, when her violent husband is released from prison.”

“My hands are a little dirty.” – “So are mine.”

I really hated Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising. The production values were good but the script and direction veered from awful to pretentiously awful. I was not really looking forward to watching Drive.

Refn’s Drive turned out to be a nice little B-movie raised to the level of not-quite-high art by the director. The style is different from but akin to that of Michael Mann. The visuals are slick and cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel is impressive. Los Angeles by night is absolutely gorgeous.

Sound design on the film is equally impressive and achieves a great balance between dialogue, music and sound effects. Drive was nominated for a Best Achievement in Sound Editing Oscar but lost out to Hugo.

The classic fable of The Scorpion and The Frog is woven throughout the film in a series of nice artistic touches. This ranges from the general theme and plot to visual touches such as Driver (Ryan Gosling’s character is never given a name) wearing a scorpion jacket through much of the film (i.e. carrying the scorpion on his back).

Acting is good but not great. Refn chooses to eschew dialogue in favor of meaningful glances. He did this to extreme in Valhalla Rising. Here it is toned down and less risible. Ryan Gosling is often just there to look cool. He gives his best Steve McQueen impression but comes across as something of a cipher – not really surprising given that his character doesn’t have a name.

Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, and Bryan Cranston put in nice performances. Sadly Christina Hendricks, fabulous in Mad Men, is largely wasted here in a very minor role. The surprise here is Albert Brooks in the first serious role I’ve seen him in. I would never have thought of him exuding menace but he nails his role.

Drive also reminded me of The Godfather (no Drive is not a classic). The violence was brutal but often came out of left field and was almost always startling. This is how violence should be handled in action movies. Several of the violent sequences stayed with me long after the movie ended and one in particular is absolutely chilling (no spoilers – it’s the one that takes place in the garage). Reportedly the head-stomping scene had to be cut many times to get Drive an ‘R’ rating.

Drive is definitely a matter of style over substance. If you can appreciate that style, this film is very enjoyable and highly recommended.

People Watch: Look for veteran character actor Russ Tamblyn as Doc. Russ is best known for his role as Riff in West Side Story but has been in everything from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Gideon) to Twin Peaks (Dr. Jacoby)

Conan the Generic

AVOID: Conan the Barbarian (2011) – Rated R for strong bloody violence, some sexuality and nudity.

The wife and I went to see the new Conan the Barbarian and felt it was not worth what we paid. We had (sort of) FREE tickets from a couple Blu-Rays at Best Buy (Highlander and Kill Bill vol.1). For some odd reason the FREE ticket is only valid for $7.50. Does anyone have a theater where the evening adult price is $7.50 or less?

I was glad to see that the movie was rated R as Conan should have plenty of violence. Unfortunately much of the R rating was for the ridiculous looking CGI blood.

The most egregious fault was the utterly generic script that hit every single cliche we could think of except for what we thought would be the final shot for the movie. The script also vacillates between being a Conan script and being a generic fantasy script so the tone is uneven.

It seems that one of the three writers knew who Conan was and snuck in a few Conan moments here and there. Still he often must have been overruled as Conan at one point drops the revenge he has been living his whole life for in order to save someone in distress.

I understand that Conan is no rocket surgeon but the script makes him out to be a complete moron. He is orphaned and then raised by another warrior. The warrior offers his aid in revenge but Conan rejects it stating that he must do this alone. Later you have essentially the same scenario, only Conan now has a ship full of people at his disposal. Sure enough he has to go it alone again.

Later still Conan accepts the help of a thief to break into a city because Conan is apparently incapable of opening doors but the trip is completely moot as he then just leaves, leaving the thief behind as he must do this alone.

In the climactic battle sequence, the entire area is shaking and falling apart (a la the opening temple in Raiders of the Lost Ark) until the battle sequence. At that point everything stops falling apart. After the battle sequence, everything starts falling apart again until the next battle sequence. This is repeated ad nauseum for no discernible reason.

Jason Momoa is okay as Conan (my wife liked his butt and abs). Rose McGowan, who I liked in Scream and Grindhouse, is actually pretty bad here as Marique and Stephen Lang fails to make an impression as Khalar Zym, which should have been a juicy role. Ron Perlman mostly just growls his way through the clunky dialogue.

I could go on but the goofs and gaffes are not bad enough to make the film funny – just annoying. Well at least my wife enjoyed the popcorn.

 

Blade 2 – Marvel Superhero week

This is Marvel Superhero week. Blade 2 is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Blade 2(2002) – Rated R for Strong pervasive violence, language, some drug use and sexual content.

Blade (Wesley Snipes) is a half-vampire sworn to eradicating the bloodsuckers who lurk in the shadows. But when a breed of “reapers” is unleashed, the Vampire Nation asks for his help in preventing a nightmare plague that would wipe out both humans and vampires. Directed by Guillermo del Toro (Hell Boy, Pans Labyrinth), this Blade sequel mixes high-tech action with crimson terror. Kris Kristofferson and Ron Perlman co-star.

“Keep your friends close. Keep your enemies closer.”

Well way back when I was a wee lad, my favorite comic book series was The Tomb of Dracula. I loved the portrayal of Dracula as an evil mastermind and all of the people hunting him were fascinating as well. One of those was Blade, the Vampire Slayer.

Wesley Snipes returns as Blade and Kris Kristofferson returns as his accomplice/handyman Whistler (despite having died in the first film). As he was in the first film, Snipes is a complete bada$$, dusting vampires by the score. Norman Reedus (Boondock Saints) plays the new addition to the “good guys”. You have to love a character that has Krispy Kreme doughnuts shipped to a stakeout.

This is definitely the way to make a sequel. Since Blade took out a vampire “god” in the last film, the vampires have formed a Special Forces team called the Blood Pack to take him down. Now in a by-the-numbers sequel that would be our movie. Instead we have a much larger threat that forces them to team up with Blade.

The Blood Pack is well cast and all the members have colorful personalities. Tough guy and Guillermo del Toro favorite Ron Perlman has a lot of fun as Reinhardt. Leonor Varela plays Nyssa, a possible love interest. Other members of the Blood Pack include Danny John-Jules (Cat in the Red Dwarf TV show) as Asad and Asian superstar Donnie Yen as Snowman. Donnie Yen also handled the impressive fight choreography.

Blade II is written very intelligently by David S. Goyer and yet oddly Goyer would go on to write the terrible third film Blade Trinity. The difference here is that the mighty Guillermo del Toro directs Blade II and naturally it is quite stylish.

The acting is good, the action is fast and fresh, the visuals are well-done, and the script is engaging and has a few good twists to it – basically there is not much not to like in this film. That and these vampires do not sparkle in sunlight.

The Last Winter – Nature Gone Wild! week

In honor of mighty Nature taking out much of my technology recently, I have declared this Nature Gone Wild! week. The Last Winter is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Last Winter

WATCH: The Last Winter (2007) – NR – Not rated but contains adult content, brief nudity, violence.

“When strange things start happening at an Arctic oil-drilling outpost, workers fear their cabin is haunted by ancient spirits, and the unexplained events spark a feud between an oil company representative (Ron Perlman) and an eco-activist (James LeGros). Larry Fessenden’s supernatural thriller adds a terrifying new layer to global warming and the perils of oil production. Connie Britton, Kevin Corrigan, Zach Gilford and Jamie Harrold co-star.”

“We shouldn’t be here. We’re graverobbers.”

Larry Fessenden is apparently a jack of all trades. He directed, produced, wrote and edited this movie. Clearly this was a very personal project for him.

There are some neat directorial flourishes in this movie. In one scene Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman) is talking on the phone. The camera cuts away to outdoor scenes while the conversation continues. There is a nice pan out as a crow takes off. The camera jumps out a bit as Maxwell takes a meal showing his unstable frame of mind.

As might be guessed by my comments above, much of the horror in the movie is suggested. This actually appears to be a real throwback to Val Lewton’s style of filmmaking (though without the marvelous use of shadow). Fessenden also makes good use of a lot of stock eco-footage (look you can make anything into a new word by adding eco- in front of it).

The stock footage while used well is also overused. The movie beats you over the head with its eco-message (see there I go again). This movie does seem to be the corporate equivalent of the couple from yesterday’s Nature’s Gave.

The cast is well chosen. As with John Carpenter’s The Thing, none of the ensemble cast look like movie stars. Unlike that film there are women in the cast. No one looks glamorous and everyone looks like they could actually be working out at the station.

Ron Perlman headlines the cast. He does a wonderful job with what, in another director’s hands, would be a villainous role (the face of the evil nature-destroying corporation). Thankfully Perlman and Fessenden stay away from the stereotype and his character comes off as just a mid-level boss trying to get the work done.

The marvelous part of the film is the eerie atmosphere that continually builds as their situation deteriorates. The building confines seem claustrophobic after all the open tundra shots.

I highly recommend this picture for the feelings it evokes. Do not go into it expecting action, gore, and special effects (there are some of each of those but they are just payoff).

People Watch: In addition to all his other tasks, Larry Fessenden also appears briefly in the movie as Charles Foster.