Pacific Rim Movie Review 0 124

Pacific Rim movie review1
It’s been a long time coming but with Pacific Rim writer-director Guillermo del Toro finally has a gargantuan budget ($190 million to be exact) on his hands which has bought him a massive, expensive toy box to play with, roll around in and smash as he sees fit. It proves that the Pan’s Labyrinth director can step up the mark when it comes to huge movies like this and more than hold his ground.
The premise of his first truly big blockbuster – as fun as they were I always felt the Hellboy movies were held back by budget constraints – is pretty straightforward and will grab the attention and imaginations of the 10-year-old in all of us. It’s about giant robots fighting giant monsters. That’s it in a nutshell and del Toro has delivered a film of such spectacle that it’s hard to care that much about the cracks that appear along the way.
To delve a little deeper into the plot, it’s set in a near-future world where all of a sudden large alien-like monsters, nicknamed Kaiju (Japanese for “strange creature” and universally known as “giant monster,” naturally) have appeared not from the stars but deep beneath the pacific ocean, through a portal from another dimension. After causing mass devastation to several cities, the humans finally found a way to fight back: by building giant robots, nicknamed Jaeger (German for “hunter”), that can match the monsters in size and power. It uses advanced technology where the pilots have a neural link with the machine and because of the size of them it needs two pilots to work together, their experiences and memories linked together as they fight. We focus specifically on Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), an experienced Jaeger pilot who teams up with trainee Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) as humanity’s last hope to defeat the Kaiju.
It’d be easy to describe Pacific Rim as Transformers meets Godzilla, and there’s some truth to that comparison, but it’s more of a fantasy amalgamation than a copycat. Even among all the giant hand-to-hand combat and city destruction, there’s a craftsmanship to it from a man who clearly loves the art of filmmaking, the beauty of design and possibilities of mythology. This isn’t just another Michael Bay-esque blockbuster: it feels crafted, loved and filled with a (perhaps childish) enthusiasm for big-screen spectacle. There’s plenty of moments when you are allowed to just marvel at the sheer scale of what’s happening on-screen and the film is all the better for it.

Pacific Rim movie review

The film makes various attempts at giving us an emotional connection to the story with varying degrees of success. Hunnam’s character suffers a devastating personal loss during a Kaiju battle gone wrong but it happens too quickly in the movie for it to have the emotional impact that was clearly intended. While Kikuchi’s subplot involving her childhood exposure to the attacks has much more of an emotional payoff.
However, at the end of the day this is a movie about huge robots punching monsters and the film wastes no time in throwing us into the kind of spectacular action you’d hope from a modern day blockbuster with that premise. There’s only so many ways you can show that kind of fighting but del Toro gets every bit of mileage out of it he can, causing destruction on land, at sea and even in space at one point to make for some truly breathtaking imagery and epic action that puts just about every other summer film this year to shame – a Hong Kong set-piece is particularly astounding. The action is very well shot, with everything clear and precise even as carnage ensues; certain other blockbuster filmmakers could learn a thing or two about letting the audience see what’s going on without constantly shaking the camera or zooming in too closely.
For those who want their big movies with a little more substance, Pacific Rim may be somewhat of a disappointment. Aside from the stripped down plot that just gets the job done and little more – the mythology it hints at is fascinating but the driving story only functional – the characters are a little on the underdeveloped and generic side. There’s the everyman hero (Hunnam), the egotistical asshole who quips about how he’s better than him at everything (Rob Kazinsky), the fearsome commander barking orders (Idris Elba), the clichéd ultra-geeky scientists (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman), whose comedic moments are sometimes a distraction rather than relief, and so on. They’re all fine but could have been more fully realized to make the film more than the sum of its parts.
It may lack the sort of substance to make it a truly special action film that will be remembered years down the line but for what it’s set out to do Pacific Rim is a success. There’s something inherently awe-inspiring about seeing two giant monsters (whether flesh or metal) face off against one another and this cranks that up to 11 in every way possible. Through astonishing visuals effects, well choreographed action, impeccable sound design and just sheer commitment to its central idea, del Toro has made a ridiculously enjoyable movie for anyone who ever smashed two toys together as a kid.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 537

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 562

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10

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