Pacific Rim by Guillermo del Toro – 100th post!

Pacific Rim by Guillermo Del Toro

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.

The fights are the main attraction. You either go along with that premise or not, there’s no two ways about it. In reality, it’s probably more resourceful to bomb these giant monsters or shoot them with a very big cannon, instead of making giant robots to punch them to death. But where’s the fun in that? Suffice to say, the fights are a tense visceral experience and the scale of everything delivers an epic sense of awe. They do everything to up the ante and surprise the audience. Special moves are only used in climatic moments and there’s just something about a giant robot using a boat as a bat that’s just hilarious and jaw-dropping. These fights run very dangerously to the cinematic equivalent of watching somebody play a video game. That’s why I like the drifting mind meld concept, because it solves that problem by it properly adding both physical and emotional conflict to the pilots controlling the Jaegars as well. It focuses to how well these pilots are controlling the Jaegars as opposed to how the Jaegars are fighting the Kaijus.

The fights are shot somewhat tightly but for a very good reason. Shooting the fights close holds the tension and injects the sense of jeopardy and stake into every exchange in the fight choreography. I imagine if the fights were covered entirely in long wide shots, it would lose that sense of scale and the fights would look silly. That said, I had no problem following what’s going on because emotionally it felt right to be watching them that way. And personally, it was doubly fun that the film was set in Hong Kong.

There’s been a common complaint that the characters lacked development, I disagree.  Basically these people all have baggage and they have to band together as a team or fall apart. The film spends time building arcs for its ensemble cast, and it’s sufficient to justify the epic robot monster fights. That’s it, so I don’t understand that complaint. Adding neat little quirks or oddball idiosyncrasies to these characters would have been overkill.

The dialogue is one of the film’s weaker portions. However, depending on how well each actor was able to milk the lines, I was still able to have fun with it. I couldn’t stop cackling at Charlie Day’s fast-paced high-pitched deliveries, who rises above being “Dr. Exposition” and balances the film with comic relief. Day’s exchange with the rival math-based scientist played by Burn Gorman is essentially a cartoon-level quarrel equivalent to Daffy Duck arguing with Bugs Bunny. The math Gorman’s scientist applies is is grade-school at best. Ron Perlman facetiously entertains in flying colors as the Kaiju body parts black marketer Hannibal Chau, the most asshole character name ever created. Idris Elba also adds significant weight as the team leader. So for me, the side characters take the cake from the Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi storyline, which was played very straight for story purposes.

Guillermo del Toro is aware of current big-budget blockbuster tropes and differentiates himself from those trends in Pacific Rim. There are no homage or geek references to distract or alienate the audience. Rinko Kikuchi’s Mako character is not sexualized or filmed through a salivating male gaze; she is a real human character with a story and treated as such. The film doesn’t play like a military recruitment advertisement nor has any blatant nationalistic or jingoistic intentions. Perhaps one of my favorite things about Pacific Rim is it tonally divorces itself from post-9/11 sentimentality. The world has its own distinct fictional reality, where destruction is not linked by evoking imagery, memories or emotions from September 11th. Civilians evacuate from buildings, hide in shelters and the streets are clear for the Jaegers to bash the Kaijus. Most importantly, del Toro never dwells heavily on despair or hopelessness and the audience can enjoy the city-wide destruction guilt-free. All those things counted together, Pacific Rim is truly a breath of fresh air amidst current blockbuster aesthetics and a film made with the most earnest intentions.

Without an A-list star, a love story or a recognizable established franchise (i.e. Godzilla or Transformers) , it’s not hard to see why Pacific Rim didn’t score at the box office. As Snakes On A Plane proved at its theatrical release, the geek fan base doesn’t represent much of the core population. The geeks merely are just the most vocal. Perhaps other parts of the demographic are alienated just by the material itself, despite that del Toro is aiming to entertain everybody. If there’s one underdog movie people should give a chance to this summer, let it be Pacific Rim. It’s a passionate earnest film made by a director that loves the material and wants to deliver good clean fun with a positive message for everybody. His attention to every little detail exudes his excitement for the material; that passion rubbed off on me and elevated my enjoyment.  It’s the most fun I’ve had watching a movie this summer. Guillermo del Toro, give me a hug!

Bad Ass by Craig Moss

Bad Ass by Craig Moss

Decorated Vietnam hero Frank Vega (played by Danny Trejo) returns home only to get shunned by society leaving him without a job or his high school sweetheart. It’s not until forty years later when an incident on a commuter bus (where he protects an elderly black man from a pair of skinheads) makes him a local hero where he’s suddenly celebrated once again. He’s christened as “Bad Ass”. But his good fortune suddenly turns for the worse when his best friend Klondike is murdered and the police aren’t doing anything about it. Bad Ass decides to take action.

This film is pretty conscious of it’s goals and if you are not going along with the kitsch of it, you simply will not enjoy Bad Ass. Danny Trejo is currently 68. So you are not exactly getting well-choreographed fights, and it doesn’t need it. The whole crux of how this film works is seeing dummies mess with Trejo and getting their asses kicked because he has a mean ass looking face and can beat your lunch out of you. These dummies don’t know what they’re messing with till it’s too late. I laughed throughout consistently. It’s funny to know that this story was based on a real incident.

There are a few subplots and sequences that feel inserted to prolong the length of the movie. It could have been a lot shorter. The subplot where Frank romances his neighbor Amber (played by Joyful Drake) is a bit ridiculous but I found myself going along with it. I can’t say any of this was good by any means. There seems to be no point to get mad at it. It’d be like going to The Expendables and walking out feeling mad because it was all about the action. If you’re watching this, you most likely know what you’re in for.

I cannot help but compare this to Robert Rodriguez’s Machete. I enjoyed Bad Ass for the same reason I did not enjoy Machete. One of the major problems I had with was that Machete, while appearing like a bad ass protagonist, had nothing to do in his own movie. Bad Ass as a character is much more likable, the story gives you a lot of reason to empathize and root for him. Frank Vega is actually trying most of the time to avoid a fight, but is very unfortunate because he lives in a bad neighborhood full of people who want start trouble. He beats them up  and then thanks them politely afterwards for their help with a straight face. Yes, Bad Ass has much more to do in his own movie than Machete.

Mainly, Danny Trejo is character actor with an engaging presence and it’s nice to see him play a nice guy with a huge goddamn beard. Charles S. Dutton is also hilarious as the over-the-top villain Panther, I would never have pictured him playing a role like that. See? Everybody seems to be having fun here. I do not see why I shouldn’t. A fun rental for sure.