Saturday, August 17, 2013

Pacific Rim

I've been raving about Pacific Rim since I saw it opening weekend, and didn't realize I hadn't yet written about it.

It's a fantastic, big-robots versus giant monster film, has the requisite Guillermo Del Toro visual panache, and is a needed film.


I avoid reviews before movies, but I remember after seeing them movie hearing a phrase from one reviewer who said, "This is exactly the kind of movie we need" -- And that resonated with me.

I don't know what his/her meaning was, but for me, movie going has changed for the (far) worse over the years. Theaters not being competitive (not running their establishments like a business), spoilers rampant and tough to avoid on social media streams before the movie even comes out, disrespect and distraction from audience members during a showing, etc.

(Thank goodness for Alamo Drafthouse.)

But then Pacific Rim comes out.

It's a movie meant to be seen in the theater, and it drove people to the theater. It's a genre film, and that genre is "anime mecha" (cartoon giant robots). And it delivered a live-action version of that genre in a brilliant way that pulled in the Neon Genesis Evangelion crowd, and the crowd for which that esoteric franchise isn't accessible or attractive.

It pulled off tropes from Japanese action cartoons in a live-action film, and did so not only believably, but in a way that made people cheer out loud in theaters.

Charlie Hunnam as the lead is solid. Charlie Day is engaging as not over-the-top comedy relief. Rinko Kikuchi is empathy-grabbing without being maudlin -- I would love love love to see a Breakfast at Tiffany's remake with her as Holly Golightly, or My Fair Lady with Ms. Kikuchi as Eliza Doolittle. (Give me a moment.)

And  Idris Elba? Totally sells cancelling the apocalypse. Every time.

It's a fun film to see in digital 2D. And IMAX. And D-Box. Multiple times.

(And I'm hopeful for a director's cut with tons of extras.)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The End of Love

I finally got to watch Mark Webber's The End of Love, which is one of the more beautiful, brutally painful things I've seen in a while.

It's such a delicate, raw film, and I don't want to give anything away. Think of it as a documentary-style, slice-of-life fictional vignette.

Here's the modified logline (since the full version I think gives too much away):
A struggling actor is forced to grapple with his inability to grow up as he tries to raise his two-year-old son alone.
It's a dramatic film -- But not full of drama. It's that real kind of living drama, where each of us are just surviving day in and day out, desperately trying to do a good job with the important stuff we're supposed to do a good job with and not mess up, but messing it up. And dealing with that.

It's a relational film between Mark and his in-movie (and real-life) toddler son, Isaac, and showcases single fatherhood in Los Angeles as Mark (as a working actor) tries to get gigs, pay the bills, and all the while spend time with Isaac.

To be fair, it may not resonate with people like it did with me. I'm an actor. I'm a dad of a toddler son. I desperately love my family (and love being with them). I don't want anything to happen to them. And I worked in an aquarium shop. (But that last one is a real minor thing. But it did ground it for me a bit.)

And, for a few moments in time, I lived through a horrible loss that was -- in those few moments -- permanent.

It's a really good movie. More indie than mainstream, though you might recognize talent like Michael CeraAmanda Seyfried, and Shannyn Sossamon, who I think make generous, authentic appearances as themselves in the film.

Personally, I'd count myself lucky to be a part of a quiet, emotionally important, sleeper film like this.

(As of this writing, it's also streaming for free if you're an Amazon Prime subscriber.)

Monday, June 24, 2013

World War Z

I took my game studio to see World War Z this week, and we found it it be a solid flick. The pacing is pretty spot on, the tension doesn't let up, there are multiple instances of clever early set-up of mechanics that will matter later in the film, and for the most part, they avoid overly telegraphing events in the film.

I really enjoyed the fleshed-out family relationship Brad Pitt has with his wife and two daughters (Mireille EnosSterling Jerins, and Abigail Hargrove). There is some great stuff there creating a broader avenue for acting, higher stakes and tension in the film, and makes the film matter more at a cost and consequence level.

On the one hand, I'm hopeful this adds to the appeal of the film for those of us that have matured on genre and non-genre films, and now have kids of our own. On the other hand, I worry the familial stuff won't resonate with the stereotypical "unmarried male with no kids" demographic -- "I liked the film, but that family stuff really got in the way of the action."

The other reason the film resonated so well with me is I think expectations for the film were justifiably low.

Let's face it -- the project had a troubled history. Some of that was rights issues, and some of that is due to re-writes and re-shoots to an already-finished, supposed-to-be-holiday 2012 tentpole movie, that was so bad it needed to be moved into summer of the following year. That creates justifiable concern around the quality of a movie -- last-minute re-shoots and moving to another distribution window (or direct-to-DVD) rarely bodes well for a project.

Thankfully, World War Z survives all of that, and is a better film because of it.

Another challenge for a film like this is zombies certainly aren't passé, and since they're part of the cultural conscious, it can be tough to do something interesting with them. Without giving things away, there's a good advancement of the 28 Days / Later "fast zombie" contributions to the mythos that are well-executed, and really add to the tension and terror in the movie. And it holds onto the "shambling zombie" memes in a clever way.

Now, to be frank, in some ways, expectations for the film were unjustifiably low. A lot of that is due to a weird societal "Brad Pitt hate" -- which is stupid. Hate him because he looks amazing? Go deal with your insecurities and sense of entitlement ("he looks handsome and I don't so I hate him") elsewhere.

I was talking to a guy who "hates" Brad Pitt, and I asked him if he liked him in any of his films. He told me that while he hates him, he found him "amazing" in Inglourious Basterds, Snatch, Fight ClubTwelve Monkeys, and Se7en. That's a long list of likes for an actor this guy hates. (Personally, I find him a pretty inspiring actor for me to emulate.)

It's important to understand the movie is far different from the Max Brooks's World War Z book -- And that's fine.

I'm one of those "I want different expressions of property in different mediums" -- So as long as a treatment doesn't do things that violate core pillars of the franchise -- so what?

Sure, I have minor quibbles with the film. I'm a bit familiar with CDC and WHO practices, and even if you're not, there are some obvious efficiencies taken in the story, with some obvious artificial conveniences. The pacing is compelling enough, though, that many of these inefficiencies are only noticeable in hindsight -- a pretty good sign for a story.

Overall, World War Z (the movie) holds onto core tenets of the book, gives viewers a good (and accessible) genre-treatment, tremendously balances the expected and additional tropes around zombies, and wraps it all in a well-acted, well-executed package.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Man of Steel

I find Man of Steel to be a great, true-to-the-franchise revamp of the caped blue boy scout's movie persona.

Superman is a tough character to pull off. How do you make a god-like super being "believably unbelievably powerful" and not boring?

One piece of it is getting an actor that can pull it off.

Henry Cavill? Check. And for so many reasons.

Whether he does "as good as" or "a better job than" Christopher Reeve is academic. For many of us, "Christopher Reeve is Superman" is a reality, but that doesn't box out other people in the role. Superman and Superman II will always hold a special, carved-out and long-held place in my heart. That doesn't mean people like Cavill, Tim Daly, or even Brandon Routh don't get some space, too.

There's a visual aesthetic to Superman. There's a tapered look in everything from the "S" symbol on the chest of the hero to ... the hero's chest itself. Physically, Henry Cavill looks like Supes.

Fortunately, he acts like it, too. Cavill pulls off the conflicted, gradually informed Last Son of Krypton, pragmatically informed Only Son of Pa and Ma Kent, and adopted son to the People of Earth. That's a lot of layering for any role.

And having producer Christopher Nolan, director Zack Snyder, and writer David S. Goyer certainly pulls the package together nicely.

I actually like the gradual ties back to Clark Kent's childhood upbringing. With very true-to-real-life elementary, middle and high school, and young adult life happenings under the tutelage of Kevin Costner's Jonathan Kent and Diane Lane's Martha Kent (both are stellar portrayals). The asynchronous flashbacks -- which differ from the Richard Donner, serial childhood -- have the dual purpose of breaking up the narrative into non-boring chunks, and makes the childhood recaps more relevant to the matter at hand. I think they also resonate with people raising kids as best they can, not trying to do everything for them, and knowing we can't protect them from or prepare them for everything.

"Superman as a badass" is pulled off really well. The sheer power and destruction of some the fight scenes show the untapped power of the hero -- but also highlight one of my criticisms of the film.

"Realistically", there is no way there could be the level of destruction shown in the film without massive, massive loss of human life. Given how counter this would be to the core of the character (and that core exemplified in this treatment of him), it definitely breaks the fourth wall a bit. The recent DC Animated film, Superman vs. The Elite, actually does a good job of showing what a disregard for casualties would look like.

To be honest, I was geek-terrified for this film. Not because I was worried it would suck -- Despite a recent, decently long track record of good comic book films, I live in a place where I expect them to suck (and films like Green Lantern don't help my genre PTSD).

No, what I worried about was jacking with the core of the character. I heard complaints that Donner's 1978 Superman "was for a time", and "too patriotic and 'America and apple pie'." I was worried we'd get a darker-for-the-sake-of-darker, "we are the world", being-patriotic-is-being-insular garbage layer on top of the film.

Fortunately, not so much. And definitely not enough to pollute the film.

Other criticisms include a bit of disjointedness in the flow. This may be a casualty of wanting to get slot certain moments in, or a lack of fluidity in editing (which, to my mind, is one of the hardest parts of movie making).

The other criticisms I have are inconsistencies that I shouldn't mention, because they create spoilers. Let's just say they revolve around Superman having spent a lifetime soaking up our yellow sun's radiation, so he should have a lifetime of difference in strength and attributes, based on that.

There's also a bit much of "Cavill cacophony". He yells. Emotionally. A lot. Christopher Reeve yells once in 1978's Superman, and it is powerful, bone-chilling, and believable. I unintentionally chortled at the third Man of Steel yop.

But these are all minor quibbles. The movie is great fun as a summer action flick, a comic-book genre film, and for this comic book afficianado. It pushes the franchise forward on new legs (better, I'd argue, than DC's "New 52" reboot), and I'm looking forward to the announced Man of Steel 2.

(And a quick aside in support of the last reboot, Superman Returns. While that film had its issues, it was intentionally -- In Bryan Singer's own words -- a kind of "love letter" to the Richard Donner films, and what they meant to Singer in his life at that time. Looked through that lens, the film holds up a lot better, and in a lot of way excuses "Routh's portrayal of Christopher Reeve playing Clark Kent playing Superman".)

(And an aside aside: Patriotism is not passé. Pride and accountability in values is not insular. Both of those attitudes from faux global elitists is a prime contributor to the decline of our society. Face.)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

This Is The End

Yes, I saw This is The End. Yes, I really liked it. It's hilarious, so wrong, has nuggets of awesome, and is overall entertaining.

I judge movies like this by how long friends and stand in a parking lot laughing and recounting stuff in the movie. We were there for a while.

This is another of those tough movies to talk about without giving something away, but suffice it to say, it's a bunch of actors playing versions of themselves, in a humorous, very graphic, post-apocalyptic comedy horror movie. If you don't know a lot of the reveals, I recommend seeing the film without even looking at the IMDb -- Because the cast list itself will give away key gags in the flick.

"Main" characters are James FrancoJonah HillSeth RogenJay BaruchelDanny McBride, and Craig Robinson, but there's a potpourri of actors and actresses playing skews of themselves, to hilarious effect. I'm impressed actors can be so confident to put portrayals of themselves like this out there, because without the perceptual armor of a character out there, it feels like they're taking more of a risk with their identity.

Sounds vague and weird, and you have to see the film to get it. Especially scenes like Michael Cera's.

This is The End is a crass, over-the-line flick. And not "regular" over-the-line, but pole-vault over the line, do a little bit of naked tea-bagging, then streak back and forth over the line while laughing at things you shouldn't laugh at.

("Shouldn't" being totally subjective.)

The film's taken some flack for being "sacrilegious". And it's not easy to say it is or it isn't. Yep, there's some stuff here I could totally see people justified as saying, "You really shouldn't play with that".

On the other hand, there's some "good theology" here, and it's not buried that deep. Again, I can't say too much without giving things away, but it does some interesting stuff dealing with right versus wrong, superficial relationships, the true measure of the heart, and other stuff.

If you can't handle movies poking fun at things you're deeply, spiritually attached to, I don't recommend it. But if you're more wired along the lines of an ongoing challenge of the stuff you believe in, This is The End might be an unexpected foil for that.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

We took the entire studio to see Star Trek Into Darkness Friday.

The consensus from the team it's "great fun".

It's hard to talk about the film without spoilers (and I think it's important to avoid those spoilers), but it's enough to say the film stands on its own, is a strong successor to the previous film, and has a lot of great (and clever) nods to original series and films.

The movie is getting a little critically dinged for various reasons -- "More of the same", "predictable", "too sentimental", etc. -- None of which I agree with. (Besides, it seems like critics feel the need to be critical.)

As matter of fact, I consider Into Darkness a genre success along the lines of The Dark Night -- Not just a great genre flick, but a great film (independent of genre).

"More the same"? Sort of, if you mean, "More of the same fresh take on the Star Trek universe", or "More of J.J. Abrams's Awesome Sauce".

"Predictable"? OK, so I've got a minor beef with the big conceit I saw teased at the beginning, and then got beat over the head with a couple of other times, but outside of that, there's a difference between "predictable" and "artfully constructed".

It is Abrams, after all. From Alias to Lost to Revolution, part of his signature magic is constructing "zomigosh what now?" scenarios, and then doing something amazing inside of that.

He also gets amazing, amazing things out of actors. If anyone had other than him had picked Zachary Quinto (Hero's Siler) to be Spock, I might have been nervous (arguably unfairly). But not with Abrams at the helm. As an actor myself, I get excited by the range and language and emotion Abrams pushed from Quinto (and the challenge to which Quinto rose). Consistently, Abrams gets greatness from his team.

(And not just Abrams; I'd enjoy being on any project written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, or Damon Lindelof; and I'm sure Abrams doesn't surround himself with slouches in any production discipline.)

Additional actor-wise, Chris Pine's not just dreamy eyes -- the guy can act. His subtle and grand emoting in response to small and big things is a joy to watch. And Zoe Zaldana gives Uhura amazing range, Karl Urban is Bones McCoy, John Cho shows he's so much more than Harold & Kumar (and a ridiculously hard-working actor), Simon Pegg humbles me with his quickness and range, and Bruce Greenwood is so accessible and stately as Pike -- brilliant to watch. I'm hoping there's a director's cut showing a lot more of what Alice Eve can do; aside from the eye-candy role she serves in this film, there are teases as some real depth there.

And Benedict Cumberbatch? I was already a fan of his (thanks to "Sherlock" and otters), but he shows surprising range in this film. Can't say too much without spoilers, but he's fun to watch throughout.

Honestly, there's a point in the film where I felt emotion welling up. It wasn't about the scene in the movie -- It was this joy of a summer genre film package coming together with acting and writing and directing and genre tropes and honor to legacy and being its own thing. And doing so exquisitely.

So, yeah -- It's a recommended see.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Saw Oblivion this weekend.

I'm not going to say a lot concretely about the film, because it has some fun twists and nuances for folks who have done their best to avoid spoilers.

I definitely put it in the "very good movie" category. I was looking forward to great visuals -- especially after meeting one of the members of the visual team last week -- and the film more than delivered. The entire "futuristic ruin" aesthetic really works for me. The technology (all three kinds) are very internally cohesive, and the smooth white aesthetic in particular is pulled of well (think "TRON in the daytime", and avoiding the dirty-ish Mad Max vibe).

The scenery from Iceland and June Lake (California) are absolutely gorgeous, and make me ache for my Idaho / Montana / Wyoming stomping grounds (but not at all for Cali).

I have minor quibbles with some of the art (buildings on top of angled spires? Earth and rubble pulled up after the events that devastate the earth?) -- But they are minor quibbles, and there are fictional elements that address those quibbles. A bit.

There's much more plot and story than I expected. I got wrapped into several of the emotional threads, and they feel authentic.

There's some really nice interpersonal messiness. Relationships are messy, and I like to see filmic treatments of that messiness -- both analogous to the things we all do as we try to make this important stuff work in the real world, and allegorical treatments of relationship friction.

Actor-wise, this is one my top-3 Tom Cruise films (along with Collateral and Jack Reacher). Andrea Riseborough is wonderful in an understated, conflicted way. I would have loved to see more of Ukrainian-born Olga Kurylenko, but there is a wonderful, moving, subtle scene during a meal that shows the depth and connection of this actress. I hope there's a director's cut with more scenes from Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, because as it is, his scenes feel a little ham-fisted (but not in a Ralph Fiennes chewing up scenery in Clash of the Titans way; more like in a "scenes that build to import were edited out" way). And I could watch Morgan Freeman sit and read a phone book, so there's my bias there.

I'm also really digging Joseph Kosinski as a director. First TRON Legacy, then Oblivion, and (soon) the TRON sequel. I'm looking for more goodness from Mr. Kosinski, and hope I get to be a part of it in some way.

And for those who are fans of the graphic novel source material, this is a really a good treatment of that originating story. And kudos to Radical Publishing -- Oblivion this year, and then Hercules: Thracian Wars looks to be great fun in the movie version in 2014. Now, if I could just get a Freedom Formula movie (or make a game for it) ...

So, yes -- Oblivion is a worthwhile watch, especially in the theater. I'll probably see it a second time in IMAX,  because unlike TRON: Legacy (where the film was opened up to full-frame for 40 minutes of the movie), the entire Oblivion film was shot in full-frame, probably making digital IMAX the preferred viewing experience.