Sunday, July 28, 2013

Fun-Filled To The Rim

One of the most visually stunning movies since Avatar, Guelermo Del Torro's Pacific Rim is fast, fun and furiously entertaining empty-headed fun.


ARTH VADER (AV): While I would credit the origin of the Giant Robot genre as being a mostly Manga (or Japanese Sci-Fi) creation, our fascination with larger than life robots dates back to the 1950s (Gort anyone?). If we can envision human beings piloting massive interstellar spaceships, then why not giant robots? This is the premise and the promise of Pacific Rim–and as a kid who couldn't get enough Gaiking, Danguard Ace, Voltron and even the Shogun Warriors back in the 1970's, this movie was highly anticipated by yours truly. Pontificator, you a 'big robots' kind of guy?

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): You know I am Vader! Pacific Rim is an original story, although there have been comparisons to Godzilla and Transformers, neither of those films encompassed the entirety of what drives this film. Yes, there are monsters that come from the sea, but they have nothing in common with Godzilla. Yes, there are giant robots, but they are vehicles piloted by humans, not sentient aliens that transform. Anyone not seeing this film, because of passed films they think are similar, is doing themselves a disservice.


AV: The only name here in this film that matter is director Guilermo del Toro and his fan boy vision of bringing the world of Pacific Rim to life. Sporting a class of largely unknowns and C-list actors, the surprising inclusion of Idris Elba, Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Charlie Day and Ron "Hellboy" Perlman make this movie's cast stronger than it would likely have been. While low marks for casting, the direction of this movie is a bit better. Anchored by del Toro's visionary monster and robot designs, this movie is a fan boy's dream-come-true.

TP: This film was cast well enough and flowed from the smooth direction. When everything is jumping out of the screen, big as life itself, it’s hard to not get swept up in the flow of the film. Add to this the talent of Charlie Hunnam as a Jaeger pilot still dealing with the loss of his brother, as he is called back to duty when the world is on the brink of annihilation, and you have some great character development to go along with all the “big.” Idris Elba was excellent. He kept the film grounded in the human will and determination to live in the face of destruction, and was able to convey this while immersing himself in the role of command, demanding respect and obedience. Rinko Kikuchi was a surprise for me and her role as the novice pilot mentally and emotionally damaged by her childhood encounter with the Kaiju complimented the tone of the film.


AV: I was squirming in my chair at how fantastic-looking this movie was, Ponty! There has been a lot of flak over this movie from critics but I think it is safe to say that this movie is visually captivating on levels I have not seen since Avatar or District 9. Pont-Man, the visual effects are some of the best Hollywood has to offer and the look and set design is seriously a leap forward. While I was NOT a fan of the 'neo-trimmer' look of the monster 'Kaiju' (from the Japanese for 'monsters'), the dark foreboding look of the film was spectacularly handled. Just look at these stills and screen captures. Breathtaking... 

TP: Outstanding! Once again, I watched this film in Imax 3D Vader, and couldn’t be more happier that I did. If I could sum this film up in one word, that word would be BIG. The Kaiju jumped off the screen and had me digging into my seat to get away from them, and although it was a relief to see a Jaeger come to the was equally daunting in size, putting everything in perspective as to the incredibly huge stakes involved. The CGI detail was simply incredible regardless if it was the Kaiju, Jaegers, or just the copious amounts of wanton destruction. Even though there was no new ground broken, it was the application of all the technology that made all the difference. Yes, we saw “giant robots” (not really) in the Transformers films, but I never thought I‘d see them done... better!


AV: This movie's price tag came busting through the dimensional portal at more than $170 million. (Insert deep breath here) No doubt about it, this was a costly gamble.

Okay, so while the vapid, almost senseless plot along with the vapid, near empty-headed dialogue does NOT help this film, Pacific Rim goes a bit deeper than pretty visual effects. As I see it, del Toro's vision of a world unified under the threat of global extinction and subjugation, the movie suggests we can all unite under one banner and have the sum be better than its parts. While the story is a bit dopey–with it's implications of a trans-dimensional alien invasion–this movie is made for someone who is ready for a good-looking, fun romp through a fantastic-looking escapist world. Pacific Rim is NOT going to win any Oscars and I am fine with that. As a life-long fan of these films, I was a little boy who couldn't get enough–and isn't that why we go to the movies anyway, Pontificator? 

TP: It is indeed Dark One. I don’t have any real criticisms with regards to acting, effects or anything of that nature. My only critical thoughts are on some of the actual actions taken in the film. It didn’t make sense to me that anyone would waste a single moment punching on a Kaiju... when you have a plasma cannon, missiles and a huge freaking sword! Granted, the pilots are mentally linked to each other and the Jaeger, so whatever their fighting style is, manifests in the Jaegers actions. This was very cool, especially when it came to  Crimson Typhoon as the three brothers piloting it were incredibly acrobatic. Giant robots are cool...giant robots flipping...? Awesome! That said, I would be using my most lethal and effective attacks very quickly to minimize the possibility of taking damage, or being killed. 

I assume all the punching was done for film purposes, but the film itself paints a very clear and solemn picture of the end of the world and once I was drawn into the zone of no hope, I was looking for it in any form I could find it. Plasma cannons and giant swords slicing Kaiju’s in half gave me hope!  I think the government bureaucracy deciding to build giant walls instead of Jaegers was spot on with how out of touch and foolish politicians can be. 

Again, none of the films being compared to this movie (Godzilla, Transformers Trilogy) even came close to conveying the imminent destruction of all life on the planet...and the desperation of all of humanity to stop that from happening. Such strong emotions made the difference.


AV: With as much polarizing fanfare as this movie has gotten, it is a fun, indulgent tryst through a fantastic world that could use more fleshing out and to be totally selfish, show me some more Jaeger (giant robot) tech to make my eyeballs pop out of their sockets. There a probably tons of people who will lose their collective minds at even the mention of a sequel, but P-Man, I say bring it on. How say you?

TP: I didn’t see any indication that there will be more to this story Vader, and honestly, it was done well enough that there doesn’t need to be. This film stands alone and I think to try and stretch or expand the story will just hurt the overall integrity of the presentation of this idea.

ARTH VADER rates Pacific Rim: The lines are drawn, you either love this movie or you despise it. There are no shoulder shrugs for this movie. If you want in-depth dialogue, scientific plausibility and an in-depth character development, this may not be the film for you. 

However, if you are looking for visually intense, fun-riddled and graphics laced with giant robots punching the snot out of big ugly, extra-dimensional monsters, then I strongly recommend Pacific Rim. For me this movie crushed eight (8) busted blocks under a 120-ton, nuclear-powered metal boot that took me back to a time when wonder and imagination mattered more than just about anything else. Ponty? 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Pacific Rim: With great special effects, great actors, a riveting end-of-the-world story, this film was truly a fun summer film in the tradition of great summer blockbusters. Giant robots are cool, and the way this idea was presented made them even cooler. Defending the Earth from giant monsters, this movie fires missiles and arms a plasma cannon to make sure it destroys eight (8) busted blocks.

Pacific Rim: 8/10 Busted Blocks

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Masked Mayhem

Disney pans for gold with the Silver horse-riding remake of the old west's iconic masked vigilante, The Lone Ranger.


ARTH VADER (AV): It has been quite some time since the legendary tales of the masked marvel of the old west appeared on the silver screen. When the Lone Ranger (TLR) was relevant, Pontificator, a new home cost $4,200, movies were still in Black and White and the 'Red Menace' was the greatest threat America had ever known. A noble gentlemen who campaigned for justice in the lawless old west, this American icon of rebellion and good, along with his Native American sidekick, Tonto, helped settle scores, bring evil men to justice and right the wrongs of the new frontier. How do you think Disney fared on re-establishing one of fantasy's original larger-than-life-heroes, Ponty? 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): I used to watch the Lone Ranger on television as a child Vader, and was always entertained by it. Admittedly, I was a fan of Tonto and thought he was cooler than the Ranger. Fast forward to today and I’ve browsed through a Lone Ranger comic book, or two. I’m not a collector of the title since there was nothing in the book that captivated me... much like the recent film. Yeah... this is going to be that type of review.


AV: Hollywood leading action front mean, Johnny Depp was cast as the mysteriously quirky Tonto, a native American shaman who befriends and allies himself with what's-his-name to right the wrongs of the west. Armie Hammer was cast of the masked man and one of my all-time favorite British actresses, Ruth Wilson, graced the screen as the love interest and rugged western woman, Rebecca Reid. Pirates of the Caribbean's Gore Verbinski, brings his visionary directing style to TLR and makes a run at bringing some new perspective to the old west. Tonto was funny, introspective, engaging and thoroughly interesting in this film that would have been more aptly named "Tonto and his pale-skinned buddy." 

TP: About the best choice for casting this film offered was William Fichtner as Butch Cavendish. I wasn’t impressed with Armie Hammer... and although Johnny Depp managed to be mildly entertaining, once they showed real Native Americans, Depp just didn’t sell anymore. I was confused about what this film was supposed to be... action? comedy? drama? It dragged on in some parts so badly that I began not to care what it was supposed to be... and realized what it was: boring.


AV: Too bad special effects, good film work and action sequences don't make for a blockbuster cause this would be one of the greats. Live action stunts, explosions-a-plenty and enough CGI to make your ten-gallon hat go five gallons flat. You could say that if this movie was only attempting to be a brainless action flick it would have succeeded. Silly, ridiculous, high-caliber fun–give or take the fun. Ponty?

TP: Ho-hum. If there were some effects in this film that were meant to impress... or even make a mild impression, then I missed the train on that one. There was no new ground broken, and no particular flare to the stuff we have already seen done a million times... and done a million times better.

AV: It is fitting that at the movie's grand finale there is a horrific train wreck because, Pontificator, that is exactly what this movie is. I don't understand the casting of Armie Hammer in the lead role. I don't understand what this movie's goal was and I certainly don't understand why this movie was more than $130 million over budget or why it was ever green-lighted in the first place. Ruth Wilson's beautiful eyes, hearing the William Tell overture and Johnny Depp's Tonto are the only reason's to EVER engage in this movie. It is too long, poorly paced and Armie Hammer's laughable portrayal is just way off as the oafish, bumbling and vaguely effeminate Lone Ranger. Even the iconic theme (William Tell overture) was oddly out of place during the movie's climax. While it had it's (mostly failed) attempts at comedy, this movie is a throw-away. 

TP: There is not much to look at here Vader. The deeper I look, the more I realize what a missed opportunity this film was. Here was a chance to make the Lone Ranger relevant again, to bring him to life for a whole new audience. This could have been done without leaving the PG-13 rating, all that was required was a little attention to detail and a bit more of a serious approach to make the audience invest some emotion into the characters. I was more interested in the villains of the film than anyone else because they were focused with a purpose and made me care about their machination... even if it was in the hopes that they would fail, with no help from the heroes.


AV: Mercy killing, Hollywood, please... just no. Please don't further harm the memory of this American icon. Maybe, just maybe, we should let the idea of any more attempts at TLR ride off into the setting sun. P-Man?

TP: They left it a little open... but I’m hoping that box office sales (or lack thereof) have convinced them to close that door... and bolt it! There is no need to subject anyone to another round of nonsense. It’s unfortunate... but this film was so bad, I’m even going to advocate for not doing a reboot, at least not until every living person on the planet that has seen this film has passed away.


ARTH VADER rates The Lone Ranger: With a 149 minute run-time, this movie feels like I am riding a horse through the desert. On the plus side, this movie will fade quickly from memory. I cannot say it was an outright bad film but you have to pan-handle pretty long and hard to sift through to something worthwhile to say. It is best to leave this one to fade away from our collective consciousness. Though I can't say I outright hated it, I lasso only 3 busted blocks for Disney's The Lone Ranger to drag behind me and my trusted steed as I gallop away into the setting western sun. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates The Lone Ranger: There have been very few films reviewed here by me that have made me wish I could get my money back as I exit the theater. This movie is proudly inducted into that elite category. Instead of shooting out four (4) busted blocks, I’d have preferred to face a firing squad than this defecation on the silver screen.

The Lone Ranger–3.5/10 Busted Blocks
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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Undead On Arrival

Brad Pitt goes toe-to-undead-toe with Zeek* in the screen adaptation of Max Brook's World War Z.


ARTH VADER (AV): The right to Max Brook's riveting journalistic accounting for tales of survival through the darkest days of the Zombie War was purchased by Actor/Producer Brad Pitt. After years of sketchy development rumors, movie audiences can now see the much-hyped World War Z. This sobering account of the fictional details of the Zombie War that ravages—and nearly consumes—the Earth, is regarded by many (myself included) as one of THE definitive fiction/horror novels on the rise, onslaught and defeat of the undead. Sadly, this movie has VERY little connection to Brook's Zombie apocalypse which I must say, is terrific. Thoughts, my friend?

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Sadly, I haven’t read the book Vader. When it comes to zombie films, this one is not as bloody as the rest, but there is a good reason why it doesn’t have to be... and still scare the beejeebus out of you. It’s fast and ruthless and does something all the other zombie films don’t. It takes out the need to consume flesh and replaces it with a need to expand. Ultimately, it makes the zombies into a pandemic that is more dangerous than ever, and forces humanity into creative biological warfare.


AV: Brad Pitt's role as the rogue journalist, Gerry Lane, is tasked to find the infamous "Patient Zero" is a solid one. I've always dug Pitt as an actor and didn't mind where this movie took the character. Portrayed as a man surviving in the midst of chaos who–along with wife, Karin Lane (Mireille enos) would do anything to protect their family are strong roles but do little to impact this movie's story. The scenes of carnage and the footage of massive Zombie devastation are impressive and alarming. The cast of characters is strong even if Pitt's mission isn't quite as defined as it could be. Director Marc Foster (Quantum of Solace, Stranger Than Fiction) does a masterful job of keeping the action and the story moving at peak intensity as the movie wastes no time jumping right in to the outbreak and the chaos that follows.  

TP: Brad Pitt continues to show us why he should get the ridiculous amounts of money they pay him. He is superb in this film, leaving behind the super heroics of Troy, and replacing them with human heroics of a father and husband trying to save his family from both the pandemic...and the necessary cruelty of what is left of humanity. Being the only A-Lister in the film was a very smart move from a production standpoint as the film carries itself and the big name of “Pitt” delivers the goods and draws the crowds. As stated earlier, the film is very fast paced and this adds to the heightened tension of the already disturbing subject matter. 

AV: Ponty, I have been watching the development of this movie for some time. This movie was almost completely re-tooled mere months before the final release. This often means movie execs were pretty underwhelmed by the original final cut. This probably meant that tons of effects footage was tabled or scrapped. What did make its way to the big screen was impressive. Watching a Zombie horde scale the Israeli fortification wall was awesome. Seeing a sea of undead "Zacks" overwhelm their defenses and run rampant was one of the film's high-marks. While their were not many 'up close and personal' Zack shots, the final sequence offers a chilling glimpse at the effects of the z-virus on a human host. High marks, wouldn't you say P-Man

TP: I would say “superb” oh Dark One. The CGI works great in the wide angle shots showing droves of infected as they swarm and engulf everything in their path. The makeup is flawless for the close shots and there really isn’t a single complaint I can make regarding the effects of this film. No new ground was broken, but that isn’t a complaint when all the effects tricks-of-the-trade are used so wisely.


AV: So here's my biggest issue. World War Z is a near brilliant literary masterpiece of modern fiction. It's format is fast moving, engaging and aptly suited for a weekly television installment-based episodic presentation. NOT a two hour movie. This movie just can't follow the book. In fact, I would argue that the only resemblance this film has to it's source material is the globe-trotting nature of the storytelling. The screenplay, while not bad by any stretch, fails to engage the viewer in the 'why' and 'how' and instead focuses on the 'what'. The action, the pacing and the characterizations all come together nicely but for me, just still miss the mark as a modern movie. 

TP: I have heard complaints about this film that seem to be centered on the failed delivery of some expectations. This is why I try very hard to go into a film as a blank slate and let the film take me where the filmmakers intended. The fact that this was not your traditional zombie film was actually a relief and I give kudos to the writer for showing us a new and interesting take on the zombie genre. All the blood associated with past films of the sort was not necessary, especially given the nature of what was actually happening. One bite was all that was needed because the goal wasn’t to consume flesh, but to spread and expand. The fact that the film was so sterile in the gore department just opened it up to an even wider audience, which I think was a good move.


AV: With the sheer volume of footage created by the 'first' cut of this film, there is plenty of content for sequels and follow-up installments. To the movie's credit, WWZ does leave us with an open-ended ending. The movie leaves us with the notation that the war isn't over, but we now have a chance. The 'solution' the film offers could easily be a temporary one that brings in a new dimension to the war. I wouldn't mind seeing more of this as the further development of the characters and the Zack infestation. I would see another WWZ installment, Pontificator, how about you? 

TP: I hear there are more films planned, and I hope there are as we are left with some unanswered questions...and a very dire picture for the future of humanity. The one aspect of the film that needs further exploration is the need for humanity to infect themselves with deadly viruses to even combat the overwhelming zombie pandemic. I’m eager to see in what undiscovered direction they can take this new twist.


ARTH VADER rates World War Z: Overall, a really well done dead vs the undead flick. Good tension, decent cast doing a decent job with a story that could have been much worse. A fair flick for the action lover, the Zombie fan and even the horror fanatics are offered a moment in the sun. The biggest drawback is that the movie attempts to link itself to a much better book that it just doesn't hold a candle to. All in all, I would say that World War Z offers up seven (7) busted blocks in the form of head shots between the eyes and I would hope for more from future installments. Ponty?

THE PONTIFICATOR rates World War Z: A very fast film with a new take on the zombie apocalypse. The ideas in the film are refreshing and the mystery unfolds nicely as the film progresses at break neck speed. They have taken that “fast” element of the zombie (introduced in 2004’s Dawn of the Dead) and taken it to new levels. With excitement around every corner and hope slipping away, this film infected seven (7) busted blocks.

World War Z – 7/10 Busted Blocks

*The terms 'Zeek', 'Zack' and 'The Z's' are all terms used in Max Brook's novel to describe the undead.
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