Pacific Rim Thoughts

Who doesn’t like giant robots?

If you ever watched the old Japanese movies/shows featuring Gozilla or Ultraman or other monsters fighting or generally wreaking havoc on the cities underneath them, then Pacific Rim is the movie for you.

As a kid, I thought the giant robots were the coolest thing ever. At least, until Star Wars came out.

I even owned one of these giant Shogun Warriors that came out in the late 70s (yes, I know, I’m old). While I had Raydeen, a neighborhood friend had Mazinga, and both were pretty cool. I mean, these were toys that were almost two feet tall! And, they shot rockets! (This was before the industry took shooting plastic projectiles out of toys because some kids were shooting the projectiles at each other.)

Pacific Rim, to me, is an homage to those old monster/robot fighting movies. It’s a summer popcorn movie that’s big on action and visual effects and, of course, giant monsters fighting with giant robots.

On that score, for the most part, Pacific Rim delivers big time. The monsters are massive, and there’s a bit of variety to them (although it’s never explained how, once detected, they have nicknames). The machines are equally massive. The destruction scenes are nothing short of spectacular. IMAX, natch, takes things to an even bigger scale.

The story is pretty basic. Monsters, named Kaiju, start rising from the sea and attacking coastal cities around the Pacific Ocean, causing massive amounts of damage and costing millions of lives. To combat the Kaiju, humanity combines their resources to build “monsters” of their own: Massive robots, called Jaegers. Jaegers are piloted simultaneously by two pilots who are neurally linked. The war begins, and for awhile, the Jaegers prove extremely successful.

Eventually, though, something changes. The Kaiju begin to adapt, and they begin taking out the Jaegers. Humanity’s leaders opt to look for other options and leave the Jaeger program to fend for themselves. There are no real surprises to the story; you won’t find any Oscar caliber material here. This is a movie about giant robots and monsters, remember?

One of the only downsides to the film I found is that, like Transformers, the fights occasionally zoom in so close that it’s fuzzy about what part of the monster is hitting the robot. Part of that is that most of the fights happen at night in the rain and near the shore, so both monsters and robots are at least partially submerged in water.

I’m sure part of the decision to bring things in close is to make the audience feel like part of the action. It’s a little disappointing though to not see a few wider shots though, to get a bigger perspective that the robot and monster are tearing up a city while they’re fighting. It also seems strange that the Kaiju have ranged attacks but the Jaegers do not (or at least, don’t seem to use them).

There were a couple of minor things that bothered me, but they start getting into taking apart the plot. Pacific Rim is one of those movies where you shouldn’t get lost in the details of the plot because they will hurt your head.

Pacific Rim is a great summer action popcorn movie. It’s long on action and visual effects and short on plot, which, when it comes to giant monsters fighting giant robots, is just the way we like it.

Star Trek: Into Darkness Review

The challenge with saying anything about Star Trek Into Darkness is to say anything about it without giving away any spoilers. 

Overall, I think if you look at the movie with the re-boot of the series in 2009, Into Darkness is a great summer action movie. The movies capture the spirit of the characters in the original series and re-creates the dynamics (and creates some new ones) between the main characters.

It was cool to see Uhura get something to do in the movie, but it would be nice to see a woman with more of a commanding role in one of these films. I think it would be fun to have Kirk have to deal with a female captain that’s almost a mirror reflection of himself. 

Benedict Cumberbatch was a great addition to the movie cast as well. I thought he was excellent in the BBC’s recent Sherlock series, and he’s a great presence in this movie. 

The story, though, is still part of the re-boot, and this one focuses on building the friendship between Kirk and Spock. It also calls to question whether Kirk is really ready for the responsibility of “the chair” – being captain of Starfleet’s flagship vessel. 

Although fascinating, seeing the “origin” part of that story between Kirk and Spock is a bit hard to imagine. If you’ve been any fan of the Star Trek series at all, these characters and their relationships have long been established in our heads. 

Yes, the movie has a few glitches (technical and story-wise) and one scene you may either really enjoy or find super cringeworthy (I fell into the latter group). For the most part, they aren’t a major distraction to the overall story.

Die-hard Trek fans may pick apart aspects of the story and the technology with regards to how things don’t fit in with the original canon. I can easily understand how that can be disturbing to fans. I used to watch Smallville and had to spend a lot of time just shaking my head as the show’s producers played drastically fast and loose with Superman’s canon. 

If there’s one nagging thing that still bugs me in these new Trek films is all the freakin’ lens flare. To heck with 3D or IMAX or whatever, let me pay for a version of the movie with 70% less flare. 

But, here’s the interesting perspective that I read about – and it may or may not help you going into the movie.

Remember – this is a continuation of the 2009 re-boot of the Star Trek movie universe. That movie involved a time-travel plot, and because of the actions in the first movie, the timeline for this version of Star Trek has and will continue to change as repercussions from elements of history changing in the previous movie.

Basically – This ain’t your father’s Star Trek. It’s hard, but try to set aside the history  from the original TV series and original movies before you see Into Darkness.

I didn’t do that, and it kind of affected my perspective on the movie.

I’ll have to go see it again with that in mind now to see if I enjoy the movie more with that in mind.

Bottom line. Give Into Darkness a chance. It’s a very entertaining movie.

Disneyfying-Star Wars Part Two

Ok,
After reading this post by Harry Knowles of AintItCoolNews, I’m feeling a bit less pessimistic about Disney owning Star Wars.
Harry Chimes in on Star Wars
My biggest fear is that they’ll stay the course like Lucas did with the first three films and try to specifically target an 8-to-10-year-old audience.
(Of course, strangely, Lucas says he was targeting that age group, but the plot – what plot there was – really didn’t play to that age group)
The other concern was that Disney would take some of their Disney TV shows and churn out a bunch of kid-friendly shows set in the Star Wars universe. For example, they have a “sitcom” about a bunch of kids studying karate. Take that same show, cast them as padawans, put them in the Star Wars universe, and BAM! – new show!
But…
If Disney takes a more open-minded approach and opens up the Star Wars universe to both family-friendly content and more “grown-up” content, then there could be some potential for some very cool stuff. It’s certainly something Lucas would have never done.
It will be interesting to see regardless.

Disney-fying Star Wars

So, ol’ George has finally admitted defeat…
He’s finally gotten tired of finding new ways to milk more money out of the Star Wars franchise.
So, let’s sell it off to the one corporate entity who is even better than Lucas at licensing the crap out of their creations and putting them on anything and everything…
Disney!!!
Last week’s announcement was shocking enough – that Lucas was selling Lucasfilm to Disney. Then, they also announce that they’re going to kick things off by releasing a new Star Wars movie (Episode 7) in 2015.
Ugh…
I’m dreading what Disney will do with the series. On the one hand, Lucas will only be a “creative consultant” on the new films, and NOT writing or directing the films.
So, there’s a chance they won’t completely suck.
On the other hand… It’s Disney, and I’ve seen enough of the bad television shows that my nieces and nephew watch on the Disney channel to dread what they could do with the series. It seems to me like – because it’s Disney, and they lean heavily towards family-oriented fare – that any darker tones of the story would be limited if not completely filtered out. That means no “Empire” type of movie, and there would definitely not be any execution of “younglings.”
Episode 7 implies that they’re going to pick up the story where things left off at the end of Return of the Jedi (otherwise they could have just said a “7th Star Wars movie”).
The biggest challenge there will be where to pick things up. Will they borrow from the existing canon like the Heir to the Empire books? Did Lucas remember writing rough outlines or notes about the last three films that he keeps saying never existed?
The other problem – The cast. They’ll more than likely have to re-cast the roles of the major characters (Han, Luke, Leia, etc). Hopefully they won’t pull some type of “generations” type of movie (re: Star Trek).
After seeing what Lucas did with the second set of films, I personally would rather they would just let it go.
Or, if they must make a new Star Wars movie, go back to the Old Republic days and make a film with a completely new cast of characters.
Let the story of Luke Skywalker and friends end with Return of the Jedi.

The Dark Knight (Mostly) Rises

(Note: Although I was at one of the marathon Batman screenings on Thursday evening, I didn’t learn about the tragedy in Aurora until late Friday morning.  My deepest sympathies go out to the families of those who lost their lives.)

 

I went into The Dark Knight Rises with medium hopes. I’d hoped it would be a very good movie, and it would be a brilliant ending to a great movie trilogy. I really didn’t expect the movie to complete with The Dark Knight. 

Getting a chance to see The Dark Knight just before the midnight showing did nothing to change my mind. 

Is “Rises” a good movie? Yes, it’s a very good albeit very long movie. For me, though, it could have been better. 

I’m not going into a rant here about what I didn’t like about the story because I don’t want to give away aspects of the movie. Also, this would become a novel instead of a post.

What worked in the movie? 

Christian Bale is still great as Batman/Bruce Wayne. Michael Caine has some great moments as Alfred.

I was actually surprised by Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman. I think she did a great job even though I’m not entirely sure why the character was in the movie.

Even with the voice cleanup, there were still moments where I wasn’t entirely sure what Tom Hardy’s Bane was saying. I was pretty “meh” about Bane in the movie. I understood why they picked him as the villain, but I also knew it was very unlikely anyone who played any villain in this movie would surpass Heath Ledger’s legendary Joker in the Dark Knight.

Ok. I will say this. I swear I’ve seen that mask of Bane’s from somewhere before.

Try to sit through the entire 2 hours and 45 minutes without wanting Bane to say “Luke, I am your father.” 

For me, there were more than a few holes in the story. There were a few “Wait, what?” moments as well, and I think they could have been more daring at the ending (but wasn’t surprised they didn’t go there).

There was also one name uttered near the very end that made me cringe. 

Then again, I’m a reader of the Batman comics and I’m more familiar with how things played out in the comics. There were some bad points in the comics, too, but overall, it was a very good series.

My verdict? Go see it. It’s a very good movie that wraps up the trilogy decently, just not brilliantly. 

 

The Hunger Games – Pretty Good

The Hunger Games is a faithful adaptation of the book, and despite the comparisons to the Twilight series, the main characters are teenagers, and there’s are hints of teen romance, this movie has plenty of action (and thankfully, no sparking vampires) to keep audiences enthralled for the almost-too-quick two hour length of the film.

If you haven’t read the books, the story is pretty straightforward. In the “future,” the country Panem (a country where the current countries of North America once existed), is divided into twelve districts. After a rebellion was crushed by the Capitol, the Capitol, now in complete control of the districts, declared that each year, all districts would select one boy and one girl aged 12-18 to participate in a competition. The competition would be a televised fight to the death, and the winner would return to his or her district showered with riches and crowed winner of the Hunger Games.

The main character, Katniss Everdeen, volunteers to participate in the games when her younger sister is selected. From there, she is rushed into a completely different world. We see in the opening moments that the citizens of District 12 live in poverty, and it’s not until we see Katniss board the train to the Capitol that we see there’s a drastic contrast between her livelihood and the absolute rich decadence that residents of the Capitol enjoy.

The movie stays pretty close to the book here, sending the tributes to the Capitol where they are primped and put on display for the entire country. They are provided some training, and then they are placed into the arena for the games. You might be reminded of the movie The Running Man, and you wouldn’t be wrong. There are a some similarities between the two movies when it comes to the game.

It seems that the movie is in almost too much of a rush to get to the games. The characters are quickly gathered, allowed to say goodbyes, get to the Capitol, rush through training to get into the arena. It seems like because this section is rushed that some of the nuances of strategy of playing the games are lost.

The action in the game itself flows very quickly. The movie does a great job of conveying the extraordinary aspects of the arena, how much control the “game master” has over it, and how much detail is captured and televised to audiences. One of the more heart-wrenching scenes in the book is done incredibly well.

There is a decent amount of action in the movie, and the pace seems to be pretty good. I thought they didn’t go too over-the-top with the gore factor. Remember, these are teenagers killing teenagers in a fight to the death, so the PG-13 rating is warranted.

We learn that part of the strategy for the the tributes from district 12, Katniss and Peeta, is to play the role of “star-crossed lovers.” The goal is to get audiences interested in the fates of the pair, so that “sponsors” can be found. Sponsors, we learn, can send help in the middle of the games when the players are in desperate need of aid to continue playing.

But, the movie skips over much of this development between the two characters. I think a lot of this was in part to avoid the “cheesiness” of the Twilight movies, but I think the director missed the point. The “romance” scenes here help develop the relationship between the two characters and the audience (both the actual audience and the “games” audience). Knowing that playing the “romance factor” up is a game strategy, the book leaves the readers wondering how much is Katniss “pretending” or how much does she really have feelings for Peeta. Because we don’t know who is sincere or who is just putting on a good show, the cheesiness of the romance in this story works.

Without that buildup, though, the later scenes in the movie feel awkward and forced. In fact, once the Hunger Games are over, the movie quickly wraps things up, ignoring some of the fallout of the ending. It still leaves the movie open for sequels, which, considering the Hunger Games is a trilogy of books and considering Hollywood’s general lack of originality, will almost certainly be made.

I suspect that many will not approve of Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Katniss, but I think she did an excellent job staying true to the character. Lawrence is tough when she needs to be, but she can be gentile and nurturing as well. The male leads are mostly forgettable, but Woody Harrelson does a great job of playing their drunken mentor, Haymitch. In fact, I think he’s given a couple of extra scenes that were not in the book, which helps expand on the overall barbaric absurdity of the games. Also, you may not recognize him without his trademark shades, but rocker Lenny Kravitz has a small role in the film as Katniss’ lead stylist, Cinna.

Even without the lack of romance, the movie is a very good adaption of the novel. Unfortunately, as much as the director stayed true to the story, some of the more subtle tones of the book were lost. It seems like there was a concern to distance this movie from the Twilight franchise, and there wasn’t enough faith in the material in the book to accomplish that. However, I think they could have spent a little more time, especially at the end to expand on what happened after the conclusion of the games, and to build up the relationship between Katniss and Peeta. Without these, the movie still succeeds as an action/drama of a bit of a different nature, and I have no doubt we’ll be seeing more of Katniss Everdeen in the inevitable sequels.

Han Shot First (aka The Madness of King George)

Last week, there was a great disturbance in the geek world. Millions of voices suddenly cried out in anguish, and were silenced.

George Lucas had done it again.

Continuing his revisionist history of his own films, Lucas announced last week that he had always intended that Greedo shot first in that pivotal scene between Han Solo and the bounty hunter in the original Star Wars.

Star Wars fans everywhere, of course, went ballistic. I saw a number of stories that came out over the next couple of days showing “proof” that no, no, Lucas was wrong. Han shot first.

Honestly, though, this has been brewing since the “Special Edition” came out in the late 90s. It’s even spawned a couple of “Han Shot First” t-shirts.

Most Star Wars fans have seen the clips. The original version of the movie clearly shows Han shooting first. Lucas, not happy with this, tried to tweak it in the “Special Edition” of Star Wars in the 90s. The updated version shows Greedo shooting first, with a badly edited image of Solo jerking his head to the side, then returning fire.

But in the end, why does it matter?

Yes, it takes away some of the initial “unscrupulous” tones that defines Han Solo in those first scenes. Those of us who have seen and/or own the original movies can enjoy the movie the way we remember it. At least, we can enjoy it until Lucas seeks and destroys every last copy of the original movie.

But, in the end, Han Solo is still a smuggler, and he’s still a mercenary. Even with the scene altered in the Special Editions, the story of Han Solo over the course of the three movies is unchanged. He’s still a scoundrel in the beginning. He’s still a hero in the end. He still gets the girl in the end.

Give the man credit. The original Star Wars movies created a universe that captured and continues to capture the imagination of millions over the last 30 plus years. The universe spawned six movies, numerous video games (including the current big MMORPG – The Old Republic), a cartoon series, and dozens of books.

I have no idea why Lucas continues to tweak the original movies and is now content to sit back and lash out at his fans over the universe that he created.  It sucks that he seems to feel the need to change what’s already been done. It makes me think of Michelangelo taking a look at his statue of David and deciding the statue “really need some pants.”

As we all have seen, the second trilogy of movies were simply not the same. Lucas had full control over these movies, and there was simply no one there to provide any opposing viewpoints to any aspect of the story.

I could go into detail, but I think there’s a set of videos that cover it very well.

You have to get over the serial killer “it puts the lotion in the basket” voice of the narrator, but the epic Phantom Menace review along with his equally long reviews of the sequels by RedLetterMedia are worth watching. He picks apart the movies in great detail.

Red Letter Media – The Phantom Menace Review – Part 1

Warning: There are seven parts to this review, roughly 70 minutes total.

Even better, if Lucas tampering with Star Was wasn’t bad enough, Red Letter Media has an equally great review about the last Indiana Jones film.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review

Even if you have to sit down and watch these videos one part at a time, they’re great to watch. If you’ve ever wanted to learn something about writing a story, these videos go into great detail about what’s wrong with the story in all of these movies.

The best news about Lucas that Star Wars fans can find solace in is that he’s talking about retiring from making movies altogether. Since fans continue to bash the last three movies (Episodes 1-3), he’s not going to bother to make the last trilogy (Episodes 7-9).

I think most Star Wars fans can live with that.

 

Iron Man trailer

While I admit, there’s still a halfway decent chance that the overall movie may end up sucking, this trailer is pretty cool.
Iron Man Trailer
It shows us a couple of things:

  • Robert Downey Jr. is perfect as Tony Stark.
  • The final Iron Man suit looks pretty cool.
  • They got the “perfect” track for the trailer – and hopefully will be used in the movie.

Not familiar with Iron Man? Well, imagine taking Bruce Wayne (aka Batman), and instead of spending a lifetime of learning fighting skills, forensics, detective work, etc, and have him build a super suit to use while fighting crime. Yeah, the origin is a bit different, but you still end up with a normal guy using a high tech suit to fight the bad guys.
Course, Marvel, years ago, came up with a story line where Stark was an alcoholic and lost everything to the disease. This is why Marvel characters, as a general of thumb (with the exception of Batman) will always be better than DC characters. Marvel likes to mess with the lives of their characters.
Anyway, take a look at the trailer. It’s pretty spiffy.

X-Men 3: The Last Dump

No, that’s not a typo in the title, that sums up my feelings about X-Men 3. If you’re just looking for a decent summer blockbuster/action flick, then you may enjoy it. But, if you are a fan of the comic book, then you’ll be better off sitting at home and watching the first two movies on DVD.
The movie has a lot of issues, the primary one being what story to focus on. For some reason that I don’t pretend to understand, the rumor has long been that this X-Men movie would be the last. Why on earth any studio would let go of a franchise that they could easily milk for another 10 or so movies (and since there are 20-something Bond movies, 9-10 Star Trek movies, and 6 Star Wars movies, its not unheard of) — especially considering any script writer for the series has 40 or so years of comic books to draw from — boggles my mind. Maybe they wanted to end on a high note?
Maybe they should wait till X-Men 4 for that…
A couple of significant events happened between X-2 and X-3 that I think had a major impact. 1) Bryan Singer, the creative force behind the first two movies, jumped ship to work on another comic book movie — Superman. 2) Singer is replaced with Brett Rattner, who did the Rush Hour movies. 3) A new X-comic came out in 2005 by Joss Whedon ( of Buffy the Vampire and Firefly/Serenity fame ) with a very compelling story about a cure for the mutant gene.
There are enough X-Men storylines, including Whedon’s, that would make a great movie and potentially be an excellent way to end the movie series. Singer hinted at the end of X-2 that we might see the Phoenix saga.
For those of you playing at home, the Phoenix saga centers around Jean Grey/Marvel Girl. She has the combined powers of telekinesis and telepathy, and is one of the most powerful mutants ever. Followng the classic concept of power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, Jean Grey is seduced/deceived by a villan, which inadvertantly unlocks her true potential. She goes nuts, and turns evil, and her teammates have to stop her.
There are a couple of variations from the original story, but in the end of the original, she pays for her crimes with her life.
Anyway, I digress. The Phoenix saga is regarded as one of the best X-Men storylines in its history. So, it would have been a great story to do in X-3.
But, somewhere along the line, someone decided that if one of these stories are great, then if we combine three of them together in the same movie, it’d be absolutely spectacular!!! Lets mix the mutant gene story with Phoenix, and oh yeah, let’s have Magneto threaten mankind again. That would make an uber story that would make the fanboys thrilled to see all three stories in the same movie.
At least, in theory…
The reality is that X-3 becomes a movie that bounces back and forth between three separate stories, making it feel disjointed. It also feels as if they primary focus is the grand battle at the end, and everything leading up to it is simply there to throw enough of a back story in front of you before moving you along to the next stop on the express train to the end of the movie.
The movie has some good action sequences, and it does introduce us to some more of the main X-Men. Kelsey Grammer is an excellent choice as Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast, and the girl that plays Kitty Pryde doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but she looks exactly like her comic book counterpart.
There are a lot of ‘deaths’ in the movie, a couple are not surprising, but the others are. One of the characters is killed off simply to show us that another character has ‘gone bad.’
But the mixture of the stories never really takes hold. The movie follows one story for a while, then swtiches to the next, then goes to the third. In the end, two of the stories are wrapped up, and then the movie goes into ‘oh yeah’ mode, remembering at the last minute that there’s still this other issue to resolve.
Realy, what they should have done was forget about only doing three movies. They should have spent this one doing the Phoenix saga, and then use X-4 to cover the mutant ‘cure’ story. Both would have made excellent movies in their own right.
Instead, we get the mess that is X-Men: the Last Stand. I’d blame it on Rattner, but I don’t think he did a bad job with the movie. The movie was in trouble long before he got on board.
But, it’s clear that the movie was created by someone who wasn’t a fan.
To me, it’s the most challenging thing about making a comic book movie, and why some of them work while others not.
Spider-Man (1 & 2 & probably 3), X-Men (1 & 2) and Batman Begins were all excellent movies because the directors behind the movies were all fans of the comics. They work dilligently to preserve these characters when they make the leap from the comic book page to the screen.
All of the other movies don’t work for any number of reasons, but one of the main ones has to do with directors having no background or personal interest in the characters. Just look at some of the other comic book movies — Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Elektra, Hellboy, Hulk, Constantine, etc.
Maybe the studio will change its mind and do an X-4. I’d hate to see the series end with this one.

Harry Potter is my Homeboy?

FYI,
In case you haven’t heard, the newest Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire trailer can be found here:
Goblet of Fire trailer
I saw this today, and the trailer looks great! What really bugged me wasn’t the trailer, but it was the title of the column next to the trailer; the one entitled “Harry’s Homies.”
Harry's Homies
Oh come on now people! While time will tell whether or not Harry Potter will go down in history as classic literature, calling Harry’s friends his “homies” makes as much sense as putting a story out there about Lord of the Rings and refering to the Fellowship of the Ring as “Frodo’s Homies.”
Dictionary.com lists the following synonyms for “friend”:
acquaintance, ally, alter ego, amigo, associate, bedfellow, blocker, boon companion, bosom buddy, brother, buddy, chum, classmate, cohort, colleague, companion, compatriot, comrade, confrere, consort, countryman, cousin, crony, familiar, fellow, intimate, kissing cousin, little brother, main man, main squeeze, mate, other self, pal, partner, playmate, roommate, schoolmate, sidekick, sister, soul mate, spare, well-wisher
Ok, maybe “soul mate” doesn’t really fit in, but still, there are plenty of other words to use. I know someone was trying to be really clever and trendy by using “homie,” but if they really wanted to be clever, why not use British slang like “mate” or something? Rowling uses a lot of British slang in the UK versions of the book.
What’s next? Will Harry walk into the Gryffindor common room in the Goblet of Fire movie and say “wassup?”