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Movie review: Pacific Rim

I haven't blogged in a while because my day job has been crazy and I haven't had the brain power. I thought that my first blog post when I found my brain again would be about Au Contraire 2, the convention I attended the other week, but then I saw Pacific Rim. I have a lot of thoughts to dump regarding Pacific Rim, so I thought the Au Contraire post could wait a little longer.


When I first heard about Pacific Rim, I wasn't particularly excited to see it. As a former anime fan I've seen my share of mecha stories, and for me the trope was somewhat tired and worn. But then I heard that Guillermo del Toro was the director. He's one of my favourite directors, so my interest was piqued. Then the trailers started coming out, and as I learned that these robots (Jaegers) have two neurally linked pilots, well, all of a sudden I really wanted to see the movie.

I should have realised earlier how much I would love Pacific Rim. I am the one who gets obsessed with movie soundtracks and sees the small gestures, the visual symbols. Therefore I am pretty much the ideal audience for anything directed by Guillermo del Toro, including giant robots and monsters, despite the fact that my demographic would suggest otherwise.

So, how was the movie?

First, the not so good things

There are a few poor reviews of Pacific Rim floating around, mostly complaining about the script and concept. Yes, the script is so-so, the science is flaky, and some of the characters are annoying (particularly the campy scientists). The names of the characters and Jaegers were also a bit cringing. Yes it is cheesy, but it is supposed to be cheesy. This movie is a love letter to a lot of other media products, some of them B-grade. I think the silly names were necessary; they were an important part of the feeling and spectacle of the movie.

Now some great things

  • The special effects were simply awesome. First-rate stuff.
  • The soundtrack is amazing (I'm listening to it right now, and I had the title track on repeat at the gym yesterday).
  • The use of colour is awe-inspiring. This is something del Toro is a master of. (I will speak about colour a lot in this review).

del Toro made full use of all the elements available to him as a director to pack a lot of heart into sequences that were very sparse on quality dialogue. One sequence that particularly struck me was the prologue section in Anchorage.

Case study: My thoughts on the opening sequence and how I got teary

The Jaegers and the Jaeger pilots were introduced in a sequence that showed Raleigh and Yancey Beckett suiting up and preparing to fight a kaiju. This sequence was perfectly put together and made me, I kid you not, cry at the grandeur. The title music, heavy on the drums and electric guitar, played as these two young, swaggering men suited up and strode to the pilot area of their Jaeger. Electronic strains kicked in as the technology of the Jaeger was shown on screen. The colour palette of the sequence was golds, bronze, and red, reflecting youthful optimism and surety, and echoing the colour of their Jaeger Gypsy Danger's nuclear engine (her heart). As Gypsy Danger's head dropped into place and the orchestra came into the music, I teared up while grinning like a loon. In a single minute of perfectly sculpted movie magic, I was fully caught up in Gypsy and her pilots' story.

For some people the Jaegers or the Kaiju will be the best part of Pacific Rim, but I am always interested in characters first.

Best thing of all about Pacific Rim for me

For me, the best thing about this movie is the Drift, the neural connection between the dual Jaeger pilots. This single concept has taken an otherwise tired, used-to-death trope (mecha with human pilots) and made it sparkling new. There is so much potential in the psychological exploration of the link between pilots and the sharing of their memories. Many examples of this link are given in the movie: siblings, father and son, husband and wife, and in Raleigh and Mako the "OMG where have you been all my life" instant connection.

Is there romance in Pacific Rim? Not such an easy question

Something I've noticed is that some people see a romance in the movie and some people don't. What particularly struck me is that the people who don't see a romance are those who don't want to anyway. The ambiguous way it has been set up, people see what they want to see, which is a wonderful way of respecting the movie's audience.

I personally think there could be a romance, or there could not. They certainly have an instant connection, which could be the beginning of love, but not necessarily. Either way, it is not our business. It is their business only. The characters keep it to themselves, which ties tightly into the motif throughout the movie of how Jaeger pilots don't need to discuss their issues because they already understand fully what each other are thinking. Mako and Raleigh don't kiss like they would have if someone else had made the movie (although the fight scene was sparky enough alone, as was the hug at the end). They don't have some sappy talk about their feelings. But why would they? They've Drifted. This theme is explained by two other characters (the father and son) who talk about how you don't need to talk in the Drift. They already know what each other thinks. Raleigh and Mako's first little sparks of possible romance are told in a few looks, but they are all that is needed. And that tells a story about the most important part of human interactions. It isn't sex. It is those looks. Those deep understandings. And that's an important message.

My favourite Jaeger

An important part of the Pacific Rim experience is choosing one's favourite Jaeger. Fan communities have sprung up online based around the Jaegers and their pilots, none so invested as the Cherno Alpha fans, who are a vocal lot indeed.

At first I liked Crimson Typhoon, because it is shiny and unique, but on reflection my favourite Jaeger is Gypsy Danger (even though I don't like the name. Er, racial slur, much?).

Why do I like Gypsy Danger? And here is where I get to talk about Guillermo del Toro's use of colour. I love, love, love the colour scheme of Gypsy Danger and how it reflects both the two main characters and the thematic thrust of the whole movie.

Gypsy's hull is blue-gray iron, strongly reflecting Mako Mori's colour palette, the palette that in turn reflects her memories of Onibaba's attack on Tokyo. Gypsy's nuclear heart glows orange-red like the lighting and colour palette of the prologue when we see Raleigh and Yancey, confident and cocky as they suit up to ride Gypsy.

The blue and glowing red heart together reflect several things at once:
  • Child-Mako clutching her red shoe to her chest over her blue coat and looking up in wonder at Stacker Pentecost exiting Coyote Tango.
  • The kaiju world, which is lit in blue, except for the fat, soon-to-go-nova red sun in the sky.
  • The dark emotional pain cloaking both Mako and Raleigh, and hiding their heroic, strong-willed and passionate hearts.
  • That in amongst darkness, if the heart (togetherness) glows bright, there is hope.
Plus: chain sword FTW.

In summary:

I think this may be my favourite movie ever. Seriously. Yes, it is a movie about robots punching monsters in the face. And whacking them with oil tankers. But it is perfectly crafted for the genre, does what it says on the tin, and is exactly the right size in regards to storyline and theme to satisfy an audience. I want to see it again.

(A spoilery note follows the jump)

Current progress on Reality Shifting:

Listening To

Pacific Rim soundtrack

A (spoilery) note

Something toward the end of the movie struck me in its attention to detail. Throughout the movie, Raleigh, Mako and Pentecost often speak Japanese and their words are subtitled into English. But near the end, just before the payload is detonated, Mako yells something in Japanese which is not subbed. She yells "Sensei, ai shiteimasu" (Sensei, I love you).

After the movie finished I wondered why it wasn't subbed, and I think I've figured it out. The lack of subs fits with how Raleigh, Mako and Pentecost used Japanese to have private conversations in public. Mako is hiding an important part of the story in plain sight, in a way that isn't understandable by most of the audience. We knew she loved him, idolised him, but she probably never told him. At the end, she had to express those feelings, but still, she wanted to keep that moment private. I think that is a lovely detail.


Movie review: The Dark Knight Rises

Last night we finally went to see The Dark Knight Rises. I've been looking forward to seeing this movie ever since I saw The Dark Knight. However, I have to say, The Dark Knight Rises is not as good as The Dark Knight. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy it, because I did. But it didn't live up to the promise of the previous movie.

  • The musical score was good compared with other movie scores, but not as good at the one for The Dark Knight, which is a particular favourite of mine.
  • Seeing Bruce Wayne as a pale shade of his former self was powerful to watch, but it did not compare to the anguish he went through at the hands of Harvey Dent in the previous movie.
  • The 'surprises' in The Dark Knight Rises were easy to see coming. In fact, one of the surprises I picked long before I saw the movie, purely because of the casting.

But it is a good movie, and worthwhile seeing at the cinema if you enjoyed the first two in the trilogy. The actors all gave excellent performances (even Anne Hathaway – I was worried she wouldn't be right for the role of catwoman, but she convinced me). And there are enough explosions to keep any comic book movie fan happy.


Movie review: The Cabin in the Woods

Last week we went to see The Cabin in the Woods as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival. It's not the sort of movie I feel that I should give a full review of, because I don't want to give away too much about it. This is a movie that is best watched without prior knowledge of what to expect.

What can I say about this movie? It is a horror, directed by Joss Whedon. Stuff happens – weird stuff.

What did I think of it? Even though I don't usually watch horror movies, I enjoyed The Cabin in the Woods. I appreciated the commentary on the horror format, and on media culture in general. And that's all I'm going to say.

If you like either horror or the works of Joss Whedon, you should see this movie.


Obligatory Prometheus post

A lot of people are giving their opinions on the movie Prometheus at the moment, so I don't feel like I need to give a full review. Others have already said it better than I could. But I thought I'd share a few thoughts on the movie. In no particular order:

  • OMG why are the scientists in this movie so stupid? They don't act like real scientists at all. For example: they come across their first alien carcass. Biologist guy: 'It's creepy in here; I'm going back to the ship.' Er, excuse me? A real biologist's reaction would be 'Woohoo!' *Take ALL the samples*
  • Idris Elba? You, sir, are awesome, and I love your work. The captain was the only smart character in the movie, and therefore my favourite.
  • Why is everyone going on about Charlise Theron's arse? Am I the only one who thought Noomi Rappace had a nicer figure? That woman is fit as a fiddle, and yet not a stick insect. I envy her thighs. Also, she wields an axe like a pro.
  • I keep mulling over the character David's obsession with TE Lawrence, and the implications of that and why he did what he did. Also, creepy Michael Fassbender is creepy.
  • Charlise Theron's character was utterly pointless to the movie. Which was a shame, because I think the character could have been interesting in a different story.

Have you seen Prometheus? What did you think of it?


The Avengers

We went to see The Avengers on Saturday night. For those not yet aware (perhaps because they are under a rock, or have zero interest in superhero movies), The Avengers is an ensemble movie with The Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Black Widow teaming up to save the world. Oops, sorry, Hawk Eye was there too. The awesome thing about this particular superhero movie? It was written and directed by Joss Whedon. That's right, a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster with the man responsible for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly at the helm.

Here, in no particular order, are some of my thoughts on the movie:

  • Joss Whedon is one of the funniest scriptwriters around. This is one seriously funny movie, with many laugh-out-loud moments. And, wonders upon wonders, they weren't all in the trailer!
  • As a non-American, I don't generally identify with Captain America. But a guy lost in a totally different time period and not understanding the world he now lives in? I could almost sympathise with that guy, if he wasn't an Aryan male wearing an American flag.
  • It doesn't bother me that Thor is also of the Aryan male stereotype. Because he is a Viking, and Vikings are cool.
  • Thank you, thank you, thank you, Joss, for not making the woman be totally kick-ass right up until she suddenly wasn't and had to be saved by the male hero (Tron: Legacy, I'm looking at you in particular). Instead, Black Widow got to be kick-ass right to the end of the movie. And tricksy. So tricksy.
  • Speaking of Black Widow, I'm not a huge fan of Scarlett Johanssen, but I like her work in this movie.
  • And speaking of strong female characters, I like how the kick-ass woman is not the only example of strength in a female character in this movie. We also have the strong professional woman (the agent - I think her name is Maria?). And of course, we have Gwyneth Paltrow's rendition of Pepper Potts. In The Avengers, even though Pepper Potts has nothing even approaching a combative role, she comes across just as strong as the other women. Anyone who can manage Tony Stark so well, while simultaneously pulling most of the weight in his company, and remain true to herself while doing it (i.e. not just being the unquestioning female assistant) has some serious strength of character.
  • Despite all the examples of strong women, I'm disappointed that this Joss Whedon project technically fails the Bechdel Test. Because even though there are multiple strong female characters, they never get around to talking to one another, let alone about something other than a man. Hopefully this will be rectified in The Avengers 2.
  • Hulk? Smash!
  • Kill the Mothership and all the aliens fall down? Seriously? It was silly when it happened in Independence Day. This, and a computer virus being transmitted by arrow, were my two main problems with the plot.
  • Thor didn't visit Jane while he was on Earth! I guess Natalie Portman was too expensive to hire for a scene or two only. But, still. Thor, you naughty boy.
  • I still don't want to see the Captain America movie.
  • I can't wait to see what Joss Whedon will do with his new blockbuster-director clout. Seriously, looking at the numbers, this movie is going to be one of the biggest of all time. It will challenge Avatar. Which means that now Joss can do whatever he wants and the studios will line up to back him. To me, that is the most exciting thing about The Avengers.
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