Monday, 22 July 2013

Pacific Rim - Review

Director: Guillermo del Toro Writers: Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro Studios: Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman Release Date (UK): 12 July 2013 Rating: 12A Runtime: 131 min

“Pacific Rim” is a mega-budgeted summer blockbuster about giant robots doing battle with giant alien monsters, and it puts Michael Bay’s “Transformers” movies to shame. Inspired by the Japanese anime franchise “Neon Genesis Evangelion” and the Godzilla and Mothra B-movies of the '50s and '60s, it imagines a near-future world in which towering bioluminescent beasties emerge from an interdimensional portal deep beneath the Pacific and kill millions upon reaching land. In an effort to deal with the growing alien threat, humanity unites and initiates the Jaeger program, in which piloted, skyscraper-sized rock-em sock-em robots are constructed to go fist-to-face with the invading “Kaijus” and rescue mankind from the impending apocalypse.

This inevitably leads to senseless, city-destroying carnage and billions of dollars-worth of property damage, but unlike in Bay’s soulless cash cows, there’s a beating heart to be found amongst the wreckage. This is to be expected from director Guillermo del Toro, the Mexican filmmaker who gave us the enchanting dark fantasy “Pan’s Labyrinth” and the giddy comic-book actioner “Hellboy.” In the sequel to that last film, 2008’s “The Golden Army,” del Toro also paid loving tribute to the creature feature genre in a surprisingly poignant scene where a newborn fifty-foot plant-creature attacks a city — upon its death, there’s not joy but sadness, as it’s revealed that the exterminated creature was the last of its kind.

It’s that same heartfelt sense of humanity that fuels “Pacific Rim,” though you won’t be shedding any tears for these big ugly brutes: loud and ferocious, insectoid and crustaceous, the Kaijus are proper movie monsters who’ll turn a city and its entire population to dust without a second’s thought. You might, however, become misty-eyed in a scene where a frightened young Japanese girl named Mako flees from an attacking Kaiju in the street and cowers teary-eyed behind a bin in an alleyway. Years later (now played by Rinko Kikuchi), she’s a rookie Jaeger pilot who joins forces with the more experienced but recently washed-up Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam), who’s been left troubled after watching his brother (and former co-pilot) die at the hands of a Kaiju. Together, they pilot one of the last remaining Jaegers and make a last-ditch effort to defeat the Kaijus once and for all when a plan is devised to destroy the portal linking their world and ours.

Fun support comes from Idris Elba, who chews scenery just as much as the Kaijus demolish it as he plays the stern head of the Jaeger program, while Charlie Day and Burn Gorman provide rib-tickling comic relief as a pair of bickering rival science geeks. But stealing the show even from the destructive Jaeger-on-Kaiju action is the unbeatable Ron Perlman, who plays the strikingly monikered Hannibal Chau, a black market trafficker of harvested Kaiju parts — not even a mountainous mecha-bot bashing gargantuan hellspawn over the head with a full-sized cargo ship, as awesome as that may be, can top Perlman’s toothy grin and grizzled growls.

This film is enormous fun, perfectly capturing the boundless, boisterous spirit of a Saturday morning cartoon show and directed with such irresistible affection and enthusiasm by del Toro that only the grumpiest of grumps will struggle to get caught up in the fun of it all. Del Toro has said in interviews that working on this project reawakened his inner 11 year old — and now, thanks to its release, “Pacific Rim” can do the same for audiences worldwide.

Rating: 8/10

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 72%
Metacritic Score: 64/100
IMDb Rating: 7.8/10

Friday, 12 July 2013

The Internship - Review

Director: Shawn Levy Writers: Jared Stern, Vince Vaughn Studios: 20th Century Fox, Regency Enterprises, Wild West Picture Show Productions, 21 Laps Entertainment, Dune Entertainment Cast: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rose Byrne, Aasif Mandvi, Max Minghella Release Date (UK): 4 July 2013 Certificate: 12A Runtime: 119 min

The glorified 120-minute Google ad “The Internship” might just be the most obscene piece of movie product placement since Ronald McDonald and a bunch of kids spontaneously danced their way through a McDonald’s restaurant in “Mac and Me” in 1988. A studio buddy comedy, it stars Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as Billy McMahon and Nick Campbell, a pair of recently out-of-work fortysomething watch salesmen who — get this, right — apply for an internship at Google. Vaughn and Wilson are good together, their comic chemistry strong, but viewers expecting another “The Wedding Crashers” will instead be greeted with the much less fun and much more cynical “The Google Pluggers.”

It’s telling that they play salesmen. All throughout the movie, Google products are name-dropped with stupefying regularity: those being Google Search, GMail, Google Maps, etc. Once accepted, Billy and Nick must complete a series of Google-centric challenges if they are to win a coveted position in the company: creating a Google app, for one, and convincing a local business to join Google’s amazing advertising system. Meanwhile, Google Headquarters, which looks to be the meeting point between a workplace and a children’s playground, is repeatedly praised as “the greatest place to work in America,” probably because it has a slide in its lobby. Vaughn (also a co-writer and producer) has essentially made a career out of being the salesman (as he was in “Couples Retreat” and “The Dilemma”), but never before has this been so blatant or shameless.

Good support comes from Aasif Mandvi, playing the whip-cracking head of the intern program, and the always splendid Rose Byrne in an otherwise thankless role as Wilson’s love interest. The central gag — two dinosaurs surrounded by tech-savvy geeks in one of the world's biggest tech companies — gets stale somewhere around the halfway point, while messages about overcoming your limitations and fulfilling your dreams drown in the sea of Google signs and Google products. I’d complain about the whole thing being 30 minutes too long, but given the film’s true intentions this really shouldn’t have lasted longer than 30 seconds.

Rating: 4/10

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 36%
Metacritic Score: 42/100
IMDb Rating: 6.5/10

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Now You See Me - Review

Director: Louis Leterrier Writers: Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt Studios: K/O Paper Products, Summit Entertainment Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fischer, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine Release Date (UK): July 3 2013 Rating: 12A Runtime: 115 min

Pitched as a collision of “Ocean’s Eleven” and “The Prestige,” the elaborate crime caper “Now You See Me” is a ludicrous, overplotted muddle that, while dazzling along the way, gets lost in its own self-created labyrinth of twists and turns. Like the earlier (and much more satisfying) “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” it’s set in the world of magic, and sees four gifted, loosely connected tricksters (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fischer and Dave Franco) assembled, Avengers-style, by a mysterious hooded figure to become master thieves.

One year later they’re the superstar illusionists The Four Horsemen, who pull off daring bank robberies on-stage and shower the audience in the stolen loot - during their lavish, sold-out Vegas act, for example, they seemingly teleport a randomly selected audience member to his bank in Paris and suck up millions of dollars worth of Euros from its locked-up vault. Catching the eye of the authorities, they’re soon the targets of Mark Ruffalo’s scruffy FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes and Melanie Laurent’s fetching Interpol detective Alma Dray, who with the aid of Morgan Freeman’s wise and all-knowing magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley, attempt to solve the Horsemen’s tricks before their grand finale, where things really should amaze.

If only that were so. French action maestro Louis Leterrier - the man behind the fun “Transporter” movies and the rotten “Clash of the Titans” remake - directs the magic shows with plenty of flashy panache, but lacks the cinematic sleight of hand to pull off the film’s logic-defying plot turns. The self-satisfied script by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricouri isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is, and the whole thing is undermined by an overuse of crummy CGI that ruins any sense of wonder the stage tricks would otherwise have had. It all comes down to a final twist that, while certainly unexpected, is more likely to leave viewers feeling cheated rather than amazed.

Rating: 5/10

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 47%
Metacritic Score: 50/100
IMDb Rating: 7.5/10

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Monsters University - Review

Director: Dan Scanlon Writers: Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird, Dan Scanlon Studios: Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures Cast: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Helen Mirren, Nathan Fillion, Steve Buscemi Release Date (UK): 12 July 2013 Certificate: U Runtime: 104 min

In “Monsters University,” studios Disney and Pixar pay a grand revisit to the world of workaday boogeymen first brought to the big screen twelve long years ago in the wonderfully inventive computer-animated hit “Monsters, Inc.,” where the monsters in our closets were revealed to be harvesting our screams of terror to power their city. A belated prequel to that 2001 gem, this delightfully witty and thoroughly engaging follow-up transports us back to the college years of future best buds Mike Wazowski and James P. “Sulley” Sullivan, who before becoming the top scare team at the Monsters, Inc. factory were enrolled at the prestigious Monsters University with the same determined goal: to become the biggest scarer in all of Monstropolis.

Once again voiced by Billy Crystal and John Goodman respectively, the walking, talking, hopelessly neurotic eyeball and blue-furred gentle giant initially clash heads in the institution's famous “scare program”: Mike is the brainy, unscary nerd with his eye always buried in a textbook while Sulley is the jockish party animal skating along on natural talent (and his loud, ferocious growl). When their classroom bickering goes one step too far and sees them unexpectedly booted from the program, the collegiate rivals decide to join forces along with a ragtag fraternity of misfits to win the annual Scare Games in a bid to prove to the tyrannical, dragon-winged, centipede-legged Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren, “Hitchcock”) that they truly are scarers worthy of MU.

Along the way are the expected nods and winks to coming events seen in the previous film — Steve Buscemi’s slithering future-nemesis Randall is greeted with a villainous music cue before he’s cheekily revealed to be a nervous dweeb — but unlike most tampering movie prequels, this leaves little to snarl at as it seamlessly expands upon the universe and character backstory of the first film while standing mightily on its own two furry feet. Writer-director Dan Scanlon and co-writers Daniel Gerson and Robert L. Baird have fun in paying homage to other, more adult-oriented campus comedies — older viewers will be reminded of the likes of “Animal House” and “Revenge of the Nerds” — while filling the screen with colourful characters sporting jagged fangs and multiple heads.

Messages about the values of teamwork and honesty are touching and well delivered, but where the film’s throbbing heart truly lies is in the growing central relationship between Mike and Sulley, whose bromance blossoms once the Scare Games begin and whose friendship in the original “Monsters, Inc.” is enriched rather than spoiled by this heartfelt and often hilarious origin tale — that is, after all, what prequels are supposed to do, aren’t they? Worries that Pixar had lost their way following the clunky mechanics of the needless “Cars 2” should now be well and truly dispelled: this, alongside their enchanting 2012 feature “Brave,” helps recrown the computer animation company as the undisputed kings of American animation.

Rating: 8/10

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%
Metacritic Score: 64/100
IMDb Rating: 7.8/10