Capsule Film Reviews, Week of July 15th

pacificrim

This is something new we’re going to start trying here on Cox In A Box: I tend to see a lot of movies, but rarely do I have a whole lot to say about them. Typically my opinion can be summed up in a paragraph or two, which doesn’t really merit a full post. But, in the interest of logging and sharing even those shorter opinions, I’ve decided to start collecting these many smaller opinions together in posts such as this one, where I give three or four “capsule reviews” for films I’ve seen recently, be they theatrical films or stuff that I’ve just gotten around to seeing. So without further ado, let’s kick off this inaugural post with three reviews: Pacific Rim, Man of Steel, and Indie Game: The Movie

Pacific Rim

The Plot: As massive monsters called kaiju destroy cities on the coastlines of the world, humans unite in response to the threat with the Jaeger program: giant robots with two pilots that are designed with the express purpose of destroying the kaiju.

Where To See It: Currently in theaters

Man, I loved the hell out of this movie. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for classic Japanese monster movies, ever since young me was captivated by the remake of Godzilla (something that remains a guilty pleasure for me). They don’t tend to be good movies in the sense that they are rarely well crafted or particularly thoughtful, but they’re efficient and fun. They promise monsters causing destruction and getting their butts kicked in spectacular fashion, and they deliver in spades. I’m a sucker for that, and I freely admit to it.

Pacific  Rim is a big ol’ love letter to that genre, borrowing its name (kaiju films, as the monster films are referred to in Japan) for the name of the massive monsters decimating cities on the Pacific coastline after crawling through the Breach, a tear in the fabric between universes somewhere deep in the ocean. Guillermo del Toro, the visionary director behind a number of outstanding films, knows precisely what I wanted out of this film, and he smartly delayed that satisfaction. After a brief scene at the start of a Jaeger taking down a massive kaiju, there is a long 45 minute drought of robots vs. monster action. There’s always interesting stuff happening, and the threat of the kaiju looms ever closer, but there’s no direct action for quite a while; when it finally comes, oh boy oh boy is it wonderful. I was cackling with glee throughout the entire last two-thirds of the film, as the action sequences took twist after gleefully excessive twist, rarely if ever descending into melodrama. High octane awesome, unapologetic and unabashed.

That’s why anyone who sees this film will be seeing it, and they won’t be disappointed. Del Toro throws in a bunch of stuff to please genre fans as well: a blatant, assuredly tongue-in-cheek environmental message, a laughably stupid alternative plan that gets dispatched literally five minutes after it was first mentioned, Ron Perlman, scientists trying to study them and having crazy theories about how to dispatch them that *gasp* MIGHT BE RIGHT… the whole film is just a massive celebration of this long forgotten genre. I had so much fun with it that I don’t even care the characters are flat. Idris Elba is there having fun, del Toro and his monsters are having fun – what else do I need? B+

Man of Steel

The Plot: After the destruction of his home planet, a young Kryptonian is forced to attempt to fit in with humans and settle into a life on Earth. But when survivors from his home planet appear, trying to resurrect his people, he is forced to decide whether or not he will save the human race, or remain hidden out of fear of rejection.

Where To See It: Likely still in theaters.

I’ve never been a big Superman fan, and this movie didn’t do the hero any favors. Though I don’t read many Superman comics and have never cared for the film franchise starring him, I have a bit of an attachment to the iconography behind him (iconography is often one of the biggest draws to superheroes for me). And this film takes a long, 150-minute crap on that iconography.

It’s hyperviolent, flat, overwrought, and decidedly self-important. There’s this constant sense of gravitas, but the stakes are never fully established (other than when it’s already too late and superpowered Kryptonians are laying waste to both Metropolis and small town America with reckless disregard for the buildings and people surrounding their makeshift battlefield), and I am never given particular reason to care. Clark constantly mentions his conflicting urge to save humans and his need to stay hidden lest he be rejected by the populace for his alien nature, but he always rushes headlong into disasters to save people. That inner conflict never really affects the film, except in making it absurdly talky and preachy in segments (and leading to one of the worst character deaths I’ve ever seen, one that almost had me laughing in the theater).

There’s something that happens at the end that I won’t spoil, but is entirely against the nature of Superman. That act sums up my entire thoughts about the film in the end: this isn’t a Superman film, but rather a film with Superman in it that tries to reinvent the wheel, but fails to provide a reasoned rationale for why the wheel should be reinvented in the first place. A fresh take on Superman would be welcomed, but when there’s no real reason behind the fresh take or any apparent reason to care about this fresh take, it’s hard to get excited about. C-

Indie Game: The Movie

The Plot: This documentary follows the development of three independent game developers: Team Meat, responsible for the title Super Meat Boy; Phil Fish (of Polytron), responsible for Fez; and Jonathan Blow, responsible for Braid. It chronicles the development and press cycles of independent game creation, complete with stresses, failures, successes, and bittersweet victories.

Where To See It: Available streaming many places (including Netflix), purchasable on Steam

I’ve not been a big fan of documentaries in the past, because I feel so many of the successful ones are not powerful filmmaking, but rather exploitative filmmaking. They prey on actual tragedy in such a way to make viewers sad, provide alarmist spins on certain issues in order to scare viewers into action. I’ve always been torn between whether this is simply good filmmaking, or hollow exploitative portrayals that seek not to inform or persuade but to market. It’s a cynical view, but it’s one I’ve grappled with for a while.

Indie Game: The Movie changed my mind. It’s a documentary about something I am extremely interested in and very familiar with. I’ve played two of the three games profiled and have followed all three developers for some time. I don’t know this people, but I know their art. Watching the development cycle felt more real than any other documentary I’ve watched, partially because the director’s hand is felt so little. There’s no constant display of facts or intercutting of footage to make points; it simply points the camera at these people and asks them to talk, or even to just work. What comes out isn’t influenced much by the eye of the camera staring at them, it seems.

There’s so much passion in these developers, and you can see how much of it goes into their games. Phil Fish, often hated by gamers for his rather abrasive personality, turns into one of the most likable people when you get him talking about his game. The look on his face when Jerry Holkins is blown away by Fez is one of the most endearing things I’ve seen. These people love games and have such ambition that you cannot help but hope they succeed. It’s a loving profile of people who risk so much and work so hard to get a vision out to people, not for money or for fame, but so that people can have the kind of experiences they love so much. A

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