Saturday, May 17, 2014

Pacific Rim (2013) **1/2

I don't usually like movies that go for spectacle over substance, but I'll make an exception for “Pacific Rim.” Despite the banality of its storyline, I found myself enjoying the action. “Pacific Rim” gets credit for delivering what it promises: giant robots battling giant monsters.

The plot, such as it is, involves a near-future earth in which an inter-dimensional portal has opened up in the ocean floor, letting massive, nightmare beasts into our world. These beasts, called Kaiju in Japanese (think Godzilla), trash a few coastal cities before people decide that the best way to fight them is not heavy artillery or tactical nukes, but giant Rock'EmSock'Em Robots. Driven by humans, these robots dispatch the monsters partly with special weapons, but mostly using good, old-fashioned fisticuffs. As stupid as it sounds, it's hella-fun to watch.

It's shocking that they didn't get Michael Bay to direct this. I suppose there was hope that Guillermo del Toro (“Hellboy” “Pan's Labyrinth”) would class this thing up, maybe add some intangible element that would make it more than just an action movie. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Despite some decent supporting actors (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as wacky scientists, and Ron Perlman as a shady gangster), every scene that doesn't contains giant robots or monsters basically sucks. There's even a predictable yet unbelievable and completely unnecessary love story involving the sole female character in the movie. Del Toro should be ashamed of himself.

Despite these failings, “Pacific Rim” gets kudos for visual effects. The robots and especially the monsters look really cool duking it out. Kaiju movies like the Godzilla films have traditionally looked pretty cheesy, but the beasts in this film look as bizarre and beautifully horrifying as you could want. If you want to see giant robots fighting giant monsters, this is the movie for you.

2.5 stars out of 5

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Spring Breakers (2012) *

     I was expecting “Spring Breakers” to be a trashy, hot mess of an exploitation flick, and that was going to be acceptable.  James Franco's performance as a drug dealer was supposedly worth seeing, and frankly I was curious how much clothing former Disney starlets Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez would remove. Even with those low expectations, however,“Spring Breakers” managed to disappoint me.
     The film is a mash-up of one of those Spring Break, Girls Gone Wild videos and an artsy, hand-held camera movie. Mingled with footage of gyrating, young women having cheap beer poured over their boobs is a story of four college girls who pull a robbery to get some cash, then head down to the beach for some spring break debauchery. The film is very poorly edited. The same scenes and conversations keep getting replayed, until you are just stunned at how boring a movie with this many naked breasts can be. I gave up after about 30 minutes, so I didn't even get to see James Franco other than a brief appearance on a stage as a rapper. I did read some reviews, and it turns out that Hudgens and Gomez keep their bikinis on throughout the film, in case you were interested.
     To me it's surprising how well-reviewed this film was. A 65% fresh rating on is pretty good for a movie that feels like a self-indulgent, film-student project. The film does attempt to comment on the emptiness of hedonism, while at the same time exploiting it. I actually think there might be an interesting movie hidden in there, if only a decent editor had gotten hold of it. As it is, they made a red-blooded, American male turn off a movie about pretty girls in bikinis, which I guess is its own kind of artistic triumph.

1 star out of 5