Lisa’s Top 6 Super Bowl Commercials


So, as far as this year’s Super Bowl was concerned, the commercials were disappointing.  I mean, sure, we got a few movie trailers that looked really good.  I’m super excited for Black Widow and Mulan, not to mention Hunters and WandaVision. 

But, otherwise, it was a pretty forgettable year for commercials.  I mean, I guess we should be glad that, for the most part, we didn’t have any gigantic corporations trying to sell themselves as being woke crusaders.  (We did get that one beer commercial that had to include clips of people at a protest mark because that’s definitely something you want to do while your drunk off your ass.  Why are beer commercials always so pompous?)  With the exception of one well-meaning but rather creepy spot for Google, there also weren’t any disturbingly morbid commercials like that one from a few years back where the TV crushed the child.  There was also a definite lack of grotesque commercials.  There was no Puppy Monkey Baby or whatever the Hell that thing was.

Instead, the majority of the commercials were kind of tasteful and a little bit dull.  There was one commercial where Martin Scorsese invited Jonah Hill to a party and that would have been fun if Jonah Hill hadn’t looked so depressed.  I was like worried about him the entire time I was watching the commercial.  And then there was another one where Ellen DeGeneres wondered what people did before Alexa and that would have been a funny commercial if not for the fact that it felt like it went on for like an hour.  There was a Facebook commercial where Sylvester Stallone beat up Chris Rock for some reason.  And, of course, there was a Mike Bloomberg commercial because there’s always a Mike Bloomberg commercial.

Anyway, usually I do a top ten list after every Super Bowl but this year, I’m just doing my top six because that’s the type of year it was.  As I said previously, my favorite commercials were for Black Widow and Disney+ but, since I already shared those on this site, I will not be listing them below.

In other words, here’s the best of the rest:

6. Cheetos

I liked this commercial because it was basically the opposite of all of those incredibly pompous beer commercials where they act like their product is going to save the world.  Instead, Cheetos proudly announced, “Buy our product and you’ll never have to help anyone again!  And really, let’s be honest.  The world is not full of people who want to help you move.  The world is full of people looking for an excuse to say, “Sorry, can’t do it.”  This commercial is for them.

5. Mr. Peanut

Seriously, Baby Nut is freaking adorable.

4. Mountain Dew

Bryan Cranston as Jack Torrance?  Hey, it works.  To be honest, even if not for Cranston’s cheerfully demented performance, this video would have worked just for the final shot of the elevator.

3. Hard Rock Hotel

A lot of people on twitter didn’t care much for this commercial because …. well, I’m not sure what their problem was.  I thought it was fun.

2. Tide

I enjoyed all of Tide’s Super Bowl commercials, mostly just because Charlie Day is adorable.  I was a little bit annoyed when they tricked me into thinking that I was about see a new commercial for Wonder Woman 1984 but, even in that case, I have to give them credit for taking me by surprise.  Tide should definitely use Charlie Day in all of their commercials and get rid of that boring couple talking about “the funk.”

  1. Jeep

From the minute I heard about this commercial, I knew it would probably end up being my favorite of the night and it turns out that it was.  Usually, I hate Jeep commercials because they tend to be almost as pompous as beer commercials but how can you resist Bill Murray and Phil?

Happy Super Bowl Sunday, everyone!  I hope your team won.  And if they didn’t, I hope they win next year.  And if they don’t …. well, maybe look for a new team.  I don’t know.  Football’s not really my thing.  I do like the commercials, though.

Film Review: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (dir by Mike Mitchell)


Sometimes, it’s hard not to feel that the Lego movies are their own worst enemy.

I mean, they’re just so cute and fun and likable and cheerfully dorky that it’s easy to overlook just clever they often are.  Everything is Awesome may have been a cute song but it was also a pitch perfect parody of mindless conformity.  And yes, The Lego Batman Movie got a lot of laughs out of Will Arnett’s guttural growl but it was also the best Batman film since The Dark Knight and it also had a lot to say about how lonely it can be when you’re an extremely paranoid super hero.  As for The Lego Ninjago Movie …. well, give me a minute and I’ll think of something.  Uhmmmm …. it had that cute kitty!  Woo hoo!

Beyond all that, all of the Lego movies — from the best to the less-than-the-best — celebrate imagination.  They celebrate being an individual and the joy of creating your own world as opposed to just conforming to someone else’s rules.  As much as I loved Chris Pratt as Emmett and Elizabeth Banks as Wyldstyle, the heart of the first Lego Movie is to be found in the scene where Will Ferrell essentially realizes that he’s being a jerk when he won’t let his son build what he wants to build.

That said, the main appeal of the Lego movies is that they’re incredibly cute.  Just take The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part for instance.  Especially when compared to the first Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie, this sequel has its flaws.  Admittedly, some of those flaws are unavoidable.  Just the fact that we start the movie knowing that everyone is in Will Ferrell’s house means that the sequel can’t take us as much by surprise as the first Lego Movie did.  Though the film’s original directors, Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, wrote the script and contribute some genuinely witty dialogue, the sequel’s pacing occasionally seems a little bit off.  There’s a few slow spots, the majority of which are really only noticeable when you compare the sequel to the flawlessly paced first film.  And yet, in the end, it’s such a cute movie that it’s easy to overlook those flaws.

The sequel begins immediately where the first ended, with Will Ferrell decreeing that both his son and his daughter are now allowed to play with his Lego collection.  Jump forward five years and this has basically led to chaos.  The Lego Universe is now a Mad Max-style wasteland.  Not surprisingly, both Wylstyle and Batman have really gotten into their new dystopian lifestyle.  Meanwhile, Emmett remains just as blindly cheerful and optimistic as ever.  He still feels that everything is awesome.

Or, at least Emmet feels that way until all of his friends are kidnapped to the Systar System, where Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) wants to marry Batman.  Determined to rescue his friends, Emmett decides to travel to the Systar System himself.  Helping him out is Rex Dangervest, who seems like the type of adventurer that Emmett has always dreamed of becoming.  Chris Pratt voices both Rex and Emmett and the film has a lot of fun playing with Pratt’s post-Guardians of the Galaxy stardom.  Rex is not just an intergalactic explorer.  No, he’s also a cowboy, a dinosaur trainer, an archaeologist, a first baseman, and — we’re told — a script doctor.  (Those, of course, are references to Pratt’s roles in The Magnificent Seven, Jurassic World, and Moneyball.  Interestingly enough, his work in Passengers goes unmentioned.)  Rex pressures Emmett to become more cynical and ruthless in his efforts to save his friends and destroy the Systar System and Chris Pratt does a great job voicing both roles.  Indeed, if nothing else, this film will always stand as a tribute to the incredible and unending charm of Chris Pratt.

If Lego Movie 2 never reaches the glorious heights of the first film, that’s because the element of surprise has been lost.  There’s no moment  in the sequel that’s as memorable as when a live action Will Ferrell suddenly showed up in the first movie.  (In the second movie, Ferrell appears in a flashback and has a brief voice cameo as President Business.  Maya Rudolph does show up as his wife but the sequel’s live action scenes just don’t have the emotional impact of the first film’s.)  But, with all that in mind, it’s still an undeniably cute and entertaining movie.  All of your old favorites back — everyone from Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as Superman and Green Lantern to Alison Brie as Unikitty to Charlie Day as the astronaut. (Sadly, Liam Neeson did not return as the Good Cop/Bad Cop and his absence is felt.)  The film is full of clever parodies, my favorite being the references to Mad Max: Fury Road.  There’s more than enough witty lines, visual gags, and sweet moments that Lego Movie 2 will hold your interest and bring a smile to your face.

At the box office, Lego Movie 2 fell victim to the same Lego fatigue that took down the Lego Ninjago film and it did not become quite the phenomenon that the first movie did.  Regardless, it’s still a worthy sequel.  I wouldn’t quite say it’s awesome but it’s definitely a lot of fun.

Film Review: Hotel Artemis (dir by Drew Pearce)


Oh, Hotel Artemis.

I had such high hopes for you.

Hotel Artemis, you may remember, was initially released way back in June and, at the time, it was advertised as being some sort of nonstop action thrill ride.  The commercials made it look totally over-the-top and exciting, which was I wanted to see it.  Of course, I didn’t see it because …. well, actually I don’t remember what was happening in June that kept me from going to the movies.  But there had to have been something going on because I not only missed seeing Hotel Artemis in the theaters but I also missed Ocean’s 8 and Hereditary as well.

Well, regardless of why I missed it the first time, I did finally get a chance to watch Hotel Artemis earlier this week and, unfortunately, it turned out to not be anything special.  It’s certainly not terrible.  It has its moments and the film looks great but, at the same time, it’s hard not to feel somewhat let down by the film.  Hotel Artemis has promise but much of its goes unrealized.

The film takes place in one of those vaguely defined futures where there’s a lot of rioting and a lot of militaristic cops.  In fact, the film opens with Los Angeles in the middle of one such disturbance.  The riot scenes attempt to go for a Purge-style intensity but, for the most part, they just kind of fall flat.  There’s a lot of scenes of people yelling and occasionally, a police transport rolls by but, for the most part, there’s no danger to the film’s riot.  It’s all just a bit too obviously choreographed.  You never get the feeling that things could just randomly explode.

The Hotel Artemis is a combination of a hotel and a hospital.  It’s run by Jean Thomas, who is better known as Nurse and who is played by Jodie Foster.  Jean was once a doctor but, haunted by the death of her son, she became an alcoholic and lost her license to practice medicine.  Severely agoraphobic, Jean has spent 22 years inside of the Hotel.  She only treats criminals and other people on the fringes of society.  Helping her is Everest (Dave Bautista), who helps to keep order in the often chaotic hotel.

All of Jean’s patients are given codenames, based on which room their occupying in the hotel.  There’s Acapulco (Charlie Day), who is wealthy and short-tempered and who is waiting for a helicopter to come pick him up.  And then there’s Nice (Sofia Boutella), an international assassin who gets to beat people while wearing this red gown that is absolutely to die for.  There’s also Wakiki (Sterling K. Brown), who is a bank robber who is worried that his partner, Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry), is going to die from the wounds that he suffered during a robbery-gone-wrong.  Further complicating things is a gangster named The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum) and Morgan (Jenny Slate), who needs Jean’s help but who also happens to be a cop.  Zachary Quinto is also in this film, playing the Wolf King’s son, because you really can’t make a pretentious genre film without giving a role to Zachary Quinto.

Anyway, there’s a pretty good action sequence towards the end of the film but it takes Hotel Artemis forever to get there.  Before that, you have to deal with a lot of talking but, unfortunately, none of the conversations are particularly interesting.  Hotel Artemis may clock in at 94 minutes but it feels considerably longer.  On the plus side, the cast is big and interesting but, on the negative side, nobody really seems to be that invested in their role.  It’s fun to watch Charlie Day play a bad guy but otherwise, the majority of the actors struggle with their thinly drawn (though certainly verbose) characters.  The majority of them struggle to convince us that they’re anything more than a group of talented actors slumming it in an action movie.  The fact that Jodie Foster received a good deal of praise for her performance in this film has everything to do with the fact that she’s Jodie Foster and little to do with anything that actually happens in the movie.

On a positive note, the movie looks great.  Visually, the Hotel Artemis is a fantastic creation that combines the decaying luxury of The Shining with the claustrophobic sterility of an underground bunker in a Romero zombie film.  (I’m thinking of the original Day of the Dead in particular.)  The Hotel itself is so fascinating that you can’t help but kinda resent that the film seems to be more interested in the boring people inside of the building than with the building itself.

Despite the superior production design, the film itself is slackly paced and never quite as a clever as it seems to think that it is.  Hotel Artemis is not a terrible film but it is a rather forgettable one.  It’s hard not to feel that it could and should have been a hundred times better than it actually was.

Film Review: Pacific Rim Uprising (dir. by Steven S. DeKnight)


Moving to directing isn’t always smooth

Pacific Rim Poster

.Duel was a success for Steven Spielberg, and Alex Garland had a wonderful success with Ex Machina. Conversely, Cinematographer Wally Pfister’s Transcendence wasn’t as well received. Though he has worked on TV, Pfister hasn’t had a motion picture follow-up (though I’m eager to see him do so). Everyone moves in different directions and at their own pace. Steven S. DeKnight is well-known for his work on Daredevil and the Spartacus series on Starz. He makes the leap to directing with Pacific Rim Uprising, the results of which are a mixed bag for me. I saw the original four times in the cinema. Uprising has some fun moments, most of them with John Boyega (John Boyega, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) and Cailee Spaeny (The Shoes), but it wasn’t particularly memorable for me. I don’t know if I could actually say I hated it. That doesn’t mean that the kids won’t love it. There are some good moments of action that are reminiscent of Saban’s Power Rangers, and the movie provides exactly what it advertises – Jaeger on Kaiju action.

Uprising takes place ten years after the end of Pacific Rim, focusing on Jake Pentacost (John Boyega, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) son of the now legendary Stacker Pentacost. The world has moved on from the Kaiju crisis in various ways. When a new threat looms on the horizon, Jaeger pilots are needed once again. Jake would rather not get involved, plowing his trade as Jaeger tech smuggler. When he meets up with Amara Namani, a young hacker (Spaeny), both are brought into the newest rendition of the Jaeger Program. This also leads to a family reunion of sorts with Jake’s sister, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), who now heads the program. We even have our favorite scientist duo returning in Gottlieb (Burn Gorman, Game of Thrones) and Geiszler (Charlie Day). With all this familarity, you’d think that more of the same is the perfect recipe for a sequel.

The plot could have used a little more development, at least in comparison to the first firm. Uprising does stand on its own, and I could see some interesting arcs develop in future films. My problem with it was just that I didn’t feel a sense of worry for anyone. In the first film, there was this sense of escalation. Every incident was increasingly more dangerous for everyone involved. I didn’t quite feel that this film, but it makes up for it for having some interesting action scenes. DeKnight keeps the scenes short and sweet, and the flow of the movie is quite good, despite the lack of fights. Those moments are few and far between, which kind of left me a little drowsy waiting for them.

From a character standpoint, the real gems in Uprising are Jake and Amara. Boyega and Spaeny are great in just about every scene they’re in. Scott Eastwood isn’t bad either, actually, though he really isn’t given much to work with. Everyone else appears to be filling in roles. While it would’ve been nice to see more characterization in the rest of the crew, they do what they need to in order to keep the story moving.

Visually, Pacific Rim Uprising hits all the right notes. The Kaiju are strange and the Jaegers are impressive. The action moves in such a way where you’re not too lost with what you’re viewing. If there are any problems in this area, it’s that they appeared too clean (and that’s just a nitpick, really). Where the Original used nighttime or rainy shots to mask the effects (much like the first T-Rex encounter in Jurassic Park), most of Uprising’s effects are in broad daylight. It looks great, but also had a HDR quality to it that (for me) felt like you were watching a high end demo reel. The 3D also helped with the effects there.

Overall, I’d easily catch Pacific Rim Uprising again once it hits the digital circuit. It might be worth the viewing on an IMAX screen or even in 3D, but it isn’t anything anyone needs to rush to see.

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Fist Fight (dir by Richie Keen)


While I wouldn’t begin to argue that it’s been a great year for movies, there were still some really good movies released in 2017.

Unfortunately, there were also some really bad ones.

Which do you think Fist Fight was?

If you answered really bad, congratulations!

Actually, I don’t think anyone was expecting Fist Fight to be a classic or anything like that.  Basically, the film is about a conflict between two teachers, a conflict that seems destined to end with the event promised by the title.  The two teachers are played by Ice Cube and Charlie Day.  Of course, in the movie, they have different name but it doesn’t matter.  Neither character has an identity outside of the actor who plays him.  Charlie Day is nerdy and quick to yell.  Ice Cube is tough and intimidating and not the type to back down from a fight.

Now, at the risk of losing all credibility, I’m going to be honest about something.  When I first saw the trailer for Fist Fight, I thought it might not be as bad as it turned out to be.  Charlie Day is hilarious on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.  One of the more appealing things about Ice Cube is his willingness to poke fun at his tough guy image.  More often than not, I tend to like movies about teachers acting like children because, when I was in school, I always suspected that was the way teachers actually behaved when they were safely in the teacher’s lounge.  Charlie Day desperately running around the school, hyperventilating while Ice Cube pops up to remind him that they have a fist fight scheduled?  Seriously, it sounded like it could be funny in a dumb way.

Well, I was wrong.  Fist Fight is one of the most painfully unfunny films that I’ve ever seen.  This is a movie that should have been focused on one thing: the fist fight at the end of the day.  The entire movie should have been Charlie Day preparing for a fight that he knows he can’t possibly win.  Instead, the movie kept getting distracted with unnecessary subplots.  For instance, because it’s the last day before summer, all of the students are pulling pranks on their teachers.  In fact, the entire student body is out-of-control.  But who cares?  We’re here to see Charlie Day try to throw a punch at Ice Cube.  We don’t care about a bunch of obnoxious students pulling pranks that seem like they were directly lifted from a Crown International high school movie.  If we want to see that, we can rewatch The Pom Pom Girls or Joy of Sex.  And if we want to watch a teacher stand up to his students, we can watch Class of 1984.

The film is full of funny people but it never really takes advantage of them.  Actors like Tracy Morgan, Kumail Nanjiani, and Christina Hendricks pop up but just as quickly disappear.  Charlie Day does his best but the level of writing never rises to the level of It’s Sunny In Philadelphia.  (I personally would love to see “The Gang Gets In A Fist Fight With Ice Cube.”)  Compared to Fist Fight, even something like Horrible Bosses looks like nuanced and subversive humor.  There’s a lot of screeching in Fist Fight but very little of it is funny.

Film Review: Vacation (dir by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley)


Vacation_poster

Oh, what sweet Hell is this?

I have definitely seen worse movies than Vacation but it’s hard to think of one that left me as annoyed.  As I watched this movie, I found myself wondering how anyone could have made as many wrong decisions while directing one comedy.  Then I remembered that this film had two directors and I was left even more annoyed.  Seriously, couldn’t one of these two credited directors look at the footage and say, “Wow, we’re making a really crappy, unfunny, and mean-spirited comedy.  Maybe we should reconsider the tone of some of these scenes.  Maybe we should just abandon this all together…”

This film is a reboot of the old Vacation movies that Chevy Chase used to make in the 80s and 90s.  (Christmas Vacation is the one that everyone loves but there were others as well.)  In the original Vacation movies, Chase played Clark Griswold.  Clark would always try to take his family on the perfect vacation and would slowly lose his mind as his best laid plans always crashed into a wall of chaotic reality.  The original Vacation films were all uneven but likable, largely because Clark seemed to be so sincere in his madness.

In Vacation, Ed Helms plays Clark’s son, Rusty Griswold.  Rusty is all grown up and living in the suburbs.  He has a job as a pilot for a cheap airline.  He’s married to Debbie (Christina Applegate), who was known as Debbie Do Anything in college.  He has two sons and they’re both annoying.  James (Skyler Gisondo) is overly sensitive and plays guitar.  Kevin (Steele Stebbins) is a psychopath who is constantly bullying his older brother and dropping F-bombs every chance he gets.  (A little kid saying “Fuck,” is only funny the first few times you hear it.  After the 20th time, it just gets boring.)  James sings self-pitying songs.  Kevin continually tries to murder his brother by putting a plastic bag over his head.

Rusty wants to take his family to Walley World, the same destination that Clark wanted to visit in the original Vacation.  This involves driving across the country in an Albanian car that’s always on the verge of exploding.  Along the way, they stop off at various locations and have adventures.

And not all of the adventures are bad.  Occasionally, the film is saved by a funny cameo.  Charlie Day shows up as a suicidal river guide and he’s genuinely funny.  You find yourself wishing that he had a bigger role.  And then there’s a scene where Rusty and Debbie attempt to have sex at the Four Corners and are caught by cops from four different states, all of whom promptly start to argue about who has jurisdiction.

But those scenes are the exception.  For the most part, Vacation is just a parade of uninspired scatological humor and missed opportunities.  When Rusty and the family drop in on his sister Audrey (Leslie Mann) and her well-endowed husband, Stone (Chris Hemsworth), Rusty spends a lot of time talking about how Audrey and Stone are politically conservative.  Once they arrive at Audrey’s home, we are shown a picture of Stone hanging out with Charlton Heston but, otherwise, Stone and Rusty’s political differences are never mentioned again.  And don’t get me wrong — I wasn’t particularly looking forward to having to sit through a political argument between Ed Helms and Chris Hemsworth.  But still, why set up a joke if you’re too lazy to include the punch line?

Of course, the main problem is that you just don’t care about these Griswolds.  As characters, they’re all pretty unlikable and therefore, you really don’t care if their vacation is a success or not.  Poor Christina Applegate!  After holding her own against Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, and David Koechner in both Anchorman films, she’s given nothing to do here, beyond being the punchline in a few misogynistic jokes about being wild before marrying Rusty.

As weak as all the characters are, Rusty is the main problem.  He can’t handle the fact that his wife has had more sexual partners than he has.  He can’t discipline his youngest demon child.  He has absolutely no good advice to give to his oldest son.  When Rusty drags them across the country to Walley World, it’s not because he wants them to have a good vacation but because he wants to recreate a memory from his childhood.  If Chevy Chase’s Clark was always unhinged but sincere, Rusty Griswold is just an asshole and it’s impossible to care about him.  It doesn’t help that Ed Helms, as talented as he may be, has a neediness to him that can be amazingly off-putting whenever he’s cast in a lead role.  He always seems to be trying way too hard to convince the audience to love him.

Incidentally, Rusty and the family do make time to visit Grandpa Clark.  Chevy Chase looks even worse than he did on Community and it’s all pretty boring.

My advice would be to take a vacation from seeing Vacation.

Vacation Shows That Chris Hemsworth Is Quite Mighty (Red Band)


Vacation2015

Any kid growing up during the 1980’s remembers having seen the original Chevy Chase comedy classic National Lampoon’s Vacation. While subsequent sequels weren’t as memorable as the first film it didn’t diminish just how fun that original one was.

It’s been many, many years since the last Vacation film but now it looks like we have a new one set to release this year. Chevy Chase returns, though it would seem it might be more of a cameo. This latest film in the series looks to focus on Clark Griswold’s oldest son, Rusty, who now yearns to relive the happiest time of his life as a child: the road trip to Wally World,

The trailer looks to up return the raunch in the series with some help from Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth. From looking at the trailer’s payoff it looks like Hemsworth is quite mighty indeed.

Vacation is set to release this July, 31, 2015.

Everything Is Awesome! The Lego Movie Is Still Great!


The_Lego_Movie_poster

Have you ever rewatched a film that you remembered as being pretty great just to then be totally shocked to discover that it really wasn’t even that good?

It’s happened to me more times than I care to count.  Often times, it seems like the films that have the most immediate impact on us are the same films that, in a matter of weeks, we often end up forgetting.  My personal theory is that these films are so designed to make an immediate impact that there’s often little room for the subtext that would be necessary for a movie to actually linger in the mind.  These are the type of films that we remember enjoying but it’s often a struggle for us to explain why we thought it was great.  (“Oh my God,” we say, “it was such a great movie!” and then we leave it at that.)  When we do get around to watching the film for a second time, we’re often left slightly disappointed.  Now that we know what’s coming, the film no longer has as much of an impact.

It happens all the time and I hate it.  That is why, often times, I find myself dreading the second viewing.  Will the film still work the second time or will it turn out that the film only truly works when viewed with virgin eyes?

That’s one reason why I was feeling a bit of trepidation about rewatching The Lego Movie when it showed up on HBO this month.  After all, I loved the Lego Movie when it was originally released earlier this year.  As soon as I got home from seeing it at the Alamo Drafthouse, I jumped on twitter and tweeted out, “EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!”  For the past few months, I’ve been telling everyone that the Lego Movie was great.

But was it really?

Of course, everyone knows what The Lego Movie was about.  President Business (Will Ferrell) is seen by the residents of the Lego Universe as being a benevolent ruler but actually, he’s an insecure control freak who enforces strict conformity and who is planning to use a mysterious weapon known as the Kragle to rob everyone of free will and imagination.  A group of rebels — known as the Master Builders and led by Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) — hope to stop him.  According to Vitruvius, a chosen one will defeat President Business and, to everyone’s surprise, the Chosen One turns out to be a cheerfully ordinary construction worker named Emmett (Chris Pratt).

There were so many things that I remembered loving about the Lego Movie.

I loved the voice work done by the film’s talented cast.  Along with the perfectly selected Ferrell, Freeman, and Pratt, the cast also includes: Will Arnett as a hilariously pretentious Lego Batman, Elizabeth Banks as the rebellious Wyldstyle, Liam Neeson as Bad Cop, the always brilliant Nick Offerman as a pirate called Metal Beard, Charlie Day as a “space guy,” and Alison Brie as my favorite character, Unikitty (a unicorn/kitty hybrid, and who wouldn’t want to own one of those?).  And, of course, there were also cameos from Channing Tatum as Superman and Jonah Hill as a hilariously obsequious Green Lantern.  I remembered that all of these actors had done great work, bringing very vivid life to their characters.

And I remembered that all of the actors were aided by a script that was full of funny lines and clever bits of satire.  I remembered loving the enthusiastic way that Charlie Day talked about making a spaceship.  I loved Will Arnett’s pretentious hipster posturing.  I loved the way that Chris Pratt could deliver a line like, “I understand what you’re saying but could you repeat it again because I wasn’t listening?”  I loved Liam Neeson switching back and forth from being the ruthless Bad Cop and the painfully nice Good Cop.  And most of all, I loved Morgan Freeman.  Freeman, of course, is known for having the most God-like voice in the movies and, in this movie, he delivers even the most over-the-top dialogue with a calm and soothing authority.

And I loved the song Everything Is Awesome, an earworm if there ever was one!

And finally, I remembered that — as funny as The Lego Movie was — it also made me cry.  The theme of being yourself and going your own way is a common one but the Lego Movie expressed it with such sincerity that it was impossible for me not to be moved as if I was hearing it for the very first time.

So, as I lay down to rewatch the Lego Movie, I asked myself if the movie would live up to my memories.

Well, guess what?

EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!

The Lego Movie is just as good on subsequent viewings than on the first!  So, if you somehow haven’t watched it, then watch it now.  And if you have watched it, watch it again!

Review: Pacific Rim (dir. by Guillermo Del Toro)


PacificRimIMAX“2,500 tons of awesome” — Newton Geizler

I’ll just say it outright and get it out of the way and say that Guillermo Del Toro is one of the few filmmakers whose body of work has earned him my admiration. The Mexican-born filmmaker has made some of the most fully-realized and visually-beautiful films of the last twenty years. It doesn’t matter whether its genre staples like Blade II and the two Hellboy films or arthouse fares like The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, Del Toro has a unique talent for making one believe in the world his films inhabit. This is probably the reason why Peter Jackson had tapped him to direct the film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The man just has an eye for every detail, no matter how big or small, that he believes will add to the overall experience of watching his films.

When delays and behind-the-scenes studio bickerings kept the production of The Hobbit from moving forward Del Toro was already two years into pre-production of the long-awaited new trilogy, but finally backed out. He would try to make one of his dream projects his next move with the film adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s classic At the Mountain of Madness. This was a film that looked to set the horror and genre scene by storm. It was a story that was right in Del Toro’s wheelhouse. The film would require him to create a believable world where cosmic Elder Gods and Old Ones existed and still make it terrifying and awe-inspiring. But once again his ideas would require a huge budget from the studios and his stance on making the film an R-rated one finally shelved it (though hopefully not for good).

With two major productions either cancelled or dropped out of, Guillermo Del Toro was now without a film to direct and it’s been years since his last (Hellboy II: The Golden Army). Maybe it was providence or just plain ol’ dumb luck, but in comes a screenplay from Travis Beacham which included such terms as “Jaegers” and “Kaiju” and Del Toro finally got a film that wasn’t an adaptation of someone elses work, but something he could build from the ground up and make his own. That film was and is Pacific Rim.

Pacific Rim finally arrives in cinemas around the world and it couldn’t come at a better time. The last couple years have seen summer blockbusters get bigger and bigger. Each new blockbuster tried to outdo the next with something more extravagant, louder and, to their detriment, more complex and convoluted in their storytelling. This is not the case for Pacific Rim which comes in with a simple premise that managed to stay together from start to finish: giant robots fighting giant monsters.

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From that idea was born a film that lends itself well into Guillermo Del Toro’s visual and world-building talent. He had to find a way to make this film, that harkens back to the old kaiju films from Japan’s Toho studio and its mecha/giant robot anime genre, a believable world where adventure and spectacle ruled and not post-modern deconstruction and cynical characters and storytelling. It’s an endeavor that succeeds, though not perfectly, to do more than just entertain but also show that sometimes the old ways of telling a story does belong in this new world of hi-tech filmmaking.

The plot to Pacific Rim is simple enough and an extended opening prologue narrated by one of it’s lead character (Charlie Hunnam of Sons of Anarchy fame playing the role of Jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket). Sometime in the very near future an interdimensional rift (called The Breach) in the Pacific Ocean where two tectonic plates meet open up to allow gigantic creatures dubbed by people as “kaiju”. These kaiju wreak destruction and havoc on a massive scale to the world’s Pacific coastline cities like San Francisco, Manila, Cabo and Tokyo. When conventional military means take too long and and only nuclear options remain on the table the world’s governments band their resources and technical know-how to find a new weapon to combat these kaiju. In comes the “Jaeger Program” where two pilots control 25-story tall giant robots through a “dark science” called “The Drift” to finally fight the kaiju on even terms.

We see through this prologue how the “Jaegers” and their pilots have become rock stars in the eyes of the public as their successes stems and stops the tide that’s been destroying cities in the Pacific Rim for years. It’s also in this prologue that we get to the point of the film where this success has led to overconfidence and the beginning of the end of not just the “Jaeger Program” but that gradual slope that leads to humanity’s inevitable extinction.

The bulk of the film deals with the last few days of the war when the world’s government have stopped funding the Jaeger Program and instead have pooled all resources and manpower towards building massive anti-kaiju walls along city coastlines as a measure of defense. The Jaeger Programs leader, Marshal Stacker Pentecost (played by the ever-present Idris Elba who seem to live the role), believes that his Jaegers and the Rangers piloting them still can finish the war once and for all with a final strike on The Breach with the remaining four Jaegers left in his arsenal. When the politicians tell him no he resorts to dealing with the less than legitimate sector to fund this final strike. But for this last mission to succeed he needs one of his best pilots back from the brink of remorse and mourning to pilot an older, refurbished Jaeger by the name of Gipsy Danger.

From then on the film takes on the premise that Del Toro promised when he first took on the project. We finally get to see giant robots fighting giant monsters.

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Pacific Rim lives on it’s simplicity. Whether the simplicity of it’s story, dialogue, characters and themes. The film works within those parameters and does it well. One never feels lost with in the film’s narrative. There’s nothing convoluted with this film’s story. Some have said this need to be simple is an inherent flaw. I would agree with this if someone with less talent took on the job. Del Toro understands that keeping the story simple doesn’t mean dumbing it down, but keeping the promise of what the audience expects from a genre film of giant robots fighting giant monsters needs to deliver. The film’s simplicity allows for the story to flow from it’s hi-octane action sequences to it’s more personal moments without having it seemed forced.

Even the characters themselves come off as the archetypes of past adventure films. Whether it’s the stern father figure leading the pack to the hot-shot hero looking to redeem himself for a past failure to the cocky rival whose hothead personality acts as a counter-balance to the hero’s. Even the mysterious newcomer whose past acts as one of the film’s central emotional anchors harkens back to an earlier era of storytelling that preceded the more realistic and gritty era of film narrative born during the late 60’s and 70’s.

These characters some would call one-dimensional or plain cardboard cutouts, but in the context of the film being seen they work. We get enough of what motivates each character to fully understand why their characters do what they do in the film. The motivations range from honor-bound duty to accomplishing the mission, to revenge, redemption and just plain old-school heroism. Yes, this film brings back heroism minus the recent trend to downplay such an archaic notion. The film treats heroism as something noble born out of the shared sacrifice and the need to do what’s right and to protect not just the person next to them but everyone else who cannot fight the monsters that are at their doors.

The characters of Raleigh Becket, Stacker Pentecost, Mako Mori (played by Oscar-nominatedted actress Rinko Kikuchi who channels her inner anime not just in her attitude but even her appearance) and even the dueling scientists Newton Geizler and Gottlieb (played with manic and eccentric enthusiasm by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman respectively) all come off as heroes who accepts the challenge and nobility inherent in the term. They don’t balk at the duty put on their shoulders, but go full-bore in making sure what they do doesn’t have any moments of self-doubt or cynicism. These are characters who don’t become heroes because they were forced into it. They’ve made their choice and thus have to realize that taking on the mantle of heroism would mean making the ultimate sacrifice.

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Yet, for all the talk of themes and narrative styles the film will ultimately live or die on the film’s promise. Does the giant robot fighting giant monsters hold up?

I can honestly say that it does and goes beyond what the studios have been hyping it up to be.

The action sequences between the Jaegers and the kaiju have to be some of the best action sequences of the past decade if not even farther back. It’s a loving homage to the classic daikaiju and mecha of old from Japan that Westerners grew up watching on Saturday mornings on the local UHF channels. It’s mecha anime like Mazinger Z, Macross, Gundam, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Tetsujin-28, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and many others seamlessly melded with the old-school monsters flicks from the Toho Studios with kaiju bearing the iconic names of Godzilla, Gamera, Rodan, Mothra, King Ghidorah and many more. Pacific Rim is a film aimed at the inner-child of men and women who grew up watching these films and shows, but also one that seeks to fire up the imagination of the current generation of children who have been fed on the latest trend of snarky and self-doubting heroes.

The fights between the the jaegers and kaiju also does one thing that most Hollywood filmmakers who make action films have been unable to pull off. I’m talking about action sequences that remains as kinetic and explosive as any we’ve seen in the past but also aware of it’s space and environment. Pacific Rim’s action sequences never come off as being confusing. There’s no hand-held, cinema verite stylistic choices when it came to filming these sequences. We know exactly which jaeger is doing to fighting and which kaiju is fighting back. Even while set mostly at night and in the rain (or in some cases in the water and underneath in ocean), these fights and the digital effects created by ILM (with some practical ones from Legacy Effects) come off just as clear as if they were done for daytime. In fact, having them set at night with the many differing kinds of light sources available in the scene sometimes gave the fight scenes an almost psychedelic look with Hong Kong’s neon-lit streets and cityscape to the reflected bio-luminescence of the kaiju to the utilitarian lights on the jaegers themselves.

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Yet, it still all comes down on whether the promised throwndown delivers and yes it does. We’ve come to learn that even ILM can make the most awesome looking digital effect visuals but still having them end up being confusing because of the filmmaker involved. Some have called this the Michael Bay Effect. Even some of today’s most visually talented filmmakers have fallen prey to it, but not Del Toro who eschews rapid-fire editing and shaky-cam moves. He instead goes from strady shots both close-up and wide to show the battle progress from one move to the next as we see each counter-move develop into more counter-moves. These jaeger-kaiju fight scenes have an almost balletic grace to them despite the massive amount of destruction heaped not just on each other but their surrounding environment as well. They also have a sense of weight to both jaeger and kaiju. With each step, punch, crash and bodyslam there’s a sense of real actual weight being protrayed on the screen unlike films like the Transformers trilogy and, more recently, Man of Steel during some of it’s major action sequences.

Once again this boils down to the simplicity of the scenes and how this choice makes the fights more exciting and thrilling than anything we’ve seen this summer. Up-and-coming filmmakers looking to find out how to set, block and choreograph action scenes could find no better filmmaker than Guillermo Del Toro to learn from.

So, does this mean that Pacific Rim is a perfect film which has no flaws and can do no wrong. It’s a question that probably splits critics and those who talk endlessly about film, but the simple answer is that Pacific Rim is not a perfect film. It does have it’s faults that’s born out of it’s simple narrative and simple-drawn characters. Yet, these flaws also comes across as strengths depending on who ones asks. But as a piece of action-adventure filmmaking that promised the simple idea of giant robots fighting giant monsters the film was perfect.

Pacific Rim reminds us that Guillermo Del Toro is one of the few filmmakers who definitely earns the label of genius. It’s not hyperbole. It’s just fact. It takes a genius filmmaker to do the sort of varied films as he has done throughout his career both as director and producer and still have each and everyone of them feel original (whether they are or not), thought-provoking and just plain old fun. Pacific Rim may be Del Toro’s love letter to his childhood loves of mecha anime and daikaiju films from Toho and other such studios, but it’s really a rallying cry to audiences both young and old that blockbuster filmmaking doesn’t have to be gritty, journeys through psychological darkness to be successful. He’s brought the fun back in epic, grandiose filmmaking that hopefully becomes a trend and not a one-shot.

P.S.: Also, make sure to stay to watch the end title sequence that was created by Imaginary Forces to make a sequence similar to the awesome end titles for The Avengers last year. Plus, there’s a small scene mid-credits at the end that ends the film on the proper note.

Trailer: Pacific Rim (Official Main)


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Ok, this is the final and most awesome trailer of Guillermo Del Toro’s upcoming giant mechs vs. kaiju (giant monster) blockbuster spectacle, Pacific Rim.

While it might look like so many trailers and teasers about this film will spoil the film for those still to see it I must say that it doesn’t. This latest and last trailer from Warner Bros. still uses scenes from previous teasers and trailers, but just extends each sequences a second or two longer. We get some new images of the jaegers and kaiju fighting, but just extended versions of what we’ve already seen. In the end, this latest trailer still doesn’t give a chronology of how these scenes fit in the film.

I know people probably have their pitchforks and hater-hats on to tear Pacific Rim apart for being too CG, all-action and no brains despite not having seen it. Or worst yet…Looks like Transformers.

I say to these people they should just stay home and go watch their indie, arthouse film that only ten other people have seen and let those of us who enjoy spectacle of this magnitude to enjoy (or not) what Del Toro seem to have cooked up in his mad scientist brain of his.

I don’t go into this film thinking it’ll be a new standard in high art in cinema. I just want to see a giant rocket punch smash into some interdimensional giant monster face.

Pacific Rim will punch fans and detractors a like in the face this July 12, 2013.

Behold, Through the Shattered Lens’ own Jaeger contribution to the fight: Ferrus Mannus.

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