Lisa Marie’s Early Oscar Predictions For May


It’s that time of the month again! It’s time for me to go out on a limb and attempt to predict what will be nominated for the Oscars. Of course, trying to do this early in the year is a fool’s errand. We all know that. That’s actually part of the fun.

As of right now, the list below is full of familiar names, a few films that were acclaimed at Sundance, and a few random guesses. A lot of the predicted nominees are films that were expected to be Oscar contenders last year but which were delayed due to the pandemic. (Looking at you, West Side Story.) Some of them are contenders that I personally would just like to see nominated, even though it probably won’t happen. (I’m not going to jinx anything by pointing out which nomination about which I’m specifically thinking. You’ll probably be able to guess for yourself.) Over the next few months, the Oscar picture will become a bit clearer. Many of the contenders listed below will be forgotten about. Meanwhile, new contenders will emerge. My point is, take it all with a grain of salt and don’t put down any money just yet.

Two big developments to keep in mind:

First off, the Academy is officially going back to having a set a number of nominees. Next year, ten films will be nominated for best picture. Not seven. Not nine. Ten. Personally, I’m thrilled by this development. Nothing irritated me more than when they used to announce those weird, seven-picture lineups. (As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t like odd numbers.)

Secondly, the Academy is going back to the old eligibility dates. Yay! What that means is that only films that are released between March and the end of this year will be eligible to compete for the Oscars. More importantly, it means that the best film of 2021 will not be released in 2022.

Anyway, here are my predictions for this month! Don’t take them too seriously. If you want to see how my thinking has evolved, check out my predictions for March and April.

Best Picture

CODA

The Duke

The French Dispatch

House of Gucci

A Journal for Jordan

Nightmare Alley

Passing

Soggy Bottom

The Tragedy of Macbeth

West Side Story

Best Director

Paul Thomas Anderson for Soggy Bottom

Guillermo Del Toro for Nightmare Alley

Ridley Scott for House of Gucci

Steven Spielberg for West Side Story

Denzel Washington for A Journal For Jordan

Best Actor

Jim Broadbent in The Duke

Clifton Collins, Jr. in Jockey

Peter Dinklage in Cyrano

Michael B. Jordan in A Journal For Jordan

Will Smith in King Richard

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Ana de Armas in Blonde

Jennifer Hudson in Respect

Nicole Kidman in Being the Ricardos

Tessa Thompson in Passing

Best Supporting Actor

David Alvarez in West Side Story

Bradley Cooper in Soggy Bottom

Adam Driver in The Last Duel

Al Pacino in House of Gucci

Forest Whitaker in Respect

Best Supporting Actress

Ariana DeBose in West Side Story

Vera Farmiga in The Many Saints of Newark

Marlee Matlin in CODA

Frances McDormand in The Tragedy of MacBeth

Ruth Negga in Passing

Lisa’s Way Too Early 2022 Oscar Predictions for March!


Yes, it’s time to start this again.

The Oscar nominations for 2020-2021 were finally revealed earlier this month. They weren’t particularly surprising. To be honest, they were kind of boring. But, with those nominations now revealed and the Oscars sets to be awarded at the end of April, that means it’s time to start looking forward to next year!

Of course, it’s hard to say what’s going to happen next year. Most of the films that are scheduled to come out later in 2021 were originally scheduled to come out in 2020. (And they were made in 2018 and 2019, which means the first big releases of 2021 are already dated.) Right now, most of the probable nominees are films that I originally expected to be contenders last year, like Spielberg’s West Side Story and Dune. Needless to say, new contenders will emerge over the next few months. Quite frankly, I’m skeptical of West Side Story because it sounds like the type of project that will bring out all of Spielberg’s worst instincts as a filmmaker. But, until it’s released, it’ll be a contender because he’s Spielberg.

As of right now, we don’t even know what the eligibility window is going to be for the next set of Oscar contenders. Is the Academy going to go back to a December cut-off or are they going to continue to extend the eligibility window. Are we predicting the 2021 Oscars or are we predicting the 2021-2022 Oscars? Again, as of now, we just don’t know. Personally, I’m hoping they return to a December cut-off but I have a feeling that the Academy will disagree.

About the only thing we do know for sure, right now, is that the Academy is going to go back to a set number of nominees. 10 films will be nominated. No more of this maybe 7 or maybe 8 nominees. It’s about time.

Anyway, the list below is based on the assumption that the Academy’s going to go back to the old eligibility window, which means that only films released between the start of March and the end of December will be eligible for Oscar consideration.

It’s also based on the presumption that the Oscars can be predicted this far out. They can’t. But I enjoy making lists and I love the Oscars. Doing these predictions has become a part of my monthly ritual. You know how much I love a good ritual.

So, here are my potentially worthless predictions for what will be nominated next year!

Best Picture

CODA

Dune

The French Dispatch

House of Gucci

In the Heights

The Last Duel

Nightmare Alley

Passing

Respect

West Side Story

Best Director

Guillermo Del Toro for Nightmare Alley

Rebecca Hall for Passing

Ridley Scott for House of Gucci

Steven Spielberg for West Side Story

Denis Villeneuve for Dune

Best Actor

Clifton Collins, Jr. in Jockey

Bradley Cooper in Nightmare Alley

Matt Damon in The Last Duel

Adam Driver in The Last Duel

Will Smith in King Richard

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Lady Gaga in House of Gucci

Jennifer Hudson in Respect

Tessa Thompson in Passing

Rachel Zegler in West Side Story

Best Supporting Actor

David Alvarez in West Side Story

Daniel Durant in CODA

Jeremy Irons in House of Gucci

Al Pacino in House of Gucci

Forest Whitaker in Respect

Best Supporting Actress

Cate Blanchett in Nightmare Alley

Ariana DeBose in West Side Story

Vera Farmiga in The Many Saints of Newark

Marlee Matlin in CODA

Ruth Negga in Passing

Here Are The Winners From The 2021 Sundance Film Festival


Sundance just kind of came and went this year, didn’t it?  Due to the pandemic, it was pretty much a virtual festival and it only lasted a week.  There were no celebrities posing for pictures.  There were no stories about people getting lost in the mountains of Colorado.  There was no interviews with a leathery Robert Redford pontificating about the importance of the type of indie films that could never afford to pay his salary.

Is Sundance about the films or is it about the celebrities?  This year, it was about the films and it never trended on twitter once.

That said, the prizes for this year’s Sundance Film Festival have been awarded and here they are!  Some of these films could be contenders at next year’s Oscars so read on:

(h/t to NextBestPicture)

GRAND JURY PRIZES
The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented to: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, for Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)/ U.S.A. (Director: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Producers: David Dinerstein, Robert Fyvolent, Joseph Patel) — During the same summer as Woodstock, over 300,000 people attended the Harlem Cultural Festival, celebrating African American music and culture, and promoting Black pride and unity. The footage from the festival sat in a basement, unseen for over 50 years, keeping this incredible event in America’s history lost – until now.

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented to: Siân Heder, for CODA / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Siân Heder, Producers: Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi, Patrick Wachsberger) — As a CODA – Child of Deaf Adults – Ruby is the only hearing person in her deaf family. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents. Cast: Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant, and Marlee Matlin.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented to: Jonas Poher Rasmussen, for Flee / Denmark, France, Sweden, Norway (Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Producers: Monica Hellström, Signe Byrge Sørensen) — Amin arrived as an unaccompanied minor in Denmark from Afghanistan. Today, he is a successful academic and is getting married to his long-time boyfriend. A secret he has been hiding for 20 years threatens to ruin the life he has built.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented to: Blerta Basholli, for Hive / Kosovo, Switzerland, Macedonia, Albania (Director and Screenwriter: Blerta Basholli, Producers: Yll Uka, Valon Bajgora, Agon Uka) — Fahrije’s husband has been missing since the war in Kosovo. She sets up her own small business to provide for her kids, but as she fights against a patriarchal society that does not support her, she faces a crucial decision: to wait for his return, or to continue to persevere. Cast: Yllka Gashi, Çun Lajçi, Aurita Agushi, Kumrije Hoxha, Adriana Matoshi, Kaona Sylejmani.

AUDIENCE AWARDS
The Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, Presented by Acura was presented to: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson for Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) / U.S.A. (Director: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Producers: David Dinerstein, Robert Fyvolent, Joseph Patel) — During the same summer as Woodstock, over 300,000 people attended the Harlem Cultural Festival, celebrating African American music and culture, and promoting Black pride and unity. The footage from the festival sat in a basement, unseen for over 50 years, keeping this incredible event in America’s history lost – until now.

The Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic, Presented by Acura was presented to: Siân Heder, for CODA / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Siân Heder, Producers: Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi, Patrick Wachsberger) — As a CODA – Child of Deaf Adults – Ruby is the only hearing person in her deaf family. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents. Cast: Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant, and Marlee Matlin.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented to: Blerta Basholli, for Hive / Kosovo, Switzerland, Macedonia, Albania (Director and Screenwriter: Blerta Basholli, Producers: Yll Uka, Valon Bajgora, Agon Uka) — Fahrije’s husband has been missing since the war in Kosovo. She sets up her own small business to provide for her kids, but as she fights against a patriarchal society that does not support her, she faces a crucial decision: to wait for his return, or to continue to persevere. Cast: Yllka Gashi, Çun Lajçi, Aurita Agushi, Kumrije Hoxha, Adriana Matoshi, Kaona Sylejmani.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented to: Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh, for Writing With Fire / India (Directors and Producers: Rintu Thomas, Sushmit Ghosh) — In a cluttered news landscape dominated by men, emerges India’s only newspaper run by Dalit women. Armed with smartphones, Chief Reporter Meera and her journalists break traditions on the frontlines of India’s biggest issues and within the confines of their own homes, redefining what it means to be powerful.

The Audience Award: NEXT, Presented by Adobe was presented to: Marion Hill, for Ma Belle, My Beauty / U.S.A., France (Director and Screenwriter: Marion Hill, Producers: Ben Matheny, Kelsey Scult, Marion Hill) — A surprise reunion in southern France reignites passions and jealousies between two women who were formerly polyamorous lovers. Cast: Idella Johnson, Hannah Pepper, Lucien Guignard, Sivan Noam Shimon.

DIRECTING, SCREENWRITING & EDITING AWARDS
The Directing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented to: Natalia Almada, for Users / U.S.A., Mexico (Director: Natalia Almada, Producers: Elizabeth Lodge Stepp, Josh Penn) — A mother wonders, will my children love their perfect machines more than they love me, their imperfect mother? She switches on a smart-crib lulling her crying baby to sleep. This perfect mother is everywhere. She watches over us, takes care of us. We listen to her. We trust her.

The Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented to: Siân Heder, for CODA / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Siân Heder, Producers: Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi, Patrick Wachsberger) — As a CODA – Child of Deaf Adults – Ruby is the only hearing person in her deaf family. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents. Cast: Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant, and Marlee Matlin.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented to: Hogir Hirori, for Sabaya / Sweden (Director and Screenwriter: Hogir Hirori, Producers: Antonio Russo Merenda, Hogir Hirori) — With just a mobile phone and a gun, Mahmud, Ziyad and their group risk their lives trying to save Yazidi women and girls being held by ISIS as Sabaya (abducted sex slaves) in the most dangerous camp in the Middle East, Al-Hol in Syria.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented to: Blerta Basholli, for Hive / Kosovo, Switzerland, Macedonia, Albania (Director and Screenwriter: Blerta Basholli, Producers: Yll Uka, Valon Bajgora, Agon Uka) — Fahrije’s husband has been missing since the war in Kosovo. She sets up her own small business to provide for her kids, but as she fights against a patriarchal society that does not support her, she faces a crucial decision: to wait for his return, or to continue to persevere. Cast: Yllka Gashi, Çun Lajçi, Aurita Agushi, Kumrije Hoxha, Adriana Matoshi, Kaona Sylejmani.

The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented to: Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch, for On the Count of Three / U.S.A. (Director: Jerrod Carmichael, Screenwriters: Ari Katcher, Ryan Welch, Producers: David Carrico, Adam Paulsen, Tom Werner, Jake Densen, Ari Katcher, Jimmy Price) — Two guns. Two best friends. And a pact to end their lives when the day is done. Cast: Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Abbott, Tiffany Haddish, J.B. Smoove, Lavell Crawford, Henry Winkler.

The Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented to: editors Kristina Motwani and Rebecca Adorno, for Homeroom / U.S.A. (Director: Peter Nicks, Producers: Peter Nicks, Sean Havey) — Following the class of 2020 at Oakland High School in a year marked by seismic change, exploring the emotional world of teenagers coming of age against the backdrop of a rapidly changing world.

SPECIAL JURY AWARDS
A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast was presented to: the cast of CODA, for CODA / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Siân Heder, Producers: Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi, Patrick Wachsberger) — As a CODA – Child of Deaf Adults – Ruby is the only hearing person in her deaf family. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents. Cast: Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant, and Marlee Matlin.

A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Best Actor was presented to: Clifton Collins Jr., for Jockey / U.S.A. (Director: Clint Bentley, Screenwriters: Clint Bentley, Greg Kwedar, Producers: Clint Bentley, Greg Kwedar, Nancy Schafer) — An aging jockey is determined to win one last championship, but his dream is complicated when a young rookie shows up claiming to be his son. Cast: Clifton Collins Jr., Molly Parker, Moises Arias.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Emerging Filmmaker was presented to: Parker Hill and Isabel Bethencourt, for Cusp / U.S.A. (Directors: Parker Hill, Isabel Bethencourt, Producers: Zachary Luke Kislevitz, Parker Hill, Isabel Bethencourt) — In a Texas military town, three teenage girls confront the dark corners of adolescence at the end of a fever dream summer.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Nonfiction Experimentation was presented to: Theo Anthony, for All Light, Everywhere / U.S.A. (Director: Theo Anthony, Producers: Riel Roch-Decter, Sebastian Pardo, Jonna McKone) — An exploration of the shared histories of cameras, weapons, policing and justice. As surveillance technologies become a fixture in everyday life, the film interrogates the complexity of an objective point of view, probing the biases inherent in both human perception and the lens.

A World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award: Vérité Filmmaking was presented to: Camilla Nielsson, for President / Denmark, U.S.A., Norway (Director: Camilla Nielsson, Producers: Signe Byrge Sørensen, Joslyn Barnes) — Zimbabwe is at a crossroads. The leader of the opposition MDC party, Nelson Chamisa, challenges the old guard ZANU-PF led by Emmerson Mnangagwa, known as “The Crocodile.” The election tests both the ruling party and the opposition – how do they interpret principles of democracy in discourse and in practice?

A World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award: Impact for Change was presented to: Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh, for Writing With Fire / India (Directors and Producers: Rintu Thomas, Sushmit Ghosh) — In a cluttered news landscape dominated by men, emerges India’s only newspaper run by Dalit women. Armed with smartphones, Chief Reporter Meera and her journalists break traditions on the frontlines of India’s biggest issues and within the confines of their own homes, redefining what it means to be powerful.

A World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award: Acting was presented to: Jesmark Scicluna, for Luzzu / Malta (Director and Screenwriter: Alex Camilleri, Producers: Rebecca Anastasi, Ramin Bahrani, Alex Camilleri, Oliver Mallia) — Jesmark, a struggling fisherman on the island of Malta, is forced to turn his back on generations of tradition and risk everything by entering the world of black market fishing to provide for his girlfriend and newborn baby. Cast: Jesmark Scicluna, Michela Farrugia, David Scicluna.

A World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award: Creative Vision was presented to: Baz Poonpiriya, for One for the Road / China, Hong Kong, Thailand (Director: Baz Poonpiriya, Screenwriters: Baz Poonpiriya, Nottapon Boonprakob, Puangsoi Aksornsawang, Producer: Wong Kar Wai) — Boss is a consummate ladies’ man, a free spirit and a bar owner in NYC. One day, he gets a surprise call from Aood, an estranged friend who has returned home to Thailand. Dying of cancer, Aood enlists Boss’ help to complete a bucket list – but both are hiding something. Cast: Tor Thanapob, Ice Natara, Violette Wautier, Aokbab Chutimon, Ploi Horwang, Noon Siraphun. World Premiere

NEXT INNOVATOR PRIZE PRESENTED BY ADOBE
The NEXT Innovator Prize presented by Adobe was presented to: Dash Shaw, for Cryptozoo / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Dash Shaw, Producers: Kyle Martin, Jane Samborski, Bill Way, Tyler Davidson) — As cryptozookeepers struggle to capture a Baku (a legendary dream-eating hybrid creature) they begin to wonder if they should display these rare beasts in the confines of a cryptozoo, or if these mythical creatures should remain hidden and unknown. Cast: Lake Bell, Michael Cera, Angeliki Papoulia, Zoe Kazan, Peter Stormare, Grace Zabriskie.

SHORT FILM AWARDS PRESENTED BY SOUTHWEST AIRLINES®
Jury prizes for short filmmaking were awarded at the same ceremony. The Short Film Grand Jury Prize was awarded to Lizard / United Kingdom (Director: Akinola Davies, Jr., Screenwriter: The Davies Brothers).

The Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction was awarded to The Touch of the Master’s Hand / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Gregory Barnes.

The Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction was awarded to Bambirak / U.S.A., Germany (Director and Screenwriter: Zamarin Wahdat).

The Short Film Jury Award: Nonfiction was awarded to Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma / U.S.A., Germany, France, Italy (Directors and Screenwriters: Topaz Jones, rubberband.).

The Short Film Jury Award: Animation was awarded to Souvenir Souvenir / France (Director and Screenwriter: Bastien Dubois). A Short Film Special Jury Award for Acting was presented to Wiggle Room / U.S.A. (Directors and Screenwriters: Sam Guest, Julia Baylis).

A Short Film Special Jury Award for Screenwriting was awarded to The Criminals / France, Romania, Turkey (Director and Screenwriter: Serhat Karaaslan).

EARLIER SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL AWARDS
The 2021 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, presented to an outstanding feature film about science or technology, was presented to Sons of Monarchs. The filmmakers received a $20,000 cash award from Sundance Institute with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The Sundance Institute | Amazon Studios Producers Award for Nonfiction went to Nicole Salazar, for Philly D.A.
The Sundance Institute | Amazon Studios Producers Award for Fiction went to Natalie Qasabian, for Run.
The Sundance Institute | Adobe Mentorship Award for Editing Nonfiction went to Juli Vizza, and the Sundance Institute | Adobe Mentorship Award for Editing Fiction went to Terilyn Shropshire.
The Sundance Institute | NHK Award went to Meryman Joobeur, for her film Motherhood.

Film Review: The Mule (dir by Clint Eastwood)


In The Mule, Clint Eastwood plays Earl Stone.

In some ways, Earl is typical of the characters that Eastwood has played during the latter part of his career.  He’s grouchy.  He’s alienated almost everyone who was previously close to him.  He drives an old pickup truck and he has no idea how to text and he seems to literally snarls whenever he sees anyone under the age of 60.  He served in the Korean War and he’s not scared of guns.

In other ways, Earl is not a typical Eastwood character at all.  First off, he’s on the verge of financial ruin.  Earl may not be the first Eastwood character to not know how to responsibly handle money but he is perhaps the first one to be on the verge of homelessness as a result.  (He’s perhaps the first of Eastwood’s modern character to face real-world consequences for his flaws.)  Secondly, Earl often seems to be lost in the 21st century world.  In Gran Torino and Trouble With The Curve, Eastwood played grumpy old men who could still hold their own when it came to dealing with younger people.  But, in The Mule, Earl seems to be defeated by life.  The only thing that he really has going for him is his reputation as a horticulturist and, as the film makes clear, that’s not a skill that’s going to bring in much money.

That all changes when Earl has a chance meeting with Rico (Victor Rasuk), a friend of his granddaughter’s.  Knowing that Earl is desperate for money, Rico tells him that he could make a quick payday by transporting a package for some friends.  After giving it some thought, Earl agrees.  When Earl meets Rico’s friends, everyone is shocked at how old he is.  They’re even more shocked when Earl says that he doesn’t know how to text.  Earl is given a phone and told to answer it whenever it rings but to never use it to call anyone.  A package is put in the back of Earl’s pickup truck.  It’s suggested that Earl not look in the package.

Does Earl know that he’s transporting drugs?  At first, it’s hard to say.  While it seems obvious to us, Earl is from a different time.  Still, once Earl does eventually learn that he’s being used as a drug mule, it doesn’t seem to bother him.  If nothing else, Earl actually seems to get a kick out of being a real-life outlaw.  He continues to make his runs and he continues to make money and, perhaps most importantly, he now has a purpose in life.  In a strange way, the drug runners even become his new family.  (They call him Tata, which is Spanish for grandfather.)  Of course, they’re a family that makes it cleat that they’ll kill Earl if he’s ever late delivering the package but that doesn’t seem to matter to Earl.

Meanwhile, the DEA (represented by Laurence Fishburne, Bradley Cooper, and — somewhat inevitably — Michael Pena) are hearing reports about a new drug mule who has been nicknamed Tata.  What they don’t suspect, of course, is that Tata is a 90 year-old man who has no criminal record and who is always very careful to obey all the traffic laws.  Even when Earl is pulled over by the police, he’s such a nice old man that they let him go without bothering to really search his vehicle.  It seems like Earl’s got a perfect thing going but, unfortunately, things are never as good as they seem and eventually, the reality of Earl’s situation intrudes on his fantasy….

It’s been said that The Mule is going to be Eastwood’s final film as an actor and he gives an excellent performance as Earl.  The Mule, which feels, in many ways, like a good-natured companion piece to Gran Torino, features Eastwood at both his most vulnerable and, probably not coincidentally, his most likable and sympathetic.  In this film, Eastwood makes clear that he’s no longer the righteous Dirty Harry or the mythological Man With No Name.  Now, he’s just a man nearing the end of his life and trying to come to terms with the mistakes and the decisions of the past.  Eastwood plays Earl like a man who knows that his time is limited.  Smuggling drugs gives him a chance to feel like he’s alive again but, throughout it all, there’s still a deep sadness.  Earl can use his money to pay his bills and to fix up the local VFW hall but he still can’t buy his family’s forgiveness.  Watching the film, it’s impossible not to feel for Earl.  You’re happy that he found at least a little satisfaction with his criminal career, even though you immediately suspect that things probably aren’t going to turn out well for him.

Admittedly, there is one cringe-worthy scene in which it’s suggested that the 90 year-old Earl has had a threesome with two twenty year-olds (and one gets the feeling that the scene would not have been included if not for the fact that the film’s star was also the director).  For the most part, though, this is a thoughtful film that features a poignant performance from Eastwood and which is directed in a restrained, but empathetic manner.  If this is Eastwood’s swan song as an actor, it’s a good note to go out on.

Music Video of the Day: Wake Up Call by Steve Aoki and Sidney Samson (2012, dir by ????)


One of my New Year’s resolutions was to …. *checks notes* …. share more from Steve Aoki on this site so I guess I better get around to honoring that resolution by sharing the oddly disturbing video for Wake Up Call.

“WAKE UP!”

I’ve actually come across some online criticism of Wake Up Call, with the most frequent complaint being that it sounds “messy and confused” but personally, I think that’s kind of the point.  It’s all about the sensation of being jarred awake, of being snapped out of a dream and into the real world.  Everyone wakes up messy.  Everyone wakes up confused.  The messiness is kind of the point here.  Seriously, whenever I wake up, it always takes me a few minutes to realize where I am and then it takes me even longer to get my hair out out of my face.  Sleep is messy, which is why I try to get as little as possible of it.

As for the video …. AGCK!  I mean seriously, what the Hell is going on?  Is Steve Aoki trying to kill Clifton Collins, Jr?  Or is Michelle Rodriguez just dreaming that Aoki is strangling her …. well, I want to say lover but they don’t really appear to be too much in love.  Who is dreaming in this video and who needs to “WAKE UP?”  Personally, I think Michelle Rodriguez may have seen what Clifton Collins, Jr. was dreaming about so she summoned Aoki from her own dreams, specifically so he could be her vessel of vengeance.  To be honest, the whole thing kind of feels like a Jean Rollin vampire film to me.  And yes, yes …. I know that I tend to compare anything that is the least bit surreal to a Jean Rollin vampire film but that doesn’t make the observation any less pertinent.

Of course, it’s also possible that there might not be any definite explanation as to just what exactly is happening.  Perhaps the point.  Like life, the video may mean whatever we want it to mean.

Now, I will admit that I did attempt to search around online and find what other people thought this video was about.  Unfortunately, almost every link that I followed led me to someone talking about the video for Maroon 5’s Wake Up Call.  I’d actually like to see someone remake Begin Again with Steve Aoki in the Adam Levine role.  I think that would be hella interesting.

Anyway, enjoy!

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Capote (dir by Bennett Miller)


capote_poster

The first time I ever saw the 2005’s Capote, I thought it was a great film.

I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise.  I love movies about writers and I love biopics and, as the title indicates, Capote was both.  I’m also fascinated by true crime and Capote told the story of how Truman Capote came to write the first true crime book, In Cold Blood.  Add to that, I was (and am) a Philip Seymour Hoffman fan and Capote provided Hoffman with not only a rare starring role but it also won him an overdue Academy Award.  Finally, to top it all off, Capote also dealt with Truman’s friendship with Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), the author of To Kill A Mockingbird.  Seriously, a film that dealt with the writing of both In Cold Blood and To Kill A Mockingbird!?  How couldn’t I love that?  While everyone else was outraged that Crash beat Brokeback Mountain, I was upset that it beat Capote.

Needless to say, I was really looking forward to rewatching Capote for this review.  But when I actually did sit down and watched it, I was shocked to discover that Capote wasn’t actually the masterpiece that I remembered it being.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  It’s still a good film.  At times, it’s even a great film.  I still think it would have been a more worthy Best Picture winner than Crash.  But still, there seemed to be something missing.  Much as with director Bennett Miller’s most recent film, Foxcatcher, there’s a coldness at the heart of Capote.  One can’t deny its success on a technical level but, at the same time, it keeps the audience at a distance.  In the end, we remains detached observers, admiring the skill of the film without ever getting emotionally invested in it.

Interestingly, the film suggests that the exact opposite happened to Truman Capote while he wrote In Cold Blood.  The film suggests that Capote got so invested in one of the killers at the center of In Cold Blood that the process of writing the book nearly destroyed him.  When we first see Capote, he’s at some social event in New York and he’s amusing his rich friends with charmingly risqué anecdotes about his other rich and famous friends.  As played by Hoffman, Capote is someone who is almost always performing.  It only with his friend Harper Lee and his partner Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood) that he ever lets down his guard long enough to reveal who he actually is, a gay man from the deep South who was fortunate enough to escape.

That’s one reason why Capote grows close to Perry Smith (Clifton Collin, Jr.).  The subjects of In Cold Blood, Smith and Dick Hickcock (Mark Pellegrino) killed the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas.  Capote, who followed the case from their arrest to their eventual execution, becomes obsessed with Smith precisely because he sees Smith, with his dysfunctional background and his overly sensitive nature, as being who Capote could have been if things had gone just a little bit differently in his life.  Miller further makes this point by skillfully juxtaposing scenes of Truman dropping names and telling jokes at New York parties with the grim reality of life and death in Kansas.

Truman finds himself serving as a mentor to Perry.  (Hickcock is neglected by both Capote and the film.)  Of course, Truman’s also a writer and he knows that he needs an ending for his story.  As his editor (played by Bob Balaban, who seems to be destined to play everyone’s editor at some point or another) points out, Smith and Hickcock have to be executed if the book is ever to be completed.  Truman also has to get Perry to finally talk about what happened in the Clutter family farm.  As much as Capote seems to care about Perry, he’s ruthless when it comes to getting material for his book.  The film suggests that Truman Capote got his greatest success at the cost of his soul.

It’s a rather dark movie, which might explain why I was initially so impressed with it.  (I went through a period of time where I thought any movie with a sad ending was a masterpiece.)  Rewatching it, I saw that the film’s triumph was mostly one of casting.  Miller gets some seriously brilliant performances from the cast of Capote.  Yes, Hoffman is great in Capote but so is the entire cast.  Keener and Greenwood are well-cast as the only two people who have the guts to call Truman on his bullshit.  Chris Cooper gives a very Chris Cooperish performance as Alvin Dewey, the no-nonsense lawman who views Capote with a mix of amusement and distrust.  Clifton Collins, Jr. and Mark Pellegrino are both excellent as Smith and Hickcock.  In fact, Pellegrino makes such an impression that you regret the both Capote and the film didn’t spend more time with his character.

As previously stated, Hoffman won Best Actor but Capote lost best picture to Crash.  How Crash beat not just Brokeback Mountain but Capote as well is a mystery that Oscar historians are still trying to unravel.

Back to School Part II #35: One Eight Seven (dir by Kevin Reynolds)


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I’m writing this review from memory so you’re going to have to bear with me.  187 is one of those films that seems to show up on late night cable constantly, which is how I saw it.  I probably should rewatch it for this review but … no.  I don’t want to have to sit through it again.

See, here’s the thing with 187.  It’s a film where Samuel L. Jackson plays a high school science teacher and, just by definition, that should make it the greatest film ever and yet it isn’t.

Originally, Jackson’s working in New York but then he ends up failing one of his students (played by Method Man).  Method Man ends up giving Jackson a textbook on which he has written 187 on every single page.  Jackson immediately realizes that 187 is the name of the movie that he’s in.  “Always good to meet a fan,” he thinks but then suddenly, it dawns on him that 187 is also police code for homicide!  Jackson asks the school administration for help.  They ignore him (probably because everyone knows that Samuel L. Jackson is too much of a badass to be scared by some numbers in a textbook) and he ends up getting stabbed several times in the back.

Agck!

We jump forward 15 months.  Jackson has recovered from nearly being killed and he’s still determined to teach.  He wants to make a difference!  But he’s decided that New York kids are too homicidal so he transfers to a school in Los Angeles.  Surprise!  It turns out that students in Los Angeles are just as dangerous as the ones in New York.  During his first day as a substitute teacher, Jackson is writing his name on a chalk board.  Someone throws a crumpled ball of paper at him.  Jackson flinches as it hits his back.

FLASHBACK TIME!

Now, here’s the thing: the idea of Samuel L. Jackson teaching in an inner city high school and taking on a bunch of gang members sounds totally kickass.  And you spend this entire two-hour movie waiting for Samuel L. Jackson to have one of those wonderful Samuel L. Jackson moments when he fixes someone with that powerful glare and suddenly speaks in the voice of angry and vengeful God.  You keep waiting but, with the exception of a few moments, it never seems to happen.

I mean, don’t get me wrong.  I wasn’t expecting Jackson to say, “I’m sick of these motherfucking gangstas in this motherfucking classroom!”  It would have been great if he had said that but, after a few minutes of watching the movie, I realized that he probably wouldn’t.  187 is obviously meant to be a serious movie about America’s educational crisis.  Watching it, you get the feeling that 187‘s director, Kevin “I know Kevin Costner” Reynolds, woke up every morning and said, “I am making the most important film ever today!”

But whatever good intentions that the filmmakers may have had, it’s no excuse for totally wasting Samuel L. Jackson.  When you’ve got a powerful actor like Samuel L. Jackson, why do you waste him in such a thinly written role?  When you finally do allow him to do something big and Samuel L. Jackson-like, why do you waste so much dramatic potential by having him do almost all of it off-screen?  Jackson finally does get a great Samuel L. Jackson moment towards the end of the film but that’s just because there’s a big plot twist that doesn’t make any sense.  The end of 187 reminds the viewer that an ironic ending has to be earned.  It just can’t be slapped onto the film.

I mean, I don’t want to toss out any spoilers because, for all I know, 187 is going to be on Cinemax tonight.  If you’re up at 3 in the morning, you might end up watching it and God knows, I don’t want to be accused of giving away the ending.   But let me ask you this — if you’ve finally captured someone who you’ve spent an entire two-hour film trying to kill, would you then suddenly decide to play a game of Russian roulette?

Anyway, 187 should be avoided because it totally wastes Samuel L. Jackson and that’s kind of unforgivable.

Shattered Politics #69: Traffic (dir by Steven Soderbergh)


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I have mixed feelings about Steven Soderbergh.  On the one hand, his talent cannot be denied and you have to respect the fact that he’s willing to take chances and make films like The Girlfriend Experience and The Informant.  On the other hand, he’s also the director who has been responsible for overrated messes like Contagion and utter pretentious disasters like Haywire.  And it doesn’t help that Soderbergh’s fanbase seems to be largely made up of the type of hipsters who end up leaving comments under the articles at The A.V. Club.  Some people mourned Soderbergh’s retirement.  Personally, I think he made the right decision.  He retired before his misfires ended up outnumbering all of his masterpieces.

The thing about Soderbergh is that his good films are so good that it makes it all the more frustrating to watch his failures.  If Soderbergh was just your typical bad director than a film like Contagion wouldn’t be as annoying.  But this is the man who also gave us Traffic!

And Traffic is a very good film.

First released in 2000, Traffic attempted to deal with the American war on drugs, a war that the film suggests might not even be worth fighting.  (Full disclosure: I support the legalization of drugs and, for that matter, just about everything else.  And yes, I am biased towards films that agree with me.  So is every other film critic out there.  The difference is that I’m willing to admit it.)  Traffic won four Oscars, including Best Director and Best Supporting Actor for Benicio Del Toro.  It was also nominated for best picture but lost to Gladiator.

Traffic tells three, barely connected stories.  Each story is given its own distinct look, feel, and color scheme.  And while it takes a few minutes to get used to film’s visual scheme, it ultimately works quite well.  Though all of the film’s characters share the same general existence, they live in different worlds.  The only thing linking them together is drugs.

Judge Andrew Wakefield (Michael Douglas) is a judge on the Ohio Supreme Court who has recently been named as the new drug czar.  However, while Judge Wakefield is going around the country and talking to politicians (Harry Reid shows up playing himself and is just as creepy as always), his daughter Caroline (Erika Christensen) is dating Seth (Topher Grace) and getting addicted to cocaine and heroin.  When Caroline run away, Judge Wakefield recruits Seth and, using him as a guide, searches the ghetto for his daughter.

The Wakefield scenes are bathed in cold and somber blues.  They’re beautiful to look at but, in some ways, they’re also some of the weakest in the film.  The whole plotline of Caroline going from being an innocent honor’s student to being a prostitute who sells her body for heroin feels a lot like the notorious anti-drug film Go Ask Alice.  At the same time, it’s interesting and a little fun to see Topher Grace playing such a little jerk.  Grace gets some of the best lines in the film, especially when he attacks Wakefield’s feelings of smug superiority.

In the film’s second storyline, two DEA Agents (Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman) arrest drug trafficker Eddie Ruiz (Miguel Ferrer).  Eddie works for the Ayala syndicate and, once he’s arrested, he turns informant.  Drug lord Carlos Ayala (Steven Bauer) is arrested.  While Carlos sits on trial, his pregnant wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and his sleazy business associate (Dennis Quaid) struggle to hold together the business and find a way to kill Ruiz before he can testify.

This storyline is filmed in bright and vibrant colors and why not?  The Ayalas are rich and, unlike the Wakefields, they don’t feel the need to hide their material wealth.  This is actually probably my favorite storyline, largely because it’s the best acted and the most entertaining.  Miguel Ferrer, in particular, steals every scene that he’s in.  The scene where he explains the economics of being a drug trafficker is fascinating to watch.

The Ayala storyline may be my favorite but the film’s most thought-provoking storyline is the third one.  Taking place in Mexico, it stars Benicio Del Toro as Javier Rodriguez, a casually corrupt police officer who gets recruited to work for General Salazar (Tomas Milian), who is heading up Mexico’s war on the cartels.  Following the orders of Salazar, Javier captures assassin Frankie Flowers (Clifton Collins, Jr.) who is then savagely tortured by Salazar until he turns informer.  Javier comes to realize that Salazar is actually working for one of Mexico’s cartels.  When he decides to inform on Salazar, he puts his own life at risk.

The Mexico storyline is also the harshest and visually, it reflects that fact.  The heat literally seems to be rising up from the desert and the streets of Tijuana.  It takes a few minutes to adjust to the look of the Mexico scenes but, once you do, they become enthralling.

And Traffic, as a film, is undeniably enthralling as well.  Soderbergh deftly juggles the multiple storylines and brings them together to create a portrait of a society that’s being destroyed by the efforts to save it.  Hopefully, if Soderbergh ever does come out of retirement, he’ll give us more films like Traffic and less films like Contagion.

 

Dying Is Easy, Comedy is Hard: Freeloaders (dir by Dan Rosen)


Supposedly, the great comedic character actor Edmund Gwenn once said, “Dying is easy.  Comedy is hard.”

I have to agree because I’ve seen a lot of comedies in 2013.  A few of them — like This Is The End and The World’s End — have worked.  However, the majority of them have not only been bad but they’ve been so bad that they’ve invited audiences to wonder if comedy is a dying art form.  For every genuinely clever comedy, it seems like we’ve had to sit through a dozen Movie 43s.  These are movies where genuinely funny people get together and proceed to prove that they can be just as unfunny as the obnoxious cousin that everyone avoids at the family reunion.

Case in point: Freeloaders.

Even Movie 43 made me laugh once.  That’s one laugh more than I got out of Freeloaders.  Freeloaders is quite possibly the least funny comedy that I’ve ever seen.  Freeloaders almost feels like a social experiment, a test to see what would happen if an audience, expecting to see a silly and crude comedy, instead found themselves trapped in a laugh-repellent environment for 80 minutes.

Freeloaders tells the story of a group of stereotypes who have spent the last six years living in a mansion owned by “rock star” Adam Duritz.  It turns out that one of them is a childhood friend of Duritz’s and, since Duritz has been out touring for the past decade, he’s allowed his friends to occupy his home rent-free.  However, Duritz is getting married and planning on moving to New York City and, as a result, he’s selling his mansion.  The freeloaders are told that they have a week to get out of the mansion.  Well, since everyone in this film is basically a total and complete dumbass, nobody can figure out how to rent an apartment.  So, instead, they come up with some painfully wacky schemes to raise the money to buy the mansion themselves.  Standing in their way is Adam’s real estate agent who …. well, it’s never really all that clear why she’s standing in their way.  Presumably, it’s because there wouldn’t be a film unless she was standing in their way and then we would have all missed out on the chance to watch Freeloaders.

Why doesn’t Freeloaders work?

Well, let’s start by considering the fact that Adam Duritz plays himself.  I actually had to go on Wikipedia to remind myself who Adam Duritz is and I discovered that he’ was apparently a big deal back in the 90s and that he’s responsible for that painfully annoying cover of Big Yellow Taxi that was playing everywhere back in the summer of 2003.   Unfortunately, as both an actor and as a “fictional” character, Adam Duritz is so bland that his character serves mostly as a distraction.  The use of a real celebrity (if Adam Duritz can legitimately be called a celebrity) should have provided the filmmakers with a lot of comedic opportunity but that opportunity is pretty much wasted because Freeloaders seems to be obsessed with letting us know that Adam Duritz is a really great guy.

(That might be because Adam Duritz was one of the film’s producers.)

While I doubt that Adam Duritz has ever been a funny guy, Freeloaders is filled with other actors who have proven themselves to be funny in the past.  I, for one, was excited to see the name Nat Faxon in the opening credits because, while he might not be a household name, anyone who has ever seen Nat Faxon in a movie knows just how funny he can be.  However, both Mr. Faxon and the rest of cast struggle with the fact that they’re playing a collection of one-dimensional stereotypes.  Everyone has one overly defining, predictable trait to help us keep them straight.  There’s the nice guy, the stoner, the womanizer, the nice girl, the hoodlum, and the girl who will inspire some in the audience to say, “Is that Olivia Munn?,” largely because she is Olivia Munn.  Since they’re never allowed to become individual characters, all of their attempts at humor fall painfully flat.  It doesn’t help that director Dan Rosen directs without any hint of timing or originality.

Freeloaders was produced by Broken Lizard, the comedy troupe that’s developed a large cult following as the result of films like Super Troopers and Club Dread.  However, the members of Broken Lizard did not write or direct the film and they only appear in a rather brief cameo where they parody Boogie Nights.

The Boogie Nights parody is actually fairly clever but it also highlights this film’s biggest problem.  Freeloaders was originally filmed in 2009 and then sat on the shelf until it finally got a very limited theatrical release earlier this year.  (Perhaps that’s why one of the film’s characters worries about getting sent to Iraq if he joins the army.)  However, the script feels like it was written back in the 90s.  Everything from the premise of slacker stoners being forced to raise money to Adam Duritz being described as a world-famous star to Broken Lizard parodying a film that came out in 1997 serves to make this film feel as if it was made about 14 years too late.

I love a good comedy but, by that same regard, there’s nothing a i hate more than a really bad comedy.  However, as a film lover, I will always be willing to take chance on comedy.  Comedy may be hard but the rewards are great.

Sometimes, you end up with something really special.

Sometimes, you just end up with Freeloaders.

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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.