Cameron Morewood

Prince Avalanche: ★★★
Repairing roads with little to generate excitement, Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) bicker about the use of their boombox. Lance wants energizing music; Alvin wants his instructional German tapes, in preparation for an upcoming trip with his girlfriend, Lance’s sister Madison. “The equal time boombox agreement doesn’t apply in this case,” Alvin says. In a world of compromise, there’s always an exception. That truth also applies to Prince Avalanche, the first time in years that writer-director David Gordon Green (George Washington, Your Highness, The Sitter) has delivered a movie with passion, not just a weak Hollywood cash-in. Not much happens in Avalanche, with a minimalism somewhat similar to (and better utilized in) the work of Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff). The film takes place in 1988, a year after 43,000 acres and 1,600 homes mysteriously burned. Alvin enjoys the quiet of abandoned streets and woods. Lance whines about loneliness and doesn’t hesitate to pleasure himself with his sole colleague/boss sleeping a few inches away. You gotta do what you gotta do, I guess. Requiring patience and withholding payoff as long as possible, Avalanche is about how people need companionship but often push others away when they get it. Adapting the Icelandic film Either Way, Green depicts feelings as dangerous but inevitable, Lance’s efforts toward sexual satisfaction can’t help but run across a girl, and an old friend, who generate far more complication than a standard one-night stand. All the while, the guys figure out how to pass the time, separately or together, in the ashen territory. Hirsch and Rudd are both very good and very funny without ever pushing the comedy too hard. Death is so sad, so final, and life is so absurd, the movie seems to say. The film’s full weight ultimately feels just out of reach, but for a small story about isolation, that mood is fitting. 

Prince Avalanche: ★★★

Repairing roads with little to generate excitement, Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) bicker about the use of their boombox. Lance wants energizing music; Alvin wants his instructional German tapes, in preparation for an upcoming trip with his girlfriend, Lance’s sister Madison. “The equal time boombox agreement doesn’t apply in this case,” Alvin says. In a world of compromise, there’s always an exception. That truth also applies to Prince Avalanche, the first time in years that writer-director David Gordon Green (George Washington, Your Highness, The Sitter) has delivered a movie with passion, not just a weak Hollywood cash-in. Not much happens in Avalanche, with a minimalism somewhat similar to (and better utilized in) the work of Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff). The film takes place in 1988, a year after 43,000 acres and 1,600 homes mysteriously burned. Alvin enjoys the quiet of abandoned streets and woods. Lance whines about loneliness and doesn’t hesitate to pleasure himself with his sole colleague/boss sleeping a few inches away. You gotta do what you gotta do, I guess. Requiring patience and withholding payoff as long as possible, Avalanche is about how people need companionship but often push others away when they get it. Adapting the Icelandic film Either Way, Green depicts feelings as dangerous but inevitable, Lance’s efforts toward sexual satisfaction can’t help but run across a girl, and an old friend, who generate far more complication than a standard one-night stand. All the while, the guys figure out how to pass the time, separately or together, in the ashen territory. Hirsch and Rudd are both very good and very funny without ever pushing the comedy too hard. Death is so sad, so final, and life is so absurd, the movie seems to say. The film’s full weight ultimately feels just out of reach, but for a small story about isolation, that mood is fitting. 

The Spectacular Now: ★★★½
Coming of age movies drop out of Hollywood’s ass like sci-fi sequels, but rarely are they as raw and relevant as James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now. The Smashed director once again tackles the subject of alcoholism, this time focusing on how drinking habits can be passed down generationally, so to speak. But don’t take Ponsoldt for a one trick pony. He also tackles personal responsibility and growth, parental misguidance, and human connection. Working from a script written by brilliant 500 Days of Summer scribes Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter that was adapted from a book by Tim Tharp, Ponsoldt directs his actors with a level of understanding that is almost majestic, gracefully developing their characters and never creating tonal inconsistencies. I’d say Miles Teller’s brilliantly portrayed Sutter is the main character of this film, if only because it’s he who affects which direction the plot decides to go every time it turns. Teller and Ponsoldt bring a disarming complexity to the role of Sutter, nailing every nuance of that awkward stage where a boy must become a man, at least, that’s how they used to put it. For Sutter, becoming a man is unwanted, if nothing else simply because he’s quite comfortable with his current lifestyle. He doesn’t necessarily want a future. Going to college is the last thing on his mind. All Sutter wants to do is live in the now. But then again, if Sutter is so eager to embrace his current state of life, why does he insist on dimming the lights around him to distort his perception of life. Possibly because what he is so vigorously attempting to convince himself is his life and what actually is his life are two very different things. 
Enter Aimee, played with subtle grace by Shailene Woodley. Unlike the boozed up, party-hard Sutter, Aimee is more soft-spoken  not as well known around the campus. She reads a lot of sci-fi novels. That brings me to the one detail about these types of movies that always tends to relentlessly poke at me. I’ve been to high school. If a girl looks like Shailene Woodley, she doesn’t stay a dork for long. But, miraculously, I bought Woodley’s innocent teenager. She’s just that good in the role. Her and Teller give inspiring performances and the movie will hit you like a shot through the heart. Kyle Chandler is also is this movie, playing Sutter’s estranged father. Damn, is he good. I didn’t see that one coming. I’ve always thought of Chandler as an average actor. I’ve seen him in many other roles, and his characters were always just sort of there. They just took up space. But here, Chandler shows us his acting chops, portraying a man who’s just fallen far enough to lose the ones he loved, but not far enough to hit rock bottom and realize his mistakes. The Spectacular Now really is a good movie, and I highly recommend it. The only critique I can toss out is lack of originality. And that one never meant much to me anyway. It’s 2013. Every movie that gets made was inspired by others before it. So now matter how much James Ponsoldt’s coming of age tale may resemble an alcoholic Say Anything, it still matters, and will resonate with most, if not all, of its viewers. 

The Spectacular Now: ★★★½

Coming of age movies drop out of Hollywood’s ass like sci-fi sequels, but rarely are they as raw and relevant as James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now. The Smashed director once again tackles the subject of alcoholism, this time focusing on how drinking habits can be passed down generationally, so to speak. But don’t take Ponsoldt for a one trick pony. He also tackles personal responsibility and growth, parental misguidance, and human connection. Working from a script written by brilliant 500 Days of Summer scribes Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter that was adapted from a book by Tim Tharp, Ponsoldt directs his actors with a level of understanding that is almost majestic, gracefully developing their characters and never creating tonal inconsistencies. I’d say Miles Teller’s brilliantly portrayed Sutter is the main character of this film, if only because it’s he who affects which direction the plot decides to go every time it turns. Teller and Ponsoldt bring a disarming complexity to the role of Sutter, nailing every nuance of that awkward stage where a boy must become a man, at least, that’s how they used to put it. For Sutter, becoming a man is unwanted, if nothing else simply because he’s quite comfortable with his current lifestyle. He doesn’t necessarily want a future. Going to college is the last thing on his mind. All Sutter wants to do is live in the now. But then again, if Sutter is so eager to embrace his current state of life, why does he insist on dimming the lights around him to distort his perception of life. Possibly because what he is so vigorously attempting to convince himself is his life and what actually is his life are two very different things. 

Enter Aimee, played with subtle grace by Shailene Woodley. Unlike the boozed up, party-hard Sutter, Aimee is more soft-spoken  not as well known around the campus. She reads a lot of sci-fi novels. That brings me to the one detail about these types of movies that always tends to relentlessly poke at me. I’ve been to high school. If a girl looks like Shailene Woodley, she doesn’t stay a dork for long. But, miraculously, I bought Woodley’s innocent teenager. She’s just that good in the role. Her and Teller give inspiring performances and the movie will hit you like a shot through the heart. Kyle Chandler is also is this movie, playing Sutter’s estranged father. Damn, is he good. I didn’t see that one coming. I’ve always thought of Chandler as an average actor. I’ve seen him in many other roles, and his characters were always just sort of there. They just took up space. But here, Chandler shows us his acting chops, portraying a man who’s just fallen far enough to lose the ones he loved, but not far enough to hit rock bottom and realize his mistakes. The Spectacular Now really is a good movie, and I highly recommend it. The only critique I can toss out is lack of originality. And that one never meant much to me anyway. It’s 2013. Every movie that gets made was inspired by others before it. So now matter how much James Ponsoldt’s coming of age tale may resemble an alcoholic Say Anything, it still matters, and will resonate with most, if not all, of its viewers. 

We’re the Millers: ★★½
This hasn’t been a great year for film comedy, regardless of what the box office says: Identity Thief, The Hangover Part III, The Heat, Grown Ups 2. They may have made money, but these were films made by and for morons who confuse abuse and humiliation with humor. We’re the Millers sets down that same low comedy road but then something weird happens, it’s actually funny. Key to the film working and us buying its ridiculous premise is that we have to like the characters. Marginal as they all are, the seeds of their redemption are planted early. David Clark (Jason Sudeikis) is a low-level drug dealer who won’t sell to kids and seems to focus on marijuana. When his stash and cash are ripped off he is heavily in debt to an obscenely wealthy local kingpin with the improbable name of Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms). Brad is a smooth-talking lowlife who has a killer whale for a pet and offers David a deal: bring a shipment of marijuana across the border from Mexico and his debt is clear. This is out of David’s league and he realizes that a lone man looking like himself will be easily spotted at the border. So he comes up with the perfect disguise: he will travel in a camper with a fake family so they’ll look like boring American tourists and not international drug smugglers. The family consists of Rose (Jennifer Aniston) who works as a stripper; Casey (Emma Roberts) who’s a tough, homeless street kid; and Kenny (Will Poulter), a kind-hearted teenager in David’s building who has been forced to live on his own.

The plot consists of their misadventures on the trip to Mexico and back. This includes running into another family of tourists who are as authentically weird and corny as the Millers are not, as well as the rival drug lord that Brad has double-crossed, now putting the Millers in the crossfire. The jokes are all slapstick, sex, and low humor. No one is going to confuse this with a sophisticated satire. But it works because we come to sympathize with the various characters early on and watch as this fake family slowly creates real bonds. It’s a variation of the romantic comedy (which Hollywood seems to have forgotten how to do) in which the lovers start out at odds but learn from each other. One hilariously tasteless scene has Kenny being taught how to kiss by his fake sister and mother. By the movie’s end, this ersatz family has become a real one or, at least, as close as any of them has ever come to experiencing a real family. As various plot points pay off you come to realize that the movie satisfies in a way that so many other recent comedies have not. A loathsome and selfish character isn’t magically transformed into a sympathetic figure in the last half hour. Instead, they’ve been slowly winning us over for the entire movie. We’re The Millers won’t be remember as one of the great screen comedies, but with a current drought of such films, except for This is the End of course, it’s a welcome relief.

We’re the Millers: ★★½

This hasn’t been a great year for film comedy, regardless of what the box office says: Identity Thief, The Hangover Part III, The Heat, Grown Ups 2. They may have made money, but these were films made by and for morons who confuse abuse and humiliation with humor. We’re the Millers sets down that same low comedy road but then something weird happens, it’s actually funny. Key to the film working and us buying its ridiculous premise is that we have to like the characters. Marginal as they all are, the seeds of their redemption are planted early. David Clark (Jason Sudeikis) is a low-level drug dealer who won’t sell to kids and seems to focus on marijuana. When his stash and cash are ripped off he is heavily in debt to an obscenely wealthy local kingpin with the improbable name of Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms). Brad is a smooth-talking lowlife who has a killer whale for a pet and offers David a deal: bring a shipment of marijuana across the border from Mexico and his debt is clear. This is out of David’s league and he realizes that a lone man looking like himself will be easily spotted at the border. So he comes up with the perfect disguise: he will travel in a camper with a fake family so they’ll look like boring American tourists and not international drug smugglers. The family consists of Rose (Jennifer Aniston) who works as a stripper; Casey (Emma Roberts) who’s a tough, homeless street kid; and Kenny (Will Poulter), a kind-hearted teenager in David’s building who has been forced to live on his own.

The plot consists of their misadventures on the trip to Mexico and back. This includes running into another family of tourists who are as authentically weird and corny as the Millers are not, as well as the rival drug lord that Brad has double-crossed, now putting the Millers in the crossfire. The jokes are all slapstick, sex, and low humor. No one is going to confuse this with a sophisticated satire. But it works because we come to sympathize with the various characters early on and watch as this fake family slowly creates real bonds. It’s a variation of the romantic comedy (which Hollywood seems to have forgotten how to do) in which the lovers start out at odds but learn from each other. One hilariously tasteless scene has Kenny being taught how to kiss by his fake sister and mother. By the movie’s end, this ersatz family has become a real one or, at least, as close as any of them has ever come to experiencing a real family. As various plot points pay off you come to realize that the movie satisfies in a way that so many other recent comedies have not. A loathsome and selfish character isn’t magically transformed into a sympathetic figure in the last half hour. Instead, they’ve been slowly winning us over for the entire movie. We’re The Millers won’t be remember as one of the great screen comedies, but with a current drought of such films, except for This is the End of course, it’s a welcome relief.

2 Guns: ★★½
2 Guns offers a couple of intriguing possibilities. Denzel Washington, who has been fine on the dramatic and action sides, has always shown a flair for the funny, yet he hasn’t made many comedies. He made Carbon Copy in 1981 and Much Ado About Nothing in 1993. He’s a drama guy who sometimes dabbles in action. Let’s just say he hasn’t been paid for providing belly laughs. Mark Wahlberg has made a lot of action films, but most of them stink (Max Payne, The Big Hit). His comedies, on the other hand, mark some of his very best work, with the action comedy The Other Guys being a shining example. So, does 2 Guns provide a nice chance for Washington to be funnier, and an opportunity for Wahlberg to bring the laughs while shooting his gun in an action movie that isn’t completely lame? The answer is a mild yes. 2 Guns gets no accolades for originality, but the Washington/Wahlberg combo is a winning one for sure. And an extremely tasty and nasty turn by Bill Paxton as a satanic CIA man helps things along. It’s not a straight-up comedy, but it has a good share of action-comedy laughs. Washington plays Bobby Trench, an undercover DEA agent trying to take down a Mexican drug cartel led by the dude from Miami Vice and Battlestar Galactica (Edward James Olmos). Wahlberg is Stig, AWOL from the Navy and looking to clear his name, and some other nonsense that I didn’t really follow. 
The two don’t know that about each other, and through a bunch of “only in the movies” circumstances find themselves teamed up and robbing a bank, unaware that each of them is undercover, or lying about who they are, or whatever. They rob the bank expecting to net a certain amount of money, but wind up with a lot more. Enter Bill Paxton. Paxton is mightily adept at playing a man of compromised morals. He has a bit involving Russian roulette that is actually quite chilling. He chews on every delivery as if it were a mouthful of awesome beef jerky (or turkey jerky if you don’t eat cow). I haven’t enjoyed Paxton this much in a movie since he wielded an ax and spouted religious claptrap in the 2001 underrated gem Frailty. The film kicks into a higher gear when the Washington and Wahlberg characters realize each other’s true identities, and work together to overcome various betrayals and double-crosses inflicted upon them by the CIA, girlfriends, the Navy, the snot-nosed kid down the street and Jesus. Everybody seems to be out to screw these guys. I like Wahlberg most when he’s trying to be funny. I especially liked a sequence where his character is berating a group of men for torturing chickens while he himself is chewing on a barbecued chicken leg. His character has a strange sort of exuberance about him; a goofy childlike wonder coupled with a shooter’s deadeye that makes him a pretty cool action-comedy partner. Washington is often called upon to be serious or frighteningly badass, with the occasional chance to cry while totally not looking like he’s going to cry. Here, he’s allowed to cut loose in a way he has never really done before, and Wahlberg proves a great counterpart. 
Of course, none of this would really work if director Baltasar Kormákur had screwed things up. Lucky for us, he doesn’t. The many chases and shootouts crackle with the kind of intensity that action movie mavens crave this time of year. This is a testosterone-heavy movie, with Paula Patton playing the only female character that really registers. As Deb, Bobby’s DEA partner and sometime partner in nudity, Patton does just fine. Her character, like every character in the film, is a bit of a stereotype, but she handles it with grace. She also gets partially naked, this is an R-rated film; it’s targeted at men, and most men (and many women) want to see her naked. She proves to be a good sport and, well, an actress who will most certainly get naked. The makers of this movie clearly have a dilemma if they go for a sequel. It’s not that we won’t be clamoring for another Washington/Wahlberg pairing, because they are good together. It’s just that it will be difficult to name the thing. Perhaps they could call it 2 Guns 2? Or 2 Guns II? Or how about 2 Guns: Even Gunnier? Why not Mark Wahlberg Is Super Funny When He Acts Like a 10-Year-Old, and He Does it Again in This Poorly Named Sequel? I dunno … some decision-makers have a legitimate dilemma on their hands.

2 Guns: ★★½

2 Guns offers a couple of intriguing possibilities. Denzel Washington, who has been fine on the dramatic and action sides, has always shown a flair for the funny, yet he hasn’t made many comedies. He made Carbon Copy in 1981 and Much Ado About Nothing in 1993. He’s a drama guy who sometimes dabbles in action. Let’s just say he hasn’t been paid for providing belly laughs. Mark Wahlberg has made a lot of action films, but most of them stink (Max Payne, The Big Hit). His comedies, on the other hand, mark some of his very best work, with the action comedy The Other Guys being a shining example. So, does 2 Guns provide a nice chance for Washington to be funnier, and an opportunity for Wahlberg to bring the laughs while shooting his gun in an action movie that isn’t completely lame? The answer is a mild yes. 2 Guns gets no accolades for originality, but the Washington/Wahlberg combo is a winning one for sure. And an extremely tasty and nasty turn by Bill Paxton as a satanic CIA man helps things along. It’s not a straight-up comedy, but it has a good share of action-comedy laughs. Washington plays Bobby Trench, an undercover DEA agent trying to take down a Mexican drug cartel led by the dude from Miami Vice and Battlestar Galactica (Edward James Olmos). Wahlberg is Stig, AWOL from the Navy and looking to clear his name, and some other nonsense that I didn’t really follow.

The two don’t know that about each other, and through a bunch of “only in the movies” circumstances find themselves teamed up and robbing a bank, unaware that each of them is undercover, or lying about who they are, or whatever. They rob the bank expecting to net a certain amount of money, but wind up with a lot more. Enter Bill Paxton. Paxton is mightily adept at playing a man of compromised morals. He has a bit involving Russian roulette that is actually quite chilling. He chews on every delivery as if it were a mouthful of awesome beef jerky (or turkey jerky if you don’t eat cow). I haven’t enjoyed Paxton this much in a movie since he wielded an ax and spouted religious claptrap in the 2001 underrated gem Frailty. The film kicks into a higher gear when the Washington and Wahlberg characters realize each other’s true identities, and work together to overcome various betrayals and double-crosses inflicted upon them by the CIA, girlfriends, the Navy, the snot-nosed kid down the street and Jesus. Everybody seems to be out to screw these guys. I like Wahlberg most when he’s trying to be funny. I especially liked a sequence where his character is berating a group of men for torturing chickens while he himself is chewing on a barbecued chicken leg. His character has a strange sort of exuberance about him; a goofy childlike wonder coupled with a shooter’s deadeye that makes him a pretty cool action-comedy partner. Washington is often called upon to be serious or frighteningly badass, with the occasional chance to cry while totally not looking like he’s going to cry. Here, he’s allowed to cut loose in a way he has never really done before, and Wahlberg proves a great counterpart.

Of course, none of this would really work if director Baltasar Kormákur had screwed things up. Lucky for us, he doesn’t. The many chases and shootouts crackle with the kind of intensity that action movie mavens crave this time of year. This is a testosterone-heavy movie, with Paula Patton playing the only female character that really registers. As Deb, Bobby’s DEA partner and sometime partner in nudity, Patton does just fine. Her character, like every character in the film, is a bit of a stereotype, but she handles it with grace. She also gets partially naked, this is an R-rated film; it’s targeted at men, and most men (and many women) want to see her naked. She proves to be a good sport and, well, an actress who will most certainly get naked. The makers of this movie clearly have a dilemma if they go for a sequel. It’s not that we won’t be clamoring for another Washington/Wahlberg pairing, because they are good together. It’s just that it will be difficult to name the thing. Perhaps they could call it 2 Guns 2? Or 2 Guns II? Or how about 2 Guns: Even Gunnier? Why not Mark Wahlberg Is Super Funny When He Acts Like a 10-Year-Old, and He Does it Again in This Poorly Named Sequel? I dunno … some decision-makers have a legitimate dilemma on their hands.

Europa Report: ★★½
Here’s an incredible little film that fizzles out in its last half-hour. Let’s start with the good stuff. I’m not clear on this, but I’ve been told Europa Report was produced for under a million dollars. If that holds any truth, the VFX guys did an incredible job at faking some astounding space footage. Sebastían Cordero’s film centers around six astronauts exploring an ice-covered moon that is suspected to contain water, the theory being that if there’s water, some kind of life may be present as well. From a layman’s perspective, the movie appears to be extremely scientifically literate. Another cool aspect of Europa Report is its formidable cast. Sure there’s no Sean Penns or Ryan Goslings, but most of the faces are familiar. If you’ve seen the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, you’ll recognize Michael Nyqvist, and if you haven’t seen the original, or even the fantastic remake for that matter, get your life together. Moving on. Fans of Showtime’s Dexter may also recognize Christian Camargo who played Dex’s killer brother way back in season one. Oh, the memories. Other cast member include Dan Foggelman from Balls of Fury, and Sharlito Copley as seen in District 9. Cordero is a director to watch. His style is unique and eye-catching. Problem is, he needs a writer. Europa Report’s main problem is its story. If the story didn’t fizzle out into typical droll, his film really could’ve been something. He also could’ve used some Sorkin-esque crackly banter in between double doses of big-word science talk. Despite my issues with it, I do definitely recommend Europa Report. It shows us that the found footage genre actually is one to be taken seriously. It might very well be the best found footage film I’ve seen, well, except for maybe Chronicle. That was a good one. But Cordero’s unique directorial vision makes Europa Report unmissable, however flawed it may be. 
 

Europa Report: ★★½

Here’s an incredible little film that fizzles out in its last half-hour. Let’s start with the good stuff. I’m not clear on this, but I’ve been told Europa Report was produced for under a million dollars. If that holds any truth, the VFX guys did an incredible job at faking some astounding space footage. Sebastían Cordero’s film centers around six astronauts exploring an ice-covered moon that is suspected to contain water, the theory being that if there’s water, some kind of life may be present as well. From a layman’s perspective, the movie appears to be extremely scientifically literate. Another cool aspect of Europa Report is its formidable cast. Sure there’s no Sean Penns or Ryan Goslings, but most of the faces are familiar. If you’ve seen the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, you’ll recognize Michael Nyqvist, and if you haven’t seen the original, or even the fantastic remake for that matter, get your life together. Moving on. Fans of Showtime’s Dexter may also recognize Christian Camargo who played Dex’s killer brother way back in season one. Oh, the memories. Other cast member include Dan Foggelman from Balls of Fury, and Sharlito Copley as seen in District 9. Cordero is a director to watch. His style is unique and eye-catching. Problem is, he needs a writer. Europa Report’s main problem is its story. If the story didn’t fizzle out into typical droll, his film really could’ve been something. He also could’ve used some Sorkin-esque crackly banter in between double doses of big-word science talk. Despite my issues with it, I do definitely recommend Europa Report. It shows us that the found footage genre actually is one to be taken seriously. It might very well be the best found footage film I’ve seen, well, except for maybe Chronicle. That was a good one. But Cordero’s unique directorial vision makes Europa Report unmissable, however flawed it may be. 

 

Our Children: ★★★
Our Children, a modern tragedy of a movie, follows a young married couple who share their home with an aging physician. The husband is Moroccan, and the doctor helped him immigrate to Belgium and has become as sort of godfather, at least that’s what the kids wind up calling him. The doctor, played subtly and skillfully by Niels Arestrup, is both generous and suffocating. When the husband can’t find work, the doctor gets him a job. When the wife is feeling the pressures of her busy life, he writes her a sick note. But when the husband and wife propose moving to Morocco to neutralize their stilted lives and have more room for their four children, the doctor becomes angry. For some reason, he’s become dangerously attached to these people with whom he share no blood. The plot of Our Children is fairly thin, and the style is minimalist, so its success depends entirely on the poignance of the performances. I went into this movie not knowing it was based on anything that actually happened. I went in knowing pretty much nothing at all, other than that it was well-received at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and it was shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. I also know its hitting select theaters in the US this Friday, hence the review. I do; however, believe that’s the best way to watch this movie. So I won’t tell you much either. What I can tell you is that these are masterful performances. Tahar Rahim plays the husband, again with a masterful subtlety. He was previously paired with Niels Arestrup in Jaques Audiard’s A Prophet, which I consider one of the best French films of the previous decade. All that, and neither he nor the doctor is the most important character here. That role belongs to Emilie Dequenne, who’s previously given Oscar-caliber performances in films such as Rosetta and The Girl on the Train. Here she is stunningly brilliant. She alone carries the film to the heights it reaches. As the wife, she becomes the literal face of the movie, suggesting discomfort, tension, and, ultimately, unspeakable emotional pain with subtle movements of her eyes and mouth. 
LaFosse is clearly primarily a director of actors. They are his main focus. Unfortunately, he’s not always as deft in crafting the film, a few small narrative mistakes cutting suspense and watering down the film’s final twist. He starts the film at the end in a brief scene before jumping back several years, which is the main problem, perhaps the only problem now that I think about it. But this move undercuts the coming drama, so the audience is not suspicious, but are instead certain of impending doom. That being said, if one were to remove the opening scene, the rest of the film is handled with admirable tonal brilliance. It’s all quite murky, very gray. Even the wedding scenes are blanketed in a veil of dread. The middle-section of the film is perhaps the most haunting. LaFosse’s unsentimental view of family life is pessimistic, but nevertheless feels painfully real. The husband and wife often argue, and those arguments are never resolved. The doctor is constantly making subtle movements with his eyes before he speaking, triggering the audience to keep an eye on him and doubt his character. I’m not going to say whether this directional detail pans out or not, but for whatever reason, it’s essential to the film. The children are made out to be traffic cones, inhuman crybabies that distract the husband and wife from preserving their relationship. It’s my humble opinion that this is LaFosse mocking modern family dynamics. I have a feeling he wouldn’t be a fan of daycare. My favorite scenes; however, were those brief moments where Dequenne’s character was alone. She tries on a Moroccan robe - pay attention to this scene in accordance with additional subplot details, it’ll strengthen the film’s affect on you. There’s another scene where she’s driving and singing along to the radio. Brilliant lyrical foreshadowing. Our Children falls short of greatness, but it showcases a new talent in LaFosse, who, if nothing else is a supreme director of actors. See the film for Emilie Dequenne’s brutal, harrowing performance. She really is that good. 

Our Children: ★★★

Our Children, a modern tragedy of a movie, follows a young married couple who share their home with an aging physician. The husband is Moroccan, and the doctor helped him immigrate to Belgium and has become as sort of godfather, at least that’s what the kids wind up calling him. The doctor, played subtly and skillfully by Niels Arestrup, is both generous and suffocating. When the husband can’t find work, the doctor gets him a job. When the wife is feeling the pressures of her busy life, he writes her a sick note. But when the husband and wife propose moving to Morocco to neutralize their stilted lives and have more room for their four children, the doctor becomes angry. For some reason, he’s become dangerously attached to these people with whom he share no blood. The plot of Our Children is fairly thin, and the style is minimalist, so its success depends entirely on the poignance of the performances. I went into this movie not knowing it was based on anything that actually happened. I went in knowing pretty much nothing at all, other than that it was well-received at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and it was shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. I also know its hitting select theaters in the US this Friday, hence the review. I do; however, believe that’s the best way to watch this movie. So I won’t tell you much either. What I can tell you is that these are masterful performances. Tahar Rahim plays the husband, again with a masterful subtlety. He was previously paired with Niels Arestrup in Jaques Audiard’s A Prophet, which I consider one of the best French films of the previous decade. All that, and neither he nor the doctor is the most important character here. That role belongs to Emilie Dequenne, who’s previously given Oscar-caliber performances in films such as Rosetta and The Girl on the Train. Here she is stunningly brilliant. She alone carries the film to the heights it reaches. As the wife, she becomes the literal face of the movie, suggesting discomfort, tension, and, ultimately, unspeakable emotional pain with subtle movements of her eyes and mouth. 

LaFosse is clearly primarily a director of actors. They are his main focus. Unfortunately, he’s not always as deft in crafting the film, a few small narrative mistakes cutting suspense and watering down the film’s final twist. He starts the film at the end in a brief scene before jumping back several years, which is the main problem, perhaps the only problem now that I think about it. But this move undercuts the coming drama, so the audience is not suspicious, but are instead certain of impending doom. That being said, if one were to remove the opening scene, the rest of the film is handled with admirable tonal brilliance. It’s all quite murky, very gray. Even the wedding scenes are blanketed in a veil of dread. The middle-section of the film is perhaps the most haunting. LaFosse’s unsentimental view of family life is pessimistic, but nevertheless feels painfully real. The husband and wife often argue, and those arguments are never resolved. The doctor is constantly making subtle movements with his eyes before he speaking, triggering the audience to keep an eye on him and doubt his character. I’m not going to say whether this directional detail pans out or not, but for whatever reason, it’s essential to the film. The children are made out to be traffic cones, inhuman crybabies that distract the husband and wife from preserving their relationship. It’s my humble opinion that this is LaFosse mocking modern family dynamics. I have a feeling he wouldn’t be a fan of daycare. My favorite scenes; however, were those brief moments where Dequenne’s character was alone. She tries on a Moroccan robe - pay attention to this scene in accordance with additional subplot details, it’ll strengthen the film’s affect on you. There’s another scene where she’s driving and singing along to the radio. Brilliant lyrical foreshadowing. Our Children falls short of greatness, but it showcases a new talent in LaFosse, who, if nothing else is a supreme director of actors. See the film for Emilie Dequenne’s brutal, harrowing performance. She really is that good. 

Blackfish: ★★★½
Ever been to Sea World? Great. Here’s a movie that’ll make you never wanna go back. So maybe the electrifying Blackfish isn’t a happy film, but it’s certainly an essential one. This isn’t another preening nature documentary laced with pulpy propaganda. Gabriella Cowperthwaite’s searing film is woven with cold hard facts that stick with you and weigh down like a dumbbell in your stomach. Blackfish has a fairly standard, but admirably efficient documentary narrative. The main two points of focus are on the interviews with former Sea World trainers and marine biologists specializing in orcas as well as continually gut-punching the audience with jarring archive footage. Forget The Conjuring, Blackfish is the scariest motion picture around. The film explores the individual orca incidents that weren’t without fatal results while also showing us how the whales are captured from their original habitats. One man who worked on capturing the orcas recounts what he saw, how savage the process was. He breaks down in tears. So will you. The footage really is disharmonizing to say the least. On many occasions, you can clearly see trainers being dragged under the murky depths as they gasp the last few breaths of air they’ll ever breathe. That can be hard to take in. The roughness of the footage aside, Blackfish is expertly shot and edited, with a Jeff Beal score that suggests both ominous urgency and natural wonder. It’s not a film that’s easily brushed off one’s shoulder. There’s a high chance I’ll never set foot in Sea World again. After seeing Blackfish, you’ll want to keep your distance as well. Disney is making fantastic nature documentaries and releasing them in most IMAX theaters, usually once at year. Stick to those and you’ll walk out with both a big smile and a clear conscience. 

Blackfish: ★★★½

Ever been to Sea World? Great. Here’s a movie that’ll make you never wanna go back. So maybe the electrifying Blackfish isn’t a happy film, but it’s certainly an essential one. This isn’t another preening nature documentary laced with pulpy propaganda. Gabriella Cowperthwaite’s searing film is woven with cold hard facts that stick with you and weigh down like a dumbbell in your stomach. Blackfish has a fairly standard, but admirably efficient documentary narrative. The main two points of focus are on the interviews with former Sea World trainers and marine biologists specializing in orcas as well as continually gut-punching the audience with jarring archive footage. Forget The Conjuring, Blackfish is the scariest motion picture around. The film explores the individual orca incidents that weren’t without fatal results while also showing us how the whales are captured from their original habitats. One man who worked on capturing the orcas recounts what he saw, how savage the process was. He breaks down in tears. So will you. The footage really is disharmonizing to say the least. On many occasions, you can clearly see trainers being dragged under the murky depths as they gasp the last few breaths of air they’ll ever breathe. That can be hard to take in. The roughness of the footage aside, Blackfish is expertly shot and edited, with a Jeff Beal score that suggests both ominous urgency and natural wonder. It’s not a film that’s easily brushed off one’s shoulder. There’s a high chance I’ll never set foot in Sea World again. After seeing Blackfish, you’ll want to keep your distance as well. Disney is making fantastic nature documentaries and releasing them in most IMAX theaters, usually once at year. Stick to those and you’ll walk out with both a big smile and a clear conscience. 

The To-Do List: ★★★
Judging by the trailer, one would’ve concluded The To-Do List was one to skip. But that’s only because writer/director Maggie Carey leaves all the jokes for the movie itself, which is continuously hilarious. Aubrey Plaza is a geeky delight in the lead role as the virginal valedictorian, Brandy Clark. But she isn’t the only highlight. This cast is extremely well-rounded. The only real bore is Cameron, played by Johnny Simmons, you know that guy Logan Lerman punched in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. His character is tedious and obnoxious when we’re supposed to root for him. I don’t know, maybe I’m just a bad person with a cold heart. Anyway, aside from Simmons’ character, you’ve got Bill Hader playing a hilarious deadbeat pool manager, along with Superbad’s Chris Mintz-Plasse and Community’s Donald Glover in supporting roles. Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development, yes!) and Sara Steele play Bradi’s “loose friends,” as her father puts it (a gut-bustingly funny Clark Gregg - who saw that coming?). Andy Samberg even pokes his head in eventually, but I’ll leave that unspoiled. One thing about The To-Do List people should beware of is the lack of dialogue censorship. Personally, I respect Carey for delivering a movie that recognizes how kids talk and doesn’t try to smooth it over and make it PG-13. But this kind of banter isn’t usually present on the big screen, so for some, it could very well come as a shock. The To-Do List is also interesting because it delivers the comedic tale of sexual enlightenment American Pie and many other films have covered and sequel’d on, but it does something ballsy those films didn’t. It gives us the girl’s perspective. You’ll laugh your ass off, and then, once she has you, Carey will deliver some profound ideas about youth, sex, and human growth that resonate big time. Didn’t see that coming. 

The To-Do List: ★★★

Judging by the trailer, one would’ve concluded The To-Do List was one to skip. But that’s only because writer/director Maggie Carey leaves all the jokes for the movie itself, which is continuously hilarious. Aubrey Plaza is a geeky delight in the lead role as the virginal valedictorian, Brandy Clark. But she isn’t the only highlight. This cast is extremely well-rounded. The only real bore is Cameron, played by Johnny Simmons, you know that guy Logan Lerman punched in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. His character is tedious and obnoxious when we’re supposed to root for him. I don’t know, maybe I’m just a bad person with a cold heart. Anyway, aside from Simmons’ character, you’ve got Bill Hader playing a hilarious deadbeat pool manager, along with Superbad’s Chris Mintz-Plasse and Community’s Donald Glover in supporting roles. Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development, yes!) and Sara Steele play Bradi’s “loose friends,” as her father puts it (a gut-bustingly funny Clark Gregg - who saw that coming?). Andy Samberg even pokes his head in eventually, but I’ll leave that unspoiled. One thing about The To-Do List people should beware of is the lack of dialogue censorship. Personally, I respect Carey for delivering a movie that recognizes how kids talk and doesn’t try to smooth it over and make it PG-13. But this kind of banter isn’t usually present on the big screen, so for some, it could very well come as a shock. The To-Do List is also interesting because it delivers the comedic tale of sexual enlightenment American Pie and many other films have covered and sequel’d on, but it does something ballsy those films didn’t. It gives us the girl’s perspective. You’ll laugh your ass off, and then, once she has you, Carey will deliver some profound ideas about youth, sex, and human growth that resonate big time. Didn’t see that coming. 

The Wolverine: ★★★
James Mangold’s The Wolverine is one of the best of the year’s many comic book movies. Mangold is a director who approaches his material differently than most comic book adapting filmmakers. Take Zack Snyder for example. Snyder is great at shooting action sequences, but in the field of character development, his films can come up short, with the exception, of course, of Watchmen. But Mangold has a keen eye for these characters. He understands them almost too well, just as we saw in his previous films Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma which were actually purer character studies, but that’s splitting hairs. When I first saw Batman Begins back in 2005, I clapped at the end, thinking something I never thought Hollywood would allow me to think. They got Batman. They go him right. I didn’t think it would happen, but they did it. That’s how I feel about The Wolverine. I never thought the character of Wolverine was focused in on enough in the original X-Men trilogy, and like most folks, I thought Origins was dogshit. But this one finally does it, nailing the bittersweet idea of immortality as well as perfectly capturing a broken man with a massive burden on his shoulders. In previous films, Wolverine wasn’t as serious a character as I wanted him to be. Prettyboys like Cyclopes scoffed at him. But I always knew Wolverine was a badass. I still wanna see an R-rated Wolverine movie where he rampages through Japan, turning murderous ninja clans into sloppy red chunks. But there’s this whole thing called marketing, so chances are that won’t happen. Boo-hoo, I’ll take what I can get. 
This is also Hugh Jackman’s best performance as Wolverine, so it’s not just the writing and directing that tuned this character correctly for once. If a comic book movie is the last place you look for an honest, soulful performance, The Wolverine should be your first. You might feel a little insecure about your body at first (I know I did, Jackman is freaking ripped) but after awhile, you’ll wind up connecting with a character on a personal level that at first seemed like an outlandish mutant. But, like I’ve said before, a good character isn’t enough to build a whole movie. The Wolverine has some uber cool aspects to its plot, setting, backstory, etc. It mostly takes place in Japan, showing the audience, at least those who don’t watch every Takashi Miike film they can get their hands on (I do) a captivating world they might not be all that familiar with. There’s even some jarring Nagasaki flashbacks that’ll leave you still in your seat. I’ll leave that there. Something else I will delve into though, which seems to be a trend at the movies right now (looking at you, Pacific Rim) is the dangerous, weapon-wielding Japanese girl. Why is this just now getting popular? Did it take everyone ten years to watch Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies, or what? Anyway, you’ve got Japanese sisters in The Wolverine. They’re technically not sisters by blood, but that doesn’t really matter, because they’re as close as real sisters. Mariko is the damsel in distress. Yukio is the badass with the bo-staff. Both actresses get the job done. The real weakness in this film are the villains. Apart from some cool ninja dude, there isn’t much here. The central villain, or at least the villain who appears to be orchestrating the wrongdoings throughout the majority of the film, is a lame snake lady who spits venom at people. Maybe she would’ve been a good enough villain to throw fists at Spiderman, but Wolverine? That’s a con-job. The Wolverine also sinks into a pit of CGI crap within its last fifteen minutes or so, but it’s forgivable. What you have mostly, for an hour and forty-five minutes anyway, is a great fucking comic book movie. 

The Wolverine: ★★★

James Mangold’s The Wolverine is one of the best of the year’s many comic book movies. Mangold is a director who approaches his material differently than most comic book adapting filmmakers. Take Zack Snyder for example. Snyder is great at shooting action sequences, but in the field of character development, his films can come up short, with the exception, of course, of Watchmen. But Mangold has a keen eye for these characters. He understands them almost too well, just as we saw in his previous films Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma which were actually purer character studies, but that’s splitting hairs. When I first saw Batman Begins back in 2005, I clapped at the end, thinking something I never thought Hollywood would allow me to think. They got Batman. They go him right. I didn’t think it would happen, but they did it. That’s how I feel about The Wolverine. I never thought the character of Wolverine was focused in on enough in the original X-Men trilogy, and like most folks, I thought Origins was dogshit. But this one finally does it, nailing the bittersweet idea of immortality as well as perfectly capturing a broken man with a massive burden on his shoulders. In previous films, Wolverine wasn’t as serious a character as I wanted him to be. Prettyboys like Cyclopes scoffed at him. But I always knew Wolverine was a badass. I still wanna see an R-rated Wolverine movie where he rampages through Japan, turning murderous ninja clans into sloppy red chunks. But there’s this whole thing called marketing, so chances are that won’t happen. Boo-hoo, I’ll take what I can get. 

This is also Hugh Jackman’s best performance as Wolverine, so it’s not just the writing and directing that tuned this character correctly for once. If a comic book movie is the last place you look for an honest, soulful performance, The Wolverine should be your first. You might feel a little insecure about your body at first (I know I did, Jackman is freaking ripped) but after awhile, you’ll wind up connecting with a character on a personal level that at first seemed like an outlandish mutant. But, like I’ve said before, a good character isn’t enough to build a whole movie. The Wolverine has some uber cool aspects to its plot, setting, backstory, etc. It mostly takes place in Japan, showing the audience, at least those who don’t watch every Takashi Miike film they can get their hands on (I do) a captivating world they might not be all that familiar with. There’s even some jarring Nagasaki flashbacks that’ll leave you still in your seat. I’ll leave that there. Something else I will delve into though, which seems to be a trend at the movies right now (looking at you, Pacific Rim) is the dangerous, weapon-wielding Japanese girl. Why is this just now getting popular? Did it take everyone ten years to watch Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies, or what? Anyway, you’ve got Japanese sisters in The Wolverine. They’re technically not sisters by blood, but that doesn’t really matter, because they’re as close as real sisters. Mariko is the damsel in distress. Yukio is the badass with the bo-staff. Both actresses get the job done. The real weakness in this film are the villains. Apart from some cool ninja dude, there isn’t much here. The central villain, or at least the villain who appears to be orchestrating the wrongdoings throughout the majority of the film, is a lame snake lady who spits venom at people. Maybe she would’ve been a good enough villain to throw fists at Spiderman, but Wolverine? That’s a con-job. The Wolverine also sinks into a pit of CGI crap within its last fifteen minutes or so, but it’s forgivable. What you have mostly, for an hour and forty-five minutes anyway, is a great fucking comic book movie. 

Crystal Fairy & The Magic Cactus: ★★½
During the draggy first half of Chilean helmer Sebastían Silva’s Crystal Fairy, I couldn’t find anything to smile about besides Michael Cera’s zonked out hair-do and perfect stoner shades. The characters mingle, spattering bits of English and bits of Spanish here and there, but they never really talk about much at all. Not in the beginning anyway. It’s never clear why Cera’s character, Jamie, is in Chile either. It just seems like this American dude randomly knows these three Chilean brothers, and they’re all gonna go get high off some special cactus. Kind of jumbled, I’m sure you’d agree, but Silva is doing this intentionally. He wants to make a jumbled movie about jumbled people in an attempt to reflect how jumbled life is. Crystal Fairy is littered with themes and messages, all good ones, but they’re never forced upon us. They just hang there, which could also be quite frustrating, depending on your perspective on cinema. There’s never any real resolution here, and nothing ever really happens like in most films, but there’s a good bit of underplayed human growth that goes on during the last thirty minutes, and those minutes, as well as the time we spend thinking about Crystal Fairy after the credits begin to role, are what makes Silva’s film count. 
The title refers to Crystal Fairy, as she calls herself, a hippie chick also from America, who has a habit of hitching road trips with strangers and frolicking around naked for long periods of time. At first, she seems ridiculous, a farcical and tediously exaggerated characterization of how most of us perceive the quote unquote hippies. But while she is a character, radical and even maniacal at times, we slowly begin to realize she’s also an obvious and sharply-drawn symbol as the film winds on. Crystal Fairy represents something awfully complicated. While she’s symbolic of an importance to embrace nature, she’s also a symbol of how one’s humanity can become a vague idea when they get themselves a little too entangled with the great outdoors. We see this same metaphor unfold in Into the Wild, a brilliant film I’d highly recommend. The director, Silva, is also extremely perceptive about body language, and the characters’ physical presences are as revealing as their words. The performances give you an almost uncomfortable sense of proximity. But that’s just the way Crystal Fairy works. You get extremely close with some people who frankly aren’t all that interesting, find out they’re more than what they appear to be, and then you’re done. It isn’t too funny, and not much happens, but it’s worth a look for the sense of developmental intrigue, and a rare depiction of drug use grounded in recognizable realism. Take it or leave it.

Crystal Fairy & The Magic Cactus: ★★½

During the draggy first half of Chilean helmer Sebastían Silva’s Crystal Fairy, I couldn’t find anything to smile about besides Michael Cera’s zonked out hair-do and perfect stoner shades. The characters mingle, spattering bits of English and bits of Spanish here and there, but they never really talk about much at all. Not in the beginning anyway. It’s never clear why Cera’s character, Jamie, is in Chile either. It just seems like this American dude randomly knows these three Chilean brothers, and they’re all gonna go get high off some special cactus. Kind of jumbled, I’m sure you’d agree, but Silva is doing this intentionally. He wants to make a jumbled movie about jumbled people in an attempt to reflect how jumbled life is. Crystal Fairy is littered with themes and messages, all good ones, but they’re never forced upon us. They just hang there, which could also be quite frustrating, depending on your perspective on cinema. There’s never any real resolution here, and nothing ever really happens like in most films, but there’s a good bit of underplayed human growth that goes on during the last thirty minutes, and those minutes, as well as the time we spend thinking about Crystal Fairy after the credits begin to role, are what makes Silva’s film count. 

The title refers to Crystal Fairy, as she calls herself, a hippie chick also from America, who has a habit of hitching road trips with strangers and frolicking around naked for long periods of time. At first, she seems ridiculous, a farcical and tediously exaggerated characterization of how most of us perceive the quote unquote hippies. But while she is a character, radical and even maniacal at times, we slowly begin to realize she’s also an obvious and sharply-drawn symbol as the film winds on. Crystal Fairy represents something awfully complicated. While she’s symbolic of an importance to embrace nature, she’s also a symbol of how one’s humanity can become a vague idea when they get themselves a little too entangled with the great outdoors. We see this same metaphor unfold in Into the Wild, a brilliant film I’d highly recommend. The director, Silva, is also extremely perceptive about body language, and the characters’ physical presences are as revealing as their words. The performances give you an almost uncomfortable sense of proximity. But that’s just the way Crystal Fairy works. You get extremely close with some people who frankly aren’t all that interesting, find out they’re more than what they appear to be, and then you’re done. It isn’t too funny, and not much happens, but it’s worth a look for the sense of developmental intrigue, and a rare depiction of drug use grounded in recognizable realism. Take it or leave it.

Only God Forgives: ★★★
'Time to meet the Devil' reads the tagline for Drive-team Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling's latest collaboration, Only God Forgives. The film’s tagline, and its title for that matter, very explicitly reveals the film’s Old Testament, wrath of God-style nature. This is not a traditional, dialogue-driven film. This is first and foremost a parable on sin and punishment, where the darkest traits of humanity are explored, and where everyone must atone for their wickedness. Julian (Ryan Gosling) runs a Thai boxing club in Bangkok, though the club is a front for the drug trafficking business run by his mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott-Thomas). His brother Billy (Tom Burke) is a despicable piece of shit who gets off on raping and beating young girls. When Billy eventually kills a 16 year old prostitute, the sword-wielding Policeman Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) is called to the scene and administers his own brand of righteous justice by allowing the girl’s father to pummel Billy into red chunks. Think that’s the end of it? Chang’s not satisfied until the father is made to atone for his shitty parenting skills. In this world, no one escapes judgment. Crystal flies into town to view what’s left of her firstborn child’s corpse, and she’s mad as hell that Julian has done nothing to avenge his brother. Julian knows that the scumbag got what he deserved, but his mother, being just as twisted and ruthless as her deceased son once was, adored Billy and sets in motion a series of events to get her revenge on the cop that took him away. Unfortunately for Julian, that means getting dragged into a situation he doesn’t want to be in - one that will send him on a collision course with Chang, the ‘angel of vengeance’.
In Drive, Gosling played a quiet, heroic man that adhered to a code. While not exactly a moral code, he was a character that fiercely believed in right and wrong. Most of those same characteristics apply to the character of Julian, albeit with a few key differences. For starters, he’s even quieter; Gosling’s dialogue in the film would struggle to fill a couple of cue cards. If you already had a problem with the ‘man of few words’ approach that he displayed in Drive, then you’re out of luck here. He isn’t much a hero in this film either. While he is a man of certain morals, he’s far from being an unstoppable badass. If it were up to him, he’d sit this whole thing out entirely. Julian knows he deserves punishment for past transgressions, as well as his current lifestyle. He’s a sad, guilt-filled man, whose sexual encounters involve being tied to a chair as a spectator while imagining himself being mutilated for getting too close. He has the capacity to commit sudden acts of brutal violence, but it’s usually with a forced hand from his domineering and terrifying mother. Julian displays a very clear Oedipal Complex, likely spurned on by Crystal’s sexual taunting from a young age. During dinner conversation, his mother openly tells Julian’s date about his penis envy towards his brother. “Julian’s was never small, but Billy’s…. oh it was enormous! How do you compete with that?” 
Kristin Scott-Thomas has the most talkative role in the film, and is exceptional playing against type as a woman whose blood must consist mostly of snake venom. While her character is a ghastly human being, Scott-Thomas is able to imbue Crystal with a wounded sense of vulnerability, as if she knows how heinous she is but can’t help herself. The standout in the film however, is Vithaya Pansringarm as Chang, a character with an almost mystical presence that hovers over the entire film, threatening to cut our characters down when they step out of line. If it’s only God that forgives, then Chang is his messenger and deliverer of judgment, an insane, but divine being that is driven by his warped sense of right and wrong. Many will find the film alienating. Its sparse dialogue, slow-burn nature, darkness, oppressive atmosphere and numerous karaoke scenes will not be everyone’s cup of tea. With this in mind, it’s important to remember that the film is a piece of art, an uncompromising vision formed by its director for the purposes of expression. Like any ambitious artwork, Only God Forgives is not to be universally adored. In fact, I’d go as far as saying mainstream audiences will hate this film. They will loathe it with a burning passion. For one who isn’t interesting in cinema as an art form, the film will be completely inaccessible. However, that people’s opinions are so diametrically opposed when it comes to the film is a sign of its power to create a strong reaction. Many film critics have become accustomed to making snap judgements on artworks, publishing insta-reviews dictated by deadlines as if there isn’t room to ponder and interpret a film after viewing it. There’s closed-mindedness in this box office-obsessed, Rotten Tomatoes-age of film criticism that seeks to punish audacity in cinema. Only God Forgives has bore the brunt of this head on, with tabloid-esque ‘disaster’ headlines and surface-level analyses that do the artist, the film and the practice of film criticism a great disservice. Art isn’t binary. It defies categories like ‘awesome’ or ‘terrible’.
Now this film is also not perfect, as most works of art are not. It is flawed in some key areas, which I attribute to Refn, the director. He’s said himself that’s he’s a fetish filmmaker, and some of his fetishes compromise the pounding resonance of Only God Forgives. Refn loves violence, he loves bloody torture scenes, and that’s all good and fine. Cinema can often be an outlet for the  darkest of temptations that creep their way through our thoughts. Take Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever for example, a definite fetish film, made for a half a million dollars in the woods somewhere. Roth and Refn use the same prolonged gory violence in their films, but while Roth is creating nasty, hilarious, and bitingly exciting exploitation, Refn is meditating on the human capacity to commit unspeakable evil. There is a way to cinematically display brutality so it’s brutal. A few of Refn’s torture-porn scenes stretch too long, and become not only tiresome but a bit silly. In Drive, the violence was quick and shocking. Here it is much different, understandably so, but it doesn’t work, which is a big blow to the film’s success, considering how much the idea of violence is tied into what this film is attempting to accomplish. This; however, does not completely vanquish the poignance of Only God Forgives. Refn’s film is still a shattering work of genius. His bizarre, infernal creation will stick with you. Each scene is executed with pure formal brilliance. It attains a Kubrickarian level of sensory overload, which for me, was fantastic. Visually, it is the best film of 2013. Color sets the tone, be it deep, depressing blues, or savage and angry reds. The score is also the best you will hear this year. If there is justice, it will become iconic. And if there ever was an essential three-star movie, this is it. 

Only God Forgives: ★★★

'Time to meet the Devil' reads the tagline for Drive-team Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling's latest collaboration, Only God Forgives. The film’s tagline, and its title for that matter, very explicitly reveals the film’s Old Testament, wrath of God-style nature. This is not a traditional, dialogue-driven film. This is first and foremost a parable on sin and punishment, where the darkest traits of humanity are explored, and where everyone must atone for their wickedness. Julian (Ryan Gosling) runs a Thai boxing club in Bangkok, though the club is a front for the drug trafficking business run by his mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott-Thomas). His brother Billy (Tom Burke) is a despicable piece of shit who gets off on raping and beating young girls. When Billy eventually kills a 16 year old prostitute, the sword-wielding Policeman Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) is called to the scene and administers his own brand of righteous justice by allowing the girl’s father to pummel Billy into red chunks. Think that’s the end of it? Chang’s not satisfied until the father is made to atone for his shitty parenting skills. In this world, no one escapes judgment. Crystal flies into town to view what’s left of her firstborn child’s corpse, and she’s mad as hell that Julian has done nothing to avenge his brother. Julian knows that the scumbag got what he deserved, but his mother, being just as twisted and ruthless as her deceased son once was, adored Billy and sets in motion a series of events to get her revenge on the cop that took him away. Unfortunately for Julian, that means getting dragged into a situation he doesn’t want to be in - one that will send him on a collision course with Chang, the ‘angel of vengeance’.

In Drive, Gosling played a quiet, heroic man that adhered to a code. While not exactly a moral code, he was a character that fiercely believed in right and wrong. Most of those same characteristics apply to the character of Julian, albeit with a few key differences. For starters, he’s even quieter; Gosling’s dialogue in the film would struggle to fill a couple of cue cards. If you already had a problem with the ‘man of few words’ approach that he displayed in Drive, then you’re out of luck here. He isn’t much a hero in this film either. While he is a man of certain morals, he’s far from being an unstoppable badass. If it were up to him, he’d sit this whole thing out entirely. Julian knows he deserves punishment for past transgressions, as well as his current lifestyle. He’s a sad, guilt-filled man, whose sexual encounters involve being tied to a chair as a spectator while imagining himself being mutilated for getting too close. He has the capacity to commit sudden acts of brutal violence, but it’s usually with a forced hand from his domineering and terrifying mother. Julian displays a very clear Oedipal Complex, likely spurned on by Crystal’s sexual taunting from a young age. During dinner conversation, his mother openly tells Julian’s date about his penis envy towards his brother. “Julian’s was never small, but Billy’s…. oh it was enormous! How do you compete with that?” 

Kristin Scott-Thomas has the most talkative role in the film, and is exceptional playing against type as a woman whose blood must consist mostly of snake venom. While her character is a ghastly human being, Scott-Thomas is able to imbue Crystal with a wounded sense of vulnerability, as if she knows how heinous she is but can’t help herself. The standout in the film however, is Vithaya Pansringarm as Chang, a character with an almost mystical presence that hovers over the entire film, threatening to cut our characters down when they step out of line. If it’s only God that forgives, then Chang is his messenger and deliverer of judgment, an insane, but divine being that is driven by his warped sense of right and wrong. Many will find the film alienating. Its sparse dialogue, slow-burn nature, darkness, oppressive atmosphere and numerous karaoke scenes will not be everyone’s cup of tea. With this in mind, it’s important to remember that the film is a piece of art, an uncompromising vision formed by its director for the purposes of expression. Like any ambitious artwork, Only God Forgives is not to be universally adored. In fact, I’d go as far as saying mainstream audiences will hate this film. They will loathe it with a burning passion. For one who isn’t interesting in cinema as an art form, the film will be completely inaccessible. However, that people’s opinions are so diametrically opposed when it comes to the film is a sign of its power to create a strong reaction. Many film critics have become accustomed to making snap judgements on artworks, publishing insta-reviews dictated by deadlines as if there isn’t room to ponder and interpret a film after viewing it. There’s closed-mindedness in this box office-obsessed, Rotten Tomatoes-age of film criticism that seeks to punish audacity in cinema. Only God Forgives has bore the brunt of this head on, with tabloid-esque ‘disaster’ headlines and surface-level analyses that do the artist, the film and the practice of film criticism a great disservice. Art isn’t binary. It defies categories like ‘awesome’ or ‘terrible’.

Now this film is also not perfect, as most works of art are not. It is flawed in some key areas, which I attribute to Refn, the director. He’s said himself that’s he’s a fetish filmmaker, and some of his fetishes compromise the pounding resonance of Only God Forgives. Refn loves violence, he loves bloody torture scenes, and that’s all good and fine. Cinema can often be an outlet for the  darkest of temptations that creep their way through our thoughts. Take Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever for example, a definite fetish film, made for a half a million dollars in the woods somewhere. Roth and Refn use the same prolonged gory violence in their films, but while Roth is creating nasty, hilarious, and bitingly exciting exploitation, Refn is meditating on the human capacity to commit unspeakable evil. There is a way to cinematically display brutality so it’s brutal. A few of Refn’s torture-porn scenes stretch too long, and become not only tiresome but a bit silly. In Drive, the violence was quick and shocking. Here it is much different, understandably so, but it doesn’t work, which is a big blow to the film’s success, considering how much the idea of violence is tied into what this film is attempting to accomplish. This; however, does not completely vanquish the poignance of Only God Forgives. Refn’s film is still a shattering work of genius. His bizarre, infernal creation will stick with you. Each scene is executed with pure formal brilliance. It attains a Kubrickarian level of sensory overload, which for me, was fantastic. Visually, it is the best film of 2013. Color sets the tone, be it deep, depressing blues, or savage and angry reds. The score is also the best you will hear this year. If there is justice, it will become iconic. And if there ever was an essential three-star movie, this is it. 

The Conjuring: ★★
The reviews for James Wan’s The Conjuring are only as positive as they are because so many of these rickety, things-that-go-bump-in-the-night projects get made. The exhausted, nearly farcical ‘based on a true story’ horror films. I suppose if you believe in silly children’s stories like ghosts and demonic spirits, then these movies would have you pants-shit-scared by the time you left the theater. But most of us have brains. So this stuff doesn’t faze us. However, to be fair, The Conjuring is a very well made film, at least in its first act. Wan takes full advantage of modern theatrical sound systems, pummeling his audience with creaks and groans that seem to come from all directions. His swooping camera is also a wonderful addition to the film’s technical aspects, all of which are quite impressive. The production design helps to create an eerily atmospheric vibe. Jack Fisk, a legendary production designer, actually laid out the schematics for the old town house in which the film takes place, so though you may not recognize it, this sleek, creaky abode has been featured in more than one film. But looks aren’t everything, a film also needs a compelling story, and characters who are more than just your average folk. That’s possibly where Wan missteps the most. He makes the mistake of having his film center around your average American family. Of course, an average family from 1971, considering that’s when the so-called ‘true story’ took place. For a horror film to work, the characters have to be extremely well-developed, because with modern movies like Man of Steel, where countless civilians (probably close to a million in that particular feature) are slaughtered off-screen and the audience is just persuaded to forget about it, the sanctity of these human characters’ lives then means very little to the audience. A good horror film needs to create characters who are unique, but simultaneously resonate with the audience. Characters that the audience can’t let go of, characters they root for. Then those character need to die. That’s what horror films are about! Breaking the rules and giving the audience the finger. In The Conjuring, there’s an extremely low body count, and you walk out feeling either relieved or indifferent depending on how the characters hit you, but certainly not horrified. The sequel is already in development, but how that’s going to work, I’ve not got a clue.

The Conjuring: ★★

The reviews for James Wan’s The Conjuring are only as positive as they are because so many of these rickety, things-that-go-bump-in-the-night projects get made. The exhausted, nearly farcical ‘based on a true story’ horror films. I suppose if you believe in silly children’s stories like ghosts and demonic spirits, then these movies would have you pants-shit-scared by the time you left the theater. But most of us have brains. So this stuff doesn’t faze us. However, to be fair, The Conjuring is a very well made film, at least in its first act. Wan takes full advantage of modern theatrical sound systems, pummeling his audience with creaks and groans that seem to come from all directions. His swooping camera is also a wonderful addition to the film’s technical aspects, all of which are quite impressive. The production design helps to create an eerily atmospheric vibe. Jack Fisk, a legendary production designer, actually laid out the schematics for the old town house in which the film takes place, so though you may not recognize it, this sleek, creaky abode has been featured in more than one film. But looks aren’t everything, a film also needs a compelling story, and characters who are more than just your average folk. That’s possibly where Wan missteps the most. He makes the mistake of having his film center around your average American family. Of course, an average family from 1971, considering that’s when the so-called ‘true story’ took place. For a horror film to work, the characters have to be extremely well-developed, because with modern movies like Man of Steel, where countless civilians (probably close to a million in that particular feature) are slaughtered off-screen and the audience is just persuaded to forget about it, the sanctity of these human characters’ lives then means very little to the audience. A good horror film needs to create characters who are unique, but simultaneously resonate with the audience. Characters that the audience can’t let go of, characters they root for. Then those character need to die. That’s what horror films are about! Breaking the rules and giving the audience the finger. In The Conjuring, there’s an extremely low body count, and you walk out feeling either relieved or indifferent depending on how the characters hit you, but certainly not horrified. The sequel is already in development, but how that’s going to work, I’ve not got a clue.

Fruitvale Station: ★★★½
The infamous footage shot on that tragic day at Fruitvale Station begins abruptly and shocks the audience. Shots fired. Shots fired at Fruitvale. Code three. It’s a blistering heatwave of sounds and images that wallops the audience like a kick in the stomach. This isn’t a happy movie. This is cinema that sticks with you. That penetrates you. You won’t forget Ryan Coogler’s dominating directorial debut. In case you don’t already know, Coogler’s film takes place on December 31st, 2008, the last day of Oscar Grant’s life before he was fatally shot by a policeman after someone from his past decided to start a fight. Grant, a former drug dealer, had been in and out of prison, but his caring mother, and the fact that he and his girlfriend now had a daughter, had compelled him to try and turn is life around. Michael B. Jordan plays Oscar with ferocious tenacity, he is supremely believable, and his character radiates with authenticity. We feel for Oscar and are sympathetic to the circumstances of his life. Many Americans have a preconception about people who’ve been in prison at one time or another, or who have just done bad things at some point in their lives, which is unfortunate, and thank god for Fruitvale, a film that’s out to show us we’re wrong. Oscar Grant was a good person who had his heart in the right place, and I think that not because I’ve what I’ve seen in Coogler’s film (a handful of events are obviously dramatized, my only issue with the movie), but because I’ve read the case, and read the witness accounts that described Grant. Accident or not, and we’ll never know for sure, Oscar Grant did not deserve to die.
Octavia Spencer and Melonie Diaz also each give endearing, brilliant, and madly affecting performances as Oscar’s mother and girlfriend. Fruitvale Station is acting heaven. Spencer has given her best performance, and if you saw how good she was in The Help, or pretty much anything else she’s done, you know that’s a very big compliment to her work here. Melonie Diaz, an actress I was unfamiliar with previous to seeing Fruitvale, has instantly earned my reverence and admiration. I hope awards season is very kind to these three actors, because while I’d love to see them get the recognition they deserve, I also don’t want this to be the last I here of Jordan and Diaz. Though its not always the case, Oscar nominations usually seem to sustain one’s career for a decent while, and that’s what I want to see happen here. Coogler is also a supreme new talent in the world of filmmaking. I look forward to his next project. I suppose there isn’t much that’s necessarily special about the technical side of Fruitvale Station. I’m a big fan of lens flare, so that aspect was fun, but I suppose the most important note is that this movie was made with passion. The writer/director, the actors, the editor, and the cinematographer, it is crystal clear that everyone involved with making this film cared a great deal about the quality of their work, and were emotionally tied to the story’s subject, helping with the authenticity aspect. Coogler also shows us he’s a great storyteller, using precise and well-placed elements of foreshadowing to aid these tragic events in unrolling cinematically. Fruitvale Station will rock your world, and if the life of Oscar Grant means anything, compel you to change it.

Fruitvale Station: ★★★½

The infamous footage shot on that tragic day at Fruitvale Station begins abruptly and shocks the audience. Shots fired. Shots fired at Fruitvale. Code three. It’s a blistering heatwave of sounds and images that wallops the audience like a kick in the stomach. This isn’t a happy movie. This is cinema that sticks with you. That penetrates you. You won’t forget Ryan Coogler’s dominating directorial debut. In case you don’t already know, Coogler’s film takes place on December 31st, 2008, the last day of Oscar Grant’s life before he was fatally shot by a policeman after someone from his past decided to start a fight. Grant, a former drug dealer, had been in and out of prison, but his caring mother, and the fact that he and his girlfriend now had a daughter, had compelled him to try and turn is life around. Michael B. Jordan plays Oscar with ferocious tenacity, he is supremely believable, and his character radiates with authenticity. We feel for Oscar and are sympathetic to the circumstances of his life. Many Americans have a preconception about people who’ve been in prison at one time or another, or who have just done bad things at some point in their lives, which is unfortunate, and thank god for Fruitvalea film that’s out to show us we’re wrong. Oscar Grant was a good person who had his heart in the right place, and I think that not because I’ve what I’ve seen in Coogler’s film (a handful of events are obviously dramatized, my only issue with the movie), but because I’ve read the case, and read the witness accounts that described Grant. Accident or not, and we’ll never know for sure, Oscar Grant did not deserve to die.

Octavia Spencer and Melonie Diaz also each give endearing, brilliant, and madly affecting performances as Oscar’s mother and girlfriend. Fruitvale Station is acting heaven. Spencer has given her best performance, and if you saw how good she was in The Help, or pretty much anything else she’s done, you know that’s a very big compliment to her work here. Melonie Diaz, an actress I was unfamiliar with previous to seeing Fruitvale, has instantly earned my reverence and admiration. I hope awards season is very kind to these three actors, because while I’d love to see them get the recognition they deserve, I also don’t want this to be the last I here of Jordan and Diaz. Though its not always the case, Oscar nominations usually seem to sustain one’s career for a decent while, and that’s what I want to see happen here. Coogler is also a supreme new talent in the world of filmmaking. I look forward to his next project. I suppose there isn’t much that’s necessarily special about the technical side of Fruitvale Station. I’m a big fan of lens flare, so that aspect was fun, but I suppose the most important note is that this movie was made with passion. The writer/director, the actors, the editor, and the cinematographer, it is crystal clear that everyone involved with making this film cared a great deal about the quality of their work, and were emotionally tied to the story’s subject, helping with the authenticity aspect. Coogler also shows us he’s a great storyteller, using precise and well-placed elements of foreshadowing to aid these tragic events in unrolling cinematically. Fruitvale Station will rock your world, and if the life of Oscar Grant means anything, compel you to change it.

Unfinished Song: ★★★½
Upon seeing Unfinished Song, the film critic in me found a few faults and shook his head a few times, but was ultimately impressed. The movie-lover in me was delighted. Here’s a film with ambitious philosophies that are hard to deliver cinematically without soaking the audience in sentimentality that’s familiar to the point of obnoxiousness. The story opens its narrative following an elderly couple, Arthur and Marion, played by Terrance Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave. Redgrave is fantastic in her role, but Stamp carries the entire film. His performance is complex, subtle, and awesomely brilliant. Marion’s favorite pastime is singing in a choir made up of elderly people like herself. They’re a pleasure to watch. Even though only a handful have lines, the lines are used to strike timely hilarity. Gemma Arterton (Byzantium, The Disappearance of of Alice Creed) also brings more than necessary to her role as a sweet-hearted teacher in her thirties who leads the choir without pay. Being a part of the choir is almost therapeutic to her, and for Marion, the meetings serve as highlights to her week. So for most of the cast, it’s all good fun. But not for Arthur. He watches how delighted his wife is when she’s singing with her friends and can’t make heads or tails of it. He wonders why he can’t make her happy himself. Unfortunately, because of an error in the plot summary on IMDb (the supposed spoiler-free one near the top of the page) some key plot points in Unfinished Song were spoiled for me, so I’ll be sure to stop my plot analysis right here. Despite my overall contentment upon watching the film, I understand how Paul Andrew Williams’ film could ring false for many viewers, at least parts of it anyway. This is a very optimistic film, and in the world we live in, optimism can almost seem like fantasy at times. So if the final product happens to hit you that way, cling onto Terrance Stamp’s performance, his striking subtlety, undeniable wit, and precise handling of a vortex of emotion makes him Oscar-worthy. You also have to keep in mind this isn’t a Hollywood picture. It’s out of England, so though the film is vigorously joyous at times, it doesn’t feel phony. The cynical will give Unfinished Song a nod of the head and move along, the idealistic will embrace it with glee. Take your pick and move along. 

Unfinished Song: ★★★½

Upon seeing Unfinished Song, the film critic in me found a few faults and shook his head a few times, but was ultimately impressed. The movie-lover in me was delighted. Here’s a film with ambitious philosophies that are hard to deliver cinematically without soaking the audience in sentimentality that’s familiar to the point of obnoxiousness. The story opens its narrative following an elderly couple, Arthur and Marion, played by Terrance Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave. Redgrave is fantastic in her role, but Stamp carries the entire film. His performance is complex, subtle, and awesomely brilliant. Marion’s favorite pastime is singing in a choir made up of elderly people like herself. They’re a pleasure to watch. Even though only a handful have lines, the lines are used to strike timely hilarity. Gemma Arterton (Byzantium, The Disappearance of of Alice Creed) also brings more than necessary to her role as a sweet-hearted teacher in her thirties who leads the choir without pay. Being a part of the choir is almost therapeutic to her, and for Marion, the meetings serve as highlights to her week. So for most of the cast, it’s all good fun. But not for Arthur. He watches how delighted his wife is when she’s singing with her friends and can’t make heads or tails of it. He wonders why he can’t make her happy himself. Unfortunately, because of an error in the plot summary on IMDb (the supposed spoiler-free one near the top of the page) some key plot points in Unfinished Song were spoiled for me, so I’ll be sure to stop my plot analysis right here. Despite my overall contentment upon watching the film, I understand how Paul Andrew Williams’ film could ring false for many viewers, at least parts of it anyway. This is a very optimistic film, and in the world we live in, optimism can almost seem like fantasy at times. So if the final product happens to hit you that way, cling onto Terrance Stamp’s performance, his striking subtlety, undeniable wit, and precise handling of a vortex of emotion makes him Oscar-worthy. You also have to keep in mind this isn’t a Hollywood picture. It’s out of England, so though the film is vigorously joyous at times, it doesn’t feel phony. The cynical will give Unfinished Song a nod of the head and move along, the idealistic will embrace it with glee. Take your pick and move along. 

Pacific Rim: ★★★
I was skeptical when the first trailer for Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim was released about six months ago. It was teaser - only about thirty seconds long - and a thought scarier than the greatest of horror movies shot through my head: was the beloved filmmaker Del Toro turning into Michael Bay, none other than the cinematic antichrist? Thanks to his dreadful Transformers films, whenever I catch a glimpse of giant robots smashing each other to smithereens, chills run through my spine. But fear not, Del Toro has come through for us and created a brilliantly entertaining homage to the Godzilla movies featuring an attention to artistic detail that’s all his own. Magnificent colors, special effects, and sounds light up the screen in Pacific Rim, yet it refuses to assault its audience the way most films of this caliber do. Many films this year have featured thunderous, pervasive action fueled by quick cuts and overwhelming noisiness. But a lot of Rim is done in cool, calm takes. Even the battle scenes. There’s use of camera movement and zoom rather than simply cutting in and out of the frame incessantly. The film also doesn’t splice multiple scenarios together in its most invigorating moments. That’s killer. And almost every swooping action/adventure monument you’ll see at the multiplex is guilty of doing it. Del Toro’s film also lacks the pounding, monotonous score most big-budget features have. The composer, Ramin Djawadi, mixes soft techno with classic orchestra numbers, and then when the film is at its most gripping, he spices things up with some atmosphere creating electric guitar riffs. This is a film you really have to dissect piece by piece, because there’s so many people, on camera and behind it as well, who are contributing and make the final product what it is. 
The characters were very well worked out, at least, all but one anyway. Trouble is, that single misstep is the lead man, Raleigh Becket, played by Charlie Hunnam from Sons of Anarchy. He’s a surprisingly typical action-hero type character. I can’t bring myself to believe Raleigh is Del Toro’s pure creation. The rest of the cast; however, is aces. Idris Elba brings warmth to a role that seems cold and vacant in the film’s first scenes. Rinko Kikuchi, terrific in the Japanese film Norwegian Wood, is also an essential character. Del Toro uses her to shape the story - he uses the demons of her past to allow the other characters, who may be headed down lesser paths, to unite and work together, even if at first she keeps them from getting where they need to be. It’s incredible how well the characters work in this movie, considering the type of movie it is - usually characters will serve as body count and not really posses a soul (see Transformers, Avatar) but here they have individual stories, they symbolize certain themes, and they all represent important aspects in unraveling Pacific Rim’s expository narrative. But I haven’t even gotten to the best characters here. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman play scientists with opposite personalities who are forced by Elba’s character to work together. They steal every seen they’re in. Then there’s the great Ron Perlman (Del Toro’s bud) this time wearing gold teeth instead of red face paint. He’s hilarious, but unfortunately, despite a few promising trailers, we never see too much of his fantastic turn in the movie. So Pacific Rim is a definite visual marvel, but it also has human elements - comedy, tragedy, etc. And for a movie that pits giant robots against ocean-dwelling aliens, that’s impressive. 

Pacific Rim: ★★★

I was skeptical when the first trailer for Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim was released about six months ago. It was teaser - only about thirty seconds long - and a thought scarier than the greatest of horror movies shot through my head: was the beloved filmmaker Del Toro turning into Michael Bay, none other than the cinematic antichrist? Thanks to his dreadful Transformers films, whenever I catch a glimpse of giant robots smashing each other to smithereens, chills run through my spine. But fear not, Del Toro has come through for us and created a brilliantly entertaining homage to the Godzilla movies featuring an attention to artistic detail that’s all his own. Magnificent colors, special effects, and sounds light up the screen in Pacific Rimyet it refuses to assault its audience the way most films of this caliber do. Many films this year have featured thunderous, pervasive action fueled by quick cuts and overwhelming noisiness. But a lot of Rim is done in cool, calm takes. Even the battle scenes. There’s use of camera movement and zoom rather than simply cutting in and out of the frame incessantly. The film also doesn’t splice multiple scenarios together in its most invigorating moments. That’s killer. And almost every swooping action/adventure monument you’ll see at the multiplex is guilty of doing it. Del Toro’s film also lacks the pounding, monotonous score most big-budget features have. The composer, Ramin Djawadi, mixes soft techno with classic orchestra numbers, and then when the film is at its most gripping, he spices things up with some atmosphere creating electric guitar riffs. This is a film you really have to dissect piece by piece, because there’s so many people, on camera and behind it as well, who are contributing and make the final product what it is. 

The characters were very well worked out, at least, all but one anyway. Trouble is, that single misstep is the lead man, Raleigh Becket, played by Charlie Hunnam from Sons of Anarchy. He’s a surprisingly typical action-hero type character. I can’t bring myself to believe Raleigh is Del Toro’s pure creation. The rest of the cast; however, is aces. Idris Elba brings warmth to a role that seems cold and vacant in the film’s first scenes. Rinko Kikuchi, terrific in the Japanese film Norwegian Wood, is also an essential character. Del Toro uses her to shape the story - he uses the demons of her past to allow the other characters, who may be headed down lesser paths, to unite and work together, even if at first she keeps them from getting where they need to be. It’s incredible how well the characters work in this movie, considering the type of movie it is - usually characters will serve as body count and not really posses a soul (see Transformers, Avatar) but here they have individual stories, they symbolize certain themes, and they all represent important aspects in unraveling Pacific Rim’s expository narrative. But I haven’t even gotten to the best characters here. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman play scientists with opposite personalities who are forced by Elba’s character to work together. They steal every seen they’re in. Then there’s the great Ron Perlman (Del Toro’s bud) this time wearing gold teeth instead of red face paint. He’s hilarious, but unfortunately, despite a few promising trailers, we never see too much of his fantastic turn in the movie. So Pacific Rim is a definite visual marvel, but it also has human elements - comedy, tragedy, etc. And for a movie that pits giant robots against ocean-dwelling aliens, that’s impressive.