CVIndependent

Wed02192020

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

While the poster for Hobbs and Shaw declares it is presented by Fast and Furious, it has very little in common with that franchise other than the participation of Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, reprising their characters from the Furious films.

In other words … REJOICE! Leaden, dreary Vin Diesel is nowhere to be seen in this movie!

Hobbs and Shaw is a bizarre hybrid of spy thriller, action pic and science fiction. While Fast and Furious movies are certainly outlandish, they remain somewhat grounded in reality (with the notable exception of a car jumping from skyscraper to skyscraper). Hobbs and Shaw, however, completely abandons realism.

It’s too damn long (137 minutes!), but when it works, it works well. It also functions as a comedy in that Johnson and Statham have great timing and work well together.

Hobbs (Johnson) and Shaw (Statham) are protecting Shaw’s sister, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby of Mission: Impossible—Fallout) after she injects herself with something that will have worldwide consequences if she’s captured. The main antagonist is Brixton (Idris Elba), a former Shaw ally who has been turned into some sort of bionic badass who calls himself “Black Superman.” This is one of those places where the film goes totally batty—in a fun way.

The movie also goes a little crazy when it comes to the sibling relationship between Shaw and Hattie, who we see performing evil schemes like “the Keith Moon” in flashbacks to their youth. Problem: Statham is 20-something years older than Kirby, yet their characters are supposed to be virtually the same age in the flashbacks. The movie defies reality in more ways than one.

You won’t really care, because director David Leitch, who gave us the first John Wick, knows his way around action scenes and edits his films so laughs come constantly. While it’s expected that Johnson and Statham will kick ass in action scenes, it is Kirby who steals the show as the action hero of this film. She is, simply put, a total badass.

Hobbs and Shaw has enough star power with Johnson and Statham, but Leitch offers some nice surprises with uncredited cameos. I won’t give them away, but they blindsided me and enhanced the “let’s just go nuts” essence of the movie. The people with the cameos have extensive time, and they are very funny.

Elba is great as a bad guy, and he has a super-smart motorcycle that would make Bruce Wayne jealous. Helen Mirren reappears for a scene or two as Shaw’s incarcerated mom, and she’s always good to have around.

I will say again: This film is way too long. There’s a scene near the end involving a chase around some nuclear reactors that has all the makings of a climax … and then the film takes off to Hobbs’ native Samoa for an extended ending that lost me. This movie would’ve been just right between 90 and 105 minutes. It wears out its welcome a bit.

Still, it’s a blast for most of the running time, and definitely makes the case for more stories about Hobbs and Shaw. With Johnson and Statham on the scene, it’s time to send Diesel packing. We need Hobbs and Shaw movies from here on out in the Fast and Furious universe … and give Kirby her own franchise. She deserves to be center stage!

Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

After Beyonce headlined Coachella last year, it was hard to imagine how Goldenvoice could top that this year.

And … uh, they haven’t.

That said, there are a lot of great acts on the bill at Coachella. Here’s a list of the performers I, personally, won’t miss.

Friday, April 12 and 19

U.S. Girls

This is the experimental pop project of producer and musician Meghan Remy. She has released seven albums, and after I heard her most recent album, last year’s In a Poem Unlimited, I hoped U.S. Girls would be on the Coachella lineup for 2019. Just about every music publication that reviewed the album gave it a high score. Remy’s brand of experimental pop goes into some interesting territory. It’s easy on the ears; it’s catchy; and it’s mesmerizing. Remy’s live performances have received strong praise, and it will be interesting to see what she does for Coachella.

Let’s Eat Grandma

While funny, this is not the funniest name on the lineup. (Look closely.) If you’re a fan of Tegan and Sara, you’ll love Let’s Eat Grandma. Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth have many interesting things going for themselves; they are able to belt out some beautiful harmonies, and they get down and dirty in some pretty chaotic samples and beats. I highly recommend checking out their album I’m All Ears before checking them out at Coachella.

The Frights

What do you get when you take a punk band that also incorporates surf rock and doo-wop into the mix? The Frights! The Frights go from goofy and off the wall to all of a sudden sounding like Minor Threat. It’s a beautiful mixture of chaos and playfulness—and it’s a whole lot of fun. In a lineup that is less focused on rock bands, The Frights definitely stand out.

Kacey Musgraves

Last year at Stagecoach, Kacey Musgraves played on the Mane Stage during a strong wind storm right before headliner Keith Urban. Despite the challenges—and appearing frustrated at times—Musgraves put on a memorable set for the large country audience. I have to wonder: How will her performance play out at Coachella? It’ll be an interesting sight to see; every year that a Stagecoach performer is included in a future Coachella lineup, the result always seems to be memorable—in a good way.


Saturday, April 13 and 20

Steady Holiday

Dre Babinski has had an interesting career. She’s a model and actress who has worked primarily in commercials—yet she also has quite a knack for songwriting. Her music videos are haunting, and her music is dark and yet beautiful. You can hear bands such as Portishead and Goldfrapp in her music, along with her stated influences of Leonard Cohen and Burt Bacharach. It can make you feel joy—and make you cry. She was well-received at Coachella in 2016 and will no doubt dazzle attendees in 2019.

Idris Elba

We’re used to seeing Idris Elba—aka the next James Bond?—onscreen in films such as Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and the Avengers series. I had never heard his music until recently, and I was pretty amazed by his vocal talents. His voice has a lot of soul, and after watching some footage of his DJ sets, I’m even more fascinated. It’s hard to say what he’s going to do at Coachella, but whatever he does, it should be fantastic.

Ty Segall and White Fence

Ty Segall is one of the best things to happen to the current era of rock ’n’ roll in this current era. While many know who he is, more need to know who he is. He evolves with every record he puts out, every band he puts together, and every collaboration in which he finds himself. White Fence, his collaboration with Tim Presley, is nothing short of earth shattering and will blow your fucking mind. Forget what is going on elsewhere at Coachella and get your ass to this performance.

Mac DeMarco

It’s got to be interesting when someone defines what he does as “jizz jazz.” DeMarco has a sound that is a melding of ’80s smooth rock and psychedelic pop. A lot of what he does also feels like early David Bowie. His music video for the song “Nobody” (the song will be on his upcoming album in May) features DeMarco in lizard makeup wearing a cowboy hat and smoking a cigar, which speaks to his sense of humor and bizarre persona. Considering he sells out venues around the world, you should circle this one on your Coachella schedule.


Sunday, April 14 and 21

Mansionair

If you are a fan of ODESZA, you might remember the appearance Mansionair made on ODESZA’s 2017 album A Moment Apart. With the release of Mansionair’s first full-length album, Shadowboxer, earlier this year, we’re finally getting a proper glimpse of this Australian indie-electronic trio. The album took three years to make; part of the album’s creative process was a retreat to a cabin in the mountains. Shadowboxer is receiving a lot of praise from fans and critics alike, and this Coachella performance is one I’m really anticipating.

Alice Merton

There are thankfully a lot of women on the Coachella lineup this year—and Alice Merton may just take the world by storm one day. Her sound is similar to that of Florence and the Machine, and her debut album Mint was clearly made on her own terms. Her vocals sound flawless throughout, and you can clearly feel the soul and beauty reflected in her songwriting.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

If you’re seeking more of Saturday headliner Tame Impala on Sunday, the closest thing you’ll find is Unknown Mortal Orchestra. The band’s psychedelic sound is a throwback to the ’70s; you’ll also get a dose of kick-ass garage rock. The band is currently touring behind last year’s album release, Sex and Food. After packing Pappy and Harriet’s last year, this group will amaze you.

Blood Orange

I purchased the album Negro Swan on a recommendation from an employee at Amoeba Records in Hollywood and put it in my CD player for the nighttime drive back to the desert. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Blood Orange (Dev Hynes) is clearly an artist of conscious thought and is singing about all of the right things—self-exploration, the political struggles facing the black community, the anxiety of LGBT people, and much more. Blood Orange is definitely on to something, and I can’t wait to experience whatever he has up his sleeve for Coachella.

Published in Previews

Jessica Chastain takes the role of Molly Bloom—a real poker-game organizer and former championship skier—and nails it: Molly’s Game takes a true story that seems too crazy to be real and turns it into a great movie about a woman’s struggle against the justice system, as well as the perils of gambling outside the already-dangerous realm of a casino.

This is a great actress firing on all cylinders. Making the experience all the more enjoyable is screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), whose stylish, snappy directorial debut here shows he has a big future beyond the keyboard.

Bloom was a top-notch athlete, shepherded by her domineering father (an excellent Kevin Costner), who had all of her plans laid out before her. She was going to medal at the Olympics, go to law school and become an entrepreneur. Her plans started to hit a snag when it was discovered that she had spinal issues. Major surgeries later, she managed to get back on the slopes—only to be done in by a pine branch, followed by a colossal crash.

Post-slope disaster, Bloom found herself working high-stakes poker games populated by big gamblers and celebrities. Michael Cera shows up in the movie as one of the players (a character allegedly based upon notorious card player Tobey Maguire). Cera is great in the role, but it would’ve been very interesting if they could’ve gotten Maguire to play himself. That would’ve been fantastically weird.

Bloom graduates from working the games to organizing them. She works up to having the game in New York with the highest stakes before things go awry, eventually leading to massive legal problems.

That’s where Idris Elba, as Bloom’s lawyer, enters into the fray and scorches the screen alongside Chastain. Both benefit from precisely written, fiery dialogue, courtesy of Sorkin. The screenplay and direction are so good that the courtroom scenes in this film are actually some of the movie’s greater moments. (That statement comes from a guy whose eyes often glaze over during courtroom dramas.)

The film also manages to take the usual crutch of a narrator (in this case, Chastain) and make it exemplary, too. Narrators often signify a storytelling weakness, but in this case, the narration takes the excitement of the story to another level. Given the complexity of Bloom’s story and its intricacies, some notes from the narrator along the way don’t hurt. The whole movie has a snap reminiscent of the great Ray Liotta narration in Goodfellas. It feels slightly unoriginal in some ways, but who cares? The thing is fun to watch.

Cera, whose official role name is Player X, gets a chance to go darker and more dramatic here, and it pays off. Cera is one of the most underrated comedic actors in play right now, and his work shows he’s capable of so much more. If you need to cast a major prick, go ahead and put Cera on your list.

Costner’s resurgence continues in this film, after his triumph last year in Hidden Figures. He’s making his name for himself playing elder statesmen who seem like bastards, but who actually have hearts of gold. The cast is rounded out by strong, colorful characters around the poker tables and inhabiting the courtroom.

In Molly’s Game, Sorkin’s dialogue (adapted from Bloom’s autobiography) has the kinetic energy of the best David Mamet scripts. While there are quiet moments, the movie generally fires along at a high energy level that never becomes overbearing. This is also where Sorkin gets big kudos for his directing chops: He keeps a heavily worded, constantly moving movie tremendously entertaining and remarkably coherent.

In the end, this is another shining moment for Chastain. There were many great awards-worthy performances by actresses this year, and this among the best.

Molly’s Game is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

A couple of years ago, there was talk of Ron Howard directing a big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. The film would act as an introduction to the Dark Tower universe, and was to be followed by a TV series. Javier Bardem was cast as Roland the Gunslinger, the main protagonist of King’s multi-novel series.

The original plan was jettisoned in favor of Idris Elba as Roland, and a relatively novice director in Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) at the helm in Howard’s place. (Howard took on producer’s duties.) The debut film’s budget was reduced to less than $70 million, a price you would normally see for a Hollywood rom-com, not the launch of what was proposed as an epic, blockbuster franchise.

As a result of all of this, this movie is a catastrophe, and a complete insult to fans of the books, fans of Matthew McConaughey, and fans of science fiction/fantasy. Oh hell, this thing insults everybody: It looks like a low-level episode of Doctor Who, and we’re talking schlocky, 1970s Doctor Who. It feels like they used the same soundstage for all of the interiors, and just repainted shit. The CGI is terrible; the pacing is ridiculously, unnecessarily fast; and the plotting is confusing for those who haven’t read the books. (I’ve never read the books, and after watching this, I don’t care to ever read them.)

The story involves some kid named Jake (Tom Taylor), a sad teenager who is gifted with “The Shine,” the psychic powers Danny had in King’s The Shining. He dreams of another world where there is a Dark Tower that acts as some sort of barrier between other dimensions, protecting planets like Earth from evil. He also dreams of a gunslinger (Elba) who is trying to kill the Man in Black.

No, it’s not Johnny Cash; the Man in Black is some sort of devil man played by McConaughey. His intention is to hunt people with the Shine, because their brains harness the power to shoot laser beams into the Dark Tower, thus destroying it and releasing goofy CGI monsters upon the Earth. Tom winds up traveling to something called the Mid-World, where he takes a brief hike with Roland, then winds up back on Earth in present-day New York City for some kind of apocalyptic battle.

Go ahead and badmouth me if I got any of this wrong; I assure you that is the best I could gather from this hackneyed, rushed, underwhelming production. There have been reports that this is, in fact, a sequel to King’s novels, and not a faithful beginning to the actual saga. I can’t report on the authenticity of such a report. I can just tell you that the movie sucks.

When considering the apparent scope of the novels, it’s a bit of a shocker that the film clocks in at 95 minutes. There is a definite sense that a lot of backstory and exposition has been removed in order to dumb things down and streamline the pace.

Elba growls intermittent dialogue, with his character amounting to nothing more than a shallow archetype. Also: If you are going to have a gunslinger with a Western motif, give him a cool hat. Elba, as always, looks cool, but something as simple as a hat would’ve made a little more sense in fleshing out the gunslinger character.

McConaughey roams from sloppy set to sloppier set, looking lost and perhaps even a little pissed that he signed on for this garbage. He’s not all that bad; he’s just given next to nothing notable to do.

There are still some sketchy plans to follow up this film with a TV series. Whatever the plan is, producers need to scrap it and start over a few years from now, when the memory of this unfortunate cinematic event has subsided.

The Dark Tower is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

While Star Trek Beyond could use more soul and a more cohesive story, the film scores high on the zip factor, and introduces a creepy new villain. The latest film in the franchise’s reboot might be the weakest of the three featuring the newish cast, but it is still a lot of fun.

J.J. Abrams stepped down to direct his revamped Star Wars, relegating himself to a producer’s role. In steps Justin Lin, best known for making cars jump between skyscrapers in the Fast and Furious franchise. It’s no surprise that Lin’s take lacks a certain depth that Abrams managed to bring to his two installments. It’s also not a surprise that some of the action scenes motor along with the efficiency of a Dodge Challenger Hellcat.

The film picks up with James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew in the midst of their five-year mission. Kirk (as he was in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) is starting to get a little bored. He’s up for an admiral’s position, and might soon find himself grounded to a desk job.

The movie has barely started up when the U.S.S. Enterprise is attacked by thousands of marauding spaceships, and the crew finds itself shipwrecked on a sparse planet inhabited by few other beings. Unfortunately, one of those few would be Krall (Idris Elba), a nasty-looking alien with evil intentions involving an ancient weapon. The crew must reform to band against Krall, get off the foreboding planet, and save the Federation.

Star Trek Beyond is basically Star Trek on steroids, with crazy action sequences involving motorcycles and thousands of ships rather than just a couple of ships squaring off against one another. Some of this action is top-notch, but occasionally hard to follow, thanks to the editing style Lin employs.

One of the script’s greater aspects isolates the grumpy Doctor “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) on the planet with his spiritual nemesis, Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto). Spock is dealing with some awkward news: Spock Prime, a parallel-universe version of himself, has passed away. So he’s dealing with the realization of his own mortality in a most bizarre fashion. (The movie offers a touching tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy, as well as the rest of the classic Trek cast.)

This, of course, will be the final journey for Anton Yelchin as Chekov, who has a formidable role in this installment. It’s actually a little hard watching the movie when Yelchin is onscreen: It’s strange knowing this excellent young actor has left the planet.

There are times during all of the chaos when it’s hard to connect the dots and comprehend what exactly is going on with the story. There are many subplots at play (Kirk’s spiritual dilemma, Spock’s relationship with Uhura, Bones’ perpetual grumpiness, etc.) along with the Krall confrontation, and portions of it don’t make a lick of sense.

Those portions, however, are often wiped out by the film’s firepower, most notably during a space battle that deftly utilizes Kirk’s favorite Beastie Boys song. (Yes, Adam Yauch helps save the universe.)

This new film has a lot in common with the campy TV series, and has a throwback element to it. Your enjoyment of this chapter probably hinges upon whether you prefer the old TV show or the movies. While some of the goofier plot elements do recall old-school Trek, the action sequences definitely have a more Fast and Furious, modern feel. I was half expecting Vin Diesel on the bridge in a wifebeater.

The next chapter is reportedly in the works, and supposedly aims to bring back Chris Hemsworth as Kirk’s dad. While I’m glad to see Justin Lin didn’t totally blow his chance at the Star Trek helm, I’d like to see somebody with a more nuanced touch take a stab next.

Star Trek Beyond is playing across the valley in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

The Jungle Book, Disney’s latest live-action take on one of its animated classics, is clever: It actually contains sly nods to Apocalypse Now and Saturday Night Live.

Jon Favreau’s delightful and funny take on Rudyard Kipling’s tale of a boy raised by wolves is an all-around winner. Kids and adults will love the talking (and sporadically singing) animals, while adults and some of the cooler kids will enjoy the movie references and clever Easter eggs.

The story is pretty simple: A young boy, Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi), raised in the jungle, is pursued by a pissed-off tiger (the voice of Idris Elba) who had his face burned by a human when he was young (shades of Darth Vader). When plans to leave for a human village are rudely interrupted, Mowgli winds up staying in the jungle longer than he planned. He encounters Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), an evil temptress snake, and other perils while building a special friendship with a big bear.

As far as I could see, he never stops to wash his red shorts. A swim in the river doesn’t count. You need detergent.

Bill Murray is a masterstroke of vocal casting as Baloo, the big bear who befriends Mowgli on his extended jungle trek. But casting Christopher Walken as King Louie, the Kong-sized master of all apes, actually tops the Murray casting feat. It gives Favreau’s film an opportunity to become truly weird, very funny and even a little scary.

Favreau finds some clever ways to mix musical performances into the movie, even though it’s not a bona fide musical. Baloo and Mowgli happily sing part of “The Bare Necessities” together while floating down a river, accompanied by a full orchestra led by John Debney. It’s great, but it’s not the film’s musical highlight: That comes when Walken’s King Louie, portrayed with undertones of Brando’s Col. Kurtz, suddenly busts out “I Wanna Be Like You.” Walken is perfect for the song and perfect for the character, making the scene an instant classic. Johansson performs another song from the animated movie, “Trust in Me,” during the credits.

Incredible special effects seamlessly mesh with live animals, motion-capture work and puppetry. The talking animals actually look like they are really talking.

Other voices include Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, the panther who raised Mowgli, and Lupita Nyong’o as the wolf, Raksha, who acted as his mother figure. Giancarlo Esposito, aka Buggin’ Out, lends his chords for Akela, leader of the wolves, and Garry Shandling voices Ikki in what turned out to be his final film.

If you have a couple of extra bucks, shell out for the 3-D or, better yet, IMAX version of the movie. Favreau was very conscious of the technology, and he gives the movie some nice extra scope. Tree branches look like they are going to poke you in the face, and it almost seems as if Kaa might get you into her death coil. The 3-D also makes the pop-up-book end credits all the more fun.

It’s worth noting that the movie, which appears to be very outdoorsy, was filmed entirely on studio sets and made within computers. Every landscape you see is artificial, making the filmmaking achievement something of a miracle.

Sethi, the only live actor with a big part in the film, is good enough as Mowgli, although interest in his character’s plight is diminished by the fact that the film is so much cooler when the animals are at the center of the action.

Talks are under way for a Jungle Book 2 already, with Favreau returning, so the adventures of Mowgli look to be continued. Perhaps a main plot point could be Mowgli finding some new shorts or a bathing suit. He’s going to get a fungus in those red shorts!

Hopefully, Murray will get over his sequel stigma and be back as Baloo. And Walken … I gotta have more Walken!

The Jungle Book is playing at theaters across the valley in various formats.

Published in Reviews

Disney has delivered another animated winner with Zootopia, a cute, uplifting story with a surprising dark side. It’s the sort of movie that’ll have kids asking parents questions about some tough topics—while entertaining anyone who sits down to watch it.

Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin, in a performance worthy of the Voice Acting Hall of Fame) is a little bunny determined to be the first bunny cop on the force in Zootopia, a metropolis populated by animals. However, she faces a lot of opposition—both because she’s a bunny and a girl. Judy beats insurmountable odds, and winds up on the force, much to the chagrin Chief Bogo (Idris Elba).

The chief assigns her to traffic, of course, where she meets up with shifty fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) who is running an ingenious Popsicle scam. When some mammals come up missing, Judy finds herself on the case. She eventually enlists the help of Nick, and they seek out a missing otter.

The film is co-directed by three guys: Byron Howard (Tangled), Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph) and Jared Bush (making his feature debut!). Directing by committee certainly works in this case, as the film has a nice, unified feel while sustaining a surprising depth. Among the themes successfully tackled are sexism, racism and bunnyism.

When discussing these aspects of the film, go ahead and get bunnyism out of the way first with the kids. Here’s a potential hypothetical dinnertime conversation regarding Zootopia when a child asks if a bunny can be a cop:

“No, my dear child, a bunny can’t be on the police force,” the parent answers.

“But Mom and Dad, dogs are allowed on the police force. Why not bunnies, too?”

“Because dogs are big and strong and have heightened senses of smell that help us to find drugs and things.”

“Actually, rabbits not only have a very keen sense of smell, dear parent, but they also have those big ears which makes them really good listeners and potentially awesome detectives! Their presence on the force could provide a new level of insight and outreach for a branch of civilization often roundly criticized for its lack of empathy and compassion.”

“Shut up and eat your broccoli!”

To give away how the film approaches the topic of racism would be to give away too many aspects of the plot. There’s a good mystery at play, and it’s done in an intelligent way that will keep parents and kids guessing and engaged.

Other members of the voice cast include J.K. Simmons as Mayor Lionheart, Tommy Chong as the fly-infested Yax, Jenny Slate as Assistant Mayor Bellwether, and Shakira as Gazelle the pop star. Let it be said that Shakira’s performance of “Try Everything” is better than any movie music 2015 had to offer. Man, last year truly sucked for movie soundtracks, didn’t it?

The animation is top-notch and inventive, with cute little touches throughout. Judy’s hometown is farmland, distinguished by an Easter-pastels palette. At one point, Judy chases a thief through a rodent community, sending a bunch of mice running for cover in their little buildings as if she were Godzilla. I especially liked a moment when a train arrived in a station, and a little door opened up besides bigger doors to let out a stream of chipmunks. Freaking adorable!

Disney now has another great bunny to add to the souvenir rack at Disneyland alongside Thumper, Roger Rabbit and Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh. (I feel Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.) Judy is a true winner, as is Zootopia, already a solid contender for Best Animated Film of 2016.

Take the kids knowing you might actually enjoy yourself, and appreciate the film—even if it does act as a shred grenade on your wallet, especially if you spring for 3-D. Jeez, movie-going is expensive.

Zootopia is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Gigantic alien beasts get their asses handed to them by robots that don’t turn into trucks and cars in Guillermo del Toro’s alternately exhilarating and stale Pacific Rim.

This movie is full-on crazy, often in a way that’s rather fun. This is del Toro’s first directorial project after abandoning The Hobbit—and he made a good call. I had a hard time staying awake during The Hobbit. Such was not the case here.

It’s the near future, and freaky beasts called kaiju are rising from the ocean depths and tearing cities to shreds. Do we nuke them? No. That would be too easy. Instead, we spend kazillions to build a bunch of hard-core robots that are driven by pilots melding their minds together. It makes absolutely no sense, and I don’t care—because it’s fun.

Nearly all of these battles take place in the dark, in the rain or in the ocean. Normally, I would scream “Copout!” because this is a technique used by directors to cheat a bit on the CGI. (Obviously, it’s a lot harder to create computer-generated monsters doing things in broad daylight.) Even if del Toro is cheating, it works. Having the battles go down in the dark makes them scarier.

As for the people inside the robots: Watching them throw their fists and move their legs as a means of controlling the robots results in something immersive. I felt like I was throwing punches and wielding swords; del Toro puts the viewer into the battles.

Unfortunately, some of those people are a little dull outside of their massive steel shells. Charlie Hunnam, who plays the main protagonist, Raleigh, has one of those movie-trailer voices. Every time he spoke, I thought he was going to say something like “IN A WORLD WHERE ROBOTS BEAT MONSTERS … .” He fails to distinguish himself. Rinko Kikuchi is fine as Mako Mori, a wannabe pilot with a secret past that is keeping her from her robot dreams.

Speaking of Mako Mori's past, it provides perhaps the film’s greatest moment. Del Toro takes us into her memory as she is running away from a monster on a city street. Experiencing the horror of one of the monsters from the vantage point of a child is powerful stuff; del Toro makes it an amazing sequence.

For comic relief, there’s Charlie Day as a hyperactive scientist who collects kaiju tattoos. The bespectacled Day is 2013’s answer to Rick Moranis; his presence here reminds of the nerdy Louis in Ghostbusters.

Ron Perlman gets perhaps the film’s biggest laughs as Hannibal Chau, a monster collector who sells their crap for fertilizer. Idris Elba lends his formidable presence as Stacker, leader of the robot guys and the deliverer of huge, rousing “Cancel the Apocalypse!” speeches.

When the movie isn’t dealing with robot on monster smackdowns, it’s a little boring—perhaps even tedious. Those looking for a summer blockbuster that delivers the action goods, however, won’t mind sifting through the sleepy passages to get to the good stuff.

The kaiju are great movie monsters, because they come in many incarnations. They look like everything ranging from a rhino to the devil; they spit plasma lasers that act like acid; and the bastards even fly on occasion.

Pacific Rim isn’t the all-time classic for which I was hoping, but it is good, and in a summer when many, many blockbusters have faltered, I’m glad to get one that is at least enjoyable.

Also: If you can catch it in 3-D, do so. It looks great.

Pacific Rim is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews