It's 2020, and we're already knee deep in kaiju chaos. Pacific Rim picks up en media res, with the interdimensional monsters' initial invasion of Earth having taken place a decade and change back and a super-powered international military of robot warship (a.k.a. Jaeger) pilots newly deemed unfit to protect the Earth from increasing threats. Beyond a quick, straightforward piece of introductory exposition, we don't spend too much time learning about the history of the species' reign on Earth — they came, we ran, we fought, they kept coming, people kind of got into it, and now we're prepping for the biggest attack yet. That's all we know.
And that's all we need to know. In what should tout itself as the biggest, flashiest movie of the summer, the "less is more" philosophy seems to have been stamped at the top of each page of the screenplay. Guillermo del Toro, a master of imagination, lets his world speak for itself — in the two hours we spend inside the filmmaker's mind, we widen our eyes over and over at engrossing fantasy lands: the futuristic home base for the Jaeger militia, the seedy underworld of kaiju organ dealers, the nightmare flashbacks of each tragedy-afflicted soldier (called upon to fuse his thoughts with his robot and co-pilot in order to fight the nefarious beasts). All stellar, engaging, and even at their darkest, wholly fun. To reiterate, the sensory charms of this movie do all of its talking, allowing our excess admiration to fill in the gaps left by... you know, plot and character.
This movie runs on the basics and makes no claims to do anything otherwise. Its plot is so simple, you can sum it up as "robots vs. monsters." Its characters are thin enough as to fit the stock catalogue almost perfectly: Charlie Hunnam plays a PTSD-stricken returning fighter, Rinko Kikuchi an aspiring soldier who wishes to avenge her family, Idris Elba (offering the best dramatic performance in the movie) the no-nonsense commanding officer with a secret soft spot, and Robert Kazinsky the hot-shot who doesn't take too kindly to Raleigh's (Hunnam) return to action. But he has a dog, so we know we're supposed to like him eventually. And a good husk of the dialogue will have you checking your phone to make sure it is not, in fact, 1996. But in embracing this identity, in cherishing these age-old tropes and traditions rather than aiming to pass them off as something altogether new, Pacific Rim wins us over. You won't groan at hokey lines or predictable character turns, you'll howl with celebratory laughter.
Humor and fun are in no short supply in Pacific Rim, better recalling Hellboy than any of the director's more severe turns. Immersive underworlds, exhilarating scenescapes, and look-how-cool-this-is battles never lose their juice. And to top the lot is the comic relief: the misfits. Charlie Day leads the pack as a character who is no far cry from his It's Always Sunny incarnation — an excitable, emotional scientist who considers his quest to understand the kaiju brain as the key to sending the wretched beasts back from whence they came.
Day's screen-time accomplices are Burn Gorman, a didactic mathematician who counters his partner's outlandish theories at every opportunity, and del Toro regular Ron Perlman as a black market top banana who gets roped into Newton's (Day... yes, his name is Newton, as it should be) harebrained scheme to obtain a living kaiju brain. Matching any one of the huge scale battle scenes in thrill factor, Day's high-stakes bickering with Gorman or his fish-out-of-water immigration into Hannibal Chau's (Perlman... yes, his name is Hannibal Chau, and the joke behind it is surreally hilarious) criminal kingdom offer a handful of Pacific Rim's high points. The shrimpy scientist has a larger role than you might anticipate, but he never overstays his welcome — this movie, with keen awareness, belongs to the soldiers, their robots, and the monsters they are dying to kill.
But the film falls short in a few of its later turns, when the self-aware goof troop is abadonend and the film falters into some decidedly unimaginative character storylines. It might sound a little backward to expect anything otherwise from a movie so deliberately delivered on the modus operandi of monster movie yore, but sweeping conclusions seem to lose sense of the tongue-in-cheek nature of the practice and succumb to a closed-eyed grab for the obvious. With as much fun as Guillermo del Toro has with his movie, and as much excitement as he stocks into every nook and cranny, you'd think he could stuff his ending up with a bit more of that fun, that excitement, and the imagination that bursts from every seam.
Even if your mind drifts here and there, called upon to reflect on old Godzilla features, Power Rangers adventures, or Always Sunny gags that you can't help but remember, you're always in the movie — it's as much of a ride as it is a story. The sights and sounds are just as important as the plot itself. So from beginning to end, you won't find yourself wanting — you'll be astonished by the big, amused by the small, and find every sense in your body nourished to completion. pacific Rim might not dazzle you too far beyond your expectations, but it'll meet them for sure. The kaiju? They're monstrous. The Jaegers? Supercharged. Del Toro's world? Breathtaking. His stars? Up to the task — some (notably Elba and Day) firing on all cylinders. Sure, you can poke fun at the dialogue, root up a plothole or two, but the film doesn't let you focus on its flaws, no matter how many there may be. It's too busy jazzing up your energy with what monster movies were built on in the first place: unadulterated fun.
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Instead of following a ragtag team of brutes hired for a suicide mission to destroy an Earth-bound meteor Seeking a Friend for the End of the World plays out the apocalyptic "what if?" scenario from the everyman vantage point. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist) the film pairs average joe Dodge (Steve Carell) with wallflower Penny (Keira Knightley) for a journey across the east coast a hunt for Dodge's college sweetheart. Scafaria takes a character-first approach to her anti-blockbuster examining the end of the world with a pitch black sense of humor. But the road trip loses steam as it chugs along with the film's insistence to avoid Hollywood disaster tropes taking a toll on the entertainment value. Dodge and Penny are so normal they aren't that interesting to watch. In turn neither is Seeking a Friend.
Worse for Dodge than the whole "destruction of humanity" thing is the fact that he's facing it alone; his wife leaves him he has no real family and he hates nearly all of his friends. While everyone he knows is either hooking up or shooting up in hopes of going out on a high note Dodge buckles under the weight of an existential crisis that feels all too familiar. To his rescue is next-door neighbor Penny who insists the two hit the road together to go find Dodge's one-that-got-away. They don't have much of a choice as New York City is quickly overrun by Malatov cocktail-hurling riots.
When the catastrophe and societal chaos is seen through Dodge's eyes and Carell's complex interpretation of the straight man Scafaria hits all the marks. Watching Dodge tell his cleaning lady to go home because "What's the point?" is heartbreaking while his good friend's descent into frat boy madness for the same reasons nails mankind's vile tendencies. And through it all it's funny thanks to Carell's impeccable timing. When Dodge is eventually paired up with Penny the film meanders the two never unearthing what it is about each other that keeps them sticking together. The duo run into a kindly truck driver (who's hired an assassin to off him when he's unaware) a TGIFriday's-esque restaurant full of zany drugged up waiters and even one of Penny's ex-boyfriends whose locked down with automatic rifles and Ruffles chips in anticipation of the end. But Dodge and Penny's quest is mostly about the in-between moments the quitter grounded human reactions to the apocalypse. Even with great performers at the helm Seeking a Friend doesn't organically shape those moments so much as contrive them. In one scene Penny fondly recalls the wonders of listening to music on vinyl Dodge listening carefully and learning. It's a soft and low key discussion perfect juxtaposition against the big-scale problem at hand but when a twenty-something is explaining records to a guy nearing 50 it comes off as twee instead of truthful. The problem infiltrates most of Seeking a Friend's character moments.
Scafaria has an ear and eye for comedy but Seeking a Friend boldly reaches for something more. Sadly ambition doesn't translate to success a messy tonal mix that fail to make it all that engaging or emotional. Carell and Knightley serve the material as best they can but this is the end of the world an even that requires a little weight a little sensationalism and a little more than a casual road movie.
Set in 1984 Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) returns to her ice-cold hometown in Northern Minnesota after fleeing from an abusive husband. In order to care for her two young kids she needs a job--and for most of the townsfolk including her distant dad (Richard Jenkins) that means working in the local iron mines. Problem is not too many women work there and those who do are subjected to continual harassment by their male coworkers. Josey lands a job anyway and starts to get her fair share of sexual innuendos. One day her former high-school sweetheart also a mine employee takes it way too far with her. Although met with strong resistance of course a lawsuit ensues that results in a groundbreaking decision for women’s rights in the workplace. Ah what an Oscar can do for a career. It wasn't that long ago Theron wouldn’t even have been considered for such a dramatic role. But with deserved recognition she gets to strut her stuff in North Country. She's no Monster but she's no supermodel either--and while it's impossible to erase her beauty its glare has been reduced. A second-consecutive Oscar win? Maybe not but a nomination wouldn't be out of the place. Co-star Frances McDormand might also be in line for a nod of her own. She plays Glory a woman who gets Josey the job and encourages her to fight the good fight something that seems visceral for McDormand. Woody Harrelson is also solid as Josey's attorney though his Midwest-stoner drawl gets in the way of the northern accent he's supposed to be selling. New Zealand director Niki Caro mightily impressed us with Whale Rider a poignant mixture of grief and vigor and with North Country she continues to impress. As more an observer than anything else Caro lets the true story tell itself--of what happened in this small town with its frigid denizens and sexist behavior. And the film is definitely a period piece á la Norma Rae in that it's from a specific period albeit a recent one and pertains to a specific region. But it's kind of slow going. There’s a lot of weeping and dramatic speeches. Still Caro makes up for it by including several Bob Dylan songs who rarely grants the use of his songs in films. Perhaps he felt a certain a kinship to this film since it takes place in the desolate cold Northern Minnesota where he comes from--and so resents.