The Wolverine

I had been iffy about The Wolverine ever since the news broke that original director Darren Aronofsky dropped off and of course the memory of the awful X-Men Origins: Wolverine was still fresh in my mind. The initial trailer for the new film really didn’t do much for me either. I decided to wait for reviews and hope that Hugh Jackman and replacement director James Mangold could team up and make something that would bring faith back to the franchise. X-Men: First Class did a great job of it, but it wasn’t enough to heal all the scars left by the terrible Origins and the disappointing X-Men: The Last Stand.

While not the best superhero movie I’ve seen, The Wolverine was a solid, exciting and fun action flick and good adaptation of the beloved Japan story arc from 1982 by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller (Claremont has stated that he enjoyed a lot of what they did with the film).

Picking up where The Last Stand left off, The Wolverine jumps between the past and current events in the X-Men universe. Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine is as good as ever and he holds nothing back. We learn more about his past, specifically his time spent in Japan during WWII, though we don’t ever learn why he was there in the first place. A lot of the film is centered around his pain from *spoilers* having to kill Jean Grey in the last film after she transformed into the villainous Dark Phoenix. This plot line is twisted throughout the main story: an elderly Japanese mogul that Wolverine once saved during the war is now dying and he wants Logan to transfer his healing abilities to him so he can essentially live forever and Logan can finally live to an old age and die an “ordinary” death.

He falls in love with a new character: Mariko, played by the beautiful Tao Okamoto, makes a new friend: Yukio, played by the strange but intriguing Rila Fukushima and fights a horribly pointless and poorly acted villain mutant: Viper, the crappy Svetlana Khodchenkova. There’s a mystery involving a great fortune, the Yakuza, the Black Ninja Clan and a version of fan favorite villain, The Silver Samurai.

Overall, The Wolverine is a kick ass action flick and good X-Men-related movie, but don’t expect it to win any awards. So all though I actually got to see the movie for free due to some promo tickets I would not have been disappointed if I had paid for them. I recommend it. Have fun. Oh and stay for a mid-credits stinger that will leave fans drooling for more.

B

The Conjuring

Well a week after its release I finally got to see The Conjuring. Not only was this one of my favorite films of the year, but it was absolutely director James Wan’s best film to date.

Based on one of the cases of famed ghosthunters/demonologists, Ed and Lorraine Warren, we get a glimpse into what has been claimed to be their most horrific case. It follows the story of the Perron family, who move into a secluded farm house on a nice stretch of land and are quickly terrorized by a malevolent force residing inside their new home. I’ve always been intrigued by and respected the Warrens for not only doing their best to help those who were being afflicted, but that many of their cases resulted in them debunking supposed hauntings. They were not ones to run around telling families that their place was haunted to make money or build publicity. I really enjoyed the fact that this film portrayed them in a serious and real way and I loved seeing a true story brought to the screen in realistic and non-gratuitous manner. While a few details have been stated as being changed for “dramatic effect.” It’s still clear that if this really did happen that the film did it’s best to stick to the truth without much embellishment.

Patrick Wilson (Watchmen) and Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel) lead the cast as Ed and Lorraine and are spot-on in their roles. They portray the couple as professionals and caring people, just like the real Ed and Lorraine. They are the true standouts of the film.

Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston step into the roles of Carolyn and Roger Perron, the parents of the tormented family.  Along with their five daughters, they try their best to protect themselves from the evil entity stalking the halls (and the scary fucking basement) of the old house. Throughout the movie we see how each member of the family and two of the Warrens’ assistants are terrorized throughout the investigation. As this happens we see a mystery unfold that may go in directions that you will not see coming.

This was a genuinely creepy film. It didn’t rely on cheap scares like many ghost films do, though one or two will make you jump. Everything else is just put out there to scare you, no jumps required. This is much more than a “fun horror flick,” it’s a truly scary film with a lot of more substance and some of the greatest dramatic sequences in any horror movie of the last decade. I got chills a few times and was always awaiting what horrible thing would happen next. It was great seeing a film that involves ghosts, witchcraft and possession done in a way that wasn’t over the top and turned goofy. Only a few moments in the final climax even came close to your standard possession movie, but was still handled far better than anything else since The Exorcist. If you are a fan of horror films please go see this movie. It is deserving of your money and you will not leave disappointed. You may be creeped out the rest of the day, but it’s well worth it.

A

From what I understand, another film with Wilson and Farmiga reprising their roles has been green-lit and I’m OK with that…as long as it’s not called The Conjuring 2 because the title is tied to this one particular case. Here’s hoping Hollywood won’t screw this up, but I won’t hold my breath.

PACIFIC RIM

I’ve been a fan of Guillermo del Toro for approximately 10-12 years. I’ve loved his horror/fantasy films (The Devil’s Backbone, Cronos, Pan’s Labyrinth) and his big budget blockbusters (Blade II, the Hellboy films). I love his writing and his directing. I’m just a huge fan of everything he brings to the table each time because it’s always different.  When I first learned of Pacific Rim and what it was about I really wasn’t sure what to make of it. The details were vague and seemingly simplistic: Giant robots fighting giant sea monsters. Ok, sounds fun, but it was a little bit out of del Toro’s wheelhouse. I wasn’t worried that he couldn’t pull it off, but it just seemed too simple an idea for him to tackle. Especially when he’s had so many great and adventurous ideas on the table over the last ten years. The more that was released for the film the more excited I got for it and knew that if any director could make a great movie from such a “silly” concept it was him.

Well, I can say without any hesitation what-so-ever that Guillermo del Toro has done it again and remains to be one of my all time favorite film makers. Pacific Rim is easily in my top 3 favorite films of the year and did not disappoint me in any way, like many of this year’s films have.

The overall plot is pretty basic: giant alien monsters (Kaiju – Japanese for “strange giant beasts”) from another dimension invade Earth through a portal (nicknamed “The Breach”) in the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Over the years we’ve been attacked by them at random times and early on we created giant robots, called Jaegers (German for hunter) to fight back and they’ve been very effective over fifteen years of fighting. Don’t worry there is quite a bit more to the movie than just that. Some of my friends were afraid the trailers gave away too much of the plot, but don’t worry, plenty was kept under wraps.

While this is an excellent movie, it makes no apologies for being a robot vs alien movie, and that’s one of the things that makes this so film so great. It’s a completely unabashed love letter to the Mecha genre, Japanese anime, giant monster movies and really all science fiction, all rolled into one giant fun-as-hell movie. Many people will see extreme similarities to what’s come before, especially things like the Godzilla films or the mecha anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and that’s OK, because none of it feels like it’s taking from just one genre or title. It’s a fantastic homage to it all and it does it’s job perfectly. I think it brought out the 7 year old in everyone in the theater last night.

The cast is an excellent blend of actors/actresses from all walks of cinema. Led by Charlie Hunnam as hero Jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket, everyone brings something fresh to what really are stereotypical sci-fi characters (again, no apologies were made). Idris Elba does a great job leading the pack as Marshall Stacker Pentecost and newcomer to mainstream American flicks, Rinko Kikuchi is just an outstanding addition as the mysterious, hardened, lethal yet sensitive Mako Mori. Charlie Day and del Toro favorite, Ron Perlman round out the cast as some of film’s comedic relief and are great in their roles.

I loved the Kaiju and Jaeger designs, everything felt familiar without looking like something you’d seen a thousand times. Also, neither were made with motion capture because del Toro never wanted the monsters or the robots to ever move like anything human. They had to be alien and robotic through and through, so all were completely done with CGI. The score by Ramin Djawadi was nothing short of perfect for this movie. Huge, booming orchestrations that worked so well to evoke excitement, scares or dramatic tones.

To add to how great Pacific Rim is, all I can say is that this is one absolutely beautiful film. Guillermo del Toro teams up with long time collaborator, cinematographer Guillermo Navarro and once again presents something wonderful. From the way it’s shot to the lighting, the sets and the digital environments (and the blending of the two), this movie was just gorgeous to look at. It had a so much of the del Toro look and blended it perfectly with all the different styles the film paid homage to. One of my favorite settings from the entire film was the Hong Kong of 2025. It was gorgeous and I felt like I had stepped into some amazing mash-up of Blade Runner, Akira and Cowboy Bebop. The colors and lighting along with the use of actual sets and CGI was perfect. One of my favorite scenes was a flashback to when Mako is a child during a Kaiju attack on Japan. It looked like someone had taken an animated Japanese film and had somehow pulled it into the real world, if that makes any sense. It was beautiful, heart-breaking and terrifying all at once. Perfectly executed film making.

While I’m on the subject of terrifying, this film did something that no other giant monster movie has done for me: it made these monsters scary. It’s hard to look back at the old Godzilla films, or really any classic giant monster movie and be scared. You can enjoy them immensely, as I do, but they’re not scary and you’re barely thinking about the destruction made or the lives it’s taking. Here it’s all in your face, the destruction, the death, even some of these enormous creatures get right into your personal space. And it’s all presented in a sort of scary and sad way. You see people’s lives ruined and taken and it feels real. In a film like this, a subject that could have been “Michael Bay-ed,” it makes me happy to no end that it was brought to life by Guillermo & Co. They do something here, that they’ve so many times in the past: They’ve made a horror/sci-fi/fantasy flick with heart. I could go on all day about how great this movie was, but then I’d get into spoiler territory so I’ll just stop here.

Pacific Rim blends it’s homages, originality, action, scares, drama and humor into a perfect summer blockbuster. If you have had any doubts as to the quality of this movie, stop. If you have ever loved science fiction, robots, comic books, monster movies or you just like having fun, you need to do yourself a favor and see Pacific Rim.

A

Robot and Frank

Netflix finally sent me Robot and Frank and it was definitely one of my favorite movies of the year.

In the very near future, Frank, played flawlessly by Frank Langella, is a man living alone in upstate New York who’s health and memory is failing. He’s visited weekly by his successful son, Hunter (James Marsden) and gets daily video calls from his always traveling daughter Madison (Liv Tyler). He loves the small town life and while he doesn’t always remember everything correctly he does OK on his own. He makes daily trips to the local library due to his love of reading and clear crush on the local librarian, Jennifer (Susan Sarandon).

Knowing that his health is going downhill and feeling burdened by needing to constantly visit, Hunter decides to buy his father a helper robot, much to the dislike of Frank and the dismay of Madison. Frank has Robot (superbly voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) help him with his meals, chores and keeping and remembering his schedule, albeit reluctantly at first.

Eventually Frank and his new robot begin to strike up an unlikely friendship, causing some of the secrets of Frank’s past to resurface in an unusual way. It’s easy to see why even a stubborn old man like Frank would eventually come to love this Robot as a friend. Even though Robot doesn’t have the full range of human emotions and doesn’t always understand Frank’s motives for doing what he does, he’s always there to be a friend and helping hand to him.

A sweet dramedy, “sci-fi lite” film, this film is sure to reach out to fans of all genres. Every single scene is funny and/or heart-warming and I loved it by the time I was ten minutes in. The whole cast is wonderful and believable. Nothing is overplayed or underwhelming. There are some interesting plot twists and details that make this more than just another “old man befriends unlikely companion” film which made me so happy. While I was very interested in the movie for quite a while I was afraid it would fall into the same trap that so many similar films have in the past; I’m so glad it didn’t and kept it fresh from start to finish.

While you can find more in other reviews, I really wanted to keep most of the plot of this movie unknown to give those of you who haven’t seen it a little bit more mystery when sitting down to watch this wonderful film. I loved this movie. It’s become a new favorite of mine and I hope you feel the same way.

A