At the Movies

Pacific Rim
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
After a series of highly anticipated but generally poorly received and under-performing summer action films, this latest offering is hitting screens at an awkward time. Will the pattern continue or will it be broken – and will the film itself be the deciding factor or does it have more to do with the current trend?

“Pacific Rim” itself has probably received less buzz and advance excitement than “Man of Steel,” “World War Z, “ and “The Lone Ranger.” The interesting outcome is that it’s a film that actually delivers more successfully than any of those. The first three films all shot for the moon and fell short, whereas “Pacific Rim” seems to have tried for a nice stable orbital trajectory and makes it there fairly comfortably. Just a simple inspection of the cast list reinforces that difference. So, at least some of this has to do with expectations, but some also has to do with maintaining its own message and internal logic, and successfully telling a story without undermining itself or its characters.

Most of the backstory for “Pacific Rim” is told through a series of voiceovers and summaries at the very beginning of the movie. This isn’t really a film about how the world gets to a point in time, but what it does when it gets there. And that point is with a rift in the ocean floor through which a dimensional wormhole of some kind allows an alien world to send visitors to our world. The twist is that those visitors happen to be giant Godzilla-like monsters intent on death and destruction.

Those visitors are collectively referred to as Kaiju, in keeping with the name given to those same kinds of monsters in prior films and comic books. The giant human-piloted robotic machines that are built to fight them are called Jaegers, based as we’re told on a German word for hunter. And as the monsters get bigger, so do the robots.

As with all of these kinds of films, the first question for an audience member is can you roll with the basic premise – and if you can’t, frankly, there’s no point going. It’s like criticizing a zombie film because you don’t buy into the idea of zombies. My own standard of judgment is generally whether or not the film manages to be consistent and to maintain its own internal logic – and “Pacific Rim” is almost entirely consistent in that regard. There’s one small issue I had with that logic and it has to do with how the robots are piloted by humans. We’re told that it requires two humans to pilot a Jaeger (for reasons the filmmakers can explain to you) and they do so by mentally connecting in a “drift” state, which puts each pilot “inside” the other’s brain. Which is fine as presented except that we then see the pilots converse and ask each other questions – which seems as if it would be unnecessary or at least different.

But that’s a relatively small quibble and my few other concerns are probably even smaller. This is a big, loud, fun adventure with monsters and robots that are, appropriately, bigger than the stars of the film. And it’s made by Guillermo del Toro, one of the best filmmakers when it comes to assorted kinds of human, metaphysical, or alien monsters. It may not be up to the artistic standard of a film like “pan’s Labyrinth” but it’s not trying to be. This is pure summer fun – and it’s the most successfully realized of the summer fun action films since “Iron Man 3” or “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

Grown Ups 2
Directed by Dennis Dugan
Ok – there’s a simple test for this film. Did you enjoy “Grown Ups”?

The sequel is similar in tone and content and it’s likely that your position on it will be very similar to that of the original (not that there was anything very original about it). This is a lowbrow comedy that plays more like a series of linear skits, from one constructed setup to the next. Adam Sandler’s character has moved back to his childhood hometown, away from Los Angeles for quality of life issues, and so the old gang is back together. But so are assorted childhood nemeses – and there’s also a townie/visitor dynamic between the middle aged men who grew up there and the brash young college kids who are temporarily passing through.

This is the type of comedy that relies on body types and shapes, as well as assorted bodily functions. It’s crass and juvenile and almost completely lacking in any hint of subtlety. That’s not to say that I didn’t laugh occasionally – some of the situations are funny. But it’s almost like a filmed version of a standup routine one might imagine, based on moving home after many years. It’s episodic and it’s inconsistent. At least some of the time it’s likely to connect, but there are only so many times the same fart joke can be told. And there are only so many times a relatively masculine looking woman can be called “sir.” And if the first such occasion, or the second, is already too many for you, then don’t go. But if you laughed the first time around, you’ll probably laugh again.

Other film news
The Sacramento Japanese Film Festival is running through Sunday at the Crest Theatre. For a program and description of the seven feature films being screened, visit sacjapanesefilmfestival.net.

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