Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim (2013) is a summer blockbuster written and directed by Guillermo del Toro. It takes place in the 2020s where giant alien monsters — called Kaijus, traveling to Earth from an inter-dimensional portal in a fissure on the Earth’s ocean floor — attack and demolish cities all along the Pacific Ocean. To counter this threat, human civilization has joined forces to create Jaegers — enormous robots that are piloted by two people whose minds are connected as one. The film follows the story of disgraced and retired pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and rookie pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). The film boasts a great cast, including Idris ElbaBurn GormanCharlie Day, and Ron Perlman.

At first glance, the film is a glorified Godvilla v. The Power Rangers, but the film surprisingly becomes so much more. From the very beginning, the idea of the Kaiju monsters is never farfetched; their introduction attacking several cities — particularly those that are hardly ever featured in big destructive blockbusters, including Manilla and Sydney — is simply sobering and believable. Even when the narrator describes the aliens crossing a portal into Earth’s ocean floor shockingly doesn’t introduce any doubt into the story. The rest of the introduction seems purely exposition, including the first scene with Raleigh and his brother, Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff). They’re described as brothers so in sync that they are perfectly compatible as pilots — a phenomenon called being “drift compatible”. That’s why it is so shocking when their mission goes so horribly wrong and Yancy is killed by a Kaiju. From that moment on, you’re hooked. You didn’t even realize how connected you were with the characters until one of them is killed off so soon. It’s in this moment when you realize there’s something more to this summer blockbuster.

Pacific Rim has some heart to balance out the action. Raleigh is traumatized by the death of his brother, even years afterwards, but he steps up to the call of duty. Seemingly timid Mako struggles behind decorum to assume her place as a pilot. There’s a mysterious connection between Mako and cold Stacker Pentecost (Elba) that fleshes out into an incredibly tender and heartfelt bond. The perfect yet unconventional relationship between Raleigh and Mako burgeons into an earnest partnership. All of these character dynamics create a foundation that keeps the audience invested; they make the film way more than just another action movie. Day’s and Gorman’s performances as scientists along with Perlman’s performance as an underground mogul create a levity to counterbalance the film’s heavy mood.

Mako’s childhood flashback is the gem of the film. Her younger self (played by Mana Ashida) is running through the devastated streets of her hometown, completely alone. Her parents and family have been killed, and she confronts the horrible monster that has destroyed her life. In a sea of gray ruins, her blue clothes pop out — a poignant spectacle making homage to Schindler’s List‘s girl in the red coat. Ashida gives an incredible performance, exhibiting such terror in her screams and tears. This scene is the star of the film, both visually and structurally, as it fleshes out both Mako’s and Pentecosts’ characters. This scene, while captivating and intense, creates a sort of calm within surrounding scenes of Jaegar-on-Kairu action. This scene is an introspective jewel that most summer blockbusters abandon for more exciting yet banal action scenes.

Del Toro set out to create the Kaijus and Jaegers as a new genre for the younger generation. While he avoided any direct references to previous monster works, he dedicated the film to Ray Harryhausen (Mighty Joe Young) and Ishirō Honda (Godzilla). It’s obvious that a film like this has roots in monster works of the past, and his dedication to them is respectful. This film is visually stunning and quite affecting. This isn’t the typical summer blockbuster, and, frankly, more summer blockbusters should follow del Toro’s lead.


Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing (2012) is a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s play for the screen by Joss Whedon. Mostly true to Shakespeare’s original play, Whedon’s revision of the text is sexy and delightful, underscored by an incredible attention to detail and a fresh sparkle.

The cast brings together all of Whedon’s favorite actors from his various projects. For most audiences, the cast is a hodgepodge of unknowns, but for Whedon fans, it’s the ultimate all-star cast. The film stars Amy Acker as Beatrice and Alexis Denisof as Benedick. Sparks flew between them in their previous roles on Whedon’s Angel, yet it’s refreshing to see them create a new and equally natural relationship in Much Ado. Acker gives an amazing performance of Beatrice, weaving together elegance and fortitude into a sexy and sharp woman. Denisof creates a charming bachelor, a witty gentleman who desires not marriage. His performance perfectly embodies the Barney Stinson of Shakespeare: incredibly charismatic and quite reluctant to embrace love and marriage. The banter between the two of them is exciting and engaging, and their budding feelings of love are tender and satisfying.

The entire cast is incredibly versatile. Known mostly for science-fiction and fantasy environments, they excel in Shakespeare. They own their characters and every word uttered is saturated in personality and life. They speak in such a way that everyone watching will be able to understand, even if some audience members are not familiar with Shakespeare’s vocabulary. Fran KranzThe Cabin in the Woods, plays a lovestruck Claudio, emanating a light of giddiness and innocence while instantaneously switching into a cold bad boy. Fellow Dollhouse actor Reed Diamond gives a delightfully mastered performance of Don Pedro. Firefly star Sean Maher embraces his dark side as Don John. Castle’s Nathan Fillion and Buffy’s Tom Lenk give hilarious portrayals as Dogberry and Verges, policemen of Messina. Clark Gregg from The Avengers performs a cheerful and bubbly father to Beatrice and Hero, Jillian Morgese who performs a soft and innocent cousin to Acker’s hard and strong Beatrice.

The film’s modern setting is in upscale Los Angeles, complete with Sprinkles Cupcakes! Whedon’s choice to saturate the film with booze and sex, along with it being filmed in black and white, creates a ne0-1920’s aesthetic. With night-long parties with booze, live music, more booze, acrobatic dancers, and even more booze, the film has a looseness and carefree air about it that ties into Much Ado’s comic delight. The setting’s extravagance actually brings out the silliness and faults of the characters; as well-to-do men and women with power, poise, and money, they still get caught up in games and plots. Similarly, the film being in black and white shines the focus on the color and luster that the actors bring to the words.

A special part of Whedon’s adaptation is how the film opens. Benedick sneaks out of Beatrice’s bed as she pretends to sleep. In this remake, Benedick and Beatrice have been together before. Some posit that they fell in love before and the movie is how they finally come together again, but it seems more likely that they had a night of drunken debauchery. The way that he leaves and the way that she lets him leave signifies a kind of negative end to a night of pleasure, which is perhaps why their interaction thereafter is heated and aggressive. During Act II, Scene I, Beatrice talks about losing her heart to him, and it’s during this exchange where Whedon cuts to images of Beatrice and Benedick together intimately, implying another meaning to her words.

The list of remarkable things about this movie is quite long. Whedon secretly filmed Much Ado in his own home in only 12 days. The project was secret because he was on a contractual vacation after finishing up The Avengers. He even scored the film himself, creating a lovely soundtrack. Shakespeare had two songs in the text for Much Ado About Nothing, and Whedon ingeniously orchestrated them as two lovely songs in the film, featuring his beautiful sister-in-law Marissa Tancharoen and his brother Jed Whedon. Whedon’s other brother, Zack Whedon, was also included in the film. The film is an incredible revision of Shakespeare’s play. The comedic mastery and timing from Whedon and the cast is impeccable. Audiences will be cramped in laughter by the end of the film. Whedon masterfully weaves together sentimentality with wit and humor, creating an exquisite and entertaining film.