Commentary

July 19, 2013

Fly Over: ‘End of Watch’, and ‘Pacific Rim’

Pacific-Rim-poster

‘Pacific Rim’

Let me start by making this very clear: anyone who does not care about watching giant, computer-generated robots punching giant, computer-generated monsters should lower my rating down a point or two. That is what Guillermo Del Toro set out to do with “Pacific Rim,” and this movie has it. Other aspects of filmmaking and storytelling may be lax … but by Godzilla, this movie has giant robots punching giant monsters.
When an inter-dimensional rift opens deep beneath the Pacific Ocean, a race of monsters known as Kaiju (Japanese for “strange beast,” for those not socially inept enough to already know that) begin attacking major cities. After conventional military force is proven ineffective, the governments of the world join together to create robots to combat them.
Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) is a retired pilot for one of these “Jaegers” (German for “hunter”), but as the war with the Kaiju becomes more desperate he is persuaded by his old commanding officer (Idris Elba), to return for one last mission.
One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard about “Pacific Rim” is that the story is cliché. Well, it is. There’s no surprise in character development or story progression, and yes it did bug me. But where the latter two “Transformers” annoyed me for similar reasons, “Pacific Rim” actually has likable characters and the situations actually had a sense of gravity to them. When Raleigh is screaming in rage as he blasts a Kaiju in the stomach, I understood why.
Cliché as much of it is, they’re nicely done clichés; the backstory of Raleigh’s copilot Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) is as run-of-the-mill as one can get, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t care about her character.
Even though he kind of disappeared in the background on occasion, Charlie Hunnam did a good job playing Raleigh. The character could have easily been the brooding “I don’t make attachments with my crew” character, but thankfully he does the complete opposite.
Rinko Kikuchi also does well, and of all the characters she shows the clearest development arc.
Idris Elba does as great as everyone’s come to expect, but Ron Pearlman and Charlie Day almost steal the show in the scenes they share as a black marketer and a “Kaiju groupie” scientist; they are admittedly over-the-top, however.
No more than ten minutes into “Pacific Rim” did I realize it could have been a live-action anime adaptation, and I wouldn’t have been surprised. That is a compliment, considering this film was partly inspired by such source material, and that real live-action adaptations are rarely successful. The computer-generated effects are not completely realistic like most sci-fi aspires to be, but it’s still very stylish with an insane amount of detail.
Fight scenes, the real reason anyone would see this, are very exciting and brutal. Each of the Jaegers and Kaiju have their own unique skill-set, and one fight in particular goes from Hong Kong’s harbor, to Hong Kong’s streets, to Hong Kong’s airspace. I would have liked to have seen more of the minor Jaegers and a little less distracting lightning during the fights, but it was all still very satisfying.
Is “Pacific Rim” for everyone? Not at all. Anyone who is not interested in giant robots probably wouldn’t enjoy it. Unless they were those jaded by “Transformers.” It’s way better than “Transformers.”
“Pacific Rim” is rated PG-13 for language, some frightening images and sci-fi violence.

 

End-of-Watch-movie-poster

‘End of Watch’

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena deliver twin powerhouse performances as Los Angeles Police Department cops in “End of Watch,” a gritty, realistic and chilling 2012 drama written and directed by David Ayer (writer of “Training Day”).
The South Central L.A. patrolled by Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Pena) is a brutal, nasty place populated by criminals, thugs and gangsters. In the first scene, shown from the point of view of the camera mounted in their police cruiser, Taylor and Zavala pursue a black vehicle with tinted windows in a riveting car chase scene that ends with them gunning down the driver and passenger of the car, who emerge with automatic weapons blazing.
An investigation, we soon find, confirms it was a “good shooting” and Taylor and Zavala are sent back out to hit the streets. The violence of the opening scene foreshadows what follows.
For 109 minutes, we follow Taylor and Zavala on the daily grind, and as they respond to various calls, we see the content of their character and what makes them tick.
Some cops, Zavala says, take pride in going their whole career without drawing their service weapon. In South Central, however, that isn’t an option. Violence is a way of life here. It is inflicted by guns, by fists, by dismemberment and in one gruesome scene, by stabbing.
Violence is a central theme explored in “End of Watch.” It is foreboding and ever-present, a character in and of itself, always lurking just around the corner. The two cops are cowboys in a modern-day Western, where the concern – as Clint Eastwood once said – is always with gunplay.
The emotional core of this movie, however, is the relationship between Taylor and Zavala, who are partners and friends. These are complex, fully formed characters played by two great actors at the top of their game.
They each have families of their own, but in each other, they have a friendship that transcends family – it’s a bond formed when a man does a job that calls for him to trust another man with his life on a daily basis. Cops know it, as do many military servicemembers, and this is a movie that shows that brotherhood very convincingly.
It’s a brotherhood, though, that does also include women. America Ferrera and Cody Horn are terrific as two tough female cops who hold their own alongside Taylor and Zavala.
The only character that felt underdeveloped was that of Anna Kendrick, who seemed slightly out of place as Taylor’s girlfriend. That can be forgiven, though, in light of Ayer’s brilliant directing. Much of the movie is shot in documentary style from the point of view of handheld cameras, one of which is carried by Taylor for a video project he is working on for a class.
As the movie progresses, Taylor and Zavala get in over their heads, and the action builds to a shattering conclusion.
Ultimately, this movie is a stirring salute to the men and women who wear the badge. “Although I’m but one man, I have thousands of brothers and sisters who are the same as me,” Jake Gyllenhaal says in voiceover. “They will lay down their lives for me, and I for them. We stand watch together. A thin blue line. Protecting the prey from the predators, the good from the bad. We are the police.”
“End of Watch” is rated R for for strong violence, some disturbing images, pervasive language including sexual references, and some drug use.




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