Film Review: Vacation (2015)

Release Date: July 29th, 2015
Directed by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Based on: characters by John Hughes
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh
Cast: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Leslie Mann, Chris Hemsworth, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Charlie Day, Ron Livingston, Norman Reedus, Keegan-Michael Key, Regina Hall, Nick Kroll, Kaitlin Olson, Michael Pena, Hannah Davis Jeter, Colin Hanks, John Francis Daley 

BenderSpink, David Dobkin Productions, New Line Cinema, 99 Minutes

Review:

“I just wanted to sing Seal with my family like normal people.” – Rusty Griswold

Full disclosure, I’m not an Ed Helms fan. I think the main reason for that is due to him making the final season of The Office pretty damn insufferable. I also don’t necessarily blame him for that, I think it was the writing and whoever was calling the shots on that show at the end. But with that, I was burnt out on Ed Helms for several years.

So, as I approached this film, I wanted to go into it with an open mind and without my previous biases. I knew I’d have to eventually get to this, as I was already watching and reviewing all the Vacation movies and didn’t want to simply omit this one just because it didn’t feature Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as the leads.

I’m happy to say that I found this to be pretty decent. It does have some laughable moments, features cameos with a lot of people I like and Ed Helms had solid chemistry with Christina Applegate. Also, he played this version of Rusty Griswold pretty straight and not as over the top as his Andy Bernard character from The Office.

Ultimately, though, this is a rehash of what the original film was with the same destination in mind. The adventure on the way to WallyWorld followed similar beats and homaged some classic moments but there was enough original stuff in this to allow it to stand on its own and to not just be a paint-by-numbers remake.

I also like that this did bring back Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo in their iconic roles, even if it was just a small part within the larger movie.

I can’t really say that this is all that memorable, though. It’s better than some of the other Vacation movies but that was never really a high bar to begin with.

In the end, this is goofy, mindless escapism and while some jokes don’t land as intended, the movie still has a good, positive spirit about it and I liked the core characters.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)

Also known as: Pacific Rim 2, Solar Rim (alternate titles), Pacific Rim: Maelstrom (working title)
Release Date: March 15th, 2018 (Vue West End premiere)
Directed by: Steven S. DeKnight
Written by: Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, Steven S. DeKnight, T.S. Nowlin
Based on: characters by Travis Beacham
Music by: Lorne Balfe
Cast: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Jing Tian, Cailee Spaeny, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Adria Arjona, Zhang Jin

Legendary Pictures, UpperRoom Entertainment Limited, DDY, Universal Pictures, 111 Minutes

Review:

This sequel has been a long time coming. It has been in development since the original came out and was a surprise success in the summer of ’13. Guillermo del Toro was slated to direct it, as he did the first one. However, as time rolled on, he left the project to work on other movies. He still produced the film, though.

I liked the original, even if I don’t feel like it holds up with repeated viewings. I had high hopes that this one would at least be an entertaining popcorn movie. I did have some skepticism, however, as the trailers didn’t due much to peak my interest. Nevertheless, I wanted to give it a fair shot because I have been a fan of kaiju pictures since I discovered them as a small child.

To be completely honest, this film that I had some low expectations for, ended up being better than its predecessor. I don’t think that most people will feel the same way but the issues I had with the first movie were mostly fixed with this chapter.

My biggest complaint about the first Pacific Rim is that everything looked generic. Jaegers looked similar and didn’t have exciting designs, all the kaiju were pretty boring and redundant minus a few alterations and every battle was at night giving more visual pizzazz to the cityscapes than the actual titans battling. I liked Pacific Rim but it was pretty unimaginative from a guy as creative as Guillermo del Toro.

Another problem with the first movie, is that it is too basic from a narrative standpoint. Monsters show up, man makes robots, robots smash monsters. Sure, there are a few side plot threads too but it’s a simple movie.

Lastly, the final battle was some shitty underwater thing and the big bad boss at the end wasn’t really that cool.

In this new film, all of these issues are corrected.

The Jaegers have much cooler and unique designs, color schemes and are mostly seen during daylight hours. Also, their enemies don’t just consist of generic kaiju. Our hero Jaegers fight an evil Jaeger, as well as Jaeger/kaiju hybrids and in the end, three powerful kaiju that form into one incredibly massive kaiju like some sort of reptilian Voltron.

The plot was also more layered, had twists and surprises and wasn’t a predictable experience. There were new threats that were unexpected, a main villain twist that was awesome and the mythos was expanded on and enriched by new concepts and developments.

The final battle was beautifully done with a much better final monster than the previous outing. Sure, it is a CGI festival but it is all out in the open, takes place in Tokyo like a proper kaiju movie, moves on to Mt. Fuji and has a pretty incredible final blow to the giant creature.

Pacific Rim: Uprising feels like an anime come to life in the best way possible. It’s over the top, ridiculous and incredible in its scope and scale. But it feels right. And it is f’n fun.

I found myself caring about this cast much more than the one of the previous film. John Boyega and Scott Eastwood were a better macho duo than Charlie Hunnam and Rob Kazinsky from the first film. They had more personality, better charisma and didn’t seem like generic muscle heads mindlessly locking horns, huffing and puffing, to prove who was more alpha whenever there were onlookers.

One aspect of this film that I loved was that regular people are now building their own Jaegers. The girl in the film built a small but very cool and effective Jaeger. Actually, it is my favorite robot from this film series. I hope that this is a concept that is explored more in a sequel. Having hundreds of patched together, homemade Jaegers running into battle would be a cool sight.

I already know that my opinion of liking this more than the original will not be a popular one. People love Guillermo del Toro like they they love Joss Whedon: with blind, undying faith because they created something really, really good once.

This film is also heavy on action… real heavy. People will say it’s a soulless imitation of that “auteur” del Toro’s original vision. Well, even with being action heavy, it has more narrative depth and more creativity crammed into that soullessness than the original film.

There is destruction on a massive scale, lots of battles and once you get to the first big action sequence, the film does not really let up on the high octane intensity. But that is exactly what this film is supposed to be. It’s a friggin’ kaiju movie. It also has giant robots. You don’t go to see these things for anything but entertainment and because it pairs well with a giant bucket of popcorn and a giant bucket of soda pop.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Pacific Rim, the 2014 American Godzilla remake, Kong: Skull Island.

Film Review: Fist Fight (2017)

Also known as: Combat de profs (France, Canadian French title)
Release Date: February 13th, 2017 (Regency Village Theater premiere)
Directed by: Richie Keen
Written by: Van Robichaux, Evan Susser, Max Greenfield
Music by: Dominic Lewis
Cast: Ice Cube, Charlie Day, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Christina Hendricks, Kumail Nanjiani, Dean Norris, Dennis Haysbert, Kym Whitley

New Line Cinema, Village Roadshow Pictures, 21 Laps Entertainment, Wrigley Pictures, Warner Bros., 91 Minutes

Review:

“Snitches get stitches.” – Strickland

I have always loved Ice Cube. Well, at least since I was a 7th grader and in 1992, spent some of my Christmas money on my first CD, Ice Cube’s The Predator album. I also bought that first album by Ice Cube’s group Da Lench Mob at the same time.

Charlie Day is another guy I have always liked since first seeing him on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, well over ten years ago now.

Seeing these two guys come together in a film that is going to show them actually duke it out in a fist fight is kind of exciting. Plus, the film has Tracy Morgan, Kumail Nanjiani and Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks.

I didn’t see this in the theater though, as I usually don’t watch comedies on the big screen unless it looks like something pretty exceptional. I did check this out though, as soon as it dropped on Cinemax.

You have to suspend disbelief in this picture, which is fine, as it is a goofy comedy. The reason being though, is that Ice Cube’s character is so irrational that it really doesn’t make a lot of sense. Like why does that nut job even have a job around kids? In this day and age, teachers have their hands severely tied by the system and by helicopter parents who have to pin ribbons on their loser kids and always encourage them to continue sucking at life while coddling their feelings and probably still breastfeeding most of them. I’m pretty sure a lot of teens today do legitimately breastfeed still.

Anyway, that was a weird tangent.

The film is amusing. I like the relationship and rivalry between Day and Cube and I’m not going to lie, seeing them come together again for a follow up would be cool.

The big fight at the end of the film was bigger than I expected but it played out well with some good twists and turns. I kind of just expected Day to walk out and get knocked out with one punch. The fight was the highlight of the film and it was worth the wait.

Another highlight was Day and his daughter performing at a talent show. This was one of the funniest moments in modern comedy.

This was a movie that ended up being a bit better than I had anticipated. Day pretty much kills it in anything and I’ll always enjoy Ice Cube, as long as he isn’t in some kids’ movie.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Pacific Rim (2013)

Release Date: July 1st, 2013 (Mexico City)
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro
Music by: Ramin Djawadi
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Rob Kazinsky, Max Martini, Ron Perlman, Brad William Henke

Legendary Pictures, DDY, Warner Bros. Pictures, 131 Minutes

pacific-rim-poster4Review:

Let me start by saying that it has been a long time since I’ve had as much fun at the movies as I had the first and second time I saw Pacific Rim. Yes, I saw it twice. That is incredibly rare for me, as time isn’t a luxury I usually have but I enjoyed the film so much that I wanted to experience it on a big screen one more time before it left theaters. Besides, good or bad, how often do we get to see a kaiju versus mecha live-action cinematic feature?

Yes, this film is at parts cheesy and over the top and relies on a lot of CGI, things I am often times critical of. However, in the vein of kaiju films, these elements are almost customary. There is a place for such things and a film about giant robots fighting massive kaiju is that place. Regardless of those more traditional giant monster movie elements, this film still delivered a serious and emotional story that was entertaining despite the giant battles.

Have you ever seen Idris Elba in anything and not been pleased? Once again, in this film, he delivers and gives a great epic speech that rivals Bill Pullman’s speech in Independence Day. Apart from Elba, Charlie Day from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia played a smart version of the character people have loved on his FX series. Day was awesome and I wish I’d see him in more roles. Ron Perlman, who shared almost all of his scenes with Charlie Day, played an entertaining character that was a perfect marriage of goofy and bad ass. Perlman’s Sons of Anarchy co-star Charlie Hunnam was the film’s lead but he was just as drab as he always is and I really didn’t care about him or his struggles. The other characters made up for Hunnam though. On a side note, with all these actors from FX shows packed into this film, I anticipate it being in regular circulation on that channel, all the time.

The action sequences in this film were spectacular. Pacific Rim actually has one of the best openings that I’ve ever seen in a summer blockbuster film. The Hong Kong battle is also a high point of the film, as a trio of Jaegers (the giant robots) take on a pair of kaiju. The big confrontation starts in the harbor and carries over into downtown Hong Kong.

Director Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth and many other films) serves up his patented visual style but does so on a much larger scale. This is my favorite of his films and has me hopeful for its sequel, even though he isn’t directing it.

There are only two negatives I want to point out about the film.

The first, is that the score is mediocre. The music is generic sounding and really repetitive. It does its job for the most part but it also distracts from the picture. There is nothing memorable about the soundtrack, other than it just feels like the same damn theme playing over and over again and it isn’t that good to begin with.

The other negative was the design of the kaiju. They were fairly cool but there wasn’t much to make them unique or anywhere near as cool as the kaiju of the 1960s and 70s. They all generally had the same look with a few minor tweaks here and there. The coolest was the one with the big knife on its head but that was really just a modern version of the much more awesome Guiron from the Gamera franchise. But then again, this is a movie where giant robots fight giant monsters and it was pretty effective, regardless of mediocre monsters.

If you want a film that is just a smash’em up ass kicking epic blockbuster, this is your movie. If you don’t want that, you are probably dead inside.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Pacific Rim: Uprising, 2014’s American Godzilla remake, Kong: Skull Island.