Friday, July 19, 2013

The Bay

NetFlix 3.5/5
IMDB 5.5/10
My Rating: 7.5 /10

A Wikileaks-style found footage assembly tells the story of a small bayside town that experiences a rash of horrific infections which eventually are revealed to be something much more terrifying.

Watched this last night. Holy SHIT. Terrifying and creepy and deeply disturbing. It is, IMO, even worse than Contagion for making you never want to touch anything or leave the house ever again. It is also apparently a movie that people have wildly different reactions to, because its IMDB comments all devolved into either 1 star reviews that hated it or high ratings that loved it. It only has a 5.5 on IMDB but IMO it's a 7.5/10, easily. It was just recently added to Netflix streaming.

It's a found footage movie, so I was prepared to hate it. We started watching it basically just to see if it was tolerable, and planned to de-queue it and watch Spiral instead if it was another shakeycam barf-athon. 30 minutes later, we were totally hooked. It's directed by the fellow who did Rain Man and a bunch of other big budget films, but he did this as a personal project for $2 million with unknown actors. The fact that he is a professional director with decades of experience shows, because the found footage format is a lot more stable and better arranged than the usual jiggly-crazy camcorder movies. In fact, at times he shrugs and blows off the whole idea of it being found footage by including background soundtrack, but by the times that happens you're so immersed in the story that it's more funny than distracting. And at least there's a good reason for the footage assembly because it's been assembled and ordered by professional editors into the form that we see.

A lot of the low reviews came from horror fans who thought it was boring because there weren't enough "stalk and jump" scares. It is NOT that kind of movie, though. The fear here is more like in Contagion - not individual people being chased around by slashers, but in the overall look of the looming epidemic and the vast repercussions it's going to have as the scale of it becomes clear. It's eco-horror at its best. The whole thing is presented in a Wikileaks-style format, as a series of video clips and footage that's been obtained by whistleblower types to inform the world about what happened. So, you don't get a movie with a few characters and a story, you get a movie that is presented documentary-style and which is a sequence of events that get more horrifying as they progress.

The whole thing is narrated by this young intern reporter and we follow her through it in much the same way as the young woman in [REC]. She's assigned to cover the town's July 4th festival as a puff piece when things start going wrong. As folks begin piling up in the hospital with blistering rashes, the movie moves between footage of her, a family recording their vacation visit, some police footage, and a pair of experts studying mass fish die-offs. The whole found footage angle is utilized really well here, as there are logical reasons for most of the footage (Expert exposition for the record, police car cameras, TV news footage of events, etc). Ergo, you don't get a lot of the, "Why are they still filming this monster as it attacks them?" effect of some other found footage films. It gradually becomes obvious that there's something in the water as polluted run-off from chicken farms has bred steroid-enhanced isopods. I don't want to tell any more of the plot as half the fun is in the dawning realization of the sheer horribleness of the situation and how hideous things are going to get.

See it. It will stick with you long after viewing. In fact, I'm still thinking about it a day later. It's a "1 tick from reality" sort of film, where the horror is not in evil slashers or vampires but in the daily news. It becomes more horror-film-like by the end but it still retains this very real feeling. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of Cloverfield - Not in the giant monster sense, but in the style of how it looked at the widescale impact of this sort of environmental disaster from a very human, very limited viewpoint.

My final comment -  I was going to post the trailer but naturally, it spoilers a couple of the best shock scares of the film, so I would advise against watching the trailers online. They completely blow one of the best moments of the movie - My wife jumped so much she fired the cat off her lap.  Some things are definitely best left to jump at you from out of the dark.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pacific Rim

IMDB 7.9/10
My Rating: 7/10

When giant monsters start appearing in the Pacific ocean and destroying cities, humanity must band together and fight back with giant piloted robots. 

I love giant monster movies.  Ever since the days of Godzilla and Ultraman, the kaiju genre has been my thing, so the idea of a big budget, all-original robots vs monsters movie has always been high on my wish list.  And Pacific Rim is clearly a labor of love by a fellow fan of Toho's creations... which is why it pains me to not *quite* be able to give it the glowing review I'd like to.  Nonetheless, it's a marvelous film and thus far is the only summer movie that's actually been able to motivate me to the theater - Man of Steel and Star Trek and Iron Man 3 are more, "Wait for it on DVD" for me, whereas Lone Ranger is strictly, "I'll watch this when I'm forced to on a long plane flight."

In Pacific Rim, giant monsters are attacking the world.  One after another, they are popping out of a dimensional gate under the Pacific and laying waste to civilization.  Humans build giant robos called Jaegers to fight them off, and our hero is a former hotshot Jaeger pilot who inevitably had his fall from grace and now seeks redemption.  That's about all of the plot I can reveal without spoilers, but that's also about all the plot there is - Don't be expecting a complex storyline because, like the classic kaiju pics of old, it's basically, "Giant Robot, Giant Monster, FIGHT!"

Overall, I'd probably give this one a B+  -  It's an A+ for big screen spectacle, a B for cool robots and beasties, a C for characters, an A for homages and wink-wink moments, and a C for action scenes. The action scenes were my biggest complaint. As advertised, they were better than Transformers, yes, but where Transformers got an F for utter failure, Pacific Rim just gets a C because at least 1/3 to 1/2 of the time, it was impossible to tell what the hell was going on. Wall-to-wall CGI, everything is moving, everything has a million moving parts, the camera is flying all over the place, and it's all happening in raging seas at night in the rain. When you could see what was happening, it was totally awesome, and some of the fights kicked ass all over because of how great they looked when there was actual lighting and visual coherence, but others (specifically the opening fight and the big battle in the bay later, AND the climax) were just gibberish overload to me - a screen full of moving pixels that I tuned out of and just ended up waiting until the scene settled down enough to see who had won. In this respect, Pacific Rim was a big step down from last year's Avengers, which also had a metric fuckton of CGI at the end but it was all lit and staged so well that I never once had any problem telling what was happening or visually understanding what I was seeing. When it's completely impossible to follow what's happening on screen, something has been done wrong.

Example - Here is a Godzilla fight at night:


You can clearly see what is happening and clearly see what each monster looks like, and have no problem following the action.

By contrast, this is what half the fight scenes in Pacific Rim looked like:

The above is much harder to follow in motion, too. The experience is like - Lots of rain, Lightning. A flash of claw. Something blows up. Splashing everywhere. Brief glimpses of monster parts. That gets me to my other big complaint, which is that you never get to see the monsters for shit. Some of the designs looked cool, but as is the modern way, they're usually way too overdone with too many opening mouth parts and arms and you never, ever are allowed a good look at any of them.

Typical Godzilla movie monster view:

Typical Pacific Rim monster view:

It's all the more frustrating because when they do the action scenes good, they're REALLY good. Some in-city fight scenes are way cool, and when they let you see what's actually happening, there are some great moments and many big fist-pumping, "HOO-RAH!" cheers for the giant robots. It ticks me off because this could have been an A-level movie if they had resisted giving in to "Too much moving CGI shit" overload.

Other negative points are smaller. The ending is the next biggest one, as it's basically a scene-for-scene reshoot of the ending of one of LAST summer's big blockbuster flicks. The two leads are not very interesting. Virtually everyone is a stereotype cliche.

That's all the bad stuff.

NOW, the good stuff is that it's a freaking overwhelming cinematic experience. Despite the visual overload, when it rocks, it ROCKS. It's a big budget giant monster movie and that alone is cause for celebration. The Jaegers are cool and at least somewhat different - Again, the designs are overcomplicated such that we never get a good look at any of them, but at least they are visually distinctive unlike the Transformers. My favorite was the battered, heavy-metal low tech Cherno, a Russian robot piloted by Ivan Drago and Brigitte Nielson.

While the star dude is a charisma-free plank whose job in the movie is to fill screen space while standing around with his shirt off in every possible scene, pretty much everyone around him manages to be likable and interesting. There's Maverick, of course, and Grizzled Veteran. Idris Elba does a terrific job of showing what a great James Bond he would make. Ron Perlman is hilarious in a cameo part. Even normally hideously unlikable Burn Gorman (of Torchwood, otherwise known as Rat-Face) seems to be having fun playing Blimey Codswallop, the most overdone foreign scientist ever. In fact, the two geek scientists were the best part of the movie, IMO - Whenever we went back to them bickering in their lab filled with equation-covered chalkboards, they were always a hoot. They also checkmarked many geek references, including a nod to Buckaroo Banzai. There was a lot of this stuff in the movie and it was always cool - Moves from a Toho kaiju film, a line from War of the Worlds, a name reference here and there, etc. In general, the whole thing showed a huge love of the genre and I commend them for it.

Verdict - I really wish I could give this an unqualified cheer because when it works, it works REALLY WELL. Also, my demerits probably would not make any difference to the videogame generation who are already used to having two million things moving around on the screen, and see that as normal. For myself, the problem was driven home when I later that same evening watched an episode of Wild Wild West about a mad scientist who was creating explosive robot duplicates of the heroes to kill the president. It had a Frankenstein lab, killer robots, a huge fencing scene, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, various fights, etc, and I never once found myself in the situation of tuning out because I couldn't follow what was happening, or just having to twiddle my thumbs and wait until the scene was over so I could see who won. It's the main drag on an otherwise fucking awesome movie.


Worth seeing in the theater? Yes.
Worth buying on Blu-Ray? Yes.
Worth buying the toys? Definitely yes, if only to see what the monsters actually looked like.

I want a Cherno on my desk to face off with my Baragon.