Category Archives: Tom’s Tuesday Rant

Tom’s Tuesday Rant — Why Pacific Rim is sinking

By Tom Kapr

 

 

I did not want to see Pacific Rim. But then we covered it on the podcast, so I watched it. And it’s the best movie I’ve seen at the theater this year. It absolutely deserves to be seen and to be a hit. But it’s tanking at the box office. Why?

I believe there are several reasons. There’s the reason why I almost didn’t go to see it. The marketing made it look like nothing but giant CGI monsters fighting giant CGI robots, an assault of CGI with no plot or characters. Thankfully, it is so much more than that. Oh, it’s giant CGI monsters fighting giant CGI robots — or, more accurately, giant mechanical suits piloted by a couple of Rangers in the cockpit who control it by “drifting” with each other and the machine (that is, they control it by joining minds in a sort of left brain/right brain function for the giant mechanical suit).

But it also has a good deal of well-though-out sci-fi elements, like the mecha-suit I’ve just described, the “drifting” through a “neural handshake,” and the nature of the monsters and the means and reason why they are emerging from a hole at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. More than that, it has a great cast of actors playing interesting characters in an emotionally engaging human drama.

 

There is one character I wouldn't mind being a little more engaged with, if you know what I mean. Oh, maybe you don't know what I mean. Yes, I know Charlie Hunnam looks great with his shirt off, but... look, just forget it.

 

On top of that, the special effects are top-notch, the pacing is perfect, the musical score is rousing, and the cinematography is beautiful.

Pacific Rim is also original, and this is another reason it’s not doing so well. Steve went into it a little on the podcast, and I agree. Now, when we say “original,” we mean it’s not based on a pre-existing property with a built-in audience. It is the latest in the long tradition of the “kaiju” genre (which we’ve explored before), and little about the story is particularly original, except for a handful of the more creative sci-fi elements and one of the relationships at the hub of the story. As far as an audience goes, it should attract fans of Guillermo Del Toro and of the kaiju genre. (Of course, I’m a little bit of both, and it took Brian basically forcing me to see it — for which I’m grateful. You’ve got to stop being right, Brian.)

The only real criticism I have is that Charlie Hunnam can’t do a convincing American accent. I don’t know why they didn’t either hire an American actor or an actor who could play an American, or, just, you know, let him speak naturally. It didn’t really matter where he was from. After all, Idris Elba’s a Brit, and his character spoke with a British accent. But that’s my only problem, and it’s minor. Otherwise, Hunnam was fine in the role.

 

Actually, my only real problem is that Zangief Pompadoursky and Gwen Stefanikov didn't get more screen time.

 

Steve mentioned something that I feel I also have to mention: as an original story — that is, not a sequel or an adaptation of a popular series of books — with a no-name cast (unless you’re a movie geek, in which case you should recognize at least six names in the cast), the studio had no idea how to market it.  They started wising up just a little too late when they began showing that it did indeed have humans in the cast. (I’m not sure whether to be frustrated or encouraged by that.) As far as the cast goes, they should have at least relied a little bit on the actors’ TV fan bases (starring Sons of Anarchy‘s Charlie Hunnam, The Wire‘s Idris Elba, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Charlie Day… and, I guess, Beauty and the Beast‘s Ron Perlman — Ron freaking Hellboy Perlman – since as Kevin’s pointed out, he apparently had quite a following back in the day. (Somehow bestial makeup made Ron Perlman look weirdly handsome in a way his natural face just, um, doesn’t. And I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.)

So, I blame the studio for not being smart, or perhaps being too apathetic, about the marketing. I blame the general movie-going populace for not caring about a movie not based on something they already knew. And I blame guys like me who weren’t willing to give a truly talented and original filmmaker like Guillermo Del Toro the benefit of the doubt when they saw “giant CGI monsters fighting giant CGI robots” as the main marketing draw and should have known there would be more to it than that.

Hopefully, Pacific Rim will make a killing overseas and on home video (that’s still a a thing, right?), but I fear it will cause studios to react negatively by putting less faith in the next original story from Del Toro or some other blockbuster auteur. I fear it will also make it twice as hard now for Del Toro to get the funding needed for his Lovecraft adaptation. Which, if this is any indication, is a damn shame.

Oh well, I guess we’ll just have to enjoy this for now.

—–

Tom was once a mere temp worker until he was kidnapped by mad scientists and imprisoned on a satellite in outer space where he was forced to watch bad movies with a couple of sarcastic sentient robots. He escaped over a decade ago, yet still he sits alone in a darkened room watching bad movies, whispering wisecracks into the dark. His favorite films include City Lights, Casablanca, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Amélie, Stagecoach, and the Toy Story trilogy. He edits the Rant Pad and the Buried Cinema podcast.

Tom’s Tuesday Rant — The sole voice of dissent (and/or reason)

By Tom Kapr

 

 

SPOILERS AHEAD!

It can be difficult when you are the one person out of five people on a podcast about movies who thinks a movie isn’t good. Worse still when you’re also the one out of the five who wasn’t present for the conversation. Even worse, when you then have to listen to that conversation and edit it into the podcast we present to our listeners, without bias. (Believe me, the temptation to just chop out opinions that you think are totally wrong is like being cajoled by inner James Earl Jones-ian voices to go over to the Dark Side.)

I was dreading the editing on the Man of Steel segment last week, but strangely, even though those fools gave it a grade of two A’s and two B’s, I spent most of the time thinking, “that’s a fair point.”

The truth is, I found Man of Steel nigh unbearable to watch, but that’s not because it’s a complete failure of a film. Oh, it’s a failure of writing and directing and in some cases acting, but it has its merits. I actually love the direction they took the character. I love that for most of the story, he’s just Clark Kent from Smallville trying to figure out who he is, where he came from, why he’s different, and what he’s meant to do. I love that they show him as a human with frailty, weaknesses, uncertainties. I love that he doesn’t really know how to wield his power. I loved Russell Crowe as Jor-El and Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent; they were two phenomenal father figures and fully-rounded characters. Amy Adams was fine as Lois Lane, and Henry Cavill was fine as Kal-El.

If only all that had been put into a script that had some sense of pacing and wasn’t full of cringe-inducing dialogue. If only all that had been directed by somebody who knew how to balance the carnage with some sense of respect toward its subject matter. If only all that had been directed by somebody who knows what to do with a camera.

The guys on the podcast think I’m blanketly (is that a word? well, now it is) a Zack Snyder hater. I’m not. Well, I am, but I wasn’t always. I remember when I went to see his re-imagining of Dawn of the Dead. That is one of the best zombie movies ever made. I came out of the theater thinking, where did this Zack Snyder guy come from? This was his first movie, and it was freaking amazing. Then of course his most popular film came along, 300, which I dislike for moral reasons, but not, like the rest of its detractors, for its aesthetic. I even enjoyed Watchmen for the most part, despite having finished the book an hour before going to the theater. But then came along Sucker Punch, a melange of imagery that should have been interesting but was somehow intensely boring, not to mention, again, morally reprehensible.

Still, I was willing to give Snyder another chance with Man of Steel. Especially after I saw the trailer (which is still one of the coolest trailers I’ve ever seen), I was excited to see this movie. Now I see that Snyder is a director who knows how to capture fascinating images (a lot of the shots in this film are surprisingly artistic and beautiful), but not how to bring them together cohesively. Especially the opening 20 minutes and the seemingly never-ending destruction of the finale are little more than tons of CGI being thrown at the audience with no sense of cinematic artistry. The camera zooms in and out seemingly at random. I thought the cinéma vérité style of the trailer was a fascinating stylistic decision for this movie. Now I feel I can only credit that to, maybe, Snyder getting lucky with a few shots, or perhaps cinematographer Amir Mokri, and probably more than a little to whoever edited the trailer. Maybe that person should have edited the movie.

I have a laundry list of complaints: the character of Zod is interesting but I felt didn’t quite have the sense of consistency he should have, even with the great Michael Shannon in the role; Diane Lane seemed to almost be playing Martha Kent for camp, and I usually love Diane Lane (though I hated Must Love Dogs); the movie felt interminably long, especially when it became a constant stream of CGI with no sense of environment; it was way more violent than it needed to be; the Christ-imagery, while inherent to the character, was ham-handed in its delivery; a few scenes were eye-rollingly cliché; the color palette was one of the bleakest I’ve seen outside of a Dogme 95 film; even some of the dialogue scenes were way too CGI-heavy (I’m thinking of Jor-El’s Fortress of Solitude Exposition Extravaganza); and the scene in which Clark watches his second, earthly father die is hopelessly contrived. You mean, Jonathan had to be the one to go back and save the dog from the twister? Sure. It’s in the script. At least Costner delivered.

I feel that they tried to cram too much story into one movie. This is basically the story of Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman and its immediate 1980 sequel mashed into one movie–with, admittedly, a far more interesting Superman at the center. I know Christopher Nolan shepherded this movie through its scripting phase, and I find it interesting that I had this thought completely separate from that knowledge: I wish they had broken this story up into two movies, just like the originals were, and followed more of Dark Knight trilogy arc: the first film, an origin story about a hero who had to go on a journey of self-discovery before he could take his place as protector. There was absolutely no sense of Superman as protector in this film, and that is its gravest trespass. I know he needs to find that in himself first, but the movie never got there, or didn’t care to (I suspect the latter), which is the only real reason I felt a sense of disrespect for the character on the part of the filmmakers. Not because he inadvertently causes almost as much destruction as his enemies or because he makes the decision, the necessary decision, to break Zod’s neck and kill him, but because the storytellers made no effort to give Kal-El a sense of duty to help people who are in danger.

I mean, sure, he saves the planet, but listen, this is the moment when I decided to really hate — not just dislike, but hate — what the filmmakers were doing: Superman saves Lois Lane (yada, yada) and they land in what used to be Metropolis (now a barren wasteland), and they start making out. While thousands are still dying in the rubble around him. Thousands of people that Superman should be able to hear crying for help. Superman stopped the Earth Destroying Device just in time to keep Perry White and two of his reporters from being killed, and the woman (a character who was not established prior to this sequence) says: “He saved us.”

At that point, I whispered loudly enough for the person next to me to hear, “Well, he saved four of you.” And then the film went on to knock down more buildings and kill thousands more people. Look, I know you have to up the ante these days, but you can tell your story without a Transformers-level disregard for humanity.

That scene also contains an exchange between Superman and Lois Lane that is one of the worst pieces of dialogue ever in a movie. Ever.

As I was saying, this level of darkness and destruction might have fit better in a Dark Knight-esque sequel. Like Batman was faced with the formidable Joker, a sequel in which Superman had to face Zod would have paced this character’s and this story’s arc better. He would have already been established as a protector character in the first film, and the second film would have pushed that protector role past Superman’s limit, fighting a force of foes that have him out-manned, out-gunned, and out-classed in every way — every way but being on the side of goodness and compassion.

Forgive me for the rambling nature of this article. This is just my Tuesday rant, after all. I just have so much to say against this movie where others have done little but heap praise on it. Praise that, to a great extent, I understand. There is a lot of good stuff in this film, at least conceptually, and there are even a lot of great scenes. It just wasn’t all put together that well, and Zack Snyder became so focused on showing as much wanton destruction as possible that he lost sight of what was important.

I believe there are good places to go from here with this franchise. I just sincerely hope the next film isn’t directed by Snyder.

Having said all that, be sure to listen to our podcast and also to read this well-written article defending the movie I just trashed.

Oh, by the way: Superman Returns might have a less rich concept of Superman as a character, but it’s still much better filmmaking. Yeah, I said, it’s the better film.

(Enjoying the Rant Pad? There’s more! Visit our podcast home page at BuriedCinema.com. Then you can also Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Flickchart, and Subscribe to us on YouTube!)

Tom’s Tuesday Rant — “Ansiktet” and religion

By Tom Kapr

Our latest podcast, entitled “Now You Sydow Me,” which came out on Friday, focused on a couple of movies about magicians: the new release Now You See Me, and Ingmar Bergman’s 1958 film The Magician (the original Swedish title of which is Ansiktet, or literally translated, The Face.) I picked The Magician as a pairing with Now You See Me having never before seen it. It’s a mixed bag of a movie, with many great scenes but also a handful that either don’t have quite the effect they should or just don’t translate well from their Swedish sensibilities to mine (and being a quarter Swedish myself doesn’t help me any).

 

Max von Sydow doesn't care what translates. He just wants to look deep into your eyes as you die.

 

One of the bits of conversation that I cut from the podcast (mostly for time considerations) dealt with the religious aspect of the film. The story itself revolves around a controversial magician named Albert Emanuel Vogler (how’s that middle name for a religious allusion?) and his traveling “Magnetic Health Theater” as they arrive in a small town where the heads of the community (the Consul, the Police Superintendent, and the logical but emotionally sadistic Minister of Health) put them through a rigorous and invasive trial to determine their legitimacy before allowing them to perform for the public; or more accurately, to expose and mock their illegitimacy.

One of the major characters is Vogler’s grandmother, known only as “Granny.” Granny (played by Swedish theater and opera veteran Naima Wifstrand) is an alchemist and self-proclaimed witch, a practitioner of the old ways, the Norse paganism that prevailed before the arrival of Christendom. There is a moment early in the film when Granny is complaining about how the new religion (by this time, in the mid-1800s, most likely the official establishment of Lutheranism) has pushed out the old ways and made them suspect.

There was some confusion on the podcast about why, then, Granny would make the sign of the cross as she does twice on a wall and once in the air when they’re traveling through the woods at night. Thing is, the religious significance of the symbol of a cross pre-dates Christianity in many cultures, such as with the Egyptian ankh. And yes, in Norse paganism as well, there were symbols that closely resembled the cross, such as the irminsul, the mjolnir (commonly known as “Thor’s hammer,” a symbol — it’s worth noting in the context of how Granny uses the cross — widely worn for protection), and even a version of the swastika, which was a cross-similar symbol with various meanings used by many cultures around the world long before Adolf Hitler took a shine to it. So Granny could have been making a cross-symbol related to her old Norse paganism.

 

Here's Granny now, moments after endearing herself to the audience by spitting on a crow.

 

However, it’s worth noting that wherever Christianity has gone in the world and become the establishment, it has been notorious for co-opting pagan traditions and putting a Christian sheen over it. After all, even in modern America, we still celebrate our Christian holidays with tons of old pagan symbolism: the Christmas tree, the Easter bunny, etc. (Sure, this is the day in which we remember Christ’s death, but we prefer to do it surrounded by ancient pagan fertility symbols.)

Also, wherever Christianity went, local religions have had a tendency to mix bits rather than adopt it philosophically whole. Look, for instance, at voodoo, which uses many Christian symbols and in many places co-exists with pseudo-Catholic beliefs. There’s no telling how much Christianity has infiltrated, or been adopted by, the paganism of 1840s Sweden. (Well, there probably is, but I’m a film critic, dammit, not a doctor of comparative religion.)

Even if Granny was making the sign of the Christian cross, if you closely watch those scenes where she’s hexing the wall with her finger, you’ll notice that the cross she is drawing is upside down. The upside down cross is perhaps the most diametric symbol in all of Christian history, being either a symbol of absolute devotion to Christ, which originated with the tradition of Saint Peter opting to be crucified upside down since he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus himself (it’s even known in Roman Catholicism as the “Petrine” cross); or, more recently, a symbol of anti-Christianity or even anti-religion (notably popular with heavy metal enthusiasts and other people who don’t understand their own symbolism).

So, even if she was making a symbol in upside down Christian cross form, Granny could have been sticking to either the Lutherans or the devil, or both, depending on how you look at it.

But again, I’m just a film critic. You can take all this hypothesizing over mixed religions with a grain of salt. Just make sure it hits the devil in the eye when you toss it over your shoulder.

(Enjoying the Rant Pad? There’s more! Visit our podcast home page at BuriedCinema.com. Then you can also Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Flickchart, and Subscribe to us on YouTube!)