Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Pacific Rim (2013)

Because sometimes you just need to come home and see a robot suplex a sea dragon.

Guillermo del Toro directed Pan's Labyrinth, a film that whether you like it or you have to admit has one of the most inventive and creative fantasy world seen in film. In Pacific Rim, GdT explores a different kind of fantasy world. This time though, it's not a Spanish take on dark fairytales, but a Japanese-inspired monster-disaster movie.

Pacific Rim (which, as a side note, is a terrible, terrible name for the film) is set in a nearish future where Earth is being troubled by the occasional invasion from giant aliens. In a different twist though, they don't come from the skies but some weird dimensional rift that's appeared at the bottom of the ocean; they climb out and terrorise pretty much all the cities on the pacific coasts. Mankind, not to be outdone by some finheads, have banded together to build a series of huge robots to fight back and boom we have our film.

That's pretty much it. There isn't a whole lot of depth to this. It's pretty much a Western take on the classic Godzilla films, and that's great! Not everything has to have weaving and intricate plots that take any available turn to create the illusion of being creative. There is a valid point to be made in that there's too little time spent with each character, and they're really simple at that price. There's something like 8 main characters and it doesn't help that each robot has to be piloted by two "rangers" who all seem to get the same amount of attention meaning you don't really get one main character. You do get a little and complete story arc for each character though, and that plays into the film's main message.

It doesn't take a professor to figure out that the main message of Pacific Rim is that "We're all in this together". Despite being a war film, it's all about coming together to achieve things we couldn't individually, from the large scale co-operation between all nations to fight off the outer-space menace to the personal connection that develops between the two pilots at centre stage. We're all broken in little ways, but we can cover each others' backs.

But if you think that's all a bit soppy, Pacific Rim is still just simply fantastic fun. The film's a little long, but at least half of it is made up of actions scenes where it's literally just giant robots and alien monsters beating the shit out of each other in the sea, in the city and on the sea floor. It looks beautiful. Set mainly in-and-around future Hong Kong it's a got a real techno-grunge factor with neon lights and grease everywhere and it inexplicably seems to be always raining for some reason. It's slick, stylish and is just fucking awesome.

Guillermo del Toro knows that he's made a film about giant robots fighting giant aliens and that is all it was. He has essentially made that film that every eleven year old boy would have made had he been given a box full of sugary snacks and $190 million dollars.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Trance (2013)

Somewhere between Slumdog Millionaire and producing the fantastic opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics Danny Boyle managed to squeeze in the production of Trance.  It might be a little apparent that his attention was a little divided, and by that I mean it's no Trainspotting, but it doesn't stop the film from being entertaining.

What we have in Trance is a psychological crime thriller (and depending on your thoughts on hypnotherapy, it might be a little sci-fi). After a robbery at an auction house goes off the rails and the painting goes missing, the inside man who last had his hands on in suffers a bout of amnesia. Looking to fill in the blanks the thieves call in the services of a hypnotherapist and set themselves down a road full of twists, turns, false memories and distorted reality.

Danny Boyle's created something that feels a lot like a more grounded version of Inception. Everything in the film is technically possible if you accept that unlikely things always happen in movies. You get similar dream-like atmosphere but with a lot less of the crazy action. The hypnosis factor draws you in and leaves you guessing at to exactly what's real, what's happening under the trance and what's a false memory. As the film progresses it might be a little too much for some, myself included, and you get to a point where you just throw your hands up and say "I'll just wait 'til the end to figure it out!". Even then there does remain a certain pleasure in just going along with the ride.

There might be a few too many twists and turns along the way, but it gives Boyle ample opportunity to mess with you in another way. From the get go it's never clear whose side you're supposed to be on exactly, and considering everyone in the main cast is some sort of criminal, it makes it easy for allegiances to slide from character to character throughout the film right up until the final conclusion.

Of course, credit for that doesn't just lie with the director though. While the cast might no be quite A list (yet), they give an A rate performance. James McAvoy is one of Britain's biggest upcoming stars at the moment, after making the jump from TV to big pictures in 2007 with Atonement, he's just gone from strength to strength (including what looks like a delightfully sleazy time in Filth). He's fantastic at both ends of the spectrum; at home as much as the snivelling coward as he is the vengeful psychopath he just has a knack for taking characters on a real journey and changing, for better or worse.

Backing McAvoy up are Rosario Dawson (Death Proof) and Vincent Cassel (Black Swan). Dawson takes the lead as the intelligent and scheming Elizabeth Lamb, the supposedly legitimate hypnotherapist enticed by the thought of a payday from the underworld and a break from the monotony of treating over-eaters and smokers every day. Then there's Cassel doing what he does best: being somehow suave and incredibly seedy at the same time as the French ringleader of the heist gone wrong.

The three of them together make for an interesting dance throughout the course of film, each taking centre stage for long enough to play with your head as to who should come out on top, who's in the right and who's actually telling the truth. Trance might not ever be near the top of Danny Boyle's biggest hits, but it'll put you under its spell for an hour and a half and not disappoint.