Saturday, July 13, 2013

These are the Ends

Certain types of movies are really hard to review or even offer opinions about. Gross-out comedies, for example, are meant to shock you into laughing. If you find them funny then you didn't waste your $11, if you don't laugh at that kind of thing, don't see them. Action spectacles, for another example, are an excuse for cheering and saying, 'hell, yeah!' These are not complicated ambitions for movies to have, not too difficult to appreciate, and I mostly watch them and forget them. However, because I just watched two excellent examples of these kinds of movies, I'm going to lump them together in a single review.

"This is the End" and "Pacific Rim" have some weird similarities and some glaring differences. This is the End is a comedy about the end of the world where famous comedians play versions of themselves behaving very, very badly in front of impressive CGI. Pacific Rim is a sci fi spectacle about the end of the world where not so famous actors play versions of action heroes behaving very, very heroically in front of impressive CGI.

This is the End is completely unpredictable and really funny. One of the first things that happens in the movie is someone recognizing Seth Rogan in LAX and demanding he give his 'Seth Rogan laugh.' I felt this was the movie's way of telling us that all bets were off. Seth Rogan, James Franco, Craig Robinson, and Jay Baruchel and many, many other young comedians appear in the film and play some slightly off version of themselves. Michael Cera, hilariously, appears as a nerdy, coked-up douchebag, the kind of person you'd most like to see die horribly in the end of the world. When the end of the world actually happens (decent folks being whisked away first in blowtorch blue light beams) all that's left behind are these rich, unhappy, unpleasant, jerks. Basically the last people you'd want to have trapped together without much food or water in James Franco's trendy LA mansion. Hell may be other people, but that also makes for good comedy. I kind of expected that the movie would either degenerate into gross-out parodies of other apocalypse movies or sag into genre tropes like Pineapple Express but curiously the movie finds a third way. The situation is played deadly serious, with a bunch of way-too self-aware comedians attempting to survive a sulphur drenched hellscape. And that's what's so funny about it. The fictional versions of themselves are awful people who never get the joke of the situation.

Pacific Rim, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of movie you'd expect from the trailer. Maybe a little bit less robot-punch-monster than you might suppose but still firmly a movie about enormous mechanical walking death hammers going toe to claw with neon-splattered Chthulu beasts. 

We are told in the first few minutes of the film that Earth is being overrun by transdimensional kaiju, or giant monsters, that are crawling into our world via a rift somewhere in the Pacific. Over several years the world realizes that each creature will be more powerful, more adapted, and appear more rapidly than the one before it. To combat this scaly apocalypse, the nations of the Earth pool their resources and talents to advance the Jaeger program, basically recreating Japanese Mecha in order to pummel the kaiju into submission. This is all immediately familiar if you've ever seen any Japanese anime or Godzilla movie, and from the names of the characters (Hannibal Chao, Stacker Pentecost, etc.) all the way to the rock-em-sock-em fight scenes Pacific Rim delivers pretty much what it promises. The plot fitfully lurches between exposition and subplots, but hits all of its marks. Lines like, "Don't you feel it? We're drift compatible," tread choppy water between mock serious and unintentionally funny.

About the only complaint I have about this movie is one I really don't like to make, which is the physics of the movie are really bad. Wait, a movie about twenty story monsters plays fast and loose with science? I know, shocking, right?! But seriously the movie goes through a lot of trouble to set the scale of the Jaegers, to make them believable machines and then it does dumb stuff like having them survive a drop from near orbit from a flying pterodactyl.

Then there's the nuclear bomb episode. It pulled me out of the story, is all I'm saying.

But when all is said and done I recommend you watch both of these films. They are both extremely entertaining and spectacular. Pacific Rim is the kind of movie that knows what you want and gives you precisely those things. This is the End is a movie that gives you things you never knew you wanted.
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