film

Review: Pacific Rim – Uprising

Written by Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, T.S. Nowlin, and Steven S. DeKnight and directed by DeKnight, “Pacific Rim Uprising” is the sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s initial film featuring giant robots fighting giant monsters in 2013. Uprising takes place ten years after the end of the first film and focuses on the son of Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost, Jake (John Boyega). As the film likes to point out on several occasions, Jake is not his father, and there’s a feeling that the screenwriters’ would like you to measure your expectations as this film is not Guillermo’s either. Which isn’t to say that the sequel isn’t fun, it has plenty of giant robot fighting action to sate the core audience, rather the film simply lacks the stylistic touches that Guillermo brought to the genre film the first time around. When the action does begin though, it is pure genre fun.

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This film has a harder place to begin with than the first, how do you follow up cancelling the apocalypse after all? Set during a rebuilding post-war society, there’s less inherent drama to drum up the tension, so the focus falls to Jake and his run in with Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) a young upstart Jaeger engineer who’s built her own pint-sized mech. While Jake had reaped the benefits of a broken world on the black market, Amara had built something from it- illegally though. When they’re both caught and turned in, they are given a choice, recruit to the PDCC (Pan Pacific Defense Corps) or imprisonment. Once they arrive at the shatterdome the story follows some atypical Top Gun style cadet infighting with Scott Eastwood using his father’s likeness to great effect as the lead Ranger Nate Lambert (Jake’s former Jaeger co-pilot) before turning our attention to the returning characters from the first film.

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Gratefully, one of the best attributes of this film is that it very much lives and breathes in the world created by the first “Pacific Rim”. The quirks and peculiarities of the first are kept in place, each Jaeger still needs two pilots who need to be drift compatible in order to pilot them, the headquarters of each base the PDCC runs are still called shatterdomes, there are even a few breaches and plot points from the first film that come back in surprising- but spoilery– ways that I feel would be best discovered through a watch of Uprising itself. Speaking of twists and turns, I won’t divulge the details, but I personally found them to be delightfully weird and a fun contribution to the world of Pacific Rim as a whole.

Now, as for the downsides of the film, there’s a noticeable lack of style and atmosphere that the first film was steeped in. There was a few questionable choices throughout the story as well. While Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), Dr. Newton “Newt” Geiszler (Charlie Day), and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) all return in various scenes, the lead from the first film, Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam), is only mentioned once. His absence from the story is never explained whatsoever, not even a line to say that he’d died in-between films. Another equally confusing decision is the lack of use of the score, or theme, from the first film. It’s brought back for one short montage and never noted on again- which is a shame as the first one used that signature theme as often as possible and helped to craft the tone of the film. Another palpable vacancy is the sense of scale and weight that accompanied the Jaegers and Kaiju in the first film. They were gigantic, yes, but slower in movement while the angles and framing accented the towering nature of these behemoths. Uprising certainly has gigantic and thrilling action sequences, but the Jaegers here are so unrealistically nimble and graceful in their actions that immersion becomes more of an afterthought to the Power Rangers style choreographed fight sequences. My last nitpick here is of the flat lighting. Which, yes, might seem incredibly nitpicky of me, but while this provides admittedly more visual clarity during some fight scenes, it speaks to the overall theme of lacking atmosphere and the touches of artistic quality that comes from a more deft filmmaker.

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Overall I have to say I honestly really enjoyed “Pacific Rim Uprising”. It might not have everything that made the first film special, but it certainly has a lot of what works in this genre of movies- beautiful special effects and lots of visually stunning fight scenes. The film introduced some good new characters and an intriguing evolution to the mythos that I didn’t expect. You probably already know if this is a film you’d enjoy or not, but if you liked the first film, this is a solid sequel- even with a few detracting factors.

Final Score: 3 Kaiju, 4 Jaegers

film

Review: Snowden or “Nerd becometh Spy”

Today the world knows the name Edward Snowden. I remember driving home from work and listening to the radio as broadcasters recounted the hysteria surrounding this most elusive man that fled the country for fear of federal retribution. He had told the world of our government’s dirty secrets. The American government was spying on the whole world, even ourselves. Was he a hero? Or a traitor? The debate raged as we all followed the story of the former NSA operative that had leaked evidence to London’s The Guardian news organization. Eventually he ended up in Moscow while trying to get to Ecuador for asylum when our government was seizing the Ecuadorian leader’s plane and searching for him. So it goes.

What I enjoyed about this film was that it managed to make a normal man in an extraordinary situation compelling enough for film. This is mostly due to the performances of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as the titular Snowden, and Shailene Woodley as his girlfriend Lindsay Mills. Don’t get me wrong though, the rest of the cast was great as well and I was pleasantly surprised to see many more recognizable faces throughout the film’s runtime. The bigger names included Rhys Ifans as Snowden’s CIA mentor, Zachary Quinto as Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian alongside Tom Wilkinson as Ewen MacAskill, Timothy Olyphant as a charming- yet seedy- NSA operative, and even a restrained Nic Cage! Oh and Scott Eastwood as a manager of sorts in the NSA, at least he was more useful here than in Suicide Squad, he’s getting better.

Oliver Stone wisely begins the movie with Snowden’s initial meeting with the journalists and retreads how he came to this point beginning with his time in the military before transfering to the intelligence field after discovering his physical limitations. He starts out on the side of conservatism as he rapidly advances through the CIA’s programs. Shortly thereafter he meets Lindsay Mills, a staunch and passionate liberal. They hit it off and Stone wisely makes this relationship the emotional cornerstone of the film. From there we follow Snowden as he witnesses the government’s reach grow as does his security clearances because of his own intellect and skill. Snowden increasingly becomes unsettled by the actions of those around him as his suspiscion of our government’s intentions intensifies.

At one point Snowden prompts Lindsay to be more careful about her personal content on her computer. She retorts with “Why should I care? I have nothing to hide.” That’s just it though, people deserve the right to privacy, you don’t have to have anything to hide for that to matter. Oliver Stone does a fine job in handling this debate in my opinion, and its a very important discussion that we seem to be terrible at having, or even considering at times. The difference between how people behave and act in public spaces versus in their own privacy is important and a neccesary component to a healthy society. Stone’s film does take a side, clearly, and this may not be the most action heavy, or awe inspiring movie of the year but it certainly centers itself on a subject and event that people seem to have forgotten in as little as three years time when we really should have taken that time to consider the ramifications of what he did. Snowden is heroic because he gave up his own freedoms and life in order to be the digital canary in the coal mine, he told the world a terrifying truth-we’ve given up our own freedoms and privacy without even realizing it.

Where the film lacks for me is that while the conversation is inherently interesting the story as a whole never quite goes there, if you know what I mean. The film lacks that satisfying punch, it lends itself more to a subdued restraint. It’s similar to a good joke, the build up is fascinating, but the punchline lacks the bluster you want, while still being kinda funny. This film is a good joke, but not a great one. However I cannot state enough the importance of the content at hand. This film will probably go down in the annals of film history as being more talked about and discussed than watched and rewatched, but maybe that’s okay. Not every film needs that. Some just need to present you with a debate, or an idea. Snowden does that, and in my opinion it succeeds by doing so effectively.

Final Score: 4/5