RIORI Vol. 1, Installment 16: M Night Shyalaman’s ”After Earth” (2013)


The Players…

Jaden and Will Smith…that’s…that’s about it.

The Story…

A thousand years in the future, Earth has been abandoned, its populace fleeing environmental degradation. Humanity sets up shop elsewhere, its home world forbidden and eventually all but forgotten. However because of a disastrous interstellar voyage, one General Cypher Raige and his young son, Kitai, are forced to crash-land on the long-abandoned, desolate Earth. Now alone and with his father gravely injured, Kitai must set out to find a rescue beacon that hopefully will save them from their cradle’s hostile, if not vengeful ecosystem.

The Rant…

Another M Night Shyalaman movie?

Yes, another M Night Shyalaman movie. He is of ill repute lately, and his latest effort is no different in reflection. His hottest feature (this one) already has a notorious reputation for being a cataclysmic stink bomb at the multiplex. A failed summer blockbuster if there ever was one. Critics lacerated it. It grossed domestically only a fraction of its budgetary costs (but to be fair, it did recoup a lot overseas). It starred the once unimpeachable Will Smith, king of the summer blockbuster for over a decade, whose rep has now been inextricably damaged. Oh, by the way, it also co-stars his kid! Boo! Hiss! Piss on the screen!

Christ, the masses are a capricious bunch, aren’t we? It’s just a damned movie, after all…

So it came to pass, Planet Earth was abandoned a millennium ago, due to either outstripping her natural resources, climate change, war or the generally infantile behavior of people who are more beholding to flags rather than tolerance. The surviving human race, thanks to the elite Ranger Corps, scooped up its remaining culture and found haven on planet Nova Prime, about a jillion light-years away from the cradle.

Like a hunk of cheese over and done at the back of the fridge, Mother Earth has been forgotten, idlewild, the stuff of legend and totally quarantined from any human who may unfortunately get snagged into her gravity well. She’s changed, this bitch of a planet, evolving into a farscape beyond the conditions she was left to roil in centuries ago, sprouting angry flora with irate fauna to boot. In sum: literal terra incognita.

Enter our protag Kitai (Jaden Smith), a bright, ambitious kid, desperate to follow in and perhaps outstretch the footsteps of his esteemed dad, General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) as an elite Ranger. You see, Papa Raige mastered, if not founded the martial art of “ghosting.” It goes as follows: a local hostile alien race didn’t cotton well to having human invaders set up camp on one of their territorial planets. In return, they threw out a welcome mat of genetically engineered monsters dubbed Ursa—totally blind, very stupid and utterly ferocious designed to plainly chew out the human vermin. Gen. Raige figured out how to thwart this menace. Seeing that the Ursa couldn’t, well, see and operated solely on tracking human pheromones alone, all one needed to due was purge any and all vestiges of fear from their body chemistry. Raige was soldier prime, capable of simply walking up to one of these blind, stupid idiot fiends and slaying them with a swift slash of a cutlass. In short, he scorched f*cking earth.

Needless to say, Kitai idolizes—and naturally fears—his indomitable father. He enlisted in the Ranger Corps and outdoes all his peers in every way…save two. First, modesty, and; second, in his father’s eyes. It sucks having to live in your dad’s shadow, especially when it has a particularly long cloak.

But why be such a shrinking violet from such an esteemed family? Is there more to Kitai’s motivations than to outdo an overbearing father with a legacy ridiculously impossible to shoulder? Is it a need to prove his worth as a Ranger? Or is there a certain something else that drives Kitai?

At mom’s behest after the General announces his plans to retire, it’s a good time to take his estranged son along on a road trip. Things start out as business as usual, but (and don’t it always turn out this way) it ends up all widdershins as a celestial U-turn gets thrown at our hero’s’ starship resulting in a crash landing back into Mother Earth’s arms. And for this rude return engagement, she gets very, very pissed.

Surviving Kitai and crippled (but still digitally attached) Cypher have more or less three days to retrieve the rescue beacon to alert the Corps of their whereabouts before their elder Grandma Planet gets sick of their asses and rips them to pieces.

And the clock starts…now!

First mistake: perceiving After Earth as is a sci-fi film.

Second mistake: modestly intelligent fans still address the genre as “sci-fi.” We don’t get no tornadoes made of sharks here in science fiction town. Really. No. I always preferred the genre designated as what writer Harlan Ellison termed “speculative fiction.” Stuff than could only exist in your imagination alone until it was time to be borne. Contemporary societal tropes shrouded with the allegory of the fantastic. That kinda stuff. There is, nowadays, very little “science” in science fiction. I doubt since the heady days of Jules Verne there has been much overt science in science-fiction at all, and that was over a century ago. Again, no. In the simpler terms of Ellison: If you like peanuts, you’ll love Sci-Fi!

Third mistake: perceiving this was meant to be a summer movie. After watching Earth, it has the aroma of a very late fall release, shrouded in falling leaves and freed from the farts and darts that we’ve all grown accustomed and/or numbed to during the summer popcorn releases. After Earth has little popcorn going for it. Also, it’s the first true leap Night has made into the spec-fic genre.

And that, curiously enough, is a good thing.

This movie is a film about the dynamics between a father and his son. Granted, it’s 1,000 years into the future, but I guess it’s safe to assume that such relations haven’t evolved too much from present times. I guess the only real diff is the current applications of clubs and flint. Anyway, families are alike all over.

I, like many ‘Mericans, enjoy the blockbusters Will Smith has hosted. Men In Black, Independence Day, Bad Boys, you get the idea. As of late, Will has been either dodging the summer spotlight or…oh, let’s face it. He wants to choose his own roles. Hell, he’s made his bones. Us duffers from Gen X remember him as either “The Fresh Prince Of Bell Air” or of one half of DJ Jazzy Jeff and…you (might) get the idea.

Here’s this idea: Will Smith since entering cinema has always been a reliable source of charisma, audacity, and humor we’ve come to expect from a  21st Century film icon. Heretofore is a pleasant way to say you’ve been typecast. Like Leonard Nimoy (who directed a fair amount of reputable movies non-Trek related in the 80’s) as Mr. Spock, Smith is trying to shed his skin. And at the same time, striving to have his cake and…well, you know the drill Agent K (look here please)…huh?

Now the Fresh Prince has a son. And here’s the f*cked up thing about it: he’s a more interesting actor than his dad. You know, the multi-millionaire cinema icon dad former fresh prince dad. A well-adjusted 16-year old (at the time of this screed) son whose following in his dad’s footsteps. And a better, more convincing actor than his well-heeled dad has become.

You get it: I think Jaden Smith is a more engaging actor than Pops. Wanna know why? Earnestness. Every Will Smith movie stinks of bravado. Like the coffee pot that has set on the burner way too long into the morning and ignites a redolent smell of TP that has overspent its taint? Poor Will has had to live up to iconic status that, frankly, I don’t think he wanted in the first place. I’d like to imagine that the guy just wanted to try acting (and let’s facts. Every time Will tries to escape the predictable dumb comedy trope he inadvertently makes a profit. Must be stultifying).

Young Jaden, unhampered by typecasting, has carved out a much more eclectic niche than his rich-beyond-compare dad. I’ve seen the films tucked under Jaden’s belt. The remake of The Karate Kid was pretty good. The Pursuit of Happyness wasn’t bad (it co-starred his dad too.) And you wanna known what? There’s a reason why I credited the prime cast as I did (well, such as it was. There were less than at least eight humans I saw. And none of them Night. Looks like he saw my corollary). Jaden carried the film. And very well I might add. I found he conveyed appropriate emotion scene for scene better than his big-ticket dad (whom I’ve never seen act so damned stern before. The usual Big Willie charisma has all but vanished here).

As for the technical flourishes that are always evident in Night’s movies, After Earth was not for wanting. The sets and locations were nothing less than beautiful. The cinematography was exceptional. The film had an excellent score, courtesy of James Newton Howard (he makes the music to all of Night’s movies). And again CGI was used tastefully, not with splash and dash to make a lot of noise. On the contrary, After Earth is never a loud movie. It’s restrained and patient. It takes its time. This is probably why it failed as a summer movie. Too reserved. Or whatever expectations audiences have of Night’s movies, this failed too. This was the most linear, straight-forward tale Night has spun yet. Based in the traditional coming-of-age story and the dynamic of father/son bonding, Night cranked out a very simple, very affecting movie. I think toning down his alleged filmmaking monomania has done Night some good here.

Another element that is always present in Night’s movies and is not lost here is the idea of family. Every film the man has made revolves around the ties that bind, especially in Unbreakable and Signs. After Earth is no exception, and has been distilled down to the very basic element of family: parent and child, one caring for the other. It’s a simple dynamic, but an effective one, and I believe that if we didn’t have the prime cast consist of actual real-life father and son, the movie would not have worked. Most claim the film already didn’t work. Then again, it was summertime, people have expectations and the fact it was a Shyalaman film, there were also preconceived notions about what they were getting into. I guess this movie could remind us all of the immortal words of Flava Flav: don’t believe the hype.

To wrap it up, I have become slowly but surely aware of what I have been smearing all and up down Facebook between and betwixt my “friends” and what I regard as my local family of fleshoids (I enjoy Futurama), that I have since become somewhat of a fixture here. When I openly announced that I was gonna watch After Earth, the groans and screams were nothing less than satanically shrill. Anyways and simply put, audience screaming doesn’t make for a proper critique, especially if it’s the wrong time of year.

Merry Humbug, ya bastards. 😉

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? When I informed my co-workers that I was planning on reviewing this movie, they all screamed at me and catcalled and questioned my sexual orientation. I don’t think any of the goofballs had actually seen the damned thing. I do dare claim, rent it. The flick has a quiet grace, some patience and an understandably natural chemistry between the two leads. After Earth is not a sci-fi movie. It is of speculative fiction. If you know the difference, you can see the film with the proper vision, and ignore the critics. And so oddly enough, ignore me.

Stray Observations…

  • “Massive expansion is one in a million.” Ah, science. It’s not just for 7th graders anymore.
  • Again, the location scout did a brilliant job. Sometimes it’s not always about the CGI.
  • “That sucked.” “That is correct.”
  • I gotta admit, the birthday cake bit made me chuckle. Another hint of Night’s affinity for family dynamics.
  • “Kitai, you’ve got incoming.” Understatement defined.

Next Installment…

It’s Jeff Daniels pitted against Laura Linney as The Squid And The Whale do battle.

RIORI Vol. 1, Installment 15: M Night Shyalaman’s ”Lady In The Water” (2006)


The Players…

Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeffery Wright, Bob Balaban, Jared Harris…and M. Night Shyalaman.

The Story…

Nothing much ever happens at Cleveland’s apartment complex, his home and his work. Endless days consist of fixing leaky pipes and skimming out the pool. Sure, it’s a living, a simple existence and Cleveland wouldn’t really want it another way. Sort of. So when a water nymph pops up in said pool one night and tells him her desperate tale of escape and peril, his simple world is totally upended. To say the least.

Wait. What?

The Rant…

Poor Night. After being slathered with praise for his Oscar-nominated opus The Sixth Sense, he just hasn’t been able to make lightening strike twice. Don’t get me wrong, his follow-ups Unbreakable, Signs, and to a lesser extent The Village were all fine films. But audiences are a fickle bunch. They want the goodies delivered twice, thrice and over and over again. Some directors can do this effortlessly with no question (Spielberg) regardless of whatever pap they churn out (Always, Hook, Jurassic Park 2 etc). But not poor Night, seemingly always living in a private hell of his own making, shadowed by ghosts and a psychic Haley Joel Osment.

Whilst The Sixth Sense was more or less a high concept Twilight Zone episode, Lady In The Water plays kinda on a fairy tale Night cooked up for his kids. How’s that for a healthy ego? Pretty damned good considering the literal ghosts at his back. F*ck the critics, I’m gonna base my next failure—ahem—feature on this!

Bad idea, dad…

Cleveland Heep (Giamatti) is your average maintenance man for an average apartment complex in a perfectly average corner of Philadelphia. (I’d be remiss to not mention that Night shoots all his films in southeastern PA. Guy wants to work close to home.) His days run seamlessly into the next, unclogging toilets, changing light bulbs and trying to enforce the rules of the roost. Cleveland’s life is very…average. Crushingly so.

One night Heep is patrolling around the complex’s pool, trying to catch any after hours swimmers. Pool closes at 7 don’t ya know. Well sure enough, someone…or something is mucking about in the water, and when Cleveland goes to investigate…

…He wakes up in his apartment dazed, confused and to a naked, young woman dripping water and looking spooked. Things could be worse, but definitely not weirder. The woman calls herself Story (Howard). If ain’t on the nose just like cocaine on Truman Capote’s, I don’t know what is. Story is fearful, wistful and has a certain aura about her. What’s more is the she seems to know things about Cleveland’s history that he’s tried to forget. And…wait. What the hell? Where did Story freaking come from?!?

Well after taking her in, Cleveland discovers that she is, surprise, not what she seems. He does a little sniffing around, and discovers (with thanks to the Asian tenants with the oddest bedtime story recollection ever) that Story is a “narph,” better known as a water nymph in the Western tongue. Story desperately needs to get back home, but forces beyond her control are colluding against her. So it’s up to Cleveland, as he reluctantly discovers, to draw upon knowledge of myth and legend to return Story to her realm and ultimately fulfill a prophecy, which could either save or damn both of their worlds.


The circumstances described at butt end of the synopsis is usually when Night’s movies come off the tracks. Lady is no exception. I know it’s early in the film, but the sh*t gets really weird really quick, and not in a fun way, either.

I’ve found that with Night’s better films, the weirdness is creeping, not like being slapped in the puss with a dead haddock, all slimy and smelly. It’s called building tension, if not atmosphere. Sure, we can be dropped into the thick of it in, say, action movies. But with fantasies like Lady, we need a slow climb with some significant backstory. Since fantasy and its cousin sci-fi work in worlds of their own separate  from conventional drama and comedy, we need a steady climb in such a film from the mundane to the fantastic. Within context, of course.

(The following malarky is loaded with spoilers.)

A good example? The twin intros of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I say “twin” because the opening with the proto-humans struggles to survive and the eventual arrival of the Monolith then paired expertly executes backstory that will only reach fruition within context later in the film.

Millions of years later we have the metaphorical jump cut leading into the heralded, ballet-esque docking sequence between the shuttle and the space station, which serves as the second intro. In Kubrick’s version of 1999, space travel has become so routine that the miracle of tech doesn’t even touch Dr. Floyd or his companions imaginations. Being on their ISS is just work. It takes 20 more minutes of keen exposition until sh*t gets weird, and by that point in the film Kubrick has laid the groundwork for the proceeding sci-fi mystery.

(Spoiler alert over. You may now return your stewardess to her upright position.)

In sum, Night, you just can’t drop weird out of the sky and expect us to just roll along with it. Especially when you continue to lay on the weird all rich and thick-like. Both the audience and the cast can’t digest/process it very well.

Speaking of casting, I love Paul Giamatti, but it’s a plutonic relationship (he never returns my calls anyway). He’s far and away my favorite character actor. His work is almost always delightful, humorous and often separate from the film he’s in. He always gives it his all, regardless of the pap smear he’s gotten himself shackled into. This takes chutzpah. It takes a lot of gumption as an actor to throw yourself into a role for a film with a lot of rusty gears grinding against it. You gotta respect that. Especially if the actor is the only redeemable facet of the film.

Like I said earlier, Night conceived this movie on the basis of a story he made up for his children. Now, just because a tall tale enthralls young ears at home does not mean it will gain traction outside the house, especially considering the multiplex. I looked up the disparity of budget versus gross for Lady. Production budget, $70 million. Domestic total gross, a little over $42 million. Ouch. Even taking in the worldwide gross, this movie took in only a little over $2 million profit. That’s the price of certain actors’ trailers. In other words, a pittance. Even simpler: dud.

For all its canny flourishes, solid acting and outstanding cinematography, Lady is (if you’ll pardon the pun) dead in the water. And the funny thing is I had high hopes for this movie. The premise is just so mysterious and wonky, it had to provide some crazy fantasy elements to tickle the mind. Plus it stars Paul Giamatti! And Bryce Dallas Howard is naked! It’s something I wanted to recommend to others with great enthusiasm!

What went wrong?

Well first things first, I’d like to say (and he probably would, too) that M. Night Shyalaman is the Hitchcock of the supernatural film. That’s a fair comparison I think, if you consider The Master’s mid-period films of the Fifties. Night employs a lot of deliberate camera angles, centering elements of the scene to either drop hints about future plot points or to frame the actors (a good example of this in action is Hitchcock’s classic, Rear Window). There are always elements of mystery in his films, paranormal or otherwise. And he always likes to make a cameo in each of his works. Or co-star, as it would appear in Lady. Nope, it wasn’t enough Night made a big budget movie based on a kiddie story, but he had to contribute large chunks of dialogue and plot progression as well. This sort of hubris might’ve offended a certain portion of the movie going audience. The phrase, “Who does he think he is?” seems apt. Just cuz it worked for Hitch, well, you know (that and Alfred never uttered a syllable of dialogue in his films. Smart).

Now don’t get me wrong on that paltry matter. Lady is superbly, well, filmed. It’s crisp and clean. The CGI is an accent, not filler. And the acting by the cast (save Night) is well done. It’s the damned plot that’s hair-brained. This film is so f*cking obtuse. It commits another cardinal sin in my book about bad films: it fails to maintain its interior logic. I know it’s a fantasy film, but watching the story progress is like watching someone patch up a leaking dam. There are corners cut to cram in each element of Night’s supposed fairy tale, seemingly shoehorned into being for the sake of…what? His vision? His kids’ expectations? The fact the audience would lap it up like so much melting ice cream?

Examples: Like all of Night’s films, there is that pervasive weirdness. It oozes from every pore of every frame. It usually works. But not weirdness for its own sake. Like I said, pieces of the story are introduced suddenly, thrown against the wall and maybe they’ll stick and forgotten to only later take up a different tack in the movie. Also, it’s odd (to say the least) how everyone in Cleveland’s apartment complex easily, unquestioningly goes along with Story’s, well, story in trying to make the fable come to life. Is it because Night’s moral of the movie is to say that some fantastic stories should be true? It’s as subtle as a fart at a funeral here. Way too much exposition takes up the second act, mostly consisting of a lot of mumbo-jumbo to allegedly push the fractured plot ever onward. If you’re paying attention, it becomes headache inducing. Again I say: hubris.

Lady In The Water is a waste of a good idea. In execution, it was a shambles. I think we might need more fantasy films at the box office nowadays. True escapism. And based on something else besides Tolkien. Small praise for Night in trying to fill this void, but he tried in a very clumsy fashion. Too bad.

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. Ever saw a movie you wished you could recommend but in good consciousness could not? This be it.

Stray Observations…

  • Howard looks incredibly young without any make-up (or at least minimal coverage). She was around 25 years old when this film was shot; she looks bloody sixteen here.
  • The casting director must’ve had a field day with this movie. The sheer abundance of faces here is amazing, extras and all.
  • “Thank you for letting me wear your beautiful shirt.”
  • Night has the most on screen time here than he’s had in any other of his films. It seems that the more face time he gets, the poorer the return at the box office. I think I discovered a corollary.
  • The verdict for Lady from my stepdaughter was “Awesome!” She’s thirteen. Maybe I wasn’t the target audience.
  • Damned sprinklers!

Next Installment…

An M Night return engagement! Will and Jaden Smith figure out how to live life After Earth.


RIORI Vol. 1, Installment 14: Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pacific Rim” (2013)


The Players…

Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Ron Perlman and Charlie Day(!).

The Story…

Earth’s under attack! It’s an alien invasion! Scramble the jets!

Wait. Don’t look to the skies. These fiends are rising from the depths!

A dimensional rift has opened up from beneath the Pacific Ocean, and huge, horrible monsters are emerging and laying waste to our cities! Humanity is under attack! We’re all doomed!

Or are we?

It’s time to call in the elite battalion of battling robots to thrash these beasts hell-bent on destroying the planet.

We must summon the Jaeger Corps!

(I love anime.)

The Rant…

When I started these posts this summer past (What would one call these posts anyway? It’s not traditional Facebook fodder, and it’s not really a weblog either. Weblogs usually require an outside provider. Facebook was available. Guess we’ll call this thing of mine a Faceblog. How’s that? No? Tough.), it was kinda at the behest of a former co-worker (Jordan. You know who you are). We got to talking one slow evening about movies that were more or less “misunderstood.” Did lousy at the box office. Bad rep. Plagued by rumor. Stuff like that. That was the criteria under which The Standard was established. Now, another unmentioned point of order following a pattern for The Standard: The movie must’ve been made in the 21st Century. 2000 to present (I know the new millennium didn’t start until 2001. Just humor me).

Why this period in time? Because moviegoers have been fleeced something fierce since the turn of the century I feel. We’ve been snowed under with remakes, reboots and repeats for well over a decade now. Ticket prices have gone up, quality and imagination has gone down. Hollywood has resigned itself to a single tenet in recent years: the audience is stupid. They’ll watch anything with pretty faces and a surfeit of sh*t that goes boom. Now I like shiny just as much as the next crow, but at the same time I like a little plot depth, some character development, and a lack of pandering. When was the last time you went to see/rent/stream an alleged summer blockbuster only later to feel you wanted your two hours back? I reckon it’s happened a few times. At any rate, I had a crapload of opinions about movies rattling around my brainpan for years. Looks like Facebook became my bullsh*t pulpit. Besides, Twitter couldn’t support rants like these under sheer volume’s sake.

That being said, onto this week’s review…

Hoo boy. Here’s the magna mater of films to which I decided to do these Facebook posts. Back to where The Standard was born. Big budget film that tanked (or at least had a disappointing return) at the box office? Check. An alleged blockbuster plagued with both the rumor mill churning and a sad reality of poor writing, lousy acting or misguided direction? Check. A lotta splash and dash and not much else, appealing to the most vacant of movie goers? And check. What’s worse? A very talented director at the helm who’s reputation for handling fantasy films has been impeccable.

Until now. Right?

Drop that sandwich…

Fantasy has foremost been del Toro’s stock in trade for years (Pan’s Labyrinth, the Hellboy movies). What could be more fantastical than giant Godzilla-like monsters versus building-sized, psychic-powered gargantuan robots? Sounds unique enough to me. Not really if you’re an otaku, but still…

So an inter-dimensional rift called The Breach tears into our reality at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. You know what “pacific” translates into? Peaceful. This is an attempt at irony according to Hollywood. A good attempt, mind you. Anyway, through The Breach storms ginormous monsters dubbed “Kaiju” who are hell bent on turning our world into their stomping grounds. Literally. Cities are razed. The populace scattered to the four winds. Mania and mayhem ensues. The usual apocalyptic stuff when leviathans belch forth from the ocean depths.

Of course humanity has to fight back. Hence the Jaeger Program. Comprising of skyscraper-tall robots powered by a psychic connection between tandem pilots, they kick some Kaiju ass into submission. For a while. As the years roll on, and complacency sets in, it looks like the Jaeger Program is winding down, for the Kaiju are getting more and more toothless. Or so it seems.

And this is all in the cold open. The first crucial 12 minutes.

Fast forward a few years. Enter our hero Becket (Hunnam), a more or less disgraced and/or defanged Jaeger pilot. He and his brother were the premier team of the Jaeger Corps, until they lost a battle in a Kaiju attack and Becket’s bro lost his life. Our battle-wounded protag takes a job as a welder at the newest, cheaper line of defense against the regrouping Kaiju ranks, the Life Wall, a huge barrier essentially cordoning off the coastlines from the ocean (how this makes sense will shatter your skull if you think about it too long).

Of course this doesn’t work. What’s more is that bigger, badder and more evolved Kaiju are oozing out of the Breach, this time laying waste to the more sophisticated Jaegers out there (something about the Kaiju creating EMPs or something, frazzling all the newer Jaegers computer systems. This doesn’t affect Becket’s older unit, which is diesel powered. Ah. Again, don’t think too much about it). With the Program diminished, and hairier foes on the horizon, it’s only a matter of time before veteran Becket and others are summoned back to the fore.

In charge of the program revamp is Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Elba). Yes, that is his name. He tries to tow Becket back into the program, but he’s hearing none of it. He and his late brother were the elite back in the day, able to drift effortlessly with their Jaeger. Yeah, drift. That’s what it’s called when the two minds meld psychically to operate a Jaeger (what did I tell you about thinking?). The only way Becket could get back in the ring is to drift with a new partner that can think as he does.

Enter Stacker’s aide, Miko Mori (Kikuchi), a survivor of a Kaiju attack as a child, heavily determined on getting into the Jaeger Program and exacting some revenge. Of this legacies are born. And so begins an odd partnership with a man, a woman, their giant robot and a dire mission to wipe out their enemies once and for all.

Will Mori and Becket become the next greatest team? Will the Kaiju ever be defeated? Will Charlie Day ever hang up his manic acting style he uses in It’s Always Sunny…?

Um, duh (except for the last one. Vote’s still out on that)…

Pacific Rim appears to be an attempt at live-action anime. A very good attempt, mind you. Giant robots doing battle with pseudo-Lovecraftian behemoths? Gotta love that. Such ideas are overt Asian tropes nodding to the anime structure. That being said, admit it: a Jaeger clubbing a Kaiju with a derelict ship is mighty badass.

This film is 90% visual candy. The plot is razor thin, and almost an afterthought paralleled against all the wanton mechanized mayhem. The dialogue is often trite, and I truly dislike excessive exposition in a movie. It’s a movie; it’s all about show, don’t tell. The acting is wooden. There is no chemistry between any of the leads and all roles are interchangeable. Except for Charlie Day. His Dr. Newton “Newt” Geiszler (yet another improbable name) is naturally the comic relief, as well as the bridge for pushing the plot forward, such as it is. Is he funny? Kinda. Not Charlie Murphy funny; he seems to be really reaching here. But at least his performance is memorable, if only in an irritating way. Unlike the rest of the cast.

Barring the craptastic acting, Rim is oddly engrossing. Del Toro still has the eye for fantastic flair. This has to be the first true big budget he’s had access to, and he wasted precious little of his resources. The action scenes are indeed impressive, and the anime parallel runs deep. Also, the detail involved in rendering each Jaeger and Kaiju alive is nothing short of mesmerizing.

However there is this very slight feeling of weakness throughout the film, and I don’t mean in any technical way. It’s like Del Toro had a flash new toy to play with—sans the instructions—and is just barging his way through to get to the action scenes (granted there are a lot, but still). On the flipside, there is an odd subtlety to this film. Can’t put my finger on it, but I think it’s why it failed as a true blockbuster. The film simultaneously beats you over the head with crashing action and then has its quiet moments of reflection. Up and down, up and down. It’s like playing with the volume on a stereo. The inconsistency is hard to take, as well as other factors, too. Did Rim have too long a running time for the audience? Have we grown numb to CGI-infused spectacles like this? Was Charlie Day too annoying?

I don’t know. But I did enjoy the film.

Sure, it might sound like I’m complaining. I’m not really. All the inconsistency in the movie lends a peculiar charm. Rim still has that Del Toro quirkiness, which pervades his every film. And sure, Pacific Rim is a comic book movie in need of a comic book, what with its slapdash, corny premise. But it’s also a summer blockbuster with a small seam of intelligence running through it, also like most of Del Toro’s movies. I wonder why the movie failed to catch on with the popcorn-choked rabble. This film made two-plus hours stream by quite quickly; time I didn’t necessarily want back. And unlike the recent A Scanner Darkly viewing, this was a visually impressive movie that was definitely not boring.

Poorly acted? Sure. In search of a solid plot? Yeah. Questionable writing? Uh-huh. Dull?

Decidedly not.

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. C’mon. It’s a traditional, stupid popcorn movie: mindless, harmless and fun. It’s a good way to waste a Saturday evening, with or without the beer. Did I mention it has giant robots battling monsters?

Stray Observations…

  • Wait, the first Jaeger unit we see in action is code-named “Kimchi?” For those paying attention, kimchi is more or less Korean sauerkraut. That is f*cking funny.
  • “I can’t have anyone else in my head again.”
  • It’s nice to see that Polaroids still exist well into the 21st century.
  • I like the small moments. Like when the Crimson Typhoon shakes its head after being punched by a Kaiju. Little touches of humor like that are rampant in Del Toro’s work, and all for the better.
  • “No pulse.”
  • “The Kaiju want the little dude!” Mac, bring the badass-itude!
  • Nice tie-in with the shoes. On a low level nice, but nice all the same.
  • Rivers, quit singing my name.


Next Installment…

Paul Giamatti goes for a swim with the Lady In The Water.

RIORI Vol. 1, Installment 13: Richard Kosinski’s “Oblivion” (2013)


The Players…

Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko and Andrea Riseborough.

The Story…

Earth. It used to be a nice place to live. Commander Jack Harper thinks so, especially now he’s stuck planetside salvaging scrapped tech and maintaining the automated defensive drones. An alien invasion took it’s toll on Earth, so everybody save Jack and his partner jumped ship and sailed off to Titan to begin new lives. Well, Jack’s stuck with his old one, indefinitely. Then one day a crippled starship enters his territory. Its sole occupant, a mysterious woman, leads Harper to discover some unknown, shocking truths about humankind’s legacy beyond broken cities and mechanized battlebots.

The Rant…

Have you noticed lately that Tom Cruise’s roles lean towards the action hero type? The guy’s fifty-one. Can we say “mid-life crisis?” From the Mission: Impossible franchise to Jack Reacher to Oblivion, it may be now safe to say that his Top Gun days are well over. Best be sure to tell Tom this factoid. It’s time to retire into Forrest Gump territory. And that role gave Tom Hanks street cred. Ironic huh? Like the star of the Fast & Furious franchise going up in an auto-shaped ball of flame?

What, too soon?

And isn’t Morgan Freeman in every movie nowadays? I mean, other than schilling for Visa, hosting Through The Wormhole on the Science Channel, and (as an aside) portraying his best role, Easy Reader from The Electric Company, (that dates me) the guy’s been f*cking everywhere. Maine prisons. Rubbing elbows with rogue spies. Trundling bitchy Miss Daisy down to the Piggly Wiggly. Surviving cancer with Jack Nicholson. Off to Vegas with other geriatrics. Now he’s on post-apocalyptic Earth. Guy gets around faster than a rabbit with herpes.

(PS: I wrote the above before even watching the movie. I’m assuming my pontificating holds up some…)

…I was wrong. Anywho…

Oblivion is an odd duck of a comic-book movie adaptation. What makes it odd is that, first of all, it was based on a comic. I didn’t know that. Did you? Really? Huh. Goes to show what I know. Secondly, I haven’t seen so much philosophizing about identity within a sci-fi film since the original Star Wars trilogy. I don’t say this as derisive, though it may come across that way…

Tom Cruise stars as Jack 49, who is more or less as a garbage man in Oblivion. He is one of two humans that were left behind on Earth. Left behind? That’s right. Aliens called Scavengers (or “Scavs” for short) invaded our planet, destroyed the Moon (which in turn destroyed most of the ecosystem. You know, groundswells, upheavals, climate change, the usual stuff of sci-fi nightmares) and the surviving rest of humanity has jumped ship and headed off to Titan, one Saturn’s moons. Jack’s more or less all alone, save his eye in the sky Victoria (Riseborough), maintaining thousands of sentient robotic drones to monitor the planet and keeps eyes out for surviving alien hordes. As he puts it, picking up the waste, sifting through the dross for whatever valuable resources that could be recycled for the Titan mission.

One day, on a routine patrol, a large starship crash-lands on the planet, bearing some human survivors, which the drones promptly dispatch with great efficiency. Jack, alarmed at the wanton killing comes to rescue, but is only able to save one survivor. A woman, who looks oddly familiar.

So more or less begins our whirlwind adventure on a barren Earth with a futuristic trash man, the diaspora from an alien war, a human “stowaway” and a planet lousy with patrol drones and remaining Scavs who with to do us harm.

Oh. Really…?

The plot Oblivion is a thin one, but it tries to come across as much thicker than it is. The movie’s motif borrows from countless sci-fi psychodramas, from Blade Runner to Solaris to…to the Solaris remake with George Clooney. Oblivion has less to do with creating new worlds and more about proclaiming identity. It’s character drama. The concept of who you are in a given time under certain circumstances. Are you really sure of who you are and what those circumstances are? Are you lost? Is it the déjà vu all over again scenario? I don’t know, and film did not provide any easy answers.

What it did provide was a visually clean farscape. Not ostentatious, with a lot of smart CGI. You know how most of today’s sci-fi films want to bludgeon you over the head with digitally rendered whatsits and foreign locales off-world with nary a modicum of subtlety? Right, Oblivion doesn’t do that. Instead it offers up a very real, one could say prescient view of a ravaged planet Earth. Did I mention the cinematography (including the CGI enhancement) is breathtaking. I won’t lie to you. Most of Oblivion is pretty damn beautiful.

There was a bit more original drama than I had expected for a lifted plot. Actually, this movie is more a melodrama wrapped up in the guise of a sci-fi flick. There’s a good amount of play and tension against the characters, not unlike a relatively well-wrtten soap opera arc. And like your daytime dramas, there is plenty of intrigue and weird plot loops tossed about. It’s tricky to give a clear explanation about what Oblivion is really about because, 1) it’s near impossible without dumping spoilers all over you, and; 2) it’s not exactly clear what Oblivion is trying to say. Don’t get me wrong. The film is interesting. It’s also obtuse as hell, and can make for a confusing viewing experience. But it’s sci-fi, only when it’s not, and when it’s not…um, it’s something else. Stop yelling at me.

This was a confusing review to write, and it shows. Mostly because I didn’t know where to stand on this film. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good. It was rather confusing as if the film couldn’t make up its mind. It sure as sh*t met The Standard considering its lousy turnout at the box office. Is that a reflection on this movie? Kinda. I don’t know. All I can say for sure is that Oblivion was pretty.

The Verdict…

Rant it or relent it? I don’t know about this one. You need to come up with your own opinions about it, so I guess rent it and cook up some.

Stray Observations…

  • The crashed ship looks a lot like an overweight relic from the Mercury Program. A nod to the then, last defunct endeavor humanity launched into space?
  • The sunglasses thing. Meta for Top Gun?
  • “Are you okay?” “No.”…”Are we gonna die?” “No. Maybe.” Life in a nutshell.
  • Ever been the observation deck at the Empire State? With those quarter binocs, you can really see forever. Nice touch with view of WTC One. The tragedy was not lost on Kosinski. To him, an apple.
  • “Our job is not to remember. Remember?”
  • My grandma had a crush on Tom Cruise. Always found that endearing, especially with an octogenarian.
  • “Dream of us.”

Next Installment…

Idris Elba and crew defend the Pacific Rim from monsters with—what else?—giant robots. Desperate times and all that.