Pacific Rim – Guillermo del Toro (2013)


Bro, the world is about to end. It’s been 15 years since these crazy fucken monsters — they call em the kaiju, whatever that means — began appearing from some kind of intergalactic hole in the ground at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, taking out whole cities like San Fran and Malaysia just cuz. There used to be months between their visits to ruin all, but now they’re coming even few days and speeding up. Bro, listen. Time isn’t on our side, but we got these giant goddamn robots, and they are.

Dude, I know what you’re thinking, that robots are no match for giant monsters with shark grills that spit acid. But it’s not the robots, it’s the dudes (and chicks) inside the robots, all right?  They’ve got some personal shit to overcome before they can do that mind meld thing and throw down with those badass robot weapons, but so do the rest of us. And they have to, because, yo, just like that ridic wall they want to build around Mexico that dad’s all for, this anti-kaiju wall shit ain’t gonna work. It’ll probably come at the last second, because that’s always how this shit works, but they’ll save the day. Bro, I know they will.

Yo, it’s kinda funny. Watching those things fight is kind of like the sock-em-rock-em robot thing dad used to have the basement that he wouldn’t let us touch because it was worth too much on eBay, except one of the robots is a monster. Or those weird ass cartoons all those AV club dorks used to watch while not hanging out with any girls, ever. All that crazy Japanese stuff that you had to read to watch. Who the hell wants to read a movie anyway? But this shit is real. If one of those things like killed mom or you, Bro, you know I’d be in one of those robots, wrecking those bastards like Hulkamania for real.

And when it was all over, and the movie came out, and they cast that guy from the badass biker show to play me, all that death would be kind of worth it, you know? Because Bro, it comes down to this: if you can’t turn the brain meat off and sit back and enjoy Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi and Idris Elba beating the crap out of some monsters then, dude, you’re the monster.

A Small Problem with Fast & Furious 6


I don’t want to get too down on the film for not living up to Fast Five. Despite a wholly uninteresting villain, it fulfilled its main obligation, which was to be a fun action movie — something most action movies don’t achieve these days. Anything extra is nice, but on it’s most basic level it works fine.

It is sad when someone finds incredible success, doesn’t understand why, and fails in their attempt to duplicate it but, really, my main sticking point with the film is a point of continuity that changed the entire film series. It’s a moment of dialogue in the scene between Dom and Letty after they race through London. Dom explains some of the scars Letty has to prove to her that he knows her, that she knows him. Specifically, his report about the scar on her arm, which he explains as “the scar you got the first night we met when we were fifteen.” Now lets pause a moment for a reading from the original The Fast and the Furious screenplay:

Mia: Letty grew up just down the street. She was into cars since she was like ten years old. Dom always had her attention. Then she turned sixteen…
Brian: And she had Dom’s attention.
Mia: Yeah, it’s funny how that works out.

In this new version, Letty is a girl Dom was trying to con into bed by impressing her with his racing. It removes an important layer from Letty’s story, where she was the girl next door (albeit a tomboy gearhead version of the girl next door that could kick the shit out of you if she wanted to) and they were predestined to be the perfect couple. It removes a major layer of Dom’s story, though. The thing about Dom is that you expect him to be a douchebag. He has all of the earmarks of a major douchebag, but then he’s got this one amazing character trait. He’s the kind of guy who could cruise chicks every weekend in his fast car but doesn’t because he’s loyal to his true love. That’s actually kind of special. In its original form, Dom and Letty have an idealized movie romance1, but that is the part of the bedrock that the films are based on: Dom’s complicated, unwavering code of loyalty to those he considers his family, how far and long it extends, and how ruthless it can be against those he considers a threat to that family.

That’s really the most interesting element of each of the four films that feature Dom as the main character, and it’s always been executed to perfection before, whether its the balance of loyalty between Brian and Vince, Dom’s loyalty to Letty that sets him on a revenge mission to find her killer, or Dom’s renewed loyalty to Vince in Brazil. To strip even a flake of that loyalty away is to lessen the interest we can find in Dom. And for what? A moment when they compare scars that shaves at least a half decade off of Dom and Letty’s relationship? I’d rather they had the five years.

  1. but that’s the best part about movies, Goddammit 

Jaws – Steven Spielberg (1975)

If there is a film that sums up the start of summer better thanJaws, I’ve never heard of it. Whatever it did or didn’t do to backside of the the film industry forever aside, it is one of the greatest films ever made.

Jaws gets a lot of shit from cinephiles for “ruining” movies, though it’s a bit of a falsehood, and it only “ruined” movies for a very small percentage of people. It wasn’t even the real model for huge high concept openings — Universal actually cut the amount of theaters running the film from 900 to 500 to generate a bigger buzz as people waited in line and were shut out, ensuring tons of free publicity as newscasts around the country rushed to cover the long lines.

There are many ways to take it: a pure a thriller; as a wild dramatic ride; as a horror film; allegory of class warfare, or political upheaval — whatever you want to apply to the film basically works. It’s a film about struggle against ever escalating odds, so everything under the sun adheres to it with a little massaging.

The thriller and horror aspects are fine, but the way I like to read it is as a simple essay of the shifting tenuousness of power, or manhood if you want to call it that. It’s the interpersonal connections and disconnections between Brody, the Mayor, Hooper, Quint and the shark, the rise and fall of their fortunes and glory, and balls, with every Bill Butler frame, Verna Feilds cut and John Williams orchestral swell that keep me coming back to the film year after year.

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A Better Tomorrow – Song Hae-sung (2010)

It’s been twenty four years since John Woo and Chow Yun Fat conspired to make trench coats and firearms as a permanent fixture in our minds by pitting them together in the sweat-drenched street scenes of A Better Tomorrow. But for everything iconic about the original, Song Hae-sung’s remake of the film makes little to no impression at all.

It didn’t have to be this way, of course — and honestly, it’s almost criminal that it was. Song and his army of writers (Kim Hyo-seok, Lee Taek-kyung, Choi Geun-mo & Kim Hae-gon) began their film by weaving a pattern of homegrown depth, setting their story against the backdrop of a splintered Korea in the shape of a family who get separated as they try and flee the repression of the North.

Twenty years after the fact, Kim Hyeok (Joo Jin-mo) ends up a gangster in the South, middle management for a drug-smuggling Pusan mob. His mother and younger brother, Yeong-choon (Song Seung-heon), are held captive and regularly beaten by North Korean guards. Through his mob connections that apply the right amount of grease to the right palms, Kim Hyeok searches furiously for his little brother and manages to find him in a North Korean prison camp. Little Brother is not so forthcoming with forgiveness when he meets Kim Hyeok for the first time — their first meeting since childhood.

The two films – both of which are actually remakes of an even earlier Mainland China film – follow roughly the same path: a deal that goes bad lands Kim Hyeok in jail for three years after being double crossed by the insipid, cloying underling Tae-min (Jo Han-seon), who has been a gangster for about three hours and already wants to be boss. Sometimes all it takes are the balls to want something for which you’re willing to kil. While Kim Hyeok is in jail, Yeong-choon is repatriated and becomes a cop in Pusan, keeping such a close eye on Tae-min he’s almost thrown off of the force.

But Song Hae-sung is not the visionary cinematic tailor that John Woo once was (and no longer is), and cannot weave anything compelling out of his attempt to recapture a special film. Pusan plays its own role – the music of the docks at night and the comfort of family noodle stands – but again, Song can not pull the same magic out of the atmosphere that Woo managed to make with Hong Kong. For all of its failings to live up to the original, it does make the grade in one area, though: sticking religiously to the John Woo doctrine that states, “Why use 1 bullet when 10 look so cool?” Even after all of these years and all of the half-assed attempts to emulate this image, I have to admit that it is still satisfying to see the lollipop sucking Lee Young-Choon (Song Seung-Heon), Kim Hyeok’s best jopok buddy, storm their rivals’ massage parlor two-fisted in order to take out revenge for the double cross.

Perhaps it is unfair to compare this remake so closely to the original, but that’s the problem with remakes, especially for classic films. The standard is set in stone. I struggle to see the point of remaking this film a quarter century later. John Woo’s film has only grown over the years and has not been forgotten. Unless you’re going to bring something new to the table, some point of view, something to say, some basic reason besides money to revisit the well worn story of cop and criminal siblings…why do it? They could have gotten to all of those, and even started to, but then didn’t. Again, why? Cop versus criminal is not a dead trope — well, not yet, despite world cinema’s best efforts to kill it — but it ended up being a wasted opportunity to expand on John Woo’s work by introducing and delving into the wealth of thematic baggage that comes with being a North Korean refuge in South Korea. Instead of diving in head first to this rich topic, director Song tiptoed around the issue and largely used it as a cosmetic trait, not a theme. The rest of the film took its cue from the cautionary tiptoeing and did not develop significantly beyond a cheap revenge film with a pretty cast and a lavish bullet allowance.