For filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, the movies he makes have often been about bringing to life something that he feels passionately about. In the case of his 2013 release of Pacific Rim, the result was an emotional mixture of Japanese monster fights, interpersonal connections, and Mexican wrestling.
The film wasn’t a big hit stateside, but racked up three times it’s domestic gross overseas. Five years after it’s release, Steven S DeKnight expands on Del Toro’s world, with Pacific Rim: Uprising.
Over 10 years have passed since the events in the first film. In that time, the Jaeger program has been reborn, and newer, younger recruits are being trained for the possibility of another invasion from beyond our dimension.
One person who finds himself being brought back into the program, is Jake Pentecost (John Boyega). Jake has lived his life outside the shadow of his famous father Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), but is coaxed back into service by his sister, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi).
The human-manned Jaeger program also finds itself in jeopardy, when a Chinese consortium led by Liwen Shao (Tian Jing), wants to streamline the program, and control the huge machines by way of unmanned drones, thanks to the help of former Shatterdome scientist, Dr Newton Geisler (Charlie Day).
However, things suddenly change when an unknown Jaeger appears, setting off a chain of events concerning Jake, and those around him.
Right from the start, it’s clear to see that Uprising is one of those sequels where most of the first film’s main cast, are either gone (just what happened to Jaeger pilot Raleigh Beckett is unknown), or relegated to supporting roles. Much like Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day sequel, this film wants us to focus on ‘a new generation’ of young characters.
Jake Pentecost quickly becomes our film’s Raleigh Beckett. Jake is played up as the rebellious child of a heroic figure, but fortunately, Boyega manages to do a decent job balancing out his character, as well as giving him several humorous moments.
While Del Toro’s 2013 film seemed intent on dealing with the emotions of his characters, Uprising either speeds through some of these areas, or doesn’t do quite enough. Case-in-point, is where we are introduced to the young Jaeger pilots. I was hoping we’d really get to see them come together through training, but much of this is glossed over in favor of focusing more on the Chinese Jaeger-drones subplot.
Out of all the young pilots on-screen, the one whom the film puts most of it’s emphasis on, is the orphaned Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny). Given her attitude towards Jake and her mechanical prowess, I couldn’t help but feel like I was seeing a fleshed out version, of what Michael Bay intended for the character of Izabella in Transformers: The Last Knight to be (at least I could believe that Amara was mechanically-inclined!). However, while Amara can be a bit stand-offish, the film does make her more than just ‘a girl with attitude.’ She wants to make a difference, but fortunately, she isn’t going to just stand in front of a multi-storey Kaiju and tell it to ‘go to hell.’
For those who felt the first film was lacking in giant robot/creature battles, Uprising will definitely be seen as a marked improvement. However, some of the effects work feels like they had to pick-and-choose where the production money went (no elaborate ILM-budgeted night battles in the rain this time!). I’m sure some will feel that the new Jaegers are more in line with Michael Bay’s Transformers, but much like computers getting smaller over time, to me it makes sense that 10 years beyond the first film, the Jaeger designs would look a little leaner and more agile, rather than the bulkier, heavier first-generation models.
It’s fair to say that director Steven DeKnight does his own thing with the material, and while it doesn’t hit as deeply on an emotional level, I was surprised to find that Uprising felt like it could have been adapted from an anime or manga series. There are certainly some small touchstones to the first film, though I couldn’t help but feel like some bits of the story, felt like it was cobbled together from some recent science fiction films I’d seen in the last few years. However, unlike those films such as Independence Day: Resurgence and Transformers: Age of Extinction (that just seemed to plod on with a few punctuated scenes that held my interest for a few minutes), Uprising managed to press my buttons, and actually had me entranced throughout!
Seeing the film in IMAX (though not released in 3D) I thought would be quite entertaining. Unfortunately, it felt like the camerawork at times got a little too close to the action. Though it is impressive to see the images projected so large, it feels like an average-sized screen would be more-than-welcome for viewing purposes (plus, there weren’t any floor-to-ceiling IMAX-style shots to make it that worthwhile).
Final Grade: B (Final Thoughts: “Pacific Rim: Uprising” continues on in the world Guillermo Del Toro created, but feels ‘manageable’ for a second film. Writer/Director Steve DeKnight chooses to almost flip the first film on it’s head, choosing to make the giant robot/monster battles our main focus, while jettisoning some important time to allow the audience to really get to know much of the film’s cast.
Last week’s episode of Star vs the Forces of Evil, was one of those one-two punch episodes that I often long to see more of. The stories that give answers to some questions, and bring about some new questions, without going overboard.
This week’s episode was somewhat of a ‘grab bag’ of ideas, when I heard the plot for both stories. So, let’s see what we have to work with.
Upon finding a note left by Buff Frog saying that he is going away, Star and Marco are eager to find out where their monster-friend is. However, Marco steps aside on this trip when Star’s boyfriend Tom, quietly requests Marco excuse himself from the investigation, so Tom and Star can have some time together.
The absence of Marco from the story did have me perplexed once it got going, but then again, we haven’t really had a full-on Star/Tom adventure story (Marco already had one of those with Tom in Season 2’s episode, Friendenemies). There are also a few interesting moments in this story, where Tom may have some issues with Star and Marco’s friendship.
The revelation regarding Buff Frog and his decision to leave, definitely felt like it came out-of-nowhere. After promoting Buff Frog to the role of Royal Monster Expert in Starfari, I was seriously hoping that there would have been an episode showing Star and Buff Frog working to revamp the royal agency, but it seems that was something the show’s writers didn’t feel was worth exploring.
So far, most of the monster-related stuff has fallen on Star’s shoulders, with the events of the episode Monster Bash, seeming to be what pushed Buff Frog to leave.
As we also saw in Monster Bash, Tom has largely been on the sidelines regarding his girlfriend’s efforts to bring mewmans and monsters together. Surprisingly, he does actually seem to take a small interest in trying to get several monsters to believe that things are getting better in this story, but one has to wonder if he really is going to do anything in the future to work towards this goal, or if he was just saying those things to look good for Star.
There is definitely some emotion put into this story, and while I did like the writers giving Tom some more screen-time, there were plenty of places I felt the story could have been stronger in it’s execution.
Final Grade: B-
At the request of his parents, Marco returns to Earth, only to learn that his mom is pregnant, and a baby shower is taking place!
Realizing that he didn’t bring a gift, Marco and Star make a mad dash to Quest Buy, where they enlist the services of a magical painter, to make a portrait of Marco (on a very short timeline!).
Walking into this story, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a title like Marco, Jr. My first thought was that we’d see a return of the character Naysaya, though Mr and Mrs Diaz quickly explain where the title of the story comes from (and why they would name their unborn second child, after their first one).
I was pleasantly surprised when Marco’s Mom became one of the entertaining highlights of the story as well. Over the course of her time on the show, it feels like the writers have enjoyed steering Mrs Diaz to be the more thoughtful of Marco’s parents. Mr Diaz is made out as the more ‘kooky’ of the two, and even gets a few humorous lines here too.
Most surprising, was the story taking a sudden sharp turn, and going off on an unexpected story tangent! This reminded me of Bon Bon the Birthday Clown, where that episode’s title alluded to one thing, and then the subject matter went down a surprising path.
This was also another story where Star is there as a ‘supporting character’ for Marco. This proved to be quite entertaining, both in her proactive nature, and in her knowledge regarding just ‘who’ Marco is these days.
I am always up for a good Marco-centric storyline that proves to be ‘weirdly entertaining,’ and this one hit a number of the notes that made me enjoy it more than I had any right to.
Final Grade: B
I will admit that overall, this episode was pretty good, though definitely not as intriguing as the last one.
Is Another Mystery gave us a Star/Tom team-up that we hadn’t experienced before, but the subject matter felt like it could have used an extra episode of storytelling, to make the emotional moments really hit home.
I have a feeling some people may not enjoy Marco, Jr as much as I did, but I have a soft-spot for Marco-related stories, and the weirdness that was on display here, just worked for me!
Next episode, we see Princess Pony Head return to St Olga’s Reform School for Wayward Princesses, in the storyline Skooled! Then, Star and Marco supposedly end up in a strange situation, in Booth Buddies. See you back here in a week for another review!
Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 3, Episode 16) – Butterfly Trap / Ludo, Where Art Thou?
Season 3 of Star vs the Forces of Evil, returned last week, with an episode that just felt…underwhelming.
This week’s episode however, covers two subjects that had me much more intrigued.
Join me in reviewing them…won’t you?
It’s finally time for Eclipsa to stand trial for her past actions. While Queen Moon and the Magic High Commission preside over the trial, Star is also on hand to watch the proceedings.
This is one of those stories where it feels like a lot of talking goes around, but buried within the conversations, is some interesting information. Naturally, the Magic High Commission proves to be just as ‘overly-verbose’ as they have been in previous appearances, and it is largely up to Queen Moon to wrangle them in.
One of the highlights of the story, is the Box of Truth being used for the trial. This definitely streamlines the storyline, and manages to provide just the right mix of drama and comedy.
I feel if the trial had been a bit heavier on the drama of the situation, I might have given the story a higher grade. However, I was pleasantly surprised and very satisfied, to find that this story actually managed to not only be entertaining, but dropped some very important information about the Kingdom of Mewni (information that may very well affect it’s future!)
My one hope is that the episode’s ending revelations don’t just get shoveled under the carpet (seriously showrunners, there’s some good stuff to explore here before the season ends!).
Final Grade: B+
In the wake of Ludo disappearing after the events of The Battle of Mewni, almost noone has given his whereabouts a second thought…except his younger brother, Dennis.
With a little help from Ludo’s former cohort Spider, Dennis soon tracks down his older sibling…but is not quite prepared for what he finds.
Near the end of Season 2, we were introduced to Ludo’s family. Not only was it revealed that he was one of several children of Lord Brudo, and Lady Avarius, but he was also ‘the runt’ of their dysfunctional royal household. Also, there seemed to be noone who really cared about him, except for Dennis (whom Queen Moon met in the episode titled, Face the Music).
I was very pleased to see that Dennis’ minor appearance at the end of Season 2 was not merely a red herring, and that he had quite a substantial role here.
As for Ludo, it seems that the events earlier in this season, may have pushed him a little further than many of us assumed he could go. As we learn what has become of him, the story manages to slowly build up the ‘creepy’ factor, and I think many people’s expressions will mirror those of Dennis during these scenes.
This episode felt more like a ‘learning experience’ regarding both of the brothers, and how their oppressive home life weighs heavily on their personalities. At times, this story reminded me of last episode’s The Bogbeast of Boggabah, only this story takes it’s ‘crazy character,’ and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome with that plot-point.
The ending hints that we haven’t seen the last of Ludo, but I do hope we will get some more information on Dennis, and how this story may shape his future.
Final Grade: B
Well, compared to last week’s episode, this week’s two stories actually had me very entertained, and intrigued by what had been revealed!
Butterfly Trap showcased Eclipsa’s trial, which happened to be entertaining, insightful, AND set up some new questions as we barrel our way to the end of the third season.
Ludo, Where Art Thou brought back Ludo’s younger brother Dennis, and also showed us that Ludo’s psychological underpinnings may be harder to mend than we originally thought.
Next week, I have a feeling that the stories may not be as intriguing, but hopefully just as entertaining.
First up, we have Is Another Mystery, in which Buff Frog disappears, and Star and Marco attempt to find him. Next, there’s Marco Jr, where Marco ventures back to a place we never thought he would return to so soon: Echo Creek! See you back here in a week for another review!
(Rated PG for thematic elements and some peril)
The last time I recall reading Madeline L’engle’s book A Wrinkle In Time, was during the summer of 2003, when I decided to spend my summer reading banned books.
While I wasn’t wholly in love with the book, most of it’s concepts still stuck in my head (warping space and time is often a good way to get my attention).
When word came that Jennifer Lee (the writer of Disney’s Frozen) was attached to write an adaptation, I was actually excited to see what she could do with the material. And then, when word came that Ava DuVernay (the director of Selma) was attached, I felt this might definitely be something special, coming from the House of Mouse.
It’s been four years since the patriarch of the Murry family (played by Chris Pine) suddenly disappeared. In that time, Mrs Murry (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) has tried to care for their two children, Meg (Storm Reid), and Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe).
While Charles Wallace is an intelligent young prodigy, Meg has not coped well with the disappearance of her father. One day, she is surprised when Charles Wallace introduces her to three strange women, who may know where her father is.
As the film started out, I was very surprised at the pacing DuVernay was moving at (we don’t have any super-long backstories, and we don’t have Meg brooding around for half the film). This is definitely a film that trusts that it’s audience is smart enough to assemble the pieces, and just keep on moving!
While advertising has played up the roles of Mrs Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), and Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling), they are most definitely here to just fill supporting roles (like Johnny Depp in Alice in Wonderland), along with providing a little humor (courtesy of Who and Whatsit). While some may be disappointed about not getting a huge dose of Oprah, I felt it was nice that the script didn’t try to make the three wear out their welcome.
For much of the film, the secret weapon that the marketing seems to hide, is Storm Reid as Meg Murry.
Reid’s characterization manages to feel ‘real,’ and even when she’s spouting a few lines that should sound corny, she never seems to falter. This is Meg’s journey, and we can definitely see a change come over her, as the story goes along (plus, I did enjoy that Reid sports glasses throughout the entire film, just like Meg in the book!).
I had vague memories of Charles Wallace being a child prodigy from reading the book, and Deric McCabe managed to portray the character quite well. With know-it-all children, there is a certain propensity for them to get really obnoxious on film, but McCabe never manages to get there.
Overall, the film’s cast seems to be it’s greatest strength. Even the minor players like Levi Miller and Zach Galifianakis, work remarkably well with their limited roles.
The trailers have definitely played up a lot of fantasy visuals, but don’t expect this to turn into The Chronicles of Narnia. While most of the scenes manage to do a good job showing us places beyond our Earth, the film feels like it meanders a bit too long in a picturesque green landscape, that feels like Lord of the Rings mixed with the painterly visuals from What Dreams May Come.
There are also a few areas that seem to almost have a very abrupt change-of-pace. One notable scene felt like it was building to something bigger, when it just suddenly fizzled out to a rather ho-hum resolution.
A few times, I was surprised when non-orchestral score music was used across several scenes, somewhat ruining the mood for me. While this may have been done to play to the younger audience, I couldn’t help but wonder what composer Ramin Djawadi could have done with the few scenes I saw.
At times, I was reminded of the tone of films like Bridge to Terabithia and the recent remake of Pete’s Dragon. There’s a sense of trying to make a family film that is a bit ‘smarter’ than most of the other stuff out there, and one that almost goes back to the ‘darker’ tone of films from the 1980’s (such as The Neverending Story, and Labyrinth).
A Wrinkle in Time does have it’s faults, but I was very surprised that even so, it’s heart was in the right place. DuVernay’s film managed to hit me emotionally in several places…something that I felt was severely lacking from the last Wrinkle in Time adaptation I saw, which was made by Disney’s Television division back in 2004.
Final Grade: B (Final Thoughts: Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of “A Wrinkle In Time” brings us a PG-rated fantasy film, that carries along at a good clip, thanks to the talents of it’s cast and crew. The pacing of the story can feel a little uneven in places, but even with a run-time of almost two hours, it never feels boring. )
Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 3, Episode 15) – The Bogbeast of Boggabah / Total Eclipsa the Moon
So far, we’re well past the half-way point for Season 3 of Star vs the Forces of Evil.
This season, much of the focus has shifted to the inter-dimensional land of Mewni. We’ve seen the Kingdom of Mewni almost fall, Marco Diaz is now living in the castle, and we’ve learned that the former head of St Olga’s, Ms Heinous, is actually Meteora…the daughter of former Queen Eclipsa…who is still alive!
Like many viewers, I am hoping we’ll get some revelations to some of these things before the season ends. But for now, let’s see what episode 15 was all about.
As Queen Moon continues to prepare for Eclipsa’s trial, Star wants to discuss the events and revelations of the Monster Bash she attempted to put on a few episodes ago. However, Moon dismisses her daughter, and King River decides that now is a good time to take Star on a quest…a quest to find The Bogbeast of Boggabah.
This is another one of those episodes that makes you think you’re going down one path, only to suddenly direct you onto a number of others.
When it comes to River-centric storylines, I’ve become a little bored with these “crazy king” type of stories. River’s antics here reminded me of the earlier Season 3 episodes Marco and the King, and a bit of the story in King Ludo.
We are shown a little more in regards to Mewni beyond the castle walls, as well as some of it’s forested areas and those who dwell within, but sadly, much of the story just feels like a big distraction from a much better story between Star and Moon.
Boggabah tries to be humorous with River’s antics and Star’s frustrations, but I found myself being moreso on Star’s side of wanting to just get back to the castle. The story also throws in a new costume change for Star, but even that new addition to her wardrobe can’t seem to shake my feelings that this story just felt like another throwaway episode.
Even the tacked-on moral at the end, just didn’t have much weight to it.
Final Grade: C+
Queen Moon continues to research former Queen Eclipsa’s history, but upon consulting with Eclipsa over records in the castle…finds that they seem to have been tampered with.
Eclipsa then requests they sneak into the Royal Archive in the Bureaucracy of Magic, to look for more information…a move that puts Moon on edge!
Unlike adventures with King River, it feels like almost every journey Queen Moon goes on, is another way to learn more about this (supposedly) proper figure.
The journey also manages to reveal more secrets regarding the Butterfly family, as well as the Bureaucracy of Magic. Plus, we finally have a name for Eclipsa’s monster-husband!
The interaction between Moon and Eclipsa, reminded me a bit of seeing Moon interact with Buff Frog earlier this season. In both situations, she started out seeming uneasy around this other figure, but softened towards them as more things were revealed.
It’s not a very strong story, but it has moments along it’s meandering journey, that made it more memorable than Bogbeast. Plus, it provided clues that I feel will actually lead onto future revelations within the series.
Final Grade: B-
This feels like the second time this season where we’ve returned from hiatus, with an episode that has a rather blase first part, and a semi-intriguing second part.
What was most notable, is that the stories tied into a specific time-frame, showing how Star and River went on one adventure, leaving Moon and Eclipsa to have one of their own. However, I feel that Moon got more out of her adventure than Star did.
There also was the observation that both Star and Moon are the frustrated ones in their stories, paired up with someone who is a bit off-the-wall, and they come out the other end of the story, having learned something. In the end though, it is Moon’s journey that proves to be the more memorable one, and Star’s just feels forgettable.
Over the three seasons, we’ve only had a few times where Star and her mother actually had episodes where they got to interact more as mother and daughter. I am hoping maybe with some revelations coming around the bend, we’ll get that dynamic back before the end of the season.
Well, this episode was just okay…but I’m really looking forward to the next one!
Next episode, Eclipsa is finally put on trial before the Magic High Commission, in Butterfly Trap. Then, in Ludo Where Art Thou, the little despot’s younger brother Dennis, goes on a quest to find his missing relation. See you back here real soon!