SUMMER MAY BE A MEMORY, BUT ITS BIG BLOCKBUSTERS HAVE JUST STARTED TO HIT DVD AND BLU-RAY SHELVES.  HERE ARE MY HIGHS AND LOWS FROM THE SUMMER OF 2013

Pacific Rim Locandina

Pacific Rim Locandina (Photo credit: Debris2008)

Depending on the calendar on your wall or the time zone where you live, you probably said farewell to the summer of 2013 a few weeks ago (but here in the Nations’ Capital, Mother Nature seems to be suffering a mild case of weather dyslexia and you’d be forgiven for feeling a bit confused for having wished summer a bon voyage lately).  The end of summer is a bittersweet time for movie fans because it usually means the year’s supply of big blockbusters is almost exhausted, although 2013 still has a handful of interesting titles for all movie fans up its sleeve (and don’t forget, we’re entering awards season-when studios like to showcase their Oscar worthy efforts without having to compete with the noise of the billion dollar franchises and popcorn spectacles).  But the fact remains that as far as most movie fans are concerned, from the beginning of May to the end of August is when we spend most of our movie going dollars.  So I thought I’d take this opportunity to sum up my favorite movies from this past summer, as well as a few forgettable ones.  I wrote reviews on most of them, and while time has a habit of altering perspectives, it didn’t really change my views on most of these titles.  I still plan on adding some to my home collection while avoiding others like Miley Cyrus’ inevitable collection of STDs (that poor, poor foam finger).

Favourite Animated Movie:  Despicable Me 2

I’m a huge fan of the first and while I went into the theatre worried that the sequel may prove inferior, I came out more in love with the franchise then before.  Watching a domesticated Gru wrestle with the challenges of raising three girls (including one whose just discovered boys) while becoming a villain hunting spy and navigating his own romantic waters was entertaining in its own right.  Watching him cope with all of that WHILE dealing with the antics of his minions was much better.  It’s common knowledge that the real stars of the franchise are the little yellow agents of mischievous comedy and you can bet that Gru’s minions get some special treatment in Despicable Me 2’s DVD/Blu-Ray release (the little yellow rascals have already snagged themselves a spinoff movie starring Hollywood’s sweet heart Sandra Bullock tentatively scheduled for summer of 2015).

Blu-Ray/DVD Release:  December 10th, 2013

 Favourite Comedy:  The Heat

Fair warning-if you have sensitive ears or are offended by swearing, DO NOT see this movie.  This profanity laced girl buddy cop movie makes shameless use of just about every dirty word in the book (and makes up some new ones along the way).  That being said, the chemistry between stars Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy was hilarious and it isn’t tough to imagine director Paul Feig simply setting up the shot and letting his two female leads improvise each and every scene.  The movie was a financial hit and was so popular Twentieth Century Fox green lit an unexpected sequel shortly after The Heat’s release.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  October 15th, 2013

Favourite Comic Book Movie:  Red 2

Sorry Man of Steel and Iron Man 3, Red 2 gets the nod as my favorite comic book movie of the summer of 2013.  Based on the Dark Horse comic of the same name, this sequel to the 2010 sleeper hit reunites Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary Louise Parker and the rest of the surviving gang of Retired yet Extremely Dangerous CIA operatives from the original.  Framed and one the run, the Red group travel the globe in an attempt to prove their innocence while saving the world.  Like The Heat, it’s the chemistry between the film’s stars, most of them established screen legends, that makes this movie work.  And if there was an Oscar for Best Scene Stealer, Malkovich would walk away with it hands down for his portrayal of the deadly yet hilariously unstable Martin.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  November 26th, 2013

Favourite Popcorn Movie:  Pacific Rim

The plot is fairly simple, enormous alien monsters called the Kaiju are invading the Earth through an inter-dimensional portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.  Mankind defends itself with giant 250 foot tall robots called Jaegers.  It’s giant Monsters vs. giant Robots.  Got it?  Good, because Pacific Rim doesn’t take itself seriously and it doesn’t expect you to either.  Watching Idris Elba chew up the screen as the gruff Stacker Pentecost is a nice little sidebar, but after that, Pacific Rim is sheer spectacle on an epic scale (during one momentous battle scene, a Jaeger uses an entire train as a baseball bat, knocking a Kaiju the size of a mountain flying).  If there was one movie where you could comfortably check your brain at the door and kick back with a giant size bag of popcorn this summer, it was Pacific Rim.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  October 15th, 2013

Scariest Movie:  The Conjuring

There wasn’t exactly a lot of horror fare this summer, but trust me when I say The Conjuring made up for the absence of other scary flicks.  Loosely based on a true story, the Conjuring follows infamous paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren as they investigate a haunted house in Rhode Island.  The would be ghost hunters quickly discover that this house is unlike anything they’ve ever seen and soon, the supernatural gloves come off in a no holds barred battle royal.  Take the “real story” bit with a strong helping of salt; despite the movie’s ending, the house’s real life residents claim that the Warrens’ attempts to clean the house made the haunting worse (yet they continued to live there for years afterwards).  But be that as it may, I consider myself a bit of a jaded horror movie vet and I jumped at least once.  The Conjuring is perhaps the most efficient horror movie in years.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  October 22, 2013

Worst Movie:  The Lone Ranger and R.I.P.D

We have a tie.  The Lone Ranger and R.I.P.D. were both really, really, REALLY bad.  Having seen the two of them back to back, I honestly can’t say which one was worse, so they get to share this honour.

Disney gambled that simply duplicating the formula of their Pirates of the Caribbean franchise would also duplicate it’s box office numbers as well.  So they reunited star Johnny Depp, director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, replaced the ships with trains and the pirates with cowboys and stuck the whole shebang in the American Old West.  What they got was the biggest bomb of the year.  Plagued with problems when it began production years ago, The Lone Ranger was immediately reviled by critics and audiences alike.  Outside of a few memorable comedic moments by Depp (whose casting as Tonto, the most famous First Nations warrior in movie history, was an early source of controversy and bad press), the Lone Ranger was a failure on every level.  The action was uninspired (not the best sign for an action movie), the hero a stumbling putz (making his transformation into a man of action an even tougher sell) and the plot pedestrian and predictable.  Depp and co-star Armie Hammer blamed the movie’s catastrophic performance on critics who gave the movie bad reviews before they even saw it.   Fair enough.  But they didn’t have too much to say about the numerous critics who gave it terrible reviews after they saw it.  While that particular question may have been left unanswered by the movie’s stars and producers, summer movie-goers answered it with their collective absence.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  December 17th, 2013

            And as far as R.I.P.D. goes, I’m pretty sure that everyone involved in this disaster of a movie was asleep during every step of production.  R.I.P.D. couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a supernatural Men in Black or an updated twist on Ghostbusters and in the end it failed to hold even a candle to either.  Ryan Reynolds played a recently deceased Boston police officer recruited into the Rest In Peace Department, an organization of supernatural peacekeepers keeping the world of the living safe from the world of the dead (earning some much needed karma points along the way).  It was actually a pretty neat little concept and should have made for a decent flick, but unlikeable characters, a thin plot that went MIA at times, absolutely no chemistry between the leads, recycled special effects and clumsy dialogue conspired to make this a memorable piece of pure cinematic manure.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  October 29th, 2013

Most Disappointing Movie: Kick Ass 2

The original Kick Ass performed humbly at the box office back in 2010, but it’s strong performance on DVD and cable convinced producers to make the graphic novel’s sequel into a movie as well.  Now, those same producers are wishing they had a Delorien to travel back in time and face palm themselves.  The movie performed poorly at the box office despite facing lukewarm competition, and there were no shortage of excuses why it failed to connect with audiences, including fans of the original.  Director Jeff Wadlow didn’t share the same affection for the source material as Kick Ass director Matt Vaughn, Jim Carrey’s refusal to support the movie following a recent barrage of mass shootings (particularly Newtown, Conn.), Chloe-Grace Moretz’s absence from the movie’s panel at Comic Con, etc., etc.  But what it really boiled down is that Kick Ass 2 lacked the same heart as its predecessor.  Vigilante heroes Kick-Ass and Hit Girl returned (sans Big Daddy) to face a villain that was a mere shadow of Mark Strong’s mob boss from the first movie (it’s often said that a hero is defined by the villains he fights; the villain in Kick Ass 2 was a whiny little rich kid who masturbated too much).  There was no excitement of discovery in their characters, and watching hit Girl spend most of the movie trying to overcome high school angst got pretty thin, pretty quick (although the cafeteria scene will more than satisfy anyone’s high school revenge fantasies).  Kick Ass 2 wasn’t a bad movie per se, but it was a big steaming pile of meh.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  To Be Determined

Most Controversial:  Man of Steel

Man of Steel has made a lot of money (just shy of 663 million worldwide to date), yet for every dollar it’s raked in, it’s been spat on at least twice.  I enjoyed Man of Steel for one big reason, I finally got my over the top, climactic fight scene where the battle between Superman and the movie’s villain (in this case, a genocidal General Zod) was so epic it leveled an entire city.  But the rampant destruction of a fictional Metropolis was just one of many reasons countless Superman fans despised the movie.  For months, movie message boards and online forums were filled with venom and contempt and shameless verbal cancer and Man of Steel could easily qualify for the Most Hated Successful Movie of all time, let alone 2013.  The best compliment I heard from one of Big Blue’s fans was that Man of Steel was a good action movie, but a horrible Superman one.  That seemed to sum up the best many fans had to say about the movie.  And don’t think for a second that studio heads didn’t notice the furious fan backlash.  A theory currently making the rounds is that the contempt from many corners of comic fandom was what convinced Warner Brothers to include a re-booted Batman in the next Superman movie, using the established Bat property like a crutch.  The theory has some serious merit; there were legions of fans so turned off by Man of Steel that they vowed never to see the inevitable sequel, but you can bet every human being with access to a Cineplex will be going to see the Batman/Superman movie in 2015.   Now the question is, will Batman fans be just as equally pissed off in two years time?  The entire internet practically lost its mind when it was announced that Ben Affleck had been cast as the next Batman; which is either brilliant marketing to keep people talking about the movie a full two years before it’s release, or the first step in a full cinematic meltdown.  Time will tell.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  November 12th, 2013.

Shayne Kempton

SUMMER REWIND

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PACIFIC RIM IS A PERFECT ORGASM OF AMAZING SPECIAL EFFECTS AND BRILLIANT DESIGN WORK THAT REMINDS US HOW SATISFYING EPIC FILM MAKING CAN BE 

Director:  Guillermo del Toro

Starring:  Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam,  Rinko Kickuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Ron Pearlman

Studio:  Warner Brothers

Length:  2 Hrs 12 Mins

Rated:  PG

I have a confession to make.  I am a enormous geek.  I’m not ashamed of it, there are plenty of successful, wealthy and super famous people who wear their geek badges with pride (George Lucas anyone?  Steven Spielberg?) and when I tell people of my geek love, I do so with neither shame nor embarrassment.  Now that doesn’t mean that you can slap an “approved by fanboys everywhere” sign on something and expect me to embrace it. If something sucks, it sucks, and I’ll take it to the cleaners five times before lunch on a Monday without batting an eyelash.  Wolverine is one of my favourite comic book characters but I openly despised his first solo movie and while I went into Green Lantern hoping to enjoy a fun science fiction flick a few years ago, I came out of it wanting to shoot someone.  But Guillermo del Toro’s new science fiction epic Pacific Rim doesn’t just appeal to my geek, inner or otherwise, it takes it out for a lobster dinner, gets it drunk and has dirty, dirty sex with it.

Earth is under siege.  Massive alien creatures called Kaiju (great beasts in Japanese) have been invading the planet from an inter-dimensional fissure known as the Breach at the bottom of the Pacific ocean.  Sporadic at first, these monsters the size of mountains keep coming, destroying entire cities in their wake and prompting unprecedented global co-operation by the nations of the world.  And so the Jaegers are born (Jaeger meaning hunter in German), massive robots mentally controlled by a pair of specialized pilots called Rangers, bonded through a phenomenon known as the Drift.  The Jaegers become mankind’s mechanical guardians, hunting down and slaying the Kaiju like knights of old slaying dragons.  The Rangers become pop culture icons, celebrated on talk shows and magazine covers while the various models of Jaeger robots become immortalized in toy lines and on trading cards.  But the Kaiju become bigger and stronger, they begin learning and adapting to human defences, their attacks increasing in frequency as well as ferocity.   Twelve years after the first Kaiju laid it’s colossal, taloned foot on Earth, the human race finds itself up to its robotic eyeballs in trouble.

No longer able to cope with the Kaiju invasion, the world’s political leaders decide to scrap the Jaeger program, abandoning it for a plan that seems equally destined to fail.  Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) falls back to Hong Kong with what remains of his Jaeger fleet, planning one final desperate counter offensive in hopes of winning the war.  Joining him are Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), his adopted daughter and aspiring Jaeger pilot, and Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), a former Ranger who’s been off the grid since his brother (and co-pilot) died fighting a Kaiju when the war began turning against humanity.  If the mission fails, the  human race faces extinction.  As Marshal Pentecost says, they are no longer an army, but a resistance.

Pacific Rim has one story; enormous robots protect humanity by fighting humongous monsters that make Godzilla look like a slightly annoyed iguana on a bad hair day.  Sometimes the Jaeger use their fists, sometimes they use mammoth swords and there are times they use entire trains as baseball bats.  The special effects are incredible and the fight scenes between the Jaegers and the Kaiju are mind blowing spectacles that will assault your senses and excite your imagination.  Director del Toro and the film’s art designers invested heavily in the look and feel of the movie, not only in the careful designs of the Kaiju and the Jaegers, but in the smallest details as well as what a world where such marvels exist might look like.  Pacific Rim isn’t a smart movie, there are no surprise plot twists or hidden motifs, but it isn’t a stupid one either either and doesn’t make the mistake of taking itself seriously.  Del Toro deserves plenty of credit for carefully walking the razor thin line between amazing and ludicrous and Pacific Rim slides comfortably into the same territory as other smart but entertaining science fiction epics like Jurassic Park and Independence Day.

And for a giant robot/super monster fight movie, the acting is pretty solid.  Elba brings a calm dignity and plenty of bad assery to former Ranger and current Marshal Stacker Pentecost.  While there are times you fell like standing up and saluting him in the theatre, Pentecost has a tender side as well, particularly when it comes to his adopted daughter Mori, and Elba brings just enough tenderness to the role to make you buy it.  Charlie Day and Burn Gorman add sufficient comic relief as Doctors Geiszler and Gotlieb, a pair of brilliant minds that bicker more than a married couple.  But the true stars of Pacific Rim are the amazing effects and the mind blowing battle scenes.  If you’re going to see Pacific Rim for the acting or the story, you’re missing the point  by about a dozen light years.

Last week I had the pleasure of reviewing Despicable Me 2, and called it my favourite animated movie of the year.  Now I can slide Pacific Rim into the top spot of my favourite popcorn movies of the year.  And that’s what Pacific Rim is, an excellent popcorn movie with the best special effects you’ve seen in a long time, if ever.  Fans of science fiction, anime, monsters, special effects, imagination and pure movie making magic will adore this movie (with Jaeger/Kaiju fight scenes taking place in cities, under water and even in space, how could they not?).  It isn’t going to win any Oscars for best acting or writing, those movies (some of them outright borefests) are a few a months away yet, but what it will do is make you feel like a kid again, watching the good guys throw down with the monsters on an epic scale.  It was what you probably felt the first time you saw Star Wars or Lord of the Rings; the magic of pure imagination and entertainment.  Catch Pacific Rim on Imax if you can, because being absorbed by it’s special effects on the Imax screen is easily worth the extra few dollars.  Grab your popcorn, settle in and let your inner (or outer) geek out to stretch its legs for a few hours, because if there’s one movie that will cause a you to have a geekgasm overload this summer, it’s Pacific Rim.

Shayne Kempton

AWESOME HEAVY METAL EPIC