Demons and Kaiju -- A Double Review or Science-Fiction, Double Feature.

I wanna go, oh-oh, to the late night double feature picture show.1

As I mentioned in the previous
post, The Mrs and I spent the evening at the Ford-Wyoming Drive-In2. Since I made such a big deal about that already, I thought it might be nice to discuss the movies that we saw. Yes, there may be some spoilers ahead, so be forewarned. I don’t plan on being spoilerific, but you never know. If you are wondering if you want to see The Conjuring and/or Pacific Rim but don’t want to run the risk of accidentally learning something that might ruin it for you, know that we both enjoyed both movies. I personally recommend both of them. If you love the ‘splosions, you probably want to see Pacific Rim in the theater. Otherwise you can see either of them on the smaller screen without missing them.

As for my usual rating system of Hell No, Pass, Meh, Wait for Regular TV, Rent, and See at the Show, they both score a high Rent/low Show.

OK. Stop reading right here if you don’t want to know anymore.

Just in case you didn’t stop reading, I’ll throw a little discussion of the evening in as a buffer. The wether was a little on the warm side with intermittent rain. I brought along my boom box, but didn’t end up using it.
3 Fortunately the rain was coming in at a slant that didn’t leave the passenger side soaked since we used the traditional speaker box. It never rained hard enough to fully coat the windshield and make it clear so I had to turn on the wipers every once and a while during the first film. It cleared up by the time the second movie started.

I was very pleased with the order we saw the films in as well.
The Conjuring is dark, scary, and has a much quieter sound track. Seeing that first was good and creepy. Then Pacific Rim with its much brighter visuals and louder sound effects made sure we stayed awake.

Oh, in case you skipped the last post, the Ford-Wyoming always offers two movies for the price of one. I didn’t want anyone thinking that we snuck around and watched the second movie on the sly.

All right, that should be enough of a buffer. On to the reviews.

The Conjuring

There have been a lot of movies released lately which focus on hauntings, possessions, and exorcism.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Rite, The Last Exorcist and its recent sequel, Exorcismus, The Devil Inside, A Haunting in Connecticut all have one thing in common. Well, two things actually. The first is that they are all (I think) BASED ON A TRUE STORY! Hollywood’s latest gimmick for horror movies. The other is:

I didn’t like any of them.

The Conjuring is the movie that all of the movies I just listed wish they were.

Yep, I said it. I like this movie. No matter what your feelings on the Warrens, your level of skepticism regarding the supposed events which inspired the film’s story, despite the fact that a dog dies (offscreen), this is a really good movie.

Vera Farmigia and Patrick Wilson are quite convincing as demonologists Lorraine and Ed Warren. I thought that Lili Taylor was exceptional as the mother of the Perron clan, but then I have liked her ever since I first saw her as Lloyd Dobler’s friend in
Say Anything. The rest of the cast, especially the younger members also turn in good performances.

The story focuses on the Perron family which has recently moved into a house in a rural area. Here we run into some of the usual tropes of the recent haunted house/possession movie. The family is financially tied to the new place so simply leaving is not an option. There is at least token resistance from one of the children who has been pulled away from his or her friends, one parent is isolated with the children at the house while the other spends long intervals away...

All of that is dealt with pretty early on and not dwelled on ad nauseum. One of the things I did like about
The Conjuring is that it not only showed us some background into those who would help the family, it humanized them. The Warrens come off as a real couple, a loving couple. They have a child (who eventually is touched by some of the problems which the demonologists deal with). They disagree at times. Ed is concerned about Lorraine becoming too involved with the current case, still dwelling upon a previous experience. This, I felt, was the strong point of Wilson’s portrayal of Ed Warren. Rather than being just an expert, we see him as a family figure as well. There is even a hint of jealousy at the seemingly idyllic life that the Perrons forged for themselves before the troubles begin. Wilson shows us how Warren longs for this quiet family life and it makes the fact that he is willing to risk himself and those the loves for strangers even more heroic.

What I liked best about the film is that the majority of the scares come not from an excess of CGI or a healthy splattering of gore but from the slow build up of tension. We don’t see a lot, but there is a lot of fear. The actors portraying the children do an amazing job of bringing this to life. The Marco Polo-esque blindfolded clapping hide and go seek was quite the effective plot device.

The only real complaints that I had about the film are minor. There is a creaking, stuttery sound (which I just made) which has become de rigueur for this type of movie and it is used here as well. I wish something would come up with a different creepy possessed noise. It has actually gotten to the point where it pulls me out of the film a little, kind of like when you recognize the Wilhelm Scream. The other was the abundance of bad stuff which happened on the property. Yes, it is linked in some way, but I wish there had been a little more exploration of these. The various bad things which happened on the property could have been used as red herrings, instead of just listed off as like the description of a haunted hotel in “The Shinning” portion of The Simpsons Halloween Special.

These few things aside, I thought
The Conjuring was a very well done movie. It is definitely worth the price of admission.

Pacific Rim

When you go to see a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters, you have a certain set of expectation. You know what you are going to see and you know what you are not going to see. You know that there will probably be some things that you are going to have to forgive, ignore, etc. You know that your ability to suspend your disbelief may be stretched a little. All of this is perfectly fine, because you are going to see a movie with giant freakin’ robots fighting giant freakin’ monsters!

In this spirit, viewers will completely forgive some of the shakier elements of the plot like the fact that a rift in Pacific Ocean became a portal to another dimension inhabited by Kaiju.
8 We’ll except the rather bizarre premise that it takes two people to pilot the jaegers10 because they have to share the mental load of piloting the thing. That pilot compatibility is somehow measured by hand to hand combat. We’ll even pass on the fact that giant robots which have a nuclear power source and heads up displays and a ton of computer stuff (literally a ton) are somehow “analog” and therefore immune to the blast of an electromagnetic pulse.11

We forgive all of these things because there are giant freakin’ robots fighting giant freakin’ monsters and that’s what we paid money to see.

Pacific Rim delivers on this expectation.

The plot, in a nutshell, was already described. There is a rift, monsters are coming through. The nations of the world unite to build a defense system comprised of giant robots.

We get to see the robots fighting the monsters. There are some tragic things that happen, people die. Five years pass and the countries of the world decide that maybe giant robots are not the cost effective solution to their problem. Perhaps we should build a giant wall instead.

Honestly, this one really bothered me. We have to assume at this point that there had to be at least Rodan type monster with the ability to fly. Who came up with this idea?

[Insert your own China/Mongol joke here]

The characters were likable and well acted for the most part. In some cases they were stock characters from central casting, but still forgivable.

There were certain thematic beats which the view knows are going to be hit and were. Some parts of the plot were pretty darn predictable. I honestly could have done without the attempt at the
Braveheart/Independence Day speech, but it was short.

I know this sounds like I am pulling out a lot of little things to be annoyed at, but I really did like the movie. There are two scientists thrown in for comedic affect which I enjoyed. I wonder if some people might find them distracting.

The special effects are great. The battles (which, let’s be honest here, are the reason you came to the movie) are awesome. The CGI is sharp, the images quiet lifelike. I would love to go back and see the movie again just so I can spend more time paying attention t0 the monsters and how they move. The robots are equally awesome. There is even a bit of an explanation about how the Kaiju are getting progressively bigger, stronger, and are adapting to previous attacks. This gives the viewer an explanation for why the different Jaegers are, well, different instead of an army of identical robots.

The fact that none of the things I mentioned above bothered me enough to make me dislike the movie is a pretty good indication of how well the film does the things that it does well. That being said, there were a few things which bothered me enough to really stick with me. The “solution” to the bomb the rift problem was, in my mind, common sense. In fact, when it is first addressed in the film I turned to The Mrs and said [REDACTED DUE TO EXCESSIVE SPOILER POTENTIAL]. Similarly, the lack of this same problem [REDACTED DUE TO EXCESSIVE SPOILER POTENTIAL].

The one thing which really bothered me, and this may just be a quirk on my part, was how much time the pilots of any particular Jaeger spend talking to each other when piloting said Jaeger. Remember, these two individuals (or three in one case) are supposed to be mentally linked in order to pilot these giant robots. They are sharing each others thoughts, memories...why do they have to talk to each other?

As I mentioned before, the fact that I was able to let go of all of these picayune issues and enjoy the film is a testament to what it does right. If you want to see
Pacific Rim I strongly suggest you see it in the theater where you can experience the Jaeger vs Kaiju throw downs in all of their gi-normous glory. If you are only so-so on the idea, then it won’t hurt you to wait until it hits the small screen, but keep in mind that the viewing experience is going to be diminished.

For the record, The Mrs enjoyed both films as well. She found
The Conjuring well done and creepy and Pacific Rim a lot of fun. So there’s your non-geek review.

1 If there are any of you that do not recognize that this is from the song “Science Fiction Double Feature” which opens The Rocky Horror Picture Show you are seriously on the wrong blog.

2 The biggest drive-in in the world, even at half its previous size.

3 In addition to the traditional drive-in speakers that you hang on your window
4, the soundtrack to each film is also broadcast on an FM station. I don’t like to leave my car running for two whole movies,5 so I bring my old radio with the detachable speakers. I can set up a little mini-surround sound system in the car. Unfortunately, this time I couldn’t get the station to come in well, probably because of the weather. The sound from the speaker box was more than adequate.

4 BTW, a set of actual drive-in speakers would be an excellent present, if you are ever wondering what to get me.

5 Yes, when I go in the winter I bring extra blankets and only turn the car on occasionally if the windshield is fogging over.

6 OK, I didn’t see The Last Exorcism 2. I didn’t see it for a number of reasons. It seems like yet another unnecessary sequel and I won’t support those by paying money to view them. I really did not like the first movie, which had a few good parts but for the most part was a let down. Finally, if something is the last of something, it can not have a sequel. By making this movie, the studio automatically negated the title of the previous film. All DVD and Blu-Ray releases should have a sticker with the words “Next To” and a little insertion arrow affixed to them.

7 “John Denver.”

8 We’re just going to assume that anyone interested in a Kaiju movie knows what Kaiju are. Seriously, if you saw the trailer for
Pacific Rim and wanted to see it but were not aware of the term I will be very surprised.9

9 What? Do I look like Google to you? Look it up your damn self you lazy ass.

10 Named after the German word for hunter, not the horrible, soul killing alcoholic beverage. Why I heard the name in the previews, I thought they were named after test pilot Chuck Yaeger and got all excited. There, now we’re all disappointed.

11 Ummm...what?

12 Rock ‘em technology provided by Japan, Sock ‘em technology provided by the United States.

13 This footnote has great spoiler potential, but the scene it spoils is fairly early in the film, so I am not going to redact it. The thought of being psychically linked to a sibling while that sibling dies is so horrific that it made my chest clench up when it happened in the film. I would love it if the extras included in the DVD/Blu-Ray release had a mockumentary about dealing with this kind of crippling loss. I think that it would be philosophically devastating and I just want to explore this idea more.