Movie Review: “Pacific Rim”

Starring
Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Max Martini, Rob Kazinksky, Clifton Collins Jr.
Director
Guillermo del Toro

It’s been five years since Guillermo del Toro’s last film, and between the problems he faced working on the “Hobbit” movies and trying to get passion project “In the Mountains of Madness” off the ground,” you could hardly blame the guy if he had just called it quits. But instead of getting frustrated by the Hollywood system, he gave them exactly what they wanted: an action-packed blockbuster that also appealed to his inner 12-year-old. “Pacific Rim” is about as close to a Transformers/Godzilla mash-up as you’ll ever see, so it’s not surprising how quickly fanboys jumped on the bandwagon. Unfortunately, the film lacks the uniqueness of the director’s other projects, because while it may not be based on a preexisting property like a lot of summer fare, it still feels oddly generic. That being said, you definitely won’t be bored, and that’s to the credit of the rich mythology that del Toro has created.

Set in the not-too-distant future, giant beasts (referred to as kaiju) have emerged from an inter-dimensional rift below the Pacific Ocean to wreak havoc on every major coastal city from San Francisco to Tokyo. In response, the world’s governments came together to build giant robots called jaegers to combat these monsters, with two pilots controlling each machine via a neurological sync known as drifting. The more compatible the pilots, the better they perform. Though successful for several years, the jaeger program has become increasingly less effective as the kaiju continue to adapt and evolve. When the program is ordered to be shut down, commanding officer Marshall Pentecost (Idris Elba) recruits a retired jaeger pilot named Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) to team up with rookie Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), with whom he shares a particularly strong connection, and spearhead one final attack in the fight for humanity’s survival.

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Sons of Anarchy 5.13: J’ai Obtenu Cette

SPOILER WARNING: This post will appear following a new episode of “Sons of Anarchy.” It is intended to be read after seeing the show’s latest installment as a source of recap and analysis. As such, all aspects of the show up to and including the episode discussed are fair game.

Two weeks ago, I said, “Violence and adrenaline are as big a draw for [the Sons] as the brotherhood, motorcycles, and ‘easy’ money. You don’t live this kind of life, or at least continue to, without a taste for cheap thrills.” Back then I was referring to Jax, Tig, Chibs, and Happy escaping an ambush by going off-roading in a station wagon as bullets flied in every direction. After confirming that they were all alive, the guys laughed and screamed with excitement. Happy spoke for the group when he exclaimed “I am rapturous!”

That was a long winded way of saying these guys are adrenaline junkies. They are addicted to the lives of danger, risk, and crime they lead. Turn to Clay’s actions at the beginning of this season for further proof. Upon realizing that “the life” might be taken away from him, he did everything in his power to prevent it—like a caged lion claws and scratches in an attempt to find freedom or, say, Bob Hughes hustles to get a fix. Ironically enough, the SAMCRO clubhouse has a “No Junkies” sign, right by the doorway leading out to the picnic tables.

Regardless of what substance, lifestyle, or what have you an addict is dependent on, if he truly wants to quit, he quits. Right there on the spot. If he really means it, there is no last hurrah, no one last fix or drink, he won’t give himself another month of using, he won’t say Christmas day will be his last. Because when an addict gives himself that time, it’s not just time to use, but to reconsider whether he really wants to quit, and, more often than not, rationalize why it’s just not the right time yet.

You may see where I’m going with this. Jax and Tara were never going to get out and live safe, peaceful lives with their boys. They sentenced themselves to life in Charming the second they started making excuses and delaying. Jax was being just as dishonest (with everyone, including himself) when he said he’d get out once he’d “protected the club” as a junkie who promises to quit if he can use for just one more month, day, or hour. It’s always “just one more.” Likewise, if the Teller family really wanted to get out of Charming, they would have done so, right the fuck then, the same way an addict or alcoholic who’s quitting needs to really and truly commit right there on the spot. Otherwise, by the time you actually mean it, it’ll be too late. And for Jax and Tara, boy is it too late.

The episode title, “J’ai Obtenu Cette,” means “I got this” in French (perhaps as a nod to Chucky’s new language of choice). It’s a phrase Jax could have spoken in reference to  just about every task he set out to accomplish this season. He now has everything he ever wanted, but it doesn’t feel right. There’s a reason for that (aside from his wife getting arrested): as we’ve discussed so often, he had to transform into Clay to get it. The scary thing, both for us as fans of the idealistic Jax of the past and the people around him, is that he’s way better at being Clay than Clay ever was. Because while his willingness to do anything is reminiscent of Clay, his intelligence and ability to ensure his own hands appear clean is more in the vein of one Damon Pope. When Marks, Pope’s now-elevated number two, implies that the reason the chips fell where they did was because Jax engineered it, Jax responds, “You think I planned this whole thing? Come on, man, you’re giving me way too much credit. I ain’t Pope. I’m just a mechanic looking out for my family.” Yeah, whatever.

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Sons of Anarchy 5.12: Darthy

SPOILER WARNING: This post will appear following a new episode of “Sons of Anarchy.” It is intended to be read after seeing the show’s latest installment as a source of recap and analysis. As such, all aspects of the show up to and including the episode discussed are fair game.

Can “Sons of Anarchy” accomplish the unthinkable, can it make Clay Morrow a likable character again? Over the course of the second half of this season, Clay has become more and more sympathetic. He’s not actually sympathetic, not yet anyway, but the Clay of late is at least a human being. His confession to the club was real, the most honest words we’ve ever heard him utter. That’s not to say they were the complete truth or that they didn’t contain some element of self-preservation. And granted, if Bobby got even a whiff of bullshit, I’m sure he would’ve joined the rest of the club in voting “yay” on Clay meeting Mr. Mayhem. But the confession was still a revelation. When we saw Clay ask for some time alone so he could break down and cry, it may have been our first ever glimpse at the person behind the crimes. I had to remind myself of the crimes to stop from feeling sorry for the person.

Clay now hopes to start and lead his own small club to earn money. It’s a dream that has clear parallels with Nero’s hopes of settling down with his son on his uncle’s ranch, completely free of the life he left behind, or Jax’s desire to mold the club to fit his father’s vision (as well as last season’s goal of escaping Charming with Tara and the boys). These are exactly the type of fantasies we expect from the manchildren that populate this show, ambitions that are almost adorable in their simplicity and improbability—like when a toddler tells you he’ll grow up to be a professional baseball player. But just like the characters, we want to believe.

Clay’s retribution is something we’ve yearned for since season four at the latest (the pilot at the earliest), and it was accomplished in a way that met and subverted our expectations at the same time. Clay was brought to the table during the influx of his humanity, and as a result, the verdict on his survival brought both relief and frustration. Part of me enjoyed every moment of the beating Jax handed out afterwards, because I wanted Clay to die too. But at the same time it was the perfect illustration of Jax’s spiral out of control—the way anger and a thirst for revenge are driving him more than the good of the club ever did. It seems Clay’s justification for his dealings with the Nomads made sense in a fucked up, Clay sort of way. He was right that Jax wasn’t ready for the pressures of leadership, just not in the way he expected. Jax has been a fantastic president for the SAMCRO Clay built. But that wasn’t what he wanted when he took the gavel, he wanted to be a great leader for the club as he and his father envisioned it. The protester outside the White House clamors for world peace, but would he have the strength to make it a reality it if he was the one sitting in the oval office?

Love-hate-love (and vice-versa) arcs have always been “Sons of Anarchy’s” bread and butter. In the case of almost every major character, the show has started us out feeling one way and then worked to push us in the other direction. Often, when a character reaches the other side of the spectrum, the show turns him or her right back again. If you, like me, are starting to lose respect for the man Jax has become, it’s a mark of the show’s success. Shooting Wendy with heroin, given that she is an addict in recovery, was truly reprehensible. It’d be easier for us to see Wendy has a point about being the best person to raise the boys if not for the fact that Jax (and to a lesser extent Tara) are the protagonists. Likewise, Pope advises Jax to find a way to have Clay offed indirectly. Maybe it’s what Clay deserves. But at the same time, Jax going behind the club’s back to off him despite the vote to let him walk, purely for his own purposes, would be a trademark Clay move. If that’s the road Jax goes down, it will be the ultimate symbol of his transformation. Actions like these will give his inevitable redemption all the more emotional impact. I’m certain that by the series finale, we’ll be back in Jax’s corner. But I wouldn’t hold my breath. It might take the entirety of the final two seasons to accomplish.

Speaking of Pope, with Clay now stripped of all power, he’s sure to be a major source of conflict moving forward. I still don’t know if I believe Jax is just going to hand Tig over, even if Clay’s ousting means Tig’s usefulness is diminished (or even gone). At the same time I think the new Jax genuinely looks up to Pope. He tells Bobby that “you can’t sit in this chair without being a savage,” and given that Pope is the ultimate mentor in savagery, it makes sense that Jax would continue to seek his counsel. Whether he’s planning to turn Tig over or go to war with Pope, Jax is going to need every play in the savage book. Jax’s decision on the Tig front will either cement Pope as a friend or an enemy during the finale (if it’s the latter, Jax will have a plan to make it seem like he’s giving Tig up until the very last moment before taking Pope out).

Another source of conflict will be Lee Toric, the retired U.S. Marshall played by Donal Logue whose sister was the nurse Tara accidentally helped Otto murder. I predicted this meta motivation last week based on the fact that the actress who played said nurse was Logue’s real-life sister. Tara played her deposition almost perfectly. It’s clear her interrogator had his doubts about her innocence and naivety, but it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which she gets off and Toric is forced to seek his own justice. Toric is next season’s big bad, meaning he’s here to stay. His appearance during the ending montage showed him holed up in the dark with enough weapons for a small army and a bag full of pill bottles (perhaps he’s addicted to painkillers or some other pharmaceutical, which would give him a weakness and explain why he’s a retired U.S. Marshall). The most unsettling thing, however, may have been Toric’s choice of literature, “Watchfiends and Rack Screams,” by Antonin Artaud. The book was written during the last three years of Artaud’s life, which he spent incarcerated at a mental asylum, and it reads like it. I made that joke about Jax needing every play in the savage book, well, he might have to ask if he can borrow it from Toric first.

Check out the preview for next week’s episode below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.

  

Sons of Anarchy 5.11: To Thine Own Self

SPOILER WARNING: This post will appear every Wednesday following a new episode of “Sons of Anarchy.” It is intended to be read after seeing the show’s latest installment as a source of recap and analysis. As such, all aspects of the show up to and including the episode discussed are fair game.

“To Thine Own Self” opened with Tara telling Jax about the offer she got from the practice in Providence. She followed the news up by insisting Jax had accomplished what he set out to and that it’s time to get out of Dodge. “I know why you couldn’t walk away a few months ago. The club’s been your whole life, you couldn’t let it die… But ending RICO saves SAMCRO, and whatever happens with Clay you have put the MC on the right track, you’ve done everything you’ve wanted to do. It’s your turn now, we can move on.” On the surface, she’s right. Especially considering all the shrewd (and more importantly, successful) moves Jax made as the episode moved forward. And yet, we all know there’s a zero percent chance the Teller family will be taking their talents to Providence. And it’s not just because a show called “Sons of Anarchy” would be a lot less interesting absent, you know, the Sons of Anarchy.

Exhibit A is Jax, Tig, Chibs, and Happy’s escape from the members of Nero’s old crew who decided that while they’d like a cache of the club’s guns, they’d prefer not to pay for them. The guys went off-roading in a station wagon, fired some automatic weapons, and narrowly escaped with their lives. Happy even had a bullet graze his head, and his response? “I am rapturous!” He was speaking for the group.

Violence and adrenaline are as big a draw for these guys as the brotherhood, motorcycles, and “easy” money. You don’t live this kind of life, or at least continue to, without a taste for cheap thrills. It doesn’t matter that the club no longer has RICO hanging over his head. It doesn’t matter that both Galindo and the Chinese are on board for the new weapons deal. It wouldn’t even matter if Clay finally got his comeuppance. There are only two places Jax can end up post-SAMCRO: in a cage or in a box. Sorry Tara, your husband  is never going to be a peaceful mechanic in motherfucking Rhode Island.

It’s become clear that Jax’s little rage trip is not a temporary result of Opie’s death. This is something that’s been building. A big part of it stems from his ongoing quest to kill Clay, which as Bobby points out is turning Jax into the very thing he despises. But one of this season’s major points  is that the gavel is what’s changing our protagonist—that angry and vengeful are necessary characteristics of the man at the head of the table, the man with all the power, the man in control. Maybe Clay became the man we all love to hate because he was under the same pressures Jax is now.

As Jax turns into Clay, Clay turns into something else. These last few episodes, in his talks with Juice and Tig and Jax, those words were genuine and heartfelt. Don’t get me wrong, Clay’s still a snake, as evidenced by the way he slithered those legal documents away just as they (sort of) fell into his former stepson’s hands, but he’s not the same snake. He had the opportunity to eliminate Jax and return to the presidency, instead he gave advice which he believed both good and necessary, that the club shouldn’t just walk away from Galindo. Clay’s not going to give in, let the truth come out, and die in disgrace, but he no longer seems to be motivated purely by self interest. Bobby’s decision to go to Clay at the end of the episode was driven by fear of the new Jax, sure, but it seemed to come from recognition of the new Clay as well.

The new direction of Clay’s character is something I did not see coming. The same can be said of Nero Padilla. When Nero was first introduced, he seemed too good to be true—loyal to Jax, loving to Gemma, a smart and safe business partner—I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I thought the show would wring drama and suspense out of Nero by having him turn on the club, in some way becoming yet another enemy. Instead, Nero was everything he seemed to be and more. And just look at how that’s worked out for him.

I mentioned that Jax’s arc has demonstrated the way being in charge changes people. Likewise, Nero’s arc is meant to show that just being close to the boss brings tumult and turmoil, anger and vengeance, by proxy. His life’s gone to shit not because he’s an enemy of SAMCRO, but because he’s a friend. When Nero believes his former crew kidnapped Jax, he goes out and does a bit of murder, returning to the life of violent crime he’d sworn was behind him. All because the club was quick to call him when they (thought they) needed his help, and sort of forgot to let him know when they didn’t. The Nero we saw at the end of the episode seemed like he’d just stepped out of a warzone, like he’d been truly traumatized, and he has. He’s messed up, but he’s a former OG, it’s something he’ll get over—or would, if he had Gemma there to comfort him. But he doesn’t. And why’s that again? Because Jax has put his mom to work, throwing both her and Nero under the bus in his efforts to eliminate Clay.

Meanwhile, this episode introduced a new character, Lee Toric, played by Donal Logue, whose sole mission is to make the last few months of Otto’s life a little more miserable, if that’s even possible. We know very little about the character so far, other than that he’s got the pull to get into a maximum security prison and beat the shit out of a dude in solitary confinement. His motivations remain unknown. All we have to go on is his desire to torture Otto and his following Tara at the end of the episode. A good guess would be that his actions have something to do with that nurse Otto murdered. Maybe she was a family member and he’s out for vengeance. All that might be a bit too convenient, considering she was played by Karina Logue, the actor’s real life sister, but Toric is sure to be a major player moving forward.

A few more things:

-“This Kenny G shit’s gonna give my cancer cancer.”

-The club’s lawyer is played by Robin Weigert. I knew I recognized her from something but couldn’t figure out what (looking it up is cheating). Last night it hit me, Weigert played Calamity Jane in “Deadwood.”

-As I predicted last week, Jax isn’t going to just hand Tig over, and that’s going to make Pope mad. A confrontation is brewing.

Check out the preview for next week’s episode below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.

  

Sons of Anarchy 5.10: Crucifixed

SPOILER WARNING: This post will appear every Wednesday following a new episode of “Sons of Anarchy.” It is intended to be read after seeing the show’s latest installment as a source of recap and analysis. As such, all aspects and events that have occurred up to and including the episode discussed are fair game.

I opened the previous two posts with some analysis of episode titles. I think we can all agree that won’t be necessary this time around. Instead, let’s begin at the beginning, with Juice’s future now that he’s been outed as a rat.

Few would argue that “Sons” isn’t entertaining, but whether it’s predictable and even a bit repetitive is another matter. That said, it’s always nice to get one right, and last week I called that rather than execute Juice, Jax would put him to work spying on Clay the same way he did Gemma. Just like Gemma, Juice is doing it to get back in the good graces of his family, which in his case is the club. Although the added bonus of, you know, not dying, probably didn’t hurt. He was never going to run after Roosevelt let him know what was what, because SAMCRO is all he has. It’s the same reason he snitched to begin with—in his mind, it was the only way he’d keep his patch.

Another part of my prediction, however, was that Jax showing mercy would be a sign that the wounds of Opie’s murder were finally starting to heal, allowing him to return to the levelheaded protagonist, we know and love. On that account it appears, so far anyway, that I was sadly mistaken. In his ongoing efforts to dispose of Clay, and thus mold the club to fit his (and his father’s) vision, Jax has morphed into the very thing he despises. He is continually lying, conniving, and plotting in an effort to achieve his goals. Case in point—he and Bobby bring Chibs into the fold regarding Juice, but the plan the three decide on and the one Jax presents to Juice are two very different things.

Juice is only the latest solider to be caught in the crossfire of the war between Jax and Clay, and given the survival rate of his predecessors, the forecast isn’t exactly promising. Much like Clay, Jax increasingly sees those around him as little more than tools he can use to accomplish his goals and then dispose of. He seems to be driven by little more than anger and blood lust.

Nowhere was this more clear than in his dealings with the Grim Bastards. He gives their president his word that he’ll allow Randall Hightower, the man who murdered Opie, to live. Then he turns around and has Chibs put a bullet through his skull. It was no accident that in the scene that immediately preceded it, Jax gave Pope his word that he’d hand Tig over once Clay is out of the picture.

This isn’t the first time the show has used the “you have my word” gag. In the season four episode “Dorylus,” Clay gives his word that when he steps down, he’ll support Bobby taking the gavel in return for voting his way on getting into the drug running business. Later on, Bobby watches Clay use the same phrase to convince the Wahewa chief he’s not making any additional money on their ammunition, which Bobby knows full well is a lie.

All this seems to indicate two things. First, that like his stepfather before him, Jax’s word no longer means shit. And second, that Jax isn’t going to give Tig up quite so easily. Which means all this playing nice with Pope, up to and including offering him the Charming Heights investment, is part of some long con, and there’s further conflict between the two in the horizon.

As Bobby points out following the Grim Bastards situation, Jax’s actions “hurt all of us.” Bobby’s mostly referring to the fact that in murdering Hightower, Jax “shit on two decades of brotherhood,” but the assessment had echoes in the (inevitable) conclusion of the Tara and Otto storyline. It’s become perfectly clear that there’s little the Jax of today isn’t willing to sacrifice, whether its SAMCRO’s relationship with another MC or his own mother’s health and safety. But through all of this, his family, Tara and his sons, have been the one thing he’s been unwilling to compromise. Ironically however, because she was trying to help the club, his wife’s about to be in some very hot water.

Tara accomplished what she set out to with her gratis work at the prison. Now that Otto’s once, twice, three times a murderer, the feds will have to throw out his testimony for the RICO case. On the other hand, the authorities aren’t going to have any trouble figuring out how he got that crucifix. The best case scenario then is while Tara somehow manages to avoid any legal charges, these events take a toll on her already fragile sanity (intentionally waking up your baby so you can feel needed is both creepy and masochistic). While at worst, she’ll face charges (and jail time) for being an accessory to murder. I can’t possibly imagine the show taking the Dr. Knowles in prison route, so just as Jax tells her, they’ll “get through this, like we always do.” But, as Tara responds, “that’s what scares her the most.” Given what we’ve already seen from Jax 2.0, those fears are entirely justified.

A few more things:

-I didn’t get into Clay’s side of things as much as I would’ve liked. Going to Galindo was a logical move him, but as he said to Juice, it might have been his most recent effort to “chase things [he] doesn’t even want anymore.” The only question remaining, then, is whether or not the remark, as well as his interactions with Gemma, were genuine. Does Clay know he’s being played, or is he really just a tired old man?

-When Tara woke up Thomas, it was painfully obvious the baby’s cries were added in post-production. It’s the little things that take you out of a scene.

-Upon finding out why Juice turned Rat, Jax says “maybe it’s time we changed a few bylaws,” to which Chibs responds “amen.” Amen to that amen.

-Speaking of Chibs, he continues to be the most downright awesome character in the show, but more importantly one of the last I can root for without it bringing up any moral conundrums. The man is a soldier, loyal to his very core, but still able to think for himself. You know what, fuck it, Chibs for president.

Check out the preview for next week’s episode below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.

  

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