The Shelf: THE HEAT, PACIFIC RIM, DEFIANCE Season One
By Kyle Anderson on October 15, 2013
This week’s got funny ladies with guns, giant robots fighting monsters, a frontier town of the future, a house with moving walls, an apocalyptic author, a couple of faceless killers, and Nazi spies who sound Cockney. It’s The Shelf and it’s full of Blu-rays. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be much of a Shelf, would it?
There’s a thing called the Bechdel Test, which was devised by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985. It poses three criteria for watching movies, or any media for that matter. 1. It has at least two women in it. 2. Those women speak to each other. 3. They talk about something other than men. You’d be surprised how many big movies, especially action movies, completely fail this test. On the other hand, Paul Feig has made two feature films in a row that pass this test with flying colors. The first is the 2011 smash hit Bridesmaids, which earned Oscar nominations, and the second is this year’s buddy cop film The Heat which pairs straight-laced FBI nerd Sandra Bullock opposite violent and ill-tempered Boston police detective Melissa McCarthy, as they get on each others nerves in the midst of working on a big drug case. They speak almost exclusively to each other and almost exclusively about something other than men, though that does come up.
Feig’s directing style seems almost perfectly suited to an action comedy, with both Bullock and McCarthy able to improvise their way through scenes of high tension and make the jokes keep coming. The two leads are really terrific and play off each other quite well, and are surrounded by a fine cross-section of comedy superstars from original SNL cast member Jane Curtin to current it-guy on the show Taran Killam. Marlon Wayans, Tom Wilson, Michael McDonald, Michael Rapaport, Bill Burr, Nate Corddry, and even Joey McIntyre turn in solid and funny performances in their various supporting duties. While I thought Bullock and McCarthy were great, I almost would have liked to see their roles reversed, with Bullock as the foul-mouthed cop and McCarthy the by-the-book agent. It would have been a nice twist on their established personas and added an extra layer. Not a complaint, just an idea.
While the movie is already pushing two hours (length begins to detract from comedy at a certain point), and most of that from extended comedy bits, there is hours more hilarity in the Blu-ray’s extensive special features. Feig clearly wants to showcase the hard work everybody did and the deleted scenes, extended scenes, alternate takes, and outtakes all exemplify just how funny everyone is. Each section of the features is accompanied by specially-shot introductions by Feig by a fireplace claiming to be a different famous director who made a movie they didn’t make, and these are just as funny as you’d want them to be. There’s also making-of featurettes and other general behind-the-scenes stuff. Perhaps the best feature of all is, on top of the other four commentaries on the disc, that there is a commentary featuring Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, and Josh Weinstein, the original three riffers on Mystery Science Theater 3000. They are watching the movie for the first time and making fun of it as it goes on. It adds a completely separate yet equal level of hilarity to the proceedings.
For more on Paul Feig and his directing style, feminist tendencies, and love of Value Added Material, check out my interview with him right here.
Be honest: when you heard that Guillermo del Toro was making a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters, you got a little weak in the knees, didn’t you? How could you not!? Arguably the best cinematic fantasist of our time (with proper reverence to Peter Jackson, of course), tackling a genre of movie that rarely gets seen in this country, and certainly not outside of Anime. And, visually, it absolutely delivers on that promise and then some. del Toro has said himself in various places that this movie was an exercise in world building, making each object look like it belongs there and has been tread upon or lived in, despite almost everything being created inside a computer. The textures and materials all look real, even when they belong to a robot that couldn’t possibly have been constructed out of anything that exists on the planet Earth; certainly not several of them. Each monster is unique and yet of a piece, making us believe they must be from the same place and yet have been designed so completely differently. Just like the kaiju of Japanese films, the ones in Pacific Rim are formidable, terrifying, and beautiful all at the same time.
Just looking at it, it’s easily a successful film, and yet I can’t help thinking it might have gone TOO much into the world building and not enough into the storytelling. Something I noticed in the director’s earlier Hellboy movies comes very much into play here, which is that every object that is of use has a specific name and each of those names is spoken out loud, seemingly for no one’s benefit but the audience’s. In Hellboy, for instance, the titular character has a giant revolver that shoots bullets full of holy relics used to destroy the various demonic things. We find out, through a line of dialogue Hellboy says TO THE MONSTER that it’s called The Samaritan. Do we need to know it’s called that? This tendency is quadrupled in Pacific Rim. Each of the Jaegers, or giant robo-mechs humans created to fight the monsters, has a name. We’re told each of the Jaegers’ names, which we get to know for all of two minutes before (SPOILERS) several of them get destroyed. Even each of the kaiju has a name, despite the fact that they have literally just sprung out of the center of the Earth. Hell, there’s even a card at the beginning of the movie telling us what the words “Kaiju” and “Jaeger” mean. It’s as though everything’s been made over-complicated just so the world, which is already visually very distinct, can stand out as being on Earth but not our version of Earth. Really, it seems a bit like branding.
However, this is a nitpick by me. Pacific Rim is a wholly enjoyable experience with some excellent performances by Idris Elba, Charlie Day, and the incomparable Ron Perlman. Everything pops onscreen and the action is precisely what you want from a war between two sets of hulking, stories-tall combatants with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. If Guillermo del Toro’s selling, I’m buying.
The Blu-ray has a full hour of behind-the-scenes making-of material, much of which is very interesting and goes to show the director’s extreme attention to detail and getting each and every pixel exactly the way he wants it. There are also deleted scenes, trailers, and the Director’s Digital Notebook, which is an interactive trip through Guillermo del Toro’s own production journal with drawings and notes for everything. You can get lost in it, for sure. My personal favorite feature is the feature commentary with del Toro. It’s like sitting through a lecture on how to be an amazing filmmaker. He’s one of the most thoughtful movie-makers in the game and has a reason and a motive for everything. His commentaries, on all of his movies, are among the most informative and interesting that exist and this one’s no exception.
If you’d like to win a copy of this Blu-ray, and why wouldn’t you, click here to read how to enter.
(NOTE: Nerdist Industries is owned by Legendary Pictures, co-producer of the movie, but remains editorially independent.)
Syfy is known for producing two things: terrible, crappy films and interesting and engaging shows. If we have to suffer through various ‘nadoes or ‘topuses to get shows like Defiance, I think we can live with that. With Battlestar Galactica and Farscape, the network proved it could do futurist space opera that could rival (or better) the late-era Star Trek series. It’s good to see that people from both of those earlier shows are involved in Defiance, which shows us a mix of alien races forced to live on the remnants of Earth instead of in the distant galaxy. The town of Defiance (which used to be St. Louis, MO) is home to several different species, many of whom came to Earth in arks 33 years before the series proper began. Each has their own cultural identity and personality that have to learn to coexist if it’s going to work out.
At the center of the show we find Nolan (Grant Bowler), a former soldier-turned-scavenger-turned-lawkeeper, and his adopted alien daughter Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas), as they are forced to take up residence in Defiance after some bad luck, then some compassionate decisions. They find new mayor Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz) having a bit of trouble keeping the town’s two most powerful families, the mining-magnate human McCawley family and the brothel-owning Casithan family named Tarr, from killing each other, especially when their children want to get married. There is also a conspiracy about obliterating the town in search of some kind of special ore underground. What is it? Who’s behind it? Why do they want it? It’s part of the show’s mystery.
What I love most about this is that it’s essentially a Western made into a sci-fi show. It’s like Deadwoodin the future, with more action and less swearing. The effects are terrific, the performances are great, and if you were a fan of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as I was, this feels like a planet-based successor.
ALSO AVAILABLE IN FILMS
The Haunting - Robert Wise’s classic low-fi ghost movie is still as effective today as it was 50 years ago using nothing more than sounds and strategically-placed bendy-doors. It was remade in 1999 which is AWFUL. AVOID THAT ONE LIKE THE PLAGUE.
In the Mouth of Madness - John Carpenter’s final installment in his unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy has Sam Neill being terrorized by a Stephen King-like horror author (Jurgen Prochnow) who might well be one of the elder gods like in Lovecraft. It’s probably Carpenter’s last truly great movie.
Maniac – A pseudo-remake of the 1980 slasher sleazefest, this version has Elijah Wood picking off women in the night, though we see the whole thing from his POV and only see Wood’s face in mirrors and stuff. Like a more horrifying version of Peep Show.
Eyes Without a Face - A truly creepy French film from 1960 in which a surgeon kills young girls in a vain attempt to put their faces on his daughter, who lose hers in a car accident years ago. The repetitive calliope music is especially unnerving.
The Eagle Has Landed - John Sturges’ 1976 war picture has Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, and Donald Sutherland as Nazi spies attempting to infiltrate the British forces. They do a good job of it, turns out.
ALSO AVAILABLE IN TELEVISION
Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season Five – The final season of Cartoon Network’s CGI bridging between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, which is better than those two movies.
Vikings Season One – The History Channel produced a drama series about Vikings. This is the first season of that.