Pacific Rim Uprising (2018): The Great Old With the Bland New

I’m a fan of the “Pacific Rim” universe. I also think the last film was perfect for what it was, and didn’t need a sequel. Now that a sequel has been made… I enjoyed it. But, this is a very flawed film brought down by child actors that can’t act; contrasted with some beautiful action, expansion of the “Pacific Rim” universe in intriguing ways and solid leads. I wouldn’t call it good, but if you are looking for an escape, my thoughts are, it is worth checking out.

This was a film that had a lot of people involved in its creation, with Steven S. DeKnight directing the film and being one of the 4 writers. Guillermo del Toro and John Boyega were producers, along with 5 other people. On paper, this looks like a film designed by committee.

The story picks up 10 years after the end of the first film. Jake Pentecost (Stacker Pentecost’s son, played by John Boyega) is living as a scavenger until he is picked up, and forced back into being a Jaeger Ranger. He must train new recruits as the world prepares for the return of Kaiju. All is not as it appears to be, though, as a new drone program is implemented, and a mysterious Jaeger arrives. The new Jaeger starts attacking people rather than protecting them.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Universe – I love this universe. Since middle school I’ve been a fan of monsters and mechs. The world del Toro realized is so rich in character and mythology. The mythology this time around doesn’t disappoint. We get solid world building, as we learn more about the Kaiju, The Precursors, and how humanity has changed after the Battle of the Breach that ended the first film.

The Jaegers and Kaiju – The Jaegers and Kaiju look great, as always, and the introduction of drones, which are later shown to be Jaeger/Kaiju hybrids, are a treat that add a lot the action. These two things, along with del Toro, are what drew me to the first film, and it was the mechs and monsters that kept my interest through the times where this film fell short. As both their creative designs and action scenes brought to life the world when the characters weren’t up to it.

Jake Pentecost and Nate Lambert – The main character drama is between Jake Pentecost and Nate Lambert. Jake is the party boy who becomes responsible after facing his trauma. Nate is the one who has to trust Jake, once again, if they are going win. Boyega’s charisma continues to make his character intriguing, even if the script doesn’t always help. Nate Lambert is a battle hardened veteran who was shaped by the war in such a way, he has trouble connecting to people. It gives him a level of mystery, as if he is holding onto some past trauma, which gives him a way to relate to Jake. It is their core relationship that kept the film going for me, as each of them grew over the course of the film, and it was a genuine challenge for them learning to trust one another.

Newt and the Kaiju – The main antagonist is Newt, who is being controlled by The Precursors, that also control the Kaiju. We discover he kept the Kaiju brain at the end of the last film, and it has corrupted him. Charlie Day hams the hell out of it, and is enjoyable to watch in his madness. He nearly wins on multiple occasions, and I can’t wait to see where they take his story.

Dr. Hermann and Liwen Shao – The two support characters who really drive the story are Dr. Hermann (he was around in the first film too), and Liwen Shao, owner of the drone program. Together they are able to save the world from the Kaiju, as each of their skills complement the surviving Jaegers and help them defeat the Giant Kaiju in its final assault on Tokyo. Which felt like a brilliant salute to all the mech and monster films that made this genre possible.

The Cons:

The New Recruits – These kids can’t act. I didn’t care about their story, each line of dialogue felt forced, and fake. These kids made the film feel like an episode of Power Rangers. If I had to describe them…it’d be difficult. We are shown how each of them are (the nervous one, the angry one, the inventor), but there isn’t enough there for them to be compelling. They brought the film down, and even making one of them a main character, in the inventor Amara, wasn’t enough to make me care about their story. 

The Death of Mako Mori – Mako Mori deserved better. She is killed by a rogue Jaeger, and it ends up being anti-climatic. She already existed primarily to give us plot (a disservice to the character), and even her great scenes with Boyega can’t change the fact that her death wasn’t dying in a fight against the monsters…it was in a copter crash. She never got that “moment of awesome” Stacker got, and there was so much more development she could have received with the re-establishing her relationship with Jake. Besides the child actors this was the worst part of the film.

Love Interest Woman – There is a woman named Jewel. Both Jake and Nate have a crush on her. She is an object in a contrived love triangle object. I couldn’t tell you her personality, her aims, or what she wants. She exists purely as “love interest girl” and is the worst part of the script. She wasn’t needed.

In the end, what holds up this film and keeps it from sucking are: the old characters and those tied to the old characters from the first film, Newt and Hermann were wonderful, Pentecost and Lambert had a great relationship, and Liwen Shao (the new character) shakes the story up in ways that only enrich this universe. I loved her character arc, and hope that she is a major part if they make a third film. This is a film that largely exists because of success in the international box office, specifically China. In the end I’m glad it was made.

Final Score: 7.7 / 10

Ranma 1/2 Pilot – Season 1, Episode 1 – “Here’s Ranma” – Establishing the Relationships and the Crazy

Here's Ranma Ranma S 1 E 1

     “Ranma 1/2” is going to be insane, and I think I’m probably going to like it. The relationships are never what they seem and all the characters are unhinged and the relationships are complicated. It’s a nice change of pace from what I usually watch in regards to anime where there are usually clear antagonists. This was a show that quite a few friends recommended to me, so it feels good finally getting started on it.

     The episode involves Soun Tendo setting up his daughters so that one of them will be the fiance of the famous martial artist Renma. Instead of Renma showing up as himself a red haired woman arrives with a Panda. After chaos and hot water it is soon discovered the red haired woman is Renma and that she changes back into he when hot water is poured on her and cold is when the Panda turns back into his father Genma.

The Pros: Soun Tendo – He’s a well meaning father just trying to save his Dojo and I never felt he didn’t care about his daughters. He actually faints when the red haired girl says she’s Renma as he feels betrayed by Genma. In the end it is established and he’s cool with them and the only cool head in the room.

Genma – Genma is Renma’s dad and is violent but never in a harmful way. He’s playful with Renma and always pushing him to be better and is very much a child as he is constantly trolling him.

Akane – Akane is the youngest of Soun’s daughters and the one uninterested in having a relationship. She actually makes friends with Renma when Renma is a she but feels betrayed after the hot water turns Renma back and comes to hate him because of it. She is openly violent and knocks Renma out after Renma insults how she looks and that she looks better as a she than Akane.

Renma – Renma has a huge ego and most of his/her problems are on him/her. Renma is always fighting and trolling and like Akane doesn’t want to be in a relationship since he’s been in so many already that he just doesn’t care anymore. Renma does grow to at least have an inkling of something for Akane though, I think it’s cause Akane can fight and Renma respects that.

The Cons: The Other Daughters – Kasumi and Nabiki are ciphers and don’t really have any personality. I hope they are made to be distinct later, if not there isn’t any point to having them around in the show.

   This was a good start to the series. It establishes that it is a relationship show and that all the characters are crazy in different ways…creating conflict right out the door. I’m curious to see how the relationships develop though, especially between Akane and Renma and I really like how Renma is comfortable being both a man and a woman. It makes Renma a great character.

Final Score: 8 / 10. Solid start to the series.

To Live (1994): Living and Enduring the Revolution


To Live Poster
      We continue Revolution Week with “To Live” a film so controversial that it was banned in mainland China for it’s portrayal of the Cultural Revolution and the director Zhang Yimou was banned from making movies for 2 years. Stories that confront a narrative that people tell themselves, in any country usually cause controversy in one way or another. It is for this reason the dream of revolution is ongoing. There are so many ways all countries can grow in freedom and justice, and an important part of that is being honest about past mistakes. Back in college we read this book and I was a big fan of it as Chinese History and history as a whole has always been an interest of mine.

“To Live” was directed by Zhang Yimou, written by Lu Wei, and produced by Fu-Sheng Chiu, Funhong Kow and Christophe Tseng and based off the book of the same name written by Yu Hua.

The story follows Xu Fugui (Ge You) a spoiled man who gambles away all his money and home. After his wife Jiazhen (Gong Li) and daughter leave him and return he makes money using puppets that are loaned to him from the man who won his home. From earns money in this way until he is conscripted into the Nationalist Army and later Communist Army with his partner Chunsheng (Tao Guo) before returning once more to his family. From here the story unfolds as they live through the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

The Pros: The Setting – The setting is fascinating and one I studied during college. The story starts out in the 1940’s and we get to see what high society was like through Fugui and what it means to be poor too before the Revolution and Civil War and after as the next scenes are in the setting of the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. These are handled subtlety too as we see how it affects the common people through Fugui and his relationship to different characters.

The characters – Like the book, the film has a great array of characters who are compelling in how they are expressed.

Long’er – Long’er is the man who cons Fugui out of his home and all his money. He’s a greedy guy but not all bad as he helps Fugui get back on his feet and lends him the puppets he used to make his living before his gambling success. He dies when the Cultural Revolution happens as Fugui’s home makes him a rich landowner which at the time, is a dangerous class in society to be. Dahong Ni does a wonderful job in the role.

Chunsheng – Chunsheng is Fugui’s business partner with the puppets and is a jokester who loves cars. He ends up joining the Liberation Army after they are picked up and put on some shows and he is later made District Chief during the The Great Leap Forward and accidentally kills Fugui’s young son. He lives with the guilt for the rest of his life and we don’t know if he loses his life as he is targeted as a Capitalist in a government purging. Jiazhen does forgive him though which is at the end all he wants. “All debts repaid.” Tao Guo does a great job.

Jiazhen – Jiazhen is the one who keeps Fugui responsible as she doesn’t care about wealth, just about their family. She leaves him since he doesn’t stop gambling, but comes back when demonstrates that he has truly changed. She is kind and aware of those around her and ways Fugui is not. For example she knows t their son was sticking up for his sister when she was being bullied and even when she’s sick she is fully their for their grandson. Li Gong does an amazing job!

Xu Fugui – I like this character more in the film than in the book. In the film he has hope for the future that is slowly broken as the The Great Leap Forward leads to his son accidentally getting killed and the Cultural Revolution leading to the death of his daughter as all Doctors are enemies since they are academics and not working class. He just wants to live and he does that really well as before he was obsessed with pleasure and drink but in the end just wants to be with his family. You Ge is great at playing both the cocky youth and the wise old man.

Great Leap Forward – The Great Leap Forward is shown to be great in many ways, but also having a cost. The people came together and industrialization did happen, the downside is the steel was bad and some people were worked to exhaustion like Fugui’s son.

Cultural Revolution – Fugui has to destroy the shadow puppets because they represent the Imperial Past, the Red Guards have power and turn on the intellectuals and teachers and everyone is afraid that they could be next. Of course if you’re connected to the Red Guards like Fugui is when a Red Guard marries his daughter, you get taken care of.

The Message – The message ends in one of hope, when Fugui tells his grandson, “And things will get better.” This might be true but what we see is that change for the sake of change isn’t always good. As many people have to be in it and abandoning the past or the elders can lead to lack of Doctors and loss of art. We see this in the mourning of the puppets, in the loss of Fugui’s children and what Fugui watches around him as even loyal Party members are arrested or targeted like Chunsheng or the man in charge of their area. Some positive can and do happen, but healthy change involves awareness of what worked before and including everyone in the change.

Okay/Good: The Cinematography – The cinematography used a lot of red and had some great color contrasts and long shots, but other times felt like a television movie in how it softened the scenes. For this reason I can’t make it a complete pro, but consider but better than okay.

Okay: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack isn’t all that unique and feels generic overall. This is a shame since a good soundtrack would have made this movie great.

Jiazhen and Fugui’s Children – The children are child actors so they could have been played by anyone as I wouldn’t call their performances unique. Their daughter is mute so communicates largely through facial expressions and their son is rebellious and defensive of his sister, both are accurate to the books but I don’t really consider their individual performances all that memorable.

I personally liked the book more because there were more details and it in my opinion it painted a much fuller picture. This film is still really good though. There are character arcs, we see how China changes during the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution and how this affects the common people. We see how the radical change of Revolution so often comes with suppressing ideas and creating enemies so that the people will be focused on an outward problem rather than the internal problems of society and corruption around them and we see that most people just want to live. This is a great story about one family doing just that, living and enduring so much struggle and loss in a country that went through the same.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10.