Personal Shopper(3/26/2017)


Throughout film history there are all sorts of movie that come to be seen as “companion films” whether the director intended them to be or not.  To cite a recent example, I have trouble thinking about Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan without relating it to his previous movie about performance based obsession The Wrestler.  That linkage was probably intention, but take another recent example in David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence and Eastern Promises.  Both are violent crime movies seemingly removed from the director’s horror roots and both star Viggo Mortenson, but are they really all that deeply linked beneath the surface?  Often these thematic companion films end up being parts of thematic trilogies like Fassbinder’s BRD Trilogy or Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy or Antonioni’s famed Alienation trilogy so it’s sometimes hard to tell if we simply need to wait and see what happens next when two films come back to back in a director’s filmography and seem like they’re each responses to the other.  I bring this up because the new film from Olivier Assayas, Personal Shopper, seems to share an awful lot with his last film Clouds of Sils Maria and yet there are also a lot of differences too.

The film follows Maureen (Kristen Stewart), a young American living alone in Paris where she acts as a personal shopper for celebrities.  For those not in the know, a personal shopper is someone who goes out to boutique stores on the behalf of the rich and/or famous and finds garments they believe would be to their client’s tastes and buy them on their behalf.  As the film begins Maureen is in mourning, she recently lost a twin brother who had a heart attack as a result of a rare heart condition, a condition that she also has.  She’s been told that it’s entirely possible to live to a ripe old age despite this condition but you can tell it’s still a specter that weighs on her. What also weighs on her is that she shared a very close bond with her brother to the point where she almost felt like she had a sixth sense about him and believes that if he wants to he can reach out to her from “beyond” and give her some sign.  That sign seems to come to her one day when she receives a text message on her phone from an unknown number and comes to believe that she is indeed communicating with someone from beyond the grave.

The film’s common bonds with Clouds of Sils Maria are pretty readily apparent.  Both films are predominantly English language (albeit decidedly European) productions starring Kristen Stewart as an American who’s in France to perform as a servant of sorts for a famous person.  Both films also employ some similar tricks in terms of film grammar as well but there are also very clear differences between the two films as well.  Clouds of Sils Maria had two main characters and was just as much Juliette Binoche’s film as it was Kristen Stewart’s.  Also Kristen Stewart’s character here is quite different from the one she played in the earlier film.  Both characters could be said to be “punks” of some variety but the attitude is very different.  In the earlier film she maybe had some sadness beneath the surface but was otherwise a pretty confident and talkative character but here she’s kind of an emotional mess and has a deep melancholic streak.  Also, while there was a certain magical realism at play in Clouds of Sils Maria (if that’s even an accurate term for it) there’s an overtly supernatural element to Personal Shopper.  The film should not be mistake for a true horror movie by any means but from the very beginning of the film it’s made pretty clear that there is a ghost in it and much of the film is all about how much Stewart wants to believe in this ghost and how she interprets it.

I don’t think I liked Personal Shopper as much as I liked Clouds of Sils Maria but it does have a lot going for it.  Stewart is quite good in the film even if the role seems like less of a stretch for her than her previous role in an Assayas film.  The film also manages to find some excitement in some interesting ways.  Like, an awful lot of this movie actually involves watching someone type and receive text messages, which would seem to be a difficult thing to make cinematic but Assayas does somehow manage to pull it off.   The movie certainly establishes a palpable mood of melancholia but beyond that I’m not sure I ever really truly connected with the character at its center and found its occasional jaunts into the overtly supernatural to be a bit clumsy.  Clouds of Sils Maria was a movie I’d probably recommend to pretty much any cinema literate person but this one is a little bit iffier.  I’d probably still recommend it but I’d recommend Clouds of Sils Maria first and if that leaves you wanting more than definitely give Personal Shopper a shot too, but there’s a reason why I’ve hardly been able to write a sentence about the movie without mentioning the previous movie.





If there’s one thing I don’t miss about school it’s that queasy feeling you get when you come to class without having done the required reading.  Even worse is when you try to do the reading by skimming the chapter at the last minute, possibly on the bus ride on your way, and kind of hope that you can fake it.  The only thing that gives me that feeling today is when a seemingly important movie opens up and I don’t feel prepared to address it because I slept on the director’s previous work.  That recently happened to me when director Christian Petzold’s Phoenix opened up and I immediately regretted that weekend in early 2013 when I decided to blow off the chance I had to see his international breakthrough Barbara as well as the many chances I to watch it on Netflix in the two ensuing years.  So, I ended up literally watching Barbra the day before I saw Phoenix, which wouldn’t be a problem for a normal person, but I generally try to space out my viewing of movies that have common link to let them stew in my head.  It was kind of weird seeing the two movies back to back and I want to say from the outset that I really liked Barbra and that Phoenix might have suffered a little bit in comparison.

The film is set in Berlin during the immediate aftermath of World War II and concerns itself with a Jewish woman named Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss) who was a somewhat prominent nightclub singer before the war but was eventually sent to the concentration camps.  She survived the Holocaust, but her face was disfigured over the course of her time there.  She’s smuggled back into Berlin by her friend Lena (Nina Kunzendorf) and gets a cosmetic surgery in an attempt to look as much like her old self as possible but her psychological scars run deeper.  She wants to find her husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld) but doesn’t know where to look and Lena strongly suggests that she doesn’t even try given that Johnny is something of a rake and he may even have played some role in the Nazi’s discovering her location.  She is persistent though and eventually finds Johnny, but he still believes she’s dead and assumes that this woman (who looks just a little different because of the surgery) is simply someone who looks a lot like her and Nelly opts not to come out with the truth right away.  Soon Johnny enlists Nelly to “pretend” to be his wife so that he can retrieve her money (which would otherwise be inaccessible to him).

Petzold’s last film, Barbara, was a quietly tense movie about a doctor attempting to defect from East Germany to West Germany in the early 1980s and the various quiet indignities involved in life on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.  I found that film’s ending to be a bit underwhelming, but otherwise it was a very strong piece of realist cinema with a strong minimalist style.  The main connection I see between that film and this new one is that both films are trying to take a slightly unconventional approach into recent German history.  This particular film is of course all about national guilt related to the Nazi era but also about how Germany should be viewed from the Jewish perspective in the wake of the Holocaust.  One can perhaps view Nelly as a stand-in for all German Jews and Johnny as a stand-in of sorts for the Germans.  Johnny liked Nelly during good times and benefited from her skills as a singer and then betrayed her in bad times, much as Germany benefited from Jews during boom times only to turn on them.  The question then is how Nelly should respond to that.  In essence she is like an abuse victim, one who still frustratingly pines for her abuser even when everyone around her (in this case Lena) says he’s no good for her.  So is the movie suggesting that Jews should never forgive Germany?  I don’t know about that.  That nihilism would seem to clash with what we know about the actual post-war Germany, which as far as I can tell is about as contrite as any nation could possibly be.  What’s more, the movie doesn’t seem to view Lena’s brand of unforgiving tough love as being any more healthy for anyone involved than Nelly’s rush to reunite with her traitorous husband.

So there are definitely some interesting thematic things going on in the film but I do think it falters a bit on certain levels of execution that preclude it from greatness.  For one, and I know this is shallow, but the movie’s production values seemed a bit lacking to me.  I realize that there’s only ever going to be so much money involved in German movies about national guilt, but it’s still a problem that the locales here didn’t really seem appropriately bombed out and you could definitely see where certain compromises were made to accommodate budget limitations.  More importantly I kind of feel like Petzold’s realist style clashed a bit with the film’s trappings.  Movies about German cabaret lounge singers almost invite a certain tragic romanticism, especially when they contain certain melodramatic elements like the Vertigo invoking high concept here and Petzold never quite knows whether to indulge in this or fight it.  I’m also going to say that Nina Hoss’ performance never quite seemed to work for me.  She comes of more confused than tortured and just never quite connected.

One other thought I had while watching the movie is that it is perhaps told from the wrong perspective.  Imagine another version of the movie that’s told instead from the perspective of the husband rather than the returning wife.  I feel like that set-up would have added a dimension of mystery that would have helped out this film’s tonal issues a lot even if it would have made the comparisons to Vertigo even more inevitable.  Of course the perspective they did choose probably played into the film’s themes a little better and also has the obvious benefit of not forcing the audience to empathize with an unrepentant asshole, so maybe they made the right choice there.  Either way something seems to be missing here.  Make no mistake, this is a really good film.  There are some really good ideas in it and some very effective scenes but it never quite manages to be that homerun it could have been.

***1/2 out of Four

Palo Alto(5/24/2014)


Sometimes seeking out independent cinema feels like an exciting journey into the best work that cinema has to offer, but other times it almost kind of feels like you’re scouting the AAA minor leagues for a strong prospect.  That’s certainly how I felt when I walked into the film Palo Alto, which focuses on what is probably my least favorite subject in indie cinema: bored aimless suburban teenagers.  In fact, the coming of age genre itself has been something of a plague as of late, which is why I didn’t even bother to see such films as The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Way Way Back, The Spectacular Now, and The Kings of Summer.  Still, I was interested in seeing Palo Alto in part because it didn’t look as navel-gazingly autobiographical as some of the above films, but mainly because I wanted to check out a promising young director: Gia Coppola.  Daughter of the late Gian-Carlo Coppola, niece of Sofia and Roman Coppola, and grand-daughter of the great Francis Ford Coppola, Gia is quite literally of a promising pedigree.  Of course I’m no believer in genetic predestination or nepotism, but you ignore the future of the Coppola clan at your own peril.

Based on a short story collection written by James Franco (yes, that James Franco), Palo Alto looks at a group of teenagers who are adrift in the titular San Francisco suburb.  The primary characters are probably April (Emma Roberts) and Teddy (Jack Kilmer).  Teddy is, at his core, a fairly sensitive person with art skills but he also lacks a personal identity and often unthinkingly allows his obnoxious friend Fred (Nat Wolff) influence him to do stupid and self-destructive things.  April is also an inwardly smart and athletic young person, but not an overly adventurous person and she hasn’t necessarily formed an identity within her school.  This puts her in a somewhat vulnerable position when her soccer coach (James Franco) starts to make inappropriate advances towards her.

So, what we have here is a movie about peer pressure, inappropriate teacher-student relations, and generally about suburban malaise.  If these are new issues to you, you haven’t been paying much attention.  These were already clichés when they became mainstays on teen soap operas in the 90s and they were certainly clichés by the time they showed up in this movie.  As such the challenge anyone accepts when trying to make a movie about this kind of stuff is to find some kind of original take on it that makes their film stand out in some way shape or form.  Does Gia Coppola do this?  Not exactly.  She certainly handles the issues with more care and realism than, say, “Dawson’s Creek” but it’s hardly the first film to do this and it probably won’t be the last.  Still it does deserve some credit for navigating these waters rather deftly.  The depiction does seem to be pretty realistic and nuanced and the film does successfully avoid most of the dated “jocks vs. nerds” stereotypes that less carefully high school movies tend to fall prey to.

The film is also elevated somewhat by a number of strong performances by heretofore mostly unknown young actors.  The film is especially a good showcase for Emma Roberts (niece of Julia Roberts), who’s apparently been doing the child-actor thing for years but who’s just breaking into films this year.  She’s a little bit older than some of her co-stars, but you wouldn’t really know it from watching the film.  I was also impressed by Nat Wolff, who has to play a really unsympathetic asshole of a character and mostly manages to pull it off in a believable way that doesn’t go too far over the top.  I was a little less impressed with Jack Kilmer (son of Val Kilmer), who has something of a blank expression on his face for much of the film, but he has his moments and doesn’t detract too much from the film.

So, I guess that brings me back to the question that drew me into the movie in the first place: does Gia Coppola have the chops to carry on the family name?  The answer to that is… probably.  Her interests certainly seem to be much more in line with her aunt than with her grandfather, but she demonstrates a grasp of tone that in some ways seems a lot stronger to me than what I’ve seen out of Sofia.  She manages to give the whole film a very appropriate “morning after the party” tone, and she rarely makes any overly jarring mistakes.  She also probably deserves a decent amount of the credit for having gotten as many good performances out of young actors as she did.  So, yeah, I do want to see what she does in the future even if this particular movie isn’t really for me.  Hopefully with this under her belt she’ll find better uses for her talents than an adaptation of one of James Franco’s stupid vanity projects.

*** out of Four



Every year I try pretty hard to see all the movies that are likely to be Best Picture nominees before the nominations are announced.  I don’t do this just to have bragging rights; I do it because I know that more often than not my knowledge that something is an Oscar nominee will have an effect on how I watch the film.  Specifically I want to avoid situations like what happened in 2008 where I had to go see The Reader half out of obligation and spent the whole movie thinking “why the hell did this thing take up the nomination slot that The Dark Knight, The Wrestler, or Rachel Getting Married should have taken.”  It wasn’t an overly fair mindset approach that film with and while I did ultimately give it a marginally positive review I still wonder if I would have liked it a lot better under different circumstances.  Well, history has repeated itself and a film that I had dismissed as minor has once again gotten a surprise nomination that I went to with complete skepticism.  This time around that film is a low-key British drama called Philomena.

The film’s basic set up is oddly similar to, of all things, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Both films are about disgraced professionals who, out of desperation, decide to conduct journalistic investigations that they weren’t otherwise interested in only to discover that the case they’ve stumbled upon is far more interesting than they would have otherwise suspected.  The similarities end there I suppose because rather than stumbling upon a sordid series of murders and disappearances the reluctant hero here, a former journalist turned former politician turned journalist again named Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), runs into an old Irish woman looking for her long lost son.  That woman is the title character, Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), who was forced to give her child up for adoption at one of the Magdalene Asylums back when the Catholic Church more or less ran things in Ireland.  These were institutions where unmarried pregnant women were sent, forced to work for four years in order to pay for the expense, and then forced to give up their child, all while being treated like crap by the holier than thou nuns running the places.  Thinking that this has the makings of a good article, Sixsmith offers to help track down Philomena’s son, who would be in his fifties at this point.  This trail eventually leads them to the United States where these two rather different people must track down this missing son together.

The character of Martin Sixsmith is obviously meant to be an audience surrogate, and he’s a better one than most.  Usually characters like these just sort of exist to be sort of a blank slate, but Sixsmith bucks this trend by being a skeptical snob who thinks he’s above the film that he’s in the middle of in.  People like me, who go into the films expecting it to be a hallmark card masquerading as Oscar-bait, will instantly relate to him.  When Sixsmith first hears about Philomena’s case he says it sounds like a human interest story, a form of journalism he (accurately) claims is “a euphemism for stories about vulnerable, weak-minded, ignorant, people to fill up the pages of newspapers read by vulnerable, weak-minded, ignorant people.”  In doing so he establishes the central question at the center of the film: “is Philomena Lee’s story really important in the grand scheme of things or is it just being told to make its audience feel good about the fact that they’re collectively making the poor old woman at its center queen for the day?”  Bu the end of the film, Sixsmith certainly comes to think it’s the former.  I’m not so sure about that, but I do admire that this is a film that at least bothers to ask the question in the first place.

Philomena herself couldn’t be more different from Sixsmith.    She’s a soft spoken though not overly somber person who isn’t overly cultured, but who does have the capacity to surprise the audience at times.  Needless to say her personality grates on Sixsmith at times and Sixsmith’s occasional rudeness is sometimes off-putting to Lee.  So, in many ways this is a traditional example of a movie where two people come to respect one-another over the course of a road trip.  The specific personalities here are somewhat different from the norm though, so it mostly works.  When the film ended I was ultimately a lot more enticed by the two characters than I was by this particular story of injustice.  At the end of the day, I pretty much do regard this film with about the same amount of respect that I regard a “human interest story,” which is to say I see it, it makes me go “hmmmm,” and then I never think about it again.

*** out of Four



What is it about Boston and its surrounding areas that makes people want to set movies there all of a sudden?  Between The Departed, The Fighter, The Boondock Saints, Killing Them Softly, Shutter Island, The Town and a handful of other films, it seems that Boston has become cinematic shorthand for “blue-collar, but serious.”  Looked at with a particularly cynical eye one could say that Hollywood’s screenwriters have used the commonwealth of Massachusetts so that they can add a layer of vague Catholic guilt twaddle as a means to lazily give whatever crime film they’ve written an unearned aura of profundity.  That’s not to say that I personally think that’s really happening with many of the above-mentioned films, but I must say I’m getting a little skeptical when I see a film like Prisoners which is set in a Boston suburb called Brockton and which has a kidnapping plot which immediately invites comparisons to two of the most famous Boston films of recent memory: Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone.

The children abducted in this film are the daughters of Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard), two friends and neighbors whose home lives are thrown into disarray the night their daughters mysteriously disappear together.  The police investigation, led by a man named Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), initially focuses in on a man who was near the scene named Alex Jones (Paul Dano) but he is soon dismissed as a suspect based on the fact that his mental deficiencies make it nearly impossible for him to have accomplished such a kidnapping without leaving obvious clues.  Keller Dover does not accept this reasoning and has already made up his mind that Jones is the kidnapper, a conclusion that’s backed up in his mind by a handful of seemingly suspicious statements that Jones seems to make in Dover’s presence.  Holding firm to the notion that Jones knows where his daughter is, Dover kidnaps Jones, locks him up in an abandoned building and begins to torture him and resolves that he won’t stop until his child is found.

Given the decade we just lived through, a torture storyline in a film immediately takes on a lot of baggage even if it’s in a context that’s removed from a national security context.  I don’t think the torture here is meant to be an exact allegory to what was going on in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, but they do elicit certain questions about the morality involved in harming people simply because one believes they’re saving a family member.  Dover’s actions seem completely irrational, everyone watching the movie can tell from the word go that Jones is innocent and also severely retarded.  Even it were reasonable to think he was guilty, it should have been clear very early into Dover’s torture sessions that no amount of beating, cutting, scaring, imprisoning, or scalding is going work in getting him to speak… and yet Dover keeps on doing it.

To the film’s credit, this does seem somewhat consistent with Dover’s character.  He is, to put it mildly, a violent and impulsive man.  Hugh Jackman makes this very clear via a shouty and borderline overblown performance (a performance that employ’s a somewhat questionable American accent BTW).  It’s partly because he’s a violent man that he can’t seem to come up with a more peaceful and potentially more effective solution to his dilemma but there’s also a degree of abuse involved.  He’s frustrated by the situation and cannot bring himself to just sit back and let the police work things out, so he’s letting out his anger on a retarded guy who’s said to have the mental capacity of a ten year old.  The film never provides the audience with a scene where Dover gets told “we’re not so different you and I” by the real bad guy, but it might as well have.

The morality of the torture scenario is at the heart of Prisoners but its fatal flaw is that screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski doesn’t seem to know this.  Instead his screenplay treats the torture material as a sort of largeish sub-plot in the middle of a relatively silly and unrealistic mystery plot.  The film’s third act in particular is bogged down in mystery novel hokum, and the morality scenario is more or less abandoned.  That’s not to say that the mystery plotline is completely uninteresting, in fact I may well have enjoyed it in a different context, but when you start trading in the kind of graphic and serious imagery that’s in the torture plotline, it’s a lot harder to be interested in serial killers who keep rattlesnakes in suitcases.

Prisoners is basically a film that has a strong veneer of respectability that makes you want to take notice of it.  It’s got some really good Roger Deakins cinematography, its cast looks really good on paper, and director Denis Villeneuve does have some eye for what he’s doing.  In fact, almost every scene of the film is pretty good when looked at in isolation, but when taken as a whole I think this project is just really misguided.  It never decides whether it wants to be a morality plat or a pot-boiler and ends up failing at being both.  I’m left with a renewed respect for Mystic River, a film which managed to give its audience both a more believable mystery and also a moral exploration that never has to go to the vulgar extremes that Prisoners trades in.

**1/2 out of Four

Pacific Rim(7/15/2013)


Guillermo del Toro seems like an incredibly cool guy.  He’s great at reaching out to fans, he’s recorded some of the most entertaining DVD audio commentaries on the market, and he’s also proven to have some legitimate art house credentials when he needs to.  His problem is that he seems to sometimes get a little carried away with his exuberance and spreads himself a little thin across a whole bunch of projects that he never actually ends up making.  I mean, right now IMDB lists him as a producer, writer, and/or director on five different projects in pre-production including a re-telling of Pinocchio and a TV pilot called “The Strain” (which is based on a series of books which he co-authored).  He’s also announced all sorts of other projects like adaptations of “At the Mountains of Madness,” “Slaughterhouse Five,” “Frankenstein,” and “Beauty and the Beast” just to name a few, and we haven’t even gotten into his ill-fated gig as the director of “The Hobbit” before Peter Jackson took over.  All this from someone who hadn’t actually succeeded at getting a film made since 2008.  At long last del Toro has finally gotten one of his many projects out of his mind and into the real world: a neo-Kaiju film called Pacific Rim.

“Kaiju” is a Japanese word which means “strange creature.”  It’s also the name of a film genre which consists of giant monsters fighting one another; the most famous example is of course the Godzilla franchise.  In the world of Pacific Rim the word “Kaiju” has been re-appropriated to refer to a series of actual giant monsters that have been emerging from a portal deep in the Pacific Ocean to attack various coastal cities around the world.  Earth has responded to this however by developing a line of giant robots called Jaegers that can measure up to these monsters pound for pound and defeat them before they can cause too much damage.  However, there are drawbacks to the Jaeger program: each robot requires two co-pilots in order to withstand the burden of their psychological control systems, additionally the Kaiju coming out of the poral have gotten increasingly large and are beginning to outgun what these robots are capable.

As such, the film’s main story begins years after earth has de-funded the Jaeger program in favor of giant concrete coastal wall… because that’s a perfectly logical response to protect people from monsters that can apparently tear through entire cities without too much trouble.  When this wall proves as ineffective as you’d think it would, it’s decided to bring the Jaegers back before it’s too late.  As such they decide to bring back a veteran Jaeger pilot named Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), who hasn’t gone “behind the wheel” of a Jaeger since his brother was killed in a previous Kaiju encounter.  Still the man in charge of the project, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), believes in him and knows that he’s familiar with the technology aboard one of the last remaining Jaegers.  Still, he’s going to have to find a co-pilot fast and get ready, because if Earth can’t find a way to close the portal soon they could become overrun with monsters before they know it.

Sometimes I wonder if we put too much faith in directors, especially when they seem to be really passionate about a given project and that project isn’t a sequel or an adaptation of some best-selling book or something.  There’s very little about Pacific Rim that, on its surface, would have me all that interested in it.  If they’d released the same trailer but replaced Del Toro’s name with the name of the dude who directed Real Steel and I wouldn’t have been remotely interested.  But with Del Toro’s name it was one of my most anticipated films of the year, and after seeing it I have pretty mixed feelings about it.

On of the things that made the film seem so cool on the surface was its cool cast of trendy names like Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, and Ron Perlman.  However, it feels like Del Toro had to make a deal with the devil (and by “devil” I mean the studio) to get all these hip names because at the film’s center is a nobody named Charlie Hunnam, a hero who’s so bland and white that he makes Ryan Reynolds look like Samuel L. Jackson.  Maybe it’s not fair to take this out on Hunnam, because all that blandness seems pretty inherent to the boring character he’s being asked to play.  He’s basically just a less developed and less cool take on the Tom Cruise character from Top Gun and his character arc was just cliché and uninteresting.

Truth be told, the human story here in general isn’t really the best.  I kind of get the feeling that Del Toro started out with a list of elements he wanted like giant monsters, giant robots, Ron Perlman, exotic locations, and Lovecraftian alternate universes and then contrived a plot to fit them all in to this self indulgent hash of a movie.  It’s also got some dialogue that’s kind of cheesy, perhaps as an intentional nod to old school flyboy movies, but it’s cheesy nonetheless.  Still, there’s kind of a dumb charm to it all.  This is being described as a neo-Kaiju movie, but it reminded me of the even nerdier Japanese genre: anime.  It’s got an interesting world and I kind of wish that Del Toro had found a different format to display it than this sort of mediocre flyboy-movie tribute; perhaps a TV series or a videogame or something that would have allowed more of a macro view of this war against the kaiju.

Speaking of video games, if you thought Man of Steel’s action scenes were long, over-the-top, destructive, and CGI heavy this is not the movie for you.  The film is all about big fights between CGI creatures, and while there are theoretically real live people inside of the jaegers, that isn’t always readily apparent.  Still, these scenes are at least kind of different from the usual action scenes we see in Hollywood films, so there is value to them.  They weren’t transcendently awesome or anything, but they were fun.  In fact that could be said about the whole film.  I’d say that this probably stacks up about on par with some of Del Toro’s earlier forays into commercial filmmaking like the first Hellboy or Blade II.  If he hadn’t gone on to make more respectable movies like Pan’s Labyrinth I kind of suspect that this would have been something more like a pleasant surprise than the semi-disappointment that it is.

*** out of Four