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Movies: 'Pacific Rim,' 'Fruitvale' & 'Tornado Alley'

Published 4:13 pm, Friday, July 26, 2013

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  • The movie, "Pacific Rim," is now playing in area theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News contributed
    The movie, "Pacific Rim," is now playing in area theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:

"PACIFIC RIM"

When Mexican-born filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro ("Hellboy," "Pan's Labyrinth") tackles a high-tech giant-robots-vs.-giant-monsters, epic adventure with the tagline, "Go big or go extinct" you know the waves will be huge.

"To fight monsters ... We created monsters," the titles proclaim. Sci-fi action begins on K-Day, as legions of immense alien creatures, known as Kaiju, start rising from the Pacific Ocean, igniting a horrific war in which millions of lives were sacrificed and humanity's resources were drained for years.

To fight the relentless, oppressive behemoths, massive 25-story-tall robots, called Jaegers, have been deployed. Each individual Jaeger has its own distinctive design, ability and personality and is controlled by dual pilots whose minds are locked in a neural bridge (whatever that is). All seems lost until two unlikely and, unfortunately, rather uninteresting heroes -- former pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and untested trainee Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) -- team up to defend mankind, maneuvering a legendary but seemingly obsolete Jaeger.

Published by Legendary's comics branch, Travis Beacham ("Clash of the Titans") wrote a graphic prequel novel, "Pacific Rim: Tales from Year Zero," as a supplement explaining the entire back story.

Working from Beacham's script, Guillermo Del Toro has devised a unique mythology. His inspirational references include "The War of the Gargantuas," "Godzilla," "Transformers," Francisco Goya's painting "The Colossus" (depicting a terrifying giant towering over a valley), 1980s and '90s kids TV programs, Power Rangers video gaming and Japanese Mech culture.

In addition to Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi, veteran actors Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Robert Kazinsky and Ron Perlman lend support. But it's the awesome visual effects from Industrial Light & Magic that will appeal to the fanboys. In addition to the CGI, "Pacific Rim," which reportedly cost $150 million, used 101 sets, most built on nine stages at Pinewood Toronto, including two of the largest shooting stages in the world.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Pacific Rim" is a facile, fast-paced 5. Since everything becomes a franchise these days, Travis Beacham and Guillermo Del Toro are already working on a possible sequel.

"FRUITVALE"

Simply called "Fruitvale" when it won both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at Sundance earlier this year, this low-budget, documentary-like feature also impressed audiences at the Cannes Film Festival.

It's a true story about the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old African-American who was fatally shot in the San Francisco Bay area by a BART transit police officer in the early hours of New Year's Day 2009.

Unarmed, Grant was shot in the back while lying, handcuffed and prone on the floor of the Oakland's Fruitvale metro stop -- all filmed by dozens of cell phones. When the officer was charged with murder, his defense was that he mistook his gun for his taser. After a jury convicted him of involuntary manslaughter, protests and riots broke out.

In July 2012, shortly before 26-year-old writer/director Ryan Coogler began filming, Trayvon Martin, an African-American, was shot by a community watch member -- making the outrage of "Fruitvale Station" all the more relevant to Michael B. Jordan ("The Wire," "Friday Night Lights"), as Oscar Grant; Octavia Spencer (Oscar winner for "The Help"), as Oscar's mother, and Forest Whitaker, as producer.

Problem is: Coogler's device of compressing so much positivity about Grant, a convicted felon, into a short, foreboding time period. We see him dutifully obeying his mother's dictum that he use a hands-free device while driving AND coping with his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) AND refusing to sell drugs AND tending a stray dog that's been hit by a car AND helping a stranger (Ahna O'Reilly) choose which fish to fry by calling his grandmother (Marjorie Shears) from the market AND convincing a grocery store owner to reopen so two women can use the bathroom AND reassuring his 4-year-old daughter (Ariana Neal) about the sounds of gunfire, promising he'll take her to Chuck E. Cheese AND, finally, being goaded into fighting on the train by New Year's Eve revelers.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Fruitvale Station" is a significant 7. It's compelling and exasperating.

"TORNADO ALLEY"

"Hunting a tornado can feel like swimming with a shark in dark waters," narrator Bill Paxton ("Twister") dryly intones. "You know it's there. You just can't find it." This IMAX film follows researchers Joshua Wurman, Karen Kosiba and Don Burgess, along with a team of 100 research scientists and their fleet of vehicles mounted with Dopplar weather radars, collectively called VORTEX 2. Their field observations support their primary mission, which is to understand which supercell thunderstorms create tornados and why, and to plumb their "unseen architecture," thereby increasing warning times and saving lives.

They span a seven-state swath of the Midwest, known as "tornado alley," spawning three-fourths of the world's most violent tornados. Along with these serious scientists, there's also excitable Sean Casey of the Discovery Channel's "Storm Chasers," zipping around with a crew in a 14,000-pound armored Tornado Intercept Vehicle, equipped with a roof-mounted turret so his 70mm camera can get a 360-degree perspective. "It's coming right at us," he yells at one point. Sure, tornados are terrifying but they're also cloudy gray with muted colors, making them difficult to photograph effectively -- and, unfortunately, even IMAX immersion can't bring clarity to the footage.

While this film, along with many others, depicts storm-chasers as heroes, trying to help us to better understand these storms, several recent deaths are raising questions about their efficacy. In a USA Today story, law enforcement officers expressed the opinion that when adrenaline-propelled storm-chasers put themselves in harm's way, they make it harder for police, as the drivers often become part of the problem. Storm chasing is not something to be taken lightly. Sometimes they chase the tornado; other times, the tornado seems to be chasing them.

FYI: About 1,000 tornadoes hit the U.S. every year. They occur on every continent, except for Antarctica. And tornado warnings have a 13-minute average lead time and a 70 percent false alarm rate.

"Tornado Alley" is being screened daily at 2 and 5 p.m. through Aug. 31 at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Tornado Alley" blows in with a timely 6, depicting a perilous profession.