PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING. There are a number of substantial roadblocks to success in the path of this sequel.
"What might they be?" asked no one. Well:
The premise of the first movie (big monsters from another dimension fighting big robots from this one), wasn't exactly groundbreaking, a point I'm sure any student of mecha-anime and manga could/would elucidate far more cogently (and at greater length) than I. Though the plot of Pacific Rim wasn't really the thing. It was made remarkable mainly by the writing (with Travis Beacham) and direction of Guillermo del Toro, who everybody has lately figured out is something of a visionary and maybe a genius. Not only did he elevate Pacific Rim's potentially tired genre nonsense with style and craft, he gave it an air of darkness and foreboding, offset by a sense of true emotional investment: the stakes of the conflict felt significant and there was enough substance to the characters that we cared about them in the midst of all the spectacle. Chapter two finds Sr. del Toro conspicuously absent (well, he gets a producer credit but so do 13 other people) and that creates a set of quietly compounding secondary problems.
Where Beacham and del Toro cozily shared the writer's credit, there are now five (!) names on the line, as if a frenzied search was mounted to fill the creative vacuum. This results in a movie loaded with far too much plot (already something of a sticking point) straining against a diaphanous premise that has been reintroduced but not reinforced.
Gone too, is Idris Elba who, like del Toro, shone light where there might only have been darkness with his portrayal of Stacker Pentecost. (Even if one doesn't like the movie, one must admit that his "cancellin' the apocalypse" speech makes for rousing viewing/guilty pleasure/borderline erotica, a fact not lost on the basketball team of sequel writers.) In his stead, John Boyega — no slouch himself but charismatic in a funnier-leaning, less-Idris Elba way — playing Pentecost's rebellious, frustrated son Jake, butting heads with/fighting beside Nate Lambert, as played by Scott Eastwood, who has his own paternal shadow to shoulder and charmingly grimace his way out of.
Oh right, the plot of the thing: Years after the cessation of hostilities, the people of Earth are in a rebuilding period. The peace-time economy throbs with reconstruction, creating in its wake a nice little niche black market for resourceful bons vivants like the younger Pentecost and hacker adversary Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny). At least until the two of them run afoul of the powers that be and find themselves conscripted (or re-enlisted, in Jake's case) into the army, where they learn to drive gigantic rock 'em sock 'ems (Jaegers). Which would all just be fun and games, except for the emergence of a renegade Jaeger and the return of the extra-dimensional sea monsters (kaiju). There's a lot of business about drones and alternative fuel rockets and mind control — downtown Tokyo is as messy and in need of re-working as the storyline by the end.
While I find Uprising to be largely defined by what it is not, which in its way is exactly what it is, I should say that it does also offer entertainment and in no small measure. Co-writer/director Steven S. DeKnight arrives at his credits here by way of Buffy the Vamprie Slayer and Angel, so he's to be forgiven some of his excesses, couched as they are in comedy and the B-horror/action tradition. I enjoyed Pacific Rim: Uprising from front to back. There's no reason for me to think about it anymore and I likely won't tomorrow, but it was fun while it was on. PG13. 111m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
UNSANE. To butcher the words of the great wit, reports of Steven Soderbergh's retirement were an exaggeration.
He ostensibly hung up the viewfinder in 2013, having given us, in quick succession, Haywire, Magic Mike and Side Effects, each a distinct masterwork and example of the liberating possibilities available within genre cinema, at least to the patient and proficient. He went off to do some weird, innovative TV work and then unretired with Logan Lucky, a rousing Southern caper picture the apparent effortlessness of which could only be achieved through years of arduous practice. And now Unsane, the littlest, probably weirdest movie he's made in 20 years.
Sawyer Valenti (Claire Foy) would be the first to admit she's had her share of bad days; that's why she scheduled an appointment with a counselor at a treatment facility. When that initial consultation gets her committed against her will, though, one starts to question whether Sawyer's good days were happening in the real world. She's quickly caught up in a claustrophobic nightmare of psychoactive pharma, cries for help, insurance scams, terrible violence and the machinations of a sinister presence from her past. Maybe it could all be in her head.
Prior to this, I'd only seen Foy in Season of the Witch and Vampire Academy, two movies in a dead heat for the title of least likable and most forgettable, so I wasn't expecting much. But she gives a tremendous performance here, alternately drum-tight and unhinged, and often very funny. Which is also a way to sum up the movie in which she stars. It's inventively shot (supposedly all on iPhone) and edited, as per the Soderbergh usual, and does fresh, entertaining and (at least for the unprepared among the audience with which I saw it) occasionally shocking things with the formulae from which it is drawn. R. 97m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
—John J. Bennett
*Updated listings for the Minor and Miniplex theaters were not available at press time. For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
ACRIMONY. Taraji P. Henson stars as the wife of a cheating husband (Lyriq Bent) in a Tyler Perry movie without his name in the title. R. 120m. BROADWAY.
EASTER PARADE (1948). Judy Garland, Fred Astaire and some stunning bonnets in a singing and dancing Pygmalion. PG. 93m. BROADWAY.
GOD'S NOT DEAD: A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS. This preaching-to-the-choir sequel once again pits churchgoers against villainous university types and resurrects TV stars of yore like John Corbett. PG. 106m. BROADWAY.
READY PLAYER ONE. Steven Spielberg's sci-fi/dystopian adventure in which a virtual reality game/treasure hunt gets real. Starring Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke. PG13. 140m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE ANIMATION SHOW OF SHOWS. More than a dozen animated shorts from around the world. 92m. MINIPLEX.
BLACK PANTHER. One of the more interesting characters in the Marvel movie-verse in a big, exhilarating movie from director Ryan Coogler with a fine villainous turn by Michael B. Jordan, though some of its fascinating, nuanced story is lost in requisite superhero noise. PG13. 134m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
FACES PLACES. A road documentary in which director Agnes Varda and photographer and muralist JR bond as they schlepp a photo booth in a truck around France. PG. 89m. MINIPLEX.
A FANTASTIC WOMAN. A transgender woman (Daniela Vega) mourns the death of her lover (Francisco Reyes) and deals with his family, who'd prefer she go away. R. 104m. MINOR.
I CAN ONLY IMAGINE. This is based on the true backstory of a song about a young musician's (J. Michael Finley) troubled relationship with his father (Dennis Quaid) and now I don't know how people make movies anymore. Call your dad. PG. 110m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
MIDNIGHT SUN. Bella Thorne and Patrick Schwarzenegger star in a romantic drama about a teenage girl with a medical condition that keeps her completely out of the sun. Spoiler: It's not vampirism, so settle down Twilight fans. PG. 91m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST. Bible biopic starring Jim Caviezel and James Faulkner as the rehabbed persecutor known as "the cute one." PG13. 108m. BROADWAY.
PONYO. Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon and Tina Fey voice Hayao Miyazaki's animated take on Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid. It dunks on Disney. I will fight you. G. 141m. MINOR.
SHERLOCK GNOMES. Three guesses what this animated follow-up to Gnomeo and Juliet is about. With Emily Blunt, James McEvoy and best unseen Johnny Depp. PG. 86m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
TOMB RAIDER. Amazing an origin story/prequel to a middling action franchise based on a video game can still disappoint, but the interesting cast phones it in and much is lifted from Indiana Jones movies. Starring Alicia Vikander, Daniel Wu and Walton Goggins. PG13. 118m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
A WRINKLE IN TIME. Ava DuVernay's adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's fantasy novel about a girl's (Storm Reid) search for her father (Chris Pine) with the help of a mystical trio (Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling) lacks the narrative coherency and consistency of character needed to appeal to those who aren't already devoted fans. PG. 92m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
THE YOUNG KARL MARX. Biopic focusing on the ideological bromance between the manifesto writer and Friedrich Engels. With Vicky Krieps. R. 85m. MINIPLEX.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill