Reel Critics: 'Pacific Rim' pulpy but artful

Sci-fi action films don't get much more basic than Monsters vs. Robots. The genre was first seen in those cheesy Japanese B-movies that began with the Godzilla series in 1954. But make no mistake, "Pacific Rim" delivers a first-class special-effects extravaganza of this classic plot theme.

Giant creatures called Kaiju emerge from a fissure in the deep ocean to terrorize the coastal cities of the Pacific Ocean. The governments of the world combine forces to create giant robots to combat the monster menace. The robots are so large, it takes two pilots whose minds are connected by psychic power to control the great machines.

Guillermo del Toro directed and wrote the Oscar-winning 2006 fantasy masterpiece "Pan's Labyrinth." He also gave us the "Hellboy" movies that honed his action skills. In "Pacific Rim," he combines his abilities to deliver the chaos of high-tech combat along with subtle touches that create empathy.

To be sure, the plot is ridiculous. The mega-destruction of major cities goes on too long and too loud. But del Toro intersperses the fighting frenzy with enough quiet time to engage the audience and support the internal logic of the story.


'Way Back' worth the trip

"The Way Way Back" is a rare gem that has it all — great writing, sensitive direction and a sparkling ensemble cast. This is a movie to be enjoyed time and again, as evidenced by the applause at the end.

We see right away what 14-year-old Duncan is up against with Trent, his mom's new boyfriend (Steve Carell). With mom sleeping soundly in the car, Trent taunts the painfully shy kid by telling him he's on a scale of 1 to 10, he's only a 3. The hurt and anger in Duncan's eyes says it all.

Things get more awkward from there as they spend a "family vacation" at Trent's beach house. Trent's teenage daughter is a narcissistic brat, and the boozy neighbor (a hilarious Allison Janney) has a big mouth with no filter.

Duncan stumbles upon the Water Wizz water park and finds escape and a way back to his self-esteem thanks to Owen (amazing Sam Rockwell). For all his buffoonery, Owen has a knack for making people feel good about themselves. He gives Duncan a job and makes him part of a happy band of misfits (including the movie's Oscar-winning writer-directors, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash), so opposite of what he gets at home.

Toni Collette is great as Pam, Duncan's mother, who has as much insecurity and need for affection as her son. Carell is excellent at playing a total jerk instead of his usual nice guy.

Liam James' Duncan rings true and makes "The Way Way Back" so much more than just another teen movie. They're both smart, sensitive, goofy and just plain wonderful.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator. SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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