Film: Pacific Rim , Blue Jasmine and Oscar Category Notes

Walking through Times Square in the kind, mellow rain after what I'm guessing will be Oscar-nominated films, reminded me of why I love my hometown so much. Reviews of Blue Jasmine are embargoed, so here's one review, and two Oscar guesses.

Of course, Oscar predictions are a silly (though sadly, because of the dough-re-mi, actually very serious) business. Thankfully, unlike the tyranny of public opinion polls, they don't become self-fulfilling prophecies nearly as easily, and this is a good thing for pop-culture cinema, though sad for politics and civic participation. Simply put, if only public opinion regarding matters of politics and civics were as un-malleable as public opinions on films; perhaps when the stakes become as high as the cost of a movie ticket.

All the panning critics in the world aren't going to sway audiences' appreciation of Man of Steel, and that's a good thing. I really liked Man of Steel, and while I thought -- keeping in mind that the semiotics of blockbuster action heroes and villains are often America's chief diplomatic export -- Man of Steel's semiotics weren't quite as deep as the Iron Man trilogy's (whose villains are also significant), I thought the non-pandering plasticity of, well, Superman's relatability made the film rather special. Where Tony Stark in Iron Man 3 represents a kinder gentler, humbled American exceptionalism moved to the point of inclusion (see the scene with multiple characters suited-up), Man of Steel offers us a classic, universal misfit, an adopted cosmic orphan who painfully discovers his own sense of purpose. It's been a great year for sci-fi-slash-action-adventure films.

Pacific Rim offers perhaps less in character relatability (from which the film's, well awesomeness, suffers none) and it delivers infinitely more in vicarious, high-adventure, which is what sci-fi-slash-action-adventure films do best. Which is not to say that this film doesn't perhaps have its own semiotics: perhaps its title, the several Australian accents and a key Japanese ally seem to relate to our country's present strategic strengthening of alliances with same, as a bulwark against a rising China. I would love to see the Chinese-language release of Iron Man 3, for which extra parts were written in to incorporate Chinese actors.

I was troubled by Pacific Rim's world-saving, nuclear-fueled war-machine, and the line (which, in the real world, actually answers its own question) "What could hurt us, we're a walking nuclear reactor?" delivered by an American to his Japanese ally, who flashes back to when she was a child, huddling in a devastated Japanese city (and is rescued by an American). This is especially troubling during a week when record radiation levels have been detected in groundwater near the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan. Of course, the bloody nose of a hero exposed to radiation reminds one (rather anemically) of the risks, though in-film they seem more like acceptable sacrifices rather than cine-poetic harbingers of the potentially disastrous planetary events we could face (see Kurosawa's Dreams).

Semiotics aside, Pacific Rim delivered what is simply the most awesome sci-fi-slash-action-adventure experience on the screen this year (and a chunk of this decade, actually), and it will likely win an Oscar for (at least) either visual effects or special effects, and has me convinced that Robert Downey, Jr. was right when he declared at the Academy Awards that action-adventure films are deserving of recognition. Perhaps we should create a "Best Action-Adventure Film" category. This would respect the voting-with-their-ticket-purchases audiences -- and perhaps help usher in a much-needed new age of science interest and education, not so that we could blindly follow what we presume to be progress, but instead so that we might actually harness technology, and bring it into accord with nature.

I also wonder what things would be like if we eliminated the genre divisions of the "Best Actor" category. We don't designate "Best Female Director"; "Best Male Director", and I think the unisex "Best Actor" category could lead to a fascinating change in how Hollywood reflects -- and affects -- society, gender division. And perhaps, by way of reviving a few actors' careers and an emphasis on, uhm, character-driven writing, there might be a category for "Best Ensemble Acting", though, what do I know?

On the subject of box-office, I'm guessing Pacific Rim will earn as much as Man of Steel or Iron Man 3. If The Grreat Gatsby (which I hated) created a kind of populist Matthew Barney-effect (not really as good as the hype, yet still something people wanted to be a part of, invited to, like the attendees at Gatsby's parties) Pacific Rim quite simply has one walking out of the theater knowing that for the first time in a very long time, a movie was well, well, worth the ridiculous prices theaters charge these days. I may have disagreed with the late Ed Koch about graffiti penalties (he was simply wrong) but I will always admire how he joined fellow New Yorkers in righteous protestation of rising movie-ticket prices.

So how do I describe Pacific Rim? "Describe" is the operative term here. The first thing I said to my best friend post-screening was that it reminded me of college, when me and a few friends would put on lacrosse helmets and slap-box, smacking each other upside the head, protected from brain damage (or so we thought) amidst the head-banging, sporting catharsis of giving as good as you got.

Although I laughed during the scenes when the script was supposed to make one cry or anxious to see if the hero was dead or just shaken, and when the gauges on the control panels read that the system simply wouldn't hold out much longer, there is a plot: uber-dinosaurs have been hibernating deep within our earth for eons, awaiting biologically favorable conditions, which, due to planetary neglect, have emerged. Mankind, facing annihilation, creates towering rock-em-sock-ems (basically Iron Man wrapped in Matrix Revolutions armor) to engage in mortal combat; boy meets girl, they (literally) spar, become combat partners, and save the world.

Suffice to say again, one of the best things one can say about any film: Pacific Rim is well worth every hard-earned, increasingly scarce dollar.

Blue Jasmine

Since reviews of Woody Allen's new film are embargoed until 7/22, I'll simply note that Cate Blanchett "DuBois" will likely get an Oscar nomination, and Woody Allen will likely get a writer and/or director nomination.

I perhaps unfairly consider new work by great filmmakers in relation to the high standards they've set for themselves, and so it is that I've hated most of Woody Allen's recent output. I'm glad he's returned to us, from Italy, England, whatever, and he should make a purely New York film again, one with all kinds of New Yorkers. We could really use one.