10/15/13: Pacific Rim, Herman's House, The Heat, Ghost Team One, League of Super Evil

Pacific Rim (PG-13, 2013, Warner Bros.)
“Pacific Rim” has Godzilla-sized monsters and Megalon-sized mechs, and perhaps monsters and mechs are all it needed to reign supreme over this year’s weak field of summertime movies. But the monsters aren’t simply monsters: They’re Kaiju, and they’re complicated biological creatures with their own logic and lore. Nor are the mechs just mechs, but Jaegers operated by two human pilots whose thoughts and memories meld in the service of wielding their massive vessel’s single mind. On both sides and in between, in terms of the big species picture, the individuals who comprise it and the wild future Earth on which they do battle, the mythos runs exponentially deeper than a monster-versus-mech movie is obligated to go. Pretty much every facet of “Rim” follows in kind, too. That mythology produces some terrifically entertaining characters in place of the generic archetypes who could have steered this thing, and the versatility of those characters provides “Rim” with occasion to be funny and sweet in addition to action-packed. Lest there be any confusion, “Rim” IS action-packed, and that action looks as awesome as a big-budget 2013 movie about monsters and mechs fighting on land and at sea should look. That, of course, remains the top priority. But the kudos cup runneth over for that rare action movie that does so much so well that action feels like an ingredient instead of the whole recipe, and kudos to “Rim” for showing its mostly moody, bloated summer 2013 contemporaries how it’s done. Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba, Charlie Day and Ron Perlman, among others, comprise a stellar ensemble cast.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes, 14 behind-the-scenes features, director’s notebook, bloopers.

Herman’s House (NR, 2012, First Run Features)
In the land of messy documentaries that kneel at the mercy of forces beyond their control, “Herman’s House” is, if not king, somewhere nearby in the throne room. “House” unofficially begins in 1972, when prisoner Herman Wallace, convicted on questionable grounds of murdering a correctional officer he says he did not kill, is moved to solitary confinement. That’s where Wallace remained, 31 years later, when artist Jackie Sumell discovered his story, befriended him and conceived an art installation that incorporated both the design of his dream house and a facsimile of the tiny, windowless room in which he’d spent nearly every hour of his life since being convicted. The success of the installation, along with mounting pressure to reopen Wallace’s case, led to a wild plan to turn concept into reality and build the dream house for real in the event Wallace is exonerated, and it’s in the eye of that endeavor where “House” largely takes place. And what a storm it finds itself in, too. “House’s” setup has everything it needs to check every box on the “triumph of the human spirit” checklist, and in an alternate universe, a glossier movie may have run down that list and left it at that. Here, by contrast, is a reminder that stuff like this takes work, that work isn’t glamorous, nothing’s as easy as it should be, setbacks are inevitable, success is not no matter how pure the intention, intentions aren’t always pure anyway, and even if you do everything the right way and don’t have people pulling the rope in different directions every step of the way, there remain things that lie completely and thoroughly beyond your control, and those things almost certainly aren’t all going to go your way. How’s that for a checklist? “House” does a nice job of getting us personally acquainted with both prisoner and artist on their terms and through their words, but it’s the illustration of a pursuit that has a mind of its own — and the reminder that wanting to do good is the first step in the endurance run required to actually do good — that makes it a standout.
Extras: Deleted scenes, director interview.

The Heat (R/NR, 2013, Fox)
She’s (Sandra Bullock) a stuffy, roundly disliked FBI agent sent to Boston to bring down a drug kingpin. She’s (Melissa McCarthy) a foul-mouthed, roundly disliked street cop who will wreck anybody, FBI included, who gets in the way of her interrogation of a small-time dealer who just so happens to report to that kingpin. Together, they’re a tandem as predictably disparate as they are predictably destined to become best friends, because isn’t that how these things always go? It is, “The Heat” is no different, it couldn’t care less about being different, and it’s by the grace and brute force of Bullock (as Ashburn), McCarthy (Mullins) and a supporting cast hungry to keep up that it does not matter one single little bit. In terms of comedy-by-numbers storytelling, “The Heat” stays inside the lines, with the usual turns — odd couple-isms, fish-out-of-water-isms, that awkward bucket dump of sappy character growth that precedes the inevitable act where it all works out — all very overtly present. Even some of the gags and lines feel stale on the surface. But if McCarthy wasn’t already the best in the game at taking a mundane line, dropping in mundane swears and somehow turning it into comedy gold, her work here puts her in the running and probably the lead. Put Mullins in another actor’s hands, or give Ashburn to someone who can’t shift from prude to crazy cat lady and back on a dime like Bullock can, and the same script might make one wonder why “The Heat” even exists. But this is why casting directors exist, and if casting was an Oscar category, “The Heat” might be winning that race as well. But it isn’t, so the honor of being one of 2013’s funniest movies will have to do.
Extras: Commentary tracks (from cast, crew and the “MST3K” guys), unrated cut, deleted/alternate/extended scenes, seven behind-the-scenes features.

Ghost Team One (R, 2013, Paramount)
Like seemingly every other movie character still hauling a camcorder around, Sergio (Carlos Santos) is convinced — albeit via a discovery he made while extremely drunk at his own house party — that there’s a ghost in his house. Sergio’s best friend and roommate Brad (J.R. Villarreal) is in no way convinced, but when a partygoer (Fernanda Romero as Fernanda) is revealed as both interested in ghosts and extremely attractive, he finds a way to convince himself he’s convinced. Their other roommate Chuck (Tony Cavalero) hates both of them, Brad’s might-be girlfriend Becky (Meghan Falcone) is just kind of there with her dog (who also hates Sergio and Brad), and there’s your sort-of starting five for Ghost Team One. Not exactly the ’96 Chicago Bulls, but for purposes of making fun of both found footage movies and ghost stories — “Paranormal Activity,” in other words — it more than suffices. It should be noted that “Ghost Team One,” to its great credit, isn’t simply a parody of those movies, nor is making fun of those stale gimmicks even its best asset. Had “Activity” and its terrible sequels never even existed, Sergio would be no less a terrifically likable lead, Brad no less an endearing scumbag, and Chuck no less a meathead so hilariously detestable that he maybe steals the show. “GTO’s” sense of humor about its subject material is an asset, but its characters are the reason to watch, and its script — rich equally in overtly perverse insanity and brilliantly-delivered throwaway lines — recognizes this to divinely juvenile effect. No extras.

League of Super Evil (NR, 2009, Flatiron Film Company)
By the metrics of painting with broad strokes, “League of Super Evil” dishes out its color on a brush big enough to clean a five-lane highway. But that’s only a problem if that isn’t the intention, and the frantically animated “Evil” — led by a pint-sized not-so-super villain, Voltar, whose cries of “eeeevillllll!” are frequent enough to qualify as ambient noise — is nothing if not one with its intentions. “Evil” follows the escapades of a band of wannabe villains, and as perhaps you could guess from one look at the cute visual style, their ability to dish out evil is about as successful and malicious as a puppy nibbling his littermate’s ear while she attacks him back with a clumsy swat of her paw. Most of them aren’t even evil so much as just along for the adventure, which works out fine given how often these acts of evil, even when executed to perfection, harm pretty much nobody. First, foremost and beyond all else, “Evil’s” mission is unapologetic silliness, and it fulfills that mission with a dizzying blast of energy that starts caffeinated, ends caffeinated and never crashes in between. That will, of course, appeal to kids. But “Evil’s” brand of crazy is a smart and funny kind of crazy, making it one of a resurgent breed of cartoons that knows how to keep both sides amused on separate terms.
Contents: 52 episodes, no extras.