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Godzilla Lives in ‘Pacific Rim’; ‘Fruitvale’ Shocks: Film

'Pacific Rim'
A Kaiju attacks Sydney Harbor in "Pacific Rim." The film is directed by Guillermo del Toro. Source: Warner Bros. via Bloomberg

July 13 (Bloomberg) -- Guillermo del Toro’s booming, cocksure “Pacific Rim” stomps all over the rubble of old Japanese creature features, scorching away much of the rubber-suited fun of those early atomic age fancies.

Del Toro’s Godzillas -- here called Kaiju -- are towering reptilian monsters, rising from the ocean floor and stoppable only by giant, human-controlled Jaegers, which are knock-off Transformers.

Del Toro, the Mexican director who set a high visual bar with the gorgeous “Pan’s Labyrinth,” doesn’t skimp on the rock-’em sock-’em action, coming up with more ways than would seem possible to depict metal fists pummeling lizard flesh.

The human story lines are as serviceable as they are superfluous (the script is by Travis Beacham and del Toro).

To fight the recently awakened Kaiju, mankind has built humongous clinking, clanking warriors, each carrying two telepathically connected copilots.

Traumatized from the death-by-Kaiju of his brother and copilot, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam, of FX’s “Sons of Anarchy”) only reluctantly answers the call from his old boss (Idris Elba). The lizard apocalypse is nigh.

Becket’s new copilot has her own monster sob story (and actress Rinko Kikuchi, Oscar-nominated for “Babel,” does lots of sobbing).

Lizard Bait

Del Toro populates the digital destruction with comic-relief scientists (Burn Gorman and Charlie Day), a macho father/son gladiator team (Max Martini, Rob Kazinsky) and assorted lizard bait.

Though “Pacific Rim” grows battle weary, the elaborate visual effects by John Knoll and James E. Price reflect tireless imagination. No two Kaiju look alike, and none would be caught dead wearing rubber.

“Pacific Rim,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *** (Evans)

‘Fruitvale Station’

Early on New Year’s morning, 2009, one of the police officers who had handcuffed Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old black man, at an Oakland BART station in the course of investigating a fight shot him in the back. Grant died a few hours later.

The killing was captured on cell-phone videos, leading to wide media coverage and national outrage.

Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station” follows Oscar on his last day. A 26-year-old writer-director not long out of film school, Coogler was lucky to attract the support of Forest Whitaker’s production company.

He was even luckier with his cast: Michael B. Jordan (from “The Wire”) as Oscar; Melonie Diaz as his girlfriend; and Octavia Spencer (she was Minny in “The Help”) as his mother.

The first two-thirds are fairly standard kitchen-sink drama, competent and absorbing but essentially familiar. The last half-hour -- the violence and its aftermath -- is something else.

BART allowed Coogler to shoot on location and the young filmmaker, working with a score of actors and a crowd of extras, shows more competence in placing the camera coherently than many action directors with access to multimillion-dollar budgets.

It isn’t just about camera and crowd control, though. These incidents are still fresh, and the actors -- even the extras -- rise to the seriousness of the occasion. You leave as Coogler means you to: shaken.

“Fruitvale Station,” from the Weinstein Company, is playing in New York, San Francisco and L.A. Rating: *** (Seligman)


What the Stars Mean:

***** Fantastic
**** Excellent
*** Good
** So-So
* Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)

Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and New York Weekend.

To contact the writers on the story: Greg Evans at gregeaevans@yahoo.com. and Craig Seligman at cseligman@mindspring.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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