Niagara Gazette

July 16, 2013

CALLERI: Redgrave and Stamp shine and del Toro does it right

By Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — When it’s so hot that it’s almost too hot to think, one of the better choices you can make to escape the heat is to sit in an air-conditioned movie theater. Of course, sitting and watching something that isn’t worthwhile might make the soaring outdoor temperature seem positively inviting.

Fortunately, there are two good motion picture choices with an appeal that, in a just world, would span all age levels. Granted, the audience for each of them is decidedly different, but I never automatically eliminate a demographic from the possibility that it might enjoy something completely out of their comfort zone.

Why shouldn’t a teenager enjoy “Unfinished Song,” the quirky, tune-filled British comedy, which is about devotion to one’s life partner? And that said, what’s to prevent your grandparents from getting a kick out of “Pacific Rim,” especially considering that they were certainly around for the birth of cheesy monster movies involving rubbery reptiles destroying every city in their path?

What’s important is that both movies are well-made, stay true to their genres, and offer common sense believability as they tell their stories.

"Unfinished Song" should be seen for a number of reasons but especially because of the two screen legends who star in it. Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp are an elderly married couple who live in a pleasant neighborhood in London. In their own way, they are truly dedicated to each other.

Redgrave's positive-thinking Marion has recovered from cancer and enjoys singing at the local community center. The goal of her choral group is to get invited to a competition that would make them, as well as their families and friends, proud. Winning isn’t everything. Stamp's Arthur is a delightful curmudgeon completely devoted to Marion, but in his own determined way. He may be a grump, but he is completely her grump. He’s an English bulldog to her good-natured collie.

Written and directed by Paul Andrew Williams, the movie revolves around the choral group and whether or not Marion’s recovery from cancer has made her strong enough to participate as far as the group’s guiding light, a music teacher, gently played by Gemma Arterton, would like to see it go. Arthur is ever-watchful for even the slightest bit of exhaustion on Marion’s part. The couple has a son, strongly-played by Christopher Eccleston, who's a car mechanic,. He loves his parents, but his relationship with his father is prickly at best. In the men’s eyes, you see the care and concern they have for each other, even if they can’t quite express what they are thinking.

As this unabashedly emotional and terrifically honest film flows, it takes a turn that will result in Stamp recognizing the notion that Marion’s love of singing, especially regarding her solo, was her way of delivering some poetry into his life.

The performances from Redgrave and Stamp are as good as it gets. They are both in their mid-seventies and bring decades of experience to what is a master class in acting.

The beautiful “Unfinished Song” is a rare treat in a sea of summer action mayhem. The choral group is comprised of delightful seniors who are very keen on singing good old rock and roll. To reference a Rolling Stones song, they are cool, calm, and collected. And so is this sweet and touching movie.

"Pacific Rim" is director Guillermo del Toro's entry in Hollywood's breathlessly overdone blockbuster season. a traditional amalgam of science fiction and horror, but with a bit of a twist.

What we have is basically Godzilla versus Transformers, but there’s nothing wrong with the concept if it's put together correctly. Director del Toro delivers a stylish take on a standard theme. The movie is about the possible end of the Earth, when human-controlled robots are forced to battled gargoyle-like creatures that emerge from a fissure under the Pacific Ocean.

Each robot is "driven" from inside by two pilots whose minds are linked neurologically. The movie-style, giant lizard-like beasts are on the verge of dominating the planet. As the story progresses, with the attendant civilian panic, expected warnings of doom and gloom, and typical military camaraderie, we get to the point where a washed-up pilot and his comic sidekick will lead the robot army to a film-ending fight-to-the-finish.

The movie offers nothing too surprising, and the acting is generic, but thanks to del Toro's smart visual talent, this film looks terrific and has pacing that makes sense and isn't tiresome. “Pacific Rim” is certainly more interesting than any robot-laden effort Michael Bay has put together, including his overreaching Transformers series.

Yes, “Pacific Rim” is familiar, but, it’s genuinely entertaining.

Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.