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Above the Pacific Rim

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A really good movie can suck you in so deep that the outside world actually starts to melt away from your consciousness. Big-line skiers or lifetime rock climbers always talk about that state of intensely focused nothingness — the overlap of total escape and connectedness. Movies can do that too. For some people, movies can be transcendental. Unfortunately, to the people who make them this is rarely the case — Hollywood studio movies are solely about making money.

And the BIG summer movies aren't making money like they used to. The Lone Ranger was not the cash cow everyone hoped for, nor was World War Z. Even Superman underperformed. These aren't terrible flicks, and they'll likely all recoup their budgets with international ticket sales, but other than Iron Man 3 none of the big summer blockbusters has really rocked the block.

The hint of good news is that chick-buddy-comedy The Heat did okay... not astounding but probably good enough. In Hollywood, female-targeted movies have never really been consistently profitable enough so studios are using The Heat as a litmus test before deciding to make more or less female-populated movies. This summer they made one.

But when a big $200 million blockbuster movie works, it can be an incredibly good time. Big, loud, destruction-based flicks can even hit that transcendental state if things are done correctly. And this week Pacific Rim, the latest from Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labrynth, Hellboy, Mimic) does it correctly.

First off it's a sci-fi, the perfect genre for the times. As our culture and technology accelerate with unprecedented fury it's starting to feel like almost any terrible dystopian future we can imagine could be just around the corner — even if it's giant alien monsters crawling out of a rift/portal in the earth's core and the only way to stop them is to build equally giant robots and heroically wade into brutal fist-to-tentacle battles.

Certainly, Pacific Rim sounds like a 14-year-old boy's Godzilla vs. Voltron showdown but that's what makes it such an awesome summer blockbuster, the best in a while. Del Toro is a master of imaginative vision and with a huge budget to work with he creates a truly unique world, populates it with badass actors like Idris Elba (Stringer Bell in The Wire) and unleashes some fist-pumping, ass-kicking CGI action. The trick is that he keeps that human element strong enough to carry through the 131-minute run time and doesn't waste anyone's time with a tacked-on romantic subplot. The mind-melding operators of the massive "Jaeger" robot have something going on, for sure, but it's never dripped in cheese or improbability. Pacific Rim is awesome; maybe not transcendental but as close as we've gotten this summer.

The other flick opening Friday, Grown Ups 2, was certainly not conceived by a 14-year-old boy but the humour seems skewed that direction. From the trailer (no pre-screenings, bad sign) this one rehashes the original idea (four family men return to their hometown 20 years later) and adds in such comedic gems as an elk pissing in Adam Sandler's face and David Spade's head going up Kevin James' ass. At least Director Dennis Dugan (Big Daddy, Beverly Hills Ninja) casts hot-ass Maria Bello and Salma Hayek to keep the "man-children score hot chicks" fantasy alive.

The first Grown Ups made a baffling $271 millon with a $70-80 million budget. It sucked (this one actually looks like it might be funnier), but it turned a nice profit. Perhaps it's time for Hollywood to ease up on the super-expensive, effects-driven long-shots and start taking more chances on smaller-budget movies. If studios start diversifying and making more small flicks the law of averages will hopefully produce at least a couple bangers, maybe even take audiences some place new.

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