The Best Movies Of Summer 2013

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Wide: Pacific Rim

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It was billed as the blockbuster event of 2013. And though Guillermo del Toro’s visualisation of gargantuan titans squaring off against otherworldly aliens didn’t light up the box office in the way Warner Bros. had hoped, Pacific Rim still deserves recognition for its exceptional vision. Taking place in the not-so-distant future, the film finds humanity under siege from colossal beasts known as the Kaiju after the creatures rise from an inter-dimensional rift below the Pacific Ocean. Teetering towards extinction, the human resistance begins constructing Jaegers – towering robots that have the power of a WMD – in one final attempt to “cancel the apocalypse,” in the words of stoic captain Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba).

There’s a plethora of adjectives that you can attribute to the film’s immense scale – seriously, by comparison, it makes Man of Steel’s final act seem like a storm in a teacup. But what makes Pacific Rim so – whisper it – intelligent is that it is fully aware of its own ridiculousness. Del Toro’s creation has a very specific tone; it’s a film which retains the sensibilities of manga while also leaving its own, colossal footprint on the mecha genre.

Its performance at the domestic box office puts the status of the planned sequel under question. Nevertheless, Pacific Rim presents an uncompromising creature feature on an unprecedented scale. The jaw-dropping spectacle is compounded by del Toro’s laudable attention to detail. The designs of the Kaiju – which are essentially a cacophony of sub-aquatic sea beasts – feel distinctively formidable, and the patriotic propaganda surrounding each of the human-controlled Jaegers bestow the lumbering behemoths with a sense of personality.

Yes, the physics may be dubious, and yes, the characters may have the emotional depth of lowly rain puddles, but Guillermo del Toro’s enthusiastic adventure is unlike anything else I’ve experienced at the cinema this year – and how often can you say that when the credits roll?

Limited: Sightseers

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While black comedies tend to balance dark humour with an over-arching seriousness, Ben Wheatley’s low-budget tale of caravanning across the British countryside is very much a pitch black comedy. Originally planned as a television show before being deemed too dark for the small screen, Sightseers represents the second directorial effort from Wheatley, following his eye-catching debut with 2011’s Kill List. The film charts the cross-country adventures of the reclusive Tina (Alice Lowe) and her impudent, cunning boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram). And it’s only when their travels bring them through all sorts of speed bumps that we as the audience uncover the deliciously dark personas beneath their eccentric exteriors.

Much like his previous film, Wheatley manages to retain a persistent sense of tension during Sightseers’ neat 98-minute runtime. The tone is gleefully sinister and dark; so much so that it elicits belly laughs and cringes in equal measures.  Not only do their points of interest encompass the oddest pit stops imaginable – from pencil museums to the Ribblehead viaduct, this isn’t your average tour of Britain’s rural area – but as the narrative unfolds, the couple begin to resemble Bonnie and Clyde in some frivolously violent acts.

Though she starts off as a doting, bug-eyed girlfriend, through her interactions with Chris, Tina soon transforms into a crazed criminal – hilariously illustrated through her obsession with the pseudo-Poppy. This character arc gives the film a large degree of moral ambivalence, and the demented complexity of the lead characters provides food for thought long after the credits roll.

Wheatley’s bizarre odyssey injects the exotic into the everyday and is executed wonderfully. The British auteur visualises his native countryside in stunning fashion and the natural, almost effortless performances from Oram and Lowe add a sense of twisted realism to this brooding material.

— Michael Briers

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