The devil is in the details, they say, or maybe that should be the Giratina is in the details, if you’re a Pokémon fan and consider Tina to be the devil Pokémon (it’s not really, though). While Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is too often light on coherent plot details, the film is rife with small world development details and production value touches that make for a convincing Pokémon world come to life. Avoiding spoilers (at least without warning) and the obvious, here are some observations and analysis of how Detective Pikachu achieved its universal appeal while still capturing the heart of the franchise.
The Pokémon *Very Slight Spoilers*
Obviously people are coming to Detective Pikachu for the Pokémon and staying for the Reynolds or vice versa, however, multiple minute touches concerning the former help develop the world and setting without the exposition the plot relies so heavily upon. Ryme City, the primary setting, is a place where people and Pokémon live in harmony, meaning no Poké Balls or battles. Given that context, most citizens’ partner Pokémon (the literal dozens of Charmanders, Squirtles, and Treeckos and not Bulbasaurs…I guess to match the bipedal reptile thing?) are logically unevolved having never battled and grown as Pokémon. Conversely, the Pokémon featured in the fighting ring sequence were mostly fully evolved, an easily overlooked attention to detail that gives weight to Ryme City’s core concept and helps establish the rules of the world without a word of dialogue.
Speaking to the repetition of the Pokémon seen, even this assists in the subtle crafting of the film’s world. More likely done to save money by recycling models or to highlight very specific, very recognizable monsters (note that Charizard, Greninja, Mewtwo, and the original starters all make an appearance), Detective Pikachu only features some fifty-four or so creatures according to the films director, Rob Letterman, less than ten percent of the total creature count. However, since Ryme City isn’t a town for trainers, and the citizens aren’t traveling “across the land, searching far and wide” for new Pokémon, it stands to reason the ones present are likely from the immediate, surrounding area. Take for instance the Cubone near the beginning and throughout the movie, or the Joltiks first seen climbing the power lines and later featured as people’s partners. Meanwhile, the Pokémon who naturally inhabit the restricted research space, Bulbasaur, Morelull, and Flabébé, are featured almost exclusively within that space since the average, gate abiding citizen wouldn’t have the opportunity to encounter them. Intentional or not, there’s thematic purpose to restricting the quantity of Pokémon featured in the film making it not unlike a specific town in game being inhabited by Pokémon from the surrounding routes.
The way to obtain the widest audience is to appeal to the largest market. For Detective Pikachu, that means appealing to non-fans, lapsed fans, and the mobile market. The movie may be full of easter eggs only eagle-eyed Pokénthusiasts will catch, but Detective Pikachu intentionally highlights Pokémon from the peak of the Pokémon pop culture craze from the late 90s, a similar, nostalgic recipe that made Pokémon GO such a resounding success out of the gate, ensuring even the most casual fan and lapsed twenty-to-thirty-somethings will have something to relate back to. Even more prevalent now courtesy of the reconceptualization of Red and Blue in the form of Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Eevee, this isn’t the first or last time the Pokémon Company have utilized the original 151 and nostalgia in their masterful strokes of cross-promotion. While there are plenty of creatures from across the entirety of the franchise, by limiting the sources for inspiration and taking a broader approach, avoiding the typical trainer narrative, even audiences entirely unfamiliar with the property are more likely to engage with the film undeterred by an over-reliance on franchise history and over twenty years worth of game mechanics and monsters.
That’s not to say that the film doesn’t briefly explain the games’ core conceit of capturing and training monsters. Interesting to note that the method used to capture a Pokémon isn’t through battling, whittling the wanted creature’s energy down, and only then throwing a Poké Ball, but something more akin to Pokémon GO or the aforementioned Let’s Go where balls are simply thrown at Pokémon from the outset. This simplified approach has the double benefit of being approachable for the uninitiated and immediately relatable to the broad player base of the cultural phenomenon that was and is Pokémon GO. While I certainly hope for a more mechanic and monster heavy movie in the feature, it’s perhaps wisest to wet audiences appetites first and allow them to test the waters the safest way possible, with an electric Pokémon like Pikachu.
While protagonists Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) and Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) might not fit the typical pocket monster character mold, other characters could have been torn directly from a Pokémon title’s code. Reporter Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) for example, might not get the same depth of character and development as the two leads, however, she does bring all of the youthful exuberance and humor of a typical Pokémon character to the table. Corny, chatty, naive, overly friendly and helpful, Lucy exemplifies the protagonist’s friends’ personalities in almost any core series Pokémon game. Boasting a cap, backpack, primary-colored jacket, and Pokémon partner, she’s even dressed in all the trappings of typical Pokémon trainer.
Conversely, the DJ character is impossible not to compare to Team Skull or Rocket grunts, or any antagonistic thug character for that matter, in the campy way the character was delivered. While these characters, the villain, and several others might not have come off as well rounded, realistic, and helped ground the Pokémon world, they’re certainly reminiscent of some of the core games’ characters and help bridge the gap between the game and cinematic world.
The Route Forward *Slight Spoilers*
Whether all of these different details were derived to fit Detective Pikachu comfortably into the rest of the franchise while others aimed to capture a more allusive audience, one thing remains clear: with how appealing and successful the end product was, it’s more than likely Legendary, WB, and the Pokémon Company will develop more Pokémon movies. Could we have another cinematic universe on our hands, perhaps labeled “The Pokémon World” as suggested by the Pokémon Company’s cinematic logo? Or did the company develop its attractive logo solely for its live-action, cinematic debut? Was all the effort of adapting multiple pocket monsters really just for one movie? Probably not, but that does beg the question: what is the route forward for the Pokémon cinematic universe?
A sequel isn’t out of the question, but with how well the film resolved itself, it seems more likely that the route forwards is backwards. Perhaps there only to contextualize the events of this film within pre-existing events, there was a line of dialogue alluding to Kanto twenty years prior and the creation of Mewtwo, ie. the events of Pokémon Red and Blue that could be an indication of where the next film is headed. This seems like the ideal course allowing the filmmakers to depict more battles, Pokémon, and erase some of the inane abilities of certain Pokémon demonstrated in Detective Pikachu. Alas, I don’t know the move Future Sight, so, for now, I’ll have to content myself to wait and watch. I recommend you do the same. Pokémon Detective Pikachu might not be a masterpiece, but it has something for everyone, especially the fan that wants to see a Pokémon world come to life like never before.
‘Rojo’ Takes Carefully Composed Aim at Argentina’s Murky Past
Getting off to a creepy and crackling start, Benjamín Nasihtat’s Rojo can’t quite live up to its opening promise while admirably trying to navigate a muddied maze of vague suspicion around a small town in Argentina during the 1970s before the coup. Still, though the story bumps into a few dead ends before finally emerging into some light at the finish, exquisite compositions — punctuated by occasional bursts that mimic the time period’s cinematic style — and a quietly simmering performance from star Darío Grandinetti manage to keep things engaging enough throughout this low-key thriller.
After a mysterious opening shot in which an abandoned house in a pleasant neighborhood is calmly looted by various locals, Rojo directs our attention to a cozy, upscale restaurant where respectable lawyer Claudio sits alone, waiting for his wife, courteously acknowledged by other similarly well-off patrons. He draws the ire of another customer, who abrasively chides Claudio for occupying a table when he is not ready to order, thus depriving those who are. Pretending to take the higher road, Claudio gives up his seat, but can’t resist also giving this rude young man a lecture of his own — one that despite its refined vocabulary, smacks of hostile superiority. From there, an altercation ensues that will not only haunt Claudio for the rest of the film, but also stand for a certain societal rot that took over a country.
The sequence is chilling in its callousness, the way in which a person is removed from a restaurant — and a community — with nary a blink of an eye; soon, everyone is back to chattering away, enjoying their meals as if a mere pest had entered and was quickly shooed away. Beneath their civilized faces, however, their are subtle signs of deep unease. Rojo expertly creates a tension here that it will then go on to very slowly dilute, as more and more tangents are given prominence in an attempt to reinforce already clear themes without shedding new light on them.
The paranoia and guilt lurking beneath nearly every interaction in Rojo serves to bring attention to the various disappearances that take place and are alluded to throughout the story. That fear of being “disappeared” without a trace is a clear reference to the “los desaparecidos” — political dissidents from the era who either fled the country or were kidnapped and murdered in the wake of a military coup that wanted to silence opposition. The premise that one can suddenly say the wrong thing and summarily be erased from society while everyone looks the other way is an inherently scary one, and that pervading atmosphere goes a long way toward making Rojo highly watchable.
However, once the general idea is firmly and skillfully established, Rojo seems to have little place else to go with it. A subplot involving selling the house from the prologue is mildly interesting in how it portrays the opportunistic behavior that capitalized on atrocity, but the process eventually fizzles out. American rodeo cowboys pay a visit, alluding to U.S. involvement during the coup, but not much else. A trip to the beach perhaps shows a bit of the pressure that gets to those who have had to turn a blind eye for so long, but little else is garnered outside a stylish depiction of a solar eclipse that washes the screen symbolic red. A teenage romance seems like it’s reaching for something important to say about dominance and jealousy, but can’t come up with more than another disappearance — and of a character who might as well be a nobody regardless, for the few minutes they are on screen.
A missing doctor, a magician’s act, a church confrontation; the power of the vanishings is undermined somewhat by their frequency. But maybe that’s the point — that we all can be desensitized to injustice.
Still, whether or not one finds meaning, it’s hard to take one’s eyes off such gorgeously composed images as Nasihtat has crafted here. Though its plot often seems to lack focus, Rojo still emits a feeling of pinpoint exactitude through pictures. Nearly every frame is a joy to examine, creating a palpable sense that angles and staging have been meticulously prepared to convey important information key to unlocking the script’s mysteries. Restrained use of zooms and freeze frames also help inject some period style into the proceedings, and can be effectively startling. Holding it all together though is the repressed performance of Darío Grandinetti, who masterfully finds the quiet fear and hypocrisy in a certain kind of ‘upright’ citizen. As the various pressures grow (including from a big-city TV investigator played by Alfredo Castro), will he be able to hold it together?
The payoff is a bit anti-climactic, but Rojo has already been trending that way since the beginning. Nevertheless, it does conclude on a more explicit note, and there is a great visual pleasure to be had from simply watching this story unfold in such sharp, capable filmmaking hands.
‘Rojo’ is now available on digital formats from 1844 Entertainment.
‘Queen of Hearts’ is a Frank and Difficult Look at Sexual Desire
Trine Dyrholm is typically brilliant in Danish film ‘Queen of Hearts’ — playing an older woman embarking on an affair with her stepson.
Queen of Hearts starts with a rather banal scene. Anne (Trine Dyrholm) walks through the woods with her dog. Her children are just outside her large, glass-heavy house. She goes inside, where her husband, Peter (Magnus Krepper), says police have called and he has to go. She looks outside at some barren trees, dramatic strings play, and the title credits come on; it’s a seemingly innocuous moment curdled into something far more ominous.
This opening salvo with something moody and dark hiding within the banality and reliability of a simple family scene (later revealed to be in the future) sums up the Official Danish Best International Film submission Queen of Hearts as a whole. This is a film of bad decisions, loneliness, and creaky moral boundaries, interrogating the mores of modern womanhood against the backdrop of supposed domestic perfection.
Our protagonist, Anne, is a lawyer who works with children who have been abused. She knows how to talk to young victims of rape and neglect, balancing a firm sense of what’s right with the necessary language to give these children hope. But she has difficulties switching from work to home, unable to give her twin daughters the affection they deserve. One way for anyone to switch off and focus on life outside of work, of course, is to engage in some form of intimacy; yet, her hypocritical, workaholic doctor husband has little time to give her any attention in the bedroom.
When Peter’s teenage son, Gustav (Gustav Lindh), turns up to stay for the summer, Anne is immediately attracted to his moodiness and sexual swagger. Their slow seduction scenes seem to all come from different movies: porno (he suddenly comes out of the shower in the towel), summer indie drama (a scene in a lake with splashing water and an ecstatic soundtrack), and eventually horror (a writhing, overly staged sex scene in the dark that is extremely shocking in its frankness).
These shifts in tone reflect the film’s queasy study in shifting sympathies, making Queen of Hearts a modern morality play baked in typically Scandinavian seriousness. Is Anne simply engaging in a harmless affair, rediscovering her long-dormant sexuality? Or is the age difference simply too far? With echoes of both The Hunt (2012) and the women-focused sex-dramas of Lars von Trier, it is sure to provoke a mixture of praise for its brazen female sexual gaze, and eventually disgust for where this gaze finally takes us.
Most of us assume that we are good people, even as we are engaging in less than savoury activities. It may look bad to people on the outside, but we have our reasons. The ever-reliable Trine Dyrholm turns in another mesmerising performance here, balancing her own lack of sexual self-confidence against her outwardly authoritative presence as a lawyer. Even if we cannot agree with what she does, Dyrholm successfully conveys her character’s complexity, making her sympathetic throughout. But just as we can never judge ourselves objectively, we can never know the ultimate effect our actions may have on others, especially in a dynamic such as this, leading to some bitter results.
Queen of Hearts asks the viewer to never make assumptions, to think outside of clichés, and to really dig deep into the true heart of the matter. Director May el-Toukhy knows she has strong actors and a strong screenplay here, employing minimal tricks to just let them get on and really chew into the material. While unlikely to make it into the final Oscar shortlist, Queen of Hearts deserves a lot of credit for its utter brazenness and steadfast commitment to its difficult premise.
‘Ford v Ferrari’ Drives Fast with Little Under the Hood
A classic Hollywood drama with fast cars and a stellar Christian Bale performance that feels great despite a lack of emotional substance.
Many directors always struggle with producers and other businessmen to retain their vision. What might work most for that vision may not be what focus tests and audiences have proven to enjoy, so the film gets reworked and reworked until it becomes a box office hit, and potentially retains a director’s intent. Ford v Ferrari doesn’t necessarily feel like that — this is a James Mangold film in many regards — but by the end of its story of vision and skill versus marketing and business agendas, Mangold’s latest wrestles with placing trust in an individual against an entire body of suits.
When Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is approached by Ford Motors to create a car fast enough to beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (an annual racing event where drivers go all day and night around the same track), he is forced to fight tooth-and-nail to get the best driver for the job: Ken Miles (Christian Bale). Shelby’s fight is singular; he wants to win the Le Mans, and knows that Miles is the only one who can do it. Yet, Ford Motors is still a company with many eyes on them, and employing the hot-headed Miles as a driver could be disastrous. So begins a struggle for Shelby and Miles to have their desires met by a company looking at the bottom line. That struggle — one that underscores every decision made by the characters in the film — is what sits at the core of Ford v Ferrari, and keeps things interesting. Set that aside, however, and the film loses a lot of momentum.
Still, the racing will grip audiences throughout. The final Le Mans challenge runs for a decent portion of Ford v Ferrari and is engaging throughout, but there are several other races and practices where Mangold’s craftsmanship as a filmmaker shines bright. Miles sits in the driver’s seat of all of these moments, and Bale’s performance is never stronger than when his character has that need for speed. Miles is a passionate driver with pure intentions, and Bale gives him a lot of wit and heart in between huge swings of emotion. It’s a performance that stands tall but doesn’t distract, instead meshing extremely well with the action.
Meanwhile, the other performances are also solid. Matt Damon is very good in the role of Shelby, though his character is quite often reserved because he has to be. When you put him against Bale, however, it’s clear that Shelby pales to the race car driver’s fleshed-out character, as we follow the latter’s family, his rejections and successes, and his pure heart. In the backdrop is a wide array of supporting actors, including Caitriona Balfe as Mollie Miles, Josh Lucas as the thorn in Shelby’s side, Jon Bernthal playing a standard Jon Bernthal role, and Tracy Letts chewing up scenery whenever he can as Henry Ford II. Letts and Lucas in particular give great caricatured performances, planting Ford v Ferrari into a more standard Hollywood drama.
Largely that’s the problem: Ford v Ferrari is a technical achievement with some incredible craftsmanship and performances that just never feels as great at slow times as it does when it’s moving past 7000 RPMs. It has a need for speed, and the pacing shows that, but it also doesn’t really rise very high above what’s needed to please an audience. Mangold is great at deriving emotional substance out of a subject, but a lot of that in Ford v Ferrari is left on the shoulders of Bale’s performance. Instead, the film focuses heavily on the bureaucratic side of things, and how that hinders talented people from being who they are destined to be. While fun to watch, there isn’t much more that will have Ford v Ferrari lingering with audiences. Instead, this will be a movie that resonates with racing fans and those that struggle against restrictions, keeping general audience satisfied in their big Hollywood dramas for the time being.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 14 as part of our coverage of The Toronto International Film Festival.
The Mandalorian “Chapter Two: The Child” Muses on Morality Whilst Getting Muddy
‘Castlevania Bloodlines’: The Official Sega Genesis Sequel to Bram Stoker’s Hit Novel, Dracula
XO19: Top 10 Best Announcements of the Show
Scott Snyder’s ‘Wytches’ Cast a Hypnotic Spell that Still Lingers
NXpress Nintendo Podcast #185: The Importance of Visuals, and the Pokemon Backlash
‘Rojo’ Takes Carefully Composed Aim at Argentina’s Murky Past
‘Garden Story’ First Impressions: The Coziest of Adventures
Similar but not the same: ‘Ocarina of Time’ vs ‘Majora’s Mask’
Ranking The Legend of Zelda Series
‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ Undoubtedly Ranks as the Best Horror Film of All Time
With ‘Scream 5’ Announced, Let’s Look Back at ‘Scream 4’
35 Best Gamecube Games
The Top 50 SNES Games
The 40 Best Nintendo 64 Games
- Film7 days ago
With ‘Scream 5’ Announced, Let’s Look Back at ‘Scream 4’
- Film6 days ago
History of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ – the Movie that Made me a Movie Buff
- Fantasia Film Festival1 week ago
‘The Divine Fury’ is a Cool Horror-Action Hybrid that Offers Something for Fans of Both Genres
- TIFF5 days ago
‘Ford v Ferrari’ Drives Fast with Little Under the Hood