Friday, July 11, 2008

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Review)

Congratulations Guillermo del Toro, you are the most frustrating filmmaker working today. I used to be able to write you off as an overrated and untalented filmmaker – no more. Hellboy II: The Golden Army is a technical marvel. This film is beautiful in a way that surpasses everything that del Toro had done to date… combined… including Pan! Unfortunately, like every film he has made, the story is flat, the pacing is poor and many of the emotional moments just seem to hit the wrong note.

The film opens with a flashback of John Hurt (killed off in the previous installment) telling an adolescent Hellboy a bedtime story about a war between Men and the creatures of myth (Goblins, Trolls, Elves, ect). The visuals that accompany this story are not of the same motif as the rest of the film but instead they are rather like a CG version of a Quay Brothers film with wooden figures and mechanical gears propelling armies toward each other. The story then jumps ahead to present day and Jeffery Tambor’s Tom Manning upset that Hellboy doesn’t listen to him. He is the cause of so many of these wrong notes in the film’s first hour. Also Abe Sapien is back but the voice of David Hyde Pierce is not – this is not a good thing. So the story unfolds though too many coincidences and there are some action scenes including one in Diagon Alley!! There are some great references to John Landis and Jim Henson and some overly overt ones to Universal creatures (Frank specifically). There is a love story that never feels right and a bunch of relationships that are fairly unbelievable. On the other hand the action scenes are nearly perfect as is one scene in the middle of the film where Hellboy and Abe break into song! The ancillary creatures are stunningly rendered (as the fantasy world of Pan was) and final battle is a seamless blend of CG and live action that isn’t edited to death.

I wanted to like this film, I really did, but del Toro once again fails to connect as a storyteller. Throughout the film he either coaxes the wrong notes out of his actors or edits the wrong takes into the film. It must be all that time spent in his own imagination that gets in the way of him getting the human aspect of his films right. Guillermo del Toro is an utterly hopeless filmmaker who needs to be kicked out of the director’s chair and restricted to a creature house so that we can all enjoy his visual tour de force stylistics without sitting through his failed attempts to hang them on his lackluster scripts. Feel free to leapfrog George Lucas on the way.


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Hancock (Review)


Ok, now that that’s out of the way… Shoehornin’ is the word I’d use to describe Hancock. Peter Berg’s film wants to critique the superhero genre while at the same time giving that big summer-blockbuster superhero-event widest-possible-audience feel. It wants to fit in an American allegory. It wants to have good actors actually acting instead of being superhero cutesy. It wants to play with our expectations but also possibly set up a new franchise. It wants to do all these things and pretty well succeeds in doing so.

This does not start out as an “origin story” film instead we are dropped right into a chase scene and our hero emerges and saves the day… well kinda. We find out pretty soon that there is little love for Hancock and that he has drinking and anger issues. Queue Jason Bateman. Bateman plays Ray, a struggling PR rep with a heart of gold (a movie first I believe) who wants to help Hancock in exchange for saving his life and despite some evil stares that his wife (Mary - Charlize Theron) gives when he first comes over for dinner. As Hancock’s latest incident had lead to an arrest warrant Ray sees a golden opportunity (PR 101) to get people on Hancock’s side. Of course the plan works as while he's voluntarily behind bars, the crime rate rises and a newly sober Hancock is called into action. THEN we get the twist and the intro of the origin story. All of this happens surprisingly fast – there’s very little downtime in this plot heavy film.
Berg grows in his journeyman director status with each films and this is no exception. The quick pacing, handheld camera work and high octane action that never get in the way of story or acting that was a hallmark of The Kingdom is taken up a notch here. There are some shaky transitions between acts and some bits that feel vaguely off but they more or less help to build to that twist.

Smith, Theron and Bateman all shine in their roles especially Theron who is the best female character I’ve seen in a superhero film ever. And as a superhero Hancock is unique. (Allegory in 3…2…1…) He is the only superpower in the world all his actions seem to lead to disaster for a lot of people even though his intentions are good and he does in fact save lives. He is alone, but unlike Supes, Hulk, ect he has no alter-ego in which to hide and commune with us regular folk. He just has to accept what he is, flaws and all and try to change what he can in order to make the world a better place. (Oh yeah his symbol and a repeating motif of the film is a bald eagle and his name is in fact John Hancock). The mythology of his creation is interesting but delivered in a pretty off hand matter leaving little to sink ones teeth into.

Hulk tried to go for emotion and failed miserably while Iron Man was content to forget all about that in favor of breezy charm. This one has an emotional side that is far better than that green thing but despite some huge laughs in the first 2 acts it’s not over the top charming. It is indeed a well rounded package and I hope word-of-mouth is far better than the critical reaction so far as this film deserves a big audience and a couple sequels to flesh out some of that Highlander style back story.