28 July 2008

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Hellboy Returns, and Better than Before

Well, AMC does not honor Hollywood Movie Money, so I had to pay for my ticket. This leaves just The Mummy 3 for this free ticket. I went into Hellboy II: The Golden Army with some reservations. I was not over impressed with 2004’s Hellboy. I know that critics loved it, but I guess I just did not get why. I now have a deeper respect for the original, but I definitely enjoyed this second entry more.

It opens with a young Hellboy being told a bedtime story by returning actor John Hurt. It is the story of the Golden Army. It is almost the same story as the Lord of the Rings with all the truces and things being split up. We then cut to modern times and see that Prince Nuada is planning his revenge on the human race. With the assistance of another monster, they steal back the part of a mystical crown given to the humans in the truce. He then goes and tried to talk his father into giving him his piece, but he finds that he is not welcome. So, he is forced to kill his own father and claim the throne. Now, his twin sister, Princess Nuala, possesses the final piece to the crown to rule the Golden Army.

We then see Tom Manning trying to keep himself out of trouble, as head of the United States Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. He was played once again by Jeffrey Tambor from Arrested Development fame. He was joined by Ron Perlman, Selma Blair and Doug Jones all reprising their roles from the first film. They investigate the mysterious deaths at an auction house, where Nuada and his partner stole the piece of the crown. They are joined by a mystical colleague in the form of Johann Krauss, voiced by Family Guy creator, Seth MacFarlane.

For the remainder of the film, the team searches for the Prince and tries to stop him from raising the Golden Army. There is plenty of adventure along the way. Guillermo Del Toro is back behind the camera and wrote the script as well. He knows what he is doing when it comes to CGI and creatures. All of it looked so real. The characters are what really make this movie enjoyable. Ron Perlman is fantastic as Hellboy, and his interactions with Blair’s Liz Sherman are intense. Abe Sapien, Doug Jones, falls for Princess Nuala, making things more difficult. Where this one is better than the original is completely with the characters and their interactions with each other and the situations that they are forced into.

After much hesitation, I was asked by a co-worker if I wanted to join him in seeing this movie, so I obliged him and tagged along. I was not disappointed. Verdict: For fans of the first one, you have undoubtedly seen this already. Fence sitters, you should see this. Newcomers, I would recommend renting the first one before seeing this, but by all means, see it. Sadly, Hellboy II will barely match its budget domestically, so unless this makes a load internationally, there may not be a third. The way this one ended left me wanting more.

21 July 2008

The Dark Knight

Batman Returns For More

I do not even know where to begin. The Dark Knight was everything a sequel should be. It took what the original had laid out, and expanded on it in every aspect. I had the pleasure of seeing this film in an IMAX theater at midnight. I got the seat I wanted, and only had to kill 2 hours in the auditorium waiting for the show to begin. That was the hardest part, waiting. Luckily, I am a talkative guy and quickly found people to talk with until the movie started. After a two wait in the auditorium, we were treated to best use of 152 minutes.

From the get-go, Nolan proves he is a director to be respected, and a great writer to boot. The Dark Knight opens with a bank heist that Michael Mann could be proud of. This just sets the stage for everything else yet to come. The feel of The Dark Knight was unlike all the other comic book movies to date. This was what impressed me most. It was a crime drama featuring Batman, not a Batman film feature a crime. This helped set it apart from all others, as did the acting, story, and action. The crime story of the film was something that you would expect in a Scorsese film or DePalma movie, not a comic book movie. That was where this was excellent. The CGI was minimal, keeping the realistic flow there. There wasn’t a giant green “Hulk” running around, or a couple of “Iron Men” in a CGI fight. Everything seemed to actually be there in front of you.

The Joker, brilliantly portrayed by the late Heath Ledger, tried to make a deal with the local mob bosses to kill the Batman and get them back on top of their games without the fear Batman brings. This was met with some mixed reactions, but it set up his character for the remainder of the film. Batman, played by returning Christian Bale, is first seen stopping Scarecrow, played again by Cillian Murphy, and his henchmen. This is our first look at the Batmen wannabes. They are vigilantes dressed as Batman wanting to be him and help him. They believed in what he was doing and decided that with some hockey pads and guns, they too would go fight crime. Also reprising their roles from Begins were Gary Oldman as Gordon, Michael Caine as Alfred, and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. We get our first look at Harvey Dent as he enters a courtroom to join assistant DA Rachel Dawes, played newcomers by Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Maggie took over the role from Batman Begins’ Katie Holmes. I was excited about her replacement, but found Maggie to be lacking. She did not seem to bring anything new to the role. Eckhart, however, started out weak but grew into his character more as the film progressed. My only other complaint other than Maggie, has to be that Harvey Dent and his duality are not explored as much as I had hoped. It is no secret that he becomes Two-Face, but I just wish they would have hashed that out a little more.

The film progresses like a crime drama. There are stings, hits, body counts, and the like. We follow Batman as he tries to put and end to Joker’s reign of chaos. We also see Joker’s love for chaos and how he exploits humanity’s love for greed and money. Since The Dark Knight takes place right after the events of Batman Begins, some things seem a bit out of whack, and that was another interesting point. At the end of Begins, Wayne Manor burns to the ground. So, in this movie, Bruce is living out of a loft in downtown Gotham City. The Batcave is gone also due to the fire, so it has been moved to a dockyard. At the end of the first movie, Jim Gordon was promoted. Here, he has his own division MCU, Major Crimes Unit. This storyline was explained in more detail in the gap filling direct-to-DVD release Batman: Gotham Knights. I will review that following this. There is still some hate inside the GCPD as to who was and still might be dirty. The movie centers on District Attorney Harvey Dent and his campaign against the mobs. Aided by Bruce’s support, and Batman’s, Dent leads the charge to lock up all the mobsters that run the streets of Gotham City, and to make it a better, safer place. Of course, he runs into a few speed bumps along the way. It is how the characters interact with each other and these bumps that fuel the film. There were plenty of plot twists to keep you entertained. The action was intense and plentiful. As I mentioned before, the CGI was kept to a minimum, so the action was much more believable.

I could keep going on and on about how great this movie is. I waited until Monday to type this because I wanted to see where the box office numbers fell for its 3 day opening. They fell BIG. Top midnight gross, top one day gross, top three day weekend gross, top opening of 2008, the list goes on and on. If that is not enough to make you want to see it, then read all the hype about Ledger’s performance as The Joker. It is riveting to say the least. All his ticks, licking of his lips and wounds/scars, and jerky movements only help enhance the creepiness that is his Joker. I can only hope that he gets a posthumous nomination. I feel that it would be a big step for comic book movies as a whole to finally get an acting nomination. I feel that Jack Nicholson was snubbed back in 1989 for his portrayal of The Joker. As I was watching Ledger’s last full performance, it made me sad to realize what he had to offer as an actor and what we would not be able to enjoy.

I would also not be surprised if The Dark Knight gets a Best Picture nod. Why not? The top 5 reviewed movies of the year so far are 3 comic book movies and 2 animated ones. What does that say? If it, or Iron Man, could snag that, they could do for comic book movies what LOTR did for fantasy films. Verdict: Need I say? I am planning my second and possible third viewing. I advise an IMAX viewing if possible. The scenes shot in IMAX by Nolan are worth the extra money. I just cannot afford the $12 ticket to continue watching it on the IMAX myself. As a guy said on the way out, "I don't think I can watch any other comic book movie ever again." The Dark Knight has set the bar high for the next batch of superhero movies.

06 July 2008


Hancock Fails to Save My Expectations

For what it was, Hancock was a superhero movie meant for the followers of Will Smith. Hancock may not be for the comic book masses, but for the general crowd, it will do the trick. Will Smith took the role of Hancock and made it his own. Or you can look at it as he took the role and made it fit him and his acting. Hancock was an enjoyable ninety minute ride, but that is where it disappoints. With a running time just over the 90 minute mark, I was left wanting more that I knew the movie had to offer. There was one scene in the middle of the movie, after the “plot twist” that I saw coming right away, that just made no sense. It was not explained, it was just there. This movie had plenty of potential to be a great film, but it just failed to reach that mark. It wasn’t that it was satisfied with meritocracy, it just did not have what it needed to cross that threshold into greatness. But with Will Smith, you can safely bet that Mr. 4th of July will deliver the money.

Hancock started out with a group of bad guys leading a high speed chase with the cops down the interstate. Hancock is awakened by a little kid and told to do something. He then remedies the situation in a not-so-normal way. He puts the car through an antenna on a building. We then see that the public does not like or appreciate Hancock and his heroics. He then helps a Public Relations representative Ray Embrey, played by Arrested Development’s and director Peter Berg’s alum Jason Bateman. This then leads to another public outcry. While dropping Ray off at home, we meet his son and his wife Mary, played by Charlize Theron. From this moment, I saw the plot twist that does not happen for another 45 minutes. The next day, the DA wants Hancock to turn himself in, and he does on the advice from his PR rep Ray. The plan is to make the public need and want Hancocks help. We also discover along the way that Hancock is not sure who he is or anything before the 1930s.

The rest of the film deals with the plot twist and the public’s view on Hancock. I do not want to give away the twist, so, I will just wrap things up. Peter Berg delivers another great action movie. His direction can apparently cause motion sickness, but since I seem to be immune to that, I thoroughly love his direction. He has a tendency to put you in the middle of the action, maybe a little bit too much for some people. Will Smith’s acting was nothing to write home about, and the rest of the cast followed suit. Batemen was the same character he was in Arrested Development and Theron was enjoying her role, but not on par with what she is capable of. Verdict: I enjoyed this, but I am hoping for an extended cut that explains that one scene that does not fit in. If you are a fan of superhero movies, comic book movies, Will Smith, or just love action movies, this is worth the 90 minutes. You know I say, “Yes!” to all those.