Friday, July 18, 2008

Guillermo del Toro's "Hellboy 2: The Golden Army" (2008)

In the hands of someone other than Guillermo del Toro, the Hellboy franchise could possibly have been a complete disaster. Thanks to del Toro's ability to beautifully capture the mythical and fantasy aspects of the Hellboy universe, we are treated to a sequel that improves upon the first film.

Visually, Hellboy 2 wins. This film comes to life on the big screen. This sequel takes on more of a grand "epic" scale in comparison to the first one. There are larger battles and del Toro does them justice. He has a knack for such creativity and as far as the visuals go, I was not disappointed. The monsters and mythical creatures were so brilliantly created. Whether they were his own creations or concepts taken from the comic books, I don't know, but either way, they came out stunning.

The one area that I was disappointed in was the story. I felt it was lacking a lot. The whole Golden Army concept was a neat idea that I wish was expanded on more. In my opinion, it seemed as if all the major key plot turns and outcomes came too quickly and too easily. The ending felt rather forced and unfortunately very expected. While it's hard to knock a film in this genre too hard for plot woes, the fact that it was indeed del Toro who wrote the script leaves me doing so. After being stunned by both The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth, I was expecting a little more. Do not worry though, these complaints are about all I could find to be even close to being wrong with the film. They don't take away from any of the fun of the film.

Ron Perlman is excellent once again as Hellboy. The rest of the cast is as good as they need to be. The real stars here are Red himself and the visual feast. It's a treat to see on the big screen. The film is all around fun and entertaining and one of the better summer films, so far.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

"The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell" (2006)

Next stop: 2097. The Threshold of Hell. The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell is a wildly creative and original post apocalyptic film. The first film that popped to mind when I saw the trailer for this film was Six String Samurai, with less sword play. They both feature the same kind of theme of old America is gone and a new land is being born. They both have main characters wearing suits. They both are about journeys. The resemblances could go on. Whether that film was an inspiration for the film makers here or not, I couldn't tell you. Here you'll find zany character after zany character combined with clever and funny dialogue and entertaining fighting and gore.

The viewer follows Tex Kennedy, great great (and so on) grandson of John F. Kennedy. Along with his two robot pals, Quincy and Yul, and the sometimes trusty Cannibal Sue, Tex is out on a mission to restore rightful power the young New America. This journey won't be any typical journey. There's a whole lot of fun to be had with this film. It's on a low scale and rather ingeniously made. It has b-movie qualities which give it a rather warm feeling. From start to finish, this film entertains. The filmmakers did a fine job convincing me that America was truly gone. The film plays out like a "twisted History Channel documentary" with a narrator and clips of "historians" who help tell the story of Tex Kennedy and his pals.

Some of the most entertaining scenes in this film come with the character interactions. For example, you've got the great grandsons of Fidel Castro and John F. Kennedy meeting in a jail cell. I could go on and on about many of the films characters but I think you should get the point. This film has finally hit DVD thanks to National Lampoon picking up it's rights. Don't let that fool you though, this film is much, much better than the crap they actually create. It's creative, witty, and certainly NOT the worst thing God ever puked up!


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Timur Bekmambetov's "Wanted" (2008)

Wanted is a fast paced action film that should please any summer movie goer. Timur Bekmambetov, director of the two Russian vampire films Night Watch and Day Watch, is a visionary artist when it comes to his films. Even the subtitles for the region one DVD release of Night Watch were stylish. Wanted is no different. Right from the beginning of this film the viewer automatically knows what kind of film this film thinks it is. What kind is that, you might ask? A fun one, and not a very serious one at that.

There's a sarcastic tone from our main character Wes right from the start that carries heavy throughout most of the film. He's a down and out guy who has not much going for him. His girlfriend cheats on him with his best friend, he hates his job, and he hates his boss. When Fox finds him things change. He is inducted into the Fraternity, a group of secret assassin's. After training him, he sets out on his mission to avenge his dads death. Revenge remains the main theme for the rest of the film and is what carries the action on and on. I will stop there with the plot details. This film has a very legitimate twist or two. Normally, you might not see such a change in story. Things might typically be more streamlined, but this was not the case. The ending left me happy and I hope it does for you. I was prepared for the worst, most typical action film conclusion and admittedly got the complete opposite.

Another aspect of this high octane action film that is different from some others of the like is that the acting is actually pretty solid. James McAvoy is a rising star as shown in Atonement and other previous work. Here he shows his versatility as an action hero. I really enjoyed his voice over. I found the humor to my liking. Angelina Jolie doesn't need to do much to appear in place in a film like this. You might find yourself starring at her too much. Morgan Freeman, in a rather non Morgan Freeman like role, is wonderful. These performances help keep this from being too mindless, which is sometimes a good thing.

I've heard people complain about the story in this film. I can't understand this complaint at all. Perhaps for someone like me, a fan of classic film noir, the plot stands out a little more. I personally love the whole secret group of hit man concept. Thinking back on it more now, this film carries a few elements of noir. Fox, in her role, is a classic femme fatale. A few of the other male characters are rather ambiguous in terms of motives. I'm getting way ahead of myself here but I'm essentially trying to explain why I think I enjoyed the plot. It wasn't confusing, anyone who says that didn't pass 5th grade yet. It was simple, added great motivation for the characters, and provided great action. Upon leaving my theater I heard one person say "that was retarded" or something of that nature. Anyone who thinks Wanted is retarded might actually be retarded themselves. Alright, that's mean, but seriously? If you go into Wanted thinking it's going to be something it isn't, you need to start thinking more. If you watch the first 20 minutes of this film and still think it is what it isn't, you might be brain dead. There is absolutely no reason as to why a person can't enjoy Wanted.

Wanted is a satisfying release in the midst of terrible summer blockbusters. Every summer we get a handful of quality action and big budget films and Wanted appears to be the first of them in the dog days of summer 2008. Grab a friend and go check this film out in theaters before it's too late, as the experience does it justice.


Antonia Bird's "Ravenous" (1999)

Ravenous is one of the most underrated gems in the horror genre. Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle both give outstanding performances in this cannibal film laced with gore and black comedy alike.

I think what really made this film work was the simple premise combined with a very interesting cast of characters that were created by a very strong cast, especially for a film of this type. Robert Carlyle's performance is very convincing whichever way you look at it. People who've seen the film will know what I mean when I say that. Guy Pearce is given a sort of quiet, timid role for most of the film as he plays just that type of solider. He backed down in the face of the enemy but managed to cross enemy lines and take control of their post by pure chance. Of course, that was then, and this is now. He can't stand the site of blood, and that won't come in handy in his upcoming endeavors with cannibalism.

Ravenous is a gory film that succeeds in all it tries to do. It's a seriously funny film, to be honest. You must check this gem out when you get the chance!


Sam Raimi's "Darkman" (1990)

Before raking in the cash with the Spider-Man franchise, Sam Raimi directed Darkman, a stepping stone to his current success. While I won't argue whether the Spider-Man films are good or not, I will say I don't really enjoy them that much. In fact, most super hero films, outside of a few of the Batman film, don't leave me wanting more. Darkman, on the other hand, surely does.

Sam Raimi made this original super hero film at the height of his early success. It was after the cult classic schlock films Evil Dead I and II and before the third installment in the series, the more comedic Army of Darkness. Raimi took this notable success and translated to a different genre, and succeeded.

As the title of the film suggests, Darkman is dark. Although this film has it's rather cheesy moments, the story of Darkman and how he came to be is still a rather grim one. Dr. Peyton Westlake's studies of synthetic skin are interrupted when Robert G. Durant and his gang trash his lab and torture him in the search for a paper that contains information that could hurt him and his boss. When Durant finds what he wants, he leaves Westlake for certain death in a fiery explosion. Unfortunately for Durant, Westlake survives and returns to society with a vengeance.

Liam Neeson is just fine as Dr. Peyton Westlake. He has the perfect touch of humor that lends to the cheesy-ness of this film. For example, the carnival scene comes to mind. "Take the fucking elephant!" will never be forgotten by me. I know everyone would have loved Bruce Campbell to play Darkman as he was originally supposed to, but hey, life's not fair. We can't hate on Liam for that, he did a fine job. Larry Drake's portrayal of Durant is so god damn evil. Colin Friels' played the cackling Louis Strack perfectly in my opinion. He had the menacing "I BUILT IT ALL" attitude down pat. These performances really helped the film achieve what it wanted. It makes the revenge theme of the film so much sweeter.

As I mentioned before, this film is a little cheesy. I personally think it could work better 100% serious, but that's okay with me. I'm a fan of serious, non serious, whatever. It's all good to me, I just think that a dark tale like this could be handled much more effectively without all that. Overall, Darkman is a solid film with an original super hero that is well worth watching. Enjoy Sam Raimi and his signature film making outside of the possessed woods and before Spider-Man


Paul Verhoeven's "Total Recall" (1990)

Total Recall is a perfect blend of bloody fun sci-fi action and an intelligent science fiction story a la Blade Runner. Paul Verhoeven, who's a mildly controversial individual, took a Philip K. Dick short story as inspiration and created a fantastic science fiction film starring Arnold Scwarzenegger.

The difference between this Arnold flick and another is that the content of the film is much deeper than normal and will actually make you think. Although fairly cheesy at times, the film just works as a serious science fiction tale. This film even works on a pure conceptual level. What if your whole life was just a memory implanted in your brain? What if you were tricked to do what's wrong? Even if Verhoeven didn't create such a visually astonishing, fun, entertaining, and thought provoking film, the concept would be another to draw on.

Verhoeven makes everything look just right. This was his first film after the classic Robocop and Verhoeven definitely delivered with the seemingly high expectations he had been given. The film is shot well, paced well, and given just the right atmosphere. There's hints of humor all around, even among such dark subject matter.

Total Recall should be an appealing film to any science fiction fan. Anytime a film in this genre comes along that is both good old fun and thought provoking, it's definitely worth watching.