Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hellboy II: The Golden Army [2008]

It’s become the standard lately that part 2 of a superhero franchise is outstanding. Spider-Man 2 struck the right balance between action and the love story – X-Men 2 had an intelligent plot and the right amount of character development wrapped up in plenty of action – The Dark Knight changed the Batman and Joker from caricatures on the big screen into realistic people inhabiting their own world – so now it’s Hellboy’s turn.

The story revolves around an Elf prince who’s angered by having to live in the shadows and decides to awaken the mythical Golden Army and declare war on mankind. The only problem becomes he has to reunite the crown that controls the army – thus destroying his own family in order to do so. Meanwhile Hellboy is struggling to become popular with the masses, is dealing problems with a new handler and his girlfriend - as well as kind of looking after the Elf princess.

This movie never connects. Hellboy spends the entire film whining about his personal life - he does not seem concerned at all about the actual plot. There’s no real stakes for him either – and if the main character doesn’t care – why should we as an audience care? It seems like Hellboy has to be dragged through the movie in order to get him involved. When Hellboy was actually doing something - the action was fairly predictable – the only thing this film had going for it was the visuals – and in my opinion visuals do not make a movie.

This has become a big problem with movie reviews, the internet and fandom; Guillermo del Toro – who writes and directs this film – is involved so it’s okay if there’s no plot or interesting aspects to the film – as long as there’s spectacular visuals and creatures - it’s considered “great” because del Toro. Almost all the reviews that I’ve glanced at to prepare my own review - talk about del Toro and his visual style – they mention nothing having to do with the flat dull plot or the romantic comedy sensibilities. If ANYBODY else came in and wrote and directed this exact film – I guarantee that it wouldn’t be holding an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes (same rating as X2) - you’d hear everybody complaining about so-n-so “ruined” Hellboy and questioning why Hellboy was trapped in a romantic comedy.

You add the Guillermo del Toro fandom in with the Family Guy fandom – and you’ve got a film where you’ve got so many rabid fans that it’s impossible to get real answers about the quality of the film. I say this because Hellboy’s new handler is voiced by Seth MacFarlane – and since he’s only got the 3-voices he can do – he busts out the Stewie Griffin one for this film. I’m not a fan of Family Guy – but I’m not so blind that if Seth MacFarlane was in this film and did a great job I wouldn’t have complemented him – but it’s the Stewie voice! Didn’t somebody hear that and think – that’s too recognizable – we should go another direction in order to have a little bit of validity to the character – and not just have everyone thinking “what the deuce”?

They try to make it a character study on Hellboy and his anger issues and hair-triggered nature at certain points in the film – which would’ve made the film interesting. So, someone barely insults him and he punches them in the face with is whammer – but the bad guy stands right in front of him with some unknown mystical weapon - Hellboy doesn’t shoot him? They also try to play up the idea that Hellboy is not a human – so why does he care about being liked by humans – but this plot point stops almost as soon as it starts.

I’ll spare you my anger over the 30-minute interlude in the middle of the film where everyone kind of hangs around – not involved in the plot – singing Barry Manilow and drinking beer. Or my frustration regarding the plot hole where the Prince knows everything the Princess knows because they are magical twins – but the Princess can hide something from the Prince – and he knows essentially where it’s hidden – but doesn’t continue his search demanding the good guys bring it to him even though he’s 6-inches away from it. Or even the annoying cheap pregnancy sub-plot that played out almost exactly the same way other things played out in the first film. Or the fact they were obviously trying to start catch-phrases. Or the fact that they used some cheap storybook way of telling you what the conflict was about – instead of having an actual - interesting and action packed investigation to fill in that 30-minute gap in the middle of the film where they sing Barry Manilow!

I’m ranting now. Overall – I’m glad I rented this film – if I would’ve bought the Blu-Ray like I was considering to give my HD set-up a true test – I would’ve been pissed. Or if I went and saw this in the theater – I would’ve felt obligated to not walk out on it – or able to pause it to check my e-mail.

I’m giving this a 1 out of 5 – because it was bad – I felt insulted watching it.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Drag Me To Hell [2009]

Fifteen years ago – if you mentioned Sam Raimi – you’d peak the interest of movie fans that fell in love with the Evil Dead series. These days, if you bring up Sam Raimi – you’d conjure up thoughts of the Spider-Man series – and the giddy-ness of fanboys and girls or eye rolls of people who used to love Raimi before he “sold-out”. Sam is back in the horror genre but has his recent promotion to the blockbuster arena ruined those roots?

Christine Brown is desperate for the Assistant Manager position - which is open at the bank she works at. When an old woman comes in pleading with her to save her home – Christine is given the decision to turn her away and impress her boss or to extend the loan and appease her good nature. Christine decides to turn her away but after work the old woman attacks Christine – and curses her. Christine seeks out the help of a psychic after the attack – and discovers she has 3-days to rid herself of the curse – or be dragged to hell.

What I really liked about this film was that Sam Raimi had not lost a step since doing the Evil Dead series almost 20 years ago. The film had a lot of the same techniques that were used throughout the Evil Dead series – but now he has a budget to play with – so there was even more! There was a lot of creeping in the shadows and slime and stuff that you’d find in a much lower budget film – but used quite adeptly in a bigger budget ‘jump out and scare you’ film.

I also liked how the story progressed – the tension was real and it was coming at you – and she’s got 3-days to get it resolved so the desperation was thick. The story turned up the tension – and then brought you back down wondering if she was finally rid of the curse – then it built up – making for a fun ride. I liked the concept – with the gypsy curse – the haunting – the possession and the blood sacrifice – it’s not all original – but far more interesting than the gore-porn-torture-horror that has become the trend.

What I didn’t like was one sub-plot that involved $10,000 – I can’t see how it came into play. I did nip out to the washroom right as Christine was first starting to raise it – and got back right when she was eating ice cream – but that was 3-minutes – so I doubt I missed a ton – but when it came down to it – I couldn’t tell what it was really for. The person they were desperately raising the money for – didn’t seem like she really required money to do what they wanted her to do. It felt like a pointless sub-plot.

The final act was also a bit of an embarrassment – fairly predictable as I felt like they gave it away too easily – and it sucks it didn’t really grab you the way they meant it to grab you. Allison Lohman as Christine was also off key in several scenes. One line in particular stuck with me as being particularly odd – when she turned towards a character and simply stated, “I’m scared”. It was odd because she didn’t sound scared – she sounded as if she was announcing that this was the way she was acting. It’s a movie – show me – don’t tell me.

So, after you read this – you are expecting me to give it bad marks – but to tell you the truth I did like it. It’s a pretty good film – it’s certainly not without some flaws – but it’s still in the conversation of best 10 horror films of the decade. There are plenty of good scares – and a lot of creepiness that makes this film really work as good summer fun.

I give it a 4 out of 5.