Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) – A Fun Adventure That Gives Justice to the Characters and Plot

Hellboy 2 Poster

        The blog is finally back! I’ve been on a bit of haitus since I’ve been moving to a new apartment, my sister got married this week and I had car trouble in Seattle and had to replace a flat, which took a few days. There are reviews upcoming, the first of which is this one that I’ve been working on. Enjoy.

       “Hellboy 2” is a lot of fun. This is a film that takes everything that worked about the first film and focuses it (with some of the same problems still around as well) and creating a few new problems. It is the better film though, as the characters in this are more memorable and Hellboy isn’t the only character driving the plot this time. Non-spoiler thoughts, check this film out if you like the Hellboy comics and enjoyed the first film.

    The film was directed and written by Guillermo del Toro and produced Lawrence Gordon, Mike Richardson and Lloyd Levin.

    The story involves Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and the team working top the evil elf Prince Nuada from summoning the immortal Golden Army from ancient that nearly wiped out humanity before.

The Pros: The World – Guillermo loves the dark world of fairy mythology (see “Pan’s Labrynth”) and here he gets to show and express that love in the mythos on display. His world is fascinating and all characters look so real and alien. This is really him in his element as this film had some of my favorite character designs.

The Soundtrack – Danny Elfman once again creates a powerful score! This is a guy who specializes in dark fairy tales and that is what this Hellboy film is. he does a masterful job capturing the tragedy and loss in scenes and the soundtrack is worth checking out just for what it is.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning. While the last film was too dark at times this one embraces the dark but also the light to create beautiful contrasts in locations and characters, giving the film and otherworldly feel. Guillermo Navarro did a fantastic job.

The Introduction – A little Hellboy is being red a story by his adoptive father Trevor (yay, John Hurt is back!). It is a touching scene as we learn that fairys and humans lived in harmony until humans started destroying the land leading King Balor to create a Golden Army of magic. He regrets it all after the death toll rises and makes a peace treaty with humanity. His son leaves in exile as he wanted humanity wiped out and he and his daughter hide the pieces so the army may never rise again.

The Characters – The characters are what drew me into the world of Hellboy (though Hellboy isn’t as interesting as Abe of Krauss in my opinion) and they are the reason I will continue to see these films.

King Balor – The King is awesome and shuts down his son when his son tries to call for war again. It takes his son killing him for him to be stopped. I wanted more of this guy as he was a fascinating and powerful character.

The Goblin Smith – This guy makes a deal to save the life of Hellboy and we learn he was the smith who made the Golden Army and fears his creations. He brings Liz to the Angel and she makes the deal to bring Hellboy back even knowing it could lead to the end.

The Angel – The Angel sees Hellboy’s future and in it only destruction. She is a dark and haunting figure with eyes of a large cranium and great black wings. She has my favorite design in the film and if they make more I hope we see her again. She saves Hellboy’s life.

 Hellboy – Hellboy’s arc is learning to communicate with Liz and work on a team. He is by the end and has rubbed off on Krauss who rebels against the agency. His arc is cool as we see even though he is stupid, his heart is in the right place and he is a talented fighter.

Liz – Liz makes the choice Hellboy made last movie where he risks all to save her, she does the same this film. She is the one who has gotten control of her powers (I would have liked to see more of how that happened) and is the one helping Hellboy become responsible.

Abe Sapien – Abe has a character arc as we see him love and lose as he brings the crown to Nuada that awakens the army (and rightfully calls out Liz and Hellboy for doing the same thing). Sadly not all love works out as Nuala dies to save them all. It is a touching scene and we see how perceptive Abe is. I really liked his character after this film.

Prince Nuada – The Prince is in it for revenge and has a great design as a dark warrior. He trained for centuries and his plan nearly works because he is the only one who doesn’t love and only wants to control. Luckily he is stopped in the end by his sister, who it turns out was the only one who could unless the heroes were willing to kill her by killing Nuada.

Princess Nuala – Nuala should have got more screentime. We see she is compassion and a healer, while her brother is the warrior and she is shown to be wise as she knows that the war will only end in the destruction of all as the Golden Army is only built to destroy. She also falls in love with Abe and is lovely until she kills herself to stop her brother keeping up the theme of tragedy that pervaded the film.

Johann Krauss

 Johann Krauss – Krauss is awesome! He is pretty much immortal because he is living ectoplasm in a suit. This leads to him being both smarter and stronger than Hellboy and a better leader on all counts as he doesn’t depend on brute forcing his way through situations. He does see the value in it though and resigns from the agency with the rest of them as they are tired of being tools, given that Hellboy’s existence is shown to be just a tool for his father to cause the end of the world. All of them, including Krauss, reject that control.

Okay: The Ending – It is cool that Liz and Hellboy are going to be parents, the freeze frame for the final shot was a bit annoying though.

The Cons: Disposable Agents – So many agents die, they are basically red shirts and I feel the stakes would have been hire if they’d felt more like characters rather than disposable bodies.

The Prince’s Long Term Plan – What was his plan after humanity was wiped out? He never talks about it and it seems that the Fairy Realm is largely afraid of him. He lived only for revenge when he could have been so much more since he wanted to rule and killed his father to do so.

  I enjoyed this film much more than the first one largely because the side characters got a lot more exploration while still keeping the Hellboy mythos key with him being son of a Demon Lord. The price and cost of choices was explored really well too and using the Fairy World to do so was masterful since in mythology they are all about dealmaking. Krauss was my favorite character and his character growth was a big part of what made the film so fascinating outside of the great world and character designs that we’ve all come to expect from Guillermo del Toro.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

Batman (1989): A Flawed and Amazing Exploration of Revenge and Identity

Batman (1989)

   Tim Burton’s “Batman” was my introduction to DC and the Batman Universe outside of “Batman: The Animated Series.” It has also been years since I have watched this film so it was great coming to it with fresh eyes as even though it is a favorite film, it has a lot of glaring flaws that bring down my overall experience of the story. What those flaws are, I’ll get into deeper into the review. This is the film that really made Super Hero films a thing as it was the success of the Tim Burton films that made Hollywood more comfortable taking a chance with other Super Hero films, for that reason we really can thank the Tim Burton for helping jump start this whole entire film genre in the modern age…for his was the first big hit that showed films about comic book heroes could be profitable and franchises.

   “Batman” was directed by Tim Burton and written by Sam Haam and Warren Skaaren while being produced by Jon Peters and Peter Guber.

     The story involves the investigation into the vigilante Batman (Michael Keaton) by reporters Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) and Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) while Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) plots a coup against his boss so he can own the gangs, not knowing he’s already been betrayed.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Danny Elfman’s fantastic score captures both the mythicness of Batman, the darkness of Gotham city and even the personal of the romance and relationships we see on the screen. This was my first introduction to his music and from here I fell in love with so much of his work.

The Cinematography – Roger Pratt does a great job capturing the Gothic feel of Gotham as well as the fear behind Batman and the Joker. There are great color contrasts in this film, from the Joker’s purple, white and green…to the black aesthetic of Batman, which really illustrates how they took the scars to their identity.

The World – Burton’s world of Batman is awesome! The city manages to have both a modern and old time feel to it (much like “Batman: The Animated Series”) which gives it an epic and comic book feel. This is a world that feels lived in and has characters outside of those we get to know, to explore.

Harvey Dent – Billy Dee Williams really should have had the chance to play Two-Face. The guy does an amazing job as the charismatic Harvey Dent whose hands are tied by the corruption around him and the power of the Joker and the mobs. The only con is I wish he could have got more screentime and had interactions with the Joker and Bruce Wayne.

Bob – Bob is the Joker’s second-in-command and is  lot of fun. He’s a man fully devoted to Joker and can even hold his own against Batman. Sadly when Batman takes Joker’s poison balloons Joker kills him in anger. Poor Bob, you were a great Dragon for the Joker.

Alfred – Alfred is great in this and I really like Michael Gough’s portrayal of him. He comes off as a grandfather figure who is trying to look out for Bruce as best he can, while still having a level of detachment because of his job. He’s great at connecting Bruce to his humanity though as he does all he can to make sure Vicki and Bruce are as successful relationship.

Jack Nicholsan Joker

Jack Napier / The Joker – Nicholson’s Joker is very much a crazy mob boss, which works. Nicholson owns roles like this and he clearly had a lot of fun. His design manages to be opening yet threatening and he destroys Batman’s plane, breaks into Bruce Wayne’s home and nearly escapes Bruce at the end too. His moment of stupid besides using the chemical planet he was turned into the Joker in was his obsession with Vicki Vale and the fact that after he shoots down Batman’s plane, he doesn’t finish the job and instead chooses to retreat. After seeing him stand his ground multiple times, the moment of arrogance/fear/stupidity? cost the character his life. Also he is all about revenge and hurts Batman, kills the boss and girlfriend who betrayed him and even messes up Gotham. In this way he is an effective villain.

Bruce Wayne / The Batman – Batman like the Joker is a character motivated by revenge and ego. Neither really knows how to be around people and Bruce does that by giving and collecting while Napier just kills and destroys. In this Batman we really see how the death of his parents motivate him as he goes to where the shooting happens to give them roses and it is when Vicki finds out that he is finally able to feel real. Michael Keaton is an amazing Bruce Wayne and really illustrates his humanity better than Bale and the others. He feels like a man uncomfortable in his skin and in constant emotional turmoil. For this reason I get why his Batman kills. He’s a Punisher type Batman and wants to do all he can to prevent more Batman’s from being born (in the first scene we meet him he saves a couple with a child mirroring what never happened to him). For this Batman the Joker and crime isn’t just a duty, it is personal and how his crazy and anger comes out.

Exploration of Identity – Identity is key to this and both Napier’s and Wayne’s trauma transforms them into different identities that elevate their obsessions…from Napier’s disregard for life and obsession with people and art…to Bruce’s desire to hurt criminals the way they hurt him. This is expressed in their identities of Joker and Batman who give them permission to be those people and not have to answer to anyone for what they do.

Okay/Cons – Commissioner Gordon – The guy is invisible and wasn’t needed in this at all. I got the feeling they only put him in this since he was in the comics, Billy Dee Williams Harvey Dent was much more of an influence and punch when I saw Gotham’s leaders than the Mayor and Gordon.

Vicki Vale – Vicki Vale like Knox is largely there be rescued though Vicki gets it worse as she spends a good portion of this film kidnapped by the Joker or screaming…which is a shame. She is a character who could have been more as she was a reporter from a war torn region, yet once a psycho came around (the Joker) she froze and needed Bruce Wayne or Batman to rescue her.

The Mob Boss – He talks quiet and I never saw him as a threat. He owned one corrupt cop and that guys men but we never see him do anything but fail to kill Jack Napier. More could have been done to establish this guy as a threat.

The Cons: Damsel in Distress – Vicki Vale is saved so many times in this, this is distracting and I’d honestly expect more from a reporter who came out of a war zone. This con gets more obvious with each viewing. Vicki Vale is a love interest and something to be competed over with the Joker, not a character.

Obvious Plan – Joker uses chemicals from the place he was dumped into and that his boss had been tamed up with before…how did Batman not figure this out until the very end? This was a major dropping of the ball on his part.

    This is a movie with problems, but it is still one of my favorites and it is thanks to this film that one of my favorite animated series exists (“Batman: The Animated Series”) as well as the rest of Bruce Timm’s work from “Superman: The Animated Series” to “Justice League” and the spinoffs). Batman in all his variations and as a popular character today, probably wouldn’t have existed without Burton and Keaton’s Batman and for what they are…they are fantastic. The humanity of the characters is captured as well as the psychosis one must have to be a vigilante, and this lends power to the script and fills in some of the plot holes or weak characters that happen. This is a favorite film of mine and Keaton will always be one of my favorite versions of Batman.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993): Great World But Story Doesn’t Quite Deliver

The Nightmare Before Christmas

    Before I get into my thoughts, this is going to be one of a few Holiday themed film reviews leading up to Christmas. This review is probably going to be one of my more controversial ones as I know I am most likely in the minority here, but I don’t think “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is great. I think it’s alright but when it came to characters and story it didn’t quite deliver, even though the world it takes place in is fascinating and I see why “Kingdom Hearts” keeps returning to it. Tim Burton is a director and artist who creates wonderful worlds, sadly what I’ve noticed is he doesn’t always fully flesh out the events or characters of said world and this movie truly is a good example of that.

       The film was directed by Henry Selick, written by Caroline Thompson with story by Michael McDowell and produced by Tim Burton and Denise De Novi.

     The story involves Jack Skellington the “Pumpkin King” of Halloween Town having a crisis of want and identity that changes him when falls into Christmas Town. From here he brings Christmas back to Halloween Town and takes up the identity of Santa Claus which causes dire consequences around the world.

The Pros: The World – Tim Burton created an amazing world. The basic theory is each holiday has a town where the denzines of the holiday live…whether it Halloween, Christmas, Easter, etc. They can crossover to one another as well, as seen by Jack’s discovery of the place.

The Animation – The stop motion animation is really beautiful. Each place whether it is Halloween Town, Christmas Town or our world has a distinct flavor and tone to it, which lend strength to the events that go down.

Halloween Town – Halloween Town is the best town and is based all around scaring people. The monsters in this town have great designs and everyone in the town is either mad or demented. Sally and Jack are the most normal members of the population.

The Mayor of Halloween Town – The Mayor is literally two faced and has a happy and unhappy face that turns on his head. He can’t do anything himself and is all about Jack the celebrity. He’s a funny character and has some great lines.

Oogie Boogie – Oogie Boogie is a fun villain as he loves to gamble with lives and is a sentient living mass of bugs. He is threatening and is very much the bully of the town who lives to stick to himself unless his boys bring him lives to play with. Ken Page was great.

Okay: The Soundtrack – This isn’t Elfman’s best work, mostly because the songs aren’t all that good. They are okay but “Darkman” had a much stronger soundtrack, as did “Batman.” This one is a very weak Disney soundtrack and I can’t think of any song that really stood out beyond the main theme.

Jack Skellington – Jack is okay, if he wasn’t a major celebrity he would have been more sympathetic but from the beginning he is the man who has everything. All the people of Halloween Town love him, he always wins the Halloween events and the only thing not going for him is he’s bored and feels lonely. I didn’t get the loneliness given everyone wanted to be with him and he just had to open up. He was okay, Chris Sarandon was a good voice acting choice though.

Sally – Sally is the woman trapped in the castle by her evil creator Dr. Finklestein. She keeps poisoning him and escaping, so she is an active character…but I didn’t know why she liked Jack beyond the fact that everyone liked Jack because he was popular. She could have done a lot more and I wish she’d gone from quiet to active. She tries to stop the Nightmare Before Christmas with Fog with Jack’s ghost dog Zero had a glowing nose. I really liked the idea of her character, but like Jack she didn’t feel fully formed.

Message – The message is largely to be comfortable in yourself and don’t try to be other people. This is good but I felt the execution would have been better if Santa had been more explicit to Jack or if Sally had.

The Cons: Santa Claus – The character is pretty useless. All he does is fix the Nightmare Christmas Jack causes on the populace, but for a Magic guy he was useless against Oogie Boogie.

    This is a film that even given my criticisms of it, and the fact that it is a bit overrated is still worth seeing at least once. Tim Burton’s creativity is on full display and Halloween Town is a lot of fun. This is a also chance to see some beautiful Stop Motion animation and even though this world isn’t fully formed on screen, it is still a lot of fun to visit.

Final Score: 7.3 / 10

Darkman (1990): A Masterpiece Exploring the Transformative Nature of Revenge

Darkman

    “Darkman” is a fantastic film and really gave me a huge appreciation for Sam Raimi’s work outside of the first two “Spider-man” films. This is a film that has depth to it’s characters, fascinating villains and a protagonist who is one of the more original to be created in fiction. Darkman is a character who changes over the course of the film and his creation is tragic, which lends strength to the story’s narrative and kept me watching.

     Sam Raimi directed the film and wrote it along with Chuck Pfarrer, Ivan Raimi, Daniel Goldin and Joshua Goldin. It was produced by Robert Tapert.

    The story involves Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) who is scarred when Durant (Larry Drake) the mobster attacks his lab to steal a document his girlfriend Julie (Francis McDarmond) was planning to use to explore city corruption. He survives the experience and goes underground becoming Darkman and seeking revenge against the mobsters who killed his assistant and scarred him.

The Pros: The World – The world reminds me of Gotham with there always be darkness and smoke over everything and the mob being in bed with big business as they pretty much do a takeover of the city. It makes sense why Darkman isn’t an idealistic hero, this city has no room for idealism.

The Transformation – The transformation is dark and powerful as Peyton is dropped into a vat, has his arms burned and loses his ability to touch. This leads to him getting super strength and also making him mad.

The Cinematography – Bill Pope did an amazing job on the cinematography. The scenes are clear and there is great use of shadows and light to give the tone of the world and our characters. This is a dying city.

The Soundtrack – Danny Elfman did a fantastic job on this soundtrack! His haunting score captures the horror of what Peyton Westlake goes through and captures how his desire for hate and revenge transforms him.

The Characters – The characters are all solid and have reason behind what they do, even the villains who would be lesser under different direction and actors.

Louis Strack Jr. – Is the corrupt billionare who wants to rebuild the city with the stolen money from the mob. He’s ambitious and was a man who came from nothing. He is also smart too and figures out when Darkman has taken the identity of Durant to get close to him and to rescue his girlfriend. He is tough to beat and his words about Westlake losing himself are proven correct. Colin Friels did a good job.

Robert Durant – Durant is the mobster who has a pretty great team. He works for Strack and is the man who nearly kills Darkman on multiple occasions, once when he is still Westlake and he kills Westlake’s assistant, the second when he targets Darkman’s hideout. Larry Drake was great.

Durant’s Minions – The minions are a lot of fun. One of them is a curly haired nerd, another has an artificial leg that works as a machine gun (and is used to kill a rival gang at the beginning) there is the muscle who looks like the Kingpin and the brains who survives until the end.

Julie Hastings – Frances McDormand is awesome! I really liked her in this where we see her see past Westlake’s appearance even when he can’t…and the fact that she was the one trying to reveal the corruption in the city. She’s a great character and I wanted to see more of her in action.

Peyton Westlake/Darkman – Liam Neeson is a wonderful hero. As Westlake he plays an eccentric mad scientist who is a strong empath and who loses all of that when he is burned making him a man who lives only for revenge. He is lost in it even as he is able to get his face back due to him being a scientist creating artificial skin…in the end that can’t change how his actions of revenge against Durant and Strack have changed him. In the end he becomes Bruce Campbell and disappears into the crowd knowing he can only be the avenger as his humanity is lost.

How Revenge Transforms – In the beginning Westlake is holding onto who he once was, but when he goes to Hastings in the pouring rain she runs away and fear and he sees his appearance and blames that and not the fact that he couldn’t speak, from here he seeks revenge and we see how the manipulation and his anger come to consume him to the point that he reacts at a a Carnival and attacks a man, which later leads to him going underground as he fears what his anger will make him do to good people like Julie.

   There really isn’t much that can be said that this film does wrong. It has a unique feel and flavor to it, our characters change over time and have to make choices that advance the plot, and in the end it sticks to the tragic tone as Westlake is forever alone when he realizes the person he has become is a danger to everyone. The only reason I didn’t give it 10 is I wish Strack had been less slimey and that we’d gotten more time with Julie doing her job before the transformation. Regardless, I highly recommend it and find it to be one of the best superhero films I have ever watched. I am going to be checking out more of Raimi’s work later. I really like his style.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

Edward Scissorhands (1990): Tim Burton’s Magnum Opus

Edward Scissorhands

 

“Edward Scissorhands” is the best of Tim Burton’s work I have seen and without a doubt his magnum opus. It is this story that captures his eclectic darkness that satires the usual, which in this case is suburbia while giving us the story of an outcast who happens to be the most human of all the characters. Suffice to say, I am glad this film was requested for the holidays, as it had been sometimes since I’ve seen it.

“Edward Scissorhands” was directed by Tim Burton, who also co-wrote the original story and was one of the producers on the production as well. The screenplay was by Caroline Thompson, who also co-wrote the story with him, and the other producer was Denise De Novi.

The premise of the story begins with an old lady telling the story of why snow exists by telling her about Edward (Johnny Depp), a boy who was created by an inventor (Vincent Price) but died before he could finish Edward leaving him with only scissors for hands. From here it kicks off with an Avon saleswoman named Peg (Dianne Wiest) who takes him after she decides to try the old mansion on the hill and discovers him there. From here the story unfolds as Edward reveals the dark underbelly and artificiality of the town and is found to be the most real person there.

The Pros: The Beginning and Flashbacks – One thing that the beginning does well is capture the inventor (Vincent Price’s) desire and love of creation. His mansion is full of robots and we see how wanting to give a robot a heart lead to his creation of Edward. We also see how the inventor treated Edward just like a son and how much he meant to him. These flashbacks are our only glimpse of Price’s character, but they are great as they reveal a mad scientist who has a heart and cares far more about people than most of the folks in the town.

The Outsider – Edward Scissorhands is the outsider and how he is treated is at first fear, but later he’s exploited as he’s a genius at using his scissorhands to do haircuts, groom dogs and shape hedges…this leads to the town taking him for granted and turning on him the moment he goes against their wishes. The only allies he has are the black cop, Kim and Peg.

Social Pressure and Ostracization – As accepting as the Oggs are initially of Edward, they don’t stick up for him when others like Jim and Kim or the neighbors exploit him. They stand by powerless except for Peg who screams to leave him alone and Kim who at this point has fallen in love with him and takes his hand to show the mob after he has saved her from her abusive boyfriend Jim. This is after the cop fakes killing him so he can escape…showing that there are people who understand that feeling of being outcast.

Peg Oggs – Peg Oggs is a woman who takes in Edward because she sees he is alone and cares for him. She never exploits him, unlike her husband which is a nice contrast to her blatantly trying to do that as a saleswoman. This contrast adds depth to her character, though she is powerless to social pressure and never stands up for herself, so never stands up for Edward. Dianne Wiest does a good job.

Kim Oggs – Winona Ryder is great as the selfish teen who grows to become selfless by the end. This first happens when she sees how kind Edward is but later when Edward is exploited by Jim when Jim is stealing from his father she leaves him and realizes how unhealthy Jim was for her. Her arc is fantastic and she sticks with Edward till the end as a friend and eventually as a lover. She is the one telling the story too and there is a sadness since she never went to see him again for his own protection and won’t anymore. In that way snow are her tears of loss as much as Edward’s.

Edward Scissorhands – This is one of the greatest roles I’ve seen Johnny Depp play. He plays a sensitive character just trying to fit in, who is the outcast and doesn’t understand society. He does understand how he was used in the end though. His heart is pure and you can tell his Inventor put the most investment into that versus on finishing up his body. The only ones who really appreciate it are Kim and Peg, which is part of makes it such a tragedy. This character is Burton in his zone and he never reaches this level of quality storytelling again, at least so far in my experience.

Okay: The Neighbors – The neighbors function mostly as ideas and that hurts the satire as true characters are the best forms of satire as they pay tribute to reality and pull from reality. The neighbors are all stereotypes…there is the religious woman afraid of all who are different and the one who sleeps around with all the guys. It isn’t bad but the fact that they are stereotype and archetypes doesn’t help the script. Mr. Oggs and his son are the same way.

The Music – The music isn’t super memorable, but isn’t bad either. It is not Elfman’s greatest work for sure.

The Cons: Jim the Bully – One dimensional baddie with an abusive father. He’s never sympathetic and is the kind of bully you see on the shallowest of kids shows or films. Wasn’t impressed given how great all the other aspects of this film are.

This film is about finding that love and acceptance and how tragic the fear of the mob can be against those are different. The characters and cinematography are unique and rich and the world feels lived in…and you actually care about what happens to Edward and the Oggs as society exploits and later rejects them. This is a tragedy and a romance as well as being a great satire of what suburbia and other groups can become, when people are lost and all that is seen is what you can get out of them.

This was the perfect film to end for the films that were requested on facebook related to the Holidays. The theme of love and sacrifice are things that Edward and Kim exemplify well in how they care for each other and in Edward’s case care for the tow, as well as the story of outcasts which is a such a major part and why giving and caring for the less fortunate is so important. The world is full of outcasts, just looking for acceptance or a warm place with friends or family over these winter days. Happy Holidays all.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10. One dimensional caricatures do bring it down in places but besides that it is solidly great and a favorite film.