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

Hellboy (2004): A Solid Overall Arc That Drags in Parts With Missed Opportunities

Hellboy Poster

   Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite directors and I’m glad he tacked the “Hellboy” comics as they are a lot of fun and I like the subversion of what it means to be a demon in popular culture that these comics do. Hellboy is a flawed human whose issues of anger are made worse by what he was born as, but it doesn’t wholly define him, so he gets actual character arcs in the films he’s had thus far. These are solid films, I wouldn’t call the first one great, as it does have a few things that bring it down from being that, but it is good.

      The film was directed and written by Guillermo del Toro with the producers being Lawrence Gordon, Mike Richardson and Llyod Levin. Peter Briggs was the creator of “Hellboy” and also worked on the initial story with del Toro.

     The story involves Hellboy’s (Ron Perlman) arrival on Earth when the Nazi’s led by Rasputin (Karel Roden) are using a Portal and magic to bring about the end. It is here his adopted father Trevor (John Hurt) takes him in as they must deal with the fallout of the failed Nazi Plot and the fact that their enemies aren’t through with Hellboy yet.

The Pros: The World – The world is amazing and captures the look of the comics really well. The fact that Guillermo del Toro was the one creating in this world is to his credit as he clearly loves it. The visuals are stark and everything feels like it is from another world at the right time.

The Soundtrack – Marco Beltrami is fantastic and manages to capture both the magical and historical mixture of aspects that make up the film. Whether it is the opening or even capturing humorous moments, his score captures them brilliantly.

The Cinematography – Guillermo Navarro does a wonderful job of bringing the visuals of del Toro’s imagination to life as each scene feels like it is out of a comic book and tension is created in how the shots are set.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of the film outside of the world and design.

Agent John  Myers – Myers is one of the blander characters but he is our outsider perspective of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense in which Abe Sapien and Hellboy are agents for. He is good at showing the wonder at each new revelation and at his core is a good guy.

Liz Sherman – Liz has an arc outside of Hellboy but her relationship to Hellboy really drives the plot. Her main arc is learning to control her powers and to face the anxiety she has attached to it from all the people she has hurt.

Abe Sapien – Abe doesn’t really have an arc in this but gives us the alien Spock perspective as he doesn’t have the unstableness of Liz and Hellboy. I liked his character a lot and wish more could have been done with him as he showed himself to be the brains of the operation multiple times.

Trevor Bruttenholm – John Hurt plays Trevor, who is the leader of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense and has a great arc as it is through him we meet all the villains and the one who truly cares for and loves Hellboy. It is Trevor’s love that helps Hellboy find himself when he is being used as a weapon by Rasputin and even though he is killed, his legacy lives on through his team.

Grigori Rasputin – This villain was good but not great. He fits the standard evil wizard trope but with demons…but shows he can be more too as he clearly loves Isla and is devoted to the cause as he was granted immortality by a demon inhabiting his body. I felt more could have been done to explore his motivations and backstory, but he works as someone who does have some level of honor.

Karl Rupert Kroenen

Karl Ruprecht Kroenen – This Nazi assassin is one of my favorite characters. He looks like Voldo from the Soul Series and no matter how many times he gets killed he keeps coming back. He’s a masochist who lives for inflicting the pain he feels on others and is a zealot. This is the guy who kills Trevor and has the highest kill count of our heroes. I was hoping he’d survive this film if they decided to bring him back since not only does he have a great design but as a villain he is very much his own perfect terror.

Hellboy – Ron Perlman really does a great job as Hellboy, a teenage demon just trying to do right by others and himself while still dealing with anger issues and a big ego. The character has a big heart that shines through multiple times as we see him become more fully aware of his issues and face them over the course of the film.

Okay: Isla Haupstein – I liked her character as she brings back Rasputin, sadly that is all she does though. I wanted to know her motivations beyond her love of Rasputin as she deserved more and Bridget Hodson does a great job with what little she is aloud to do.

The Demons – These guys are tentacles, except Hellboy, which is boring. The Hellhounds did look cool though and they did feel like a threat even if they didn’t have all that much variety.

Cons: Women Only Exist to be in Relationships – Liz and Isla largely exist in the plot in relationship to the ones who love them. Everything they do is a reaction to this which doesn’t give them a chance to be full characters in their own right.

Pacing – There are times this film really drags. Many scenes could have been cut and would have brought the film’s score higher.

Faceless Agents – So many agents get killed and none of them really stand out besides Myers. The rest are Red Shirts and exist to die to establish a threat.

   This is a solid and flawed film that is well worth checking out, especially if you are a fan of del Toro you will probably enjoy this. The designs are fantastic and Kroenen is a great villain. I loved his design. Hellboy is also a great flawed protagonist dealing with the role everyone wants him to play (both good and bad) and growing up since he is pretty much a teenager in a whole new world. I wish the women had been written better as Isla fascinated me and Liz seemed to exist to be with Hellboy, though I’m glad they had her face her anxiety and grow from it. Del Toro is one of my favorite directors and this film illustrates some of the things he excels at in his films.

Final Score: 7.8 / 10

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013): A Reflective Film on the Nature of Humanity and Meaning

Only Lovers Left Alive poster

     “Only Lovers Left Alive” is a fascinating and introspective film that explores life, the meaning of humanity, art and relationships. At times it is slow but it is meant to be. The whole film is a giant reflection on all these things told from the perspective of two vampires…and it’s handled really well.

    The film was directed and written by Jim Jarmusch and produced by Jeremy Thomas and Reinberg Brundig.

      The story begins with each seeking to feed their addiction to blood in different ways. As Adam (Tom Hiddleson) makes a deal with a doctor for blood from a blood bank and Eve depends on an old friend. When they reconnect Eve (Tilda Swinton) sees how out of it he is and comes to visit as the drama unfolds from there.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is absolutely stunning. Whether it is the streets of Tangier, a rock club or Adam’s Victorian home the distinct character of each place is captured, and with each a level of detachment from the immortals. Yorick Le Saux did a fantastic job.

The Music – There are quite a few people who were part of the music on this. Whether it was Yasmine Hamdan, SQURL or Jozef van Wissem…the music was great throughout the entire film and gave a feel of romantic disconnect to all the scenes that unfolded in the life of Adam and Eve.

The Characters – The characters needed more exploration. We get to know a lot of their motivations and the people they knew, and the acting is amazing…but I did want more. I’ll explain more later on. For now, the characters are a pro and the ones who really drive the story.

Marlowe – John Hurt plays Marlowe and was the man responsible for most of Shakespeare’s play and able to live under the radar since he’d faked his own death. Sadly mortality catches up to him and he dies from poisoned blood. He is a great mentor figure and it is on his prompting that leads Eve to go take care of Adam.

Eva – Mia plays the high life vampire from L.A. who only cares about pleasure. We see this when she breaks into their stash, her breaking Adam’s stuff and how she stakes her sister and Adam for granted. This eventually leads to her getting kicked out and through her time there we see what happens when there is a vampire who only lives for themselves and fails to see the wide world as a whole at all.

Ian – Anton Yelchin plays the fan who may or may not be putting Adam’s work out in the world when he was asked not to. He’s a character who you never can fully trust but he’s also curious and gives an openness that Adam and Eve appreciate and that Eva exploits. In the end she drinks him and we never find out if he’d been the one putting the word out about Adam’s location. His character really worked though as he was Adam’s only human connection.

Adam – Tom Hiddleson is the primary protagonist of the film in many ways because he is the torn artist debating whether life is worth it anymore. Hiddleson is great at giving us this tortured soul who at one point has a friend build a bullet that can kill him. Eve brings him back to reality and we see that he does care in the end and that he values the secret world he has built where he can make music and collect instruments. All that is torn away though when Eva kills the rock kid who was providing him with instruments and a place away from the public eye and he leaves with her back home.

Eve – Eve is the wisest of the vampires as she has been around the longest. She has seen the worst of humanity in all the barbarian invasions of Europe and finds peace in her books, her friend Marlowe and solitude. Eventually she does go to Detroit to be with her husband Adam and it is there we see how unstable life is and is even her in all her wisdom can’t find an alternative in the end for them going feral vampire or avoiding death. She understands this initiates the hunt with Adam.

Mortality and Meaning – Mortality and meaning are some of the biggest questions the story asks as our characters have been through so much they have trouble finding that meaning so they attach it to things. Whether it is literature for Eve or music for Adam these are things they hold onto and it is in realizing that they can’t appreciate these things if they die that they become hunters again finding that it is better to live like the “Zombies” (what they call humanity) and still have those things that give meaning than to die.

The Cons: Character Development – We get a glimpse of a deeper world behind all are vampire characters but that world is never fully explored. I don’t mean flashbacks…but there is no meaning for Eva to be the way she is. We never get why she is is so unstable and it hurts the overall narrative.

This is a film I’d highly recommend. It is easily one of Hiddleson’s and Switon’s best performances and the ideas and themes it explores lend power to a really amazing love story. This is a story that takes it’s audience seriously and has a subtle passion behind everything that lends power to all the events that occur as the story is told. It is a story that reminds us of our mortality and the better and worse parts of human nature.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Alien (1979): A Brilliant Horror Classic and Introduction to an Amazing World

Alien 1979 poster

      I think I like “Aliens” more than “Alien,” but “Alien” is a really good at establishing Ridley Scott’s world and has some of the best tension building in any horror movie, even if the alien itself really isn’t that scary. It’s now what it looks like, but what it does that makes it such a great threat that leaves our heroes always on the run. It is certainly one of Ridley Scott’s classics for a reason.

    The film was directed by Ridley Scott and written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett and produced by Gordon Carroll, David Giler and Walter Hill.

     The story involves the crew of the Nostromo taking on an unknown life form and dealing with the consequences of it as reveals about the Corporation they are working for come to the forefront and the alien threat is revealed to be far greater than expected.

The Pros: Tone – The tone is wonderful and has some of the best tension building in any film! We get to see an unknown world and confining ship where no one fully trusts one another as they are a crew of mercenaries serving a corporation. Over the course of the film they have to depend on one another but are so outgunned by the Xenomorph that they never stood a chance, and terror begins.

The World – The world is really cool! I wanted to know more about the Corporation as we learned so much about how Xenomorphs grow and develop and how dangerous they are we see a large dead alien around where all the eggs are. There is a sense of terror and mystery from the very beginning and the human ships are designed to be advanced but still look very raw.

The Xenomorph – The Xenomorph is awesome! It grows quickly, has acid blood and is a full fledged predator, hunting from the shadows and using other humans as bate. It clearly is the perfect hunter and that is what makes it’s hunt of our crew so fun to watch.

Dallas – Dallas is the character who would be the hero in a standard sci. fi. action film as he is the bearded hero and the captain of the ship. In this he isn’t though, though we see that he is smart though he is a moment of idiocy when lets an infected crewmember on the ship which makes everything go sideways and to his eventual death by the Xenomorph. Tom Skerritt does a great job.

Ash – Ash is the android who at the end of the day serves the Corporation. His mission is to bring back the Xenomorph so the corporation can turn it into a weapon they can use and therefore the crew is expendable. Ian Holm does great job as the character who isn’t fully human but human enough that we see him have a relationship with the crew even if in the end they are just means to an end for him.

Ripley – This is one of Sigourney Weaver’s best roles. Ripley is a character who is rough and has been doing her mercenary work for a long time but still has a connection to home via the cat and her daughter. These things humanize her and give her motivation and a reason to survive and get home when things start going south as the Xenomorph kills the crew and hunts her.

The Cons: The Other Characters – Lambert just screams and cries the entire time and the other crewmembers including John Hurt are forgettable. They all feel disposable because we don’t get to know them or their motivations.

The Corporation – The Corporation is just evil and I wish we got to know it more. The motivations don’t feel fleshed out and getting a Xenomorph is on par with Umbrella in “Resident Evil,” and all their bio-weapons where all the scientists end up dead.

   This was an amazing horror and sci. fi. film and one of my favorites. This is a classic of cinema for a lot of reasons not the least of which are the wonderful, haunting designs of H.R. Giger and the beautiful directing by Ridley Scott. The film has wonderful build up and payoff and the only things that really bring it down are a lot of the minor characters are forgettable and the Corporation doesn’t make much sense in it’s motivation.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Snowpiercer (2013): The Cost of Revolution

     http://consequenceofsound.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/snowpiercer-poster.jpg

     “Snowpiercer” is one of the better films I’ve seen in the post-apocalyptic genre. It has consequences, high stakes and human characters who are relatable, as well as covering the many ways revolution can be viewed and the cost that comes with it, regardless. I’ll get into more details in the assessment.

    The film was directed by Joon Ho-Bong who was also one of the screenwriters, along with Kelly Masterson. “Snowpiercer” was produced by: Park Chan-wook, Lee Tae-hun, Jeong Tae-sung and Steven Nam.

    The story was based on the graphic Novel Le Transperceniege by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean Marc-Rochett.

     The premise is the near future has brought about an attempt to counter global warming that leads to the world freezing over. The survivors board the Snowpiercer and the story unfolds years later in a world where unequal power dynamic lead to the rich preying off of the poor and using them for labor to sustain the train. From here the story unfolds as the main character Curtis (Chris Evans) plots rebellion with his mentor Gilliam (John Hurt) and second in command Edgar (Jamie Bell). From here the story unfolds as they rebellion ignites.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack does a great job of capturing the tension and the stakes throughout the film. From the first attack to get out of the back of the train…to the moments with the rich in the night club or high society…Marco Beltrami did a great job composing this score.

The Action – Bong Joon-ho knows how to film action and there are a lot of great sequences…from the first fight to get out of the back car, to being stalked in the sauna and the surprise attack the wealthy do on the poor where we learn guns weren’t destroyed and the bullets still exist. The action has purpose too as it drives the characters forward and kills many of them.

The Cinematography – This is a very beautiful movie. A lot of the scenes are cast in shadow which sticks with how dark the theme is. We learn of the evil the wealthy do to the poor and what the poor did to themselves when they first boarded the train. There are no heroes in this world and how the film is filmed captures this stark reality. Hong Kyung-pyo did a good job.

The Characters – There were many good characters in this. I’ll go into depth on who and why.

Mason – Mason is the Minister and primary antagonist until we meet Wilford the religious leader of the train (and the one manipulating everything). Mason is crafty and cowardly and makes a great antagonist. Tilda Swinton makes her weasily and viscous as well as a true believer in Wilford and the Holy Engine. She’s a character I would not have minded sticking around till the end, but she is killed by Curtis in revenge when she facilitates an ambush done by the rich’s thugs.

Tanya – Tanya is the closest we get to a good person as we see her caring for others as well her young son before Wilford’s second takes him away. She fights hard and is there to remind Curtis to keep going on and to lead when he loses his second in command. Her death is powerful for this reason as she never finds her son before she is killed by one of the more powerful thugs in the sauna. Octavia Spencer is wonderful.

Namgoong Minsu – Is one of the addicts who they first rescue who helps them open up the doors to the different cars as long as they provide him with Kronole for his addiction and rescue his daughter as well. He is a compelling character as he notices how the world is changing outside and that the ice melting. He knows they don’t need the train, but because his addiction makes him so selfish he is never listened to. He does make possible his daughters escape as a group attacks and they use the Kronole to make a bomb that destroys the train leaving her and Tanya’s son to find or create a new world. He is compelling character and Kang-ho Song does a good job.

Yona – Yona can see what’s coming which gives her the best bet for surviving at the end. She does manage to survive and rescues Tanya’s son with Curtis as well as getting the chance to hold her father one last time before the bomb goes off. She is an interesting character and I wish we’d gotten more time with her. She’s as smart as her father at hacking the doors. Ah-sung Ko did a great job.

Wilford – The man who accepts the status quo even though it’s unjust and upholds it through terror. Ed Harris makes him personable which makes him all the more frightening. He sees himself as being alone and that all people are expendable. He tries to get Curtis to take his place but fails as Curtis sees through the illusion when Yona arrives and he realizes what he’d become and endorse by being the leader. When the train is destroyed Wilford accepts it and respects those who beat him.

Gilliam – Is the one who worked with Wilford we learn and was using people and rebellions to keep the population balanced. He changes in the end though as he helps Curtis get beyond the halfway mark which leads to him getting killed. John Hurt does an amazing job as the heroic manipulator as we learn he gave his body to the poor to eat so they wouldn’t eat the children anymore. You really get why he’s respected so, which makes the betrayal felt.

Curtis – Chris Evans must be one of the best male actors in Hollywood now…I was impressed. This was “Winter Soldier” level acting and he played the anti-hero role so well. From the reason he trusted Gilliam (his guilt at having eaten people and known the young taste better) and his constant struggle to get his humanity back. He finds it in the end by destroying the unjust system and helping Yona and Tanya’s son escape. His complexity is part of what drives the story as he captures Mason but lets Edgar die in the process.

The Ending – The ending has a point and is all the stronger for it. It takes the corrupt system being destroyed for the children to have a life and it takes leaving the system to create a new one where freedom is found. Bong Joon-ho is truly a great storyteller. You felt the cost of revolution as so many innocents on both sides died even though the victimized poor were in the right.

Okay: Edgar – He’s just an angry rebellious guy. His character doesn’t have much depth but at least adds more dimension to Curtis.

The Thugs – There are a few powerful thugs but none of them really have personality. This I think takes away as we don’t know they serve the system. They are good action moments but they have no personality beyond cruelty.

     This is a movie I’d highly recommend. I want to check out this director’s other work now as the story was unique and powerful and had a point. From the reasons the poor rebelled, from how desperation can ruin the best of people but a single person living by example can change things…as well as the cost of change. It takes so many deaths for the train to finally stop and for people to notice that the train wasn’t needed anymore. Even Curtis misses the fact that the world is melting outside and life is coming back…because for so long the train is all he’s known. It is for this reason Wilford is able to manipulate him so well. Not only does it have a point but the music, characters and story are rich and rewarding. I highly recommend this film.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10