30 August 2008

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army Review

Reduxed 13/09/08

The original Hellboy has sat in the ‘guilty pleasures’ section of my DVD collection since its release back in 2004. It was a massively flawed, but somehow thoroughly entertaining piece of film-making. This was mostly thanks to a decent story, a sharp, witty script and some energetically directed action sequences. And these, in turn, were thanks to an over-weight Central American man named Guillermo del Toro.

One hugely improved director’s cut and a ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ later, it has proven to be the very tip of del Toro’s imagination iceberg. So now, thanks to a strong showing on DVD from the extended cut, Universal have seen fit to unleash the Mexican Movie Magician (yes, I just coined that moniker) on a major summer blockbuster…and bloody hell, what a sight it is to behold.

This is a director at the top of his game, constrained by neither his budget, nor by studio officials insisting he reign it in for the summer audiences – and as you might have guess, the visuals are absolutely stunning. From the creature design to the costumes to the set design – all are immaculately conceived; surviving the escape from del Toro’s brain to be captured by DoP Guillermo Navarro, his camera giving them an ethereal radiance that is somehow familiar yet, at the same time, strangely other-worldly.

Notably, the use of CGI has been scaled back for this outing – with del Toro favouring on-set creations over anything pixelated. This not only serves to ground the film in its own little meta-reality, but also makes the creatures boggling – seeing as these days anyone and their dog can create CGI creature, but actually creating physical creatures? That’s both incredibly old school and ridiculously impressive – especially in the whizz-bang world of the modern blockbuster. What CGI is present is occasionally a touch on the bad side of ‘not that great’, but once the final battle with the eponymous Golden Army – the film’s most CGI-heavy sequence – is rollicking over your corneas; you’ll probably not care thanks to the sheer imagination on display in every single pixel.

But it is with this boldness of vision that one of the films downfalls rears its ugly, moss-covered head – the pacing. It’s absolutely all over the place – the film feels overlong and occasionally over-wrought, and this is almost certainly a malefic side-effect of M3 not having anyone to reign him in. To wit, not even creatures that are on-screen for less than a minute, with del Toro – and his Pan’s Labyrinth editor Bernat Vilaplana – not willing to let any of the creatures filmed escape the final cut, and this imbues the film with the reek of ‘pet project’. It’s a shame, because with a tighter edit, this could well have been the film of the summer.

The story seems almost peripheral to the visual style, but what’s there is solid and well-scripted, with a big bucket of humour thrown in for good measure.

Performance-wise, there’s a lot to like. Ron Pearlman continues to shine in the red makeup of Hellboy, tossing about quips and ‘aww crap’s with a strange grandeur – think Ian McKellen born in the Bronx with horns, and you're some of the way there. It’s perfectly fitted to the character, and – I presume – honed from the first movie into a fully-formed half-man/half-demon thing that you can’t help but love. Selma Blair earns the Most Improved Actress in this team, with her role significantly beefed up from ‘damaged firestarter’ to ‘sassy female sidekick-come-firestarter-come-love-interest’, and she admirably steps into the latter and up from the former to produce a far more interesting character than the previous movie. John Hurt also makes a welcome return as Professor Bruttenholm.

Deserving of particularly special mention are Doug Jones and Brian Steele – Jones portraying the strange, telepathic fish-man Abe Sapien, as well as two other minor creature roles, and Brian Steel in the big, cumbersome suit of Mr Wink. Both do incredible work, with Jones in particular – now saddled with voicing Abe as well as providing the physical performance – producing a memorable and emphatic piece of creature acting. In short, he pisses all over Andy Serkis and his Gollum – this guy doesn’t need computers to be an incredible creature actor.

There’re a couple of bum notes: Jeffrey Tambor’s DPRD chief feeling completely unnecessary, and doesn’t Tambor know it – aside from a couple of solid laughs, his performance might as well not be there for all the good he brings to the screen. Luke Goss does his best but still can’t bring anything except a physical finesse to the main villain, Prince Nuada.

Inevitably, however, the bad is supremely outweighed by the good – the only way you can’t be impressed with this movie is if you’re a keen supporter of the Dogme 95 movement. Catering to both fans of fantasy and action adventure, this is the second comic book movie – along with The Dark Knight – this summer that somehow becomes more than what it should be. The Dark Knight became a dark, powerful examination of justice and the fragility of human tenacity; Hellboy 2 has decided to become a small, visually sumptuous art-house movie. Well, they can’t all go in the same direction…

Ross' Rating: 8/10

27 August 2008

It's over!

Yup, festival is over. Need a day of rest. Well, rest and Halo 3-age. Should be good. Gonna try to go to the cinema on Friday to see Hellboy 2, which should be fun!

I'll do a proper 'it's over' post, but at the moment my brain's a bit fried from the staff party last night. Will be better soon!

Take care, everyone! Ciao!

16 August 2008

Shameless plug!

And they're not even for stuff I've made! Wowza.

First thing's first. Axis of Awesome. They're wicked - it's like if Tim Minchin formed a band and stopped with the crazy eye-liner. By their own admission, they're only about 40% rock'n'roll, but that was - apparently - more than enough to keep me entertained for the full 50 minutes that I was in their company! They're absolutely brilliant, and if your out and about in the Edinburgh Fringe, definitely try to catch them. 10.30pm, Gilded Balloon Teviot in the Sportsmans, and it's £9.50 a head (£8.50 for you dirty students). Catch 'em while you've still got time! For a quick taster - check out their MySpace page. Three tracks for your enjoyment - the Four Chords song is particularly inspired. Just remember - they're meant to be funny.

What else...oh yes. Lots of stuff going on. Getting back into Halo 3 - playing with mates instead of doing the rank system, and I'm really enjoying it again. Plus there's the Social Playlists which I didn't check out the last time; which are basically like how Call of Duty play it - throw 8 players of varying skill together, and see who comes out on top. So yeah, good fun again. I'm also playing with loads of guys from TSR, which is good fun. I've managed to develop the rep of 'the guy who dual wields', which amuses me.

That's about it really. Pineapple Express and Hellboy 2 are going to be seen as soon as possible. I'll also try and write reviews for The Dark Knight and Wall-E, particular if I get around to going to seeing them again.

That's it for now. Latas.

7 August 2008

Oh come on!!!

Argh. Don't you just fucking hate it when you read something that is so deliberately obtuse that it just makes you want to brain the person who wrote it. This, and articles like it, are the source of my anger.

If you don't want to read it - and to avoid your computer being thrown away in disgust, I suggest you don't - then I'll give you the gist: according to them, The Dark Knight is responsible for inciting knife crime in the yoof of today. This is thanks to a scene where the Joker - 'played with diabolical brilliance by the late Heath Ledger' (their words, not mine) - describes why he prefers killing with a knife. And all this in a 12a (that's PG-13 to our American friends) movie.

For the love of Steve, how did this come about? This is a quite demonstrably evil character - it's so fucking clear, I think even homicidal sociapaths were thinking 'Christ, that guy's a nasty piece of work' - who is so devoid of morals that he deems that devolution to violent chaos is the solution to all problems. This is clearly a work of character who is created to be genuinely frightening, and moreover, morally reprehensible.

The point that I'm rather laboriously trudging towards is that it's not a commentary on the movie, if kids go out and buy knives to emulate the Joker. No, no and the proverbial no. First and foremost - it is up to the parents to let their children into the movie. As far as I'm concerned, 12a is still fucking 12. You can maybe get away with a 10-year-old seeing it, but otherwise, don't bring in anyone under the age of 12! Simple as. I wouldn't let my hypothetical 8-year-old near The Dark Knight, no matter how much it screamed and cried. Cinema staff are also required to tell audience members of 12a movies about any content that may well be unsuitable for the under-12's, and the parents have to make a judgement call. It is in no way Warner Brother's fault, nor the BBFC's, if the parents aren't very good at judging what their kids can handle.

But second, and more importantly, it's the parents fault for not instructing their child on the differences between good and evil...in everything. If a child is unable to distinguish between someone who is genuinely, sadistically evil, and someone who is the best in all of us, then that child has not been brought up appropriately. Parents = fail.

You can't even blame the BBFC. None of the violence in the film is brutal, gory or detailed enough to warrant a 15 certificate - it's just not, there's no way around it - and the fact that the Joker is portrayed as such a nasty bastard means that any of his dialogue is clearly meant to frighten and not encourage, so again, no 15 certificate. They stuck by their guidelines - which aren't, as the Daily Mail suggest, lax; they're more idealistic. Idealistic in the sense that they assume that people know how to raise their kids.

There...that's it. I've ranted. But that's only really a small snippet of my ire. It really pissed me off - because the majority of the world goes about their business, watching movies like The Dark Knight and playing video games like GTAIV without once considering going to town on the demographic of their local chip shop with a Beretta and a combat knife. Well at least, they may consider it once in a while, but then realise the fucking futility of it, because it'd prove the Daily Mail fucking right....and we can't have that, now, can we?


5 August 2008

Facts from the Fringe

Well, I haven't posted for absolutely friggin' ages. Not impressive, I know - but the new job has got me caught up rather epically! Working for the good ol' Gilded Balloon for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It's an absolutely fantastic job - I really can't recommend Festival jobs enough: you meet amazing people, have great fun and earn money for it. So yeah, Gilded Balloon took me back after Winter Wonderland, which is good.

Seen a butt-load of comedy that I really enjoyed - Nick Revell, Miles Jupp, Ali Cook - and some that I didn't - Martha McBride (though that wasn't really her fault; her show relies on audience interaction, and the audience we were in was shit) - as well as the heats of 'So You Think You're Funny?', which - for those who don't know - is a comedy competition that launched the likes of Dylan Moran, Jo Brand, Peter Kay, Phil Kay and loads of other comics into stardom. The winner of the heat I saw - his name was Shaun something-or-other, I'll find out his last name later so you lot can look him up - was absolutely fantastic and had both me and Fee in stitches...which is a plus.

Also finally saw The Dark Knight - it was a week ago, but like I said...been busy - and it's absolutely fantastic. The only thing wrong with it was that it was maybe a touch too long, and it did rely on slightly silly gimmickry towards the end. But to be quite honest, some critics are annoying me...and no, it's not the ones giving it crap reviews, but the ones who say that if it weren't for Heath Ledger it'd be decidedly average. That's entirely not the case - Ledger is fantastic, I'll give him that, but the movie has two other absolutely monumental performances: those of Christian Bale and Aaron Eckheart. The former puts in a top notch turn as Batman - separating the two personas of the character brilliantly - and the latter makes Harvey Dent's devolution from Gotham's shining knight into deranged, fate-obsessed madman believable, and more importantly, incredibly tragic.

In short, it's a film that really does transcend the 'comic book movie' nook to become something truly special. It'll be robbed at the Oscars - if anything related to it wins any of the big Oscars (Best Actor, Best Film, etc.), I'll eat my hat. Not because I think it's a bad movie, but the Academy has a habit of looking down it's nose at technically brilliant films that are based on what it deems 'inferior material'. Take, for instance, Transformers not winning the Best Special Effects Oscar...criminal, no? And it'll guaranteed be the same deal with The Dark Knight. Sad, but true. Anyways, I shall try and write a review for both this and for WALL·E at some point, so watch out for those.

Only things left that I want to see this summer is Hellboy 2 and The Mummy 3. Not really that bothered about the CG Star Wars movie - Jabba the Hutt's son? Please... - but am really excited about Hellboy. I loved the first one, depsite its flaws, and this new one certainly looks like New Line have decided to let Guillermo Del Toro off his leash and really let the imagination boot give us a hefty one to the nuts.

That's it from me tonight - need to be up in 9 hours to go to work once again. Joy of joys - but at least I get to hang out with the likes of Tim Minchin! Oh yes, I do get to do that, kiddies. Mwahahahaha.