Birth of the Demon Part 4 (Hellboy: the Golden Army, 2008)

Hellboy_Golden_Army_PosterDel Toro’s follow up introduces the most vicious tooth fairies you have ever seen.

An Elven Prince has decided that it is time for the magical world to rise up against humanity, breaking an ancient pact. He seeks the Golden Army, an ancient legion of un-living and unstoppable soldiers.

An elven princess (and twin sister to the prince) interferes and enlists the help of Hellboy and the Bureau of Paranormal Research.

This results in the team at the Bureau having to dive deep into a world of magic and wonder. Hellboy finds himself torn between the protection of the human world and the callous disregard of the lives of magical creatures.  For Hellboy, this is personified in his relationship with Liz. He struggles with his insecurities, though, thankfully in this film, they left out Agent Myers, so it is not dragged down by that character.  Instead, Hellboy struggles to see himself as more a man than monster. One of the things I liked in both films is this notion that Hellboy is not a slave to his heritage.  His father believed in his ability to be a good man above a destructive monster, and in this film, Liz takes that role from Broome.

For Abe, it is deeply personal as he falls in love with the Elven Princess. There also is a lot of Bureaucratic interference, not just from Jeffrey Tambor’s Tom Manning, but from the (no longer human) Johann Krauss.  Voiced by Seth McFarlane, Krauss is actually a very entertaining foil for Hellboy for much of the film.

This time around Del Toro fully embraces the whimsy and myth.  The character designs or wonderful and grotesque, often at the same time (though the Elves are simply beautiful and angelic).

Perlman, Blair and Jones have a really solid chemistry and it delivers a believable close connection between these three characters who feel like they are always on the outside of the world they are sworn to protect.  It is especially nice to see Jones getting to provide his own voice, getting to give a fully realized performance.  He keeps the gentle tone, keeping this from feeling like a huge departure from the first film.

Hellboy: the Golden Army is much stronger than the first film in pretty much every way.  The Golden Army holds up under repeated viewings and is a great film that has a lot of fun with its concept.

Birth of the Demon Part 3 (Hellboy Animated: Blood and Iron, 2007)

Hellboy_Blood_and_Iron_PosterThis time, along with Perlman, Blair and Jones, John Hurt reprises his role as Professor Trevor ‘Broom’ Bruttenholm.  Borrowing from the legend of Elizabeth Bathory, Blood and Iron is a tale that spans two times. The early life of Broom dealing with a vampire queen and the present with the BPRD investigating a haunted castle in the same town.

As usual, there is a demonic goddess who is driving things, and she tries to tempt Hellboy to turn his back on humanity, while the vampire queen seeks revenge on Broom for a confrontation that had occurred decades earlier.

Unlike Sword of Storms, the team gets to interact more throughout the movie, which is an improvement.  We also get action hero Abe Sapien, jumping around and firing guns. While vampires and werewolves are not quite as inspired of monsters as the Japanese folklore of Sword of Storms, but the story makes up with this, including a snake goddess and two odd witches.

The animation of both films look better than the initial stills I had seen.  And the character designs seem even a bit stronger in this film.

I am not sure exactly where these films are supposed to fall.  Are they outside of Del Toro’s films? Are they part of that universe?  The fun notion of using the live action actors has a lot to do with the uncertainty I have.  But wither way, the Hellboy Animated films are pretty fun.

Birth of the Demon Part 2 (Hellboy Animated: Sword of Storms, 2006)

Hellboy_Sword_of_Storms_PosterAfter the theatrical Hellboy saw moderate success, the studio greenlit a series of animated film.  The first was Sword of Storms.

A professor finds an ancient scroll that tells the story of a samurai who defeated two storm demons and traps them in a sword. The professor becomes possessed from reading the scroll and goes missing.

While investigating the the missing professor, the Bureau finds the sword. Upon touching it, Hellboy is transported to another world, a mystical version of Japan.

Basically, the film completely separates Hellboy from the rest of the cast. While this could have worked, nobody else gets much to really do, they are just searching for Hellboy.  However, Hellboy is constantly dealing with fun monsters inspired by Japanese folklore.

The big draw for the film was the live action film’s voice cast appearing.  And we get some of the chemistry, but by separating the cast for much of the movie, it never feels like they get to gel…and granted, part of that may be due to the process of recording for animation, as actors are often not interacting with each other.  I feel this is especially true with Jones’ performance…which feels a lot more aggressive than his vocal performance in the Golden Army.

The character design Sean “Cheeks” Galloway is pretty slick and stylish, with its own distinct look.  It turned out that one of the conditions of the animated films was that the animation style could not look like the art of Mike Mignola, which had been the directors’ original plan. While that might have been cool, Galloway’s angular and cartoony style is quite good.

While not quite as fun as the live action Del Toro films, there is some really fun sequences in this animated take on Hellboy.

Birth of the Demon Part 1 (Hellboy, 2004)

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Guillermo Del Toro was already familiar with the world of comic book films.  He had directed the highly entertaining Blade 2 just two years earlier. But Hellboy was right in the Del Toro wheel house.

Hellboy, a demon pulled from a hell dimension during World War 2 by Nazis and raised by a kindly scientist working with the Allies, is part of the Bureau of Paranormal Research.  They keep an eye on the supernatural happenings throughout the world.

We are introduced to this world, and Hellboy, through the eyes of the newly assigned Agent Myers.  Myers and Hellboy struggle to get along. Especially when it appears that his crush, Liz Sherman, may be attracted to Myers.

Hellboy is a lot of fun.  Largely this is due to the performances from Ron Perlman as the titular Hellboy, but also the aquatic Abe Sapien. Performed by Doug Jones (with a studio mandated of David Hyde Pierce, who actually refused his credit, feeling the entire performance was created by Jones*) Sapien is brimming with kindness and empathy.  Selma Blair gets to be more than the love interest.  She is a pyro-kintetic who has been an outcast and is trying to come to terms with it.

The plot is almost kind of irrelevant, the film is more about the odd whimsical and supernatural experiences.  The villains are largely stock (the exception being the very creepy Kroenen.

Some of the digital effects have not aged greatly (and yet, sadly, still are stronger than what we got in the newest Hellboy). But the make-up in the film is terrific.

While flawed in parts, the film remains an entertaining romp.

*This experience, along with Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (where Doug was overdubbed by Laurence Fishburne) has resulted in Jones requiring in his contract that his vocal performance be used in his roles.

Angels With Filthy Souls (Legion, 2010)

Legion_PosterSo, God has lost faith in humanity and is going to go all “Noah’s Ark” on humanities ass…except there is no plan to save anyone. But one angel, Michael, feels in his heart that God is wrong and decides he must intervene. So, he comes to Earth to get some guns.

At a remote diner, Charlie is pregnant with humanity’s only hope. Soon the diner and it’s occupants are under siege by what they assume are people possessed by demons. Michael shows up and informs them these are actually people possessed by angels.

Michael explains he is there to help hold the other angels off until the baby is born (the film is set on Christmas Eve). The characters desperately fight to make it through it as more and more angels arrive. But Michael has a ton of guns to use and share with the folks in the diner.

Honestly, the film is pretty silly. It is trying to be a little of everything…there are sharp toothed angel possessed people, a creepy ice cream man, but lots of action movies stunts and shooting of the guns. Gabriel has a pretty wicked mace though.

The drama just comes off as kind of silly. Which is kind of sad.

You see, the film is full of interesting ideas. God has grown weary of humanity letting Him down with our darkness. This film has hints of the Sodom and Gomorrah story in the bible, except Michael is the one petitioning to save humanity and instead of one righteous soul, he seeks to save a baby.

The film wants you to see the big ideas…faith, can God’s heart be turned from anger (again, this has big shades of Noah)? Can an angel rebel against God and be forgiven? What is the nature of mercy. But the movie deals with these thing ineptly.  Not unlike Director Scott Stewart’s follow up to this film, Priest (also starring Paul Bettany), the most important thing is not story, but stylishness.

In the Distance (Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story, 2015)

Always_Watching_PosterA TV crew is doing a new story on a business that clears out homes that were foreclosed upon by the bank. In one house, they are shocked to find the home looks as if the family just vanished. As they start to investigate, they find a box of tapes and find that this is not a story of a mean bank foreclosing on a family or a family that picked up and ran off. They discover that the tapes show that the family was being haunted or stocked by a mysterious person.

At first, they see him in the distance of a video of a child’s birthday party. But the more videos they watch, the more the mysterious (and faceless) figure appears. Always a little closer until he is in the house.

Camera Man Milo starts to study the tapes and this results in him starting to see the figure himself. He is able to convince co-workers Sara and Charlie he is not crazy and they try and solve the mystery. But the mystery begins to take a toll on the three and their relationships begin to break down.

The Operator is obviously mean to be Slender Man, minus the tentacles. Actor Doug Jones (Hellboy, the Shape of Water and Pan’s Labyrinth) mainly has to stand around in the background a lot, but his lankiness and height really sell the idea of the Operator as slightly outside of reality. And the film really makes sure to keep you watching, sure that at any moment he might appear on the screen, in the corner, behind someone or in the woods.  It is pretty effectively done.

It runs a bit off the rails at the very end, where it introduces an element we had not really seen earlier in the film, but it is not so much so that it wrecks the creepier vibe from the rest of the film.

Overall, I enjoyed the film, with the biggest setback being that it is a “found footage” film. Admittedly, the fact that our leads are a television news crew makes it fairly plausible that they have access to a variety of cameras, but the format also forces a plot contrivance that since you can only see him on video, they decide they must keep cameras running continuously.

Oh yeah…the film has a great horror icon film cameo towards the end. Smart choice on the film makers’ part.

 

Surf the Skies (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, 2007)

Fantastic_4_Rise_of_the_Silver_Surfer_PosterI think people were a little surprised that the Fantastic Four got a sequel.  And you gotta admit, doing the Silver Surfer/Galactus saga is a grand idea.  Then they get Doug Jones for the physical body and Laurence Fishburne as the voice of the Silver Surfer (this was not actually a great idea in retrospect).  Things are looking good!  Man, who will they cast a Galactus, right?!  Will he be totally CGI or what?!

So, we start off with Galactus eating a planet.  Actually, we get a planet sized version of the Smoke Creature from Lost.  Not kidding.  Maybe Galactus is inside the cloud, right?!  Then the Silver Surfer heads towards earth… where we find Sue totally freaking out about her pending nuptials.  Seriously, how freaky must an invisible Bridezilla be?!  But the Surfer ruins their first wedding attempt.

Johnny chases after the Surfer and ends up being dragged nearly into out space.  He has trouble as he falls to earth.  We find out that this is due to the effects of the cosmic energy that the Silver Surfer gives off.  The Surfer continues gliding across the globe-his magic (so to speak) starts to impact the atmosphere and even frees Dr. Doom from his statue state.

Reed discovers Johnny can now switch powers with his team mates.  This allows for another “Sue Caught Naked In Public” scene.  It also gives an amusing moment when Johnny becomes Thing-i-fied and Ben returns to normal and has fire powers.  The team has to try and save people from the effects of the Surfer’s travels, and find it harder than usual as they keep switching powers every time Johnny bumps into someone.

Reed soon discovers a pattern by tracing the Silver Surfer’s path through the cosmos.  All the planets he has visited have been destroyed.  So he starts formulating a plan to catch the Surfer.  Both the Military and Dr. Doom join in.  Of course, the audience knows he has an ulterior motive.  Sue, meanwhile contributes about whining about not getting married yet.  Eventually, they catch the Surfer (partially because he is enamored by Sue).  This is when Doom strikes, stealing the Surfer’s tubular board-the apparent source of his power.

Dr. Doom plans to rule the world-while the giant cloud of smoke threatens to destroy it.    The Fantastic Four tries to fight Cosmic Doom, but instead, he hits Sue with a fatal shot.  Johnny takes everyone’s powers and beats the crap out of Doom, gets the Surfer his board back.  The Surfer uses his magic to heal Sue and he flies into space to take on Galactus.  So, now we finally get to see the real Galactus!!! AWESOME!!!! Oh wait…it actually is just a big cloud.

The Surfer seems to sacrifice himself to save the earth (except we find out he survived for a potential spin off).  Reed and Sue get married and everyone is totally happy.

Well, except the viewer.  The first film stumbled a lot, and the folks behind the this one (the same team as the first, pretty much) seemed to indicate they learned their lesson.  But from character design to strange choices… Sue is once again reduced to offering little in the way of being a strong heroine, as she spends the whole film whining about getting married.  It gets so bad that she chastises Reed both for having fun dancing in a club and also trying to protect the world instead of focusing on getting married.  Because…why save the world, y’know?

While the power switching issue is an interesting concept, it never quite gels.  And frankly, a Fantastic Four movie where three members sit out the final battle and one member pummels the bad guy?  It kind of misses the point of calling them the Fantastic Four.

Galactus seems so secondary as a threat… Doctor Doom and his scheme to get the Surfer’s power.  Once he has that power?  He does not run off to stop Galactus from destroying the planet he wants to rule.  No, he just goes around flaunting his power.  This is a terrible lapse in logic and reduces one of the great complex comic book villains to Bad Guy with No Real Plan.

And let’s look at Galactus.  I’ve commented on this before, but it bears repeating.  A giant cloud is not awe inspiring.  I get that folks involved might have thought the traditional appearance of the character would look goofy.  But the cloud has no identity.  What, a large (twelve feet or so)  guy in a ship that is his life support machine was impossible to create?  Make the ship in the shape of the helmet from the comics as a tip to fans.  Done.

I will say that I found Ioan Gruffud far more engaging this time around.  McMahon less so.  Evans and Chiklis were terrific…and Alba?  Well, god bless her, she tries to make a thankless role work… but they really give her two jobs… pout and be pretty.  And yet again, the second film finds a way to get a sequence where she is naked in public.  Oi.  Kerry Washington is back as Alicia Masters…she does fine, but the role is pretty much there to show that the only person who could love Ben Grimm is a person unable to see him.  Granted, that is part of the character in the comics as well…but still.

I will say the effects are pretty solid, and the Silver Surfer looks terrific.  And Doug Jones is a top notch performer.  I had the opportunity to speak with Jones last year and he noted he had actually been recording a really unique voice for the Surfer, which makes it a shame they over dubbed him, even if it was Laurence Fishburne.

Instead of stepping up and blowing it’s predecessor out of the water, the second film feels even more lackluster, and screws up a great comic story that should have been pretty easy to pull off.

Damn Toxic Waste (Love in the Time of Monsters, 2015)

Love-in-the-time-of-monstersLet’s be real honest.  The movie Love in the Time of Monsters could have been terrible.  it has some qualities that could totally ruin it.  Especially the effects.  the monsters never look that great.  The bigfoot monster looks like the original Planet of the Apes (with log luxurious hair).  There is a mutant monster moose that looks entirely unfinished.

And yet?

The movie is a lot of fun.  The story, while not some grand twist, has a lot of fun.  It is the story of two sisters, Carla and Marla who are going to visit her boyfriend who works at a family campground with a Bigfoot theme.  Her boyfriend Johnny works as one of the Bigfoots.  People go on walks and he shows up in a cheesey costume.

During the Bigfoot Staff Meeting (really), one of the guys goes off to get high.  He drops his joint in the lake and falls in trying to retrieve it.  His co-Workers hear him screaming, and the run off to find him floating in the water.  The guys start telling their superior Lou (Kane Hodder) to report it, but he does not want to get in trouble…a struggle ensues and the fall in the lake.

Here is the thing.  The lake is full of a mutating toxin.  So the guys mutate into actual monsters that terrorize the camp.  The sisters unite the remaining camp employees in an attempt to get rid of the monsters and survive the night.

The film is fun and goofy, which works to it’s advantage.  It is fun to see guys known for their work under masks getting to play roles with their own faces.  Hodder has fun with his role, but Doug Jones shines as DJ Lincoln.  Considering this is one of the earliest works of both the Director Matt Jackson and Writer Michael Skvarla, and it appears to have been made on a budget, the film works with what it has at it’s disposal.

I had a lot of fun watching the film in spite of some of the shortcomings, and it made for a good silly Halloween offering.

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