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Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army

A new Hellboy film opens this week and the reviews are… not great, to put it nicely. I’ll probably end up seeing for myself to give it a shot but honestly my heart is still with Guillermo Del Toro and Ron Perlman’s vision and I still wish we could have seen their trilogy capped off with a third entry instead of being obnoxiously shunted off to another iteration so soon.

After a brilliantly Lovecraftian introduction to this world, Del Toro returned with Hellboy II: The Golden Army and he brought back with him all the fairytale-esque visual grandeur he could muster for a sequel that is decidedly more esoteric but no less awesome than the first. Perlman was born to play the role and you have to champion Guillermo for sticking by his side and not backing down through damn near a decade of negotiations with studios who were tossing around hilarious suggestions like Nic Cage and Vin Diesel (good lord I shudder to think). Perlman *is* Hellboy and rocks every revolver slinging, cigar chewing, monster smashing minute of his screen time. This time he and the gang are contending with angry Elf Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), who resents humans for neglecting the fantastical in their modern age and wants to unleash the powerful golden army upon their world, obliterating it for good. As much as that kindddd of makes a bit of sense from his perspective it’s still not a constructive solution to his concerns and therefore his twin sister Nuala (Anna Walton) takes issue with his extremism and defects to Hellboy’s side. It’s a raucous ride of jaw dropping practical effects, enthralling world building and way more commotion than the eerie first film, but that works too. Doug Jones returns as fish-man Abe Sapien, this time without the strange ADR of David Hyde Pierce overtop his own chords, Selma Blair is lovely once again as spirited firestarter Liz Sherman, Jeffrey Tambor further cultivates droll comic relief as the FBI handler dude, John Hurt briefly reprises his role as paternal Professor Broom and newcomer Seth Mcfarlane is welcome to the fold, playing a German ghost that lives in some kind of early 1900’s scuba diving kit. Del Toro always has a wicked flair for effects, he never just throws CGI at a wall and expects it to stick, there’s always a meticulous process in bringing his creatures alive and this film is full to the brim of wildly imaginative wonders. Goss and Walton are so good as Nuada and Nuala that they almost deserve their own spinoff film, they’re darkly charismatic and soulful in an otherworldly way, their performances accented by beautiful hair & makeup.

I have to say I’m more a fan of the first film than this, but it’s less of an issue of quality and more of aesthetic; I’m in love with the dark, moody, Lovecraft atmosphere punctuated by the rogue nazi element, it seems to have more roots in horror and works for me more as an overall feeling, but really they’re both fantastic films and on the same level. Also the first one has Kroenen, who is possibly the coolest and scariest comic book villain ever put to film.

I’m not one to gloat when something flops or gets bad reviews out of the gate but I can’t help feeling a smidge of bitter glee at the fact that this reboot no one really asked for is now being bitten on the ass, seemingly because it actually does suck. For years and years the fans (myself included) hoped and prayed for a third Del Toro/Perlman Hellboy film to complete this wonderful story, and what do they do? Go out and hire a bunch of new stock, switch up the creative aesthetic completely and expect people to buy it. No sir. That’s not to detract from David Harbour, Neil Marshall, Ian McShane or Milla Jovovich, they’re all brilliant artists who have now just become collateral damage to a production that sounds suspiciously rocky. I’ll definitely check out the film they’ve made and give it a fair shot but I have to say that not one trailer or piece of marketing has me remotely excited, and that’s independent of my love for the first two films. Perhaps one day Ron Perlman will sit in that makeup chair for six hours again and give us that magic we miss so much, with Del Toro at his side. Perhaps this new apparent swing and a miss will make that happen quicker, who knows. Until then we can revisit the first and Golden Army to our hearts delight, they’ve aged gorgeously and are both great films.

-Nate Hill

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Brian Taylor’s Mom & Dad

I read an article a while back saying that at the premiere of Brian Taylor’s Mom & Dad, the director attended the screening and prefaced it by saying that his film has “mental problems.” Well… he wasn’t wrong. Taylor is one half of the Neveldine/Taylor genre filmmaking team, a blitzkrieg duo responsible for both of the Crank movies, plus Gamer, and if you’ve seen any of those you’ll have an idea of the way their sense of humour slants towards the bizarre. With this one it kind of trundles headlong into willfully fucked up territory though, and before you know what’s happened, it’s scant 86 minute runtime is up and you’re left there in the dust, feeling somewhat violated. The concept is blunt and visceral: everywhere, all at once, the nurturing instinct in parents is savagely reversed and they immediately start to murder their own children. Only their children, mind you, and with a disturbing lucidity that I couldn’t decide whether to laugh at or get spine chills from. An amped up Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair play your average upper middle class parental unit, and the film mainly focuses on their eventual snap, and a subsequent tooth & nail fight to snuff out their poor son and daughter (Anne Winters and Zackary Arthur). That’s pretty much the film, although for such a seemingly simple concept within a short piece it somehow manages still clearly articulate its narrative amidst the ruckus and even comment on something deeper than it’s 70’s Midnite Movie veneer initially suggests. Cage treats this as the ultimate midlife crisis, and indeed his acting these days is more gonzo than ever. He’s got a mental breakdown midway through the film and before the killer epidemic even breaks out that is so over the top it reaches a kind of feverish harmony, not to mention appearing scarily un-faked on the actor’s part. Though quick and fierce, the film could have still tightened the pace a bit in the opener and extended the super violent, Home Alone-esque second act a smidge, but oh well. Watching Cage and Blair overact to the heavens as they try and kill their own kids with every household item they can grab including a meat tenderizing hammer (ouch) and a Sawzall (“Sawzall… saws…. all…”) hits some blissfully transcendent notes, if you have the twisted mind to stomach it. There’s a scene that will test boundaries though and walks a fine line between crazy and flat out uncalled for (one of my friends walked out of the room in disgust), but hey, that’s the kind of stuff this director is known for, so try and roll with it. Things get really bizarre when Cage’s own parents show up to add to the cluster-fuck, his demonic veteran daddy personified briefly and perfectly by a ferocious Lance Henriksen. Accompanied by a sketchy, warped and nerve-shredding score and some off kilter editing, this will either be your thing or it won’t, there’s just no middle-ground in an arena this fucked up. Good luck.

-Nate Hill

W Delta Z: The Killing Gene


I’ve written about this film before, but I just keep coming back to it and having tantrums at just how unseen and overlooked it is. Crafted in Europe and given the darkly ambiguous title ‘W Delta Z’, it was picked up stateside by Dimension Extreme and now has the decidedly more accessible title ‘The Killing Gene’, but it’s like they say, a rose by any other name. This is one seriously blood soaked rose too, with a few deeply unsettling ideas to go along with copious amounts of grisly violence. People have compared it to both Saw and Sev7n, and while not inaccurate, it’s smarter than those two combined and twice as gruesome. The premise is terrific: Amidst a brutal gang war in some nameless inner city inferno, there’s a serial killer loose with a few elaborately cerebral methods. Kidnapping people and forcing them to the brink of death via torture, giving them one way out: flick a switch that promptly kills a loved one in front of their eyes, also in captivity right next to them. The goal? To try and find tangible proof that real ‘love’ exists beyond an illusory notion or simply to serve human function, based on a controversial mathematical equation. Pretty grim stuff, but fascinating as well. Weary Detective Eddie Argo (Stellan Skarsgard has never been better) does everything he can to find this maniac, stop the gangs from tearing up the city and wrestle demons from his own past, which have more to do with matters at hand than he thinks. Saddled with the obligatory rookie partner (Melissa George) and at odds with the psychotic ringleader of a gang (Tom Hardy), it’s a rough week for him and everyone in this hellhole. This is the first role I ever saw Hardy in and he’s terrifying, a mumbling urban joker who delights in doling out horrific violence and assault, just a pitch black, on point performance early in his now prolific career. I have to spoil one plot detail which is fairly evident from trailers anyway, and that’s the the identity of the murderer. Selma Blair is the perp in question, and not not once elsewhere in her career has she taken on a role that requires this kind bravery, grit and conviction. Her character is driven by fury, fuelled by vengeance and infected with the sickness that both those attributes fester among damaged people. She’s simultaneously a terrifying fiend and someone you can sympathize with, and even wish to protect. Her character has a bitter, twisted past and we soon realize that the chosen victims are all intricately woven into Eddie’s past, a dark web of violent secrets involving Hardy, another cohort (Ashley Walters) and all of the double dealing that has gone on between them in the past, a precursor of a narrative that comes back to haunt each and every one of them, including Blair herself. The distinct European flavour rushes up to meet the classic urban American crime aesthetic and creates a flavour both stark and irresistible, as we realize that the journey we’re being taken on is very, very different from most of the cop vs. killer flicks made by Hollywood. I can’t stress enough how great this one is. I rarely re-review films unless I feel like they really didn’t get a fighting chance out of the gate or that marketing wasn’t properly put in, and not enough people took notice. This one got seen by few, and just begs to be discovered by many folks out there who I know would really dig it. 

-Nate Hill

Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy: A Review by Nate Hill

  

Guillermo Del Toro’s two Hellboy films are a wildly different pair, both incredible thrill rides and well worth anyone’s time, but I think I will always prefer the first. With the second he took the Pan’s Labyrinth approach, presenting a fairy tale world and showcasing makeup effects that were very similar to that film, an esoteric and elemental vibe. There’s just something about the Lovecraftian, steam punk WWII aesthetic of the first that works better for me, and seems to fit our red pigmented protagonist a little more. These films would be nothing without the essential and hard won casting of Ron Perlman, though. He brings a lively vitality, hulking physicality (he fits the part even before the prosthetics go on) and loveable sarcasm, and when you see him in action there is really no other actor you could envision bringing this character to life. It’s laughable to think that Del Toro fought the studio for years to get Ron in the role, turning down the likes of Vin Diesel and Nic Cage (what in the actual fuck were they thinking), not compromising for a second, knowing the film he wanted to make. Well, Ron got cast in the end, as we now know, and he’s not so much playing Hellboy, he just is Hellboy, he’s that perfect for the role. When he’s backed up by Del Toro’s near godlike creativity and imagination (the two partner on projects frequently and it’s genius every time), you get a piece of comic book escapism as exciting and adventurous as this. Hellboy was the result of a nazi experiment gone wrong, in which certifiable nut job Grigori Rasputin (freaky deaky Karel Roden) and his minions open a portal to a dark universe, in attempt to summon forth anything that could turn the tides of war (not the brightest idea, if you ask me), and instead out crawls infant Hellboy, a cranky crimson imp with a big stone appendage and an attitude to match. Kindly professor Trevor Broom (John Hurt) raises the creature to be a force of good and protection for our world, and soon enough he grows into eight foot tall, wise ass, cigar chomping, ass kicking Ron Perlman, now a valuable and formidable asset to the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, an order who strives to keep the darkness at bay. Joined by his on and off flame Liz Sherman (pun intended, as she’s literally a firestarter), Professor Broom, rookie agent Meyers (Rupert Evans) and humanoid swamp thing Abraham Sapien (Doug Jones, dubbed out with David Hyde Pierce), he sets out to shield New York, the planet and the universe from Rasputin, who has returned with notions of finishing the cataclysmic work he started decades ago. The action is propulsive and rousing, initially in NYC streets and subway tunnels, and then in a far off arctic locale where a gateway to some dark dimension opens once more and a suspiciously Cthlhu esque deity of destruction peers out. Del Toro has stated before that he prefers to think of his work as ‘eye protein’ rather than eye candy. Well, call it what you will, his films are nothing short of dazzling on all levels, and Hellboy is no exception. There’s visual splendour in every frame, from the painstaking costumes, makeup and props (Perlman has a great big gun for that great big hand), to the production design and seamless computer wizardry, the world we see onscreen is immersive and entertaining for the entire journey. Roden makes a frothing madman out of Rasputin, always nailing the villain when he shows up, and stopping said show here with his theatrical and baroque insanity. My favourite has to be Kroenen though, a sharply dressed, mute nazi assassin with a face only a mother could love and a set of knives you’d be foolish to get in the way of. He’s an inspired and truly creepy villain that sets the apocalyptic dial on the highest setting when he shows up. Jeffrey Tambor provides additional comic relief as the long suffering suit who serves as the face of PR for the bureau, and props to Brian Steele as Sammael, a seriously pissed off demon set loose by Rasputin in the city streets, leading to one blockbuster of an action sequence. As far as comic book films go, this is a gold standard of filmmaking, world building and good old fashioned storytelling, all of which Del Toro is a master at. It wouldn’t have been the same without him, without Perlman and especially without the magic that happens when they work together. 

HELLBOY – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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The success of X-Men (2000) and Spider-Man (2002) opened the door for a new wave of comic book adaptations. In the past, studios have played it safe and only green-lighted adaptations of mainstream comic books with large followings. However, this changed with adaptations of independent fare like Ghost World (2000), American Splendor (2003), and with Hellboy (2004). Based on Mike Mignola’s comic book of the same name, the title has a dedicated cult following at best so it was a pleasant surprise to see a major studio take a big budget gamble with it.

October 1944. The Nazis have begun mixing science with black magic in a desperate attempt to regain the advantage in World War II. The seemingly invincible Russian, Rasputin (Karel Roden) has teamed up with the Germans and plans to open a portal to another dimension and bring about an apocalypse. However, American troops arrive and disrupt the procedure just in time. In the process, something comes through: a red-skinned demon baby that the soldiers adopt and call Hellboy.

With the World War II prologue, director Guillermo del Toro does two important things: he vividly introduces this colorful world and the characters that inhabit it by creating just the right moody atmosphere and with detailed production design and excellent special effects. Secondly, Del Toro establishes the film’s mythology and what exactly is at stake through a clever mix of science fiction and the supernatural. He does this via an exciting action sequence as a young Dr. Broom and U.S. soldiers confront Rasputin and the Nazis.

Present day. Rasputin has been resurrected and continues his plans to summon destructive supernatural forces that will result in the end of the world. Hellboy (Ron Perlman) has matured (sort of) and now works for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) in New Jersey — under the guise of a waste management company (just like Tony Soprano). Along with Abe Sapien (Doug Jones with an uncredited David Hyde Pierce doing the voice), an amphibious humanoid (“the fish guy” as a guard puts it), firestarter Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), and the token “normal guy,” John Myers (Rupert Evans), Hellboy tracks down Rasputin and tries to prevent him from fulfilling his nefarious goals.

Del Toro, a die-hard comic book fan and self-described film geek, shoots the action sequences much like he did in Blade II (2002), with crazy camera angles and fantastically choreographed fights. Case in point, Hellboy’s extended tussle with Sammael (Brian Steele). It’s like Del Toro took panels right out Mignola’s comic book and made them move but with the same kind of explosive energy that made Jack Kirby’s art so exciting. Del Toro also has incredible production design at his disposal to create a fully realized world rich in detail and drenched in atmosphere. He is heavily influenced by Italian horror films and not only references Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960) but also the saturated primary color scheme of Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) to name just a couple of examples. This is a great looking film, from the warm colors and ornate architecture of the library where Abe Sapien resides, to the darker, colder colors of Rasputin’s mausoleum in Moscow.

Del Toro was shooting Mimic (1997) and discovered the Hellboy comic book but never thought that it could be made in Hollywood and if it did they would ruin it. He heard that it was going to be adapted into a film at Universal Pictures and started writing a screenplay in 1997. He met Mike Mignola when they worked together on Blade II, which they used as their “rehearsal” for Hellboy. They found out that they read the same comic books and pulp and classic gothic horror novels. With Hellboy, Del Toro wanted to make a self-contained film, “almost a fairy tale, a fable.” His original pitch to executives at Sony-based Revolution Studios was that both The Mask (1994) and Men in Black (1997) were comic books that they were not familiar with and yet went on to become extremely successful films. He told them that the same thing could happen with Hellboy. In April 2002, Del Toro’s film was given the green-light at a budget of $60 million.

Del Toro first saw Ron Perlman in Quest for Fire (1982) and then The Name of the Rose (1986) and was very impressed with his acting, so much so that he ended up casting the actor in his first film Cronos (1994). Del Toro initially wanted him to play Hellboy but Vin Diesel was a rising star at the time and so the director approached him instead for the role. However, with the move from Universal to Revolution, Diesel dropped out of the picture and Perlman was in. Early on, if the actor didn’t work out, Del Toro thought about making Hellboy a mixture of puppet and computer graphics. He talked to James Cameron who warned him that if he went that route he would lose the love story. Del Toro wisely decided to stick with Perlman.

Perlman is perfectly cast as the cigar smoking, two-fisted action hero who eats Baby Ruth candy bars and loves cats. He does a great job of capturing Hellboy’s sarcastic, wise-cracking nature. Perlman gets to utter cool one-liners and looks fantastic in his make-up (thanks to legendary makeup artist Rick Baker). Often, what makes it to the film rarely resembles what was drawn in the comic book. Not the case here — Perlman IS Hellboy. With this role, he firmly established himself as one of the cult film icons of the new millennium (much like Bruce Campbell was in the 1990s). Perlman has got the drop-dead cool action hero shtick down cold. With his hulking, imposing physique, he’s Arnold Schwarzenegger with brains and irony.

Del Toro cast Selma Blair because he always saw a “haunting quality in her eyes and in her look. Sort of a doomed, gothic beauty in her.” He was a fan of The Larry Sanders Show and felt the Jeffrey Tambor had that “smarmy, wannabe bureaucratic presence” that was ideal for Tom Manning. He cast Tambor against type and wanted him to be an “absolute asshole in the beginning, and play it straight.” Del Toro and Mignola created the character of Myers to guide audiences into Hellboy’s world. The director interviewed a lot of young Hollywood actors but many of them were “just too cute and too Calvin Klein beautiful to put in the movie.” He liked Rupert Evans because he had “such an open face, and he had a real innocence about him.” Del Toro saw John Hurt in Love and Death on Long Island (1997) and felt that the actor had “that little air of tragedy about him” that suited Professor Bruttenholm.

hellboy-movie-screencaps.com-5535Hellboy is one of those rare comic book movies with depth. It takes time to develop its characters and the relationships between them. There is the touching father-son relationship between Hellboy and Bruttenholm and the romantic love triangle between Hellboy, Myers and Liz. While the film has the requisite slam-bang action sequences, it is not dominated by them. The film is not driven by them but rather by the characters and the story. And this is because Del Toro has strong source material to draw from: Mignola’s comic book, in particular “Seed of Destruction,” which chronicles Hellboy’s origins. Both Del Toro and Mignola’s works are steeped in the gothic and horror genres, in particular the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. The author’s influence is all over this movie as Hellboy trades blows with Cthulhu-inspired creatures that would make ol’ Lovecraft proud. While Del Toro’s film didn’t exactly rack up the kind box office numbers the studio was hoping for, it did prove to be quite popular on home video and eventually spawn an even better sequel in 2008.

Brown’s Requiem: A Review by Nate Hill

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Brown’s Requiem is a neat little slice of Los Angeles film noir in the tradition of L.A. Confidential and Mulholland Falls. It’s based on a book of the same name that’s written by James Ellroy, who actually wrote L.A. Confidential as well, so the crime vibe here is thick, rich and geniune. Michael Rooker is flat out fantastic as Fritz Brown, a world weary, hard bitten private investigator who is hired by a rotund caddie named Fat Dog (Will Sasso) to find his kid sister (Selma Blair) a wayward girl who has apparantly run off with a her sugar daddy, and may be in danger. Brown noses around and before he knows it he’s neck deep in police corruption, violence and murder. It’s convoluted, but film noir always is, and when the plot is left to bake in the California sun, it’s going to be nicely sinewy and labyrinthine to please all the filmgoers put there who fancy themselves gumshoes and like to decipher the happenings along with the protagonist. The trail leads Brown to sinister police captain Cathcart (the late Brion James), brutal thug Richard Ralston (Jack Conley) and many other bottom dwelling nasties. This is a rare lead role for Rooker and he’s riveting, fitting this genre protagonist like a glove. His innate menace and gruff whisper of a voice are put to good use as the hangdog tough guy takes care of business in style. Watch out for Kevin Corrigan, Tobin Bell, Christopher Meloni and a brief but darkly funny cameo from Brad Dourif. Where L.A. Confidential hid it’s grit beneath a sheen of glamour, Brown’s Requiem wears it proudly on its seedy sleeve, a scrappy little cousin to Confidential, and a sturdy little noir mystery boosted by Rooker’s work.