Review: Hellboy (2019)

hellboy headeradam reviewHellboy (2019)

I’m a huge fan of the Hellboy franchise. The two prior films were really enjoyable and lately I’ve dove into the comic books as well and there’s a lot to love there. We’ve been waiting for the third film to end the trilogy but instead the franchise has been rebooted with a new cast, so folks are pretty hesitant. Let’s discuss how it turned out.

The gist.

Our movie follows Hellboy (David Harbour, Stranger Things), a half-demon creature that was summoned to our world many years ago as a baby. He’s grown up, now an agent of a paranormal police force called the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Development (BPRD) under the guidance of his adoptive father (Ian McShane). Things are getting grim as an ancient evil called Nimue (or “The Blood Queen”, played by Milla Jovovich) is coming back to power and seeks to use Hellboy’s immense potential for her own gain.

Teaming up with Hellboy to stop this threat is Alice (Sasha Lane), a girl once kidnapped by fairies and given psychic abilities, and military leader Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim, Lost), who has a dark secret he’s keeping from the team.

hellboy 1

What works?

I’m a sucker for this world, so it’s always cool to see little nods to this mythology. The problem with this movie though is that maybe it crams in too much. Our opening few sequences literally send Hellboy around the world, dealing with disparate issues and it seems like it’s just fan-service. But if you’re looking for exact comic-to-screen translations, this has a lot of it. It’s packed with world building, though it’s not always explained to people that maybe aren’t in the know already.

Some of the imagery and moments in this film are fantastic. The first half feels a little more cookie-cutter fantasy, whereas the second half feels like a horror apocalypse film, full of some intense and visceral violence. The creature design is really unique, though I wish the movie had embraced more physical effects as opposed to CGI, which isn’t always polished.

What doesn’t work?

This movie is jam-packed, which causes a lot of problems. Hellboy’s quest (and his enemies) are all over the place. Yes, this Blood Queen seems to be rising to power, but there’s also a subplot about a boar-man who feels slighted by Hellboy and wants revenge. We also get a subplot of a slavic demon called the Baba Yaga who Hellboy must contend with. Oh, and there’s a vampire infestation in Mexico. Oh, and there’s a trio of giants terrorizing English countrysides. It’s a lot. And to explain each of these, we get a huge exposition dump and ultimately we’re left wondering which of these encounters really matter to the film (and as I recount them, most of them don’t matter at all).

The first Hellboy film from 2004 was intended for newcomers to this world, so it spends a lot of time showing you the world of Hellboy and extensive backstory, to give you context. The plot was simple. Here… This movie gets halfway through before we really see Hellboy’s origin (and even then, it’s a minimal tale). It seems to be assuming that you know the story, which I don’t believe is the case for most folks in the audience.

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Since this movie has so many monsters and terrifying creatures, you would hope to see some pretty amazing visuals. Unfortunately that’s not the case. A few things stand out in a positive way, including an insane fight sequence with the twisted old crone, the Baba Yaga. Most of our creatures though, look like they were from 2004 themselves. The effects look unpolished and messy. Again, there’s a reliance on computer-generated visual effects, even though several of these monsters could have been physical effects instead.

I want to touch on the humor here. Hellboy, as a character, is witty and dry. This script however mismanages his humor, also while turning the character into a whiny teenager. There’s a huge subplot about him arguing with his dad, over and over. Ultimately, Hellboy doesn’t feel very likable, and that’s a major problem. Harbour doesn’t give us the charm that Perlman was able to deliver in the past films. I don’t know if I blame Harbour, but rather the script he was given.

Overall…

This movie is unfortunately a mixed bag. If you’re unfamiliar, there may be some cool concepts here, but the movie doesn’t explain anything to the already uninformed. It speeds right into the action and delivers more monsters than you’ll know what to do with. These monsters are interestingly designed but horribly executed, with dated CGI effects and little motivation. David Harbour misses the mark as Hellboy, but I blame a weak script for not giving us more insight into Hellboy other than his daddy issues. There may be fun to have here, but I think we’d all agree this is not a good movie.

2

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: Hotel Mumbai

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Hotel Mumbai.

There’s an ethical question to be raised here over whether traumatic events such as what occurred in 2008 in the city of Mumbai, where over 170 people were killed by terrorists, should be made into movies. If you have problems with that idea, this likely isn’t a good pick for you. What I’m reviewing here is the film itself, regardless of the intent to make it.

The gist.

In the city of Mumbai, there is a luxury hotel called the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel (or “The Taj” as it’s referred to). Suddenly Mumbai is hit by a massive and widespread terrorist attack, culminating in the hotel. We follow a few leads, including Dev Patel as a waiter and Anupam Kher as the head chef. A married couple (Armie Hammer and Nazanin Boniadi) are visiting with their newborn baby, while a Russian businessman (Jason Isaacs) just wants to have fun while he’s in town. They’re all in the hotel when men armed with grenades and guns enter the hotel and begin a massacre. To make matters worse, the nearest qualified police officers are being sent from Delhi and won’t arrive until the next morning, so our leads will have to find a way to survive the night.

hotel mumbai 2

What works?

As a suspenseful action movie, this movie is incredibly compelling. It can be hard to watch, there’s some intense violence though it doesn’t linger on anything too long. I was never certain who would survive (or how), the movie had plenty of twists and moments that had you sit on the edge of your seat. That is what I look for in a film like this and this absolutely succeeds in that way.

I also want to applaud this film’s pacing. The very first shots of the film follow the terrorists as they begin the assault, so there’s no fluff and no backstory, it throws you right into it. I still was able to connect with our heroes, but the movie moves briskly to get us into the action. Never a dull moment.

Now, a tragedy like this wouldn’t be very effective if we weren’t connected to these characters. While they don’t get much backstory, I still found myself rooting for the heroes here. Dev Patel especially steals the show and his story left me in tears, it’s an outstanding performance. Armie Hammer and Nazanin Boniadi are also fantastic, as they try to keep their child alive, when the slightest sound might alert the terrorists to their location.

In this genre, this movie is one of the best. If you’re lucky enough to have this film play near you, I’d definitely check it out.

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What doesn’t work?

Like I said, there’s some ethical questions about this. Should movies be made, to profit off tragedies like this? If the answer is no, the question is where is that line drawn? Is it about how recent the incident was? Or the body count? It’s a complicated issue and some of you might choose to not see this film for that reason.

It also makes it harder to witness the massive body count here, when it reflects real people. Watching a fictional action film with a high count doesn’t affect you the same way, so some of you may have a very visceral reaction to this.

Overall…

If you think you’d like this movie, I totally recommend it. I found it thrilling, intense, and unpredictable, with some incredible performances highlighted by Dev Patel. If you want a movie that will leave you reeling, have you emotionally invested, and constantly throw you for loops, this film will do it.

5

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Review: Dumbo (2019)

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Dumbo (2019).

Full transparency. I’ve never seen the original (or at least I don’t remember seeing it) so I have no context for what they might’ve changed or how this relates to the 1941 cartoon. I’m judging this movie independent of all that, on its own merits and faults.

The gist.

We follow a traveling circus ran by Max Medici (Danny DeVito) but they’re pretty down on their luck. One of his past performers Holt (Colin Farrell) returns from serving in the military and reunites with his children (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins) though his wife passed away while he was gone. There’s a new addition to the circus, an elephant about to give birth. Everyone is surprised when the baby elephant has huge ears and seems deformed, though eventually it’s uncovered that the elephant can use these ears to fly. This gets the attention of entertainment mogul V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) and his high-flying Colette (Eva Green). Vandevere brings the circus into his own theme park, though his deal and promises aren’t quite what was expected.

dumbo 1

What works?

The adults in this film all do an admirable job, including a surprisingly good performance from Colin Farrell. It’s also nice to see Keaton and DeVito reunite after Batman Returns in 1992.

I also applaud the visual effects here, as the title character of Dumbo is quite a likable little guy, full of personality and vulnerability. One of the cons that I’ll get to in a second is that it’s hard to watch so many bad things happen to him, considering how adorable they made him.

What doesn’t work?

This is not a pleasant movie to watch. Like… It’s just bad news for Dumbo for an hour and a half. Bad things keep happening and there’s not much enjoyment in it. This movie had very little humor or levity, so it felt like it was just tense and suspenseful the whole time, with no time to really enjoy the film. Its tone is dark and unrelenting.

It’s confusing because this seems to be targeted at children, but this doesn’t come off as a children’s film at all. It’s sad, tense, and depressing. There are also some frightening moments that I wouldn’t recommend for small children at all, so maybe think twice before taking the little ones.

So who is this movie for? I have no idea. This movie doesn’t seem to have an audience and I’m not quite sure who was rallying for this movie to be made.

It also doesn’t help that the film relies on two children for most of its heartfelt moments and these child actors really miss the mark, especially the young girl Nico Parker, who has a vacant look on her face for the entire runtime. Dumbo flies for the first time and you can tell she’s in a soundstage looking at a floating prop and being told to pretend.

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Overall…

Dumbo shouldn’t exist. It doesn’t feel necessary and it’s not enjoyable to watch. The effects are decent and our adult leads do their best, but some horrible child actors drag down most of the emotional moments. This movie isn’t for anyone, it was made and then sent out into the void, failing to capture the heart of past live-action Disney remakes.

2

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Review: The Best of Enemies

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The Best of Enemies.

It’s a bit of a shock to me that this movie is releasing in April, not typically a month packed with heavy-hitting dramas, especially considering both Sam Rockwell and Taraji P. Henson star in this and they’re both on quite a streak recently.

The gist.

Welcome to Durham, North Carolina in 1971. When a school for black children burns down, the city must decide how to solve this problem, which includes discussing school integration. An outside mediator Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay) is brought in to facilitate a discussion between all interested parties, spearheaded by the President of the local KKK C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell) and community organizer Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson). For two weeks, this group spends every day together debating and discussing what integration would mean to everyone involved.

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What works?

When I say both Rockwell and Henson are on a streak right now, that streak continues though I’m not sure if their performances will be remembered come next year’s Oscars. Should they be? Yes. They have an excellent chemistry here and both of them deliver some of their career’s best performances.

This is also quite an intriguing real life story. We want to believe that even the worst people can change their opinions and so when we watch the head of the KKK start to doubt and think about life differently, it inspires hope, that even the worst of humanity can be potentially redeemed.

There’s also some very effective uses of found footage in the final moments of the film that relate to the real Ellis and Atwater that again inspires hope.

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What doesn’t work?

Now, this movie will draw some criticism, for similar ways that Greek Book drew criticism. It praises and celebrates this horrible man for changing his mindset, for just becoming a decent person. As the film closed, it made me a little irritated how Atwater’s arc ended, versus how Ellis’ arc ended. So I’m a bit conflicted. Yes, I want to see hope that even the head honcho in the KKK can have a change of heart, but how much celebration does that basic act of decency deserve?

Overall…

The Best of Enemies is solid, though not impervious to critique. Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell deliver great performances, though the character of C.P. Ellis is praised a little too highly in the film’s climax, which may make some audiences roll their eyes in disdain. It’s a safe pick and has some great moments, if you’re looking for an interesting true life story.

4

 

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Review: Shazam!

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Shazam!

The DC Comics movie franchise (known as the DC Extended Universe) has had a rocky go of things. I’d argue that they’ve had successes (Aquaman and Wonder Woman mostly) and have had some drastic missteps (I would say Suicide Squad and Justice League). Shazam! luckily seems to avoiding the pre-established continuity and kind of going out on its own, aside from a few nods and references. Is it able to make a favorable impression?

The gist.

We meet Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a foster kid who keeps running away and trying to find his birth mother. He ends up encountering an ancient wizard named Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) who imbues him with the powers of six ancient Greek gods (transforming into an adult superhero, played by Zachary Levi). However, there’s a villain named Sivana (Mark Strong) who can harness the deadly sins that must defeat this new Shazam before he can then rule the world.

Along for the ride, we have fellow foster children played by Jack Dylan Grazer, Grace Fulton, Faithe Herman (This is Us), Ian Chen (Fresh Off the Boat), and Jovan Armand.

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What works?

This is undeniably my favorite film in the modern run of DC films. It manages to succeed in areas that other standout DC films also have, but not suffer the same weaknesses.

The foundation of this film are the characters (and the actors playing them). Zachary Levi got a lot of flack when it was released that he’d be playing this character but he absolutely nails it, full of childish wonder and glee. This is a very light movie, full of humor and heart, and he carries most of that weight. The two young leads of Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer also do a fantastic job here.

Some people throw out the term “superhero fatigue” and claim that movies like this won’t work and will eventually start drawing smaller crowds. Shazam! works because of our fatigue, it relies on our knowledge of superhero tropes and our expectations. As Billy is learning to be a superhero, he has a wealth of knowledge already about characters like Superman and Batman, just like we do. It’s almost a satire of the genre, while leaning full into it. It goes to places in the Shazam-mythology that I definitely did not expect (prompting this spoiler-filled explanation of the film’s mid-credits scene).

The effects are generally great, even the completely CGI monsters that appear throughout. Both Wonder Woman and Aquaman struggled with their entirely CGI characters, this movie rectified most of these mistakes. The fights are fun and creative, making even familiar powers feel fresh and exciting again.

What doesn’t work?

My only minor gripe is about Mark Strong’s villain, Dr. Sivana. He has a great intro and initial motivation, but as the movie goes on, he veers into typical villain mode and I lost track of what he actually wanted, other than being tempted by the deadly sins he controls. It’s not always clear, but this villain is still leagues above and beyond other DC villains so far.

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Overall…

I don’t know how to say this other than I had a smile on my face for the entire runtime of this film. It’s fresh and unique and vibrant, yet still delivers some heartfelt and emotional moments. Mark Strong’s villain isn’t always clear in his motivation, but he’s a perfect foil to Zachary Levi’s Shazam. This will stand out as one of the best DC Comics films yet, if not a clear frontrunner for most of you. In a genre as packed as the superhero genre has become, this one stands out as being one of the best in a long time.

5

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Game of Thrones Prediction Form

If you love Game of Thrones as much as I, you may be super excited as the April premiere gets closer and closer, with the final season on the horizon.

With that in mind, I put together a scoring system so that you can battle with your friends over how you think this season will go. Download the form below, fill it out, and turn in to one central person who can keep track of points during the last six episodes!

Click the image to download the PDF! Or save as a JPG!

game of thrones predictions

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Review: Captive State

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Captive State.

This movie is entirely under the radar, no one is talking about it. That’s usually not a good sign, so I went to the theaters to check it out for myself.

The gist.

10 years ago, aliens conquered the world. Now known as “Legislators,” they rule over the humans and mine deep into the Earth for minerals. Most humans have surrendered, though small packs of rebels fight back. Gabriel (Ashton Sanders, Moonlight) works for them and wants to escape along with his friend (played by Machine Gun Kelly). He’s looked after by a police officer named William (John Goodman) who was a friend of Gabriel’s father. Gabriel gets roped into helping with a massive attack being planned against the aliens, orchestrated in memory of his brother (Jonathan Majors), that he believes is dead. We also have Vera Farmiga as a mysterious prostitute who has some strange connections with both the rebels and the police.

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What works?

This movie’s strongest aspect is the world that they’ve created here. There are some incredible details and nuance to this world, that makes it seem realistic. I was intrigued throughout the entire runtime, given information slowly about these alien overlords. While this movie tonally feels like District 9, we see our aliens much less here. There’s only a few sequences that even give us a good look. It worked though, but it may feel slow if you’re expecting a shoot-em-up science fiction movie. This is a character piece, set in an alien occupation setting.

Both Ashton Sanders and John Goodman are great here, carrying the film. We know they’re both competent actors, so this isn’t surprising. This movie also does something unique in sometimes zooming out and not even focusing on our leads. There’s an entire act of the movie (or so it feels) that focuses on an actual rebel attack against the aliens, that doesn’t really focus on either of our leads, sidelining both of them while this attack is plotted and executed. Most major films wouldn’t do this, but here it totally worked and reminded you that this is a living world, not just a plot created for our “hero.”

What doesn’t work?

While I was interested by the world building, it didn’t do anything exceptionally new. It has a dash of District 9 (or really any Neill Blomkamp movie) and has some low budget tendencies that reminded me of last year’s Kin. When it comes to the plot, and a group of rebels trying to overtake the government, it reminded me of most generic YA dystopian stories such as The Hunger Games, Maze Runner, or Divergent. So when you break this movie apart, it’s all been done before.

I also have to note that the marketing for this film also spoiled a major moment for the movie’s climax. There’s just one epic shot, involving John Goodman, that is featured prominently both in the trailers and in the still photos (I won’t include it here) but you wait the whole movie for that moment and it kind of gives away that character’s arc. Just a bummer.

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Overall…

There’s plenty to like about Captive State. It’s a very cool world and the intrigue that surrounds these alien hosts is done perfectly. However, once you start pulling the aspects of this movie apart, it starts to feel like you’ve seen all this before, though maybe not in this combination. This is an average film, you won’t regret seeing it, but I doubt this will top anyone’s “Best of 2019” lists.

3

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