Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Darkest Knight

To call The Dark Knight a "dark movie" would be a gross understatement. It's morbid and creepy...and friggin' spectacular. I loved it!

I loved it so much that I've had trouble writing this review. (I saw it nearly two weeks ago!) It always seems that I have trouble with reviews when I absolutely adore the movie. I find myself wanting to be more critical instead of just gushing.

So here are my critical points:

1, Christian Bale's Batman voice is a little obnoxious. I think he amped up the gravelyness from the first film, and it grated on my nerves just a smidgen. He makes up for it by looking absolutely stunning in a suit (and by giving a great performance), so I'll forgive him.

2, It is utterly violent. I have no problem with violence, especially when it's done in such a simple, scary way. But I must say the woman with the seven-year old sitting next to us was probably wondering exactly what I was--how in the hell is this movie PG-13? Granted, there isn't a lot of blood and gore going on, but there are plenty of shootings, burnings, beatings, and one dramatic off-screen knifing that rates pretty much in the R category for me.

Other than those two things, this movie is about as great as a summer blockbuster could be. Great villains, greats explosions, great story. Am I saying great too much?

First, let me commend whomever decided not to cast Katie Holmes again. I don't care if it was her decision, Tom's decision, or some suit at Warner Bros, but bravo to you for rethinking that part. Katie Holmes made Rachel Dawes too needy--a woman who was just the girl Batman wanted to have. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Rachel with intelligence and poise that makes me believe that everyone who loves her loves her for more than how she looks in a slinky dress.

Aaron Eckhart turns in a praise-worthy performance as Harvey Dent. For a chunk of the movie, I wasn't sure how I felt about him (the actor and the character), but by the second half, I was rooting for Harvey and Aaron, as well as anticipating the imminent downfall.

Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are both such incredible actors that having small parts is no small part to either of them. Lucius Fox and Alfred are a large part of Bruce Wayne's life, and having lesser actors play these parts would have been a travesty. Both of them are quiet, elegant, yet firm and trustworthy characters that can stand up and deal with both Bruce and Batman.

And then there's the Joker.

Heath Ledger's performance is, hands-down, the most hyped thing to hit the big screen all year. Before his death, people were talking about his amazing turn as the Joker. After his death, the hype only intensified. I must say, the hype is true. With every lick of the lips, flip of the greasy hair, and caress of his precious knife, I was completely fixated on this terrifying man in the creepy clown make-up.

The Joker does some pretty silly things on screen, including dressing up as a nurse, but I never really wanted to laugh because, I have to admit, I was a little scared. Ledger had me truly believing in the pure evilness of his perfect villain--a man who just enjoys wreaking havoc on and bringing corruption to the world.

Leave the kiddies at home, but see this movie. I don't care if you think it was over-hyped. I don't care if you don't like comic book or action movies. This movie is not simply another superhero popcorn flick. It's definitely no Shakespeare, but it is a deep, dark movie that will have you conversing around the watercooler for weeks.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Hellboy: The Mostly Golden Sequel

As far as sequels go, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is a good one. Writer/Director Guillermo Del Toro shows off with exceptionally beautiful set design, amazingly creepy cool creatures, and slick fight scenes that nod to his spectacular Pan's Labyrinth. Even with all this, I believe the movie failed to capture the great characterization presented in its predecessor which is--as I said back in my Indiana Jones review--the heart of a good franchise film. But even though The Golden Army wasn't as character driven as the Hellboy, I still enjoyed it.

This time around, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and his team at the U.S. Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense are dealing with a vengeful troll prince (Luke Goss) as well as their new found exposure to the outside world.

The movie opens when Red is just a young, scary-looking chap, and his father tells him the story of the troll king and the humans and the creation of the Golden Army--invincible metallurgical soldiers who have no souls or remorse. After the humans come in a basically annihilate the otherworld, the troll king commissions an army of magical robots that basically turn around an annihilate the humans. Distressed by what he has done, the king makes a pact with the humans to keep the Army dormant and the two societies will live in peace.

Prince Nuada doesn't like this. Skip ahead to present-day to find him wreaking havoc on both his world and the human world in order to bring the big bad Golden Army back into service. That's where are heroes come in to save the day.

Besides dealing with Nuada's antics, Red and the whole BPRD are dealing with everyone knowing who they are. At first people are excited to see Hellboy in person, but then people begin to fear him. This subplot isn't even worth calling a subplot. It's really more like three scenes that show a quick character arc for Hellboy. I understand the point of it in the movie, but I think it should've been worked a different way.

As I did the first time around, I thoroughly enjoyed Ron Perlman's performance. He's got impeccable timing and the perfect body language to make you look at Hellboy as just another wise-cracking young rebel who won't take anybody's shit instead of a big red demon with his horns shaved down. His boisterousness plays perfectly opposite the cool calculated vibe emanating from Prince Nuada. This guy is a different kind of bad guy. Not one who's out to rule the world but more out to bring back what he thinks is balance. I had a hard time deciding if I pitied the character or despised him, and that's definitely not a bad thing.

There's a new boss in town, Johann Kraus (played by James Dodd and John Alexander, voiced by Seth MacFarlane), who's an ectoplasmic man with the ability to control the dead and machines. His character is a little weak and is mostly used for his talents, which are both handy and convenient.

Red's relationship with Liz (Selma Blair) is front and center with them bickering as usual but also having some very tender moments. She also flashes her powers a little more, and actually uses them for purpose at least once. Blair's performance, as per usual, is a bit wooden. But Perlman seems to pull a little bit more out of her, so scenes with him tend to be better than without.

Abe (Doug Jones) gets a love interest in Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), Prince Nuada's twin sister. He also gets drunk, which was only slightly humorous.

The romantic moments with Liz and Red and Abe and Nuala are where the movie fell off a bit for me. Don't get me wrong, I'm always up for a little romance mixed in with my action, but the romance felt like an afterthought--just something to mention now and again to get a chuckle or create extra stakes in a scene. Liz and Hellboy deal with some heavy stuff, but they resolve it a little too quickly for me to really invest in it. Also, Abe and Nuala have some extremely great moments that are so fleeting, I just wasn't completely invested in them as star-crossed lovers or whatever they may have been.

The Golden Army is half action-packed comic book movie and half art house drama movie. And the balance doesn't quite mesh for me. Even though I recommend seeing the movie, I just didn't walk away from it with the same feeling I got from the first one.