Archive for Reviews

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

9 out of 13 nots.
for being good, but not being the Hellboy that I wanted to see

I am sure that there will be many reviews for Hellboy II that are positively glowing.  They will remark that Guillermo del Toro has crafted a work of art.  Others will mention how funny it is.  And none of them are wrong.  Hellboy II is funny, and it is a work of art.  However, it is also a very weak story masked in humor and style.

I like del Toro’s style.  I thought Pan’s Labyrinth was great.  I even liked Blade II.  And I loved the first Hellboy movie.  If I were to base my review of this film entirely on the visual style, I’d be giving it an 11 or a 12.  Its beautiful, even stunning in places.  And the movie is funny.  There are some parts of the movie that are absolutely hilarious, and if this review were based entirely on the funny bits and it was a comedy, I’d probably be giving it at least a 10.  However, the comedy of the film becomes a distraction if you happen to notice how weak the underlying tale being told is, and style is never something I have preferred over substance.

If you enjoyed Hellboy for the occult bits, you might want to skip Hellboy II because the occult is almost absent here.  If you enjoyed Hellboy for the dark and ominous tone, you might want to skip Hellboy II because this movie is bright and sunny by comparison.

In the end, though, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is still a good movie.  Better than a lot of films that make it to the screen, and continues the trend of good comic book movies making it to the screen this year that looks like is going to continue right through Christmas and beyond.  Its a good movie that just wasn’t as good as I had hoped, and not as good as its predecessor.

Journey to the Center of the Earth

12 out of 13 nots
for thrilling family fun and 3D awesomeness

Nearly two months ago I was lucky enough to be able to go to an early screening of Journey to the Center of the Earth.  Rather than just simply retelling the Jules Verne novel in the present day, this movie takes the approach of “What if the character in the book had been real, had gone to the center of the Earth, returned, and told his tale to Jules Verne?”  So you wind up with a scientist (Brendan Fraser) whose brother vanished ten years ago while doing research on seismic activity, and now the same seismic pattern is appearing again, so he goes off in search of answers, with nephew in tow.

This movie is pure action adventure family fun.  And I highly recommend it to people with kids… and even people without kids.  Even as an adult I certainly was never bored.

One of the best things about this film, however, is that it is in 3D.  And it is not the old red/green blurry 3D.  This is the new digital 3D like you may have seen in last year’s Beowulf or the 3D version of The Nightmare Before Christmas or to some of the IMAX nature films.  Filmed with a pair of digital cameras that approximate the distance between your eyes, without the special glasses you’ll see two images nearly overlapping, but with the glasses on you’ll see the action almost literally jump off the screen.  And to top it off, the movie only blatantly abuses the 3D angle a few times at the beginning with shoving a couple of things toward the audience for thrills and laughs.  After that, you just feel like you are watching an enhanced film where many scenes just feel more real than you are used to.

Definitely, if you are going to see the movie, try your hardest to see it in a theater that is showing the 3D version.  It is worth it.  I just hope more movies get made in 3D, because it was a blast.

Tremor

Every once in a while I pick up random books that hook me with their jacket blurb from the bargain big at the book store.  Barnes & Noble’s discount section is especially good at it.  So that is how I came upon Tremor by Craig Dirgo.

What attracted me to the book was simply the mention of Nikola Tesla.  I’m a nut for science based science fiction.  (Its one of the many reasons I prefer Angels & Demons to The Da Vinci Code.)  So when I saw that the crux of the book was that someone had a machine built on Tesla designs that could cause earthquakes… I was in.

Sadly, this is the second book in a series, but fortunately does not rely heavily on the reader having actually read the first book.  The first book is about Einstein.  I’m going to have to track down a copy.

Anyway, it was a good book.  If you like Dan Brown or Clive Cussler or those types of books, you’ll probably like Craig Dirgo’s stuff too.  Its typical “male adventure” … smart and/or skilled guys tracking down bad guys and fooling around with inordinately hot women mostly in exotic locals.  I mean, the main character, John Taft, who is a spy, goes to sneak a peak at some of Tesla’s old papers at the Tesla museum in Belgrade, only to find that the curator just happens to be a really hot chick who he charms and sleeps with in a matter of hours so he can steal her keys and break in.  Its par for the course in books like these.

Overall, fun, but not something I’d find myself reading more than once.

Hancock

10 out of 13 nots.
for heroes with problems and problems with heroes

If you loved Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk and want to see another super-powered thrill ride, Hancock is not the movie for you.  While previews and commercials may have made this movie seem like a funny action film about an alcoholic superhero, the truth is that this is a more somber tale about a lost superhero being helped find himself and recover from the mistakes he has made.

Closer in tone to Unbreakable than the more recent superhero fare, Peter Berg has crafted an interesting tale of a superhero who feels the need to save people but isn’t sure why and doesn’t take care in how he does it.  The movie has a few twists and turns, some of which can be seen coming if you pay attention, that veer the story away from being just another action flick.  I really enjoyed it, but I can easily see how others would not.  Dramatic and “slow” in places, it still has good action sequences and moments of comedy.  That said, I was never really at the edge of my seat.

So, enter with an open mind and you may enjoy the film like me, but if you go in looking for Iron Man, I think you are going to be let down.

WALL-E

12 out of 13 nots.
for making me care about a lonely robot… and maybe the planet too.

Every time I see a Pixar movie, I find myself saying, “They have done it again.”  I am almost waiting for them to release a film that isn’t great… but don’t get me wrong, I love the great.

WALL-E is the story of a robot (the title is his name/model), possibly the last of his kind, left on Earth to clean up the mess while humanity took off into space for a vacation while the hard work got done.  Its that ‘last of his kind’ thing that hits home, and as usual the Pixar people manage to bring life to the non-living.  WALL-E goes to work cleaning up the mess (compressing junk into cubes and stacking the cubes as high as skyscrapers) and comes home each night to watch an old musical and dream of something more than what he has.  Then EVE arrives.  Another robot, EVE is searching for something on Earth, and WALL-E is stricken with her.  When she finds what she came for and a spacecraft returns to take her away, WALL-E hitches a ride into space to be with her.

From there, the story takes some nice turns and into some crazy chases and situations.  I really enjoyed it, and so did all the kids in the theater.  Its as good as all the other Pixar films.

Oh… and don’t be late to the film.  In Pixar tradition, there is a short film before WALL-E called Presto, and it is hilarious!

Get Smart

12 out of 13 nots
for missing it… by that much.

I don’t want to mislead you with that little snippet above. This movie didn’t really miss it. It nailed it, but it just wasn’t perfect… and that’s okay.

If you never saw the old TV show, you should. Get Smart was always great, in the same way that Police Squad was great (Police Squad being the TV show that came before the Naked Gun movies). In a world jam packed with awful genre parodies, like the “[blank] Movie” franchise (Scary, Epic, Date… and Meet the Spartans, because really, even though they changed the name format, its the same thing), its nice to see a movie that is genuinely funny and doesn’t rely on jokes that won’t make sense to anyone in five years… okay, I’m being generous… three years.

Get Smart is a funny spy movie, as opposed to being a funny movie about spy movies. Maxwell Smart is the best analyst at Control. So good that even when he passes his field agent exam he isn’t going to be assigned into the field because they can’t afford to lose him. That is, until Control is compromised and covers are blown, and the only way to track down the forces of Kaos is to use an agent no one knows… Maxwell Smart. Accompanied by Agent 99 (who for reasons I won’t spoil is also able to work in the field), they try to learn Kaos’ plans and save the world.

Steve Carell plays the part of Maxwell Smart to perfection. Don Adams would be proud, I think. The rest of the cast is also fantastic, Anne Hathaway, Alan Arkin, Dwayne Johnson, Terence Stamp… just great.

In the end, this is a great comedic film about spies. In my opinion, well worth your movie going dollar.

Seeing Redd

Back in March I read a book called The Looking Glass Wars.  I enjoyed it enough to pick up the sequel, Seeing Redd.

We are back in Wonderland, and its been… well, some short period of time since the end of the first book.  The book uses “lunar cycles” to measure time, but its unclear if a lunar cycle in Wonderland is the same as one on Earth, but I suspect it isn’t.  Here on Earth, a lunar cycle means from full moon to full moon (or new moon to new moon, if you wish), which runs about a month.  In Wonderland, I am guessing that its much shorter, perhaps that the author might in fact mean just one day, as is the moon comes up and then the moon goes down.  In some places the book says its been a full lunar cycle, and you can easily imagine a month having gone by, yet in other places when an urgent task is required to be done in two or three lunar cycles… well, would waiting two or three months really make the task urgent?

In any event, the book keeps with that same similar style from the first book where things are said but not explained, which is good that the book isn’t bogged down with explaining exactly what an orb generator or a scorpspitter is, and yet, given the way that I read books, constructing the world in my imagination, without details I’m left to fill in the gaps myself, or just to have gaps.  Filling in the gaps myself often leads me to having to revise my image of something later when a new detail does emerge, which then causes me a little confusion concerning earlier events…

Despite those issues (which might be my issues alone), the book still reads well.  It moves along at a good clip, hits the high parts and delivers a decent punch.  I enjoyed it.

The Incredible Hulk

11 out of 13 nots.
for never really slowing down and HULK SMASH!!!!

Long ago, there was another Hulk movie. When I heard about it, I was excited, I like the Hulk. I was very sad when I saw it and it was a slow dramatic mess that essentially shat all over most of the source material.

So, when I heard they were making a new Hulk movie and essentially ignoring the other film, I got excited again. And this time, I was not disappointed. While The Incredible Hulk isn’t quite as good as Iron Man, it is an example like Iron Man that Marvel is really taking care to bring their characters to the screen right, and not let go and have someone else make a mess of it.

This time around, we skip the origin, except in a flashback and a parade of news clippings showing suspected sightings of the Hulk over the last five years. Banner is hiding out in Brazil, working on a cure for his illness, and a group of the military, headed up by General Ross, is still looking for him. Banner has been talking to an unknown source who calls himself Mr. Blue, and Mr. Blue thinks he can cure Banner, he just needs the original data on the gamma exposure levels. To get that data, Banner has to go home, but even before he can set out, he’s found and the chase begins.

In the older Hulk film they bent the source material and forced in the Absorbing Man, and it was bad. This time we stick with Ross and in a much more believable way we get introduced to Emil Blonsky, who all the comic fans know becomes the Abomination. Like with Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk is rife with comic facts, characters and bits that will make the fans happy, but nothing that will kill the movie for the casual viewer. They even threw in a number of references to the old TV show… and again, managed to do it without leaving new inductees in the dark about some missed piece of information.

Overall, this was a great way to bring the Hulk to the screen. Well worth the price of admission.

Grave Peril

The third book in the Dresden Files series, Grave Peril, is more of the same of the previous two books… and that’s no bad thing in my opinion.  The first book was a bad wizard, the second was werewolves, and this time around Harry tangles with ghosts and vampires.

Well done, Mr. Butcher.  Well done.

The Fall

10 out of 13 nots.
for brilliant colors and sadness

The story is simple, and sad. A man in the hospital with a spinal injury begins to tell a fantastic story to a young girl, who is at the same hospital with a broken arm, in an effort to coerce her to bring him pills so that he can commit suicide. While indeed sad, the scenes that play out in the imagination of the girl are stunning and beautiful as she hears the story of six men: The Indian, the Slave, the Explosives Expert, the Mystic, Charles Darwin (and his monkey), and the Masked Bandit.

The tale he tells is rife with elements of his own life, and the imagery is crafted from hers to create a moving, vibrant and sometimes funny unraveling of events. However, sometimes the pace of the film is slow, so many viewers may find themselves shifting in their seats. Yet, Tarsem and his crew frame every shot so gloriously that even the fidgety may well find themselves enraptured.

This is definitely not a film for everyone, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.