August 21, 2008
Del Toro’s Hell is Still Eye Poppin’ ; Culture Cinema Mike Davies Reviews Cinema’s New Releases
By Mike Davies
HELLBOY II: THE GOLDENARMY
Cert 12A 110 mins
Other than Christopher Nolan, is there another director as hot as Guillermo del Toro? Pan's Labyrinth may have been relatively small fry, but the Oscar was worth its weight in gold. Hailed as a genius of the imagination, he was signed up to direct The Hobbit and it gave him the opportunity for the sequel to his 2004 adaptation of Mike Mignola's cult graphic novel.
Hellboy's origins as a demon child conjured by the Nazis but raised to Tght the forces of darkness, are dismissed in a brief caption summary before launching into a 1955 prologue as the young Hellboy (who touchingly believes in Santa) is told a Christmas Eve story by his adoptive father (John Hurt).
It reveals how a war was waged between humans and Earth's fantastical creatures, a truce only declared after elf-king Balor was horri-Ted at the destruction wrought by his unliving army. Humans would get the cities, the forests belonged to nature.
Fast forward to the present day and, with mankind encroaching on the natural world, Balor's resentful albino son, Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), has returned from self-exile to resume the conRict, looking to gather the three pieces of the magical crown that will reawaken the slumbering mechanoid warriors.
One he recovers attacking a New York auction, the second by killing his father. The third is in the keeping of psychically- linked twin sister Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), and it's she that Hellboy and his sidekicks at the Bureau for Paranormal Research Defense have to Tnd to prevent apocalypse.
So, there's the plot and enormous scope for action-packed set pieces, something the Tlm delivers by the ton, including a humdinger battle with a towering forest elemental in the heart of Manhattan. But that's just there to sell popcorn. It's in the details, themes, characters and eyeball popping visual imagination that del Toro excels.
The Tlm is a cornucopia of his fascination for things Catholic and clockwork. Crosses are everywhere while gears and cogs turn like some Swiss watchmaker's fantasy run riot. And then there's his creatures, mythical beings out of Bosch's wildest nightmares. Here is the terrible beauty of the Angel of Death, the denizens of the Troll Market who make the Mos Eisley cantina mob the seem drab, and, most wonderful of all, the Tooth Fairies, cute but deadly little creatures that feed on the calcium in bones. And, as one marvellous scene shows, have a drama queen tendency to ham it up.
But CGI and prosthetics mean nothing without heart. Deeply expressive, even encased in red rubber, Ron Perlman is magniTcent as Hellboy; irascible, wisecracking, nonchalant, attention-seeking and yet, as his relationship with moody pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair) shows, as much a confused, insecure and vulnerable beer-swigging lug as any man when it comes to understanding women.
This time, de Toru's amped up the involvement of sensitive aquaman empath Abe Sapien (now both voiced and played by Doug Jones), his shy love for Nuala offering poignant counterpoint to the tempestuous romance between his team members. Love, del Toro, seems to say, truly is of another world. But that doesn't mean you can't be the drunken fool and singalong to Barry Manilow's Can't Smile Without You.
There is a new arrival to head up the team, prissily Teutonic Johann Krauss (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) who's basically sentient ectoplasm inside a diving suit. It's typical of del Toro's character Tnessing that, while he may indeed be the gasshole that Hellboy calls him, he too has a bruised soul and a tragic past. And he chills out making doll's house furniture.
Funny, fantastical and feverish, watching is like entering another world. It is the skill of del Toro and his players that makes you realise that it really is our own.
Cert 12A 110 mins
Does it matter if you've never seen the 60s spy spoof TV series of which this is a big screen update? Probably not since, despite the references, resurrected one liners and in-jokes, this bears little resemblance to the original beyond its basic premise and character names.
In the original, Don Adams was Maxwell Smart, a Clouseau-like idiot agent for CONTROL whose battles against the forces of KAOS succeeded more through luck than design or any spying skills.
Here, though, the character's been remodelled to Tt the Steve Carell nerd template; enthusiastic, decent, but overly self-aware, clumsy and little too intense. Likewise, better trained sidekick and romantic interest Agent 99 is, in Anne Hathaway's hands, less like Barbara Feldon's besotted vamp and more an independent minded martial arts babe with a shrewish attitude.
The important question is, if you're coming fresh to things like the phone booth entrance to CONTROL HQ, lines like "missed it by so much" and the shoe phone, are they and the rest of the Tlm funny? The answer is "not very"
His application to become a Teld agent rejected by Chief (Alan Arkin) because his boring but detailed reports are too valuable, top analyst Max Tnally gets his chance when CONTROL is raided and the cover of all its agents blown. All save Agent 99 who's just had a complete plastic surgery makeover.
So, super cool, super-arrogant Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson) has to sit on his thumbs while the bickering duo are put in charge of uncovering KAOS's plans; a mission that will entail a trip to Moscow, a gratuitous laser gymnastics Entrapment rip off and a stunt- riddled attempt to prevent the detonation of a nuke in LA.
The situations are there, but the spark isn't. As a throwaway Bond send-up, it's more amusing than Johnny English, but director Peter Segal doesn't do slapstick very well and the comic timing always feels a beat out.
Whether it's deliberate or just boredom, neither Terence Stamp nor Ken Davitian seem interested in their roles as the KAOS villains.
For reasons that become obvious, Johnson is underused after his initial droll entrance and while Hathaway is an adequate action heroine there's never any real chemistry between her or Carell who plays it straight when it perhaps needed a little wink.
Missed it by how much?
Cert 12A 71 mins
Growing from a 20 minute short commissioned by Eurostar for their international terminus at St Pancras, shooting in black and white on DV camera with an upbeat full colour coda, director Shane Meadows and screenwriter Paul Fraser have assembled a miniature tale of friendship that wears its Truffaut heart on its sleeve.
Running away from a miserable life in Nottingham, cocksure but vulnerable teen Tomo (Thomas Turgoose, star of Meadows' This is England) arrives in London only to be swiftly relieved of his worldly possessions and given a good kicking by three youths.
Fate and a friendly fellow passenger (Kate Dickie) lead him to a local cafe where he meets Marek (Piotr Jagiello), the shy adolescent son of a Polish labourer (Ireneusz Czop) working on the Chunnel link.
With dad out during the day and down the pub at night, the lonely Marek doesn't take too much persuasion to let Tomo stay at their Somers Town high rise Rat, though he insists his father mustn't Tnd out. A bit of a problem when Tomo gets a stomach upset.
As the pair become pals, so follows a series of bittersweet comic adventures; Tomo stealing clothes from the launderette and ending up wearing a dress tucked into Rupert Bear trousers, doing odd jobs for Marek's good hearted wideboy neighbour, sharing an infatuation with Maria (Elisa Lasowski), the French waitress Marek's forever photographing, and getting drunk together for the Trst time after she returns to Paris.
It's a slight coming of age narrative but, with its improvisational feel and naturalistic performances from the boys, it's well observed with truthful notes, gentle humour, a subtle emotional power and a great deal of low-key charm.
SHOOT ON SIGHT
Cert 15 109 mins
Gaining an extra star for tackling the important debate about the relationships between Britain and its Muslim communities, the struggle between moderates and extremist, and the equation of Islam with terror, nevertheless Jag Mundhra's Tlm remains a stiltedly melodramatic political thriller.
Inspired by the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes by armed police, it follows ambitious senior ofTcer Tariq Ali (Naseeruddin Shah), a devout but liberal Muslim, as he's appointed by Scotland Yard's wily Tennant (Brian Cox) to head the internal investigation and head off unwelcome revelations.
In the firing line, so to speak, the man behind the trigger (Ralph Ineson) and the superior (Stephen Greif) who gave the go ahead are keen to discredit Ali's credibility. So yes, there will be a stereotyped tabloid hack involved.
SufTce to say, an old friend (Om Puri) who's become a hate- preaching Imam at the centre Ali attends, a couple of suicide bombers, and the arrival from Pakistan of Ali's nephew (Mikaal ZulTkar) are all overly predictable ingredients in an all too obvious screenplay that telegraphs events so far in advance as to drain any suspense from the climax.
As Ali's predicament, and the plotting around him become the focus and the thriller elements take over, so the investigation itself fades into the background, only superTcially addressing the self-protecting cover-up.
Although Sadie Frost's dreadful as lawyer for the victim's family, Gretta Scacchi is on good form as Ali's supportive Christian wife, Puri does a persuasive line in extremism and Shah's performance is subtly measured and dignified.
Better suited to TV, it lacks the power of similarly minded Tlms that emerged from the Irish Troubles, but it's still good to see British cinema tackling such timely issues.
COLLEGE ROAD TRIP
Cert U 83 mins
Adults forced to sit through Are We There Yet? or RV will look back fondly at the experience if they're dragged to this dismal Disney outing by the ever insufferable Martin Lawrence.
Despite the title's promise of juvenile fratboy humour, drink, drugs, and naked female Resh, this is actually a family comedy about an over-possessive dad who has to learn to let go of his little girl so she can live her own life.
Lawrence is the control-freak father, a smalltown Illinois police chief who's determined daughter Raven-Symone is going to go to a college on the doorstep. So, when she's offered an interview in Washington, he says he'll drive her himself. In a police van. And, instead of her sleeping over at the sorority house, they can stay at his mother's. Naturally, he takes a detour to nearby Northwestern in a conniving effort to change her mind.
When his scheming's exposed, there's no choice but to head for DC. However, discovering his young son's stowed away with his pet pig, you just know your worst fears about hilarious misadventures are going to become horribly real.
A running gags in RV was having Robin Williams and his family get stuck with determinedly cheery travelling companions. The same thing happens here with Donny Osmond's Trst movie appearance in 30 years as half of a psychotically wholesome father and daughter team doing the college visit circuit, both given to bursting into big grins, laughs and showtunes
Neither will set your nerves on edge as much as Lawrence and Raven-Symone who appear to regard the Tlm as a challenge as to who can pull the biggest facial contortion or scream the loudest.
None of the Tlm hangs together with any logic or character consistency while the ending is just awash in mawkish sentimentality. The running time may be short, but it feels like the road goes on forever.
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