I have come to view movies based off of comic books (and sometimes graphic novels) as falling into one of two types: comic book movies and superhero movies. Comic book movies are a cinematic representation of the paper and ink comic book. To me, this means a basic, but not stupid, story containing a few moral lessons and a slightly sketched creation story, engaging, if not terribly deep, characters, and brilliant visuals.  Superhero movies, on the other hand, take a different tact. The story and character development, including the creation story of the superhero, are of central importance to the entire arc of the film, and special effects, while important, are certainly a tertiary element.

 Any comic book, be it the Punisher or Superman can be made into either a comic book movie or a superhero movie. It is a decision largely controlled by the vision of the director and writer(s). A problem arrises, however, when the movie, or more likely the movie franchise, attempts to be both. Great superhero movies and their franchises, like X-Men II or Spiderman II, were lessened when X-Men III and Spiderman III were changed to comic book films (and pretty poor ones to boot). It would be extremely difficult to combine the traits of both comic book movies and superhero movies into one film, though if done successfully, it would probably win itself some Oscars (Here’s hoping Batman II is just such a film). 

One thing that may have become obvious from my depiction of films based off of comic books is that superhero movies represent the attempt at “high art” –at least in the literary sense of this term–within the broader genre, while comic book films represent the more purely entertaining side. I think this is a fair characterization, but I do not regard one form of these films over the other. Both, if done well, are a joy to see in the theaters, and if done poorly, can be excruciating.

Hellboy II falls squarely into the realm of the comic book movie, and is a pretty good example of the subgenre. This film is the story of Hellboy–the spawn of Satan who was raised by a scientist and works for the federal government–and his team (Abe, an aqua man who can see the past and future in objects, Liz, a fire starter and love interest, and the newly introduced Johann Krauss, a physically formless individual who can control physical forms) as they try to save humanity, despite itself, from a mythical army and its leader who feels, rightfully so, that humanity has forgotten and broken a truce it made long ago. The theme is simple, humanity is destroying itself and everything else through greed and over consumption, particularly in terms of the environment, but that they are worth saving if only for the small moments of good that can be found in them. This is nothing new, and nothing that cannot be found in The Lord of the Rings in much greater detail, but it is a perfectly satisfactory story through which the real stars of Hellboy II can shine–the wonderful, wonderful creatures from the mind of Guillermo Del Toro.  

I have always enjoyed Del Toro’s films, and while Hellboy II does not have the depth of story as The Devil’s Backbone or Pan’s Labyrinth, and its special effects are perhaps not as emotionally impactful as in those films, they are the most visually (and viscerally) satisfying of any of his works. I am deeply appreciative to the movie exec(s) who decided it would be a good idea to let Del Toro go wild and give him the money to do so. This was not the case with the original Hellboy, and though that is a decent film, it suffered by not being completely in the hands of Del Toro. Honestly, words cannot really do the brilliant hues, rounded and elongated faces, and playful eye placements of Hellboy II’s mythological world justice, so I will stop attempting to do so, but I will say again that this is one of the most fascinating cinematic worlds to look at in recent memory…and that under no circumstances should anyone watch Hellboy II and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly back to back because it may cause one’s head to explode.

There is one other element of this film that should be brought up because it is such an improvement over the original film, and that is the character development. Hellboy as played by Ron Perlman is great in both films, and while he is certainly still the physical and emotional center of Hellboy II, his supporting cast has been given a lot more to do here and through that action we are able to learn their motivations for being a part of this otherworldly crime fighting team. The most noticeable character improvement is to Abe. In the original Hellboy he was every bit the classic sidekick, but in Hellboy II he is his own ‘person’, complete with feelings of love and loneliness (I do wish  he had still been voiced by David Hyde Pierce, though). Selma Blair’s Liz was also better, if not still a little dull. She paid great dividends just from the subtraction of her rival love interest from the first film Agent John Myers (as played by Rupert Evans) who sucked the life out of the first film every time he came on screen. Also, the introduction of Johann Krauss (voiced by Seth McFarlane–Family Guy) who was not in the first film really rounds out the team nicely, and sets the stage for more enjoyable Hellboy films in the future.

My score…73

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Last NIght: The wife was kickin it Book Club-style, no Thirty Rock was gracing the digital waves, and I had no interest in working on my dissertation, so I DVR’d CSI and On Demand’ed some ’06 flicks I managed to avoid the first go round (There is no way some one reading this twenty years ago, which happens all the time, would have any idea what this first sentence means. You have got to love language.). So how awesome were The Reaping and Rocky Balboa?

The Reaping Review

The Reaping is a tale of a lost soul-former clergy turned scientist-played by Hillary Swank who travels the world debunking potential miracles. The movie centers around Swank’s attempts to discredit a potential plagues situation that surrounds a wild-eyed twelve year old blonde girl in a small southern town called–wait for it–Haven. There is an absurd back-story explaining the lossof Swank’s faith,the obligatory priest/friend who warns her of pending doom (Can you guess who plays the priest? I”ll give you two chances. If one of your guesses was Gabriel Byrne, you are wrong, but good guess. The answer is at the bottom.), and a bunch of silly, CGI plaguishy effects. There are also twists galour and they are increasingly stupid. As for Swank and her performance, I am assuming she was going through her marital troubles with Chad Lowe during the making of this slop. Either that or she cashed the check, then read the script. Whatever. She is terrible. But so is everyone else. I did love seeing Stringer Bell show up as Swank’s best friend/assistant. His back-story is just as ridiculous as Swank’s, but I’ll let it me a surprise.

Anyway. Where am I? Doesn’t matter. Somewhere in this movie is a decent idea for a supernatural thriller. It is deep down, but it is in there. After I realized that it was not going to be decent (under a minute), I was hoping it was at least going to be craptastic. It wasn’t, though the very last twist, the last line of the film, which must have been added after the filmmakers realized what they had just created, seems to be striving for that ‘so bad and its good’ feel. Good idea. At least I finished the movie cracking up. Can I get a The Reaping II?

Score…18

Rocky Balboa Review

Summary: Rocky has inner turmoil; fights again.

This is the storyline for every Rocky film. The first one is a pretty good film, not Oscar good, which it won, but good. The rest are somewhere between or around tolerable, awful and hilarious. Really, Rocky V is just sad–no doubt the reason Stallone wanted to add another chapter–but I would watch Rocky IV right now. That is how awesomely hilarious it is.

I don’t mind that this last Rocky follows the classic pattern. In some loose, loose way it is Greek. That is fine. In fact, in my humble opinion, this is the second best Rocky film made. Does that make it good? No, I wouldn’t go that far, but it harkens back to much of what made the first one good, personal struggles of loss, pride, ego, faith and respect. That is, before it goes a little II-V toward the end (ok. periodically throughout; the whole computer generated fight is Mr. T good). Stallone is not much behind the camera and clearly effects have passed him by, but he is still a good enough writer to pull at some of the basic heart strings, sociologists and their Myth of Meritocracy* be damned. It was a satisfying way to end my night of ridiculous TV/Movie watching.

Score…54

Answer: Stephen Rea!

*This myth confronts the ideal that if you work hard enough, you can accomplish whatever you set out to accomplish. This ideal completely disregards the biases and the effects of those biases surrounding race, gender, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status that are prevalent in our society. 

  

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is the latest movie that is in some way associated with Judd Apatow (he produces here). It is written by and stars Jason Segel, one of Apatow’s troupe from the late great Freaks and Geeks (though most people probably know him from the mediocre How I Met Your Mother and will soon know him for his full frontal). In Forgetting Sarah Marshall,  Segel’s character, a slacker “musician”  gets dumped by his TV star girlfriend (Kristen Bell) for a famous “musician”, falls into a state of depression and disrepair, goes on a vacation to Hawaii to try to get over the break up, but ends up vacationing at the same resort as the ex and her new boyfriend and meeting a new girl. Antics ensue.

All Judd Apatow flicks have some things in common: They follow a traditional romantic comedy storyline, there is some kind of gross out or off-colour humor running throughout every scene and they are all at least twenty minutes too long (even the good ones–40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Superbad needed massive editing) because…you know the ending of each of his films at some point in the first half hour of the film. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is no exception. Unfortunately, it is not one of the better versions using Apatow’s template.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s biggest problems stem from the director, Nicholas Stoller (his debut) and who ever did the editing. They expect you to know the romantic comedy formula, so they do not develop the plot beyond a cursory sketch. With those brief moments of film out of the way, one is left to decide if they like the film based on a series of comedy, probably improv’d, scenes; many of which in no way relate to or further the storyline (I do not like when films do this). If you like enough of the scenes (I started keeping a tally somewhere in the middle of the film) and don’t care that you knew the story before you walked into the theater, than you will like this film. I don’t mean this sentiment to be derogatory. I have read other reviews that are quite positive not because the story is so original, they admit that it is not, but because they like the road that was taken to get back home. There are plenty of films I like that fit this same mold (Ex. staying in the rom com field, Notting Hill; or staying with Judd Apatow, Knocked Up). Forgetting Sarah Marshall just did not happen to be funny enough to push me over the edge into liking this film.

Virtually every one of the attempted comedy scenes (i.e. the whole film) involves two characters one of whom is Jason Segel. The biggest laughs come from Russell Brand who play Kristen Bell’s new love interest. He steals every scene he is in. Paul Rudd playing a dimwitted surfer has the second best scenes. Sadly–because I like him a lot–Jonah Hill’s scenes are the worst by far. Kristen Bell is serviceable, but does not quite have the comedic chops to hang with the rest of the crew (the scenes from her fake TV show, which is purposefully ripping on CSI:Miami, are pretty hysterical, though). Other actors are hit or miss.

Ultimately, the best person in this film is Mila Kunis (That 70’s Show). She is the only one who is able to elevate the movie into actually including both Romance and Comedy–even at the same time. It was really nice to see, and I hope she gets more opportunities to show off her skills.

If you are bored you could do worse than going to see Forgetting Sarah Marshall (you could rent Shooter. Man, I hate that movie.), but I would probably wait until it comes out on video.

My rating…55.