MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: HELLBOY II and BLADE II

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Been a long time since the last Saturday Night Double Feature, but with a Hellboy reboot on the way and talk of a new Blade film with Wesley Snipes, It’s time to revisit both series with their Guillermo del Toro directed entries…

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HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY (2008)

Guillermo del Toro cranks things up for the Hellboy sequel which really scores with an amazing visual style and some stunning creature design. Del Toro this time brings a faster and more even pace to this one, as well as, a story that is a bit more Brothers Grimm than Lovecraft and that helps lighten the tone a bit, too. There’s a little more humor (Hellboy and Abe drunkenly singing Barry Manilow is sidesplitting), but the film never gets silly.

The story this time finds Hellboy (Ron Perlman) outing himself to the general public while a noble but vengeful elf prince, Nuada, (Played with dignity and strength by Luke Goss) plans to resurrect the mythic Golden Army to rid the world of mankind, so the creatures of fairy can return to their former glory. His twin sister, Nuala (Anna Walton) tries to thwart his efforts at genocide and allies herself with Hellboy and the team to protect pieces of a golden crown which can resurrect and control the goblin-made mechanical army. Can Hellboy defeat this powerful elven prince in order to protect the very humans who now seem to reject him, despite all he’s done to protect them?

Del Toro stages some absolutely beautiful set pieces with his trademark sumptuous visually style and design. Highlights of the film being The Troll Market scene and the following sequence featuring a giant plant elemental battling our heroes by the Brooklyn Bridge. They alone are worth the price of admission, not to mention the climactic battle against the Golden Army itself. There is an amazing assortment of supporting fantasy creatures that are incredibly designed and rendered and are worth the price of admission as well. Once again the mix of practical and CGI FX is truly breathtaking and elevate an already very entertaining film.

The cast are mostly all back except, Doug Jones now voices Abe himself and Agent Myers is absent. There is also new team member Johann Krauss, an ectoplasmic gas in a diving suit voiced by Seth MacFarlane, who butts heads…or glass bubbles…with the loose cannon, Hellboy.

Not only is Hellboy 2 a bigger and faster paced supernatural action flick, but it is a visual feast for the eyes and just plain loads of fun. A sequel that exceeds and improves on the entertaining original.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Hellboys!

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BLADE II (2002)

In my opinion Blade II is the best of the Blade series and is certainly my personal favorite in the comic book-based trilogy. Second adventure of the half human, half vampire hero Blade (Wesley Snipes) finds him hunting down Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) who has been taken and turned by the vampires. Upon finding him and using his serum to effect a cure, Blade is contacted by the vampire hierarchy…and asked for help. It seems a vampire mutation strain has evolved creating vicious creatures called Reapers, who hunt vampires much like they hunt humans. The vampires’ reasoning is that once the vampires are wiped out by the rapidly multiplying Reapers, they will turn on the humans that Blade protects. Why not work together to destroy a common foe? Now the vampire slayer must join forces with his mortal enemies in order to defeat a threat that makes even vampires afraid of the dark…but can he trust his new allies?

As directed by Guillermo del Toro, Blade II has a great visual style, some fierce, gory action, a cool cast of supporting characters, along with a nasty and very effective foe in the Reapers. Where the first Blade was an action film with horror elements, Blade II is a horror film with lots of action…win, win!  Under Del Toro’s guidance, the cast all bring vivid life to their comic book-style characters. Wesley Snipes really takes control of the Blade character at this point, no more evident than in the scene where he first meets ‘The Bloodpack’, a team of vampire commandos who’s sole purpose is to kill him, but now must work with him against the Reapers. “Can you blush?” Luke Goss is fierce and yet noble as the Reaper leader Jared Nomak, a monster with some interesting secrets. Kris Kristofferson is cantankerous, as always, as Blade’s partner, mentor and weapon’s maker, Whistler. Leonor Valera is the beautiful Nyssa, a vampire aristocrat and warrior who steals Blade’s heart, despite being of a species he’s sworn to destroy. And Ron Perlman is effective and entertaining, as usual, as Bloodpack member Reinhard who is not happy with Blade as an ally and would love to take him down first chance he gets.

Blade II is a really fun flick and gives us some great and gory action set pieces, as when Blade and The Bloodpack take on the Reapers in a vampire night club, again in the catacombs underneath the city and finally, the climactic three-way showdown between Blade, Nomak and some double crossing vampires in the vampire stronghold. A really fast paced, delightfully gory and very entertaining action/horror with Blade at his best. Also stars Norman “Daryl Dixon” Reedus as Blade’s new sidekick, Scud and Hong Kong legend, Donnie Yen…who also choreographed the fight action…as Bloodpack member, Snowman. A really good movie and the best of this fun and far too short-lived series.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 (out of 4) fangs!

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REVIEW: THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017)

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THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017)

Latest from Guillermo del Toro is a dark fairly tale that takes place at a research facility in Baltimore, Maryland in 1962. There we meet lonely, mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins) who works as part of the janitorial crew. A strange creature is brought in one day, an amphibious humanoid (Doug Jones) with healing powers, captured in South America. Feeling a kindred spirit with “the Asset”, Elisa begins to communicate and bond with him. A cruel security chief (Michael Shannon) has plans to dissect the creature, which Elisa is falling in love with. Now Elisa must figure out a way to break The Asset out with her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer), her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) and a sympathetic scientist (Michael Stuhlbarg ) with a secret.

Unconventional romance is directed by del Toro from his own story and a script he co-wrote with Vanessa Taylor. Unfortunately there is something missing from this aquatic Beauty and the Beast, that keeps it from really resonating. The film has some great performances, and as with all del Toro’s works, it is sumptuously designed, but never really creates a sense of wonder with Elisa and Asset’s romance. Maybe it’s because the film can be a bit crude sometimes and shares a bit too much. We know Elisa’s lonely, did we need to know her masturbation routine? We know Shannon’s Strickland is a creep, but did we need to see his caveman-like sexual activities with his wife? And maybe it was better left ambiguous about Elisa and Asset’s romance becoming sexual instead of seeing it and getting sign language descriptions of Asset’s sex organ. It kind of takes away from the wonder that we become privy to such graphic detail. That and The Asset still comes across very much an animal and Elisa’s sexual relationship with it is unsettling even if Asset can communicate and enjoys music. It’s a bit uncomfortable and not as charming as intended. Del Toro also tries to tackle some social issues like racism and anti-gay sentiment, but it seems a little forced at times, such as one scene where both issues come to bare within minutes of each other as Elisa’s gay neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) encounters a racist, anti-gay waiter at a pie shop. It’s a bit heavy handed, despite being relevant themes. Still, there are some very effective scenes, some nice moments of whimsy and even a fantasy musical number, but too much information and a lack of subtlety on certain elements keep this from reaching the heights of his Pan’s Labyrinth, which masterfully combined dark fantasy, with more serious subjects. It’s not being R-rated that hinders the tone, just some things begged for a more subtle touch...something del Toro usually knows when to be.

The director does get some great performances here. Sally Hawkins is wonderful as the mute and slightly odd woman. She creates a sad yet endearing character. Doug Jones is also very good under a lot of prosthetic make-up as the silent and sometimes fearsome “Asset”. While he certainly gives him some human qualities and a lot of personality, the gill-man is still very much an animal which makes it hard to accept that his relationship with Elisa becomes sexual. It’s not enchanting, it’s uncomfortable. Richard Jenkins is very likable and has some of the more humorous lines as Elisa’s gay, artist neighbor Giles. The actor creates a very eccentric and likable character. Octavia Spencer is really good as Elisa’s only friend at the facility, Zelda. The actress makes her a lively and feisty woman, with some nice strength and compassion. We also get nice work from Michael Stuhlbarg as sympathetic Dr. Hoffstetler, who has some secrets of his own and Shannon is again top notch as the cruel and twisted Strickland. While the character is cliché, Shannon’s characterization is not. This is a very strange and disturbing individual. A great cast.

Overall, Guillermo del Toro’s newest tale is sadly a mixed bag. It has some great performances, giving life to some interesting characters. The visuals are beautiful and there are some very effective moments despite the whole “Beauty and the Beast” story being quite oft told. What keeps this flick from giving it’s dark fairy tale a sense of needed awe and wonder is being a bit too crude at times and sharing a bit too much, when subtlety would have been more effective. Sometimes less is more.  Most of all, despite being imbued with human elements, Doug Jones’ fish-man is still too much an animal to make his sexual relationship with Elisa from being anything more than unsettling. As Serge in Beverly Hills Cop would say… “It’s not sexy. It’s animal.” A bold and audacious take on a time honored tale, but one that isn’t always effective in the way it wants to be.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 eggs, a fish-man’s favorite treat.

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: CRIMSON PEAK (2015)

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CRIMSON PEAK (2015)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Crimson Peak is the latest film from Guillermo del Toro whose diverse resume ranges from the comic bookish Pacific Rim to the dark fantasy masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s Masterpiece Theater meets Hammer Studios in a deliciously gothic tale of romance, mystery, murder and things that go bump in the night.

The story takes place in the 19th century with Mia Wasikowska playing aspiring American writer Edith Cushing (a homage to the legendary Peter Cushing, no doubt.) who meets and falls in love with the dashing but mysterious Sir Thomas Sharpe, who owns a massive but ancient castle in Cumbria, England. The castle is built over red clay deposits…that Sharpe hopes to mine…which seep up through the ground and stain the winter snow blood red…thus earning the land the ominous nickname Crimson Peak. Edith’s widowed father Carter (Jim Beaver) and handsome suitor Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) are against this romance and Carter’s investigation into Sharpe’s past gets him murdered and sends Edith into wedlock with Sir Thomas. Now having moved into the castle with her new husband and his odd sister, Lady Lucille (Jessica Chastain), Edith begins to see ghostly apparitions that warn her all is not right. What is really going on at Crimson Peak?…what are Thomas and Lucille Sharpe hiding?…and why are ghastly spirits warning Edith to fear for her life?

Co-written with Matthew Robbins, Del Toro delivers a visually sumptuous feast saturated with gothic atmosphere. It’s a lush tale of romance, mystery and sinister goings on in a delightfully spooky castle. There are some surprisingly violent moments, especially in the blood soaked last act and a little steamy sex here and there, too. There are also spirits in this ancient structure and if Del Toro’s film has any slight disappointment it’s that, despite the ghostly presence, the film is never really scary. Sure there are some spooky moments and the specters are visually unnerving, but aside from some well executed jump scares, the film never gets as chilling as say, the hallway scene in The Devil’s Backbone. Del Toro does get some intensity going in the last act, but the film is a deliberately slow burn, though the mystery and intrigue do keep one interested till dark secrets are unearthed and the purpose of spectral apparitions revealed. It is an enjoyable film, the type they don’t make anymore and the visual design is worth the price of a ticket alone…as is the sound design. It’s just not the horror film it’s being sold as and while it does qualify as a haunted house movie, that is only a part of the overall story. Those looking for funhouse style frights may be disappointed. On the other hand, if you are looking for something with class, style, intrigue and some nasty violence to punctuate it, than this film should entertain. It’s very atmospheric and Del Toro is helped in that department by Dan Laustsen’s (Brotherhood Of The Wolf) cinematography and Fernando Velázquez’ (The Orphanage) hauntingly beautiful score. It’s a very old fashioned flick, despite the sex and violence, and one wonders if today’s audience will appreciate the Dark Shadows-esque (The show, not the goofy Tim Burton flick) tale he creates.

Del Toro’s cast is simply wonderful. Mia Wasikowska creates an idealistic woman who dreams of being a writer and has seen spectral apparitions since her mother died years earlier. She is young, though and falls in love with the charismatic Sharpe even if things don’t quite add up from the beginning. Once she is convinced something is amiss, despite her feelings, she digs deep in dangerous places to find answers. She’s a strong, smart heroine and an endearing character. Tom Hiddleston is once again engaging as the charming and mysterious baron with some very dark secrets. He conveys Sharpe’s emotional torment between his sinister agenda and the real feelings he has for Edith. A flawed and conflicted character and Hiddleston has the presence to make him intriguing and keep him from becoming a stereotypical bad guy. Jessica Chastain’s Lucille is the true villain of the piece and she is a dragon lady to be feared and reckoned with. Her secrets are dark, deep and covered in blood and the actress really gives us a villainess worthy of a classic Disney film…though one definitely not for kids. Charlie Hunnam is a suitable hero, though much of the focus is on Edith and her efforts to uncover the truth and Jim Beaver gives Edith’s father a strength and wisdom while allowing the warmth and love for his daughter to come through. A likable character for his time on screen. Del Toro regular Doug Jones also appears as various apparitions.

I really enjoyed Crimson Peak, even if it wasn’t quite the horror movie I went in expecting. It is a sumptuously filmed mystery dripping with gothic atmosphere and not afraid to splash some blood or throw a little sex into it’s old fashioned mix. There are some spooky moments and the ghosts are unnerving, it’s just not as scary a ghost story as we’d like and the ghosts are not the central focus as the marketing would have us believe. It does deliver on the mystery, murder and even romance in a style that is rarely used in today’s world of popcorn blockbusters, vulgar comedies and generic romances. It also proves once again that Guillermo del Toro is one of the most versatile storytellers around. Highly recommended, but just don’t expect the horror flick it’s being sold as.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 and 1/2 Sharpe family crests

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: ABSENTIA (2011)

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ABSENTIA (2011)

Absentia is a creepy and subtle horror flick that starts out like a traditional haunting movie and turns into quite something else. After her husband Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown) has been missing for 7 years, Tricia (Courtney Bell) is set to have him declared dead and then try to move on with her life. Joined by her troubled sister Callie (Katie Parker), Tricia is reluctantly ready to start moving forward again when she suddenly starts having hallucinations of her husband who seems to be quite angry about being declared dead and that his wife is now pregnant from an involvement with the police officer (Dave Levine) who was investigating the case. But those hallucinations are only the beginning of what seems to be a surreal nightmare that both sisters are at a loss to explain…though they may not like the explanation if they find it.

Absentia is a very effective low budget chiller from writer/director Mike Flanagan who not only crafts an interesting tale of missing people and what might happen to them, but also touches on the emotional struggle of those left behind. Flanagan maintains an atmosphere of dread and even cleverly leaves enough doubt in our minds to keep us on edge as to whether this is a product of denial and emotional distress, or is it really the work of something else…something supernatural.

To say anymore would ruin a really enjoyable and spooky low budget horror that is refreshingly back to basics and knows that sometimes less is more. Though, I would be remiss in not mentioning that Flanagan also gets some really down to earth and strong performances out of leading ladies Bell and Parker which really helps in giving the audience an emotional investment in what is transpiring, which aids in making this cool low budget film work. Mike Flanagan is a filmmaker to keep an eye on. Also starring Doug Jones (Hellboy series, Pan’s Labyrinth) in a small role.

3 solid spooked sisters!

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