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HELLBOY 2: THE GOLDEN ARMY (2008)

September 5, 2008

Hellboy II Review

Matt:
Adam:

Length: 120min

Taglines:
Saving the world is a hell of a job.
Good never looked so bad.
Believe it or not – he’s the good guy.
From the visionary director of Pan’s Labyrinth.

Précis: Lighthearted action fantasy about a grumpy hellspawn and his mutant friends, battling to save humanity from a magical evil threat.

Review by Matt:

There’s a big red demon, a looming threat to humanity, and scary gun-toting freaks all around. Is it the 2008 Republican Convention? No, it’s Hellboy 2, the new film written and directed by much-admired Mexican filmmaker, Guillermo Del Toro. He’s dropped the nightmarish atmosphere that characterised his recent films. Hellboy 2 is a fluffy action/fantasy flick about FBI-employed mutants saving the world from a mythological army of death robots.

Ron Perlman is Hellboy, a macho, half-human hellspawn who is a bit like a bigger, redder Han Solo. He’s out to save humanity from the villainous Elf Prince Nuada (played by Luke Goss, who has already endangered humanity once, as part of the awesomely rubbish 80’s band, Bros). Hellboy is helped by key team mates: his pyro-kinetic girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair), and a psychic creature called Abe (Doug Jones), who has an uncanny resemblance to C3PO in a fish suit. Further assistance comes from a German ectoplasmic spirit called Krauss (voiced by Seth McFarlane, emulating Klaus from American Dad) and the beleaguered human minder of the group, Agent Manning (Jeffrey Tambour, who is wasted in this excisable role).

Robots, monsters, Bros. It might sound great to you. But be clear about what you’re getting here, because Hellboy 2 won’t be for everyone. There are things to enjoy. Most noticeably, the film has a hammy likeability, unselfconsciously displayed in Arnie-like one liners and other silly, sometimes funny, dialogue. It also sports an impressive visual style; Del Toro has a talent for composition, and a rich imagination. You get a sometimes crazy mesh of towering monsters and flashy fights, and even a liberal promotion of interspecies marriage (there goes the Republican Convention comparison). You have to admit that in some respects, this is a film that has got it going on.

But the film’s bad side soon engulfs the positives. Hellboy 2 just lacks the qualities to make us invest in its story. The plot is recycled, rushed and disjointed. In some places it is jarringly sloppy. Behind the characters’ striking appearances, they are truly shallow, and most of the acting is accordingly stilted. The romances and conflicts are annoyingly clichéd, and may as well have been left out. The more it goes on, the more it feels over-busy and self-indulgent, as if Del Toro was obsessed only with his scattered ideas and ingenious style.

When even Guillermo Del Toro’s fantastical style starts to appear decidedly undazzling, you know there is something missing. I am an enthusiast of monsters, robots and other curiousities. But Hellboy 2 is a reminder that you’ve got to put them in the right vehicle before you have a winning film.

Review by Adam:

I didn’t even know this movie was coming out until I saw it previewed at The Dark Knight. My company immediately complained about how lame it looked. From that moment I was convinced that this would be awesome, and it kinda is. I was hanging to see this movie and at the end of a busy weekend. I even ended up dodging a dinner invitation with a visiting foreign celebrity so that I could see it with an old flatmate.

So the story doesn’t really pick up from the first movie. There is no reference to the previous happenings, or to the fate of the previous human agent assigned to Hellboy. Maybe he just died of an obscure disease.

The plot happens all very quickly and you’re guaranteed to think that it went from the first instance of slaughter to the final battle with very few events in between. The beauty of the film is in the characters, or better put, the creatures. If you’ve seen Pan’s Labyrinth you’ll know the beautifully creative mind of Guillermo Del Toro. This film gives him plenty of opportunities to showcase that. Kind of like that Tatooine bar scene in Star Wars Episode 4 (you know, the one where that dude tells Luke what all of us are thinking – “I don’t like you” – and then Obi Wan sabres him). It’s also nice to see that not everything these days is computer generated and some nice work has gone into the costumes.

Despite the supernatural realms and the whole threat of total destruction of humanity, this film is pretty light on. It never seems to take itself too seriously, and that’s a strength. The love stories are hammed up in all the right places (including one unforgettable sing-a-long) and only at a few moments are a bit over the top. The theme to the love story is that the destruction of the earth is fine, just as long as you are with the one you love. Easy to say if you have super-awesome mutant powers I guess…

Basically, go and see Hellboy 2 if you want something light. Don’t expect much and you’ll be delighted with a film that is entertaining, funny, sometimes beautiful, and has guns and big red dudes. Apparently there is another one planned – I can’t wait.

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THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)

September 2, 2008

The Dark Knight Review


Adam:

Length: 152min

Taglines:
Why So Serious?
I Believe In Harvey Dent.
Welcome to a world without rules.

Review by Adam:

Ever since I saw the previews for this movie I knew I was going to see it on the opening night. When the night came, I managed to drag along my flatmates on the promise that this was ‘arguably’ the best Batman ever. I told everyone that they weren’t excited enough. The level they needed to be at was “oh my god, I HAVE to have the giant Batman cup.” Thankfully common sense prevailed and no one paid a ridiculous price for such plastic crap.

The movie itself is pretty awesome, thanks largely to Australia’s latest deceased movie star, Heath Ledger. Basically his Joker character is an extension of the troubled Aussie kid, Patrick, he played in 10 Things I Hate About You. You know that scene where he is playing with the bunsen burner? Well, the Joker is what would have happened if Patrick had ended up with a broken heart (and had needed major facial surgery from an accident). Heathy plays the Joker so well it makes you squirm in your seat. He manages to adopt all the mannerisms and expressions you would expect from some maniacal, super villain. He captures the chaotic logic that is central to the Joker, and it’s that unpredictability that makes you uneasy. Without doubt, if it wasn’t for Heath, this movie would only be average.

The Dark Knight has quite a complex plot that always leaves you guessing as to exactly what is happening and if it is being deliberately planned. The only down side to this is that the film tries to cram a bit too much in. Two villians in one movie – doesn’t that undermine the principles of a movie franchise?

Christian Bale may be the greatest Batman yet. He carries the worries of the metropolis like only a billionaire playboy could, with lots of brooding looks and a special voice for when he’s in his Batgear. What makes him great (like Michael Keaton) is that he exists in a grim time. From this, the story becomes one about redemption and the attempt to make things right. From heroes that is all we can ask.

The extras in this movie are also fantastic. Gary Oldman, as the police commissioner, is probably my favourite character in the whole movie. There’s just something so wonderfully incorruptible about him. Maybe it’s the moustache.

The movie deals with issues of uncontrolled power, fear, and what it is that drives us as humans (it’s not bat-mobiles). I thought the ending was mostly good, except for the moralising about society needing leaders/good examples. To hell with that! The Dark Knight shows us that the most respectable characters are in fact those society is willing to lock up.

4.5 Batmasks.

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MONGOL (2008)

August 31, 2008

Mongol Review


Matt:

Length: 126min

Taglines:
Greatness comes to those who take it.
The untold story of Genghis Khan’s rise to power.
Don’t despise a weak cub, it can appear the son of a tiger.

Précis: Epic story dramatizing the early life of Genghis Khan with a loving – possibly revisionist – touch.

Review by Matt:

A nominee at 2007’s Academy Awards for ‘best foreign picture’, Mongol dramatizes the little-known early life of the infamous Mongol, Genghis Khan.  Despite focusing on one of history’s most famous warlords, Mongol isn’t really a boy’s battle film. It’s more of an epic drama, glued together by a Wuthering-Heights-strength love story. Russian writer/director Sergei Bodrov constructs a noticeably rosy perspective of his subject. His story follows the young Genghis – better known then as Temudjin – through what could be called his “constantly trapped in stocks and tortured” period.  For the most part it’s easy to cheer for this rugged and mistreated hero. It’s only when you remember that the story conveniently halts just before that whole touchy “slaughtering and raping half the world” chapter, that some of the characterisation seems a little awry.

Temudjin is barely nine when he first meets the stocks. His father, the tribal leader, is assassinated, ancient Mongolian style (tribal leaders should really know not to accept a horse-milkshake from their enemy). The tribe’s subordinates refuse to accept that little Temudjin will inherit the throne. So it’s into the stocks for him, and some other scallywag Mongol unjustly becomes the Khan. It’s the first of a series of struggles and indignities faced by baby Genghis. He fights to rescue his kidnapped beloved bride. He fights with, and against, his blood-brother, Prince Jamukha, in a number of blood-spurting battles. He is imprisoned and enslaved by his many enemies. You start to see why Temudjin grew into a vengeful warrior, declaring that “Mongols need laws and I will make them obey even if I have to kill half of them”. And still, in between it all, he finds time to be Mongolia’s number one dad, and go picnicking with his family.

Mongol looks amazing and authentic, with its hoards of extras, unique cultural quirks, and its lavish North Asian scenery. The performances are fine – Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano exudes a fiery intensity to fill Temudjin’s war-mongering boots. Non-actor Mongol Khulan Chuluun, is impressive as his stoic wife, Borte. Chinese actor Honglei Sun also infuses Prince Jamukha with a sense of wild-eyed Mongolian zaniness. All the imprisonment makes for occasional lulls, but add in the love story, tribal politics, and regular thunderous horse-filled battles and Mongol just manages to remain entertaining for its two-hour length.

Really what weighs it down is the requirement that we limit our mental engagement, else things seem a bit unconvincing or jarring. Aspects of the plot are underwritten, especially the supernatural intrusions of mysterious Mongolian gods. Most of all though, Bodrov’s portrait of Genghis as a Mel Gibson style, family-loving hero, makes you wonder just how the family bond will hold up during the years of raping and killing that are just around the corner. Bodrov will have to solve that one, as he’s set to continue the tale of hero-Genghis in two upcoming sequels.

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50 REVIEWS!

August 23, 2008

Zippyfish has now published 50 movie reviews, in a bit over a year. That’s just the “Matt’s Reviews” category. Including Adam’s “Crapfest” entries, total reviews are up to 54.

KERBLAM!, as we say in the business.

As of this moment, the site has attracted 11,600 visitors.

Interestingly, it seems a fair proportion of these visitors are  looking for the kind of weird stuff that is not on this site. For example, here are some of my favourite searches that have directed visitors to Zippyfish.

– “3d penis”
– ancient denmark sexuality
– Girls cleavage buff
– matt demon nude
– ‘John Travolta nude’ (sorry, this is as near to that as we are willing to risk)
– Matt Damon circumcised
– Jon Heder circumcised
– exotic knifers
– snake in your mouth
– girls sucking snakes
– schoolgirls crush insect
– Snakes naked breasts
– nude with snake
– Golden flower breasts (or ‘cleavage’ – there was more to Curse of the Golden Flower than that you know)
– ‘shark rod stewart’ (really, a lot of people seem to think Rod Stewart made a shark documentary)
– the mrs zippy river

Of course, now that I’ve listed these searches here, probably even more people looking for info on circumcised actors and naked people with snakes will make it to the site. I’m ok with that. At least just remember to read a review or two before you leave.

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21 (2008)

August 22, 2008

21 Review


Matt:

Length: 123min

Taglines:
Inspired by the true story of five students who changed the game forever.

Précis: A disappointingly cliched dramatisation of an infamous casino card-counting caper.

Review by Matt:

21 is another example of ‘Hollywoodization” – the annoying practice of eviscerating a potentially interesting concept and stuffing it with the same old hackneyed pap, because that’s apparently what secures an audience.

The film dramatizes the real-life story of a group of MIT college kids who developed a card counting system and used it to win millions from the Vegas casinos. The affable Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) plays Ben, an ace maths student tempted into joining the secret card crew. The group is led by patriarchal professor Micky, played by Kevin Spacey in another calmly menacing performance. A mundane student during the week, Ben jaunts to glitzy Vegas on weekends, experiencing the heady influence of greed and glamour. On his journey he clashes predictably with a casino security thug (Laurence Fishburne), romances it up with sultry team-mate Jill (Kate Bosworth), and – as in so many college/high-school movies – momentarily forgets who are his real friends.

What begins with potential, winds up a glossy package of formulas. 21 tries too hard to impress us with glamorous cheats. It is particularly irritating considering the many fascinating angles a filmmaker may have teased from this story. Instead, the concept is superimposed with Hollyowood’s seen-it-all-before plot arc. No surprises for guessing how it concludes, despite the contrived – and morally questionable – ‘twist’ tacked-on near the finale. The dubious decision to ‘whiten’ the characters (the real-life protagonists were Asian Americans) only contributes to the feeling of phoniness.

Of course the performances and production value are quite good, and there is still some residual excitement in seeing this audacious scam dramatized. Who doesn’t want to see the Casinos beat? But 21 is mostly just a front of tricks and distractions, desperately trying to convince you it is more interesting than it is. Behind the veneer it is bloated and meaningless. It’s a bit like a real casino really. You’re likely to walk out at the conclusion feeling like the house swindled you again.

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BE KIND REWIND (2008)

August 2, 2008

Be Kind Rewind Review


Matt:

Length: 101min

Taglines:
You name it, we shoot it.
Sometimes the best movies are the ones we make up.

Précis: Oddball and friendly film about amateurs remaking blockbusters and discovering the creativity and community spirit around them.   

Review by Matt:

Mike (Mos Def) is an affable clerk left to mind Mr Fletcher’s (Danny Glover) old-school video store for a few weeks. Things go slightly haywire when the store’s main patron, Jerry (Jack Black) – a loopy conspiracy theorist who lives in a nearby trailer – becomes magnetised, resulting in the erasure of the store’s entire catalogue. In a kind of child-like panic, Mike and Jerry decide the best approach to the problem is to recreate the videos by shooting their own versions, starring themselves, a randomly recruited laundry-lady (the ever-cheery Melonie Diaz), and a bunch of home-made special effects.

It sounds pretty weird, and it is. Be Kind Rewind is one of those films that will divide audiences. Some people are going to shake their heads and complain that it is chaotic and half-baked. They’d be right. It seems a bit like writer/director Michael Gondry (who whatever happens from now will be remembered for his stellar effort in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ) hurried his cast onto a set with a script scribbled on the back of an envelope. What stands out initially is the film’s disconcerting ‘low-key’ feel and the air of randomness. It makes you wonder if they’re making it up as they go along. Even the name the boys use for the process of re-shooting the films – “sweding” – seems invented on the spot, and Mos Def’s mumbling suggests he may not have rehearsed too much.

But the other half of the audience is going to think Be Kind Rewind has a unique comic charm and a freeing originality. This is true too. Where else can you see a couple of doofuses recreate Ghost Busters, complete with giant pipe-cleaner protonpack weapons? The same randomness that alienates some viewers is going to delight others. The film’s central theme, amateur creativity, has already inspired a hoard of backyard filmmakers to go out and remake everything from Jurassic Park to Predator.  To cement its point about creative community power, the villains of Be Kind Rewind are representatives of the powerful orthodoxy – movie studios and building developers.

My conclusion is that Be Kind Rewind is a better film than it first appears. It’s got something special going on in its weird whimsy, and before you’ve really figured out what you’re watching, it’s delivered a sneaky little celebration of community and creativity. It’s a bit syrupy, but I ended up liking the way it used a wacky vehicle to deliver a touching message.  Just that the delivery itself is kind of untidy. For a film crackling with comic potential, it doesn’t manage to elicit many laughs. It also should have traded some of the more banal moments to show us more of the creative and comic ‘sweded’ remakes, which are the best parts of the film. I ended up smiling because I was touched, but I didn’t smile outright at the film’s humour. So it’s missing a bit of polish and sparkle, but Be Kind Rewind is still is a friendly and original little film.

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FUTURAMA: THE BEAST WITH A BILLION BACKS (Futurama Movie 2) (2008)

June 28, 2008

Futurama Movie: The Beast with a Billion Backs Review


Matt:

Length: 89 min

Précis: Futurama movie number two of four is focused on the theme of love … examined through a plot about an inter-universe rift and a planet-sized tentacle monster.  Most importantly though, it’s funnier than the first Futurama film!

Review by Matt:

Good news everyone! Futurama, the animated sci-fi comedy show created by Matt Groening, continues its afterlife with the release of the second of four post-television movies: The Beast with a Billion Backs. The Futurama fan base is large and diverse, so some of you will inevitably dispute my assessment – but let me tell you: The Beast with a Billion Backs is much better than the first Futurama movie. To quote one high profile film scholar, Bender’s Big Score was a “weak, boring disappointment”. Inexplicably, Beast with a Billion Backs is just a whole lot cleverer and funnier. The difference between the two is like watching a bad Futurama episode (like, say, The Deep South or That’s Lobstertainment!) and watching a pretty good one (like, say, Godfellas or The Farnsworth Parabox). Who knows what changed in the well-populated Futurama team – but it was the right thing. Beast with a Billion Backs is like the good old days of Futurama again. The jokes come frequently, they’re a combo of slapstick, black, offbeat and witty, and it’s all couched in the kind of sci-fi action that tickles your nerd centre.

Hopefully viewers know the premise of this show already. The movie doesn’t take any time to bring outsiders up to speed. No help from me – read the premise of the show if you need some background. Beast isn’t as “fans only” as the first Futurama Movie though, and there are less in-jokes. You’re also fine to watch this movie without having seen Bender’s Big Score.  The Beast With a Billion Backs gets straight into it: within the first five seconds, space has ripped open leaving an inter-universal portal hovering above New New York (presumably this was caused by Bender’s careless time-hopping in the previous film). Terrified earthlings are beginning to grow exhausted from pointing at it and screaming. It’s the kind of parallel-universe premise that Futurama loves (I also love it). But, in case the title didn’t already alert you, you’ll soon realise that this second Futurama film is mainly a big riff on the topic of love and sex. Despite the hovering gash in their universe, our main characters are largely concerned with romance:  Fry is preoccupied with his new girlfriend’s fancy for polygamy and Kif and Amy are headed to Kif’s home world to take part in a swampy, otherworldly marriage ceremony.

Meanwhile, Professor Farnsworth – aided by arch-rival Professor Wernstrom and the super-powered head of Stephen Hawking – investigates the anomaly.  In a typical Futurama parody, scientific efforts are brushed aside by the brash American president (the delightfully cantankerous Nixon’s head) who launches an all out military assault on the parallel world.  “Hell of a thing to send a universe to certain doom… “, philosophises mission leader Zap Brannigan, “Fun though! Makes a man feel big!” Of course, incorrigible robot Bender also has a primary plot thread, as he plays with his fellow robots (including one of my favourites – the pompous soap-star, Calculon) searching for a mythical cult called “The League of Robots”. He’s in fairly good form in this film, irascible and amoral as ever.

That’s just the beginning really. Messing with the anomaly soon unleashes an almighty universe-altering adventure, featuring a tentacled Casanova, voiced by David Cross. I won’t go into detail, but it’s another one of those extravagant sci-fi ideas for which Futurama is well known. This one adds a little dash of philosophical weirdity too, which I quite enjoyed. Potentially it has a level of absurdity that might not gel with everyone. Me? I love the absurdity. It’s kind of a War of the Worlds meets Everybody Loves Raymond caper that allows the love/sex theme to take centre stage. As you’d expect, the background to the film is also bustling with neat, nerdish ideas and parodies of modern life.

But the only reason these traits actually shine is that they are housed in 90 minutes that mostly stays sharp and funny. For me, that’s where the previous movie lost it. Beast with a Billion Backs is not off-the-scale funny – not all the jokes hit home – but there are still enough winners to make it pretty enjoyable. My biggest struggle was with the film’s meandering plot. I think it might be hard to stretch the Futurama style over 90 minutes, and the plot sometimes clunks forward a bit awkwardly. After so many jokey sidetracks you might start to wish there was something sturdier at the core. But there’s the rub: which do you want? It’s difficult to pump out constant irreverent humour and still maintain intricate plotting and deep characters. So, hey, overall I’m satisfied.

I lamented in my last review that the Futurama movies could do better than Bender’s Big Score. Effort number two, The Beast with a Billion Backs is a decent step up. It’s at least made sure it’s delivered on its core promise: there are plenty of moments to make you laugh!

(Note: Add your favourite lines from Beast With a Billion Backs in the comments section)