Tuesday, May 18, 2004

monsters, mayhem, mush and men in minis

monsters 1: not your mama's van helsing

A movie set in Transylvania with a campy Dracula and his brides, Frankenstein and his monster, werewolves, Igor and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde as a bonus? Sounds like fun. Van Helsing is basically a monster movie, and a modestly entertaining one at that. Van Helsing is a monster-hunter of note (last seen played, I think, by Anthony Hopkins in that movie with Keanu Reeves--I never saw the Peter Cushing version). He kills monsters, but since the monsters transform back to human form after he kills them, he is being hunted as a murderer. The thing is, Van Helsing (Gabriel here, as opposed to Hopkins' Abraham VH), has lost his memory and is wearing a weird outfit. Unfortunately, Hugh Jackman, in his floppy Phantom of the Opera-esque hat, cloak (is cloak the right term?), and Blade-reminiscent weapons, does not seem to emanate the right degree of 'angas'--is machismo the right term? (ok ok, maybe I'm unjustly comparing to his uber-angas Wolverine) 'Papa' Hugh doesn't seem to do it for me in this movie, despite his (un)dressing down to a loincloth.

Underworld meets the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. They say comparisons should stop there and each movie should be taken as it is--but movies, being entertainment, must be at least a bit fresh and updated. I think that although the premise of the movie (Van Helsing as a not-so-secret agent battling all sorts of monsters with the Catholic Church as his MI6 and Carl as his Q; Dracula wanting to procreate but having dead babies--of course, because he and his wives are undead!) hasn't really been tackled yet, most of the special effects, cliche dialogues and plot twists seem to be a bit tired. With the black-and-white mob scene at the beginning, I thought they were planning a parody of the old-school monster movies. Unfortunately it turned quite serious and took itself quite seriously, which didn't really bode well. So this movie is neither true horror nor out-and-out camp--you have an adventure that is memorable because it elicits sniggers from you (mostly at totally inopportune moments). The movie was also quite dark and drab--I can understand dark but not drab because I had just finished watching Hellboy and although the setting was also quite dark, the movie was far from drab. It was I was like watching a pirated DVD--nay, VCD--I wonder if it was to mask sub-par speciall effects, but from what I saw, the CGI effects were pretty good. For those scenes that did have color, a couple were reminiscent of the sprawling cinematography of Lord of the Rings (snow-capped mountains and a deep chasm)--against, unjust comparison. But the most wondrous part of the movie is how everyone happened to just know how to swing from ropes, vines, trapeze wires... even Frankenstein's monster is in on the swinging act.

Kate Beckinsale seems to be doing a lot of vampire-and-werewolf movies lately (including the afore-mentioned Underworld), I tend to forget the cutesy Serendipity and unfortunate Pearl Harbor. Her princess Anna Valerious, tragic heroine and last of her clan dedicated to stopping Count Dracula in return for their eternal salvation, suffers from a bad accent and sometimes inconsistent characterization. Richard Roxburgh (the Duke in Moulin Rouge) plays Dracula like he's totally enjoying himself being all campy. David Wenham plays Carl, the Q to Van Helsing's Bond. At least we know that he won't be typecast, his previous appearance being Faramir in Lord of the Rings. Kevin J. O'Connor, Beni in The Mummy, reunites with Sommers to play a heavily-prostheticized Igor who didn't raelly get as tragicomic as I expected Igor would be. Rightly menacing, though. And although I didn't recognize him, Robbie Coltrane (Harry Potter's Hagrid) played Mr. Hyde in a scene that really had me confused whether I was watching LXG all over again.

As for the ending (spoiler alert), how come it wasn't a happy ending? I figure it was the only way that it could have ended. Bittersweet and all for the common good. The way is open for a sequel, though, and with all the merchandising and the hype, I think that's exactly where this is headed. There are still some mysteries--like why did Gabriel murder Dracula in the first place and why is he referred to as the "left hand of God"--could he be the Archangel himself? Maybe I came into the movie expecting too much--now it seems that I'm not quite as interested.

monsters 2: seeing red

As in a big red man with chopped off horns, with a firestarter, a psychic syokoy, Nazis and Rasputin. It makes for (what my friends tell me is) a great comic, and an entertaining movie. We are introduced to Hellboy at the tail-end of World War II when the Allied forces stop the Nazis and Rasputin (yes, the supposed "sorcerer" last seen in Russia's royal court--and in the cartoon Anastasia) from opening a portal to another dimension and bringing about the 7 Gods of Chaos to bring forth Ragnarok. Now I know the Axis powers wanted to take over the world, but I didn't realize that they wanted to destroy the world while at it. Anyway, it's probably just Rasputin with an apocalypse-wish. The Allies are able to nip the plan in the bud and the only thing that comes of the portal is a red-skinned baby with a huge hand, which John Hurt's Professor Broom befriends with a Baby Ruth bar. Broom will later head the secret FBI Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, which watches over prized government assets Hellboy, Abe Sapien (a psychic merman who reminds me of Frasier's brother Niles) and Liz Sherman, a pyro-kinetic (or firestarter if you will).

Rasputin has been resurrected, stronger than ever, and is planning to start up world destruction again. Apparently, the key to all this is Hellboy (which is why he was the first one to come through the portal). Hellboy, Liz, rookie FBI agent Meyers and FBI head Manning have to stop him before it's too late. It's a comic-book movie, with comic-book inspired fights that are fun to watch, and it's colored like a comic book, too: the stark red of Hellboy, the vivid interiors, and the darkness of Rasputin's palace-cum-hellmouth. In fact, the only colorless thing seems to be Selma Blair's (Liz Sherman) face, which is also quite revealing because she is cutting herself off from her emotions to control her pyrokinetic tendencies (just like Drew Barrymore's firestarter and not the X-Men's Pyro).

Although the movie is about supernatural entities and ruthless villians, the story is not devoid of humanity, and the most remarkable thing is that Hellboy is trying hard to be human--and succeeding magnificently. Hiding behind a mack truck body and a voice not unlike Darth Vader's, he is sixty but ages slowly so basically he's in his early twenties, and showing the gamut of emotions associated with that age. He gets aggressive, petulant, mischievous, and most importantly, he falls in love. That a minion of hell, destined to bring about Ragnarok, can do so--and save the world--then there's hope after all.

mayhem: the zoolander boys fall short of expectation

Maybe it's because of the limitations set by translating a well-known TV show to screen. Maybe they're really better off as male models than as cops. Or maybe Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson should give their duo a rest. For the meantime at least. I was quite disappointed by Starsky & Hutch, seeing as I was practically laughing my head off at Zoolander (yes, even when I see the screenings on Cinemax), while Meet the Parents and The Royal Tenenbaums were also entertaining. Maybe I really can't see the homages to the TV show as I wasn't really aware of television when I was an infant/toddler.

The plot, involving cocaine that can't be detected, and the transformation of Starsky and Hutch's partnership from being at each others' throats to being friends (haven't we seen this before? Zoolander, maybe?), seems quite thin. Okay, so there are a lot of capers along the way but somehow it could have been done better. The funniest scenes for me involved Starsky in an undetectable-cocaine induced high, seeing cartoon birds while Hutch sings "Don't Give Up On Us, Baby," and then entering a dance-off.

Vince Vaughn is a creepy jerk as the druglord, while Juliette Lewis is underused as his bubbly mistress. Will Ferell's cameo as the perverted inmate/informant was also a funny turn; and Snoop Dogg as the streetwise informant Huggy Bear is a delicious turn, threatening to steal the movie from Stiller and Wilson. Granted, these two are obviously enjoying themselves while the acting is going on and their chemistry is what carries the movie. However, it seems to be nowhere near the sheer mirth of Zoolander, which remains the quintessential Stiller-Wilson film to date.

mush: the case for patrick dempsey

Sunday night on Cinemax: Lucky 7, starring that girl who could have been Mrs. Sampras, Kimberly Williams of Father of the Bride; Patrick Dempsey; and Brad Pitt look-alike (and namesake) Brad Rowe.

The story is sweet: the mother of Kimberly Williams' Amy dies when she is seven. Before she dies, she lays down a timeline for Amy's life which includes sumemr camp, running for student council, law school, and seven boyfriends--the last of which is 'The One'. After she breaks up with #5, she meets Daniel (Rowe) who is utterly perfect for her--corporate upstart, ultimate flower-guy (she gets three bouquets in two weeks), not to mention quite cute. However, he isn't #7, so she sets out to find a temporary #6 and finds it in Peter (Dempsey), the manager of the bagel shop she frequents.

Peter asks her to accompany him for the weekend to a wedding where she will pretend to be his girlfriend because his ex is also going to be at the wedding. As with almost all the pretend-relationships in popular cinema, sparks fly and they end up getting to know each other a little better. In a decision that not-so-subtly parallels Amy's choosing her unfulfilling legal job, she chooses safe and well-liked Daniel over the spontaneous Peter--but does she? Everything wraps up as it's supposed to wrap up, and although Daniel sheds a tear, we know everyone's happy in the end.

Patrick Dempsey seems to be realizing the potential that winked at us in his earlier movies (and was evident in Sweet Home Alabama), and turning out to be quite the hottie, a far cry from the decidedly weird characters he portrayed in some of his earlier films. The goofballs can become leading men after all. I'm now looking forward to seeing the "About A Boy" TV series that he is starring in (based on the book and the Hugh Grant movie of the same name). Kimberly Williams shows us why she charmed us in the Father of the Bride movies, and the story fills you with a warm tingly feeling; but this is by no means a great movie.

There is nothing life-shattering or awe-inspiring about this movie. It's just... nice. It's quite so-so, filler TV movie fare even--and the warm tingly feeling lasts just until the rolling of the end credits. Maybe I just had to be reminded of the nicer things in life, like falling in love with someone you didn't really expect and finding out that your hands 'fit'. That's important, you see. I should know, I'm still looking out for that perfect fit--it hasn't come around just yet. Meanwhile this movie is perfect for lazy nights curled in bed, or a pseudo-date movie at home. Sometimes we need a little simplicity, after all.

men in miniskirts

Troy. Tomorrow. Have to work now.

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