“Folks here, they don’t make no never mind who you are or what you done.”
The first shot in Guillermo Del Toro’s Depression-era noir movie NIGHTMARE ALLEY is of Bradley Cooper dragging a wrapped-up corpse into frame. It reminded me of the teaser trailer for THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2 (2007). That was not a good movie, but it was a great teaser, so when a best picture nominee reminds me of it, that’s pretty impressive. If BELFAST or THE POWER OF THE DOG started out like the legendary Lady in the Lake teaser for LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III they would move up a notch for me, personally.
Cooper’s character Stan is inside a small house in disrepair, and he drops the body into a hole in the floorboards, puts on his coat and hat, takes a moment to contemplate and light a cigarette, sets the place on fire and leaves. If anybody walked into the movie exactly two minutes and saw him on a bus out of town they probly spent a good chunk of the movie thinking he was a good ol’ salt of the earth everyman trying to survive day-to-day through hard, humble work. The rest of us had to watch him very unsettled, wondering what he’s up to, questioning the sincerity of everything he says or does. ‘Cause you can never fully trust a corpse dragger. (read the rest of this shit…)
In a small, depressing town in Oregon, ravaged by economic despair and opioid addiction, out crawls a monster to make shit even worse. Come on, read the room, monster. We don’t see him clearly for a while, we don’t know what he’s up to at first, or how he works, but we get his general vibe. Uncool.
We see this story primarily through the eyes of elementary school teacher Julia Meadows (Keri Russell, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, and I believe I heard she was in a ‘90s television show created by the directors of those films, not sure about that, probly mistaken), who is not in a great spot. She moved out of town when she was young, but has recently returned to find it not as good as it even was then. She temporarily lives in her childhood home with her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons, BATTLESHIP) and every day goes to the store and stares longingly at the liquor shelf while she buys a pack of gum or something.
She has trouble getting all but one of her students to engage at all in class, but she tries. For example she calls on Lucas Weaver (Jeremy T. Thomas, “School boy / classmate,” DOLLY PARTON’S COAT OF MANY COLORS), a scrawny sad little kid with holes in his shirt, who may possibly be illiterate. He goes from drawings with no text when he reads his story, an extremely grim and thinly-veiled autobiography about a young bear and his sick father bear. We can see how it sounds to her, but we know it’s even worse: his dad Frank (Scott Haze, VENOM, MINARI) and little brother Aiden (Sawyer Jones, one episode of Modern Family) had an encounter with the monster and now they’re locked in the attic as veiny, bestial zombie-type creatures. Lucas kills small animals and chops up roadkill to feed them. Alot of responsibility for a kid that age, and he definitely steps up to the plate. (read the rest of this shit…)
It really didn’t occur to me, when I decided to finally rewatch MIMIC, that it was a movie about a pandemic. One of the main characters is the deputy director of the CDC! But it’s not at all similar to the pandemic we’re currently in – “Strickler’s Disease” seems to only affect children, putting them in comas. Because it’s spread by cockroaches, aforementioned CDC guy Dr. Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam, THE NET, AMISTAD, THE INVASION) recruits a brilliant entomologist, Dr. Susan Tyler (then-recent Oscar winner Mira Sorvino, between ROMY AND MICHELE’S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION and THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS), who comes up with a novel plan: she genetically engineers a new bug called the “Judas Breed” that infiltrates cockroach colonies and pukes up a bunch of enzymes that increase their metabolism so they starve to death. Give the roaches a disease to stop them from giving us one.
Three years later, Strickler’s disease has been wiped out, the two doctors are married, and everything seems fine, except weird shit is happening under Manhattan. A mysterious vagrant type guy drags a priest underground, and only an autistic kid named Chuy (Alexander Goodwin) witnesses it. Chuy’s guardian Manny (Giancarlo Giannini, BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA) is a shoe shiner, so the kid has become affixed on people’s footwear, and for some reason he calls this attacker “Mr. Funny Shoes.” I don’t know why, but that’s one of my favorite details in the movie. (read the rest of this shit…)
THE SHAPE OF WATER is kinda like Guillermo del Toro’s version of AMELIE, and obviously in his version Amelie fucks a sea monster. Sally Hawkins (NEVER LET ME GO, GODZILLA) plays Elisa, a mute (but not deaf) lady living a quirky life in Cold War era Baltimore. Her apartment is above a beautiful one-screen movie theater showing THE STORY OF RUTH. Her next door neighbor and best friend Giles (Richard Jenkins, BLUE STEEL) is a gay painter of magazine advertisements who lives with a bunch of cats. In the opening scene, a nearby chocolate factory is on fire, so he’s even given an impression of how the place smells (shoulda seen it in 4DX).
Elisa’s job is mopping floors in an aerospace research lab, and one night the bosses bring in “The Asset” (Doug Jones, FANTASTIC 4: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER), a creature from the unspecified lagoon in a metal tube, for top secret experiments. Elisa and her co-worker friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer, HALLOWEEN II, DRAG ME TO HELL) don’t see it at first, but they hear its roar and have to clean up its bloody mess when it removes two fingers from sadistic head of security Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon, BAD BOYS II) without getting his permission.
We all know del Toro loves his creatures, and we’ll get to that. He also delights in contrasting them against depraved monsters of the human variety. Strickland is one of these, an aggressive bully who likes to talk about “signs of weak character” and the brand and stats of the cattle prod he carries around. You know you’re a bad person if you have a little speech prepared about your favorite candy that you can suddenly go into while intimidating somebody so they’ll think “Oh good, he changed the subject to candy all the sudden, I don’t understand why but maybe we are going to eat candy now or something” and then “Oh no, I should’ve known, he only brought up the candy as an analogy for his philosophy of brutal torture.” (read the rest of this shit…)
“You obviously do not know who you are fucking with!”
On one hand, it’s hard to believe that BLADE II was fifteen damn years ago. I mean – I reviewed it when it came out. And I’d already been around for a few years. Am I really that old? On the other hand, an awful lot has changed since the movie came out.
Let’s start with Wesley Snipes (“Blade”). He made a part 3, had a falling out with the writer, they made a Blade TV show without him, he got relegated to DTV, got busted for tax evasion, did time, got out, now is sort of back and still the Man and hopefully will achieve more greatness. Guillermo del Toro (director) became better known and beloved for his specific visual style and obsessions, was nominated for a best screenplay Oscar for PAN’S LABYRINTH, continued to alternate between Spanish language art films and Hollywood productions, but never did a for-hire gig again, unless you count THE HOBBIT, which he toiled on for a few years before quitting. David S. Goyer (writer) directed part 3, co-wrote Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy and went on to mastermind the DC movie universe, as if trying to earn the extreme hatred many comic fans had long held for him for some reason. Donnie Yen (martial arts choreographer, “Snowman”) had a huge career resurgence at home in Hong Kong, particularly with the IP MAN series, and recently finally had success in English language movies playing the best characters in ROGUE ONE and xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE. Norman Reedus (“Scud”) also became a geek icon by playing Daryl on The Walking Dead, as did Ron Perlman (“Reinhardt”) by reteaming with del Toro to play Hellboy in two live action films and two animated (plus starring in many seasons of Sons of Anarchy). Luke Goss (“Jared Nomak”) was a former pop star from the boy band Bros who had been in a few movies. This breakthrough role led to playing the elf equivalent of Nomak in del Toro’s HELLBOY 2 and eventually being a frequent face of DTV, including starring as Frankenstein in DEATH RACE 2 and 3. Matt Schulze (“Chupa”) – okay, he didn’t become a big thing, but to me he’s an icon because he’s the villain in Seagal’s OUT OF REACH and Vince in THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS and FAST FIVE.
Maybe more notably than any of this, the techniques del Toro pioneered to combine live action stunts with animated doubles for super-powered fights and camera moves evolved into the modern style of comic book action (and blockbusters in general). His smart ways of adding digital effects to practical ones have also been influential. Getting a genuine visionary to do the sequel to a movie like BLADE is one of those things you always wish for as a movie fan but shouldn’t hold your breath for. This time you could’ve, though. It happened. (read the rest of this shit…)
DISCLAIMER (skip if you don’t give a shit): I haven’t reviewed Guillermo Del Toro’s movies since 2004, when Drew McWeeny got him to write a blurb for a book I self-published (later used by Titan on my other books). I never met or e-mailed the guy but it was a harsh, self-imposed rule to avoid any perception of being easier on his movies because of that connection, or worse, actually doing that. But I decided I want to write about PACIFIC RIM anyway. Maybe it was just a 9 year rule.
Since I haven’t reviewed them all here’s where I stand on Del Toro: been a fan since MIMIC. BLADE 2 is my favorite, followed by the three Spanish language movies in reverse chronological order. I enjoy the HELLBOYs but don’t love ’em. The second one frustrated me because it has many flashes of brilliance but doesn’t all come together for me. I like the movies he produces, also.
Usually a director you like producing somebody else’s movie doesn’t mean much. See for example Sam Raimi. Love the guy’s directorial works, but look at the stuff he and his company produced – not necessarily the seal of quality. I’m starting to see Guillermo del Toro is different, though. I still gotta see THE ORPHANAGE, but most people seem to speak highly of it. I loved DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK and now this one is pretty good. These last two are movies where he found new filmatists who had done short films and helped them to make a feature.
In this case the director is Andres Muschietti, who wrote the script with Neil Cross and his sister Barbara Muschietti. (That’s kinda cool, I don’t know of another brother-sister filmmaking team other than the Wachowskis. And I guess Joie Lee wrote CROOKLYN.) They’re “adapting” it from their short film of MAMÁ, but I put adapted in quotes because there really isn’t a story in the short version, it’s basically just a cool shot (which is replicated in the feature version). I have no idea how del Toro figured out from that clip that this guy could direct a real movie that tells a story and has acting in it, but somehow he guessed right. (read the rest of this shit…)
DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK is a classed-up remake of an old ’70s TV movie. The director is a rookie friend of the internet named Troy Nixey, but it was produced and written by none other than Guillermo del Toro (in collaboration with his MIMIC co-writer Matthew Robbins).
The tone is completely serious, but all in fun. It’s not trying to punish you, like a Rob Zombie movie, but it is trying to make you wince and feel sympathy pain. That’s why the opening scene is (SPOILER) an old man crying and apologizing as he chisels out his maid’s front teeth. After that you know the movie is boss so you better just shut the fuck up and do what it says. (read the rest of this shit…)
(Written for The Ain’t It Cool News, but they never put it up.)
Dear Harry and Moriarty,
I saw a new movie you guys might be interested in, called HELLBOY. It’s about this guy with a giant hand. He is red but he works for the government. Then he fights monsters because he’s in love with the girl from STORYTELLING, but she catches on fire. etc.
Actually come to think of it it’s based on a comic strip so I would not be surprised at all if you boys heard of it already. This is NOT the Punishing guy, this is a different guy, named Hellboy. (read the rest of this shit…)
Yeah I know, this Iraq deal is getting even worse but let’s just take one fuckin column to talk about what I used to talk about, the movies.
This month has been hard on the wallet not just because of the economy but also because of numerous high quality dvd releases of important films of Badass Cinema. Today I will take some time to review a few of those dvds.
First of all we got my pick for the best movie of the year so far, BLADE II. I feel I have already written enough about the many fine qualities of this picture so I will focus this review only on the many fine dvd extras brought to you by one of our best directors, Mr. Guillermo del Toro. This is a part of the “New Line Platinum Series” which I have come to know and trust as a series of dvds with extra material above and beyond your “theatrical trailer” or your “chapter stops” or even your “weblinks.” (Does anybody really have a DVD-ROM drive? And if so, do they really need a dvd to figure out how to find the web site for BONES?) BLADE II is no exception, in fact it has even better extras than BLADE I. (read the rest of this shit…)
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