Recommendation: Decker Shado

Right now this particular reviewer is getting his butt kicked by the Youtube algorithm, probably because he puts out videos devoted to science fiction, Asian cinema, cult movies and horror rather than… well, I don’t know what does well in the Youtube algorithm, because I don’t watch it.

And of course, Godzilla movies. He’s fun, dramatic and has luscious hair, and seems like a very nice person. So please support him in whatever way you can!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsxn3qKFpbnD-8f1d9F5ipA

Review: The Modern Faerie Tales

Over the past few decades, many urban fantasies with a similar theme came up – some girl discovers that she’s part/all faerie and becomes enmeshed in that world. Success varied.

But of particular note is the trilogy that helped popularize that trope – Holly Black’s “Modern Faerie Tales: Tithe; Valiant; Ironside,” a darkly glittering collection of clever, entrancing urban fantasies that spin up spellbinding stories of the fair folk… and then add a little grime and blood to the mix, without sacrificing any of its beauty.

“Tithe” introduces us to Kaye, a young girl who has spent years traveling with her mother’s rock band… until one night when her mother’s boyfriend/guitarist tries to stab her. With nowhere else to go, Kaye and her mother return to her grandmother’s New Jersey house for the time being, which brings back memories for Kaye of the imaginary faerie friends she had as a child.

… except it turns out that faeries are very, very real, as she finds a wounded faerie knight named Roiben, whose life she saves. Soon Kaye finds herself enmeshed in the secret world of the faeries, and discovers a shocking fact about her own life – she is a changeling, a faerie girl swapped out with a human baby, under a glamour so strong that no one knew what she really is. Unfortunately, finding out who she is comes with a lot more danger.

You might be expecting the second of the Modern Faerie Tales to deal with more of Kaye’s adventures, but instead “Valiant” switches the narrative over to Valerie Russell, who runs away from home when she discovers that her mother is having an affair with Valerie’s boyfriend. She makes her way to New York city, and falls in with a gang of teenage subway-dwellers.

She also finds out about the magical underbelly of the city, since it turns out the kids are friends with a troll named Ravus, who makes a mysterious drug that makes faeries temporarily immune to iron… and allows humans to use magic. Unfortunately, a lot of faerie exiles are being poisoned, and Ravus is suspected of the crime. Only Val can save him by uncovering the true murderer.

“Ironside” returns the action to Kaye and Roiben, as the faerie knight is about to be crowned. But when a drunken Kaye declares her feelings for him, he gives her an impossible task – find a faerie who can tell a lie. Devastated, Kaye tells her mother the truth about what she really is – and then begins a personal quest to find the “real” Kaye Fierch, who was kidnapped as a baby.

Meanwhile, Roiben has become tangled up in Silariel’s schemes, and so Kaye also becomes involved in a forthcoming battle for the throne of the Unseelie Court. In order to be together with the man she loves – even if he seems cruel to her at first – Kaye will need all her wits and strength – but even that might not be enough to stop the Bright Court’s queen.

The Modern Faerie Tales are stories that very much deserve the label “urban fantasy,” primarily because Holly Black’s writing feels like a genuine blend of the fantastical and the gritty. Faerie ethereality and glamour is mingled together with grime, wire and subway tunnels of New York; there’s both a delicate timeless beauty to the stories, and a sort of raw rough punk aesthetic.

The same goes for Black’s writing – it’s dark, it’s wild, and it’s studded with moments of poetry (“red and gold flames licked upward. A sea of burning oil and diesel fuel spread to scorch everything it touched”). And she never turns away from the uglier facets of her world — the faerie courts contain casual brutality against the weak and helpless, and Val ends up addicted to a magical drug.

Her heroines are no less compelling, even if they have little to do with each other. Kaye starts the story feeling a little too edgy, fey and immature, but Black smoothly causes her to grow up as she learns who she truly is, and demonstrates her selflessness and love for her family and Roiben. Val is more of an awkward tomboy than a rock’n’roll girl – a wounded girl losing her way and herself, as she struggles to find a place to belong. And there’s a variety of likable supporting characters, like a hunky troll, the icy knight Roiben, and the nerdy gay friend Corny.

Amongst the stories about “I’m a faerie and never knew it,” Holly Black’s “Modern Faerie Tales: Tithe; Valiant; Ironside” stands out as one of the best – darkly glittering, dramatic and perfectly blending the urban and the ethereal.

Review: Lord of the Rings Movie Trilogy

J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was considered unfilmable for a very long time – the story was too big, too fantastical.

But in the late 1990s, New Zealand director Peter Jackson got the green light to shoot the “Lord of the Rings” movie trilogy: a sprawling fantasy epic that chronicles the tipping point of the mythical Middle-Earth, and the humble hobbits who change the world. The richness of J.R.R. Tolkien’s world is translated exquisitely into a movie trilogy full of beauty, horror, hope, humor and vibrant characters.

“The Fellowship of the Ring” introduces us to the hobbits. Eccentric old Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) leaves the peaceful Shire at his 111st birthday, leaving all he has to his young nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) — including a golden Ring that makes the wearer invisible. But the grey wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) reveals that it’s actually the One Ring, which is the source of power for the demonic Dark Lord Sauron. So Frodo and his best pals leave the Shire and join a band of elves, men, and dwarves to take the Ring to the only place where it can be destroyed.

“The Two Towers” picks up immediately after “Fellowship” ends, with Frodo and Sam (Sean Astin) lost on the path to Mordor, and being stalked by the murderous Ring-junkie Gollum (Andy Serkis). Elsewhere, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) make a desperate stand with the kingdom of Rohan, but must face off against the evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) and his orc armies.

“Return of the King” brings the trilogy to a dizzying head: Frodo and Sam’s friendship is threatened by Gollum’s trickery, leading Frodo into a potential fatal trap. Gandalf and Pippin head for the city of Gondor, while Aragorn summons an ancient army that might be able to turn the tide against Mordor. But no matter how many battles they win, the war will never be won if Frodo is not able to destroy the Ring once and for all.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” is one of those stories that is too big to fit into one movie – it’s almost too big to fit into three. While Jackson had to streamline the story considerably, the heart of the original novels is still there, with its message about how misfortunes can become blessings, and even the smallest and least imposing person can change the world. Despite the richness of the world-building and the complexity of the characters, it all boils down to that.

Changes are certainly made, such as altering and adding to the characters of Arwen and Faramir, as well as obviously having to leave a lot of events and characters out. Certainly the trilogy doesn’t need Tom Bombadil. But the overall story is remarkably faithful to Tolkien’s tale, and Jackson’s script with partner Philippa Boyens is a masterpiece of storytelling – full of humor and dramatic moments, adapting Tolkien’s richly-archaic prose into powerful speeches (such as Sam’s powerful final speech in “The Two Towers”).

Furthermore, it’s a beautifully-constructed movie – the exquisite sets and expansive New Zealand landscapes are breathtaking; the battle scenes are bloody and exciting; the different cultures of Middle-Earth feel deep and well-lived-in. All the trappings — clothes, jewelry, even beer mugs — are realistic. And the special effects are almost entirely convincing-looking, especially the gruesome Gollum. He’s the first fully convincing CGI character, and after awhile you’ll forget he is made digitally.

It also has a cast who give the performance of their lives – Elijah Wood as the wide-eyed, wounded Frodo Baggins; Sean Astin as his steadfast best friend Sam, who supports him no matter what happens; and Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd as the mischievous but brave Merry and Pippin. Ian McKellen’s Gandalf is the prototypical wizard – kindly and grandfatherly, but capable of anger and fear when confronted by the Ring – and Viggo Mortensen is outstanding as the noble king-in-waiting Aragorn. Orlando Bloom and John Rhys-Davies round out the cast as the elegant elf Legolas and doughty, down-to-earth dwarf Gimli – and there are a bunch of other great performances by actors such as Christopher Lee, Sean Bean, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Miranda Otto, and many many more.

The extended versions of the movies are even better than the theatrical versions — plenty of cut scenes that fill out the characters and plotline are put back in. As a result, the extended versions cleave more closely to the original books. Not to mention TV specials, featurettes, cast commentary on everything in the movies, Sean Astin’s sweet little short film “The Long and Short of It,” and extensive behind-the-scenes footage that will inform viewers about special effects, sets, direction, and everyday life filming “Lord of the Riings.”

The movie adaptations of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy are classics for a reason – while they have some flaws, Peter Jackson managed to adapt a brilliant story into brilliant, beloved movies. Powerful, gripping and full of beauty.

Review: Malignant

“Malignant” is one of those movies that is… hard to judge. It’s hard to judge because the intent of it is not entirely clear, and so you’re left unsure whether the filmmaker responsible for it was successful in their ambitions.

Specifically, it’s hard to tell if it was meant to be funny or not.

In the broadest sense, “Malignant” is a horror movie, by the current king of horror, James Wan. And for the first two acts, it serves as a perfectly serviceable buildup to some kind of horrifying revelation, with distinct overtones of the gothic and giallo. Then… the third act happens, and somehow the drama, the absurd action and the bizarreness of it all splatters across the screen like so much CGI blood. It’s absolutely gutsplitting.

When her abusive husband cracks her head against a wall, pregnant Madison Lake (Annabelle Wallis) locks herself in her bedroom. But she’s woken in the night by the murder of her husband – and an attack by a mysterious figure with long hair over his face, which leads to her losing her baby. Detectives Kekoa Shaw (George Young) and Regina Moss (Michole Briana White) investigate, but the only evidence to be found is bizarre and inexplicable, so they suspect Madison.

Upon returning to her home, Madison begins having visions of the killer hunting down and murdering other people – and it turns out that yes, her visions are coming true. The problem is, it’s all tied up in Madison’s mysterious childhood, before she was adopted by her parents… and she can’t remember that. To find out who “Gabriel” is, and how to stop him before he murders again, Madison will have to uncover a horrifying truth about herself.

I’m going to be blunt about this – “Malignant” is not a good movie. It has plot holes up the wazoo, a massive plot twist that can be easily figured out in the first ten minutes, and countless unanswered questions. For instance, why doesn’t Madison have a scar? How is Gabriel able to control electricity? Why does he wear a leather coat? Why does he have superhuman agility? All of these questions will not be answered, because the plot comes unraveled like a cheap sweater when you think about it for more than a few minutes!

But at the same time, there’s something strangely lovable about the movie. It has the innate drama and striking, haunting visual artistry seen in old giallo movies, right down to the copious gore, mingled with a kind of bad 1990s horror-movie aesthetic that just isn’t seen anymore. The opening sequence alone is a block of pure cheese, and it’s beautiful.

This gives the movie a rather inconsistent tone – during most of the police work and Madison’s daily life, we’re given a fairly realistic, subdued directorial style from Wan. Then Gabriel appears, and suddenly everything is crashing lightning, gothic castle-hospitals, and medical awards being used to brutally stab people to death. And of course, there’s the third act, where everything is dialed up to eleven – the sentimentality, the cheese, the bizarre plot twists.

This includes a scene that seems like it was made to be hilarious, but I honestly can’t tell if it was – a scene in which “Gabriel” carves his way through the police station, with superhuman acrobatics, snapped spines and rivers of gore… all performed backwards. James Wan, what exactly was your intent here?

Annabelle Wallis is merely passable as Madison – she’s okay when the role demands she be scared, and her crazy-eyes stare is pretty solid, but most other emotions just make her look like she has a stomachache. Maddie Hasson gives a pretty good performance as Madison’s younger sister, and Young has a striking presence as the police detective who looks beneath the veneer of the obvious to find out what is happening.

If nothing else, be glad that James Wan got the chance to make “Malignant” – an original horror movie that isn’t part of a glossy franchise, and which wears its niche influences like a badge of honor. It’s not a good movie, but it is an entertaining and memorable one.

Review: Mortal Kombat (2021)

While the 1990s Mortal Kombat movie was cheesy fun, it wasn’t quite the film that fans of the game franchise wanted… primarily because it was PG-13, and thus bloodless and tame. It didn’t help that its sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, was one of the most legendarily bad movies of all time.

And so, nearly twenty-five years later, we have been graced by a new Mortal Kombat reboot which promises the fatalities, the gore, and the endless swearing from Kano. Its biggest problem is that it’s a build-up to a tournament that will apparently happen in the sequel, meaning that it’s mostly a lot of people running around fighting with little purpose… but hey, it’s mindlessly entertaining, bloody and acrobatic running around.

The main character is Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a past-his-prime MMA fighter who regularly gets beaten up for $200 a pop. The glaring problem with this character is simple: he’s very boring and generic. There’s really not much to him except his family lineage – he is Completely Normal Guy who serves as an audience proxy.

But then he and his family are attacked by a cryomantic Chinese ninja known as Sub-Zero, who really wants them dead. They’re rescued by Jax (Mehcad Brooks), an ex-soldier with the same dragon marking that Cole has, although he loses both arms in a fight with Sub-Zero. Fellow ex-soldier Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) explains that the dragon marking is a sign of being chosen for a great interdimensional tournament known as Mortal Kombat.

After an attack by a reptilian monster, Cole and Sonya convince a scummy criminal named Kano (Josh Lawson) – who has also acquired a dragon marking – to lead them to the god Raiden’s temple. Once there, Cole and Kano begin training under fellow champions Kung Lao (Max Huang) and Liu Kang (Ludi Lin). However, the evil soul-eating sorcerer Shang Tsung (Chin Han) is determined to kill Earth’s champions before the tournament even begins, and invades Raiden’s temple.

If there’s one word to describe the Mortal Kombat reboot, it’s “setup.” The entire movie is essentially a setup for the actual Mortal Kombat tournament, and everything that happens within that movie is a setup for some kind of epic fight scene. And in that regard, it works pretty well – the third act is almost wall-to-wall mortal kombat, with plenty of exploding heads, bodies sawed in half, and the occasional evisceration.

And as far as the plot is concerned, the “setup” status is perhaps its weakness – there’s not really much plot here, just the heroes getting together, trying to develop superpowers, getting their butts kicked, regrouping, and then fighting with the myriad colorful bad guys. The closest to a true plot is the feud between Sub-Zero and Scorpion that spans centuries and dimensional boundaries. That subplot is the powerhouse of the movie, and the epicness of their eventual clash is almost cathartic.

It has a fairly good cast as well – Tan does as good a job as anyone could with his nondescript character, and it has solid performances by Brooks, Lin and Huang. McNamee is a strong female character of the type we need more of – intelligent, fierce, smart, compassionate and moral – and Hiroyuki Sanada is absolutely brilliant in his brief screen-time. Lawson’s Kano is also a complete delight to watch – he is so unabashedly, over-the-top vile that it makes him almost lovable.

It’s light on story and heavy on gory, making the “Mortal Kombat” reboot a film that is best appreciated with your brain turned off. It’s an entertaining spectacle for people who want some gore and guts, but you’ll have to wait for the sequel for any actual tournament action.

Review: Godzilla Vs. Kong

This movie is a tour de force – an intricate and sensitive tapestry of thought-provoking questions and exquisite metaphors, which forces the viewer to reexamine their relationship with the world at large. It is a story that questions our humanity in the face of natural disaster, our place in the universe, and the uncertainty of life in a modern context…

… just kidding. It’s a movie about a giant lizard and a giant monkey punching each other.

And that really is all you need to know about “Godzilla Vs. Kong,” the long-awaited fourth entry in the Monsterverse franchise. This is the long-awaited, official meeting of Japan’s greatest kaiju with his American counterpart – and while some parts of the movie don’t make a lot of sense (where is the sunlight in the Hollow Earth coming from?) or exist just for exposition, the monstrous beasts themselves keep us invested.

The movie opens with conspiracy podcaster Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) infiltrating the obviously-evil megacorporation, Apex. Coincidentally, Godzilla decides to attack the facility during Bernie’s time there, which baffles the humans. Why has Godzilla, generally a benevolent figure, attacked humanity unprovoked? Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) is convinced that Godzilla had a reason for attacking, and sets out to find Bernie in order to find answers.

Meanwhile, Apex is funding an expedition into the Hollow Earth, and they want Kong – imprisoned by Monarch on Skull Island – to lead them down there. The problem is, venturing onto the ocean puts him on Godzilla’s turf, and the big lizard will naturally attack any rival for the role of alpha Titan. So not only do they have to chain Kong up and transport him from the tropical Pacific to Antarctica, they have to deal with Godzilla attacking — which he does.

But getting Kong to Antarctica is only the first step, as the humans now need to follow him into a realm dominated by vast beasts – and some kind of power that Apex wants to get their hands on. And on the surface, Bernie, Madison and Madison’s friend Josh uncover the reason that Apex was attacked by Godzilla – and the horrifying possibilities if it’s ever used.

It has plot holes. It has inconsistencies with previous films. It has stuff that doesn’t make much sense. Yet there’s a refreshing kind of purity in “Godzilla Vs. Kong” that comes from knowing exactly what it is, and being happy with being just a popcorn blockbuster about two kaiju beating each other up. If that is what you expect – a sci-fi tale about giant monsters – then it’s likely to be an entertaining watch.

So there’s plenty of spectacle – boats explode or are overturned, buildings are smashed or blasted into glassy splinters, and the city of Hong Kong is more or less flattened for our amusement. Perhaps the only area where spectacle falls short is in the Hollow Earth itself – what we see is pretty spectacular, but we don’t see enough of it. The movie could have used another half hour of Kong’s adventures in the center of the Earth, the ancient civilization there, and the many monsters.

And make no mistake – despite an infestation of human characters, Kong himself is the main character here, a vast melancholy ape who occasionally bursts into chest-thumping, teeth-bearing rage. The CGI is exemplary, causing you to feel Kong’s isolation, his homesickness, his triumph and his pain. Godzilla is more of an antagonistic presence looming throughout most of the film. He has the power of a force of nature in the opening scenes, but up against someone as big as he is, he snarls and claws in a far more down-to-earth, personal manner.

The various actors in it do a decent job serving as side-characters to the CGI stars of the show – Alexander Skarsgard, Rebecca Hall and Brian Tyree Henry all do good jobs, Eiza Gonzalez and Demian Bichir are solid as smugly corporate overlords, and Julian Dennison steals the show as Madison’s hapless yet street-smart sidekick… and who ultimately turns out to be more plot-essential than she is.

Yeah, Millie Bobbie Brown’s character doesn’t really have a good reason to be in the story, and she’s so obnoxious and condescending that you end up wishing she hadn’t been. Kaylee Hottle’s character at least serves as an interpreter for Kong, even if children in kaiju movies are generally a bad sign.

If you expect “Godzilla Vs. Kong” to provide exactly what the title suggests, then you won’t be disappointed – it’s a big, robust movie that revolves around kaiju hitting each other. And in troubled times, don’t we need more of that?

Review: Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Back in 2017, Warner Brothers released Joss Whedon’s Justice League, supposedly the springboard to a shared universe of spinoff movies. But the movie cratered, and in the years since, it has been widely considered to be a creative disaster.

But another version of the movie was widely rumored to exist – a cut by the original director Zack Snyder, before it was sliced and diced by the studio and Whedon in an effort to make a more marketable blockbuster. And after years of fans demanding that the studio release the artist’s vision, the fabled “Snyder Cut” was finally released, completed and four hours long. Was it worth the wait?

In a word, yes.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League covers roughly the same territory as the Joss Whedon Cut – Batman (Ben Affleck) brings together several superheroes to fight an extraterrestrial warlord named Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds). This includes the immortal warrior Diana (Gal Gadot), young speedster Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), the gruff water-warrior Arthur (Jason Momoa) and a traumatized young cyborg named Victor (Ray Fisher). In their quest to keep Steppenwolf from uniting the three Motherboxes that will spell the Earth’s doom, they realize that they need the help of Superman (Henry Cavill) – and they may have the means of returning him to life.

But whole the overall plot – and some scenes – are familiar, the movie has whole swathes that are new and enriching. Characters are massively fleshed out, poorly-conceived comedy is notably absent, and the rich lore of the DC universe is woven into the tapestry of the plot – most notably in the malevolent Darkseid and his courtiers, who give some reason for Steppenwolf to conquer Earth other than “he just wants to, okay?”

In short, with four hours to expand into, the Snyder Cut has the ability to be a richer, more compelling narrative. Snyder’s vision here is a muscular, smooth, flowing expanse of scenes that all interweave neatly – nothing here could be trimmed without diminishing something else. This even includes some beloved DC characters who don’t play much of a role here, but were clearly intended to contribute more to a shared universe.

Snyder also strikes an almost perfect balance of action, comedy and tragedy here. There are some moments of understated comedy woven in (“This is Alfred. I work for him”), but it’s kept sedate and appropriate to whatever is happening. There are some great action scenes as well (such as the tragic battle of Steppenwolf against the Amazons), though Snyder makes sure to weave subtle characterization into them. But he delves deep into the loss and pain of the characters here, especially Cyborg’s misery and anger over being turned into… well, a cyborg. Yet he also shows their nobility and their desire to help others.

Furthermore, the Snyder Cut simply feels… bigger and more epic than Whedon’s cut. Whedon’s film always seemed flimsy and small in scale, but this actually feels like our heroes are going up against an apocalyptic threat. This is particularly true in the Justice League’s final battle against Steppenwolf, which is turned from a standard superhero climax into something dazzling – time is bent, space is torn, battles are fought in body and in the mind, and it feels like no other heroes could possibly do what the Justice League is doing.

Furthermore, the characters are finally done justice by this cut – Snyder’s Batman is intelligent and competent, his Superman is a stern but kind and good person, and his Wonder Woman is fierce and magnificent. Even Steppenwolf is given more character dimensions here – in just a few lines, Snyder makes this horned alien monstrosity feel like a real person, who desperately wants redemption and a welcome home. You almost feel sorry for him, even if you don’t want him to succeed.

But the greatest character development comes for Barry and Victor. Barry is shown not just as a funny quippy kid, but as growing into his role as a hero and completely devoting himself to saving the entire world. And Fisher does an outstanding job as Victor, whose raw pain and misery are recognizable in any person who’s suffered a life-changing injury or disease, but whose compassion for others is never dimmed.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League has some flaws, but it is a wildly different – and far superior – cut to the disaster that was released in theaters. It combined slam-bang action and a lore-rich script with a lot of heart and soul – all you could ask from a superhero movie.

Review: Hellboy (2019)

From its very first opening moments, the 2019 reboot “Hellboy” shows us exactly the kind of movie that it is – with a bird eating the liquefied eyeball of a rotten corpse, and Ian McShane throwing a gratuitous F-bomb.

Specifically, it’s the kind of movie that a 13-year-old who thinks he’s edgy would make – lots of swearing, lots of characters being obnoxious, lots of extremely graphic violence shown in lovingly-framed detail, and so on. “Hellboy” seems to aspire to be kind of like “Deadpool” in its mixture of comedy and bloody violence, but the meandering, overstuffed storyline and unlikable lead characters make it a chore to sit through.

After killing a B.P.R.D. agent who had been vampirized, Hellboy (David Harbour) angsts about his status as a monster, and what that means to an organization dedicated to stamping them out. He’s then sent to help the Osiris Club in England with exterminating a trio of giants… only for the Club to try to kill him because he’s destined to bring about the apocalypse. If you’re wondering what all this has to do with the main plot, the answer is: very little.

The actual villain of the piece is Nimue (Milla Jovovich), the legendary sorceress, who was chopped into six pieces by King Arthur and sent to six different parts of England. Not the world. Not Europe. Just England. Now the pig-fae Gruagach (Stephen Graham) is reuniting her various body parts – and if she is fully restored, she will bring down an apocalyptic plague across the entire world, wiping out humanity.

Hellboy is soon called on to stop Nimue, along with ghost-punching medium Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane) and surly B.P.R.D. agent Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim). But Nimue quickly decides that she wants Hellboy as her king, since she knows of his apocalyptic destiny and wants him her to rule over a new world at her side. Unfortunately for the current world, Hellboy seems quite tempted by the offer.

“Hellboy” was already facing an uphill battle, given that the character’s previous appearances were directed by the beloved Guillermo del Toro. But even if one appreciates it entirely on its own merits, the movie is still pretty terrible – and only part of that is due to the relentless swearing and hyper-graphic gore, which feel like a teen boy’s idea of what an R-rated movie should be like.

One of the big problems is that the story is an overstuffed mess, with subplots unrelated to the main plot. Whole chunks of the narrative could have been easily streamlined out, such as Hellboy’s fight with the giants, which feels like a side-quest in a video game. The cinematography is pretty ugly and grimy, the special effects range from acceptable to “how did this get released in theaters?”, and the dialogue is bad more often than not (“But it’s not going to work, you know, cause I’m a Capricorn and you’re f***ing nuts!”).

It also has a wealth of characters who exist entirely to vomit exposition. Baba Yaga, for instance, is a character who exists entirely to tell people to go places, rather than having any real impact on the plot. Or consider the blind woman with precognitive powers, who is just there to recount baby’s Hellboy’s entry into our world, a bizarre scene that is somehow sidetracked by the appearance of Lobster Johnson. “Who?” you may be asking. The answer: nobody who matters to the plot, so it doesn’t matter.

Of course, the main characters aren’t much better. It’s worth noting that no criticism should fall upon David Harbour, who gives as good a performance as anyone could possibly give. The movie fails him, not the other way around.

Specifically, it fails him by making Hellboy a whiny, passive-aggressive brat who is easily swayed by Nimue and gripes about his father constantly. His angst over monsters not getting to live in the open seems rather hollow as well, considering that we see virtually no monsters who aren’t actively harmful to humans… and since Hellboy himself is hardly a secret, since he goes on a days-long bender in a Mexican bar.

The other characters aren’t particularly likable either – Alice tends towards being smugly annoying, and Daimio seems to be stuck in a combatively bad mood with no particular reason or resolution. No, being revealed as a werejaguar does not count as an arc. The closest to a character who actually feels three-dimensional is Ian McShane’s Professor Broom, although even he isn’t a terribly likable person.

The 2019 reboot of “Hellboy” stumbles badly in its attempt to give us a darker, grittier portrait of our demonic hero – mainly because of the sloppy plot and painfully clumsy script. Stick with the comics or the earlier films.

Review: Monty Python’s Flying Circus: The Complete Series

Once upon a time, in a far-away land called England, a handful of British lads (and one American) came together to create some of the greatest comedy in the history of…. well, comedy.

Of course, I’m referring to the comedy troupe known as Monty Python, who pushed the boundaries of comedy with their astoundingly funny series “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” The complete series is gross, naughty, sometimes quite offensive to modern sensibilities – and because of these things, it’s also gloriously witty, strange, subversive, and intensely weird. Not to mention full of glorious spam, wonderful spam.

For dozens of episodes, these guys served up skits on every insane subject you can think of: defense against fresh fruit, the Ministry of Funny Walks, sitcoms based on the family life of Attila the Hun, lupin bandit Dennis Moore, obscene children’s books, semaphores, racing twits, village idiots, goats, psychotic barbers, Vikings, “ALBATROSS!”, killer sheep, lobotomies, pantomime horses, Tudor pornography, Royal Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things, the dirty vicar, and giant alien blancmanges who are turning people into Scotsmen.

Certain sketches have reached the point of immortality, especially John Cleese’s “dead parrot” sketch, in which he plays an increasingly peeved guy who is trying to return a parrot that was “nailed to its perch.” Also Eric Idle playing the obnoxious guy who constantly thinks of sex, and refers to it as “wink wink, nudge nudge… say no MORE!” And of course, THE SPANISH INQUISTION, whose chief weapons are fear, surprise…

There are also some running jokes, like the pantomime Princess Margaret, and a mysterious knight who walks through hitting people with a dead chicken. And of course, Terry Gilliam’s cartoons interspersing the skits — goofy, surreal, sort of like Saturday morning cartoons if Dali were doing the animating. Somehow the use of photographs to animate these little interludes makes them even more bizarre and wonderful.

Okay, not every skit is funny — the “Mouse Problem” sketch takes a great idea and stretches it thin. We get it, it’s like they’re talking about gay people, but it’s actually about guys who feel like they’re actually giant mice. But more often than not, they ARE quite funny. They also mock just about anything, from government officials to art to censorship (unsurprisingly, since they themselves were often censored) to the military (“Real guns, sir. Not toy ones, sir. Proper ones, sir. They’ve all got ’em. All of ’em, sir. And some of ’em have got tanks!” “Watkins, they ARE on our side”).

And all of this by men who often dress up as the world’s most unattractive girls (John Cleese being the most comically ugly of them), with only a tiny budget and minimal cast. The 70s production values are omnipresent, and they are decidedly unpolitically correct. But in a weird way, these only make it even funnier than it would have been otherwise — the writing and acting are pure, raw, unrefined comedy, not caring what anyone else thinks.

Probably the most memorable actors here are Cleese and Idle. Cleese does his psychotic shrieks better than anyone, as well as having that rubbery lanky body that twists itself into Silly Walks. And Idle not only has amazing comic timing, but he can adjust his voice and body language to… anything, from domestic goddesses to sleazy TV hosts. But the other actors are quite good too, especially Michael Palin, especially when he’s playing someone timid or crazy.

This classic comedy series not only became a pop culture staple, but it’s still fresh and funny more than thirty years after it was made. “Monty Python’s Flying Circus: The Complete Series” is definitely a must-have.

And now for something completely different…

Review: The Secret of Kells

The Book of Kells is Ireland’s greatest treasure: an ancient book filled with exquisite illuminations.

Technically, “The Secret of Kells” is a fictionalized account about the making of that book. But it’s far more than that — it’s a visual hymn to Ireland’s history, a coming-of-age tale, and a parable about Christianity coming to Ireland. Modern animation is suffused with exquisite Celtic art, music and a sense of fairy magic, and wrapped around a seemingly simple story about a boy learning about the power of art.

Abbot Cellach is determined to save the Abbey of Kells from the Viking invaders, so he’s having the monks (including his nephew Brendan) build a vast wall around the abbey. But when the illuminator Brother Aiden arrives, he brings with him the legendary Book of Iona. Brendan is fascinated by the Book, and ventures out into the forest — against the abbot’s orders — to fetch ink-making supplies for Aiden.

He befriends a strange fairy girl named Aisling, and nature’s beauty inspires his art — until his uncle discovers that he’s sneaking out, and forbids him to have anything to do with the forest or Aiden. But Brendan still wants to become a true master of illumination. And to finish the Book, he must go outside the abbey once more, and snatch away the magical Eye of an ancient sleeping evil…

You can see this movie from many angles — it’s a coming-of-age story, a homage to Irish culture, a story about the importance of art, and a parable about Christianity supplanting Celtic paganism (whilst drawing on its beauty and richness). But however you see it, “The Secret of Kells” is a beautiful story with a calm simplicity, and a slightly quirky sense of humor.

It also tackles some darker, more mature themes — Brendan is exiled to a dungeon for disobeying his uncle, and he ventures into the cave of an ancient god surrounded by wriggling black roots. But directors Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey drop in lots of beautiful little moments as well, such as Aisling magically “singing” Aiden’s cat into a floating spirit.

It also has a truly unique style of animation: “Kim Possible” style (simple designs with lots of sharp and/or rounded edges) with vibrant jewel-toned backdrops (the sunlit emerald hues of the forests). The best parts are when Celtic symbols and art are woven in, especially since they tend to float through the air like butterflies.

The writers also give great care to sketching out characters — Brendan, the little monk who discovers the “miracles” of the world; Aisling, the elusive wolf-girl who assists him; and the grandfatherly Brother Aiden. On the flip-side we have Abbot Cellach, whose obsession with keeping Kells safe causes him to shut out art and beauty. No, he’s not a 2-D bad guy — he’s just desperate to preserve his community against the onslaught of their enemies.

Obviously it’s not on the level of the Book of Kells, but “The Secret of Kells” is still a beautiful work of cinematic art. Adults will love it, kids will love it, and anyone with the blood of Ireland will marvel.