Hellboy (2019) review

HELLBOY

Director: Neil Marshall
Cast : David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, Thomas Haden Church, Penelope Mitchell, Brian Gleeson, Sophie Okonedo, Alastair Petrie
Genre : Action/Horror/Fantasy
Run Time : 2 hours
Opens : 11 April 2019
Rating : M18/PG13

           Last seen on the big screen in 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army, the antihero with the shorn-off horns returns from the fiery depths in this regrettable reboot.

Hellboy/Anung Un Rama (David Harbour) is a demon who came to earth as the result of a Nazi experiment in World War II and was adopted and raised by Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane). Bruttenholm founded the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Development (BPRD), a secretive agency that protects earth from supernatural threats. Hellboy, who was destined to bring about mankind’s destruction, fights to prevent it instead.

Vivienne Nimue (Milla Jovovich), the bloodthirsty sorceress defeated by King Arthur (Mark Stanley) and Merlin (Brian Gleeson), is resurrected with the help of the humanoid pig beast Gruagach (Stephen Graham). Nimue sets her sights on Hellboy, attempting to seduce him to join her side and turn against humanity. Hellboy is assisted in his quest by the clairvoyant Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane) and BPRD agent Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim), who suppresses his own horrific supernatural abilities.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army is one of this reviewer’s favourite comic book films. It is a pity that director Guillermo del Toro and star Ron Perlman were not given the opportunity to conclude that trilogy. Del Toro’s many gifts as a filmmaker include a meticulous visual sense, a knack for world-building and an emphasis on heart, all elements this reboot is sorely wanting for. There are enough superficial similarities with del Toro’s two Hellboy films to actively invite comparisons, none of which are favourable.

The Hellboy character was created by Mike Mignola, and this film purports to hew closer to the horror elements of the comics, taking inspiration from the arcs Darkness Calls, The Wild Hunt, and The Storm and the Fury. While this is certainly more violent and gorier than del Toro’s take on the material, that doesn’t make it any more interesting.

Director Neil Marshall seems like the natural candidate for the material, given his background in British horror films like The Descent, Dog Soldiers and Doomsday. While he seems to be aiming for a pulpy B-movie quality which comes through sporadically, there’s very little in Hellboy to really care about. Much of the story is told in reams of exposition, and flashbacks that establish each new character feel like distracting detours. There’s little mystique or creepiness to the occult elements of the story, such that suspension of disbelief isn’t earned.

In Singapore, the film is being released simultaneously in M18 and edited PG13 cuts. We saw the PG13 version, which is obviously and awkwardly hacked to pieces. If you’re watching this at all, do not watch the PG13 cut. It’s still gory and three uses of the F-word make it intact in the dialogue, which seems puzzling. We’re not sure how much better the M18 cut is, we’re willing to bet not much.

Guillermo del Toro’s deep love for movie monsters meant that there was something fascinating about each of the creatures seen in his movies, something in their design and the way they were brought to life by suit performers and special effects. This Hellboy movie gives us vampires, giants, fairies, zombies, pig-men, jaguar beasts and all assortment of monsters, but they rarely feel convincing and often come across as synthetic and goofy. There isn’t much scale to this movie even though it wants to be an epic, rollicking adventure, and what should be exciting is rendered frenetic instead. Baba Yaga (Troy James and Emma Tate) is a legitimately creepy monster, though, thanks mostly to the prosthetic makeup effects used to bring the crone to life.

David Harbour will be the target of much of the ire of fans who have grown attached to Ron Perlman’s take on Big Red, but this reviewer is hesitant to blame him. Harbour, known as Sheriff Hopper from Stranger Things, does the best with the material he’s given and overhauled his physique to play Hellboy. Despite the name “Hellboy”, the character is a grown man, and that’s the biggest issue with this take – the character comes across as whiny rather than conflicted about where his allegiances lie. The sweetness and likeability that should lie just beneath the crimson surface are all but absent.

One of the movie’s big missteps is in depicting the relationship between Hellboy and his adoptive father Bruttenholm. There is no tenderness or affection, only shouting and pointing fingers, such that it’s hard to believe Bruttenholm ever really loved Hellboy. The emotional core of the movie should be that a man decided to adopt a baby monster he was meant to kill. McShane brings gruffness and gravitas to the part, as is his wont, but there isn’t much in the relationship to get invested in.

The one thing in this movie that seemed most enticing was the prospect of Milla Jovovich as a villainess – while she tends to be stiff in action hero roles, Jovovich can be delightfully over-the-top as evil characters. There is a bit of that here, but Nimue is mostly flat and never registers as a truly powerful malevolent force.

Sasha Lane and Daniel Dae Kim attempt to inject personality into their supporting roles, but the things about their respective characters that are interesting are barely explored, while their back-stories are over-explained.

There was every chance that a Hellboy reboot could be done well, and there are tiny indications here of what could’ve been. There are still serviceable moments of action horror and while the jokes are more miss than hit, the general tone is fine. The bits of the film involving Lobster Johnson (Thomas Haden Church) are the most entertaining. Unfortunately, it adds up to a disappointing whole, such that the sequel-bait ending and post-credits scenes feel awfully over-confident.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Sleepless

For F*** Magazine

SLEEPLESS

Director : Baran bo Odar
Cast : Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Scoot McNairy, Gabrielle Union, David Harbour, Dermot Mulroney, Octavius J. Johnson
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 35min
Opens : 23 February 2017
Rating : NC16 (Violence and Coarse Language)

sleepless-posterJamie Foxx is up all night trying not to get killed in this action thriller. Foxx plays Vincent Downs, a crooked Las Vegas cop. Along with his accomplice Sean Cass (Harris), Vincent steals a shipment of cocaine from business tycoon Stanley Rubino (Mulroney). Rubino is in cahoots with the unhinged mobster Rob Novak (McNairy), heir to a Vegas criminal empire. When Rubino finds out about Vincent’s involvement, his men kidnap Vincent’s teenage son Thomas (Johnson). Vincent goes about rescuing his son, while keeping the kidnapping a secret from his estranged ex-wife Dena (Union). Meanwhile, Vincent earns the suspicion of Internal Affairs investigators Jennifer Bryant (Monaghan) and Doug Dennison (Harbour). All parties clash over the course of one night in a battle that tears through the Luxus Casino and Hotel.

Sleepless is a remake of the 2011 film Sleepless Night, a French-Belgian-Luxembourgian co-production. Sleepless Night was also remade as the Tamil-language action thriller Thoongam Vanam. Sleepless might star A-lister Foxx and possess fairly slick production values, but it’s hard to shake the vibe of a disposable direct-to-DVD action thriller. Despite all the twists and turns the story takes, Sleepless never becomes more than a blandly generic crime movie, failing to put a spin on familiar tropes. Seeing as the bulk of the film is set in the span of one night, it should have a breathless, pulse-pounding momentum. No such luck. This feels considerably longer than its 95-minute running time, even with a healthy number of action sequences.

sleepless-t-i-and-jamie-foxxThe official Twitter account for the film brazenly declares it “the action event of the year”. We would like to have seen the PR person stifle laughter as they typed this. While it by no means even approaches that hyperbolic statement, the action in this is not terrible, thanks to the involvement of veteran stunt coordinator Jeff Imada. Imada’s credits include the first three Bourne movies and several of the Fast and Furious films, so the fights in Sleepless do look brutal, if uninventive. Foxx and Harbour throw down in a spa, and the climactic showdown that moves from the casino floor to the garage does generate some excitement. Alas, it’s all too rote to stick in the mind of any action aficionado, and director Odar’s workmanlike style, heavy on the shaky-cam, lacks panache.

sleepless-michelle-monaghan-and-jamie-foxx

Foxx’s natural charisma is rendered moot in a role which is all knitted brows and gritted teeth. We’re introduced to Vincent as he steals drugs from a crime lord, but fret not, all is not as it seems and Vincent emerges as a typically heroic figure. Dispensing with the realism, Vincent shakes off being stabbed in the stomach like it’s no big deal. Monaghan is miscast as a dogged, tough cop, unable to shake her innate sweetness and coming off as unconvincing when she has to deliver silly hard-boiled dialogue. Both Harbour and McNairy are interesting actors despite not yet having that high a profile, Harbour being best known for Stranger Things and McNairy for Argo. Neither actor phones it in, but there’s not much they can do with this material. McNairy does try to have fun as the violent mobster scion, but is unable to significantly enliven the proceedings.

While Sleepless never plumbs the depths of bad movies that are dumped into theatres by studios in the beginning of each year, its mediocrity is still frustrating. It’s too dour to be fun and silly and too sluggish to be a piece of throwaway escapism.

 

Summary: An exercise in going through the motions, Sleepless is a crime thriller that fails to quicken the pulse.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

A Walk Among the Tombstones

For F*** Magazine

A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES

Director : Scott Frank
Cast : Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, Ruth Wilson, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Sebastian Roche, David Harbour, Mark Consuelos, Astro
Genre : Crime/Thriller
Opens : 18 September 2014
Rating : NC-16
Running time: 114 mins

Pierce Brosnan strutted his “older man of action” stuff recently in The November Manand now Liam Neeson, the definitive “older man of action” of the moment, is at it again in A Walk Among the Tombstones. Neeson plays Matt Scudder, a former NYPD cop, now an unlicensed private detective and a recovering alcoholic. Drug dealer Kenny Kristo (Stevens) engages Scudder’s services when his wife is kidnapped and killed even after he’s paid the ransom. While doing research in the library, Scudder befriends homeless teenager TJ (Bradley), whom he takes under his wing. Scudder discovers that the psychopaths responsible are targeting young women related to figures in the drug world, knowing they would be unable to go to the police for help. Working outside the law, Scudder must prevent the serial killers from striking again.
            
A Walk Among the Tombstones is adapted from the 10th book in Lawrence Block’s long-running Matt Scudder series (there are 17 books now). Jeff Bridges played Scudder in 1986’s heavily panned and largely forgotten 8 Million Ways to Dieand this film has been in the works for quite a while, with Joe Carnahan attached to direct and Harrison Ford to star at one point. Writer-director Scott Frank’s realisation of A Walk Among the Tombstones is slick, stylish and foreboding, lean and effectively chilling. At times, it seems reminiscent of David Fincher’s work, if more pedestrian. A slow-motion sequence in which the killers leer at a young girl walking her dog, set to Donovan’s “Atlantis”, is a very darkly comic touch. The book was published in 1992, but Frank chooses to set it in 1999, hinting at Y2K paranoia with the symbolism of people being “afraid of all the wrong things”, as the tagline goes. This doesn’t seem to add a lot to the story but it is an interesting textural detail.
           
          However, beyond the look and feel of the film, the story is a pretty conventional one. Yes, the serial killer antagonists are very creepy, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before in dozens of police procedural or detective TV shows. They drive around in a van, kidnapping women to torture and kill and they’re unbalanced and evil – not exactly a unique or compelling situation for our hero to be up against. It’s a good thing then that our hero is Liam Neeson, a master at the art of being quietly intimidating. He’s effortlessly cool throughout the film and you’ll want to cheer when he snarls “are you listening, motherf***er?” through the phone at the kidnappers. More than that, it’s entertaining to watch Neeson’s Scudder just doing some old-fashioned sleuthing about, cleverly cajoling information out of various subjects. Neeson is sufficiently low-key and yet never seems like he’s sleepwalking through the film. He also has the approval of author Block, who thought Neeson would make the ideal Scudder since watching him in Michael Collins.

            Less conventional than its main “catch the kidnappers” plot is the relationship between Scudder and tagalong kid TJ. TJ could have very easily been unbearably irritating and Brian “Astro” Bradley did get on many nerves as a contestant on American X Factor. However, he holds his own opposite Neeson and their interactions lend the film a slight hint of dry levity without the character being “the comic relief”. There’s some sentimentality there too, TJ stricken with sickle cell anaemia, having nowhere to go and drawing superheroes in his sketchbook. The scene in which Scudder chastises TJ for picking up a gun he found in a dumpster is particularly well done and a discussion about cool detective names displays a self-awareness of the genre without it being obnoxious.

           
           Some fans of Liam Neeson have bemoaned that since Taken, the Oscar nominee has starred in a string of run of the mill actioners that don’t particularly test his abilities as an actor. A Walk Among the Tombstones puts less emphasis on the running and the shooting -though there is some of that, to be sure. While the role of Matt Scudder isn’t wildly different from the cool tough guys we’ve become accustomed to seeing Neeson play, there is more here for Neeson to sink his teeth into and this film certainly is more of a grown-up, intense, sometimes disturbing thriller than his more action-oriented movies. And isn’t it nice that the novel’s original name was preserved instead of the title being changed to some snappy synonym for “vengeance”?
Summary: Liam Neeson fans will want to take this walk, his lead performance as the old-school detective and the creepy atmospherics making up for the familiar narrative.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong