“Hellboy” is the “US Weekly” of comic book sagas. Superheroes are just like us! They squabble with their loved ones! They smoke cigars! They take pregnancy tests! When their hearts are broken they get drunk and sing along to Barry Manilow!
And then there are the other things they do, like confronting a kitten-eating a bag lady who is really a troll and battling a building-sized elemental plant guy who is trying to eat everything. And bursting into flames. And shooting people with very, very big guns and punching people very, very hard with a really, really big hand.
Hellboy (“Red” to his friends) is the big devil-looking red guy with one very large brick-like hand, two sawed-off horns, and a tail. Bad guys do not fluster him. He chews on a cigar, pulls out a gun with bullets bigger than a breadbox, lets out a sigh or a wisecrack, and goes after whatever it is, from a thousand bone-munching spidery-looking little creature to a large, slobbering, boar-shaped monster, and that plant guy. When Hellboy showers, clutching a beer can, we hear the Eels’ “Beautiful Freak,” and the warm acceptance of that song, similar to the “just like us” moments, is a nicely understated theme of the movie.
The creatures and CGI effects are a wonderfully inventive, with the exception of the flames that engulf Hellboy’s true love, Liz (Selma Blair), as lackluster as the “when will she tell him the real reason she is so upset” plotline they’ve given her. She needs to get some flame on pointers from Johnny Storm. But this is not a movie that takes females or their powers very seriously. The other leading lady is Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), a typically Stevie Nicks-type of ethereal beauty with intuitive palm-sensing ability who pretty much stands around when all the fighting is going on.
And what fighting it is. The visuals are sensationally imaginative. Director Guillermo del Toro is every bit as excited about the creatures in this comic-book saga as he was in his grown-up fairy tale “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Wonderfully imagined and intricately constructed, they often reflect the sensibility of a steampunk cracked version of “Lord of the Rings.” Hellboy’s new boss, reported to have an “open face,” turns out to be a clanking robot with a glass dome who speaks through an apparatus that looks like the workings of a Victorian typewriter. The clash and contrast of styles adds a lot of visual flair. A bad guy Prince has long blonde hair and seamed cheeks that make him look like the spawn of Legolas from “Lord of the Rings” and Sally from “A Nightmare Before Christmas.”
The fight scenes are inventively set up and staged. As Hellboy battles the plant guy he has to have one arm around a swaddled infant he is in the process of rescuing. He takes on Victorian typewriter-guy at one point and finds himself battling a barrage of swinging locker doors. When he fights the Prince, he has to be careful to defeat him without hurting him because of the psychic connection that imposes any injuries to him on his twin sister as well. The plot may not be much and the Golden Army of the title is the least interesting of his foes, but even the silly stuff is so imaginatively realized that Hellboy has a bit of a touch of comic book movie heaven.
Oh, George Lucas. Please stop diluting the franchise.
This latest all-animated iteration of “Star Wars” has a relationship to the original somewhere along the lines of the relationship of a homeopathic ingredient to the ultimate concoction. It has been diluted so that its atoms are barely detectable. The saga suffers in part because so many have taken what Lucas did in the 1970’s and 80’s and taken it further in terms of technology as well as story. All that remains here is from the weakest part of the original trilogy, especially the cardboard dialogue, without the screen charisma and acting ability of Harrison Ford and some of the others to make it work. The animation is below the level of most video games.
Worst of all, the movie diminishes the story arc of the original trilogies by taking the key character of Anakin Skywalker in a direction unrelated to everything we knew about him. What should enrich and expand on the stories just erodes further our sense of the original characters.
Chaplin: A Life is a splendid new biography of one of the most brilliant performers of the 20th century by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Stephen M. Weissman.
It has received glowing reviews from both of the most prestigious publishing journals:
“A fresh entry in the evergreen field of works devoted to Charlie Chaplin. If ever an artist’s life lent itself to psychoanalysis, it’s Chaplin’s. . . . Weissman lends dimension to the classics . . . and demonstrates Chaplin’s ability to transform family heartbreak into film comedies. . . . With lean, energetic prose, Weissman brings this colorful theatrical period to life. . . . He offers vivid sketches . . .and carefully follows the confluence of several artists that lead to the creation of the Chaplin’s iconic Little Tramp. Throughout the book,the author caps exhaustive sourcing with an overlay of insightful observations about Chaplin’s creative process. Find space on the crowded Chaplin shelf for this perceptive, literate take on the great screen clown.”
“Weissman uncovers the source for the “shabby gentility” of the Little Tramp, as well as the development of that extraordinary character. En route, he paints an engaging…portrait of how a cinema artist is created and how he practices his craft.”
But its most important review comes from Chaplin’s daughter Geraldine, who contributed an introduction that reads in part:
It is unlike anything that has ever been written about my father. Weissman weaves a psychologically astute narrative of Chaplin’s life and art, brilliantly exploring the relationships between experience and creativity….Weissman probes into the psychological explanation of the closest human bonds. It is uncanny how intuitively correct a trained outside investigator’s conclusions can turn out to be. This book, always provocative and at times heart-wrenching, is an enlightening read, an important addition to an understanding of my father’s genius and art, and a unique meditation on the mystery of creativity.
The book beautifully illuminates the sources and influences that inspired Chaplin’s unique combination of grace, humor, and poignancy. And Weissman has created a website about Chaplin that, like the book, is an extraordinary and insightful resource for fans and scholars. Its video clips, photo essays, and links enrich our understanding of an appreciation for this treasured icon.
Teach With Movies is a subscription-based website with teaching materials for over 200 movies, to help teachers and parents use films to begin discussions with children and teenagers about everything from understanding emotions and improving communication to making choices and recognizing narrative themes and symbols.
Their free samples include a guide to October Sky, one of my favorite films, based on the real-life story of a young boy from a West Virginia mining town who dreams of becoming a rocket scientist. And their guide to Finding Nemo has some great ideas for talking to children about friendship and responsibility. It has good advice that applies to any movie or television show kids watch, a good reminder that media is most valuable when it is used to awaken ideas and start conversations. Just talking with your child fosters verbal, social and emotional learning. You can talk about a movie at any time: right after it is over, in the car on the way to school, during quiet time, or before bed. — Ask about the story, the characters, and the plot. Keep it light and fun. — Always encourage your child to form opinions and to share them. — Exercise memory skills by asking about plot details. — Open-ended questions will help get a discussion going.
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