Tag Archives: Guillermo del Toro

Puss in Boots (2011, Chris Miller)

CG animation has, much to my surprise, gotten to the point of disquieting reality. In Puss in Boots, Zach Galifianakis’s Humpty Dumpty has such real facial expressions, it makes the entire experience uncomfortable. The face, on the alien form, is too real.

Galifianakis is Puss’s weakest casting choice. In fact, he might be the only weak casting choice. He doesn’t bring any, you know, acting to the part. He’s reading lines, maybe exaggerating his tone occasionally, but he’s not acting. Everyone else is good. Except Amy Sedaris, for the same reason.

Antonio Banderas is great—but Puss is kind of perfect… it’s a cat as Zorro. Who better to do the performance than Zorro? Salma Hayek, Billy Bob Thornton, both are strong.

The film’s constantly delightful, which seems to be everyone’s goal, so picking at it doesn’t seem fruitful. But it would also be difficult.

My biggest gripe, besides the two weak performances (which aren’t bad, just not up to the film’s standard), has to do with scale. When the cast goes from the spaghetti Western setting to fairy tale setting, the two cats and the giant egg-man aren’t around any recognizable size landmarks. In fact, they’re in a giant’s castle… so the scale gets disconcerting.

But it’s a very small gripe. Puss holds it together for a difficult finish too.

By not failing the narrative, director Miller succeeds. Though the lead and the amazing CG help.

Puss in Boots is a very charming, just smart enough amusement.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Chris Miller; screenplay by Tom Wheeler, based on a story by Brian Lynch, Will Davies and Wheeler and a character created by Charles Perrault; edited by Eric Dapkewicz; music by Henry Jackman; production designer, Guillaume Aretos; produced by Joe M. Aguilar and Latifa Ouaou; released by Dreamworks Animation.

Starring Antonio Banderas (Puss in Boots), Salma Hayek (Kitty Softpaws), Zach Galifianakis (Humpty Alexander Dumpty), Billy Bob Thornton (Jack), Amy Sedaris (Jill), Constance Marie (Imelda) and Guillermo del Toro (Comandate).


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Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008, Guillermo del Toro)

Once I heard the concept for Hellboy II–Hellboy versus elves–I knew what was going on. Del Toro was going to make a (tonal) sequel to Pan’s Labyrinth instead of an actual one to Hellboy. As my wife said on the way home, there’s a big difference between demons and elves. It’s like del Toro’s psychic and was jockeying for his Hobbit gig before it was even announced.

It’s hard to identify the movie’s biggest problem. There’s the flushing of the original’s atmosphere for a fantasy one (it’s never scary or disturbing–Luke Goss’s villain is created from special effects, not a performance… he’s as intimidating as Bronson Pinchot on “Perfect Strangers”). Del Toro also fills the film with fight scenes in confined areas and he’s not particularly good at making the fight scene interesting. I mean, Hellboy’s never going to die, right? The one great “fight” scene is more an action sequence, with Hellboy trying to save a baby while battling a giant tree. That scene works, mostly because it’s more like the action in the first film.

As a sequel, Hellboy II compares terribly. It isn’t just the script, it’s practically everything. But the script’s lack of real development is problematic. The present action is short, probably two days, and the setup reveals the characters aren’t much different than they were in the first one (four years ago). Except del Toro has changed Jeffrey Tambor’s character completely (for the worse, he’s a babbling buffon and the idea of him holding an advanced degree is sillier than the elves), in one of the movie’s stranger moves. The other negative developments stem from del Toro’s direction… basically, he’s asking his actors to do things they cannot.

First, Doug Jones. Doug Jones cannot act. From the first moment he utters a sound, the absence of David Hyde Pierce is felt. Jones tries to mimic Pierce’s performance, but a) doesn’t sound smart and b) can’t really properly emote. Jones isn’t an actor, voice or otherwise. He’s the guy they dub over. Still, del Toro does give him some amusing scenes–most of the scenes not involving the elves are okay, even if they are just filler.

Worse is Selma Blair, though I almost think del Toro noticed how terrible she is doing a Ripley impression. She’s in it sparingly after a point and other times she’s just silent and background. Del Toro’s subplot for Blair and Ron Perlman is idiotic, mainly because it leads to him ripping off the end of Patriot Games (sort of).

Perlman’s great.

John Hurt shows up for a second and he’s real good. Seth McFarlane’s a poor choice for the headless German guy, because McFarlane just does his German accent from “American Dad.” I guess it’s fine, but it’s kind of stupid. The only other actor is Anna Walton as Goss’s sister and Jones’s love interest. Her character is terribly written, but I suppose she isn’t atrocious.

Besides the last shot, Guillermo Navarro does a wonderful job shooting the film. His lighting works well with del Toro’s frequent CG composite shots (del Toro’s an amazing fan of CG composites apparently). The special effects are good and the visuals are interesting and impressive and all… even if it is dark and claustrophobic. Hard to see why the elves are so great if they live in caves all the time. Danny Elfman’s score is terrible, derivative of his Batman work–and most everything else he’s ever done.

Hellboy II kind of reminds me of Batman Returns, actually. Del Toro got free reign much like Burton did on that film (del Toro even apes some Nightmare Before Christmas here). The difference is what Burton did with his free reign and the narrative pointlessness del Toro commits with his here.

Perlman makes the whole thing passable–and del Toro still is a fine director, he’s just become an insipid storyteller.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Guillermo del Toro; screenplay by del Toro, based on a story by del Toro and Mike Mignola and on the Dark Horse comic books by Mignola; director of photography, Guillermo Navarro; edited by Bernat Vilaplana; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Stephen Scott; produced by Lawrence Gordon, Mike Richardson and Lloyd Levin; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Ron Perlman (Hellboy), Selma Blair (Liz Sherman), Doug Jones (Abe Sapien), Jeffrey Tambor (Tom Manning), Luke Goss (Prince Nuada), Anna Walton (Princess Nuala), Seth MacFarlane (Johann Kraus) and John Hurt (Professor Buttenholm).


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Hellboy (2004, Guillermo del Toro)

If I recall correctly, Mike Mignola never had Hellboy and Selma Blair’s firestarter get together (romantically) in the comics, even though Hellboy is flame resistant. That filmic development was all Guillermo del Toro’s. del Toro is responsible for everything successful in Hellboy and, subsequently, everything unsuccessful. Hellboy works, which is probably the film’s greatest achievement–it’s about a goofy, beer-drinking demon who hunts monsters. It’s got lots of humor–from David Hyde Pierce’s Niles-like observations to Hellboy liking cats–not to mention Jeffrey Tambor’s entire role is solely for humor.

Ron Perlman’s Hellboy performance is so unassuming, it’s hard to think of him standing there wearing fifty pounds of make-up or whatever. del Toro and his make-up team don’t just make Hellboy real, but also Doug Jones’s fish-man (who Hyde Pierce voices). These accomplishments are noteworthy, since no one’s really tried doing talking “alien” leads like Hellboy since the proliferation of CG in the mid-1990s. Fantastic characters suddenly became glossy synthetics, instead of tangible figures.

So it’s kind of too bad del Toro doesn’t set Perlman up as the lead until the very end. The rest of the movie is run first by John Hurt as his adoptive father and then Rupert Evans as his assigned caretaker. Hurt does a fine job, even if it’s just stunt casting (Hurt has almost nothing to do, never having a significant scene with Perlman). Evans, on the other hand, is fantastic. Without Evans, Hellboy would not have worked. While everything might happen to Perlman or hinge on the character, it’s Evans who leads the viewer through the film. I understand the narrative reason for this perspective, but it’s a Hollywood cop-out. Having it just be Perlman, in his forty pounds of make-up, doesn’t sell well as a mainstream narrative. Evans’s character is superfluous, but his performance makes him the most important element in the film.

del Toro saturates the viewer in the milieu–the creepy, the exciting–and it works. When Tambor’s stunned at the bad guys, it’s a shock–it’s hard to remember not everyone in the film is used to the oddities, since the viewer has to accept them from the first scene. The Prague shooting doesn’t help the atmosphere. While it all looks great, there’s an unreality to it. It’s clearly not Manhattan or New Jersey… it’s artificial. del Toro’s color schemes work great–director of photography Guillermo Navarro does a wonderful job (except one really jarring, apparently shot on video and cut in, moment)–and, for the first half, Hellboy looks so good, it’s hard to think about anything else. The narrative works, it just doesn’t pay off in the end.

One big problem is the villain–Karel Roden is no good. It’s like he’s out of a TV movie.

But for what del Toro’s going for, Hellboy pretty much does it all.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Guillermo del Toro; screenplay by del Toro, based on a story by del Toro and Peter Briggs and on the Dark Horse comic books by Mike Mignola; director of photography, Guillermo Navarro; edited by Peter Amundson; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Stephen Scott; produced by Lawrence Gordon, Mike Richardson and Lloyd Levin; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Ron Perlman (Hellboy), John Hurt (Professor Bruttenholm), Selma Blair (Liz Sherman), Rupert Evans (John Myers), Karel Roden (Rasputin), Jeffrey Tambor (Manning), Doug Jones (Abe Sapien), Ladislav Beran (Kroenen), Biddy Hodson (Ilsa Haupstein) and Corey Johnson (Clay).


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Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, Guillermo del Toro)

Pan’s Labyrinth is a pretty film. Gorgeous cinematography, great locations, intricate make-up (bad CG, but it’s only really noticeable once). Guillermo del Toro does a decent job directing the film but has these really annoying transitions–the back of someone’s head frequently becomes a tree in the forest in unending pans. His script is competent and, well, heartless. I was trying to work up some suspense, but since del Toro ruins Pan’s Labyrinth‘s suspense in the opening shot, maybe it’s appropriate. Pan’s Labyrinth could have been a really good war movie, but instead del Toro mucks around in fantasy. Bad fantasy.

I was hoping Pan’s Labyrinth would either use the fantasy elements as a metaphor (it does not) or would be a descendent of Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. Unfortunately, it’s neither. Instead, like I said before, it’s heartless. Only one of the characters is at all human and she’s just human by default. The rest are unbelievable, except maybe the bad guy (until the end, anyway). The lead character, the precocious girl, goes from being wise beyond her years to being inconceivably stupid. Del Toro never spends any time figuring the character out in any real sense, so there’s not even a surprise (by the time she got stupid, I’d already given up). There’s also absolutely no suspense in the film, thanks a) to del Toro giving everything away at the beginning and b) just some lame plotting.

The performances are fine, but not worth enumerating. Something does need to be said for the graphic violence, however. Instead of attaching any real emotion to Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro makes it frequently bloody to get the audience interested (Paul Verhoeven talked about this method in regards to Robocop–if you haven’t gotten the audience to care with actual character development, blood and guts can do it).

Pan’s Labyrinth is so artificial it’s hard to be particularly disappointed. While it’s boring and empty, the war aspect is so full of potential, you can just sit and imagine the fantasy thing being gone and the movie being good. Maybe it’s because del Toro doesn’t have any M. Night Shyamalan moments… well, until the end, but who cares by then? It’s almost over.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro; director of photography, Guillermo Navarro; edited by Bernat Vilaplana; music by Javier Navarrete; production designer, Eugenio Caballero; produced by Bertha Navarro, Alfonso Cuarón, Frida Torresblanco and Álvaro Augustin; released by Picturehouse.

Starring Sergi López (Vidal), Maribel Verdú (Mercedes), Ivana Baquero (Ofelia), Ariadna Gil (Carmen), Alex Angulo (Doctor) and Doug Jones (Pale Man).


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