Movie Review: MYSTERY MEN

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mystery men
Universal
1999
PG-13

“Why am I doing this again?”
“When you can balance a tack hammer on your head, you will dead off your foes with a balanced attack.”
“And why am I wearing the watermelon on my feet?”
“I don’t remember telling you to do that.”

  • When Captain Amazing, Champion City’s legendary superhero, falls into the hands of the evil madman Casanova Frankenstein and his disco-dancing henchmen, there’s suddenly a chance for the aspiring superheroes to show what they can do. They’re the Mystery Men…a ragtag team of superhero wannabes featuring: Mr. Furious, whose power comes from his boundless rage; The Shoveler, a father who shovels “better than anyone”; The Blue Raja, a fork-flinging mama’s boy; The Bowler, who fights crime with the help of her father’s skull; The Spleen, whose power is pure flatulence; Invisible Boy, who’s only invisible when no one’s watching; and The Sphinx, a cliche-spewing philosopher.

Nowadays, deconstructing superheros is kind of old hat. Movies like The Incredibles, Super, Megamind, and of course The Watchmen have us looking at superheroes in a humanizing light. It’s second nature now to want to get Superman on a psychiatric couch, rather than marvel at his feats of…well, superhero-ing. Yeah, that’s the best I can come up with before coffee.

Anyway, there was a period not too long ago, when movies deconstructing superheroes weren’t all that numerous. There were a handful, yes, but some would say that they were ahead of their time. 1999’s Mystery Men falls into that category.

Based on side characters created in Flaming Carrot Comics, the Mystery Men consist of blue-collar, B-list superheroes with questionable powers banding together to fight EVIL! Well, okay, more to the point, stumble about and fail upwards. The movie follows the standard Evil Threatens To Overtake City > Main Hero Gets Taken Out > Bunch Of Other Heroes Band Together > Training Montage With Legacy Mentor > Overcoming Personal Obstacles > Saving The Day kind of structure that’s familiar with any story involving superhero team-ups.

I recall watching this movie in the second-run theater I frequent in Omaha back in 1999. I was amused, but not really that impressed. The heroes here are quite inventive with their powers; I especially dug on The Bowler, mainly because she was played by Janeane Garofalo, and she carried around a clear bowling ball with a human skull embedded inside it. I was in love. That said, I think that the major downfall for this movie was the facts that 1) it was based on a really obscure comic book that not too many people have heard of, even within hardcore comic book fandom, and 2) this was still only a couple of years removed from the foul stench that was the Batman & Robin movie. Sure, 1998’s Blade was a step in the right direction, but we were still a year away from 2000’s X-Men, when we could love comic book superhero movies again.

Overall: While it’s a decent enough movie, Mystery Men doesn’t really warrant another rental watch. I might leave it on the channel it’s playing on if I happen to come across it on cable or something, but the chances of that happening in this internet age is slim to none. Otherwise, it’s worth at least one watch some weekend afternoon if you have nothing better to do.

Movie Review: HELLBOY: The Golden Army

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hellboy the golden army
Universal
2008
PG-13

“It is all the same to me, my heart is filled with dust and sand. But you should know, it is his destiny to bring about the destruction of the Earth. Not now, not tomorrow, but soon enough. Knowing that, you still want him to live?”

  • The mystical world starts a rebellion against humanity in order to rule the Earth, so as Hellboy, Liz and Abe return, they must save the world. Now…as the creatures who inhabit the spiritual realm gear up to unleash the legendary unstoppable Golden Army for an all out attack on the human plane, the only group capable of saving the Earth is a tough-talking hellspawn and his team…plus a new ally by the name of Johann Krauss.

Four years after the first Hellboy movie graced cinemas with a live-action version of Mike Mignola’s comic book creation, writer/director Guillermo del Toro brought us a sequel. It wasn’t supposed to take that long to make the sequel–the sequel itself was green-lit about a month after the first Hellboy was released. But, because of, shall we say, snafus, Columbia dropped the distribution rights, and was finally picked back up by Universal Studios, which, let’s face it, doesn’t always have the best interests in mind when it comes to their horror properties. But, at least it finally got made, and then released in 2008, a bit later than the projected 2006 date. Better late than never.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army, instead of featuring Nazis and mad scientists like the previous film, focuses the story on the dark roots of folklore and fairy tales, featuring some truly nightmarish yet utterly sympathetic enemies drawn from folk tales for the our heroes at the B.P.R.D. to go up against. Here, an elf prince is planning on breaking a Millennia-old truce between the humans and the magical creatures of myth and legend by reassembling the crown that controls the fabled Golden Army, something explained during the opening exposition dump flashback scene. He’s opposed by his twin sister, who escapes and seeks protection within the B.P.R.D. Meanwhile, Hellboy is having troubles of his own, both in his personal and professional life: His relationship with Liz is going through a rocky period, and due to some showboating during a recent incident involving tooth fairies, the Bureau’s brought in a specialist to keep him in check.

Personally, I enjoyed Hellboy II more than the first movie. Instead of just rehashing the plot of the first one, this one delved more into folklore and its horror roots, which I totally dig. The relationships between the main characters has advanced, further deepening the development. There’s a rather hilarious scene where Hellboy and Abe Sapien get drunk and bond over their individual relationship issues while playing cheesy love ballads. The movie also manages to make the antagonist a sympathetic character as well, providing depth and pathos to someone you know is doing something consider evil, but you can’t help but understand things from his perspective. The creature effects–and there are many–are top notch. But the best character of this movie happens to be the atmosphere and tone of the movie, which manages to attain that balance of horrorific yet whimsical that only del Toro seems to manage. Considering the film he made before Hellboy II was Pan’s Labyrinth, this seems the logical step for him to follow up.

Overall: If you’ve seen the first Hellboy, and haven’t seen this sequel yet, I am dumbfounded as to why not. Hellboy II: The Golden Army is a better sequel to an already great movie. If anything, rewatching this as much as I have, this just makes the fact that del Toro was never able to make the proper third movie in his Hellboy trilogy all the more tragic. Especially given what we got in its place. Highly recommended, this.

Movie Review: HELLBOY

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hellboy 2004
Columbia
2004
PG-13

“Behind this door, a dark entity. Evil, ancient, and hungry.”
“Oh, well. Let me go in and say hi.”

  • When a Nazi mystical experiment goes awry in 1944, the target of a wizard’s spell, the child of Satan, Hellboy, is wrenched from his home, and adopted by the U.S. agents who intercepted his arrival. Raised as a force of good, Hellboy grows up to be a full-fledged demon in the form of a man, complete with fierce red skin, a tail, a giant armored glove, and two large circles where his horns should be (if they ever grow back, Hellboy is quick to break them off). Now, the adult Hellboy, an investigator of the paranormal, is sent on a mission that brings him back in touch with the evil genius that started it all…that Nazi wizard. Accompanying him along the way are other agents, including Liz, a pyrokinetic woman Hellboy has feelings for, and Abe Sapien, a mysterious amphibian hominid…

Hellboy. Mmmm, Hellboy. Mike Mignola’s incredibly popular independent comic paranormal hero. Debuting in 1993, the various Hellboy comics told the ongoing tales of a half-demon paranormal investigator who was initially summoned from Hell by Nazis during World War II, but then rescued by Allied forces, and raised as a normal human boy by a professor, and now works for the United States Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, defending humanity against dangerous supernatural stuff.

Of course this would be perfect foder for Guillermo del Toro to make into a movie. And so he did, back in 2004.

2004 was a decent enough year for the comic book based movies. It gave us Hellboy, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, and in my not-so-humble opinion the best Punisher movie (change my mind). Hellboy was the first movie I went to see after getting back from being on the road for a month. It was much needed. And then I later went to see it again with Nex and Boz-Man. And I’ve been re-watching this ever since.

This 2004 Hellboy movie is near perfect. It effortlessly blends together Gothic atmosphere, horror, fantasy, action, and dark comedy in a way only del Toro can do. The cast is fantastic, giving life and personality to the characters: Ron Perlman, who was born to play the roll of the titular Hell Boy, the late, great John Hurt as his adoptive father and member of both the British Paranormal Society and the U.S. Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, Doug Jones as Abe Sapien (with David Hyde Pierce voicing), Selma Blair as Hell Boy’s love interest and fire starter (twisted fire starter), Rupert Evans as Hell Boy’s assigned besty John Myers, and Karel Roden as Rasputin, that pesky Russian monk that is harder to kill than a cockroach. And let’s not forget Jeffrey Tambor as the put-upon director of the BPRD and cigar enthusiast.

The visuals are stunning. One might argue that the CG seems a bit cartoony; personally, I believe that enhances the comic book feel of the story. There’s a strong Lovecraftian element to the overall story that greatly appeals to me as a fan of the dark fantasy horror thing.

Overall: Hell Boy is a rare movie that manages to strike the perfect balance between being genuinely frighteningly horrific, while also being a touching character piece with some witty dialogue. In other words, it’s a Guillermo del Toro movie. I don’t know how he manages to do it, really. Forget that abomination that is the 2019 reboot. This is the only Hell Boy you need. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: The PUNISHER

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punisher 2004
Lionsgate Films
2004
R

“Two thousand degrees, Mick. Enough to turn steel into butter. It won’t hurt at first. It’s too hot, you see. The flame sears the nerve endings shut, killing them. You’ll go into shock, and all you’ll feel is cold. Isn’t science fun, Mickey?”

  • Special agent Frank Castle had it all: A loving family, a great life, and an adventurous job. But when his life is taken away from him b a ruthless criminal and his associates, Frank has become reborn. Now serving as judge, jury and executioner, he’s a new kind of vigilante out to wage a one-man war against those who have done him wrong.

So far, there’s been three movie adaptations of Marvel Comics’ vigilante antihero The Punisher. The one in 1989 that starred Dolf Lundren (and did not feature the trademark skull breast plate), the 2004 movie staring Thomas Jane and the 2008 Punisher: War Zone which acted as a soft reboot of the 2004 movie. Of the three, my favorite big-screen iteration is the 2004 Thomas Jane outing.*

This particular movie borrows a lot from the “Welcome Back, Frank” mini-series story that ran in the Marvel Knights line in 2000-2001, in that the characters of Joan, Mr. Bumpo and “Spacker” Dave are featured as Frank’s surrogate family, and also “The Russian”, which was played by pro-wrassler Kevin Nash in one of the more amusing fight scenes in the movie. Anyway, the story has Frank Castle as a former Delta Force veteran and undercover FBI agent that has worked his last case before retirement, one that resulted in the death of the son of mafia boss Howard Saint. This results in a hit taken out on Castle and his entire family at a family reunion, where Frank is only sort of dead, so he’s found and nursed back to health by a local fisherman. Moving into a dilapidated apartment building among three other outcasts, Frank begins his war to take down the Saint family bit by bit, using not only violence but also psychological warfare to spread dissension from the inside. Of course, this wouldn’t be a Punisher movie if things didn’t get blow’ed up and there was no body count, and rest assured there are both here, in spades.

Yeah, I’m well aware of the complaints about this version of The Punisher, that we don’t have a Punisher that’s a gun-wielding berserker that shoots first and asks questions never. Instead, we have *gasp* a Frank Castle that is cunning, highly intelligent and calculating, almost like he was using his brain as a lethal weapon as much as the ones he has in his arsenal. And speaking of his arsenal, it makes sense that, given his military training and background, he would use other tactile weapons rather just the pew-pew, budda-budda-budda variety.

Thomas Jane is perfect as the title character. He’s not the typical by-the-numbers muscle-bound meathead, which makes him perfect for this iteration. There’s a dark intensity to his performance, here. John Travolta is in his element, methinks, as a mob boss that’s also has an underlying tension, like he’s trying hard not to fly into utter camp, especially with some of his lines. Everything flows well, here, from the story, to the tragic feel with dark comedy bits sprinkled in, to the soundtrack…I just don’t understand the 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I admittedly still get a bit misty-eyed when I see the late, great John Pinette do his thing, here. But, really, I think it’s time to check out The Punisher 2004 if you have been holding back due to the negative hearsay about this. Recommended.

[* = Keep in mind I said “big screen”; my all-time favorite version of The Punisher is the Netflix Marvel one, which has been sadly canceled as of the time of this writing.]

Movies+Beer: JOKER

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joker movie poster

James, Brian, Andrea, Sarah and Everett (along with some other Exalted Geeks) watched the highly-anticipated and controversial take on one of Batman’s greatest rogue gallery members; was the hubub leading up to this really necessary? Does the movie manage to simultaneously disturb you while sympathizing with the main character? Is cider technically a beer? Listen and find out…
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Movies+Beer: SHAZAM!

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shazam

Bit late getting this uploaded; I’m joined by Brian, Andrea and New Guy to discuss the other Captain Marvel movie to come out this year…

Movies + Beer: HELLBOY 2019

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MOVIES + BEERhellboy 2019

James is joined by Brian and Andrea at Sean O’ Casey’s, and discuss the new Hellboy reboot…among other things…

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