The X-Files: I Want to Believe(7/27/2008)

            In retrospect, “The X-Files” was a really innovative and influential show.  I’ve seen each and every episode of the show, which would seem to suggest I’m a huge fan, but I’m not really.  You’d never find me going to a convention or anything, but I found it to be very compelling T.V. that was always worth my time.  Stylistically it was a very slick and well produced show, Fox put some real money into the show and the various directors managed to make each episode like a cool mini horror film.  On a substance level it was one of the first mainstream shows to try to have a series arc, one that required the viewers to watch the show sequentially and keep track of what’s been going on.  Of course the good days didn’t always last and the show clearly jumped the shark somewhere around season seven where it sort of devolved into self-parody.  By the show’s end one got the feeling the writers may not have really had sort of been making the mythos up as they went (anyone accusing “Lost” of doing that better take a closer look at this show’s anti-climax).  Still, I was exited about the prospect of a new movie that would push all that mess aside and simply make a good story with the characters I loved, using the creativity that made the show famous.

            When we last left Mulder and Scully they were wanted by the government and on the run.  The movie begins a few years later and it turns out they weren’t in quite the dire condition we thought they were.  The government has apparently quit looking for the two, who are now living together in a remote rural house.  Scully (Gillian Anderson) is now working as a doctor at a catholic hospital called Our Lady of Sorrow.  Mulder (David Duchovny) however is living as a recluse of sorts and seems to spend his days researching paranormal activities in newspaper articles.  While working at the hospital Scully is approached by an FBI agent named Mosley Drummy (Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner) who brings with them a simple offer; help them with a current case and the FBI would forgive them for their previous transgressions.  This recent case involves a psychic priest named Joseph Crissman (Billy Connolly) who has been leading the FBI to a missing agent of theirs who appears to have been kidnapped by a pair of men involved in strange medical experiments.  Crissman is a convicted pedophile, a the always skeptical Scully has absolutely no patience for his psychic abilities, while Mulder thinks there may be something to what he’s doing.

            Mulder and Scully were first seen on the big screen in the 1998 film The X-Files: Fight the Future.  That film was not spectacular, but it certainly mangaged to deliver what people wanted: an elongated X-Files story brought to the big screen with a significantly larger budget allowing for at least three set pieces that could never be done on the show’s budget.  This new film, however doesn’t seem to have been given anywhere near the kind of budget “Fight the Future” was given.  As such, this is a much more character driven story than many would expect, in fact it’s almost more of a Mulder and Scully film than it is an X-Files movie. 

            The X-Files was never really an action based show, it was more about science fiction and horror, still it was about FBI Agents and as such it wasn’t really unreasonable to expect a few shootouts and chases from any given episode.   This however, feels like a very non-violent take on the X-Files formula.  In fact, I don’t think either of the lead characters so much as hold a gun throughout the duration of the film.  There’s one mediocre foot chase, and a moderately thrilling finale, but nothing like the set pieces involved in “Fight the Future.”  As such it was probably a horrible idea to release this film in the middle of summer when audiences are particularly expecting thrills.

            The film also isn’t nearly as supernatural in nature as most fans will be expecting.  This isn’t based on the shows “mythos” formula, but rather it is attempting to replicate what the show did with its stand-alone horror themed episodes.  The film has a psychic investigator and some people doing bizarre surgeries, but as far as freaks of the week go, these guys aren’t all that freaky.  In fact a lot of the material here feels more like something one would find in an episode of “CSI.”

            With no action, no science fiction, and minimal horror it would seem that the entirety of the film’s burden rests on the character driven drama.  So is the show deeper and more thematic than an average episode of the show?  Well… sort of, but I don’t think that’s going to be worth the eight-year wait for most of the show’s fans.  The film deals with the relationship between Mulder and Scully after all these years and with the lingering longing Scully feels about the son she gave birth during the show’s run (I honestly don’t even remember what ended up happening to that kid).  Ultimately it’s about Scully coming to terms with Mulder’s stubborn quest for the truth, which is reflected by Scully’s determination to save a child at her hospital. 

            This is ultimately more Scully’s movie than it is Mulder’s and in turn Gillian Anderson has a lot more to do here than Duchovny.  Duchovny mostly delivers the same performance one would expect given his track record on the show, he’s a little more morose, but it’s mostly more of the same from Duchovney, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Anderson on the other hand is portraying a much-changed character.  This is a Scully that has gone through so much and has become almost completely drained, but Anderson doesn’t overplay this.  These are both very sad characters, one gets the notion that their lives have really been ruined by their work with the FBI; in this sense the movie is sort of a downer, as a fan of the show I feel these characters really deserve some peace and there’s nothing like that to be found here. 

            The supporting cast is nothing to write home about.  Amanda Peet is a good actress but she’s on complete autopilot here.  I didn’t expect much from Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner, mainly because he’s a third rate rapper, but he was average enough.  Billy Connolly, was a little more interesting, mainly because of his very weird Scottish accent.  What’s a Scottish pedophile doing in West Virgina?  I don’t know, but I still think he created a fairly good character with his performance.

            The X-Files: I Want to Believe isn’t really a bad movie; it’s just not a good movie, at all.  If this was made as a T.V. movie or direct to DVD it would be perfectly satisfactory, but that’s not what this is, it’s a theatrical movie ten years in the making.  Chris Carter has made a movie that mostly stands up to scrutiny, but will satisfy few.  It just isn’t the X-Files movie the fans wanted, it wasn’t the X-Files movie that would attract non-fans, and it certainly isn’t the X-Files movie I wanted.

** out of Four

DVD Catch Up: Honeydripper(6/28/2008)

 

            John Sayles is an odd filmmaker in that his work seems oddly isolated from everything else Hollywood puts out.  He’s almost a textbook example of what an auteur is, in that one can guess he directed a film simply by watching a single scene, but pinpointing why his work is recognizable is not always as easy as it is with other filmmakers.  There’s something in the dialogue, the way the actors behave, and the ambitious aim of his uniquely American stories that positively define his work behind the camera.  His newest film, Honeydripper, was mostly ignored in theaters and I had hoped that it would be an underappreciated gem; unfortunately it’s minor Sayles at best.

            The film is set in a fictional Alabama town of Harmony during the very early 1950s.  The film specifically focuses on Harmony’s black community, particularly a tavern/dance hall called the Honeydripper.  The venue is owned by Tyrone Purvis (Danny Glover), but it has fallen on hard times.  Purvis is in danger of losing the place to a loan shark, so he and his friend Maceo (Charles S. Dutton) plan a last ditch effort to stay in business by bringing in a famous blues musician named Guitar Sam to play a big gig that would generate enough money to pay Purvis’ rent.  Purvis has recently drifted away from his wife Delilah (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and is also being threatened by the town’s racist sheriff (Stacy Keach).  Meanwhile a young man named Sonny (Gary Clark Jr.) has arrived in town carrying a guitar case and interested in auditioning at the local music scene to make ends meet.  Purvis can’t really afford the show he plans to put on and it becomes clear that the evening’s entertainment will be a make or break night for him and the Honeydripper.

            There was a lot less music in the film then I had expected, the story clearly deals with people who have music as a major part of their life, but the soundtrack is not loaded with period music.  There is a great performance scene toward the end which features the use of a very early electric guitar, the music played is a primitive and toe tapping form of rock and roll. 

            The movie’s main problem is mainly that it has a lot of southern clichés.  Among the types to be found here: a redneck sheriff, an eager young man gone to town to make something of his music career, a white southern housewife oblivious to the rest of the world, and a blind old coot who plays guitar on main street stoops.  Occasionally Sayles will do some unexpected things with these types, for instance that Sheriff proves to ultimately be more interested in getting free chicken than oppressing people just for the fun of it, there’s also a neat twist with the blind old coot. 

            Danny Glover is probably the best thing about the film, he’s got just the right ability to seem like a nice and likable guy, but still having a certain gruffness to his character.  It’s clear that Glover’s character has seen a lot over the course of his career as a bar owner and blues enthusiast.  He’s a character that clearly has a past and the audience easily gets the gist of it without the movie explicitly showing or describing much of it.

            In final analysis, Honeydripper is just a very average and fairly forgettable film.  It has a neat atmosphere, the story works well enough, but it’s just a very small trifle of a film.  Had I seen it in theaters I would have felt vaguely ripped off, and I’m not sure I’d even recommend it as a DVD rental.  But, if you see it on cable or something like that I do think it’s worth giving a shot.

**1/2 out of four

The Dark Knight(7/18/2008)

 
 

 

            This year the comic book movie has really gone off the deep end with four superhero adaptations being released within three months with a non-comic book superhero movie thrown in for good measure.  Many thought the first of these comic book movies, Iron Man, was one of the best movies ever in its genre.  I was less impressed by Favreu’s film than many people seemed to be, it was good but also felt mostly by the numbers to me, especially when compared to Spider-man 2 and to a greater extent Batman Begins, which I thought was a much greater film than Iron Man ever dreamt to be.  Now that the long awaited sequel to Batman Begins has come out I feel vindicated, this is a movie that puts Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk to shame. 

            The film is set a few years after Batman Begins and Batman (Christian Bale) has become a major presence in Gotham city.  Between the two movies in the franchise Gotham has come to take on Batman as a controversial symbol for justice, among those who have been inspired by the dark knight’s crusade is Gotham’s new District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).  Dent has launched a very successful campaign against organized crime.  On a more personal level Dent has begun dating Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal).  But Dent isn’t the only one who’s been inspired by Batman, a deranged lunatic known only as The Joker (Heath Ledger) has emerged who stands opposed to everything Batman is fighting for.  The Joker is an anarchist, someone with a very low opinion of humanity, someone who “just wants to see the world burn.”  The Gotham underworld, who have become desperate, hire The Joker to kill batman.  In order to do this The Joker starts murdering people and declares that he won’t stop until Batman has been unmasked.

            The Batman film franchise started really strong with Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, which to my mind is the very best pre-millennial superhero movie.  Burton went a little too far with the sequel, but Batman Returns seems like a masterpiece compared to what was to come when studio hack Joel Schumacher took over the series.  The less said about Batman Forever and Batman & Robin the better, let’s just say the series was in dire need of new blood.  That blood came in the form of Christopher Nolan, director of a great movie called Memento.  What he made was a brilliant recreation of the Batman series with Batman Begins, a film that took the Batman mythology and respectfully rewrote it.  The secret of that film’s success was that it grounded the film in reality, but not through a cheesy method like turning it into a mockumentary or setting it outside of a comic book world.  What it did was make Gotham feel like a real city, a world thought out from the street level up.  It really examined the psychology of someone like Bruce Wayne and had the courage to explore it.

            While Batman Begins was all about… well, Batman Beginning; this sequel is all about the consequences of Batman’s emergence.  The film deals with the real effect someone like Batman would have on a major city both good and bad.  On one hand people are fearful of him and the official policy of the city’s police is to arrest him on sight.  Also the threat he poses to organized crime helped lead to the emergence of The Joker.  But on the other hand his influence also created legitimate heroes like Harvey Dent and the emergence of good men like Lieutenant Gordon who could do nothing because of the corruption that pervaded over the city’s police. 

            David Goyar, Christopher Nolan and his co-writer brother Jonathan Nolan clearly take what they’re doing very seriously and one can see their respect, dedication, and thoughtfulness in the film’s excellent script.  Like in the previous movie this film is narrativelly, psychologically, and thematically very well thought out all while accommodating the expectations of a Hollywood action movie without making it feel obligatory.  The dialogue, especially The Joker’s lines, are very sharp while still naturalistic and believable within the context of a comic book movie.

            Christopher Nolan’s direction is every bit as good as his writing and the film further solidify’s my confidence in Nolan’s great talent.  The visuals here are really good, amazing cinematography by Wally Pfister and great editing by Lee Smith.  More importantly this has one of the best blends of visual effects and reality I’ve ever seen.  Unlike many similar movies, the effects here aren’t focused on creating fully CGI characters, Batman is actually a person in an elaborate costume and The Joker is simply made using makeup.  Instead CGI is expertly blended into the texture of the film’s practical effects to a point where I can hardly tell what is real and what isn’t.

            Christian Bale is one of the best actor’s working today, his ability to completely transform himself into a role in a movie like The Machinist or Rescue Dawn is truly amazing.  The main brunt of his acting doesn’t occur while he’s wearing his suit but when he’s portraying Bruce Wayne, in these scenes he’s closer to channeling the homicidal yuppie he played in American Psycho.  When Bruce Wayne is in public he’s a one-dimensional character, as he should be, that’s what he’s trying to make himself look like to the citizens of Gotham.  It’s when he’s with others aware of his second life like Alfred or Lucious Fox when he opens up and truly becomes a complex character. 

            Like in Batman Begins this has a lot of really stellar actors in its supporting roles.  Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are back in their respective roles of Alfred and Fox.  The great but not often seen Gary Oldman is also back as Lieutenant Gordon, who has an even bigger part here than before.  Maggie Gyllenhaal is here in place of Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes.  I thought Holmes was unfairly criticized in the first film, I didn’t agree with the decision to recast, but Maggie Gyllenhaal is just as good in the role.  Aaron Eckhart has also joined the cast as Harvey Dent, the most high profile D.A. I’ve ever heard of.  Eckhart feels exactly like a slick talking politician and he’s also great at portraying Dent’s darker side.

            Of course the performance that has everyone talking is the late Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker.  Ledger’s tragic death opened the door wide open for hyperbolic raves about his last completed performance.  I resisted all the hype about his work here only to realize that he’s just as good as everyone’s been saying he was.  Ledger’s take on The Joker is said to blow away Jack Nicholson’s work as the same character in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film.  But, this isn’t really a fair comparison; the Burton Batman films weren’t about making batman real, they were films that really embraced being comic books brought to life.  Jack Nicholson did everything he was asked to do for his role, his Joker was a lot more true to what the character was like through most of the comic books up to that point.  Ledger’s Joker on the other hand is a reinvented creation; like a serial killer, a monster, a terrorist. 

This joker hardly ever laughs and never seems to smile outside of the scars going up the sides of his face.  He’s simply someone who is amused by wreaking elaborately planned havoc on innocent people out of sheer insanity and anarchism.  Put simply he’s a scary psychotic killer, someone with no remorse or regrets and seemingly no past or future.  Ledger take this creation and brings it to life in an amazing way, this is easily the best screen villain since Anton Chigurh and Ledger’s work will be remembered for decades to come.  There’s another villain that emerges toward the end of the film, and people familiar with the comic incarnation of a major character here won’t be surprised by who it is.  This character emergence is very important thematically to the story, but I must say this is one of the few elements of the movie that are a bit iffy.  I couldn’t help but think this should have been built up a little beforehand and I didn’t love how this sub-plot ended.

Many are pointing out that this is a very dark film, and this is true but only to a certain degree.  Those looking for a lighthearted romp should look elsewhere, but on the other hand this is a superhero movie, not Se7en.  There are scene’s in here that are darker in nature than what’s likely ever been included in a 180 million dollar movie, but deep down on a thematic level this isn’t as dark as it looks.  The movie does show very low levels of human life, but it also deals with very noble examples of human courage and goodness.  The movie’s ultimate message is not one of nihilism but of hope.

Of course if you’re just looking for some good action scenes you won’t be disappointed either.  In the film you’ll be treated to some spectacular stunts, some very well designed action set pieces, a clever opening bank heist, and numerous very good explosions.  The real standout though is an amazing car chase involving a semi truck, a SWAT van, a helicopter, the new bat mobile, and a motorcycle.  It’s like they took both the car chases in Terminator 2 and combined them into one superchase that ends with an awesome stunt and I don’t even know whether it’s real or CGI.  That chase is almost too good, it almost gets to a point where the film has trouble topping itself.  For instance The Joker’s climactic scheme isn’t much more interesting or brilliant than his last three acts of evil insanity. 

The Dark Knight is above all a triumph; it took everything great about Batman Begins and took it further.  This isn’t just a great blockbuster, It’s a blockbuster that will shove the low expectations of anyone who claimed to love Transformers in their easily impressed faces.  This is a movie that raises the bar for large budget filmmaking and proves that these movies shouldn’t be judged like competitors I the Special Olympics.  Of course Batman Begins raised the bar just as high three years ago and it was quickly lowered by widespread cinematic amnesia, hopefully the standard this movie sets will not be forgotten.  It does have a few imperfections, in fact I might love Batman Begins just a little bit more, but this is the best big budget movie I’ve seen in a very long time.

**** out of Four

Hellboy II: The Golden Army(7/11/2008)

 

 

 

 

            A decade ago there were very, very few comic book adaptations in theaters.  Aside from the first Batman and Superman franchises there were almost none at all.  Boy have things changed.  Now one can count on a good 2-3 movies a year based on iconic comic book characters and a few more obscure graphic novel adaptations for good measure.  One trend that emerged from this trend of comic book movies was that the first sequel of each series seemed to be the best.  Spider-Man 2 and X-Men 2 were both significantly better than the movies they preceded.  These were of course followed by disappointing third installments, but the second movies in both series were bigger, better, and more confident then the originals without going over the top.  Another great example of this was the Guillermo Del Toro directed Blade II, a film that did have major flaws but was a much-improved experience over Stephen Norington’s original.  Del Toro has also managed to make a superior sequel to his own comic book franchise, Hellboy.

            This installment picks up not too long after the original and Hellboy (Ron Pearlman) is still working in the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense with Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and his girlfriend Liz Sherman (Selma Blair).  Hellboy’s relationship with Liz is full fledged this time, but it’s on rocky terrain.  Hellboy is not the easiest person to live with and Liz is near her wits end.  Meanwhile, in a subterranean world never discovered by man, an evil albino elf guy named Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) is planning to overthrow mankind and reclaim the earth for inhuman kind, but in order to do this he must collect three pieces of a broken crown that will unleash an invincible mechanical army to do his bidding.  Nuada decides to retrieve the first piece of the crown by waging a full on attack on a high-end auction being conducted in downtown Manhattan.  Hellboy and the Bureau move in to intervene, but in the process Hellboy falls out of the building onto a crowded street, thus revealing the Bureau to the world, giving Hellboy the freedom he’s always wanted, but perhaps the world isn’t ready for him.  Hellboy must deal with this, and more immediately he must stop Prince Nuada from enacting his evil plan.

            I didn’t really like the first Hellboy, but I’ve warmed to it over time.  Guillermo Del Toro clearly gives a damn about the comic books he’s adapting, which is a refreshing sentiment, but it gave the series a certain cartoonishness that took some getting used to. While most of these superhero type movies mix comic book storylines with science fiction, Hellboy mixes superhero arcs with the fantasy genre.  This wasn’t as easy to tell in the first movie, but what Del Toro is trying to do is a lot clearer in this installment.  Hopefully with this in mind the plot summery above seem a little less strange, because it isn’t nearly as weird as it sounds on paper, though there are definitely awkward elements.

            A lot has changed fro the original film.  The long-suffering Bureau chief, Tom Manning (Jeffery Tambor), is still here. But John Myers, the junior agent used to introduce the audience to the bureau in the original, has been unceremoniously cut from the story.  As I stated before, there is a much clearer attachment to the fantasy genre here than the previous movie, which had more of a horror vibe.  This perhaps fits in with the direction of Del Toro’s other projects coming off of Pan’s Labyrinth and going into his next project, The Hobbit.  This allows Del Toro’s imagination to run wild, but there are some downsides.  The setup requires a fairly convoluted mythology that is introduced in a fairly long CGI animated prologue.  It also requires the audience to accept that there is an extremely elaborate fantasy universe that’s been living among the regular world while rarely being spotted.

            What really sets the movie apart from the other comic book franchises it’s competing with is Del Toro’s genuine creativity and visionary designs that are on display throughout the film.  Del Toro has a deep love for monster movies and he fills his movies with fantastically designed creatures.  With this movie Del Toro has turned the monster quotient up to eleven.  Each new creature Hellboy faces in this movie is stranger and cooler looking than the last.  This is excellent visual filmmaking in the context of a fun Hollywood action movie.   Occasionally though, it is a little too much of a good thing.  Pan’s Labyrinth seemed to do a great job with only three monsters, here we must get at least ten if not more.  Almost every one of them is as meticulously designed as anything we saw in Pan’s Labyrinth, but occasionally the film seems a bit crowded.  There’s a sense of self indulgence in just how many monsters Del Toro has filled this movie with and a few of them might have been better off saved for a later movie.

            The visual effects used to put these meticulously crafted monsters up on screen are also very good.  One of the best things about Dell Toro’s work is that he never uses CGI as a crutch, while still using it well when it’s necessary.  All too often directors will jump computer-animated effects automatically, even for jobs that physical effects are better suited for.  Del Toro is not one of these filmmakers, he always knows when to use makeup or practical effects to get the job done.  There are only two or three monsters in Hellboy II that are entirely CGI creations, and they’re all things that undeniably needed CGI to be accomplished.  I’m not a total CGIiphobe but I love what physical effects bring with them to the screen and it’s nice to see a filmmaker who also values this kind of effects work.

The main villain, Prince Nuada, is a good character on paper and his combat abilities add greatly to the film’s action scenes, but from a visual design standpoint he’s a weak link.  He’s basically just an albino dude with long hair, that’s not overly impressive and isn’t up to the creative standards Del Toro has set for himself.  The character design reminded me of the Reevers from the television show “Stargate: Atlantis,” and a number of other Albino villains.  In another movie this would have been a passable design, but here he’s completely upstaged by most of his henchmen and by the heroes.  

The action sequences are also really good here.  The first movie had a few decent fight scenes but it lacked some truly visceral action scenes.  A big part of this was that Hellboy himself is sort of a bulky thuggish type, not unlike the Incredible Hulk or The Thing from the Fantastic Four.  He wasn’t very prone to acrobatics and the fights in the first one (mainly against equally large squid monsters) were comic book like brawls that relied more on brute force than combat skills.  Here though they made the wise choice to make the villain more of an a martial artist type and many of the fights are faster, more choreographed affairs along the line of what we saw in Blade II.  That isn’t to say this is as consistently violent as that bloody opus, but it is a step up from what we say in the first Hellboy.

Of course the joy to be found in Hellboy II isn’t all in the special effects and action.  The film has a very complete, very witty script.  I could have lived without the elaborate mythology behind the story, but I’ll take a creative if slightly convoluted setup any day over another cookie cutter comic book story like Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk.  The story also has attempts at some genuine depth, even if it’s not particularly subtle.  I think particularly about the romance between Hellboy and Liz, which Del Toro had the courage to look at very seriously.  This is one of the strangest couplings one is likely to ever see, but at points film has more to say about the nature of love than most of the generic romantic comedies that come out.  Of course the script occasionally bites off a little more than it chews, like when it introduces the concept of how the public reacts to Hellboy once he’s revealed, but never really follows up on this.

One element of the script that greatly differentiates it from the first installment is that there is a very noticeable increase in the amount of comic relief on display here.  The original Hellboy never took itself too seriously, but this sequel has even more comedy in it.  There are a whole lot of very comic sequences here like one portion where Hellboy and Abe go on a beer binge.  Make no mistake, most if not all of these comedic sequences do work, they’re almost all funny, none of them seem completely out of place, and none of them are distractions.  The problem with them isn’t really quality, but rather quantity.  The whole point of including comic relief is to release the tension that’s been built at appropriate moments. There’s so much comedy here that the genuine tension has trouble getting built, it’s “relieved” too early, it would have done the film well to cut some of these scenes. 

Del Toro’s decision to cast Ron Pearlman as Hellboy was one of the best casting decisions he could have made for the original movie.  He had the size, the gruffness, and the humor that Hellboy needed and he’s just as good here.  Doug Jones is also back as Abe Sapien and he’s doing the voice work for the character now as well.  I initially thought this would be a problem if only because of continuity, but I didn’t miss David Hyde Pierce one bit.  Abe Sapien also has a lot more to do here, I thought he was somewhat wasted in the first film, but he feels like a full fledged character here and Doug Jones makes him come to life effectively.  Speaking of voice acting, Seth MacFarlane does the voice of a new character here, and his work is really laugh out loud hilarious here.  But the actor who really deserves a standing ovation is Selma Blair, who I thought was really under-appreciated in the first Hellboy. I really like the character Blair created in that first film, she doesn’t have as much to do here but I still really like what she’s doing.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army has a handful of problems, but they shouldn’t be overstated and they’re far overshadowed by the movie’s positive aspects.  Del Toro’s imaginative creature creations alone are worth the price of admission and beyond the effects this is a very fun very well made summer movie.  This is great escapism and I had a load of fun watching it.

***1/2