Hellboy

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Hellboy, a movie I caught up with only

under threat of sequel, turns out to play exactly toward

director Guillermo del Toro’s strengths — it’s a sprawling fantasy story brimming with

dark whimsy, and realized through an intense visual imagination. Ron

Perlman is Hellboy, as far as I can tell a kind of domesticated demon

who was brought into our world during World War II by some especially

evil immortal Nazis seeking to catalyze the end of the world. But a

funny thing happened on the way to the Apocalypse, and Hellboy ends

up as part of a secret supernatural task force (based, hilariously, in Newark), having been aised by a British egghead who taught him to fight against

the powers of darkness instead of leading them to victory. It’s your

classic nature-versus-nurture situation, and it’s given Hellboy a bit

of an identity crisis – he keeps his frightening red horns filed

down to stony nubs, a personal-grooming metaphor of the type that

flows naturally out of the character’s comic-book origins. Ostensibly

it’s a way to make his imposing figure less terrifying, but you

quickly get the feeling that it is really a way for him to keep reminding

himself that he’s one of the good guys.

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Iron Man

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When I read Glenn Kenny’s line about Iron Man being, essentially, the best Marvel superhero movie to date, I have to admit: it pissed me off. Or, at least, Kenny pissed all over the Spider-Man fanboy inside me. But movie critics are all standing in line to carry Iron Man’s jock, so what do I know?

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Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

The Fantastic Four–a superhero team so square that their leader is a science whiz–never shared the street credibility of more muscular heroes like Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man. But their unique combination of sci-fi adventure, situation comedy and soap opera resonated enough to pull a lot of lifelong comic-book fans into the fold. It’s not entirely inappropriate, then, that their film franchise is an inconsequentially dopey cheesefest. These aren’t dazzling movies to lose yourself in or to be amazed by. They’re more like big friendly puppies who jump on you and slobber on your face and helplessly implore you to embrace them and rub their tummies. Returning from the first film are all four fantastic protagonists, along with Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), a supervillain who’s blander even than James Franco’s Harry Osborne from the Spider-Man movies. Among the regulars, only Michael Chiklis, emoting from underneath a big pile of latex, is a stand-out. By far the best scenes feature the aptly named Silver Surfer (ably performed by creature specialist Doug Jones), who zooms around the universe on a chrome-plated surfboard, scouting out meals for his less-charismatic buddy Galactus, who eats planets. Well, you could do worse.

300

18/100

300, the ancient-Greek military adventure adapted from the graphic novel by Frank Miller, is drenched in sex and violence and boasts a repetitive, forward-reeling momentum that makes it feel like the longest videogame cut scene in history. (I kept thinking the bald dude from God of War would totally kick the Spartans’ asses.) If it were only brutish spectacle, executed with the inescapable élan that Miller’s stark and exciting combinations of word and image always brings to the printed page, it could be an invigorating diversion from the more nuanced, and infinitely more taxing, struggles of the real world. But with its fetishistic depiction of the nearly naked male body as nothing more or less than a merciless instrument of warfare, it fills a much-needed gap between gay porn and recruitment film.

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The Adventures of Phoebe Zeitgeist

A friend was kind enough to lend me this hardcover, a 1968 first printing (on Grove Press) of The Adventures of Phoebe Zeit-geist, written by Michael O’Donoghue and drawn by Frank Springer. (Click the cover for a much larger [220 KB] image.) I have no idea how you’d find a copy of this thing (OK, it seems to go for around $70 on eBay) but I like it a lot — it’s a beautifully rendered parody of the damsel-in-distress comics genre with chapter titles like “Peril Diving,” “Abjection Overruled,” and “Impending Doom: The Early Years.” Phoebe loses her clothes in episode I, dies in Episode III (“Sorry, but that’s the way things turned out,” says the narrator, before going on to chronicle the continuing adventures of Phoebe’s corpse) and is revivified in Chapter VI by an eskimo priest (!) who means to sacrifice her. If you don’t mind squinting, you can read the whole thing as a Flickr set.

Ghost World

Ghost WorldAs the opening credits flash on the screen, Ghost World is already hurtling forward, appropriating a brassy Bollywood tune and setting Thora Birch to dancing. Her shimmying interpretation of the choreographed Hindi number she’s watching on TV is simultaneously smug and exuberant – this girl carries herself with the cocky adolescent air of a kid who knows what’s cool.

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